Jenny Gapp: Reporting to 551.46 (Oceanography), July 19, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Gapp (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23 – August 5, 2023 

Mission: Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) Survey (Leg 3 of 4)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the coast of Newport, Oregon
Date: July 19, 2023 (pre-cruise)

Weather Data from Newport, Oregon
NOAA Weather Service forecast for Wednesday, July 19th as of 7/17/23 6:35pm:
Mostly sunny, then sunny and breezy, with a high of 61 degrees. Wednesday night’s low around 55 degrees.

“Weather” is what it’s doing today. “Climate” is what it did today in 1942. Climate equates to the prevailing weather trends for a particular region. Having been born and raised in Oregon I know that you always dress in layers when going to the Oregon Coast. I know that sunburn is possible in March (anytime really) and balmy 60-degree weather is possible in February. Historically, the average temperature for the month of July in Lincoln County has remained between 60 and 63 degrees with a slight trend upward. I imagine it is a bit chillier out on the Pacific. I have packed accordingly!

A week from departure (July 16th) I was looking south from the cliffs on Cape Lookout near Tillamook, Oregon. The breeze was visible in shimmering white flashes across the surface of the ocean even as the tidal swells plowed steadily into shore beneath the gusts. The infamous summer fog shrouded much of the cape’s seaward view due to temperature and pressure differences between the coast and inland.

view of Cape Lookout from the cliffs. Beyond dirt cliffside and conifer trees, we can see the water is a vivid blue-teal color. A mountain range marks the far side of the cape. The sky is blue, but fog rises off the water.

As air heats up it ascends (rises), leading to low pressure at the earth’s surface. As air cools down it descends (sinks), leading to high pressure at the surface. Hot summer air rises inland and creates low pressure. Since the temperature of the ocean is much colder, high atmospheric pressure is formed. Higher-pressure air tends to move into lower-pressure regions, so the moist marine layer (caused by evaporation) gets pulled off the top layer of the water and moves inland. All that moisture creates low-flying clouds, known as “fog” when it touches the ground. Marine fog moves eastward (inland) and usually clings to the shoreline. Sometimes it moves further depending on the topography of the coast range. Summer winds on the Oregon Coast are caused by temperature-driven atmospheric pressure disturbances where the two pressure systems collide.

Listening to the weather forecast was something of a ritual in my childhood home. Mom would tune in to WKL96 at 162.475 and we’d dutifully hush up when the familiar “ding!” occurred to signal the top of the broadcast. To this day she still writes down the short-term forecast and puts it on the fridge. (Mom is an old-fashioned gal and doesn’t use the internet.) Find your local station here.

I got to tour my local National Weather Service office –home of the “ding!”– in Portland, Oregon during a DataStreme Climate class I took in 2016. Sponsored by the American Meteorological Society, I also took their DataStreme Oceans course. I highly recommend these classes to educators.

I’m a bit of a NOAA snob when it comes to the forecast. My old Subaru had a channel entirely devoted to NOAA Weather Radio. My new (used) one doesn’t, and I miss it! Friends and family look at a variety of weather apps, but I will always check their predictions against what NOAA says. When you visit National Park Visitor Centers around the country it’s usually the short-term NOAA forecast that is posted on visitor information boards. It is possible to access NOAA Weather from your phone. Go to the following website to learn how to add a bookmark to your phone’s home screen.

the cover of the book A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman.

Librarian at Sea

“Traditionally, a few people from Raftworld would decide to stay on the island; and a few from the Islands would elect to join Raftworld. These were volunteers, and they were celebrated for their choosing, for some people were simply happier living on land, and others happier at sea.” 
~H. M. Bouwman, A Crack in the Sea
(G.P. Putnam, 2017)

A Crack in the Sea is a middle-grade novel that blends fantasy with historical fiction, including characters who flee a slave ship, and those fleeing post-war Vietnam. One character also has a special skill: talking to fish. My special skill is talking to children about books…but I do much more than that. 

