Meg Stewart: Getting Ready for an Adventure in Alaska

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 25, 2019

Introduction

I am so excited about my upcoming experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will be on the NOAA Ship Fairweather from July 8 to 19 and will be participating on a hydrographic research cruise, one that is mapping the sea-floor in detail; more about that soon. We will embark from and return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which is part of the Aleutian Islands. If you are my current or former student, or you are a friend or colleague of mine, or you are an admirer of the Teacher at Sea program, I hope you will follow along on this ocean adventure as I post about my experiences while at sea.

Meg on catamaran
This is me on a catamaran off the coast of Barbados.

A little about me

I am originally from California. I went to the beach often to body surf and splash around, maybe sunbathe (I don’t do THAT anymore).   It was in California where I got interested in geology. I was pretty young when I experienced the 1971 San Fernando 6.5M earthquake and after that, earthquakes were a regular occurrence for me. When I moved to Hayward, California, in early 1989 to complete my bachelor’s degree in geology at California State University East Bay, I was living off-campus and had the “pleasure” of rocking and rolling through one of the longest earthquakes I every felt when the 6.9M Loma Prieta earthquake hit.  I moved on from there to the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, to earn my Master’s in Structural Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I didn’t feel any earthquakes in Nevada, but I did do my research on an active fault in southwestern Utah. I like to think of myself as a “boots-on-the-ground” kind of scientist-educator.

Meg teaching
Teaching graduate students about digital mapping.

My work and life experiences are such that for five years after grad school, I was a staff geologist at a large environmental consulting company. I loved that job and it took me all around the U.S.  One of the assignments I had was to manage a mapping project involving data from New York and New Jersey harbor area. From that experience I became interested in digital mapping (known as Geographic Information Systems or GIS) and switched careers. I went to work at a small liberal arts college as the GIS support person within the instructional technology group. In addition to helping teach professors and college students how to work with the GIS software, I helped teach about use of social media in teaching, use a mobile devices for data collection, integrating alternative assessments like using of audio and video, and I maintained two computer labs. While I was involved in those two different careers, I gained some adjunct teaching experiences at several different colleges and grad schools, teaching geology, environmental science and GIS.

Meg at University of the West Indies
At the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies

Another professional experience that I’ve had that I am most proud of is I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010 to Barbados. My family and I lived in Barbados for a year while I was worked with the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) I taught GIS to graduate students, I worked with some of the students on research projects, I traveled to Belize as a field assistant on a field studies trip with faculty members and CERMES students, and I had the privilege of working on a marine-based, community-driven mapping research project with a then PhD student (who has since earned her degree). My part of the project was to take the spatial data, organize it and create a user-friendly Google Earth KML file. She and I got to travel around St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, teaching community members about the work, the available data, and how to access the Google Earth project file. 

New York state fossil
Behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, checking out the official state fossil of New York, Eurypterus Remipes.

In 2015, I re-tooled yet again and was accepted into a challenging yet rewarding education program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 15 months, I learned how to teach with artifacts, took graduate courses in all manner or earth and space subjects, of course, had classes in pedagogical approaches, had two in-residence teaching experiences at area schools, all the while in the amazing AMNH, home of Night at the Museum. 

Meg and students at AMNH
These are two of my ninth graders checking out a piece of kimberlite with a diamond sticking out. We’re at AMNH in the Hall of Planet Earth.

Now as a public high school educator, teaching Earth Science to 9-12 graders in the Bronx, I have a strong foundation in the solid earth topics like plate tectonics, rocks and minerals, and geologic time. But Regents Earth Science class in New York also involves oceanography, meteorology, climate science and astronomy. 

Meg snorkeling
Yes, this is me, actually in the sea at Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island in the Grenadines.

