Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)
Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska: Lat: 58º 50.39’ N Long: 150º 14.72’ W
Air Temp: 14.2º C
Today we had the chance to sail up into Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula and it was beautiful! In general, transects, or lines the boat collects acoustic information along, run perpendicular to the Gulf of Alaska shelf because that is where pollock are most likely found. Luckily for us, a few of them travel up into bays along the coast and give us a welcomed change of scenery from the open ocean.
Why do we survey in bays when pollock are usually open water fish? Well, during the winter, pollock sometimes aggregate to spawn (reproduce) in bays and those areas are documented by the scientists. In the summer, scientists want to see if there are still any pollock present in those areas. Unfortunately, we do not have time to survey all of the bays and so just a few are selected. For this leg, after the next couple of days back on the shelf, we will head up into Prince William Sound, which I am really looking forward to seeing.
While following the transects up into Resurrection Bay, it was fun to see sailboats, fishing boats, helicopters and float planes rushing around us. To my surprise, I also saw masses of RV campers through the binoculars when looking at town. I learned that Seward is a popular place for people to visit from Anchorage and other areas for summer vacations and fishing opportunities. As for those of us on the boat, we also enjoyed the summer weather while sailing through. The sun was shining and it seemed that everyone took a moment to step outside, make a few phone calls home (we had service for a bit!) and soak up the warm weather. All in all, I think everyone feels re-energized going into our final 10 days at sea.
Science and Technology Log
We stopped to fish near the mouth of Resurrection Bay and found mostly age 1 and 2 pollock, along with a few adults. This shows us that pollock do utilize both the bay and the shelf areas during their lifecycle. Afterwards, we headed back out into the gulf and fished with a net called a Methot net.
A Methot net is a different kind of net that is specialized to catch Euphausiids (krill). In addition to collecting data on pollock, scientists also collect data on Euphausiids (krill). The net used to collect krill is a bit different than the one used for pollock. There are no pocket nets along the side and instead of the end of the net being mesh, there is a small canister that the net filters krill into. Once we haul in the net, it is time to sort and collect data on the catch, just like the pollock trawls.
It has been back to regular fishing trawls since then, along with comparison trawls. A comparison trawl is when we fish twice over the same area using two different nets. This year, the scientists decided to replace the old survey net with a newly designed one that is a little bit smaller and easier for the deck crew to deploy. Now they need to compare the two nets to make sure the newer net is catching the same species and size of fish. Darin was explaining to me that they have to do approximately 25 comparison trawls on this survey and will continue comparisons during the winter survey as well. If all goes according to plan, they will permanently replace the old net next summer.
On one of our trawls the other day, we caught a lot of rockfish. Lucky for us, rockfish is a species we can keep and eat on the boat. We are not allowed to keep salmon, crab, halibut or herring since they are prohibited species. You are only allowed to keep those species if you have a special permit. While I wish we could eat the others, rockfish is also really tasty!
Did You Know?
There is an incinerator on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson that burns all of our trash from the boat so that we don’t have to keep it aboard for the whole trip. Also, nothing is thrown overboard, not even food scraps. When I was taking a look yesterday, the temperature was over 800 degrees Celsius. Diesel fuel is used as fuel initially, followed by burning sludge from the boat once it gets hot enough. All leftover ash gets put into bins and discarded when back in port.
Thanks for following along!
P.S. We go up and watch the sunrise everyday…it is beautiful out here!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska
Date: July 23, 2019
Weather Data from Home Latitude: 41°42’25.35″N Longitude: 73°56’17.30″W Wind: 2 knots NE Barometer: 1011.5 mb Visibility: 10 miles Temperature: 77° F or 25° C Weather: Cloudy
Science and Technology Log
As you can tell from 1) the date of my research cruise and 2) my latitude and longitude, I am no longer in Alaska and I am now home. For my final NOAA Teacher at Sea post, I am pleased to show you the results of the hydrographic survey during the Cape Newenham project. The bathymetric coverage (remember that bathymetry means the topography underwater or depth to the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes) is not final as there is one more leg, but it is pretty close. Then the hard part of “cleaning up” the data begins and having many layers of NOAA hydrographers review the results before ever being placed on a nautical chart for Cape Newenham and Bristol Bay. But that day will come!
Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer
This is Klay Strand who is 2nd Engineer on the Ship Fairweather. He’s been on the ship for about a year and a half and he graciously and enthusiastically showed three of us visiting folk around the engine room towards the end of our leg. It was truly eye-opening. And ear-popping.
Before I get to the tour, a little bit about what Engineering Department does and how one becomes an engineer. There are currently nine engineers on the Ship Fairweather and they basically keep the engines running right. They need to check fluid levels for the engine (like oil, water and fuel) but also keep tabs on the other tanks on the ship, like wastewater and freshwater. The engine is on the lower level of the ship.
Klay Strand’s path to engineering was to go to a two-year trade school in Oregon through the JobCorps program. Strand then worked for the Alaskan highway department on the ferry system and then he started accruing sea days. To become a licensed engineer, one needs 1,080 days on a boat. Strand also needed advanced firefighting training and medical care provider training for his license. There are other pathways to an engineering license like a four-year degree in which you earn a license and a bachelor’s degree. For more information on becoming a ship’s engineer, you can go to the MEBA union, of which Strand is a member. On Strand’s days off the ship, he likes to spend time with his niece and nephews, go skydiving, hike, and go to the gun range.
The following photos are some of the cool things that Klay showed us in the engine room.
Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. When I tell people about the experience, what comes out the most is how warm and open the crew were to me. Every question I had was answered. No one was impatient with my presence. All freely shared their stories, if asked. I learned so much from all of them, the crew of the Fairweather. They respected me as a teacher and wondered about my path to that position. I wondered, too, about their path to a life at sea.
My first week on the ship, I spent a lot of time looking out at the ocean, scanning for whales and marveling at the seemingly endlessness of the water. Living on the water seemed fun and bold. As time went by, I could tell that I may not be cut out for a life at sea at this stage of my life, but I sure would have considered it in my younger days. Now that I know a little bit more about these careers on ships, I have the opportunity to tell my students about living and working on the ocean. I can also tell my educator colleagues about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.
Though I loved my time on the Ship Fairweather, I do look forward to seeing my West Bronx Academy students again in September. I am so grateful for all I learned during my time at sea.
Did You Know?
If you are interested in finding out about areas of the ocean that are protected from certain types of human activity because of concerns based on habitat protection, species conservation and ecosystem-based marine management, here are some links to information about Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas are defined as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” Did you know that there are over 11,000 designated MPAs around the world?
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Prince William Sound)
Date: Saturday, July 20th, 2019
Weather Data from Kodiak, AK: 4:00am Lat: 57.79° N Lon: 152.4072° W Temp: 56 degrees F.
Good morning! It is currently 4:30am on Saturday, July 20th and I have just woken up for my first shift on the boat. So far, I have met scientists Abigail McCarthy and Troy Buckley, who will be working the day shift with me. I also met Ruth, an intern from the University of Washington and my bunkmate. It will be nice to have someone else on board who is also new to the experience!
Before talking about work, I’d like to share what we got up to in Kodiak before departing on the cruise. One thing to note – Chief Scientist Darin Jones explained that because this is the 3rd leg of the survey and the scientists are taking over from the previous group, we do not have any set up or calibration of equipment to do. If this had been leg 1 of the survey, the free days in port would have been spent doing those jobs. Lucky us!
After unpacking everything in our state rooms (bunks), we quickly set out to explore Kodiak. In two and a half days, were able to see a lot! Wednesday night, some friends of mine in town took us for a stroll on Near Island, followed by a yummy dinner at Noodle Bar.
Thursday morning, team building began with a run to Safeway and Walmart for all last minute necessities. The teacher in me couldn’t resist a fresh pack of sharpie markers and colored pencils. 🙂 In the afternoon, we walked along Spruce Cape where we picked a TON of blueberries and found the largest barnacle I have ever seen.
After a short recoup back on the boat, Darin and Abigail were ready for an evening surf session at Fossil Beach. This beach is the farthest south you can access by road in Kodiak and the drive was BEAUTIFUL. Prior to the trip, I hadn’t looked up any pictures of Kodiak and so the treeless green mountains, cliffy coastlines and herds of cows were exciting to see. Once at the beach, we jumped in the ocean, watched a successful surf session and finished our team building with a fire and dinner on the beach.
Science and Technology Log:
In just a few days of being here, I have already learned a lot about the workings of the ship and what we will be busy doing for the next three weeks. Here is a preview.
To begin, science shifts run from 4am – 4pm and 4pm – 4am. Throughout this entire time, acoustic data is being collected and read. Acoustic data is gathered by sending out sound waves from a transducer box attached to the bottom of a centerboard underneath the boat. The sound waves reverberate out and bounce off of anything with a different density than water. In the picture below, you can see a bold line on the screen with smaller dots above. Take a look and see if you can identify what the line and dots might represent.
If you thought the big bold lines on each screen were the seafloor, you were correct! Most of the little dots that appear above the sea floor are fish. Fish are identified from the sound waves bouncing off of their swim bladders. Swim bladders are the “bags” of air inside fish that inflate and deflate to allow the fish to raise and lower itself in the water column. Air has a different density compared to water and therefore shows up in the acoustics data.
What is this acoustic data used for? There are 2 primary parts. The first is to identify where schools of fish are located and therefore areas well suited for collecting fish samples. The second is to calculate the total biomass of pollock in the water column by combining acoustics data with the actual measurements of fish caught in that same area. More specifics to come as I take part in the process throughout the survey.
Did You Know?
On this survey, scientists do not catch/survey fish at night (when it is dark). The reason? At night, bottom dwelling species come up off the seafloor at night to feed. During the day they settle back down on the seafloor. The scientists are primarily interested in catching pollock, a mid water species, so they fish during daylight hours.
Updates to come later in the week. It is time for me to join the scientists and get ready process our first catch!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Next post: the Engineering Department of the Ship Fairweather
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
whale is called a calf.
A group of
whales travelling together is called a pod.
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.
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.
bowl with water and ice cubes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)
Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: 18 June
Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23
Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft
Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft
Pressure: 1016.1 mb
Index: 93 F (34 C)
clear and sunny
Speed and Direction: S 9
Height: 2 ft
Pressure: 1016.0 mb
Index: 56 F (13 C)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Finishing off the school year has never been so exciting as it is now, with an Alaskan adventure awaiting me! My students are nearly as giddy as I am, and it is a pleasure to be able to share the experience with them through this blog.
In two weeks, I will leave my home in the Appalachian foothills of Georgia and fly to Anchorage, Alaska. From there I will take a train to the port city of Seward, where I will board NOAA Ship Rainier. For 11 days we will travel around Kodiak Island conducting a hydrographic survey, mapping the shape of the seafloor and coastline. The Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project is critical to those who live and work there, since it greatly improves the accuracy of maritime navigational charts, ensuring safer travel by sea.
In the past, I have traveled and worked in many different settings, including South Carolina, Cape Cod, Costa Rica, rural Washington, and even more rural Mozambique. I have acted in diverse roles as volunteer, resident scientist, amateur archaeologist, environmental educator, mentor, naturalist, and teacher of Language Arts, English Language, Math, and Science.
I now found myself back in my home state of Georgia, married to my wonderful husband, Nathan, and teaching at a local public school. Having rediscovered the beauty of this place and its people, I feel fortunate to continue life’s journey with a solid home base.
Currently I teach Earth Science at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville, Georgia. For the last five years, I have chosen to work in the wonderfully wacky world of sixth graders. Our school boasts a diverse population of students, many of whom have little to no experience beyond their hometown. It is my hope that the Teacher at Sea program will enrich my instruction, giving students a glimpse of what it is like to live and work on a ship dedicated to scientific research. I am also looking forward to getting to know the people behind that research, learning what motivates them in the work that they do and what aspects of their jobs they find the most challenging.
Did you know?
Kodiak Island is the largest island in Alaska and the second largest in the United States. It is located near the eastern end of the Aleutian Trench, where the Pacific Plate is gradually being subducted underneath the North American Plate.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska (Port: Seward)
Date: April 22, 2019
Later this week, R/V Tiglax will depart the Homer Harbor in Homer, Alaska and begin the trip ‘around the corner.’ From the Homer Harbor, she will enter Kachemak Bay, flow into the larger Cook Inlet, and enter the Northern Gulf of Alaska and the North Pacific Ocean. Veering to the east, and then north, she will arrive in Seward, Alaska. That trip will take about 3 days, with stops along the way for some research near the Barren Islands. Meanwhile, I’ll be working in Homer for a few extra days before I begin my own trip to Seward. I will travel on the road system, first heading north and then jaunting southeast to Seward. It will take me 3.5 hours to drive there.
However you get there, Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project area are just around the corner from Homer. Homer is the place where I was born and raised, the place where I became inspired by science, the place where I now have the incredible privilege of working as an environmental educator for students participating in field trips and intensive field study programs from Homer, around Alaska, and beyond. At the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (CACS), one of the highlights of my job is guiding youth and adults into the intertidal zone to explore the amazing biodiversity that exists there.
In my lifetime as a Homer resident, and over the past 12 years as an educator in Kachemak Bay, I have witnessed seemingly unfathomable changes in the Bay’s ecosystems. These changes have been concerning to all of us who live here and are sustained by Kachemak Bay. Most recently, we watched as many species of sea stars succumbed to sea star wasting syndrome, their bodies deteriorating and falling apart in the intertidal zone. By fall of 2016, only leather stars (Dermasterias imbricata) seemed to remain. But over the past year, we’ve watched as true stars (Evasterias troschelii), blood stars (Henricia spp.), little six-rayed stars (Leptasterias spp.), and others have begun to reappear in the tidepools.
This past week, I was lucky enough to be the naturalist educator for students from West Homer Elementary as they spent 3 days in a remote part of Kachemak Bay. This was particularly poignant for me, as many of my most treasured memories from my own elementary school experience come from a similar field trip with CACS in 4th grade. That trip helped to inspire me towards a life of curiosity and wonder, passion for science and teaching, and commitment to stewardship of ecosystem and community.
So it was even more special that on this trip we observed a wonderfully diverse array of sea star species, including over a dozen sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides). I’ve only seen a couple of these magnificent sea stars since they all-but disappeared from Kachemak Bay in August 2016, leaving behind only eery piles of white goo. Their absence hurt my heart, and the potential impacts of losing this important predator reverberated in my brain. Though the future of these stars remains unknown, it was such a joy and relief to see a good number of apparently healthy sunflower stars in the intertidal this week!
The Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site was created, in part, to develop an understanding of the response and resiliency of the Northern Gulf of Alaska to climate variability. In a time when people, young and old, across Alaska and beyond are increasingly concerned about impacts of climate change, it can be challenging for educators to get youth involved in ways that aren’t overwhelming, saddening, or frustrating. Part of my work at CACS has been thinking and working with teachers, community educators, and researchers about how we can engage youth in ways that are realistic but hopeful and proactive. The idea that I’ll be learning about not just climate impacts but the potential resiliency of the Northern Gulf of Alaska is so cool! I’m excited to find out more about the unique species, life cycles, and natural histories that make the Gulf of Alaska such a good place to study ecosystem resiliency, and I’m inspired to learn more about other ecosystems close to Kachemak Bay and their own potential resilience.
I am really looking forward to my time on R/V Tiglax in the Gulf of Alaska!
This morning 25 knot winds from the NE, waves to 8ft, tonight calm seas variable winds, light rain
58.14 N, 151.35 W (Kodiak Line)
My wife and I have traveled to Raspberry and Kodiak Islands twice. The island’s raw beauty, verdant colors, and legendary fishing make it one of my favorite places on Earth. Its forests are dense, with huge hemlocks and thick growths of salmon berries. The slopes are steep and covered with lush grasses. Fish and wildlife abound. As we moved our way down the Kodiak line, getting closer and closer to land, that richness of life was reflected in waters surrounding the Island. In just fifty nautical miles we moved from a depth of a few thousand meters to less than one hundred. Seabirds became more abundant, and we saw large groups of sooty and Buller’s shearwaters, some of them numbering in the thousands. Sooty shearwaters nest in the southern hemisphere and travel half way across the planet to feed in the rich waters surrounding Kodiak. Fin whales were also abundant today, and could be seen feeding in small groups at the surface. Our plankton tows also changed. Deep sea species like lantern fish and Euphausiids disappeared and pteropods became abundant. We caught two species of pteropods that go by the common names – sea butterflies and sea angels. Sea butterflies look like snails with clear shells and gelatinous wings. Sea angels look more like slugs, but also swim with a fluttering of their wings. Pteropods are an important part of the Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem, in particular to the diets of salmon.
In the last decade, scientists have become aware that the ocean’s pH is changing, becoming more acidic. Sea water, like blood, is slightly basic, typically 8.2 on the pH scale. As we have added more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, about half of that gas has dissolved into the oceans. When CO2 is dissolved in sea water if forms carbonic acid, and eventually releases hydrogen ions, lowering the waters pH. In the last decade, sea water pH has dropped to 8.1 and is predicted to be well below 8 by 2050. A one tenth change in pH may not seem like much, but the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that that one tenth point change actually represents a thirty percent increase in the ocean’s acidity. Pteropods are particularly vulnerable to these changes, as their aragonite shells are more difficult to make in increasingly acidic conditions.
A nice introduction to Pteropods
I chose teaching
We have been at sea now for one week. I feel adrift without the comforts and routines of family, exercise, and school. There are no distractions here, no news to follow, and no over-scheduled days. There is just working, eating, and sleeping. Most of the crew and scientists on board seem to really enjoy that routine. I am finding it difficult.
There was a point in my twenties where I wanted nothing more than to become a field biologist. I wanted to leave society, go to where the biological world was less disturbed and learn its lessons. I see the same determination in the graduate students aboard the Tiglax. When working, they are always hyper focused on their data and the defined protocols they use to collect it. If anything goes wrong with tow or sampling station, we repeat it. You clearly need that kind of focus to do good research. Over time, cut corners or the accumulation of small errors can become inaccurate and misleading trends.
When I was in graduate school hoping to become a marine biologist, I was asked to be teaching assistant to an oceanography class for non-science majors. Never having considered teaching, the experience opened my eyes to the joys of sharing the natural world with others, and changed my path in ways that I don’t regret. I am a teacher; over the last twenty years it has come to define me. On this trip, they call me a Teacher at Sea, yet the title is really a misnomer. I have nothing to teach these people, they are the experts. Really, I am a student at sea, trying to learn all that I can about each thing I observe and each conversation I have.
Animals seen today
Lost of shearwaters (mostly sooty but also Buller’s), along with puffins, auklets, skua
Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves four to six feet during the day, up to eight feet at night
57.27 N, 150.10 W (Kodiak Line)
What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part IV Jellies
Ever seen a jellyfish washed up on the beach? Ever gotten stung by one? Most people don’t have very favorable views of jellyfish. I’m getting to spend a lot of time with them lately, and I am developing an appreciation. We have a graduate student on board studying the interactions between fish and jellies. Her enthusiasm for them is infectious.