Introduction & Background

I have reported to 551.46 many times over my 18 years as a school librarian, but this will be my first reporting to its physical manifestation. Despite growing up near the coast I have never been out on the open ocean in a boat. I have visited the nonfiction shelves (organized by Melvil Dewey) countless times. You’ll find oceanography topics at 551.46. You’ll find my school, Peninsula Elementary, on an earthen finger of Portland, Oregon bordered by the Willamette River to the west and the mighty Columbia River to the north. Peninsula has been my anchor as an educator for the past 12 years. I call myself a “teacher librarian” in order to emphasize that my priority is to design and deliver lessons to students on top of managing a small library. My profession has state and national standards that cover information literacy, reading engagement, and social responsibility. One of the things I love most about being a school librarian is the academic freedom that I have. I can teach my standards by using the story of the haenyo mermaids of Korea, by analyzing infographics of the water cycle, and by playing truth or lie with shark facts. Cross-curricular approaches to learning are what get me excited about teaching. Science in particular is a subject I have long gravitated towards. 

My career in a, er, clamshell: As an undergraduate with a BA in Comparative Literature I said, what next? I promptly got a seasonal job as a Ranger Aide for Silver Falls State Park. What next? I applied to permanent ranger jobs…and my old school district (where I graduated high school) was looking for a school librarian. My alma mater hired me with zero experience on a restricted transitional license–which means I promised to go back to school and get certified. So, I got my teaching license, then a Master’s in Library Science–two distinct programs. While in graduate school I began branding myself as a “Ranger Librarian.” While working for the same junior high I once attended, I had the odd experience of working with colleagues who were formerly my teachers. A beloved high school social studies teacher still worked next door on our shared campus. He encouraged me to seek out opportunities for educators that provided residencies, travel opportunities, and hands-on learning. So, when I saw a brochure in the staff lounge for an Outward Bound course designed just for teachers I applied. What next? I applied for a Cultural Resources Internship at Grand Teton National Park where, among other things, I created an information package for prospective researchers to help them navigate the application process and eliminate research redundancy. I learned, for example, there is such a thing as collecting too many voles. I applied for a “Teacher Ranger Teacher” position at Grand Canyon National Park. I applied to be a seasonal ranger again, this time in the Columbia River Gorge. I applied for a Comparative Mountain Geography Institute with the Center for Geography Education in Oregon. I did all those things in the margins of my life as a teacher librarian. What next? I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea! 

As the others in NOAA TAS Class of 2022 and 2023 will confirm, I then played the pandemic waiting game while the world figured out how to function with COVID. TAS candidates have to pass a medical clearance within a year of sailing so I even gave blood not once, but twice, while time and tide marched on. I have yet to sweat, and yet to cry, but the salt swims at the ready.   

we see only Jenny's and her husband's bare feet on the sand. The beach stretches well ahead of their feet to the ocean, a dark teal green lined with whitecaps where the waves are breaking. a vessel is only just visible on the horizon.
Getting a sunburn in March 2023 near Manzanita, Oregon with my husband. You can see a fishing boat in the distance.

Science, Technology & Career Log
You can track the location of NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada as well as other vessels here.  Alternatively, you can try this tracker.  Marine traffic includes all ships at sea such as tankers, military vessels, passenger ships, and fishing boats. An automatic identification system, or AIS technology, is used to follow traffic locations. The International Maritime Organization (a branch of the United Nations) launched the development of AIS as a collision avoidance tool for large vessels at sea that were not within range of tracking systems based on shore.

