Sam Northern: Welcome Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter! May 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sam Northern

Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

May 28 – June 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date: May 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 41°31.8’N

Longitude: -71°18.9’W

Sky: 8/8 (Fully Cloudy, Overcast)

Wind Direction: NE

Wind Speed: 13 Knots

Barometric Pressure: 1005 Millibars

Humidity: 88%

Air Temperature: 11.5°C

Personal Log

In Port in Newport, Rhode Island (Sunday, May 28)

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The 224-foot Gordon Gunter at Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport on the morning of sailing Leg 2 of the Survey.

Greetings from NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter! On my flight into Providence, Rhode Island (the Ocean State) I was met with lengthy coastlines and beautiful blue skies. Jerry Prezioso, (one of NOAA’s oceanographers), picked me up from the airport. We made our way to the ship, Gordon Gunter, at Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport. To get there, we drove 37 miles southeast of Providence and crossed the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and the Newport Bridge. Both bridges offered stunning scenes of shorelines that separated the picturesque sailboats from the majestic beach side houses. Newport, also known as City by the Sea, was a major 18th-century port city which is evident from the high number of surviving buildings from the colonial era.

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NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

Upon arrival at the pier, I passed two immense U.S. Coast Guard ships before laying eyes on what would be by new home for the next ten days—NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Several members of the crew were already there to welcome me aboard. The crew’s hospitality and Jerry’s tour of the ship eased my anxiety while at the same time, intensifying my excitement for the adventure that awaits.

After the tour, Jerry showed me to my stateroom. I was surprised to find out that I have my own cabin! There is a refrigerator, closet, desk, recliner, my very own sink, and a shared bathroom with the room next door. It also has a TV to watch any of the movies available on the ship.

After unpacking my luggage, I decided I would spend some time exploring the ship. I took photographs and captured 360-degree images of the ship’s many spaces. I intend to use my footage as a way to give my students a virtual tour of Gordon Gunter. When Jerry showed us the ship, he effortlessly moved from one place to the next. I, on the other hand, could not…at first. I felt as if I was stuck in a labyrinth. Yet, with the amount of time I will be spending on board Gordon Gunter, I am sure it will not take long to get the “lay of the land”.

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The Galley (Kitchen)

Getting lost is not always a bad thing. I can admit that I was not too upset when I took a wrong turn and ended up in the galley (the kitchen). I could tell right away from the appetizing aroma and the fresh fruits and vegetables that the meals were going to be amazing.

After Leg 1 of the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey which concluded on Friday, May 26. Prior to the ship’s departure at 1400 hours on Memorial Day, the crew was busy with important maintenance and upkeep. With the adventure of a lifetime so close at hand, I could only hope that my excitement would give me at least a few hours of sleep.

Preparing for Departure (Monday, May 29)

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My first dinner on board ship Gordon Gunter.

To keep everyone happy when they are living in such close quarters, working strange shifts, and so far from home, good food is vital. Isn’t it always? Gordon Gunter is well known in the NOAA community for its fantastic food. The person responsible for our delicious and abundant food is Margaret Coyle, Chief Steward and her trusted comrade, Paul Acob, Second Cook. I first experienced their culinary skills at my first 6:30 a.m. breakfast. Remarkable! I could not wait for the meals to come.

Margaret has worked on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter for 13 years! Before NOAA, Margaret was in the Coast Guard for four years and her husband retired from the Coast Guard with 21 years of service. Margaret makes almost every dish from scratch—from juices to hummus. She is dedicated to providing a variety of meals that not only fill bellies but satisfy taste buds. You never quite know what to expect one meal to the next, and that my friends is the spice of life! Paul has spent 14 years with NOAA and 20 years in the Navy—that’s 34 years at sea! I greatly admire both Paul and Margaret for their service and continued commitment.

IMG_8493.JPGAs a Teacher at Sea, I am an active member of the science team. I have been assigned the day shift, which means I work from 12 noon to 12 midnight. I am happy with this shift because it is a little more of a regular schedule compared to beginning work at midnight and then sleeping during the daylight hours. However, it will definitely take time for me to adjust my eating and sleeping schedules with that of my work shift.

