Jill Bartolotta: Careers at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019


Mission
:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 8, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 30°30.7’ N

Longitude: 078°11.2’ W

Wave Height: 3 feet

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 150

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 26.6° C

Barometric Pressure: 1015.9

Sky: overcast


Science and Technology Log

Throughout my blogs you have been hearing an awful lot about NOAA. But what is NOAA? NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA informs the public all about environmental happenings from the deepest depths of the ocean floor all the way to the sun.

NOAA was formed in 1970 as a federal agency within the Department of Commerce. It was the result of bringing three previous federal agencies together, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Weather Bureau, and U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Through research, NOAA understands and predicts changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Through outreach and education, NOAA shares the research with end users and the public with the purpose of conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources (NOAA, 2019. https://www.noaa.gov/our-mission-and-vision).

In order to accomplish its mission, NOAA hires a whole slew of people including Commissioned Officers, administrators, career scientists, research technicians, vessel operators, educators, etc. These people may work on land or out at sea. In this blog I will focus on some of the NOAA careers at sea.


NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps)

The NOAA Corps is a descendant of the US Coast and Geodetic survey, the oldest federal scientific agency dedicated to surveying the ocean coast. Today, officers of the NOAA Corps command NOAA’s fleet of survey and research vessels and aircraft.

In order to be eligible to apply for NOAA Corps one must have a four-year degree in a study area related to the scientific or technical mission of NOAA. There are many other eligibility requirements and you can check them out here.  Once you meet the requirements, you apply to the program, and if accepted you will head to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut where you will attend a 19-week basic officer training class. Once officers graduate, they are assigned to sea duty for two years. After sea duty, officers rotate to land duty for three years. And the pattern continues as long as the officers choose to remain in the NOAA Corps.

NOAA officers fill many roles on Okeanos Explorer. Their primary role is to safely navigate the ship. All officers stand two 4-hour watches. During these watches, they are responsible for navigating and driving the ship, taking weather, and handling the ship per the requirements needed for the science mission whether it be for a series of ROV dives, mapping project, or emerging technology cruise. When not on watch, officers are responsible for collateral duties. There are many collateral duties, some of which are described below:

  • Safety officer: responsible for the safety drills and equipment.
  • Navigations officer: maintains charts, loads routes, plots routes on paper charts, updates electronic chart, and creates inbound and outbound routes for ports of call.
  • MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) officer: responsible for fun activities when at sea or in port. These activities have included ice cream socials, movie nights, and baseball games.
  • Public affairs officer: Responsible for giving ship tours to the public, maintain the ships social media presence, and performs public outreach.

There are also many officer ranks (follow the ranks of the US Navy) aboard the ship. The entry level rank is ensign or junior officer and the highest rank is admiral, allowing for 10 ranks in total. In addition to rank classes, there are varying positions. Ensigns or junior officers are recent graduates of basic officer training and on their first sea assignments. They are learning how to navigate and drive the ship, the tasks associated with standing watch, and learning about the other collateral duties. The operations officer is responsible for all mission operations while at sea and in port. They serve as the liaison between the science team and the commanding officer. If project instructions change, the Operations Officer is responsible for managing operations, understanding requests or change and then speaking with the commanding officer to approve the change. They are also responsible for all logistics when in port such as shore power, vehicles, trash, potable water, fuel, and sewer. The next highest position (second in command) is the Executive Officer who also coordinates with many of the port duties, and is supervisor of the varying departments on the ship. They are also responsible for all paperwork and pay. The highest duty on the ship is that of Commanding Officer. They are ultimately responsible for mission execution and for the safety of the ship and people aboard.

NOAA Commissioned Officers
The NOAA Commissioned Officers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: Ensign Brian Caldwell, Lieutenant Steven Solari, Lieutenant Rosemary Abbitt, Ensign Kevin Tarazona, Commander Eric Johnson, Ensign Nico Osborn, Lieutenant Commander Kelly Fath, Lieutenant Commander Faith Knighton, and Commander Nicole Manning.


