Roy Moffitt: Life on a LEGO, August 14-15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 14-15, 2018


Current location/conditions:

Evening August 15 – North- Northwest of Wainwright, Alaska

Air temp 35F, sea depth  47m , surface sea water temp 32.2F


Life on a LEGO

The LEGO is a nickname given to the large green plastic pallet-like mooring. Their retrieval from the sea floor is pictured here.  This equipment was retrieved after being deployed for a year on the sea floor in about 40 meters of water.  The mooring is called a DAFT (Direction Acoustic Fish Tracker).  On the DAFT there are instruments that measure ocean temperature, salinity, and pressure.  The primary instrument is an echo sounder that records any schools of fish that may pass overhead.

Lego Retrieval
Retrieval of the “Lego,” a large plastic mooring that has spent the past year collecting data at the ocean bottom

What the DAFT was not designed to do, but does well, is catch sea life. The fiberglass pallet has 1 1/2″ square holes in it that allow water to pass through on retrieval and it also catches sea life as if it were a net. Yesterday we pulled two of these “Legos” from the sea and they were covered with marine life. The most remarkable sight were the large blue king crabs, (around half dozen on one pallet). Here I am holding one of the bigger ones– such awesome looking creatures!

Roy and crab
TAS Roy Moffitt holding a blue king crab

On the smaller size, we found a hermit crab (shown here hiding in a shell).

Hermit Crab
Hermit Crab

Also on board were many sea stars. Most were the Brittle Stars. This is the picture of the sea star with the small legs. I think they are called the Brittle Stars because when I tried to gently remove them from the mooring, sadly their legs kept breaking off. There were dozens of these on the mooring.

Sun Star
Sun Star

There was another sea star with nine legs. It was very pretty and looks like a drawing of the sun. Not surprising, I found out this one is called the “Sun Star.”

Some not-so-pretty items on the moorings I like to call “mooring acne” are called tunicates. These are filter feeders and come in many different forms.

The one on my hand looks like a giant pimple and when you try to take it off the mooring it squirts you in the face. Not surprisingly this tunicate is called the “Sea Squirt.”


Think about it…

All of the life on the Lego mooring was sent back to the sea to hopefully find a new home.  The Lego pallet mooring mentioned above is not large, about 4 ft by 6ft.  The mooring in this story was only in the ocean one year and became the home of the above mentioned marine animals – crabs, sea stars, tunicates, and also thousands of barnacles!  One tiny piece of the sea floor contained all this life! Imagine how rich in life the entire unseen ecosystem is in the Chukchi Sea!


Today’s Wildlife Sightings

For the last two days, I saw several walruses. Pictured below is one that popped up by a piece of ice.   Teaser – look for a future blog focusing on walrus and their habitat.

Walrus by ice
A walrus pops its head up above water near a piece of ice


Now and Looking forward

We are now seeing small bands of pack ice and individual pieces of ice called “growlers”.   Sea ice has not interrupted science operations, as of today. There is plenty of open water so far. We should see ice of different concentrations for the rest of the trip as we continue to head north.  Look for future pictures and some of the science on sea ice coming soon. For now here are a couple pictures from August 15.

Growlers in fog
“Growlers” – the view looking from the deck of USCGC Healy down into the fog
Walrus broken ice
Another view of the walrus, swimming near broken up ice


Richard Chewning, June 5th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 5th, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Three Saints Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska
Time: 1000 hrs
Latitude: N 57 10.480
Longitude: W 153 30.610
Cloud Cover: overcast with light rain
Wind: 12 knots from NE
Temperature: 10.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1001.1

Science and Technology Log

While taking on supplies and preparing for our cruise, the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson had the pleasure of welcoming six kids from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) 2010 Summer Program for a visit. These kindergarten through second graders were visiting from the USCG Integrated Support Command Kodiak, the largest Coast Guard base in the US. The Oscar Dyson’s medical officer ENS Amber Payne and I gave the students a firsthand tour of the Dyson.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson tied up in Kodiak, AK.
The Bridge
The Bridge

