Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 13, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Winds: 20 S
Temperature: 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
Up. Down. Up. Down. Left. Right….no I’m not in an aerobics class. High winds and seas cause my chair to slide across the floor as I type.
Thus far we’ve been working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Today we’re sitting about twirling our thumbs as 12 feet seas toss us about. It’s not too bad actually, but it is bad enough to make operations unsafe for both crew and equipment. I’ve been impressed with the safety first culture on-board the Oscar Dyson. Hopefully, it’ll calm down soon, and we can start operations again.
Science and Technology Log
Ship support systems for power, water, sewage treatment, and heating/cooling are all several levels below the main deck, which makes ship engineers a bit like vessel moles. These hard working guys ensure important life support systems work smoothly. Highlights from my time with them include a lesson on the evaporator and engines.
The evaporator, which for some reason I keep calling the vaporizer, produces the fresh water drinking supply. The evaporator works by drawing in cold seawater and then uses excess engine heat to evaporate, or separate, the freshwater from the seawater. The remaining salt is discarded as waste. On average, the evaporator produces approximately 1,400 gallons of water per day.
*Side note: the chief engineer decided vaporizer sounds a lot more interesting than evaporator. Personally, I feel like vaporizer is what Star Trek-y people would have called the system on their ships.
The evaporator in action.
The Oscar Dyson has 4 generators on board, two large, and two small. The generators are coupled with the engines. Combined they produce the electricity for the ship’s motors and onboard electrical needs, such as lights, computers, scientific equipment, etc.
I even got to see the prop shaft.
This week I also spent time in the Galley with Ava and Adam. (For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise that I befriended those in charge of food.) Read on for a summary of Ava’s life at sea story.
Me: How did you get your start as a galley cook?
Ava: When I was about 30 years old, a friend talked me into applying to be a deck hand.
Me: Wait. A deck hand?
Ava: That’s right. I was hired on to a ship and was about to set out for the first time when both the chief steward and 2nd cook on a different ship quit. My CO asked if I cook to which I replied “for my kids,” which was good enough for him. They immediately flew me out to the other ship where I became the 2nd cook. 12 years later I’m now a Chief Steward.
Me: Wow! Going from cooking for your kids to cooking for about forty crew members must have been a huge change. How did that go?
Ava: To be honest, I made a lot phone calls to my mom that first year. She helped me out a lot by giving me recipes and helping me figure out how to increase the serving sizes. Over the years I’ve paid attention to other galley cooks so I now have a lot of recipes that are my own and also borrowed.
Me: What exactly does a Chief Steward do?
Ava: The Chief Steward oversees the running of the galley, orders food and supplies, plans menus, and supervises the 2nd Cook. I’m a little different in that I also get in there to cook, clean, and wash dishes alongside my 2nd Cook. I feel like I can’t ask him to do something that I’m not willing to do too.
Me: So you didn’t actually go to school to be a chef. Did you have to get any certifications along the way?
Ava: When I first started out, certifications weren’t required. Now they are, and I have certifications in food safety and handling.
There are schools for vessel cooking though. My daughter just recently graduated from seafarers school. The school is totally free, except for the cost of your certification at the very end. For people interested in cooking as a career, it’s a great alternative to other, more expensive college/culinary school options. Now she’s traveling the world, doing a job she loves, and putting a lot of money into her savings.
Me: Talking with crew members on this ship, the one thing they all say is how hard it is to be away from family for long stretches of time. A lot of them are on the ship for ten months out of the year, and they do that for years and years. It’s interesting that your daughter decided to follow in your footsteps after experiencing that separation firsthand.
Ava: I was surprised too. Being away from friends and family is very hard on ship crew. Luckily for me, my husband is also part of the NOAA crew system so we get to work and travel together. Nowadays I’m part of the augment program so I get to set my own schedule. It gives me more flexibility to stay home and be a grandma!
Did You Know?
Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the earth and is 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statue miles.
Location: 56o20.5N 166o07.1W (We are currently ~ 170 miles due east of the Alaskan Peninsular National Wildlife Refuge!)
Weather from the bridge: 51o F, Wind 8-10 knots from 285o, high thin clouds, seas 2-3 ft (1 hour after I wrote this we were socked in with fog, which is fairly common for this part of Alaska during this time of year.)
Science and Technology Log:
Fairweather was commissioned in 1968 and has 2 engines. The engines are pretty ridiculously big. They are diesel combustion engines and run similarly to a diesel tractor engine.
Karla Martinez standing next to one of the engines for scale. She is an oiler, and currently the only female member of the engineering crew. Go Karla!!
She was built with Controllable Pitch Propellers. This technology is fascinating!! It allows for very fine control of the ship’s motion.
An image of a CPP propeller with blades in two different positions to show the axis of movement. Image courtesy of Schottel website.
The CPP technology works by turning each of the propeller blades on its individual axis. In this way, the propellers never have to change the direction of spin, but instead the spin continues the same direction but the ship can come to a stop and then reverse direction. This differs from the fixed propeller system that is on the small launches. The Fairweather’s propeller blades are about 3 feet each in size for a total propeller diameter of 7 feet.
She also has a bow thruster which can be used in certain circumstances. The bow thruster enables the bow to move from side to side while the stern of the ship is static. It is essentially a propeller mounted into a tunnel/hole in the bow giving thrust perpendicular to the typical direction of travel. For a large ship like Fairweather, this is especially helpful when moving in and out of docking locations.
The next two technologies are of particular interest for my environmental science classes. Because the ship is often at sea for extended periods, it is necessary to make fresh water from the salt water. Typically Fairweather will take on ~16,000 gallons of water in port, but evaporators will be used to generate supplemental freshwater when it is needed.
This is the seawater intake for one of the evaporators.
The evaporators on Fairweather are flash (plate) evaporators and they can generate around 160 gallons of water per hour when operating optimally. The evaporators are running a distillation process by evaporating the water using heat from the boilers at a low pressure and then separating the freshwater from the brine (highly saline water). Because of the constant removal of salt from the water, the evaporators need to be cleaned often for best use.
