Cara Nelson: A Harbor in a Tempest, September 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor

Date: September 21, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 12:20
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Southwest 20 knots
Air Temperature: 12.8ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 990 millibars
Clear skies

Science and Technology Log

As we sit in the shelter of Kodiak harbor, I thought I would dedicate this blog to the R/V Tiglax and her crew.  Careers in oceanographic research would not be possible without the support of research vessels and their crew.  R/V Tiglax is a 121-foot long U.S. Fish and Wildlife vessel that was commissioned in 1987.  Her primary mission is to support scientific research in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutian chain and she was designed and built to accommodate this mission. 

R/V Tiglax layout
The layout of R/V Tiglax. Image credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

R/V Tiglax has an amazing fuel capacity of 40,000 gallons which allows it be away at sea for long periods each summer without refueling.  Additionally, it has a water desalination system that can produce approximately 500 gallons of fresh water daily. The ship seems to have at least two of everything: 2 engines, 2 generators, 2 cranes, 2 zodiac skiffs, 2 freezers, 2 washing machines, 2 stationary bikes, 2 televisions, and at least 2 fresh baked goods every day! 

Below is brief photo tour of the interior of R/V Tiglax.

Tiglax hallway
Looking down the hallway from the main deck aft.
Tiglax mess
The mess, where we eat all our meals and spend our down time.
Tiglax galley
The galley, where our amazing meals are prepared, even during 12-foot seas!
Down in the hold, there are several staterooms, storage rooms, and the very important laundry and boot dryers.
My stateroom. There are 4 beds total and a small desk, and I have the top bunk.
Tiglax hold
The hold, where the science crew stores a lot of gear during the trip.
Tiglax science lab
One of the two science labs onboard. Active research is done throughout the day here as samples come aboard.

Much of the summer, R/V Tiglax can be found transporting scientists to remote field camps in the Western Aleutians and then up into the Bering Sea to the island of St. Matthews.  The science the ship supports is diverse and includes seabird and marine mammal monitoring, volcanic research, invasive species management and archeological studies.  Although the crew does not participate in this research directly, they are a critical piece to its success. They are responsible not just for the transport but also for the logistics of getting the scientists from ship to shore at each of the remote sites and assisting with the setup of equipment.

Since 2005, R/V Tiglax has been supporting the oceanographic research on the Seward line and for the past two years the ship has been contracted by the LTER project for $11,376 per day to complete the spring and fall cruises.  Again, the crew plays an integral part in this ocean research.  All of cranes and winches aboard the ship that are used for the water sampling gear and nets are operated by the crew.  Additionally, the captain and first mate navigate the ship to and from sampling sites and manage the vessel amid the changing seas during sampling sessions.  Their knowledge of the ship, currents, weather and tides is imperative in making decisions with the chief scientists as to travel, scheduling, and sampling.

Captain John
Captain John navigating the ship from the wheelhouse.

R/V Tiglax has a crew of six: a captain, first mate, two deckhands, an engineer and a cook.  For some, being a crew member is a long-time career choice. For others, it is a job to gain skills and experience and serves as more of a stepping stone to the future. 

John Farris began his career aboard R/V Tiglax nineteen years ago as a deckhand and has moved his way up to captain, a position he has held for the past four years. He works closely with Russ Hopcroft, the chief scientist, to assure the success of the mission.  John is warm and welcoming to the science crew and genuinely concerned about each member’s well-being during the cruise.  Safety is his number one priority and John closely monitors not only the ship but also the science work each day.

crew meeting
Captain John meets with the science team prior to deploying the CTD rosette.

Dan Puterbaugh is the first mate who has been a member of the crew for the past two years.  Dan has thirty-years’ experience working on ships in a variety of capacities and has a wealth of knowledge of the oceans. He pilots the ship from 10 pm – 6 am and helps oversee the science team on the night shift.  Dan greets each day with a smile and his passion for being out at sea and supporting the science research that goes on is truly evident. 

Dan Puterbaugh, first mate
Dan keeping watch in the wheel house.

The two deckhands aboard the ship are Dave and Jen.  Dave works the day shift with John and has been a crew member for the past 6 years.  He shares the challenges of working the night shift versus the day shift on the ship and is happy to have worked his way up to his current position on the crew.  Dave describes the sheer beauty of the Aleutians and the seabirds and marine mammals that inhabit them and how appreciative he is to experience this during his work.

Jen works on the night shift and joined the crew just this season.  She is one of the most interesting and eclectic individuals I have ever met.  Although she is new to the ship, she is not green and can maneuver a crane or a winch with precision and style.  Jen’s spirit and energy helped get us through the long hours of the night shift.  She enjoys combining her passion for science with her love of the ocean and will spend her winter crewing aboard a tall ship for the Woods Hole Semester at Sea program.  Whatever Jen’s future holds, it is assured to be tied to the sea. 

