NOAA fisheries research vessels often work with colleges to help provide experiences for the students by allowing them to come on the ship to collect data for their research. On this leg, Makaila Hernandez was aboard to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) under Dr. Alexis Janosik for the University of West Florida. Water samples are taken from different sampling sights in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental DNA tells scientists what organisms are in the area of water. DNA can be found in the water when organisms shed materials such as the skin, scales, feces, mucous, and gametes. Once the water is collected, a lab will extract the DNA from the water. The extraction is done in such a way that only the purest form of DNA is obtained. It will then be amplified so that it can go through the DNA sequencing process for organism identification. Collecting DNA for the purpose of knowing what organisms are present is done for several different reasons. It helps check the biodiversity and compare the health of the ecosystem to the previous years.
NOAA Ship Pisces
On this mission we have 28 people aboard Pisces. Without the engineers, technicians, deck crew, and the NOAA corps, the scientists wouldn’t be able to do their job. As most of you know, when things go wrong with a vessel out in the ocean, you have to rely on those within. The engineers work hard and I haven’t gotten to talk with them as much as I would have liked, but after all they have been busy down below keeping the ship going. While touring and visiting the bridge, the amount of technology there and knowledge from the officers on maneuvering the vessel is astonishing. I even had a slight go at it, and with the waves and current my travel line was a bit everywhere and not even close to being as straight as theirs. No worries, they were right by my side the whole time.
Drew Barth, Second Assistant Engineer
Drew grew up in Montana and has been working for NOAA for around 18 years. Drew has worked his way up through the years, and the knowledge he knows about how to keep everything on this ship running is incredible. I had no idea there was so much down below us, and the amount of things that have to be checked and continuously working to keep this working vessel going. Drew tried to summarize all the things he did to me from operating all the equipment (including plumbing, HVAC, engine), maintaining all of the equipment, and every 2 hours all gauges have to be completely checked. At midnight a full report of how much fuel is being consumed as well as other things. Drew said some challenges he has had to deal with are bad weather, flooding, and having to fix multiple things at once. Drew states that working hands-on, growing up with a dad as a mechanic, and taking welding vocational classes really helped him, but training today can be done by attending a maritime school.
Today is our last day at sea. Later this evening we will start working our way towards Pascagoula, MS. We are finishing up our last camera drops and preparing to disembark. I can already tell this morning by looking at the water that we are getting closer to Mississippi. The coloration of the water is more of a brown hue than blue due to the Mississippi River meeting the ocean. Several deck crew are making last minute plans as we prepare to port. I have met so many amazing people from all walks of Earth, and listening to their stories and how they ended up on Pisces is remarkable. There are a lot of hard-working and dedicated people who keep this ship running.
I can’t believe I have been on the ship now for two weeks. I have several more questions from my students back home that I can’t wait to answer when I get back. When I return there are only 10 days of school left, so it will be a whirlwind. I have been blessed to have experienced this, and I have learned so much that I hope to inspire my students to dream big and put themselves out there. I told them before I left how nervous I was and that blogging for the first time ever and doing the unknown was way out of my comfort zone. However, hopefully I have taught them that it is important to take chances and pursue things that they want to do even though they may seem scary. My hopes are to also talk about all the different career paths involved in keeping this mission going aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada was built by VT Halter Marine, Inc. in Moss Point, Mississippi. The ship was commissioned on August 25, 2010 and is currently homeported at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center—Pacific in Newport, Oregon. The ship primarily studies a wide range of marine life and ocean conditions along the US West Coast, from Washington state to southern California.
The ship’s design allows for quieter operation and movement through the water, giving scientists the ability to study fish and marine mammals without significantly altering their behavior.
Bell M. Shimada conducts acoustic and trawl surveys. For acoustic studies, the ship uses a multibeam echo sounder (MBES) that projects a fan-shaped beam of sound that bounces back towards the ship. The ship’s MBES, one of only three such systems in the world, acquires data from both the water column and the seafloor. Scientists can detect fish when the boat passes over them, measuring the signal reflected by the fish to estimate their size and number. The system can also create a map and characterize the sea floor.
The ship conducts trawl sampling with a standardized, three-flange, four-seam bottom survey net equipped with a skipping rock sweep: sweeps with large rubber discs that allow the nets to be towed over rocky and uneven seabeds. Trawls sample fish biomass in a given study area. This helps scientists learn what species are in observed schools of fish and collect other biological data.
The ship’s wet lab allows scientists to sort, weigh, measure and examine fish. Data is entered directly into the ship’s scientific computer network. The Bell M. Shimada Bird and Marine Mammal Observation Stations are equipped with sensors to help researchers identify and track protected species.
Bell M. Shimada was named by a team of students from Marina High School in Monterey, California, who won a regional NOAA contest to name the ship. The ship’s namesake served in the Bureau of Fisheries and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. He was known for his contributions to the study of tropical Pacific tuna populations, which were important to the development of West Coast commercial fisheries after World War II. Bell M. Shimada’s son, Allen, is a fisheries scientist with NOAA Fisheries.
This has been an experience that I never imagined, on Thursday, August 11, when I entered the port and saw the ship in the distance, I felt a lump in my throat, it is much larger and more imposing than I imagined. The scientist in charge of the expedition, Beth Philips, welcomed me to the ship. She was extremely jovial and pleasant and gave me a tour of the ship, which let me tell you, this is a labyrinth. The crew has been excellent, all with a kind and respectful treatment towards me. On the other hand, I hope I can loosen up a bit more with everyone on the ship since I’m a bit in my head because of my English speaking.
I want to introduce you to the excellent team of scientists
In just a few days of meeting them, they have taught me a lot. They have all been patient and have explained and answered questions regarding the work they do on the high seas. Their knowledge and experiences have led me to create great admiration for them. In the next blogs you will learn more about each of them and you will see them in action!
Not Just One, But Two Puerto Ricans on the High Sea!
That’s right I’m not the only Puerto Rican on NOAA Bell M. Shimada, this is LT Erick Estela from Ciales, Puerto Rico. Erick is one of the NOAA Corps officers serving at sea, on land and in the air to support NOAA’s environmental science and management mission. Erick have been serving with NOAA Corps nine and a half years. We met in the middle of a drill and it was very exciting to know that there’s another Puerto Rican on board. Puerto Rico is proud to have Erick in such an important role within NOAA!
Before I go, I want to share some photos taken by Teacher at Sea Alumni Association Manager Britta Culbertson, who met us at Whidbey Island to wave goodbye from shore. Thank you for the beautiful photos and for all your support. Thanks also to TAS Alumni Denise Harrington for your messages of support, much appreciated!
See you in my next blogs where I will be talking about our study of hake populations and the data received from the echo sounder. I’m gone fishing, see you next time!
The ship is driven from the Bridge. It is the main control center of the ship. It is driven by a variety of people and computers. People who drive the ship include: the Commanding Officer (CO), Conning Officer (CONN), Officer of the Deck (OOD), and several helmsmen. There are several (at least two) people on the Bridge all the time. If Thomas Jefferson were a six-story building, the Bridge would be on the top floor. Being on the 6th floor has its pros and cons. Seeing, avoiding, and communicating with other boats in the area is very important. One can see far and wide from up there! One disadvantage is that things really rock ‘n roll up there when we are in heavy seas!
