Heather O’Connell: Shore Party, Sumdum and Sawyer Glaciers, June 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/15/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was my first small vessel operation where we took down a base station and set up a new system on an islet next to Harbor Island. We took RA-7, a skiff that used a crane to lift it off the flying bridge of the ship and into the water. This local satellite receiver allows for a reference point for data acquisition that occurs in Alaska, where the GPS system is not as dependable as the lower forty eight states. The positioning given from this high accuracy base station, called GNSS, will assist with nautical charts developed from the Tracy Arm project once time sonar data has been collected. Since the lower forty eight states have permanent base stations with this highly accurate positioning, there is no need to set up these stations.

GPS base station
Setting up a high-accuracy GPS base station

The base stations work by comparing the satellite positioning to a theoretical ellipsoid that was generated in Canada to standardize positioning. Before this, different areas would utilize various landmarks as the reference point and this inconsistency proved challenging when comparing data internationally or even across the states. So, geodesists, scientists who study geometric shape, positioning in space and gravitational field, generated a theoretical ellipsoid. This was created by rotating the shorter axis of an ellipse to mimic the shape of the Earth. Since the poles of the Earth are flat and the equator bulges, this ellipsoid is an accurate representation. This system gives all points on Earth a unique coordinate, similar to an address, and is extremely helpful in developing nautical charts. However, the limitations of this theoretical ellipsoid include its inability to take into account the actual shape of the Earth.

Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island
Setting up Base Station on Harbor Island

While being on the skiff and learning about theoretical positioning ellipsoids, I heard a lot of talk about RA-2, one of the shoreline launches on Rainier.  I learned that in addition to a single beam sonar, this vessel also has LIDAR. LIDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, can be used in bathymetric data acquisition and is currently used for shoreline data on Rainier. This remote sensing technology can survey up to seventy meters of depth in coastal waters by sending out a laser. LIDAR sends out light pulses and senses the time it takes for these lasers to return to the sensor, to gather data on different land structures. LIDAR gets cloud point data and dots make up the image of the ocean floor. From this, three dimensional maps can be generated. Since the light can penetrate a canopy just like the sun, this technology is used in South America to find hidden cities under tree lines. This technology can also be mounted on planes and is most likely the future direction of shoreline data acquisition. Lasers survey the land and they get the height of different landmasses and can be used for bathymetric data or topographic data.

Sources –



Personal Log

Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of two alpine, or tundra, ecosystem areas that ship Rainier will survey. Twenty percent of these areas are covered in glaciers and snow fields and are too cold to support trees. The coastal areas of Tracy and Endicott Arms are part of the Terror Wilderness, which is part of Tongas National Forest, the largest national coastal temperate rainforest. Observing my first glacier, Sumdum Glacier, off the coast of Harbor Island while we were at the inlet of Tracy and Endicott Arms, reminded me of a time much before humans existed.

Sumdum Glacier
Sumdum Glacier

Here, out of Holkham Bay, I experienced my first expedition in a skiff, RA-7, to remove a horizontal control base and help set up a new one.  Stepping foot on an actual landmass with all of the different living parts of an ecosystem was a treasure and it most certainly felt like a shore party, as the name suggests. I observed several calcium carbonate shells of urchins, amongst kelp, mussels, and barnacles. The shells transitioned into a forest with Devil’s Club, the only member of the ginseng family present in Alaska, with woody, prickly stems.  This shrub was growing under a Sitka Spruce forest with cone-bearing trees present among the steep rocks of granite. These trees can grow up to one hundred and seventy feet tall and can be as old as seven hundred and fifty years old in Southeast Alaska. After an exciting afternoon of a shore party, we safely returned to the ship and headed into Tracy’s Arm.

Proceeding into the Southern arm of Tracy’s Arm, I saw calves of the tidal glacier that we would soon see. The refrozen and pressurized snow became glacial ice and carved the valleys to form the deep inlets with massive granite slabs on either side of us. South Sawyer glacier was off to the East and the air seemed to get colder as we approached it. Even in the rain and weather, I couldn’t pull myself away from the incredible beauty of this inlet. After endless waterfalls, we approached Sawyer Glacier which was once big enough to cover all of Tracy’s Arm. This acted as a reminder of the Ice Age and its effect on geology.

Sawyer Glacier
Sawyer Glacier

During this journey through Tracy’s Arm, I saw two eagles perched on an iceberg and shortly afterwards three orca whales showing their dorsal fins and playing in the water. As XO informed me, orca whales are actually the largest species of dolphins and these carnivorous mammals can weigh up to six tons. These creatures use echolocation to communicate to their pods, and I wonder how the multi-beam sonar affects this form of communication.

Eagles on Iceberg
Eagles on Iceberg. Photo Credit: Jonathan Witmer



Studebaker, Stacy. Wildflowers and Other Plant Life of the Kodiak Archipelago.

National Geographic Orcas

Did You Know?

When glacier ice melts, it is filled with air bubbles. As new layers of ice form on top of the old ice, the ice gets denser and the air bubbles get smaller. As the human eye detects the yellow and red light reflected from glacial ice, it appears a spectacular blue. Since snow is full or air bubbles, it reflects the entire spectrum of light and appears white.  


Lacee Sherman: Teacher on Land and Teacher Leaving Port June 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 4, 2018

Unalaska Sign
A sign hanging in the airport when I landed in Dutch Harbor.  If this is where I started and my most recent coordinates are below, which way have I been traveling?

Weather Data from the Bridge on June 7th, 2018

Latitude: N 55° 22.897

Longitude: W 164° 20.546

Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 270 degrees

Visibility: 8 knots

Air Temperature:  7.5° C

Sky:  Grey and Cloudy

NOAA Ship, Oscar Dyson
Photo of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Science and Technology Log

On this leg of the Research Cruise in the Eastern Bering Sea I will be helping a team of NOAA scientists collect data about a fish species called Pollock.  The data that are collected will help to set the limits for how much pollock the fishing boats are allowed to catch. The data also allow scientists to track the populations of the pollock to look for patterns.  For additional information on Pollock, visit the NOAA fisheries website here.

During the survey, acoustic (sound) signals will be sent into the water by transducers at different frequencies and these acoustic signals will bounce off of the objects in the ocean and bounce back to the ship where the echoes will be picked up by the transducers. The data collected from each echo is presented visually to the science team.  When we reach a spot where a lot of the acoustic signals returning to the boat indicate the presence of fish, a trawl sample will be taken at that location. A trawl survey includes putting a large net into the water and scooping up a sample of all of the living things in that location. Once the trawl haul is brought onto the boat, it is taken to the fish lab where the fish are identified and measured.  

Fish Lab
Photo of the Fish Lab on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

The area being surveyed is the Eastern Bering Sea and for this study is divided up into 28 different transects have been mapped out and are spread 20 nautical miles apart.  We will start at northern point of the first transect and travel south until we reach the bottom of it. Once we reach the bottom of the first transect we will travel 20 nautical miles west to the southern tip of the second transect.  We will then travel north along this second transect until we reach the top and then travel the 20 nautical miles west until we reach transect 3. This will continue throughout my time on the ship, and on the 2 other legs of this journey.  On this first leg of the research cruise, the aim is to survey and sample from 16.3 of the transects which will total a journey of 2627 nautical miles on the transect lines.

According to the NOAA National Ocean Service Website, “A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a statute (land measured) mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating.”

Map of Transect Lines
Map of transect lines for NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson over the 3 legs of the Eastern Bering Sea Pollock survey. Current location is shown by the yellow boat. Can you find it?  Hint:  It’s near the vertical lines on the right.  First transect is the farthest on the Eastern (right in this photo) side.

Personal Log

TAS Lacee Sherman on Oscar Dyson deck
Photo taken on the stern of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Stienessen

It was a long trip getting to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, but it has already been worth it!  I am on the Island of Unalaska, which is a part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The main port city is called Dutch Harbor, or commonly just “Dutch”.  This is such a beautiful place that I probably never would have seen otherwise. There are mountains filled with grasses, berry bushes, and wild orchids as well as snow-topped peaks and natural waterfalls.  There are bald eagles everywhere and foxes that are so fluffy they almost appear to be dogs from far away. Looking into the water you can see a few scattered otters floating on their backs and the occasional harbor seal.