Jen, deckhand
Jen getting time at the wheel.

Andy, the ship’s engineer, began with his time aboard R/V Tiglax eleven years ago.  He, like others before him, started out as a deckhand and worked his way up in the ranks.  He spent time in the Navy doing propulsion work, so this experience serves him well in maintaining the mechanics of the Tiglax.  Although Andy is a bit more elusive, he is always right there when things needed repair.  He helped us get through several winch issues, a broken hydraulic line on the crane and a downed freezer and refrigerator in the galley. 

Last, but most importantly, is Morgan, the chef aboard R/V Tiglax.  Morgan has been with the ship for six years, and continues to wow the crew and scientists alike with her amazing meals.  Morgan attended culinary school in Denver before joining the ship as a relief cook her first summer.  When asked about how she manages to cook during high seas she says it took some getting used to at first but she quickly learned to manage.  Morgan’s talents are apparent in her daily fresh sourdough breads and home-made desserts.  Despite being out to sea for long periods of time, she maintains variety in each meal and does her best to infuse fresh ingredients wherever possible.  Morgan will spend her winter furthering her culinary training in Portland before returning for another season with the ship.

Morgan's puff pastries
Morgan’s puff pastries with homemade raspberry rhubarb sauce. They disappear so fast I couldn’t even photograph a full pan.

Personal Log

As is the theme for this September cruise, we once again were chased ashore by our fourth gale. On Thursday night, just after starting our night shift we were shut down by the building wind and waves and made a 16-hour harrowing transit from the Seward line to shelter in Kodiak harbor and reevaluate as the weather.   Although we were not happy to be missing more sampling, everyone was appreciative for the time to get cell reception and step foot on solid land.

We arrived in Kodiak harbor at 5pm on Friday night and had the fortune of docking at the state ferry dock.  After eating dinner aboard, we all ventured off into town. My dock rock continued as all of Kodiak seemed to be moving up and down and side to side.  All the crew and scientists ended up in same spot and enjoyed socializing together on our down time.  We returned to the ship and all appreciated a night of sleep that didn’t involve almost rolling out of the bed with each swell. 

Cara on ladder
Climbing off the ship can be challenging when the tides are low.

This morning we awoke to blue skies and strong winds.  Unfortunately, the night crew caved in at 3am and slept for a few hours.  Having a day off from work makes it easy to slip back to the normal schedule and working tonight might be difficult.  We await the afternoon forecast to see if we can head out to sample the Kodiak line before another gale blows in on Monday.  One thing that I have learned this trip is that successful oceanographic research requires a delicate dance with Mother Nature.

Did You Know?

R/V Tiglax often travels up to 20,000 nautical miles in one season!  A nautical mile is equal to 1.15 land measured miles and is based on the circumference of the earth.  One nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is useful for charting and navigating.

Susan Brown: Weather or Not, September 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017


Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2095.92N
Longitude: 08825.06W
Sea wave height: 1.2 m
Wind Speed: 20.3kt
Wind Direction: 50 degrees
Visibility: (how far you can see)
Air Temperature: 025.6 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1018.36 mb
Sky: cloudy

Science and Technology Log

The weather has been a big topic of conversation on this survey and for good reason. The original plan was to fish off the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Galveston. Due to Hurricane Harvey and possible debris in those waters, the survey changed course to sample off the coast of Florida. As we motored east, Irma was building up to a category 5 hurricane.

Captain Dave


Captain Dave has been keeping a keen eye on the weather and after a few days of fishing off the coast of Florida, we headed back toward Pascagoula, Mississippi to pick up a crew member and let another off to tend to his family in Florida which is in the current path of Irma. We have been looking at the various computer modeling showing where Irma will land and this determining our path. Fortunately, a cold front to the west of us is pushing Irma east which will allows to stay out instead of docking and ending the survey early. This cold front is unusual for this time of year according to the Captain. Earlier models showed Hurricane Irma hitting the west side of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico where we are which would end our survey. Now, with the updated weather, we may get to stay out as planned but staying close to Mississippi and then heading West to work off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Daily updates and rerouting due to weather

This ship is part of the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). This program enlists ships to collect weather data that is sent to the National Weather Service (a line office of NOAA) every hour. This is the data that supplies information to weather forecasters! Information that is gathered includes wind speed and direction, barometer reading, trend in pressure over the past few hours, as well as wind, wave and swell information. Have you every noticed on TV that the weather reports have a notification that states the data is coming from NOAA? Weather forecasters get weather information from ships out in the ocean like the one I am on.

another beautiful sunset from the top deck

This morning I headed up to the bridge to chat with Captain Dave. Here are some of the questions I asked.

Q: How long have you been a captain?

