Jill Bartolotta: The Ins and Outs of Going, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 13, 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: May 31, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°29.0’ N

Longitude: 079°34.1’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: 155

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.6 °C

Barometric Pressure: 1013.7

Sky: Few

Science and Technology Log

Today and tomorrow I am learning all about the who and how of making the ship go. Ric Gabona, the Acting Chief Marine Engineer, has been teaching me all about the mechanics of powering the ship, managing waste, and providing clean drinking water. Today I will focus on two aspects of making it possible to live on a ship for weeks on end. First, I will teach you about waste management. Second, I will explain how freshwater is made to support cooking, drinking, cleaning, and bathing needs. In conjunction, all of these systems contribute to our comfort on board but also our safety.

Wastewater Management

Waste on board has many forms and it all must be handled in some way or it can lead to some pretty stinky situations. The main forms of waste I will focus on include human waste and the waste that goes down the drains. The waste is broken down into two categories. Black water and gray water. Gray water is any water that goes down the drain as a result of us washing dishes, our hands, or ourselves. Gray water is allowed to be discharged once we are 3 miles from shore. The water does not need to be treated and can be let off the ship through the discharge valve. Black water is water that is contaminated with our sewage. It can be discharged when we are 12 miles from shore. Black water goes into a machine through a macerator pump and it gets hit with electricity breaking the solid materials into smaller particles that can be discharged into the ocean.

Discharge of gray or black water has its limitations. These discharge locations follow strict rules set in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The CFR are set by the federal government and the regulations tell you where (how far from shore) you are allowed to discharge both gray and black water. However, sometimes Okeanos Explorer is in areas where black water cannot be discharged so the black water must be turned into gray water. At this point, once the black water has been mashed it will pass through a chlorine filter that will treat any contamination and then the waste can be discharged. However, there are places where nothing can be discharged such as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i. When in these no discharge areas the ship will store the gray and black water and then discharge when regulated to do so.

It is important to follow these regulations because as Ric says, “We are ocean stewards.” It is important that ships such as Okeanos Explorer be able to explore the ocean while making the smallest environmental impact as possible. The engineers and other ship and science mission personnel are dedicated to reducing our impact as much as possible when out at sea.

Making Water

Water makes up 60% of the human body and is vital for life. However, 71% of the water on earth is saltwater, not able to be taken up by humans, making it challenging to access freshwater unless you live near an inland freshwater system like where I come from up in Ohio along the Great Lakes. While out at sea, we have no access to freshwater and we cannot store freshwater from land on the ship so we must make it. On Okeanos Explorer freshwater is made using two types of systems, reverse osmosis and desalination. Reverse osmosis is used by seabirds to turn saltwater into freshwater. Saltwater passes through a semipermeable membrane allowing the smaller water particles to pass through while leaving the larger salt particles and other impurities behind. If you are seabird, you excrete this salt by spitting it out the salt glands at the top part of your bill or if you are a ship out through a separate pipe as brine, a yellow colored super salty liquid. The other method on the ship used to make water is desalination. Desalination is the process of boiling salt water, trapping the water that evaporates (freshwater), and then discharging the salty water left behind. The engineers could use a separate boiling system to heat the salt water however they have a much more inventive and practical way of heating the water. But before I can let you know of their ingenious solution we must learn how the engines run. Oops! Sorry, I need to go. Need to switch my laundry. So sorry. We will explore ship movement and the engines in the next blog. Stay tuned…

Reverse osmosis system
Reverse osmosis system on the ship.
flow meters for potable water and brine
Can you see the yellow colored brine and the clear colored potable water?
Filtered water station
Filtered water station on the ship. Look familiar? You may have one like this in your school.


Personal Log

I really enjoyed learning all about the mechanics of operating the ship. It takes lots of very skilled people to make the equipment work and I love the ingenuity of the machines and those who run them. Space is limited on a ship and I am just fascinated by how they deal with the challenges of managing waste and making freshwater 50 plus nautical miles from coast for up to 49 people. Today was a great learning day for me. I do not know much about engines, wastewater treatment, and water purification systems so I really learned a lot today. I now have one more puzzle piece of ship operations under my belt with many more to go.

Aside from my lesson in thermodynamics, combustion, chemistry, physics, and other sciences that I have not touched since college, I learned about the safety operations on the vessel. Today we practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. We learned where we need to go on the ship should one of these events ever occur and which safety gear is needed. I donned my immersion suit and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) to make sure they fit and all the pieces/parts work. Being in the ocean would be a bad time to realize something isn’t right. Donning the safety suit was a funny situation for all movement is super restricted and you feel like a beached whale trying to perform Swan Lake on point shoes.