What compelled me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is what motivates me throughout my other life decisions: I wanted to push against my boundaries and my limitations. I have always had a healthy respect for the sea, which was mixed in with a little fear. I saw the movie Jaws when I was young and impressionable, so I never really wanted to venture too far into the water beyond the waves. I didn’t even want to swim in lakes for fear of what might be traversing through the murky unknown. As I’ve aged, I’ve certainly grown less fearful of the water. I’ve traveled on sailboats and catamarans, I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, I’ve jumped into waters with nurse sharks and stingrays! But as a teacher who feels like she’s missing some key knowledge of her curriculum – oceanography – I want to challenge myself to learn-while-doing as I have the privilege of being selected to be a Teacher at Sea. I cannot wait!

Allison Irwin: The Journey Begins, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7 – 25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Embarkation Port: Newport, Oregon

Cruise Start Date: 7 July 2019

Days at Sea: 19

Introduction

I’m actually afraid of the sea. The unspeakable power, the dark depths, the mysterious uncharted territory – the sea has always held curious minds captive. I want to be someone who faces the things that scare me. And for 19 days, on a relatively tiny ship, I will be doing just that.

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
Reuben Lasker Pulls Into the Navy Pier on 1 May 2014

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker is “one of the most technologically advanced fisheries vessels in the world” according to the Office of Marine & Aviation Operations.  In addition to studying fish and marine life populations, it is also equipped for acoustic data sampling and the gathering of oceanographic data. It can stay out to sea for up to 40 days at a time without needing to return for food or fuel replenishment. 

And yet, as I’m writing this, I can’t help but think about SS Edmund Fitzgerald and RMS Titanic. They were the most advanced ships of their time too. Of course, I’m just letting my imagination get carried away. People fear the things they don’t understand. And I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can on this cruise in order to understand not just how this incredible vessel operates, but also how the ocean and atmosphere impact my life on a daily basis.

I was lucky last year to stumble across a professional development opportunity funded through the American Meteorological Society. I took two graduate level courses since then – DataStreme Atmosphere and DataStreme Ocean. Upon finishing this program I’ll earn a graduate certificate from the California University of Pennsylvania and be able to apply my new understanding of earth science directly to my classroom instruction. Already I’ve been able to incorporate fascinating information about coral reefs, the Bermuda Triangle, map reading, and weather into lessons and activities this year.

Why does a Reading Specialist need all this professional development, you might ask? In science of all things? Because nobody reads about things they’re not interested in (unless they have to). Students need to have something to connect with, to care about, in order to learn. When was the last time I, as an adult, read something I didn’t care about? Probably years. 

Humans are curious by nature, and by incorporating new topics into our reading lessons over the past year, I’ve noticed that students really like learning about earth science. It’s like the mother who hides cauliflower in the lasagna – students are more motivated to read when they’re reading about something exciting and directly relevant to their lives. Thankfully, the more they read, the better they get at comprehending the nuances of the text. And then the less they need me.

A classroom

One of the most valuable aspects of this trip for me is that I’ll return with a new appreciation for earth science, current events as they relate to our food supply and environment, and marine life. I can use this experience to build exciting lessons for high school students who may use their connection to these lessons as a lifeline. The last ditch effort to find something exciting to learn before graduating with a lackluster memory of the doldrums of the high school classroom.

Teenagers are tough eggs to crack! But I like them. And I’m very grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me, and other teachers, opportunities like this to show our students that there are literally thousands of directions to take after high school in regard to career and quality of life. And that high school is one of the few places where they can build the foundational knowledge necessary to get them there – for free.  I want my students to pursue their passions. To get excited about learning! And the first step to doing that successfully is to expose them to as many post-secondary options and lessons about their world as we can in the short time that we spend with them. Thanks NOAA! I’m excited to start my journey.