In preparation for our work at sea, we spent the afternoon reviewing guidelines and proper procedures. Safety is crucial on any ship, and I feel much better having gone through the welcome orientation. Now, I am prepared when it is time to perform any of the three emergency drills: fire, abandon ship, and man overboard. One can never be too cautious.

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The Gulf of Maine. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The second leg of the 2017 Spring EcoMon Survey consists of research at oceanography stations in the Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine. These stations are randomly distributed and progress of the survey will depend on transit time, sea state, and water depth of the stations. Our research will calculate the spatial distribution of the following factors: water currents, water properties, phytoplankton, microzooplankton, mesozooplankton, sea turtles, and marine mammals.

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NOAA Flag

At 2:07 p.m. (our scheduled departure time), Gordon Gunter cast off from Coddington Cove at the Naval Station Newport. As we approached the Newport Bridge I took photos of the NAVY War College, Herring gulls nesting on a small island, passing ski boats, and the ocean view cottages. On the flying bridge an expert in magnetic compasses calibrated the ship’s mechanism and cleared the compass of excess debris.

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Compass Adjustment/Calibration

During a personnel transfer using the Fast Rescue Boat (FRB), a mechanical issue was identified and the ship needed to head back to the pier. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Lindsay Kurelja, informed us that we would begin our journey at 9:00 a.m. the next day, May 30.

Science and Technology Log

My head has been spinning with the different types of equipment and technology on board Gordon Gunter. I have a lot to learn! I would like to share a small bit of information about two important pieces of equipment that will be essential to our research in the coming days.

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Bongo Nets

1.) Since the majority of plankton is too small to see with the naked eye, these organisms must be viewed through a microscope. To do this, plankton must be collected from the ocean. You might be thinking, “But how? They are too small to catch.” That’s why we use bongo nets! Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. Plankton and other matter from the sea will be deposited into a bucket at the end of the net which is called a cod-end. Different sized nets are used to capture different types of plankton. The bongo nets will be towed slowly through the water at each oceanography station we come to. I am looking forward to using the ship’s bongo nets to investigate marine life in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine.

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CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth)

2.) At each station of this leg of the EcoMon survey, we will use a CTD device to determine the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth of the ocean. On Gordon Gunter, the CTD is incorporated into a rosette, or carousel. This allows us to collect water samples from various depths at the same location. The CTD will give scientists a broad picture of the marine environment in the Northeast Atlantic.

New Terms/Phrases

Parts of a Ship (Source — Macmillan Dictionary):

  • Aft Deck: the part of the deck towards the back of the ship.
  • Bow: the front of the ship.
  • Bridge: the part of the ship from which it is controlled. (This is where the captain controls the ship.)
  • Deck: the outside top part of the ship that you can walk on.
  • Forward Deck: the part of the deck towards the front of the ship.
  • Port: the side of the ship that is on your left when you are looking forwards.
  • Starboard: the side of the ship that is on your right when you are looking forwards.
  • Stern: the back part of the ship.

Did You Know?

IMG_8444.JPGAt Pier 2 at Naval Station Newport were gigantic buoys the Coast Guard had recently cleaned and re-painted. Do you know why some are green and some are red? The colors help aid the navigation of ships. The red buoys are on the right/starboard side of the ship, and the green buoys should be on the left/port side of the vessel when heading upstream. I guess ships have their own rules of navigation just like vehicles on the road.

Lynn Kurth: It’s Shark Week! July 31, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 31, 2014

Lat: 30 11.454 N
Long: 80 49.66 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:
It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve  encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you!  I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift.  There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!!  When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.

BOW

My Perch!

From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed.  This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters.  Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis.  Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes.  And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.

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Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

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Sargassum (notice the small air bladders that it uses to stay afloat)

We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days.  One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker.  The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin.  When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.

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The shark sucker attaches to my arm immediately!

The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.  Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade.  Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.

Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure.  Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.

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The first Sandbar shark that I was able to tag

Did you Know?

Sargassum is used in/as:

  • fertilizer for crops
  • food for people
  • medicines
  • insect repellant

Personal Log:
I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings!  The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II.  One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis.  Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer.  Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.