Jellyfish really aren’t fish. They belong to a group called Cnidarians, along with corals, sea anemones, and hydras. It’s one of the most primitive groups of animals on the planet. Ancient and simple, Cnidarians have two tissue layers, a defined top and bottom, but no left and right symmetry and no defined digestive or circulatory systems. Jellies have simple nerves and muscles. They can move, but they are unable to swim against oceanic currents and therefore travel at the whim of those currents. Jelly tissue is made of a collagen protein matrix and a lot of water. I have heard one scientist call jellies “organized sea water.” That’s really not too far off. Seawater has a density close to one kilogram per liter, and when you measure jellies, their mass to volume ratio almost always approaches one.
Despite their simplicity, jellies are incredible predators. When we scoop them up with the Methot net, they often come in with small lantern fish paralyzed and dangling from their tentacles. Jellies possess one of the more sophisticated weapons in the animal kingdom. Located in their tentacles are stinging cells, called cnidocytes. These cells contain tiny, often toxic harpoons, called nematocysts. The nematocysts are triggered by touch and can deploy as fast as a rifle bullet, injecting enough venom to kill small fish or to give the person weighing the jellies a nasty sting.
Jellies have not been thoroughly studied in the Gulf of Alaska, and the work onboard the Tiglax may take us closer to answering some basic questions of abundance and distribution. How many jellies are there, where are they, and are their numbers increasing in response to increasing ocean temperatures?
In order to sample jellies each night, four times a night we deploy a Methot net. The Methot net is a square steel frame, two and a half meters on each side and weighing a few hundred pounds. It is attached to a heavy mesh net, ten meters long. Even in relatively calm seas, getting it in and out of the water takes a lot of effort. We have already deployed it in seas up to eight feet and winds blowing 20 knots, and that was pretty crazy. The net is attached by steel bridle cables to the main crane on the Tiglax. As the crane lifts it, four of us guide it overboard and into the water. We leave it in the water for 20 minutes, and it catches jellies – sometimes lots of jellies. On still nights, you can sometimes see jellies glow electric blue as they hit the net.
As we retrieve the net there are a few very tense moments where we have to simultaneously secure the swinging net frame and lift the jelly-filled cod end over the side of the boat. A few of the hauls were big enough that we had to use the crane a second time to lift the cod end into the boat.
Once on board, the jellies have to be identified, measured, and weighed. Assuming catches stay about the same, we will measure over one thousand jellies while on this cruise. I don’t know how all of this data compares with similar long-term ecological projects, but on this trip the trend is clear. Jellies are true oceanic organisms, the further we go offshore the larger and more numerous they get. Go much beyond the continental shelf and you have entered the “jelly zone.”
Last night was tough. During our transit from the Seward line to the Kodiak line, things got sloppy. The waves got bigger, and their periods got shorter. To make things more uncomfortable, we were running perpendicular to the movement of the waves. I retreated to my bunk to read, but eventually the motion of the ocean got the better of me and I made my required donations to the fishes. The boat doesn’t stop for seasick scientist (or teacher) and neither does the work; at 11:00 last night I dragged myself from bed and reported for duty.
The work on the Tiglax is nonstop. The intensity of labor involved with scientific discovery has been an eye-opener to me. We live in a world where unimaginable knowledge is at our fingertips. We can search up the answer to any question and get immediate answers. Yet we too easily forget that the knowledge we obtain through our Google searches was first obtained through the time and labor of seekers like the scientists aboard the Tiglax.
The goal of this project is to understand the dynamics of the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, but one of the major challenges in oceanography is the vastness of its subject. This project contains 60-70 sampling stations and 1,800 nautical miles of observational transects, but that is just a few pin pricks in a great wide sea. Imagine trying to understand the plot of a silent movie while watching it through a darkened curtain that has just a few specks of light passing through.
Did You Know?
Storm petrels periodically land on ships to seek cover from winds or storms. They are one of the smaller sea birds, at just a few ounces they survive and thrive in the wild wind and waves of the Gulf of Alaska.
Last night we had a forked-tailed storm petrel fly into the drying room as I was removing my rain gear between zooplankton tows. A softball-sized orb of grey and white feathers, it weighed almost nothing and stared at me with deep black and nervous eyes as I picked it up, wished it well, and released it off the stern of the boat. It was a cool moment.
Animals Seen Today
Lots of seabirds including Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater, and an osprey that followed the boat for half the night
Mola mola (ocean sunfish), which was far north of its normal range
Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves to four feet
58.27 N, 148.07 W (Gulf of Alaska Line)
What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part II Phytoplankton
Most of my students know that the sun provides the foundational energy for almost all of Earth’s food webs. Yet many students will get stumped when I ask them, where does the mass of a tree comes from? The answer of course is carbon dioxide from the air, but I bet you already knew that.
Scientists use the term “primary productivity” to explain how trees, plants, and algae take in carbon dioxide and “fix it” into carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis. Out here in the Gulf of Alaska, the primary producers are phytoplankton (primarily diatoms and dinoflagellates). When examining diatoms under a microscope, they look like tiny golden pillboxes, or perhaps Oreos if you are feeling hungry.
One of the teams of scientists on board is trying to measure the rates of primary productivity using captive phytoplankton and a homemade incubation chamber. They collect phytoplankton samples, store them in sealed containers, and then place them into the incubator. Within their sample jars, they inject a C13 isotope. After the experiment has run its course, they will use vacuum filtration to separate the phytoplankton cells from the seawater. Once the phytoplankton cells are captured on filter paper they can measure the ratios of C12 to C13. Almost all of the carbon available in the environment is C12 and can be distinguished from C13. The ratios of C12 to C13 in the cells gives them a measurement of how much dissolved carbon is being “fixed” into sugars by phytoplankton. Apparently using C14 would actually work better but C14 is radioactive and the Tiglax is not equipped with the facilities to hand using a radioactive substance.
During the September survey, phytoplankton numbers are much lower than they are in the spring. The nutrients that they need to grow have largely been used up. Winter storms will mix the water and bring large amounts of nutrients back to the surface. When sunlight returns in April, all of the conditions necessary for phytoplankton growth will be present, and the North Gulf of Alaska will experience a phytoplankton bloom. It’s these phytoplankton blooms that create the foundation for the entire Gulf of Alaska ecosystem.
Interesting things to see
The night shift is not getting any easier. The cumulative effects of too little sleep are starting to catch up to me, and last night I found myself dosing off between plankton tows. The tows were more interesting though. Once we got past the edge of the continental shelf, the diversity of zooplankton species increased and we started to see lantern fish in each of the tows. Lantern fish spend their days below one thousand feet in the darkness of the mesopelagic and then migrate up each night to feed on zooplankton. The have a line of photophores (light producing cells) on their ventral sides. When they light them up, their bodies blend in to the faint light above, hiding their silhouette, making them functionally invisible.
Once I am up in the morning, the most fun place to hang out on the Tiglax is the flying bridge. Almost fifty feet up and sitting on top of the wheelhouse, it has a cushioned bench, a wind block, and a killer view. This is where our bird and marine mammal observers work. Normally there is one U.S. Fish and Wildlife observer who works while the boat is transiting from one station to the next. On this trip, there is a second observer in training. The observers’ job is to use a very specific protocol to count and identify any sea bird or marine mammal seen along the transect lines.
Today we saw lots of albatross; mostly black-footed, but a few Laysan, and one short-tailed albatross that landed next to the boat while were casting the CTD. The short-tailed albatross was nearly extinct a few years ago, and today is still considered endangered. That bird was one of only 4000 of its species remaining. Albatross have an unfortunate tendency to follow long-line fishing boats. They try to grab the bait off of hooks and often are drowned as the hooks drag them to the bottom. Albatross are a wonder to watch as they glide effortlessly a few inches above the waves. They have narrow tapered wings that are comically long. When they land on the water, they fold their gangly wings back in a way that reminds me of a kid whose growth spurts hit long before their body knows what to do with all of that height. While flying, however, they are a picture of grace and efficiency. They glide effortlessly just a few inches above the water, scanning for an unsuspecting fish or squid. When some species of albatross fledge from their nesting grounds, they may not set foot on land again for seven years, when their own reproductive instincts drive them to land to look for a mate.
Our birders seem to appreciate anyone who shares their enthusiasm for birds and are very patient with all of my “What species is that?” questions. They have been seeing whales as well. Fin and sperm whales are common in this part of the gulf and they have seen both.
Did You Know?
Albatross, along with many other sea birds, have life spans comparable to humans. It’s not uncommon for them to live sixty or seventy years, and they don’t reach reproductive maturity until well into their teens.
Animals Seen Today
Fin and sperm whales
Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater
The scientists aboard this ship are trying to understand the working parts of the North Gulf of Alaska ecosystem. Since Descartes, the western approach to science has required that the understanding of complex systems begin with the reduction of a system it to its simpler working parts. For example, to understand the clock, you must take it apart and try to understand the mechanism of each piece separately. The Gulf of Alaska is huge, and its ecosystem is both highly complex and highly variable. Changes take place because of weather, season, and climactic regime. Nonetheless, the first step to understanding it is to understand its chemistry.
The CTD gets dropped or “cast” at each station. On this boat, that means four people shoving it out the back door while trying not to fall out themselves. There is more than $100,000 worth of equipment attached to the CTD Rosette and there is a moment in each cast where the CTD swings precariously before the winch lowers it down into the water. When the CTD comes back up, all of that data is run through a computer and it paints a picture of what conditions are like at depth.
CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, depth. In reality, it tests for those things plus salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, pressure, and florescence (which is a measurement of the chlorophyll in phytoplankton). The CTD also has a camera onboard that takes gray-scale images of particles and plankton in the water column as it goes down. Most of our CTD “casts” are showing a water column that is highly stratified, with a surface layer that is relative warm (34o Celsius), lower salinity, and a chlorophyll maximum around twenty meters. The CTD shows a thermocline (rapid change in temperature) around fifty meters. Below that, the water is colder and has a higher salinity, both of which results in water with a higher density. The density differences between these two layers make it so that they don’t easily mix. The stratification effect had been intensified by the recent stretch of sunny weather and light winds. Stratification by density “traps” phytoplankton at the surface in waters ideal for photosynthesis except that in September, the availability of nutrients needed for growth is quite low. Nitrates, nitrites, and silica have been used up by growing phytoplankton earlier in the summer and their absence now limits growth.
We have scientists on board measuring the surface waters for trace metals – iron in particular. It’s a common joke on board that the smaller the subject you study, the greater the equipment needs. Whale watchers just need binoculars but the chemists have their own lab set up inside a twenty-foot shipping container or “van” strapped to the top deck. The metals team drags a missile shaped device along the side of the boat known as an “iron fish.” The iron fish, is connected to a long plastic tube and pump that provides them a constant stream of surface water. Samples are continuously collected and frozen for later analysis back in Fairbanks. Months of work will be required to process all of the samples collected on this trip.
Our plankton catches were much less variable last night. The Multi-net caught almost exclusively small euphausiids (krill.) The Methot net caught four kinds of jellies, including one moon jelly that the jelly expert was very excited about – perhaps a species not described in Alaska before. The Methot net also caught a lot of small fishes swimming at the surface. One of which was the three-spine stickleback. This was exciting for me because the three-spine stickleback is a species we use in my AP Biology class as an easy to understand and highly local example of natural selection. The three-spine stickleback is a small fish, around 1 inch in size, found in both fresh and saltwater. In saltwater, they have three large spines that discourage predators from eating them. Out here in the ocean, the spines give the fish a selective advantage. During the last ice age, some sticklebacks were trapped in fresh water ponds and lakes in South Central Alaska. There, they underwent a change. The spines which were such a great defense in the ocean were a disadvantage to them in freshwater. Aggressive dragonfly larva use the spines like handles to grab the small fish and eat them. Over time there was a selective advantage to have smaller spines, and today freshwater sticklebacks have greatly reduced pelvic spines as compared to their saltwater cousins. Natural selection did not design a better fish, it simply picked which variants were more likely to survive and reproduce in its environment.
My second night shift was not any easier, but it was more pleasant. Just before sunset, we took a slight detour from our transect line to recovery a buoy for a scientist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. An acoustic recorder, designed to count whales by their unique calls, it had been deployed a year earlier in 900 meters of water. The crew had onboard a device that would talk to the buoy and signal it to release from its mooring. It took about a half an hour, but eventually there we saw it bobbing at the surface. Luckily the seas were pretty calm, and we were able to pull it through the side door.
The seas and weather continue to be excellent. Last night we were treated to a display of the aurora around 3:30 AM. It was so calm and so quiet that at one point, we could hear whales breathing around us. Both served as distractions to the routine of net deployment, net retrieval, sample containment, repeat.
As we traveled the ten nautical miles between stations, the flood lights on the front deck were turned off and I would sit down to watch the stars. To ancient mariners, the clear night sky was a map that could direct you across an ocean. It made me think of the Polynesian navigators tracking their small canoes across the Pacific. It also made me think about Ptolemy, who thought the Earth was encased in a perfect glass sphere with stars painted along its interior. I could see how you would think of such a sky as art.
Did You Know?
Did you know the Earth is round? It seems silly to have to say, but as a science teacher, the battle against the fantasies and fallacies of the Internet are never ending. Last year was the first year in twenty-one years of teaching that I was challenged by a student to prove to him that the Earth is round, and it happened twice. So here goes. On a boat in the Gulf of Alaska on a clear day, you know the Earth is round because as you move slowly away from the mountains, they disappear from the bottom up. By the end of the day we had traveled far enough from shore that we saw just the snow-covered tips of mountain peaks.
Animals Seen Today
Lots of seabirds including black-footed and Laysan albatross, sooty shearwater, puffins and fulmars.
Most of day one was spent loading, sorting, unpacking, and storing gear. Scientists do not travel light. There were more action packers on board than I have ever seen in once place. At midday, we had a safety training, which consisted of learning how to put on a survival suit and how to use the coffee machine without flooding the galley. For night work, I was assigned a mustang float coat, a water activated flash light, and satellite locator, so that they could find my body if I went overboard.
After dinner, work shifted to putting together various nets and the CTD which I will describe in more detail later. We got underway at about 8:00 PM, just as the sun was setting. I slept for an hour and was woken at 10:30 to begin my shift doing zooplankton tows.
The first tow uses a Methot net, which is a large square steel frame attached by d-rings to a heavy mesh net, ten meters long. The net ends in a plastic sieve tube called a “cod end” that keeps any jellies from escaping. The net is quite heavy, and it takes four of us to guide it as a crane raises it off of the deck and then lowers it over the side. The net is dragged at the surface for twenty minutes. In the darkness of night, it glows slightly green as ctenophores and other bioluminescent jellies smash into it.
After the Methot net is retrieved and secured on deck, we leave the collected jellies for a few minutes to go deploy the next net, called a Multi-net. The Multi-net is a steel box about the size of a dishwasher with a funnel entrance and five separate fine-mesh nets hanging off of the back. The net also has a heavy “fish fin” that acts to drag it down and keep it moving straight. The four of us work the net to the edge of the boat, open the back gate, and use two winches to lower it overboard. Once in the water and if the bottom depth allows it, the Multi-net gets dropped to a depth of two hundred meters and the first net is opened. The Multi-net allows you to “carve up the water column.” Each net can be triggered remotely to open and collect a horizontal sample of zooplankton at a specific depth. The electronics also allow you to measure how much water volume flows through the net. Each net is about two meters long, made of a fine mesh that funnels plankton into a soft sieve or “cod end”. While the Multi-net is “fishing,” we sort, classify, and measure the jellies collected in the Methot net tow.
The Seward Line Transect is made up of fifteen stops or stations. Each one designated as GAK1, GAK2, etc. Once we finish sampling a station, the boat speeds up and drives us ten nautical miles to the next station. Last night we managed to sample four stations, finishing the last one just as the sun rose around 7:00 AM. When daylight comes, the Tiglax makes its way back to the place the night shift began. All of the day-time sampling has to be done at each of the stations we sampled the night before. The day-time sampling uses different tools, the main tool being the CTD Rosette Sampler. The Rosette is a steel cage with water collecting “Niskin Bottles” and lots of other instrumentation strapped into the cage. There are fifteen bottles and each is triggered by computer to close at a specific depth. This allows the scientists on board to measure a variety of physical and chemical properties of the water at depth.
The night shift was surprisingly dark. That may sound obvious, but after a long Alaskan summer, with campfires and hikes that often went past midnight in perfect daylight, dark is an adjustment. The night was beautiful and warm, but the work of deploying and retrieving nets was tedious and physical. By morning I was exhausted, but I was reminded repeatedly that there are no cutting corners. No matter how tired you get, each sample needs to be meticulously cared for.
After the sun came up, I forced myself to eat some breakfast and then I fell in bed for a hard sleep. I could only stay there for a couple hours before my well-trained, morning-self wanted to greet the day. The day was flawless, picture-perfect, sunny and calm, the kind of days you don’t often seen in the stormy Gulf of Alaska.
Animals Seen Today
Lots of seabirds, including black-legged kittiwakes, pelagic cormorants, and sooty and flesh-footed shearwaters.
Mission: Long-Term Ecological Research in the North Gulf of Alaska, aka The Seward Line Transects
Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 5, 2018
Latitude: 61.3293° N Longitude: 149.5680° W Air Temperature: 60° F Sky: Clear
When I read the instructions for my application to NOAA Teacher at Sea, they emphasized the necessity for flexibility. Alaskans, in my mind, epitomize flexibility. The climate demands it. When the weather changes, you have to adjust to it. Not doing so can put you or others at risk.
My original cruise should have departed this weekend into the Bering Sea, but NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson developed problems with its propulsion system. Rather than sailing this research cruise, she will be in Kodiak under repair. I was pretty bummed when I got the news, but I really feel for all of those PhD students whose thesis projects needed the data from that trip.
The wonderful folks at NOAA told me that they were working on a new assignment, most likely in Southeastern US. I tried to wait patiently, but I was thinking about how much I wanted to teach Alaskan kids about the ocean just a few miles from them. Meanwhile, I had to cancel my substitute teacher. My sub has done some biological fieldwork, and when I talked to him he was very understanding. The funny thing was I got an email from his wife the next day, saying that she might have a berth for me. It turns out she works for the North Pacific Research Board and was familiar with most of the fisheries and ecological research going on in coastal Alaska. The berth was on the R/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle). The Tiglax is not a NOAA vessel. It is owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and operated jointly by the National Science Foundation. NOAA Teacher at Sea does occasionally partner with other organizations. After a few days of waiting, I was told that this cruise met the NOAA Teacher at Sea criteria.
Bringing an end to my long logistical story, I leave Monday on a trip into the Gulf of Alaska for seventeen days aboard the Tiglax.
The science behind my new project is pretty exciting. The Seward Line Transects have been run every summer since 1997 – every May and every September. Weather permitting, we will repeat the Seward Line Transect (seen below in black) along with four other transects. Each transect begins at a near shore location and makes it past the edge of the continental shelf into the deep waters of the Pacific. At each transect station, water is collected using a CTD to test the physical and chemical properties of the water at that location. A variety of plankton collection nets will be also be deployed. One of these sampling stations (GAK-1) has been sampled continuously for plankton and water chemistry for forty-eight years, representing an incredible wealth of long term ecological data.
Here is Caitlin Smoot (who will be on board with me) talking about how Zooplankton is collected aboard the R/V Sikuliaq, another vessel that operates in the Gulf of Alaska.