The IMO decided that all vessels over 300 gross tonnages on international voyages must have AIS aboard. A gross tonnage is calculated by measuring a ship’s volume. AIS allows ships to “see” each other and improves situational awareness before visual contact is possible. AIS is considered by some to be the most significant improvement to navigational safety since the development of radar. However, AIS is considered an enhancement and not a replacement for radar and other traffic services. Using a broadcast transponder system, AIS operates in the VHF (very high frequency) radio waves mobile maritime band. A complete system includes a transmitter and a receiver with data displayed on a screen (revealing the bearing and distance of nearby vessels). Originally, AIS made broadcasts from ships to land and had a capacity of 20 miles or so. Today, satellite-detected AIS allows us to “see” ships no matter how far away.

screenshot from Marine Traffic website marking the position of NOAA Ship Bell M Shimada with a tiny aqua-blue triangle just west of San Francisco. many other markers of different colors and shapes mark the positions of other vessels or buoys.
Position of NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada not long after the departure of Leg 2. Destination: Newport, Oregon
another screenshot from Marine Traffic, with a large arrow pointing offscreen to Bell M Shimada's marker off the coast of Oregon. an inset popup window shows a photo of the ship and shares its navigation status, speed/course, and draught.
Location as of 7/17/23 just coming into view at the bottom of the screen and headed for smiling Newport. Cruising Earth ship tracker.

Radio waves are one type of electromagnetic radiation–in the same family as X-rays, visible light, microwaves, infrared, and ultraviolet. Naturally occurring radio waves include lightning and objects in space including Jupiter and The Sun. It is possible to turn information like text, sound, and images into electrical signals. These signals are combined with radio waves–energy that moves–to send information across long distances. High-frequency waves have a shorter wavelength and send more wavelengths per second than low-frequency waves. In general, higher frequencies do not travel as far, which is why satellites have proven so useful to AIS. (Further reading)

physics diagram comparing high frequency waves (with short wavelengths) to low frequency waves (with long wavelengths)
Electromagnetic Spectrum: Radio Waves (BestOfScience)

Career feature

I am excited to meet all the people behind the research and ship operations. Prior to sailing, I checked out the professional mariner hiring portal facilitated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.  Current fleet vacancies included able seaman, oiler, and first assistant engineer. Reading the job descriptions brought to mind two things. One is my maternal grandfather. He was a World War Two Navy Veteran who worked as a motor machinist and drove a Higgins Boat on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy. He did not die in the war, but lived to age 89 and passed away in 2012. Among the family archives are records of his completion of a diesel mechanics course. This association made me think about encouraging students to make personal connections to whatever we are learning about.  After reminiscing about Grandpa, my train of thought spitballed keywords like boat, engine, ship, sailor, mechanic, and Titanic–which served as a bridge to thought number two. The fleet vacancies prompted a daydream about the next time I am helping a student interested in library books on one of these tangential ocean topics. In addition to a forthcoming lesson on NOAA careers, I should remember to mention a related career during book shopping and plant a seed. “Hey Johnny, I see you are interested in ships. Did you know that being a sailor is an actual job that you could do one day?”

a WWII-era headshot of a sailor in uniform
My maternal grandfather, Leroy Bowers. WWII Navy Veteran.

NOAA Fisheries has its own job opening portal. Openings at the time of my website visit included a statistician, IT Specialist (systems administrators are needed everywhere!), fish biologist, physical science technician, grants management specialist, budget analyst, enforcement technician, and acquisition management specialist. Fish biologist was an obvious choice but I had to click on enforcement technician to find out more. It appears to be an entry-level position related to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (see video insert).  

Holy mackerel, this initial career investigation blew my mind with how many employment opportunities there are within NOAA. I think my students will be impressed with the broad scope of career choices as well. 

Floating Facts

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (in service since 2010) serves the entire West Coast and furthers the NOAA Fisheries mission to be “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.” The imperative of NOAA Fisheries is to maintain healthy ecosystems, safe sources of seafood, productive and sustainable fisheries, as well as the recovery and conservation of protected resources. NOAA’s parent agency is the U. S. Department of Commerce and so relates to economic growth and opportunity. Bell M. Shimada is known as a “quiet” ship, using technology to decrease its noise signature and increase scientists’ abilities to study fish without disturbing them. 