This is one of the flash evaporators. Inside the pressure is lowered and the temperature runs at about 170 degrees F. While this is below the normal boiling point of water, the water will still vaporize and condense due to the low pressure
The brine is then discharged and the freshwater is added to the supply tanks. When leaving the tanks, it is pumped to higher pressure and further treated through filters and with UV light to kill off any bacteria that may have made it through. That water is stored in a hydropneumatic tank at high pressure so that water can be delivered to all parts of the ship without the need for continuously running pumps.
People eat and drink and then they pee and poop. They also like to shower and brush their teeth and wash their hands. They also need water to drink and cook with and to make coffee and tea. Obviously there is also a lot of gray water (sinks and showers) and black water (toilets) that is produced on a ship of this size carrying ~40 people. So what is done with all of it? Well, blackwater goes through the MSD (marine sanitation device) before it is discharged outside of 3 nautical miles from land. MSDs are standard on all ships and work similarly to land based sewage treatment on a much smaller scale. Gray water can be acceptably discharged as is in most places, but must be stored within NDZs or No Discharge Zones.
Guidelines for discharge
Other necessary technologies on the ship are the refrigeration system, the boilers and the generators. But I won’t go into all of those processes. It’s just amazing to me that there are so many things that must be accounted for on a ship if it will be at sea for multiple days!
Crew of the Day! Engineering
If you’re going to get pictures of the engineering crew, you have to find the rare times when lots of them are together… you can find a good group at mealtimes or when the ship is being docked and they all need to be on the boat deck! L-R: Sean, Kyle, John, Mick and Ray
L-R Sean, Connor, John, Mick, Alex, Eddie… and even with all my stealth, I’m still missing a couple from the group pictures!
The Engineering crew on this ship is a highly eclectic bunch! They are also a REALLY difficult group to get together for pictures. They have about a 40 year span in age and include folks from all over the world with a great diversity of backgrounds. There are several levels within the engineering crew. The entry level position is termed a wiper, next is an oiler, and then engineering utility, and junior engineer. These positions are unlicensed, analogous to enlisted positions in the military. The licensed positions are 3rd Engineer, 2nd Engineer, 1st Engineer and Chief Engineer. There are five licensed engineers on board right now and another six in the department who are oilers and junior engineers.
Anything that is mechanized, motorized, has an electric cable going to it, or needs to be oiled or lubed, those things all fall under the watchful eye of the Engineering crew. One of the young 3rd Engineers, Connor (nicknamed Titan because he really is giant) also describes them overseeing “Hotel Services” – plumbing, lighting, heating & cooling. The crew keeps a 24 hour watch whenever the ship is underway, and can take over aft steering if something were to fail with the bridge steering. They are also on watch whenever the small launches are being deployed or replaced to their cradles. If the bow thruster is being used, a crew member will also watch to see that it engages properly for use.
The well-being of the ship is in the hands of the Engineers and therefore the Chief Engineer reports directly to the Commanding Officer (where all other department heads report to the Executive Officer). The CO and the Chief Engineer really share the task of running the ship, but ultimate responsibility lies with the CO.
The food! OH MY GOODNESS!!! The food on Fairweather has been terrific. There are two amazing cooks here currently. Tyrone, who is the Chief Cook, has been with Fairweather for 5 years. Prior to that, he cooked for the Navy. Kathy is the Chief Steward (which means she is in charge of the kitchen and develops the daily menus) and has been with NOAA ships cooking in some capacity for almost 20 years! You’ll learn more about her in my next blog… The Interview Issue!
So, here’s a sampling of what’s been on the menu since I’ve been here: Prime Rib, Lobster, Argentinian flap steak with Chimichurri, Halibut with some crazy good pesto type sauce… I am going to leave the ship about 10 pounds heavier than when I got here. So, this is not what you always get on NOAA ships, but this particular pairing of Kathy and Tyrone makes some serious magic!!
TAS Sian Proctor admiring the view on board Oscar Dyson in Alaska.
Where Are We Going?
We are off and running in our quest to track Alaskan pollock. The first thing I realized was the complexity of fishing operations. There are so many parts to a successful operation and one of my favorite components is all the maps and navigation.
Science and Technology Log: Using Sound to See
Once the ship is navigated to the first transect line then the scientific research begins. A down-looking echo sounder system located in the centerboard of the ship has five transducers (18, 38, 70, 120 and 200 kHz) that emit short pulses of sound. This means that energy, in the form of sound waves, is being sent out from the bottom of the ship. When sound waves encounter a change in sound speed, density, or a combination of both, some of the energy is scattered (reflected) back to the ship. The amount of sound scattered by an object in the water column is a function of its physical characteristics and the frequency of the sound. In animals, important physical characteristics that affect the amount of scattering include the presence of a swim bladder (a bubble!), bone structure, and size. Various animal types with different morphological characteristic will scatter different amounts of sound as a function of frequency, which scientists can use to aid their interpretation of the observations. The NOAA scientists know, through research, that krill scatter much more energy at 120 kHz and 200 kHz than at 18 kHz, but pollock scatter similar amounts of energy at all of the frequencies used in the survey. Ultimately, the five frequencies are used to support decisions about the types of animals that are scattering the sound in the water column, but the scientist use only the 38 kHz transducer data to derive estimates of fish abundance.
NOAA Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto analyzing an echogram. The echogram is color coded to represent the density of biomass within the water column. Red are areas of high concentrations of biomass and blue are areas of low concentrations. The bottom of the ocean floor shows the rainbow of colors. The NOAA scientists note GPS coordinates spot to fish based on the echogram.
All of the scatter produced by the pollock, and other animals in the water column, is processed by the ship’s computers to produce an echogram. Each column in the echogram is a view of the spatial distribution of animals under the ship at that time. By moving around the survey area and “stacking” many observations a spatial view of the biomass distribution is created. NOAA scientists in the acoustics lab analyze the echogram not only to determine what is in the water column, but also where to perform physical samples (trawls). The ship then navigates to that location and the sampling process begins.