OSI Morning photo
This photo was taken from the bow of NOAA ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

As soon as I landed in Dutch, I was greeted by two of the scientists that I will be working with, Matthew and Sarah.  They took me to NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to drop off my luggage before we all went out to dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually had my own stateroom.  Due to the number of female scientists and us being on the same work shift, we were both able to have our own rooms.  The rooms are so much nicer than I had anticipated them to be! The mattresses are comfortable, I have a desk space, there’s a television (that I will probably never watch) and I have my own bathroom as well.  


After we had dinner and returned to the ship, I went on a mini hike with one of the members of the science team and we went to view this amazing natural waterfall.  You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. There is so much more that you can do when the sun is up for most of the day. At 11:30pm (the latest i’ve stayed up so far) it is still light outside.  There are so many clouds that the sky looks pretty grey, and there are a ton of clouds, often hiding the tops of the mountain peaks.


Lacee Sherman Dutch Harbor Waterfall
Photo of TAS Lacee Sherman in front of a waterfall in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The next morning I woke up and went for a nice long walk along Captain’s Bay and sat and had coffee on the rocks and just admired the incredible view.  It is so much more beautiful here than I had imagined. Later a few of us went for a drive around the island and a few people surfed in the ocean, but I wasn’t brave enough to get in the cold water this time.

Unalaska beach
Photo taken on Unalaska

Since we will be on the ship for a while (23 days) we stopped at the grocery store to bring a few things onboard that we want to have in addition to our regular meals prepared on the ship by the stewards.  I decided that I wanted to bring some fresh fruit, not realizing that I would be paying way more than I expected for them! Everything is expensive here!

Expensive fruit
$26 dollars worth of fruit in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Did You Know?

Even though we think of Bears and Moose being found all over Alaska, they are not found on the Island of Unalaska at all!  

Animals Seen

6/4/18 – Bald Eagles, Fox, Otters

6/5/18 – Bald Eagles, 4 Foxes, Otters, Harbor seal, Jellyfish (3 different species)

6/6/18- Bald Eagles, Jellyfish (2 species), Humpback Whales!!


Fox in Dutch Harbor
A fox spotted on 6/5/18 in Dutch Harbor


Bald Eagles on Crab Pots
These are crab fishing “pots” that are used by Alaskan Fisherman to catch crab.  How many bald eagles do you see in this photo?


Helen Haskell: Watching the Wildlife, June 15, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017


Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: June 15, 2017

Weather Data:

Wind: 3 knots from the west

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer: 997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9°C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’


54°54.4’N 132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log:

While Fairweather is a hydrographic research ship, responsible for collecting data for navigational charts, one of the side reports the survey crew makes is a Marine Mammal Observation Log. When a marine mammal is spotted on a survey, its location is noted, the species is identified if possible and notes about the numbers, behavior and any other observations are documented. Along with documenting sightings of these animals, the coxswains also follow protocols for minimizing disturbance and impact to these creatures.

Since joining this leg of the hydrographic research, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangilae) have been the most numerous whale species seen. These whales that spend the summer in South-east Alaska winter mainly in Hawaii. Mating happens during the winter and the calves are born 11 months later. The calves stay with their mother for about 11 months after they are born. Individuals can grow up to 60 feet in length and live 50 years. These large grey whales have numerous barnacles that attach to their skin and filter feed as the whale travels. It is thought that the whales find shallower rocky areas to swim alongside in order to rub off the barnacles. It was in some of the shallower survey areas that I first saw humpbacks.


Harbor seals have fast become one of my favorites during my time here in Alaska. Growing to about six feet in length, the harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, have a diet of shellfish, crustaceans and fish and appear to be non-migratory, staying here year round. They are grey in color and can weigh up to 250 lbs as a mature male. Data seems to suggest that in some areas of their range in Alaska, the populations are declining but in other areas, seem stable. As the seals give birth in the summer, we’ve been fortunate enough to see seal pups too on this leg of the research.


The Northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, has perhaps been the most numerous marine mammal so far on this trip. Appearing small next to the seals and whales, upon reading more about them, I learned that they not small creatures, as they measure up to five feet in length and weigh up to 100 lbs. Feasting on a diet of invertebrates, such as clams and sea urchins, the sea otters are often spotted floating on their backs and are often associated with kelp beds. The otter fur trade began in the 1700’s and by 1900 populations were on the brink of extinction. Legislation has allowed the populations to rebound in most areas in the last 100 years, and they are seen regularly by survey crews and from the bridge.


Another species I saw here, up a small shallow cove, was the river otter, Lutra Canadensis. Five heads popped up in front of me and then bobbed under. Seconds later the otters were up on land running in to the trees. Seemingly fast and sleek, they were not acting like sea otters. It was not any behavior we had observed before. A little bit of research confirmed our suspicions that these were indeed river otters. Sea otters rarely come out on land, and when they do, do not move swiftly, having more flipper-like back legs, making land movement more arduous. River otters are smaller than sea otters weighing up to 35lbs and are 40-60 inches in length.


While obviously not a marine mammal, the bald eagle is pretty much a guaranteed daily sight as the surveys are being done. A friend referred to the bald eagle as an Alaskan pigeon, and while I have not experienced as many bird species or numbers of birds here as I thought I would, the eagle has been one of the main species sighted. With an estimated population of 30,000 in Alaska, more numerous here than any other state, that hasn’t always been the case. With bounties on them at the turn of the 20th century, and population reductions due to pesticides and habitat loss, especially in the lower 48 states, the bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, was put on the Endangered Species List in 1967. Measures put in place both locally and nationally have been so successful that in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List.


Another species I have seen regularly but not up at close range, is the Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus. These small, almost 10 inch long marine birds are in breeding plumage right now and, although they have been hard to see, due to distance and poor light conditions in the rain, are beautiful shades of brown and cinnamon. They build nests here in southeast Alaska in the mossy branches of old growth conifer trees or on the ground.

A little blurry but here are the Marbled Murrelets


Personal log

While it’s easy to get sidetracked with the mammals and birds here, there is a host of other species here that play significant roles in the food web. Kelp has been one of the organisms that I’ve seen a lot while doing the small boat surveys, and on our first completely sunny day, I got the chance to get up close and personal with the kelp from the vantage point of a kayak. The Fairweather has several kayaks that on occasion the crew uses to explore the local area. Together with NOAA Corps Junior Officer ENS Peter Siegenthaler and Hollings scholar Carly Laroche, we filed a Small Boat Plan with the bridge, stating where we were going and our anticipated return time, picked up radios, and carried the kayaks down from the top deck. It’s a little tricky to get a small kayak in the water from a large ship, but with the help of a small boat, we launched and paddled, in almost glassy water, over towards the shoreline.

FullSizeRender (1)
Me in one of the kayaks

Being even closer to the water in a shallow keel-less boat, allowed us to paddle through those kelp forests, pick up the otter-opened clamshells and explore the intertidal community much more easily. We were also able get close to some of the terrestrial species, the Sitka spruce and the other trees species growing vertically out of often steep slopes, right down to the high tide mark. We paddled along these inter-tidal edges listening to hermit thrush sing from the trees up the hillsides as we debated how logging companies actually cuts trees on such steep slopes. It was a glorious day, a rare sunny, calm day in the early summer of southeast Alaska, and perfect for paddling. This area is filled with small islands and coves, waiting to be explored, especially at low tide, when more inter-tidal life is exposed. My fingers are crossed that the weather and water conditions will allow for more explorations by kayak before I have to leave Fairweather in Kodiak.




Fact of the day: KELP

There are three species of kelp found here in southeast Alaska: bull kelp, ribbon kelp and sugar kelp. Kelp is an algae, not a plant, although it does photosynthesize. It is an essential part of the ecosystem here and many species are dependent on it.

Word of the day: Baleen

Humpbacks are a baleen whale, meaning that they have these plates, up to 600, make out of a substance called keratin in their mouths that act as filters in feeding. The keratin is referred to as baleen and is similar to our fingernails. In an earlier blog posting I held up a piece of baleen in an art store in Ketchikan. Below is a picture of baskets woven out of strips of baleen.


