Linda Kurtz: Reflections from Fairweather, September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019

Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 9/7/2019

Weather Data from Marietta, GA:

Latitude: 33.963900
Longitude:  -84.492260
Sky Conditions:  Clear
Present Weather:  Hot
Visibility: 9 miles
Windspeed: Less than 1 knot
Temperature:  Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit

It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.

As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:

Question 1: Where did you sleep?

I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!

Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?

Some days (and nights) so foggy that they had to use the fog horn for safety!

Question 3: What animals did you see?

I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lion found in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!

See the video below:

California Sea Lions

Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?

This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.

From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”

From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”

underwater ridge
Bathymetry map showing ridge

So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.

Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?

YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “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. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.

Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.

Linda Kurtz: Bathymetry – Who Knew? August 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019

Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 8/20/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 41°04 N
Longitude:  124° 37 W
Sky Conditions:  Scattered Clouds
Present Weather:  Foggy
Visibility: 3 Nautical Miles
Windspeed: 2 knots
Sea Wave Height:  0
Swell Height: 2 feet
Temperature:  60° Fahrenheit


What is Bathymetry and why is it important?  Bathymetry is the foundation of the science of hydrography, which measures the physical features of a water body. 

We covered Hydrography in the last blog post so we know it includes not only bathymetry, but also the shape and features of the shoreline and more.

Bathymetry is defined as “the study of the “beds” or “floors” of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes.” 

The term “bathymetry” originally referred to the ocean’s depth relative to sea level, although it has come to mean “submarine topography,” or the depths and shapes of underwater terrain.  In the same way that topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features of land, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies underwater.  Variations in sea-floor relief may be depicted by color and contour lines called depth contours or isobaths.  (Click here for source credit and more information from NOAA)

A bathymetric map looks like this (thanks Sam!):

bathymetric map
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered undersea canyon?
(Southern coverage)
bathymetric map - north
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered mud volcano?
(Northern Coverage)

Above are the first views of this part of the seafloor with a bathymetric map!  (Color coded for depth – see the chart on the left)

Science and Technology Log:

Among the NOAA officers Navigating the ship, Hydrographic Technicians, and wage mariners aboard Fairweather, and the Teacher at Sea, there are also two guest USGS scientists:  James Conrad, a research Geologist and Perter Dartnell, a physical scientist.  USGS stands for United States Geographical Survey.  The USGS was created by an act of Congress in 1879 and is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior. 

As a Teacher at Sea, I had time to talk with these USGS scientists and learn more about Bathymetry and why it is important not only to scientists, but also how this information can be used to keep us safe. 

Discussion with James Conrad research Geologist who is utilizing the science of Bathymetry among others to map the Cascadia Region of the Pacific seafloor. The USGS scientists’ focus is mapping the Cascadia Subduction Zone where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is “diving” below the North American tectonic plate. Areas of particular interest to these scientists are finding new faults, faults that are known but we have little information about, mud volcanoes and subsequent “seeps,” and the overall goal is to understand the behavior of the mega thrusts in the Cascadia Region. 

map of tectonic plates
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

About the visiting scientists:

James Conrad has a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkley and a master’s degree from San Jose State and has been at the USGS for 38 years.

A conversation with Research Geologist James Conrad:

What do you want students to know about Geology?

Geology is a field where there is still so much to discover, especially if you are doing hazards research work-like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, coastal change, and climate change issues

Were you always interested in geology?

Not as a child, but I became a geology major because I had taken an introductory course – and was guided to geology by the university.

I met you on a ship-where do most of your work?

Office is in Santa Cruz, but we go out in the field 1-4 times a year for a week up to 3 weeks. 

Geology is a very young science, the fact that continents move wasn’t proven until 1963.  There is very little known about the earth, and there is so much more to discover.

Peter Dartnell:

Peter Dartnell has Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from Humboldt State University and a Masters of Geography from San Francisco State and has been with the USGS for 28 years.

A conversation with Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell:

What does a physical scientist study?

Physical Science is a combination of the studies earth and computer sciences using computers & technology to study earth.

Physical Science allows you to do everything along the scientific “study train” from data collection, interpretation, to publications.

What are your publications used for? 

Scientific publications from the USGS (which is the science agency of the government) are used widely to inform about potential geohazards and changes in the earth.  We don’t make policy, but the information we provide may be used drive policies, especially safety.

Anything you want an aspiring physical scientist to know? 

Even though you are studying earth sciences in school, you’ll truly enjoy once you get out and start applying what you’ve learned in the field with hands on science. 

We’ve met on a ship, where is it you do most of your work?

I spend 75% of my time in the office and 25% in meetings or traveling to study

What is your favorite part of being a Physical Scientist?

Seeing part of the ocean that nobody has ever seen for the first time. We are the first ones to see these recently mapped parts of the sea floor. 

What types of technology you use in physical science?

We use specialized software to acquire data and analyze the data we collect.

We also use Multibeam sonar software – bathymetry and acoustic backscatter

GIS geographic information systems

Overlay/Compare and Contrast data

What do you think are some misconceptions about physical science?

Because we are working off shore and water covers 71% of the earth, marine geology is in its infancy — we really need to have a complete map of the sea floor which is vitally important to understand the geology of the earth. When we don’t have all of these details, we are essentially operating blind.  That’s why the work that NOAA is doing is so important and the research partnerships with USGS are so valuable.

Much of the geography of the seafloor is driven by the oil industry which is required to release their acquired data every 25 years.  A lot of the deep penetration data is all from oil surveys.  Sea floor mapping is limited for pure research purposes due to limited resources.

Interested in learning more from the USGS? 

Check out these resources for students and teachers:

Escape the POD challenge for grades 6-12

K-2 Resources

3-5 Resources

More about bathymetry and the NOAA and USGS mission:

I was lucky enough to attend a “Science Talk” by these USGS scientists which was titled the Subduction Zone Coastal & Marine Geohazards Project. The USGS scientists are guests aboard Fairweather like me. 

The focus of the USGS research is along the 700-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone:                                                                                                                                  

study area
Map of Study Area. Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This area is where the Juan de Fuca plate dives below the North American Plate at an approximate rate of 1.6 inches per year.

Subduction Zone
Subduction Zone Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

Why is this subduction zone so important and why is NOAA Ship Fairweather out surveying the ocean floor in this area?  That’s because the world’s largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along subduction zones.  If we know the potential hazards, we can prepare people and potentially save lives.

To properly prepare, we need the following details:

slide preparing for earthquakes
What We Need to Prepare for Future Earthquakes
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This is why the bathymetric maps of the sea floor are important, they can help predict the area and amount of shaking that may occur during an earthquake and predict the tsunami danger zones.  Then we can make decisions for building codes, infrastructure (like strength of bridges), and escape routes for Tsunamis.  I took the pictures below when I arrived in Newport, little did I know how the research the Fairweather is conducting and the science of hydrography and bathymetric maps play a part in warnings like these! (See below)

Through the hydrographic surveying being conducted aboard Fairweather, the NOAA crew and USGS scientists are creating bathymetric maps which have reveled exciting new finds, such as: new seafloor faults, mapping known faults in greater detail, discovering mud volcanoes and submarine landslides, and using the water column data to discover the “seeps” which are most likely releasing methane gas.  See below.

(Image Credits: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad)

When I first heard the term BATHYMETRY I had no idea how these detailed maps of the seafloor could hold so much critical information!  It’s fascinating to watch this science happen right here and see the discoveries in real time. 

Personal Log

This post begins the last week aboard Fairweather.  I’m surprised about how quickly the ship has begun to feel “normal” to me.  I know my way around backwards (aft) and forwards (bow) and enjoyed getting to know everyone better.  Sean the IT specialist makes an amazing pot of French press coffee around 10:00 am and is kind enough to share with all.  Bekah, Sam, Joe, and Michelle in Hydrography patiently answer dozens of questions and allow me to participate when possible.  And the officers on the bridge answer all the questions and are very welcoming and generous with sharing information and their amazing views!  Carrie and the kitchen crew make 3 amazing meals a day, and I’ve made some new workout buddies to try to stay healthy with all this wonderful food!  The visiting scientists have been very nice about answering all my questions about bathymetry and geology.  It’s great when you are writing and studying about geology to be able to turn around and ask a geologist a question!  

I can’t believe how well I sleep on a ship!  The ship is constantly rocking and for this teacher at sea, and for me, that means some seriously deep sleep.  One thing I learned is to make sure all my belongings are secure before I go to bed.  If you leave something unsecured, chances are they will be banging around in the middle of the night or get tossed off a shelf (not the best middle of the night surprise!).  My room is very dark at night and I really don’t hear anything beyond the noise of the engines.  You can barely hear the foghorn from my area towards the back of the ship which is lucky since those sleeping in the front of the ship could hear it all night!  (Those friends look a little weary today.)  I have to set an alarm, or I will just keep sleeping with the constant rocking motion that is so relaxing!  Only 3 more nights of good ship sleep for me!

Linda Kurtz
The fog horn sounds every 2 minutes when the conditions are, you know, foggy!

Following the excellent tutelage of the NOAA officers, hydrographers, and USGS scientists, it’s exciting to look at the screen in the hydrography lab and start a conversation about features of the sea floor that we are seeing (or seeing in detail) for the first time.  On this mission, there have been new faults, mud volcanoes, and underwater canyons discovered.  The science is so fascinating and so little is known about the research being conducted aboard Fairweather.  I honestly had to “Google” the terms I am now so familiar with like Hydrographic survey, multi beam echo sounders, bathymetry, water column data, just to name a few. 

That’s the thing about science that has been reinforced being a Teacher at Sea, no matter how much you think you know about the earth, you learn just how much we don’t know yet, and we’re just beginning to realize the vast amount that is left to discover. 

Did You Know?

-The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface, but we actually know more about the surface Mars than the Earth’s ocean floor- (Credit-Peter Dartnell)

-The Juan de Fuca Plate is part of the famous Ring of Fire, a zone responsible for volcanic activity, mountainous regions, and earthquake activity.

Question of the Day:

Do you know how many tectonic plates there are?  Did you know they are all constantly moving? 

Challenge Yourself

Can you name the Earth’s major tectonic plates?  Can you find on a map the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates that we are surveying right now?

Animals Seen Today:

Northern Fur Seal

Meg Stewart: What the Bathymetry Looks Like at Cape Newenham, Alaska: Flat and a Little Wavy, July 23, 2019

sand waves

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: July 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!

project location
Fig 1. First, here is a reminder of the location area for the project in Alaska, in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay (circled in red).
coverage graphic
Fig 2. Here is the entire coverage of the project area to date. Notice that some of the coverage is complete and some is in spaced line segments. The red areas on the map are shallow and vessels should avoid those. The dark blue to purple zone is the deepest shown on the map and that is where ships should navigate and mariners will know that by looking on the future navigational chart. During the project, the Chief Hydrographer began to notice that the sea bed was nearly flat and gently sloping. The decision was made to use set line spacing for the rest of the project. (Hint: Click on the image to see more detail)
Cape Newenham
Fig 3. Going in a little more closely, I’ll show you the Cape Newenham area, shown in the dashed line region. You may recall that this is the nautical chart from three blog posts ago.
Cape Newenham surveyed
Fig 4. Now, we’ve zoomed in one of the cool parts of the bathymetric map. As I said above in Fig 2, most of the Cape Newenham sea floor surface is gently sloping. There are no obvious obstructions such as large boulders or shipwrecks; if there were, those would show up in the hydrographic survey. I’ll talk more about the red (or shallower) part of the map in the next figure.
sand waves
Fig 5. This is a 3D side view of the upper part of Fig 4. The red that you see is 5 meters or about 16 feet below the ocean surface. The light blue area is about 36 or so meters deep which is about 120 feet deep. What the hydrographers noticed were sand waves, which they found interesting but non-threatening to navigation unless the crests neared the ocean surface. Sand waves can migrate or move around and they can also grow larger and possibly become a navigational hazard in the future. As a geologist, I think the sand waves are excellent. These waves (sometimes they are called ripples) of sediment form as a result of ocean currents and show the direction of flow. See the next figure for a profile view (cross section view) along the light blue line on this map.
profile of sand waves
Fig 6. This is 2D profile view along the surface of the light blue line shown in Fig 5. This is the top of the sand waves. I’ve pointed to a couple of sand wave crests; there are five crests shown in this profile length. Notice that there is a gently sloping face of the wave and a steeper face. The ocean current direction is moving from the gentle face towards the steep face in this location on Cape Newenham which is from north to south. The hydrographers told me that, though the ocean flow may be north to south here now, it is possible that in the winter, the current reverses. There is also a tidal influence on the current here, too.

Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or
Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer

engineer Klay Strand
Photo 1. Klay Strand, 2AE, showing us around the Fairweather engine room.

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.

ship's engines
Photo 2. There are two engines that power the ship. Ear protection is a must. Standing between the two engines felt like standing inside a running car engine if you were a tiny mouse. I didn’t get a shot of us standing there, so I drew an approximate line for reference.
engine room
Photo 3. The ceiling in the engine room is very low. There are A LOT of moving parts. And wires, cords, pipes, valves, enormous tools, tanks, meters and things I’ve never seen before. This part in the foreground, with the yellow painted on the cylinder, is akin to a car’s driveshaft.
waste water levels
Photo 4. This shows how much black water and gray water the ship currently has in the tanks. Those tanks are located in the engine area and the engineers keep a close eye on that information. Gray water is wastewater from washing dishes, clothes washers, and the showers. Black water is from the toilets, I mean ship’s heads. Black water is treated through a chlorination process. Both wastewaters are released at sea, where permissible.
Photo 5. Recall in my last “Did You Know?” that I said the ship makes its own freshwater from sea water. This is the reverse osmosis monitor showing how much freshwater is being produced. Yes, the engineers keep an eye on that, too.

Personal Log

Dutch Harbor panorama
Before I boarded the small plane that took off from Dutch Harbor to take me to Anchorage, AK, I looked out over the harbor. It was so lovely in Alaska. There’s so much space and untouched landscape. The green, pointed hill on the right side of the image is called Mount Ballyhoo, which I hear was named by Jack London on a swing through Dutch Harbor in the late 1800s.

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?

Marine Protected Area map
Using the interactive Marine Protected Area map, I zoomed in on the Cape Newenham area. Though there is a Walrus Protection Area there, we did not see any on our leg.

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?

NOAA Marine Protected Areas – this is information about MPAs in the U.S.

Atlas of Marine Protection is an interactive map that shows all the MPAs around the globe. 

National Geographic – Marine Protected Areas – a good teaching resource. Here is a NG lesson looking at MPAs.

Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) – the science of marine reserves.

Quote of the Day

“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

Jill Bartolotta: ROV, CTD, OMG, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 10, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°04.9’ N

Longitude: 079°53.2’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Wind Direction: 241

Visibility: 10

Air Temperature: 26.7° C

Barometric Pressure: 1017.9

Sky: Clear

Science and Technology Log

As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.


CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.

Sidney and CTD
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn assisting with CTD launch. Photo Credit: Charlie Wilkins SST Okeanos Explorer

Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.

Deep water canyon-like feature
Deep water canyon-like feature with cold water and high oxygen levels. Photo Credit: NOAA OER


ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.

Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE
Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE

Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:

  • Lights to illuminate the dark deep
  • High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
  • An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
  • Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
  • Rock box to hold rock specimens
  • Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
ROV D2 labeled
D2 with some of her specimen collection parts labeled.

My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.

ROV Brain
D2’s “brain” is shown behind the metal bars. The bars are there for extra protection. The panel boxes and tubes are filled with a yellow colored liquid. This liquid is the mineral oil that is used to reduce the pressure the boxes and tubes feel as D2 descends to the ocean floor.

D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.

bathymetry features
Multibeam bathymetry collected on this cruise that shows features which are similar to mound building coral that are known to be in the area. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Mound-Building Coral

Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.

mound-building coral (Credit: NOAA OER)
Large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, stony coral, found at the top of the crest of Richardson Ridge during Dive 07 of the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition. Rubble of this species also appeared to form the mounds found in this region.

Personal Log

We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.

Dorsal fin of a pilot whale
Dorsal fin of a pilot whale

There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.

Did You Know?

You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.

ROV competition
High school ROV competition at The Ohio State University.


Mound Building Coral: NOAA, 2010,

Pilot Whales: American Cetacean Society, 2018,

Brandy Hill: What Lies Beneath the Surface, July 1, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 –  July 6, 2018


Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2018


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29° 10.1’ N

Longitude: 093° 54.5’ W

Visibility: 10+ NM

Sky Condition: 3/8

Wind: 16 kts


Sea Water: 29.4° C

Air: 27° C


Science and Technology Log

At this point I have been able to understand more of the sonar technology taking place during the survey aboard the Thomas Jefferson. The ship uses two types of sonar: multibeam and side scan. Both work together transmitting and receiving sound pulses to and from the ocean floor. This provides a multispectral analysis.

Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.
Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.

Multibeam sonar is located underneath the hull of the ship. Multibeam is used to detect bathymetry (the depth of the ocean floor). Multibeam backscatter (reflected wave energy) gives a reading of the surface intensity. For example, a strong signal would mean a harder surface like rock or pipeline. With multibeam sonar, you can also adjust the sound wave frequency. For example, high frequency (primarily used during this survey in the Gulf of Mexico) is used for shallower waters allowing for higher resolution images. Images from multibeam have a color gradient to allow for clear vision of contours and depth differences. One way surveyors aboard the TJ may use backscatter images is to determine areas where bottom sampling might be applicable.

A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)
A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)

Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)
Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)

3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)
3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)

A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.
A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.

The side scan sonar is used alongside multibeam to provide black and white scans of images. Like multibeam backscatter, side scan measures the intensity of the sound returning from the sea floor. For example, a side scan return with high intensity could indicate a difference in material like pipeline or a wreck. A low intensity value could mean that the side scan sonar waves have reached a muddy substrate. Julia used the analogy of a tennis ball being bounced against a wall of different materials. For example, the tennis ball hitting a concrete wall would bounce back with higher intensity than one being bounced against a soft wall. Side scan sonar is very effective at detecting features that protrude off the sea floor, and for shallow water surveys, typically can see farther and cover a greater area the sea floor than multibeam echosounders alone.

The side scan sonar sensor is located on a torpedo-shaped “towfish” and pulled behind the boat. When viewing side scan images, surveyors typically look for the acoustic shadow cast by a feature protruding off the sea floor. By measuring the length of the acoustic shadow, hydrographers can determine whether the feature requires additional investigation. For example, the outline of a shipwreck, bicycle, or pipeline. However, it can also detect mammals like dolphins or schools of fish.

Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)
Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)

The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.
The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.

In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the "shadow" of the wreck.
In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the “shadow” of the wreck.

Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.
Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.

Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.
Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.

While this is happening, surveyors are also towing a MVP or Moving Vessel Profiler to capture information about the water column. This is important because multiple factors in the water column need to be corrected in order for accurate sonar calculations. For example, the speed of sound in salt water is roughly 1500 m/s but may change while the ship is traveling over different parts of the sea floor or passing through a thermocline (steep temperature gradient) or halocline (steep salinity gradient). The MVP is similar to the CTD used on the launch boat (see previous post), but the MVP allows the ship to continue moving at about 10 knots (average survey speed), while the CTD must be cast when the ship is stationary.

Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.
Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.

For more information on multispectral analysis and sonar, see these resources:

Personal Log

One of my goals in the classroom is to teach students to be comfortable making and learning from mistakes. Making mistakes in math and science is common and welcome because they lead to great discussion and future change. Often, my sixth graders get discouraged or so caught up in failure that they become paralyzed in making further attempts. While aboard the Thomas Jefferson, I have witnessed several aspects not go according to plan. I think these experiences are important to share because they provide real-life examples of professionals coming together, learning from mistakes, and moving forward.

Around 4:00 am, the towfish side scan sonar became entangled with the MVP. This was a horrendous disaster. The crew spent about 16 hours contemplating the issue and collecting data using the multibeam only, which is less than ideal.  One of XO LCDR McGovern’s many roles aboard the ship is to serve as the investigator. She reviewed tapes of the early morning, talked with the crew, and later held a debrief with all involved. When something like this happens, the ship must write a clear incident report to send to shore. There were many questions about why and how this happened as well how to best proceed. In the end, the towfish and MVP were untangled with no damage present to the sensor. Within the same day, both were cast out and back in use.

I find this to be an astounding example of perseverance and teamwork. Despite being disappointed and upset that a critical tool for collecting accurate data was in dire shape, the crew came up with a plan of action and executed. Part of the engineering and scientific processes include evaluation and redesign. Elements of the sea and a center drift of the side scan lead to a documented new plan and refiguring the process so that this is unlikely to happen again.

Lt. Charles Wisotzsky's sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.
Lt. Charles Wisotzsky’s sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.

This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.
This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.


+Saw a tuna eat a flying fish

Flying Fish. (
Flying Fish. (

+There is a large sense of purpose on the ship. Despite complex sleep schedules to enable 24 hour operations with a smaller crew, people are generally happy and working hard.

+ There seems to be an unlimited supply of ice cream in the ice cream freezer. Junior Officer, ENS Garrison Grant introduced me to a new desert- vanilla ice cream, a scoop of crunchy peanut butter, and chocolate syrup. I also found the rainbow sprinkles.

Trevor Hance: Water, Water Everywhere… Time for a Bath(ology), June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 17, 2015

Science and Technology Log

We’re now at the half-way point of this journey and things continue to run well, although the weather has picked up a bit.  I mentioned to one of my fellow crew members that the cloud cover and cool weather reminded me of “football and gumbo” and he said, “Yeah… around here, we just call it ‘June’.” Touché, my friend.

“June,” huh…. Hey, this guy got jokes!

I am continually impressed by both the ship’s crew and the science party’s ability to identify work that needs to be done and set a course towards continued, uninterrupted success of the mission.  The depth and breadth of knowledge required to navigate (all puns intended!) extended scientific expeditions requires professional dedication matched with a healthy sense of humor, and it is truly an honor to be invited to participate in this unique opportunity for teachers. I am learning volumes each day and will forever treasure this wonderful adventure.  Thanks again, NOAA!

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs.  Gigantic lobsters?  Well…
Remember students, don’t kiss frogs. Gigantic lobsters? Well…

Science and Math

My instructional path is rooted in constructivist learning theory, and I work diligently to secure resources for my students to have authentic, project-based learning experiences where they determine budgets, necessary tools and physically build things that we use on our campus.

Most recently, my math class designed and built some raised mobile garden beds that will be used by the youngest students on our campus as well as those with unique mobility challenges.  Through these hands-on learning experiences, I expect my students to develop a solid working-level of mathematic and scientific literacy, and I’m proud of the fact that when I present a new concept, my students never ask “When am I going to have to use this in real life?”

My students doing math.  More doing, more learning...
My students doing math. More doing, more learning…

I believe fifth grade students can understand any science concept, and I am seeing additional opportunities to test that idea using what I learn out here, so thought I’d share a few examples of some of the things I’ve learned as they will be presented in my G5 classroom starting this fall.

With a basic understanding of the objective for this survey presented in the last blog, I’ll explore some of the geographic and hydrodynamic concepts associated with this part of the world in this post.  In the next blog, I’ll dive deeper into a specific study of scallops and lobsters, and in the fourth post I’ll talk more about the effects of current marine/fisheries management practices, with particular focus on those relating to closed areas (somewhat akin to the Balcones Preserve behind our campus.)

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO
This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

Georges Bank…water, water everywhere, time for a bath(ology)

We all know that water is central to our survival, and “playing” with water provides a strong anchoring point (am I pushing the puns too far?) for understanding systems relationships as students progress through their educational path.  For the past couple of years, I have been accepted to participate in a “Scientist in Residence” program offered through the University of Texas’ Environmental Science Institute, which pairs local teachers with a graduate level scientist for an entire school year.  In my first year, I was paired with (recently graduated) Dr. Kevin Befus, whose work focuses on hydrology.  Through my work with Kevin (note to students:  I can call him Kevin, you call him Dr. – he’s earned it!), I learned much about water and the importance of “flow,” and when you understand some of the “flow” relating the world’s most productive fishery, Georges Bank, I think you’ll agree with me.

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet
Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Georges Bank is an oval shaped shoal, which is essentially a submerged island that lies about 60 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and covers nearly 150 square miles.  “The Bank,” or “Georges,” as many people aboard the vessel refer to it, is only recently submerged (i.e. – within the last 100,000 years).  As recently as ten years ago scientists found mastodon tusks on the Bank, and legend holds that in the early 1900s, fishing vessels would stop on an island in Georges Bank (now submerged to about 10m) and play baseball (note:  I have yet to find a bat and ball aboard the Sharp, but hope remains!)

Just like good soil helps support plant life, good water helps support marine life, and the key to the abundant life along Georges Bank lies in the nutrient rich water that is pushed towards the surface as it approaches Georges from the north and south.  On three sides of Georges Bank, the sea floor drops dramatically.  To the north sits the Gulf of Maine, which drops to approximately 1000m deep, and to the east and south, the Atlantic Ocean quickly reaches depths of over 2500m.

NASA photo
NASA photo

Almost all water enters Georges Bank from the north via the Gulf of Maine. The Gulf of Maine is fed via natural river discharges (including those from the Damariscotta and Merrimack Rivers) and the Labrador Currents that hug the coastline south around Nova Scotia before turning west into the Gulf of Maine.  Water also enters the Gulf of Maine through The North Channel on the east side of Maine from the Gulf Stream and that very salty, warm water is important, particularly when it comes to the biology of Georges Bank (as we’ll look at more in the next blog entry.)

Much of the water exiting the Gulf of Maine enters The Great South Channel, which is something like a “river in the ocean” that runs between Cape Cod and Georges Bank.  Deep within the Channel is a “sill,” which is a type of landform barrier, similar to a fence that doesn’t reach up to the surface.  The sill rises quickly from the sea floor and extends across the Great South Channel, effectively blocking the deepest, densest water, resulting in strong, deep, cold currents that are pushed east around the outer edge of Georges Bank before returning towards the United States’ east coast in a clockwise path, resembling “from 11 until 7” on a clock’s face.  Yes students, I do mean an analog clock!

After the deep currents make their way back to southern Massachusetts, they head south on the Longshore Coastal Current, which is like a “jet” of water that sprints southbound right along the eastern United States coastline (note:  those of us from the Gulf Coast frequently hear friends wonder why the Atlantic Ocean is so cold when they visit Florida, and this is partly why!)

At this point, I’m going to take a moment and speak directly to my students:   Just as the water flows into and mixes at Georges Bank from different directions, I’m hopeful that your thoughts are starting to swirl as you recognize the connection to concepts we have studied relating to energy, weather and climate, mixtures and solutions, salinity (and conductivity/resisitivity) and density (and buoyancy) – they are all evident and part of this story! And YES — this WILL be on the test!

b3g - 4 shells
I pulled these four scallops from one of our dredges to show the unique, beautiful patterns we find while sorting

While the deep-water currents that circle around Georges Bank’s edges exist year-round, in the winter there isn’t tremendous difference in the three primary water measurements (“Conductivity, Temperature and Density,” or “CTD”) between the water in The Great South Channel versus that sitting atop Georges Bank.  As you might recognize, in normal conditions, there shouldn’t be much cause for warm or fresh water to be added to the area during the cold winter months, as our part of the world seems to slow down and a goodly amount of water freezes.  In the spring, however, the northern hemisphere warms and ice melts, adding lots of warmer-and-fresh water to the Labrador Current and river discharges I mentioned above, ultimately sending that water south towards Georges Bank.  At this point, things get really interesting…

The new, warmer water is less dense than the deeper water. The warm and cold water ultimately completely decouple and become fully stratified (i.e. – there are two distinct layers of water sitting one on top of the other.)  The stratified layers move in separate currents:  the deeper, colder, more-dense layer continues its clockwise, circular path along the outer edge of the Bank before heading south; and the top, “lighter” layer gets “trapped” in a clockwise “gyre,” which is the formal word for a swirling “racetrack” of a current that sits on the Bank. This gyre goes full-circle atop Georges Bank approximately 2.5 to 3 times per summer season.

Bigelow and Bumpus:  Going with the Flow

The stratified/gyre relationship was confirmed almost 90 years ago by Henry Bigelow (note: those familiar with NOAA will no doubt recognize his name for several reasons, including the fact that a ship in the NOAA fleet is named after him).  Essentially, Bigelow used a type of “weighted-kite-and-floating-buoy” system to observe and confirm the two layers.  Bigelow’s “floating-buoy” was tied to the “weighted-kite” (actually called a drogue) and set at various depths, with each depth tested as an independent variable.  Once set, Bigelow drogued the water, chasing after the floats-and-kites, ultimately confirming that the stratified currents did in fact exist.  When you look at our dry lab here on the Sharp, complete with dozens of computers constantly monitoring hundreds of variables, Bigelow’s paper-and-pencil study aboard a 3-masted schooner is pretty awesome, and makes me feel a little lazy!

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine
Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

In a different study conducted later in the 1900s that perhaps might evoke romantic images of the sea, physical oceanographer Dean Bumpus performed a study similar to Bigelow’s, but in a slightly different fashion. Over the course of a few years, Bumpus put notes in over 3,000,000 test-tubes and set them adrift from Georges Bank.  The notes provided instructions on how to contact Bumpus if found, and he used the returned notes to determine things like current speed and direction.  While I’m not sure if Bumpus also used this methodology to find true love, the experiment did reinforce the idea of the currents that exist around Georges Bank!

b3i - Bumpus

Yep, it’s pretty cool to hear stories of those old-school scientists getting their names in the history books by just going with the flow.

Gulf Coast Style Kicking It Up North

One other unique hydrologic influence on Georges Bank relates to “meanderings” by the Gulf Stream.  Normally, as the Longshore Coastal Current sprints southbound along the east coast faster than a recent retiree snowbirding to Florida, a little further offshore, the Gulf Stream is heading north, bringing with it warm water.  As the water moves towards Georges Bank, the bank does its thing, acting as a berm (my BMX students might better identify with that term), and pushes that water off towards the east.  The warm water ultimately reaches England, and when mixed with the cool air there, causes the cloudy conditions and fog we frequently associate with life in the U.K.