My job will be working the night shift, helping to collect plankton. I go out of my way in all of my classes to look at plankton. I even wrote a lab using diatoms to investigate a suspicious drowning death for my forensic science class. I’ve been collecting and examining freshwater plankton around my home in Eagle River, Alaska with my science classes for years, but rarely have I gotten to look at marine plankton. I’m excited to learning how plankton is collected at sea and how those collections are used to calculate relative abundance of plankton in the Gulf of Alaska from these samples.
In my classroom, I am always on the look out for how to better connect students to the science I am teaching. I’ve taught Oceanography for fifteen years but never been on an oceanographic cruise. I am hopeful this trip gives me a depth of experience that my students will benefit from.
As I get closer, I am not without some anxieties. I’m the very definition of a morning person, so working the night shift is going to be an adjustment. Just being aboard the Tiglax is going to be an adjustment. At a length of 120 feet, the Tiglax is a small research vessel with pretty limited facilities and no Internet connection. I’ve been in a lot of boats, but I don’t recall ever being beyond the sight of land. Those transect lines go way out into the ocean, and I wonder what it will feel like to be 150 miles from shore.
Did You Know?
The average depth of the ocean approaches 3,700 meters (12,000 feet.) The Seward Line transect begins in water only 100 meters deep and moves into water greater than 4000 meters in depth.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 23, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 87 43.9 N
Longitude – 152 28.3 W
Air temperature: 12 C
Dry bulb 12 C
Wet bulb 11 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 2 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1011.4 millibars
Cloud Height: 2000 K feet
Waves: 0 feet
Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm
Science and Technology Log
Today we deployed the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather off the southeast coast of Kodiak Island Alaska, at 3:30 pm Alaskan time zone. The buoy will be transmitting its location for approximately one year. During this time, students will be have the opportunity to logon and track its progress.
This project is very exciting for many of my students at the Henderson County Early College and elementary students at Atkinson Elementary (Mills River, NC) and Hillandale Elementary (Henderson County, NC) that have participated in my “Young Scientists” program. Prior to my journey to Alaska, I visited those elementary schools introducing them to the mapping that we were going to collect and the important mission of NOAA. As part of this outreach, students designed stickers that I placed on the buoy prior to deployment yesterday. In addition, Ms. Sarah Hills, a middle school science teacher from the country of Turkey, is also going to track its progress.
An interesting note: my “Young Scientists” program was inspired in 2015 after participating in my first Teacher at Sea trip on board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni coordinator Jenn Annetta and Emily Susko for supporting this effort!
All schools are welcome to track its current location. Visit the following site http://osmc.noaa.gov/Monitor/OSMC/OSMC.html. In the upper left hand corner enter the WMO ID# 2101601 and then click the refresh map in the right hand corner.
The last day at sea, crew members had the opportunity to fish from the ship in a region called the “Eight Ball,” which is a shoal just of to the southwest of Kodiak Island. Within ten minutes, the reels were active hauling in Halibut. I have never seen fish this big before and Eric reeled in the biggest catch weighing around 50 lbs! Alaska is a big state with big fish!
This is my last day on board the Fairweather. For three weeks I witnessed a young NOAA Corps crew orchestrate an amazing level of professionalism and responsibilities to ensure a productive mission. While on board and I met new friends and I have learned so much and will be bringing home new lessons and activities for years to come. The crew on board the ship has been very warm, patient and very happy to help answer questions. I am very honored to be selected for a second cruise and have enjoyed every minute; thank you so much! As we sailed into Kodiak Island, witnessed an eye catching sunrise, wow!
I wish the crew of the Fairweather, Fair winds and happy seas.
Latitude: 61.3293° N Longitude: 149.5680° W Air Temperature: 56° F Sky: Rain (typical weather for August in AK)
My name is Mark Van Arsdale. I am a high school teacher in Eagle River, Alaska. Eagle River is a bedroom community just outside of Anchorage. At ERHS, I teach AP Biology, Forensic Science, Oceanography, and Marine Biology. I will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a participant in the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program.
It’s raining right now, and I am sitting in my kitchen contemplating the start of the new school year next week and the start of a new adventure next month. In three weeks I will fly from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to join the scientists and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Even though I will never leave the state, I will fly 796 miles, the same distance as flying from New York to Chicago. Alaska is an incredibly large state, almost 600,000 square miles of land and 34,000 miles of coastline. My adventure will take me into the Bering Sea. Although I have never been there, I have a connection to the Bering Sea. Like many other Alaskans’, much of the salmon and other seafood my family eats spends all or part of its lifecycle traveling through the rich waters of the Bering Sea.
Alaska and Alaskans are highly dependent on the oceans. Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea produces more groundfish (pollock, cod, rockfish, sablefish, and flatfish) than any other place in the country, close to 2 million metric tons per year. In 2013 that was valued at over $2 billion. Fishing is consistently Alaska’s top non-government employer and after oil, seafood represents our largest export. Thousands of residents participate every year in subsistence fishing, and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Alaska each year, many with the hopes of catching a wild salmon or halibut (facts from the Alaska Sea Grant).
My classroom is less than five miles from the ocean (Cook Inlet Estuary), yet many of the students I teach have never seen the ocean. They may not know the importance of the ocean to our state. When I teach Oceanography and Marine Biology, I work very hard to connect my students to both the science and industry of the oceans. Not just so that my students can understand what kind of work that scientist and fishermen do, but also so that they will understand the value of the work do.
I have been in the classroom for twenty years, and in the last few years I have seen more and more students entering my classroom who see no value in science. Science matters! The oceans and our relationship to the oceans matter! I am hopeful that working on board the Oscar Dyson with a team of scientists is going to help me make those connections better.
Have I mentioned yet that I love fish? I love to study fish, teach about fish, catch fish, cook fish, eat fish, watch fish. So I am pretty excited about spending two weeks on a research cruise dedicated to fish research, and working with some of the Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
All of the science party arrived in Nome and gathered for a science briefing before departure. In the evening there was a public presentation by Jackie Grebmeier the missions Co-Chief Scientist and Primary Investigator of the Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory – Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (DBO-NCIS). Jackie presented on what researchers have found. In brief, there is a shift northwards of the bottom dwelling Arctic ecosystems in the Bering Sea. This is due to the lack of winter ice in the southern Bering Sea causing a lack of a deep-sea cold pool of water during the rest of the year. This colder water is needed for some bottom dwelling organisms such as clams. Those clams are the favorite food choice of the Spectacled Eider Duck. When the bottom of the food chain moves north the higher in the food chain organisms such as the Spectacled Eider Duck need to adapt to a different food source or in this case move with north with it. The reason for the lacking cold pool of seawater is the lack ice being created at the surface during the winter, this process creates cold saltier water. Colder water that is also higher in salinity sinks and settles to the bottom of the ocean. So essentially the effects of less southern sea ice are from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the ocean. Grebmeier will be leading the DBO-NCS science team during this expedition so look for a future blogs focused on this research.
August 7th Evening:
We are currently anchored off the Nome Alaska Harbor and have only been on the ship for a few hours. Scientists are preparing their instruments for deployment. These instruments will measure a wide range of non-living and living members of the ecosystem. These scientific measurements will be taken from the sea floor into the atmosphere, the measurements will use a wide range of equipment. Stay tuned to future blogs with focus on different research groups, their data, specialized equipment, and their findings. We are off!
There is no place like Nome, Where the Land Meets the Sea
We are departing from Nome, Alaska. Here are some pictures around the city of Nome. Roadways to the rest of Alaska and beyond do not connect Nome. You must get here by boat or plane.
The Chum salmon were running in the Nome River, they leave the ocean and go up the river to spawn.
I found someone who traveled farther to get here than me: Arctic Terns who travel from the Antarctic to Arctic every year. In this picture, an Arctic Tern is seen with this year’s offspring. The juvenile here can now fly and will stay with its parent for the first 2 to 3 months.
This is the same variety of seagull that you see in New England, but in Alaska, this one was not so nice. As I was walking on busy road way, this gull caught me off guard and dive-bombed me, almost knocking me into incoming traffic. After several more passes, the gull decided I was not a threat to its offspring. This nest was over 200ft away. Many seabirds use the coast of Alaska to breed and raise the next generation. The common seagull, or Glaucous Gull, and Arctic Tern are only just two.
“When am I ever going to use this?” This is the query of many students who are required to take mathematics courses. However, scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson use mathematics every day as part of their job. As discussed in a previous blog post, underwater acoustic data are collected as the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson navigates along the transects. These backscatter data are relied upon to decide when to take trawling net samples as well as to estimate the number and biomass of pollock in the area.
How do these underwater acoustics work? The answer can be found in mathematics and physics. As previously discussed, echosounders affixed to a centerboard below the hull of the ship send an audible ping down into the water and measure how long it takes to bounce off of an object (like a pollock) and return to the surface. The echosounders know the transmitted signal power (denoted Pt) and measure the received signal power (denoted Pr). Measuring the time between the signal transmission and reception and multiplying by the speed of sound (approximately 1450 m/s, given local water salinity and temperature conditions) will allow the calculation of distance of an object below the surface (or range denoted r). Using acoustics properties combined with known properties of pollock, we can get the equation for backscattering strength at a point as , where β is a constant and C(r) is a constant that is dependent on range.
However, since sound is measured in decibels which are arranged on a log scale, 10 times the log of both sides of the backscattering strength equation is desired. Using logarithm rules, this becomes
The value on the left-hand side of this equation is commonly referred to as target strength (TS) and is an important value to complete the survey.
The target strength is the amount of energy returned from a fish of a certain length. Since the echosounders are transmitting through the water column below the ship, the TS values are converted to backscatter strength per volume unit of water, referred to in the literature as Sv. The Sv values are graphed on the EK60 scientific echosounder, giving a picture similar to the one below. Different colors in the output are matched to various ranges of Sv values. An experienced fisheries scientist, like the ones aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, can use the echosign data to determine a possible picture of the ocean life below the ship. While the EK60 scientific echosounder can transmit at five different frequencies (18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 kHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz), the 38-kilohertz transmission frequency is the best frequency to detect pollock. Other transmission frequencies are shown to help delineate adult pollock from baby pollock and from other types of fish and smaller crustaceans called euphausiids.
The target strength is related to the length of the fish. The age of pollock is strongly correlated to their length until they are about 4 years old, so length can help the scientists determine how many of each year class are in the ocean below. Once again, logarithms come in handy, as the equation that relates the fork length in centimeters, l, of the pollock to the recorded target strength is TS = 20 log l – 66. This allows the scientists to use the echosounder data to get an approximate measure of the fish below without having to catch them.
Today we will be going on a partial tour of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson so you can see where I spend most of my time while aboard. The first stop is my stateroom, where I sleep and relax when not on shift. The top bunk is mine and the bottom bunk belongs to my roommate, NOAA scientist Abigail McCarthy. Our stateroom has one window where we can check on the weather and sea conditions. The picture below shows our view most of the time: cloudy!
Ocean from my window
Next stop is the mess hall where three meals a day are served. The stewards do a great job of cooking creative meals for everyone aboard. Before I boarded the ship, I bought a lot of snacks because I was worried about not getting enough to eat, but boy was I wrong. There is always plenty to eat at every meal, snacks that are out if you get hungry in between, and lots of dessert!
Finally, we come to the fish lab where the trawling net samples referred to in my last blog post are processed. Before processing, we go to the ready room and put on our gear. This includes work boots as well as waterproof coveralls and jacket. Measuring the length of the pollock can get messy so we have to have the right gear. Once in the fish lab, we grab our gloves and get to measuring!
The fish lab where samples from the trawling net and methot are processed.
Did You Know?
Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is one of the six major line offices of NOAA.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 25, 2018 at 10:25am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33.4146° N
Longitude: 82.3126° W
Wind: 1 mph N
Barometer: 759.968 mmHg
Temperature: 26.1° C
Weather: Mostly cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
I’m going to take you back in time to July 13, a day when a once-in-a-leg event took place. We awoke that morning to a strong breeze blowing NOAA Ship Fairweather towards the dock in Nome. Normally a breeze blowing a docked ship is fine, but that day was the start of our long awaited departure to Point Hope! 0900 was quickly approaching, and Ensign Abbott was excited for his first opportunity as conn during an undocking process! With XO Gonsalves at his side for support, he stepped up to the control center outside the bridge on the starboard side.
As you may or may not know, taking the conn is no small feat. “Conn” is an old name for the conning officer, or controller of the ship’s movement. The conning officer used to stand on the conning tower, an elevated platform where the ship’s movement could be monitored. Although the conn no longer stands on a conning tower, the name and role remain the same. The conn makes commands to the rest of the ship and, during docking and undocking, controls the two engines, two rudders, bow thruster, and the lines attaching the ship to the dock. Each part causes the ship to move in specific way and has a very important function in undocking.
ENS Abbott did a great job deciding which parts of the ship to maneuver which way and when. The process was so technical that I cannot begin to describe it. However, the persistent westerly wind just kept drifting the ship back into its docking station. Every time we got the ship positioned the way we wanted, it would push right back into its starting place. The situation turned hazardous because we had a giant barge docked in front of us, a fishing vessel docked behind us, and the wall of the dock to our starboard side. The only direction we could go without danger of crashing into something was to the left. Unfortunately you cannot move a ship side to side very far without forward or backward movement, so there are strategies for moving the ship in a forward to backward motion while simultaneously moving left or right.
In our situation, the best thing to do was to slowly back the ship out while swinging the stern end into the harbor. Once out enough to account for the westerly wind, the engines could push forward and the ship could safely exit the harbor. Unfortunately all did not go as planned and when the engines went forward, the wind pushed the ship so far towards the dock in a short amount of time that the stern narrowly missed a collision with the wall of the dock! It was a close call! The conn was unlucky in the fact that he was assigned control of the ship during weather conditions no sailor would elect, but he did his best and it was a great learning lesson for everyone!
Fast forward to July 19. The members of the NOAA Corps new to ship docking and undocking had a brief in the conference room. They discussed all of the physics involved in the undocking from the week prior, debriefed the challenge the wind posed, and reviewed the different types of maneuvers for undocking. Then they shifted the conversation to planning for the next day’s docking maneuver. XO Gonsalves, with a vast array of unique skills in his toolbox, turned on a PlayStation game that he created for his crew to practice docking and undocking! Docking a ship is a skill with the unique problem that you cannot simply practice it whenever you want to. The only attempt offered to the crew during this leg was on the morning of July 20. It was a “one and done” attempt. Lucky for them, XO thought outside the box! With the video game, they could practice as often as they wanted to and for as long as necessary to get the skill down.
XO’s video game for practicing the docking process
The NOAA Corps getting ready to practice docking
The challenge presented to the crew was to dock and then undock the boat seen in the photo above eight different times with varying obstacles to work through. Examples of obstacles were having a small docking space, turning the boat around, and wind adding a new force to the boat. Three controllers were needed for the job. The first controller, and the little tiny person at the front of the boat, controlled the bow thruster. The bow thruster could push the boat left or right in a jet propulsion-like manner. Using the bow thruster on the port side pushed the boat right, and using the bow thruster on the starboard side pushed the boat left. The XO also assigned this person the roll of the conn, so they had to call out directions to everyone playing the game. The next person controlled the engines. This was a difficult task because there is a port and a starboard engine, and each engine can go forward or backward. The conn could give a simple order like “all ahead” or a more difficult order like “port ahead, starboard back” (trust me, that one is not easy). The last person controlled the rudders. The rudders worked in unison and could be turned right or left. The rudders can be fine-tuned in reality but in the game, due to the controller’s limitations, we used the commands of “half rudder” and “full rudder” to choose how significantly the rudders should be turned. You can see a small clip of the game in action below. Turn up the volume to hear the conn. As a reminder, the Corps members participating are learning the process, so you may hear a variety of commands as they fine tune their vocabulary to use more specific language.
On the morning of July 20, the docking process was smooth with no surprise forces at play on the ship. The NOAA Corps did an excellent job with the maneuver. As soon as we thought we would get a chance to relax, a food order arrived with 2,700 lbs of food that needed to be hauled from the top deck of the ship down to the bottom. Horizontal forces affecting the ship were no comparison to the vertical force of gravity pulling all those boxes down towards Earth, but we used an assembly line of 20 people passing boxes down the stairwell and we all ended the day with a good workout!
It seems fitting to begin my last blog with the story of undocking the Fairweather in Nome at the start of the leg. This is not the end of my Teacher at Sea journey but the start of my work, integrating my personal experience into something relevant for my students in a physical science classroom. Since returning home, I completed my first media interview about my time at sea. Ironically teaching others about myself led to my own epiphanies, namely refining my “why” to becoming an educator. I told Amanda, my interviewer, how I spent my childhood soaking my shoes in ponds trying to catch frogs, harvesting new rocks for my shoe box collection under my bed, and following the streams of water every April when snow melted away. I grew up with a curiosity for all things natural and scientific. Science classes were simply an outlet for my inquisitive mind, so it was easy to be engaged in school. Below are a few photos of me in high school, memories of times that inspired my love for the ocean. That natural wonder, excitement, curiosity I had for the world around me as a child and young adult…that’s what I want to instill in my students. My experience on the Fairweather helped me find new tools for my “teaching toolbox” and new ideas for my curriculum that I hope will inspire more students to become curious about their worlds. You’re never too old to discover the intrigue of the natural world. When you begin to understand that the purpose of science is to explain what we observe, your desire to uncover the secrets will grow!
During a dogfish shark dissection, I discovered that my shark had been pregnant
A horseshoe crab that appeared on a rocky shore in Connecticut
Measuring the length of marine organisms with calipers
The ability of a ship to make 3,000,000 lbs of weight float on water, that is intriguing. The idea of using sound waves, something we interact with constantly on land, under the water to map what we cannot see, that is amazing. Collecting an array of data that, to the untrained mind seem unrelated, and putting them together into a chart used by mariners all over the world, that is revolutionary. NOAA hydrographic ships connect science and the economy in a way not dissimilar to how I hope to connect education and career for my students. This experience inspired me in ways beyond my expectations, and I cannot wait to share my new knowledge and ideas in my classroom!
Did You Know?
The Multibeam Echosounder on the ship obtains ocean depths accurate to 10 centimeters. The average depth of the ocean is 3,700 meters, or 370,000 centimeters, according to NOAA. That is an average percent accuracy of 99.997%!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 20, 2018 at 10:14am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.275′ W
Wind: 4 knots S
Barometer: 767.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 11.8° C
Sea Surface: n/a
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
Despite a few setbacks, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather worked diligently to complete as much surveying as possible around Point Hope during this leg of the mission. Three small boats were sent out last Saturday, July 14th to each survey part of a “sheet”. A sheet is an area of ocean assigned to a hydrographer to survey and process into a bathymetric map. A bathymetric map is the colorful map produced from survey data that shows ocean depth using colors of the rainbow from red (shallow) to blue (deep). Ultimately, that sheet will be added to a nautical chart. Hydrographer Toshi Wozumi kindly showed me the progress that the ship has made towards the Point Hope survey mission below. The soundings were conducted with “set line spacing” of between 100m and 1,000m between each line in order to cover a satisfactory amount of ground in a feasible timeframe. When a more detailed map is necessary, there will be no empty space between lines and this is known as “full coverage”.