According to a popular career website (Your Free Career Test), “A ship captain is in command of water vessels in lakes, oceans, coastal waters, rivers, or bays. They ensure the safe and efficient operations of vessels. A ship captain navigates their vessel according to weather conditions and uses radar, depth finders, radios, buoys, lights, and even lighthouses. They determine sufficient levels of oxygen, hydraulic fluid, or air pressure of the vessel.”
Are you interested in having a career as a ship captain of a seagoing vessel? Watch the following video to see if you have what it takes!
Following are pictures of what is used to navigate and drive the ship. Each picture is followed by a brief description.
Radar is one of the most important tools on the Bridge. It allows us to see objects, ships, obstructions – basically anything we could run into (on the surface). TJ has two radars. The X-band radar is used for higher resolution pictures and things in closer range. The S-band radar is used to see objects further away.
The Officer of the Deck (OOD) and Conning Officer (CONN) use the Automatic Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA) function of the radar to identify “targets” or other ships in the area. It is used to track their relative motion to see which way and how fast they are headed with respect to TJ. The ARPA calculates the closest point of approach (CPA) and time to CPA. This tells you if there is the potential of a collision. The result is to change course, change speed, contact the other ship, or anything to reduce the risk of a collision.
If there is the potential for a collision, the OOD or CONN may contact the vessel and make a passing arrangement. However, since TJ is conducting operations, they may also make a Security announcement to let other vessels know their whereabouts and status. (Sécurité is French for “security” and is pronounced se-cur-i-tay.) According to Wikipedia, “Of the three distress and urgency calls, Sécurité is the least urgent.
Sécurité: A radio call that usually issues navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, and any other warning needing to be issued that may concern the safety of life at sea yet may not be particularly life-threatening.
Pan-pan: This is the second most important call. This call is made when there is an emergency aboard a vessel, yet there is no immediate danger to life, or the safety of the vessel itself. This includes, but is not limited to injuries on deck, imminent collision that has not yet occurred, or being unsure of vessel’s position.
Mayday: This is the most important call that can be made, since it directly concerns a threat to life or the vessel. Some instances when this call would be made are, but not limited to death, collision, and fire at sea. When the Mayday call is made, the vessel is requiring immediate assistance.”
Last evening, the CONN made a Sécurité announcement because the position, direction, and speed of a dredging vessel and the TJ were at risk of a collision. As soon as the announcement was made, the dredging vessel altered its course and the TJ slowed down a bit. We averted the collision with a very large margin.
Above is a close-up view of just one portion of the radar.
HDG = Heading of the ship (per gyrocompass)
SPD = Speed in knots
COG = Course over ground ***
SOG = Speed over ground ***
The yellow numbers represent degrees of latitude and longitude.
(*** These parameters are course and speed after the influence of wind and current have been taken into account.)
Speed at sea is measured in knots. One knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour or approximately 1.15 miles per hour.
Distance at sea is measured in nautical miles. The nautical mile is based on the Earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude. A nautical mile is slightly longer than a mile on land, equaling 1.15 land-measured (or statute) miles.
The lower monitor and keyboard are the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). It displays Electronic Navigation Charts (ENCs). This system allows officers on deck to see where they are in real-time. It can be updated frequently when new information regarding navigation (buoys, obstructions, depths, etc.) are charted. It has all but replaced paper carts.
The two panels on the left control the starboard and port side searchlights. Upper right is a fathometer. It is the less sophisticated echo sounder used to measure depth below the keel when we are transiting (moving from place to place) and not surveying.
Lower right, you will find the intercom that is used to communicate between the Bridge and the Data Acquisition desk in the Survey room.
This radio is used to communicate with other ships in the area. Information to and from the US Coast Guard is also shared through this device.
This monitor shows what is going on with a software called “Hypack”. It displays data that has been collected. It helps hydrographers and those driving the ship to visually keep track of where data has been collected. Also, it feeds information to the autopilot which allows the ship to stay on the course while surveying, without having to steer in hand or adjust based on distance from the line.
This is where the Helmsman stands and steers the ship. The Helmsman takes his/her orders from the Conning Officer. This officer is responsible for instructing the helmsman on the course to steer. Did you know that ships have autopilot? The helmsman steers the ship when it is turning or doing complicated maneuvers. When the ship is traveling in long straight lines (when we are “mowing the lawn”), the helmsman turns on the autopilot affectionately called, “Nav Nav”. It is called this because the Nav button needs to be pushed twice to activate the system.
There is a small propeller on the bow called a bow thruster. This panel controls the thruster. It is often used when steering the ship in tight places at slow speeds. I like to think of it as a way to “fine tune” the direction of the ship.
There are many compasses on the ship.
How did early people navigate the oceans?
The rudder is found aft (behind) of the propeller. Both are under the ship. The helmsman uses the rudder to turn the ship right or left. The rudder moves using hydraulics. The pointer on the display above moves as the rudder moves.
We have had beautiful weather during this leg of the mission. This morning, we had a beautiful red sky at sunrise.
You may be familiar with the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” The Library of Congress states that this concept is also repeated in Shakespeare and in the Bible.
In Shakespeare’s play Venus and Adonis, “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field. Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”
In the Bible (Matthew XVI: 2-3,) Jesus said, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”
Weather lore has been around since people have needed to predict the weather. Several agencies (NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory, Earth Observatory at NASA, and University of Wisconsin-Madison) have studied the science behind this piece of weather lore.
According to the Library of Congress, “When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically, good weather will follow.
A red sunrise can mean that a high-pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.”
The beautiful sunrise + the NOAA weather report caused people to believe that we might be in for a weather change.
For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 1)
Q: Where is Dewey? Hint: Only a very important person on board is allowed to sit in this chair.
A: Dewey is sitting in the captain’s (Commanding Officer’s) chair in the Bridge. CO Jaskoski gave Dewey permission to sit in the chair . . . just this once because he is so cute.
For the Little Dawgs . . . (Part 2)
Q: Where is Dewey? Hint: This is used by the helmsman to drive the ship.
A: Dewey is sitting on the wheel in the Bridge. Yes, I am afraid that he is too short to do his job.
Human-Interest Poll (HIP)
Questions from students:
Casey M. asked, “Have you found anything shipwrecks yet?”
LG – Whether we have found something or not, I must respond the same way. It is classified information. I am not allowed to tell you whether we have or have not found anything until I am given permission to do so. Thank you for your curiosity.
Evelyn A. asked, “Have you seen anything that you haven’t seen before on Lake Erie. Also, what is the deepest spot you have seen so far?
LG: During this leg of the survey the deepest we have measured is 28 meters (~ 92 feet) deep. I asked one of my shipmates and she said the deepest she has measured is 999.8 meters (3280 ft or over 1000 yards) deep. That’s deeper than 10 football fields!