CD: 9 years

Q: What got you interested in this type of work?

CD:I grew up in Mississippi where you hunt and fish so when I got out of high school I always wanted to work on the water due to my upbringing. We were always taking out the boat to hunt or fish growing up. It’s in my blood.

Q: What is your schooling? What advice would you give someone that is interested in this as a career?

CD: I graduated high school in 1980 and made my living on the water commercial fishing and working on the oil rigs until January 4, 1993. I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Commanding Officer (CO). I’ve been on the Oregon II 25 years. The hardest thing was taking the test to be a Master.

Captain Dave is a civilian Master which is rare – there are only two in the NOAA fleet. Most NOAA ships are run by NOAA Corps Officers. 

Q: What is the biggest storm you have seen?

CD: East of Miami, Florida in the gulf stream we were seeing 12-15 foot seas. The engine room calls the bridge regarding a busted intake valve. The boat was sinking. The engineers were in knee deep water and were able to find the broken valve and stop the flooding. In another 7 minutes the generator would have been under water and we would have lost power and would be forced to abandon ship in 12-15 foot waves.

Q: Is this weather unusual for this area this time of year?

CD: We never get a NE wind bringing in cooler weather which is probably what is turning Hurricane Irma. Normally it’s blazing hot here with southwest winds at 10 miles. This cold front is the reason we are not going in.

Check out this cool animated site for wind patterns. You can see how the hurricanes impact the flow of air.,-122.121,5

Personal Log

So far the seas have been calm and I keep expecting things to pick up because of all the weather happening around us. Sleeping pretty good with slow rocking of the ship and we will see how I do with some bigger swells. The crew has been super helpful in doling out advice from how keep from getting seasick ranging from eating, drinking and even how best to walk! I’m listening to all this advice and so far so good. I do wonder how much of Hurricane Irma we will feel now that we are heading west a few hundred miles.

The one that got away!

baiting the line with Mackerel

Spinner shark

We have caught a few sharks and I am excited to catch some more. Other critters we have caught were a bunch of eels and a suckerfish. On yesterday’s shift I learned how to tag one of the big sandbar sharks. She was about 6’ long. The night crew caught a 10’ tiger shark! Maybe we will get lucky on today’s shift as I would love to see more sharks and handle some of the smaller ones.


Update: Last night our shift brought in 16 sharpnose sharks so things were busy. These sharks don’t get much bigger than 3 ½ feet. All of the ones we pulled in last night were female. The oceans have gotten a bit rougher with swells 4-5 feet! I have gained a new appreciation for all the rails available along the corridors of the ship and have learned to make sure my door is clicked shut as well as all the cabinets and drawers. Nothing like waking up to drawers slamming open and shut in the middle of the night!

Did You Know?

A Captain of the ship can be ranked as a Captain or a Commander within the NOAA Corps but a civilian does not hold a commissioned rank because they are not in the NOAA Corps and is called a Captain since he holds a Master license gained by taking extensive coursework and an intensive exam through the United States Coast Guard.

Question of the day:

What is the difference between a category 5 hurricane and lesser hurricanes? (hint: check out the link below)






Barney Peterson: Who Works on NOAA Ship OREGON II? Part 1

NOAA Teacher a Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.


In the last few days I have had the opportunity to become better acquainted with some of the great people aboard the OREGON II.  The variety of backgrounds and experiences provides richness to the culture we work in.

Firstly, there is our Commanding Officer, David Nelson.  Upon meeting him when I came aboard I felt immediately welcomed by his warm, informal greeting, “Hi Teach.” His drawl gives him away as a life-long southerner.  His friendliness and casual manner in conversation make it easy to see him as just one of the people who work here. BUT, make no mistake: Dave Nelson is a smart, perceptive, capable leader who understands ships and crews from the keel up.

CO Dave Nelson’s route to command has not been the typical college to NOAA Corp Officer track.  He got where he is today by working through the ranks.  After high school graduation he worked on commercial long-line and shrimp boats in the Gulf, gradually moving on to oil field supply boats.  At some point he decided to look into marine work that offered worker benefits and more chance of vertical advancements.  Dave had earned his card as an AB (Able Bodied Seaman) and been captain of fishing boats. He hired on as a Skilled Fisherman at NOAA and began a new phase of his career.  His skills set matched the needs of NOAA well enough that he moved from deck hand to deck boss to 3rd, then 2nd officer and in 1998 he got his First Mate’s papers and became part of the wheel team.

Advancement at that point began to require more formal training and certification.  He had had to invest 700 days at sea with NOAA to get that first license.  The big prize became the Master rank requiring an additional 1000 days at sea and rigorous formal testing.  He headed to Seattle where he enrolled at Crawford Nautical School, lived aboard NOAA Ship RAINIER at Sand Point, and spent seven days a week for 10 weeks immersed in preparing to take tests for the Master rank.  It was a proud day in 2003 when he called his family to report success.

