Barney Peterson: Cut Bait and Fish! August 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

August 13 – 28, 2016


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 25 29.664 N

Longitude: 082 02.181 W

Air temperature: 84.56 F

Pressure: 1018.13 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 30.5 C

Wind Speed: 13.54 Kt    East 12.72 degrees

Science Log:

The fishing process on the ship repeats itself in a well-defined cycle: cut bait, bait 100 hooks, drop hi-flyer, drop weight,  attach 50 tags and baited hooks, drop weight, attach 50 more tags and hooks, drop weight, deploy hi-flyer.  Put the CTD over the side and retrieve for water quality data.  Wait an hour.  Retrieve hi-flyer, retrieve weight, pull in first 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve weight, pull in next 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve last weight, retrieve last hi-flyer.  Process the catch as it comes in, logging tag number, gender, species, lengths at 3 points, life stage, and tag number if the catch is a shark that gets tagged, return catch to water alive as quickly as possible. Transit to the next sample site.  Wash, rinse and repeat.

That boils it down to the routine, but long line fishing is much more interesting and exciting than that!  Bait we use is Atlantic Mackerel, caught farther north and frozen, thawed just before use and cut into 3 pieces per fish.  A circle hook is inserted through each piece twice to ensure it will not fall off the hook…this is a skill that takes a bit of practice.  Sometimes hooks are pulled in with bait still intact. Other times the bait is gone and we don’t know if it was eaten without the hook catching, a poor baiting job, or more likely eaten by smaller fish, too little to be hooked.  When we are successful we hear the call “FISH ON!” and the deck comes alive.

The line with a catch is pulled up as quickly and carefully as possible.  Some fish are not securely hooked and are lost between the water and the deck…not what we want to happen.  If the catch is a large shark (generally 4 feet or longer) it is raised to the deck in a sling attached to the forward crane to minimize the chance of physical injury.  For large sharks a camera with twin lasers is used to get a scaled picture for estimating length.  There is a dynamometer on the line between the sling and the crane which measures pressure and converts it to weight.  Both of these processes help minimize the time the shark needs to be out of water with the goal of keeping them alive to swim away after release.  A tag is quickly attached to the shark, inserted under the skin at the base of the second dorsal fin.  A small clip is taken from a fin, preferably from the pelvic fin, for DNA studies. The sling is lowered back to the water and the shark is free to swim away.  All data collected is recorded to the hook-tag number which will identify the shark as to geographic location of the catch.

Shark in sling

A sandbar shark being held in the sling for measurements.

Sometimes the catch is a smaller shark or a bony fish:  a Grouper, a Red Snapper, or any one of many different types of fish that live in this area.  Each of these is brought onto the deck and laid on a measuring board. Species, length, and weight are recorded. Fin clips are taken.  Many of them are on the list of species of recreational and commercial importance.  These fish are retained for life history studies which will inform future management decisions.  In the lab they are dissected to retrieve otoliths (ear stones) by which their age is determined.  Depending upon the species, gonads (the reproductive organs) may be saved for study to determine the possibilities of future reproductive success.  For certain species a good-sized piece of flesh is cut from the side for fraudulent species voucher library use.

After the smaller sharks are measured, fin clipped, gender identified, life stage is determined and weight is taken, they are tagged and returned to the water as quickly as possible.  Tags on these sharks are a small, numbered plastic tag attached by a hole through the first dorsal fin.

This is a lot to get done and recorded and it all happens several times each shift.  The routine never varies.  The amount of action depends upon the success of the catch from any particular set.  This goes on 24 hours per day.  The only breaks come as we travel between the sites randomly selected for our sets and that time is generally spent in the lab.

(Thanks go to Kevin Rademacher, Trey Driggers and Lisa Jones, Research Fisheries Biologists, for contributing to this entry.  File photo NOAA/NMFS)

Personal Log:

I do not need 12 hours of sleep.  That means I have several hours at the start or end of each shift to write in my journal, talk to the other members of the crew, take care of personal business such as laundry and communicate with home via email.  Even so, every day seems to go by very quickly and I go to bed thinking of all the things I have yet to learn.  In my next posts I will tell more about the different kinds of sharks and introduce you to some of the other people on the ship.  Stay tuned.

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.



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

Spencer Cody: Farewell Fairweather, June 18, 2016

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 18, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 18, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 20.643′ N

Longitude: 131˚ 37.505′ W

Air Temp: 20˚C (68˚F)

Water Temp: 13˚C (55˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 65%

Wind Speed: 9 kts (11 mph)

Barometer: 1,022 hPa (1,022 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:.

