Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

airport meal

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019

Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear


Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

Callie Harris: Back to Land Life, September 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 9/3/19

Weather Data from Key West, FL

Latitude: 24.551°N
Longitude: 81.7800 °W
Wind Speed: 15 MPH
Air Temperature: 32°C
Sea Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1009 mbar

Personal Log

I can’t believe I’ve been back on land for one week already. My 14 days on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson flew by. Everyone has asked me how my trip was and I simply state, “epic.” It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure. I hope I inspire my daughters, students, and colleagues to never stop daring, dreaming, and discovering. The trip itself exceeded my highest expectations. I realized how lucky I was to have such warm weather and calm seas. The scientists agreed it was one of calmest expeditions they have ever had in terms of sea conditions. One of the coolest experiences of being a Teacher at Sea was the ability to see every aspect of the vessel. The NOAA Corps officers, the deck crew, and the scientists were so welcoming and friendly. I truly felt at home on board wherever I ventured. By the end of our cruise, our science watch was seamless while conducting the fish surveys. I got the biggest compliment on the last day of our trip when two of the deck crew said they thought I was one of the NOAA scientists the whole time. They both had no idea I was actually a teacher at sea until I mentioned that I was headed back home to teach in Key West.

Callie in front of plane
Callie prepares to head home. Photo Credit: Ali Deary

Just when I thought my adventure was over, I had one of my most memorable moments of the trip. The science team and I had some down time while waiting to board our flight out of Kodiak to Anchorage. We were so thrilled to be back on land that we decided to go on a walk-about around the airport area. We stumbled upon a freshwater river where Pink Salmon were spawning (aka a salmon run). The salmon run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. We stood on the river bank in awe watching hundreds of them wiggle upstream. We also came across fresh bear scat (poop) that was still steaming. It was pretty crazy! Our walk-about was such a random fun ending to an epic adventure.

Pink salmon run
Pink salmon run
at the river
Callie and friends from NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: Matt Wilson
Fresh bear scat!
Fresh bear scat!

I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I will be sharing it with my students for years to come. I am looking forward to attending future NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni gatherings to meet fellow TAS participants and continuing this amazing experience.

Jessica Cobley: A Busy Return to Home, September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019

Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 9/2/2019

Weather Data from Juneau, Alaska:  

Lat: 58.3019° N, Long: 134.4197° W 
Air Temp:  12º C

Personal Log

Phew…finally a day to sit back and take a breath! A few days after getting back from sea, I attended our school district’s inservice and am now 2 weeks into the new school year. It is hard to believe how quickly the summer break goes by!

Back in Juneau, the sunny, warm weather has continued, which has also meant no shortage of adventures. Since getting home, friends and I have hiked the Juneau Ridge, fished in Lynn Canal, and hunted on Admiralty Island. It has been a warm welcome home! A group of us are also training for the upcoming Klondike Running Relay from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, YT. Needless to day, I was VERY happy to have a treadmill and workout equipment on the boat to keep active while at sea.

Jess' dogs
Our pups at the end of a trail run to the Herbert Glacier in Juneau.
Admiralty Island
Spotting deer at sunset on Admiralty Island.
Jess and fish
Fishing after a night camping on a nearby island. Photo by Max Stanley

On the school side of things, I felt lucky to have some time to spend curriculum planning while at sea. It has helped me have a smooth start to the year and give the new 7th graders a great start. I am definitely looking forward to sharing my Teacher at Sea experience with all my new kiddos.

With the return to school, my relaxing days at sea have been replaced with nonstop action in and out of the classroom. Not only does the school year bring teaching science classes, but also an Artful Teaching continuing education course, coaching our middle school cross country team, and planning events for SouthEast Exchange (SEE). SEE is an organization I am a part of that works to connect local professionals, like those I met at sea, with local teachers. Our goal is to bring more real-world and place-based experiences into our classrooms. Through my involvement with SEE, I met and worked with NOAA scientist Ebett Siddon. Along with collaborating together on a unit about Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management for my 7th graders, she also told me about Teachers at Sea!

With that, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all of the staff at NOAA who help make this program possible. It was a once in a lifetime experience that has helped me better understand the field I am teaching about. I look forward to using what I have learned about studying fish populations and the unique career opportunities at sea with my students. I know they will appreciate my new expertise and see that there always opportunities to keep learning!

Kodiak Island mural
Last photo taken in Kodiak! Photo by Ruth Drinkwater

Thank you again and please consider applying for this program if you are a teacher reading this. 🙂

Callie Harris: Key West to Kodiak, August 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/10/19


Hi everyone! I am currently on flight number two of four over the next two days to get me all the way from Key West, Florida to Kodiak, Alaska! Sure beats the 5,516 mile drive it would take me by car! My new home for the next two plus weeks will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. It is an ultra-quiet fisheries survey vessel built to collect data on fish populations, conduct marine mammal and seabird surveys, and study marine ecosystems. The ship operates primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo credit: NOAA.

So what exactly will I be doing these next few weeks at sea? I will be working side by side with world-renowned NOAA scientists during twelve hour shifts (noon to midnight). Our research will focus on collecting data on the Walleye Pollock (also known as Alaskan Pollock) population and other forage fishes in the western Gulf of Alaska. Most of our samples will be collected by midwater trawling (or net fishing). I will be spending many hours in the onboard fish lab working hands-on with scientists to help sort, weigh, measure, sex, and dissect these samples. We will also collect zooplankton and measure environmental variables that potentially affect the ecology of these fishes. We will conduct CTD casts (an instrument used to measure the conductivity, temperature, and pressure of seawater) and take water samples along transects to examine the physical, chemical, and biological oceanography associated with cross-shelf flow.

A Little About Me

How did a little girl who grew up playing in the Georgia woods wind up being a marine science teacher in Key West and now on a plane to Kodiak, Alaska to work as a scientist at sea? I applied for every internship, program, and job I ever dreamed of often times with little to no experience or chance of getting it. I was a wildlife/zoology major at the University of Georgia. However during high school, my parents bought a second home in Key West where I would live during my summers off. I applied and got a job on a snorkel boat at 18 with zero boating experience. After college, I once again applied for a job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that I was not qualified for in the least. I did not get the job, but at least I went for it regardless of the outcome. So I continued to do odds and ends (often non-paying) internships at MOTE, the Turtle Hospital, and Reef Relief while working to get my 100 ton captain’s license at age 21.

Callie at turtle hospital
Callie interning at the Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key

About 6 months after the first FWC interview, the local FWC director called me one day out of the blue and said I now have a job that you are qualified for.

Over the next year at the FWC as a marine biologist, I found that my favorite part of my week was the student outreach program at local schools. I came across a job vacancy for a local elementary science position and thought why not. I had zero teaching experience, a love for science, and the mindset that I can learn to teach as I teach them learn. Eleven years later, I am very proud to be the head of our marine science program at Sugarloaf School. I get the pleasure of teaching my two passions: science and the ocean. I hope to instill a sense of wonder, discovery, and adventure to all my students from kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade.

Last December, I felt the same sense of adventure well up inside of me when I came across the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. I’m a teacher, a mother of young twins, a part time server, a wife of a firefighter with crazy work hours, and someone who enjoys the comfort of their own bed. All rational thoughts lead to the assumption that this program was out of my league, but it didn’t nor will it ever stop me from continuing to dare, dream and discover. I hope my trip will inspire my students to do the same- to never stop exploring, learning, or continuing to grow in life.

Did You Know?

Walleye pollock is one of the type five fish species consumed in the United States. If you have ever eaten frozen fish sticks or had a fish sandwich at fast food restaurant then you have probably eaten pollock.