Today, Dave is one of only two people in command of NOAA ships who are not NOAA Corps officers.  He brings to his job a depth of knowledge that positions him well to understand the challenges and rewards at every level on his ship.  He appreciates the continuity possible for him because he is not subject to the mandatory rotation of postings every 2 or 3 years as are members of the Corps.  He has the first-hand experience to know where the rough spots may be and to address those proactively.  I am not saying other ship’s Captains don’t have those same abilities, but CO Nelson has truly earned his position working from the bottom up.

Captain Dave Nelson on the bridge as we came into Gulfport, Mississippi

Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Lecia Salerno, born in Halifax, PA, has loved the ocean for as long as she can remember, back to family vacations at Delaware beaches in her early childhood.  She vividly recalls running joyfully into the water and being lifted high in the air by family members so the waves wouldn’t crash over her head!  Later, a family visit to Sea World may have been the start of her fascination with marine mammals.

In her soft southern accent, no doubt developed during her undergraduate years in college at Myrtle Beach, SC, she tells of graduating with a degree in Marine Biology in 2001.  She returned to Pennsylvania where she spent the summer as a volunteer at Hershey Park before moving on to Gulfport, MS, in 2002.  There she trained sea lions which she remembers as uniquely intelligent and interesting to work with.  Training dolphins: not so fun and that changed her attitude about working with captive animals.   She began to see that type of work as a dead-end so she started looking at other options.  That is when she discovered NOAA Corps.  For her it seemed the perfect mix of military-style structure and science at sea.

Now, several years into her NOAA career, she views her role as being a “science facilitator.”  Her daily work is with management of people and resources.  She is mostly in an office and does not work in the science lab.  Rather, she helps organize the support necessary to make the science at sea possible.

               Lieutenant Reni Rydlewicz worked a lot of jobs in a lot of places before she became a NOAA Corps Officer.  Raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she attended the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater and graduated with a degree in Ecology Field Biology.  An early goal of hers was a move to Alaska so after graduation she worked as a contracted observer on commercial fishing boats in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.  NOAA Fisheries employs regional contractors all over the country so next she moved to Chincoteague, Virginia, where she also worked as an observer on fishing boats. Then, for a few years, she was back in Wisconsin conducting seasonal work for the state Department of Natural Resources collecting data on recreational catches on Lake Michigan including salmon and steelhead.

Eventually Reni moved to New Jersey to a position as a coordinator for the mid-Atlantic observer program, working hand in hand with the commercial fleets and managing biologists aboard the vessels to gather data for NOAA Fisheries.  After a change in contractors a few years later, she again found herself in Virginia, this time working as a dockside monitor for recreational species.

By this time Reni had spent almost a decade as a contract worker on NOAA jobs.  A retired NOAA Corp Captain in her local American Legion suggested that she apply to NOAA Corps based upon her experience.  With that encouragement she met with a NOAA recruiter on a trip to Washington DC and has now been working on fisheries research ships as a NOAA Corps Officer for over seven years. She is currently the Operations Officer aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Reni has considered returning to college to earn an advanced degree, but juggling work and school can sometimes be a difficult process.  She will soon be due to rotate to a land-based assignment for the next three years and is considering positions on the West Coast, continuing her work with NOAA Fisheries.

Reni’s advice to students is to take lots of science and math classes.  Science is a broad subject and can be applied in many different ways to so look around and find what really captures your interest. Finding jobs in science fields can be very competitive so get as much education and experience as you can.  A career in science can be one that you really love, but it likely will not ever make you rich.  How do you decide what to study?  “Well,” she says, “Think of something you want to know more about and then go to work finding answers to your own questions.  Go with you interests!”

Ensign Brian Yannutz is another young person from the central part of the United States who has chosen marine science as a career.   Raised in Colorado, he went to University of Hawaii with assistance from the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program.  He earned his degree and presented his work in Washington DC, then returned to Hawaii where he worked on a temporary job in the NOAA Marine Debris Program.  In 2014 he applied to NOAA Corps and was graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in December 2014.

Brian’s first assignment is the OREGON II where he will be until December of this year.  His land-based assignment will be as an Operations Officer at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California.  His job there will have him working with schedules and boat maintenance.  He will be the officer in charge of deployments on the two research boats stationed there, one a fisheries boat and the other a diving platform.

Outside of his work for NOAA, Brian is an enthusiastic runner.  He ran cross country in school and since then has run marathons and ironman races.  His advice to young people getting ready to find a career is to “follow your dreams and passions.”  His have led him to a career in NOAA where he can travel, learn and grow with his job.