Professional Mariners

Professional mariners provide technical assistance needed to support operations while at sea. They support the ship in five different expertise areas: deck, engineering, steward, survey, and electronics. More information about the professional mariners and job posting information can be found here. Some have attended maritime school to receive training or licensure to work aboard a ship at sea. Others get their training while at sea, take required training courses, and complete onboard assessments. These mariners that work their way up to leadership positions are known as hawse-pipers (for example, the Chief Boatswain, Jerrod Hozendorf, many years ago was a General Vessel Assistant and has worked up to the Department Head of the Deck Department.)

Deck

Deck hands and able bodied seamen who attend maritime school or training where they learn how to support ship operations, including but not limited to maintenance of the ship’s exterior, maintenance and operation of the ship’s cranes (places ROV (remotely operated vehicle) or CTD (conductivity temperature depth) in the water) and winches (lowers ROV and CTD into the water), and conducts 24/7 watches to ensure the safe operation and navigation of the ship. Augmenters also rotate through the fleet, while others are permanent crew on a ship.

deck crew
The deck crew aboard Okeanos Explorer. Back row from left to right: General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn, Chief Bosun Jerrod Hozendorf, Able Bodied Seaman Angie Ullmann (augmenting), and General Vessel Assistant Deck Eli Pacheco. Front row from left to right: Able Bodied Seaman Peter Brill and Able Bodied Seaman Jay Michelsen (augmenting).

Engineering

The engineers aboard are responsible for the water treatment, air quality systems, and machines needed to make the ship move through the water. The also oversee the hydraulics of the cranes and winches. Engineers receive a four-year engineering degree at either a maritime academy or regular college. Depending on their degree, they will come aboard at different engineer expertise levels. Engineers move into higher level positions based on their days at sea and successful completion of licensing tests.

engineers
The engineers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron, Engine Utility Will Rougeux, Acting Chief Marine Engineer Ric Gabona, 3rd Assistant Engineer Alice Thompson (augmenting), Junior Utility Engineer Pedro Lebron, and Acting First Assistant Engineer Warren Taylor.

Stewards

The stewards on board are responsible for the preparation and management of the culinary services and the stateroom services such as bed linens. Tasks include meal planning, food purchasing and storage, food preparation, and oversight of the galley and mess.

stewards
The stewards aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Eli Pacheco (assisting the stewards for this cruise), Chief Cook Ray Capati, and Chief Steward Mike Sapien.

Survey

Survey technicians are responsible for the operation of all survey equipment aboard the ship needed for mapping, CTD deployment, and ROV operations. Equipment includes echo sounders and meteorological and oceanographic sensors. They are also responsible for data quality control and processing, disseminating data to land data centers so it can be shared with the public, and working alongside the science team to assist with other data and equipment needs. A college degree is not required for survey technicians, but many of them have one in the fields of environmental or applied science.

Electronics

Electronic technicians are responsible for all electronics aboard such as the intercoms, radios, ship’s computers and internet access, sonars, telephones, electronic navigation and radar systems, and most importantly satellite TV! Chief Electronic Technicians rotate between land and sea, typically spending 2-3 months at sea.

survey and electronic technicians
Chief Electronic Technician Mike Peperato and Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins pose with the CTD.


Personal Log

We saw dolphins today!!!! It was absolutely amazing. We believe them to be Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. Spotted you say? The one in the picture to the left is not spotted because it is less than one year old. They do not receive their spots until their first birthday. Spotted dolphins are very acrobatic. They enjoy jumping out of the water and surfing on the bow waves created by vessels. To date one of the best moments of the trip so far. Yay dolphins!!!!!

Atlantic spotted dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins surfing the bow of the ship.


Did You Know?

Including all the NOAA officers and professional mariners aboard Okeanos Explorer, 12,000 people work for NOAA worldwide!