The unique aspect of this relationship occurs when, from time to time, the Gulf Stream misses the turn and a “slice” of the Gulf Stream breaks away.  When this happen, the split portion spins in a counter clockwise fashion and breaks into Georges Bank, bringing with it warm water — and all the chemistry and biology that comes with it.  More on that later…

Water Summary 

So, in a nutshell, that’s the system.  The coldest water at the headwaters of rivers in Maine and that in the arctic freezes and becomes ice.  Deep water doesn’t have access to the warm sunlight, so it stays colder than the warm, less dense water at the surface that is hoping for the chance to boil over and soar up into the skies as water vapor.  Newton tells us that things like to stay still, but will stay in motion once they get started.  Things like sills and submerged islands get in the way of flowing water (yeah, more Newton here), resulting in mixtures and unique current patterns.

From a biological standpoint, the traditional currents associated with Georges Bank bring the deep, nutrient rich waters to the surface. As that water is pushed to the surface, algae and phytoplankton grow in great numbers.  Phytoplankton attracts zooplankton, fish larvae eat the zooplankton, and eventually, “circle gets a square,” the trophic pyramid is complete, and nature finds its equilibrium.

If only it was that easy, right?

Unfortunately, the frequency of warmer weather over the past century has had an impact on the ecology of Georges Bank.  Scientists have noticed more warm water from the north as ice continues to melt and increased frequency of the Gulf Stream meandering from the south. I’m told that 20 years ago, Red Hake were rare here, but I’ve noticed very few of our dredges where Red Hake weren’t at least the plurality, if not majority, of fish we caught.  As Mr. Dylan says, “the times, they are a changin’.”

Okay.  That’s it!  Congratulations students! You have passed Oceanography: Hydrodynamics Short Course 101 and it is time to move on to Oceanography:  Shellfish Biology 101, which we will cover in the next blog.

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!
My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

Lagniappe:  Dr. Scott Gallager

My students and friends know that I am continually working to learn new things.  I am surrounded by experts on this cruise and I need to go ahead and admit it:  I feel sorry for these folks because they are trapped and can’t escape the questions I’ll wind up asking them about their incredibly interesting work!

As I mentioned earlier, depth of knowledge is important to success of these missions, but, breadth is equally important.  Addressing challenges and solving problems from different perspectives is essential, and it sure would be nice to have a Boy Scout out here.  Oh wait, we actually have a long time Scout Master among us, Dr. Scott Gallagher.  There, I feel better already…

Scott is a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (“WHOI”), where his work focuses on biological and physical interactions in oceanography, which can perhaps be a little better explained as “working to understand the physical properties and processes of the ocean that impact biological abundance and populations (aka – distributions).”  In other words, “where are the scallops, how many are there, and why are they there and at that number?”

From a scientific perspective, there are three primary controls to analyze when studying shellfish populations:  the total amount of larvae spawned; the transportation, or “delivery”, of the larvae through the water column to the place where they settle; and, post-settlement predatory relationships (aka – the sea stars, crabs, and humans all out to feast on these delicious creatures)… Seems like an easy-peasy career, right? (I kid. I kid.)

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab
This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

Scott cut his teeth as an undergrad at Cornell, starting off in electrical engineering, and ultimately earning degrees in both pre-med and environmental science (see, I told you he could see things from a variety of perspectives!).  In his environmental science courses, Scott studied the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and after graduating from Alfred University/Cornell University, moved on and earned a master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Long Island.  Over the next several years, he worked at Woods Hole as a research assistant, first working in bivalve (shellfish) ecology, and quickly moving up through the ranks to research specialist.  After a couple of years at WHOI, the magnitude and awesome wonder of the life in our oceans presented Scott with more questions than answers, and he realized it was time to return to school and obtain his PhD so he could start answering some of the questions swimming around in his head (okay, no more puns, I promise).

In our discussion, Scott described the challenge of decoupling the biological processes of the ocean as a fascinating mystery novel that never ends, and never allows you to put the book down or stop turning the pages to see what comes next.  After only a week out here with these good folks, it is evident that passion and curiosity exists in each of them, and it is really cool to feel their continued excitement about their work.

Our live aquarium
Our live aquarium

Aboard the ship, I’ve been fortunate to spend some time working with Scott in the wet-lab, where he helps conduct a more intensive study of a sample of 5-7 scallops from each dredge, according to survey protocol: taking photos, measuring the scallop size and weight, and recording whether it is male or female.

While the survey work is the mission of this cruise, it was the development and operational support for the HabCam that really got Scott working aboard these cruises, and members of his team are aboard each of the three legs every summer to participate in the survey work and provide technical assistance for the HabCam.  I think of my time driving the HabCam of what it must be like to explore Mars with Curiosity.

In addition to his mission-specific field-work, Scott has set up an onboard live aquarium in one part of the deck, using nothing more than an air hose, fresh sea water, and a tote.  The aquarium is a temporary home for many of the unique species we’ve caught on our dredge.  Most species are only kept long enough for me to nerd-out and take some photos, and it has been very interesting to see the interaction of the animals in the confined habitat that would normally only be seen on the sea floor.


The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam
The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

Sea urchins.  We catch many of these.  Zoom in on the one on the right.  Yeah, that’s its mouth.  Life’s at sea is tough!
Sea urchins. We catch many of these. Zoom in on the one on the right. Yeah, that’s its mouth. Life’s at sea is tough!

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.
An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve.
The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve. 

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch
Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side
It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”
I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

Stars on the water
Stars on the water

Don't be a skater-hater
Don’t be a skater-hater

Dredge playlist:  Metallica, Dierks Bentley, Spoon, The National

Special thanks to Dr. Gallager for his help with this one.

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed…

Mr. Hance

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren


At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab





I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Theresa Paulsen: Mission Accomplished, April 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: April 2, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

What are the mappers up to?

After we completed our two priority areas of the cruise, the mappers have been using Knudson subbottom sonar to profile the bottom of the trench. Meme Lobecker, the expedition coordinator sends that data directly to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for processing. They returned some interesting findings.

The subbottom sonar sends a loud “chirp” to the bottom. It penetrates the ocean floor. Different sediment layers reflect the sound differently so the variation and thickness of the layers can be observed. The chirp penetration depth varies with the sediments. Soft sediments can be penetrated more easily. In the picture below, provided by USGS, you can see hard intrusions with layers of sediments filling in spaces between.

The intrusions are basement relief, likely uplifting deformation ridges created by the subduction of the North American Plate. The subduction is now oblique, with the North American and Caribbean plates mostly sliding past each other now – sort of like the San Andreas Fault – but there is still some subduction happening. Subbottom Image and caption courtesy of USGS.

How does the bathymetry look?

In the last two days, I have been really enjoying the incredible details in the bathymetry data the multibeam sonar has gathered. We mapped over 15,000 square miles on our voyage! Using computer software we can now look at the ocean floor beneath us. I tried my hand at using Fledermaus software to make fly-over movies of the area we surveyed (or should I say swim-over movies). Check them out:

I also examined some of the backscatter data. In backscatter images soft surfaces are darker, meaning the signal return is weaker, and the hard surfaces are whiter due to stronger returns. One of the interns, Chelsea Wegner, studied the bathymetry and backscatter data for possible habitats for corals. She looked for steep slopes in the bathymetry and hard surfaces with the backscatter, since corals prefer those conditions.

Intern poster project
Intern Poster Project by Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea Wegner Poster (pdf)

On the next leg, the robotic vehicle on the ship will be used to examine some of the areas we were with high-definition cameras. You can watch the live stream here. You can also see some of the images and footage from past explorations here.
This is a short video from the 2012 expedition to the Gulf of Mexico to tempt you into tuning in for more.

Personal Log:

The people on this vessel have been blessed with adventurous spirits and exciting careers. Throughout the cruise, I heard about and then came to fully understand the difficulty of being away from family when they need us.

I would like to dedicate this last blog to my father, Tom Wichman. He passed away this morning at 80 years of age after battling more than his share of medical issues.  As I rode the ship in today I felt him beside me. Together we watched the pelicans and the boobies fly by. I am very glad I was able to take him on a “virtual” adventure to the Caribbean. He loved the pictures and the blog. I thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for helping me make him proud one last time.

My parents
My Parents, Tom and Kate Wichman

“To know how to wonder is the first step of the mind toward discovery” – L. Pasteur. These words decorate my classroom wall but are epitomized by the work that the NOAA Okeanos Explorer and the Office of Exploration and Research (OER) do each day.

Thank you to the Meme, the CO, XO, the science team, and the entire crew aboard the Okeanos for teaching me as much as you did and for helping me get home when I needed to be with family. I wish you all the best as you continue to explore our vast oceans! My students and I will be watching and learning from you!

I would also like to thank all of the people who followed this blog. Your support and interest proves that you too are curious by nature. Life is much more interesting if you hold on to that sense of wonder, isn’t it?

Answers to My Previous Questions of the Day Polls:

1.  Bathymetry is the study of ocean depths and submarine topography.

2. The deepest zone in the ocean is called the hadal zone, after Hades the Greek God of the underworld.

3.  It takes the vessel 19 hours and 10 minutes to make enough water for 46 people each using 50 gallons per day if each of the two distillers makes 1 gallon per minute.

4.  NOAA line offices include:

  • National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service
  • Office of Marine & Aviation Operations
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

5. The pressure on the a diver at 332.35m is 485 pounds per square inch!

6.  The deepest part of the Puerto Rico Trench is known as the Milwaukee Deep.

Thank you for participating!  I hope you learned something new!

Theresa Paulsen: Preparing to Explore the Ocean Floor, March 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission:  Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Caribbean Trenches and Seamounts
Date: March 9, 2015

Personal Log

If you could have any super power imaginable, what would it be?  Growing up, my son asked me this question numerous times as we walked our dog.  While he pondered the advantages of flight, invisibility, or spontaneous combustion, my answer was always the same.  I want Aquaman’s powers (but a better looking outfit).  I want to swim underwater without the need for dive gear, seahorses, or gillyweed, to see what few others have seen.  I want to communicate with whales and dolphins to find out what their large brains can teach us about our planet.  While I may not be able to attain superhero status, I can join some real-world adventurers on an amazing vessel equipped to conduct research that will help realize my dream of seeing the unseen depths of the ocean.

Hello, from Northern Wisconsin!  My name is Theresa Paulsen.  I am a high school science teacher in Ashland, WI.  I have been teaching for 17 years while living along the south shore of Lake Superior with my husband and our two children.

My husband, Bryan
My husband, Bryan

Our children, Ben and Laura, paddling the sea caves in the Apostle Islands, N.L.
Our children, Ben and Laura, paddling the sea caves in the Apostle Islands, N.L.

The pristine lake and the rich forests around the region provide the resources that sustain our local communities.  As we work to promote local stewardship in the classroom, we must recognize that the health and welfare of the resources we treasure are connected to the greater global environment which is heavily influenced by the processes that occur in our oceans. The geological processes occurring near our research zone are fascinating.  The North American plate slides passed the Caribbean plate creating the Puerto Rico trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bathymetry of the northeast corner of the Caribbean plate. Image courtesy of USGS.

Maps generated by the vessel’s state-of-the-art multibeam sonar on our mission will help geologists learn more about the tectonic activity and potential seismic hazards in the area. (Let’s hope the only rumblings I feel are those caused by the typical mild sea-sickness!)  The maps will also be used by marine biologists and resource managers to investigate and assess unique habitat zones.  Learn more the mission goals here.

My students and I have been checking in on the vessels live video feed periodically as the ship sails from Rhode Island to Puerto Rico, mapping along the way.  I will join the crew in Puerto Rico on the 14th to begin training before the vessel sets sail for the second leg of the mission on the 16th.  Throughout our journey, scientists will use the maps we generate to determine areas that require further investigation with the vessel’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on the third leg of the mission.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer with camera sled, Seirios, deployed and below that, IFE’s Little Hercules—a science-class ROV. Credit: Randy Canfield and NOAA.

My goal is to learn as much as I can on this expedition!  There is no better way to motivate students to become life-long learners and scientific thinkers than to show them how exciting real research can be.   Through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, my students and I will have the rare opportunity to learn first-hand about the science and technology oceanographers use to study fascinating places in the ocean.   I will return to the classroom in April, equipped with lesson ideas and answers to questions about ocean research and careers! Thank you for following me on my journey.  Please post questions or comments.  I will do my best to address them in future posts (although communication aboard the vessel can be tenuous, I am told).  Here is my first question for you:

Emina Mesanovic, Acoustic Lab: Let’s Make Some Maps, July 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emina Mesanovic

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

July 20 – August 2, 2014

 Mission: Southeast Fishery- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 28, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 27.5 C

Relative Humidity: 86%

Wind Speed: 15.03 knots

 Science and Technology Log

There is a lot of work that goes into allowing the fishery team to be able to set traps every day. The acoustics lab/ night shift is responsible for creating the maps of the seafloor that will be used the following day. The team consists of David Berrane a NOAA fisheries biologist, Erik Ebert a NOAA research technician, Dawn Glasgow from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a Ph.D student at the University of South Carolina, as well as Mary a college student studying Geology at the College of Charleston and Chrissy a masters student at the University of South Carolina. This team is amazing! Starting at around 5:00 pm the day before they stay up all night mapping the ocean floor.

The night shift working together
The night shift collecting data

Every night Zeb Schobernd lets the night shift know which boxes they will work on. These boxes are created in the offseason by the research scientists, they base their selection on information from fishermen, the proximity to already mapped areas, weather and previous experiences. The first step in creating a bathymetric map is to create a line plan, which lets the ship know which area will be covered. The average line takes about half an hour to complete but they can take up to several hours. The ship drives along these lines all night long while the team uses the information that is gathered to create their maps.

So how do they get this information? The ship uses sonar to collect data on the water column and the ocean floor. The Pisces has a 26 multi-beams sonar system, which allows the research team to create a better picture, compared to using single beam sonar. The beams width is about 3 times the depth of water column. This means that depending on how deep the water is in any given location, it will determine how many lines need to be run to cover the area.

Multibeam sonar
Multi-beam sonar (picture from NOAA)

The picture below is one of the computer screens that the scientists look at throughout the night. It provides the sonar information that will then be used to map the floor. Sonar works by putting a known amount of sound into the water and measuring the intensity of the return. A rock bottom will yield a stronger return while a sand bottom will absorb the sound and yield a less intense return. In the image red means that there is a more intense return while blue and yellow signifies a less intense return. You will notice in the center screen there is a strong red return at the top of the beam this is because the ship is sending out the sound and it takes about four meters until you start recording information from the sea floor.

SIMRAD70 (multi-beam sonar)
SIMRAD (multi-beam sonar)

Finally before the maps can be created the team has to launch an XBT (expendable bathy thermograph) two times per box or every four hours. The XBT measures the temperature and conductivity of the water, this is important because sound travels at different rates in cold versus warm water. This information is then used when the scientists calculate the sound velocity, which is used to estimate the absorption coefficient of sound traveling through the water column.


Once the data is collected the team begins the editing process. First they have to remove random erroneous soundings in order to get an accurate map; they fondly call this process dot killing (this basically means getting rid of outliers). They do this by drawing a box around the points of data they want to remove and deleting the point. Next they apply tide data to account for the deviations in the tides, this information is obtained from NOAA and is based on the predicted tides for the area. Finally they apply the sound absorption coefficient.