Jessica Cobley: While in Kodiak, July 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019

Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Prince William Sound)

Date: Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Weather Data from Kodiak, AK: 4:00am Lat: 57.79° N Lon: 152.4072° W Temp: 56 degrees F.  

Personal Log

Good morning! It is currently 4:30am on Saturday, July 20th and I have just woken up for my first shift on the boat. So far, I have met scientists Abigail McCarthy and Troy Buckley, who will be working the day shift with me. I also met Ruth, an intern from the University of Washington and my bunkmate. It will be nice to have someone else on board who is also new to the experience! 

exploring Spruce Cape
From left to right: Myself, Ruth, Abigail and Darin exploring Spruce Cape. Photo Credit: Troy Buckley

Before talking about work, I’d like to share what we got up to in Kodiak before departing on the cruise. One thing to note – Chief Scientist Darin Jones explained that because this is the 3rd leg of the survey and the scientists are taking over from the previous group, we do not have any set up or calibration of equipment to do. If this had been leg 1 of the survey, the free days in port would have been spent doing those jobs. Lucky us!

After unpacking everything in our state rooms (bunks), we quickly set out to explore Kodiak. In two and a half days, were able to see a lot! Wednesday night, some friends of mine in town took us for a stroll on Near Island, followed by a yummy dinner at Noodle Bar.

Near Island
Walking with friends on Near Island, just across the bridge from Kodiak. Photo by Ruth Drinkwater

Thursday morning, team building began with a run to Safeway and Walmart for all last minute necessities. The teacher in me couldn’t resist a fresh pack of sharpie markers and colored pencils. 🙂 In the afternoon, we walked along Spruce Cape where we picked a TON of blueberries and found the largest barnacle I have ever seen. 

Check out this Giant Acorn Barnacle!

After a short recoup back on the boat, Darin and Abigail were ready for an evening surf session at Fossil Beach. This beach is the farthest south you can access by road in Kodiak and the drive was BEAUTIFUL. Prior to the trip, I hadn’t looked up any pictures of Kodiak and so the treeless green mountains, cliffy coastlines and herds of cows were exciting to see. Once at the beach, we jumped in the ocean, watched a successful surf session and finished our team building with a fire and dinner on the beach. 

Fossil Beach
Fossil Beach: We hiked up the cliffs in the background to check out old WWII bunkers.
grazing cows
Happily grazing cows on the drive back from Fossil Beach.

Science and Technology Log

In just a few days of being here, I have already learned a lot about the workings of the ship and what we will be busy doing for the next three weeks. Here is a preview.

To begin, science shifts run from 4am – 4pm and 4pm – 4am. Throughout this entire time, acoustic data is being collected and read. Acoustic data is gathered by sending out sound waves from a transducer box attached to the bottom of a centerboard underneath the boat. The sound waves reverberate out and bounce off of anything with a different density than water. In the picture below, you can see a bold line on the screen with smaller dots above. Take a look and see if you can identify what the line and dots might represent.

Darin looks over morning acoustic data
Chief Scientist Darin Jones looking at the morning acoustic data. This room is called “The Cave” because it is the only lab without windows.

If you thought the big bold lines on each screen were the seafloor, you were correct! Most of the little dots that appear above the sea floor are fish. Fish are identified from the sound waves bouncing off of their swim bladders. Swim bladders are the “bags” of air inside fish that inflate and deflate to allow the fish to raise and lower itself in the water column. Air has a different density compared to water and therefore shows up in the acoustics data.

acoustic data screen
Close up view of the acoustic data screen.

What is this acoustic data used for? There are 2 primary parts. The first is to identify where schools of fish are located and therefore areas well suited for collecting fish samples. The second is to calculate the total biomass of pollock in the water column by combining acoustics data with the actual measurements of fish caught in that same area. More specifics to come as I take part in the process throughout the survey. 

Did You Know?

On this survey, scientists do not catch/survey fish at night (when it is dark). The reason? At night, bottom dwelling species come up off the seafloor at night to feed. During the day they settle back down on the seafloor. The scientists are primarily interested in catching pollock, a mid water species, so they fish during daylight hours. 

hauling in the trawl net
View from the upper deck of the trawl net being hauled in.

Updates to come later in the week. It is time for me to join the scientists and get ready process our first catch! 

Cheers, Jess

Lona Hall: Rockin’ at the NALL on Ugak, June 10, 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: June 10, 2019

Time:  1932 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1359’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0488’ W

Wind Speed: 17.2 knots

Wind Direction: N (353 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.13° Celsius

Water Temperature: 9.44° Celsius

Lona on a launch vessel
Sitting in the sun on a launch, Rainier in the background

Science and Technology Log

For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here).  Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey.  First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.  

Point Cloud
Point Cloud: Each dot represents a lidar “ping”, indicating the presence of features above the waterline

Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart.  The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island.  The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions.  An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.

Amanda and Audrey
Amanda and Audrey discussing the locations of rocks along the shoreline

I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself.  In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations.  At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students.  No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.

Career Focus – Marine Engineer

Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997.  A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school.  The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.

Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer

Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength.  The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations.  They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.

Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job.  Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world.  He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box.  As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.

Personal Log

In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway.  I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home.  How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!

Ugak Bay
Ugak Bay (Can you spot the whale?)

Word of the Day

bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship

Q & A

Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?

Yes!  NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.

What did you eat for dinner?

This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.


Lona Hall: The Comforts of Life at Sea, June 8, 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: June 8, 2019

Time:  1630 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.2124’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0648’ W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: N (354 degrees)

Air Temperature: 9.24° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

teacher at sea lona hall On the flying bridge with the "Big Eyes"
On the flying bridge at the “Big Eyes”

Let’s talk charts.  A chart is a map that shows specific details of the shoreline and the seafloor, including depth (usually in fathoms) and notable features.  Click here to view the chart of the area, “Chiniak Bay to Dangerous Cape.”  Can you find Saltery Cove, where we are currently anchored? How about Cape Greville and Sequel Point?  The latter are located at the northern and southern ends of the area that we surveyed with the launch last Wednesday afternoon.

If you look carefully, you will see many symbols along the shoreline.  An asterisk represents a rock awash that may only be visible when the water recedes at low tide.  A series of dots represents sandy shore, while small scallop shapes and circles denote breakers and stones, respectively.  The small, filled in triangles on land show where there are cliffs or steep slopes. The symbol that looks like a stick with small branches represents kelp.  Kelp is considered a possible hazard, since it can get wrapped around the propeller of a boat.

Now move your gaze to the ocean.  The numbers that you see are depth soundings, measured in fathoms.  Recall that one fathom equals 6 feet. This means that where you see a sounding of 9 fathoms, the water is actually 54 feet deep (relative to the mean lower low water datum).  If you are looking at the area near Cape Greville, all of the soundings that you see on the chart were taken between 1900 and 1939, before the invention of multibeam sonar. There was a magnitude 9.2 earthquake on March 27, 1964 that changed the depths and shapes of the landforms.  Finally, you should not discount the effects of weathering and erosion by wave action on this area.  The dynamic nature of it all makes the work that NOAA is doing all the more important for the safety of anyone at sea.

Career Focus – Steward

With so many people and so much work being done every day, how do you ensure good morale among the crew? You make sure that they are well fed!  That’s where the Stewards Department comes in to play. I met with Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward, to learn how she and her staff take care of all of the people on the ship.  

Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward
Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward

The Stewards Department is like a sweet grandmother, spoiling her grandbabies by providing good food and other comforts to the entire Rainier family.  Stewards plan and prepare the meals, supply appropriate linens and bedding, and maintain a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of a potentially stressful work environment. Stewards work long hours in close quarters and, as Kimrie says, provide the “customer service” of the ship. Kimrie herself has worked on ships for many years.  She started out as a mess person for Chevron Shipping when her daughter left home for college. As part of the NOAA Relief Pool, Kimrie has worked on ten of NOAA’s ships, filling positions on a temporary basis until permanent employees can be found. It is clear that she has a deep understanding of the emotional needs of a ship’s crew, and she enjoys the camaraderie and cooperation that develop in this unique work environment.

Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew
Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew

This evening for dinner, I had baked salmon, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a salad, and an amazing berry pie.  Everything was prepared fresh, and I felt quite satisfied afterwards. Thank you, stewards!

Personal Log

I would like to take some time to write about the ship. Rainier is a hydrographic survey vessel. (For more information about what that means, see my last post!)  Constructed in Jacksonville Florida, and then later commissioned in 1968, Rainier is one of the longest-serving ships in NOAA’s fleet.  It is named after Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain in western Washington state.  Students might remember that this mountain is located near a continent-ocean convergent plate boundary between the North American and Juan de Fuca plates, where subduction has lead to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. Our ship’s home port is located in Newport, Oregon. Originally, however, the home port was in Seattle, Washington, and so it was christened after the iconic Mount Rainier.

NOAA Ship Rainier is 231 feet long from bow to stern.  There are six different levels, or decks, identified by the letters A-F moving upwards from the bottom of the ship.  Each deck is broken into numbered sections, or rooms.

inboard profile
Diagram of the ship, side view

To communicate a particular location, you might refer to the deck letter and section number.  You might also use the following vocabulary:

Port – the left side of the ship

Starboard – the right side of the ship

Fore – forward of the beam

Aft – behind the beam

Stern – the back end of the ship

Bow – the front end of the ship

Overhead diagram of the “D” Deck

My room is located on the E deck, one level below the bridge.  On the D deck we enjoy delicious, cafeteria-style meals in the mess, and we can work, read, relax, or watch movies in the lounge.  The steering takes place on the Bridge, the command center of the ship. I will highlight the bridge in a future post. Other common areas include the Plotting Room, the Holodeck, the Boat Deck, Flying Deck, and Fantail.  There is also a laundry room and even a gym! Although it can be a bit confusing at first, the ship’s layout makes sense and allows for efficiency without sacrificing the crew’s comfort.

Word of the Day

athwart – at right angles to fore and aft; across the centerline of the ship

Lona Hall: Launchin’ and Lunchin’ Near Kodiak Island, June 6, 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: June 6, 2019

Time:  2000 hours

Location: Underway to Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°39.2266’ N
Longitude: 152°07.5163’ W
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Direction: NW (300 degrees)
Air Temperature: 11.37° Celsius
Water Temperature: 8.3° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Lona on launch RA-5
Yours truly, happy on RA-5

Today I went out on a launch for the first time.  The plan was to survey an area offshore and then move nearshore at low tide, with the water at its lowest level on the beach of Kodiak Island.  Survey Techs, Carl Stedman and Christina Brooks, showed me the software applications used to communicate with the coxswain and collect data. To choose the best frequency for our multibeam pulse, we needed to know the approximate depth of the area being surveyed.  If the water is deeper, you must use lower frequency sound waves, since higher frequency waves tend to attenuate, or weaken, as they travel. We chose a frequency of 300 kilohertz for a 60 meter depth. Periodically, the survey techs must cast a probe into the water.  The Sea-bird SeaCAT CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) measures the characteristics of the water, creating a sound velocity profile. This profile can tell us how quickly we should expect sound waves to travel through the water based upon the water’s temperature, salinity, and pressure.

Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Carl Stedman deploying the probe
Carl Stedman deploying the probe

Using the sound velocity profile allows the computer’s Seafloor Information System (SIS) to correct for changes in water density as data is being collected.  Once the profile was transmitted to SIS, we were ready to begin logging data.

Imagine that you are mowing your lawn.  To maximize efficiency you most likely will choose to mow back and forth in relatively straight paths, overlapping each new row with the previous row.  This is similar to how the offshore survey is carried out. As the boat travels at a speed of about 7 knots, the Kongsberg EM2040 multibeam sonar transducer sends out and receives pulses, which together create a swath.  The more shallow the water, the wider the base of the swath.

Close up of chart
Close up of chart, showing depth gradient by color

After lunch we changed to a nearshore area closer to Kodiak Island between Sequel Point and Cape Greville. It was important to wait for low tide before approaching the shore to avoid being stuck inshore as the tide is going out.  Even so, our coxswain was very careful to follow the edges of the last swaths logged. Since the swath area extends beyond the port and starboard sides of the boat, we could collect data from previously uncharted areas without driving directly above them.  In this way we found many rocks, invisible to the naked eye, that could have seriously damaged an unlucky fisherman!

Career Focus – Able Seaman

Our coxswain driving the boat today was Allan Quintana.  

Allan, aka "Q", driving the boat
Allan, aka “Q”, driving the boat

As an Able Seaman, Allan is part of the Deck Department, which functions primarily to keep track of the ship, manage the lines and anchoring, and deploy and drive the launches.  Allan started out working for the Navy and later transitioned to NOAA. A Miami native, he told me how he loves working at sea, in spite of the long stretches of time away from his friends and family back home.

Personal Log

If you have never been on a boat before, it is a unique experience. Attempts have been made by poets, explorers, scientists, naturalists, and others throughout history to capture the feeling of being at sea.  Although I’ve read many of their descriptions and tried to imagine myself in their shoes, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.

Standing on the bow of the anchored ship, looking out at the water, my body leaning to and fro, rising and falling, I am a sentient fishing bobber, continuously rocking but not really going anywhere.  My head feels somehow both heavy and light, and if I stand there long enough, I just might fall asleep under the spell of kinetic hypnosis. The motion of the launch is different. A smaller boat with far less mass is bullied by the swells. For a new crew member like me, it’s easy to be caught off guard and knocked over, unless you have a good grip. I stand alert, feet apart, one hand clasping a rail, as the more experienced crew move about, casually completing various tasks. I wonder how long it would take to become accustomed to the boat’s rising and falling.  Would my body gradually learn to anticipate the back and forth rocking? Would I eventually not feel any movement at all?

View over the bow
A ship with a view

Word of the Day

draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull of a boat, a.k.a. the draught

The draft of NOAA Ship Rainier is 17 feet.

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.

Lynn Kurth: Time and Tide Wait For No Man, June 28, 2016


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  57˚57.486 N   Longitude:  152˚55.539 W  (Whale Pass)

Date:  June 28, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Overcast
Visibility: 15 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 164
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 8.3° C (46.94° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Science and Technology Log

The ocean supports many ecosystems which contain a diversity of living things ranging in size from tiny microbes to whales as long as 95 feet.  Despite the fact that I am working on a hydrographic ship, when out on a skiff or while in port, I have had the opportunity to view some of these ecosystems and a number of the species found in them.

While the Rainier was in port in Homer, I spent some time at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which, like other estuaries, is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.  An estuary, with accompanying wetlands, is where the freshwater from a river meets and mixes with the salt water of the sea.  However, there are some estuaries that are made entirely from freshwater.  These estuaries are special places along the Great Lakes where freshwater from a river, with very different chemical and physical characteristics compared to the water from the lake, mixes with the lake water.

Because estuaries, like the Kachemak Bay Estuary, are extremely fragile ecosystems with so many plants and animals that rely on them, in 1972 Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than one million estuarine acres.

Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

All estuaries, including the freshwater estuaries found on the Great Lakes, are affected by the changing tides.  Tides play an important part in the health of an estuary because they mix the water and are therefore are one of several factors that influence the properties (temperature, salinity, turbidity) of the water

Prior to my experience in Alaska, I had never realized what a vital role tides play in the life of living things, in a oceanic region.  Just as tides play an important role in the health and function of estuaries, they play a major role in the plants and animals I have seen and the hydrographic work being completed by the Rainier.  For example, the tides determine when and where the skiffs and multi beam launch boats will be deployed.  Between mean low tide and high tide the water depth can vary by as much as 12 feet and therefore low tide is the perfect time to send the skiffs out in to document the features (rocks, reefs, foul areas) of a specific area.