I’ve had many new experiences and have seen lots of new things on this voyage. The one that stands out for me is that we found a shipwreck. I cannot tell you where we found it – that’s confidential. It was about 70 meters (230 feet) long – a little shorter than a football field. It looked as if it had been there for a long time.
Gretta S. asked, “Do you ever miss being on land or miss your neighbors (Wink, wink)? How was the movie night? How tall is the ship? Have the waves ever gotten so high you could feel the sea spray on the deck? Have you seen both vertebrates and invertebrates?”
LG: Yes, I miss my family, cats, and neighbors, however, this is a voyage of a lifetime! The movie night was great. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole movie – bedtime called. The ship from “keel to wind birds” is about 100 feet. Yes, the waves have gotten high enough to wash up on to the main deck – especially during a turn. I’ve seen a lot of insects (invertebrates) but few vertebrates unless you count my fellow shipmates and some seagulls!
Josie S. asked, “What is your favorite meal on the ship so far? How do you like sleeping on the top bunk in your room on the ship? Did you see any fish in the lake? Are you allowed to have electronics on the ship? I liked the picture of you and Dewey on the ship!!!! You look happy!”
LG: My favorite meal so far has been prime rib and sweet potatoes. I like sleeping on the top bunk because I have a porthole. My bed is very comfy, and my roommate is nice. I have not seen any fish in the lake; however, we see a lot of seafood in the mess hall (examples: crab legs, cod, grouper, shrimp, oysters, and salmon). Yes, we are allowed to have electronics on the ship. I have my cell phone, computer, a small camera for videos, and voice recorder. We use a lot of technology! I am happy! This has been a wonderful learning experience in so many ways. I cannot wait to share this experience with my students when I return to Dalton. (P.S. I will give Dewey a hug for you.)
Janie S. said, “We were at Kelleys Island last weekend! When we were there, we saw Canada with our binoculars! Could you see Canada? What other foods did you have on the Thomas Jefferson ship? The deepest lake out of the great lakes would be Lake Superior. And the shallowest lakes out of the great lakes would be Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.”
LG: That is very cool that you got the chance to go to Kelleys Island and see Canada. During the day, we cannot see Canada from where we are surveying. The Operations Officer in Training told me that if you go on the bridge at night, you can see radio towers and lights from the windmills in Canada. We are approximately 19 nautical miles (about 22 statute miles) from the nearest point of land in Canada which is Long Point National Wildlife Area in Norfolk County, Ontario. We stay mostly 4 to 8 nautical miles north of Presque Isle, PA. This link will give you all sorts of information about the depths of the Great Lakes. Did you know that Lake Superior is eight times deeper than Lake Erie! As for the part of your questions about what other foods we have on TJ – I decided just to include a panoramic picture of one of our snack shelves. Just suffice it to say that we are very well fed!
Keep those emailed questions coming! I love your questions! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to sign your message with your first and last name. Farewell for now!
We are continuing our path due east. We (they) have surveyed 14 different banks and dropped 102 cameras.
Along the way we have been collecting water samples that contain environmental DNA (eDNA), and mapping at night. Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida, is collecting water samples once daily and at additional fixed sites. She is working under Dr. Alexis Janosik, participating in a multiyear study of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and NOAA. The project’s goal is to characterize reef fish diversity in the northwest Gulf of Mexico using molecular tools and techniques.
Environmental DNA is a molecular tool used in aquatic ecosystems. eDNA contains DNA from all organisms in the water column. This DNA can be in the form of gametes (reproductive cells), fish scales, waste, etc. This approach is noninvasive and cost-effective, and does not require contact with the organism. Caroline collects test tubes of water, adds some magical juice that causes a chemical reaction, and the DNA begins to solidify in the test tube. You with me? THIS is real science.
Later in the lab, the eDNA is extracted and the samples are run through polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR amplifies (multiplies) genes and the sample is sent to a lab for additional science. Fancy technology makes millions of copies of the DNA. You piece it all together and use the data to assess reef fish diversity. Essentially, eDNA is like taking attendance in the reef community. Roll call.
I will leave it at that, though it’s much more complex. I am starting to remember why I avoided molecular biology. Caroline, I’m impressed.
Meet the Science Crew
Paul Felts Field Party Chief, Fisheries Biologist
What do you enjoy most about your job? “It’s the field work that I enjoy most. I love being out on the water (in moderation), participating in the various surveys. I have been a part of so many fun surveys – reef fish, snapper longlines, trawls, plankton, and mammals. I appreciate getting a break from the desk, reviewing footage, and annotating the research. I also enjoy working with the crew and building team camaraderie.”
What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “It’s tough to decide. I have seen all sorts of cool stuff. One mammal survey we were out on the smaller boat and a sperm whale breached about 100-200 yards from the boat. Later those whales were lying on their sides at the surface with full bellies, seemingly just resting after a meal. The giant stingray and thresher shark are up there on my favorites as well.”
Paul is the Field Party Chief. He’s been with NOAA for 21 years. As a Fisheries Biologist at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Paul studies fish populations and their impacts. He knows every fish in the sea (or at least close). Out here, Paul coordinates scientific operations. He has to be on every minute of every day, and deal with the crews’ shenanigans, yet still shows up each morning with a smile on his face, ready to take on the day.
Amanda Ravas Fisheries Biologist
What do you enjoy most about your job? “My favorite part about my job is being out in the field… as long as I’m not seasick. Because I’m still so new, I love learning all the ins and outs of the projects, seeing the species I’ve been watching on our videos in person, and hearing stories from other scientists about all the cool projects they’ve been a part of.”
What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “The coolest animal I’ve seen while out in the field is a manta ray which followed our boat for a few minutes as we were making our transit back ashore. And I always get super excited seeing any shark species while out at sea.”
Amanda is a Fisheries Biologist at the Panama City Laboratory. She’s been with NOAA for two years. She studies fish populations and their impacts. She may be tiny, but she’s mighty. Don’t underestimate her. She knows her stuff, and knows it well, and can keep up with the best of them.
Rafael Ortiz Program Support Specialist
What do you enjoy most about your job? “I enjoy being part of the NOAA Fisheries Mission at the MSLABS level. Being an administrator I find myself lucky to participate on various surveys with the scientist. I get to build a great working relationship and many friendships with them. I learn so much from them. Everything from science related topics to personnel life topics. I also feel that they have a higher respect for me than just some admin person.”
What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “Oh so many to list. I’ve seen so much diversity on these surveys that it’s hard to list. I’m always amazed at what comes out of the ocean and the thought of things I’ve not seen or will never see. I’m fascinated by the smallest to the biggest ocean animals.”
Rafael is a Program Support Specialist. He has been with NOAA for seven years. He provides oversight, technical expertise, and support to personnel and field biologists. But don’t let him fool you; he’s a biologist at heart. These scientists are lucky to have him out here at sea. He works hard, and best of all, keeps everyone in good spirits.