What is this?

(Previous post: The picture is of the sonar equipment on the bottom of the small boats).


Dana Clark: Alaska Goodbye, July 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dana Clark

Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 23 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: South Coast of Kodiak Island
Date: July 2, 2014

Weather Data: Latitude – 56° 56.7′ N, Longitude – 153° 41.5′ W, Sky Condition – 1/8 clouds, Present Weather– clear, Visibility– 10+ nautical miles, Wind– 5 knots, Temperature– 16.1° C Science and Technology Log

Dana Clark
Dana Clark and ENS Joe Brinkley aboard a skiff returning to the Fairweather after tide observations

Today is my last full day on the Fairweather and tomorrow I will be departing when we dock in Seward, Alaska. I could not have asked for a better final day! But first, yesterday I went out on a launch to survey a near shore polygon. Let me explain. A project is the survey area that the Fairweather is tasked with, in this case, Sitkinak Strait. The project is then broken down into sheets which are areas to cover each day. The sheets are divided into areas called polygons and each day, the launches will be tasked with surveying specific polygons. Yesterday, our polygon was very close to shore. This was difficult because the rocks and vegetation could be hazards. The surveyor in charge, Pat, had to be in constant communication with our launch driver Rick so that they could maneuver safely as we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the area. Since we were so close to shore I kept a steady scan of the landscape for bears. I did this not because we were too close and in danger from a bear, but just because I wanted to see one. We accomplished our task and finished our polygons and did not see a bear, but we did see a brown fox walking along the black sand beach!

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle, Japanese Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

Now, for today. I did tide observations in Japanese Bay and as we were setting up I snapped this picture of a bald eagle in flight with prey in its claws, possibly some kind of rodent since it appears to have a tail! (Click on the picture to see it better) We took tide observations which were interesting today for three reasons. First, the tide level was totally different than it was last week when I took measurements. If you look at the two pictures below, one from June 28th and the other from today, July 2nd, you can see how much lower the tide is. Look at how close to the staff I was today and how far away last week. The water actually went lower than the tide staff today! Earth Science is so interesting.

Dana Clark Tide Observations
Dana Clark reading water level off tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska, June 28, 2014
Dana Clark reading water level off the tide staff
Dana Clark reading water level off tide staff, Japanese Bay, Alaska. July 2, 2014

Now, the second and third reason I found tide observations so cool today did not have anything to do with the tides. It was all about the animals. And no, it did not involve a bear. Second reason it was interesting was the bald eagle in the picture above. I just love how I was able to capture it with its wings spread so majestically. It has a nest in the tree that it was flying into. Since it was carrying lunch in its claws, I thought maybe it was taking food to the nest to feed baby eagles. What do you think? Now, third reason tide observations in Japanese Bay were so cool today was because of swimming deer! I know I should have led with that but I knew it would be pretty awesome to put a swimming deer video into the middle of my blog. The video is a little jumpy because I was fighting the waves in  a small boat called a skiff. Check out the video! 

Before I thought to start videotaping I was able to capture a picture of them swimming!

Swimming Deer
Swimming Deer. Japanese Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Scientist of the Day Today I would like you to meet Shauna Glasser, a First Assistant Engineer for NOAA who is currently aboard the Fairweather. It’s old hat for Shauna to travel wherever the Fairweather may take her. Growing up, she moved so many times that college was the first school she went to for four years in a row! Even though she moved often she still managed to be successful in her academics. She received a BA in Marine Engineering Technology from California Maritime Academy but it was by chance that she even enrolled there. As a senior in high school she received a postcard in the mail from this college.

Shauna Glasser
Shauna Glasser, First Assistant Engineer on the Fairweather

Knowing nothing about the school, Shauna decided to visit the school for a week long introduction program to see their campus and curriculum. She knew she wanted to be a marine biologist and she enrolled. However, before college began, her math teacher from high school recommended she take a summer class in chemical engineering. Shauna always excelled in math and she really liked the engineering, but not so much the chemical side. She soon switched paths from marine biology and became a marine engineering major.

Shauna has been with NOAA for five years and has worked her way up in the job. As first assistant engineer she is the person on the ship directly under the chief engineer. There are eight people who report under first assistant engineer. The engineers do all the maintenance on the ship and they keep it running. Shauna says that this is a job that is in high demand. The Fairweather, along with two other ships in the fleet, will actually be docked at port starting July 7th because they are in need of more engineers aboard. The ships can’t run without them! This young engineer has risen to a leadership role in her field and sees being a chief in her future. Shauna says, “Go for it! Ask questions, be yourself, think smart, and you can do it!”

Personal Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather
NOAA Ship Fairweather, July 1, 2014

My day today is ending just as magical as it began with several more animal sightings. We are underway to Seward, Alaska where I will say goodbye to the wonderful crew of the Fairweather. As we got underway we had a fire drill and then a little while later, an abandon ship drill. As the crew at my drill station were standing on the port side of the ship wearing our life jackets, hats, and in possession of our survival suits, a pod of orcas swam by spouting from their blowholes. They play and blow as they pass by our ship. Then, after dinner I am working on this blog and take a break and go to the bridge to see what’s going on. There were pods of orcas to the port side and humpback whales a mile north of us. The humpbacks were spouting and breaching. I have an out of focus picture of a whale going straight up in the air. It looks like it’s pirouetting. The crew on the bridge said that this was a large sighting of whales and everyone was excited.

Dana Clark on the Fairweather
Dana Clark at the helm of the Fairweather with Jim Klapchuk

I begin looking at the equipment on the bridge and asking questions when I was asked if I would like to steer the ship. Nervously I said yes. They explained that it was currently on a type of ship auto pilot which they would turn off and I would take the helm, similar to a steering wheel on a car, and I would be in control of the ship’s path. Jim Klapchuk, an Able Seaman on the Fairweather, showed me what to do. I would be at the helm and would continue in the correct direction by looking at my gyroscopic compass and my rudder angle indicator. The gyroscopic compass would tell me my heading, which was 030° which would keep me going north-east. The rudder angle indicator would move every time I moved the wheel because turning the wheel turned the rudder and the rudder changes the course of the ship. Keeping this lesson in mind, they turned off the auto pilot and I was steering the 231 foot ship on a heading for Seward! I kept constantly looking at the numbers and trying to keep it at exactly 030°. After a short while, the boat felt like it was swaying a bit so I gave the helm back to Jim and they set it back to auto. What a way to end my science adventure!

Fairweather navigational chart
Fairweather navigational chart that shows route from Kodiak Island heading to Seward, Alaska

A warm thank you to all the crew aboard the Fairweather. I have learned so much and will take back to my classroom a new excitement along with tons of science. Terms like hydrographic, surveys, hydrographer, polygon, launch, CTD, gyroscopic compass, swells, tides, charts, cartographer and many more will be introduced. I have also enjoyed getting to know you and hearing about your lives. You are a talented group. And I learned to play cribbage – thanks Tim and Charlie!

Question: But first, an answer to the last plant or animal poll. It appears that all of you know what a jellyfish looks like because you voted animal. Thanks for voting and thanks for following my blog. There are a lot of jellyfish here in the Gulf of Alaska and I will leave you with a few of my favorite shots. It’s amazing how each one looks so different. Which is your favorite? Vote in the poll below!

Bright purple jelly fish
Bright purple jellyfish
White jelly fish
White jellyfish
Japanese Bay, Alaska
Yellow and white jellyfish
Pink jellyfish
Pink jellyfish
Orange jellyfish
Orange jellyfish

Amanda Peretich: A Community Afloat, June 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
Aboard Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2012 – July 18, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea
Date: June 30, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 54ºN
Longitude: 166ºW
Ship speed: 11.5 knots (13.2 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 6.5ºC (43.7ºF)
Surface water temperature: 6.9ºC (44.42ºF)
Wind speed: 7 knots (8.05 mph)
Wind direction: 265ºT
Barometric pressure: 1011 millibar (0.998 atm, 758 mmHg)

Science and Technology Log
Not much science to discuss yet since we just left port at 0900 and I won’t be working in the fish lab until my 0400-1600 shift tomorrow (that’s 4am-4pm for anyone unfamiliar with military time). More to come on the pollock survey in a later post.

