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!

Ashley Cosme: E.T. Phone Home, September 2, 2018

Satellites

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Ship Tracker 2
Current location of NOAA Ship Oregon II (Photo courtesy of NOAA Ship Tracker)

Date: September 2nd, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 27.16233N
  • Longitude: 94.45417W
  • Wind speed: 10 Knots
  • Wind direction: South
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility: 10 miles
  • Barometric pressure: 1012.5 atm
  • Sea wave height: 3 feet
  • Sea Water Temp: 30.9 °C
  • Dry Bulb: 29.4°C
  • Wet Bulb: 26.0°C

 

 

Science and Technology Log:

When one hears that there is an ET aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, they might imagine E.T., the extra terrestrial, wearing a sailor hat and driving the boat.  Fortunately for everyone aboard, E.T. is not driving the boat and the ET aboard the Oregon II is Lester S. Andreasen.  Lester, known as Les, is a rotational Electronic Technician (ET).  Les is responsible for the network and communication while out at sea.  He also provides support to the NOAA scientists by assisting them in maintaining shipboard scientific data collection.

Les Andreason, Electronics Technician
Les Andreason working in his ‘office’ aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Prior to his career aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, Les was in the Navy for 23 years.  His first station right out of boot camp was Key West, FL.  That is where he learned about navigational radar, and preformed corrective and preventative maintenance on electronics on the unique squadron of Patrol Hydrofoil Missiles (PHMs).  Les started in the Navy as an electronic technician seaman (E3), and worked his way to a command master chief (E9).  When he left the Navy he began his career aboard dynamic positioning ships.  When the oil field began to struggle, Les was hired by NOAA.

Les describes NOAA Ship Oregon II as a “fun ship”, as he really enjoys the people.  He finds it fascinating to see how the crew interacts with the scientists while completing the shark surveys.  Les’s advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career as an ET would be to study computer science, mathematics, or computer engineering.  I guess he is a little like E.T. the extra terrestrial, because without Les we wouldn’t be able to ‘Phone Home’ and talk to our families or anyone on shore.

Very Small Aperture Terminal
Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) used to maintain the Internet and phone connection.

Satellites
The smaller white satellite is responsible for ship to shore communication. The satellite larger white satellite connects to the VSAT inside the ship.

 

Personal Log:

We have been cruising for two days now, and won’t start fishing until tonight.  Since I have had some extra time on my hands, I got to try out the nifty workout equipment.  I did a circuit of 2 minutes on the bike, 20 kettle bell swings, and 10 dumbbell squats.  I completed 10 rounds.  Then I proceeded to the stern where I did planks, sit-ups, and stretched.  It was very relaxing to be able to look out over the water.  I didn’t even feel like I was working out because it was so peaceful.

working out
My new best friend, the stationary bike!

Nothing but water
View from the stern while working out.

 

 

abandon ship
This is what I will be wearing in case an emergency situation occurs and I have to abandon NOAA Ship Oregon II.

 

We also ran ship drills so everyone is prepared on where to go in an emergency situation.  Aboard any ship, safety is the number one goal.  I feel more comfortable knowing that I will have a suit and life jacket on if I need to abandon the ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?:

The NOAA fishermen stated that they have seen killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the Gulf of Mexico.  Normally this species is found in colder water, but according the NOAA Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report (2012) there were approximately 28 killer whales reported in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009.

 

Masked Booby
This Masked Booby flew beside the ship as we cruised through the Gulf of Mexico.

Animals seen:

Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra)

Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus)

Flying Fish (Exocoetus peruvianus)

Vincent Colombo, Into the Fog, June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 21, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 6.02 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 9.99 degrees Celsius
  • Air Temperature: 9.06 degrees Celsius
  • Air Pressure: 1016.59 mb

Unimak Island at sunrise
Unimak Island at sunrise

Unimak Bight
Unimak Bight

Shishaldin Volcano - One of Alaska's many active volcanoes
Shishaldin Volcano – One of Alaska’s many active volcanoes

Science and Technology Log:

You are sleeping soundly in your bed. Awakening you is your phone ringing… it’s 5:30 am… that could only mean one thing, it’s the school calling to say school is delayed 2 hours… FOG. No, it’s not the kind of fog depicted in John Carpenter’s thriller; it’s the kind that the local weatherman says is a localized phenomenon that reduces visibility to less than a quarter mile. If you live on Delmarva, you have experienced this sort of fog and know that it can turn a normal commute into a complicated one.