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In order to check whether the tide gauge is working or not, a tidal observation needs to take place.  Over the course of several hours, the tide is measured as it rises or falls on graduated staffs and is recorded and compared to our tidal gauge data.  Credit Brian Glunz for the photo.

While horizontal control base stations are used to improve the accuracy of the positions of all points on a surface by providing a fixed known location to compare to GPS coordinates, constantly changing tides present another challenge in of its own.  With tides in the survey area ranging 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 ft.), depths can vary widely for various shallow-water hazards depending on the strength of the tide.  Consequently, accurate tide data must be recorded during the survey and in close proximity of the survey site since tides vary widely depending on topography, weather systems, and other factors.  This is where tide stations come into play and are necessary to accurately gauge the vertical level of water throughout the survey area.

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Surveying equipment is used to check benchmarks near the tide station in the upper left for any movement.  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Hannah Marshburn is recording data from the leveling process with Ensign Matthew Sharr sighting a staff held in place by Ensign Mason Carroll and Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus.

Before a survey is started in an area, a tide station can be set up within the survey area to measure local tides. The tide stations use solar cells to generate electricity to power a small compressor on land that sends air through a hose that is attached to the ocean bottom in a near-shore environment.  The tide gauge can measure how much pressure is needed to generate a bubble out the end of the hose, the greater the pressure, the deeper the water.  These pressure gradients correlate to a certain depth of water while the depth of the water is tied to a nearby benchmark of surveyed elevation.  This information is then transmitted out to tide reporting sites online.  For additional data on tide patterns, the information on tide levels can be downloaded from the gauge in refining survey data.  In order to ensure that a tide gauge is working correctly, manual tide observations are periodically made at the same location. Additionally, the benchmarks near the tide gauge go through a process called “leveling.” This is survey work that compares all of the secondary benchmarks in the area to the primary benchmark.  If none of the benchmarks have moved relative to each other, it is safer to assume that the benchmarks still represent the elevation that they were originally surveyed.  Once the survey in the area is completed, the tidal gauge is packed up to be used at another location.  Since the portion of the tidal gauge that releases the pressurized bubble is under the entire tidal water column, a dive team is required to remove the remaining equipment.  The entire tidal gauge site is returned to how it looked before the station was set up.  Only the survey benchmarks remain for future use.

Personal Log:

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From left to right Ensign Tyler Fifield charts our course while Able Seaman Godfrey Gittens has the helm with Ensign Lander Van Hoef controlling the power to propulsion.  Bridge usually has at least one officer and one deck member on watch at all times.  Ensign Fifield has been in NOAA and on the Fairweather for two years and has a background in marine safety and environmental protection.  AB Gittens spent 4 years in the Navy, 20 years on commercial and military marine contracted vessels, and has now worked for NOAA for a couple of months.  Ensign Van Hoef has a background in mathematics and has been on the Fairweather for six months.

Dear Mr. Cody,

On our cruise ship there are officers that wear uniforms who run the ship.  They also look out for the safety of everyone onboard.  They are very nice and know a lot about how to keep the ship running and get the cruise ship to each stop on our vacation.  They work with each department on the ship to make sure everything runs properly and people stay safe.  It has been a great trip to Alaska, and now we are at our last stop.  Goodbye Alaska!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and has been corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The Fairweather also has officers, the NOAA Corps, to help run the ship and carry out NOAA’s mission by utilizing NOAA’s fleet of ships and aircraft and by staffing key land-based positions throughout the organization.  The NOAA Corps ensures that trained personnel are always available to carry out NOAA’s missions using cutting-edge science and technology.  This gives NOAA the flexibility it needs to complete many types of varied research since officers are trained to fulfill many types of missions.  This gives NOAA the ability to respond quickly to scientific and technological needs and helps retain a continuity of operations and protocol throughout the vast fleet and area of operations.  In order to be considered for acceptance into the NOAA Corp, applicants must have at least a four year degree in a field of study relating to NOAA’s scientific and technological interests.  Once accepted into the program, they go through five months of training at the United States Coast Guard Academy where they develop an understanding of NOAA’s mission, maritime and nautical skills, and general ship and boat operation skills.  After successful completion of the training, NOAA officers are placed on a ship in the fleet for three years of sea duty to begin their new career.

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Chief Electronics Technician Sean Donovan performs his daily check of communications systems on the bridge.  CET Donovan served as a naval service ground electronic technician for 11 years in the Navy and has been in NOAA for 8 months.