Ensign David Reymore can be described as the “renaissance man.”  He grew up mostly on a small family ranch in Tonopah, NV.  His high school years were spent rodeo riding: team roping, calf roping and saddle bronc riding.  After high school he continued to enjoy rodeo as he worked as a farm mechanic rather than enter the family construction business.  Eventually he enrolled at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and earned a degree in aeronautical science.  While in college he joined Air Force ROTC, but after a visit from a Navy ROTC recruiter, he switched to the Navy and earned a scholarship to Officer Candidate School.   Dave remained in with the Navy, on active duty, and then as a civilian flight test engineer until 2008.

The next step was to enroll in premed training at University of West Virginia, but the demands of supporting his young and growing family made it more important to settle immediately into a job with benefits and advancement opportunities.  For the next several years, after completing training, he worked as an engineer for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, running mainly between Vancouver, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, and Seattle, WA.

Still eager to learn and grow, NOAA Corps caught his eye and he spent 5 months at the US Coast Guard Academy in officer corps training to become an Ensign in NOAA Corps.  What’s next?   Dave has his heart set on getting back in the air and has been accepted into training to join the NOAA Aviation team.  Maybe he will be flying small planes that do aerial surveys of marine mammals, using helicopters, or even flying with the Hurricane Hunters.  At this point, the sky is the limit.


Alex Miller, Riding by the River, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Pyrotechnics training

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Monday, June 8th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 12.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 20 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 46°29’98”, 124°59’93”

Yesterday, I spoke with two of the NOAA Corps officers, Ensign Nikki Norton and Commander Brian Parker. Ensign Norton is in her first post as a NOAA Corps officer and Commander Parker has been in the Corps for 21 years. The NOAA Corps’ main responsibility is to oversee all operations of NOAA research vessels and aircraft. In addition to positioning the ship for deployment and hauling back of the various nets and instruments, they help chart the course to make sure that we visit all the transect stations. In fact, we missed an operation at one of the stations, so they are going to do a slight reroute so that we can make up for that lost data point!

Ensign Nikki Norton wore many hats and had many responsibilities during our time at sea. Including serving as the OOD, Officer on Deck, essentially an extension of the CO while on watch in the bridge, she oversaw safety operations and was the medical officer. Interestingly, she holds a Bachelor’s in marine biology from Florida State University, which makes her well suited for overseeing the operations of a research vessel.

You can listen to my conversation with Ensign Nikki Norton below.


This morning, I visited the bridge and spoke with the Commanding Officer of the Shimada, Commander Brian Parker. Commander Parker has been a NOAA Corps officer for 21 years, working his way up from ensign to XO (Executive Officer) to CO. NOAA Corps officers work alternating sea and land posts for two-years at a time, and at the end of this year, Commander Parker’s sea post will end and his land post as Port Captain of the NOAA facility in Newport will begin.

You can listen to my conversation with Commander Parker below.


We arrived to our second to last transect, the Columbia River line, on Sunday. The Columbia River acts as an important source of food and habitat for certain marine species that the scientists on board the Shimada are studying and they anticipated interesting changes in the physical and biological data that they would collect at these stations.

The long blue shelf-like line (labeled CR plume in top graph) shows decrease in salinity.

As I’ve mentioned before, the CTD measures temperature, salinity and chlorophyll (a measure of how much plant material is in the water), which are collectively referred to as physical oceanographic data. Dr. Curtis Roegner tracks the data acquired throughout the day at each station by printing the CTD graphs and taping them onto the cabinets of the Chem Lab, creating a visualization of the measurements. He looks for patterns in the data that may help him to better understand the samples acquired from neuston towing. In the graphs, you can see a dramatic change in salinity in the first 10 – 20 m as the ship passes through the fan of fresher water created by the emptying of the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean. This area, called a plume, is the meeting of two bodies of water so different that you can see a front, a clear border between the salty water of the ocean and the fresh water of the river.

The chem lab, wallpapered with CTD graphs.
The chem lab, wallpapered with CTD graphs.

As a fisheries biologist, Curtis Roegner has several driving questions that guide the work he does on board the Shimada and back at the NOAA Center. Among the work he does, he aims to study how well certain projects in the Columbia River are working to restore salmon populations. Certain species rely on the wetlands of the river to spawn (produce young) and mature in and some of this habitat has been lost to the development of cattle grazing lands. Studying the impact of the Columbia River plume on the Oregon coast may help affect change in environmental policy and agricultural (farming) practices.

I interviewed Curtis about his work and you can hear that talk below.



Rougher weather kicked up a lot of swells, which the mighty Shimada crashed right through, sending spray all over the decks and outer stairways and producing just enough pitching and yawing to make a walk through a hallway interesting. The Shimada’s size helps keep the rocking and rolling to a relative minimum, but when at sea safety always remains a major concern.

