Suzanne Acord: Teamwork Is a Must While at Sea, March 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 25, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 577
Depth in feet: 3,462
Temperature: 27.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Teamwork

Kona cruise map

2014 Kona IEA Cruise Map. Locate H1 and H2 to determine where our HARPs are retrieved and deployed.

Throughout the past week, it has become obvious that all operations aboard the Sette require team work. Scientific projects and deployments require the assistance of the Bridge, engineers, and heavy equipment operators. This was clear during our recent deployment of our HARP or High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (see my earlier posts to learn why we use the HARP). Marine Mammal Operations lead, Ali Bayless, leads our morning HARP retrieval and deployment operations. We first prepare to retrieve a HARP that has completed its duty on the floor of the ocean. At least a dozen scientists and crew members attempt to locate it using binoculars. It is spotted soon after it is triggered by our team. Crew members head to the port side of the ship once the HARP at station H2 surfaces. H2 is very close to the Kona Coast. A fresh HARP is deployed from the stern of the ship later in the morning. Both the retrieval and deployment of the HARPs take immaculate positioning skills at the Bridge. Hence, the Bridge and the HARP crew communicate non-stop through radios. The coordinates of the drop are recorded so the new HARP can be retrieved in a year.

A Conversation with Commanding Officer (CO) Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

Morale is high and teamwork is strong aboard the Sette. These characteristics are often attributed to excellent leadership. CO Koes’ presence is positive and supportive. CO Koes has served with NOAA for the past thirteen years. She came aboard the Sette January 4, 2013. She is now back in her home state of Hawaii after serving with NOAA in California and Oregon. She is a graduate of Kalani High School in Hawaii and earned a BA in chemical engineering at Arizona State University.

As CO of the Sette, Koes believes it is important to create trust amongst crew members and to delegate rather than to dictate. She provides support and guidance to her crew twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She is the CO of all ship operations such as navigation, science operations, deck activities, trawling, and engineering. She is highly visible on board and is genuinely interested in the well-being of her crew and ship. She does not hesitate to start a conversation or pep talk in the mess or on the deck. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she states that she “likes to see the lights go on in the eyes of junior officers when they learn something new.” Koes goes on to state that her goal as CO is to have fun and make a difference in the lives of her officers and crew.

Personal Log

Ship Life

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

I have found that one can acclimate to life aboard a ship quite quickly if willing to laugh at oneself. The first couple of days on board the Sette were fun, but shaky. We had some rough weather on our way to the Kona Coast from Oahu. I truly felt like I was being rocked to sleep at night. Showering, walking, and standing during the rocking were a challenge and surely gave me stronger legs. Regardless of the weather, we must be sure to completely close all doors. We even lock the bathroom stall doors from the outside so they don’t fly open. The conditions quickly improved once we hit the Kona Coast, but conditions change frequently depending on our location. When up in the flying bridge for Marine Mammal Observation, we can easily observe the change in the wave and wind patterns. It is difficult to spot our dolphins and whales once the water is choppy. It is these changes in the weather and the sea that help me understand the complexity of our oceans.

Meal time on board is tasty and social. Everyone knows when lunchtime is approaching and you are sure to see smiles in the mess. All meals are served buffet style so we are able to choose exactly what we want to eat. We can go back to the buffet line numerous times, but most folks pile their plates pretty high during their first trip through the line. After our meals, we empty our scraps into the slop bucket and then rinse our dishes off in the sink. This gives us the chance to compliment our stewards on the great food. If we would like, we can eat our meals in the TV room, which is next door to the mess. It has a TV, couches, a few computers, a soda machine, and a freezer filled with ice-cream.

Chain of command is important when performing our science operations, when net fishing, when in the engineering room, and even when entering the Bridge. Essentially, if someone tells me to put on a hard hat, I do it with no questions asked. Everyone on board must wear closed toed shoes unless they are in their living quarters. Ear plugs are required on the engineering floor. Safety is key on the decks, in our rooms, in the halls, and especially during operations. I have never felt so safe and well fed!

