Angela Hung: Fortitude, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 2101

Latitude: 41.54°N

Longitude: 87.53°W

Temperature: 21° C

Wind Speed: N 3 mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Back at home but there’s still so much to share! I’ll wrap up my amazing experience as a Teacher at Sea by introducing three more members of the NOAA Ship Oregon II family: Alonzo Hamilton, Executive Officer Andrew Ostapenko and Commanding Officer Captain Dave Nelson. At the start of my adventure, I wrote about flexibility. The Teacher at Sea Program also stresses that cruises “require high-intensity work that demands physical adeptness, endurance, and fortitude”. These three exemplify how fortitude, the ability to endure through life’s challenges and change, brings rewards throughout life.

 

Fishery Biologist Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton has been a fishery biologist for 34 years! He likes to say that he stumbled into NOAA. He graduated from community college before enrolling at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi with a full scholarship. Actually, he was offered two scholarships, one for minority biomedical researchers to become a surgeon and the other for general studies. He arrived on campus to discuss his options in the science department. It turned out that the biomedical research scholarship was given to another recipient. On the bright side, it made the decision to accept the general studies funding much simpler. Now he had to make a choice of which field to pursue. As he explored the halls of the science building, he happened upon the office of the head of the marine science program and popped in to ask some questions. After learning about the program, he decided to apply his scholarship toward coursework in this field.

After college, he began working on a research project for the Navy which paid for a master’s degree. Soon after, President Reagan froze research funding for the Navy. Fortunately, Alonzo was tipped off that NOAA did very similar research with an active, albeit smaller budget. So began a 34 year career as a NOAA fishery biologist.

Being an African American scientist in the deep south came with challenges, but he reminded his supervisors and others around him that, “I won’t limit myself to your box”, which has carried him through a long and storied career. Today, he is happy that he gets “paid to play in the ocean”, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

 

Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Most of the NOAA Corp officers you meet have a degree in science. I had the fortune of sailing with one of the few who doesn’t— the XO, LCDR Andrew Ostapenko. XO has a degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His goal was to become a lawyer, but after considering the job prospects and the lifestyle—”no one ever calls lawyers when they are happy”, and they never retire —he looked into some other options. In 2005 he applied for the NOAA Corps. Although he didn’t have a science degree, the general education requirements at the University of St. Paul, which included calculus, chemistry and physics, met the NOAA Corps requirements.

Since joining NOAA, LCDR Ostapenko has held a variety of assignments. In Maryland he managed budgets and projects for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a part of the National Weather Service that provides forecasts for the nation. He worked in small boat life cycle management as a Port engineer/small boat officer in Norfolk, Virginia, disseminating policies across the NOAA fleet.

His sailing experience began on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson which performs hydrographic surveys that map the oceans to continuously update and improve nautical charts. He was a member of the first crew on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, accompanying her from Wisconsin where she was built to her homeport of San Diego. Last but not least, XO has been an augmenting officer for three months on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, another fisheries survey vessel based in Alaska where high seas and storms are a part of a normal day’s work.

NOAA assignments are three years for shore tours and two years for sea tours. LCDR Ostapenko currently has about a year left with Oregon II. As XO shows, there is no danger of getting stuck in mundane office job as a NOAA Corps officer.

 

The Captain

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

“Lunch is on me!” invites the captain if you arrive to the galley after him. Captain Dave Nelson is the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Oregon II, and he’s gone a long way to realize that title. This is his 10th year as the captain of Oregon II, but he’s worked onboard since 1993. He refers to himself as a “hawsepiper”, urging me to look it up on the internet. Informally, it means to have started at the bottom as a deckhand and working up to becoming a captain. Captain Nelson is a Mississippi native and grew up shrimping and fishing with his dad. After high school he went to work on commercial boats that bring supplies to oil rigs. After over a decade, he felt that he needed a plan for the future– a stable pensioned job. He serendipitously stopped into the NOAA office as he was driving by on a day that someone had just quit and there was an opening to fill. The rest is Oregon II history.

The progression as a civilian begins with being a deckhand and progressing to Chief Boatswain. It takes 750 days at sea to qualify for the first license, the 3rd Mate license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then takes 1100 more days to be eligible to test for the Masters license to become a captain. In 2008 the prospective captain lived in Seattle on a NOAA ship for 12 weeks for a prep course for the Masters exam. At this point, it’d be almost 30 years since he had been a student; not only did he have to learn the material for the test, he also had to learn how to study again.  Soon-to-be Captain Nelson committed seven days a week for the entire 12 weeks to study and reviewing material to pass. He knew he wanted it.

CO Nelson’s joking attitude belies the pressure of being the captain of a ship. It’s a tremendous responsibility because he is accountable for everything, particularly the safety of everyone onboard. Every decision is made or approved by the captain and he sends reports to his supervisors every day.

He is one of a few captains in the NOAA fleet who is a civilian; most NOAA Commissioned officers rotate between boats every two years. This means that he is always training the new officers joining Oregon II from ensigns like Andy Fullerton and Chelsea Parrish to XO’s like Andrew Ostapenko. It takes a lot of patience; everyone comes in with different strengths, weaknesses and of course, personalities. The key, he says, is to “treat people like people” no matter who they are.

 

Personal Log

I somehow made it through almost three weeks living on Oregon II without falling down any stairs or tripping and landing on my face over a bulkhead door. Sure enough, it was hard to fall asleep at home without the rocking of the boat, but I’m happy to have my own shower again.

I’m so excited to show my students photos of so many of the things that I cover in class, or that they ask about, such as starfish regenerating lost arms and a video of wiggling tube feet on a severed arm (I accidently broke it off). I imagine they’ll also get to see critters they haven’t imagined-arrow and calico crabs, triggerfish, batfish…

A sea star that is regenerating its lower right arm.

A sea star that is regenerating its lower left arm.

I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short time about life and work at sea, careers, seafood, NOAA and its online resources. What I’ve shared in blogs is such a small fraction of everything I’ve experienced. I’m extremely grateful to everyone on Oregon II for being so welcoming and friendly, and for being so willing to speak with me. Although there were some setbacks, I got the chance to visit the lab and meet the wonderful scientists who showed me around. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees that it’s meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

Since coming home, my colleagues have commented that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that thought has crossed my mind as well. But watching everyone work, this is the everyday life of NOAA crew. I can’t help but think how few decisions it might have taken, maybe only 2-3 different choices, that might have made this my regular life too.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award for rescuing three people off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. (This is where NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located.) In 1998 when Captain Nelson was still a deckhand, he was woken from sleep between his watches. At about 2:30pm, a small overturned boat was spotted with a man, woman, and young girl on top. Captain Nelson was a small boat driver then; he launched a boat from Oregon II to rescue them and bring them to the Coast Guard.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

Captain Dave surmises that they left port in Miami almost 200 miles south and got swept up in the Gulf Stream, a strong current of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows to Canada, affecting the climate even to Europe. It can create choppy conditions that capsized their boat.