Catherine (Cat) Fuller: An Introduction, June 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

(Not Yet) Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 18 June 2019

Weather Data

(From Honolulu, HI)

Latitude: 21.33 N

Longitude: 157.94 W

Wind Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23

Wind Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft

Secondary Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft

Humidity: 47%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.1 mb

Heat Index: 93 F (34 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: clear and sunny

(From Seward, AK)

Latitude: 60.12 N

Longitude: 149.45 W

Wind Speed and Direction: S 9

Swell Height: 2 ft

Humidity: 77%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.0 mb

Heat Index: 56 F (13 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: Overcast

Personal Log

Aloha kākou! Greetings everyone! In about a week, I will be exchanging currently very warm and sunny Honolulu for the vastly different climate and ecological zone in Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska.  I will be embarking on R/V Sikuliaq there to participate in one part of a long-term study of the variability and resiliency of species in the area, but I will get to that in a bit.

In August, I will begin my seventeenth year as a sixth grade social studies teacher at ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school that is academically competitive at a national level.  In sixth grade social studies, our students focus on the development of the modern world from ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  I enjoy challenging my students to broaden their worldviews, especially about the impacts ancient civilizations have had on today’s world. We cover those for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we examine the choices these civilizations have made and whether or not they contribute to a sustainable society.  I want my students to understand that sustainability is more than just picking up trash and conserving water, but it is also about choices in government, society, culture, behavior and environment. The content of our fourth quarter is predicated on the reality that we live in Hawai’i, an island group that is roughly 2000 miles from any other major point of land.

Living in Hawai’i can be just as idyllic as advertisements make it seem, with daily rainbows, colorful sunsets and blue ocean waves.  However, it also comes with challenges that we all have to face.  Our cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and we face constant struggles between maintaining culture and environment in a place with limited room for population growth.  We have a high homeless population, yet many of us joke that the (construction) crane is our state bird.  We are also braced to be at the forefront of climate change.  With a rise in sea level of 3 feet, most of Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu is at risk of inundation.  In addition, changes in sea surface temperature affect our coral reefs and fish populations as well as minimizing or eliminating our trade winds through changes in weather patterns.  For these reasons, I hope to plant the awareness in my students that their generation is poised to make some major decisions about the state of the world.

My passion for sustainability and ocean health stems from the amount of time I spend in and on the water.  I have been a competitive outrigger canoe paddler for the last 30 or so years, and in the summers, I paddle five to six days a week.  I go to six-man team practices as well as taking my one-man canoe out with friends.  I also have coached high school paddling at ‘Iolani School for the last sixteen years. Being on the ocean so much makes me much more aware of the wildlife our waters shelter: monk seals, dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.  It also makes me aware of the trash, especially plastics that are more and more present in the ocean.  I’ve picked up slippers, coolers, bottles, bags and even pieces of cargo net out of the water on various excursions.  Being on the water so often also fuels my interest in meteorology; you need to know what weather and ocean conditions to expect when you go to sea.  One major impact that being on the water has is that it allows you to see your island from offshore and realize that it is an ISLAND, and not a very big one at that!

Cat on Canoe
Me on my one-man canoe off He’eia, O’ahu

Some of the biggest lessons about the ocean that I’ve learned have come from my experiences with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a non-profit organization founded in 1973 to recreate the original settlement of Hawai’i by ocean voyaging canoes, as well as revive the ancient art of non-instrument navigation.  PVS is most well known for the voyaging canoe Hõkūlea, which sailed to Tahiti (and back again) in 1976 to prove the validity of these cultural arts.  I began working with the organization in 1994, helping to build a second voyaging canoe, Hawai’iloa, and have been there ever since.  As a part of this organization, I have sailed throughout the Pacific, to locations such as Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Mangareva, and the Marquesas.  With Te Mana O Te Moana, another voyaging canoe initiative, I sailed to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen many faces of the Pacific Ocean on my travels and I look forward to seeing another. 