Meet the Crew
Before starting my Teacher at Sea adventure I had no idea that there was a career called ocean acoustics engineer. Everyday I have been interacting with NOAA Acoustics Engineer Chris Bassett and University of New Hampshire graduate student Alexandra Padilla to find out why they chose this career. One thing I notice is that they build really cool instruments and they are teaching me a lot about how we study the ocean using sound.
Interview with Christopher Bassett
Ocean Acoustics Engineer
NOAA Ocean Acoustics Engineer Chris Bassett schooling me on sound.
Normal Job Duties
I study the use of passive and active acoustics in marine environments.
What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
A combination of management of ET/IT support for survey operations and special research projects at night.
How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
This is my third field season. My first cruise was the summer of 2015.
Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
A series of fortunate and unfortunate events.
When I started graduate school I wanted to transition to working as an engineer in renewable energy. The economic conditions in 2008 resulted in the loss of funding for the project I was planning to work on. Instead I agreed to perform a short study on underwater sound in support of a tidal energy project in Puget Sound, WA. I fell in love with the work and have been studying acoustical oceanography ever since.
What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
Going to sea in Alaska. It’s beautiful.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
Not until I started doing ocean research. Prior to that the idea had never occurred to me. I didn’t see an ocean for the first time until I was in my teens so the idea of working in ocean science was completely foreign. I did, however, know I was interested in science and engineering from a relatively early age. Nonetheless, pursuing a career in science never occurred to me until I first worked in the field and discovered my passion for the subject.
Chris Bassett at work on Oscar Dyson.
What are some of the challenges with your job?
Working with data sets (biological or physical) obtained in the field. Working with data obtained at sea from uncooperative sources is not easy. My job also requires a variety of skills (e.g., engineering, math, coding), a willingness to learn about biology, and requires a lot of travel. Expanding my knowledge across these fields is a constant challenge.
What are some of the rewards with your job?
I learn something interesting every day.
Describe a memorable moment at sea.
Sunset at the Islands of Four Mountains while one of the volcanoes was smoking. Little more can be said. It was a beautiful day!
Interview with Alexandra Padilla
Ocean Acoustics Engineer
Ocean Engineering PhD Student – and Sian Proctor’s awesome roommate aboard Oscar Dyson.
Normal Job Duties
I am a PhD graduate student. I usually spend my time split between courses and research. I am about to start my third year at University of New Hampshire and I will be focused mostly on taking classes, passing my qualifiers, and doing research.
What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
I am an invited scientist.
How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
This is my first time aboard the Oscar Dyson! Actually, it is the first time I have ever been on a scientific cruise.
Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
Oh Boy… That is a long story actually. Life.
Alex Padilla and Chris Bassett working on an acoustic research project aboard Oscar Dyson.
What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
My favorite thing about going to sea is learning from all of the other people that are on Oscar Dyson – from NOAA Corps officers, crew member and fellow scientist.
Why is your work (or research) important?
My research is focused on observing methane seeps in the water column and quantifying the flux of methane within the water column and at the air-sea interface. This research is important for understanding how methane release in the ocean contributes to climate change.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
I knew I wanted to be an engineer since elementary school, but I only realized that I wanted to be an ocean engineer during my third year as an undergrad.
What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
What are some of the challenges with your job?
Things don’t always work out the way you want them to and sometimes you don’t know how to fix them.
What are some of the rewards with your job?
Doing unique research. Also, getting that sense of satisfaction when you fix that one problem that you thought you couldn’t do.
Describe a memorable moment at sea.
I have yet to have a specific memorable moment at sea but I do have a memorable feeling every time I look at the horizon when on the ship. It feels like freedom.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I am enjoying being at sea. I think a big reason why is the smooth ride. The sea has been calm, the weather mild, and the sunshine plentiful. The scenery within the Shelikof Strait, particularly along Katmai National Park, has been stunningly beautiful. A perk of the early morning shift is seeing the sunrise. Take a look at the weather report above for the sunrise and sunset times. You’ll notice that the amount of darkness is minimal this time of year.
Sunrise in Alaska aboard Oscar Dyson.
The hardest part of the journey so far has been my schedule. We work 12 hour days and my shift is 4 am to 4 pm. Yep, 4 am! I am not a morning person – but I am also not a late night person. So given the choice between getting up or going to bed at 4 am – I choose to wake up with the help of coffee – coffee – coffee.
TAS Sian Proctor and NOAA Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto.
The NOAA crew are friendly, informative, and have made my adjustment to life at sea easy breezy. Every day I learn something new. The NOAA Chief Scientist is Taina Honkalehto. I was thrilled to learn that she’d be my mentor for the Teacher at Sea program because I am an advocate for women in science. I am also surrounded by other crew members, both men and women, who have taken time to teach, advise, and guide me every day. I will be trying to highlight as many of them as possible in my blog posts.
One thing I am learning is that there are so many different careers dealing with ocean science. Here is a great resources If you have students who are interested in a career in ocean or marine sciences.
There are so many things you can learn about sound and the sea. The Discovery of Sound in the Sea website is chuck full of information and educational resources.
Did You Know?
Did you know that there is a layer in the ocean where sound gets trapped and can travel across the entire basin. It is called the SOFAR Channel. Click this link to learn more: NOAA SOFAR Channel
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 21, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 57 09.0N
Longitude: 151 16.5W
Wind Direction: 245 degrees
Wind Speed: 24 knots
Sea wave height: 3ft
Swell wave: 5-7 ft
Sea water temp: 11.3 C
Dry temperature: 11.1 C
Birds are always abundant after a trawl
Sunset from the ship
Science and Technology Log
Aside from our survey, there is a lot of other science taking place on the ship. In fact, science is all around us. The officers on the bridge are using science when they use weather patterns and sea swells to calculate the best course of navigation for the ship. The survey technicians are using science when they collect water samples each day and test the salinity of the water. The engineers are using science when they are monitoring the ballast of the ship. Science is happening in places we don’t always take the time to look.