Cindy Byers: Working at Sea, May 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cindy Byers
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 29 – May 13

Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: May 9, 2018

Weather from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 43.2 N
Longitude:133° 35.6
Sea Wave Height: 0
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Wind Direction: Variable
Visibility:10 Nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15° C
Sky: 90% cloud cover

Me on boat in Endicott Fjord, Dawes Glacier

Dawes Glacier In Endicott Fjord

Science and Technology Log

When I reflect on the personalities of the people living and working on NOAA Ship Fairweather, two words come to mind: challenge and adventure.  They are also people that are self-confident, friendly, they see great purpose, and take great pride in their work.  Life is not always easy on board a ship. People are often very far from family and away from many of the comforts of home.  But for this group, it seems that they are willing to give up those hardships for being at sea. Below are some interviews I did with personnel on the ship.

Terry – Deck Crew

Terry is part of what is called the deck crew.  He reported to me that his duties include standing bridge watch, which means looking out from the bridge to warn the bridge crew of any obstacles or dangers ahead of them. On this trip those hazards have been fishing vessels, and gear, and whales.  He also will be at the helm, which means steering the ship as directed by a bridge officer. Other bridge duties include monitoring the radio and radar when the ship is anchored. He said that like everyone on the bridge, he needs to be aware of where the ship is at all times. He is part of the Deck Department so he does maintenance such as keeping things greased, painted and clean.  The deck department also keeps the ships interior clean, except for the galley and the mess

IMG_9071 Terry

Terry at the Helm

What got you interested in the sea?
When I was eight, I moved from Michigan to Florida and I fell in love with the sea.  I used to run up and down the beach.

I liked Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Turns Forty,” and I liked reading adventure books by Jack London.  When I was 13, I also read Moby Dick and The Odyssey.  I read The Odyssey every year, I love that book.  I really like the lore of the sea and the freedom of being at sea. I like the idea of going to exotic places.

When were you first in a boat in the ocean?
When I was 10 years old I went on a day cruise from Tampa, Florida. It was a dive boat that was used to take tourists out. I loved it, if I could get on a boat, I would go. I tried to build a skiff, but it took on water.

When did you first work on the ocean?
I went to sea when I was 24 years old.  In my first job I worked bringing supplies to oil rigs. I found an ad for the job and they said no experience was needed. I wanted to be a captain, I wanted to travel and see the world.  I watched a lot of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an adventurer. When oil prices went down I was out of a job, but in 2000 I worked for another oil company.

What other jobs have you had?
After 9/11, I joined the Military Sealift Command, which is a civilian part of the Navy. They bring food, fuel, and supplies to Navy ships [he was in the Mediterranean Sea.] Military ships do not fuel in ports where they could get attacked.

In 2013 I had a wife and two kids and so I did different jobs, not at sea.

When did you first start to work for NOAA?  
In 2016 I was hired by NOAA on NOAA Ship Fairweather. This boat and NOAA Ship Rainier are where people start.  I started as an Ordinary Seaman. Now I am Able Seaman.  To move up I needed to take a course in survival training and fire training. I did this in Louisiana at a community college, it took two weeks.  I also needed six months of experience on a NOAA vessel.

IMG_9073

Terry at the helm

What is your favorite part of the job?
I like being at the helm and steering the ship. I like going to different places and seeing different things. I like that the ship has extra functions to keep up moral up. I even did a comedy show twice. It is like your own community. It is great being part of a team and accomplishing a goal.

What is the hardest part of the job?
The hardest thing is being away from home.  For every 9 months away, I am home for a few months, that is spread out over a year.  The season is 7-8 months.

What do you think it takes to be on a ship away from your family?
Everyone has to be a team player.  You need to really get along with others.  People need to be confident and you need to show respect to each other.  You live in very tight quarters. Nobody has a job that is small, everybody’s job needs to be done.

 

Jeff – NOAA Corps Junior Officer

 

I grew up in Juno, Alaska and went to college there.  I got a Bachelor’s degree in math, I never thought I would be interested in math.  I started out with an art major then went to geology, then biology, then math. I liked that I learned a new set of rules during the day and then got to apply them to problems that I could solve.  It took me six years to get my degree. I paid for it myself by working and I was living in a sailboat in the harbor.