However, I did have the opportunity to spend a few hours up in the bridge today and I learned A TON thanks to NOAA Corps Officers ENS (ensign) Libby Chase and LT (lieutenant) Matt Davis! The chemistry teacher in me was amazed by all of the conversions used. Just a few of the things I learned today on the bridge:

Main control panel on the bridge

* During the majority of transiting time, the Beier Radio Dynamic Positioning System is used. This is like an auto-pilot that controls the rudder to keep the Oscar Dyson on course using a gyro compass. They have nicknamed her “Betty” because she talks to you in a female voice, kinda like Siri on the new iPhone.

* A gyro compass is different from the magnetic compass that I am more familiar with using. The wind direction is measured in degrees true, which is based on true north being at 0º. Magnetic compasses have about a 9º variation, but things on the ship can also influence the deviation in the magnetic compass reading, so it is much better to use the gyro compass.

* You can drive the ship from multiple locations on the bridge. The main location looks to the bow/forward (front) of the ship. The starboard (right) location is used when the CTD is deployed (more on this later) and also whenever the boat is docked. The aft/stern (back of the ship) location is used when setting and recovering nets during a trawl. And the port (left) location is a ghost town that is rarely used.

* I learned the distance equation used in determining something called DR, or dead reckoning. This allows you to notice any set and drift while going along your course and tells where the current may or may not be pushing you to allow you to correct the course. The equation is as follows:

D = S x T
D is distance (in nautical miles)
S is speed (in knots)
T is time (in hours)

For example, if we were traveling at 11.35 knots, after 30 mins (or 0.5 hours), we should travel a distance of 5.7 nautical miles (D = 11.35 x 0.5). The bridge officers will plot this and see after half an hour if the ship has stayed on course based on the DR and the new coordinates after 30 minutes. Also, in case you didn’t know, 1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles.

* There is no common set of units for any given measurement, so everyone has to be familiar with how to do conversions. For example, when determining barometric pressure, you can use millibar, atmospheres, millimeters of mercury, torr, etc. (1 atm = 1013.25 mbar = 760 mmHg = 760 torr). For speed, you can use knots or miles per hour (1 knot = 1.15 mph).

Personal Log
What an adventure this has already been. Long story short, it took an extra day to get to Dutch Harbor due to weather conditions, giving me an overnight stay in Anchorage. I have come to discover that this is not an uncommon occurrence. It did give me a chance to meet plenty of people from the ship at the airport before we even arrived since we were all sitting around the terminal waiting on standby for flights. But I finally made it, had an exit row seat (see photo) and all of my luggage arrived with me!

Exit Row
On my second flight to Dutch Harbor, lucky enough to get in off standby AND get an exit row seat!

I had the entire day yesterday in Dutch Harbor to explore, so I ran the 3ish miles back to town, checked out the Museum of the Aleutians (history lesson!), did some shopping, and headed back to the Oscar Dyson.

DYK? (Did You Know?): Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japanese naval aircraft on June 3 & 4, 1942 during WWII (about six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor).

I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time eating a late lunch when the opportunity to kayak in Captains Bay came up. Four of us unloaded the ocean kayaks from the ship into the water, made our way down to the kayaks, and enjoyed breathtaking views while paddling against the current (doing it this way made our return trip much easier). This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and the people I was with were amazing. I plan to introduce everyone on board in a later blog so you can get to know them a little as well. I can also now say that I have swum in the freezing Alaskan waters because at the end three of us jumped in!

Kayaking in Captains Bay
Kayaking in Captains Bay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

I was able to watch as we left port from the flying bridge (the highest bridge on the ship). Since there isn’t much to do until we are farther out to sea, today I have just done a lot of exploring and talking to people. Basically this is a little community afloat for the next 17 days. There are two things you really need to successfully live on board in such close quarters: you need to be flexible and able to work with others and you need to do your part around the ship, both on and off your shift. Our staterooms are nice (the mattress is actually extremely comfy), the bathrooms are good, we can keep our clothes clean in the laundry room, read books in the library/conference room, watch movies in the theater/lounge (we already have the Hunger Games and other new movies), the galley (where we have food access 24/7 but meals are served at 0700, 1100, and 1700) is amazing thanks to our incredible chief steward, and there are two gym areas on board to work off all the delicious calories! Check out the photos of these areas below:

Ship Spaces
Ship spaces (clockwise from top left): stateroom, bathroom, conference room, laundry room
Ship Spaces
Ship spaces (clockwise from top left): theater, galley, gym 1, gym 2

Animal Love
Before I arrived in Alaska, I thought of the bald eagle as a majestic creature that you rarely see in the wild and mostly see in zoos. Here, they have been fondly called “sky rats” by some people – they are EVERYWHERE: in the sky and on the ship. They are still gorgeous and I can’t help but take multiple photos every time I see them. Make sure to check out the link for the bald eagle and the root of its scientific name; it really makes a lot of sense! I’ve seen more eagles in the past two days than in my entire lifetime.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles: the “sky rats” of Dutch Harbor

Jason Moeller: June 29-30, 2011


NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Kodiak Harbor
Date: June 29-30

Ship Data
Latitude: 57.78 N
Longitude: -152.42 W
Wind: 4.9 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 69%
Depth: 18.99

Personal Log

For the last time, welcome aboard!

We are now back in Kodiak, and I fly out on Thursday, June 30th. We got in late on the 28th, and so that gave us some time to explore! Once again, it was back to the trail to try and look for some bears!

We had a nice start when this bald eagle flew right above our heads and landed on a light!
Another photo of the eagle.

On June 29th, after stopping for some Mexican food, Paul, Jake, Jodi and I hopped in a car and drove out to Anton Larsen Bay in hopes of some great photo opportunities and wildlife. Below are some of the best photographs that I took of the trip.

The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.
The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.
The road we took to get here. In the middle of the image is a lake, and if you look hard enough we could see all the way to the ocean.
Jodi has fun demonstrating a yoga pose!
Our next stop was to explore the actual bay. This mountain overlooked the spot where the water ended and land began.
An empty boat was randomly just drifting in the bay. It made for a nice photo though.
After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.
After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.
stream 2
Another photo of the stream.
It was nice and sunny yesterday, making it the first time I had seen sun in Kodiak! It made for some picturesque moments while walking through the woods.
In the end, once again, I didn't see a bear. However, as we were driving back, we did see this fox catch a mouse!

Science and Technology Log

As the survey is now over, there is no science and technology log.

Species Seen

Arctic Tern
Bald Eagle
Red Fox

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

There are no questions of the day for this last log. However, I would like to extend some thank yous!

First, I would like to thank the NOAA organization for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to travel aboard the Oscar Dyson for the past three weeks. I learned an incredible amount, and will be able to bring that back to my students. I had a great time!

Second, I would like to thank the crew of the ship for letting me come onboard and participate in the survey. Thanks for answering all of my questions, no matter how naive and silly, teaching me about how research aboard this vessel really works, editing these blogs, and for giving me the experience of a lifetime.

Third, I would like to thank Tammy, the other NOAA Teacher at Sea, for all of the help and effort that she put into working with me on the science and technology section of the blog. Tammy, I could not have done it without you!

Next, a huge thank you to the staff of Knoxville Zoo for their support of the trip and granting me the time off! A special thanks especially needs to go to Tina Rolen, who helped edit the blogs and worked with the media while I was at sea. She helped keep me from making a complete fool of myself to the press. Another special thanks goes out to Dr. John, who loaned me the computer that I used to post the first several logs.

Thanks also go out to Olivia, my wonderful and beautiful wife, for supplying the camera that I used for the first half of the trip.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who read the log and sent comments! I received many positive comments on the photography in this blog, although I must confess that I laughed a bit at those. Paul, our chief scientist, is the expert photographer on board, and his photos expose me for the amateur that I actually am. I would like to end this blog by posting some of the incredible images he gave me at the end of the trip.

Cliffs rise sharply out of the ocean in the Gulf of Alaska
A waterfall plummets into the Gulf of Alaska
Clouds cover the top of an island.
Fog rolls down the cliffs toward the ocean.
Twin Pillars
The Twin Pillars
A closeup of the cliffs that make up the Alaskan shoreline.
Since we saw so much of it, it seems appropriate to end this blog with a photo of fog over the Gulf of Alaska. Bye everyone, and thanks again!