Kenneth Wilkinson Electronics Technician
What do you enjoy most about your job? “All of it. I have done just about every survey – plankton, sharks, small pelagic, reef fish, Caribbean reef fish, and more. I have worked closely with NOAA enforcement, installing vessel monitoring systems and reporting illegal fishing. Surveillance in the Keys was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being down there. Most recently, I operate NOAA drones.”
What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “The first to come to mind is the 12 ft. tiger shark during a longline survey. I also enjoyed building satellite tags and tagging sea turtles.”
Kenny is an Electronics Technician at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He has been with NOAA for 32 YEARS. He handles all the equipment from scientific to shipboard navigation and communication. What would we do without Kenny? This survey, as well as most, relies entirely on the technology. Kenny keeps us in check. I mean he’s the only one that knows what a transmissometer is.
Caroline Hornfeck Graduate Student, University of West Florida
What do you enjoy most about your job? “What I enjoy most about being a student in this field, is always adapting and learning new skills that can help me grow as a scientist. Whether that’s in the classroom, research lab at the University of West Florida, or aboard NOAA research vessels.”
What is the coolest animal you have seen or worked with? “One of the coolest animals I have seen is a spotted eagle ray. I hope further down in my research career I can work with elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and implement better conservation management for keystone species.”
Caroline earned her B.S. in Marine Biology at the University of West Florida. She is pursuing her Master’s at UWF. She is doing real science out here. Are you even a scientist if you don’t collect DNA? This girl is going places for real.
When 2 or 3 o’clock rolls around, I have to shake things up a bit. I’ve started making rounds just to say hello and see what people are up to. I remind folks that what they do is really cool. I make my way to the bridge usually once or twice to bother them a bit. This is where the ship is commanded. It looks like some sort of spaceship up here. I roam around and try to make sense of the many gadgets and screens. Take a peek out the windows. The sun reflects intensely on the water. It’s hella bright out here.
Operations Officer, LT Christopher Duffy, asks “Do you want to drive?” I look over my left shoulder, I look over my right. Oh, he’s talking to me. “Uh, yeah I do.” I have absolutely no clue what I just signed up for. He seems to think I can handle it. I get the run down. The helm is the steering wheel – check. The main engine controls the propulsion – check. Then there are the bow thrusters. From what I understand, they are basically propellers on the side of the boat. I’m not really sure. I just know they improve maneuverability.
Navigation is an art and science. They transit to specific destinations and position and maneuver the ship and make it look easy. Navigators measure the distance on the globe in degrees. If you have forgotten, like I seemed to have, like a circle, the Earth has 360°. Compasses have four cardinal points (directions), right? – North (N), East (E), South (S), and West (W). Well, turns out when you’re real official, you use degrees instead of directions. As if directions weren’t confusing enough. LT Duffy, “When I say 10° right, you do just that and confirm when you’re there.” I can handle that. “Ten right.” I work with LT Duffy to retrieve our next buoy. Huddleston keeps a careful eye. This is fuuunnnnn. “You ready for a hard right?” “Like all the way?” Seems questionable. Oh he’s serious. “Hard right rudder.” SKKKIIIIRRRRRTTTTTTT. Man this thing can move. We Tokyo drift right into position. Nailed it. LT Duffy takes control to finish positioning (I made it easy for him). I’m grinning ear to ear.
“Are you comfortable giving commands?” “Yep.” The overconfidence kicks in. First things first, CONN candy. What’s that you ask? The officers up here have a secret drawer of tasty treats that they’ve been hiding from us this whole time. Gotta have some before taking command. Wait, what am I doing? LT Duffy explains, “You’ll be giving commands to LTJG, Ariane Huddleston, while she steers.” Uhhhhhhh. I see the fear in her eyes. “Just repeat after me.” Huddleston takes the wheel and I “give commands.” It clicks. This is my time to shine. I “very well’d” the heck out of those commands. So much fun, thank you crew!
Did You Know?
You know all those horrid COVID tests you had to take? You were doin’ science right there. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests genetic material (fluid from the nasal swab). The test detects the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists use the PCR technology to amplify small amounts of RNA from specimens into DNA, which is replicated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable if present. It’s cool stuff guys.
NOAA Ship Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish located on the U.S. continental shelf and shelf-edge of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from April 19 through June 22, 2022 (we are doing the last leg of the survey). 536 sites have been selected to be sampled with Spherical/Satellite array, bandit reels, and CTD during daylight hours and mapping at night.
CTD casts will be conducted twice a day. CTD stands for conductivity (ability to pass an electrical current), temperature, and depth and it is an instrument that measures just that. The CTD is the key to understanding the physics, chemistry, and biology of the water column. The CTD will also collect water for eDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling. Organisms leave traces of their DNA in their environment (e.g. hair, skin, feces) and from that, scientists can run genetic tests to determine what species are present in a given area.
Camera operations will utilize three Spherical/Satellite camera arrays. The cameras are baited and sit on the seafloor for 30 minutes. During the soak, the cameras capture footage of the biodiversity. Scientists use the footage to complete a stock assessment analysis. That data combined with other research helps scientists estimate the abundance of fish populations.
Bandit reels (basically industrial fishing poles) are deployed after cameras are retrieved. The bandit reels are set up like longlines. The line sits vertically in the water column. When the weighed end of the line reaches the bottom, a surface float is attached to the line. Ten baited hooks are evenly spaced on the bottom 20-30 ft. of the line. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species will have otoliths (ear bones) and gonads collected for age and reproductive research.
Bathymetric mapping (basically 3D mapping of the seafloor) will be conducted in and around selected sites at night with the EM 2040 sonar. Sonar emits sound pulses and detects their return after being reflected. Science is cool. A CTD cast will be conducted to obtain speed-of-sound for proper processing of data.
I was dropped off at my hotel at around 8 PM on Tuesday and could see the ship from the road. It sinks in. (NOT THE SHIP! – This had me laughing out loud.) This is actually happening. Suddenly there’s no time for checking in; I headed straight to the wharf, luggage in tow. Completely awestruck, like a giddy school girl, I proceed to walk up and down the length of the boat numerous times taking an embarrassing number of photos. The crew is just staring at me, I’m sure getting a kick out of this crazy tourist. A lovely gentleman (also geeked about the boat) leaned in, “cool boat, huh?”… I’M GOING ON THAT BOAT THURSDAY. Good lord, Jordan, be cool. I basically screamed in his face. He was the sweetest, and a teacher himself. “I know the trip is going to be everything you wanted.” I melt. Gee thanks, Pat.
Our departure was delayed a few hours, which gave me some time settle in and awkwardly roam the ship. This thing is massive (compared to what I know). I believe it has seven levels. My attempts to open and close doors quickly became a comedy act for any spectators. I was introduced to my roommates at 6 AM. Ain’t nobody trying to chit-chat at 6 AM. I share a stateroom with Amanda Ravas, NOAA Fisheries Biologist, and Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida. Caroline is collecting water for eDNA sampling. They are around my age (or at least I’d like to think so), and have been so kind and helpful. It is their first time on Pisces as well, but each are experienced and very knowledgeable. They’ve made me feel right at home, and I feel are going to be a major part of my experience out at sea. Women in science – go team!