Point Hope is such a unique little piece of land. All of the light blue you see on the map above is actually fresh water from inland. Skinny slices of land separate the salty Arctic water from the fresh water. Hydrographer Christina Belton told me that this area experiences a lot of erosion. In the area we surveyed, you can see an unusually straight line between the deep blue-colored seafloor and the relatively shoal yellow- to green-colored seafloor (shoal is a synonym for shallow, but of the two it is the more common word used by hydrographers). This distinct line is a sand bar where sediment collects from erosion and water currents. I am really interested to see how the bathymetric map develops as the season goes on! Hydrographers are expecting this survey to be very flat and unexciting, but you never know what will show up!
The tiny little polygon at the bottom left of the picture above is a section of a PARS corridor. PARS is an acronym that stands for Port Access Route Studies, and these studies are initiated by the US Coast Guard when an area may be in need of routing changes or new designated routes for a number of different reasons. According to the US Coast Guard, the Eastern Bering Sea is a relatively shallow sea with depths ranging from 20 – 250 feet. This in combination with outdated nautical charts containing sparse data points can make for dangerous conditions for mariners trying to navigate in and around the Bering Sea. In addition Arctic sea ice is retreating more and more each year, and there is a growing interest in travel through the Northwest Passage, formerly covered in sea ice year round. I have heard that a cruise ship will soon travel the Northwest Passage, and tickets start at $37,000 per person. Any takers?
NOAA Ship Fairweather was tasked with surveying a small section of the PARS corridor. We worked on this project during our return trip to Nome. A bathymetric map was not prepared by the time I left the ship, so I was not able to see the data. However, this data will be a very important addition to the US Coast Guard’s maps. You may notice on the map of the proposed survey sheets that the northern border of the polygon follows a longer line. This is the International Date Line and also the border between the US and Russia. NOAA Ship Fairweather had to take special precautions to ensure we did not enter international waters without permission, so we ran a couple of soundings the short way on the edge of the polygon before changing our lines to go the long way. The short lines gave us room to turn the ship around without entering Russian waters. If you have ever mowed your lawn, running lines on the ship is just like mowing lines on your grass. When you get to the end of your yard, you need room to turn the lawn mower around before mowing in the opposite direction. In fact, hydrographers informally refer to the act of collecting data with the MBES as “mowing the lawn”!
NOAA Ship Fairweather will continue to collect data in the Point Hope region for a couple more months. The ship is projected to use 53 days at sea to finish the project. However, this time of year can be difficult for navigating the Bering Sea due to frequent storms. This work requires patience and flexibility, as I witnessed during my time on the ship. In the end, the maps and nautical charts they create will be increasingly valuable as more marine traffic will use the Arctic Ocean during the months when there is no sea ice.
This morning we docked the ship in Nome. It was a bittersweet feeling to step on land once again. I grew to enjoy waking up each morning with water in all directions. The light rocking motion in the evening helped me sleep like a baby! I learned a lot of new information in a short period of time. I also made some new friends among the Fairweather crew and the visitors. Together we endured the 12′ seas of Tuesday’s storm in addition to the Blue Nose initiation! The initiation will forever remain a Navy (and NOAA Corps) secret, but I suppose I can show you the after picture! The ceremony itself was quite a messy ordeal, so we had to rinse off before going back inside the ship. What’s the best way to rinse off at sea? You guessed it! Ice cold Arctic sea water! Not to worry though; safety was the first priority and there were no cases of hypothermia onboard. Upon completing the initiation, the 24 crew members below metamorphosed from slimy wogs to polar bears! The remaining 20 or so crew members had previously earned the name of polar bear.
One thing I learned while aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather is that living and working in the same place with the same people is a unique experience. Your work time and off time are confined to the same spaces. You are always around the same 40 – 50 people. In addition, working in remote areas means fewer modern conveniences like TV and cell phone service. You can’t go out to eat or go shopping until you arrive back in port. It’s not for everyone. What I can say though is that not a single person aboard the ship complained about any of these things! Everyone onboard has learned to adapt to the unique challenges and benefits of their workplace. There are many things to enjoy too! It was so nice not having to cook or do dishes for two weeks! You get to live more simply, which means fewer things to worry about day to day, like getting to work on time and getting to the gym/grocery store/post office/anywhere before it closes or gets too crowded. It’s also a fun place to be! Events like the blue nose initiation boost morale and give everyone fun things to plan and look forward to. I thoroughly enjoyed the mindset shift and gained an appreciation for this kind of work. I will also miss it!
Did You Know?
The most recent soundings for the coastal area north of Point Hope were taken in the 1800s when Russia owned Alaska. They were measured with lead lines, and as you can see in the Point Hope nautical chart, there was a large distance between each measurement.
Answer to Last Question of the Day
What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?
To be eligible for appointment into the NOAA Corps, you must
be a US citizen of good moral character
be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before you turn 62
have a baccalaureate degree from an institution accredited by the US Department of Education
have at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering related to NOAA’s missions
pass a mental and physical examination
be able to maintain a “secret” security clearance
be able to pass a test for illegal drug use.
US Coast Guard (2017). Appendix B – Hydrographic Quality Analysis. Bering Sea PARS. https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/PARS/Bering_Strait_PARS_Appendix_B.pdf.
Hello! My name is Emily Cilli-Turner and I will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a participant in the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program. I am Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California where I teach the entire undergraduate curriculum in mathematics. This will be my sixth year teaching full-time. My bachelor’s degree in mathematics is from Colorado State University and I received my doctorate from University of Illinois at Chicago, where I specialized in undergraduate mathematics education. I am especially interest in the transition students make when they enter a proof-based course and how to best acclimate them to the abstract and non-formulaic nature of proving.
I am passionate about math and science education and excited to use the data collected from my time on the ship to create real-world applications problems for my students. I will be teaching Calculus I and II next semester and I plan to use the data gained from my experience to teach my students about concepts such as rates of change and statistical techniques.
I have a strong love for the ocean and so I am excited to be on the water for so long. I am transitioning to California after living in Washington, where I co-owned a 23-foot sailboat with some friends. We often would sail to different islands and ports on Puget Sound, which was always a blast. When I am not teaching or sailing, I enjoy walking my dog, hiking and reading!
In about a week, I will fly to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to board the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and participate in the Alaska Pollock counting survey. Before receiving this placement, I have never really heard of Pollock, but after researching it I realized it is an amazing fish! Pollock can easily taste like other fish and is often used for imitation crab amongst other things.
I am also really excited to meet the scientists and the crew. The reason I know about the Teacher at Sea program is that I have a friend that works at NOAA in Seattle. I mentioned offhandedly that I would love to go out on a NOAA cruise and she said, “Well…they do have the Teacher at Sea program.” I was immediately intrigued and I wrote my application as soon as it was available. As a person who is passionate about education and the ocean, the Teacher at Sea program is a great fit for me and I know I will learn a lot that I can take back to my students. Hopefully, I can also inspire them to seek out a career with NOAA.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 66° 24.440′ N
Longitude: 163° 22.281′ W
Wind: 17 knots SW, gusts up to 38 knots
Barometer: 758.31 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 12.2° C
Sea Surface 9.6° C
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Fairweather has a variety of assignments in different parts of the west coast each year, mostly in Alaska. They also work with many different organizations. In April of 2018, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, hired the ship to complete the last part of the survey of a fault line, the Queen Charlotte Fault, which lies west of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. This was a joint venture between the US and Canada because it is the source of frequent and sometimes hazardous earthquakes. The Queen Charlotte Fault lies between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The North American Plate is made of continental crust, and the Pacific Plate is made of oceanic crust. The two plates slide past one another, so the plate boundary is known as a transform, or strike slip, fault.
The image to the right came from the USGS. Notice the two black arrows showing the directions of the North American and Pacific plates. Strike slip faults, such as this one, have the potential to produce damaging earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault in California is another example of a strike slip fault. The Queen Charlotte Fault moves relatively fast, with an average rate of 50 mm/year as shown in the photo. The USGS explains the Queen Charlotte fault beautifully in this article.
The image below was created after hydrographers on NOAA Ship Fairweather processed the data from their survey in April. The colors show relative depth across the fault, with red being the shoalest areas and blue being the deepest areas. In the top right section, you can see Noyes Canyon. There are many finger-shaped projections, which are result from sediment runoff. Notice that the color scheme in this area does not have much orange or yellow; it basically goes from red to green. If you were to look at this map in 3-D, you would see in those areas that the sea floor dramatically drops hundreds of meters in a very short distance.
It is also worth noting what can be found in the remainder of this image. When NOAA finishes their survey, two different products are formed. The first is the colored map, which you see to the far left of the image. This is useful for anyone interested in the scientific components of the area. Mariners need the information as well, but a colored schematic is less useful for marine navigation, so nautical charts are produced (or updated) for their use. A nautical chart looks just like the remainder of this image. Small numbers scattered all over the white part of the map (ie – the water) show the depth in that area. The depth can be given in fathoms, meters, or feet, so it is important to find the map’s key. The purpose of the charts is to communicate to mariners the most navigable areas and the places or obstacles that should be avoided. The nautical charts usually have contour lines as well, which give a better picture of the slope of the sea floor and group areas of similar depth together.
The photo above is a closer view of the Queen Charlotte Fault. Can you see the fault? If you cannot see it, look at the line that begins in the bottom center of the photo and reaches up and to the left. Do you see it now? On the left side of the fault lies the Pacific Plate, and on the right side lies the North American Plate. If you look even closer, you might find evidence of the plates sliding past each other. The areas that resemble rivers are actually places where sediment runoff imprinted the sea floor. If you observe closely, you can see that some of these runoff areas are shifted at the location of the fault. Scientists can measure the distance between each segment to determine that average rate of movement at this fault line.
I also wanted to briefly mention another small side project we took on during this leg. A tide buoy was installed near Cape Lisburne, which is north of Point Hope. The buoys are equipped with technology to read and communicate the tidal wave heights. This helps hydrographers accurately determine the distance from the sea surface to the sea floor. The buoy will remain at its station until the end of the survey season, at which time it will be returned to the ship.
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The Fairweather team works together to launch a tide buoy in the Arctic Ocean
The tide buoy was successfully released and will remain in the Arctic Ocean until late summer or early fall.
Tide Buoy near Cape Lisburne, AK
Northwest Alaska may not be a breathtaking as Southeast Alaska, but it has sure been an interesting trip! It amazes me that small communities of people inhabit towns such as Nome, Point Hope, and Barrow (which is about as far north as one can travel in Alaska) and endure bone-chilling winter temperatures, overpriced groceries, and little to no ground transportation to other cities. Groceries and restaurant meals are expensive because of the efforts that take place to transport the food. During my first day in Nome, I went to a restaurant called the Polar Cafe and paid $16 for an omelette! Although the omelette was delicious, I will not be eating another during my last day in Nome on Friday. It is simply too expensive to justify paying that much money. I also ventured to the local grocery store in hopes of buying some Ginger Ale for the trip. Consuming ginger in almost any form can help soothe stomach aches and relieve seasickness. Unfortunately ginger ale was only available in a 12-pack that happened to be on sale for $11.99. I decided to leave it on the shelf. Luckily the ship store has ginger ale available for purchase! The ship store is also a great place to go when your sweet tooth is calling!
Did You Know? The Queen Charlotte fault was the source of Canada’s largest recorded earthquake! The earthquake occurred in 1949 and had a magnitude of 8.1!
Question of the Day As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?
Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?
When something is less dense than water it floats, and when it is more dense than water it sinks. Something with the same density as water will sit at the surface so that it lies about equal to the water line (picture yourself laying flat on the surface of a lake). Your body is over 50% water, so the density of your body is very close to the density of water and you naturally “half float”. A PFD, on the other hand, is made up of materials which have a lower density than water and they always float completely above water. When you wear a PFD, your body’s total density is a combination of your density and the PFD’s density. Therefore, the total density becomes less than the density of water, and you float!
Sources: Danny, et al. (2016). Investigating the Offshore Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System in Southeastern Alaska and its Potential to Produce Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Submarine Landslides. USGS Soundwaves Monthly Newsletter. https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 68° 22.310′ N
Longitude: 167° 07.398′ W
Wind: 3 knots W, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer: 753.06 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 10.8° C
Sea Surface 9° C
Weather: Overcast, light rain
Science and Technology Log I was in my stateroom on Friday afternoon when I heard one continuous alarm sound, followed by an announcement that white smoke had been detected on board. My first thought was Oh no! What’s wrong with the engine now??? As I walked out of my room, I noticed smoke permeating through the halls near the ceiling. My muster station was the forward mess, so I walked there to meet up with my group. Two PICs (people in charge) had already laid out a map of the ship, and they were assigning pairs of people to search different sections of the ship looking for smoke and/or hot spots on doors or walls. Each “runner” group took a radio and reported their findings, and the results were written on the map. I was runner group 4 with an intern named Paul, and we were assigned the E level just below the bridge. We saw a small amount of smoke but no hot spots. One runner group opened an escape hatch to the fan room to find smoke EVERYWHERE. After finding the source of the fire, it was put out as quickly as possible and the smoke ventilated out of the ship. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was our first fire drill.
Safety is always the first priority on all NOAA vessels. Working on a ship is much different than working on land. In the event of an emergency, everyone on board has to be prepared to be a first responder. If one serious accident happens, it could affect all 45 people on board. To ensure emergency preparedness, drills take place on a regular basis. Each drill is treated as though the emergency were happening in real life. Fire drills and abandon ship drills take place weekly, and man overboard drills and hazardous materials drills take place every three months.
An announcement to abandon ship happens as a last resort if there is no possible way to save the ship. If this were to happen, we would hear seven or more bursts of the alarm followed by an announcement. We would then grab our immersion suit and PFD (personal flotation device) as quickly as possible and meet at our muster stations. My muster station is on the port (left) side of the ship at fire station 24. There are life rafts on each side of the ship that can be deployed into the water. Right now, the water in the Arctic Ocean is a chilly 9° C. To protect ourselves from hypothermia, we must don an immersion suit within 60 seconds of arriving at our station. New people to the ship must practice this during our first few days on board.
In addition to drills, an operational risk assessment (or GAR score) is calculated for the mission each day. GAR stands for Green, Amber, or Red, and it determines whether the mission is safe to pursue that day. The GAR score consists of the following sections: resources, environment, team selection, fitness, weather, and complexity. Each section is given a rating of 1 – 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. Many of the sections are variable depending on the day, so sometimes a mission will be delayed until the weather improves, and other times assigning different personnel to the task may be enough to make the mission safe. The total score is the sum of the six sections. If the score is 45 or above (red zone), then the mission will not happen that day. If the score is between 24 and 44 (amber zone), it means extra caution is advised, and a low GAR score of 0 – 23 is green. The best case scenario is for the mission to be in the green zone.
Some other examples of safe practices on board NOAA Ship Fairweather are detailed below.
Personal Log I’m learning what it truly means to be flexible during my time with NOAA Ship Fairweather. Weather can make or break a day of surveying on the sea. The water experiences surface waves from both the wind and swell. Swells are the large waves that originate elsewhere and have a definite direction whereas the surface waves are caused by wind and are much smaller. The surface waves in combination with the swell produce a total wave height, and the NOAA Corps looks at the total wave height when deciding the plan of the day. Unfortunately, waves of up to 14′ are predicted in the Point Hope region this week, which will make it incredibly difficult to launch the small boats. Not only do the large waves create hazardous conditions on the boat, they make it harder to acquire good soundings with the MBES. If the data collected will be of poor quality, it is better to delay the mission and wait for better conditions. The poor weather in combination with the mechanical delay we experienced during the first week of the leg has made it difficult to collect very much data around Point Hope.
Not only do the large waves slow down the ship’s data collection, they make me queasy! I felt lucky coming in to the Arctic Ocean on Friday because the sea was calm and beautiful! It was almost eerily quiet. The most amazing part was that the horizon seemed to disappear as the sky and the ocean gently blurred into one. The serenity was short-lived however, and taking the small boats out Saturday morning was quite the adventure! I am so glad I brought motion sickness medication with me!
Did You Know? Did you know NOAA Ship Fairweather weights 1,591 tons? Since one ton is the same as 2,000 pounds, the ship weighs 3,182,000 pounds! The ship stays afloat, so that means the buoyant force it experiences is equal and opposite to its weight. If the buoyant force were any less, the ship would sink!
Question of the Day How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?
Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land?
These are the ones I have learned so far:
Stateroom = Dorm or bedroom
Galley = Kitchen
Mess = Dining room
Scullery = Dish washing room
Head = Bathroom
Gangway = ramp (to get off boat)
Sick Bay = doctor’s office/patient room
Do you know of any that I missed? Feel free to answer in the comments!
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 64° 29.690′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 15 knots SW, gusts up to 25 knots
Barometer: 761.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 14.4° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 15° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log As you may or may not know, NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is a branch of the Chamber of Commerce and gets funded by the federal government to undergo many important tasks. Their mission is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” (http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency) NOAA Ship Fairweather’s role in that mission is to measure and understand changes in the sea floor to allow for safe navigation in our world’s oceans and seas.
Many different career specialties are required to keep the ship running smoothly. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps operates ships, conducts dive operations, and manages the hydrographic research projects assigned to the ship. They make up one of the seven uniformed services of the United States: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Airforce, Coast Guard, NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and Public Health Service. All NOAA Corps members have a bachelors degree or higher in a STEM field; some of the degrees earned by Corps members on NOAA Ship Fairweather are marine biology, environmental science, wildlife ecology, chemistry, physics, and math.
The Survey Department is comprised of scientists who exclusively focus on the hydrographic mission. They operate and monitor instruments, collect and process data, and deploy and recover survey equipment. Data collection sometimes takes place on the ship and sometimes on small boats. They have to be proficient with advanced hydrographic software and with combining multiple sources of data into one. I have even seen members of the Survey Team conducting dive operations, so being dive-certified is very useful for the job. The Survey team makes nautical charts used by many different industries worldwide.
The Deck Crew consists of Able-Bodied Seamen (ABs) and General Vessel Assistants (GVAs). ABs and GVAs must be knowledgeable and capable of completing many types of work. They perform general maintenance, infrastructure repair, sanitation, and upkeep of the ship. They also assist in emergency operations and the launch and recovery of small boats. Another department is the Steward Team who cook our food, clean the mess (dining area) and galley (kitchen), and wash dishes in the scullery (dish room). They often work 12 hour days, and their work is needed 7 days a week. So far, they have planned nothing but delicious meals for us all to enjoy (especially the desserts!).
Engineers keep the ship functioning well by inspecting, maintaining, and repairing all of the ship systems (water, sewage, power, heating, etc.). They must be familiar with a vast array of equipment in order to do their job well! We also have one medical professional, a Physician’s Assistant, who works in the sick bay to treat anyone who may be ill or injured and assist with emergency operations. Visitors frequent the ship as well. Currently, there is a meteorologist from the National Weather Service and an intern from Loyola University Chicago on board. Specialists may come aboard for a few days or a whole trip depending on what kind of work they are doing. As you can see, working aboard a ship is not limited to ocean-related careers. You can find positions for many different interests, and all of these people get to work in an environment that most others don’t get to experience!