DSCN0069 (2)
Rock feature in Uganik Bay (actually “the foot” mentioned in previous blog) Notice tidal line, anything below the top of that line would be underwater at high tide!

In addition to being the perfect time to take note of near shore features, low tide also provides the perfect opportunity to see some amazing sea life!  I have seen a variety of species while working aboard the Rainier, including eagles, deer, starfish, dolphins, whales, seals, cormorants, sea gulls, sea otters and puffins.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to capture quality photos of many of these species, but I have included some of my better photos of marine life in the area and information that the scientists aboard the Rainier have shared with me:

Tufted Puffins:  Tufted Puffins are some of the most common sea birds in Alaska.  They have wings that propel them under water and a large bill which sheds its outer layer in late summer.


Double Crested Cormorants:  Dark colored birds that dive for and eat fish, crabs, shrimp, aquatic plants, and other marine life.  The birds nest in colonies and can be found in many inland areas in the United States.  The cormorants range extends throughout the Great Lakes and they are frequently considered to be a nuisance because they gorge themselves on fish, possibly decimating local fish populations.

Cormorant colony with gulls

Pisaster Starfish:  The tidal areas are some of the favorite areas starfish like to inhabit because they have an abundance of clams, which the starfish love to feed on.  To do so, the starfish uses powerful little suction cups to pull open the clam’s shell.

Teacher at Sea Kurth with a starfish that was found during a shore lunch break while working on a skiff.

Starfish found in tidal zone

Glaucous-winged Gull:  The gulls are found along the coasts of Alaska and Washington State.  The average lifespan of Glaucous-winged Gull is approximately 15 years.

Glaucous-winged Gull watching the multi beam sonar boat

The hydrographic work in Uganik Bay continues even though there are moments to view the wildlife in the area.  I was part of the crew on board a boat equipped with multi beam sonar which returned to scan the “foot feature” meticulously mapped by the skiff.  During this process, the multi beam sonar is driven back and forth around the feature as close as the boat can safely get.  The multi beam does extend out to the sides of the boat which enables the sonar to produce an image to the left and right of the boat.  The sonar beam can reach out four times the depth of the water that the boat is working in.  For example, if we are working in six feet of water the multi beam will reach out a total of 24 feet across. Think of the sonar as if it was a beam coming from a flashlight, if you shine the light on the floor and hold the flashlight close to the floor, the beam will be small and intense.  On the other hand, if you hold the flashlight further from the floor the beam of light will cover a wider area but will not be as intense. The sonar’s coverage is similar, part of why working close to the shore is long and tedious work: in shallow water the multi beam does not cover a very wide area.

“The foot” feature (as discussed in previous blog) being scanned by multi beam sonar


Image of “the foot” after processing in lab. The rocks are the black areas that were not scanned by the multi beam sonar.

All Aboard!

I met Angelica on one of the first days aboard the Rainier and later spent some time with her, asking questions as she worked .  Angelica is very friendly, cheerful and a pleasure to talk with!  She graciously sat down with me for an interview when we were off shore of Kodiak, AK before returning to Uganik Bay.

Assistant Survey Technician Angelica Patyten works on processing data from the multi beam sonar

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Angelica Patyten originally from Sacramento, CA and happy to be a part of NOAA’s scientific mission!  I have always been very interested in marine science, especially marine biology, oceanography and somewhat interested in fisheries.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins.  My cousin said that when I was really young I was always drawing whales on paper and I’d always be going to the library to check out books on marine life.  I remember one of the defining moments was when I was in grade school, we took a trip to see the dolphins and orca whales and I thought they were amazing creatures.

As far as hobbies, I love anything that has to do with water sports, like diving and kayaking.  I also want to learn how to surf or try paddle boarding as well.

How did you discover NOAA?:

I just kind of “stumbled upon” NOAA right after I had graduated from college and knew that I wanted to work in marine science.  I was googling different agencies and saw that NOAA allows you to volunteer on some of their vessels.  So, I ended up volunteering for two weeks aboard the NOAA ship Rueben Lasker and absolutely loved it.  When I returned home, I applied online for employment with NOAA and it was about six months before I heard from back from them.  It was at that point that they asked me if I wanted to work for them on one of their research vessels.  It really was all good timing!

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship? 

My responsibilities right now include the processing of the data that comes in from the multi beam sonar.  I basically take the data and use a computer program to apply different settings to produce the best image that I can with the sonar data that I’m given.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?

I love the scenery here in Alaska and the people I work with are awesome!  We become like a family because we spend a lot of time together.  Honestly, working aboard the Rainier is a perfect fit for me because I love to travel, the scenery is amazing and the people I work with are great!

Personal Log:

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer’s words are so fitting for my time aboard the Rainier which is going so quickly and continues to revolve around the tides.

Lynn Kurth: The Earth has One Big Ocean, June 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude: N 57˚50 Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 268
Wind Speed: 14 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft. on average
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 16° C (60.8° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1023 mb

Science and Technology Log

I’m continually searching for ways to connect what I am learning to what is relevant to my students back home in the Midwest.  So, as we left Homer, AK for our survey mission in Kodiak Island’s Uganik Bay, I was already thinking of how I could relate our upcoming survey work to my students’ academic needs and personal interests.  As soon as the Rainier moved away from Homer and more of the ocean came into view, I stood in awe of how much of our planet is covered with water.  It’s fascinating to think of our world as having one big ocean with many basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic.  The study of ocean and its basins is one of the most relevant topics that I can teach when considering the following:

  • the ocean covers approximately 70% of our planet’s surface
  • the ocean is connected to all of our major watersheds
  • the ocean plays a significant part in our planet’s water cycle
  • the ocean has a large impact on our weather and climate
  • the majority of my students have not had any firsthand experience with the ocean


Earth’s One Big Ocean as seen from outside of Homer, AK


Each of the ocean basins is composed of the sea floor and all of its geological features which vary in size and shape.  The Rainier will be mapping the features of the sea floor of the Uganik Bay in order to produce detailed charts for use by mariners.  The last survey of Uganik Bay was completed in 1908 when surveyors simply deployed a lead weight on a string over the edge of a boat in order to measure the depth of the water.  However, one of the problems with the charts made using the lead line method, is that the lead line was only deployed approximately every 100 meters or more which left large gaps in the data.  Although not in the Uganik Bay, in the 1930s NOAA began using single beam sonar to measure the distance from a ship’s hull to the sea floor which made surveying faster but still left large gaps in the data. Fast forward from approximately 100 years ago when lead lines were being used for surveying to today and you will find the scientists on the Rainier using something called a multibeam sonar system.  A multibeam sonar system sends out sound waves in a fan shape from the bottom of the ship’s hull.  The amount of time it takes for the sound waves to bounce off the seabed and return to a receiver is used to determine water depth.  The multibeam sonar will allow our team on the Rainier to map 100% of the ocean’s floor in the survey area that we have been assigned.

Evolution of Survey Techniques (Illustration Credit: NOAA)



NOAA Ship Rainier June 22, 2016 in Uganik Bay off of Kodiak Island

 All Aboard!

NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux

The folks I am working with are some of the most knowledgeable and fascinating people that I have met so far on this voyage and Shelley Devereaux from Virginia is one of those people.  Shelley serves as a junior officer in the NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Corps and has been working aboard the Rainier for the past year.  The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and trains officers to operate ships, fly aircraft, help with research, conduct dive operations, and serve in other staff positions throughout NOAA.