Operations Officer (NOAA Corps), LT Christopher Duffy, was so kind as to take me under his wing and invite me to the bridge (control room) to observe departure. This was so cool. Navigation is quite the operation. I guess now that I’ve seen it, duh, this boat is massive and the port was so busy with vessels of all sizes. Seven NOAA officers worked together to get us underway safely. Lots of standing on watch and communication involved. They were constantly shouting commands and numbers, and repeating. All confirmed communication was acknowledged with a “very well.” I found this amusing. One of my favorite lines heard while observing was, “There’s a pleasure boat on the port quarter.” “Very well.”
I will now start saying “very well” in my everyday life.
Last mention for now – I haven’t been seasick (so far)! Those that know me well know that is a major accomplishment for me. (As if I had say in the matter).
I am so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to learn from all of the crew (in every department). I am already so impressed by each of them.
Did You Know?
Well most of us do know that water and electricity make a dangerous pair; but, did you know that it’s not water itself that conducts the electricity? It’s the minerals and such dissolved in it. The saltier the water, the more electricity it conducts. Pure water is actually an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity, but you will never find pure water in nature. Whoa. I went down a rabbit hole with conductivity.
Also random, but kind of fun, the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program started in 1990, the year I was born. NOAA Ship Pisces was commissioned in 2009, the year I graduated high school.
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Geographic Area of Cruise:
Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 11, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 59° 00.823 N Longitude: 148° 40.079 W Wave Height: 1 ft, ground swell 3-4 ft Wind Speed: 5.4 knots Wind Direction: 241 degrees Visibility: 5 nm Air Temperature: 13.3 °C Barometric Pressure: 1014.6 mb Sky: Overcast
Science and Technology Log
At home, I regularly check information from
the buoys that literally surround our islands.
They give me real time, relevant data on ocean conditions and weather so
that I am informed about storm or surf events.
We also have buoys that track tsunami data, and the accuracy and
timeliness of their data can save lives.
Deploying and monitoring these buoys is a job that requires knowledge of
ocean conditions, electronics, rigging and computer programming.
Pete Shipton is onboard as the mooring technician from UAF’s Seward Marine Center. This morning, he, Dr. Danielson and the crew deployed three moorings near oceanographic station GAK6i (about 60 miles offshore in the Northern Gulf of Alaska) at a depth of 230 meters. The search for the right depth required that R/V Sikuliaq do an acoustic survey of the area last night to find a kilometer-long area of the right depth and bottom slope. The three moorings will be situated close enough to each other that for all purposes they are collecting a co-located set of readings representative of this site, yet far enough apart, with small watch circles, that they don’t overlap and foul each other. The set of three is designed to have one surface buoy on either side with sensors at the surface and through the water column and a third buoy in the middle with sensors also distributed across all depths.
The first buoy, GEO-1, gives information on physics, optics, nutrient chemistry and has a profiling instrument that will “walk” up and down the mooring wire from about 25 m above the seafloor to 25 m below the surface, collecting profiles four times a day. The mooring has many of the sensors that the ship’s CTD has, including an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler), a weather station with a GPS that measures wind speed, relative humidity, sea level pressure, and air temperature. The buoy system was designed to withstand and operate in 8 m waves; in larger waves the surface buoy is expected to become submerged. At one meter of depth, GEO-1 measures the temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence and photosynthetically available radiation.
On GEO-2 (the center buoy), similar data is recorded at 22 m below the surface. There will also be a sediment trap, mammal acoustics recorder, particle camera, and an AZFP (acoustic zooplankton fish profiler), which has four frequencies that can detect sea life from the size of fish down to the size of zooplankton. It records sound reflections from all sizes of creatures and can see fish migrations during day or night within a range of 100m (from 100m depth to the surface).
Buoy GEO-3 is the primary “guard” buoy, or marker for the whole set. It also has a real-time transmitting weather station and near-surface measurements.
Linking the mooring lines and the anchors are acoustic releases, which are remotely controlled tethers whole sole function to listen for a “release” command that will tell them to let go of the anchor. Since the limiting factor on the instruments is the life of the batteries, they will be picked up in a year and the acoustic release will allow the instruments to be brought back aboard Sikuliaq. These buoys will be providing real time information for groups such as the Alaska Ocean Observing System (www.aoos.org) about weather and ocean conditions, while also collecting information about sea life in the area.
Deploying the buoys was a lengthy process that required careful coordination of parts, lines, chains and personnel. Luckily everything went off perfectly! As the anchor weights for the two surface buoys deployed, they briefly pulled the buoys under, causing a bit of joking about whether the line length was calculated correctly. The brief “dunk test” was an excellent first trial for submergence during this coming winter’s storm conditions.
There are opportunities for careers at sea in
a wide variety of positions on board a research vessel. One of the most interesting is the MarTech
(Marine Technician), because of their dual role during a scientific
The Marine Technicians are technically assigned to the science team although they are a part of the ship’s crew. Bern and Ethan are the MarTechs on this cruise and both work specifically with R/V Sikuliaq. They are considered a part of whatever science team is on board at the time. The MarTechs are on 12-hour shifts, from 8:00 to 8:00. Ethan is on at night, and Bern is on during the day, although there is some overlap. The two men help to deploy and recover instruments for the science team and as well as helping the crew with any deck operations. They also are responsible for the computer lab and overseeing the data displays and production from the various sensors, as well as maintaining the instruments on the ship that provide information. Although they are always at hand to help when we need it, you will often find them also repairing and upgrading ship’s equipment and helping with engineering tasks.
Bern has been a MarTech on R/V Sikuliaq since 2013, and had previous experience on other research vessels, both American and international. Bern is also the ship’s unofficial documentation guy; he has a number of small cameras that he regularly uses to capture the action on board, whether from the vantage point of one of the cranes or on top of his own helmet. You can find examples of Bern’s camera work on R/V Sikuliaq’s Instagram site (@rvsikuliaq).
Like Bern, Ethan has also worked on other research vessels but has been on R/V Sikuliaq since it was built. This is the only ship he’s been a MarTech on. His interest in oceanography, especially marine acoustics, led him to this career. Marine acoustics is more than just listening for large species such as whales. There are acoustic sensors that “listen” to the ship and help ensure that it is functioning normally. Other acoustic sensors, such as the ones based in the open keel of the ship use sound technology to map the ocean floor as we progress on our path. Ethan was kind enough to show me the keel and explain the instrumentation. In addition, there are instruments that constantly record salinity, temperature, current strength, solar radiation and other measurements along the path we travel to provide a more complete picture of the environmental conditions existing at every point.
The marine technicians manage the computer lab when they are not needed for operations. This lab is the nerve center of the ship and allows the science team to work closely with the bridge to coordinate the movement of instruments and the speed of the vessel through the water to achieve optimum results. You can find information on meteorology, navigation, engine performance, depth sounders, closed circuit monitors, ship acoustics and deck winch statistics by looking at specific screens. In addition, the staterooms have monitors that also allow viewing of certain screens.