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

They were extraordinarily lucky; the ocean is vast so the chances of Oregon II coming by and being spotted were slim. Their boat was too small to be detected by radar; if it had been dark, they might have been run over. Those are three people who are alive today because of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Anna Levy: Fish Rules, July 17, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 17, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Warm weather and blue skies are making it easy to spend a lot of time out on deck, looking for wildlife! In addition to the lazy seagulls who keep hitching a ride on the ship’s trawling gear, we continue to spot dolphins, flying fish, and even a shark feeding frenzy!

IMG_1191

Lazy sea gulls hitch a ride on our trawling gear

Latitude: 28 24.13 N
Longitude: 83 57.32 W
Air temp: 27.7 C
Water temp: 31.3 C
Wind direction: light and variable
Wind speed: light and variable
Wave height: 0.3 meter
Sky: 50% cloud cover, no rain

 

Science and Technology Log

The organisms in each catch provide a snap shot of the marine life in one location in one moment in time. It’s interesting to see what we catch, but there are not many scientific conclusions that we can draw based on what we see in just 10 days. However, this survey has been completed twice per year (once in the summer and once in the fall) for over 35 years. It is looking at trends, or changes and patterns over time, that allows scientists to draw conclusions about the health and ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the major practical applications of this research is to prevent overfishing, the removal of too many individuals from a population causing that population to become unstable. Continued overfishing can lead to the extinction of a species because it leaves too few mature individuals to reproduce and replace those that are removed.

Cod Graph

Graph Created by Boston Globe

One famous example of overfishing and its consequences occurred in the late 1980’s off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Cod was a major food source and commercial industry in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrodor. However, unregulated overfishing depleted the cod population and, between 1988 and 1992 the cod population crashed, losing more than 99% of its biomass – they were essentially gone. This destroyed the industry, putting over 40,000 people out of work. In 1992, the government finally imposed a complete ban on cod fishing in hopes that the cod population could still recover. The fishing ban is still in place today, though just last year, Canadian scientists released a report stating that there are some signs of hope!

When NOAA scientists notice overfishing occurring in US waters, they can recommend that protective regulations, or rules, are put in place to limit or even stop fishing in an area until the species has had a chance to recover.

Here are a few examples of the types of regulations that have been created in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the data from the Groundfish Survey.

Texas Shrimping Closure

To prevent overfishing of shrimp in the western Gulf of Mexico, NOAA and the Texas Department of Wildlife collaborated to implement an annual closure of state and federal waters off the coast of Texas to shrimping. This is called the “Texas Closure.”

The Texas closure runs each year from about May 15 to July 15, though the exact dates vary depending on the health of the shrimp population that year. This break allows the shrimp time to mature to an age at which they can reproduce, and to migrate out to deeper waters, which is where females spawn. It also allows the shrimp to grow to a size that is more commercially valuable.

IMG_1177

A shrimp we caught off the coast of Florida.

We saw quite a few shrimp in our recent catches. Because this species is being more intensively monitored, we collected more detailed data about the individuals we caught, including the length, mass, and sex of a sample of least 200 individual shrimp (instead of a the smaller sample size of 20 that we used for most other species.)

In addition to sending out an annual notice to fisherman of the dates of the Texas Closure, NOAA also makes all of the shrimp survey data available. This can help fishermen to target the best fishing locations and work efficiently. For example, this is a plot showing the amount of brown shrimp found at various locations, created using this year’s survey data.

Shrimp Map

Plot Created By NOAA

Red Snapper Regulation

Another species that is currently under regulation is the red snapper, which has been a popular seafood in the US since the 1840s. As fishing technology improved and recreational fishing expanded in the 1950’s, the number of red snapper captured each year increased dramatically. The shrimp industry was also expanding rapidly at this time, and juvenile red snapper were often accidentally caught and killed in shrimp trawls. As a result of these three pressures, the red snapper population began to decline dramatically.

Red Snapper SP

Graph created by NOAA

By 1990, the spawning potential, or the number of eggs produced by the population each year, was only 2% of what it would have been naturally, without any fishing. This was far below the target spawning potential level of 26% that is necessary to sustain the species.

 

Several types of regulations were implemented to protect the snapper. These included:

  • Limiting the number of commercial and recreational fishing licenses issued each year
  • Restricting the size and number of fish that a fisherman could collect on a fishing trip
  • Reducing the amount of time each year that fishermen could fish for red snapper
  • Regulating the type of fishing gear that could be used
  • Requiring commercial shrimp fishermen to install devices on their trawls to reduce the by-catch of juvenile red snapper
  • Requiring fishermen to avoid areas where red snapper spawn

Survey results in the last 5 years show that these regulations are working and that the red snapper population is growing. This is good news. However, the red snapper is not out of the woods yet. It is important to understand that, as a species with a long life span (they can live over 50 years!), it will take time for the population to regain

Red Snapper Productivity

Graphic created by NOAA

its normal age structure. Currently, the majority of red snapper found in the Gulf are less than 10 years old. These fish are still juveniles capable of producing only a fraction of the offspring a fully mature individual would produce. It is important to continue to closely monitor and regulate the fishing of snapper until both the number and age of individuals has been restored to a sustainable level.

We were fortunate to catch members of three different species of red snapper during my leg of the survey. I did notice that most of them were relatively small – less than 10 inches – which is consistent with the concern that the population is still disproportionately young.

As with the shrimp, we collected more detailed information about these individuals. We also removed the stomachs of a sample of snappers. As I discussed in my last blog (“What Tummies Tell Us”), scientists back on land will examine the contents of their stomachs as part of a diet study to better understand what snapper are eating. Because the invasive lionfish has a competitive relationship with red snapper, meaning that it eats many of the same foods that red snapper eat, fisheries biologists are concerned that red snapper may be forced to settle for alternative and/or reduced food sources and that this could also slow their recovery.

IMG_1235

A typical red snapper from our catch. Note that each mark on the ruler is one centimeter.

IMG_0045

Red snapper from one catch.

 

Hypoxia Watch

CTD

Getting ready to deploy the CTD sensors.

In addition to collecting data about the fish and other organisms we find, remember that we also use a group of instruments called a CTD to collect information about the quality of the water at each survey station. (For more about CTDs, please see my previous blog “First Day of Fishing.”)

One of the measurements the CTD takes is the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the water. This is important because, just like you and me, fish need to take in oxygen to survive. (The difference is that you and I use our lungs to remove oxygen from the air, whereas fish use gills to remove oxygen from the water!) When dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water drop below 2 mg/L, a condition called hypoxia, most marine organisms cannot survive.

When waters become hypoxic, organisms that are able to migrate (like some fishes) will leave the area. Organisms that cannot migrate (like corals or crabs) will die from lack of oxygen. This creates large areas of ocean, called dead zones, that are devoid of typical marine life. Often anaerobic microorganisms, some of which are toxic to humans, will then grow out of control in these areas. Not only is this stressful for the marine populations, it hampers regular fishing activities, and can even pose a threat to human health.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest hypoxic zone in US waters. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste from farming activities throughoAnnual Hypoxic Zone Graphut the Midwest United States all collect in the Mississippi River, which drains into the Gulf. Though nitrogen is a nutrient that organisms need in order to grow and be healthy, excess nitrogen causes an imbalance in the normal nitrogen cycle, and stimulates high levels of algae plant growth called an algal bloom. Once the algae use up the excess nitrogen, they begin to die. This causes the population of decomposers like fungi and bacteria to spike. Like most animals, these decomposers consume oxygen. Because there are more decomposers than usual, they begin to use up oxygen faster than it can be replenished.

