Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 3, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29° 17.5’ N
Longitude: 094° 27.7’ W
Visibility: 10+ NM
Sky Condition: 3/8
Wind: 10 kts
Sea Water: 29.5° C
Air: 31.1° C
Science and Technology Log
In the beginning, it took me a little while to realize that we were passing by some of the same oil platforms and seeing the same ships on the radar screen (above). For example, today the Thomas Jefferson covered many nautical miles within the same 2.5 NM area. This is characteristic of a hydrographic survey. A sheet (area to be surveyed) is split into sections and a plan is devised for the ship to cover (using sonar) the area in a “mow the lawn” approach. In the photo below, you can see the blue lines clustered together. These are the main scheme lines and provide the majority of data. The lines going perpendicular in a loose “zig-zag” to the main scheme lines are called crosslines. While main scheme provides the majority of sonar data, crosslines provide validation. For every 100 nautical miles of main scheme, 4 NM of cross lines (4%) must be completed.
You can also see the main scheme and crossline(s) in the Hypack viewer below. Hypack is a software program controlled from the Plot (Survey) Room and is duplicated on a screen on the Bridge (steering deck). This allows Bridge watch standers to see track lines and the desired line azimuth (direction). In this case the line azimuth is around 314°. Additionally, the bottom portion showing -0.0 means that the ship is precisely on track (no cross-track errors). Typically, during a survey from the main ship, there is room for up to 10 meters of error in either direction and the sonar data coverage will still be complete. Once the course is set, the ship can be driven in autopilot and manually steered when making a turn. The high-tech equipment allows the rudder to correct and maintain the desired course and minimize cross-track error. Still, at least two people are always on the bridge: an officer who makes the steering orders and maintains watch and a helmsman who steers the ship. I was fortunate to be able to make two cross line turns after a ship steering lesson from AB (able seaman) Tom Bascom who has been on ships his whole life.
At night, the ship is put into “night mode” and all lights are switched to red. The windows are covered with a protective tinted sheet and all computer screens switch over. The CO leaves a journal with posted Night Orders. These include important summary points from the day and things to look out for at night It also includes a reminder to complete hourly security rounds since most shipmates are asleep. A “Rules of the Road” section is included which serves as a daily quiz for officers. My favorite part of CO’s Night Orders are the riddles, but they are quite difficult and easy to over think. So far, I have guessed one out of five correctly.
With a lot of my time spent looking at computer screens in survey, I was happy to spend an afternoon outside with the Deck Crew. Their job is highly diverse. Rob Bayliss, boatswain group leader, explained that the crew is responsible for maintaining the deck and ship. This includes an ongoing battle with rust, priming, painting, and refinishing surfaces. Rob wiped his hand along the rail and showed the massive amount of salt crystals collected throughout the day. The crew has a PR event and will give public tours the day we arrive in port, so the ship is in full preparation!
I also spoke with Chief Boatswain, Bernard Pooser. He (along with many crew members) have extensive experience in the navy. Pooser enjoys life on the ship but says, “It’s not for everyone; you have to make it work for you.” He claims that the trick is to find a work and recreation balance while on the ship. He gave me some examples like being sure to take breaks and have fun. Pooser even pulled out a corn hole set that we may use one of these evenings.
+ It’s been fun being on the bridge at night because all of the ships and platforms light up.
+ I was given my own stateroom which was nicely furnished by its usual occupant. She has even installed a hammock chair!
+I hadn’t realized how responsive the ship would be when steering. At 208 feet, I thought it would be a bit more delayed. The maximum turn angle is 35 degrees and we have usually been making turns around between 5-15 degrees.
+We saw two sea turtles and dolphins while taking bottom samples! (See future post.)
Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.
Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, aboard the OREGON II, left his home near the Missouri River in Missouri for a life at sea and has never looked back. Like many young people from the Central United States, he joined the Navy as a way to travel and see the rest of the world. He was stationed on Whidbey Island in Washington State and when he left the Navy he became a commercial fisherman working out of Seattle to fish the in Bering Sea from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Tim left the west coast and the world of commercial fishing to join NOAA and worked for several years on ships out of NOAA Woods Hole Station in Massachusetts. Eventually, through connections he made on the job, he was able to transfer to the Southeastern Fisheries group. He has worked on several ships, but has been on the OREGON II for 12 years. Tim likes his job for the variety and activity it provides, as well as opportunities to apply his mind to ways to make things work better or more smoothly. He attributes much of the good working atmosphere on the ship to the stability of many crew members who have worked together for years. As a long-time civilian mariner with NOAA he appreciates the importance of believing in what you are doing and being committed to being successful.
But, Tim Martin is not so one dimensional that you can know him as just a mariner. Talking with him I learned that he is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes in literature. He devours everything from travel accounts to true adventure, biographies, and historical accounts of exploration and settlement of the world. He has traveled broadly and uses his reading time to continue to learn about the places he has visited. He is a licensed diver and enjoys the underwater world as much as sailing on the surface of the sea. I was fascinated to learn that he has dived to authentic pirate wrecks…quite a change from his underwater beginnings in the dark and brackish Pascagoula River. Tim is a great example of someone who recognizes that his only limits are the ones he sets for himself. That is a great legacy to leave for his family.
Chris Nichols, Lead Fisherman, got into marine work for the adventures. Growing up he read classics like “Captains Courageous” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” His years as a Boy Scout helped empower him with a can-do attitude that kept him from quitting when things got difficult. After a mediocre high school career and his childhood years in West Palm Beach, Florida, hanging around the docks and fishing, his quest for travel and adventure led him first to commercial fishing and then to join the Navy.
After six years in the service, including training in water rescue, Chris left the Navy and started classes for work in the merchant marine industry. As he worked toward earning his 100 ton master rating he discovered that using math, which had seemed unimportant and boring in high school, was critical for navigation. Applying the things he was studying to real world problems made learning important. The life-style structure of his military years helped him move fairly seamlessly into the shift work that became his routine aboard merchant ships. The travel fed his sense of exploration and adventure.
Now, after 20 years working either on NOAA ships or for companies that contracted with NOAA, Chris still loves his job and his life style. His experience in the merchant marine gave him the background to understand working on ships from the viewpoint of the wheel house and the deck. He patiently explained to me that the job titles of people working on the deck crew are just positions for which eligible Able Bodied Seamen were hired. They are not classification by skill or experience; they are job descriptions. Each survey watch requires 3 crew members on deck to work equipment and support the scientists in deployment and retrieval of lines. Cooperation and communication are the most critical skills needed by everyone on the ship for success in carrying out their mission.
“NOAA has recently been experiencing a lack of interested, qualified applicants,” Chris told me. “I think many young people lack the sense of adventure that makes life at sea attractive.” He certainly demonstrates that desire for adventure: his eyes light up and an infectious grin spreads across his face as he talks about the places he’s been and the places he still wants to go.
The whole deck crew, including Chris Rawley, Mike Conway, Chuck Godwin, and James Rhue, are a lively, hard-working bunch. They do their jobs, they have some fun doing them sometimes, and they like what they are doing. Every time I was around them I could hear John Fogarty’s song “Rambunctious Boy” playing in my head and I ended up smiling and humming along!
Thirty-six years ago Rich Brooks took the advice of his high school math and history teachers and enrolled at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The strict structure of the Academy helped him develop his study habits and learn the discipline needed to raise from a low C student a B+ student who took pride in his work. He graduated with a degree in Marine Engineering, but spent time as a substitute teacher while deciding where he wanted to go with his career. Currently he holds 3 chief engineer licenses: steam, motor and gasoline and is qualified to operate any watercraft.
Eventually he started working on ships, spending a number of years in the Merchant Marine. He worked on merchant transport ships contracted to our government to support Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf. For 10 years he worked on independent oil tankers on the West Coast, transporting oil and gasoline to and from various ports. He has been a 1st Engineer for NOAA for 2 years.