Here in the Alaskan summer, especially the Aleutian Chain, Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea, fog is a normal, and potentially ALL day event. The only constant on this research cruise so far has been waking up every day and watching our NOAA Corps Officers navigate through a very dense fog.

A view from the bridge of the fog. You can barely see past the bow
A view from the bridge of the fog. You can barely see past the bow

But what causes fog, and why is it so prevalent here?

Fog is most simply described as a cloud on the ground. It is made up of condensed water droplets that have encircled some sort of condensation nuclei (something water can attach to). On the open sea, that condensation nuclei is salt, which has upwelled (brought to the surface) from turbulent seas or breaking waves. That translates to the rougher the seas, the more chance there is for condensation nuclei, and thus fog.

Fog is able to be formed when the air temperature is cooler than the dew point. The dew point refers to the specific temperature which water can condense. Dew point varies with humidity and temperature, you can calculate dew point here.

Because the sun exposure is so long here in the Alaskan summer day, there is ample time for the sun’s radiant energy to heat up the upper layer of the ocean causing evaporation. The now warmer air, filled with water vapor, meets the cool waters of the Northern Pacific or Bering Sea, and bam, here comes a fog bank. The most common name for this type of fog is Sea Fog, scientifically called Advection fog. The combination of salt is especially important because salt is a unique condensation nuclei in that it will allow fog to form when the humidity is as low as 70%. It can also turn from a gentle fog to a dense fog in little to no time. Air movement, or wind can actually cause more fog, rather than the contrary belief it will just blow away.

As the day goes on, the fog lowers
As the day goes on, the fog lowers. Notice the sea is calm, and the dew point is raising.

The sky is crystal clear, however the surface is still covered in dense fog
The sky is crystal clear, however the surface is still covered in dense fog

So what have I learned? NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has a very loud fog horn which the NOAA Corps Officers sound on a regular basis during these conditions.

Here is what you need to know if you are ever on the ocean in a fog bank!

  • One prolonged sounding of the horn – this means “Hey! I am here and moving, don’t hit me!”
  • Two prolonged soundings of the horn – this means “Hey! I am a big boat, but not moving, don’t hit me!”
  • One prolonged sounding of the horn followed by two short blasts – “Hey! I am a big boat and am either towing something (like a fishing net) or lowered in my ability to maneuver. Stay away and make room!”
  • One prolonged sounding of the horn followed by three short blasts – “Hey! I am a big boat that is being towed. Stay away from me because I have no power!”
  • One short blast of the horn, followed by a prolonged sounding, then one short blast; or rapidly ringing of a bell for five seconds every minute –  “Hey I am anchored over here, you can’t see me, stay away.”

Here the land is still covered. Under that blanket is another mountain.
Here the land is still covered. This is what is called radiant fog. The conditions on land are still perfect for fog to exist. Radiation fog typically disappears as the sun warms up the land.  Under that fog blanket is another mountain.

The sun is able to eliminate and produce fog
The sun is able to eliminate and produce fog

 

You have to trust the Radar
You have to trust the Radar

 

Personal Log:

The life at sea is quite interesting. Luckily we have every luxury of home on board the Oscar Dyson, to include internet (sometimes), hot showers, and a nice bed. I have also been introduced to the game of Cribbage, an apparent maritime tradition. I cannot say that I fully understand it, but there are bunches of ways the number 15 can be made.

?
Busy on the ship’s fantail

Fishing is life up here, and every day I can expect at least one or two trawls (pulling of a net behind the ship). I was introduced to what is called a Methot net, which is used for catching smaller organisms. I was able to look at Krill for the first time in my life the other day, a keystone organism for a lot of the Alaskan food web.

Krill!
Krill!

Also very cool was seeing the MACE scientists use a cool underwater camera. Ever wonder what is under 300 meters of water? With this camera that can be deployed in less than 5 minutes, scientists can get a picture of the sea floor on a live feed.

colombo3
Looking at the live feed of the sea floor

Meet the Crew:

Richardo Guevara. Richardo has been with NOAA for 7 years and is the Ship’s Electronics Technician. What does this mean? Richardo works on various systems on the ship that involve communications, such as radios, acoustics, data sensors, radar, telephones, televisions, navigation, and computer systems. Richardo is the IT guru and knows everything about the ship’s day to day mission with technology. Richardo works for NOAA because he enjoys the life at sea, its benefits, and the satisfaction of working side by side with scientists.