In my previous blog, I promised to include a picture of a nautical chart developed by the multibeam echosounder (MBES) on NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats. The photo below shows progress on a survey that began in April 2018. As you can see by the colored boxes that not all of the surveying is yet complete. NOAA Ship Fairweather has experienced a fairly difficult season with some mechanical setbacks, but they use every minute possible when underway, sometimes working 24 hours per day in designated shifts to finish a job. Every team on this ship does a great job working together and adjusting to the unexpected!
The numbers around the chart show depth in fathoms from previous surveys (the survey is in meters). Before echosounding technology was developed, surveys were often completed using lead lines. Lead lines are exactly what they sound like; there is a long rope with a block of lead attached to the end. It is slowly lowered through the water column until it hits the sea floor. The line is then pulled back up and the water depth is measured. This form of surveying gives mariners some idea of what the sea floor looks like, but you can see that current technology allows for a fuller coverage map of the area. This is helpful because fishing and transportation ships need to know what obstacles they may encounter below the surface of the water while traveling.
Our ship is very close to Nome’s town center, and there are a few interesting things to do and see! Nome is the ending point of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race. You can find photos all over town of previous competitors in addition to standing under the arc of the finish line in the middle of town. There is a museum in town, the Carrie McLain Museum, that showcases the beautiful history of Nome and has over 15,000 artifacts.
It’s also very easy to access some beautiful hiking. I hiked Anvil Mountain yesterday with a couple other friends on the ship. During our hike, we encountered two separate herd of Muskox. They are large, gentle creatures that call the Arctic regions their home. You can learn more information on this National Geographic website. We made sure to keep a safe distance away because both herds had young, and we did not want them to feel threatened in our presence.
After a few extra days in Nome, I am happy to announce that we began our 22 hour journey to Point Hope at 10:00 this morning! The survey work will start once we reach our final destination. If all goes well, we will cross the Arctic Circle tonight. There is a history in the Navy of awarding sailors unofficial certificates for crossing navigation lines at sea. For example, sailors earn the “Shellback” when they cross the Equator by boat. When we cross the Arctic Circle, many of us onboard will earn the “Blue Nose”. You can see other unofficial certificates that are offered around the globe on this Navy website.
Did You Know? In January of 1925, the Nome hospital realized their treatment serum for the deadly diptheria infection was expired, and the winter weather was too harsh to send a replacement via plane. People began to get infected, and they were in a state of emergency! If treatment didn’t arrive soon, the entire town could acquire the disease. Luckily, over twenty sled dog mushers volunteered to take part in a relay on the Iditarod Trail, spanning over 650 miles of wilderness. The final sled dog team was led by 3-year old Balto, a siberian husky. Does this story sound familiar? In 1995, a cartoon movie was made and given the name “Balto” in honor of the brave, rookie sled dog who led his team into Nome on February 2, 1925 to save the town!
Question of the Day How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land? (For example: the “scullery” = “dish washer”). Hint: reread the “Science and Technology” section of this blog for a few answers! Feel free to leave your answer as a comment!
Answer to Last Question of the Day: If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area?
The time must be divided in half to find the time it took for the sound to travel one way: 0.08 seconds x 0.5 = 0.04 seconds
Plug your known values into the equation: distance = rate x time rate = 1,504 m/s time = 0.04 seconds distance = (1,504 m/s) x (0.04 seconds) distance = 60.16 meters deep
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and Vicinity
Date: July 10, 2018 at 5:30pm
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 5 knots SW, gusts up to 12 knots
Barometer: 749.31 mmHg
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 16.0° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 11.9° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
I arrived in Nome on Saturday, July 7th around 7:30pm. The weather was a beautiful 65° F with just a few clouds in the sky! By the time I settled in my stateroom (bedroom) and unpacked my belongings, it was raining! According to the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), Nome receives and average of 16″ of rainfall each year and 60″ of snow. Despite this fairly low rainfall total, precipitation is a frequent
occurrence in Nome. Usually, the precipitation falls as more of a light drizzle in the summer, so the accumulation over the course of a year is very small.
I am here in Nome to join NOAA Ship Fairweather on a Hydrographic Survey of the vicinity of Point Hope, Alaska. Nome is the northernmost city in Alaska with a deep enough draft dock and facilities (such as sewage disposal and fresh water) for a ship. Therefore, we will start and end our trip in Nome. The ship has been experiencing some technical difficulties, so we were not able to go underway on our scheduled day of July 9. Over the weekend, engineers discovered a leak in the exhaust from one of the ship’s engines. Left untreated, black smoke could escape into the ship and personnel could be exposed to the unhealthy fumes. As of today, the exhaust pipe has been fixed, but there are a few parts that need to be shipped to Nome to finish the job. Hopefully NOAA Ship Fairweather will be underway later this week.
Once we are underway, the trip to Point Hope will take approximately 22 hours. That means we must reserve a full day on each end of the leg (another name for the trip) for travel. In order to maximize our limited time near Point Hope, NOAA Ship Fairweather will deploy up to four 28′ boats to work at the same time. There are also enough personnel onboard to allow data to be collected on the small boats for up to 24 hours per day. Two of the four 28′ boats are shown below.
So what are these boats all doing anyways? As previously mentioned, NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats are designed for hydrographic research. “Hydro” is a prefix meaning “water”, and “graph” is a root word meaning “to write”. The boats will map the sea floor (i.e. – “write” about what is under the water) and any of its contents with sonar devices. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. The main sonar device used on this ship is a multibeam echosounder (MBES for short), which can be found on the underside of the ship as seen below. Sound waves are emitted from the front of the device, known as the transmitter. The sound waves travel through the water column, bounce off the sea floor, and then get picked up by a receiver adjacent to the transmitter.
There is a lot of math involved both before and after sound wave data is collected! The photo below is a CTD instrument, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well an object conducts electricity. This instrument is lowered through the water column, collecting data on all three parameters listed above. The speed of sound varies based on conductivity and temperature, so the sonar data can be adjusted based on the results. For each individual data point collected along the sea floor, the actual speed of sound is multiplied by half of the time it took the sound wave to travel from transmitter to receiver. Using the equation distance = rate x time, one can find the distance (i.e. – depth) of each point along the sea floor. Put a bunch of those results together, and you begin to see a map!
Sea floor maps use color to show different depths. The most shallow areas are colored with red, while the deepest areas are colored with blue. The remaining colors of the rainbow form a spectrum that allows us to see slopes. Today, we took a small boat out and surveyed the harbor where NOAA Ship Fairweather is docked. The harbor was very shallow, so every large rock in the harbor showed up as red on the map. The deeper areas showed up as blue. Hence my blog title! In my next blog, I will include pictures of maps that have recently been completed! Stay tuned!
Living on a ship that is docked in a tiny town with little to no cell phone service is fairly challenging. However, everyone on the ship finds creative solutions to keep themselves and others entertained. It is not uncommon for groups to form in the conference room to watch a movie on the big projector screen or to host a game night. There is also a fitness room onboard with plenty of exercise options! The Bering Sea and a long beach are a short, five minute walk from the ship. We had a campfire with marshmallows the first night that everyone returned to the ship from their time off. One person in our group found a whale bone on the beach! See the picture below. I spent some time walking the water line looking for sea glass. I actually found a few pieces, in
addition to a couple of rocks I thought were quite pretty! Sea glass is made from containers, bottles, and other glass objects that end up in the ocean. Over time, these objects break into smaller pieces, and the sandy and/or rocky sea floor erodes them. By the time they reach the beach, the pieces of glass have smooth edges and a translucent color. They are fun to collect as they come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes!
Did You Know? Ocean water has a high conductivity, or ability to conduct electricity, because of all of the dissolved salts in sea water. The ions that form from dissolved salts cause ocean water to be about 1,000,000 times more conductive than fresh water!
Question of the Day If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area? Make sure to use proper units, and remember that the total time is two ways and not just one way! (Answer in the next blog post)
My last few days at sea were rather exciting. Wednesday, I got to attend some medical training necessary at sea in the morning, and then in the afternoon we practiced safety drills. The whole crew ran through what to do in the case of three different ship emergencies: Fire, Abandon Ship and Man Overboard. These drills were pretty life-like, they had a fog machine which they use to simulate smoke for the fire drill. Once the alarm was triggered people gather in their assigned areas; roll was taken, firemen and women suited up and headed to the location where smoke was detected, and from there teams are sent out to assess damage or spreading of the fire, while medical personnel stood prepared for any assistance needed. The abandon ship drill required all men and women on board to acquire their life preserver and full immersion suit, and head to their lifeboat loading locations. Roll is then taken and an appointed recorder jots down the last location of the ship. Once this is done, men and women would have deployed the life rafts and boarded (luckily we did not have to). And for the man overboard drill they threw their beloved mannequin Oscar overboard in a life vest and had everyone aboard practice getting in their look out positions. Once Oscar was spotted, they turned the ship around, deployed an emergency boat and had a rescue swimmer retrieve him.
These drills are necessary so that everyone on board knows what to do in these situations. While no one hopes these emergencies will happen, knowing what to do is incredibly important for everyone’s safety.
Thursday was maybe my favorite day on board. Due to the fact that there are a handful of new personnel on board, practice launching and recovering the survey launch boats was necessary. There are 4 launch boats on top of NOAA Ship Fairweather, each equipped with their own sonar equipment. These boats sit in cradles and can be lowered and raised from the sea using davits (recall the video from the “Safety First blog a few days ago). These four boats can be deployed in an area to allow for faster mapping of a region and to allow for shallower areas to be mapped, which the NOAA Ship Fairweather may not be able to access. Since this is a big operation, and one which is done frequently, practice is needed so everyone can do this safely and efficiently.
Launch boat on a davit
Davit lowering a launch boat
Ali Johnson inside one of the launch boats
With the aid of Ali Johnson as my line coach, I got to help launch and recover two of the survey launch boats from the davits on the top of the ship into the Bering Sea. This is an important job for all personnel to learn, as it is a key part of most survey missions. Learning line handling helps to make sure the survey launches are securely held close to the ship to prevent damage and to safely allow people on and off the launch boats as they are placed in the sea. From learning how to handle the bow and aft lines, to releasing and attaching the davit hooks, and throwing lines from the launches to the ship (which I do poorly with my left hand), all is done in a specific manner. While the practice was done for the new staff on board, it was fun to be involved for the day and I got to see the beauty of the NOAA Ship Fairweather from the Bering Sea.
And I truly enjoyed being on the small launch boats. I then understood what many of the officers mentioned when they told me they enjoyed the small boat work. It’s just fun!
Me on a launch boat, taken by AB Colin Hogan
NOAA Ship Fairweather from a launch
My trip ended in Nome, Alaska, which was in and of itself an experience. Students, you will see pictures later. I am extremely thankful for the crew on board NOAA Ship Fairweather, they are a wonderful mix of passionate, fun professionals. I learned so much!
Being a Teacher at Sea is a strange, yet wonderful experience. Being a teacher, I normally spend the vast majority of my day at work being in charge of my classroom and beautiful students; leading lesson and activities, checking-in with those who need extra help and setting up/tearing down labs all day, as well as hopefully getting some papers graded. However during this experience, I was the student, learning from others about their expertise, experience and passions, as well as their challenges; being in charge of nothing. And given that I had no prior knowledge of hydrography, other than its definition, I was increasingly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm those on board had for this type of work. It drove my interest and desire to learn all I could from the crew. In fact, I often thought those on board were older than they were, as they are wiser beyond their years in many area of science, technology, maritime studies, NOAA Ship Fairweather specifics and Alaskan wildlife.
NOAA offers teachers the opportunities to take part in different research done by their ships throughout the research season as a Teacher at Sea. The 3 main types of cruises offered to teachers include (taken from the NOAA Teacher at Sea website):
Fisheries research cruises perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats.
Oceanographic research cruises perform physical science studies to increase our understanding of the world’s oceans and climate.
Hydrographic survey cruises scan the coastal sea floor to locate submerged obstructions and navigational hazards for the creation and update of the nation’s nautical charts.
I was excited to be placed on a Hydrographic Survey boat, as this is an area in my curriculum I can develop with my students, and one which I think they are going to enjoy learning about!
While I was sad to leave, and half way through had a “I wish I would have known about this type of work when I was first looking at jobs” moment (which I realize was not the goal of this fellowship or of my schools for sending me), I am super excited to both teach my students about this important work and also be a representative of this awesome opportunity for teachers. I will wear my NOAA Teacher at Sea swag with pride!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Eric Koser Aboard Ship Rainier June 22-July 9 Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK July 4, 2018: 1000 HRS
Weather Data From the Bridge Lat: 55°57.7’ Long: 133°55.7’
Wind Light and variable
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: <1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 14.1°C Dry Bulb, 12.5°C Wet Bulb
The Impact of the Work “We’re a part of history!” This notion, shared by a colleague on a launch yesterday, brings home the importance of the work of this team and NOAA’s Hydrographic Branch. Lisianski Inlet was last surveyed in 1917 by lead line! The charts of the inlet were old and not likely accurate. This week – fresh data has been collected by Ship Rainier and her launches to bring the next century of mapping tools below their shores.
Pelican Harbor in the town of Pelican, Alaska was last surveyed between 1970 and 1989.–until we surveyed it yesterday with Rainier Launch RA-3. Our team drove in and out between each of the docks in the harbor, carefully pinging sound waves off of the floor of the harbor to construct a new digital map of the bottom.
Part of our task yesterday, in addition to conducting MBES survey from our launch, was to dock in Pelican and retrieve our HorCon (a GPS reference radio setup on land that we have used there all week). As we walked through the very small town carrying two car batteries in backpacks, a pair of antennas, tripods, and other gear back to the launch – surely people were interested in what we were up to. Several people stopped to chat as we made our way from the pier, along the boardwalk, and down to the docks to go back to our launch. People asked who we were – and if we were the NOAA team that was in town. There was much appreciation expressed to NOAA for the work being done in the inlet to update the nautical charts. Here in Pelican, the water is the primary mode of transport. Accurate nautical charts provide security and safety.
There are no roads to Pelican. A few cars are in town – to pull trailers and move equipment. But the primary mode of land transport is four-wheelers. The ‘main street’ is really a raised boardwalk that runs along the rocky shore – and is the heartbeat of the community. Folks that live up or down the inlet from the town get there in small launches – there are no roads. A ferry comes to Pelican twice a month and is how cars and trucks come and go here. A seaplane comes through a few times a week—often bringing tourists in and out – and the mail. It’s a beautiful spot centered in a small inlet on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Science and Technology Log
It’s mission accomplished for Lisianski Inlet!
Nautical charts are broken up into sheets. And within each sheet, areas are broken down into smaller polygons for data collection. Each launch (small boat), as well as the ship itself, can bring in multibeam data with the equipment mounted on each hull to complete plotting polygons and eventually complete sheets.
The hydrographic survey team is working away today in the plot room and on “the holodeck” of Ship Rainier (an office area on the top of the ship behind the plot room) processing the data we have collected the past several days. A combination of ship and launch multibeam data in addition to bottom samples and shoreline updates have been collected. Now the work of the scientists continues and becomes data processing.
As the data is combined, it is reviewed and refined to make a complete picture of the survey area. Once the team on the ship has completed their work, the data goes to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of the Office of Coast Survey of NOAA. Here, the PHB team reviews that data again and assures it meets the specifications and standards needed to become finalized for use.
From PHB, the data is passed to two places. One is the NCEI (National Center for Environmental Information) office. They archive all of the raw and processed data including the digital surfaces themselves and the descriptive reports written by the hydrographers here.
The data also goes to the Marine Chart Division, an office of NOAA Coast Survey. Here is where the nautical charts are produced in both ENC and RNC (electronic and paper versions). It is this branch that publishes the data for use by mariners and the general public. Anyone can see the charts at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov (try the “Chart Locator”).
Who is on board?
During this leg of the trip, we have a visiting scientist from NOAA’s is here on board. Tyanne Faulkes works as a physical scientist for the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA. She is a part of the team that processes the data from the hydro teams on NOAA Ship Rainier and NOAA Ship Fairweather. Her job is to assure that the data meets NOAA’s specifications–so that they can provide evidence of dangers of navigation and accurate depth information for all mariners.
Tyanne loves to be involved in making maps of the sea floor – and getting to see things others have not seen before! She loves that NOAA provides data for free to scientists around the world. Her job includes not only desk work, but also opportunities to make many mapping trips to understand where the hydro data comes from. Ms Faulkes has a bachelors degree in geography and GIS. It was a paid internship just out of college with NOAA that initially brought her to this work. And – she has a ton of fun with what she does. As a kid, Tyanne loved oceanography. Her GIS education tied well with the internship – and it all came together to take her where she is today!
She some advice to students – “Learn how to code!”
“Building Python scripts is a very powerful tool to allow us to automate the data review process. Being able to write the code – or at least understand the basic concepts that put it together – allows one to be much more efficient in your work!”
Understanding the concept of an algorithm that can save one hours of work is a very good asset. “I wish in college someone would have taught me how to do this!” One easy example is a bulk file renaming tool that the launch teams use. After collecting 50 some separate files of data in a day, this tool will take the individual file names and append any number of things to the filenames – all automatically.
Want to get involved? Next week, Tyanne and her team at NOAA’s Western Regional Center at Sand Point in Seattle, WA are hosting an annual camp for middle school and high school students! Students from across the US can apply to come to this camp each summer and have great experiences learning all about oceans and hydrography! Check it out on the web: NOAA Science Camp – Washington Sea Grant.
Weather Data from the Bridge of the California-based whale watching boat Islander on 7/2/18 at 08:29
Latitude: 34° 13.557 N
Longitude: 119° 20.775 W
Sea Wave Height: 2 ft
Wind Speed: 5-10 knots
Wind Direction: NW
Visibility: 15 miles (seems a little off to me, but that is what I was told)
Air Temperature: 65° F (ish)
Water Temperature: not recorded
Barometric Pressure: not recorded
Sky: Grey and cloudy
Wow! What an incredible experience! When I was first accepted into this program I knew that it would be great and I knew that I was going to be working on research, but I feel like I ended up getting way more than I had expected. While filling out my application for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program we were given the opportunity indicate a preference for locations and types of research. I indicated that I would have been happy with any of them, but I was honestly hoping to be on a fisheries cruise, and my first choice of location was Alaska. That’s exactly what I got! I could not have picked a more perfect match for myself.
When I first received my specific cruise offer to join NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson it was pointed out to me that 23 days at sea was a LONG cruise, and I was a little bit worried about being at sea for that long when I had never even slept on a ship like that before. What I didn’t realize, was that the hardest part of this research cruise, would be leaving at the end of it. Saying goodbye to the scientists and friends that I had worked closely with for the past 3+ weeks was pretty tough.
The natural beauty of Alaska, and Unalaska specifically, is breathtaking. I kept saying that I can’t believe that places like that existed in the world and people weren’t tripping over themselves to live there. This is a part of Alaska that very few ever see. I loved getting to explore Dutch Harbor and see some of the beaches and do a little hiking while in port, and seeing the different islands and volcanoes while at sea. I also was incredibly excited to see all of the wildlife, especially the foxes, eagles, and of course, whales.