Bell M. Shimada, the man, was known for his studies of Pacific tuna stocks important to the development of commercial fisheries post-World War Two.  His name was chosen by a group of California high school students in a contest to name a new ship in the NOAA fleet. Born to Japanese immigrants in Seattle, Washington, he was imprisoned at Minidoka War Relocation Center in 1942 during the mass internment of Americans with Japanese ancestry. He was 20 years old at the time. He was able to leave the camp by enlisting in the U. S. Army. Shimada began as an infantryman, then an interpreter, translator, and radio traffic monitor, then compiled data on the impact of bombings in Japan. He ended up in Tokyo during its occupation and remained after the war in a civilian position where he analyzed the activities of Japanese fisheries. He returned stateside to finish a college degree that had been interrupted by internment. He went on to earn a Master’s and moved to Honolulu to work for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He worked with an influential fisheries scientist pioneering a holistic approach to fish management, blending fish biology with oceanography and meteorology. While in Honolulu he also began work on a Ph.D. The tuna research he is most well known for occurred when he was transferred to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in La Jolla, California. 
His scientific pursuits were cut short in a plane crash en route to Mexico City on a return trip from a scientific cruise to Clarion Island off the west coast of Mexico. Shimada was just 36 years old. Think of this remarkable scientist next time you open a can of tuna…

Hook, Line, and Thinker

As a part of my interdisciplinary approach to learning in the library, I often use philosophical questioning in order to inspire dialogue among my students. Something to think about…Is taking a creature’s life justified when it benefits the greater good? Many hake have given their bodies to science in order to not only benefit human activity but their own species as well.

Hmm, I made a Freudian slip just now. I originally wrote, “when it benefits the greater food.” I guess I’ve outed myself as a meat eater and a utilitarian when it comes to the sacrifice of creaturely bodies–within reason (remember the voles)–in the name of science. 

A Bobbing Bibliography

Books I currently use in the classroom to further ocean literacy with elementary students.

Books I use with grades K-2:

  • Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a very smart octopus made his way home, by Sy Montgomery (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
  • Inky the Octopus, by Erin Guendelsberger (Sourcebooks Wonderland, 2020)
  • Octopuses One to Ten, by Ellen Jackson (Beach Lane Books, 2016)
  • Whale in a fishbowl, by Troy Howell & Richard Jones (Schwartz & Wade, 2018)
  • Deep in the Ocean, by Lucie Brunelliere (Abrams Appleseed, 2019)
  • In the Sea, by David Elliott and Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2012)
  • Alien Ocean Animals, by Rosie Colosi (National Geographic Kids, 2020)
  • Ocean! Waves for All, by Stacy McAnulty (Henry Holt and Co., 2020)

Books I use with grades 3-5:

  • The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, by Kate Messner (Chronicle Books, 2018)
  • Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the ocean, by Maris Wicks (First Second 2016)
  • Otis & Will Discover the Deep: The record-setting dive of the bathysphere, by Barb Rosentock (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018)
  • The Mess That We Made, by Michelle Lord (Flashlight Press, 2020)
  • The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story, by Tina Cho (Kokila, 2020)
  • Manfish: Jacques Cousteau, by Jennifer Berne (Chronicle Books, 2008)
  • Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp revealed the ocean’s biggest secret, by Jess Keating
  • Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist (Sourcebooks Explore, 2017)
  • Marine Science for Kids: Exploring and Protecting Our Watery World, by Josh & Bethanie Hestermann (Chicago Review Press, 2017)

During the three years I was sailing through the rough waters of the pandemic I took a hard look at the ocean-themed books in our school library collection. Library acquisition budgets are always tight, so I wrote a Donors Choose grant to purchase about 50 new titles. Since this occurred while I taught remote classes, my thank you package was also virtual. Students did a lovely job documenting their thanks using the tools they had available to them. I believe my NOAA experience will help me further promote the content of 551.46!