Here is what Shelley shared with me when I interviewed her one afternoon.

Tell us a little about yourself:  I’m originally from the rural mountains of Appalachia and moved to Washington DC after college.  I lived in DC for about seven years before I joined the NOAA Corps and while in DC I really enjoyed cycling, hiking, cooking, baking and beer brewing.

How did you discover NOAA Corps and what do you love most about your job in the NOAA Corps?

I went to Washington DC after I received my undergraduate degree in math and worked a lot of different jobs in a lot of different fields.  In time, I decided to change careers and went to graduate school for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) because I like the data management side of the degree and the versatility that the degree could offer me.  I was working as a GIS analyst when my Uncle met an officer in the NOAA Corps who talked with my Uncle about the NOAA Corps.  After that, my Uncle told me about NOAA Corps and the more I found out about NOAA Corps the more I liked it.  Especially the hydro side!  In the NOAA Corps each of your assignments really develops on your skill base and you get to be involved in a very hands on way.  Just this morning I was out on a skiff literally looking to determine what level a rock was in the water.  And, later in my career I can serve an operations officer.  So I loved the fact that I could join the NOAA Corps, be out on ship collecting data while getting my hands dirty (or at least wet!), and then progress on to other interesting things.  I love getting to be part of all the aspects of ship life and being a surveyor.   It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that what we do here has a tangible effect on the community and the public because we are making the water safer for the people who use it.

NOAA Corps Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux manages her sheets during near shore work in Uganik Bay

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

I am an ensign junior officer on a survey ship.  Survey ships operate differently than other ships in the NOAA fleet with half of my responsibilities falling on the junior officer side of ship operations which includes driving the ship when we are underway, working towards my officer of the deck certification, working as a medical officer, damage control officer and helping with emergency drills.  The other half of what I get to do is the survey side.  Right now I am in charge of a small section called a sheets and I am in charge of processing the data from the sheets in a descriptive report about the area surveyed.  So, about half science and half ship operations is what I do and that’s a really good mix for me.  As a junior officer we are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to and are expected to learn the entire science of hydrography.

Junior Officer Shelley Devereaux checks the ship’s radar

What kind of education do you need to have this job and what advice do you have for young people interested in a career like yours?

You need a college degree with a lot of credits in science and/or math.  Knowing the science that is happening on the ship is important to help your understanding of the operations on the ship which helps you be a better ship operator. Realize that there are a lot of opportunities in the world that are not always obvious and you need to be aggressive in pursuing them.

Personal Log

You didn’t think I’d leave out the picture of Teacher at Sea in her “gumby suit” did you?  The immersion suit would be worn if we had to abandon ship and wait to be rescued.

Teacher at Sea (TAS) Kurth Hi Mom!

 Happy Solstice!  Quirky but fun:  For the past six years I have celebrated the solstice by taking a “hand picture” with the folks I am with on the solstice.  I was thrilled to be aboard the Rainier for 2016’s summer solstice and include some of the folks that I’m with on the ship in my biannual solstice picture.

Winter Solstice 2015 with Sisu (family pet) and my husband James

All Hands on Deck! Summer Solstice 2016

Did You Know?

Glass floats or Japanese fishing floats are a popular collectors’ item.  The floats were used on Japanese fishing nets and have traveled hundreds and possibly thousands of miles via ocean currents to reach the Alaskan shoreline. The floats come in many colors and sizes and if you’re not lucky enough to find one while beach combing, authentic floats and/or reproductions can be found in gift shops along the Alaskan coast.

Japanese Fishing Floats


Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.
A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website:

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.
Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele
With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele
Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood
Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.
Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

Rebecca Loy, Does Rainier Run on Diesel or STEAM?  September 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 14, 2015

Current Location: South Arm of Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

To answer this question, Rainier runs on both diesel and STEAM.  The diesel keeps this ship running where it needs to go and the engineers are masterful at keeping this ship maintained.  The STEAM is everywhere, and I am not just talking about water steam in a pipe or in the galley.  This ship has serious Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math!!

I met with acting (Executive Officer) XO LT Adam Pfundt and acting (Field Ops Officer) FOO LT Steve Loy (even though Loy is a unique name, we are not related – but it is pretty cool that another Loy is here).  They were discussing who was going to lead certain jobs.  I learned a great deal about the process needed.  During research, an area in review is called a “sheet”.  Why do you think they call the areas sheets and not something else?  Do you think there could be some historical mariner significance?

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed
Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Like most tasks on Rainier, research begins with a geographical area being assigned to a manager, assistant plus a mentor.  They will work together as a team on their sheet until the hydrographic branch of NOAA accepts the data.  Like I mentioned in my second blog entry, this could take weeks or months after the initial data collection to complete.

I have decided to use sheet number H12692, which was just assigned to the team of  ENS Matt Bissell, manager, ENS Shelley Deveraux as assistant, and LT Steve Loy as mentor this past week.  Can you find H12692 on the photo above?

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid
ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid. Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

All team members are responsible for maintaining work logs so they can report on them.  Even here writing & communication is very important – remember this when I help you with YOUR writing!  Here is a brief overview of the duties:

Sheet Manager – this is the biggest of the jobs given.  The sheet manager is responsible for organizing the team.  This person needs to prepare the area to be studied by separating it into more manageable areas called polygon plans.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.
Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

They decide which area gets studied by the large Rainier or if a smaller launch is needed.  The smaller launches are good for areas closer to the shore or shallow areas.

The manager has to know if Rainier should use its multibeam echolocation sounder (MBES) in large runs or drag its Side Scan Sonar (SSS) behind it in the area to be studied.  Another option the manager has to decide is do they need to use the MBES or Side Scan Sonars that are mounted on the smaller launches and where should this be.

The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed.
The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed. Photo Credit: ENS Matt Bissell

ENS Bissell has a many choices to make to get the best information possible.  Looking at the polygon grid ENS Bissell organized can you pick out which areas Rainier will cover?

Managers need to attend meetings and review data that was processed the night before.  They do this to see if any problems were encountered and if an area needs to be scanned again.  The manager uses the immense CARIS HIPS and SIPS marine data processing program, prepares dive teams if needed, does more reviewing of data and organizes the pilots that take the launches closer to shore.  This is truly just a brief overview.  Sheet Manager is a very important job.

Sheet Assistant – The assistant works very hard right alongside the Sheet Manager.  This person is in training as well and will someday be a Sheet Manager.  It is important for the Sheet Manager to give the assistant guidance to learn.   The assistant needs to ask questions so they can be an effective manager in the future.  They need to set up the launches, help with polygon plans, maintain the bottom sample notebook, load charts, assist with data acquisition and follow what the manager needs them to do.

ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area.
ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area. Photo credit: Anthony Wright

Sheet Mentor – The mentor’s role is an advisor to the manager, especially if this is the first time someone is managing.  They also train the sheet assistant and work between the FOO and the management team (in this case the FOO is also the mentor).  The more the mentor can teach the assistant the easier their transition will be from assistant to manager in the future.

Once all of the extensive planning is taken care of, this team begins to collect data.  This is the actual field work that Rainier does!  I know all of you at school were most excited to hear about this!




Drilling for tide marker "Echo" while HAST Mike Bloom looks on.
Drilling for tide benchmark “Echo” while HAST Mike Bloom looks on. Photo credit: Chris Palmer

To begin, we went ashore in the South Arm of Uganik Bay, northern Kodiak Island and had to place a tide gauge station.  To begin the scuba divers had to place part of the equipment called the orifice under water.  This orifice holds air bubbles.  When the tide is higher and the water level is high, more bubbles will be pushed out of the orifice letting the system know that the water level is up.  The more water pressure on the orifice, the higher the tide level and the opposite is also true.  This information is sent to the satellite links where solar panels and batteries keep everything powered so people on the ship can read the data.  We also had to place tide benchmarks in five different areas near the tide station.  I helped with tide benchmark 7588 E or “Echo” which was the fifth benchmark to go in.  Due to movement in the Earth, we need to have tide benchmarks throughout the areas we are studying so when the ship returns in 30 days they will have accurate information.

