Allison Irwin: Tsunami Awareness, July 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 10, 2019

Weather at 1600 Pacific Standard Time on Monday 08 July 2019.

We’ve made our way back near the coast and we’re currently progressing south at a cautious 6 knots through a relatively shallow, protected area called Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve.  The winds and sea are both calm. The deck is warm and sunny! The sky has just a few high level clouds that look like wisps of white painted onto a clear blue canvas. A long-sleeved cotton shirt is comfortable in this weather along with long pants and boots.


Sunday Night

07 July 2019

We left Yaquina Bay just after 1700 on Sunday evening. I was eating dinner when we left and had no idea we were moving. The ship is that smooth when it’s traveling slowly. I made it out just in time to see us pass the boundary between the bay and the Pacific Ocean. My job tonight is to stay up until 0200 so I can prepare for my 12 hour shift that starts Monday and runs from 1400-0200. We’ll see how that works out. I’m typically in bed long before 0200.

As the ship started making its way along the coast this evening, I sat on the Flying Bridge.  The Bridge on a ship is often at one of the highest levels and it’s the command center. The Flying Bridge is one level above that. It is all open air with no windows and no walls (there are railings, of course). It was freeing and frightening at the same time! I think that’s my favorite area on the ship. I plan to go there a lot over the next few weeks to feel the sunshine, clear my head, and prepare for the day. 

One of the scientists on board made a sensible comment yesterday. She said we should walk as much as we can before the ship sails because after that we won’t walk more than a few feet at a time in any given direction. Today I walked 7.5 miles all over Newport Marina. I’m tired, but I’m glad I heeded her advice!


Sunday Morning

07 July 2019

Today I learned more than I ever wanted to know about tsunamis. I went on an estuaries tour with the Hatfield Marine Science Center this morning and we saw a lot of “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs along our tour. The tour guide explained a tsunami is actually a series of waves and not just one giant wave like we see in movies. Additionally, it doesn’t really “break” the way we’re used to seeing waves crash into the beach. Those waves are caused by the wind moving over the surface of the water. A tsunami reaches the coastline more like a storm surge or like a very strong tide because the energy forcing this wave forward comes from deep within the ocean floor – from seismic or volcanic activity – and not from the wind. Thankfully, in the ocean (where I’ll be for the next three weeks!) a tsunami is only barely noticeable with maybe a three foot height increase. But once the force of all that moving water hits the shallow bottom of our coastline, the water begins to pile up and can reach anywhere from a few feet all the way up to 100 feet above sea level.

The Newport Marina is in a Tsunami Hazard Zone. Most tsunamis tend to be less than ten feet high because energy from the point of origin must travel many miles before reaching a coastline, but the Newport Marina is in a particularly hazardous area because it lies within the Cascadia Subduction Zone. If a major earthquake hits this close to home, a larger than average tsunami could follow in just fifteen minutes! The Newport Marina is only six feet above sea level, so even a relatively small tsunami would cause intense damage from both flooding and debris.

A major earthquake shakes the Cascadia Subduction Zone once every 300-350 years on average. The last major earthquake in Newport, OR occurred in 1700, so… they’re due for another one soon. That might be why the Hatfield Marine Science Center decided to design its brand new building in Newport Marina to be both earthquake and tsunami resistant using state-of-the-art engineering methods. It includes a unique ramp on the outside of the building that spans multiple levels so people have easy access to the evacuation location on top of the roof. After seeing the current evacuation location, a very small hill just across the street from the marina, I think it’s good they’re adding a facility with capacity for another 900 people!

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) provides a U.S. Tsunami Warning System. It works much like our system for tornadoes and thunderstorms by communicating four different levels – warnings, advisories, watches, or threats.


Sunday Afternoon

7 July 2019

The man I met yesterday while he filleted his catch from Yaquina Bay is still sitting on my mind. He shared his story with me.  When he was 18 years old, he was homeless. He had no connection to school because he didn’t fit into the square peg the narrow curriculum required. Pausing his rhythm with the fish, he tried to explain.

He’s dyslexic. When he was a kid, that threw him a gigantic curve ball. It took him a long time to learn how to adapt and overcome that challenge.  What strikes me about his story is that school didn’t help him, it held him back. Dyslexia is one of the most common types of learning disabilities. Students are faced with challenges in school every day – whether it’s a learning disability or other challenge – and teachers are often there to support, teach, and guide students through those challenges. But I see students every year who, like this gentleman, don’t fit into the script. They’re the outliers who need a different approach. 