On the Fairweather NOAA Corp officers help run and manage the ship and launch boats.  They navigate the ship and stand watch on the bridge.  They work with the other departments to ensure that the mission is accomplished and everyone remains safe during the mission.  On a hydrographic survey ship such as the Fairweather, Corps officers commonly have the position of sheet manager for hydrographic survey regions as collateral duties allowing them the opportunity to plan the logistics of hydrographic survey areas and learn how to use software associated with hydrographic data collection and analysis. Additionally, officers will be assigned to other scientific missions as they arise since the Fairweather will participate in a variety of scientific projects throughout the year.

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Able Seaman Carl Coonce controls the hydraulic system that is picking up a launch boat from a survey mission.  AB Coonce has been in NOAA for 12 years.  He was also on the NOAA ships Albatross and Bigalow.  He has been on the Fairweather for five years.  He started out in NOAA as a second cook and then a chief steward, but he wanted to learn more about ships; so, he made the move to the deck department commenting, “When you go out on deck, all differences are set aside.  We lookout for each other.”

A hydrographic ship such as the Fairweather requires many departments to work together  including the NOAA Corps officers to accomplish the mission.  There is the deck department and engineering department and the steward department as I have discussed their role in previous posts.  However, there are also electronic technicians that assist the survey in all of its technological aspects including the ship’s servers, electronics, radar, and communication systems.  Since technology plays a critical role in the collection and analysis of data, a hydrographic ship depends on these systems to carry out its scientific research.

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Acting Chief Hydrographic Survey Technician John Doroba prepares a boat launch for another portion of the hydrographic survey.  ACHST Doroba is the lead survey technician for this leg.  He has a background in geography, physical science, and information systems with a decade of work experience in and out of NOAA relating to surveying and related technology.

The survey department does the bulk of the collection and analysis of hydrographic data.  Depending on experience and education background, someone in survey may start out as a junior survey technician or assistant survey technician and advance up to a survey technician, senior survey technician, and possibly a chief survey technician.  With each step more years of experience is required because a greater amount of responsibility comes with each position concerning that survey.  Survey technicians generally need to have a background in the physical sciences or in computer science.  Technology and physical science go hand-in-hand in hydrographic survey work by applying and analyzing scientific data through the lens of advanced technology and software.  One needs to be capable in both areas in order to be proficient in the survey department.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Steve Eykelhoff collects hydrographic data during a launch.  HAST Eykelhoff has a background in geology and hydrology.  He has worked on many mapping projects including mapping the Erie Canal and the Hudson River.

It really comes down to people working together as a team to get something done.  In the case of the Fairweather, all of this talent and dedication has been brought together in a team of NOAA Corps, engineers, deck, survey, technicians, and stewards to carry out a remarkable array of scientific work safely and efficiently.  This team is always ready for that next big mission because they work together and help each other.  Yes, Dillion, my time here on the Fairweather is also drawing to a close.  I have enjoyed the three weeks onboard and have learned a lot from a very friendly and informative and driven crew.  I thank all of those who were willing to show me what their job in NOAA is like and the underlying concepts that are important to their careers.  I learned a great deal concerning NOAA careers and the science that is carried out onboard a NOAA hydrographic ship.  Thank you!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the United States consisting of more than 300 officers that operate NOAA’s fleet of 16 ships and 9 aircraft.

Can You Guess What This Is?111_0918 (2)

A. a ship  B. a hydrographic survey  C. a NOAA vessel  D. a final farewell to an amazing ship and crew

You should already know the answer if you have been following this blog!

(The answer to the question in the last post was C. an azimuth circle.  The Fairweather has an azimuth circle onboard.  While it is not typically used for navigation, it is yet another technology that remains as a holdover from earlier seafaring times and as a potential navigation tool available when all modern equipment has failed.  The azimuth circle can be used to measure the position of a celestial body for navigation purposes or to get a bearing on an object visible from the ship.)

Spencer Cody: What Remains Unseen, June 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 16˚C (60˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 30 m (100 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 81%

Wind Speed: 10 kts (12 mph)

Barometer: 1,013 hPa (1,013 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician Clint Marcus is cataloguing all of the discreet hazards and objects by location and by photographic evidence that will be available for the new nautical charts once the survey is complete.