Today we look at a different realm of science, the engineering world. I recently had the opportunity to tour the brains of the ship with two of our engineers on board. I not only learned about the construction of the ship, but I also learned about the various components that help the ship run. The Oscar Dyson was constructed as one of NOAA’s first noise-reduced fisheries vessels. Data have been collected over the years that show fish avoid loud vessels by diving down deeper or moving out of the way of the noise. There was concern that this avoidance behavior would affect the survey results; thus the creation of acoustic quieting technology for research vessels. Another interesting part of the ship’s construction is the retractable centerboard, which allow the transducers to be lowered down below the ship and away from the hull in order to reduce noise and gather higher quality sound data for the surveys.
It turns out 2 of our engineers are from San Diego, the place I lived for my first 21 years of life. Nick even graduated from Westview High School, the rival of my high school, Mt. Carmel (albeit 10 years after me). The engineers are responsible for making sure everything is working on the ship. They, along with the rest of the engineering team, have to anticipate and troubleshoot problems, and be ready to fix something at a moment’s notice.
In addition to taking me on a tour around the innards of the ship, Nick and Rob also sat down for an interview about marine engineering.
Interview with the Engineers: Rob Ball and Nick Cuellar
Nick, Rob, and….Wilson!
What is your educational/working background?
Nick: I played soccer throughout high school and was recruited during my senior year by the US Merchant Marine Academy. I went to school there, played soccer, and received a BS degree in marine engineering. I spent 1 of my 4 years at sea doing hands-on training. I was also commissioned into the US Navy as a reservist.
Rob: I’m what they call a hawespiper in the merchant marine world- I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1988 and worked my way up ranks from oiler to engineer. I received my captain’s license, and ran sport fishing boats because I wanted to know boats from top to bottom. I went to professional college for refrigeration, and my main forte is refrigeration and air conditioning, I know I’ll never be out of work. I’m a first engineer now, and am going to go for my chief’s license.
How long have you been working on the Oscar Dyson?
Nick: I came on in August of 2014.
Rob: I just came on board in April of 2015
What are your main responsibilities as an engineer on board?
Nick: As a second engineer, I give fuel reports and transfer fuel to maintain stability of the ship. We have saltwater tanks for ballast, which changes as we burn fuel, and I help monitor this. I check the electricity, lights, fuel, water, and AC and make sure everything’s running. I fix anything that’s breaking.
Rob: As a first engineer, I am the supervisor of engine room and am responsible for how everything is operating. I get updates on the fuel status, and communicate with CO of the ship if changes need to be made. I also look at when the oil/filter needs to be changed. My position is more supervisory, and I oversee responsibilities and delegate tasks. I handle the plant and the people.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Nick: Travel; getting work experience, marine life
Rob: Money and travel; getting to see things in ocean that most people would only see on National Geographic
What is most challenging about your job?
Nick: The different personalities you have to work with
Rob: I agree with Nick. Our life exists in 204ft. I am able to take frustrations and put it into things I enjoy, such as working out, reading, or playing guitar.
What is something unique to being an engineer on a ship as opposed to an engineer on land?
Nick: You have to have knowledge of every square inch of the ship; the two things I think about are: are we sinking and are the lights on.
Rob: You have to keep things going when you have big seas, and you have to have the knowledge and ability to handle problems and stay on your feet (literally). You have everyone’s lives in your hands- you have to be on all the time.
What would tell students who are looking at careers in engineering?
Nick: Don’t give up and keep on fighting. Don’t let hardships get in the way. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. And know your math!
Rob: it’s a limitless field; you can build anything, and fix anything. If someone else made it, you’ll have the ability to figure out what they did. You get to break stuff and fix it.
What is your favorite marine animal?
Nick: Humpback whale
Rob: Orca and Great white shark
Rob, Nick and I
Thanks gentlemen for the interview!
Looked like the pipes needed a little fixing….
Welding is more difficult than it looks.
Drew helping me hold the rod for welding.
Look! I’m learning how to weld.
Drew is helping me weld
My welding masterpiece
Messing around in the engine room.
Running the lathe
This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.
The ringing of the phone woke me up from the gentle rolling of the ship. I had told the officers and scientists to wake me up if there was anything cool happening, and an excited ENS Gilman spoke into the receiver claiming there were hundreds (ok, maybe hundreds was a bit of an exaggeration) of whales breaching and swimming around the ship. Throwing on a sweatshirt and grabbing my camera, I raced up to the bridge to get a view of this. I had low expectations, as it seemed that every time we got the call that there were whales around, they left as soon as we got up there. This time, however, I was not disappointed. It was a whale extravaganza! Humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, there were so many whales it was hard to decide where to point my camera or binoculars. Like one of those fountains that spurt up water intermittently through different holes, the whales were blowing all around us. I was up on the bridge for over an hour, never tiring to see which one would spout next, or show us a fluke before it dove down deep, only to resurface somewhere else 15 minutes later. It was truly a treat to be able to watch them, and the weather couldn’t have been better. My favorite shot was of a baby humpback breeching – we had been tracking him for a while, his blow noticeably smaller than the adults around him. He looked as if he was just playing around in the water, enjoying himself without a worry in the world. I had been hoping to see Alaska wildlife on this trip, and am thrilled my wish was granted.
A pod of orcas was amidst the whale extravaganza!
The sight of the fluke indicates they are diving down deeper, and may not resurface again for several minutes.
So many whales!
The bathroom in our staterooms
I had a question about our living accommodations on the ship, and I must admit they aren’t too shabby. I share a room with another one of the scientists, and she works the opposite shift. This works out nicely as we can each have our own time in the room, and can sleep uninterrupted. We have bunks, or racks as many refer to them, and I am sleeping on the top bunk. We have a bathroom with a shower in our room, and it’s nice not to have to share those amenities. The walls are pretty thin, and the ship can be loud when operations are going, making earplugs or headphones helpful.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jennifer Petro Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 1 — 14, 2013
Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic Date: July 7, 2013
Weather Data Air temperature: 27.°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1022.50 mb
Wind direction: 195°
Wind speed: 6.1 knots
Water temp: 26.6° C (79.3°F)
Latitude: 34 44.62 N
Longitude: 75 91.98 W
Science and Technology Log
Today we find ourselves off of the coast of northern North Carolina where we will be for the next few days. An exciting aspect about this cruise is that we will be multi-beam mapping (a blog about that very soon) and sending the ROV down for surveys in new areas off of North Carolina. For the past few days I have been working with the team from the Panama City Southeast Fisheries Science Center identifying fish. This can sometimes be a very difficult prospect when the ROV is flying over the fish at 2 knots. The team from SEFSC consists of Andy David, Stacey Harter and Heather Moe. David is a 23 year veteran of NOAA and has been working on the MPA project since 2004. Stacey has been working on this project since its inception as well. Heather is new to the team and is just coming off of a 1 year assignment with the NOAA Corps at the South Pole.
There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.
There are several major objectives of this survey cruise.
(1) To survey established MPAs to collect data to compare to previous years’ surveys.
An important aspect of these cruises is to establish the effectiveness of an MPA. In some MPAs there is usually no fishing allowed. This includes trolling. bottom fishing (hook and line) as well as all commercial methods of fishing. The MPAs we are studying are Type II MPAs where trolling is permitted. They are looking for seven specific target species.
According to Andy, these species have been chosen due to their commercial value. During each dive a record is taken as to the type of species seen. We are specifically looking for the target species but we are keeping track of ALL the species that we see. I think it is fantastic to see scientists get excited about seeing something new. So far we have seen Oceanic Sunfish (2), Redband Parrotfish, Tautog (a more northerly found fish), Longsnout Butterflyfish and one fish species that we have not identified yet. There is an emphasis on Lionfish counts to assist in gauging how the introduction of this invasive species is affecting the overall fish populations. In some areas the Lionfish numbers have increased dramatically over the years. Today we actually saw one try to eat a smaller fish! They are very abundant in some locations and not in others but they have been present in 95% of our dives.
A Speckled Hind seen inside the North Florida MPA.
A Warsaw Grouper seen inside the North Florida MPA.
Stacey Harter, LT JG Heather Moe and I watching the big monitor and calling out the fish that we are seeing to be recorded.
(2) Survey outside of the MPAs.
You may ask “Why survey outside the area?” We want to know if the MPAs are indeed doing what they were designed to do: protect fish species. That was very evident in Jacksonville where the numbers and size of Gag Grouper and Scamp far exceeded the numbers and size outside the MPA.
Andy David recording for the ROV video log species of fish we are seeing on the dive.
(3) Survey new sites for possible MPA designation.
There is a process that is followed when determining if an area is a suitable MPA candidate. What we are doing on this cruise is both mapping and surveying new areas that have been proposed as MPA sites. This is the ground level stage. The MPAs in the region that we are in are ultimately determined by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
A Gray Triggerfish protecting a nest of eggs. Seen in the Edisto MPA as well as in a proposed site off of North Carolina.
Data during the dives is collected in a few ways. There are several video monitors that we watch and we call out species that we see. A data keyboard, like the one Harbor Branch uses for invertebrates counts, is used to keep track of types and number of each species seen. During every dive a video from the camera on the ROV is recorded and species are highlighted and recorded on to the DVD. This data will be analyzed thoroughly back at the lab and then sent to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
I am happy to announce that I have finally gotten my sea legs. It wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned but I was definitely concerned that it would be a major issue. We had some weather on Thursday, July 4 and that was the worst of it for me. I now hardly feel the vessel move. It has been fun over the past several days. We are in the lab most of the days so we only get to really see the crew at mealtimes and after dinner. The crew, from the CO to the engineers, are all great people. They are happy to answer questions, point you in the right direction and are quick to say hi and ask you about your day. Yesterday afternoon one of the engineers, Steve, gave us a tour of the engine room. All of the ship’s infrastructure is supported by this room. The engines run the generators for power, support the a/c, house the desalination filters (all the fresh water on board comes from salt water) as well as getting the boat from point A to point B. I was impressed!
One of the 4 Caterpillar engines that keep Pisces running ship shape.
Today after our last ROV dive, a school of Mahi mahi followed it (the ROV) up to the surface. The fishing was on! The crew brought out rods, reels and bait and the fishing commenced. Collectively we managed to land one bull or male and 2 smaller Mahi mahi. It was a nice diversion for all of us, scientists and crew, as we were back to work all too quickly. Fish tacos for dinner!
Hoping I can land this one!
Fair weather and calm seas.
Did you know that…
Some grouper can grow to be so huge that when they open their mouths to feed, they create a suction that is powerful enough to inhale small prey.
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko NOAA Ship: Pisces Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Jacksonville, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL Date: June 24, 2011
If you are just beginning this blog, you might wish to go back to post #1 and start reading there.
Before reading this post further, take the quiz.
Life at Sea
Dusk on a limitless ocean
Life at sea is things in miniature—except the view. The ocean seems to stretch on forever. It’s easy to see why people in ancient times thought you would fall off the edge if you got too close. Explorers ventured out to prove them wrong. Mathematicians and astronomers also studied it to try to discover the truth. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the universe since then, but there is so much more to explore and learn. The ocean is just one of those unexplored and undiscovered places.
ROV Guys departing
After the scientists disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale, I stayed aboard the Pisces to learn about the workings of the ship while it steamed back to its home port of Pascagoula, MS. After all, how often does one get an opportunity like this? I had a tour of engineering, discussions on the bridge, conversations with the crew in the mess, and a lesson on bandwidth. This post is an attempt to describe some everyday things you need to know about going to sea with NOAA.
Shortly after we boarded, we had a briefing in the conference room. This was mostly to cover safety issues and things to help us understand procedures. Of course, meal time hours were shared. I made a mental note of those hours since I knew I wouldn’t want to miss any meals. The stewards’ reputation for good meals preceded them.
ENS Michael Doig began our briefing by drawing the following on the white board.
I thought this was a clever way to introduce what he would later discuss—our alarm bell and whistle patterns. Mike, a former high school teacher, brought this method of capturing the class’s attention to his work on the Pisces. One of the first things we practiced after the briefing was the “fire” drill. Mike explained that one long bell and whistle meant either fire, collision (I figured we would feel that as well), or security alert. If we heard this, we were to bring our PFD (Personal Floatation Device—life preserver), located under our bunks, to the conference room, which was the mustering (gathering) station for the scientists. Our chief scientist, Andy David, would take a head count and call 101 on the phone to report to the bridge our headcount. Mike explained that fire is one of the big concerns on a ship. It really needs to be taken seriously. You can’t run out to the mailbox to gather as many families do for their emergency spot where everyone knows to go. So, they gather the scientists together since we are more like guests and wouldn’t know the correct procedures to fight a fire. Of course, for the first drill the alarm said the fire was near the conference room so we had to muster on the fantail (back-end of the ship). It was interesting to watch the crew quickly go to their duty stations in full gear to fight the fire.
Oh, no! Ensign Doig poses in fake alarm.
During the course of our trip, I did hear alarms sound on the bridge from different locations. Often it was something someone needed to check on. None turned out to be real emergencies, but were alerts to the crew to check on something. Thank goodness. These were always attended to immediately—not just when the bridge crew finished what they were working on. ENS Doig happened to be on duty when one of these alarms went off and I was on the bridge. Knowing I was going to take a picture, he made a face full of alarm. It’s good to have a sense of humor, especially since they had checked out the possibility of a fire and determined the cause for the alarm wasn’t a fire.
Gumby survival suit
After we finished our fire drill (by the way, when the alarm sounds they always announce whether it is a drill or not), we were told we’d be practicing our abandon ship drill. For this you must bring a hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, PFD, and your “Gumby suit” (survival suit) to your muster station. The Gumby suit probably has some long special name, but no one calls it that. It is located in one’s stateroom in an orange bag next to the door. It has handles and even pictures and directions explaining how to put it on. Those who hadn’t donned a suit recently, crew and scientists, had to put it on. Never having been at sea, I, of course, had to put it on. What a pain! One hopes never to have to abandon ship, but it would be difficult to put that on in the water. I am pretty sure I’d have it on within the required minute if we were doing the act of last resort and abandoning ship. Easier putting it on aboard the ship than in the water. The signal to abandon ship is 6 or more short bells and/or whistles followed by one long one.
The answer to the quiz is three short bells or whistles is the signal for man overboard. Our mustering station was the conference room for this activity so a head count could be taken.
Get that shot!
When working with a crane or winch and lifting something over the side of the boat, you must wear a hard hat and PFD —even if you’re just watching. My first experience with this was when I stepped out by the door to take a picture of the ROV being launched. The fisherman standing nearby told me I had to get properly dressed. They were just getting ready to launch and I needed to be ready. Oops! I went right in and put on my hard hat and PFD. Stephanie Rogers captured that moment after I was properly attired. I later learned that when entering or leaving a port, you had to wear a hard hat on the bow. Lots of safety rules.
Sliding doors at the far end of the wet lab close automatically.
If there is a fire alarm, some doors automatically close and you must know about it so you won’t stand in the way if they start to close. I think the door would win in a battle for possession of that space. We have similar doors at the school which slam shut during fires. Watch out! In other words, on a ship, just as in school, safety is always on everyone’s mind.
Captain refers to book
On the bridge, someone is always assigned to watch. The captain pulled out his book, COMDTINST M16672.2D: Navigation Rules (COLREGS), to show me the regulation which he had just quoted. I’m telling you, there is a book for everything on the bridge and they use them. Reading makes life so much easier. The Inland Steering section, Rule 5, says the ship “must maintain proper look-out by sight and hearing”. The watch officer cannot risk a collision. There are two radar screens displayed prominently on the helm station. What do you need to watch for? Won’t the radar pick up the boats? Well, no. Large boats usually have a “black box” like airplanes, which have a transponder telling the ship’s name and what type of craft it is.
Game of chicken
Small boats often don’t have this equipment and are a big threat. I found that out the day after we left port. Boaters don’t seem to realize that there might be someone besides them on the water. Even in deep water small fishing boats would cut in front of us. It often seemed like a game of “Chicken”. Victor, an able-bodied seaman (special certification for those with extra training and skill) pointed out that whenever the winds pick up to 15 or 20 knots there are more than a few incidents of boaters getting in trouble and the Coast Guard alerts all ships to be aware and possibly assist in rescue. Besides possibly tipping over, small boats cannot be seen in high swells until a large ship is almost upon them. Many don’t have transponders or radios to contact anyone to communicate problems or questions. Also, they often drink alcohol and drive. Dumb! I asked Victor what the Pisces would do if a small boat got too close. Run ‘em down was not the answer. Trying to radio them, calling to them with a loudspeaker, or blowing the horn usually gets their attention, he told me.
Scott always had interesting socks.
You must wear shoes enclosed on the toes and heels. It’s readily apparent why. The stairs can be treacherous when you are flopping around. In waves you could slide and hurt yourself, walk out of the shoes and twist an ankle, or slip on a wet deck. I found out several reasons for the deck being wet: rain (no kidding), humidity (it’s amazing how quickly water vapor condenses on the deck and makes a pond that sloshes around), swabbing (cleaning), and potable water runoff.
Fresh Water Overflow
The ship makes its own fresh water. If there is too much in the potable (drinking) storage tank, the excess water will exit out a runoff valve onto the deck. I discovered this one morning toward the beginning of the trip. The engineer who explained it to me said that the people on the ship were conserving their water, most likely, and the excess from the tank drained off onto the deck. I heard the captain make the same comment a week later about how the people on this research expedition were doing a good job conserving. That made me feel really good. Those short showers paid off. Fun fact: it takes one gallon of diesel fuel to produce one gallon of fresh water on the ship.