With that in mind, today I participated in an optional pyrotechnic training with some officers, crew and members of the science team. Several different types of flares and smoke bombs are used at sea to draw attention to a ship in need.

In order to avoid a “crying-wolf” type of situation, we practiced this during the day and most likely radioed to all nearby vessels that we were in fact training and not in need of rescue. While I probably won’t be applying this skill in the near future, I decided I couldn’t miss an opportunity to try something new. Above you can see photos of different members of the crew and science team using these tools and below, you can see a video of me operating a flare gun.


Lucky for me, we weren’t in an actual danger situation. At the end of the clip, I turn to NOAA Corps officer LT Tim Sinquefield for assistance. After some adjustment of the flare shell, you can see me successfully operating the flare gun below.



To top off an even more unlikely morning, members of the night shift and I were watching the sun come up and helping Amanda with the bird and marine mammal observations when a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins came to play off the bow of the ship. They stayed astern (toward the back of the ship) throughout the pyrothechnic training and at times, felt close enough to reach out and touch.

Pacific white-sided dolphins   ride the waves near our port stern, seemingly for the sheer joy of it.
Pacific white-sided dolphins ride the waves near our port stern, seemingly for the sheer joy of it.

Personal Log

As June 10 looms ever closer, I am frantically trying to take everything in. I’m basically operating under the mentality that I can sleep when I’m home. The more I try and experience, the less time I have to document what it is I’m learning on board the ship. But I set out to write eight posts about my time as a Teacher at Sea and I’m going to stay true to that commitment. Stay tuned for the final episode of my cruise aboard the Shimada, coming soon.

Carmen Andrews: The People and Places Aboard the R/V Savannah, July 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Date: July 17, 2012

Latitude:      30 ° 28.53   N
Longitude:   80 ° 11.73’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6° C (81.68°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from the Southwest
Surface Water Temperature: 27.88 °C (82.18°F)
Weather conditions: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

There are 16 people aboard this fisheries survey cruise. There are seven crew members and nine scientists, including me. The work can be difficult, and at times it is dangerous. The accommodations aren’t spacious and the work schedules can be long: 12 hours on and 12 hours off for the scientists. The boat’s crew has 4- hour on and off work schedules. Two men at a time are on watch for each of six 4- hour shifts.

I got to know everyone on the R/V Savannah during my time on the survey cruise. Here are some interviews that I conducted with scientists and crew. Their jobs — and the life choices that led them to do these jobs — are equally impressive.

The Scientists

Shelly Falk

Shelly making modifications to a fish trap
Marine technician Shelly Falk, making modifications to a fish trap

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I work as a Marine Technician at MARMAP. It is part of  the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. On this cruise I catch fish and work them up in the wet lab. In the past, I have worked with video technology – setting it up and maintaining it. I usually work with something called an SCS program, which collects time, location and depth of fish sites.

2. Where are you from originally?

I’m from Ilion, New York. It’s a little town upstate.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Charleston, South Carolina.

4. What background and skills are needed for your job?

After high school I took my core academic classes at Herkimer Community College in Herkimer, New York. Then I transferred to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. That’s where I earned my B.S. degree in Marine Science. There were many field experiences. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources requires a bachelor’s degree for this work. I needed experience dissecting fish. Learning to gather video data is a new skill that requires on the job training.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

Marine science gave me an overview of physical oceanography.  At Coastal Carolina I took courses in Marine Chemistry, Marine Biology and Marine Mammals. These courses also gave me an overview of these fields. My favorite class was Biology of Sharks, because I went to Bimini in the Bahamas for ten days as part of this course. That was the best experience leading up to this job.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like the field experience and the hands on tasks of being at sea. I also like the variety of this kind of work and not knowing what I’ll find every day. Every day is a new experience. It’s never the same.

David Berrane

Fisheries Biologist David Berrane
Fisheries biologist David Berrane, on the rear deck of the R/V Savannah

1.  What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Fisheries Biologist and contractor for NOAA, in Beaufort, North Carolina. On this cruise I do fish survey work and dissection. That’s known as conducting field sampling exercises. The samples I dissect are sent to MARMAP in Charleston, SC. Back in my Beaufort lab I analyze collected samples using video. One of my most important responsibilities is maintaining equipment and supplies. I am also responsible for purchasing supplies.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Yorktown, Virginia.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

A person doing this job needs to be interested in being outside in the wild world and nature. It’s difficult and challenging work. You need experience operating in strenuous conditions. I spent my youngest years in Poquoson, Virginia — living near the water — crabbing and fishing. I’ve been handling wildlife since I was old enough to catch it. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. I majored in Environmental Studies. Before working in this position I was a camp counselor and assistant park ranger.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I had a good teacher for algebra. He would put a problem on the board every Monday. He gave us extra credit if we could solve it by Friday. I got interested in science when I finally came around to realizing science is the world around us. I had started college as a business administration major and found I didn’t like it. I changed my major to environmental science after visiting Puerto Rico and seeing a scientist working in the rainforest. I decided that I wanted to do that.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

I like going out and doing the field work. I like being on a team of good people and having fun. Seeing the traps come up and seeing new fish is like being a kid on the canal bank again, catching fish. I’m still interested in seeing new kinds of fish – the polka dot batfish were some fish that I saw for the first time on this trip.