Uncovering potential dangers to navigation often requires more that acoustic equipment to adequately document the hazard.  Many hazards are in water that is shallow enough to potentially damage equipment if a boat were to be operating in that area and may also require special description to provide guidance for those trying to interpret the hazard through nautical charts and changing tides.  This is one of the key reasons so much planning must be placed into assigning survey areas determining the size and extent of polygons for mapping.  Depending on the complexity of the area’s structures, the polygon assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch.  Near-shore objects may require a smaller boat to adequately access the shallow water to move in among multiple hazards.  This is where a smaller boat like the Fairweather’s skiff can play a role.  The skiff can be sent out to map where these near-shore hazards are using equipment that that will mark the object with a GPS coordinate to provide its location.  Additionally, a photograph of the hazard is taken in order to provide a greater reference to the extent of the object and what it looks like above or below the water.  This information is collected and catalogued; so, the resulting nautical chart will have detailed resources and references to existing nautical hazards.

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Ensign Pat Debroisse covers nautical hazards such as rocks and kelp indicated throughout a very shallow and hazardous inlet.

Nautical hazards are not the only feature found on charts.  Nautical charts also have a description of the ocean bottom at various points throughout the charts.  These points may indicate a rocky bottom or a bottom consisting of silt, sand, or mud.  This information can be important for local traffic in terms of boating and anchoring and other issues. In order to collect samples from the bottom, a launch boat drops a diving probe that consists of a steel trap door that collects and holds a specimen in a canister that can be brought up to the boat.  Once the sample is brought up to the boat, it is analyzed for rock size and texture along with other components such as shell material in order to assign a designation.  This information is collected and catalogued so that the resulting nautical chart update will include all of the detailed information for all nautical hazards within the survey area.

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Bottom samples are taken with a heavy steel torpedo-shaped probe that is designed to sink quickly, dive into the ocean bottom, clamp shut, and return a sample to the boat.  Credit Ensign Joseph Brinkley for the photo.

Personal Log:

Dear Mr. Cody,

The food on the cruise ship is great. They have all of our meals ready and waiting.  There are many people who prepare and serve the food to us to make our trip enjoyable.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

The food onboard the Fairweather is also very good.  Much of the work that they do happens so early in the morning that most never see it take place.  Our stewards take very good care of us by providing three meals a day, snacks, and grab bag lunches for all of our launches each day.  They need to start early in morning in order to get all of the bagged lunches for the launches prepared for leaving later that morning and breakfast. They start preparing sandwiches and soup for the launches at 5 AM and need to have breakfast ready by 7 AM; so, mornings are very busy for them.  A morning snack is often prepared shortly after breakfast for those on break followed by lunch and then an afternoon snack and finally dinner.  That is a lot of preparation, tear down, and clean up, and it all starts over the next day.  The steward department has a lot of experience in food preparation aiding them in meeting the daily demands of their careers while preparing delicious and nutritious food that the crew will enjoy.

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What are you doing at 5:15 in the morning?  Mornings are very busy for the steward department preparing lunches for the day’s hydrographic launches and breakfast for the entire crew.  From left to right, Chief Steward Frank Ford, Chief Cook Ace Burke, Second Cook Arlene Beahm, and Chief Cook Tyrone Baker.

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Chief Steward Frank Ford is preparing a delicious mid-morning snack for the crew.

Frank Ford is the chief steward. He has been in NOAA for six years.  Before joining NOAA he had attended culinary school and worked in food service for 30 years in the restaurant and hotel industry.  “I try to make meals that can remind everyone of a positive memory…comfort food,” Frank goes on to say, “Having good meals is part of having good morale on a ship.”  Frank and the others in the steward department must be flexible in the menu depending on produce availability onboard and available food stores as the mission progresses.


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Chief Cook Tyrone Baker helps prepare breakfast.

Tyrone Baker is the chief cook onboard. He has been in NOAA for 10 years and has 20 years of food service experience in the Navy.  Ace Burke has been with NOAA since 1991 and has served in many positions in deck and engineering and has been a steward for the last 15 years.  He came over from the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson to help the steward department as a chief cook. Arlene Beahm attended chefs school in New Orleans.  She has been with NOAA for 1 ½ years and started out as a general vessel assistant onboard the Fairweather and is now a second cook.


Did You Know?

Relying on GPS to know where a point is in the survey area is not accurate enough.  It can be off by as much as 1/10 of a meter.  In order to increase the accuracy of where all the points charted on the new map, the Fairweather carries horizontal control base stations onboard.  These base stations are set up on a fixed known location and are used to compare to the GPS coordinate points.  Utilizing such stations improves the accuracy of all points with the survey from 1/10 of a meter of uncertainty to 1/100 of a meter or a centimeter.