Tide gauge 1788 E
Tide benchmark 7588 E


I worked very hard drilling into just the right rock to cement it down (I actually drilled in 4 areas before this one, but the shale kept breaking apart, LT Pfundt found this great spot with a more stable rock).  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech (HAST) Michael Bloom and I made a great team working together.  It took 1 1/2 days to place everything, survey and link the systems plus take 3 hours of observations for the tides.  During this 3 hour period the observer checks the water level on the staff every 6 minutes.  This is a lot of close observation to make sure everything is running properly!

Surveying all the tide gauges!
Surveying all the tide benchmarks!

Do you know why we would need to know when the sea rises and falls?  Sometimes it can change over 6 feet in depth – two times per day here in the Pacific!!  We need to know the levels for the charts that are being made.  The researchers are looking at updating water depths on a chart.  They will use the tide level that is lowest to be safest.  This will give boats traveling above the best depth for clearance below them.  The opposite is true if there is bridge on a chart.  The researchers will use the highest tide depth so ships can know if they can make it under a bridge.  Knowing tides is very important to chart development!  Here is some more information on Vertical Control-Tides.

Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.
Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.  See the tall stick where water measurements were taken every 6 minutes.  In the back, are the satellite up-links with the GOES and Iridium data retrieval boxes under the blue tarp.


Path to Rainier

Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis
Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis

Another fascinating person on board is Hydrographic Survey Technician Eli Smith.  Eli has been on Rainier for 1 1/2 years now.  He started as a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech  in May of 2014.  Originally, he graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Geology.  I was curious how he went from being a geologist in the oil fields of Denver to working on the ocean.  While he was in Denver, Eli would take soil samples.  So many samples that he was called a “Mud Logger” which is a pretty interesting term even though Eli didn’t enjoy it very much.  He did a lot of “soul searching” and realized he needed to do something else.  Between remembering an ocean based field experience in college off the coast of Hawaii and contacting a career counselor, Eli was led to NOAA.  He was pleased when he was placed on Rainier.

On Rainier, Eli works a great deal up in the Plotting room or in another room called the “Hologram Room” where survey techs also work.  Currently, he is a sheet manager for sheet H12691.  This sheet includes Viekoda Bay and Terror Bay.  You can see his area in the photo above.  Eli has been  hard at work doing his own polygon plot and preparing plans for his sheet.  He is also part of the Tides Team placing tidal gauges in areas that are being studied.

When Eli is not working, he has his bike on board and likes to ride that when he can.  He is also a hiker and snowboarder.  I appreciate Eli spending some time with me telling me about himself and all your help on shore.  Thank you!


Personal Log

Being on this ship is like being part of a hard working family.  People are all over this ship.  I have come to appreciate the true gift that this crew gave me with my own stateroom, head and starboard side porthole.

I even have my own head!
I even have my own head!

Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.
Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.

I found out the room they gave me is called the “Princess Suite.”  I  learned this name comes from using the initials PS for the visiting Physical Scientists who often come aboard.  I extend an apology to visiting NOAA physical scientist Adam Argento.  You will learn about Adam in a future blog.  He did not get to sleep in the wonderful “Princess Suite” on this trip.

Rebecca Loy, DC means Damage Control! September 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 13, 2015

Current Location: transitioning between Shelikoff Strait and Uganik Bay, North Kodiak Island, Alaska

As I mentioned earlier, safety is top priority here on Rainier.  The crew is required to have safety drills within 24 hours of leaving port.  This includes drills such as Fire and Emergency drills, Man Over Board (MOB) drills and Abandon Ship drills.

When I arrived I was quickly told how to find 2 ways out of my cabin.  My cabin also has a device called an EEBD – Emergency Escape Breathing Device that will allow me to breathe for 10 minutes in a smoky corridor if needed.  Each and every cabin has these and they are also in various places around the ship.

All new crew and visitors are given a thorough safety briefing before we leave port.  We started by doing some paperwork and discussing what everything means.  Then, ENS Danial Palance took us around the ship and showed us the important areas.  He made sure I could find my safe places to report to since I am so new to the ship.

My Rainier safety card
My Rainier safety card

Every person, including me, has a job during an emergency.  Each person is given a “bunk card” that is held near your sleeping bunk.  It lists the three main emergencies we practice and where each person reports to.

Fire and Emergency Drills – the ship’s whistle will blow for a long 10 second blast when there is a fire or other emergency.  Go ahead and slowly count to 10 to see how long it is – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3…

This will definitely get your attention!   If it is a drill it will be announced.  If not, it will say this is an emergency.  My job is to get to the “BRAVO station” which is on the Fantail or back of the ship near the boat shop.  My primary duty is to “assist as directed” if help is needed.   All over the ship are stations for the firefighters. What I find most interesting is these are not people they bring on board specifically… it is the crew you see around you who have also trained to be Firefighters and Advanced Firefighters!  ENS Palance is one of them!

The fire station in the mess hall.
The fire station in the mess hall.

Also throughout the ship you can see Fire Stations and fire extinguishers, fire alarm boxes, radios for communication.  Some of the areas with more dangerous items (like paint or the machine shop) are labeled “CO2 PROTECTED SPACE”.  I was most curious about this.  What do you think CO2 and fires have in common?  If you answered that fires need oxygen to burn and CO2 will put a fire out then you are correct.  In one area of the ship there are many large canisters with CO2 in them.  If there is a bad fire in one of the CO2 protected spaces, someone can send the CO2 to that area and put the fire out.  It will remove all the oxygen from the space.

Man Over Board drills – On a ship if someone falls into the water you will hear the whistle blow for 3 long blasts.

Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.
Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.

If you are the person who saw this, you will need to keep your eye on the person and let others know.  Everyone has a station for this as well.  My job is to report to the “Flying bridge” on top of the ship and be a lookout and help as needed.  The ship has many orange safety rings that can be throw overboard to someone.  There are also two rings with smoke signals attached that can be released from both port (left side) and starboard (right side) of the ship.  We learned how to release those as well.  Rainier has to do monthly drills for MOB.  They don’t actually put someone in the water for this, it is usually a buoy or it could be “Oscar” the medical mannequin (He must be Rainier’s version of “Buster” from the show Mythbusters).

In my survival suit!
In my survival suit!

Abandon Ship drills – Being out on the cold waters of Alaska and leaving this ship is a scary thought, but it needs to be practiced.  Everyone has their own Survival Suits to wear for these drills.  Check me out with mine!!  We also need to bring long sleeved shirts, warm hats and flotation devices with us.  I will be reporting to Liferaft #4 on the port side of the ship with Liferaft #3 on the starboard side as back up.  My indoor meeting place is in the Wardroom and, again, I assist as directed.  If we have to leave the ship, people have jobs to go get the EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the SART is a Search and Rescue Transponder and the GMDSS which are Global Maritime Distress Safety Signal.  All of these will help the Coast Guard rescue us!!

I have had my training, and you know what needs to be done.  Now, time for the real drills at sea!!!

Suddenly, we hear a long 10 second whistle… it was the drill for fire and emergency.  Everyone quickly went to their assigned areas.  There was a fire near the mess hall and the fire team was on the job!!  ENS McKay and AB Wright worked on putting the fire out.  Below are some pictures of them in their fire gear!

ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.
ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.

AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.
AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.