Jill in immersion suit
Me in my immersion suit, fondly known as the gumby suit.

However, with some help from my friends we were all able to get suited up in case an emergency should arise.

Tonight I look forward to another sunset at sea, some yoga on the deck, and seeing a spectacular star display.  

view of deck with sunset
My yoga spot

Did You Know?

Eating an apple a day while at sea can keep seasickness at bay.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Galley: Kitchen

Mess Deck: Space that crew eat aboard ship

Fantail: Rear deck of a ship

Pipe: Announcement on the ship via a PA system

Muster: Process of accounting for a group of people. Used in safety drills on a ship such as a fire or abandon ship drills.

Stateroom: Sleeping quarters on the ship

Abeam: On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the ship’s keel

Bearing: The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects

Animals Seen Today

1 flying fish

Whales (Too far away to tell what they were but we saw their spouts!)

Sherie Gee: Eco-Friendly Ships, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 — July 7 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 26, 2013 

Science and Technology Log:

I was very pleased to learn that the R/V Hugh R. Sharp is environmentally friendly.  I was lucky enough to run into some of the crew members that were getting the ship ready to leave the dock.  One of the crew members named Tim, showed me around the ship and pointed out various features that keep the ship running.  I noticed many piles of crystal salt bags and asked what they were for.  That conversation led to the discovery of how this ship and many other research vessels recycle their water while out at sea.  Water is categorized into three types:  clean water, gray water, and black water.  Clean water is used for drinking, showering and washing clothes and dishes.  Gray water is the water that has been used after washing the dishes, clothes and other uses.  This water is not potable but can be reused in other areas that do not need purified water.  Then there is the black water that is basically “toilet water.”  The toilet water is run through a reverse osmosis process which is where the salt crystals are used.  Once the water has been through the process, then it can be discharged back into the environment; in this case, the ocean.  It is now clean and safe enough for all organisms in the ocean.  Of course they try to get some volunteers to test this water before discharging it into the ocean but haven’t gotten any so far.

Bags of salt crystals used in reverse osmosis
Bags of salt crystals used in reverse osmosis

Along with the recycling of the water, the ship also recycles plastic bottles and aluminum cans.  All trash such as paper, table scraps and other is bagged up and disposed of once they return to port.  So nothing is thrown overboard.

He also explained that there are very stiff penalties for ocean pollution and not being in compliance.  One accidental spill of any sort of substance that goes into the ocean is equal to a $10,000 fine right off the bat.  This applies to all commercial fishermen.

Tim also discussed the portable laboratory vans which in this case is used as the wet lab.  These vans can be relocated and used on any of the ships that need them.

Portable Science Laboratory
Portable Science Laboratory

Personal Log:

I have learned so much just in the first hour on board.  I felt like a sponge absorbing all the new knowledge that I was receiving. There are so many people who make up the crew.  Thanks to them for making the ship run smoothly.  Then there are the research scientists that come on board.  I would say about fifteen scientists.  Many come from the University of Delaware, NOAA and Woods Hole.  We were put into two teams:  the day shift from 12:00 P.M. to 12:00 midnight and the midnight shift from 12:00 midnight to 12:00 P.M. in the afternoon.  We had to pack our backpacks with everything that we thought we would need for that day because we were not allowed to go back to the stateroom because the other shift was sleeping.  I was on the day shift and actually slept a good eleven hours between shifts.

I have the bottom bunk
I have the bottom bunk

Anne Mortimer: The Oscar Dyson is like a floating city, July 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Monday, July 18, 2011—sunny and breezy
Air Temperature: 11.2 ⁰C
Sea Temperature: 10.7 ⁰C
Wind direction: 219⁰
Wind speed:  7.06 knots

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday I took a tour of the engine room and all of the behind the scenes areas that allow 30+ people to live comfortably at sea. One of the engineers, Terry, agreed to show me around, and now I understand that the Oscar Dyson is like a floating city.

First, this city needs power – power to drive the boat, power to run all of the computers and lab equipment for scientists, power to cook food, power to do laundry, and power to watch movies! This power comes from 4 diesel engines that run generators. The generators create electricity, and that electricity is shared throughout the boat to whatever needs it, including 2 electric motors that turn the propeller, pushing the ship ahead. All those engines create a lot of heat, but a seawater cooling system helps counteract that.