Can You Guess What This Is?109_0609 (2)

A. an alidade  B. a sextant  C. an azimuth circle  D. a telescope

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was D. a CTD.  A CTD or Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor is needed for hydrographic surveys since the temperature and density of ocean water can alter how sound waves move through the water column. These properties must be accounted for when using acoustic technology to yield a very precise measurement of the ocean bottom.  The sensor is able to record depth by measuring the increase of pressure, the deeper the CTD sensor goes, the higher the pressure.  Using a combination of the Chen-Millero equation to relate pressure to depth and Snell’s Law to ray trace sound waves to the farthest extent of an acoustic swath, a vertical point below the water’s surface can be accurately measured.  Density is determined by conductivity, the greater the conductivity of the water sample running through the CTD, the greater the concentration of dissolved salt yielding a higher density.)

Spencer Cody: Killing the Dots, June 13, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 13, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N
Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W
Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)
Water Temp: 14˚C (58˚F)
Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 50%
Wind Speed: 6 kts (7 mph)
Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

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“Killing dots” or manually flagging data points that are likely not accurately modeling hydrographic data is only the beginning of a very lengthy process of refining hydrographic data for new high-quality nautical charts.  Credit Hannah Marshburn for the photo.

In the last post, I talked about how we collect the hydrographic data.  The process of hydrographic data collection can be a challenge in of itself with all of the issues that can come up during the process.  But, what happens to this data once it is brought back to the Fairweather?  In many ways this is where the bulk of the work begins in hydrography.  As each boat files back to the ship, the data they bring back is downloaded onto our servers here on the ship to begin processing.  Just the process of downloading and transferring the information can be time consuming since some data files can be gigabytes worth of data.  This is why the Fairweather has servers with terabytes worth of storage to have the capacity to store and process large data files.  Once the data is downloaded, it is manually cleaned up.  A survey technician looks at small slices of hydrographic data and tries to determine what is the actual surface of the bottom and what is noise from the multibeam echosounder.  Leaving too many false data points in the slice of hydrographic data may cause the computer software to adjust the surface topography to reach up or below to something that in reality does not exist. The first phase of this is focused on just cleaning the data enough to prevent the hydrographic software from recognizing false topographies.  Even though the data that does not likely represent accurate hydrographic points are flagged and temporarily eliminated from the topographic calculation, the flagged data points are retained throughout the process to allow for one to go back and see what was flagged versus what was retained. It is important to retain this flagged data through this process in case data that was thought to be noise from the echosounder really did represent a surface feature on the bottom.

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Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician Sam Candio is using a three dimensional viewer to clean the hydrographic data collected from that day’s launches.

Once this process is complete, the day’s section is added to a master file and map of the target survey area.  This needs to happen on a nightly basis since survey launches may need to be dispatched to an area that was missed or one in which the data is not sufficient to produce quality hydrographic images.  Each launch steadily fills in the patchwork of survey data; so, accounting for data, quality, and location are vitally important.  Losing track of data or poor quality data may require another launch to cover the same area.  After the survey area is filled in, refinement of the new map takes place.  This is where the crude cleanup transitions into a fine-tuned and detailed analysis of the data to yield smooth and accurate contours for the area mapped.  Data analysis and processing are the parts of hydrographic work that go unnoticed.  Since this work involves many hours using cutting-edge technology and software, it can be easy to underappreciate the amount of work survey technicians go through to progress the data through all of these steps to get to a quality product.

Personal Log:

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Dillion and family in Hoonah, Alaska.

Dear Mr. Cody,

Today we docked in Hoonah, Alaska.  We had a whale show right under our balcony!  They are incredible to watch.  There is so much to see for wildlife in Alaska. (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

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A friendly humpback is keeping our survey launch company as we map our assigned polygon.

I know what you mean about the wildlife.  I am seeing wildlife all over the place too.  On our transit to our survey site from Juneau, I saw numerous marine mammals: hump back whales, dolphins, and killer whales.  On our last survey launch, we had two humpbacks stay within site of the boat the entire morning.  They are remarkable creatures.  Whenever we locate a marine mammal, we fill out a marine mammal reporting form allowing various interests to use these reports to estimate the population size and range of these animals.  The waters off the Alaskan coast are full of marine life for a reason.  It is a major upwelling area where nutrients from the ocean bottom are being forced up into the photic zone where organisms such as phytoplankton can use both the nutrients and sunlight to grow.  This provides a large amount of feed for organisms all the way up the food chain.  This area is also known for its kelp forests.  Yes, if you were on the sea bottom in these areas dominated by kelp, it would look like a forest!  Kelp are a very long- and fast-growing brown algae that provide food and habitat for many other marine organisms.