The fire drill turned into an Abandoned Ship drill.  Calmly and quickly, everyone gathered their survival suits, a warm hat, long sleeved shirt and their PFD (personal floatation device) and went to their station.  Everyone had to put their survival suits on.  ENS McKay was my group leader and he had to help me with mine.  He was incredibly fast putting his on and gave me some great pointers on being quicker in a real emergency.

Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits!
Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits! Photo Credit: Eli Smith

ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine.
ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine. Photo Credit: Eli Smith











While safety drills are important.  I hope we will never have to do this for real!

Path to Rainier

This crew is truly an incredible bunch.  I thought it would be interesting for others to see how people ended up working here.   While I would like to highlight everyone, I could only pick a few.

The first person I want everyone to meet is Able Seaman (AB) Lindsey Houska.  Lindsey is one of the deck hands on Rainier.   I wanted to know what path led her to this unique work place.

With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele
With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Lindsey started with a degree in Economics from South Dakota State University and worked in Montana for the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture) for 4 1/2 years.  She realized she wanted to get a bit more out of life than working at a desk.  She sold her house and car, stored her belongings with her parents and went to Indonesia to volunteer instructing farmers on better growing practices.  This was the beginning of her life adventures!  After 3 months living in Indonesia and 5 months traveling other areas of Southeast Asia, she headed out to Australia.  This incredibly hard working woman did a few jobs but ended up working on a commercial fishing vessel catching prawns on the West Coast of Australia.  Later, she got a job in Seattle and South East Alaska as a deck hand on a luxury yacht.  Realizing she had a love of positive environmental practices she wanted to do more for the world in general.  This is when Lindsey applied to work for NOAA.  NOAA are true stewards of the ocean!

On Rainier, Lindsey has been a very busy deck hand for nearly 2 years.  She loves working with all the other deck hands and they have an amazing camaraderie with each other.   I learned so much more about her job when we sat down together.  Lindsey is a trained fire fighter, has been to radar school and even has her captain’s license for smaller vessels.  She works hard with boat deployment, maintenance on the weather deck, inport bridge watch for security and anchor watch so the ship stays in place when it is at anchor.  She also works the cranes, does lookout on the flying bridge and can be a helmsman steering the ship.

In her free time, Lindsey can be found reading, working out in the gym on board, meditating for some quiet time and she also has a bicycle on board that she likes to ride when the ship is in port.  When I asked Lindsey what she did to reduce stress on the job, she said having a good sense of humor with colleagues goes a long way.  They also enjoy time in port together and having meals together.  This amazing woman has traveled all over the world including most of Southeast Asia, all over Australia and New Zealand.  She has been to Europe, Mexico, British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada.  Incredibly, but not surprising as I get to know her, many of the areas Lindsey backpacked to on her own!

I am truly impressed by this lady; how hard she works and how kind she has been to me.  Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me get to know you better!

Personal Log

So true!
So true!

TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST   Three words that I have discovered run Rainier.  I am incredibly impressed by the teamwork, communication, hard work and commitment to our oceans that is evident here.  The umbrella over all of this is an even bigger obligation to safety.  Above I have highlighted just a bit of what makes this ship work in regard to safety.  In future blogs you will read more about this topic when you learn about the people here.   Needless to say, even though we will be out in very big, deep waters and in narrow bays with tall mountains, I feel incredibly safe in the hands of this reliable crew.

Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.
Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.

Denise Harrington: Polygon Planning, April 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 21 – May 2, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 24, 2014, 23:00

Location: 51 50.7’ N  127o 55.9’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 8.4C (dry bulb), Wind 9 knots @ 59o, overcast, light fog, 1-2′ swell.

Our current location and weather can also be seen at NOAA Shiptracker:

Science and Technology Log

Much like the the lab reports we do in class, hydrographers have a tremendous amount of work to do prior to going into the field.  As we make the transit from Rainier’s home port of Newport to our charting location of Kodiak Island, hydrographers are working long hours in the plotting room planning their season’s work. Today’s log is about a software program called CARIS that hydrographers use to plan their project and guide data collection through the season.  This morning, Ensign Micki Ream planned her season’s work in the Plot Room on CARIS.  This afternoon, she walked out the plot room door and onto the bridge where she navigated Rainier through the narrow Blackney Passage of the Inside Passage.   Prior to taking over the bridge, I watched as Ensign Ream as she plotted her project area for the season.  She has been assigned Cape Uganik, an area of North Kodiak Island in the vicinity of Raspberry Island.  The area was chosen to survey due to boat traffic and because the last survey completed was in 1908 by lead line.  Here you can see the original survey report and an image of how data was collect at that time (1908 Survey of Ensign Ream’s Survey Area). Ensign Micki Ream explained that the charts were called “sheets,” because originally, they were sheets of paper, sent out with the surveyor into the field.  While we still call them sheets, they are now in electronic form, just like the sheet below representing one of two project areas ENS Ream will most likely work on this summer.

Ensign Ream's task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts.
Ensign Ream’s task is to break this large polygon into smaller manageable parts. Challenge:  print a copy of this map and come up with 30 smaller polygons to assign to your team to survey before you scroll down to see Ensign Ream’s plan.

Why make polygons instead of sending several launches out to your work area and tell them to start on opposite ends and meet in the middle? The polygons are a way for hydrographers to break a large amount of work into manageable tasks. Commander Rick Brennan, the Commanding Officer, explains “polygons are designed based upon the depth of the water, the time it will take to complete, and the oceanographic condition, particularly speed of sound through water.  Areas that are suspected to have a higher variability in sound speed will get smaller polygons to manage errors from sound speed.”

Also, imagine sending several launch boats out into a large area to work without telling them where to go. Polygons provide a plan for several boats to work safely in an area without running into each other.  It allows areas to be assigned to people based upon their skills.  The coxswains, boat drivers, with a lot of experience and skill, will take the near shore polygons, and the newer coxswains will take less hazardous, deeper water.

Another reason to break your sheet into polygons is to maintain team moral.  By breaking a large task into small assignments people feel a sense of accomplishment. As she divided her large polygon into 30 smaller polygons, Ensign Micki Ream kept in mind many variables. First, she considers the depth of the water.  The sonar produces a swath of data as the survey vessel proceeds along its course.  As the water gets deeper, the swath gets wider, so you can make a bigger polygon in deeper water. As she drew her polygons, she followed contour lines as much as possible while keeping lines straight.  The more like a quadrilateral a polygon is, the easier it is for a boat to cover the area, just like mowing a rectangular lawn. In her polygons, she cut out areas that are blue (shallow), rocky areas and kelp beds, because those areas are hazardous to boats.  While the hydrographer in charge and coxswain (boat driver), should use best practices and not survey these areas by boat, sometimes they rely on the polygon assignment.

Here is Ensign Ream's Proposal for how to complete this summer's work. How does it compare to your proposal?
Here is Ensign Ream’s Proposal for how to complete this summer’s work. How does it compare to your proposal?

Once she has drawn up her plan, Ensign Micki Ream roughly measures the average length and width of her polygons and puts that data into a Polygon Time Log form that a co-worker created on Rainier last season.  The form also takes into account the depth and gives an estimate of time it will take to complete the polygon.  This Time Log is just one of the many pieces of technology or equipment that crew invents to make their lives and jobs easier.

Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.
Polygon Time Logs estimate how long it will take to complete a sheet.

The fun part of this process is naming your polygons so that hydrographers in the field can report back to you their progress.  Traditional alphabetical and numerical labels are often used, but Ensign Micki Ream is naming some of her polygons after ’90s rock bands this year. Once the polygon is named, the sheet manager, Ensign Ream, develops a boat sheet for a hydrographer in charge (HIC):  this is their assignment for the day. Typically, they send out three to four people on a launch, including the HIC, coxswain and an extra hand. There are always new people aboard Rainier, so there are often other people in the launch being trained.  There are enough immersion suits for 4 people but ideally there are three people to help with launching the boat and completing the day’s work.  Communication between the HIC and coxswain is essential to get data for ocean depths in all areas of their polygon as they determine the direction to collect data in their work area.  Now, at least, the hydrographer and coxswain know where to start and stop, and are confident that their sheet manager has done her best to send them into a safe area to collect the data needed to make new charts.


