Paul Ritter: Sixteen Days… July 31, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

pisces team picture

Pisces team picture

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 31, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

8-01-13 ship data

Science, personal, Technology Log

Date: Wednesday July 31, 2013
One day before we leave but you would not know it on the ship.  We are business as usual.  Our team is somewhere off of the coast of Cape Canaveral, and we have three sets of traps to set before we can call it a day.  With NASA’s Cape Canaveral Space Center in the background, we began laying traps in a zigzag pattern over the top of an underwater rock formation that the acoustics lab found the night before.

Our day’s catch was much better than in days past due to the fact that we he had moved much closer to shore.  For some reason our leg of the expedition experienced an unusual upwelling of cold water upon the continental shelf where we were exploring.  Our temperatures for most of the trip ranged from 14 to 16 degrees Celsius. Once we traveled closer to shore our temperatures went up to around 19 degrees Celsius.  This change in location meant that the water on the ocean floor was warmer and warmer water means more reef fish that are hungry.  FISH ON.

Notably, something that stands out in my mind that has made the entire trip successful is the camaraderie of the acoustics, and the wet /dry lab teams.  You would not know by looking, that many of them had never met prior to this trip.  Arguably, these people are the best of the best in the marine biology industry, and none of them have egos. They are so fun to be around.  They are very much a family.  Every time someone enters either lab, a round of “HEY’S” is shouted out by the entire group, as if we had not seen each other in years.   It reminds me of the old television show Cheers, when Norm would walk in to the bar and everyone would yell his name “NORM”.  I loved that show.  Anyway, I would give almost anything to work, side by side, with these people the rest of my life.  I imagine that this group of scientist is exactly what all other researchers aspire to have.

At the end of the day, trap six, the last trap, was pulled and we finished with a haul of good ol’ Black Sea Bass.  You got to love it.  The time was 3:45 and it was time to pack it up and clean the labs.  As a team, we boxed all of the equipment up, we scrubbed everything from top to bottom, and did it with the same enthusiasm we had had the entire trip.  We got the word from James Walker, Chief Bosun on the Pisces, to get all of our gear ready to be put into cargo nets ASAP.  He informed us that we were scheduled to arrive at Mayport Naval Station for a 7:00 A.M. dock time.  It did not take long for all of us to amass the gear and ready it all for transport.

At some point after supper, which was crab legs, and rib eye steaks, Ryan Harris, the skilled fisherman, and I were walking the deck and realized that we were about to get wet from a storm.  Thinking quickly, we moved all of the non-waterproof materials inside the wet lab.  I told Ryan I would see him in the morning and headed to my stateroom.  For some reason I could not get to sleep.  I was exhausted but just could not shutdown.  Zach, my roommate, and I talked about going home and all of the things we were going to do when we got there, for around an hour and then called it a day.

The Pisces steamed through the night and we were right on time.  Grabbing a cup of coffee, I raced out to the ships observation deck so I could watch us come into the dock.  It was amazing.  The crew and the bridge worked flawlessly together to bring our ship, that we have called home for the last sixteen days, back dockside.  My hat goes off to them.  James directed everyone to get into their positions. A small rubber ball with a long lines attached was hurled by one of the men, who was on port bow of the ship, overboard and onto land.  Waiting on shore, several young Navy men caught the ball and pulled the rope onto land forming a tight rope between the ship and land that any member of the Wallenda family could walk.  As the onshore men placed the rope on the davit, the ship motored forward to use the rope to pull the ships aft to the dock.  Upon docking, the crew of the Pisces completed our landing by connecting the massive cables that were lifted by a crane on shore.  These cables allowed the ship to shut off her engines, that had been going nonstop for the last sixteen days, and run on shore power.  Ah quiet at last.  Just because we were tied to land, it did not mean that our jobs were over.

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Off loading the scientific equipment aboard the Pisces.

We still had to move the cargo nets with all of our scientific equipment to land, and then the arduous task of loading it all into the team moving van.  The task of loading the van should have taken hours but the phrase “many hands make light work” was reaffirmed as the entire scientific party jumped in and made light work of the job.  Once complete, we all gathered, took our last pictures, hugged, and said our goodbyes.  And just like that, I jumped in a minivan with five of the ship’s crew and Matt Wilson, the team hydrographer.

Within 20 minutes we were at the airport and all headed to our gates.  My flight from Jacksonville was relatively easy, with no issues but when I arrived at O’Hare the same could not be said.  I think at last count my gate was moved at least 3 times before I made my way to gate G1.  Twenty minutes before flight time, I noticed that we had not boarded the plane yet.  The gate attendants were scurrying around like a mouse running from my cats, and then the ominous “ding” came over the speaker.  “Ahh ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry about the delay but we are experiencing some mechanical issues with plane”.  “We will try to keep you informed as to the progress and hopefully get you on to your final destination quickly”.  “Thank you for your understanding”.  After an hour or so, we finally got the direction that we were again moving to another gate.