This hypoxic zone is largest in the summer, when farming activities are at their peak. In the winter, there is less farming, and therefore less nitrogen. As the hypoxic water continues to mix with normal ocean water, the levels of oxygen begin to return to normal. (When there are tropical storms or hurricanes in the Gulf, this mixing effect is more significant, helping to reduce the impact of the hypoxia. This is often the primary cause of low-hypoxia years like 2000.) Unfortunately, the average size of the annual dead zone remains at nearly 15,000 square kilometers, three times the goal of 5,000 square kilometers.

The data collected from this year’s Groundfish Survey was used to create this map of hypoxic areas. How might this map be different if tropical storm Cindy had not occurred this summer?

This Years Hypoxic Zone

A plot of dissolved oxygen levels created from this year’s survey data.

The data we collect on the Groundfish survey is combined with data gathered during other NOAA missions and by other organizations, like NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and USGS (the United States Geologic Survey). By collaborating and sharing data, scientists are able to develop a more complete and detailed understanding of hypoxia levels.

In response to the levels of hypoxia seen in the data, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required Midwestern states to develop and implement plans that will allow them to make greater progress in reducing the nutrient pollution that flows into the Mississippi. Specifically, the EPA wants states to do things like:

  • Identify areas of land that have the largest impact on pollution in the Mississippi
  • Set caps on how much nitrogen and other nutrients can be used in these areas
  • Develop new agricultural practices and technologies that will reduce the amount of these pollutants that are used or that will flow into the water
  • Ensure that the permitting process that states use to grant permission to use potential pollutants is effective at limiting pollutants to reasonable levels
  • Develop a plan for monitoring how much nutrient pollution is being released into waters

These EPA regulations were only recently implemented, so it is still unclear what, if any, impact they will have on the hypoxic zone in the Gulf. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the data from the Groundfish survey in coming years to help answer that question!

In the mean time, though, things still seem to be moving in the wrong direction. In fact, NOAA just announced that this summer’s dead zone is the largest ever recorded.

summer-dead-zone.adapt.885.1

Photo credit: Goddard SVS, NASA

Personal Log

Getting a PhD in your chosen field of science is an awesome accomplishment and is necessary if your goal is to design and carry out your own research projects. However, I’ve noticed that the PhD is often presented to students as the only path into a career in science. I think this is unfortunate, since this often discourages students who know they do not want to pursue a graduate degree from entering the field.

I’ve noticed that most of the scientists I’ve met while on board the Oregon II and in the NOAA lab at Pascagoula do not hold PhDs, but are still deeply involved in field work, lab work, and data analysis every day.

I asked Andre DeBose, a senior NOAA fishery biologist and the Field Party Chief for this mission, if he feels a PhD is necessary for those interested in fishery biology. Andre agreed that a graduate degree is not necessary, but he cautioned that it is a very competitive field and that education is one way to set yourself apart – “if you have the opportunity to get an advanced degree, take the opportunity.”

However, he continued, “the MOST important thing you can do is take the opportunity to do internships, volunteering, and fellowships. Those open a lot of doors for you in the world of biology.” Andre himself holds a bachelors degree in biology, but it was his years of experience working in aquaculture and as a contractor with NOAA that were most helpful in paving the way to the permanent position he holds today. “When I graduated from college, I took a low-paying job in aquaculture, just to start learning everything I could about fish. When contract [or short-term] positions became available at the NOAA lab, I applied and tried to make myself as useful as possible. It took time and I had to be really persistent – I would literally call the lab all the time and asked if they had anything they needed help with – but when a full time position finally became available, everyone knew who I was and knew that I had the right skills for the job.”

Now, Andre tries to help others navigate the tricky career path into marine biology. In addition to his responsibilities as a biologist, he is also the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the NOAA lab, which allows him to mentors all of interns (and Teachers at Sea like me!) and to talk with students at schools in the community.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, it’s never to early to start looking for some of those volunteer opportunities! There are lots of scientists out there like Andre who are excited to share their knowledge and experience.

IMG_0092

The Day-Shift Science Team as we head back in to port.  From left to right:  TAS Anna Levy, NOAA Summer Intern Jessica Pantone, NOAA Biologist & Field Party Chief Andre DeBose, NOAA Fellow Dedi Vernetti Duarte, NOAA Volunteer Elijah Ramsey.

Did You Know?

In the Gulf of Mexico, each state has the authority to regulate the waters that are within about 9 miles of the coast. (This includes making rules about fishing.) Beyond that, the federal government, with the help of federal agencies like NOAA, make the rules!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research:  This article discussed the political side of the Snapper situation. Research other news articles about this issue to ensure that you have a balanced perspective.

Reflect: To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by science? To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by politics?

Take action: Propose some specific ways that fisherman, scientists, and policy-makers could work together to address issues like the overfishing of red snapper fairly and effectively.

Review: Examine the graph showing the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf each summer. There are unusually small zones in 1988 and 2000. How do you explain this?

Research: Two other reoccurring hypoxic zones in the US are found in Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. What is the cause of each of these zones?

 

 

 

 

Sian Proctor: Sea Sounds Visualized, July 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

7/2/2017-7/22/2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 8, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude:   56° 13.6 N
  • Longitude: 156° 36.0 W
  • Time: 0600
  • Sky:Clear
  • Visibility: 10 nautical miles
  • Wind Direction: 162
  • Wind Speed: 6 Knots
  • Sea Wave Height: <1 foot swell
  • Barometric Pressure: 1015.8 millibars
  • Sea Water Temperature:  13.2°
  • Air Temperature:  11.5°
  • Sunrise: 0524
  • Sunset: 2307
sproctor_Oscar_Dyson

TAS Sian Proctor admiring the view on board Oscar Dyson in Alaska.

Where Are We Going?

We are off and running in our quest to track Alaskan pollock. The first thing I realized was the complexity of fishing operations. There are so many parts to a successful operation and one of my favorite components is all the maps and navigation.

Science and Technology Log: Using Sound to See

Once the ship is navigated to the first transect line then the scientific research begins. A down-looking echo sounder system located in the centerboard of the ship has five transducers (18, 38, 70, 120 and 200 kHz) that emit short pulses of sound. This means that energy, in the form of sound waves, is being sent out from the bottom of the ship. When sound waves encounter a change in sound speed, density, or a combination of both, some of the energy is scattered (reflected) back to the ship. The amount of sound scattered by an object in the water column is a function of its physical characteristics and the frequency of the sound. In animals, important physical characteristics that affect the amount of scattering include the presence of a swim bladder (a bubble!), bone structure, and size. Various animal types with different morphological characteristic will scatter different amounts of sound as a function of frequency, which scientists can use to aid their interpretation of the observations. The NOAA scientists know, through research, that krill scatter much more energy at 120 kHz and 200 kHz than at 18 kHz, but pollock scatter similar amounts of energy at all of the frequencies used in the survey. Ultimately, the five frequencies are used to support decisions about the types of animals that are scattering the sound in the water column, but the scientist use only the 38 kHz transducer data to derive estimates of fish abundance.

NOAA Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto analyzing echogram.

NOAA Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto analyzing an echogram. The echogram is color coded to represent the density of biomass within the water column. Red are areas of high concentrations of biomass and blue are areas of low concentrations. The bottom of the ocean floor shows the rainbow of colors. The NOAA scientists note GPS coordinates spot to fish based on the echogram.

All of the scatter produced by the pollock, and other animals in the water column, is processed by the ship’s computers to produce an echogram. Each column in the echogram is a view of the spatial distribution of animals under the ship at that time. By moving around the survey area and “stacking” many observations a spatial view of the biomass distribution is created. NOAA scientists in the acoustics lab analyze the echogram not only to determine what is in the water column, but also where to perform physical samples (trawls). The ship then navigates to that location and the sampling process begins.

Meet the Crew

Before starting my Teacher at Sea adventure I had no idea that there was a career called ocean acoustics engineer. Everyday I have been interacting with NOAA Acoustics Engineer Chris Bassett and University of New Hampshire graduate student Alexandra Padilla to find out why they chose this career. One thing I notice is that they build really cool instruments and they are teaching me a lot about how we study the ocean using sound.

Interview with Christopher Bassett

Ocean Acoustics Engineer

NOAA Ocean Acoustics Engineer Chris Bassett schooling me on sound.

  • Normal Job Duties
    • I study the use of passive and active acoustics in marine environments.
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • A combination of management of ET/IT support for survey operations and special research projects at night.
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • This is my third field season. My first cruise was the summer of 2015.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • A series of fortunate and unfortunate events.
    • When I started graduate school I wanted to transition to working as an engineer in renewable energy. The economic conditions in 2008 resulted in the loss of funding for the project I was planning to work on. Instead I agreed to perform a short study on underwater sound in support of a tidal energy project in Puget Sound, WA. I fell in love with the work and have been studying acoustical oceanography ever since.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • Going to sea in Alaska. It’s beautiful.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • Not until I started doing ocean research. Prior to that the idea had never occurred to me. I didn’t see an ocean for the first time until I was in my teens so the idea of working in ocean science was completely foreign. I did, however, know I was interested in science and engineering from a relatively early age. Nonetheless, pursuing a career in science never occurred to me until I first worked in the field and discovered my passion for the subject.

Chris Bassett at work on Oscar Dyson.

  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Working with data sets (biological or physical) obtained in the field. Working with data obtained at sea from uncooperative sources is not easy. My job also requires a variety of skills (e.g., engineering, math, coding), a willingness to learn about biology, and requires a lot of travel. Expanding my knowledge across these fields is a constant challenge.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • I learn something interesting every day.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • Sunset at the Islands of Four Mountains while one of the volcanoes was smoking. Little more can be said. It was a beautiful day!

Interview with Alexandra Padilla

Ocean Acoustics Engineer

  • Official Title
    • Ocean Engineering PhD Student – and Sian Proctor’s awesome roommate aboard Oscar Dyson.
  • Normal Job Duties
    • I am a PhD graduate student. I usually spend my time split between courses and research. I am about to start my third year at University of New Hampshire and I will be focused mostly on taking classes, passing my qualifiers, and doing research.
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • I am an invited scientist.
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • This is my first time aboard the Oscar Dyson! Actually, it is the first time I have ever been on a scientific cruise.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • Oh Boy… That is a long story actually. Life.

Alex Padilla and Chris Bassett working on an acoustic research project aboard Oscar Dyson.

What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?

My favorite thing about going to sea is learning from all of the other people that are on Oscar Dyson – from NOAA Corps officers, crew member and fellow scientist.

Why is your work (or research) important?

My research is focused on observing methane seeps in the water column and quantifying the flux of methane within the water column and at the air-sea interface. This research is important for understanding how methane release in the ocean contributes to climate change.

  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • I knew I wanted to be an engineer since elementary school, but I only realized that I wanted to be an ocean engineer during my third year as an undergrad.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • Counting krill!
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Things don’t always work out the way you want them to and sometimes you don’t know how to fix them.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • Doing unique research. Also, getting that sense of satisfaction when you fix that one problem that you thought you couldn’t do.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • I have yet to have a specific memorable moment at sea but I do have a memorable feeling every time I look at the horizon when on the ship. It feels like freedom.

Personal Log

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I am enjoying being at sea. I think a big reason why is the smooth ride. The sea has been calm, the weather mild, and the sunshine plentiful. The scenery within the Shelikof Strait, particularly along Katmai National Park, has been stunningly beautiful. A perk of the early morning shift is seeing the sunrise. Take a look at the weather report above for the sunrise and sunset times. You’ll notice that the amount of darkness is minimal this time of year.

Sunrise in Alaska aboard Oscar Dyson.

Sunrise in Alaska aboard Oscar Dyson.

The hardest part of the journey so far has been my schedule. We work 12 hour days and my shift is 4 am to 4 pm. Yep, 4 am!  I am not a morning person – but I am also not a late night person. So given the choice between getting up or going to bed at 4 am – I choose to wake up with the help of coffee – coffee – coffee.

TAS Sian Proctor and NOAA Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto.

The NOAA crew are friendly, informative, and have made my adjustment to life at sea easy breezy. Every day I learn something new. The NOAA Chief Scientist is Taina Honkalehto. I was thrilled to learn that she’d be my mentor for the Teacher at Sea program because I am an advocate for women in science. I am also surrounded by other crew members, both men and women, who have taken time to teach, advise, and guide me every day. I will be trying to highlight as many of them as possible in my blog posts.

Education Tidbit

One thing I am learning is that there are so many different careers dealing with ocean science. Here is a great resources If you have students who are interested in a career in ocean or marine sciences.

There are so many things you can learn about sound and the sea. The Discovery of Sound in the Sea website is chuck full of information and educational resources.

Did You Know?

Did you know that there is a layer in the ocean where sound gets trapped and can travel across the entire basin. It is called the SOFAR Channel. Click this link to learn more: NOAA SOFAR Channel

NOAA diagram of how sound travels in the ocean.

David Amidon: All Aboard for Science, June 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 12, 2017

 

Science Log: 

IMG_1908

A Chrysaora colorata  jellyfish with an anchovy

As I end my journey on the Reuben Lakser, I wanted to prepare a post about the people on the ship. As in any organization, there are a lot of different people and personalities on board. I interviewed 15 different people and, looking back, I am particularly amazed by how much “Science” drives the ship. The Chief Scientist is involved in most of the decisions regarding course corrections and the logistics. It is really promising as a science teacher — NOAA offers a place for those interested in science to enjoy many different careers.  