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Kelp forests form on relatively shallow rocky points and ledges allowing for the holdfasts to form and latch onto the bottom giving the resulting algae growth the opportunity to toward the surface to collect large amounts of sunlight for photosynthesis.

Did You Know?

The RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounders found onboard the survey launches use a 200 kHz or 400 kHz sound frequency.  This means the sound waves used fully cycle 200,000 or 400,000 times per second.  Some humans can hear sounds with pitches as high as 19 kHz while some bat and dolphin species can hear between 100 and 150 kHz.  No animal is known to have the capability to audibly hear any of the sound waves produced by the multibeam onboard our survey boats.  Animals that use echolocation tend to have much higher hearing ranges since they are using the same premise behind acoustic mapping in hydrography but to detect food and habitat.

Can You Guess What This Is?

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A. a marker buoy  B. a water purification system  C. an electric bilge pump  D. a CTD sensor

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was A. a search and rescue transponder.  If a launch boat were to become disabled with no means of communication or if the boat needs to be abandoned, activating a search and rescue transponder may be the only available option left for help to find someone missing.  When the string is pulled and the cap is twisted, a signal for help is sent out in the form of 12 intense radar screen blips greatly increasing the odds for search and rescue to find someone in a timely manner.  The radar blips become arcs as a radar gets closer to the transponder until the radar source gets within a nautical mile in which the arcs become full circles showing rescue crews that the transponder is nearby.)

Spencer Cody: Filling in the Asterisk, June 10, 2016

NOAA Teahcer at Sea

Spencer Cody

Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  along the coast of Alaska

Date: June 10, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Observational Data:

Latitude: 55˚ 10.643′ N

Longitude: 132˚ 54.305′ W

Air Temp: 19˚C (66˚F)

Water Temp: 12˚C (54˚F)

Ocean Depth: 33 m (109 ft.)

Relative Humidity: 60%

Wind Speed: 4 kts (5 mph)

Barometer: 1,014 hPa (1,014 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:


Goodbye Juneau, we are off to our survey site just west of Prince of Wales Island in the southernmost part of Southeast Alaska.

On Sunday with everyone who needed to be here for the next leg of the hydrographic survey onboard, we set off for the survey site.  Transiting through Alaskan fjords and associated mountains is a real treat to say the least.  The abundance of wildlife and picturesque views of glaciers, mountains, and forests lend one easily susceptible to camera fatigue.  Every vista resembles a painting or photograph of significance.  The views are stunning and the wildlife breathtaking.  After a day’s worth of transiting, we arrived in our survey area just west of Prince of Wales Island on the southern tip of Southeast Alaska and its Alexander Archipelago.  The chain of islands that makes up the Alexander Archipelago represent the upper reaches of the submerged coastal range of mountains along the Pacific.  A mere 20,000 years ago, the sea level was roughly 120 meters (400 ft.) lower than what it is today as our planet was in the grips of the last major ice age.  To put that into perspective, the Fairweather is currently anchored in a calm bay with about 30 meters (100 ft.) of water.  During the recent ice age, this entire ship would be beached hanging precariously next to ledges dropping 100 meters (300 ft.) to the ocean below.  The mountains and steep island banks continue down to the sea floor providing for wildly changing topography below sea level.  This type of environment is perfectly geared toward Fairweather’s capabilities.

While mapping survey areas that include shallow near-shore water, the Fairweather anchors in a calm bay maximizing ideal conditions for launching and retrieving boats whenever possible.  Survey launches are dispatched out to their assigned polygons with the survey area while a skiff boat carries out near-shore marking of rocks and obstructions.  Each of the four survey launches have a RESON 7125sv multibeam echosounder to collect data for mapping.  Survey launches are sent out for much of the day and return with hydrographic data concerning their assigned area.  All of the data is compiled into one file after extensive processing and quality control.

Personal Log:

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Dillion enjoying Sitka, Alaska.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

We arrived in Sitka, Alaska, with bald eagles flying overhead.  The islands with the tall mountains are amazing.  Some even have snow on them still.  They have a lot of trees and wildlife.  The mountains are all over the island and come right down to the ocean with a very tall dormant volcano across the sound from Sitka.  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

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Assisting Ensign Joseph Brinkley in lowering a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) sensor.  The CTD records temperature, salinity, and density.  All of these factors affect the speed of sound and must be factored into our data collection.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Dear Dillion,