Jason Moeller: June 13-14, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 13-14, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

June 13th

Kodiak Dock
A view of the dock as we finally leave!

We are finally underway! The weather cleared up on the 12th, so the rest of our scientific party was finally able to make it in from Anchorage. The scientists did not arrive until later in the day, but at 9:00 in the morning, the Oscar Dyson finally left port in order to run some tests, including a practice cast of the fishing net!

island in harbor
An island in Kodiak Harbor. Kodiak is hidden by the island in this photograph.
Open Ocean
Open ocean, straight ahead!
Net spool
Casting the net was a tricky process that took about 30-45 minutes. (I did not time the process.) The casting started by unhooking the edge of the net from this giant spool. The net was wrapped tightly around this spool when not in use.
net caster
Next, the net was hooked to the mechanism that would lower the net in the water. (The mechanism is the yellow object that looks like an upside-down field goal post)
net hooked up
This is a photo of the net being hooked up to the casting mechanism
net being unwound
Once attached, the mechanism then pulled up on the net to start unwinding the net from the spool. Once the net was properly unwinding, the net was lowered into the water to begin fishing!

Once the tests were completed, we headed back towards the harbor to pick up the rest of the scientists. Once we were all on the vessel, we held a quick briefing on the ship rules. This was followed by a meeting among the scientists where shifts were handed out. I am on the 4 PM to 4 AM shift, also known as the night shift! Hopefully, I will see some northern lights during the few hours that we actually have darkness. After the meeting and a fast guided tour, I went to bed, as I was extremely seasick. Hopefully, that is a temporary issue.

June 14

I woke up to discover that the ship has anchored in a protected cove for the day in order to calibrate the acoustic devices on board that are used for fishing. This is a time consuming but necessary process as we will need the baseline data that the scientists receive by calibrating the device. However, that means that there is not much to do except for eating, sleeping, watching movies (we have over 1,000 aboard) and enjoying the beautiful scenery. As we are in a quiet cove with no waves, I am not currently sick and decided to enjoy the scenery.

cove 1
The next four images are from the back of the ship. If printed, you can go from left to right and get a panoramic view.

cove 2

cove 3

cove 4

I know the image is bad, but can you see the white blob in the middle of the water? That is a jellyfish!
Here is a photograph from the side of the boat of a snow-capped mountain. Even though it is summer here, there is still quite a bit of snow.
This is another image off the side of the boat. A waterfall falls off into the ocean.
waterfall 2
A closer shot of the waterfall. This place is just gorgeous!

Science and Technology

The Science and technology segment of the blog will be written at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey, which should begin in the next day or so.

Species Seen


Arctic Tern


Reader Question(s) of the Day

I received a few questions from Kaci, who will be a TAS here in September!

1. What is the temperature here?

A. The temperature has been in the mid to upper 40s, so much cooler then back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we were getting 90 degree days! It’s actually been pleasant, and I have not been cold so far on this trip.

2. What did you bring?

A. The temperature affected what I brought in terms of clothing. I started with a weeks worth of shorts and t-shirts, which I stuffed in my check in bag, and then two days worth of clothes in my backpack just in case my checked bag didn’t get it. Our other TAS, Tammy, got stuck here with only the clothes on her back, so a backup set of clothes was necessary. In addition, I have several pairs of jeans, 2-3 sweatshirts, a heavy coat, and under armor to round out the clothing. The under armor and heavy coat have been great, it’s why I haven’t been cold. I also packed  all of my toiletries (though I forgot shampoo and had to buy it here.

In terms of electronics, I have my iPod, computer, and my wife’s camera with me. (A special shout out to Olivia is in order here, thanks for letting me use the camera! I am being VERY careful with it!). I have a lot of batteries for the camera, which I have needed since I’ve already gone through a pair!

Just for fun, I brought my hockey goalie glove and ball to use in working out. We have weight rooms aboard the ship, which I will definitely need since the food is fantastic!

I hope that answers those questions, and I will answer more in the next post!

Jason Moeller: June 12, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 12th, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

fog over Kodiak
Fog over Kodiak

Once again, I woke up this morning to a thick, heavy fog and drizzling rain that enveloped Kodiak like a wet, soggy blanket. While Tammy, who will be the other Teacher at Sea with me, was able to make it into Kodiak, the majority of our science party is still stuck in Anchorage, trying to get aboard a flight. Even though Tammy was able to make it in, her suitcase and clothes did not follow suit, and she was forced to make a Wal-mart run. The result of the weather has been a delay on the cruise, and we hope to set sail for equipment trials tomorrow.

As usual, I had a great day regardless of the rain. I started by helping our steward (cook) stock up on supplies for the ship’s galley. For 40 people on a 19 day cruise, we have $25,000 worth of food stashed away on board. It takes quite a bit of money to stock up a ship!

A river to the ocean
This is a photo of the river I explored weaving its way to the ocean.

After helping shop for the fresh produce, I had the rest of the day off, so I turned to my favorite Kodiak past time, and decided to embark on another bear photo hunt. In addition to bears, I was also on the lookout for salmon (I do not count eating salmon as seeing it) and bald eagles, both of which should be common. Today’s location was the same river that I explored on my first day, but I was much further south. My starting point was where the river met the ocean, and then I walked inland. I will let the photos and captions talk from this point on.

The Beach
I turned left to explore the beach first. It is a black sand beach, the first I have ever seen.
The Beach pic 2
This photo is of the same beach, and better shows the fog cover we had today.
Waterfall 1
While walking down the beach, I noticed a freshwater stream coming out of the woods and winding down to the ocean. I ducked under a pine tree at the edge of the beach and saw this waterfall.
Waterfall 2
Another photo of the waterfall.
Waterfall 3
The same waterfall, falling away towards the ocean.
Bald Eagle
After I left the waterfall, I continued to walk down the beach, and just happened to look up at the right moment to capture this bald eagle, high above the trees. They are so common here that the eagles are jokingly called roaches of the north.
2 eagles
I saw a total of 8 bald eagles, including this pair in the trees. The fog makes them a bit difficult to pick out.
River 1
After exploring the beach, I headed upstream to look for salmon and bears. This is what the river looked like by the ocean.
The path by the river was difficult, if it was there at all. Most of the time, I just trudged my way through it. There was not a dry spot on me by the time I finished the hike. It was worth it though.
For the first half mile, the river was in a marshland, which the photo shows accurately. However, the marshland quickly gave way to pine forests, which can be seen in the next image.
River in the woods
The river running through the woods.
A photo of the woods running alongside of the river.
In the end, I didn't see any bears or salmon in the river, and the vegetation became too thick to go on without a trail. As I was leaving, however, to head back to the ocean and catch my ride home, I ran across this piece of white lichen which contrasted with the darkened woods surrounding it. For me, the photo was worth the trip.

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology log will begin at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey.

Species Seen

Bald Eagles!!!

Arctic Tern



Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Reader questions of the day will start at the beginning of the Walleye Pollock survey! At the moment, I have not received any questions yet, so please send them in! I can take questions at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org.

Caroline Singler, July,28 – August 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean

Date of Post: 2 September 2010

The Journey Begins – 28 July to 1 August 2010

Approaching Dutch Harbor
Approaching Dutch Harbor

I left home at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday 28 July for what ended up being nearly 20 hours of travel. At the end of the day, I was exhausted but relieved to have successfully reached my destination, Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The trip from Anchorage to Dutch is 790 miles but required 2 refueling stops along the way and took more than 3 hours. It’s never a sure bet that a plane will be able to land, so we were fortunate to make a safe landing in the rain and wind.