The people working on the ship can be grouped into broad categories. I have mentioned the science crew, but there are also fishermen, deck crew, engineers, stewards and, of course, the ship’s officers. If you like to cook, there are positions for you here. Same thing if you want to be an electrician or mechanic. Each of those positions has different responsibilities and qualifications. For example, the engineers need proper licenses to work on specific vessels. All of the positions require ship specific training. For some, working on the ship is almost a second career, having worked in the private sector or the Navy previously. Kim Belveal, the Chief Electrical Technician followed this path as did Engineer Rob Piquion. Working with NOAA provides them with a decent wage and a chance to travel and see new places. For young people looking to work on a ship, these are great jobs to examine that combine different interests together. IMG_1930

All of the officers on the ships are members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. They have ranks, titles and traditions just like the Navy and Coast Guard. Commander (CDR) Kurt Dreflak, the Commanding Officer, or CO and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Justin Keesee, the Executive Officer, or XO, are in charge of everything that happens on the Reuben downloadLasker. To reach these positions, someone must work hard and be promoted through the NOAA Corps ranks. They make the ultimate decisions in terms of personnel, ordering, navigation, etc. The XO acts as most people think a First Mate would work. What impressed me was how they responded when I asked about why they work for NOAA and to describe their favorite moment at sea.  They both responded the same way: NOAA Corps provides a chance to combine science and service – a “Jacques Cousteau meets the Navy” situation. They also shared a similar thought when I asked them about their favorite moments at sea – they both reflected about reaching the “Aha” moment when training their officers.  This is definitely something I can relate to as a teacher.

Other NOAA Corps officers have different responsibilities, such as the OPS or Operations Officer, and take shifts on the bridge and on the deck, driving the ship, coordinating trawls and keeping the ship running smoothly in general. Most of the NOAA Corps has a background in marine science, having at least a degree in some science or marine discipline. When I asked them why they decided to work for NOAA, the common response was that it allows them to serve their country and contribute to science. Again, this is an awesome thing for a science teacher to hear!

IMG_1906

A Butterfish

To emphasize how important science is to the organization, two NOAA Corps officers, LTJG Cherisa Friedlander and LTJG Ryan Belcher, are members of the science crew during this leg of the Juvenile Rockfish Survey. They worked with us in the Science Lab, and did not have the same responsibilities associated with the ship’s operations.

 

Cherisa provided a lot of background about the NOAA Corp and the Reuben Lasker  in particular. I am including her full interview here:

  • What is your name?
    • Lieutenant Junior Grade Cherisa Friedlander
  • What is your title or position?
    • NOAA Corps Officer/ Operations Officer for the Fisheries Ecology Division in Santa Cruz,CA
  • What is your role on the ship?
    • I used to be the junior officer on board, now I am sailing as a scientist for the lab. It is kind of cool to have sailed on the ship in both roles! They are very different.
  • How long have you been working on the Reuben Lasker?
    • I worked on board from 2013-2014
  • Why did you choose to work on the Lasker?
    • I originally listed the RL as one if the ships I wanted after basic training in 2012 because it was going to be the newest ship in the fleet. It was very exciting to be a part of bringing a new ship online. I got to see it be built from the inside out and helped order and organize all of the original supplies. The first crew of a ship are called the plankowner crew of the ship, and it stems from olden times when shipbuilders would sleep on the same plank on the deck while they were building the ship. It is a big task.

      13918058190_741d909766_o

      Cherisa (far right) when the Reuben Lasker was commissioned From: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/reuben-lasker

  • What is your favorite moment on the ship or at sea?
    • I was the first Junior Officer the ship ever had and got to plan and be on board for the transit through the Panama Canal!
  • Why do you work for NOAA?
    • I love my job! I come from a service family, so I love the service lifestyle the NOAA Corps offers while still incorporating science and service. I like that every few years I get to see a new place and do a new job. Next I head to Antarctica!
  • If a young person was interested in doing your job someday, what advice would you give them?
    • Explore lots of options for careers while you are young. Volunteer, do internships, take courses, and find out what interests you. The more activities you participate in, the more well rounded you are and it allows you to find a job you will love doing. It is also appealing to employers to see someone who has been proactive about learning new ideas and skills.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or experiences at sea?
    • Working at sea can certainly be challenging. I can get very seasick sometimes which makes for a very unhappy time at sea. It can also be hard to be away from family and friends for so long, so I make sure to spend quality time with those people when I am on land. 🙂

 

IMG_1901

Wrapping up a trawl – measuring & bagging

The remainder of the science crew is at different points in their careers and have followed different paths to be a part of this cruise. Students motivated in science can take something from these stories, I hope, and someday join a field crew like this.   

San Diego red crabs last haul 1703.JPG

Last Haul- off coast of San Diego  Photo by Keith Sakuma

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has been part of the Rockfish Survey since 1989. He started as a student and has worked his way up from there. Various ships have run the survey in the past, but the Reuben Lasker, as the most state-of-the-art ship in the fleet, looks to be its home for the near future.

IMG_1910

An octopus

Thomas Adams is an undergraduate student from Humboldt State University. He has kept his eyes open and taken advantage of opportunities as they come up. He has been part of the survey for a few years already and looks to continue his work through a Master’s degree program.

Maya Drzewicki is an undergrad student from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She was named as a Hollings Scholar -in her words this is: “a 2 year academic scholarship and paid summer internship for college students interested in pursuing oceanic or atmospheric sciences. I am a marine biology major and through this scholarship program I have learned so much about ocean sciences and different careers.”

IMG_1900

Measuring Northern Lampfish

Rachel Zuercher is a PhD student associated with the University of California- Santa Cruz. She joined the survey in part because the group has provided her samples in the past that she has used for her research.

Mike Force is a professional birdwatcher who was able to make a career out of something he loves to do. He has been all over the globe, from Antarctica to the South Pacific helping to identify birds. As a freelance contractor, he goes where he is needed. His favorite time at sea was also a common theme I came across- there is always a chance to see something unique, no matter how long you have been on ship.

 

Ken Baltz is an oceanographer who ran the daytime operations on the ship. He was associated with NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz lab – Groundfish Analysis Team. As advice to young people looking to get in the field, he suggests they make sure that they can handle the life on the ship. This was a common theme many people spoke to – life on a ship is not always great. Seas get rough, tours take time and you are working with the same group of people for a long time. Before making a career of life on a ship, make sure it suits you!

 

Personal Log

Sunday, June 11th

I experienced a truly magical moment on the Flying Bridge this evening as we transited off the coast near Santa Barbara. For a good 20 minutes, we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of birds, dolphins, sea lions and humpback whales. It was awesome! The video below is just a snippet from the event and it does not do it justice. It was amazing!

 

 

 

Monday, June 12th

Sad to say this is my last night on the ship. We had plans to do complete 4 trawls, but we had a family of dolphins swimming in our wake during the Marine Mammal Watch. We had to cancel that station. After we wrapped up, it was clean up time and we worked through the night. The ship will arrive in San Diego early tomorrow morning.

Thank you NOAA and the crew of the Reuben Lasker for an awesome experience!!!

 

 

 

Julia Harvey: That’s a Mooring: June 29th, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Julia Harvey

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

June 25 – July 3rd 2016

 

Mission: WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS)

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii

Date: June 29th, 2016

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

(June 29th, 2016 at 12:00 pm)

Wind Speed: 12 knots

Temperature: 26.3 C

Humidity: 87.5%

Barometric Pressure: 1017.5 mb

 

Science and Technology Log

Approaching Weather

Approaching Weather

When an anchor is dropped, forces in the ocean will cause this massive object to drift as it falls.  Last year, after the anchor of mooring 12 was dropped, an acoustic message was sent to the release mechanism on the anchor to locate it.  This was repeated in three locations so that the location of the anchor could be triangulated much like how an earthquake epicenter is found.  This was repeated this year for mooring 13 so next year, they will know where it is.  From where we dropped the anchor to where it fell, was a horizontal distance of 3oo meters.  The ocean moved the 9300 pound anchor 300 meters.  What a force!