Jeff

Jeff in the launch during bottom sampling

What brought you to a career in NOAA?
Previously I was a Sergeant in the Army for five years.  I was searching for tide information for a fishing trip and was on a NOAA website,  There I saw a recruiting video and decided to do that. It took a couple years to get into the NOAA Corps. I was first hired on a NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a General Vessel Assistant in the deck department. Then I found out I was accepted into the NOAA Corps.  After my Officer Training in New London, Connecticut I was assigned to NOAA Ship Fairweather.

What is your role on the ship?
I am a Junior Officer.  I am here to learn how to drive ships and learn the science of hydrography.  I am learning how to become a professional mariner.

What are the best parts of your job?
Ever since the Army I enjoyed being part of a team. On the ship there is a lot of social interaction.  It is a tight community of people that live and work together. We have all types of personalities.

I really like going out on a launch (the small boats used for surveying) and collecting data. We are in beautiful places and we get to eat our picnic lunches and listen to music and work together to figure out how to drive our lines and to collect the data we need.

I also like processing and organizing the data we get.  Our project areas are divided up into acquisition areas and I work as a Sheet Manager for an area. So, I am responsible for taking the data that is cleaned up from the night processors (who clean up the data when it first comes in) and getting a map ready for the launches with areas that need more data collection and safety hazards marked. I keep track of what needs to be done and report those needs to my superiors.

What do you like to do on the ship when you aren’t working?
I like the VersaClimber.  (This is in the gym. There is a ship contest going on to see who can climb highest!)  I used to do some fishing. I also spend time communicating with my family.

What do you miss when you are at sea?
Mostly I miss my family.  I also miss doing things like going for a walk to get coffee.  Since the field season is all summer, I really miss going camping with my family.

What will you be doing for your next assignment with NOAA?
Assignments are two years on a ship and three years on land.  Next, NOAA is sending me to graduate school for three years. So I will be working on a  Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering with an emphasis in Ocean Mapping.

 

Niko – Chief Engineer

I had a conversation with Niko one day because I was really interested in how the water on the ship was acquired and disposed of.  I learned that and a little more!

I asked Niko what got him interested in being at sea.  He told me that this family had a cabin on an island in the state of Washington. He loved driving the families small boat whenever he could.  He would take it out for 8 hours a day. In Middle School and High School he did small engine repair. He took a lot of shop classes and was in a program called “First Robotics.” He thought he wanted to be a welder. His mom worked for the  BP oil company and through that he learned about maritime school. He went to school at Cal Maritime, (The California State University Maritime Academy.)  There he studied Marine Engineering Technology. He said it was hard.  Of the 75 students that started in his class, only 14 graduated on time.

IMG_8723

Niko in his office

He told me that NOAA Ship Fairweather has engines from 1968, and they are due for a rebuild,  They have 20,000 hours since the last rebuild in 2004, that is like running them 3 straight years..  

Niko is the Chief Engineer.  He has a department of nine engineers.

I asked him about the freshwater on the ship. He said the ship uses 600 gallons a day without the laundry and 2000 gallons a day if the laundry is in use.  It takes 17,000 gallons of water to go for 10 days. The ship has freshwater tanks that are filled when they are in port, but the ship can produce freshwater from salt water.  To do this the ship must be moving. It uses a method which evaporates the salt water so the freshwater is left behind. This costs one gallon of diesel to produce 9.7 gallons of freshwater.  This costs is $0.30 a gallon for water. The sinks, showers, dishwasher and laundry all use freshwater. The toilets use saltwater.

Personal Log

I have learned an amazing amount about ocean mapping from my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather.  I have also learned a lot about different NOAA careers and life on a ship. But like any good experience, it is always the people that make things great!

I have really enjoyed getting to meet all of the people of the ship.  They have been so kind to take me in and show me their jobs and let me try out new things, like driving a ship and a launch!