Editing the data (killing dots)
Editing the data (killing dots)

The final product is put into GIS (Geographic Information Systems), which the chief scientists will use to determine where the traps should be set the following morning. On the map below blue indicates the deepest areas while red shows the shallowest. The scientists want to place the traps in areas where there is a large change in depths because this is usually where you will find hard bottoms and good fish habitats.

Finished map (red shallow, blue deep)
Finished map

Personal Log

I have spent the past three nights in the Acoustics/Computer Lab with the night shift mapping the ocean floor. While the ship sails along the plotted course, I have had the opportunity to see the sunrise and sunset on the Pisces as well as a lightning storm from the top deck.

Lighting on the ocean (picture from sciencedaily)

On Thursday night a little after midnight after launching the XBT we see decided to go onto the top deck of the Pisces to get a better look at the lighting storm in the distance. Even at night it was still humid and hot and as we climbed up to the top deck it was dark all around us until suddenly there would be a flash of color in the clouds and you could see everything, until it went dark again. We tried to take a picture but the lightening was just too fast for our cameras. This is the closest picture I could find to what it was like that night except the water was not calm.



Name: Erik Ebert                  Title: Research Technician

Erik editing data collected on Sunday July 26th.
Erik editing data collected on Sunday July 26th.

Education: Cape Fear Tech (Wilmington, NC)

How long have you worked for NOAA/NOS: 6th field season, 5th year

Job Summary: I work on ecosystem assessments throughout the Gulf of Mexico South Atlantic & Caribbean

– Team oriented production of ocean floor maps

– System setup & keeping the acoustic systems operating correctly

How long have you participated in this survey: Since 2010

What do you like about your job: That the data we collect, and the maps we create can be used again for different studies. The types of data we collect includes bathymetric data, information on the water column, & fish that populate the water column.

How many days are you at sea: 60 days (April-November)

What do you do when you are not on the boat: Process & produce fish density maps from the data collected during the cruises. I also work for National Ocean Services (provide data to policy & decision makers to the state of the ecosystem)

Most challenging about research on a ship: Being away from home is the biggest challenge.

What would be your ideal research cruise: My ideal research cruise would be a cruise similar to what we just completed in Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a 3-year assessment of the reef ecosystem using ROV, Diving and Acoustics to study how the ecosystem changed over time.

Favorite fish: Trigger Fish “cool swimming behavior”

More information about See Floor Mapping


Crab with three sea anemones attached to its shell
Crab with three sea anemones attached to its shell

Denise Harrington: The Best Day Ever, April 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 20 – May 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 30, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

Location: 58 03.175’ N  127o 153.27.44’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 6.3C (dry bulb), Wind 5 knots @ 250o, clear, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker:

Science and Technology Log

The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.

In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features.  Step 1 is to determine where we are.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna and a GPS antenna that helps us determine our precise location.
In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna (square white one) that is used to transmit tide data ashore and a GPS antenna (the small white eggs shaped one) that provides the tide gauge with both position and UTC time. Photo by Barry Jackson

In this picture  Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses the GOES from various locations to determine the exact location of the tide gauge.
In this picture Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses GPS to record the positions of the benchmarks we have just set for the tide gauge. Photo by Barry Jackson

tide gauge install 023
Where we are happens to be the most beautiful place on earth. Photo by Barry Jackson


In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.

Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is.  Think “bath” water and metry “measure.”  When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.

As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.

Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor.  Here is a screen shot of the data we collected.  It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!

Here is the image of the trench Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered.  We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after us.
Here is the image of the sea floor canyon Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered. We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after the two scientists who discovered it.

Here I am, gathering pings.

Here I am talking with "the bridge,"  the team responsible for navigating the ship while surveyors collect data.
While collecting data, I kept in contact with “the bridge,” the team responsible for navigating the ship, by radio to ensure the ship’s safety and maximum, quality data acquisition.     Photo by Starla Robinson


Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water.  Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides.  The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.

The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area.  On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install.  This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.


Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed.  The one we installed today in Diver's Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.
Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed. The one we installed today in Driver Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data.  Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.

The earth goes around the sun in 24 hours and moon goes around the earth in a little more than 12 hours, much like these two gray sine waves. Interestingly, when you add two different waves, you get the wonky blue sine wave, with ups and downs. This combined effect of the sun and the moon (two dots) causes the ups and downs of the tide (blue wave). Graph taken from Russell, D. Acoustics and Vibration Animation, PSU,


Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart.  The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.
This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

Installing Tide Gauge Stations

Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is.   The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure.  The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water.  The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data.  This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis.  Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.

There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world.  The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia.  These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.

The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle).  During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.

Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks

Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches.  Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.


Why Bench Mark?

There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.


I installed this benchmark by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location.
I installed this benchmark in Driver Cove by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location. Photo by Barry Jackson

The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land.  The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge.  The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly.  As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.”  We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s  reference frame.  Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed.  After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!

Teacher on Land Polishing Her Benchmark Photo by Brandy Geiger
Teacher on Land
Polishing Her Benchmark
Photo by Brandy Geiger

Installing the Benchmark

Today, our beach party broke into two groups.  We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline.  We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete.  A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more.  We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification.   If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.

Tide Gauge

As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.


Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.
Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.  Photo by Barry Jackson

To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water.  Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team.   The dive team secured a sensor below the water.  The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days.  During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters.  Good thing they were wearing dive suits!  Photo by Barry Jackson
Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters. Good thing they were wearing dive suits! Photo by Barry Jackson

Leveling Run

After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick.  One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal.  They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height!  Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.


Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours.  Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to.  If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements.  I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do.  If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.

As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island.  I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.

Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line.  The exact measurements we collected are on the table.
The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line. The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II.  The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.


Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to  Floyd Pounds, an amazing cook from the south who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet.
Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to the amazing chefs aboard Rainier, including Floyd Pounds, who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet with a hint of a southern accent.

During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits.  He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.”  He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks.  For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.”  Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart.   His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.

Personal Log

Today was a special day for me for many reasons.  It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever.  Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking.  I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me.  In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently.  All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.


Marla Crouch: Gumbi Marla and Setting Course, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8-26, 2013 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 1900
Wind Speed 13.48 kts
Air Temperature 7.0°C
Relative Humidity 99.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,010.00.5 mb

Latitude:  54.31N   Longitude: 159.80W

Science and Technology Log

Another fashion statement – Gumbi Marla

Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.
Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.

I’ve donned an immersion suit, also known as a survival suit.  One of the first things I did when I came aboard was to locate this suit and my life vest, two pieces of equipment that save lives.  In the event we had to abandon ship, the survival suit would keep me both warm and afloat until rescue.  During our evacuation drill we needed to unpack and get into the suit, and be completely zipped up in 60 seconds or less.  Getting into the suit was much easier after I took my shoes off, as the soles caught on the fabric of the suit.  The suit is made of neoprene, which was invented in 1930.  SCUBA wetsuits are also made of neoprene, and even some laptop and tablet cases.

In an earlier blog I talked about the CTD being used to calibrate the sonar aboard the Oscar Dyson, but not all technologies on the Dyson are as high tech as the CTD and sonar equipment.  In fact you can build a weather station at home that is similar to some of the equipment used by the Dyson’s crew.  Below is a picture of a hygrometer.  There are actually two hygrometers aboard, one is located on each side of the bridge.  Hygrometers are used to measure relative humidity (how much moisture is in the air).   Also pictured is the wind bird which shows the direction the wind is moving.  The propeller was actually turning rapidly when the picture was taken.  The camera was able to “stop” the action.  The wind bird is mounted atop the jack staff, high above the bow.

Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.
Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.

Wind bird

The following link shows you how to build six instruments for monitoring the weather.

If you checked out the above link, how many snow days to you think the kids in North Dakota had?

Did you check out ship tracker?  If you did, the screen shot below will look familiar.  The blue lines in the water display the Dyson’s course.  Each segment of the course is called a transect.  Transects are numbered, enabling scientists to easily reference a location.

Oscar Dyson's course as of 6 18 13
Oscar Dyson‘s course as of 6 18 13

Are you wondering why we have traveled in rectangular patterns?  The scientists establish this course for a several reasons:

  1. Transects run perpendicular to the coast line, covering a wide range of bathymetry over the shortest distance.
  2. Regularly spaced transects (as opposed to randomly spaced or scattered) are correlated with historical data, and are the best way to describe the distribution of pollock.
  3. The combination of transects collects sufficient data to allow scientists to estimate the overall size of the pollock population with a high degree of certainty.

Does anyone have an idea about the meaning of “bathymetry” and a “leg”?  No, in this case a leg is not something you stand on.  Bathymetry is the shape and depth of the ocean floor, and a bathymetry contour line on a chart connects points of equal depth (like a topographic map).  A leg, in this context, is a segment of the overall distance covered in the survey.

The information collected during this year’s survey helps determine the number of pollock that can be caught in next year’s fishing season.

Here is the ship tracker link, you can check out the Dyson’s course and other NOAA ships as well.

Personal Log 

I want to revisit the sonar of Mystery Mix One.  In my last blog I talked about what was happening near the surface of the ocean.  This time I want to focus beneath the sea floor.

Graphic provided by NOAA
Graphic provided by NOAA

Look beneath the red, yellow, and green bands, depicting the sea floor, at the blue color, notice how the density of color changes over time.  The density of the color tells scientists about the composition of the sea bed.  The denser the color, the denser or harder the seafloor is likely to be; probably, the places with the dark, dense color are rocky areas, which attract the fish schools seen in the water above.

Looking at this graph reminds me of an experiment that my husband worked on, when he worked for Charles Stark Draper Labs, in Boston, MA.  He worked on a Gravity Gradiometer that was sent to the moon on Apollo 17.  The gradiometer measured the changes in gravity.  The changes in gravitational strength give scientists information about what lays beneath the moon surface, like the sonar provides information about the sea bed.  The Gravity Gradiometer was a very specialized version of equipment that is commonly used in prospecting for oil on Earth.  I am sharing this story because, in class, one of our foci is to take what we know and apply the knowledge to a new scenario.  Next question:  Where will what we know now, take us in the future?

Did You Know?

Some fish can see color.

Kaitlin Baird: The Importance of Sound, September 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Maryland
Date: September 16th

Location Data:
Latitude: 37’72.10
Longitude: 75′ 17.02

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction:  West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:

It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them.  The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.

You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor.  Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm.  A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!

bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow

Bigelow multibeam sonar (NOAA)

echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Personal Log:

The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.

If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.

I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!

The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment.  The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data,  help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.

otoliths (fish ear bones) that i removed from a Butterfish
Otoliths (fish ear bones) that I removed from a Butterfish

You can see here is an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will Jan 1st of the next year.
You can see here an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will be Jan 1st of the next year.

I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

Me and a Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland
Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland

Thanks for reading!

Marsha Skoczek: Plotting Our Course, July 15, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6-19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia.
Date:  July 15, 2012

Latitude:  32.47618N
Longitude: 78.19054 W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  27.6C (81.7 F)
Wind Speed:  6 knots (6.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SE
Relative Humidity: 75 %
Barometric Pressure:  1018.3
Surface Water Temperature:  28.4C (83.12 F)

Science and Technology Log

In order for the scientists to find the fish they are studying on this cruise, they need to know where the areas of favorable habitat are located.  Old nautical charts are not one hundred percent accurate–sometimes they can be hundreds of kilometers off. Early ocean floor mapping used long lines with a lead weight which was hung off the side of the ship.  As the ship moved forward through the water, the long lines would get behind the ship making it very difficult to get an exact reading.  It wasn’t until sonar came into general use during World War II, that it was discovered to be useful for bathymetric mapping.

Sonar works by sending a single sound wave to the ocean floor.  As it reflects back toward the ship, a hydrophone listens for the return sound.  The length of time it takes for that sound wave to return to the ship can be used to calculate the depth of the ocean in that location. The speed of sound in water travels at approximately 1,500 meters per sec (m/s) which is about five times faster than sound travels in air.  The problem with single beam sonar is that the data only plots the one single line beneath the ship.  It does not give the complete picture and gaps in data were often filled in using the readings taken around the area as an estimate.

Planned acoustic survey lines

So how is multibeam sonar different from single beam sonar?  With multibeam sonar, it is just as the name implies–multiple sound beams are sent toward the ocean bottom.  For the depths we are working on, the multibeam sonar on the Pisces sends out 70 beams of sound every .67 seconds.  Within a fraction of a second, these “pings” are reflected off of the ocean bottom and back to the transducer.  The time it takes for all 70 of those pings to return to the transducer determines the depth at each point.  The echogram screen illustrates the bottom features in real time and will even pick up large schools of fish in the water column.  As the ship continues to move up and down the survey lines, the raw data is collected.  The distance between the survey lines is determined by the depth of the area to be mapped.  To set the survey lines, we are using 1.5 times depth so, if the water depth averages 100 meters at the mapping location, the survey lines are set at 150 meters, (.08 nautical miles) apart.  Tonight, the ocean depth at our mapping location is about 60 m so the survey lines are set at 90 meters (.05 nm) apart.  The goal when laying out the survey lines is to overlap the previous lines by about 25%.  This will insure a more complete picture.

Echogram of ridge

It is not simple enough to just take the raw data from the return pings.  The temperature, salinity and depth of the ocean in the mapping area can create slight variations in the return speed.   Temperature, salinity and depth can influence the speed of the return signal, so we use the CTD to gather readings each morning as they are wrapping up the mapping for the night.  This information along with the information on the ship’s roll, pitch, and yawl from the Position and Orientation System for Marine Vessels (POSMV)  are plugged into software that helps process and clean up the data.  From there, the data is converted into a “geo tif” file where it can be  plugged into GIS mapping . The final product is a full color 3-dimensional image of the mapping area.

Completed multibeam image

Ideally the scientists would have multibeam information for each of the sites they want to study that day.  To make this happen, the night before the ROV dive the ship will make its way to the next day’s study area so the geographers can map all night.  The survey lines are selected using bathymetry maps as well as looking at the existing multibeam maps of the area to see if there are any gaps that need to be filled in.  The idea is to give the scientists as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about where to study.  Time on the ship is extremely expensive and they want to make sure they take full advantage of that time by finding the best habitats to study.  Without the multibeam images, the scientists have to make a best guess as to where to map using old and possibly out of date information.

Personal Log

This is the engine monitoring station.

Today I took a tour of the  Pisces’ engine roomEngineer Steven Clement was nice enough to show me around and explain everything for me.  It is amazing to me how this ship is like its own little city.  The ship creates its own electricity using diesel-powered generators.  It takes four generators to power the ship at full speed which is about 15 knots.  The engines are so loud that I had on double ear protection and it was still extremely loud to walk past them. Using all four engines all day would burn up 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  The Pisces is capable of holding 100,000 gallons of fuel which should last the ship several months at sea.  The electricity that is left over from powering the engines is used as the power supply for all of the electronics on board.

Other ways that the Pisces reminds me of a small city is the water.  The ship creates its own drinking water with a reverse osmosis system complete with UV filter and is capable of producing 2.8 gallons per minute.  It also has two hot water heaters attached to a compressor to keep the hot water pumped up into the pipes of the ship.  I do have to say that the hot water on this ship is extremely hot!!  There is no need to wait for hot water, it comes out instantly when I turn on the faucet.  When I shower, I have the cold on full blast and just a smidge of hot water to get a normal temperature shower.  Even our waste water is cleaned up in the Pisces’ own waste water treatment facility which uses microbes to break down the waste products before it is released back out to sea.