The next morning as the ship was in position, another acoustic message was sent that triggered the release of the glass floats from the anchor. Not surprisingly, the floats took nearly an hour to travel up the nearly 3 miles to the surface.

Float recovery

A small boat went to retrieve the mooring attached to the floats

Once the floats were located at the surface, a small boat was deployed to secure the end of the mooring to the Hi’ialakai. The glass floats were loaded onto the ship.  17 floats that had imploded when they were deployed last year.  Listen to imploding floats recorded by the hydrophone.  Implosion.

Selfie with an imploded float.

Selfie with an imploded float.

Next, came the lengthy retrieval of the line (3000+ meters). A capstan to apply force to the line was used as the research associates and team arranged the line in the shipping boxes. The colmega and nylon retrieval lasted about 3 hours.

Bringing up the colmega line.

Bringing up the colmega line and packing it for shipping.

Once the wire portion of the mooring was reached, sensors were removed as they rose and stored. Finally the mooring was released, leaving the buoy with about 40 meters of line with sensors attached and hanging below.

Navigating to buoy.

Navigating to buoy.

The NOAA officer on the bridge maneuvered the ship close enough to the buoy so that it could be secured to the ship and eventually lifted by the crane and placed on deck. This was followed by the retrieval of the last sensors.

Buoy onboard

Bringing the buoy on board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day required cleaning sensors to remove biofoul.  And the buoy was dismantled for shipment back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Kate scrubbing sensors to remove biofoul.

Kate scrubbing sensors to remove biofoul.

 

Dismantling the buoy.

Dismantling the buoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mooring removal was accomplished in seas with 5-6 feet swells at times. From my vantage point, everything seemed to go well in the recovery process. This is not always the case. Imagine what would happen, if the buoy separated from the rest of the mooring before releasing the floats and the mooring is laying on the sea floor? What would happen if the float release was not triggered and you have a mooring attached to the 8000+ pound anchor?  There are plans for when these events occur.  In both cases, a cable with a hook (or many hooks) is snaked down to try and grab the mooring line and bring it to the surface.

Now that the mooring has been recovered, the science team continues to collect data from the CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) casts.  By the end of tomorrow, the CTDs would have collected data for approximately 25 hours.  The data from the CTDs will enable the alignment of the two moorings.

CTD

CTD

The WHOTS (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time Series Site) mooring project is led by is led by two scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution;  Al Plueddeman and Robert Weller.  Both scientists have been involved with the project since 2004.  Plueddeman led this year’s operations and next year it will be Weller.  Plueddeman recorded detailed notes of the operation that helped me fill in some blanks in my notes.  He answered my questions.  I am thankful to have been included in this project and am grateful for this experience and excited to share with my students back in Eugene, Oregon.

Al Plueddeman

Al Plueddeman, Senior Scientist

The long term observations (air-sea fluxes) collected by the moorings at Station Aloha will be used to better understand climate variability.  WHOTS is funded by NOAA and NSF and is a joint venture with University of Hawaii.  I will definitely be including real time and archived data from WHOTS in Environmental Science.

Personal Log

I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with the crew of the Hi’ialakai.  There were many pathways taken to get to this point of being aboard this ship.  I learned about schools and programs that I had never even heard about.  My students will learn from this adventure of mine, that there are programs that can lead them to successful oceanic careers.

Brian Kibler

Brian Kibler

I sailed with Brian Kibler in 2013 aboard the Oscar Dyson up in the Gulf of Alaska.  He completed a two year program at Seattle Maritime Academy where he became credentialed to be an Able Bodied Seaman.  After a year as an intern aboard the Oscar Dyson, he was hired.  A few years ago he transferred to the Hi’ialakai and has now been with NOAA for 5 years.  On board, he is responsible for rigging, watch and other tasks that arise.  Brian was one of the stars of the video I made called Sharks on Deck. Watch it here.

Tyler Matta

Tyler Matta, 3rd Engineer

Tyler Matta has been sailing with NOAA for nearly a year.  He sought a hands-on engineering program and enrolled at Cal Maritime (Forbes ranked the school high due to the 95% job placement) and earned a degree in maritime engineering and was licensed as an engineer.  After sailing to the South Pacific on a 500 ft ship, he was hooked.  He was hired by NOAA at a job fair as a 3rd engineer and soon will have enough sea days to move to 2nd engineer.

 

 

There are 6 NOAA Corps members on  the Hi’ialakai.  They all went through an approximately 5 month training program at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.  To apply, a candidate should have a 4 year degree in a NOAA related field such as science, math or engineering.  Our commanding officer, Liz Kretovic, attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy and majored in marine safety and environmental protection.  Other officers graduated with degrees in marine science, marine biology, and environmental studies.

Nikki Chappelle, Bryan Stephan and Brian Kibler on the bridge.

Nikki Chappelle, Bryan Stephan and Brian Kibler on the bridge.

ENS Chappelle

NOAA Ensign Nicki Chappelle

Ensign (ENS) Nikki Chappelle is new to the NOAA Corps.  In fact, this is her first cruise aboard the Hi’ialakai and second with NOAA.  She is shadowing ENS Bryan Stephan for on the job training.  She spent most of her schooling just south of where I teach.  I am hoping that when she visits her family in Cottage Grove, Oregon that she might make a stop at my school to talk to my students.  She graduated from Oregon State University with degrees in zoology and communication.  In the past she was a wildfire fighter, a circus worker (caring for the elephants) and a diver at Sea World.

All of the officers have 2 four hour shifts a day on the bridge.  For example ENS Chappelle’s shifts are 8am to 12pm and 8pm to 12am.  The responsibilities of the officers include navigating the ship, recording meteorological information, overseeing safety.  Officers have other tasks to complete when not on the bridge such as correcting navigational maps or safety and damage control. ENS Stephan manages the store on board as a collateral assignment.  After officers finish training they are sent to sea for 2-3 years (usually 2) and then rotate to land for 3 years and then back to sea.  NOAA Officers see the world while at sea as they support ocean and atmospheric science research.

Frank Russo

ET Frank Russo

Electronics technician (ET) seem to be in short supply with NOAA.  There are lots of job opportunities.  According to Larry Wooten (from Newport’s Marine Operation Center of the Pacific), NOAA has hired 7 ETs since November.  Frank Russo III is sailing with NOAA for the first time as an ET.  But this is definitely not his first time at sea.  He spent 24 years in the navy, 10 at Military Sealift Command supporting naval assets and marines around the world.  His responsibilities on the Hi’ialakai include maintaining navigational equipment on the bridge, making sure the radio, radar and NAVTEX (for weather alerts) are functioning properly and maintaining the server so that the scientists have computer access.