We have also had fun kayaking, watching wildlife, and taking a walk on shore.

eagle on ice

Eagle on Ice

IMG_8668

Life Jackets and Float Coats

IMG_8767

Kayaks on board

Bear

Here is a Brown Bear that was along the shoreline today

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Launches leaving for a day of surveying

Launch

A Launch

Robert Ulmer: The Company You Keep, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.075’, W 134⁰20.96’

(southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 25, 2013

Weather conditions:  Misty rain under a blanket of thick clouds and fog, 13.76⁰C, 84.88% relative humidity, 1001.09 mb of atmospheric pressure, very light variable winds (speed of less than 1.5 knots with a heading between 344⁰ and 11⁰)

  • Remember that headings on a ship are measured around a full 360⁰ circle clockwise from north.  Therefore, 344⁰ and 22⁰ are only 38⁰ apart directionally.

NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, underway in Behm Canal

The operation of NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, requires the cooperation of a large, hard-working, and multi-talented crew.

Explorer’s Log:  The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier

Especially as we leave the confines of childhood, society views us, at least in part, by our intentional decisions about which people make up our circle of friends and our group of colleagues.  Certainly such outside judgments can be unfair when based only on short-term glimpses, predisposed biases, or moments misunderstood for lack of context, but I think that long-term observations of our personal associations can provide meaningful information about us.

With Ai Wei Wei's zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With Ai Wei Wei’s zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With the crew after the 5K race at O'Leno State Park

After the 5K race at O’Leno State Park

My closest circle of friends – intentionally – is populated by a rich gumbo of personalities, ideas, ideals, physiques, insights, humors, tastes, preferences, and behaviors, all of which serve to stimulate my mind, activate my creativity, enrich my soul, entertain my spirit, and motivate my direction.  In other words, they are the scaffolding that supports me and the team that carries me along through so many parts of my own explorations.  Jasmine’s appreciation of intelligence and beauty, Collin’s sharp wit, Reece’s focused intensity, Dad’s analysis, Mom’s honesty, Lisa’s support, Grandma Madeline’s generosity, Aunt Marilyn’s and Uncle Marc’s welcome, Aunt Lynn’s spunkiness, Cheryl’s cool, Dillon’s quiet observation, Jack’s vision, Teresa’s organization, Bob’s perspective, Katy’s goodness, Chris’s enthusiasm, Emilee’s wonder, Kyle’s repartee, Casey’s lyricism, Will’s genuineness, Rien’s kindness, Tyler’s motivation, Zach’s creativity, Brian’s investment in service, Matt’s passion for justice, Gary’s sense of direction, Tommy’s helpfulness, Silas’s wordsmithery, Loubert’s jocularity, Jonathan’s love….

And then add the brilliant and rich colors and flavors and voices of my larger group of friends and acquaintances:  the teachers, administrators, students, and neighbors who daily contribute their own stories and wisdoms to my experiences, and the result – again, intentionally – is very nearly a portrait of me… or at least the me that I aspire to become in my own journeys.

(For my varied generations of readers, think of the Magnificent Seven, the Fellowship of the Ring, and/or the Order of the Phoenix.  This is my posse.)

In other words, we often are judged and almost always are defined by the company we keep.

Wedding celebration

Wedding celebration

The NOAA Ship Rainier is no exception.  Beyond the mechanical body of the ship herself, the personnel here are the essence of the vessel that carries them.

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge.

Smart and funny, resourceful and dedicated, skilled and hard-working, the crew members of NOAA Ship Rainier are an impressive bunch, all of whom have enriched me in the short time that I’ve been aboard, and all of whom do their jobs and interact in ways that produce superb results.  And the wholeness of their shared strengths, talents, and personalities is far greater than the sum of their individual aspects, as always is the case when a team is well-assembled.

MB_2, Red Bluff Bay, Chatham Strait, Alaska, June 23, 2013

One of the NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers appreciates the beauty of Southeast Alaska.

For more than 150 (and sometimes more than 250!) days per year, the men and women aboard ships in the NOAA fleet sacrifice time away from their own homes, friends, and families – and regularly that remoteness isolates them from news, television, phone, and internet for days or weeks at a time – in service to the public at large through their assigned missions at sea.  Currently, nearly four dozen crew members serve aboard Rainier in several departments, each of which serves its own set of functions, but all of which are unified by their shared mission, like the instrumental sections of an orchestra in the production of a symphony.

NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, sharply outfitted aboard ship in their navy blue ODUs (operational dress uniforms), is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States government.  For this leg of the mission, the officers  aboard Rainier serve under Acting Commanding Officer (ACO) Mark Van Waes and Executive Officer (XO) Holly Jablonski to perform three sets of functions:  administrative, navigational, and participatory.  As the administrators of the ship, the officers are responsible for everything from payroll to purchases, and communications to goodwill.  In the navigational capacity, the officers are responsible for charting the courses to be traveled by the ship and moving the vessel along those courses, sometimes with helm in hand and sometimes by giving the command orders to effectuate those maneuvers.  Finally, aboard Rainier and her sister hydrographic vessels, the junior officers are trained members of the hydrographic survey team, participating at all levels in the gathering and processing of data regarding the floor of the sea.  Ultimately, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps members work to define the missions of Rainier and oversee the execution of those missions.

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier.

Deck Department

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow.

Beyond the uniformed NOAA Corps crew members, Rainier also employs many highly-skilled civilian merchant mariners who work around the clock to support the officers in the duties of navigation and sailing of the ship while it is underway.  Essentially, while following the decisive command orders of the Officer Corps, the Deck Department handles the endless details involved in steering the ship and its smaller boats, along with deploying and anchoring those vessels.  Under the departmental leadership of Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”) Jim Kruger, the members of the Deck Department all hold various levels of U.S. Coast Guard ratings in navigational watch-standing and deck operations, and their experiences and proficiencies earn them respect with regard to many facets of decision-making and operations on the bridge.

(The NOAA Corps and the Deck Department together have been responsible for the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through the waterways of Southeast Alaska during my weeks aboard.  To see a cool video of NOAA’s travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage made using stop-motion photography by Ensign John Kidd, click here.)

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day's launches

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day’s launches.

Survey Department

The members of the Survey Department aboard NOAA Ship Rainier are civilian scientists (working hand-in-hand with survey-trained NOAA Corps officers) who have been trained in the specialized work of conducting surveys of the sea floor using single-beam sonar, multi-beam sonar, tidal gauges and leveling devices, CTD devices (to gather data about conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water column), and several very highly-technical components of computer hardware and software packages.

Only the highest point of this 150-meter-wide rock remains above the water line at high tide.

Can you see the horizontal lines on this rock formation? They are caused by cyclical changes in the elevation of the sea water as a result of tidal forces. Only the highest point (around where the bald eagle is perched) of this 150-meter-wide set of rocks (extending beyond the boundaries of this image in both directions several times the width of what this photograph shows) remains above the water line at high tide. However, the portions that become submerged remain extremely dangerous to seagoing vessels, which is why the work of the Survey Department is so important.

From Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technicians (HASTs) upward through the ranks to Chief Survey Technician (CST) Jim Jacobson, they are superb problem-solvers and analysts with undergraduate- and graduate-level degrees in the cartography, biology, geography, systems analysis, and many other fields of scientific expertise, and one survey technician aboard Rainier is an experienced mariner who transferred into the Survey Department with a broad educational background ranging from the humanities to computer science.  The members of the Survey Department spend countless hours gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and integrating data to produce nautical charts and related work products to make travel by water safer for everyone at sea.

Two-dimensional slice of data

The Survey Department compiles raw sonar and quantitative data from the ship and the launch vessels and first converts those data into a graphic file that looks like this…

... which becomes this ...

… which is a slice of this image …

Soundings

… which then goes through this sounding selection stage before eventually being finalized into a nautical chart for public use.

Physical Scientists

 NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait


NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait.

One or two physical scientists join the ship’s crew for most of the field season from one of two NOAA Hydrographic offices (in Seattle, Washington and Norfolk, Virginia), where their jobs consist of reviewing the hydrographic surveys submitted by the ships to make sure that they meet NOAA’s high standards for survey data, and compiling those surveys into products used to update the approximately 1000 nautical charts that NOAA maintains.  The ship benefits from the physical scientists’ time on board by having a person familiar with office processing of survey data while the surveys are “in the field,” and also by receiving an extra experienced hand for daily survey operations.  The physical scientists also get a refresher on hydro data collection and processing along with a better understanding of the problems that the field deals with on a daily basis, and they bring this up-to-date knowledge back to the office to share with coworkers there.