Video of a whale swimming and then diving in the distance.
From the moment that Sarah and Matthew picked me up from the airport, I knew that I was in great company. They immediately took me in and invited me to join the rest of the science team for dinner. Bonding happened quickly and I am so happy that I got to work with and learn each day from Denise, Sarah, Mike, Nate, Darin, Scott, and Matthew every single day. I looked forward to (and now miss) morning coffee chats, and dancing in the fish lab together. I have so many positive memories with each of them, but here are a few: sitting and reviewing and discussing my blogs with Denise, taking photos of a stuffed giraffe with Sarah, go pro fishing (scaring the fish) with Mike, watching Scott identify and solve problems, listening to Darin play the guitar, fishing with Nate on the Bridge, and exploring on land with Matthew. These are just a few of the things that I will remember and cherish about these wonderful people.
I know that it happens in all workplaces eventually, but it’s weird to think that the exact same group of people on the ship will never again be in the same place at the same time because of rotations and leave, and whatnot. I feel very grateful that I was on the ship when I was because I really enjoyed getting to know as many people on the ship as possible, and to have them teach me about what they do, and why they do it.
Not only did I learn about the Scientific work of the MACE (Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering) team, I learned so much about the ship and how it functions from everyone else on the ship. Every single time that I asked someone a question or to explain how something works, I was always given the time for it to be answered in a way that was understandable, and meaningful. I learned about: charting and navigation (thanks Aras), ship controls (thanks Vanessa), The NOAA Corps (thanks CO and Sony), ship engines and winches (thanks Becca), fancy ship knots (thanks Jay), water data collected by the ship (thanks Phil)… I could go on and on.
After landing back in port in Dutch Harbor, I got off of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and turned and looked at it, and my perception of it had changed completely from the beginning of the cruise. It sounds totally cliché, but it wasn’t just a ship anymore, it was somewhere I had called home for a short time. As I looked at the outside of the ship I could identify the rooms behind each window and memories that I had in that space. It was surreal, and honestly pretty emotional for me. On the last day, once we got into port, my name tag was taken off of my stateroom door and it was replaced with the names of the new teachers heading to sea. It was sad to realize that I really was leaving and heading home. It’s weird to think that the ship will continue on without me being a part of it any longer.
A valuable part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program was me stepping back from being a teacher, and actually being reminded of what it feel like to be a learner again. I was reminded of the frustrations of not understanding things immediately, and also the exciting feeling of finally understanding something and then being able to show and explain it. I loved learning through inquiry and asking questions to lead to newer and better questions. These are the things that I am trying to implement more in my classroom.
While on the ship I was able to come up with 3 new hands on activities that I will be trying out in my classes this year. This is in addition to the one that is directly related to my research. The new labs that I have created will help me to focus my efforts and give my students the skills that they will benefit from in the future. I am also even more excited to go and pursue my Master’s Degree in the near future than I was before, even though I am more confused on what to go back to school for.
I love being able to participate in research in addition to teaching. I really feel like it makes me a better teacher in so many ways. It really reminds me what is important to try and teach my students. In the world of Google searches and immediate information, learning a bunch of facts is not as practical as learning skills like how to test out a question, collect data, and share knowledge learned. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I really hope that I am able to continue to find other research experiences for myself in the future. I would love to be able to further my research experiences with MACE by visiting them in Seattle, and I would be happy to hop back on the Oscar Dyson, or another NOAA ship, at any time (hint, hint, wink,wink). Thanks for the memories.
Video of TAS Lacee Sherman on the deck of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
[Transcript: Ok so right now it is 9 o’clock at night and the sun is still way up in the sky. It will not go down until like almost midnight. And that’s why they call it the midnight sun!]
Weather Data From the Bridge Lat: 58°06.8’ Long: 136°32.0’
Wind 10 kts at 220°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: 1 ft
Water temp: 7.2°C
Air Temp: 11.6°C Dry Bulb, 10.9°C Wet Bulb
Science and Technology Log
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, it takes a team to manipulate this ship. But first, much planning must occur to prepare for each day!
The FOO (Field Operations Officer) creates the plan for each day. Each evening, around dinner time, the FOO publishes the POD (Plan of the day) for the next day for everyone aboard. Here is a portion of July 1’s POD developed by FOO Ops Officer Scott Broo:
Today at 0515 was M/E Online. This is when the Engineering Department starts both 12 cylinder diesel locomotive engines–after being prepped and inspected ahead of time.
Next the Deck Department “weighed the anchor” at 0600 to get underway. Note – this term refers to when the ship holds the weight of the anchor – as it is pulled OUT of the water so we can get underway.
The principal work of Ship Rainier is hydrographic mapping. All operations here focus on creating the best charts possible of the ocean floor. As we are logging (using the MBES to take data from the ship), the plot department communicates to the bridge to indicate where they need the ship to go. The bridge can view a computer display showing the current plots the hydro team is working on – and uses this and the guidance of the hydrographic team to direct the ship. Over time, the ship covers the area of the current sheet while the hydro team captures the data from the MBES. As the process proceeds, the whole sheet gets ‘painted’ by the MBES so we have a complete chart of the bottom.
It really takes a team on the bridge to control the ship when underway. The bridge is the control room of the ship.
Imagine standing on the bridge (the room where the driving happens) and noticing who is there. From port (left) to starboard (right) we have: Navigator, Lee Helm, Helm, Lookout, and OOD.
The navigator’s job is to always be aware of where the ship is and where she is to be heading. The lee helmsperson operates the controls for the engine speed and the pitch of the props [forward or backwards]. The helmsperson turns the wheel to control the rudders or sets the helm in autopilot to steer a fixed bearing. The lookout maintains awareness of all other vessels around the ship and any potential obstacles in the ship’s path. The OOD orchestrates the whole team and is directly responsible for the motion of the ship. The OOD gives commands for any changes that are to happen to the course of the ship – and also communicates with Plot to know where they need the ship to go to create the charts.
The wildlife in this part of Alaska is great and easy to find. We’ve seen humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, eagles, gulls, deer, and bears. Last night as we were anchored at the end of the inlet I watched a grizzly bear on shore. I was able to use the large mounted binoculars on the flybridge affectionately called “big eyes” to take photos. I watched the bear move along the shore as a pair of eagles flew overhead.
Here are a few of the wildlife photos I’ve taken the past several days!
Here is a video of the same bear lumbering along the shoreline in the evening.
In the fish lab, after the haul is sorted out, a sample of each species are randomly selected to undergo additional measurements and data collection. One of the primary pieces of information needed is the lengths for about 300 pollock per haul. The length of the pollock is important because larger fish have larger internal organs. The internal organ that matters most to this survey is the size of the swim bladder since this is what give us the echo that can be picked up by our acoustic transducers.
According to the NOAA Ocean Service,“If fish relied solely on constant swimming to maintain their current water depth, they would waste a lot of energy. Many fish instead rely on their swim bladder, a dorsally located gas-filled organ, to control their stability and buoyancy in the water column. The swim bladder also functions as a resonating chamber that can produce and receive sound, a quality that comes in handy for scientists locating fish with sonar technology.”
To process a trawl sample, the pollock are put into baskets and weighed. One basket is selected at random to obtain the lengths and weights of individual fish. 30-35 Fish are selected for otolith samples (ear bones) that can be used to age the fish. These fish are also inspected to look for the sex of the fish and their maturity stages. There are 5 different maturity stages for pollock: immature, developing, pre-spawning, spawning, and spent. Since the fish already needs to be cut open for this process, we will sometimes look at the stomach contents of the fish as well to see what they are eating. Based off of stomach contents, one of the main food sources for pollock in the Bering Sea this summer are euphausiids, or krill.
In addition to trawl samples, we also are taking samples of Euphausiids with a special tool called a Methot net. Four Methot samples will be taken on each leg of this research survey. A Methot net includes a sturdy metal frame of a set circumference with a net attached to the back. The net is a very fine mesh (small holes), so that the small euphausiids don’t escape. A flow meter is attached that measures the volume of water that is going through the net.
The euphausiids are a very important component of the marine food web in the Bering Sea. Euphausiids eat very small phytoplankton and zooplankton, so they are omnivores. Pollock eat the euphausiids, and then the pollock are eaten by marine animals such as seals, orcas, large cod, and even larger pollock. Humans also eat pollock, often in the form of imitation crab meat and the fish filet sandwiches from fast food chains.
Once the Methot net has come back on the ship at the end of the haul, a scoop (sub-sample) of them is taken and counted. Fish larvae and anything else that is not euphausiids is taken out and counted separately and then we go to work counting to get a total number of euphausiids from our sample. In our small sub-sample of .052 kg, our count was 1,110 euphausiids. Based off of the total haul weight of 2.12 kg, we are able to estimate the total number of euphausiids for this haul to be 45,251. This number is calculated based off the total number and weight of our sub-sample, compared to the total weight of the Methot haul.
I finally saw Orcas!! All of the running around on the ship was worth it! We always seem to be heading in opposite directions so I have seen mostly just dorsal fins, but I’ll take it! One morning I finally saw them from a closer distance and was able to see the white patch near the eye. I feel like I will be remembered by everyone on the ship as the “crazy whale-obsessed teacher,” but I can live with that.
One of the side experiments happening on the ship looks at the survival rate of fish caught on traditional fishing lines versus fish caught in trawl nets. One pollock had been caught and all of us on the ship decided the name should be Jackson Pollock. Jackson survived for a few days, but didn’t last past 6/15/18. The next day six new fish were put into the tank after a trawl catch, and after 24 hours, only two were still alive.
Adult Walleye Pollock
An Obituary written for the ship’s pet fish Jackie Pollock.
NOAA Careers and Unexpected Learning Opportunities
I have been trying to talk to everyone on the ship about how they first got interested in this type of work and exactly what their role is for day to day operations. There are so many different career options that can allow you to live on ships and be involved with scientific research.
The past few days I have spent time trying to learn as much as I can about everything related to the ship. I spent time speaking with Commanding Officer (CO) Michael Levine and Ensign (ENS) Sony Vang about their ship and land assignments and the requirements of the NOAA Corps. ENS Vanessa Oquendo showed me how some of the ship’s controls work. They are regularly focused on navigation (on a paper chart and electronically), and communication with other ships about positioning, weather, and the speed and direction of the ship. There is a lot to consider and to maintain 24/7.
Getting the nets in and out of the water is a very complicated process and involves many different ropes, chains and weights. I noticed this really cool type of knot that seemed to undo itself, so I asked one of the Deck Crew members, Jay Michelsen to teach me some cool ship knots. I learned how to make: bowline knots, flying bowline knots, cow hitch knots, daisy chains, double daisy chains, and a way to finally wrap up headphones so that they won’t tangle themselves.
Matthew Phillips and Scientist Mike Levine taught me how to fillet a fish which will be useful since I enjoy cooking so much! I will no longer be intimidated to buy fish whole. We got some practice on a spare cod that we caught and a few rockfish.
One of the licensed engineers, Becca Joubert, gave me a tour of the engine room and I was able to see the engines, winches, rudder, water filtration systems, and the repair shop. I didn’t realize that fuel was held in different tanks, but it works best that way because of safety and because it helps to distribute the weight all around the ship better.
Winch wire on the port side of the ship used for the net.
Valves for the ship’s fuel tanks.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson was named after a commercial fisherman named Oscar Dyson. There is a smaller boat on board named the Peggy Dyson after his wife, who would broadcast the weather forecast twice a day every day to local ships as well as personal announcements and important sports scores.
Things to Think About:
Dolphins and Orcas eat a variety of fish, squid, and sometimes other marine mammals, while large whales such as blue whales and humpbacks mostly rely on krill as their main food source. Why would such large marine mammals feed primarily on tiny krill?
Since there is a relationship between pollock and euphausiids, as the number of pollock grows, what is a reasonable prediction about the number of euphausiids?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude and Longitude: 55°33.1’ N, 133 °16.1’ W
Sky Condition: Overcast
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind Speed: 23 knots
Sea Level Pressure: 1008 millibars
Sea Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 8.9°C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 12.8°C, Wet bulb: 9.6°C
Science and Technology Log
After discussing geology with resident expert Amanda Finn, I developed the following understanding of the geology of Alaska. Alaska accreted, or merged with the larger continent, from the Pacific Plate colliding with the North American plate. These shifting tectonic plates created catastrophic earthquakes and many of the rock formations that you see in Alaska today. The three thousand foot metamorphic rock mountains in Misty Fjords were most likely formed from these collisions. Initially, there were sedimentary rocks that were changed from heat and pressure into metamorphic rocks. Because the sedimentary rocks were altered, the original age of these rock structures cannot be determined.
While tectonic plates created the landmass, glaciers contributed to the structure of the mountains in Southeast Alaska, creating fjords. A fjord is a narrow inlet of the sea created by a glacial valley with steep cliffs. Seventeen thousand years ago, Misty Fjord was covered in ice. As the ice melted, long narrow inlets were created that filled with ocean water. Mineral springs and volcanic activity still exist around these areas where they are closer to fault lines. It was determined by NOAA scientists in 2013 that Misty Fjord has a sunken cinder cone volcano that must have formed after the glaciers created the fjords thirteen thousand years ago. As Amanda explains, “The disappearance of all the pressure from the overlying ice caused Earth’s crust to bounce back in the area, uplifting rock and carrying magma chambers closer to the surface, causing the volcano to form. This added traces of igneous rocks to the metamorphosed sedimentary rock in the form of quartz deposits. As more ice melted and the water level rose, the cinder cone was eventually submerged underwater.”
I met a compass adjuster who was picked up in a launch from San Juan islands who learned his skill from an apprentice. He carried a wooden box with his equipment and seemed like he arrived from another time period. I was fortunate to witness this annual ritual that compares the direction of the ship according to the magnetic compass with true magnetic North in a process known as swinging the compass A compass adjuster observes the difference between the ship’s compass and the four cardinal and four intercardinal directions to determine the difference. Since North and South were only one degree off, the magnets on the compass did not need to be adjusted. If there were a larger discrepancy between the two values, then magnets would be moved around until the directions came into alignment.
A compass functions based on the Earth’s inner molten iron core which generates a magnetic field around the Earth. The needle in a compass points towards the magnetic pole, which is not necessarily the same as the geographic pole. This difference between magnetic North and true North is known as magnetic variation. In addition to magnetic variation, each ship has a magnetic fingerprint that alters the magnetic compass slightly. If welding were done with metal, especially iron, this would change the magnetic signature of the ship. The combination of compass deviation and magnetic variation alters the true bearing of the ship and must be considered when viewing the bearing of the compass.
Since a magnetic compass differs from a true bearing, NOAA Ship Rainier has two gyrocompassses that are actually used for navigation. Each of these have a wheel spinning a gyroscope which is parallel to the Earth’s center of rotation, and do not rely on magnetism but depend on the Earth’s rotation and gravity. The spinning gyroscope, based on inertia, will always maintain its plane of rotation. Since these gyrocompasses are not altered by the magnetic signature of the ship and provide a true North reading, they are utilized in navigation. The NOAA Corps navigator plans the track lines of the course of the ship based on the true North reading of the gyroscope compass and is the bearing that is observed from the bridge of Rainier. The magnetic compass acts as a backup if the vessel were to lose power.
As I was relaxing in the lounge about to watch Black Panther yesterday evening, a call came in requesting my presence on the Bridge. When I entered the fresh air, granite mountains with ridges full of melting snow waterfalls and a breathtaking view welcomed me. To say I was awe inspired would be an understatement. We were in Misty Fjords within the Tongass National Forest, part of the nation’s largest forest about 22 miles west of Ketchikan. Observing a sliver of this almost 17 million acre temperate rainforest with evergreen trees amongst misty clouds for a brief period of time includes a moment that I will treasure. I was happy to share this experience with other crew, survey technicians and NOAA Corps members who weren’t currently on shift. While appreciating this beauty, I thought of a Japanese saying, “Iche-go Ich-e,” which means this moment only happens now. Observing the still glassy water reflecting the cloudy sky against green islands and three thousand foot mountains touched my soul. The enormity of the steep granite humbled me as I appreciated it in its untouched state. This pristine environment existed from a landscape formed ten thousand years ago by a massive glacier that created this geological phenomenon. Luckily, this Tongass National Forest was claimed to be a protected zone in 1978 by the president. I’m grateful for this natural beauty that invites a tranquil, peaceful feeling. When a blow spout of a whale appeared off the port side of the vessel, my elation couldn’t be contained and I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
Did You Know?
Lookouts use a coordinate plane-like reference for directions. If you are standing at the center of the Bridge, similar to the origin of a coordinate plane, then the y-axis would be dead ahead. The x-axis, or 90 degrees to the right would be beam starboard, while to the left would be beam port. To the right forty five degrees would be broad off starboard, while to the left forty degrees would be broad port. If you count the three equidistant points leading up to forty five degrees on the right hand side of the ship, you would command one off, two off or three off starboard respectively.
There are many different types of samples that are taken on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Some of the samples collected on the ship are for the projects of the scientists that are here currently, and other samples are brought back for scientists working on related NOAA projects. The scientists that I am working with are based out of NOAA in Seattle, Washington.
One of the projects that I have been helping with most frequently is processing the trawl samples once they have been collected. When a trawl sample is collected, a large net is lowered off the stern of the ship that will collect the sample of fish (hopefully mostly pollock) and other living things. The net also functions as a vessel to hold scientific instruments that collect other types of information. There is a camera (cam trawl) that is attached to the net and this records video that can be watched through a computer to actually see what is being caught in the net.
Another useful instrument is the FS70, a sonar device that rides above the opening of the trawl net to ping on the fish going into it. Viewed from a screen on the Bridge in real time, this gives the scientists an idea of exactly how many fish are going into the net, so that they can adjust the depth of the net, or change the length of time for the trawl survey. The goal for each trawl sample is to collect at least 300 pollock.
Once the net has been brought in after haulback, the opening at the codend (bottom) of the net is released to allow the sample to be put in a metal tub called the table. The table is capable of holding approximately 1 ton, or 2,000 pounds worth of fish. Sometimes if there is more than can fit on the table, the crew will split the catch in half so that we are only measuring a portion of what was collected. The rest of the fish are stored in another tank on the deck. If we don’t end up with enough pollock on the table, we may need to pick through the other half that was saved on deck until we get enough. Measuring too few of them may not represent the accurate length compositions of the pollock.
On June 11th we collected trawl sample #7. This haul was filled with mainly jellyfish, with pollock and a few herring. The weight of this haul was very close to the amount that the table can hold so it was decided to split the catch. Once we looked at what was put on the table and we realized that it wasn’t going to be enough pollock, Mike and Sarah jumped into the spare tank and pulled out all of the fish (whole haul) so that we would have enough to get as close to that 300 number as possible.
When the fish come into the fish lab, we sort out the different species and put them into separate baskets. Each basket is weighed by species and input into a system called CLAMS (Catch Logging for Acoustic Midwater Surveys). After all of the species have been sorted, a percentage of each species will be measured by length. Another percentage of each species will be measured by length and weight.
Photo showing Pollock of different ages.