 

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Kevin Travis

Stacey Jambura: The Adventure Begins, July 8, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can also view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 8, 2012

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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 18:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 29.50 ◦C
Water Temperature: 30.70 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 66%
Wind Speed: 1.52 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.82 mb
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Science and Technology Log

Virtual Tour of the Oregon II

I know many of you may have never been on a ship before and are probably curious to know what it is like to be aboard the Oregon II. I’m going to take you on a little virtual tour, but first you will need to know some common terms that are used to refer to certain areas on the ship.

Ship Term

What It Means

Bow The front of the ship.
Stern The back of the ship.
Starboard The right side of the ship when facing the bow.
Port The left side of the ship when facing the bow.
Forward The direction towards the bow of the ship.
Aft The direction towards the stern of the ship.
Bridge The location of the command center for the ship.
Galley The kitchen.
Mess Hall The dining area.
Head The bathroom.
Stateroom Where crew members sleep.

On Deck

The Bow

At the bow of the ship is where most of the scientific collection equipment is deployed/released. The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth), the neuston net, and the bongo nets. (I will talk about each one of these in upcoming blogs.) There are several large cranes that help lift these up off the deck and swing them over the edge of the ship to be released into the water. When you are at the bow and the cranes are running, it is very important to keep yourself safe. Everyone who is at the bow when the cranes are operating is required to wear a hard hat and a PFD (personal floatation device). You never know if a cable will snap or the wind will swing the equipment towards you. There is a sensor on the PFD that is activated when large amounts of saltwater touches it, like if you were to fall overboard. Once salt water touches the sensor, the PFD will inflate and keep you afloat until you can be rescued.

Oregon II Bow

Oregon II Bow

The Stern

At the stern is where the samples from the neuston cod end and the bongo cod ends are collected and preserved in jars for scientists to examine at a lab. This is also where the large trawling net is deployed. The scientists spend most of their time at this part of the ship.

Stern of the Oregon II

Stern of the Oregon II

What Makes the Ship Sail?

Bridge

The bridge is where the officers of the Oregon II work. It is located toward the bow of the ship. The bridge has all of the navigation tools necessary to steer the ship to the next sampling station. There is also a lot of weather equipment that is monitored and recorded throughout the day. The bridge is where you’ll find the best views of the ocean because it is almost completely surrounded by windows and it’s higher than any other room on the ship.

At the Helm

At the Helm

Bridge

Bridge

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Chart Room

This room is where all of the maps are stored. While there are more technologically advanced methods used for navigation on the ship located in the bridge, it is important to have physical maps on hand to refer to, especially if the instruments stop working for any reason.

Chart Room

Chart Room

Engine Room

Before we untied our ship from the dock I received a full tour of the engine room. This is where the heart of the ship is. Everything in the engine room powers the ship. Our water is even purified down here using reverse osmosis (passing water through a membrane to filter the water). Because of this machine, we can filter salt water into fresh water to use on the ship.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis Machine

It was great to venture down to the engine room  before we set sail because I was told that it can get up to 110 degrees when the engines are running! It is a large space, but it feels small because of the large equipment. There are two of everything, which is especially important if something needs repair. Below is a picture of the two engines. The other is a picture of one of the generators.

Engine

Engine

Generator

Generator

Living on a Ship
Stateroom

My stateroom is compact, but its main purpose is for sleeping so size isn’t really an issue. There is a bunk bed, a sink with a mirror, latching drawers for clothes, and a hide-away desk. There is also a compact tv that is attached to the bottom of the top bunk and folds up when it is not in use. I only use the room to sleep and get ready for my shift because my bunkmate works the opposite watch shift as mine (midnight to noon), and I want to be the least disruptive as possible. After 12 hours shifts, sleep is really needed and helps reenergize you in time for the next watch.

Stateroom Bunks

Stateroom Bunks

Stateroom

Stateroom

The Head

The head is the same as a bathroom. On the Oregon II there are private and communal heads. The private heads are for the officers and are typically connected to their staterooms. The communal heads are open for any crew member to use. There are also communal showers for the crew to use. All of the toilets use salt water that is pumped onboard. The reason fresh water is not used is because it is a precious source on the ship and is not readily available from the ship’s surroundings. The sinks, showers, drinking fountains, and ice machines all use fresh water. Fresh water on the ship should never be wasted. Water for the sinks is timed so that there will never be a faucet that is accidentally left on. Showers are to be kept to a maximum of 10 minutes, though it is encouraged that they be even shorter.