Between 2012 and 2017, PVS sent Hõkūle’a on a journey around the world.  The name of the voyage was Mālama Honua (To Protect the Earth) and the goal was to visit with indigenous communities to learn what challenges they face and how they work to preserve their lands and cultures.  One of the founding principles for this voyage is a Hawaiian saying, “he wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a”, which means “the canoe is an island and the island is a canoe”.  The saying refers to the idea that the choices we make about positive behavior, bringing what we need as opposed to what we want, and what we do with our resources and trash while living in the limited space of a voyaging canoe are a reflection of the choices we need to make living on the islands of Hawai’i as well as living on island Earth.  I strive every day to make my students aware of the consequences of their choices.

voyaging canoe
Hõkūle’a en route to Aotearoa, 2014


Science and Technology Log

I’m pretty excited to go to Alaska, first of all, because I’ve never been there!  Secondly, we have species in Hawai’i (birds and whales) that migrate between our shores and Alaska on an annual basis.  Although the two locations are distant from each other, there are connections to be made, as Hawai’i and Alaska share the same ocean. 

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). R/V Sikuliaq is an NSF ship working with the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  LTER encompasses 28 sites nationwide, of which the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) is one.  In this area, three surveys a year are made to monitor the dynamics of the ecosystem and measure its resilience to environmental factors such as variability in light, temperature, freshwater, wind and nutrients.  The origins of the NGA portion of this project have been in place since 1970 and have grown to include the Seward Line system (s series of points running southeast from Seward).

On our trip, we will be looking at microzooplankton and mesozooplankton as well as phytoplankton, the size and concentration of particles in the water, and the availability of nutrients, among other things.  Information gathered from our study will be added to cumulative data sets that paint a picture of the variability and resiliency of the marine ecosystem. I will be a part of the Particle Flux team for this expedition.  I have a general idea of what that entails and the kind of data we’ll be gathering, but I certainly need to learn more!  If you’re curious, more detailed information about ongoing research can be found at https://nga.lternet.edu/about-us/.

I always ask my students, after they complete preliminary research on any project, what they want to learn.  I want to know more about particle flux (as previously mentioned).  I would like to learn more about seasonal weather patterns and how they influence the NGA ecosystem.  I would like to find out if/how this ecosystem connects to the Hawaiian ecosystem, and I REALLY want to see the kinds of life that inhabit the northern ocean! For my own personal information, I am really curious to see how stars move at 60 degrees north and whether or not they can still be used for navigation. 

Mahalo (Thank you)

I’m spending my last week sorting through my collection of fleece and sailing gear to prepare for three weeks of distinctly cooler temperatures.  I’m going to be doing a lot of layering for sure!  My two cats, Fiona and Pippin are beginning to suspect something, but for now are content to sniff through the growing pile on the couch. While packing, I’m keeping in mind that this is just another type of voyage and to pack only what I need, including chocolate.  As departure gets closer, I’d like to thank Russ Hopcroft, Seth Danielson, and Steffi O’Daly for their information and help in getting to and from Seward.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon and learning a lot from each of you!  Thanks also to Lisa Seff for her on board life hacks and detailed information…much appreciated!

Erica Marlaine: Introduction

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 24 -July 15, 2019


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: June 14, 2019

Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.

Erica holding a stuffed lamb
Me at the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by. 

little scientist
One of my little scientists
magnifying glasses
Checking the growth of our tadpoles.

Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)

When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship.  I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about.  Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.

When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock.  We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.


Betsy Petrick: Hurry Up and Shape Up to Ship Out, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 13, 2019

Introduction

In just two weeks I will be shipping out of Gulfport, Mississippi on the University of Southern Mississippi Research Vessel Point Sur.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will actually be a student again, learning all I can about ocean archaeology and deep-sea microbial biomes. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to learn what it is like to live and work at sea! In particular, I am looking forward to seeing how archaeologists work at sea.  My undergraduate degree was in archaeology and I worked in the desert of New Mexico and southern Colorado where we mapped with pencil and paper, and took samples with a shovel. Ocean archaeology will require more sophisticated technology and a different approach!  

Let me give you a little background about myself.  My husband and I live in a tiny town called Husum on the White Salmon River in Washington State. My family enjoys outdoor activities including rafting and kayaking. This year my daughter is working as a raft guide on the White Salmon. I know when the commercial raft trips are passing by because I can hear the tourists scream as their boats go over Husum Falls!   My son is studying Engineering in college and is spending this summer in Spain learning Spanish and surfing. Unfortunately for my husband, summer is the busy time for construction. As a general contractor, he will be working hard.

Petrick family rafting
The whole family rafting the Deschutes River in Oregon, hmmm… quite a few years ago, but we still love it!

During the regular school year, I teach fourth grade math and science at the local intermediate school.  One of our biggest science units each year is to raise salmon in the classroom and learn about the salmon life cycle, adaptations and the importance of protecting salmon habitat.  In addition, this year we tackled a big project around plastic pollution in the oceans and how we can make a difference in our own community through education and action. My students are rightfully indignant about the condition of our oceans, and I have also become an ocean advocate since initiating this project.

Student salmon drawings
Kids made scientific drawings of salmon, and then painted and stuffed them. They swam around the classroom ceiling all year!

Scientists on the Point Sur have several goals. First of all, they will map two shipwrecks that have never been explored.  Both are wooden-hulled historic shipwrecks that were identified during geophysical surveys related to oil and gas exploration.  Archaeologists hope to determine how old the ships are, what their purpose was, and their nationality, to determine if they are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).   A third shipwreck we will visit is a steel-hulled, former luxury steam yacht that sank in 1944. It was previously mapped and some experiments were left there in 2014 which we will recover.

In addition to mapping, we will take samples of the sediments around the ships to see how shipwrecks shape the microbial environment.  The Gulf of Mexico is a perfect place for this work because it is rich in shipwrecks. Shipwrecks create unique reef habitats that are attractive to organisms both large and small. I wonder what kinds of sea life we will discover living around the shipwrecks we visit?

The first question my students asked me was if I was going to scuba dive. While that would be exciting, it’s not allowed for Teachers at Sea! To gather information about the shipwrecks, we will deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Odysseus (Pelagic Research Services, Inc.) . Odysseus will have a camera, a manipulator arm to gather samples, a tray to carry all the sampling gear and SONAR and lights. I think I will be content to watch its progress on the ship’s video screens.

School is almost out, and my fourth graders are chomping at the bit to get out if the classroom and begin their own summer adventures, but I hope they will follow my blog and keep me company while I am on board ship!    Am I feeling a little intimidated? Absolutely! But also very excited to have the opportunity to participate in what is sure to be a great adventure.

Karah Nazor: One Week Until I Board and I am Already Dreaming About Fish, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 22, 2019

Hi!  My name is Karah Nazor and I am a science teacher at McCallie High School, an all-boys college preparatory school in Chattanooga, TN, which is also my hometown. It is one week until I board the Reuben Lasker in San Francisco, and I am already dreaming about fish.  I teach marine biology, molecular biology and environmental science and “coach” students in our after-school science research program. We typically have around 20 tanks running at a time in my classroom including three species of jellyfish, a reef tank, zebrafish tanks, and a freshwater shrimp tank.  Ongoing marine research projects in my lab include primary culture of nerve nets of the jellyfish Aurelia aurita, moon jellyfish, (students Jude Raia and Danny Rifai), the effects of ocean acidification on the jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana, upside down jellyfish, (students Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel) and spawning of the lobate ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi (Thatcher Walldorf). Seniors Keith Kim and Eric Suh just presented their findings on the effects of river acidification on freshwater snails at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, and sophomore Kevin Ward just wrapped up his research on the effects of a high sugar diet on tumor formation in tp53 zebrafish.

A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel Shenanigans
Typical shenanigans with Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells

Education

I am a lifelong competitive swimmer who loves the sea, marine mammals, and birds, and like many of my students today, as a high schooler I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.  I earned a bachelors of science in biology with a minor in gerontology from James Madison University, where I was also on the swim team. I was interested in learning more about the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and attended the Ph.D. Program in Gerontology at the University of Kentucky and worked in the Telling Lab.  There I studied the molecular foundation of prion diseases, caused by protein misfolding which forms aggregates in the brain, a pathology similar to AD. I continued this research as a postdoc at the University of San Francisco (Prusiner Lab).

How did I come to raise jellyfish in my classroom?

Chattanooga is home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium, located on the Tennessee River waterfront.  This non-profit public aquarium has two buildings, River Journey, which opened in 1992, and Ocean Journey, which opened in 2005. The Ocean Journey exhibit “Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art” (2005-2019) featured exotic invertebrates including around 10 species of jellyfish, ctenophores, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and spider crabs. On my first visit to Ocean Journey in 2005, I became transfixed with the “comb jelly” (the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi) tank, specifically its rapidly beating ctene rows, which refract light creating a rainbow effect, and function as the animal’s  swimming organ. Many people mistake the light refraction of the beating ctenes for electrical signals traveling along the ctenophore’s body.  This first visit to the comb jellies tank left a lasting impression on me, and I was truly inspired by their beauty and curious to learn more about this gelatinous creature..

A  comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank
A comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank

Six years ago, I visited the comb jelly exhibit again and decided to try to bring jellyfish into my classroom.  I missed swimming in the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, so I sought to bring the cold ocean and at least one of it’s critters into my classroom. I chose to raise the Pacific Ocean variety moon jellyfish, which I so often encountered swimming in the San Francisco Bay and at Tomales Point!   A gifted student built a special jellyfish tank, called a Kriesel, and next I contacted the TN Aquarium’s invertebrate specialist Sharyl Crossley to inquire about how to raise jellyfish. I was beyond thrilled when she invited me to train under her for a summer!  That Fall, I began culturing moon and upside down jellies in my classroom and my students began research projects right away. Raising jellyfish is not easy, as they require perfect current, and water the salinity and temperature that matches their native habitat.  Jellyfish require daily live feed of two day old enriched brine shrimp nauplii and rotifers. We actually have to feed the jellyfish’s food. The next year, I was ready to introduce the more difficult to raise comb jellies into the lab and have cultured them ever since.  In 2017, I got to spend a week with Dr. William Brown at the University of Miami to learn how to spawn ctenophores, study hatchlings, and dissect out stem cell rich niches from the animals for in vitro work in the cell culture lab.   You can often find me in the lab late at night at the dissecting scope still mesmerized and awed by the simplistic nature and immense beauty and of ctenophores in their spawning bowl.

Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank
Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank

Back to the Bay Area for a cruise on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker!

The years that I lived in San Francisco for my postdoc were some of the best of my life because of the science plus athletic opportunities afforded by living next to the ocean including open water swimming, surfing, and abalone diving.   I made lifelong friends partaking in these cold and rough water ocean sports. I lived in the Sunset neighborhood and I often went to Ocean Beach for the sunset and swam in the Bay several times per week at the South End Rowing Club (SERC).   In 2008 I swam the English Channel. While swimming in the Bay, we often saw NOAA ships and I never thought I would get to join a cruise one day as part of the science team! While living in San Francisco, I did have the opportunity to go on a couple of whale watching tours and swim all over the San Francisco, Richardson, and San Pablo bays for my training swims, but I have never got to spend much time on a boat and I have never spent the night at sea!  I am a bit nervous about becoming seasick and adjusting to being on the night shift next week.

Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).
Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).

Even though I was raised visiting the Atlantic ocean for summer vacations and am fond of the Caribbean Islands and the coral reefs, I am partial to the West Coast, where the mountains meet the sea.   I prefer the cold green rough seas, the winter swell, kelp forests, abalone at Fort Bragg, great white sharks at the Farallones, Pier 39 sea lions, harbor seals, salps, humpbacks, orcas and sea otters in Monterey Bay, Garibaldi of La Jolla Cove, sting rays of La Jolla Shores, and elephant seals of Ano Nuevo.  I enjoy kayak fishing for rockfish and yellowtail in San Diego with my brother, Kit.

Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Abalone shell on top of a cooler or some other white surface
A large beautiful abalone I harvested from about 40 feet down from Fort Bragg, CA in 2007. You can see the algae on its shell. The abalone diving season is now closed until 2021.

The rockfish recruitment survey is a longitudinal research project in its 30th year led by the NOAA chief scientist Keith Sakuma.  I have always been inspired by ichthyologists, specifically Dr. David Etnier, of the University of Tennessee, who worked with my step-dad, Hank Hill, on the snail darter case (Hill v. TVA) in the court’s first interpretation of the Endangered Species Act in 1978.   I am excited to learn from NOAA chief Scientist Keith Sakuma and the other members of the Reuben Lasker‘s science team about the rockfish and groundfish species we will be targeting in the recruitment survey. I look forward to learning how to identify up to 100 additional species of epipelagic fish, most of which I have never seen (or even heard of) before, as well as micronekton including several types of krill, tunicates, and hopefully jellyfish!  

The animals we will be surveying are known as forage species and are mostly primary and secondary consumers in the food web. These young of year rockfish and groundfish, epipelagic crabs, and small fish such as anchovies, sardines, and lanternfish are important prey for tertiary consumers including marine mammals, large fish, and seabirds. Long-term research studies allow for scientists to study the relationships between hydrographic data such as sea surface temperature, salinity, and density and the abundance and geographic distribution of forage species over decades, and in the case of this survey, three decades. An ecological rearrangement of forage species can affect not only the tertiary consumers and apex predators such as orcas and great white sharks, but will also impact the fishing industry. It is important to understand the impact of warming oceans and weakened California upwelling events have had and will have on the diversity and health of the ecosystem of the Pacific Coast.

Lona Hall: Alaska Awaits, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: May 22, 2019

Personal Introduction

Finishing off the school year has never been so exciting as it is now, with an Alaskan adventure awaiting me!  My students are nearly as giddy as I am, and it is a pleasure to be able to share the experience with them through this blog.

In two weeks, I will leave my home in the Appalachian foothills of Georgia and fly to Anchorage, Alaska.  From there I will take a train to the port city of Seward, where I will board NOAA Ship Rainier.  For 11 days we will travel around Kodiak Island conducting a hydrographic survey, mapping the shape of the seafloor and coastline. The Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project is critical to those who live and work there, since it greatly improves the accuracy of maritime navigational charts, ensuring safer travel by sea.

Lona Hall and students in Mozambique

My Mozambican students, 2013

In the past, I have traveled and worked in many different settings, including South Carolina, Cape Cod, Costa Rica, rural Washington, and even more rural Mozambique.  I have acted in diverse roles as volunteer, resident scientist, amateur archaeologist, environmental educator, mentor, naturalist, and teacher of Language Arts, English Language, Math, and Science.

View of Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah, the view from home in northeast Georgia

I now found myself back in my home state of Georgia, married to my wonderful husband, Nathan, and teaching at a local public school.  Having rediscovered the beauty of this place and its people, I feel fortunate to continue life’s journey with a solid home base.

Lona and Nathan at beach

My husband and I at the beach

Currently I teach Earth Science at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville, Georgia.  For the last five years, I have chosen to work in the wonderfully wacky world of sixth graders.  Our school boasts a diverse population of students, many of whom have little to no experience beyond their hometown.  It is my hope that the Teacher at Sea program will enrich my instruction, giving students a glimpse of what it is like to live and work on a ship dedicated to scientific research.  I am also looking forward to getting to know the people behind that research, learning what motivates them in the work that they do and what aspects of their jobs they find the most challenging.

Did you know?

Kodiak Island is the largest island in Alaska and the second largest in the United States.  It is located near the eastern end of the Aleutian Trench, where the Pacific Plate is gradually being subducted underneath the North American Plate.