I have met so many interesting people on the Hi’ialakai.  I appreciate everyone who took the time to chat with me about their careers or anything else.  I wish I had more time so that I could get to know more of the Hi’ialakai crew.  Thanks.  Special thanks to our XO Amanda Goeller and Senior Scientist Al Plueddeman for reviewing my blog posts.  And for letting me tag along.

 

Did You Know?

The buoy at the top of the mooring becomes a popular hang out for organisms in the area. As we approached mooring 12, there were several red-footed boobies standing their ground. There were also plenty of barnacles and other organisms that are planktonic in some stage of their lives. Fishing line is strung across the center of the buoy to discourage visitors but some still use the buoy as a rest stop. The accumulation of organism that can lead to corrosion and malfunction of the equipment is biofoul.

Boobies to be Evicted

Red-Footed Boobies

Biofoul prevention

Wires and line to prevent biofoul.

 One More Thing

South Eugene biology teacher Christina Drumm (who’s husband was  Ensign Chappelle’s high school math teacher) wanted to see pictures of the food.  So here it is.  Love and Happiness.

Lobster for Dinner

Lobster for Dinner

 

Last supper

Last supper on the Hi’ialakai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colors of the sea

I love the colors of the sea.

Sea colors

Sea colors

June Teisan, Science at Sea! May 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
1600 hours ; Partly Cloudy; wind 6 knots; air temp 27.5C;  water temp 28.4C; wave height 3 ft

twilight

Calm seas on the Gulf

 

Science and Technology Log:

It’s been fascinating to work beside the fisheries science staff here on the Oregon II. Moving through the station protocols – deploying nets and sampling devices, processing, preserving, and cataloging the ichthyoplankton samples, analyzing the chemistry of water samples – I have learned so much and enjoyed every minute.

Personal Log:

I am always curious about why people choose the careers they do. At what point did a door open, who pointed the way, when did the proverbial light bulb go on? So I asked a few members of our science team the when, how, and why behind their chosen career.

Alphonso

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Path to a STEM Career: When his asthma closed the door to a career in the Air Force, Alonzo reluctantly headed to community college instead. From his stellar work at Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute in Prentiss, Mississippi, he earned a full ride to Jackson State University.

When Alonzo showed up for registration at JSU the first day, the attendant at registration told Alonzo that he had not just one, but two academic scholarships! He needed to make a choice between the scholarship he knew he had and an additional biomedical research assistant scholarship. He rushed over to speak with the director of the biomed program, only to be told that the scholarship had been given away without consulting Alonzo. Angry and disappointed, Alonzo stormed out down the hall and literally ‘turned a corner’ into the first door he saw: The Office of Marine Sciences. He asked the director of that division to explain her program to him, which she did and encouraged him to join. As they say, the rest is history.  Alonzo finished his bachelors degree in biology, and went on to Master in Marine and Environmental Sciences. Since 1984, Alonzo has worked with NOAA in the Trawl Survey Unit of NOAA Fisheries in Pascagoula.

Best Part of His Job: He enjoys the new discoveries he sees out on the water.

Favorite Teacher: 6th grade Ms. MaeDora Frelix – “Because she was pretty, and smart, and she said I was smart, so that topped it off”

Taniya

Taniya Wallace

Taniya Wallace

Path to a STEM Career: Taniya always liked science and in high school took the medical program vocational classes which involved clinicals in the hospital and shadowing doctors. However, after she passed out during rounds one day, Taniya decided she didn’t want to be a nurse. She did, however, find a new science interest; she job-shadowed her aunt who was working at Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and loved it. She attended Mississippi Valley State University in Ittabena, MS with a biology major and a minor in chemistry. She completed her bachelors in May 2010 and is now working in marine sciences, with part of her work assisting with research on NOAA vessels.

Best Part of Her Job: Being out on the water, the fact that it is always something different.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. S. Williams, 7th grade science “because she opened my eyes to a new world, it wasn’t regular textbook material. She did nature walks, integrating arts – keeping science exciting and interesting.”

Denice

Denice Dress

Denice Drass

Path to a STEM Career: Denice always liked science, and on vacation trips to the beach as a kid she decided she wanted to do marine biology. She selected a university that had marine bio as undergraduate major. Millersville University in Pennsylvania was part of the Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium of Virginia so Denice could take summer marine science classes in Virginia, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. She then earned her Masters’ in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology. Denice spent 7.5 months working for the state of Florida on their Red Drum Stock Enhancement Program (red drum fish Sciaenops ocellatus) then moved to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Mississippi Laboratories in 1993.

Best Part of Her Job: “Variety! It’s never the same thing twice, and I can go between field work and lab work so that keeps everything interesting.”

Favorite Teacher: Denice had so many wonderful teachers she can’t pick just one.

BOB Trio

Alex Beels, Craig Trebesh, and June Teisan with BOB (basic observation buoy) in the background

The classroom shout out for this blog goes to students with Ms. Alexandra Beels, Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Mr. Craig Trebesh, SOAR Academy in Sheridan, Colorado.

Gregory Cook, On Sea Sickness and Good People, August 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 10, 2014


Science and Technology Log:

Last night and afternoon was by far the craziest we’ve seen on the Oscar Dyson. The winds were up to 35 knots (about 40 miles an hour). The waves were averaging 12 feet in height, and sometimes reaching 15-18 feet in height. Right now I’m sitting on the bridge and waves are around 8 feet. With every rise the horizon disappears and I’m looking up at stark grey clouds. With every drop the window fills with views of the sea, with the horizon appearing just below the top of the window frames.

UpDownUpDownUpDown

In the space of three seconds, the view from atop the bridge of the Oscar Dyson goes from looking up to the sky to down at the sea. The above pic is a MILD example.

Ensign Gilman, a member of NOAA Corps, explains to me how the same thing that makes the Bering Sea good for fish makes things rough for fishermen.

“This part of the Bering Sea is shallow compared to the open ocean. That makes the water easier for the wind to pick up and create waves. When strong winds come off Russia and Alaska, it kicks up a lot of wave action,” Ensign Gilman says.

Andrew, Bill and Nate

Lt. Andrew Ostapenko, Survey Tech Bill Potts, and Ens. Nathaniel Gilman on the Bridge

“It’s not so much about the swells (wave height),” he continues. “It’s about the steepness of the wave, and how much time you have to recover from the last wave.” He starts counting between the waves… “one… two… three… three seconds between wave heights… that’s a pretty high frequency. With no time to recover, the ship can get rocked around pretty rough.”

Rough is right! Last night I got shook around like the last jelly bean in the jar. I seriously considered finding some rope to tie myself into my bunk. There were moments when it seemed an angry giraffe was jumping on my bunk. I may or may not have shouted angrily at Sir Isaac Newton that night.

Which brings us to Sea Sickness.

Lt. Paul Hoffman, a Physician’s Assistant with the U.S. Public Health Service, explains how sea sickness works.

“The inner ears are made up of tubes that allow us to sense motion in three ways,” Hoffman explains. “Forward/back, left/right, and up/down. While that’s the main way our brain tells us where we are, we use other senses as well.” He goes on to explain that every point of contact… feet and hands, especially, tell the brain more information about where we are in the world.