Last year my district engaged in a study of Continuous School Improvement. While my understanding of it is still in its infancy, I do know that it requires us to look at multiple forms of data in order to get a wider picture of what is going on in our schools. We then use what we find to determine “where the fire is burning the hottest” (according to our Continuous School Improvement guru working with our district) and correct those issues first. Typically, by correcting those big ticket items, a trickle-down effect occurs that will solve some of the smaller issues organically.

I would definitely categorize the nature of this fisherman’s story as a big ticket item that many districts are trying to understand and correct. We all know that teacher in the building who connects with the students who don’t connect to school. There’s always that one teacher who manages to make this look easy – though it is not. 

Even though reading comprehension, the primary means to learning in most disciplines, is difficult for the gentleman I spoke to at the filleting station, he valued learning so much that he stuck with it even as he failed his classes. He told me that he has thousands of audiobooks and a whole library of traditional books at home which he’s been accumulating for years. We talked about Malcolm Gladwell, tax preparation, real estate, and a host of other diverse topics. He runs his own successful business that he politely called “medium sized” as he smiled, sheepishly at his friend.

I hope, just as I’m sure all teachers hope, that my students who struggle each year will value learning enough to push through the challenges they each face. While I might not always succeed in teaching every student the content of my discipline, I at least hope that they each leave my classroom at the end of the year with a sense of desire to learn more. To not give up when the challenges pummel them, wave after wave, and feel unrelenting. I hope that someone will speak to them one day, 20 years from now, and they’ll wink as they describe how successful they’ve become due to their hard work, resilience, and unshakable love for learning. And that they’ll come to realize strong literacy skills are an integral part of learning.

Teaching Resources

Katie Sard: Introductory Post, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Sard
25 days until I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013

Misson: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of the cruise:  Alaska Peninsula
Date:  July 3, 2013


Personal Log

Hello from Newport, Oregon!  I cannot begin to explain how excited I am for my upcoming Teacher at Sea (TAS) experience on the NOAA Ship Rainier. I have the privilege of working in a coastal community at Isaac Newton Magnet School (INMS) here in Newport.

Yaquina Bay Bridge
Although I don’t typically get to walk across the bridge each day on my commute, this is me as I made my way over the Yaquina Bay Bridge for the first time by foot!

I teach Integrated Science to blended classes of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  My daily drive to work consists of looking out across the Pacific Ocean and passing over the Yaquina Bay Bridge.  My students are one of a kind, and their budding interests in science motivate me to continue my own scientific education.

I moved to Oregon in June of 2011 with my husband so that he could pursue a PhD position at Hatfield Marine Science Center through Oregon State University.  We moved here from Chautauqua County in Western New York State.  Although I grew up on the “East Coast”, it wasn’t until moving to Oregon that I really began to appreciate our Ocean and what it means to be a member of a coastal community.  Ever since our move I’ve been on a mission to discover all that I can about the Ocean in order to help my students appreciate what an amazing resource it truly is.  While I was attending a teacher workshop recently, I read the following quote by David Sobel that said, “Give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”  The demands of the upcoming generations are enormous, and I am dedicated to making sure that my students grow to be scientifically literate citizens of our world.  I know that my TAS experience will help me to help my students love their planet!

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program is giving me the opportunity to continue my scientific education, and to bring my knowledge back to my students, colleagues, and community members.  The ship’s mission will be to do hydrographic surveys out around the Shumagin Islands, and in and around Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula.

NOAA Survey Plans
Here is a map that I found to help me understand where exactly I will be visiting.

I’m nervous, excited, and eager for my journey to start as I’ve never been on a ship of this size, and I’ve never been out on the ocean for this duration of time.  Be sure to check out the link to the Ship to get more information on the NOAA Ship Rainier.

In the upcoming month before my cruise I will be traveling back to my home town in New York with my husband Nick and my dog Luna.

Lost Creek State Park
My husband Nick, my dog Luna, and myself at Lost Creek State Park near our house in Newport.

We will spend several weeks there before heading back cross-country on the 40+ hour road trip.  The next time you hear from me will be when I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier!  I hope that you help to shape my experience by interacting with my via this blog while I am aboard the ship!

Did You Know?

  • The NOAA Ship Rainier is named for Mount Rainier which is the tallest peak in the state of Washington.  It is the fourth tallest peak in the United States.

Here are a few interesting fishermen’s superstitions that I will keep in mind as I begin my journey:

  • It is bad luck to look back once your ship has left port.
  • It is said that disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your left foot first.