Petey Pelican on handrail
“One hand for yourself, and one for the ship” is how you walk on a ship safely. There are railings everywhere for you to hang on to. It’s a challenge in choppy seas to carry something, such as a laptop, and successfully maneuver down the hall while holding on as well. When the seas were about seven feet high I found it more than a little challenging to stand let alone walk.
Let me explain how a ship is laid out. When I say there are a lot of stairs, I’m not kidding. Before I knew anything about the ship, we took a tour of most of the places we’d be “living” and a few extras. Of course it was all fascinating. We started in the conference room on the deck right across from my stateroom. That deck inside includes staterooms, the lounge and conference room, the dive locker (the ship has three divers who can inspect the propeller, rudder and underwater parts of the hull if there is a problem), and business office. Outside is the rescue boat, a couple of winches, and the bow.
Oxygen tanks at top of stairs on O-2 deck
We climbed some stairs and as we got there the guide told us that this was the O 2 deck. At first I thought he was kidding since right in front of me were two oxygen tanks. I asked for clarification and he said this is the deck with the staterooms of the NOAA officers, bosun, chief engineer, and chief scientist. Hmmm…still didn’t make any sense to me. What does that have to do with oxygen? I kept my thoughts to myself. Later I found a map of the ship. I slept on the O-1 deck, the officers were on the O-2 deck, and the bridge was on the O-3 deck. Hello! It was the level name of the deck and had nothing to do with oxygen. It was just a coincidence. Too funny.
Climbing above the bridge was the “flying bridge” (I wonder if that’s because the flags are there). It houses the radio towers and says, “Danger–Radiation Warning.” We were told to let the bridge know when we were going up there. It’s a great place to try to catch a cell phone signal or watch a sunrise.
Had to throw my weight into this door leading to the exercise room.
On the Pisces, and I would assume on other ships, there are doors everywhere. I was surprised at how much strength I needed to operate them. When entering the lab from where the ROV was being piloted, which was the center of all the dive activity, I found that I had to “put my hip into it” to push it open. As a matter of fact, I noticed I have a few door-pushing bruises.
There are doors for everything. The fire and watertight doors are to keep you safe from fire and flood. The refrigerator and freezer doors protect food from bacteria and keep them preserved until it’s time to eat. There are doors to the bathroom (yeah), doors for lockers, doors for closets, doors for equipment, medicine cabinet doors, stateroom doors, doors, doors, doors. Almost all doors have a latch at the ceiling behind them so they can be held open. A swinging door is a real safety issue. You either close it right after you use it or go through it, or you latch it open. I found it a pain to have to keep closing my locker door. It would swing with the waves and I didn’t want to have it wake anyone up. The noise bugged me as well. As you can see, I had a bit of trouble with the door leading to the exercise room down below the main deck. The engineers could close it with one hand. I was there for two weeks and, try as I might, it never got any easier.
Wheeled water tight door with wind behind it
Close all watertight doors and fire doors, all the time. Fire or flooding can lead to a rapid death. The engineers and NOAA Corps constantly monitor for this. Although it is a safety thing, opening and shutting doors was one of my biggest challenges on ship. Good thing I have been working out with weights. Opening those doors was often a very difficult—especially if there were a door or window open to the outside at the other end of the room. I brought home several bruises on my hip for throwing my body into the door to get it open. I once remarked that if someone ever opened the door to the ROV lab when I was pushing my way in from the other side, I’d go flying into the room. Not cool since there is a counter right inside the door. Think law of inertia. Push hard against something (heavy door), it moves out of the way (someone opens it), you’re no longer stopped and off you fly (until you run into something). Newton’s law of inertia….
Taking a walk on the ship for aerobic exercise isn’t easy. The whole ship is only 209 feet long. Well, you have to go through doors just about everywhere. The only place I could have done this for any real length was to start near the wet lab, travel around to the right, over the fantail, up the stairs, up to the bow (front of ship), climb stairs to the bridge and turn around. Can’t go farther since there are doors to enter the bridge. When I needed to go just about anywhere inside the ship there were a minimum of two doors to open. To get from my stateroom to the exercise room I had to go through three watertight or fire doors—and three to return. When tired I’d pray for the door to open and someone to step through.
At night, make sure someone knows you are on deck. ENS Doig told us to dial 101 and tell the bridge you’ll be outside in the dark. Even better, take a buddy. I also found it was good to carry a flashlight. If you turn the flashlight off when on deck when you get where you are going, your eyes adjust and it seems almost as bright as day. For this, you must extinguish (turn off) the flashlight.
Living on a ship means if you want to make/keep friends, you are nice. People are very close. You can’t even walk two abreast down the hall. If you enter a hallway and someone is half way down, wait for the other person to exit before entering yourself. Same goes for the stairs. If someone is coming down, or going up, don’t start until they pass you. Not only is it polite, it’s just good common sense.
Buddies Jana and Sue
I was fortunate to have the Queen of Politeness, Jana Thoma, as a roommate. She was always thinking of others and expressed thanks for everything they did–often several times. I have thought of myself as pretty polite, but I don’t think I can even compare to Jana. What a great example for me to follow. She was always a patient teacher as she tried to help me learn about cnidarians. Perhaps one of my students will work in her lab someday.
Drink station with juices, water, ice, coffee, etc
If someone drinks the last cup from a pot of coffee, he/she should make a fresh pot for the next folks. Although I am not a coffee drinker, from the way this was stressed by the officers and stewards, it must be very frustrating for someone coming for a warm drink to not have it readily available. They don’t have real long breaks. Remember, they have a lot of doors to slow them down. I think if they found out you took the last cup and didn’t refill the pot, you might be doing the Man Overboard drill as the victim (just kidding).