Richardo Guevara, Electronics Technician
Richardo Guevara, Electronics Technician

Richardo is a 23 year veteran of the United States Air Force. During his service he gained a plethora of knowledge suited towards his current position on board the Oscar Dyson. Richardo was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, but now resides on the Oregon coast. Richardo says that this job requires a lot of flexibility, and his time in the military gave him this valuable life skill. According to Richardo: “A lot of times people seem to get the notion that you must have college to succeed, but I do not have a college degree. I cannot understate how important it is to get your high school diploma and to value that. Then it is up to you to go your own way and have success.”

Meet the crew:

Kirk Perry. Kirk is the lead fisherman aboard the Oscar Dyson and is acting Chief Boatswain for our research cruise. Kirk has been with NOAA since 2004, and is in charge of any activity which takes place on deck. His job includes, but is not limited to, using fishing equipment, deploying science equipment, anchoring, net maintenance, standing lookout on the bridge, being a helmsman, managing a deck crew of 6, and operating a crane. Kirk joined NOAA for the adventure of a lifetime, to fish in Alaska. He never intended to stay this long but absolutely loves his job and he says working with scientists is very rewarding.

?
Kirk Perry, Lead Fisherman

Out of curiosity in the neighborhood, Kirk discovered the world of fishing and hunting from a Czechoslovakian neighbor in San Jose, California. Kirk started commercially fishing at age 10 in Monterey Bay, California and has not looked back since. He graduated from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in Natural Resources Management while on scholarship for college baseball. Kirk loves baseball and football and is a diehard San Francisco Giants and 49ers fan. He also isn’t too bad on the guitar either.

Kirk was my unofficial, but official Alaskan fishing guide. It was his handy work that set me up with rigs and a tackle for my Halibut at the beginning of my trip. Kirk and I have a lot in common and have had countless discussions about the outdoors. A fun fact about Kirk, he can identify any bird that flies by the ship, whether it’s out of necessity or because he has been hunting so long.

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….

At College Summit training
College Summit training

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

Jennifer Goldner: Underway/Behind the Scenes, August 12, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29 03.78 N
Longitude: 080 32.183 W
Wind Speed: 9.76 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.20 C
Air Temperature: 29.88 C
Relative Humidity: 84%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.55 mb

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II is like a city. This 175’ research vessel has the capability of making potable water, processing sewage, and making its own power. Yesterday I followed around the engineers as they prepared for us to go to sea so all these things would run smoothly.

Because there are so many fluids on board (such as lubricating oil, hydraulic oil, waste oil, and diesel), it is very important to know their levels in order to be able to balance the ship. The Captain runs stability tests before going to sea. The engineers measure these fluids. How do they do it? They take tank soundings. If the engineer is measuring how much diesel is in the tanks, it is called innage. If the air space in the tank is measured, it is ullage.

Stainless steel tape and brass plumbob used for sounding the tanks
Stainless steel tape and brass plumbob used for sounding the tanks

William, 3rd Assistant Engineer, sounding a tank
William, 3rd Assistant Engineer, sounding a tank

The lid to the tank is taken off first. Next a stainless steel measuring tape with a plumbob (weight) is lowered down into the tank. (Stainless steel and brass are used to prevent static electricity.)  When the plumbob hits the buckler plate at the bottom, the tape is reeled in to see the level of the diesel. On this ship the readings are done in feet and inches. Some ships use the metric system. Either way, it is crucial that the measurements are read accurately. After the readings are taken, they put the numbers into a sounding table to calculate how many

Gene, 1st Assistant Engineer, making conversions on the sounding table
Gene, 1st Assistant Engineer, making conversions on the sounding table

gallons still remain in the tank. There are 9 diesel tanks for NOAA ship Oregon II. Can you guess how many gallons of diesel the ship holds?