Other than pulling into port occasionally for fuel and supplies, the Pisces is really a self-contained vessel capable of cruising at sea for long periods of time.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed Dr. Laura Kracker.

Dr. Laura Kracker

What is your job title?  I am a Geographer with NOAA National Ocean Service in Charleston, South Carolina.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? Usually I work on projects using acoustics to map fish in the water column.  Using fisheries acoustics, we can map the distribution of fish in an area and detect large schools as well. On this mission, I am using multibeam to map seafloor habitats.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I earned my Associate’s Degree in agriculture from Alfred College in New York.  When my children were little, I stayed home with them.  While I was home with them I earned my Bachelors in Painting.  Then I went to work in a fisheries office for a couple of years before deciding to go back to college to get my Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Science from the University of Buffalo.  I then continued on to my PhD in Geography and GIS, also from the University of Buffalo.  My dissertation was on Using GIS to Apply Landscape Ecology to Fish Habitats.  So I have combined all of my experiences to get me to where I am today.

What are some of your best experiences have you had with this job?  I love being on a ship.  I spend as many as 55 days a year on ships, often at the request of other scientists that need help with multibeam sonar.  I love geography, it gives us  a framework to put everything together, you can layer more and more information onto a map to find a complete picture.

What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology?  Get a broad foundation before you specialize.  You don’t have to take a direct route to where you want to go.  

Staci DeSchryver: A Front Row Seat to the Bottom of the Ocean, August 12, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Alaska

Location:  Kodiak, AK
Heading: back to the docks
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge: N/A

Science and Technology Log

My last night on the Oscar Dyson was a busy one!  Because our trip was cut so short, we had to “break protocol” so to speak.  Typically, nighttime operations consist of seafloor mapping (which I will get to in a minute), and do not consist of trawling for Pollock.  For science students, you probably have a good idea why – running operations only in the daytime means that the experiment is controlled.  Since Pollock behave differently in the night-time, it is important to only run operations when their behavior is consistent.  However, because we were so short on time, we had to make a “run” for the shelf break that got us to the area well after dark.  So we got to do one more trawl!  This one was the best kind, in my humble opinion.  We completed a bottom trawl, which means that the net went almost down to the bottom of the ocean – within a couple of meters.  The reason why bottom trawls are so neat is because there are plenty of ocean critters down there that the average Joe doesn’t get to see on a daily basis.  Of course, the scientists do their absolute best to catch only Pollock to minimize bycatch, but one or two fish of different species are difficult to avoid.  On this trawl, we had a few jellies, two Pacific Ocean Perch, and a Herring.  We finished late – right around one in the morning.  At that time, we began our night-time operations.

Night time operations are run by Dr. Jodi Pirtle.   Dr. Pirtle is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of New Hampshire  Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.  Her research is a collaborative effort between the UNH CCOM and the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.   Even though Jodi is traveling all the way from New Hampshire,  she is actually very close to home right now.  She is quite connected to the Alaska fisheries – she grew up in Alaska, and has both family and friends who are involved in the commercial fishing industry.  The fisheries hold a place very close to her heart, and her passion for her current line of work is well evident.

So, why, then, does Dr. Pirtle work in the cover of night?

acoustics lab
Here, the scientists are working in the acoustics lab on daytime operations. As you can see, most of the electronic equipment is used during the day. At night, Dr. Pirtle gets the opportunity to chart her own path and select an area to map without interfering with the ship's primary operations.

At first I suspected it was some sort of secret service operation, but the reality is much more strange and explainable.  Her line of work is a side project on the Oscar Dyson, which means that she can work when the ship is not working for its primary purposes.  Hence, she works from 6pm until 6am.   One focus of her research is to identify whether or not certain areas of the Gulf of Alaska are trawlable or untrawlable by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom-trawl survey for groundfish.   How is an area determined to be untrawlable?  Let’s say, for example, there is a commercial fishing ship somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska.  This ship decides to do a similar trawl as the one that I did earlier this evening, but they use a net that makes contact with the seafloor because they are fishing for groundfish species – say, Rockfish, for example.  But, something happens.  When the net comes up, it is all torn up – as though it got caught on a series of rocks or ledges.  In order to warn other ships of the dangers of losing a very expensive net, the fisherman deems the area “untrawlable.”  It’s kind of like putting caution tape around the area.

Untrawlable areas are problematic for scientists because every area deemed untrawlable is an area where they can’t sample with the bottom-trawl gear.  For example, a large component of the groundfish fishery are several species of rockfish (Sebastes spp.) that associate with a rocky habitat.  Rockfish are delicious with garlic and butter, but they are sneaky little guys because they like hanging out around rocks (who knew?).  Many rockfish could be in areas that are untrawlable, but scientists would never know because it is inadvisable to tow a bottom-trawl net in the area to find out.  In a sense, untrawlable areas are a source of error, or uncertainty in the population estimate for species of groundfish in those areas.  This is where Dr. Pirtle’s research starts.

A few years ago, a group did research in an area called Snakehead Bank – a location previously deemed to be untrawlable.  They wanted to tighten the definition of “untrawlable.”  For example, there is a possibility that an untrawlable area is covered with steep cliffs, many sharp, large rocks, and impossibly tough relief.  However, there is also the possiblity that the area is relatively flat and trawlable, but the fisherman was just unlucky enough to drag his or her net over a rogue boulder that found its way onto the vast, flat, continental shelf.  So, the scientists decided to see what kind of “untrawlable” this particular area was.   The group took the time to make a bathymetric profile of the area and couple that research with camera drops – video cameras that would make the trek to the bottom of the ocean and provide a second set of data for scientists to confirm what the bathymetric profile showed them.  From the camera drops and the bathymetry, the scientists determined that Snakehead bank was not completely untrawlable – in fact, most areas could support trawl nets without the risk of tearing the nets.  Dr. Pirtle is continuing with this important work.

One focus of the research is determining seafloor trawlability in the Gulf of Alaska using the same acoustic transducers that we use to catch fish in our daytime operations.  The fishery that the  survey is concerned about  is groundfish –   a general term that encompasses many species such as flatfish, cod, and rockfish.  These sneaky guys enjoy habitats that are associated with rocky areas, so we are not getting the best estimate of populations in those areas.  Dr. Pirtle is looking in to alternative methods to determine whether an areas of the seafloor is untrawlable or trawlable using the mulibeam sonar.  Not only is she looking for areas that can now be considered trawlable, she’s also using the data she collects to determine certain seafloor characteristics.  Hardness, roughness, and grain size are all data that can be collected using the acoustic transducers.  This information will help her to determine the relative trawlability of an area, as well.  Therefore, the groundfish survey benefits because she is either finding areas to be trawlable (thus, they can now sample there) or somewhat trawlable, which can tell them ahead of time that alternative sampling methods might be needed in a particular area.

Her research is also concerned with developing alternative sampling methods for untrawlable locations.  These methods could involve a combination of acoustic seafloor mapping to characterize seafloor habitats for groundfish, acoustic midwater data (to observe the fish that like to hang out on tall pinnacles and rocky banks) and, the most fun method – dropping a camera to the ground to identify species and biomass assessment (which is a fancy term for seeing how many fish are in a particular area).  Improved understanding of groundfish habitats can lead to better management models, and the work Dr. Pirtle is doing can also contribute to conservation of areas that are sensitive to fishing gear that touches the seafloor.

The area that Dr. Pirtle decided to survey this evening was an area that was deemed to be untrawlable surrounded by many trawlable areas.  These areas are often good candidates for mapping and camera surveys because both untrawlable and trawlable seafloor types are likely to be encountered, so the area can more easily be compared against existing data.  We began our transects – driving transects with the ship over the area while sending sound waves to the bottom of the ocean to figure out differing ocean depths and seafloor type.  Transect lines are close together and driven in a pattern similar to mowing a lawn, which gives Dr. Pirtle 100% coverage of her targeted area.  Dr. Pirtle selects a location to drop a CTD – Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter – usually in the middle of the mapped area.  The CTD is used to estimate sound speed in the location she is mapping.  This is important because ocean depth is measured by the amount of time it takes for a sound wave to leave the ship, bounce off the ocean floor, and return back to the ship.

This is a photograph of a halibut on the uncharted pinnacle discovered by Dr. Pirtle, similar to what I saw real-time on the camera late at night.

She then selects three to five areas to conduct camera drops.  The camera travels to the bottom of the ocean where she can see if the area is untrawlable or trawlable based on what the camera shows her.  I, on the other hand, get to see deep ocean critters in their habitats, which is also very cool.   There are two types of camera drops – ones that record the information and then get played back later, and real-time camera drops where we can literally watch the camera make the trek to the bottom of the ocean in real-time.  Dr. Pirtle uses the camera data to “groundtruth” or check the seafloor type against her acoustic map, to identify fish and other animals in the area, and to observe how species use the seafloor habitat.

As my shift was coming to a close, I could barely keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to miss this.  Tonight, we dropped the live camera into the depths.  I stayed awake for the first drop so I could see what these operations looked like.  Dr. Pirtle expertly maneuvered the camera into the deep using something that looked much like an old-school Atari controller.

slide o' fun
This photograph shows Dr. Pirtle's work in combination - the area she surveyed is in the bottom right corner. The other three photos are snapshots of the surveyed area.

As the camera dropped, we saw a few pollock and some other unidentified neritic creatures, but the real fun started when we got to the bottom.  It was intense as Dr. Pirtle relayed information back to the bridge about the direction in which to travel, holding the ship still in the waves and currents when she wanted to examine an area more closely, and communicate with the technicians on the hero deck to relay the height that she wanted the camera held at.  We saw all sorts of interesting creatures on the ocean floor – some arrowtooth flounder, a halibut, and Pacific Ocean Perch.  We also observed beautiful cold-water corals and sponges that form a living component of seafloor habitat for many marine animals, including our target – rockfish.   We even saw a shark!  It was completely worth getting to bed a little bit later to see this incredible work in real-time.

unmapped pinnacle
This is the unmapped pinnacle discovered by Dr. Pirtle and her colleague! Now, seafloor maps have been updated to include this potentially dangerous sea hazard.

On a side note, in a previous leg of the survey, Dr. Pirtle and her colleague from UNH CCOM, Glen Rice,  found an underwater pinnacle that was later determined to be a navigational hazard!  This pinnacle came so close to the surface of the water that in a “perfect storm” of low tide and a large enough ship with a deep enough hull, it could have unknowingly collided with this unmapped pinnacle – which could have potentially been disastrous.  Glen, a NOAA hydrographer, was able to update the navigational charts in the area, alerting ships to the pinnacle’s presence.  It just further supports the idea that the our oceans are so vastly unexplored – there is so much we don’t know about the feature that takes up the biggest portion of our Earth!   I asked her if she named it because she discovered it – I quickly learned that just because you find something in the Ocean, it doesn’t mean you get to keep it.  Apparently, you can’t name it, either.  But I still called it Pirtle’s Pinnacle.  I think it has a nice ring.

Personal Log

It was a sad day today watching the scientists pack up and box and tag the lab equipment and computers.  As everyone bustled about, I spent some time hanging out for the last time on the bridge, in the galley, and in the fish lab thinking about my journey coming to its close.  Although we spent the majority of it tied to the dock, I am so grateful for the opportunities we experienced that we otherwise would not have – it was a blessing in disguise, because we really got to experience all of Kodiak, and much of the bays and inlets around the island from the ship.  The pictures will bring no justice to the beauty I’ve experienced in the last three weeks, whether it was walking along a beach with wild horses or staring in all directions to find nothing but water for as far as the eye could see.  I spent an hour one night on the bridge watching the Leonids streak across the sky – a front row and first class seat, in my opinion.  I never though that dodging whales would be an area of concern in my small life until we sailed through pods of them every day.  If you would have told me three years ago I’d be petting an octopus three weeks ago, I would have called you a fool.  If you would have told me three hours ago that this experience would be coming to a close three minutes from now, I would believe you even less.  In the last three weeks, I have never laughed harder, worked more eagerly, or learned more with and from these incredible individuals who call this ship Home.  As I quietly stood on the bridge watching the fast rescue boat dart off to the docks, I remembered the last time it was in the water watching carefully over us as we swam around the ship in our gumby suits.  As we drove silently through the still waters to the city docks, we bade farewell to the animals that accompanied us on our trips – otters, eagles, puffins, and even sea lions gathered around to see us off to our homes and families.  Or, they just so happened to be there looking for food and doing other instinctual things, but I do really think I saw an otter wave me goodbye.

Here is a whale "waving goodbye" with his fluke in the Gulf of Alaska - I will never forget the journey I had here!

Thank you so much to the crew and scientists of the Oscar Dyson – you fed my soul this summer and rejuvenated me in a way I never could have imagined.  I am more revived today than I was on the first day of my second year of teaching (because, let’s face it, the first day of your first year you spend most of your time trying not to vomit) and I owe it completely to the Teacher at Sea Program and to all of the fine people I got to work with.  To my partner in crime, Cat Fox – I’ll see you when we’re landlocked again!  It was a total blast working with you.  Thanks for always being there for a good laugh and for finding me so many salmon berries!  If you are wondering whether or not you should apply for this program in the 2012 season – this is the advice I will give to you:  JUST APPLY!  It will change your life – promise.

Until our next adventure,

Staci DeSchryver

Did you know…

While I was working my night shift, I got the opportunity to help Dr. Pirtle “log the turns” of the ship as it was “mowing the lawn” in the zigzag pattern.  This meant that I got to communicate with the bridge via radio every time they ended a transect and began turning in the opposite direction.  I’m sure you may have predicted that this was most certainly a highlight of my work.  It took great restraint on my part to behave myself with the radio, as everyone knows that radios can be a lot of fun.  I did, however, let a few nautical words fly on the airwaves up to the bridge, one of them being “Roger, Willco.”

I had no clue where the origin of the word “Roger” came from.  But now I do…

Roger, which starts with the letter R, means “Received”, which means, “I received your last transmission.”  A long time ago, the radio alphabet (you know, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Foxtrot, Whiskey, etc.) used Roger to represent the letter R.  It has since been changed to “Romeo.”  Adding Willco to the end, means “I received your transmission, and I WILL COmply.”   So saying that I received a message from the bridge and I was going to comply with it really made me look like a navigational moron – because they weren’t asking me to comply with anything.  But I still had fun.