We are not that far to the southeast of you in our survey area.  That is part of the challenge of mapping this area and ensuring that nautical maps are accurate and up to date.  Those tall mountains that you see so close to your ship really do continue down into the ocean in many places.  I was able to go out on one of our survey launches to see how hydrographic data is collected using the Fairweather’s fleet of survey launch boats.  It started with a mission and safety briefing before the launches were turned loose.  Our operations officer went over the assigned polygon mapping areas with us.  We were then reminded of some of the hazards that a small boat needs to be cognizant of such as the log debris in the water and the potential of grounding a boat on rocks.  Both our commanding officer and executive officer repeatedly stressed to us the importance of being careful and alert and always defaulting to safety versus more data collection.  Once the briefing was over, our boats were launched one at a time to our assigned survey polygons.  We were to map the area just north of the McFarland Islands.  Parts of the this area had known hazards hidden just below sea level.  Complicating matters was the fact that many of these hazards marked on existing maps were instances in which someone hit a rock but did not know the exact location or a rock was potentially spotted at low tide.  It was our job to carefully map the area without damaging the boat or putting any of the passengers in harm’s way.

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Keeping the boat on course as we collect a swath of hydrographic data in deep water devoid of rocks, kelp, or logs.  Credit Todd Walsh for the photo.

Mapping an assigned area can be anywhere between the two extremes of incredibly uneventful to nimbly avoiding obstacles while filling in the map.  Since the multibeam echosounder requires sound waves to travel farther through a deeper column of water, the swath covered by the beam is wider and takes longer to collect.  In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data.  When the boat is in shallow water, the reverse is true.  The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace.  This makes mapping shallow regions challenging.  The person navigating the boat must work with a narrower beam at faster speeds while avoiding the very hazards we were sent to map.  Additionally, in this area kelp forests are very common.  The long brown algae forms a tangled mass that can easily bind up a boat propeller.  Add massive floating logs from all the timber on these islands, and now you have a situation in which a trained driver needs to have all their wits about them.

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Narrowing the data collection to a range of depths in which the entire swath can be recorded minimizes the cleanup of false data points while not losing any of the pertinent hydrographic data.  Credit Amber Batts for the photo.

While the person navigating the boat tries to orderly fill in the polygon with a swath of hydrographic data, a person must be stationed at a work station inside the cabin modifying the data stream from the beam to help keep out noise from the data making the survey data as clean as possible.  Sloppy data can result in more time in cleanup during the night processing of data once the boats return to the Fairweather.  In addition, to control what is recorded, the station also determines when the multibeam echosounder is on or off.  It takes some practice to try to keep multiple tasks on multiple screens functioning within an acceptable range.  The topography in the map area also adds to the challenge since drop offs are commonplace.  There were many times were the difference from one end of the beam to the other end was 100 meters or more (300 feet or more).  It was like trying to survey the cliff and bottom of the canyon including the wall of the canyon in one swipe.  Sometimes the ridges are so steep underwater that shadows are produced in the data were the sound waves were blocked by the ridge and our relative angle to it preventing a complete swath.  This requires us to move over the ridge on the other side to map the gap.

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Slowly but surely, we are painting over the existing map with a detailed color-coating of contours of depth.

There is something inherently exciting about being the first to see topography in such detail.  Much of this area was last surveyed by lead line and other less advanced means of surveying than our current capabilities.  In many respects they were accurate, but as we filled in our data over the existing maps, one could not help but to feel like an explorer or as much as one can feel like an explorer in this modern age.  We were witnessing in our little assigned piece of the ocean something never seen before: land beneath the water in striking detail.  The rocks and navigational hazards no longer resembled mysteriously vague asterisks on a navigation map to be simply avoided.  We were replacing the fear of the unknown with the known by using science to peer into those asterisks on the map and paint them in a vivid array of well-defined contours later to be refined and made ready for the rest of the world to utilize and appreciate through upgraded navigation charts.  Once our assigned polygon was filled to the best of our abilities, we moved on to the next and so on until it was time to head back to the Fairweather completing another successful day of data collection.

Did You Know?

Kelp is a long brown algae that forms underwater forests that serve as an important habitat for many marine organisms.  Kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet.  Some species can grow a half a meter (1.5 ft.) per day reaching lengths of 80 m (260 ft.) long.

Can You Guess What This Is?

152_3283 (2)A. search and rescue transponder  B. an emergency flashlight  C. a marker buoy  D. a flare gun

The answer will be provided in the next post!

(The answer to the question in the last post was B. an oil filter.  Getting an oil filter change for the Fairweather is a little different than for your car though the premise is similar.  The four long filters used for each of the two diesel engines onboard are many times larger to accommodate the oil volume and are more durable to handle circulating oil 24 hours a day.)