By far the two displays that are followed most closely are the CTD cast screens and the AIS screen. The AIS screen gives our course on a map, and shows our progress as well as future waypoints. It also shows our speed and bearing to our next point as well as ocean depth and wind speed and direction. The CTD screen shows real-time results in a number of categories such as salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll, temperature, nitrates and light as the CTD descends and ascends through the water column. Based on the results of the down cast, the teams determine the depths from which they’d like water samples collected as the CTD rises.
The equipment on the bridge represents the pinnacle of technology as far as ship operations go. The captain’s chair has been described by some members of the science team as the “Battlestar Galactica” or “Star Trek” chair, and it really does look like it fits in a science fiction movie. Displays on the bridge show performance of the engines, radar returns and our bearing and range from them, and any other pertinent information to vessel performance. Ship movement and waypoints are hand plotted by the second mate, who also oversees ship movement along with the captain, chief mate and third mate. The ship’s officers work the bridge on a rotating watch schedule. One of the cool features of this ship is that it operates two Z-drives, similar to what is used on tugboats. These are propellers that can move independently of each other and turn in any direction. They allow the ship to be maneuvered precisely, which is a great help when we need to stay on a station through multiple operations. Various views of the bridge and the navigational instruments used by the ship’s crew are shown in the gallery below.
Happy Mooring Day! It’s our self-declared “national holiday”! Because the process of deploying the moorings and buoys took up all of the morning and a part of the afternoon, most of the rest of the science team took the morning off and slept in. So many of them ran on the treadmill that running might become a part of our “holiday” tradition. My roommate even took bacon back to her room to eat in bed. Gwenn brought out her Twizzlers…somewhat appropriate because they look like steel cable (even though the moorings did not use cable). It was a nice breather for the science team, who have been working very hard to collect samples and run experiments. Somewhere along the line, the idea of making Mooring Day a “holiday” caught on, and it’s become a bit of a joke amongst the team. We’re down to a week to go, and everyone is beginning to think about what happens when we get in and when we all go home. But… we’re not quite there yet, and there’s a lot of work left to do.
Animals Seen Today
We apparently have a stowaway…a small finch-like bird that flits about the ship. It must have joined us when we were near land, and now we ARE the land.
Latitude: 57º 9.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Welcome to a tour of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Your tour guide today is the Room
Allow me to explain.
When I am not a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, I am the special education preschool teacher in Room 11 at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in Canoga Park, California. My classroom has a classroom bear (made of construction paper) that “hides” every night when the students go home. In the beginning of the year, he is sort of easy to find, but as the year progresses, he is harder and harder to find. By the end of the year, only a paw or an ear might be showing!
thing my students want to do every morning is look for the bear. When they find it, they excitedly explain where
it is. Speech and language are things we work on in class all the time, and the
bear gives us something fun to talk about! For some students, a single word might
be the goal. Other students may be working on putting a few words together, or
even enough to make a sentence. It’s
also a great time for them to learn prepositional words or phrases to describe
where the bear is hiding, such as next to, under, beneath, or on top of.
Now it’s YOUR turn. I hope you have fun touring the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with the Room 11 Bear and finding him in the photos where he decided to hide in a tricky spot. He is in EVERY picture.
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.)
Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral
Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: May 19, 2018
Weather from the Bridge Latitude: 29°55.8590’ N Longitude: 80°16.9468’ W Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet Wind Speed: 18.1 knots Wind Direction: 210.6° Visibility: 1 nautical mile Air Temperature: 25.3°C Sky: Overcast
Science and Technology Log
Extra Operations- Zodiac Hurricane Fast Rescue Boat:
Occasionally these Fast Rescue Boats are used for more than real emergencies and drills, practicing the pick-up of a man-overboard and rescue diver missions, in the case of day 2 of my trip on NOAA Ship Pisces, a camera replacement part became necessary. When a small crew change is needed or to pick up a repair part for an essential item, instead of bringing the ship to dock, the FRB (Fast Rescue Boat) is sent in.
The LF or Lead Fishermen, Farron “Junior” Cornell was the FRB coxswain (driver/operator of a ship’s boat). His navigation skills were developed by working in the hydrographic division that performs regular bathymetry readings using these vessels on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, making him a very capable pilot of this small watercraft in the NOAA fleet. The FRB has seating for 6, with 2 aft of console, 1 forward of engine cover, 2 sitting on foredeck on engine cover and 1 prone on deck by stretcher.
Some other specs on the boat includes the following: Length overall=6.81 meters including jet Beam overall=2.59 meters Fuel capacity=182 litres (48 US Gal) Bollard Pull ~600 kg/5884 N Endurance (hours @ 20 knots)~6.75 hours Max Horse Power=235kW, 315 hp At Light Load Operation Displacement = 2150 kg/4750 lbs Full Speed ~32 knots Fuel System =48 US gallon tank
Zodiac Hurricane H638 DJ, USCG Approved Fast Rescue Boat (FRB) with Miranda Hoist System
Zodiac Hurricane H638 DJ, USCG Approved Fast Rescue Boat (FRB) with Miranda Hoist System
Zodiac Hurricane H638 DJ, USCG Approved Fast Rescue Boat (FRB) with Miranda Hoist System
Engine Room Tour Pictures and Learnings:
Daily Duties: Freshwater Needs– Reverse Osmosis and Evaporators
Freshwater is necessary for a variety of reasons beyond drinking water for the crew. It is used for laundry, cooking, showers and on NOAA Ship Pisces, to fill the ballast water tanks. Approximately 31 gallons of freshwater is used on average per person per day, with 29 people on board for 12 days, totaling nearly 11,000 gallons by the end of the trip. One method to supply this freshwater supply is through reverse osmosis. Osmosis is the diffusion of water across a membrane.
Normally water moves, without an energy input from high to low concentrations. In reverse osmosis, water is moved in the opposite direction of its natural tendency to find equilibrium. The force at which water wants to move through the membrane is called its osmotic pressure. To get water to move against the osmotic pressure another force must be applied to counteract and overcome this tendency. Sea water is found in abundance and can be forced across a semi-permeable membrane leaving the ions on one-side and the freshwater to be collected into containment chambers on the other side. Technology has impacted this process by discoveries of better semi-permeable membranes that allow for faster and larger amounts of sea-water to be moved through the system. Pisces uses reverse osmosis and a back-up freshwater system of 2 evaporators. When the temperatures are high (as they were in the first few days of the cruise) the evaporators are the go-to system and make for tasty drinking water.
Evaporators take in sea water and distill the liquid water using waste heat collected from the engines that raises the temperature of water in the pipes. This temperature provides the energy that forces the liquid freshwater to vaporize and enter its gaseous phase, then under pressure this vapor is condensed and can be collected and separated from the brine that is removed and discharged.
Wastewater:There are different types of water that can be used for different tasks aboard a ship. Typically gray water (which is relatively clean wastewater from showers and sinks but may contain soaps, oils, and human hair/skin) is placed in the MSD (Marine Sanitation Device), which is similar to a septic system. Black water is wastewater from toilets, or any water that has come into contact with fecal matter and may carry potential disease carrying pathogens. Black water is also treated in the MSD. This black water sewage is first subjected to a macerator pump that breaks the fecal matter into smaller pieces, enzymes are added to further decompose and before disposal a bit of chlorine is added to ensure no bacteria remain alive. This water can be disposed of into the ocean if the ship is over 12 miles offshore. If the ship is within 12 miles the sewage must be either stored in containment system on board the vessel or taken to dock and disposed of by an in-shore treatment facility. For more information on the regulations for wastewater disposal while at sea see the Ocean Dumping Act.
Ballast Water and New Regulations: Ballast water tanks are compartments used to hold water to provide stability for the ship. This balance is necessary for better maneuverability and improved propulsion through the water. It can allow the crew to compensate and adjusts for changes in the ships cargo load or fuel/water weight changes over the course of a trip. Historically this water has been drawn up from the surrounding sea water to fill the tanks. Unfortunately, in the not so distant past, the ballast water from one location on the globe has been deposited into another area along with it, all of it foreign plants, animals and microbiota. This act led to the introduction of a host of exotic and non-native species to this new area, some of which became invasive and wreaked havoc on the existing ecosystems. Today there are a host of case studies in my students’ textbook like the Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and the European Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas) that were introduced in this way that resulted in devastating impacts both environmentally and economically to the invaded area.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed new regulations in September of 2017 calling for better management of this ballast water exchange. Ballast Water Management Convention 2017.
Another high tech approach to this problem has been the development of a sea-water filtration systems, but these carry a heavy price tag that can range anywhere from $750,000 to $5 million.
The engine room area is staffed by 7 crew members. Back-up systems and the amount of en route repair necessary to keep the ship running and safe was apparent in the engine room. There were redundancies in the engines, HVAC, hydraulics, and fuel systems. Spare parts are stored for unexpected breaks or other trouble-shooting needs. The control panels throughout the tour had screens that not only allowed a check of every level of function on every system on the ship, there was another screen that demonstrated the electrical connections on how all these monitoring sensors were wired, in case a reading needed to be checked back to its source.
Pictured here is a diesel engine on NOAA Ship Pisces. Pisces has 4 of these on board: 2 bigger engines that are CAT model 3512 vs. 2 smaller engines that are CAT 3508. When the ship is going at full steam they use 3 of 4 to provide power to turn the shaft, and when they need less power, they can modify their engine choices and power, therefore using less fuel. CAT engines are models 3512 and 3508 diesel driven at provide 1360 KW and 910 KW, respectively. There is also an emergency engine (CAT model 3306) on board as well providing 170 kw of power.
The pressurized fluid in these pipes are used to move devices. Pisces is in the process of converting certain hydraulic systems to an organic andbiodegradable “green” oilcalled Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs).
This area is command central. I decided to focus on only a few features for this blog from a handful of screens found in this room that monitor a variety of sensors and systems about both the ships conditions and the environmental factors surrounding the ship. Commanding Officer CDR Nicholas Chrobak, NOAA demonstrated how to determine the difference on the radar screen of rain scatter vs. another vessel. In the image the rain gives a similar color pattern and directionality, yet the ship appeared more angular and to have a different heading then those directed by wind patterns. When clicking on the object or vessel another set of calculations began and within minutes a pop-up reading would indicate characteristics such as CPA (closest point of approach) and TCPA (Time of Closest Point Approach) as seen in the image.
Scanned Maps and monitors help to prevent collisions
ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System)
These safety features let vessels avoid collisions and are constantly being calculated as the ship navigates. GPS transponders on the ships send signals that allow for these readings to be monitored. ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) charts provide a layered vector chart with information about the surrounding waters and hazards to navigation. One screen image displayed information about the dynamic positioning system.
Paths and positions can be typed in that the software then can essentially take the wheel, controlling main propulsion, the bow thruster and rudder to keep the ship on a set heading, and either moving on a desired course or hold in a stationary position. These computer-based navigation systems integrate GPS (Global Positioning System) information along with electronic navigational charts, radar and other sailing sensors to ensure the ship can navigate safely while effectively carrying out the mission at hand.
The Mess Deck and Galley:
This location serves up delicious and nutritious meals. Not only do the stewards provide the essential food groups, they provide vegetarian options and make individual plates for those that may miss a meal during shift work.
Dana Reid, who I interviewed below, made me some amazing omelets on the trip and had a positive friendly greeting each time I saw him. I decided a few days into the cruise to start taking pictures of my meals as proof for the nature of how well fed the crew is on these adventures.
crab legs was one of my favorites- I went back for seconds
Breakfast of champions
Every day there was some sort of fish choice
chicken fried steak and the gumbo were especially tasty
Omelettes to order
There were occasional green things on my plate
Menu items for each day posted on NOAA Ship Pisces
Menu Screen on the Mess Deck
Each day a new screen of menus appeared on the ship’s monitors, along with other rotating information from quotes, to weather to safety information.
Today a possible shipwreck is evident on the sonar maps from the previous night’s multibeam readings. If weather permits, the science team plans to check out the unknown structure en route to the next MPA. This scientific study reminds me of one of the reasons I fell in love with science. There is that sense of discovery. Unlike pirates and a search for sunken gold, the treasure to be found here is hopefully a diversity of fish species and thriving deep coral communities. I found myself a bit lost during the discussions of fishing regulations for these areas designated as MPAs (Marine Protected Areas). I had always thought ‘protected’ would mean prohibitive to fishing. So I did a little research and will share a little of the basics learned. And I hope someday these regulations will become more restrictive in these fragile habitats.
The MPA , “marine protected area” definition according to the implementation of an Executive Order 13158 is “…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.” But what that actually means in terms of the size of the area and approach to conservation, or the level protection and the fishing regulations seems to vary from location to location. The regulations are governed by a variety of factors from the stakeholders, agencies and scientists to the population numbers and resilience of the habitat to distances offshore.
For more information on MPAs visit https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/mpa.html
What’s My Story? Dana Reid The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.
What is your specific title and job description on this mission? Second Cook. His job description includes assisting the Chief Steward in preparing meals and maintaining cleanliness of the galley (kitchen), mess deck (tables picture where crew eats), scullery (part of the kitchen where dishes get washed) fridge/freezer and storage areas.
How long have you worked for NOAA? 5th year
What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? His favorite part of this job is getting a chance to take care of people, putting a smile on people’s faces and making them happy. His least favorites are tasks that involve standing in the freezer for extended periods of time to stock and rotate foods. In addition he mentioned that he isn’t too fond of waking up very early in the morning.
When did you first become interested in this career and why? His initial food as a career-interest started when he was in high school working for Pizza Hut. He later found himself working for 2 years cooking fried chicken for Popeyes. His interest in the maritime portion of his career also began right after high school when he joined the Navy. In the Navy he worked in everything from the galley to a plane captain and jet mechanic. During his time in the Navy he worked on 5 different carriers and went on 9 different detachments including Desert Storm. After hurricane Katrina in 2006 he found himself interested in finding another job through government service and began working on a variety of NOAA’s vessels.
What is one of the most interesting places you have visited? He found the culture and terrain of Oahu one of his most interesting. He enjoys hiking and Hawaii, Alaska and Seattle have been amazing places to visit.
Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? He spends the majority of his time prepping (washing and chopping) vegetables and a majority of his time washing dishes. In addition he is responsible for keeping beverages and dry goods stocked.
Questions from students in Environmental Science at Camas High School
How is cooking at sea different from cooking on land? He said that he needs to spend more effort to keep his balance and if in rough weather the ship rocks. This impacts his meal making if he is trying to cook an omelet and if mixing something in keeping the bowl from sliding across the prep table. He mentioned that occasionally when baking a cake that it might come out lopsided depending upon the angle of the ship and timing of placement in the oven.
What do you have to consider when planning and cooking a meal? He plans according to what meal of the day it is, breakfast, lunch or dinner. The number of people to cook for, number of vegetarians and the part of the world the cruise is happening in are all factored in when planning and making meals. For example, when he has been in Hawaii he’d consider cooking something more tropical – cooking with fish, coconut and pineapple; if in the Southeast they tend to make more southern style cooking, sausage/steak lots of greens; if in the Northeast more food items like lobster and clam chowder make their way onto the menu.
What is the best meal you can make on the ship, and what is the worst? He said he makes a pretty good Gumbo. He said one of his weakness is cooking with curry and said that the Chief Steward is more skilled with dishes of that flavor.
How many meals do you make in a day? 3; In addition he hosts occasional special events like ice cream socials, banana splits or grilling party with smoker cooking steaks to hamburgers on the back deck.
Latitude: 50° 10.002′ N
Longitude: 125° 21.685′ W
Sea Wave Height: 7 feet
Wind Speed: 5 knots or less
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility: 14 km
Air Temperature: 9oC
Sky: Mostly Sunny
Science and Technology Log
NOAA Ship Fairweather has begun its transit to Alaska for the heart of the field season which means transiting the famous Inside Passage, a roughly two day voyage through a stretch of nearly a thousand islands between Washington State and Alaska. The more protected waterways of the Inside Passage provided a smooth, calm ride. I took advantage of the transit to spend more time on Fairweather‘s bridge in order to learn a bit about navigation.
One thing that quickly became clear on the bridge of Fairweather is that for many navigational tasks, the crew has at least three ways of being able to obtain needed information. For example, navigational charts (maps) show two compasses: magnetic and true north. The inner circle represents the magnetic compass, which in reality points 17 degrees right of true North and is dependent upon the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core. Because the magnetic compass can be offset by the pull of the ship’s magnetic fields (the ship is made of steel, after all), Fairweather’s compass is actually readjusted each year. During our Inside Passage transit, a specialist came aboard near Lopez Island to reset the ship’s magnetic compass.
The ship’s magnetic compass is located on the flying deck, just above the bridge. So, to be able to read the compass from the bridge, the crew looks through a series of mirrors above the helm. Notice that next to the mirrors, is a digital display that reads “78.” This is an electrical reading from the gyrocompass. The gyrocompass reflects “true North” also referred to as geographical North.
When at sea, a crew member on the bridge takes “fixes” every fifteen minutes, both day and night. To take a fix, the crew member uses an auxiliary compass and chooses three landmarks on shore as points. The crew member then lines up the viewfinder and records the degree of the line formed between the ship and the given point.
Next, the crew member plots the three points on the chart using triangles (similar to giant protractors). The point where the three lines intersect is the ship’s current location. Though technically, the crew could just plot two points ashore and look for where the lines intersect, but as a way of triple checking, the crew chooses three points. Then, if a line doesn’t intersect as expected, the crew member can either retake the fix or rely on the other two points for accuracy.
In addition to using the two aforementioned compasses to determine the ship’s location, the open seas often mean majestic night skies. Some of the crew members told me they also look to the stars and find the Big Dipper and North Star. A central theme on the bridge is being prepared: if both compasses malfunction, the crew can still safely guide Fairweather along its course.
In addition to being able to take fixes and locate constellations in the night sky, modern day technology can make the crew’s job a bit easier. The ship’s latitude and longitude is continually displayed by an electronic monitor above the helm via GPS (Global Positioning System). Below, the ship’s Electronic Navigation System (ENS) essentially acts as Google Maps for the sea. Additionally, the ENS provides a wealth of data, tracking the ship’s speed, wind, and other contacts.
Next to the ENS on the bridge is the ship’s radar, which shows other vessels transiting the area. Similar to ENS, the radar system also provides information about the ship’s speed and location.
Wind matters in navigation. The force and direction of the wind can affect both currents and the ship’s route. Winds may push the ship off course which is why taking fixes and constantly monitoring the ship’s actual location is critical in maintaining a given route. The wind can be monitored by the weather vane on the bow, the electronic wind tracker above, or on the ENS below. Additionally, a crew member demonstrates a wheel, used for calculating and recalculating a ship’s course based on the wind’s influence.
On the bridge, multiple ways of being able to perform tasks is not limited to navigation alone. Communicating quickly on a ship is important in case of an emergency. Fairweather is equipped with various communication systems: a paging system, an internal telephone line, cell phones, satellite phones, etc.
Just before leaving Puget Sound, I had the chance to go kayaking for a few hours with two of the crew members. We had great luck; not only was the water placid, but harbor seals played for nearly an hour as we paddled around one of many coves. It was neat to see Fairweather from yet another perspective.
Did You Know?
The Inside Passage is a series of waterways and islands that stretches from Puget Sound, just north of Seattle, Washington on past Vancouver and British Columbia and up to the southeastern Alaskan panhandle. In British Columbia, the Inside Passage stretches over more than 25,000 miles of coast due to the thousand or so islands along the way. In Alaska, the Inside Passage comprises another 500 miles of coastline. Many vessels choose the Inside Passage as their preferred coast as it is much more protected than the open waters of the Pacific Ocean to the immediate west. Nonetheless, rapidly changing tidal lines, numerous narrow straits, and strong currents make navigating the Inside Passage a challenging feat. In addition to frequent transit by commercial vessels, tugboats, and barges, the Inside Passage is also increasingly popular among cruise ships and sailboats. On average it takes 48-60 hours to navigate.
Challenge Question #4: Devotion 7th Graders – NOAA and NASA collaborated to produce the National Weather Service Cloud Chart which features explanations of 27 unique cloud types. Clouds can tell sailors a great deal about weather. Can you identify the type of clouds in the ten above pictures of the Inside Passage? Then, record your observations of clouds for five days in Brookline. What do you notice about the relationship between the clouds you see and the weather outside? What do you think the clouds in the pictures above would tell sailors about the upcoming weather as they navigated the Inside Passage? Present your observations as journal entries or a log.
A Bonus Challenge. . .
Just outside the bridge on both the Fairweather‘s port and starboard sides are little boxes with two thermometers each. What is the difference between dry and wet temperatures? Why would sailors be interested in both measurements?