As we were walking to our final exiting point, I started talking to a couple of the flight attendants and asked them what had happened.  Apparently, my original plane had taken a goose missile to one of the engines and it totally destroyed any chances that plane would fly again in the next several weeks.  As you could imagine, the attendants said it was quite a stressful situation.  I, for one, am very thankful that they changed my plane.  Finally, I boarded my new plane and made my way to my seat.  I could not wait to see my wife who was waiting for me at the airport.  As we taxied down the runway, the pilot came on the planes intercom and informed us that she was going to try to speed up our flight time a bit.  Speed up a bit?  I guess.  Our scheduled flight was to take 45 minutes to travel from Chicago O’Hare to Bloomington Regional Airport.  Our captain did it in 25 minutes flat.  Woo hoo.  I am going to American Airlines to request that she trains the entire fleet.  Just before landing, as if I could have scripted it, our plane flew over my hometown of Pontiac, Illinois.  It was then at that moment, that I knew I was home.  I could not wait to see my wife.  The plane landed and we rolled to the gate.  I don’t think it was 3 minutes and we were all off of the plane.  I hurried out the door, ran through the terminal, and there she was.  My wife was smiling and more beautiful than ever before.  I had missed her and my girls so much.

I will miss my new brothers and sisters of our scientific team and ship’s crew.  My students, family and friends are going to be amazed by all of the stories, pictures and videos. I am excited that all of them and others are going to be able to participate in reading the data from the real research we did on board.  I could not be more thankful to NOAA for my opportunity to live my childhood dream.  As I write these last sentences of my blog I am welling up with tears.  For sixteen days, in July of 2013, I aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces got to be a Marine Biologist, and ocean explorer.  I will never forget it.

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Paul Ritter in front of the ‘Pisces’ sign

Did You Know?  

I took a lot of pictures on my trip and these are what I consider my top 20 photos.

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Paul Ritter in a “gumby” suit

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Playing Bean Bags on the Pisces

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Warren Mitchell and Paul Ritter lock and load the XBT

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Me…. and my Moray

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Sea turtle off the port bow

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Paul Ritter and Shark Sucker in the wet lab of the Pisces

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Paul Ritter and a 24 lb. Red Snapper in the wet lab of the Pisces

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Paul Ritter setting Traps on the Pisces

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Paul Ritter getting to know a Blue Crab

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Paul Ritter driving the Pisces

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Sunset on the Pisces

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Catch of the day.

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Paul Ritter and Ryan Harris catching Bonito.

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Paul Ritter with a Palm Warbler

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Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

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Nurse Shark caught on our Go Pro camera

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Paul Ritter – Safety drill aboard the Pisces

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Paul Ritter and some of the many Sea Stars.

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Common Octopus

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Paul Ritter catching a Barracuda aboard the Pisces.

Lindsay Knippenberg: Hurricane Awareness Tour, May 5-6, 2011

NOAA Teacher in the Air
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Aircraft Kermit
May 5 – 6, 2011

My adventure with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters started bright and early in Savannah, Georgia. I met the crew in the hotel lobby before the sun had even begun to rise and we were off to the airport. The crew of the aircraft were Aircraft Commander Carl Newman, Co-Pilot Cathy Martin, Flight Engineer Dewie Floyd, Crew Chief Wes Crouch, Flight Director Barry Damiano, Program Manager Jim McFadden, and Technicians Bill Olney and Todd Richards. Once we got to the airport the crew immediately got to work preparing our aircraft, a Lockheed WP-3D Orion, for departure.

The Hurricane Hunter aircraft is a Lockheed WP-3D Orion

NOAA has two WP-3D's. We would be flying on Kermit today. The other plane is named Miss Piggy and is currently in Fairbanks, AK.

While they were working, Barry gave me a safety briefing and showed me where I would sit, how to put on my seat belt, and what to do in case of an emergency. During our preparations the rest of the passengers arrived. Besides myself, several people from the National Hurricane Center, and Rick Knabb from the Weather Channel would be accompanying us on our flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Once the crew had gone through their pre-flight checklists, we all gathered for a pre-brief. The Commander went over the flight plan and the flight director briefed us on the weather that we would encounter on our flight.

Aircraft Commander, Carl Newman, reviewing our flight plan and going through safety procedures before our flight.