Engineering Department

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

The Engineering Department is a combination of U.S. Coast Guard licensed Engineering Officers (CME, 1AE, 2AE, and 3AE) and unlicensed engineering personnel (Junior Engineer, Oiler, and GVA).  Their work is concerned with the maintenance of the physical plant of the ship — everything from stopping leaks to making mechanical adjustments necessary for Rainier‘s proper and efficient running in the water.  The engineers are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who wield multiple tools with great dexterity as needs arise.

Electronics Technicians

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin hard at work

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin is hard at work.

The Electronics Technician aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (some ships have a larger department) has the important role of making sure that the many computerized systems — both hardware and software — are properly networked and functional so that navigation and survey operations can proceed effectively and efficiently.  Having trained on radar equipment with the U.S. Navy “back in the days of glass tubes,” ET Jeff Martin is an expert’s expert, adept at prediction and troubleshooting, and skilled at developing plans for moving systems forward with the ship’s mission.

Steward Department

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

The Steward Department runs the galley (the ship’s kitchen) and currently is composed of four crew members aboard Rainier.  Specifically, they are responsible for menu preparation, food acquisition, recipe creation, baking, and meal preparation for the 40+ people who must eat three meals (and often have snacks) spread across the entire day, both underway and at port, including special meals for away-from-the-galley groups (like launch vessels and shore parties), when local goods (like fish, fruits, and vegetables) are available, and/or for crew members or guests with dietary restrictions.  An army moves on its stomach.  The meals aboard this ship, by the way, show great diversity, technique, and nutritional value, including grilled fish and steaks, vegetarian casseroles, curried pastas, homemade soups, fresh salads, and a wide variety of delicious breakfast foods, snacks, and desserts.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

So those are the current citizens of the seagoing vessel NOAA Ship Rainier, harmonizing within a common chord, travelers who together explore the seas by working together to achieve their unified mission.  They are the excellent company that I keep on this leg of the exploration.

As you endeavor upon your own journeys, remember always to choose your company wisely so that your efforts are supported when challenging, insulated when vulnerable, motivated when difficult, and celebrated when successful.  And once you are surrounded by those good people, keep exploring, my friends.

Even the sea otters take some time to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Sea otters enjoy one another’s company along their way.

Personal Log:  Enjoy yourself along the way

Although they all work long, hard hours at their many assigned tasks, members of the team aboard NOAA Ship Rainier also enjoy one another’s company and occasionally get to have a good time.  Sharing an isolated, moving home barely 70 meters long with four dozen people for several weeks at a time guarantees social interaction, and the sounds of testimonies of laughter and friendship regularly fill the air in and around the ship, both among the workstations and away from the ship.

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

One of Carl's many catches

One of Carl’s many catches

Since joining the crew of Rainier just a week and a half ago – and beyond the many exciting excursions that are simply part of the regular jobs here – I already have been invited to join various smaller groups in exploring a town, dining in a local eatery, watching a movie, climbing a glacier, fishing in the waters of Bay of Pillars, walking on a beach, and kayaking through beautiful Red Bluff Bay past stunning waterfalls, huge mountains, and crystal-clear icy streams, including a spontaneous hike into the deep and wild, verdant and  untrammeled woods above the shore, following uncut paths usually trod only by deer and bears on their way to the frigid water running down from the snow-capped peaks high above.

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the stream

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the frigid stream.

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods (armed with bear spray and an adventurer's spirit)

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods, armed with bear spray and an adventurer’s spirit!

Truly, the people aboard Rainier know how to enjoy the gift of life.  And I feel honored, flattered, privileged, and happy to be included among these new friends on their great adventures.

Beautiful waterfall in Red Bluff Bay

A beautiful waterfall that Theresa, Evan, and I explored in Red Bluff Bay