An amazing fact: the Oscar Dyson can hold 107, 000 gallons of fuel, and the last fill up was a top-off of only 37,000 gallons! At $3.86 per gallon of diesel, that was a hefty chunk of change – about $142,820!  The Oscar Dyson isn’t exactly fuel efficient, either. According to Jerry, the 1st Assistant Engineer, depending on the speed and fishing operations (fishing requires much slower speeds), the Oscar Dyson uses around 100 gallons per hour. We usually average about 10 knots per hour, that equals around 0.1 knots/gallon (and remember that 1 nautical mile = 1.2 miles). Wow! Because the fuel is so vital to all of the functions on the ship, the diesel is run through a purifier system that spins out any residuals and ensures the engines receive pure fuel. The fuel is stored in compartments throughout the ship, and is routinely monitored and moved using a series of valves to ensure the ship is balanced. All of the engines and electric motors are run by computers, and monitored by the engineers.

Diesel engine and generator number 2.

These computer monitors tell the engineers about the diesel engines, generators and motors.

I talked to Jeff, the Chief Engineer about the water and waste on the Oscar Dyson. A floating city must also use lots of fresh water, about 50 gallons per person per day to use in the sinks, showers, toilets, and kitchen.  The Oscar Dyson takes sea water in and converts it to freshwater by boiling the water at very high altitude in two water-makers. Once the water is used (gray water from sinks and drains, sewage from toilets) it goes to a water purifier that uses aerobic bacteria to break it down and then chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria in the effluent before it is released to the ocean. This is a similar to a septic system without the leach-field.  International codes require ships to dump waste water at least 3 miles from the shoreline. On the Oscar Dyson, the engineering crew will calculate when the holding tank’s volume is high enough to warrant releasing the waste — anywhere from 1000-6000 gallons. According to Terry, my tour guide, you could drink the treated water, but he wouldn’t do it! Terry also showed me the vacuum system that pulls the waste/water from toilets through the water treatment system, rather than a regular plumbing system using gravity. Much like an airplane toilet, they have a very auspicious “suck.”

Waste and gray water purifier.

Another necessary part of a floating city is a means to dispose of waste – and thankfully it’s not over the side! All solid waste, except for metals, compostables (food waste) and hazardous materials are burned in an incinerator. All metals used by the engineering department are retained and recycled in port. Aluminum cans are also collected and taken ashore to a recycling facility. Hazardous materials such as fluorescent lights and batteries are collected and taken to hazardous material collection facilities, also in port. The Chief Engineer, Jeff Hokkanen, told me that ship is attempting to change out hazardous fluorescent bulbs with l.e.d. lights in an attempt to reduce hazardous waste and to make the “hotel load” (every thing on the ship needed for living) more energy efficient, reducing the limits of the power supply.

The final part of the floating city are the crew that keep it running smoothly so the scientists can do the research they plan for. The ship’s crew is made of several groups – the NOAA Corps officers, deck crew, electronics crew, engineers, survey crew and stewards. The NOAA Corps officers (one of the seven uniformed services of the United States)  are responsible for managing all operations and departments on the ship, including navigation. The deck crew are the people who make fishing and other research operations happen. Some specialize in fishing, others are general deck crew and assist in deploying equipment. As I stated before, the engines and motors are all run by computers and monitored by the engineers. The engineers are a vital part of the crew — if anything on the ship is not working properly or is broken, the engineers can fix it. There is also an electrical crew – on this cruise only one person – who manages and maintains all of the communication and electronics. The survey crew play a key role in assisting the deck crew and scientists. These people have a degree in science, participate in all the research operations, and monitor information and data that the ship’s systems generate. The final group, the stewards, are also important for the ship to run smoothly – the cooks! Without these two, there would be many hungry crew members! The stewards cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also retain food in several refrigerators for folks on the night shift that need more than a midnight snack.

Check out the Oscar Dyson on NOAA ship tracker to see where this floating city is now!

Personal Log

Well, I am in my last week as a Teacher at Sea. This has been quite a trip. I am really enjoying the Shelikof Strait– there have been calm seas, sunny days, lots of whales, good fishing and beautiful sunsets.  I was really happy to get a tour of the lower decks of the ship, it really is impressive to see and hear it all. I got a nice pair of ear plugs for going into the engine room that replaced the ones that I’ve lost while sleeping these past weeks (since I go to sleep when the next crew comes on, sometimes fishing happens early and it can be noisy when they bring the doors back on board!).  Terry did assure me that the engine room wasn’t as loud or as damaging to my ears as a rock concert. We have about 3 more days of fishing and then we head in. I’m starting to transition my sleep schedule but getting up earlier and earlier everyday, which is hard because I can’t seem to get to bed any earlier.

There was is a small chance to see auroras on the 19th and 20th, I’ll be up during those hours so you can bet I’ll be looking!

Species List

WHALES! humpbacks and fin whales — I saw at least 7 blows at one time, far off in the distance. Fulmars, tufted puffins, sea gulls, cormorants