Highlights of the visit included a tour of the bridge with Executive Officer Lieutenant Jeffrey Shoup. The students were impressed to learn that the propeller of the Oscar Dyson is 14 feet across and specially tooled to be as quiet as possible so as not to scare away any fish that the scientists onboard want to study. The students also enjoyed looking through the BIG EYES, two high powered binoculars located on the flying bridge (the highest point on the vessel above the bridge) of the Oscar Dyson that will be used to survey marine mammals. Scientist Suzanne Yin of the National Marine Mammals Laboratory told the students about how she and her colleagues wbe surveying for whales during the upcoming cruise

The Big Eyes
The Big Eyes
Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson
Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson

The highlight of the tour involved a demonstration by Safety Officer Ensign Russell Pate of one of the Dyson’s Damage and Control lockers. The students also enjoyed trying on the immersion suits with help of Ensign Payne. Immersion suits are designed to protect the wearer from exposure other frigid waters that the Dyson will soon be sailing The kids had great fun donning the firefighting equipment and helping Fisherman Glen Whitney test one of the Dyson’s fire hoses off the fantail. The USCG kids also learned how to tie a square knot with Glen’s help. With a little practice, they were able to join their individual lines into one large line by tying each line end to end using the square knot they just learned. Each student was able to take their line home to practice their newly acquired knot tying skills

Another fun activity was led by Senior Survey Technician Kathy Hough. After Kathy led the students through a tour of the Dyson’s dry and wet labs, the students acted as junior scientists by sorting an array of Alaskan fish and measuring and describing each species, just like the Oscar Dyson’s scientists will do later during the upcoming Pollock survey.

After lunch, the students received a fun science lesson using the property of water’s high surface tension. The students constructed two-dimensional boats out of plastic milk jugs and used soap to propel their boats over a tray of water. This is a very fun activity for younger students that you can easily do at home. The materials required include cleaned plastic milk jugs, scissors, markers, trays of water, and soap (a bar of Ivory soap cut into small cubes). After tracing the outline of a boat (as if looking from the top down) on the flat surface of a milk jug, the kids cut out their boats and made a small notch on the back of the boat to place a small block of soap to serve as the engine. The kids then enjoyed racing their boats against each other across the trays of water! If trying at home, you will need to replace the water in the tray after each race as the water becomes contaminated by the soap. This activity works because water molecules want to strongly stick to each other creating a strong but flexible surface. By disrupting the arrangement of the water molecules and causing the water molecules to push away from each other, the soap enables the boat to ‘power’ across the surface of the water.

Holding a Baby King Crab
Holding a Baby King Crab

After all equipment and supplies were loaded and crew members were boarded, the Dyson moved a short distance to take on diesel at the fuel dock. At 1820 hours, we departed St Paul Harbor and said goodbye to the Oscar Dyson’s home port of Kodiak. The Dyson then sailed about eight hours south to Three Saints Bay, a protected harbor south on Kodiak Island. Three Saints Bay will serve as a location to anchor so the science team can calibrate their acoustic equipment and will shelter the Oscar Dyson from an approaching low pressure system producing gale-force winds.

Personal Log

Hello Everyone! My name is Richard Chewning, and I have the honor to be a part of NOAA Teacher at Sea program sailing with NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. For those who do not know, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal government agency charged with studying all aspects of the ocean and atmosphere. As you can imagine, these are broad areas of study. While large in scope, the work of NOAA affects everyone, whether you live on a coast or not. Have you ever heard of The National Weather Service or The National Hurricane Center? Both are NOAA divisions.
Here I am holding a baby king crab.

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) aims to increase the public’s awareness and knowledge of NOAA science and career opportunities by having educators work alongside NOAA offices, ship’s crew, and shipboard scientists. NOAA’s TAS program invites both formal classroom teachers and non-formal educators alike to be a part of this amazing program. I myself am an environmental educator with the Jekyll Island 4-H Center. A Georgia 4-H program, the Jekyll Island 4-H Center is part of the University of Georgia. The Jekyll Island 4-H Center’s Environmental Education program welcomes 1st-12th grade students for environmental education field studies teaching coastal ecology using Jekyll Island as an outdoor classroom. I am the Environmental Education Program Coordinator and have enjoyed working for Jekyll 4-H for five years. For more information, visit .

I am very excited to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea Participant and look forward to sharing my experiences with you through these logs.

Animals Seen Today

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Kittiwakes (Genus Rissa)
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)
Magpie (Family Corvidae)