Heads

Heads

Shower

Shower

Galley and Mess Hall

This is one of my favorite places. The galley is where our ship’s cooks prepare all of the wonderful food for the crew. The mess hall is where we all eat during meal times. During meal times it can be quite crowded in the mess hall as there are only 12 available seats and over 30 crew members onboard who are ready to eat. There is an “eat it and beat it” policy to help ensure that everyone who comes down to eat will be able to find a spot. Despite this, it is still a great way to converse with the crew and talk about events from the day before giving up your set to another hungry crew member.

Galley

Galley

Mess Hall

Mess Hall

Crew Lounge

This is the place where crew members who have some down time can gather and socialize, though down time can be rare. There is satellite tv, a couple of computers, and hundreds of movies to choose from. Some available movies haven’t even been released onto DVD for the common household yet, but they are available to the military. They do this because not everyone has access to current movies when they are away from home for extended periods of time. All of the DVDs are encrypted and can ONLY work on the machines aboard the ship. I was excited to find a copy of The Hunger Games and I plan on trying to watch it before my trip is over.

Lounge 1

Lounge 1

Lounge 2

Lounge 2

Labs on the Oregon II

The Wet Lab

The Wet Lab is where all of the samples from the groundfish trawls are sorted, counted, measured, weighed, and sexed (gender identified). Buckets filled with animals from the nets are dumped onto a large conveyor belt and spread out to make sorting the different species out into individual baskets easier. Everything in the wet lab can get wet except the sensors connected to the machines. We need to be cautious around the sensors when we are cleaning up after a sampling so as not to get water in them.

Wet Lab

Wet Lab

The Dry Lab

The Dry Lab is where all of the computers are located that record all of the data from the samplings. As the name of this lab states, everything in it is dry. Water should never come into contact with the equipment in here because it can seriously damage it. In between samplings, this is typically where the scientists gather to wait for arrival at the next sampling station.

Dry Lab

Dry Lab

The Chem Lab

This is where all of the plankton samples are stored. It is also where water samples taken from the CTD are tested for dissolved oxygen (DO). The CTD does have its own DO sensor, but it is always best to test something more than once to ensure you are collecting accurate data.

Chem Lab

Chem Lab

Personal Log
Day 1 – July 5th
I arrived in Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi late in the afternoon of July 5th. The chief scientist, Brittany Palm, met me at the airport and drove me over to the Port of Pascagoula where the Oregon II was docked. We met up with two college volunteers, Kayla and Andrew, and got a quick tour of the ship  (the air conditioning was out!) before we headed over to a wonderful local barbecue restaurant. We returned after dark and were welcomed with a fixed AC! I unpacked my belongs into my latched drawers and made up my bunk bed up so that everything would be in place when I was ready to hit the sack. It took a couple of nights for me to get use to the sounds of the ship, but now I hardly notice them.
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Day 2 – July 6th

Oregon II and IWhen I woke up the next morning, I decided to venture out into downtown Pascagoula which was only a 5 minute walk away from the ship. It is a quaint area with little shops and restaurants. I met up with the two volunteers and we picked a business that had the best of both worlds, a restaurant and a shop, to have a wonderful breakfast. We had to be back on the ship by 12:30 for a welcome meeting, but we took some time to snap a few pictures of our floating home for the next 12 days. We were underway shortly after 2 pm (1400 hours in military time). It was fun to watch our ship depart from the dock and enjoy the light breeze. It wasn’t long until we had another meeting, this time with the deck crew. We learned about the safety rules of working on deck and discussed its importance. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and getting my sea legs. The gentle rocking does require you to step carefully, especially when you have to step through the water tight doors!