“But another, very important piece, are your eyes. Your eyes are a way to confirm where you are in the world. Sea Sickness tends to happen when your ears are experiencing motion that your eyes can’t confirm,” Hoffman says.

For example, when you’re getting bounced around in your cabin (room), but nothing around you APPEARS to be moving (walls, chair, desk, etc) your brain, essentially, freaks out. It’s not connected to anything rational. It’s not enough to say “Duhh, brain, I’m on a boat. Of course this happens.” It happens in a part of the brain that’s not controlled by conscious thought. You can’t, as far as I can tell, think your way out of it.

Hoffman goes on to explain a very simple solution: Go look at the sea.

“When you get out on deck, the motion of the boat doesn’t stop, but your eyes can look at the horizon… they can confirm what your ears have been trying to tell you… that you really are going up and down. And while it won’t stop the boat from bouncing you around, your stomach will probably feel a lot better,” Hoffman says.

The Deck is your Friend.

Everything is easier on deck! Clockwise from left: Winch Operator Pete Stoeckle and myself near Cape Navarin, Russia. Oceanographer Nate Lauffenburger and myself crossing the International Date Line. Survey Tech Alyssa Pourmonir and Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto near Cape Navarin, Russia.

And he’s right. Being up on the bridge… watching the Oscar Dyson plow into those stout waves… my brain has settled into things. The world is back to normal. Well, as normal as things can get on a ship more than a third of the way around the world, that is.

Personal Log:

Let’s meet a few of the good folks on the Oscar Dyson. 

NOAA Crew Member Alyssa Pourmonir

Job Title: Survey Technician

Alyssa and the Giant Jelly!

Survey Tech Alyssa Pourmonir assesses a giant jelly fish!

Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I’m a liaison between crew and scientists, work with scientists in the wet lab, put sensors onto the trawling nets, focus on safety, maintaining all scientific data and equipment on board.” A liaison is someone who connects two people or groups of people.

Education Level Required: “A Bachelors degree in the sciences.” Alyssa has a BS in Marine and Environmental Science from SUNY Maritime with minors in oceanography and meteorology.

Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a life guard/swim instructor in high school, then I was in the Coast Guard for three years. Life guarding is the BEST job in high school!”

Goal: “I strive to bring about positive change in the world through science.”

Weirdest thing you ever took out of the Sea: “Lump Sucker: They have big flappy eyebrows… they kinda look like a bowling ball.”

Lump Sucker!

Lump Sucker! When provoked, this fish sucks in so much water that it becomes too big for most other fish to swallow. That’s its defense mechanism! It sort of looks like a cross between a bowling ball and grumpy cat!

Dirtiest job you’ve ever had to do on a ship: “Sexing the fish (by cutting them open and looking at the fish’s gonads… sometimes they explode!) is pretty gross, but cleaning the PCO2 filter is nasty.  There are these marine organisms that get in there and cling to the filter and you have to push them off with your hands… they get all slimy!”

Engineer Rico Speights

Engineer Rico Speights shows off how nasty a filter can be! He and his wife (Chief Steward Ava) sail the Bering Sea together with NOAA!

NOAA Rotating Technician Ricardo Guevara

Job Title: Electronics Technician

Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I maintain and upkeep most of the low voltage electronics on the ship, like computer networking, radio, television systems, sensors, navigation systems. All the equipment that can “talk,” that can communicate with other devices, I take care of that.”

Education level Required: High school diploma and experience. “I have a high school diploma and some college. The majority of my knowledge comes from experience… 23 years in the military.”

Tech Guevara

Technician Ricardo Guevara shows me an ultrasonic anemometer… It can tell the wind speed by the time it takes the wind to get from one fork to the other.

Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a telecommunications specialist with the United States Air Force… I managed encryption systems and associated keymat for secure communications.” This means he worked with secret codes.

Trickiest problem you’ve solved for NOAA: “There was a science station way out on the outer edge of the Hawaiian Islands that was running their internet off of dial-up via satellite phone when the whole thing shut down on them… ‘Blue Screen of Death’ style. We couldn’t just swap out the computer because of all the sensitive information on it. I figured out how to repair the disk without tearing the machine apart. Folks were extremely happy with the result… it was very important to the scientists’ work.”

What are you working on now? “I’m migrating most of the ship’s computers from windows xp to Windows 7. I’m also troubleshooting the DirecTV system. The problem with DirecTV is that the Multi-Switch for the receivers isn’t communicating directly with the satellite. Our antenna sees the satellite, but the satellite cannot ‘shake hands’ with our receiver system.” And that means no Red Sox games on TV! Having entertainment available for the crew is important when you’re out to sea for two to three weeks at a time!

What’s a challenging part of your job on the Dyson? “I don’t like it, but I do it when I have to… sometimes in this job you have to work pretty high up. Sometimes I have to climb the ship’s mast for antenna and wind sensor maintenance. It’s windy up there… and eagles aren’t afraid of you up there. That’s their place!”

Lt. Paul Hoffman

Job Title: Physician Assistant (or P.A.) with the U.S. Public Health Service

Paul and Peggy

Lt. Paul Huffman and the small boat Peggy D behind him. Lt. Huffman is with the U.S. Public Health Service. But secretly I call him the Bat Man of Health Care. Peggy Dyson is a beloved part of the Alaska Fishing Industry’s history. Before the internet and satellite telephones, her radio service served as a vital link home for fishermen out at sea.  She was married to Oscar Dyson, the man for whom the ship was named.

Responsibilities on the Dyson: He’s effectively the ship’s doctor. “Whenever a NOAA ship travels outside 200 miles of the U.S. coast, they need to be able to provide an increased level of medical care. That’s what I do,” says Hoffman.

Education required for this career: “Usually a Masters degree from a Physician’s Assistant school with certification.”

Job or career you’ve had before this: “Ten and a half years in the U.S. Army, I started off as an EMT. Then I went on to LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) school, and then blessed with a chance to go on to PA school. I served in Iraq in 2007-2008, then returned for 2010-2011.”

Most satisfying thing you’ve seen or done in your career: “Knowing that you personally had an impact on somebody’s life… keeping somebody alive. We stabilized one of our soldiers and then had a helicopter evac (evacuation) under adverse situations. Situations like that are what make being a PA worthwhile.”

Could you explain what the Public Health Service is for folks that might not be familiar with it?

“The Public Health Service is one of the seven branches of the U.S. Military. It’s a non-weaponized, non-combative, all-officer corps that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services. We’re entirely medical related. Primary deployments (when they get sent into action) are related to national emergency situations… hurricanes, earth quakes… anywhere where state and local resources are overrun… they can request additional resources… that’s where we step in. Hurricane Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti… a lot of officers saw deployment there. Personally, I’ve been employed in Indian Health Services in California and NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center (AOC)… they’re the hurricane hunters,” Hoffman concludes.

Kids, when you’ve been around Lt. Hoffman for a while, you realize “adverse conditions” to him are a little tougher than a traffic jam or missing a homework assignment. I’ve decided to call him, and the rest of the Public Health Service, “The Batman of Health Care.” When somebody lights up the Bat Signal, they’re there to help people feel better.

Coming up next: International Teamwork!