Pollock being weighed (in kg)
From the pollock sample collected, 30 will be randomly picked to have their otoliths removed. The otolith is the ear bone of the fish and it can be used to determine the age of that specific pollock. They have rings, similar to tree rings that can be counted. For information click here.
I have not been shy with anyone onboard about the fact that I would love to see whales if they are around the ship. I feel like this has almost turned into a game at my expense, but I don’t mind. There have been multiple times when there have been “whales” and as soon as I run up the 3 flights of stairs and get to the Bridge, the whales are suddenly gone. I think they are secretly timing me to see how quickly I can run up the stairs! The exercise is good for me anyways.
I’ve finished two books already, which has been really nice. I know that I love to read, but never really take the time anymore because it always seems like there is something else that I should be doing instead. There’s a bookshelf here in the lounge, so I’ll find another to read after I finish the last one that I brought.
I try to spend some time outside every day, and it is so peaceful. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of waking up and looking at the ocean. I don’t want to take any bit of this experience for granted. I am so grateful that I have this opportunity and I want to take in as much of it as I can. As I get to know more people on the ship I am starting to get to learn more from everyone about exactly what they do and why they chose to make this their profession.
Everyone thinks of scientists, NOAA Corps officers, and engineers as being very serious all of the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Professionalism is incredibly important and is always the focus, but there is also space for fun. Every other day there is a photo competition where a picture is taken somewhere on the ship and you need to find out where it was taken and submit your answer. There are also plastic Easter eggs that keep popping up everywhere filled with positive messages, or candy. The “Oscar Dyson Plan of the Day” sometimes has puzzles to figure out on it as well as important information such as location, meal times, sunrise/sunset times and any other important information.
Did You Know?
There are 6 different species of flatfish found in the Bering Sea. There are 2 species of Flounder, 3 of Sole, and 1 Plaice.
TAS Lacee Sherman with a Yellowfin Sole
TAS Lacee Sherman showing the underside of a Yellowfin Sole
Hello! My name is Lacee Sherman and I am pleased to have you join me on my Alaskan Research Adventure by following along on my blog. I am currently the 7th Grade Science teacher at Firebaugh Middle School in Firebaugh, CA. As I write this, I am just completing my fourth year of teaching middle school science. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science with a Biology Emphasis from California State University, Fresno. I also got my single subject teaching credential in Science from Fresno State.
Ever since I can remember, science has always captivated me in a way that no other subject was able to. I love the scientific process and finding creative solutions to problems and even still, always wanting to learn more. There is something so special about being able to investigate something new in order to learn more about it. There is so much in this world to be curious about.
My first taste of an authentic research experience came to me during my last year of Undergraduate education at Fresno State when a professor whom I admire, Dr. David Andrews, encouraged me to participate in the STAR (STEM Teachers as Researchers) program. The STAR program allows individuals that are going to pursue STEM teaching the opportunity to participate in summer research at different Universities or National Labs for up to three summers. Through this program I met people in the STEM field that have encouraged me and become lifelong Mentors.
My first summer, I spent working in the research lab of Dr. Brian Tsukimura at Fresno State helping to establish a protocol for quantifying vitellin concentrations in the California Ridgeback Shrimp.
My second and third summers in STAR were spent working with Ben R. Miller at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado as a part of the Global Monitoring Division (GMD). I would look at data collected at different sites in the United States and help to create visuals to represent the quantities of different types of ozone depleting substances.
As a member of the STAR Program I was introduced to the 100Kin10 initiative which is working towards adding and retaining 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into the profession within a 10 year time span. I am proud to be one of the 100Kin10 educators and I am also a member of the Teacher Forum that helps to provide valuable input from a teacher perspective to the partners working to improve the future of STEM Education.
In less than a week’s time I will be boarding NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to participate in research on the Eastern Bering Sea off of the coast of Alaska. I am so excited to meet all of the scientists and crew aboard the research ship and experience what it is life to live on board and work on research at the same time. I love getting to jump back into the scientific community and remind my students that I am not just a teacher; I’m a scientist, too. This research experience will help me to plan more hands on, research-based, and innovative lessons for my students.
I have never been to Alaska and I cannot wait to see the natural beauty and I want to see all of the wildlife that I can. I am looking forward to being able to share my knowledge and experiences with family, friends, and my students through this blog.
Did You Know?
Imitation Crab meat isn’t made from shellfish at all. It’s actually made from Alaskan Pollock!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 11, 2018
Weather from the Bridge:
Latitude:57°43.3 N Longitude:133°35.5 W Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 5 knots Wind Direction: variable Visibility:3 nautical miles Air Temperature: 11.5°C Sky:100% cloud coverage
Science and Technology Log
The area that NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying is Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. These are fjords, which are glacial valleys carved by a receding (melting) glacier. Before the surveying could begin the launches(small boats) were sent up the fjords, in pairs for safety, to see how far up the fjord they could safely travel. There were reports of ice closer to the glacier. Because the glacier is receding, some of the area has never been mapped. This is an area important for tourism, as it is used by cruise ships. I was assigned to go up Endicott Arm towards Dawes Glacier.
Almost as soon as we turned into the arm, we saw that there was ice. As we continued farther, the ice pieces got more numerous. We were being very careful not to hit ice or get the launch into a dangerous place. The launch is very sturdy, but the equipment used to map the ocean floor is on the hull of the boat and needs to be protected. We were able to get to within about 8 kilometers of the glacier, which was very exciting.
The launches have been going out every day this week to map areas in Tracy Arm. I have been out two of the days doing surveying and bottom sampling. During this time I have really enjoyed looking at the glacial ice. It looks different from ice that you might find in a glass of soda. Glacial ice is actually different. It is called firn. What happens is that snow falls and is compacted by the snow that falls on top of it. This squeezes the air out of of the snow and it becomes more compact. In addition, there is some thawing and refreezing that goes on over many seasons. This causes the ice crystals to grow. The firn ends up to be a very dense ice.
Glaciers are like slow moving rivers. Like a river, they move down a slope and carve out the land underneath them. Glaciers move by interior deformation, which means the ice crystals actually change shape and cause the ice to move forward, and by basal sliding, which means the ice is sliding on a layer of water.
The front of a glacier will calve or break off. The big pieces of ice that we saw in the water was caused by calving of the glacier. What is also very interesting about this ice is that it looks blue. White light, of course, has different wavelengths. The red wavelengths are longer and are absorbed by the ice. The blue waves are shorter and are scattered. This light does not get far into the ice and is scattered back to your eyes. This is why it looks blue.
Meltwater is also a beautiful blue-green color. This is also caused by the way that light scatters off the sediment that melts out of the glacial ice. This sediment, which got ground up in the glacier is called rock flour.
Mapping and bottom sampling in the ice
NOAA Ship Fairweather has spent the last four days mapping the area of Tracy Arm that is accessible to the launches. This means each boat going back and forth in assigned areas with the multibeam sonar running. The launches also stop and take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts. These are taken to increase the accuracy of the sound speed data.
Today I went out on a launch to take bottom samples. This information is important to have for boats that are wanting to anchor in the area. Most of the bottom samples we found were a fine sand. Some had silt and clay in them also. All three of these sediment types are the products of the rocks that have been ground up by ice and water. The color ranged from gray-green to tan. The sediment size was small, except in one area that did not have sand, but instead had small rocks.
The instrument used to grab the bottom sediment had a camera attached and so videos
were taken of each of the 8 bottom grabs. It was exciting to see the bottom, including some sea life such as sea stars, sea pens and we even picked up a small sea urchin. My students will remember seeing a bottom sample of Lake Huron this year. The video today looked much the same.
I have seen three bears since we arrived in Holkham Bay where the ship is anchored. Two of them have been black. Today’s bear was brown. It was very fun to watch from our safe distance in the launch.
I have really enjoyed watching the birds too. There are many waterfowl that I do not know. My students would certainly recognize the northern loons that we have seen quite often.
I have not really talked about the three amazing meals we get each day. In the morning we are treated to fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, made to order eggs, potatoes, and pancakes or waffles. Last night it was prime rib and shrimp. There is always fresh vegetables for salad and a cooked vegetable too. Carrie is famous for her desserts, which are out for lunch and dinner. Lunches have homemade cookies and dinners have their own new cake type. If we are out on a launch there is a cooler filled with sandwich fixings, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, trail mix, hummus and vegetables.
The cereal and milk is always available for snacks, along with fresh fruit, ice cream, peanut butter, jelly and different breads. Often there are granola bars and chips. It would be hard to ever be hungry!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 9, 2018
Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 57° 43.2 N Longitude:133° 35.6 Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 3 knots Wind Direction: Variable Visibility:10 Nautical miles Air Temperature: 15° C Sky: 90% cloud cover
Science and Technology Log
When I reflect on the personalities of the people living and working on NOAA Ship Fairweather, two words come to mind: challenge and adventure. They are also people that are self-confident, friendly, they see great purpose, and take great pride in their work. Life is not always easy on board a ship. People are often very far from family and away from many of the comforts of home. But for this group, it seems that they are willing to give up those hardships for being at sea. Below are some interviews I did with personnel on the ship.
Terry – Deck Crew
Terry is part of what is called the deck crew. He reported to me that his duties include standing bridge watch, which means looking out from the bridge to warn the bridge crew of any obstacles or dangers ahead of them. On this trip those hazards have been fishing vessels, and gear, and whales. He also will be at the helm, which means steering the ship as directed by a bridge officer. Other bridge duties include monitoring the radio and radar when the ship is anchored. He said that like everyone on the bridge, he needs to be aware of where the ship is at all times. He is part of the Deck Department so he does maintenance such as keeping things greased, painted and clean. The deck department also keeps the ships interior clean, except for the galley and the mess
What got you interested in the sea? When I was eight, I moved from Michigan to Florida and I fell in love with the sea. I used to run up and down the beach.
I liked Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Turns Forty,” and I liked reading adventure books by Jack London. When I was 13, I also read Moby Dick and The Odyssey. I read The Odyssey every year, I love that book. I really like the lore of the sea and the freedom of being at sea. I like the idea of going to exotic places.
When were you first in a boat in the ocean? When I was 10 years old I went on a day cruise from Tampa, Florida. It was a dive boat that was used to take tourists out. I loved it, if I could get on a boat, I would go. I tried to build a skiff, but it took on water.
When did you first work on the ocean? I went to sea when I was 24 years old. In my first job I worked bringing supplies to oil rigs. I found an ad for the job and they said no experience was needed. I wanted to be a captain, I wanted to travel and see the world. I watched a lot of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an adventurer. When oil prices went down I was out of a job, but in 2000 I worked for another oil company.
What other jobs have you had? After 9/11, I joined the Military Sealift Command, which is a civilian part of the Navy. They bring food, fuel, and supplies to Navy ships [he was in the Mediterranean Sea.] Military ships do not fuel in ports where they could get attacked.
In 2013 I had a wife and two kids and so I did different jobs, not at sea.
When did you first start to work for NOAA? In 2016 I was hired by NOAA on NOAA Ship Fairweather. This boat and NOAA Ship Rainier are where people start. I started as an Ordinary Seaman. Now I am Able Seaman. To move up I needed to take a course in survival training and fire training. I did this in Louisiana at a community college, it took two weeks. I also needed six months of experience on a NOAA vessel.
What is your favorite part of the job? I like being at the helm and steering the ship. I like going to different places and seeing different things. I like that the ship has extra functions to keep up moral up. I even did a comedy show twice. It is like your own community. It is great being part of a team and accomplishing a goal.
What is the hardest part of the job? The hardest thing is being away from home. For every 9 months away, I am home for a few months, that is spread out over a year. The season is 7-8 months.
What do you think it takes to be on a ship away from your family? Everyone has to be a team player. You need to really get along with others. People need to be confident and you need to show respect to each other. You live in very tight quarters. Nobody has a job that is small, everybody’s job needs to be done.
Jeff – NOAA Corps Junior Officer
I grew up in Juno, Alaska and went to college there. I got a Bachelor’s degree in math, I never thought I would be interested in math. I started out with an art major then went to geology, then biology, then math. I liked that I learned a new set of rules during the day and then got to apply them to problems that I could solve. It took me six years to get my degree. I paid for it myself by working and I was living in a sailboat in the harbor.
What brought you to a career in NOAA? Previously I was a Sergeant in the Army for five years. I was searching for tide information for a fishing trip and was on a NOAA website, There I saw a recruiting video and decided to do that. It took a couple years to get into the NOAA Corps. I was first hired on a NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a General Vessel Assistant in the deck department. Then I found out I was accepted into the NOAA Corps. After my Officer Training in New London, Connecticut I was assigned to NOAA Ship Fairweather.
What is your role on the ship? I am a Junior Officer. I am here to learn how to drive ships and learn the science of hydrography. I am learning how to become a professional mariner.
What are the best parts of your job? Ever since the Army I enjoyed being part of a team. On the ship there is a lot of social interaction. It is a tight community of people that live and work together. We have all types of personalities.
I really like going out on a launch (the small boats used for surveying) and collecting data. We are in beautiful places and we get to eat our picnic lunches and listen to music and work together to figure out how to drive our lines and to collect the data we need.
I also like processing and organizing the data we get. Our project areas are divided up into acquisition areas and I work as a Sheet Manager for an area. So, I am responsible for taking the data that is cleaned up from the night processors (who clean up the data when it first comes in) and getting a map ready for the launches with areas that need more data collection and safety hazards marked. I keep track of what needs to be done and report those needs to my superiors.
What do you like to do on the ship when you aren’t working? I like the VersaClimber. (This is in the gym. There is a ship contest going on to see who can climb highest!) I used to do some fishing. I also spend time communicating with my family.
What do you miss when you are at sea? Mostly I miss my family. I also miss doing things like going for a walk to get coffee. Since the field season is all summer, I really miss going camping with my family.
What will you be doing for your next assignment with NOAA? Assignments are two years on a ship and three years on land. Next, NOAA is sending me to graduate school for three years. So I will be working on a Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering with an emphasis in Ocean Mapping.
Niko – Chief Engineer
I had a conversation with Niko one day because I was really interested in how the water on the ship was acquired and disposed of. I learned that and a little more!
I asked Niko what got him interested in being at sea. He told me that this family had a cabin on an island in the state of Washington. He loved driving the families small boat whenever he could. He would take it out for 8 hours a day. In Middle School and High School he did small engine repair. He took a lot of shop classes and was in a program called “First Robotics.” He thought he wanted to be a welder. His mom worked for the BP oil company and through that he learned about maritime school. He went to school at Cal Maritime, (The California State University Maritime Academy.) There he studied Marine Engineering Technology. He said it was hard. Of the 75 students that started in his class, only 14 graduated on time.
He told me that NOAA Ship Fairweather has engines from 1968, and they are due for a rebuild, They have 20,000 hours since the last rebuild in 2004, that is like running them 3 straight years..
Niko is the Chief Engineer. He has a department of nine engineers.
I asked him about the freshwater on the ship. He said the ship uses 600 gallons a day without the laundry and 2000 gallons a day if the laundry is in use. It takes 17,000 gallons of water to go for 10 days. The ship has freshwater tanks that are filled when they are in port, but the ship can produce freshwater from salt water. To do this the ship must be moving. It uses a method which evaporates the salt water so the freshwater is left behind. This costs one gallon of diesel to produce 9.7 gallons of freshwater. This costs is $0.30 a gallon for water. The sinks, showers, dishwasher and laundry all use freshwater. The toilets use saltwater.
I have learned an amazing amount about ocean mapping from my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. I have also learned a lot about different NOAA careers and life on a ship. But like any good experience, it is always the people that make things great!
I have really enjoyed getting to meet all of the people of the ship. They have been so kind to take me in and show me their jobs and let me try out new things, like driving a ship and a launch!
We have also had fun kayaking, watching wildlife, and taking a walk on shore.
Latitude: 57 43.3 N Longitude: 133 43.3 Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 2 knots Wind Direction: 202 Visibility: 8 Nautical Mines Air Temperature: 14 C Sky: High Cirrus Clouds
Science and Technology Log
When I first learned that I would be on NOAA Ship Fairweather, one of the possible sites, I was told, was a survey including a mud volcano. I did not know anything about mud volcanoes. I knew about ice volcanoes on moons in our solar system, but not about mud volcanoes. NOAA Ship Fairweather found evidence of the methane seeps coming from mud volcanoes, while surveying the Queen Charlotte fault last season. A seep is where gases from below the surface comes out. The area surveyed the first week I was on the ship was just north of the seeps. I wanted to know more so I could share this information. Here is a little background.
In 2015 geologists found a 700 foot gas plume and a couple other active mud cones along the Queen Charlotte – Fairweather fault. Although this fault is not in a highly populated area, it is very active. In the area where the geologists were surveying, liquid natural gas plants and a busy port were close by. They already knew of earthquakes along the fault and that an earthquake in the area today could cause a landslide and generate tsunamis on shore. Older mapping done in the area showed past landslides. But the 2015 survey was looking for the “seeps.”
Scientists first noticed the methane plume coming from the area near the fault. The seep was from an underwater mud volcano. A mud volcano does not have to be made of igneous rock like a traditional volcano. It is formed from gases and mud creating a volcano shaped cone.
Geologists have questioned whether these mud volcanoes may provide a lubricant that could actually lessen the friction on the fault in the area. It would cause the tectonic plates of area to slowly creep along.
NOAA Ship Fairweather also found these seeps during a mapping of the ocean floor along the fault. Below on the right are the plumes of gas rising from the sea floor. Look how high they are rising. Also notice the fan shape on the right. That shows the width of the multibeam sonar at this depth. The colored area on the left are also from NOAA Ship Fairweather’s multibeam sonar with the blues being deeper areas of the seafloor and green to yellow to red getting more shallow. The circled areas show where the seeps were found while the fault line was being mapped.
Life under the sea?
At these seeps, geologists have also found animals that live off of the nutrients of chemosynthetic bacteria. This is bacteria that, instead using the energy of the sun (photosynthesis,) to make energy, they use the materials that come from thermal vents in the ocean floor.
What are other geologic wonders of the area?
First of all there are hot springs! I learned about these hot springs from several of the people on NOAA Ship Fairweather. They report it to be a fun place to visit for a little well deserved time off. There are many hot springs in other areas of Southeast Alaska too. It is a draw for tourists to the area. The hot springs are produced because water seeps down a crack in the Earth’s surface and gets heated, then the super-heated water rises to the surface.
The geology of rock types of the area are also a wonder. It is actually quite complicated, the landscape and seafloor features have been influenced by glaciation, volcanism and plate tectonics, and these geologic influences are still present today. The surveying on NOAA Ship Fairweather is vital to the understanding of the geology that shaped the area. The clues that are beneath the sea help geologist begin to understand southeast Alaska’s dynamic past, and help to predict the geologic future.
After one week on the ship I feel like I just might have to stay! The surveying is really interesting and the views are amazing. When I first arrived I was confused by the passageways and ladder wells on the ship, but now it seems so easy!
I have discovered a few of my favorite places! I love my small room with its own port hole. I really enjoy all of the meals and having time to talk to everyone onboard. People come from all over the US and do a variety of jobs on the ship.
Tomorrow I will have a chance to go off the ship on the small boats. That sounds like great fun!
Did you know?