After soundings are taken for diesel, hydraulic fuel, and lubricating oil, a sounding is done for waste/dirty oil. All ships have to keep an oil record book to account for proper disposal of the dirty oil. In the event there is an oil slick on the ocean, the record book will show where all the oil for the ship went. NOAA is very cautious with the oil. One drop of oil can contaminate 100,000 gallons of water!

Dirty strainer
Dirty strainer

Another task to perform before going to sea is cleaning the strainers. Salt water is used to cool the engines; however debris comes in, too. The strainers stop the debris. When they get full the engines will overheat if they aren’t cleaned. According to the engineers, the strainers are much fuller in Pascagoula than in Charleston.

Reverse osmosis machine
Reverse osmosis machine

NOAA Ship Oregon II also makes potable (safe to drink) water. This is done by the reverse osmosis machine. Essentially the water is squeezed through membranes. The government allows up to 700 parts per million (ppm) of salt, but on this ship it is kept to 150 ppm. Water is made 22 miles or more from the coast. This is due to the fact that there are more pollutants closer to shore. The ship can carry 7,000 gallons of potable water.

Brian, Junior Officer, laying down the tracks
Brian, Junior Officer, laying down the track lines

Charting is one of the many other things that must be done before sailing. This is done by the Junior Officer, Brian. He is responsible for laying down the track lines (the course the boat will take). At any given time, he has 3 days tracked. This is done electronically then it is logged on the paper chart. On the map, blue is shallow water and white is deeper water. For Charleston Port, blue is 18 feet and below and white is 18 feet or above. This differs from port to port.

Personal Log

Brian, Electronics Technician
Brian, Electronics Technician

NOAA Ship Oregon II has an entire crew of experts.  Thanks to Brian, Electronics Technician, for fixing my laptop which had a virus.  Had it been plugged into the network, it could’ve shut down the entire NOAA fleet!  All the ships rely on the internet for weather, latitude and longitude, etc.  Thank you, Brian for fixing the problem!

You may have noticed from the Ship Tracker that we left from Charleston rather than Mayport. This was a precaution taken because of Tropical Storm Emily. When I arrived at Papa Pier in Charleston, I was greeted by Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson. He told me to just call him “Dave.” He is extremely down-to-earth and eager to share what he knows with me. It is obvious he has earned the respect of the entire crew.

Boarding NOAA Ship Oregon II
Boarding NOAA Ship Oregon II

Cliff, Fisherman
Cliff, Fisherman

Over the course of the evening, I got to meet many of the crew members. They each were very helpful in getting me ready to sail. One of the fishermen, Cliff, greeted me and explained longline fishing.  Right now, however, we are transiting, or steaming, down the coast for 3 days. They won’t start fishing until we round the Florida peninsula on Sunday. Suffice it to say, I’m having the time of my life! This crew is awesome!

At the airport with Mom and Dad
At the airport with Mom and Dad

I had two added bonuses for my trip to sea. My parents dropped me off at the airport. They said it reminded them of me going to my first day of kindergarten with my shorts, T-shirt, and backpack! I also got to see my sister and her kids on a layover in Dallas. My nieces made a card for me which I have in my locker. In it my niece Ellie asked, “What are you going to grow up to be?” I have to say, the very fact that she doesn’t think I’m grown up makes me smile. Robert Ballard said it best, “I am a lifelong learner . . . a kid who has never grown up.” So Ellie, in answer to your question, I want to be a kid when I grow up. I don’t ever want to stop asking questions and asking “why?” It’s what kids do best.

Picnic with my nieces and nephew on a layover at DFW
Picnic with my nieces and nephew on a layover at DFW

Card from my nieces
Card from my nieces

Photo Gallery from NOAA Ship Oregon II

My living quarters, stateroom 12
My living quarters, stateroom 12

Dolphin playing on starboard side of the ship
Dolphin playing on starboard side of the ship

Walter, Second Cook, and Paul, Chief Steward in the galley- The meals are WONDERFUL!
Walter, Second Cook, and Paul, Chief Steward, in the galley- The meals are WONDERFUL!!

The Bridge
The Bridge

Sunset- Southern Atlantic
Sunset- Southern Atlantic

Watching the sunrise through my window
Watching the sunrise through my window

Mess Hall- Notice the Captain's Saints chair!
Mess Hall- Notice the Captain's Saints chair!

Hanging out in the lounge on our down time
Hanging out in the lounge on our down time

Engine Room
Engine Room