Leah Johnson: Physical and Chemical Properties of Ocean Water (There’s More Here Than Just Fish!) , July 26, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 34.24389
Longitude -76.6625
Water Temperature 23.75 °C
Salinity –No Data-
Air Temperature 28.6 °C
Relative Humidity 68 %
Wind Speed 12.6 knots
Wind Direction 67.01 degrees
Air Pressure 1014.8 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
The primary purpose of this cruise is to survey reef fish. Our main task is to collect data pertaining to presence and number of fish species, species length frequency, and sample materials for fish age and growth. However, other types of measurements are being made as well. For example, the CTD is an instrument that measures different properties of ocean water with depth. It is deployed every time the fish traps are dropped.

CTD instrument

The CTD sits on the starboard side of the deck of NOAA Ship Pisces.

The acronym “CTD” stand for conductivity, temperature, and depth. The instruments that measure these properties are affixed to a metal cylinder called a rosette. A range of sensors can be attached depending on what needs to be measured. Additionally, containers can be attached to the frame in order to collect sea water samples at different depths. When the ship reaches the designated coordinates, the survey technician calls to the deckhands and instructs them to use the winch to lower the CTD to a designated depth, and then haul it back up.

Deckhands assist with lowering the CTD

Deckhands assist with lowering the CTD.

Below you can see a graph of the data collected earlier in the week:

CTD Data

CTD Data

The y-axis represents depth in meters. The CTD actually measures water pressure, which is then converted to depth. Pressure and depth are directly related: as depth increases, pressure increases.

There are several different properties represented on the x-axes, shown in different colors:

light green = oxygen (mg/l)
orange = conductivity (S/m)
dark green = temperature (°C)
purple = salinity (PSU, or ppt)

What do these measurements mean? As depth increases, temperature decreases. Sunlight warms the sea surface, and wind and ocean currents distribute this heat energy throughout the upper waters. Beneath this mixed layer, temperature decreases steadily with depth. In deeper water (not at this location), this rate of change decreases and the temperature of deep ocean water is nearly a constant 3 °C. Salinity refers to the concentration of dissolved salts in the water. Average ocean salinity is 35 ppt (parts per thousand), though this varies by a few parts per thousand near the surface. Increased precipitation, runoff, or melting of sea ice can decrease salinity, and evaporation and ice formation can increase salinity. Conductivity (measured in Siemens per meter) is a measure of how much current can travel through the water, and this is affected by both salinity and temperature. Finally, fish and other marine organisms require dissolved oxygen to breathe. By measuring the amount of oxygen at different levels in the water column, we can determine how much sea life can be supported in a given area. Dissolved oxygen in the ocean comes from mixing at the surface, and is also produced by photosynthetic organisms. As temperature and salinity increase, dissolved oxygen levels decrease. Additionally, temperature and salinity data can be used to determine the water density, or the mass of water per unit volume. Different fish can tolerate certain ranges of all of these chemical and physical parameters.

With respect to the fish survey, this information is important because we can monitor the conditions of the water near the ocean floor where the traps are located. For scientists who are interested in characterizing reef fish habitat, this data is a critical component of their research.

There are other ways in which this data can be used. The depth profiles of each of the chemical and physical properties at a given site can be compared to other local sites in order to identify any spatial anomalies. This is of great interest for seafloor mapping and ocean exploration cruises. For example, a change in conductivity and temperature at a site in the middle of the ocean could indicate the presence of a hydrothermal vent. Or, a decrease in salinity in a region along a coastline could indicate freshwater runoff.

Additionally, as measurements are made at similar locations over a period of time, temporal changes may be observed. This could reveal seasonal changes, or a long-term trend. Because we are observing an increase in average global temperatures and experiencing global climate change, it is critical to collect data that can be used to assess changing ocean conditions.

Personal Log:
“Will you be eating a lot of fish on the ship?” I heard this question a lot before I left for this cruise. I wondered myself. It seemed reasonable that fish would be prepared for meals because, well, we will be living at sea! On the other hand, I wondered if everyone on board would be sick to death of fish because we would be looking at them all day. As it turns out, fish is prepared for nearly every meal; however, there is often another meat option, as well as a variety of other non-meat dishes. Now we know!

ship mess

Ship mess

Did You Know?
There are many fish that make a grunting sound. When we have tubs full of tomtates in the wet lab, it sounds like a bunch of miniature pigs making snorting noises!

tomtates and nurse shark

Still from video of tomtates near a trap. A nurse shark can be seen in the background.