Caroline Singler, August 7-9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean 41 miles north of Alaska
Date: 9 August 2010

Seeing the Bottom — 7 August 2010

It’s taken me several days to write and post this entry. I wanted to learn more about the sonar technology that we are using for the bathymetric mapping, then we lost internet early on the morning of 8 August 2010 while heading north in the Beaufort Sea. This happened at about the same time as we started encountering heavy ice, but I do not believe that the two events were related. I am including location and weather data for several days to give you a sense of where we were and where we are heading as well as the physical changes in our environment.Thankfully, email works even when internet does not – it took my non-IT oriented mind a while to wrap itself around that concept. While I am out of range, my dear sister Rosemary has agreed to post for me as long as I can get emails to her. (Thanks, Ro!) You already have her to thank for the polar bear post. Please keep emailing and/or posting comments. I look forward to reading comments when I come home.
Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 7 August 2010 Time of Day: 1400 (2:00 p.m.) local time; 22:00 UTC
Latitude: 70º47.6’N Longitude: 142º42.3’W
Ship Speed: 15.1 knots Heading: 111º (southeast)
Air Temperature: 5.1ºC /41.6ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1005.3 millibars
Humidity: 87 .9%
Winds: 27.7 Knots NE
Sea Temperature: 2.3ºC
Salinity: 20.22 PSU (practical salinity units)
Water Depth:1270 .8 mDate: 8 August 2010
Time of Day: 1245 (12:45 local time); 20:45 UTC
Latitude: 72º12.72’N
Longitude: 138º28.7’W
Ship Speed: 7.7 knots
Heading: 36.2º (NE)
Air Temperature: 0.5ºC /32.9ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1012.7 millibars Humidity: 86.3%
Winds: 19.3 Knots NE
Wind Chill: -7.48ºC/18.53ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.2ºC Salinity: 25.5 PSU
Water Depth:2547.8 mDate: 9 August 2010
Time of Day: 1530 (3:30 local time); 22:30 UTC
Latitude: 72º 29.8’N
Longitude: 139º 40.9’W
Ship Speed: 6.3 knots
Heading: 183.5º (SSW)
Air Temperature: -0.03ºC /31.94ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1009.7 millibars Humidity: 92.2%
Winds: 17.7 Knots NE
Wind Chill: -6.02ºC /21.17ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.2ºC Salinity: 25.08 PSU
Water Depth:2969.0 mScience and Technology Log
The primary objectives of the science mission are to map the seafloor and image the underlying sediments. Bathymetry is the measurement of depth of water bodies, derived from the Greek bathos meaning deep and metria meaning measure. Early bathymetric surveys used the “lead-lining” method, in which depths are manually recorded using a weighted line. This method is slow and labor intensive, and it is not practical for depths greater than about 100 feet. (Ironically, I spent the summer of 2009 doing just such a survey of a small lake on Long Island, NY working with two other teachers as DOE-ACTSinterns at Brookhaven National Laboratory.) Modern bathymetric surveys use echo sounding, or SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) to determine depth and shape of the seafloor. These systems make it possible to map large areas in extreme detail, leading NOAA to name the 20th Century advancements in hydrographic surveying techniques to its list of Top Ten Breakthroughs during the agency’s first 200 years.SONAR uses sound signals to locate objects beneath the sea surface. Passive systems use receivers such as hydrophones to detect signals transmitted by other sources, such as animals or submarines. Active systems transmit and receive signals. A transmitter mounted on the ship’s hull emits a signal. The signal travels through the water column and bounces off an object in its path. It returns as an echo to a transmitter on the ship that measures the strength of the return signal. The time between transmission and reception is used to determine range, where range equals (speed of sound in seawater) times (travel time divided by 2). When the object that reflects the signal is the seafloor, the range is the water depth.

There are single beam and multibeam sonar systems. Single beam systems measure along a single line beneath the ship and produce a line of depths. Multibeam systems send signals out along a line perpendicular to the ship and generate a “swath” of data for the area beneath the ship. The advantage of this system is that it creates a map that shows depth and shape of the seafloor. The diagram below shows a schematic comparison of three bottom survey methods.

Chart of three survey methods
Chart of three survey methods

Me on watch
Me on watch

Healy is equipped with a hull-mounted multibeam sonar system. It runs continuously whenever Healy is at sea, collecting bathymetric data to add to our knowledge of the seafloor at high latitudes. I serve as one of the watch standers in the geophysics lab each night from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. We keep an eye on several computer monitors that display the data from the different geophysics tools and others that display water quality and geographic position data. The photo on the right shows me with my watch partner, USGS scientist Peter Triezenberg sitting at the watch station.
There are many variables that can influence the quality of the multibeam data. The speed of sound in water is influenced by many different variables, including temperature and salinity. Therefore, seawater samples are collected from the ship’s seawater intake system to generate a thermosalinograph (TSG) profile to keep the speed of sound accurately calibrated. Additionally, expendable probes (XBTs) are launched twice a day to update the sound speed profiles. Other instruments monitor the attitude (pitch, roll and heave) of the ship and feed that data to the multibeam system. Finally, the ship keeps extremely precise track of time of day and geographical position so that the data can be used for accurate bathymetric mapping of the seafloor. My job as a watch stander is basically to be sure that everything is running properly, and to notify one of the specialists if something is not right.
Multibeam monitors:

Multibeam Monitors
Multibeam Monitors

TSG display:

The end result is a detailed map of the seafloor in which different colors represent different depths. The picture below shows an image of the raw multibeam data superimposed on a seafloor map which we can see on the ship’s Map Server display. The red line shows the ship’s track, and the new multibeam data extends perpendicular to that line. Other data on the map are from transects mapped on earlier Healy cruises and other sources.

Map Server Display
Map Server Display

Personal Log

Breaking ice
Breaking ice

We experienced a range of sea and ice conditions over the last several days as we traveled east of Barrow Alaska and headed north into the Beaufort Sea. Our earliest ice encounters were a gentle preview of what was to come – mostly bumps and scrapes with small pieces as we headed eastward parallel to the Alaska coastline. By midday on Saturday, we began to cross larger floes, and at times the ship was really rocking. One science team member said it feels like riding the subway, that’s a pretty good analogy. Sitting in the Mess on the main deck of the ship – which is about one floor above water line – I hear the grinding of ice on steel and it feels like I’m sitting in a big tin can that’s being crushed in a trash compactor. Fortunately, the ship is tougher than the ice. At times we move so much that everything in the room shakes. Because we are on a ship, everything is bolted down, but I still look up to be sure there is no danger of anything falling on my head. Some team members from California say the sensation reminds them of an earthquake.

Late Saturday morning, we crossed out of ice and back into open water. As we approached the last pieces of ice before open water, I saw waves hitting the distant edges of the ice; it looked like waves breaking on the shore. At first, I did not grasp the significance of this observation – I thought it was pretty and snapped some pictures and marveled at how we could be in thick ice and then suddenly in open water.

Waves on ice
Waves on ice

In the next hour, I realized that these were the largest waves we had encountered so far on the trip, and while they looked pretty, they also made the ship roll considerably more than it had before. Over the next few hours, I began to sense the movement more than I had in a few days. By dinner time, I had difficulty walking straight across the mess deck, and I was becoming a little apprehensive. I took a motion sickness pill as a preventative measure, and I took a nap because it was far more pleasant to lie in my rack and be rocked by the ship’s motion than to try to remain vertical. We eventually moved into calmer waters, and soon after that, we were back in heavy ice, which I somehow do not find as unpleasant as the waves. Since then, our movement has been slow and steady along our transects through the ice, with an emphasis on slow.

We don’t get much darkness up here in the Arctic, but we do occasionally get treated to some great sunrises and sunsets, if one is awake to catch them. Here are some photos of the sunset on Saturday 7 August 2010. The first was taken about an hour before sunset from the port side of the ship. I was as captivated by the horsetail clouds as I was by the color of the sky. The second was taken just at sunset, right before my camera battery died!


Sunset from the port side
Sunset from the port side

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7-13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind: 7-9 mph
Other Weather Features:
Sunny, scattered light clouds
Waves 1’; Swells 3-4’
Location: 28.37.2 N
089.33 W

Science and Technology Log

Hello, my name is Anne Marie Wotkyns and I am participating in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. I teach 4th grade at J.B. Monlux Magnet School in North Hollywood, California. I joined the NOAA ship Pisces on the evening of July 6 to begin a 6 day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. I will be posting logs to share the information I learn and the experience of working aboard a scientific research vessel. We will be working on the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey of Offshore Banks, a project which provides information about the relative abundance of fish species associated with geographic features such as banks and ledges on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be explaining this project more in my next log entry.

Me in front of the Pisces
Me in front of the Pisces

After meeting the other Teacher at Sea, Liz Warren and bird expert Scott Mills, at the Gulfport Mississippi Airport, we were driven to the NOAA docks in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was quite late when we boarded the Pisces, so we found the cabin Liz and I would share, explored the ship a bit, and turned in for the night.

Wednesday, July 7 found us eager to get started on our TAS adventure. We started the day at the NOAA office and lab building, adjacent to the ship docks. There we met Kevin Rademacher, Chief Scientist for the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) offshore reef fish survey which we will be participating in on our cruise. He showed us around the NOAA facilities, which house the Southeast Marine Fisheries Offices, Seafood Inspection, and Documentation Approval and Supply Services. The fisheries division deals with resources surveys, harvesting, and engineering related to commercial fishing. The seafood inspection division deals with issues related to seafood safety and chemical and microbiological analysis of seafood. These labs can help determine if the “red snapper” your favorite restaurant serves is really red snapper or a different type of fish! This division will also be testing some of the fish we collect on our cruise for baseline data on fish from areas outside the oil spill for possible later comparison to fish collected within the spill zone.

Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building
Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building

Now a little more about the Pisces, my home away from home for the next 6 days. The Pisces was commissioned in 2009 and is one of NOAA’s newest ships. She is 63.8 meters (209 feet) long, 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide, and has a draft of 6 meters (19.4 feet.) Her cruising speed is 14.5 knots and she can stay out to sea for 40 days if necessary. On this cruise there are 22 crew comprised of a commanding officer, deck officers, engineering officers, deck hands, engineers, stewards, and survey and electronic technicians. There are 6 on our science team and 2 bird observers conducting surveys of pelagic seabirds possibly affected by the oil spill.

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces

After we set sail on Tuesday afternoon, we spent much of the late afternoon up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship. We observed a wide variety of boats and ships in the channels around Pascagoula Bay. Scott and Ron, the bird observers, helped us identify the bird species we saw, including Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and Sandwich Terns. We also saw several Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin swimming near the ship. Soon the seas grew rougher and after dinner and a short welcome meeting, we retired to our cabins for the night.

Wednesday morning brought calmer seas, and the start of “science “ on board the Pisces. Before we reached the areas selected for the SEAMAP fish surveys, Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher wanted to conduct bathymetric mapping of an area called Sackett Bank, off the coast of Lousiana. This involves sailing the ship in a series of overlapping transects 1.6 miles long, .05 miles apart, similar to “mowing your lawn” at home. The ME70 multibeam acoustic system covers a swath of 120 degrees using 27 beams which can detect and map features on the sea floor down to .5 meters in size. This will allow NOAA to produce highly accurate nautical charts of the region. The charts will eventually be available to commercial and sport fishermen, sailors, shipping companies, and anyone else who is interested.

Mapping Sackett Bank
Mapping Sackett Bank

When a ship is conducting activities like this bathymetric mapping or other “Restricted Mobility and Manuevers” work, they hoist a nylon “Ball-Diamond-Ball” to notify other ships in the area that it is restricted in its movement so the other ships can change their course. This message is also sent electronically by VHF radio signal. I happened to be on the bridge while they prepared to start the first transect, so Commanding Officer (CO) Jeremy Adams let me hoist the ball-diamond-ball.

Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

    Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball
Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

Transect Lines
Transect Lines

In this photo, the green boat indicates the position of the Pisces as we conduct the mapping transects.

Tomorrow the plans are to begin the SEAMAP reef fish surveys, “one hour after sunrise” – looks like we’ll be working from about 7 am to 7 pm with the fish! Bring it on!!

Personal Log

After submitting Teacher at Sea applications for 3 years (the first 2 years I was not selected) I am thrilled to be here! The opportunity to participate in a cruise like this on such an amazing ship is truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Here are a few more pictures of life aboard the Pisces.




Our cabin is a little small, but very clean and functional. Liz volunteered to take the top bunk, so I have the bottom. I love the little curtains that can enclose the bunk – makes a dark little “cave” for me! And the reading lamp lets me read late at night! We have a flatscreen TV, but so far we have only been able to watch the USA network – one channel only. But we don’t spend much time in the cabin anyway. The bathroom is very similar to a cruise ship bathroom, and the shower has great water pressure – however the ship is under water conservation so showers need to be quick. Notice we’re eating on paper plates with plastic utensils. No dishwashing either! After the ship moves farther from the oil spill they will able to use their salt water to fresh water conversion process and we’ll be able to use water more freely.

Pascy chooses his dinner in the “mess” – sorry – no fish!

In Pascagoula I purchased a small stuffed penguin and named him “Pascy” (for Pasacagoula.) Pascy has been exploring the Pisces so here are some shots of him around the ship!

Pascy helps check off each transect in the acoustics lab.

A little coffee is always good in the morning.

The cookies here are great!

Another big event today was the fire drill and abandon ship drill. We were assigned “muster stations”, places we would go to in event of an emergency. Part of the drill was to practice donning our “survival suits” – one piece insulated buoyant suits that would keep us afloat and warm if we ever had to abandon ship. The hardest part of the drill was getting the awkward suit on and off – they seem to be one-size-fits all and I seem to be smaller than most sailors!

Even Pascy got to participate in the drill! I don’t think he need to worry about staying afloat or warm in the water! Good thing, because that lifejacket looks a little big!

Immersion suit
Immersion suit

Me in my Gumby Suit
Me in my Gumby Suit

Christine Hedge, September 5, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 5, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 770 13’N
Longitude: 1370 41’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.
The two icebreakers are tying up side-by-side so that we can visit each other.

More Ways to Use Sound to See Beneath the Sea Floor 

Today we “rafted” with the Louis (the ships tied together side by side). I have been eager to see the science instruments that the Canadian ship is carrying. Once the ships were securely tied together we could just walk back and forth between them and tour the Canadian vessel.

The Healy has been breaking ice so that the Louis can have an easier time collecting data using seismic reflection profiling.  The goal is for the Canadian scientists to determine how deep the sediments are in this part of the Arctic Basin.  The sound waves their instrument sends out can penetrate about 1500 meters below the seafloor. Using sound they can “see” inside the earth – amazing!

FOR MY STUDENTS:  Remember your Latin/Greek word parts?  Look up “seism”. 

Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)
Seismic sled being hauled out of the water on the Louis. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Roth)

Here is how it works. The Louis steams forward at a low speed following in the path that the Healy has created through the ice. The Louis tows behind a weighted sled with 3 airguns suspended from the bottom.  This sinks about 10 meters below the water. Attached to the sled is a long tube filled with hydrophones (underwater microphones) called a streamer.  This streamer is about 400 meters long and stretches out behind the ship. It is best for the ship to move continuously so that the streamer will not sink or float to the surface.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Try to picture a 400-meter long “tail” on a ship. That is longer than 4 football fields. 

The airguns create a huge air bubble in the water.  When it collapses, it creates a sound pulse.  Two of the guns use a low frequency, which will penetrate deep into the sea floor but will create a low-resolution image.  The other gun uses a high frequency, which does not penetrate as deep but gives a high-resolution image.  The 16 sound recorders in the streamer record the echo created by these sounds reflecting from the sediment layers below the sea floor. The final product this instrument creates is an image of a cross section through the Earth. Scientists can look at these by observing this geologic history, the scientists are looking back in time. You can imagine that ice can cause lots of problems when a ship is towing a 400-meter long streamer behind it.  This is why we are working on collecting this data together.  One ship breaks, the other collects the seismic reflection data.

Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.
Steamer on deck of Louis. The blue steamer is out of the water and lying on deck when we visit the Louis.

Personal Log 

The crew has been looking forward to the two ships tying up together for the entire cruise.  Everyone is curious about the other ship. What are the staterooms like?  What is the food like? How is their bridge different from our bridge? And of course there is shopping!! Both of the ship stores had their best Louis and Healy gear ready for the eager shoppers.

After learning about the science instruments aboard the Louis, it was nice to finally see the seismic sled, streamers, and the computer nerve center where the seismic images are received. The ships are pretty different in their appearance.  The Louis is an older vessel and has wooden handrails, panels cover the wires in the ceiling, and there are some larger windows with actual curtains.  The Healy was built to be a science research icebreaker and so has many large spaces for science and looks generally more industrial. The Louis was an icebreaker first and some of their science spaces have been added later and are less spacious.

The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy Pat Kelley USCG)
The bubble created by the airguns on the Louis. (Photo Courtesy
Pat Kelley USCG)

Shopping and tours were fun but the most anticipated events of the day were the evening meal, contests and games.  The ship’s officers exchanged gifts in a formal presentation and then we had an amazing buffet together.  Personnel from both ships enjoyed scallops, halibut, salmon, shrimp, lobster, pork, beef, cheese, salads, and desserts. This was an exceptional meal and a great social event.  The idea of having Teachers at Sea (TAS) was a new one for most Canadians I spoke with and as we talked they seemed to think this TAS would be a great idea to stimulate interest in young Canadians about maritime careers.  The evening concluded with some friendly competitions between the crews and the science parties.  This entire event was a lot of work for the Coast Guard crews.  The science party really appreciates all the hours they put into planning this event!

Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.
Behind the wheel on the bridge of the Louis S. St. Laurent.

Christine Hedge, September 4, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 4, 2009

Sometimes kittiwakes follow the ship.  I caught this one as it passed by the Healy.
Sometimes kittiwakes follow the ship. I caught this one as it passed by the Healy.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Latitude: 780 12’N
Longitude: 1360 33’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Part of NOAA’s mission is to conserve and manage marine resources. To this end, the Healy has a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) on board. Our MMO is Justin Pudenz. He collects data on any interactions we might have with marine mammals during our voyage.  Both the Louis and the Healy have observers on board.

Using a field guide to identify the Yellow Wagtail
Using a field guide to identify the Yellow Wagtail

Justin spends his time on the bridge of the Healy, binoculars in hand, notebook near by, always on the lookout for life on the ice or in the air. He lives in southern Minnesota when he is not on a ship. Justin tries to spend 6 months at sea and 6 months at home. He has been a fisheries or marine mammal observer since 2001. The company he works for is MRAG Americas.  NOAA hires observers from this company when they are needed. While on board the Healy, Justin spends hours each day watching for marine mammals and recording his observations.  The data he collects goes back to NOAA.

Justin has traveled to many bodies of water as an observer including the Pacific near Hawaii and the Bering Sea for fisheries observation.  His next mission will be on a crabbing vessel in mid-October. If you can picture the television show “DEADLIEST CATCH” – that is the type of vessel he will sail on. On a fisheries trip Justin will collect data on the species of fish caught, their sex, weight, length and other information NOAA needs, to understand the health of ocean ecosystems.  Justin grew up enjoying the outdoors and always knew a desk job was not for him.  He has a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science and has been lucky enough to find a job that gets him outdoors and is ever changing. 

A yellow wagtail has been seen from the ship in the past few days.  I wonder what this bird is doing so far out to sea - ideas?
A yellow wagtail has been seen from the ship in the past few days. I wonder what this bird is doing so far out to sea – ideas?

FOR MY STUDENTS: How are your observation skills?  Would a job at sea be a good match for you? 

I asked Justin what he has seen from the Healy. Our “trip list” follows. The farther away from land we get, the fewer species of birds we see. Most of these bird species were spotted before we hit the heavy ice.

The Marine Mammal Observer has seen these birds since we departed Barrow, AK: Pacific loon, Northern fulmar, red phalarope, long-tailed jaeger, Ross’ gull, Arctic tern, spectacled eider, pelagic cormorant, parasitic jaeger, glaucous gull, black-legged kittiwake, yellow wagtail.

The Marine Mammal Observer has seen these mammals since we departed Barrow, AK: bearded seal, ringed seal, Arctic fox, polar bear.

Personal Log

Many people have asked about the living spaces inside this ship.  It is an amazing vessel when you think about all that happens here.  The Healy is truly a floating city with 120 people on board.  Any function that your town does – this ship needs to do.  A city needs to clean water, sewage treatment, trash pick up, recycling, electrical power, food, shelter, and recreation.  All of these are provided for on the Healy. I have attached a few pictures of life on the Healy below.

Our bunk beds have curtains to keep out the 24-We each have our own desk and filing cabinet and hour sun. Note the stuffed polar bear. This was most important a porthole window! Notice the color a gift from Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Taylor. outside – we are getting a few hours of twilight in the early morning hours.
Our bunk beds have curtains to keep out the 24-We each have our own desk and filing cabinet and hour sun. Note the stuffed polar bear. This was most important a porthole window! Notice the color a gift from Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Taylor. outside – we are getting a few hours of twilight in the early morning hours.

This is the place where the science party relaxes,  plays cards, and watches movies.
This is the place where the science party relaxes, plays cards, and watches movies.

We each have our own desk and filing cabinet and most important a porthole window! Notice the color outside – we are getting a few hours of twilight in the early morning hours.
We each have our own desk and filing cabinet and most important a porthole window! Notice the color outside – we are getting a few hours of twilight in the early morning hours.

 The main library has computers for the crew to email friends and family and plenty of reading material.
The main library has computers for the crew to email friends and family and plenty of reading material.

Christine Hedge, September 3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 3, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Latitude: 780 34’N
Longitude: 1360 59’W
Temperature: 290F

Science and Technology Log 

Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.
Ethan Roth shows me the inner workings of a sonobuoy.

Low-Impact Exploring 

Some of my previous logs have talked about sound in the Arctic Ocean.  Sounds made by seals, whales, ice cracking and ridges forming, bubbles popping, wind, waves – these are the normal or ambient noises that have always occurred. As governments, scientists, and corporations explore the Arctic their presence will have an impact. Ships breaking ice and the seismic instruments they use to explore, add noise to the environment.  We call this man-made noise, anthropogenic noise.  Will these additional sounds impact the organisms that live here? Can we explore in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment?  The marine wildlife of the Arctic has evolved in an ocean covered by ice. But the ice is changing and the human presence is increasing.

Studies of other oceans have shown that more ship traffic means more background noise. In most regions of the Pacific Ocean the background noise has increased 3 decibels every 10 years since the 1960’s. The scientists on the Healy and the Louis are interested in minimizing their impact as they explore the Arctic Ocean.

Do No Harm – Step 1 Collect Data 

I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.
I am tossing the sonobuoy off the fantail of the Healy.

One of the ways we are listening to the noise that our own instruments make is with sonobuoys. These are devices that help us listen to how sound propagates through the ocean.  While the Louis is using airguns to collect seismic data – scientists on the Healy are throwing sonobuoys into the ocean to listen to the sound waves created by the airguns. Knowing how the sound waves from airguns travel through the water will help us to understand their impact on the environment. Sonobuoys are self-contained floating units. They consist of a salt-water battery that activates when it hits the water, a bag that inflates with CO2 on impact, a 400-foot cable with an amplifier and hydrophone (underwater microphone).

The data acquired through the sonobuoy are relayed to the ship via radio link. A receiving antenna had to be placed high up on the Louis in order to collect this data. Like many of the devices we are using to collect information, the sonobuoys are single use instruments and we do not pick them up after their batteries run out. After 8 hours of data collection, the float bag burns and the instrument sinks to the bottom. They are known as self-scuttling (self-destructing) instruments. The more we know about the sounds we make and how these sounds are interacting with the animals that call the Arctic home, the better we will be at low impact exploring.

Personal Log 

The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.
The float inflates as the sonobuoy floats away.

I’ve had lots of questions from students about the weather. For most of our trip, the air temperature has been around 270F and the visibility has been poor. A log fog has prevented us from seeing the horizon. We have also had quite a few days with snow and freezing rain.  Some of our snow flurries have coated the decks with enough snow to make a few snowballs and prompted the crew to get out the salt to melt the slippery spots. 

This past week we had some seriously cold days.  On September 1st, the air temperature was 160F with a wind chill of -250F. These cold days brought blue skies, sparkling snow, and beautiful crystals forming on the handrails, ropes and many other surfaces on the deck.

Ice crystals on a valve
Ice crystals on a valve

FOR MY STUDENTS: Why do you think it is foggier on warmer days? 

As we travel south we are starting to get some sunsets and sunrises.  There are a few hours of twilight between the times that the sun dips below the horizon – but no true night sky.  One of the things I miss the most is seeing stars.  I look forward to seeing the Indiana night sky in a few weeks. But until then, the gorgeous sun over the Arctic will have to do.

As the seasons change and we travel south, the sun gets lower in the sky

Arctic snowball
Arctic snowball

Christine Hedge, September 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: September 1, 2009

The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)
The path of the Healy through the ice with the Louis S. St. Laurent from Canada following (See it way in the distance?)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 800 26’N
Longitude: 1370 16’W
Temperature: 20

Science and Technology Log 

Why Are Two Icebreakers Traveling Together? 

All of the countries that have a coastline on the Arctic Ocean are trying to collect data to determine where their extended continental shelf (ECS) ends. One of the types of data needed is called seismic data.  Collecting this information involves towing a long (a kilometer or more) streamer behind the ship. It is difficult to do this well in ice-covered water.  So, the Canadians and the Americans are collecting data together. One icebreaker leads and breaks a path for the second following with the seismic streamer being towed behind.  For most of our trip together, the Healy has broken ice for the Louis S. St. Laurent. We are both collecting data – just different types with different instruments.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you name all the countries that have coastlines on the Arctic Ocean? Of which country is Greenland part? 

Why Do We Care Where Our Extended Continental Shelf Is? 

Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy
Close-up of the Louis S. St. Laurent collecting data behind the Healy

The oceans and ocean floors are rich with natural resources.  Some countries obtain much of their wealth from mining the oceans, drilling for oil or gas in the oceans, or from fish or shellfish obtained from the oceans.  Currently, a nation has the right to explore for and harvest all resources in the water and everything on or below the seafloor for 200 nautical miles beyond its shoreline. One nation can allow other nations to use its waters or charge oil companies for the right to drill in its seafloor and thus make money. But what if we could use resources beyond that 200-mile limit? That would add to a country’s wealth. If a country can show with scientific data that the continental shelf extends beyond those 200 miles they can extend their rights over:


1) The non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil (minerals, oil, gas)

2) The living resources that are attached to the seabed (clams, corals, scallops ) An extended continental shelf means a nation has rights to more natural resources.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at a map of the oceans. Can you find the continental shelf marked on the Atlantic coast of the United States? What types of resources can you think of that we get from the ocean and the seafloor? 

Where Exactly Is the Healy Going? 

The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.
The red line shows where the Healy has been. The yellow waypoints show where we might be after September 1, 2009.

Our trail looks random to the untrained eye but it does have a purpose.  We have been helping the Louis get good measurements of the thickness of the sediments on the seafloor.  You see there are certain features of the seafloor that help a nation identify its ECS.  One is related to depth. Another is related to the thickness of the underlying sediments.  Another is related to the place where the continental slope ends (the foot of the slope).  We have been following a path that takes us to the 2500-meter contour (where the ocean is 2500 meters deep) and following a path to measure the thickness of the sediment in the Canada Basin.  I was surprised to think that there was thick sediment on the seafloor in this area.  But, the Arctic is a unique ocean because continents surround it. It is more like a bowl surrounded by land.  As rivers have flowed into the Arctic over millions of years – layers and layers of sediment have covered the Canadian Basin.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Look at your maps again.  Find rivers, bays, fjords, that flow into the Arctic Ocean.  For More Information About The Extended Continental Shelf

Personal Log 

Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.
Erin Clark, Canadian Ice Services Specialist has been working with us on the Healy.

The U.S and Canada have been sharing personnel as well as sharing a science mission.  Coast Guard personnel and science party personnel have been traveling between the two ships via helicopter to share their expertise.  As the Canadian visitors come through our science lab and eat meals with us – we have had plenty of time to discuss science and everyday life. There has also been a longer-term exchange of personnel.  A scientist from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been sailing on the Louis since they left Kugluktuk, Northwest Territories. Dr. Deborah Hutchinson is on the Louis to provide USGS input to scientific decisions made during the cruise.

My roommate, Erin Clark, is a Canadian Ice Services Specialist.  Erin hails from Toronto, Ontario and is staying on the Healy to exchange expertise with the American ice analysts.  It has been interesting getting to know Erin and hearing the story of her career path.  She was one of those kids in school who just couldn’t sit still in a structured classroom environment.  Erin is a visual learner – and often had a hard time proving to her professors that she understood the material as she worked on her degree in Geography.  Where other students used multi-step equations, Erin used diagrams and often didn’t “show her work”.  NOTE TO STUDENTS: Do you know how you learn best?  What is your learning style?

Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis
Matthew Vaughan a Canadian geology student from Dalhousie University shows us pictures of the seismic gear on the Louis

Erin was lucky enough to have instructors that worked with her and now she is one of about 20 Marine Services Field Ice Observers in Canada. Luckily, she has found a career that offers lots of opportunities to move around. Some of her time is spent analyzing satellite photos of ice on a computer screen, some ice observing from a ship, and some ice observing on helicopter reconnaissance trips.  She communicates what she observes about ice conditions to ships; helping them to navigate safely in ice-covered waters.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What kind of skills do you think an Ice Specialist would need to succeed in their career? 

Christine Hedge, August 29, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 29, 2009

Science Party Profile – George Neakok 

George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.
George Neakok (left) and Justin Pudenz watch for marine mammals from the bridge of the Healy.

George Neakok is on board the Healy as our Community Observer from the North Slope Borough. A borough is like a county government.  Except, since Alaska is so huge, the North Slope Borough is roughly the size of the state of Minnesota.  George acts as the eyes of the Inupiat (native people of the North Slope) community while on board the Healy. The Inupiat people are subsistence hunters. They live off the animals and plants of the Arctic and have a real stake in how other people are using the same lands and waters they depend on for survival. George spends hours on the bridge each day looking for life outside the Healy and noting any encounters the ship has with wildlife in general and marine mammals in particular. He is a resident of Barrow, Alaska (one of the 7 villages in the Borough) and has acted as an observer for 2 years traveling on 5 different expeditions. George says he was selected for the Community Observer job because he is a good hunter and has good eyes.  He is too humble.  His life experience has endowed him with fascinating knowledge about the ice, animals, and the Arctic world in general.  George can see a polar bear a kilometer away and know how old it is, how healthy, and what sex.

I asked George to share a little about his life and the kinds of changes he has observed in the Arctic. He has always lived in Barrow except for 2 years when he went away to Kenai Peninsula College to study Petroleum Technology. His dad died while he was away and so he returned home to help his mother.  He has worked in the natural gas fields near Barrow and expects to work in the new field southwest of Barrow in the future.  George has 7 children ranging in age from 20 years to 9 months.  His youngest daughter is adopted, which he says is very common in his culture. There are no orphans.  If a child needs a home, another family will take that child in.  Although his children are being raised in a world with cell phones and snowmobiles – they are still learning to live the way their ancestors have always lived.

Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.
Erosion on the coast of Barrow, Alaska is an ever increasing problem.

George and his community are a part of  both an ancient and a modern world.  With each season comes another type of food to hunt or collect. The Neakok family hunts caribou, bowhead whale, seals, walrus, beluga, and geese each in its’ own season.  They fish in fresh water and in the Chukchi Sea. They collect berries, roots, greens and eggs, storing them in seal oil to preserve them until they are needed.  Food is stored in ice cellars.  These are underground rooms that can keep food frozen all year round. The animals that are hunted are used for more than just food.  The Inupiat make boats from seal or walrus skin.  In Inupiat culture, the blubber, oil, tusks, baleen and meat are all useful in some way.  If one community has a very successful hunt, they share with their neighbors.  If a community has a bad hunt, they know that other villages will help them out.  Villages come together to meet, celebrate, trade and share what they have caught.  George says this is just the way it is.  People take care of their neighbors.

FOR MY STUDENTS: What can we learn from the people of the North Slope about community? 

A polar bear, spotted by George, travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight.  (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley USCG)
A polar bear travels over thin ice by spreading out his body weight. (Photo courtesy of Pat Kelley)

George has witnessed much change in his life.  He notes that the seasons are coming earlier and staying later. The shore ice used to start forming in late August but lately it has been forming in late September or early October. When there is less ice close to land, there are fewer animals to hunt.  Whaling off the ice is getting more and more dangerous. The ice is more “rotten” and camping on the ice during the hunt can be treacherous. In recent years, more and more hunters have lost their equipment when the ice gave way.

Erosion of the coastline is another recent problem.  Without ice to protect the shoreline the wave action eats away at the permafrost causing coastlines to collapse.  George has seen a coastal hillside where he used to sled – crumble into the ocean. Entire villages have been moved farther inland as the coastal erosion eats away at the land. George is hopeful that although the Arctic is changing fast, the Inupiat people and culture will handle these changes and continue to live and thrive on the North Slope of Alaska.    

Christine Hedge, August 26, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 26, 2009

Science and Technology Log 

This is what we see in the Science Lab of the Healy before the data is processed.  It is like a cross-section through the top 50-100 meters of the sea floor.  Here you can see it was flat and then climbed uphill.  The numbers represent round trip travel time in seconds.
This is what we see in the Science Lab of the Healy before the data is processed. It is like a cross-section through the top 50-100 meters of the sea floor. Here you can see it was flat and then climbed uphill. The numbers represent round trip travel time in seconds.

Is There a Bird in My Room? 

When I first got on the Healy, I thought there was a bird in my room.  Then I realized the chirp that I kept hearing every 9 seconds or so was not just in my room.  It got louder as I went down the ladders to the deepest part of the ship near the laundry. I found out that this chirp is the sound transmitted by the subbottom profiling system.  This instrument is being used on the Healy to collect data about the depth of the water and the nature of the sea floor. These subbottom profiler transducers are mounted on the hull of the ship. The “chirp” sound reflects (echos) off the bottom of the ocean and also reveals the sediment layers below the bottom.  This is one of the systems I watch on a computer screen when I am working.

Using Sound as a Tool to See Inside the Earth 

Sound is an amazing tool in the hands of a geophysicist, who is a person who studies the physics of the earth. The subbottom profiler uses a low frequency sound. Low frequency will penetrate further into the earth than the higher frequencies used by echosounders. This helps scientists to “see” about 50 meters below the surface, depending on the type of sediment (clay, sand, etc).  By looking at how the sound waves are reflected back to the ship, scientists can see layering of sediments, infer sediment type (REMEMBER SAND, SILT, CLAY???), and sometimes see evidence of channels under the sea floor.

The subbottom profiler data is processed and an image is generated for scientists to analyze.  This is an image from the 2005 Healy trip to the Arctic.  You can see the types of features the sound waves can “see” for us.
The subbottom profiler data is processed and an image is generated for scientists to analyze. This is an image from the 2005 Healy trip to the Arctic. You can see the types of features the sound waves can “see” for us.


These pictures appear on many doors of the Healy
These pictures appear on many doors of the Healy

Why Is This Important? 

Geologically speaking, the Arctic Basin is poorly understood. We are not sure how some of the major features formed or even where the plate boundaries are.  When you look at maps of the tectonic plates, you might notice that they are not clearly marked in the Arctic. Understanding how the sea floor is shaped and what lies beneath will give us clues to understand the history of the Arctic Basin. From a practical standpoint, geology can tell us where important natural resources might occur. When companies are searching for natural gas or petroleum, they are using clues from the geology of the sea floor to decide where to look.

Personal Log 

More About Sound – From A Personal Perspective 

Lieutenant Commander Doug Petrusa wearing protective headset
Lieutenant Commander Doug Petrusa wearing protective headset

As far as I can tell there is no place on a ship where it is completely silent.  There are fans, air compressors, engines, doors opening and closing and of course on this ship ice breaking and chirping.  There are some places on the ship where we are warned to use ear protection because the machine noise could, over long periods, cause hearing loss.  Many doors on the ship have pictures reminding us to wear ear protection in certain areas to protect our hearing.   The crew spends time working in areas with high intensity noise – so they are often seen wearing protective headsets.

In addition, all over the ship, there are boxes of earplugs. These are available for people to use whenever they need them.  My first week, I slept with earplugs every night.  The constant chirping, the sound of the engines and the doors opening and closing were more than I could handle. I thought I would need to use earplugs for the entire journey. Now, I am sleeping like a baby even with the additional sound of us plowing through ice. I guess the human body can get used to just about anything.

Earplugs are found near every doorway that leads into an area with dangerous noise levels.
Earplugs are found near every doorway that leads into an area with dangerous noise levels.

Christine Hedge, August 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 25, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 30.150F
Latitude: 81.310 N
Longitude: 134.280W

Science and Technology Log 

This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.
This multibeam image of the new seamount is what I saw in the Science Lab.

A Day of Discovery… 

Today, our planned route took us near an unmapped feature on the sea floor.  A 2002 Russian contour map showed a single contour (a bump in the middle of a flat plain) at 3600 meters.  This single contour line also appeared on the IBCAO (International Bathymetric Chart of the Arctic Ocean) map.  We were so close that we decided to take a slight detour and see if there really was a bump on this flat, featureless stretch of sea floor. 

The contour was labeled 3600 meters and the sea floor in the area averaged about 3800 meters so a 200 meter bump was what the map suggested.  As the Healy traveled over the area we found much more than a bump!  The feature slowly unfolded before our eyes on the computer screen.  It got taller and taller and excitement grew as people realized this might be over 1000 meters tall.  If a feature is 1000 meters or more, it is considered a seamount (underwater mountain) and can be named.  Finally, the picture was complete, the data was processed, and a new seamount was discovered. The height is approximately 1,100 meters and the location is 81.31.57N and 134.28.80W.

The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.
The colors on this 3-D image of the newly discovered seamount indicate depth.

Why Isn’t the Arctic Mapped? 

Some areas of the sea floor have been mapped and charted over and over again with each improvement in our bathymetric technology.  Areas with lots of ship traffic such as San Francisco Bay or Chesapeake Bay need to have excellent bathymetric charts, which show depth of the water, and any features on the sea floor that might cause damage to a ship.  But in the Arctic Ocean, there isn’t much ship traffic and it is a difficult place to collect bathymetric data because of all the ice. Therefore, in some areas the maps are based on very sparse soundings from lots of different sources. Remember, older maps are often based on data that was collected before multibeam  echosounders and GPS navigation – new technology means more precise data!  

Personal Log 

This is the IBCAO.  (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean)  It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.
This is the IBCAO. (International Bathymetric chart of the Arctic Ocean) It is a great resource for ships exploring the Arctic Basin.

It is still very foggy. We are about 625 miles north of Alaska and plowing through ice that is 1-2 meters thick.  This time of year it is the melt season.  Increased evaporation means more water in the atmosphere and more fog.  Even though we are usually in water that is 90% covered by ice (REMEMBER 9/10 ice cover?) we rarely have to back and ram to get through.  It is noisier lately and the chunks of ice that pop up beside the ship are more interesting to look at.  There are blue stripes, brown patches of algae and usually a thin layer of snow on top.

I cannot send a current sound file because of our limited bandwidth on the Healy. When we are this far north it is difficult to get Internet access. But, if you would like to hear what it sounds like when the Healy is breaking ice, click on this link  from a past trip through Arctic sea ice.

Sea Ice at 810N after the Healy has broken through
Sea Ice after the Healy has broken through

Christine Hedge, August 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Beaufort Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Lat: 80.570 N
Long: 151.320 W
Air Temp: 29.210 F

Science and Technology Log 

The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.
The science computer lab is where the data is observed. Processors clean the data of all the extraneous noise and spikes. Not every beam is returned and some take a bad bounce off a fish, chunk of ice or a bubble.

The Healy is collecting bathymetric data on this trip.  Bathymetric data will tell us how deep the ocean is and what the terrain of the ocean floor is like.  Less than 6% of the floor of the Arctic Ocean has been mapped.  So, this data will help us to learn about some places for the very first time.  The word bathymetry comes from the Greek – bathy= deep and metry = to measure.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: If you learn Latin/Greek word parts you can understand almost any word! 

How Do We Collect This Data? 

There are two main devices the Healy is using to measure the depth to the seafloor.  One is called the multibeam echosounder. It sends a beam of sound, which reflects off the bottom and sends back up to 121 beams to a receiver. By measuring the time it takes for the sound to return the multibeam can accurately map the surface of the sea floor.  This allows the multibeam to “see” a wide swath of seafloor – kilometers wide.  The other device is bouncing a single beam off the bottom and “seeing” a profile of that spot. This one is called a single beam echosounder or sub-bottom profiler. The single beam actually penetrates the sea floor to show a cross-section of the layers of sediment. Both are mounted on the hull of the ship and send their data and images to computers in the science lab.

What Does Mrs. Hedge Do? 

This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data.  Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen.  Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m).  You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.
This screen shows the multibeam bathymetry data. Depth is measured over a swath about 8 kilometers wide on this particular screen. Purple is the deepest (3850 m) and orange is the most shallow (3000 m). You can see that for most of this trip we were on flat abyssal plain and then we hit a little bump on the sea floor about 450 meters tall.

The science crew takes turns “standing watch”. We have 3 teams; each watches the computers that display the bathymetry data for an 8-hour shift. My watch is from 8 am until 4 pm.  We need to look at how many beams are being received and sometimes make adjustments.  Traveling through heavy ice makes data collection challenging. We also need to “log” or record anything that might impact the data collection such the ship turning, stopping, heavy ice, or a change in speed. When we are going over an interesting feature on the seafloor, our job is engaging. When the seafloor is flat, the 8-hour shift can seem pretty long!

How Did People Do This Before Computers? 

Until the 1930’s, the depth of the ocean was taken by lowering a lead weight on a heavy rope over the side of a boat and measuring how much rope it took until the weight hit the bottom. This was called a lead line.  Then the boat would move and do this again, over and over.

Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.
Another bear was spotted from the Healy. Photo Pat Kelley.

This method was very time consuming because it only measured depth at one point in time.    Between soundings, people would just infer what the depth was.  Using sound to measure depth is a huge improvement compared to soundings with a weighted rope.  For example, in 100 meters of water, with a lead line 10 soundings per hour could be obtained.  With multibeam at the same depth, 1,500,000 soundings can be obtained per hour.  Mapping the ocean floor has become much more accurate and precise.

FOR MY STUDENTS: Can you think of other areas of science where improvements in technology lead to huge improvements and new discoveries? 

Personal Log 

When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.
When a polar bear is spotted, the deck fills with hopeful observers.

Last night, there was an announcement right after I went to bed that polar bears had been spotted.  I threw on some clothes and ran outside.  There was a female and cub 2 kilometers away.  With binoculars, I could see them pretty well.  The adult kept turning around and looking at the cub over her shoulder. I suspect, the cub was being told to hurry up!  When a bear is spotted, the deck of the ship fills up with hopeful observers no matter what time of day it is.

FOR MY STUDENTS: I heard that the old polar bear at the Indianapolis Zoo died recently. Will there still be a polar bear exhibit at the zoo?  What are the plans for the future? 

Rita Larson, August 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Larson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 10 – 27, 2009 

Sunset over Kachemak Bay
Sunset over Kachemak Bay

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Kasitsna Bay, AK
Date: August 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 59° 28.339′N Longitude: 151° 33.214′W
Sea Water Temperature: 10°C (50°F)
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb: 11.1°C (52°F) Wet Bulb: 10.0°C (50°F)
Visibility: 5 miles

Science and Technology Log 

A launch from the Rainier
A launch from the Rainier

I would like to give a very brief explanation of how surveying becomes a nautical chart. When all the surveying launches return to the Rainier, a debriefing meeting takes place in the wardroom. All the hydrographersin-charge or “Hicks” give a short discripition of the successes and complications they had during surveying for the day. At least one night processor attends these debriefing meetings to have a good understanding of what to expect as they process this data. Some of the things the night processors are looking for are:  How many CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) casts were made from each launch? Were there any data problems, such as noisy data or gaps in coverage? Then, the night processors collect the Hypack and Hysweep data from the launches and transfer the surveys to the ship’s computers where they will process it with CARIS. The night processors use the program CARIS to convert the “RAW” information from the launches into processed data. This processed data has correctors such as tide and SVP applied to it. This is completed in the plotting room on board the Rainier. The data is then cleaned and examined for problems.

Polygons regions
Polygons regions

This process produces a smooth image depicting the water depth over the area surveyed for the sheet managers. When this is complete, the sheet manager sets up for the next day’s acquisitions and polygon plans for all of the launches. Then, this information is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Office to further examine the bathymetric data. After that, cartographers use this information to create nautical charts. The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, as well as civilian mariners use nautical charts worldwide. This entire process may takes up to a year to complete.

These are various images of data completed during night processing. (Pictures taken by Nick Mitchell.)
Various images of data completed during night processing. (Pictures by Nick Mitchell.)

Personal Log 

I am so amazed in the way the professionals from NOAA work together and share the responsibilities for the purpose of creating safety for others. By creating these nautical charts, it makes the waters of the world a safer place to be. Everyone on the ship has a meaningful purpose and it is clear to me that they take great pride in what they contribute in the mission of the Rainier. I feel like I belong here after such a short time.

Animals I Saw Today  
A bald eagle in a tree using the large binoculars nicknamed, “big eyes” from the Rainier. I also saw a sea otter.

Nautical chart of the geographical area the Rainier is surveying at this time.
Nautical chart of the area the Rainier is surveying at this time.

Rita Larson, August 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rita Larson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 10 – 27, 2009 

Beautiful Kachemak Bay
Beautiful Kachemak Bay

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise: Kasitsna Bay, AK
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 59° 36. 952′N Longitude: 151° 24. 490′W
Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C (49°F)
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb: 13.3°C (56°F) Wet Bulb: 12.2°C (54°F)
Visibility: 10
Wind: Light

Science and Technology Log