Rich enjoys the travel and adventure that are part of his career. He likes visiting different cities and has been through both the Suez and Panama Canals in his travels. It has been a long journey around the world from his childhood home in Haverhill, Massachusetts to Mobile, Alabama where he made his home base for the last 25 years. He is proud that his work as an engineer has influenced his son to pursue a career in engineering, following his father’s example of hard work and sacrifice as the way to get ahead in life. Rich hopes to see more young people turn to careers in engineering, knowing as he does that the average age of marine engineers in this country is 58 years which means there will be openings for young people as they complete their training. As for him, when he retires several years in the future he looks forward to moving closer to his father in Florida, going fishing and playing golf.
THE PEOPLE I MISSED INTERVIEWING:
My roommate, Chrissy Stepongzi, is a marine biologist and the person of whom I saw the least on this cruise. She knows her job and was always eager to answer questions. We just did not see each other often to talk because of being on opposite shifts and sharing the room. She slept while I worked and visa-versa. I appreciated her quick smile and well-developed sense of humor and wish we had been able to get better acquainted.
Fisherman Mike Conway has been working on ships for a long time. He loves the ocean and loves the travel. His willingness to make sure I learned and got opportunity to see things was really helpful and made me feel welcome. Mike was always willing to grab my iPad and take pictures so I could be in them and he was the one that made sure I got to see the sky at night and appreciate the beauty of being on the ocean in one more way.
Fisherman Chris Rawley, quick to grin, but slow to talk, took some effort to get to know. Chris was a fisherman on our shift and helped with everything from running the crane to pulling lines to wrestling sharks. He was “born under a wandering star,” and loves to travel. He’s a gypsy at heart.
James Rhue is another fisherman working on the deck crew. He too was with the night shift so we didn’t cross paths often. When we did talk he could always answer my questions and made me feel welcome.
Mike, Chris, and James are pictured in the Deck Crew photo above.
Mary Stratford was filling in on the deck crew this cruise. She lives in Puerto Rico where she is a ceramic artist, but much of her life has been spent working in jobs that allow her to see the world. Mary was helpful and friendly and always interesting to talk to.
2nd Engineer Darnell Doe, the quiet, friendly guy I ate breakfast with most mornings. We shared a little conversation and watch the news over a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee. I never turned out into a formal interview and didn’t take notes on our casual conversations.
3rd Engineer Sam Bessey was filling in a temporary vacancy. He is a recent graduate of an academy in Maine and worked the opposite shift of mine so we had a few chances to talk a little, but not enough to call an interview. I do know he wants to head for Hawaii and try to find work there after this cruise, but will head home to Maine to see family first. Good luck in your new career Sam.
Roy Tolliver was our tech person. I most often saw him walking from place to place on the decks, checking on electronic equipment and trying to troubleshoot computer problems when they arose. Roy has worked on ships for many years and has been many places around the world.
O C Hill, Listed on the staff roster as a “wiper” was another one of the people who kept the ship running. Our interactions were limited to friendly smiles and greetings. When folks work in the engine room it is hard to find a time to talk with them, especially if shifts don’t match.
Valerie McCaskill, our cook and one of the most important people on the ship. I know she has a daughter she was eager to get home to see. I know she had very little warning that the previous cook would not be on this voyage so she had to step in in a hurry. I know that she has a beautiful smile and makes legendary macaroni and cheese! She kept us very happy!
Chuck Godwin would normally be working on this ship as a skilled fisherman on the deck crew, but he worked in the kitchen with Valerie this trip to fill an important empty spot and keep us all well-fed. His irrepressible sense of fun and lively conversation kept us all hopping. His career has spanned time in the Coast Guard as well as years with NOAA. His is a proud new grandpa.
That I did not get to know everyone on the ship is my loss. Everyone that I met was friendly and helpful. It was a true pleasure to meet and work with these great people.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Sandra Camp Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai June 14 – 24, 2015
Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean Date: June 17, 2015
Weather Data: mostly cloudy, showers, visibility > 7 NM (nautical miles), winds east 10-15 KT (knots), air temperature 80° F, water temperature 80° F
Science and Technology Log
Days at sea begin early for the scientists aboard the Hi’ialakai. There are push-ups on the bow at 0630 (not mandatory), followed by breakfast at 0700. After breakfast, everyone meets outside on the deck at 0730 for a meeting about the day’s diving. Safety procedures are always reviewed during this meeting.