Polka Dot Batfish
Polka Dot Batfish

The Crew

Mike Kruitwagen

Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley
Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Marine Chef. I create good food to make everyone happy. My goal is to provide healthy, diverse meals. I boost morale, and give the scientists and crew something to look forward to. My kitchen is limited on this boat, but I try to make everything from scratch.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Houston, Texas.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Someone needs a passion for cooking and boats to do this job. You need to be able to adapt. I got my training in culinary arts from the San Diego Culinary Institute in San Diego, California. I have been preparing meals on boats for six years. Before that I worked as a caterer and personal chef.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I didn’t realize back in school that measuring and converting amounts would be so important to my work. Multiplication and division are very important to increasing and decreasing servings for the number of people that I prepare meals for. I also needed to learn about chemistry of cooking – how acids and bases affect cooking – like when to use baking soda or baking powder.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is all the travel. I’ve been to Hawaii, Southeast Asia, San Diego to Seattle and places in between. I started in New Jersey and now I’m in Savannah, Georgia. I like meeting new people and having new experiences. Every day is a learning experience.

Raymond Sweatte

R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry
R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the Marine Supervisor and Captain of the R/V Savannah. I begin preparing for a cruise like this by communicating with the chief scientist. We discuss the equipment that will be loaded – bait, ice, freezers. We also discuss the objectives of the cruise and the locations of fish traps. I make sure that provisions, fuel and potable water is aboard. Very importantly, I check to be sure all safety equipment is aboard and in good working order. The top priority of every cruise is safety, and then I focus on the science objectives being met. I try to serve the scientists as much as possible, by making sure that the boat’s crew is available to support the science project.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Beaufort, South Carolina.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live on Wilmington Island, Georgia.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

There is more than one way to be a captain – one way is to attend a Merchant Mariners’ Academy, and then going to sea to get experience in all areas of seamanship. My route involved working on a boat and then going to the Maritime Professional Academy in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I have a USCG 1600 Ton Masters License. The Coast Guard licenses mates and captains to operate vessels. The licensing goes from OUPV or Operator of Uninspected Power Vessel, who can take up to six people on a vessel, up to an Unlimited License , which would license a person to captain a vessel like an ocean liner or super tanker.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I enjoyed marine science courses. I always loved math and find that I need algebra and geometry. I liked science too.  I had to learn how a compass works. The boat has many simple machines like pulleys – they are called blocks on a boat. I have to understand mechanical advantage. There are also hydraulic levers called A-frames and J-frames to move loads in and out of the boat. I have to do stability calculations to balance loads with respect to the center of gravity, so the boat isn’t top heavy. I also have to calculate be sure there isn’t too much weight at the front or back of the boat.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like being out at sea. I enjoy the peacefulness of the sea. Everyone works together with the same goal – that’s the only way to manage. We sometimes spend more time with crew than our families. We need lots of give and take. I’m also able to meet many scientific groups with missions that will hopefully help environmental conditions. I like the idea of being involved with these projects.

Pete Casserleigh

First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah
First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah

 1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the first mate of the R/V Savannah. I maintain records of safety inspections and deck equipment maintenance. I have about ten binders on a shelf that store the information that I have to read and record. John Bichy, the marine tech and I do this work together. I also manage the fueling system that runs the twin diesel engines.These engines power the boat.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Metairie, Louisiana. I moved to Dallas, Texas in high school.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Guyton, Georgia. It’s 30 miles west of Savannah

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Even though I would still like to eventually finish college, in the marine industry you don’t need a college degree. Licenses are the qualifications that are needed.

After high school I went to Delgado Community College in New Orleans. I was attending college with a general studies major when we were attacked on September 11, 2001. I left college and  joined the Coast Guard because of 9/11. I was stationed in Kauai, Hawaii.  I served as a boatswains mate on the cutter, Kittiwake for three years. I was also quartermaster of the watch, assistant rescue and survival petty officer, and I did some other assignments that dealt with rescue and safety. When I was transferred to Savannah I was the boarding officer, which is a law enforcement position. I got my captain’s license in the Coast Guard. The sea time allowed me to get a 100 ton masters license. Since leaving the coast guard, I’ve worked for ferry services that ran out of Savannah to surrounding islands. I also worked as a ships safety inspector before taking the job I have now. My safety training and experience have led this job.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

In school, math and science were the courses I enjoyed the most. I liked biology too. Math plays an important role in chart plotting, conversions, and navigation. For example, fueling is measured in inches. I have to use measurements in the metric system and the conventional measuring system. Depths can be measured in meters and fathoms. Algebraic reasoning is essential to pass certification and licensing tests.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

Being on the water is something I have always wanted to do – I love being out on the water. My office is a boat. I enjoy all the fringe benefits of being on the ocean – the sunsets, the fishing — and knowing that working on a research vessel is going to a good cause. The tough part is leaving my family.