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

“Doc” Tran

Did you know that we have a doctor on board who is on call 24/7? The Sette is fortunate to have “Doc” Tran on board. He is a commander with the United States Public Health Service. Doc Tran has served on the Sette for four years. He is our doctor, our cheerleader, our store manager, and our coach! When not on duty, he can be seen riding an exercise bike on the deck or making healthy smoothies for anyone willing to partake. He also operates the ship store, which sells shirts, treats, hats, and toiletries at very reasonable prices. He truly enjoys his service on the Sette. He loves to travel, enjoys working with diverse groups of people, and appreciates our oceans. He is a perfect match for the Sette and is well respected by the crew.

 

 

Yaara Crane: Scientific Careers, July 1, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22 — July 3, 2013

TJ Chiefs

The people in charge of the TJ. From left to right: XO, Chief Steward, Chief Engineer, CO, and Chief Boatswain (front).

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Monday, July 1, 2013

Latitude: 38.81°N
Longitude: 75.05°W 

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed:  21.77knots
Surface Water Temperature: 22.16°C
Air Temperature:  22.80°C
Relative Humidity: 98.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.61mb 

Scientific Careers Log

During my time aboard the Thomas Jefferson, I have heard dozens of personal stories from individuals that come from all walks of life. I spent the past few days sitting down with a variety of these people to interview them about how they ended up a critical part of this ship. The following is just a short summary of my long conversations with each of these people. I found so much to write about, that today’s log will be about scientific careers, and tomorrow’s will focus on the non-scientific careers.

Of course, I had to begin my interviews with the man in charge: Commander Lawrence Krepp. CDR Krepp has been a NOAA Corps officer for over 20 years, and CO of the TJ since April of 2011. He particularly enjoys working on hydrographic ships, because they are the only ones in the fleet in which the CO is also the Chief Scientist. His background includes a degree in marine biology and work with the National Undersea Research Center.  In addition to saving him from a meeting each day, the major perk to being Chief Scientist is that he is able to work much more closely with the FOO to accomplish the objectives of the science party while maintaining supervision of all of the ship’s operations. CDR Krepp is able to spend his mornings walking around the ship and checking in on the bridge, then the rest of his day is spent immersed in reviewing survey work and other administrative duties.

QOD from CO

The CO puts a nautical trivia question in the night orders for his officers. He then checks their answers the next day.

On a more personal level, the CO mentioned that he wished he had more time to really work with the officers on their skills. CDR Krepp mentioned that he minored in education when he was in college, so it seems a little bit of the teacher still remains. Turnover on ships is very high because officers alternate every 2-3 years between sea and land assignments, therefore he will try to improve knowledge around the ship through spontaneous questioning on various scenarios that could occur. However, he always keeps an eye on the ship’s navigation systems to make sure the ship is safe and secure. If there was one aspect of his ship that the CO could change, it would be to improve the environmental treatment of the various waste streams on the TJ. An independent energy audit of the Thomas Jefferson was conducted in 2010, and CDR Krepp hopes to make improvements to the ship during his tenure as CO. Finally, the CO will do various things around the ship to help boost morale. The people that work on the ship give up a lot of personal freedoms, especially time with family, so the CO participates in some of the team-building around the ship. For example, he consented to have his hair cut by the winner of a ship-wide raffle. Proceeds from the raffle go directly back to planning events that can happen when at a port of call, such as going to a baseball game. Thanks for the interview, Captain!

Next in line was Lieutenant Commander Christiaan van Westendorp, otherwise known as the XO. The XO actually earned the rank of Lieutenant during his six years as a Navy Officer, a portion of which was spent on a nuclear-powered Navy submarine. Navy command structures do not generally transfer directly over to the NOAA Corps, so the XO had to spend nearly an additional year as an Ensign before being given his Lieutenant rank with NOAA. He spent two years as a FOO, and then was hired as XO of the NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler before coming to the TJ in November of 2012. LCDR van Westendorp will be on the TJ until the end of 2014, be given a land assignment for a few years, and then will most likely go to his final sea assignment as the CO and/or Chief Scientist of a NOAA ship. The XO is quick to point out that his career path is atypical of most NOAA officers, and he has been fortunate to be able to spend almost his entire NOAA career based out of Norfolk.