Everything looked good and we were ready to take off. I was so excited for takeoff. I have flown in airplanes before, but for this flight I would get to see what happens in the cockpit. I got to sit in the chief scientist’s seat and it was pretty amazing. I put on my headset so that I could hear the pilots communicate with each other and the tower.

I'm ready to fly!

It was amazing how many buttons and switches there were and how the pilots knew what each one did. When it was our turn to take off the propellers got louder and we raced down the runway until we lifted off the ground.

A pilot's job is not easy. This is just some of the buttons and switches that they have to memorize.

Heading down the runway and getting ready to takeoff.

My favorite part was when we went through the clouds. It was surreal to watch them get closer and closer and then we cut through them effortlessly.

Flying through the clouds on our way to Fort Lauderdale

Our flight to Fort Lauderdale was just over an hour long and we flew along the Atlantic coastline. It was cloudy for the majority of the flight, so we didn’t see too much, but the clouds did open up as we flew over Cape Canaveral and we saw the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building and the shuttle landing strip.

The NASA Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral. The landing strip for the shuttles is also in the picture in the bottom right corner.

Watching the landing from the cockpit was also pretty cool. The plane lined up with the landing strip and we got closer and closer until we gently touched down.

As we pulled up to the tarmac we could see everyone waiting for us. Several emergency response professionals, local National Weather Service employees, and volunteers would be helping out with the Hurricane Awareness Tour today. Together we would educate school groups, the media, and the public on hurricanes, how they are studied, and what to do in the event of a hurricane.

A firefighter telling students about his job during a hurricane and how they can prepare for hurricanes at home.

Our morning started out with over 500 students from 13 schools. My job was to talk to the students about the instruments on the outside of the plane while they waited for their turn to tour the inside of the plane. The students were a lot of fun and they had some really good questions and observations about what they saw on the outside of the plane.

I got to teach the students about the outside of the plane before they went inside.

The students liked the stickers on the outside of the plane showing the hurricanes that the plane had flown through and the countries that it had visited.

Are those torpedoes? No, they are cloud physics probes that image individual cloud particles by using lasers (much cooler).

What is attached to the belly of the plane? It's a C-Band lower fuselage radar

In the afternoon we opened up the tours to the public. A long line formed and we slowly made sure that everyone got to see the inside of the plane. There were people of all ages and they were all very excited to see the plane and learn about hurricanes. I helped the meteorologists from the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center answer questions from the people waiting in line. I’m definitely not a hurricane expert, but after listening to the meteorologists all day I was beginning to feel like one.

It was very rewarding for the crew to give tours of the plane to war veterans.

After everyone had seen the plane, the crew began to prepare the aircraft for the trip home. The crew had been to four different cities over the past week on the Hurricane Awareness Tour and they were ready to go home and see their families and get some much-needed rest.

Two of the crew members were even from my home state of Michigan.

The co-pilot, Cathy Martin, and I. It was an inspiration for many of the students to see a woman hurricane hunter pilot.

For the flight home I got to sit in the navigator’s seat. It wasn’t as exciting as sitting in the cockpit, but it was cool to be able to see our course and watch our changes in altitude. The flight home was pretty amazing because we flew below the clouds at 4,000ft. I had never seen the Everglades before and it was incredible to see them that closely. It took us about an hour to get to MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, FL where NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center is located.

I got to sit in the navigator's seat for the flight home and we didn't even get lost.

Flying over the Everglades.

When we landed, we unloaded our gear and put the plane to bed in the hanger. I really liked the hanger because there were several NOAA planes that are used for a variety of different observations and projects.

The NOAA flag hanging in Hangar 5 at MacDill AFB. Home to NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center (AOC).

All tucked in and ready for a good night's sleep.

It was a very long day and when I finally made it to my hotel that night, I collapsed. It was an awesome day and I was so appreciative of the commander and crew of the hurricane hunter for welcoming me onto their aircraft and teaching me about hurricanes and about what they do.

Thank you for a great day Commander Carl!

Nancy McClintock, June 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nancy McClintock and Mark Silverman
Onboard NASA Ship Freedom Star
June 7 – 14, 2006

Mission: Pre-closure evaluation of habitat and fish assemblages in five proposed no fishing zones in the South Atlantic.
Geographical Area: South Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 13, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: Fair to poor
Wind direction:  ESE
Average wind speed: 7 knots
Wave height: 1-2’ SE
Air temperature:  75 oF
Sea temperature:  79 oF
Cloud cover: 100%
Barometric pressure:  10144 mb

Mark Silverman and Nancy  McClintock conclude their awesome adventure. My memories truly will last a lifetime and I thank NOAA for giving me the opportunity to participate in this excellent program.

Mark Silverman and Nancy McClintock conclude their awesome adventure. My memories truly will last a lifetime and I thank NOAA for giving me the opportunity to participate in this excellent program.

Science and Technology Log 

The FREEDOM STAR traveled approximately 200 miles during the night toward Port Canaveral, our final destination. Wave height increased and then decreased as morning arrived.  It will take approximately 15 minutes to go through the lock and then 1-½ hours to travel upriver to the dock at Hanger AF. The FREEDOM STAR is the sister ship of the LIBERTY STAR and they are both used in the recovery of rocket boosters for the NASA Space program.  Before leaving the dock, the FREEDOM STAR takes on freshwater that is stored in two tanks totaling 17,000 gallons – this is non-potable water. 5,000 gallons of potable (drinkable) water is stored in a separate tank.  Once the FREEDOM STR reaches the dock the wastewater goes through the city purification system before being released into open water.  Testing of this water reveals that it is drinkable at this time. However, it is not used for drinking water.  Legally, the wastewater can be released at sea, but the FREEDOM STAR  does not do this.

Personal Log 

The waves did not reach the expectations of 30 knots and the ship did not rock and roll as much as expected.  This morning is very gloomy and much cooler due to the cloud cover. The viewing of Port Canaveral in the distance brings a certain element of excitement, as does going under the drawbridge and entering the lock. However, I am sad to reach the conclusion of this wonderful adventure. I have many wonderful memories and pictures to keep forever. I thank NOAA for selecting me and giving me this fantastic opportunity to enhance my life and the lives of my students.

Mike Nicholas, FREEDOM STAR 2nd Mate, enters the lock at Port Canaveral as Allan Gravina, FREEDOMS STAR Able Bodied Seaman, looks on.

Mike Nicholas, 2nd Mate, enters the lock at Port Canaveral as Allan Gravina, Able Bodied Seaman, looks on.

Question of the Day 

Answer to yesterday’s question: In 330’ of sea water the pressure is equivalent to 10 atmospheres of pressure from the surface to outer space.  The fish have difficulty withstanding the increase in pressure and, quite often, do not survive. Fish have swim bladders that help them keep position in the water. When they are brought to the surface from a deep depth, the pressure decrease causes the bladder to expand.  Too much expansion kills the fish. Today’s question: How does it feel to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea and spend six days on a NASA ship in the Atlantic Ocean?

Today’s answer: This has been one of the best experiences of my life and I can hardly wait to tell everyone about this cruise, the importance of exploring the ocean for scientific purposes, and show my pictures.

Interview with Marta Ribera 

The ship passes beneath the drawbridge as it returns home to Port Canaveral.

The ship passes beneath the drawbridge as it returns home to Port Canaveral.

Marta was born in Gainesville, Florida and moved to Barcelona, Spain at the age of 3 ½ years.  She received an undergraduate degree with major emphasis in General Biology and a minor in Ecology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Following a year of graduate work in GIS, Marta received an internship at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Panama City and has been with NMFS for the past three years. On this cruise, Marta oversees the use of the CTDs (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) and records all data collected.  The larger CTD (valued at $18,000) is used to record conductivity, temperature, depth, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and clarity of water.  A smaller CTD (valued at $1,800) is placed on the ROV and records pressure, temperature, and depth of the ocean.  At the Panama City Lab, Marta also works with multi-beam mapping, GIS, and is conducting a study on juvenile snapper with Stacey Harter. One of her goals is to complete a Master’s Degree in GIS applied to Fisheries and Marine Biology. “The best thing about my job is that I love the people with whom I work and nothing is ever the same.”

Marta Ribera and Andy David, NOAA scientists, prepare the CTD for deployment.  The CTD recorded conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean on this cruise.

Marta Ribera and Andy David prepare the CTD for deployment, which recorded conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Interview with Mr. Wally Exell 

Chief mate and Relief Captain of the M/V FREEDOM STAR

Mr. Exell is the Captain of the FREEDOM STAR for our NOAA cruise. He was born in Bermuda and received his education from the Merchant Marine School in England. Ever since he was young he wanted to go to sea. His love for the sea led him to working with the NASA Missile Retrieving program for the past 24 years.  He has been with the FREEDOM STAR for the past 16 years. When at sea, he is on an active duty for 4 hours and then on stand down (on call) for 8 hours. “The best thing about my job is that my work is very unique and interesting and I am honored working with this Program and the great crew.”

Please see Mark Silverman’s logs for additional interviews.

Captain Wally Exell, FREEDOM STAR, stands outside the bridge visually checking our passage through the lock at Port Canaveral.

Captain Wally Exell, FREEDOM STAR, stands outside the bridge visually checking our passage through the lock at Port Canaveral.