View from Unisea Inn
View from Unisea Inn
While in Dutch Harbor, I stayed at the Unisea Inn. It’s not exactly luxury accomodations,and I couldn’t believe there was actually a hotel there when the shuttle driver dropped me off, but it was clean and there was lots of hot water, and my room looked out over the small boat harbor, which was much nicer than the nearby fish processing plants! I spent the last few days wandering around Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. The cool weather was a welcome relief after the hot, humid summer we’ve had back home. I did have to pull out the rain gear, but while it’s often cloudy, it rarely rains for long. The sky is constantly changing, and as the sky changes, everything around looks different as well. It’s been great to just be out walking around since I will be on a ship for the next 5 weeks. Here’s a view of Dutch Harbor from a hill near town.
View of Dutch Harbor
View of Dutch Harbor
Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles
When I woke up this morning, I realized it was the last time I’d wake up on land for a while. That was a strange feeling. Late this afternoon we boarded the Healy. I unpacked my bags and I’m ready to go, but we don’t leave port until tomorrow afternoon. I’ll post more after I’ve learned more about the ship’s computer system.Caroline

Kathy Schroeder, May 5, 2010

Dutch Harbor 5/5

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Made it safely to Dutch Harbor yesterday. I have seen so many bald eagles I have lost count. They are so beautiful. Also saw an Arctic Fox today. We are leaving here tonight (a day early) at 9pm. There has been a lot of ice up north so we are hoping the ice has moved so the scientists can do their work. Saw a couple ships from the show “The Deadliest Catch.” There are so many crab traps everywhere you look. They are stacked and ready to go for next crab season. I spent the early afternoon tying down everything in the labs. Bill said there is a storm out there and we should have 30 foot waves. Still getting to know the ship. My room is on the lower deck. There are bunk beds that I am sharing with Amber. Her’s is the top! 🙂 I will spend a lot of time on my laptop on the desk in my room and in the science labs. I look forward to bringing back samples for everyone to see. Once we depart in 6 hours I will be at sea until May 18th. Thanks for all the messages! Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Matt Lawson, June 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge as of Wednesday 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature: Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat
One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

Science and Technology Log 

Out to Launch! 

June 10: At 7:50 am CO Haines met with everyone involved in today’s launches to talk about the work, weather and safety. Acting FOO Smith covered the particulars of the survey work each launch boat would be conducting. Chief Boatswain Kruger briefly reminded us about safety and being in your positions at the right times, then the order in which the launches would depart from the ship. Very shortly after 8am, we climbed aboard RA-#4 (RAINIER launch boat #4) and were lowered into the water. All six launch boats are similar to each other in that they are about 30 feet long, have built-in diesel engines, a cabin, and a canopy over the coxswain’s wheel.  They are housed upon gravity davits, which are not the latest in technology, but very durable and reliable.  More modern davits use hydraulic systems and they require fewer deckhands to operate. It appears to me that each system has its advantages. Today, we mainly used the side scan sonar system on that boat to survey some of the rocky off shore areas of Biali Rock.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.
RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

The weather was pretty good except that the waves were 6-7 feet tall, making it a little rough for the new guy. Amy Riley, Lead Survey Technician, invited me below deck to see the work she and Grant were doing. Basically, they had a computer with three monitors, showing the current GPS map of where we were, the scanning in real time and a 3-D image of the ocean floor as it was being processed. The job here for the technicians is to monitor the computers as they accumulate data that will later be processed. But this is not yet the end product.  The processed data is finally sent ashore where NOAA cartographers will create the actual charts used for navigation.  Even though quite a number of other things were going on in other smaller windows, I’m not above admitting I didn’t fully understand it all!  I was allowed to take the tech’s chair for a while and we did 4-5 passes with me in control of the system.  Somehow, I managed not to crash us into anything!

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued.  Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert
The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued. Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Later, I sat in on the survey de-briefing in the wardroom.  This meeting takes place every day immediately after the last launch returns to the ship.  Everyone involved in the launches participates in this meeting.  While everyone is given an opportunity to speak about the day, the lead survey technician for each launch specifically makes an official report on accomplishments, areas of interest or concern, problems and/or issues that need to be addressed before the next set of launches departs. I found this part of the day just as interesting because it created a summary for the entire day’s mission.

Personal Log 

Drill or No Drill? 

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.
NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

While out on the launch, we were able to catch a little of the radio chatter.  It’s always good to listen to the radio, even when it doesn’t pertain to you.  It keeps you in the know and alert to possible hazards in your path. I’m adding “listening to the radio” as a rule on my “to do” list, and I’m about to give you a good example as to why.  As we listened, it sounded like a “Man Overboard” drill was taking place on the ship. Ha, ha.  Better them than us.  However, the more we listened, we began to realize we were really missing the event of the day.  Apparently, two fishermen were out on a fairly old boat when they began to sink. We don’t know the cause, just that it was going down fast. They were able to get out only one mayday call. However, RAINIER’s bridge was able to pick up on and respond to the call.

Despite the fact that much of the ship’s personnel were out on launches, a sufficient rescue team was mustered and conducted a flawless rescue mission.  The two fishermen were in their emergency immersion or “Gumby suits” and had not suffered too much when they were picked up.  After allowing them time to rest and somewhat recover from shock, they were taken to the nearest port.   I had read how NOAA vessels frequently play vital roles in various rescue missions, but being here when it happens makes a much bigger impression.  Today proved just how easily things can get hairy out here and  how important it is to know how to handle emergency situations.  Drills and safety meetings occur regularly on RAINIER, and once again, came in very helpful.

Ian Colvert, a NOAA Survey Technician was on board RAINIER when the rescue mission took place. He is credited for the rescue pictures.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.
Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Not Yet a Salty Dog 
I have to diverge a little here.  Operating a computer on a wildly thrashing boat was indeed a new experience in and of itself, as well as a point of hilarity for the Lead Technician, Amy, who’s been doing this for a long time.  Just working the mouse was like riding Ferdinand the Bull after being stung by an unfriendly bee. Anyway, after an hour of this, I began to get seasick.  Yes, the new experiences just keep coming!  At the risk of using too many analogies in one paragraph, I will say sea sickness pretty much just feels as if you’ve been traveling in the back of a tired old Chevy Impala being driven through very hilly country roads by a driver who should’ve had his/her license taken away 35 years ago.  Basically, puke city. I had to return to the deck where I could see the horizon and let my brain make sense of things again.  Recovery was a slow process in 6-7 foot waves, but I did eventually manage and was normal again long before we returned to the relative steadiness of the ship.

Sailing/Nautical terms for all you land lovers:

  1. FOO – Field Operations Officer
  2. SONAR – SOund Navigation Ranging – technology which uses sound to determine water depth.
  3. Side scan SONAR – a category of SONAR that is used to create an image of a large area of the sea floor. This type of SONAR is often used when conducting surveys of the seafloor in order to create nautical charts for navigation.
  4. Gravity Davit – davit system which relies on the weight of the boat to lower it into the water.
  5. GPS – Global Positioning System – a mechanism which uses satellite systems to determine location.
  6. Coxswain the helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
  7. Manual Floatation Device – any life jacket that must be activated by the wearer (usually a rip cord and air canister system) to make it buoyant.
  8. Positive Floatation Device – a life jacket that does not require manual activation and is designed to keep the wearer’s head above water.
  9. Immersion Suit – a full body suit which functions as a positive floatation device.  Used in emergency situations, such as abandoning ship.  The insulation and water proofing of these suits are important factors in colder waters.
  10. Muster – to gather.
  11. Bridge – sometimes called a pilot house, the place from which the ship is steered.  This is the heart of ship operations.

Animals Seen Today 
No new ones, but it was still exciting to see so many.  Even though the somewhat higher waves kept me busy with the challenge of standing up, I did notice a large colony of starfish hanging on some rocks in calm waters.

“Did You Know?” 

  • There are cold water corals which grow in the Alaskan waters.
  • The Gulf of Esquibel (pronounced “es-ki-bell”) was originally named by Fransisco Antonio Maurelle about May 22,1779 in honor of Mariano Nunez de Esquivel, the surgeon of the ship La Favorita.
  • Alaska itself was purchased by the United States from Russia in 1867.
  • Prior to its sale to the U.S., the Russians referred to it as “Russian America.”
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Beth Carter, July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  2 nautical miles
Wind direction:  125 degrees
Wind speed:  11 knots
Sea wave height: 0-1 feet
Swell wave height: none
Seawater temperature:  11.7 degrees C
Dry bulb temp: 12.8 degrees C; Wet bulb temp:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1021.0 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8, fog and drizzle

The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor in Alaska.
The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor.