We just got to a new area with glaciers. The one we could photograph today is Sumdum Glacier. It sounds like a really funny name. It is a Native American word meaning, the sound glaciers make when they are calving, which is what it is called when ice falls off of them.
Some information from:
“Active Mud Volcano Field Discovered off Southeast Alaska.” Eos, 30 Nov. 2015, eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska.
NOAA Ship Fairweather uses a multibeam sonar to map the ocean floor. Sonar stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. This ship’s multibeam sonar sends sound (acoustic energy) to the seafloor in a fan shape, and then listens for the echos. The speed sound travels is vital to knowing the depth the sound has traveled to. Sound travels about 1500 meters per second in seawater. This is much faster than in air where it travels at about 340 meters per second. Sound speed is an important consideration in ocean floor mapping.
What factors influence the strength of acoustic return? (sound back to the ship)
Spreading – As the sound energy gets farther from its source (the bottom of the ship) and after it hits its target, the sound wave gets weaker. This is why you can hear someone standing next to you better than somebody on the other side of a room.
Absorption – The energy of the wave heats up the molecules of water it goes through because of friction and loses energy. This is also the reason you can hear someone standing next to you better than somebody on the other side of a room.
Ambient Noise – . This refers to the fact that the fish, (towed behind the ship) the ship, and wave action are also producing sound sources of their own. The sound “signal” needs to be extracted from this “noise”.
Target Strength – If the seafloor is muddy, some of the energy of the sound beam will be absorbed and less will be sent back to the ship. If it is a rocky bottom, the sound energy scatters in different directions and a weaker signal returns.
How is the sound speed measured?
When you hear MVP in sports? MVP means Most Valuable Players, but on NOAA Ship Fairweather the MVP stands forMoving Vessel Profiler. The MVP consists of a small crane on the fantail (the back deck on the ship) that pulls what is called a FISH! The MVP has a computer controlled winch that can be used while the ship is moving.
The surveyors (marine technicians) call to the bridge to ask if they can, “take a cast.” This means they will lower the “fish” to get readings and learn the speed of sound for the area. The bridge, which is where the boat is steered from, will respond that they may cast, only if it is safe. Our last “cast” measured the water column down to 217 meters as we were travelling at 6 knots (about 7 miles per hour.) The ship does not drop the “fish” while it is travelling at a high speed because that puts too much tension on the cable.
The fish is the instrument that is pulled behind the ship, that collects data. The fish is actually a science instrument, much like the Hydrolab that we use at school. It is a CTD, and is used to measure conductivity, temperature and pressure. This data allows the CTD to measure the speed of sound.
Conductivity is a measurement of the ability of water to conduct an electrical current. The dissolved salts in the water are the conductors of the electricity. The salts, as you may remember, come from the breakdown of rocks and are carried by rivers to the ocean. These “salts” are electrically charged ions, mostly in the form of sodium and chlorine. So, the conductivity measures the salinity (saltiness) of the ocean. This is very important, because the salinity affects the speed of sound. Since the sonar is sending sound to the bottom of the ocean, conductivity or salinity measurements are very important.
As sound travels through different densities (caused by the salinity) it causes refraction. You have seen refraction when you put a straw in a glass of water. The straw appears to bend. So the salinity of the water needs to be measured using the conductivity instruments in order to account for different densities caused by the salinity levels.
Temperature also affects the density of the water. Colder water is more dense than warmer water. Remember when we studied how colder air is more dense than warmer air?
Since salinity and temperature change with depth, the CDT also measures depth. All three of these instruments together help determine the speed of sound through the water. Since the sonar uses sound to map the ocean floor, measuring the speed of sound is vital for collecting good data.
The speed of sound generally increases with an increase of temperature, salinity or pressure.
Did you know?
Datum – a noun meaning a piece of information, while data is plural.
Swath – a fan shaped area created by the sound beams
Transducer – where sound leaves from.
Receiver – where the sound comes back to.
One of the most exciting things about being at sea, is seeing animals. On our first day out we were lucky to see a pod of orcas whales (killer whales.) Since then, someone on board reported the whales and got information back from NOAA Fisheries about whales they could identify from the pictures sent. We found out that whale A4, named Sonora, and one of her four offspring A46, named Surf, were part of pod A5 which is a group that usually is in the water near British Columbia, but sometimes can be found in southeast Alaska, where we are right now. One male, named A66, was identified by the pictures. He was born in 1996! Look for more information about this pod here http://cetacousin.org/wild-database/orcas/northern-resident-orcas/ or http://orcinusorca.nl/
Today we saw group of Dall’s porpoise. They are very fast moving porpoise. They are found in the Northern Pacific Ocean in groups of 2-20 and can live 15-20 years. Individuals are about 7-8 feet long.
Latitude: 47° 44.116′ N
Longitude: 122° 32.070′ W
Sea Wave Height: 1 foot or less
Wind Speed: 5-8 knots in the AM, then less than 5 knots in PM
Wind Direction: SSE, variable
Visibility: 16.1 km
Air Temperature: 8oC
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Science and Technology Log
For the past two days, NOAA Ship Fairweather has been anchored in Port Madison, part of Puget Sound off the coast of Seattle, Washington. The crew is currently stopped for a few days in Puget Sound before heading north to Alaska in order to complete the yearly Hydrographic Systems Readiness Review (HSRR). During HSRR, the survey techs test all of the hydrographic survey equipment that will be used during the field season. It’s essential to test and calibrate the equipment at the start of the season in order to ensure the data accuracy for upcoming projects.
The first part of HSRR began Thursday morning. Because NOAA Ship Fairweather spent winter at dock in Yaquina Bay, barnacles and algae were able to grow plentifully on the ship’s bottom, making it their home. The dive team deployed to check the Fairweather‘s hull and clean off the sonar transducers, removing any biofouling (sea life that had built up on the ship’s bottom) from the winter in port.
Dive Team Beginning HSRR in Port Madison, WA
Divers Preparing to Remove Biofouling from Ship’s Hull and Sonar Equipment
On Thursday afternoon and Friday, the next phase of HSRR began. On Friday, I was able to spend most of the day on the survey launches as a few of the survey techs conducted patch testing (a process for precisely determining an orientation of the launch’s sonar). NOAA Ship Fairweather has four 28-foot launches, and I spent the morning on 2808, and then the afternoon on 2806. When working on projects in relatively shallow waters, the Fairweather deploys these launches to collect data more efficiently as four launches can work on a project simultaneously.
The launches are driven by a coxswain, often a NOAA officer or deck hand, while a Hydrographer-in-Charge (HIC) plans track lines for the vessel to run. Sometimes, a coxswain-in-training or HIC-in training will also join the launch. As part of HSRR, the HIC chose a few track lines for the launch to run, and the coxswain, drove the launch back and forth on the lines at various speeds. While we ran the track lines, the HIC was able to gather data by sending an acoustic ping from the sonar which reflects off the seafloor and is then recorded when it returns to the sonar. The two-way travel time of the pin is measured, which (when coupled with the speed of sound through the water) can be used to calculate the water depth.
While in Port Madison, the crew will send all four of the Fairweather‘s launches out to run the same track lines and to ensure the data collected by each launch matches. At night, after the HIC’s have gathered data, the survey techs spend hours in the plot room, looking at the day’s data and checking for any discrepancies. The survey techs correct any errors in the data and the saved changes are sent back to each launch’s computing system. This is known as calibrating. By running patch tests and calibrating the launches to one another, survey techs are able to guarantee that data collected throughout the season is precise, no matter which launch is used for a given area.
Data Being Collected from the CTD on the Launch Monitor: Conductivity (Salinity), Temperature, and Depth (Pressure)
Before and after running the patch tests, the crew deploys a CTD The CTD measures the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water. The survey techs are interested in the CTD readings because this information helps them assess the speed of sound (or the sonar waves) in a given body of water. In turn, knowing the speed of sound and the amount of time the CTD takes to reach the ocean floor, allows survey techs to calculate ocean depths. (The classic distance equation, d=rt!)
Conductivity refers to the ability of the given water sample to pass an electrical current. Survey techs are interested in the conductivity, because the conductivity is another way to gauge the salinity (or “saltiness” of the water). The more salt in a sample of ocean water, the greater the ocean water’s conductivity and the faster the sound waves travel. Next is temperature. Water closer to the surface is warmer, and thus, sound will travel faster closer to the surface. Conversely, the cooler the temperature, the slower the sound waves travel. The final measurement is depth, or pressure. The deeper the water, the greater the pressure. Greater depths increase the speed of the sonar waves. The average speed of sound in the water is 1,500 m/s. By comparison, the average speed of sound in air is about 340m/s.
After dinner, survey techs are assigned to night data processing. I joined one of the survey techs, Ali, who was kind enough to explain how the launch data is analyzed. One interesting note is the red light in the plot room. The red light is used because the plot room is next to the bridge, where the officers and deck crew keep watch. The red lights help the crew keep their eyes ready for night watch, so those processing data also work under red lights.
In the above photograph, notice the various colors representing the differing ocean depths. In this case, red is shallower and purple is deeper. Notice that as the survey tech, hovers over a datapoint with her mouse, the data collected by Fairweather launch 2807 is shown as a coordinate with a depth of 168.3 meters. Creating a color “painting” of the data points is helpful because the changing colors help the survey techs understand the slope of the ocean floor; closer together colors mean a steeper slope or a sharp increase in depth, whereas larger swatches of the same color mean a flatter seafloor.
The green lines in the picture represent the “lines” that the launch ran, meaning the area where the coxswain drove back and forth in the boat at varying speeds. Notice that there are two lines as the launches always run two lines to ensure accuracy. As the launch is driven back and forth in the water, the transducers on the bottom of the launch emits multi-beam sonar, and sound waves ping off the ocean floor several times per second, sending sound waves back to the launch which are translated into millions of data points by the survey techs.
A Cross Section of the Patch Test “Painting”
On This 3D Grid, Survey Techs Show a Virtual Map of the Sea Floor of Puget Sound
Two Lines Being Compared for Accuracy
The survey techs use various computer programs and imaging software to analyze the data. Above, the survey techs can look at a 3D cross-section of the data, which essentially looks like a virtual map of the sea floor. In the bottom right corner, the survey tech compares two lines for accuracy, one with data points colored red, the other green. When the lines line up exactly, precision is ensured. The survey techs analyze the data to make sure the rocking of the boat in any direction (front/back, side-to-side, etc.) won’t interfere with mapping accuracy later in the season. Finally, survey techs compare their work with each other to ensure precise calibration.
One of my favorite things about being onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather are the tremendous views every time I look outside. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. We’ve had some really great weather over the last few days, and though it has been a bit chilly, the skies have been fairly clear.
Did You Know?
On nautical charts (or maps), units of measurement vary. Ocean depths can be marked in feet, meters, or fathoms. Fathoms, like knots, is another term steeped in nautical history. When sailors used to measure ocean depths by hanging rope over the side of a vessel, they would pull in the line, looping the rope from hand to hand. The distance of the rope from one outstretched hand to another (a sailor’s wingspan) became known as a fathom.
Challenge #2 – Devotion 7th Graders: Measure your wingspan, the distance from one outstretched hand to another. Then measure four other friends, classmates, or family members’ wingspans. What is the median wingspan for you and your friends? What is the mean wingspan for you and your friends? What is the mean absolute deviation for your collective wingspans? One fathom is equal to 1.8288 meters or 6 feet. If one fathom is the average sailor’s wingspan, how do your wingspans compare? Present your findings on a 8.5x11inch paper as a mini-poster. Include illustrations and calculations.
Latitude: 42.3306° N
Longitude: 71.1220° W
Sea Wave Height: N/A
Wind Speed: 16 km/h
Wind Direction: SW
Air Temperature: 5.6oC
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Greetings from Brookline, Massachusetts! I am a 7th grade math teacher at the Edward Devotion School, where I have the wonderful opportunity to work with 80 creative and enthusiastic students each day. I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program as I’m eager to bring real-world math to the classroom, or maybe to bring my classroom to the real-world math. 🙂 The 7th graders are currently in the midst of our data and analysis unit, and I can’t wait to learn more firsthand about how NOAA scientists gather, graph, and analyze data. I look forward to sharing my learning with my class, and I’m excited about to what future class projects this opportunity may lead.
Previous to teaching 7th grade math in Brookline, I taught for nearly a decade in El Salvador. I’m happy to be able to share this adventure with students there as well.
In just a few days, I will fly from Boston, MA to Portland, OR, and from there I’ll board NOAA Ship Fairweather in Newport, OR. It was a nice surprise to learn I’d begin my journey in Newport as I first visited Oregon when I was in seventh grade myself. From there, we’ll sail towards Southeast Alaska.
While aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, I’ll be participating in a hydrographic survey, which entails working with scientists to measure and describe oceanic features that can affect maritime navigation. According to NOAA, “Alaska’s charts are in need of updating, especially in the Arctic region where some soundings date back to the work of Captain Cook in the 18th century.” Conducting a hydrographic survey of the region is especially important because many towns and villages in Alaska are reachable only by boat or plan, so accurate and updated navigational charts will benefit all who live and travel through the area.
One aspect of the Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project, I’m eager to witness is the way in which scientists, technicians, and cartographers utilize some of the same geometry and algebra concepts we’ve been studying in seventh grade math this year in their work aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.
Did You Know?
NOAA Ship Fairweather’s home port is Ketchikan, Alaska, which will also be where I’ll disembark at the end of my trip.
Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N Longitude: 165o 48.7 W
Date: September 3, 2017
Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover
Science and Technology Log
So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.
The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.
Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.
ANEMOMETERS:Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.
The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.
All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.
When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.
Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.
ADULT EXPOSURE SUITS:
Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.
I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.
It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.
Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!
Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!
Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.
Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.
But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…
Did You Know?
…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.
Late afternoon: full cloud cover, rain squalls, 10-14 knot winds, 41 degrees
Science and Technology Log
Thursday’s science was a bit different. Two boats went out to do some final surveying and follow up in Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor. Because the area of Grantley harbor to be surveyed was in less than 4 meters of water, an Ambar jet boat was used with a single beam sonar mounted aft on the port side. The second boat that went out was one of the small launches for use as a dive boat for NOAA trained divers (https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/diving-program). The goal of the dive boat was to dive on a particular location in Port Clarence that was giving a strange image that must have been coming from a man-made structure. The sonar showed a grid pattern roughly 100m x 60m with lines 7-8m apart on the long axis and 5-6m apart on the short axis. The team felt strongly that they needed to understand what was there in order to determine if it was safe for anchoring. I’ll follow up more on this later…
I went out with the team on the Ambar. As is the case with all the small launches, the Ambar is brought down from the boat deck to the breezeway deck for loading before the actual release.
All gear, materials, food (long days out there!!) and people embark prior to the final drop to the water and the actual launch. This takes a team of a dozen or so people working in coordination. Prior to the start of launch, a safety officer is required on deck to oversee the process. This might be the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer) or Operations Officer. Most of the other personnel involved are a part of the deck crew, including the coxswain (who drives the small launches). A davit operator handles the control of the boat via cable(s) all the way down. The bosun (boatswain) on the breezeway deck is directing commands to the operator using hand signals. Several hands are securing the craft with ropes against the side of the ship. All of these moves have to happen in perfect coordination for the safety of everyone and the protection of the Ambar and Fairweather. Personal protective equipment is worn by all parties throughout. This includes a flotation vest or jacket and a hard hat which you can see on those on the boat in the image to the left.
Five of the other six small launches on the Fairweather undergo a similar process. Each is housed in a davit cradle and each has one or more cables to control the craft during its descent toward the waterline. The davits all shift their cradling position while the cables lift to assist in the release of the craft. Once the craft is entirely free of the cradle, it is slowly lowered down the side of the vessel to the breezeway deck for loading as described above. One boat, though, has a really cool option. This is the FRB or Fast Rescue Boat. This craft can actually be launched by the driver, which is a requirement of any FRB.
The final craft is a workboat which is housed on the fantail. It is not used for surveying, but will often be employed as passenger transport. It is also used for pick up and drop off of material that may be used on land, such as the HorCon station discussed in my previous post. This craft is not seated in a davit cradle and is instead launched through the use of a very large crane (see image below). The crane is attached to the launch at a center point connected with three lines.
The craft is moved from the position on the fantail to either the port or starboard side level with the deck and lowered to the water before loading. For this reason, it is much more difficult to keep it completely horizontal and not hitting the deck and doing damage to the Fairweather.
So back to the Ambar and what we were actually doing in Grantley Harbor. Much of the harbor is quite shallow and when a team had been in there previously, they felt that there may be some irregularity to the otherwise uniform seafloor. They had been getting some interference and scattering on the side scan. They wanted to understand why and also to get a complete picture of the harbor seafloor. With the Ambar and the single beam sonar, there is little to no danger of doing damage in extreme shallows since the equipment is not on the underside of the boat and the Ambar itself can be beached as there are no propellers.
We took the boat into the shallows with the single beam sonar to take measurements along lines to as shallow as 2m. While surveying in the shallows, we found that there were sea grasses growing and according to the Operations Officer who was on board, that may have been the reason for the interference. Regardless, we continued to survey a regular pattern in order to have good data for future charts. During this time, I was given the opportunity to drive the Ambar… which showed me how much more difficult staying a straight line course is than the coxswains make it look.
Upon return to the Fairweather, the Ambar is reattached to the cable and brought back up to the breezeway deck. Ropes are again used in coordination to keep the boat steady as it is lifted, much the reverse of what was described above. At that point all materials are unloaded and all the people disembark. The Ambar is then hoisted back up into the davit cradle.
When I’m back in an area with lots of bandwidth, I’ll create a video post to show just how cool the launches of small boats really is…
Shipboard life on a NOAA vessel is quite different from life on land. First, because the ship is a twenty four hour operation, people are needed at all hours. Many of the positions on NOAA vessels run on a 4 hours on, 8 hours off cycle. Some positions have recently shifted to 4 on, 4 off, 4 on, 12 off to afford greater lengths of time for sleep. When you are on the lower decks, it is also easy to lose track of time – and of course when you’re in Alaska during summer, it’s still light out at 10 o’clock. There are auroras to potentially be seen in the wee hours and multibeam surveying that happens through the night. There are always people up and about doing things – so the ship is a busy place at all times.
And with this in mind, I have to admit I have not been doing a great job getting to sleep. But I do sleep well on the ship, the rocking is the best cure for insomnia I’ve ever experienced. And I have been eating incredibly well – and I mean INCREDIBLY well. Mealtimes are the same each day, so that’s a great help. I will talk more about the food and the kitchen in a future post. Fortunately, with all that good eating, there’s a gym on board, so I’ve been able to work some of it off. There’s also laundry on board and a lounge with lots of movies. I like it. And waking up to the ocean and a lovely sunrise each morning makes the tiredness not really matter much.
As a part of NOAA’s mission, we had the opportunity to go ashore at a small town at Port Clarence called Brevig Mission. It is a town of almost 400, most of whom are native to Alaska. While ashore, we were able to spend time talking with the people, purchasing some of their handcrafts and fish, and even visiting the school. The people live simple lives. They still hunt walrus, seal and whale and those foods are the staple of their diet through the frozen winter months. I found it fascinating that they use all of the parts of the animals – the items that I purchased were from seal and walrus.