The R/V Savannah’s Other Science Work Area

There are two laboratories on board. The wet lab activities were described in the previous post.

The dry lab contains numerous technological tools that give constant information on several screens. One of these shows CTD data – water conductivity, salinity, temperature, in addition to several other readings. There screens that show the boat’s position and course settings. Others show current velocities in the ocean column. And very importantly, there are screens that show weather conditions around the boat. This data includes wind speed and direction, air temperature, among other weather data. The dry lab also stores many the video cameras that get submerged when the traps are deployed to the ocean bottom. There are battery charges and data card readers on the lab benches.

Dry lab showing video gear
Dry lab with video gear

Video captured near fish trap
Monitor showing video captured near fish trap

Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column
Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column

Personal Log

Here are some pictures that show what my life was like aboard the R/V Savannah for two weeks:

My bunk
My bunk

The science head a.k.a bathroom
One of the two science heads a.k.a bathrooms

My state room, shared with two other female scientists
My state room, shared with two other female scientists

Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner
Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner

Wahoo dinner
Wahoo dinner

Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner
Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner

My favorite pic of me
My favorite pic of me (courtesy of Pete) — after setting the autopilot for the homeward course, and pushing the throttles forward to power up the twin Caterpillar diesels, I was feeling really good sitting in the captain’s seat.

Kristy Weaver: Career Day at Sea, June 7, 2012 (After the Journey)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard The R/V Savannah
May 23 – June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Location: Back in Jersey
Date: June 7, 2012

You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!  While I was on the R/V Savannah there were two main types of jobs that people were doing.  There were the scientists and the crew of the ship.  If you think you might like to be a biologist or work on a ship someday these videos may help you to learn more about these jobs.

I would like to introduce you to some of the new friends I made on the ship:


Meet Dan- Marine Biology College Student


Meet David- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA

Meet Warren- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA


Meet Zeb- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA

Meet Stephen- Wildlife Biologist with South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources

Meet Jennifer: Recent Graduate of The College of Charleston and new full time employee at South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources


Meet Pete- The First Mate

Meet Captain Raymond

Meet John- Marine Tech

Maggie Prevenas, April 12, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 12, 2007

Ship Crew

Ray Sambrotto is the PI (principal investigator) for this expedition. His job, besides doing investigations in the lab, is to coordinate the entire BEST mission. He has to meet daily with the Coast Guard Officers, check accountability and coordinate sampling, but there is a lot more.  He is constantly on watch to fix potential problems that might arise. And they do arise.

Dr. Sambrotto works with two scientists, Drs. Cal Mordy and Nancy Kachel to coordinate sampling.
Dr. Sambrotto works with two scientists, Drs. Cal Mordy and Nancy Kachel to coordinate sampling.

So we needed a point of contact, to run communication and requests between the very busy scientists and us. David Hyrenbach, from the University of Washington, is acting as our liason with the scientists on the BEST cruise. There are so many scientists and so many projects, we needed organization to help us learn who is who doing what and when and maybe why.

David Hyrenbach is our education liason.
David Hyrenbach is our education liason.

He steered us in the direction of creating a table of rotation visits to the various scientific teams on board. We used the theme of ‘Energy and Matter Transfer Through the Ecosystem.’ We divided all the teams into where they fit in the ecosystem.

Easy enough?

But in reality, it doesn’t work that way. Some scientists might have equipment malfunction. Some might have sample contamination or lack of a sample. There are many ways things can go wrong. And they do. When that happens, they go to a holding pattern and regroup. All scientists suffer setbacks. It matters not that you have had extensive meetings, done problem solving, and communicated with everyone that needs to know. This is science. And anything that might happen will happen.

Working to prep equipment
Working to prep equipment

In science, you need to have a backup plan, and then another backup plan. If something happens to Plan A, continue the experiment with Plan B. If Plan B goes down, take up Plan C.

Dr. Cal Mordy was my first rotation scientist. He is testing the water for certain nutrients. The data he gets is important for many of the scientists on this mission.
Dr. Cal Mordy was my first rotation scientist. He is testing the water for certain nutrients.

Making observations from the bridge is an enjoyable task.
Making observations from the bridge is an enjoyable task.

After all, this is science.