The XO is the main administrator, safety officer, and human resources officer on the ship, among other duties. These tasks involve a lot of paperwork, but also a lot of personal skills to work with any conflicts that might arise on the ship. His favorite part of his job is walking around the ship to keep in touch with everyone, and finding new challenges to tackle every day. LCDR van Westendorp echoes the opinion of many of the people I interviewed who just can’t get enough of the dynamism of life aboard a ship. Another aspect of the dynamism of the job is the exciting locales in which he has served. Since joining NOAA in September of 2005, the XO has had the opportunity to work in exotic locations such as Belize, Barbados, Suriname, Tahiti, and Hawaii. Thanks for the interview, XO!

ship store

I just bought a T-shirt from the ship store. Ensign Steve is in charge of keeping the store stocked and organized.

Working my way down the NOAA Corps Officers brought me to the second-newest officer on board, Ensign Steve Moulton. Ensign Moulton spent nine years in the Coast Guard, and has had to start over working his way up in the NOAA ranks. Right now, he feels that he is in a very heavy learning period of his career. Although he majored in an environmental field in college, he still had to attend hydrography school to learn the complex software and details of the ship’s work. Additionally, he is learning his way around a lot of collateral duties such as being the morale officer, the navigation officer, and running the ship store. Together with 8 hours of watch and processing hydrographic data, he is kept incredibly busy.

The major lesson that Ensign Moulton has internalized is to learn from your mistakes. Conditions on a ship, particularly while on the helm, change very quickly. He feels supported to spend time improving his skills, and has learned that any corrections from senior officers should only come once! Even so, Ensign Moulton enjoys the camaraderie of the ship, and being fortunate enough to spend his career on the water. He grew up in Rhode Island, and feels very connected to life at sea. Thanks for the interview, Ensign!

PS - James

James and I are looking at side scan data. He is pointing at a contact that may be a wreck.

My final scientist interview actually spends very little of his time at sea. James Miller, Physical Scientist, spends about 6-10 weeks on various East Coast NOAA ships throughout the year. He has worked for NOAA for three years, and is based out of NOAA’s Norfolk office. James joins the TJ and the Hassler for short periods to augment their scientific work and support the survey department. James normally spends his time on shore conducting quality assurance on the surveys that come directly from NOAA’s fleet of hydro ships and hydrographic contractors. He will compile these surveys into preliminary charts that will eventually be sent off to cartographers. James has picked up the knowledge for this career through his degree in Geology, an internship with NOAA arranged through Earth Resources Technology, and on-the-job training.

Although most of James’s job occurs behind a desk, he has had the opportunity to participate in a few more exciting NOAA ventures. For example, during the Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, James was tapped to augment on the Gordon Gunter. He has also been asked to augment on assignments to reopen major ports after large storms and hurricanes. These opportunities generally come following emergencies, so James may be asked to report to a ship with only 24 hours’ notice. Finally, as others have said, James’ favorite part of working for NOAA is the dynamism of the field. James feels that he is in a steady learning process as the field of hydrography continues to improve in technological capabilities and scientific methods. Thanks for the interview, James!

Personal Log

It is getting to that time where we will be headed to Norfolk soon. I have been growing steadily accustomed to life at sea, and am excited to share everything that I have learned. I think the major lesson I have taken from this experience is one of creativity. If you don’t look past what you have learned, you may never know what other opportunities exist. As a teacher, I also agree with the idea of dynamism being a huge motivation in a career. Every morning that I wake up, I have new lessons to teach and challenges to address. I hope to keep that perspective and sense of adventure when I return to my classroom in the fall.

Did You Know?

The nautical charts created by NOAA are available in digital format for free public use. Hydrographic data is collected by NOAA ships, as well as with the cooperation of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey.