Kimberly Scantlebury: NOAA and NASA – Partners in Progress, May 1, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1 – May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 1, 2017

Weather Data from the BridgeIMG_2950

It is beautiful here in Houston and Galveston, Texas: sunny, light wind, pleasant-looking clouds, and around 80 F.

Science and Technology Log

People benefit from collaboration and science is brought further, faster and better because of it. This is true of Federal agencies as well. NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have been scientific partners for decades.

A place where the important work of these Federal agencies intersects is Earth. Good Earth systems research requires a complement of remote-sensing technology, modeling, and ground truthing. This interagency partnership makes clear the need for specialized expertise in different areas, which complement each other. The results are also cost-saving. A classic example is NOAA and NASA’s work with weather, climate, and other environmental satellites. Without these our nation would not know when to evacuate due to hurricanes or tornadoes, plus so much more. There are many ways NOAA and NASA work together to give us a better “eyes in the sky.”

Satellites and other research result in massive amounts of data. This is where sophisticated computer modeling helps. Despite all of our improvements in technology, at some point you need to put people on the ground…or sea or space.   

Today I visited the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas (JSC). It is the famed headquarters of U.S. manned space flight. The facility was purposely built like a college campus to foster collaboration and innovation. Just like my upcoming trip aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, people need to go! They need to be there, whether that be space or sea, to figure out the science. No amount of satellites or computer modeling can replace what is gained by the human experience. We have pretty amazing robots now, but nothing beats good old fashioned people power. 

The Robonaut 2. Still not as good as the real thing.

For my mission, we are looking at the abundance of fish species. There is remote sensing used as well, but we also need to fish, and get out in open water by ship. This is vital for the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The International Space Station (ISS) puts humans in space. There have been many positive effects from this work in our everyday lives such as Velcro, water recycling technology, MRI machines, cell phones, and fire fighting respirators. Working in microgravity is also bringing us one step closer to ending breast cancer.         

You can interpret the title of this blog post a few different ways. Independently and together, NOAA and NASA work to progress science. These effects have built over decades to benefit humanity and our relationship with Earth in numerous ways. The two agencies are also continuing on this journey. It remains a work in progress. Our future depends on it.

Personal Log

Yesterday was an auspicious start to my trip. The museum itself is a treat for all ages as well as the tram tours. There are two tram tours you can take at Johnson Space Center, the red and blue. A trip to JSC is definitely not complete without a tour! I took both and enjoyed the high quality audio commentary from astronauts of many missions that accompany the drive.

First stop was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. I wish I was there during the workweek to see it in action. There are mockups of the International Space Station (ISS) for training, a model Russian Soyuz space capsule (which is how our astronauts now get into space since the last shuttle retired in 2011), tests related to the future of manned space flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, manned rovers for future asteroid and Mars missions, and even a robotics playing field where high school teams compete.

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The other tour took me to the White Flight Control Room. Since 1996, this mission control center has been used for shuttle missions, ISS mission control, and is now used for simulations to train mission controllers. It was noted that the room will become one of deep historical significance when it becomes Orion Mission Control.

Both tours end at Rocket Park. It is awe-inspiring to see a Mercury-Redstone spacecraft-booster like the one that propelled New Hampshire’s own Alan Shepard into space. I stood next to a F-1 rocket engine and then it was time to see, in my opinion, the crown jewel of Rocket Park: The Saturn V (Five). Even in person it is difficult to grasp its size.

NASA Johnson Space Center deftly combines the romantic and sometimes tragic history of manned space flight with the hopes and excitement of current and future missions.

Did You Know?

Halloween happens to be when I start teaching about space.

We landed on the moon in 1969. The average age of NASA engineers in the Apollo program was 27. This means that when they heard President Kennedy say, “We choose to go to the moon” many were still in school!

This is one I think about every time I fly…We landed on the moon before adding wheels on luggage.

Julie Karre: I Am Smarter Than a Circle Hook, August 1, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Thursday August 1, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

Science and Technology Log

Today we did two sets and haul backs. For the first haul back, I was on the computer recording hooks retrieved. The computer system records the hooks as they are set out, keeping track of the number and the latitude and longitude as it is put on the longline. During the haul back, the hook number is recorded when it is retrieved as well as its latitude and longitude again. Then on another pop-up screen, it asks if there was a fish on the hook or if the bait was missing, whole, or damaged. This data complements the data recorded on the fish brought up by giving a complete look at each station. I like doing data collection, whether on the computer or on paper recording the sharks’ measurements.

During the second haul, which we began as the sun began to dip into the horizon, I decided to really try handling the sharks. And what a wonderful experience it was.

When handling the sharks there are so many factors to remember. First, I have to get the measurements of that shark to the data recorder. But while I’m doing that, I have to remember that I am holding a living thing that is entirely out of its element – a true fish out of water. And while sharks might be intimidating (They are. Trust me.), they’re also fragile. Hooks are sharp and unsympathetic, so those of us handling have to take extra care not do exacerbate the damage done by the hook.