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, I went out on launch #6, which utilizes a sonar system called the “C3D,” that produces interferometric sonar, which is a combination of side scan and multibeam sonar, to produce bathymetry.  Interferometric sonar is the latest technological advance in hydrographic mapping. This is the third technology I’ve been able to observe at work. The RAINIER has two launches that use single beam technology ( June 29 log), three launches that use multibeam technology (June 28 log), and Launch 6 has the side scan sonar.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Erin Campbell, my Tarheel buddy who is a physical scientist from the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA, took the time to explain some of the features and limitations of side scan sonar. The greatest advantage to side scan is that it produces sound waves that can cover a much wider swath of ocean floor, with very good resolution. This means that NOAA can be more fuel-efficient with its launches and cover more floor in less time.  Side scan can form accurate 3-D images of rocks, wrecks, and features of concern and interest on the ocean floor.  Hydrographers say that the side beam enables them to “paint the ocean floor.”

Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.
Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.

The greatest disadvantage to side scan sonar is that it does not actually provide depths associated with those features.  In other words, the hydrographers can look at the side scan images and locate a downed plane accurately on the ocean floor, but not know the exact depth of the plane. Another disadvantage to use of side scan in Alaska is that the extreme angles of slope of the islands and landforms cause the sound waves to create shadows on the resulting data. This means that some features in the shadows are missed.  Side beam sonar is used with great success on the eastern coast of the U.S., where the sea floor is sandy, is more uniform, and has less slope than in Alaska. Therefore, NOAA uses side scan to cover wide areas of territory, and then examines the images collected.  If the technicians see rocks or other potential hindrances to navigation, they send out the multibeam sonar launches to collect more detailed information on the depths.  If the concern is in a really shallow area, they might send out the single beam launches, which can get into shoal areas more easily with less threat of damage to the sonar equipment.

The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch
The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch

Side scan sonar is still evolving as a technology. NOAA provides valuable feedback and information to the makers of this technology, which enables the manufacturers to fine-tune and improve the technology. As I prepare to leave the RAINIER, I am impressed with the depth of knowledge of the Commanding Officer, the survey crew, and officers on the ship. They take very seriously their work, which is to take information gathered utilizing sonar, and to produce the most accurate bathymetric products possible.  The resulting charts and hydrographic maps are critical aids to shipping companies and fishermen, whose lives and safety and economic livelihood depend on the accuracy of the maps. I’ve also learned that NOAA hydrographers are called in to assist after hurricanes.  Erin, for example, was called upon to join a NRT (Navigational Response Team) after Hurricane Katrina.  There were many container ships and other ships waiting in the Gulf of Mexico for the hydrographers to survey the waters in order to locate hazards (debris in the water, wrecks, storm damage) in the water that were blocking the port and docks. NOAA has six such teams that assist when there are oil spills, wrecks, storms, etc.

Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.
Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.

Terms Used

Bathymetry:  the science of measuring ocean depths.  It is the underwater equivalent to altimetry, or measuring altitude of land forms.  Bathymetry is utilized to create DTM’s, or digital terrain models, or three-dimensional models of the ocean floor.

Hydrography: the study and science of ocean mapping.

Questions of the Day: 

  1. What kind of sonar would be best utilized in the search for a tugboat that sank unwitnessed, suspected to be in a deep harbor – vertical beam, multibeam, or sidescan sonar?
  2. To see an example of a chart created with interferometric sonar, take a look at this website.

Personal Log

I want to close out my last log with a few pictures, which definitely communicate the Alaska experience better than my words.  I also want to thank the entire crew of the RAINIER for its kind hospitality, for teaching me so much, and for reminding me what it feels like to not understand something.  I can empathize with my students so much better, as I have been in their shoes now for almost 3 weeks…struggling to understand technologies that were totally unfamiliar to me, feeling frustrated, feeling glimmers of hope when a few concepts dropped into place in my brain. Alaska is incredibly beautiful, incomprehensibly vast…I hope to return someday.

A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!
A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!
A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.
A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.
Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.
Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.  

Maggie Prevenas, April 20, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 20, 2007

Species Profiles

Bald Eagle: Haliaeetus luecocephalus

When I walked around the back of the hotel in Dutch, I surprised a big ‘ol bald eagle dumpster diving with three of

Bald eagle (Credit: Michele Brustolon)
Bald eagle (Photo by TAS Michele Brustolon)

his raven friends. Later I found out the ravens were not really his friends. They tricked him into surrendering his meal! Bald Eagles play an important role in this ecosystem. They are scavengers, not only in Nature, but out of garbage dumps too.

The eagle is called ‘bald’ because of white feathers on their heads. Its yellow eyes and beak stand in contrast to its dark brown body. Eagles can reach flight speeds between 35 and 44 miles per hour.

How big are bald eagles?

The bald eagle is 32 to 40 inches long with a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet. Males are smaller than females.

How many Bald Eagles are alive today?

80,000 to 110,000 eagles exist in the wild. There are 4,500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.

How long do they live?

Over 30 years in the wild. They live longer in captivity because they have a better diet and are protected.

Where do they live?

Bald Eagles live in Canada, Alaska and lower 48 states. They like to hang out in forests, valleys, mountain regions, lakes, rivers and along waters’ edge.

They build nests in the limbs of tall trees. Their nests are used year after year with new additions of mosses and sticks. Nests can reach 5 feet across, 2 feet high and weigh 4,000 pounds!

What do they eat?

Bald eagles eat fish, waterfowl, and small to medium mammals. They kill their prey with their talons (feet and claws) and use their beaks for tearing flesh. They are scavengers that will eat anything from dead fish, to road kill, and dumpster food.

How do they reproduce?

Bald Eagles often mate for life. Once paired, the female lays two eggs in the spring. After 35 days, one or two chicks hatch. If two are hatched, usually only the chick that is more aggressive, and takes most of the food, survives. At 15 weeks of age, the young permanently leaves the nest.

What threats do they have?

Bald Eagles have lost their homes to humans in many coastal areas. Since they scavenge (eat dead or decaying food) heavy metals and other poisons can concentrate in their body and kill them.

Did you know?

Bald eagles can swim! They use an overhand movement of the wings that is very much like the butterfly stroke.

Most all of the information for this creature feature was taken directly from:

http://www.kidsplanet.org/factsheets/bald_eagle.html Word for word, just copied and pasted. I’d like to credit them for writing and researching it. You can find lots more information there too! Make sure you give them credit if you are using this information for reference!

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 2002
Hawaiian Monk Seal, NOAA Ocean Explorer: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 2002

Hawaiian Monk Seal: Monachus schauinslandi

Since I am going to be learning a lot more about ice seals, I thought that I’d do a creature feature on the Hawaiian Monk Seal so when the time comes, you will be able to compare and contrast them.

The Hawaiian monk seal has a streamlined body to aid in swimming. Their front and back limbs are flipper-like. The front flippers are smaller than the back flippers. The front flippers have five fingers. The hind flippers cannot be turned forward, so they must wiggle when on land. In the water, they propel themselves by moving the hind flippers and use their front flippers as rudders. They are dark gray on their backside and silvery gray on their stomachs.

How big are monk seals?

Males are approximately seven feet long and weigh about 400 pounds. Female Hawaiian monk seals are larger than males, up to 7.5 feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds.

How many monk seals are alive today?

The population is estimated around 1300.

How old do they get?

Hawaiian monk seals can live for up to 30 years.

Where does it live?

Once found all over the Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaiian monk seal is now found only in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It likes to hang out in reefs, shallow lagoons, open ocean and beaches.

What do they eat?

Fish, eels and crustaceans.

monk seal and baby
Monk seal and baby


Do they have any special adaptations that allow them to survive in the very warm water of the Pacific Ocean?

These seals do not have special physical adaptations to deal with the warm climate in which they live. Instead, they remain inactive during the heat of the day, finding a resting spot with shade or wet sand. They are solitary animals. The Hawaiian monk seal evolved in an area without people or other land predators. Therefore, it did not learn to fear people and is easily approachable and disturbed.

How often do they reproduce?