Clean up after yourself. Seems like common sense. The stewards are not your mother–they are busy working in the kitchen and cleaning. They shouldn’t have to come and bus (clean) the tables. You should take your dishes to the window, put the silverware in the water to soak, and put dishes, cups, bowls, and glasses in the plastic tub. There are two trash cans. One is for paper and plastic and a slop bucket for leftover food. At Tremont food you don’t eat on your plate is called food waste. If you take only what you’ll eat, this bucket has very little in it. They separate the food from the other trash so it won’t get smelly. They cover it with a lid and empty it when folks are all done eating for the day.
Curtains were great for privacy
The ship runs 24 hours a day so someone is probably sleeping at any time. Loved the curtains around the beds. I could get up and not disturb Jana and vice versa. Don’t slam doors. This is not always easy, especially in rough seas. I know I mumbled a couple of times “sorry” when the door slipped from my hands. Locker doors and bathroom doors in staterooms also flop around and make a racket if left open. I got in the habit of keeping these closed so they wouldn’t make noise. Our bathroom door had a neat feature. It had an automatic stay open fixture on it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in rough seas so we had to prop open. I know if we had told the engineers they would have fixed it, but we kept forgetting to mention it.
The Pisces has an entertainment room for when you or the crew is off duty. There is a selection of DVDs and home theatre chairs to lounge in. My stateroom was right across the hall from this lounge. I never noticed anyone playing the TV too loudly. Movies also would feed into the staterooms. You could put the DVD on a certain channel and go watch while lying in bed. If you put a movie in, the rule was to let it play to the end. Someone might be watching it in their room. I am not sure how many movies can be played at the same time, but it is several. I put one in one time and didn’t get to watch since I had to go do some work. I figure I can watch movies at home, but will probably only be in this situation once.
The walls are really thin between staterooms. Conversations can be heard as can loud TV. Jana and I found that it’s easy to have a not so quiet discussion, especially if telling jokes, and tried to whisper. We did have a lot of fun and had to think of any neighbors who might be sleeping. Laura had hours opposite us and was our neighbor. One rule of politeness is to use headphones when listening to music so as not to disturb others. I used to work the midnight shift and went to school in the morning. Only had a few hours to sleep before going back to work. My upstairs neighbor got a new sound system and literally rocked me awake . I had to go upstairs and remind them that I slept during the day. Headphones would have let me sleep in peace. On a ship this seems to be doubly important because walls are so thin. The one exception to the headphone and music rule is in engineering. When I was exercising it was nice to have some good music playing. This happened a couple of times and it made the walking on the treadmill more enjoyable. I’m glad they were there in the next room working with the music on.
Putting things where they belong makes it easy for those who eat next.
Use paper if not eating during scheduled times. The stewards have to keep the dishes washed and if someone put dirty dishes in the bin, they would have to clean it. I noticed the crew was polite and used disposables after hours.
Remember to shut off the water when just lathering up in the shower. This limits water use to about two minutes. I learned to do this during the power outage we had for 5 days in north Alabama after the tornadoes on April 27. My husband and I limited the length of our showers and had warm water for many days. Jana and I both said we loved how the shower on the ship works—it makes short showers possible. It has a knob in the middle to turn the water on and off. The knob on the right adjusts the temperature. When you turn the shower back on after lathering, the temp is the same as when it was shut off. Very neat.
Reuse your cup. One of the scientists said that she loves to bring her coffee cup which has a lid. It’s her way of staying in touch with home when on a ship and she always has a drink nearby. The best part is she is reusing her cup and limiting waste. That’s very smart.
Besides limiting water use and reusing cups, the crew recycles their aluminum cans just as we do at our school. The money is put in a special fund for things such as deaths, births, and celebrations.
Jana learned on another ship that if you leave the heat lamp on in the head (bathroom), the water from the shower dries on the floor quicker. I would think it would also inhibit mold growth.
It was cold in this lab.
I learned that temperatures vary on a ship. The acoustics lab, filled with computers, is freezing. I used to work in a computer center on the midnight shift. I brought an afghan to wrap up in when sitting at my station and had to wear pants (women didn’t usually wear pants to work in this office back then). However, it wasn’t as cold as the chemical lab where the scientists photographed specimens, cataloged their data, and examined specimens under the microscope. Then, go outside and it would be 82° F (about 28° C). Jason Moeller writes in his blog that it is a lot colder. Check that out. He dresses in many layers–with good reason.
One thing I’ll remember is how bright the stars are. What is really cool about being on a ship at night is that there are no trees to get in the way when viewing the stars. There is very little light pollution too. If I ever get to go to sea again, I’d like an astronomer with me to point out all the constellations. I have a lot of trouble seeing them since there are so many stars which crowd out the major stars in constellations.
Watching gauges in engineering.
I didn’t see the engineers very often unless they were fixing something nearby or eating. They stayed below most of the time working on keeping the equipment purring or doing preventive maintenance. Often they were making something using the lathe or other tools. There is always something going on with them in their sauna-like work spaces. I did learn that they watched for a few bad things: squirting fluids, smoke, strange sounds, and changes in their gauges.
The engineers have to be able to fix just about anything. When you’re out at sea on a mission, you don’t just stop and run down to the boat repair shop to get things fixed. They bring the boat repair shop with them. In engineering there are milling machines, lathes, welding equipment, and so much more. I was impressed. At one point I saw Joe Jacovino making a frame to hold a light they were going to be adding outside. Another engineer, Steve Clement, was nominated for an award on the mission for making a part to repair a piece of scientific gear.
Lots of useful machines to help keep the ship operational
I was very interested in engineering. There was so much to learn there. I took more videos than I did photographs there since it was difficult to take notes and juggle all the stuff I had. My students can put together something with all the video I took. It was more as a reference to remind me of the facts that Chief Engineer, Brent Jones, was teaching me.
All in all, it was a fabulous experience. I hope more teachers will apply to learn about the work that NOAA is doing and pass this on to their students. I am looking forward to learning from the other Teachers at Sea. We will have lots of stories and lessons to share.
I took zillions of pictures (well, it seems like it). If you’d like to see some more, click here.