There came a moment when I realized I can do this. And what a wonderful feeling it was. Not very many people get to say they've handled sharks. I'm proud to be in that group who can.
There came a moment when I realized I can do this. And what a wonderful feeling it was. Not very many people get to say they’ve handled sharks. I’m proud to be in that group who can. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

The circle hooks, pictured below, are designed to catch a shark or fish without the hook being swallowed, which would be much more harmful and reduce survival rates. But they are still really difficult to remove. First, they are difficult to remove because of the barb, which is there to keep the shark or fish from being able to flail itself off the hook. But they’re also difficult to remove because sharks’ skin is incredibly tough. The sharks I have touched range from feeling like really tough, thick leather to various grit sandpaper. The one exception so far for me was the Scalloped Hammerhead, which was really smooth. Upon further conversation with Kristin, I’ve learned that circle hooks have also been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality. It is thought that they might also reduce the mortality of by-catch (unintended catch) in tuna fisheries, though this theory needs further study to be validated.

Circle hooks are used during the longline survey to ensure catch with minimal risk of swallowing.
Circle hooks are used during the longline survey to ensure catch with minimal risk of swallowing.

Working out the hooks really intimidated me because while trying to get a sharp pointy object out of a shark, the shark is often flailing and flapping trying to get away from me. I found myself talking to each shark, assuring it that I was on its side and was trying to be as gentle as possible.

Ultimately, it’s a really great experience to handle sharks and I felt so proud of myself each time I removed a hook. But the best feeling in the world is releasing that shark and watching it swim away. I would always yell goodbye and release a “yay!” that the shark swam away.

Taking data on one of our awesome Scalloped Hammerheads. My favorite.
Taking data on one of our awesome Scalloped Hammerheads. My favorite. I’ve learned though that Scalloped Hammerheads have been labeled as over-fished and legislation is in place to help this species rebuild.

Personal Log

What a personally satisfying day. I could not be happier that I successfully handled sharks today. I feel like I’ve contributed to the team. I’ve done something that has to be done for each set and haul – recoding data, racking hooks, etc. – but now that I’ve handled sharks successfully, I definitely feel more useful.

I also feel like I’m finally adapting to the heat. It’s still overwhelming when I go from the air conditioned interior to the full force of the sun at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, but I’m not as drained by it. That added with the excitement of handling the sharks and the possibility of seeing different species with each haul back has really kept me quite upbeat!

How can you not be happy when you're staring into the jaws of a Tiger Shark (132 lbs).
How can you not be upbeat when you’re staring into the jaws of a Tiger Shark (132 lbs).

On top of the excitement, it’s just generally a really good time with these people. I feel like I’ve made life-long friends and hope to see and keep in touch with them.

Meet the volunteers:

Day Shift

–       Kevin Travis:

Volunteer Kevin Travis handles sharks like it's no big deal.
Volunteer Kevin Travis handles sharks like it’s no big deal.
  • Kevin just graduated from high school and will be going to the University of Tampa in the fall. He plans to study Marine Biology. This is his first survey

–       Holly Perryman

Volunteer Holly Perryman works on removing the jaw from a dead shark.
Volunteer Holly Perryman assists with removing certain organs from a dead shark.
  • Holly is a graduate student at the University of Miami. This is her second survey. She was a volunteer on the Fall Groundfish survey last year.

–       Arjen Krijgsman

Volunteer Arjen celebrates his birthday aboard the Oregon II!
Volunteer Arjen celebrates his birthday aboard the Oregon II!
  • Arjen is a native of the Netherlands, but has been in the United States teaching for the last three years. Prior to teaching in the United States, he worked in schools doing various jobs in Russia, Japan, and Egypt. He is looking forward to becoming a US citizen. Volunteering on the Oregon II has become a hobby and feels a lot like coming home. He says “You come out a few times and people get to know you. It’s really quite lovely.” He loves the time spent on the water.

Night shift

–       Claudia Friess

Volunteer Claudia Friess has been on 2 previous surveys. She handles sharks like a pro.
Volunteer Claudia Friess has been on 2 previous surveys. She loves handling the sharks.
  • Claudia is a native of Germany, but she’s been in the United States since she was 17. She graduated from high school outside of Houston, Texas and currently resides in Austin, Texas. She is a fisheries analyst with Ocean Conservancy.

–       Page Vick

Volunteer Page Vick takes another Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman in an intense haul.
Volunteer Page Vick takes another Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman in an intense haul.

–       Ian Davenport

Ian (left) helping to measure a Tiger Shark.
Ian (left) helping to measure a Tiger Shark. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
  • Ian is from Manchester, England. He is currently working in the Biology Department at Xavier University after completing his PhD at Clemson University. He studies shark evolution and development. This is his fourth survey with NOAA.

This group of people have become fast friends and I am incredibly proud to work with them each day. I look forward to seeing what adventures they’re off to after this.

Did You Know?

There is a new unit of measurement aboard the Oregon II. It’s 5 feet and a quarter inch and it’s called a Julie.

As in “that shark was about one Julie long.”