Day 3 – July 7th
Our first day out at sea was slow to start. We didn’t reach our first sampling station until early in the morning on the 7th, even though we left the Oregon II’s port in Pascagoula mid-afternoon on the 6th. I was sound asleep when we arrived because my shift runs noon to midnight every day, so my first sampling experience didn’t happen until almost 24 hours after we set sail. This was nice because it gave me time to explore the ship and meet some of the crew.
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Right after lunch I got to jump right in and help finish bagging, labeling, and cleaning up the wet lab for the team that was just finishing up their shift. After we had finished it was time to conduct my first plankton sampling.  We went out on deck at the bow of the ship to prepare the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device for deployment/release. After the CTD was released and brought back on deck, we deployed the neuston net to collect species samples from that same station. (I’ll explain the importance of this type of net in a later blog.) Once the collection time was complete, the neuston net was brought back on deck where we detached the cod end and placed it into a large bucket. Cod ends are plastic cylindrical attachments with screened holes to let water run through but keep living things inside during collection. The neuston cod end’s screens have 0.947mm sized openings.  We then deployed the bongo nets to collect samples of even smaller species like plankton. (I will describe the purpose of the bongo nets in a later blog.) When the nets were brought back on deck, we detached the cod ends from the two bongo nets and placed those into buckets as well. The screens on the cod ends for the bongo net are even smaller than the neuston’s at only 0.333mm. When all of the nets were rinsed to make sure nothing was still stuck to the inside of the nets, we brought the buckets back to the stern of the ship to further rinse the samples and place them into jars for further examination by scientists.

Day 4 – July 8th
Blowfish

Holding a blowfish collected from a trawling

Today was a lot of fun because I completed my first groundfish trawl. The net for this trawl is located at the stern of the ship. When the net was brought back up on deck, it was emptied into a large box. There was quite the commotion when the fish were emptied out of the net. Not only were the fish flopping around like crazy and splattering water everywhere, their scales flew everywhere and it looked like shiny confetti! Anyone who was in a 6 foot radius was bound to be covered in scales. By the end of the day I thought I was part mermaid with the amount of scales that had stuck to me!
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There were so many fish in one of our trawls that we had to use large shovels to place the fish into more manageable sized baskets. The baskets were brought inside the wet lab to be sorted, weighed, measured, and labeled.
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The coolest animals I saw today were sea urchins, a sharpnose shark, and a blowfish. It was also fun to observe the different crab species, so long as I kept my fingers away from their claws!
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Question of the Day
There is only one right answer to this question. ? You’ll be able to find it at one of the links I placed in my blog. Can you find the answer?
Good Luck!

Beth Spear, July 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth A Spear
NOAA Ship: Delaware II

Mission: Shark – Red Snapper Bottom Long Line Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico to North Atlantic
Date: Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gumby suits for safety

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 (10:00 am)
Position: Latitude 27 degrees 51’N, Longitude 086 degrees 01’W
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 11 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 31.1 degrees C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 30.4 degrees C; Wet bulb = 27.8 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1012.8 mb

Science and Technology Log
The first day aboard ship started with a ship orientation meeting presented by the acting executive officer (XO) LT Fionna Matheson. During the meeting the XO covered many shipboard concerns especially safety. LT Matheson suggested you always use one hand for the ship and one hand for you to avoid accidents. We also had some drills in the afternoon. LT Matheson had some really useful ways to remember the signals for drills. Fire is one long whistle, just like someone yelling fire in one long shout. The abandon ship signal is at least six short blasts then one prolonged blast, like yelling get-the-heck-off-the-ship-nooooow. During the abandon ship drill we had to put on survival suits, called “Gumby” suits by the crew. They were hot and very awkward.

Personal Log
We have about four days to steam to the location we will begin fishing. I am using these days to get myself adjusted to the night watch hours, midnight to noon. I am trying to tell myself it’s a good thing because I’ll be working during the cooler evening and morning hours, still hot is hot! The staterooms are quite cramped, it is a good thing I am not claustrophobic. I am still learning names of crew and the other scientists. There is a mix of NOAA volunteers, students, and professors. The food has been excellent, but I’m trying not to overindulge since there is not much activity during these first four days. The ship has a large selection of current movies loaned by the US Navy which I am taking advantage of during our downtime.