Afterwards, the divers suit up, get their gear together, and get ready to board small boats, which will take them to the day’s scheduled diving sites. The way the small boats are lowered into the water with their passengers and gear from the larger ship is nothing less than a carefully orchestrated ballet of synchronized movement, line management, and communication. The chief boatswain (“bosun” for short), the senior crewman of the deck department, is in charge of this process. You can see him in the first photo, operating the crane. Anyone on deck during this time must wear a hardhat for safety purposes. You would not want to get hit in the head with moving cranes, hooks, or cables!
First, the small boats are lifted from the upper deck with a crane and lowered over the side of the ship.
Then, gear and passengers are loaded onto the boat, and it is carefully lowered into the water. Lines are released. and the boat drives away.
After that, the coxswain, the driver of the boat, takes the divers to the first survey site of the day. As we learn in class, a very important part of any scientist’s job is to gather evidence and data. Three to four groups of divers in separate small boats will gather data from 5-7 different sites each per day. After this project is complete, scientists will have gathered data from hundreds of different sites around the main Hawaiian islands. At each site, they do fish counts and benthic (sea floor) analysis. They estimate the amount of coral present on the sea floor, and then list fish by their species and quantity. Each diver takes a clipboard with a waterproof piece of paper attached to it on which they record their data. They also carry waterproof cameras with them, as well as a small extra tank of oxygen called a RAS (Redundant Air System) that they can use in case their tank runs out of air.
After data is recorded for several different sites, the small boats return to the ship no later 1700, which makes for a very long day out on the water. Dinner is from 1700-1800, and afterwards, scientist divers head to the dry lab, where all the computer equipment is located, to enter the data they gathered on fish during their surveys.
While we were out at diving sites today, I had the opportunity to interview Jonatha Giddens, one of the divers on the boat. Jonatha is a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has an undergraduate degree in coral reef fish ecology, and she is currently studying the effects of an introduced grouper (a species of fish that is not native to Hawaii) on the local marine ecosystem for her Ph.D.
What are your primary responsibilities? Being part of the fish team, scuba diving, doing fish surveys, and entering the data collected during the day into computer systems at night.
What do you love most about your job? Being on the water!
What kind of education do you need to have this job? An undergraduate degree in marine biology
Do you have any advice for young people interested in your line of work? Get involved with research as early as possible. Find out what kind of research is going on in your area, and volunteer. Do summer internships at places that are farther away. You learn so much just by jumping into it.
Jonatha followed her passion and learned all she could about it. Now she has won an award from ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) for her work in conservation ecology. ARCS is a foundation organized and run entirely by women to encourage female leadership in STEM careers. Go Jonatha!
I can sometimes go snorkeling while the divers are completing surveys, as long as I stay far enough away from them that I do not interfere with their work (they do no want me to scare the fish away). I have to wear a knife strapped to my leg while snorkeling, in case I become tangled in fishing net or line (or in case there is a shark!). Again, it is all about safety on the Hi’ialakai.
Did You Know?
The underwater apparatus held by Raymond Boland in the above photo is a stereo camera. It is composed of two separate cameras encased in waterproof housing. When a diver uses it to photograph a fish, two simultaneous pictures are taken of the fish. NOAA scientists calibrate the images using computers to get an accurate measure of the length of fish.
chief boatswain– the person in charge of the deck department
coxswain– a person who steers a ship’s boat and is usually in charge of its crew.
benthic– relating to, or occurring on, the bottom of a body of water
NOAA Teacher at Sea Ellen O’Donnell Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II May 14 – May 25, 2012
Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Franklin Basin Date: May 20, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, slightly overcast, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.
Science and Technology Log:
We spent the night out at sea and today and we worked the Franklin Basin. It is about 120 miles from Cape Cod. At first we didn’t see many whales, but things started picking up by lunchtime. We launched the little gray boat shortly after to get close to the right whales we were seeing. While I didn’t go on the gray boat today, many of the whales came right up to the ship. It was another amazing day and we were quite successful.