A pregnant female gives birth to a single pup from mid-March to late May. Pups are about three feet long and weigh about 37 pounds when they are born. Pups stay with their mothers for 35 to 40 days while they nurse. During this time the mother gives the pup swimming lessons each day. While the pup is nursing, the mother fasts and may lose up to 200 pounds during this time. When the pup has been weaned, the mother returns to the sea and the pup must fend for itself.

What are the threats to the Monk Seal?

Humans; commercial hunting for skins, entanglement in fishing nets and long lines. They also die from disease.

Did you know?

A close relative of the Hawaiian Monk Seal, the Caribbean Monk seal, went extinct 10 years ago.

Most all of the information for this creature feature was taken directly from:


Word for word, just copied and pasted. I’d like to credit them for writing and researching it. You can find lots more information there too! Make sure you give them credit if you are using this information for reference!

Kim Wolke, August 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Wolke
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 23 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey of the Shumagin Islands
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: August 7, 2006

Weather from the Bridge
Cloudy (CL)
  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind Direction:
West (W)
Wind Speed:
10 knots
0-1 foot
Sea Water Temp. (
°C): 11.1
Sea Level Pressure:
1010.0 millibars (mb)
Temp. (
°C): 12.2 (air temperature)

Moonrise in Porpoise Harbor, Nagai Island, AK…. after 11pm!
Moonrise in Porpoise Harbor, Nagai Island, after 11pm!

Science & Technology 

Today has been the absolute best weather we’ve had since we left Kodiak.  The skies were clear, the water was calm, and the temperature was perfect!  This is after having a beautiful moonrise last night.  At 0700 I joined three other crewmembers for a few hours of shoreline surveying in the Porpoise Harbor area.  Shoreline surveys are different from the work we were doing previously. We needed to go out an hour earlier during the low low tide since rocks, ledges, and other shoreline features are more exposed at this time.  The purpose of our survey today was to confirm or disprove the existence of certain shoreline features that could not be verified by the LIDAR, such as the existence of rocks or islets.  Prior to the RAINIER doing their survey work, planes flew over the area using a technology called LIDAR, which stands for LIght Detection and Ranging. The distance to an object or surface is determined by the time delay between the transmission of a laser pulse and the detection of a reflected signal. This information helps in forming a model of the area.  The laser uses shorter wavelengths than radar would, therefore, a higher resolution image is produced.

TAS Kim Wolke operating the echosounder on a hydrographic survey of the Shumagin Islands in Alaska
TAS Kim Wolke operating the echosounder on a hydrographic survey of the Shumagin Islands in Alaska

The survey boat we were using today was equipped with a single-beam sonar system since we were in very shallow water.  The deeper water we were surveying on the other boats used a multi-beam system.  The boat went to designated areas and slowly moved in a series of figure 8s to get readings from the transducer mounted on the hull (bottom).  In addition to the readings being recorded on the computer system, an echosounder created a visual image of the soundings being received, called a “paper trace”.  My job was to operate the echosounder when we were logging data. Once we returned back to the ship, the data needed to be processed, similar to the processing of the data taken from the line surveys to eliminate any “noise”.

An immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) taking flight
An immature Bald Eagle taking flight

While we were out on the survey boat, we saw an immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on a log on the coastline. The distinctive white head and tail of the adult Bald Eagle are not seen for 4-5 years on the immature eagles.  Bald Eagles, which are the symbol of our nation, are the second largest raptor (bird of prey) in the state of Alaska, with a wingspan of up to 7 ••• feet (2.3 m) and weights of 8 to 14 pounds (3.6-6.4 kg).  The Stellar Sea Eagle is the largest. The Bald Eagle is more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. Their largest nesting densities occur along the islands of Southeast Alaska.  Bald Eagle nests are usually built close to water.  They will often use and rebuild the same next each year.  The male and female eagle work together to build their nest in early April and two to three eggs are usually laid by late April.  Once the chicks hatch after 35 days of incubation, they stay in the nest for another 75 days to grow and develop. The main diet of Bald Eagles is fish such as herring, flounder, pollock, and salmon as well as waterfowl, small mammals, sea urchins, clams, crabs, and carrion.

TAS Kim Wolke hoisting up the anchor ball as NOAA ship RAINIER anchors in East Bight of Nagai Island, AK
Kim Wolke hoisting up the anchor ball as the ship anchors in East Bight of Nagai Island, AK

Personal Log 

We moved the ship to the other side of Nagai Island again, this time to East Bight.  Each time we anchor, we need to hang out an anchor ball over the bow of the ship as a signal to other ships that we are anchored.  I had the opportunity to be the person to hoist up the anchor ball today. Like other things on the ship, there are certain traditions.  I had to actually wait for the anchor to begin being dropped before I could hoist up the anchor ball.

What amazing scenery surrounds us!  In mid-afternoon I went kayaking again with the acting CO, CDR Julia Neander. We were able to get close to the shoreline and discovered that there were little caves that went under the rocks in front of us.  It was tempting to explore further, but my better judgment restrained me from doing so.   There are such incredible geological formations in these rocks! As we paddled, many puffins circled around us and floated in the water. Not only did we see the horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata) today but there were also tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata). One easily recognizable difference in the two birds is the yellow tuft of feathers on each side of the tufted puffins head. Every time I tried to get a photo they’d all fly away!

CDR Julia Neander, acting Commanding Officer of RAINIER, kayaking in East Bight of Nagai Island
CDR Julia Neander, acting Commanding Officer of RAINIER, kayaking in East Bight of Nagai Island

Linda Armwood, April 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Armwood
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 25 – May 5, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: April 25, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction:  340°
Wind speed:  2 kt
Sea level pressure:  1018.8 mb
Present weather: Partly cloudy
Temperature:  °C~ 6.0 dry/5.0 wet

Science and Technology Log 

I woke up in time for breakfast at 0700.  I was joined at breakfast by the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer, and the Chief Electronics Technician.  The conversation centered around the different careers that exist on the ship.  In addition to the careers, discussion was had regarding the ship being analogous to a city.  The XO gave me a tour of the engine room.  Amidst all of the engines and associated technology it was clear that the engine room could represent a city public utilities department and waste management facility. The sea water is the readily available water source that is filtered through a distillation process to be used on the ship for all purposes. The idea that the engineers are responsible for treating the water that is used on the ship is a credit to their knowledge and stamina.

I attended the briefing meeting conducted by the Field Operations Officer and the Chief Survey Technician. Several handouts were given and explained in reference to guidelines for this field season: presurvey, data acquisition, processing and deliverables.  These guidelines were synonymous in its most simplistic form with what I have presented to my students in preparation for laboratory experiences. Acronyms were used throughout the meeting, but I was able to follow along with the language thanks to a survey technician’s thoughtfulness in providing me with three pages of acronyms and their meanings.  As a part of the meeting, the Senior Survey Technician presented CUBE software. This software completes data analysis to offer the user possible hypotheses.  The Chief Survey Tech informed the techs against simply relying on the hypotheses offered by CUBE.

After lunch, I spent a considerable amount of time on the bridge checking out the weather monitoring instruments and the navigation technology.  The weather log is manually completed every four hours while the ship is docked and every hour while at sea.  The weather monitoring instruments and navigation technology range from simplistically designed wet/dry bulb thermometers for temperature readings to more complex in form and function technology such as the ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display Information System.)  The ECDIS has the capability to overlay radar on in use charts and display information about specific ships within the VHF radio range.  For example, information about a 1500 ton ship that is within 40 miles of the FAIRWEATHER can be displayed on the ECDIS.

Personal Log 

During the early evening I went to Settlers’ Cove to visit the rain forest. A bald eagle and two river otters were spotted feeding in the water.  Lush foliage and trees created a moderately warm and moist environment in the midst of the surrounding cold temperature.

Question of the Day 

Geospatial Semester Students 

What is the functional difference that exists between global positioning system (gps) and differential global positioning system (dgps)?

Environmental Science Students 

Compare the FAIRWEATHER survey technicians’ field survey guidelines to the Richmond Public Schools model for experimental design.

Bonus Question 

Provide a possible explanation for the Settlers’ Cove rain forest environment within the relatively cold environment of Ketchikan.

Mrs. Armwood