New Terms – Shipboard Terminology
Bulkheads = walls.
Ladderwells = stairs or stairwells.
Passageways = hallways.
Deck = floor.
Bow= front of ship.
Stern = back of the ship.
Port = left side of ship while facing bow, remember this because port is a shorter word than starboard or right, ship lights are red on this side.
Starboard = right side of ship while facing bow, remember this because starboard is a longer word than port or left, ship lights are green on this side.
Aft = direction meaning toward the stern (rear) of the ship
Fore = direction meaning toward the bow (front) of the ship

(figure ref.  http://www.sailingcourse.com/primer/port-starboard-bow-stern-html.jpg )

Melinda Storey, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Nicolle von der Heyde from St. Louis, MO. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port

The Pisces in port

Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces

Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Small boat

Small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Oil Boom

Oil Boom

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.

emulsified oil

Rainbow sheen from oil

Emulsified oil

Emulsified oil

Route of the Pisces

Route of the Pisces

Personal Log

We are finally on our way! This is a picture of the other Teacher at Sea and myself in front of our ship, the Pisces.

Nicolle von der Heyde, from St. Louis, MO, teaches 8th grade science. I am from Birmingham, AL, and teach Gifted students in grades 3-6. I’m so glad to have another teacher to talk to! We are so excited thinking about all the science experiments and lessons that we can bring back to our students. Our minds are just whirling! I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms.

My stateroom

My stateroom

I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining (fishing) for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA!

Yesterday was our first day on ship and right off the bat as we left port, we saw about 20 dolphins riding the bow wave. It was so much fun watching them arc in the water and splash around! Some even swam upside down and sideways! The babies, or calves, stuck real close to their moms! As we peered over the side of the ship we could actually see into their blow holes! What a view!

Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins

I was also very pleased to see that there are two women who are Junior Officers – Ensign Kelly Schill and Ensign Laura Gibson. Here you can see Ensign Schill as she prepares our navigation. She is also the Medical Officer. There are three female Commanding Officers in the NOAA fleet. Maybe one of our Ensigns will become a CO one day.

Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces

Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces

Here you see our CO (Commanding Officer), Jeremy Adams, as he sits in his Captain’s Chair scanning the horizon. He’s the one who spotted the dolphins which sent the crew rushing to the bow of the ship. The officers, who wear blue uniforms, have been so gracious and patient as they explain things to us.

Commanding Officer Jerry Adams

Commanding Officer Jerry Adams

Right now I’m sitting in the bow of the ship as I watch a bird “catching a ride” on the top of a weather pole. It’s interesting to see birds such as terns and pelicans so far from shore. The XO (Executive Officer) says we are 90 miles from shore.

Today we had a Fire drill and a Man Overboard drill – just like in school. The scientists “mustered” (or gathered) in the conference room where our Chief Scientist had to take a head count just like teachers do during our drills. We’ll have an Abandon Ship drill next week. I thought you would like to see the orange Fast Rescue Boat that we would use if we had to abandon ship.

Fast Rescue Boat

Fast Rescue Boat

My husband and I went to Gulf Shores right before this trip and saw the oil that had washed ashore. I was expecting “globs” of oil like we’d seen on TV but what we saw was very liquid – oil pooled in puddles. It looked like someone had splattered buckets of motor oil on the beach. There were lots and lots of volunteers cleaning the beach but not too many people on vacations. We saw lots of homes and condos with few cars in the parking lots.

Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach

Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach

Oil on the coast

Oil on the coast

The economic hit that businesses are taking on the Gulf Coast is terrible. Our XO told us that NOAA is hiring boat owners to drive through the densest part of the oil to get data. The smaller boat owners have “closed” boats which means they do not take in sea water for everyday usage like the big NOAA ships. They take their water with them in containers. If the NOAA ships go through heavy oil, the oil could get sucked up and lodged in their water filters and do damage to the equipment. Maybe this way some of the small charter boat owners can recoup some of the money they are losing since no one is chartering boats to go deep sea fishing.

New Term/Vocabulary

Bow – front part of the ship
Stern – back part of the ship
Port – left
Starboard – right
Bow wave – the waves at the front of the ship as it travels through the water
Muster – to gather in one place

“Something to think about”

What qualities would you look for in a Commanding Officer? Do you think a woman will ever become an Admiral in the NOAA fleet?

“Did You Know?”

You can track the Pisces on the Internet at the following site: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov

Just select the ship you want to follow and it will give you our position. Click the last map option to see a map of the oil slick and our path through it.