I have seen so many different ways that the whales catch their prey. I asked the question last time, “Why do sei and right whales often appear together?” This is because they like the same food. Both whales eat copepods. Copepods are tiny crustaceans that range from microscopic to a quarter of an inch. Crustaceans are invertebrates which are related to lobster, shrimp and crabs. They eat diatoms and plankton, which are even smaller! They are the most abundant species on earth and are important in many ocean food webs.
Cool Fact from the Monterey Bay Aquarium: A single copepod may eat from 11,000 to 373,000 diatoms in 24 hours!
So sei and right whales feed on these tiny abundant organisms, which is amazing given their size. Humpbacks and fin whales also filter feed, but they eat krill (another tiny crustacean), plankton and small fish. Humpbacks can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food a day.
All of these whales are called baleen whales because they filter their prey out of the water as they move through it. Right whales and sei whales surface feed a lot. They are close to the surface slowly moving through the water filtering out copepods. Often they are seen feeding side by side.
Sometimes right whales do what is called echelon feeding. One whale is up front and then whales along each side create a V-shape. The whales to the side of the one in front pick up prey that didn’t make it into the forward whale’s mouth. We saw a great example of echelon feeding right from the ship. There were six right whales slowly swimming in this V-shape. Every once in a while, if one got out of formation, they would swim back toward the V and turn and get back in formation.
Humpback whales also use a method for catching prey. When we got close to the humpback, Slumber, the other day, we noticed large bubbles rising to the surface. This is called bubble feeding. Humpbacks create large bubbles to trap and herd fish. Often they do this in groups.
So while watching the different whales, and how they feed was very interesting, this was not the most exciting thing. These surveys are important because they keep track of vital information needed to develop good conservation plans. Therefore, information such as where the individual whales are, which females breed, where they breed, and how many calves are born is important.
We identified around 17 whales yesterday and found one that one had not been biopsied. This whale was then biopsied so its information can go into the database. We also saw two mothers and their calves. Right whales typically give birth to their calves after a 12 month gestation period, off the coast of Georgia or North Florida.
This year only six calves were born and one died. This number is not good as biologists hope to have the number of calves born in the double digits. So you can imagine how happy everyone was when we identified a female who hadn’t been seen since 2010 with a new calf! We were able to get a biopsy from the calf as well, which will not only give genetic information from the skin, but also information on contaminants from the mother since it is still nursing. But I’m not finished yet! The icing on the cake was that the baby whale also released some fecal matter. Yes that’s right…whale poop! This may not seem important to you, but the whale biologists were ecstatic. The collected whale poop, yes it was collected in a bucket, gives a wealth of information, such as what it has been eating and the level of contaminants in the calves body. Adult whale poop also gives hormonal information. All in all it was a very successful day of collecting important data on right whales.
NOAA Scientists Peter Duley and Allison Henry scoop whale poop into a collection bag to be later analyzed
NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. Obviously the ocean is a big part of our environment. NOAA vessels have differing focuses on the data they collect from the ocean. The Delaware II is a fisheries vessel. It goes out on various research cruises, which collect data on different organisms within our oceans. As you know they perform right whale cruises, like the one I am on now, but they also perform other studies as well. Midwater trawling is done for studies on herring. Large nets are pulled along the boat at mid-water level, and the data collected gives information on the distribution and abundance of herring. Deep water trawls with nets are done to collect scallops and clams, and determine their relative abundance and distribution. Shark cruises collect sharks by sending out a line with baited hooks. The sharks collected are tagged and released. Lastly, the Delaware II performs ichthyoplanktic studies, which collect eggs and larvae from various species of fish.
It is the deck crew that helps make this possible. Acting Chief Boatswain and Head Fisherman, Todd Wilson heads up a 5-man crew, who not only take care of all ship maintenance, with the exception of the engine, but serve as night-time lookouts, and operators of the fisheries equipment. We rely on them to get the little gray boat in and out of the water, which takes a lot of coordination, and they are always there to help you if you need it.