Kevin McMahon, August 3, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin McMahon
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 26 – August 7, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
August 3, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 43 deg 38.65 N
Lon. 69 deg 43.93 W
Heading 096.4 deg
Speed 7.9 kts
Barometer 1009.84 mb
Rel Humidity 99.47%
Temp. 16.5 C

Daily Log

0635 hours and we are in dense pea soup fog.

1120 hours. We have been delayed by the fog but are now underway at a very slow speed, fog horn sounding every minute. The ship need to travel about 10 miles to the entrance to Boothbay harbor so that we can put ashore by launch one of the scientist and bring back to the ship another of the NOAA scientist who has been working at Pease.

I am starting to hear other fog horns in the distance. I spent some time on the bridge. The radar’s give a very accurate view of what’s around us, shoreline as well as vessels large and small in the area, but still it is not perfect and hence the need to proceed slowly.

We made it in very close to the entrance to Boothbay Harbor. I was hoping to get some pictures of the area but we were entirely fogbound. One scientist was sent ashore at approximately 1330 hours but then the return of the launch with the replacement took longer than anticipated. Apparently they became lost in the fog on their return to the ship.

We spent most of afternoon south of the Boothbay area traveling in an east west pattern taking air and water samples. We seem to slide into and out of dense fog…

I spent about an hour today on the bridge. The ability to track and identify an object at sea is so common now that it is taken as a guarantee of safety. The personnel on the bridge made it abundantly clear that it is not.

It is amazing to me that the same technology which is used to see and identify ships at sea is in a way the same technology that allows many of the scientists onboard to identify and measure many different species of chemical compounds.


What size are the smallest particles we can measure in our Chemistry lab at Grady H.S.?

Leyf Peirce, July 9, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 9, 2004

Time: 16:00
Latitude: N 55°26.60
Longitude: W 159°33.97
Visibility: < 1 foot
Wind direction: 221
Wind speed: 13 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 foot
Swell wave height: 1 –2 feet
Sea water temperature: 10.6 °C
Sea level pressure: 1016.0 mb
Air temperature: 11.7 °C
Cloud cover: fog

Science and Technology Log

Most of my day was spent exploring the pages within Nathaniel Bowditch’s The American Practical Navigator: An Epitome of Navigation. I took notes mostly from a chapter titled “The Oceans”. It primarily discussed oceanography and the branches that are studied as a part of oceanography: geography, geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, “with their many subdivisions, such as sedimentation, ecology, bacteriology, biochemistry, hydrodynamics, acoustics, and optics” (427). With the main focus on the physical characteristics of the ocean, this chapter further detailed the importance of understanding salinity, density, temperature, and pressure—the main factors that affect most of the oceans’ behavior. There are several concepts within this chapter that can be watered down for my sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, however the one most applicable to hydrographic research is the study of the speed of sound waves within salt water. Because echo sounding is used to chart the ocean floor, the speed of sound within saltwater is essential to ultimately creating nautical charts. According to Bowditch, the speed of sound within a given fluid can be calculated using the following equation:

U = 1449 + 4.6T – 0.055T2 + 0.0003T3 + 1.39(S – 35) + 0.017D

In this equation:

U = sound of speed (m/s)
T = temperature (°C)
S = salinity (psu)
D = depth (m)

Using this information, one can calculate the speed of sound given different parameters. These measurements are determined using a CTD test (conductivity—which correlates with salinity, temperature, depth test) and a depth probe about every 4 hours that we are conducting hydrographic research. This information is then accounted for when employing the echo sounding devices. This equation can also easily be used by 7th and 8th graders. I plan on gathering real data and using these concepts in my classes along with graphing the data and outcomes.

While I read a lot today, I also got to tour the engine room. I have seen many engines and know the basics of how they work, thanks to my Mechanical Engineering degree, but I have never seen one so powerful! The twin 1200 horsepower engines can have up to 210 RPM. There are also two generators aboard the ship. What amazed me most on my tour was the control room where the control board looked like ones I have seen in museums—I thought that they would have moved to computers by now! One of the engineers assured me that this switch would be made in the near future.

Personal Log

I woke up this morning to what seemed like even thicker fog—this is the third foggy day in a row! Feeling a new energy from sleeping so well, I decided to try to work out on the treadmill in the ships workout room. I was told about there being a TV and VCR, and knowing that the workout room is on the same level as the engine room, I decided to take a movie with me and play it very loud. While the movie and TV worked great, the treadmill was a whole new experience. In all my years of exercising and training, I have never been on a treadmill that pitches and rolls with a boat! I felt as if my running counted as twice the exercise since I was not only running forward on the treadmill, but I was also adjusting every step with the motion of the ship—a very odd experience! After 45 minutes of exercise, I decided I had enough. The rest of the day was spent reading Nathaniel Bowditch’s The American Practical Navigator: An Epitome of Navigation, thinking of ideas for incorporating the concepts into next year’s curriculum, and playing cribbage, a card game the other Teacher at Sea, Sena Norton, taught me. Lt. Slover also informed me that I will be going on one of the launches tomorrow to help conduct research! While he was reviewing the small boat safety, the fog lifted to reveal beautiful snow covered mountains and islands—we had stopped the hydro research with the Rainier and were headed to our anchor point near Egg Island. We are expected to anchor around 21:00, with a possible stop for fishing along the way. Just finished dinner, I am now sitting in the chart room, looking out the window at dramatic cliffs plummeting into the sea—a reminder that these islands are, in fact, formed from a volcanic chain. I can’t believe how green these islands are—I must be sure to take plenty of pictures. As I day dream at these islands that are reminiscent of the islands in the BVI’s, the fog horn goes off again—the first time in a few hours. I guess this is the changing weather of the Alaska coast line; I just hope that tomorrow there is no fog when we are out on the launches.

Question of the Day:

My sister, Dr. Shayn Peirce at the University of Virginia, emailed me some interesting questions. P.S. Shyla Allen was a great source for these answers:

Dr. Peirce’s questions:

“My questions for you…can the echo scanner detect a whale on the bottom of the ocean? If so, how do they know it’s a whale and not a rock bump in the ocean floor or something else.

2nd question: what is the difference in echo scanning that you’re doing on the boat and ultrasound that they use in biomedical diagnostics…(to image babies in the womb or ovarian cysts?) Both involve acoustic imaging…is the frequency or wavelength of the sound emitted and detected different? Obviously the biomedical application requires a much smaller resolution with less depth penetration while the ocean application requires large penetration depth and not as much resolution…by the way what is the resolution of the echo signal…a few square feet of the ocean floor? Could you pick up the signal of that 1 foot long wench you dropped in the BVIs at 150 ft ocean depth?”


1) Yes, the equipment here can detect a whale at the bottom of the ocean. In fact, it can even detect a wreck very well! I saw an image yesterday of a wreck and you could see the mast and bowsprit and everything—very detailed! I am trying to get a copy of that picture. Usually the whale will be moving, so that motion will also be picked up and cause more “static” in the data that needs to be cleaned. This rarely happens though.

2a) The echo sounding aboard the Rainier and ultrasound that they use for biomedical diagnostics are actually the same process, just with different frequencies!

2b) The resolution of what is done aboard this ship depends on water depth and the size of the footprint left by the scanner; the deeper the water, the larger the footprint, and the less resolution. However, they are required to have a resolution of 3 pings per 2 square meters in a depth of 40 meters or less (given the equipment used, there are up to 240 pings in a 160 degree swath). 40 meters is chosen because that is the maximum draft of a tanker vessel. P.S. Allen told me that, unfortunately, the 1 foot wench I lost somewhere in the BVI’s is probably long gone and undetectable by the equipment used aboard this ship. However, in shallow water, she has been able to see not only lobster pots, but their mooring lines as well. Their mooring lines have about the same diameter as the mooring line we descended in the Caymans on our dive trip. I also asked if the equipment could pick up a diver. P.S. Allen said yes, but that it is VERY bad for your body—so much power!