Since Ensign Ream’s polygon plan is an estimate, the time to complete each polygon may be longer or shorter than estimated.  Variables such as the constantly changing depth of the ocean, weather, experience and equipment of the crew collecting data, and a myriad of other variables, known and unknown, make scheduling and completing surveys a constantly moving target.  There are two guarantees however:  flexibility is required to work on the crew and ultimately winter will force a pause to Rainier’s work.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Although I have been on Rainier for only several days, I am blown away by the incredible skills crew members acquire in short amounts of time.  Ensign Micki Ream is the perfect example:   In January, 2013, she joined the NOAA Corps which provides operational support for NOAA’s scientific missions.  During a six month officer training, she was trained in the basics of navigation. On June 2, 2013, she joined Rainier crew. In February, 2014 NOAA sent her to a one month Basic Hydrography School where she learned hydrography principles and how to use various software programs. Throughout her short time at NOAA, she has had significant and varied on the job training with scientific, managerial and navigational work.The rest of her skills are on the job training with an end goal of Officer of the Deck (similar to a mate in commercial sailing) and Hydrographer in Charge.

Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90's rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas.  There is plenty of room for creativity here!
Here, Ensign Ream is modifying polygon names from 90’s rock bands to the 12 Days of Christmas. There is plenty of room for creativity!

Ensign Micki Ream does have a background in science which she is putting to use every day.  Originally from Seattle, she started her career with NOAA in June, 2009, after obtaining a Marine Biology degree at Stanford University.  Her first position was with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Program, which provided her with an internship and scholarship to acquire a Master’s Degree, also from Stanford, in Communicating Ocean Science. Just a little over one year after coming to NOAA Corps, she is a hydrographer in training and safely navigating a very impressive ship as part of a bridge team, including highly skilled navigational experts such as Ensign J.C. Clark and Commander Brennan.  Where else could you get training, experience and on the job support in so many diverse areas but with NOAA Hydro?

Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.
Ensign Ream consults with Lieutenant Russel Quintero, the Field Operations Officer, about the best way to navigate through a narrow passage during her upcoming bridge watch.

Personal Log

The food is absolutely amazing on board.  Tonight’s dinner options were roast prime beef, cut to order, au jus, creamy smoked salmon casserole, farro vegetable casserole, baked potatoes with fixings, asparagus and several different kinds of cake and fruit. In the evenings, snacks are also available.  My biggest challenge has been to pace myself with the the quantity of food I eat, particularly since taking long hikes after dinner is not an option. I feel very well cared for aboard Rainier. P1000587

This is the front door to the snack freezer.  For me, the answer is clearly "No."
This is the front door to the snack freezer. For me, the answer is clearly “No.”

Britta Culbertson: Hiding Out During Rough Seas, September 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 6th at 5:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 42.65 knots
Air Temperature: 11.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 81%
Barometric Pressure: 987.4 mb
Latitude:57.67 N          Longitude: 153.87 W

Science and Technology Log

Weather Advsisory
The weather advisory for the Gulf of Alaska and around Kodiak Island (screen shot from NOAA Alaska Region Headquarters)

Spiridon Bay
Spiridon Bay (screenshot from

As you can see from my weather data section, the wind speed this morning was up to 42.65 knots.  We had waves near 18 feet and thus the Oscar Dyson ran for cover and tucked itself in an inlet on the North side of Kodiak Island called Spiridon Bay.  The Oscar Dyson’s location can be viewed in near real-time using NOAA’s Shiptracker website.   The screenshot above was taken from the Shiptracker website when we were hiding from the weather. The weather forecast from NOAA’s Alaska Region Headquarters shows that the winds should diminish over the next few days.  I’m thankful to hear that!


Since the Dyson has been in safe harbor in Spiridon Bay for the last few hours, I have had some time to catch up on some blogging!  Let’s backtrack a few days to Wednesday, September 4th, when the Dyson left Kodiak to begin its journey in the Gulf of Alaska.  We headed out after 1PM to pick up where the last cruise left off in the research grid.  We reached our first station later in the afternoon and began work.  A station is a pre-determined location where we complete two of our surveys (see map below).  The circles on the map represent a station location in the survey grid.  The solid circles are from leg 1 of the cruise that took place in August and the hollow circles represent leg 2 of the cruise, which is the leg on which I am sailing.

The first step once we reach a station is to deploy a Bongo net to collect marine zooplankton and the second step is to begin trawling with an anchovy net to capture small, pelagic juvenile pollock and forage fishes that are part of the main study for this cruise. Pelagic fish live near the surface of the water or in the water column, but not near the bottom or close to the shore.  Zooplankton are “animal plankton”.  The generic definition of plankton is: small, floating or somewhat motile (able to move on their own) organisms that live in a body of water. Some zooplankton are the larval (beginning) stages of crabs, worms, or shellfish.  Other types of zooplankton stay in the planktonic stage for the entirety of their lives. In other words, they don’t “grow up” to become something like a shrimp or crab.

Station Map
Station map for leg 1 and leg 2 of the juvenile pollock survey. I am on leg 2 of the survey, which is represented with hollow circles on the map.

Before we reached the first station, we conducted a few safety drills.  The first was a fire drill and the second was an abandon ship drill.  The purpose of these drills is to make sure we understand where to go (muster) in case of an emergency.   For the abandon ship drill, we had to grab our survival suits and life preservers and muster on the back deck.  The life rafts are stored one deck above and would be lowered to the fantail (rear deck of the ship) in the event of an actual emergency.  After the drill I had to test out my survival suit to make sure I knew how to put it on correctly.

Life Jacket
Britta Mustering for Abandon Ship Drill on Oscar Dyson

survival suit
Britta models a survival suit – they even found a size SMALL for me!

On the way to our first station, we traveled through Whale Pass next to Whale Island, which lies off of the northern end of Kodiak Island.  While passing through this area, we saw a total of 4 whales spouting and so many sea otters, I lost track after I counted 20.  Unfortunately, none of my pictures really captured the moment.  The boat was moving too fast to get the sea otters before they flipped over or were out of sight.

Whale Island
A nautical chart map for Whale Island and Whale Passage

Personal Log

secure for sea!
Last night’s warning about high seas in the early morning of September 6th.

A lot of people have emailed to ask me if I have been getting seasick.  So far, things haven’t been that bad, but I figured out that I feel pretty fine when I’m working and moving about the ship.  However, when I sit and type at a computer and focus my attention on the screen that seems to be when the seasickness hits. For the most part, getting some fresh air and eating dried ginger has saved me from getting sick and fortunately, I knew about the threat of high winds last night, so I made sure to take some seasickness medication before going to bed.  After what we experienced this morning, I am sure glad I took some medication.

Everyone on board seems very friendly and always asks how I am doing.  It has been a real pleasure to meet the engineers, fisherman, NOAA Corps officers, scientists, and all others aboard the ship.  Since we have to work with the crew to get our research done, it’s wonderful to have a positive relationship with the various crew members.  Plus, I’m learning a lot about what kinds of careers one can have aboard a ship, in addition to being a scientist.

So far, I’ve worked two 12-hour shifts and even though I’m pretty tired after my long travel day and the adjustment from the Eastern Time Zone to the Alaskan Time Zone (a four hour difference), I’m having a great time!  I really enjoy getting my hands dirty (or fishy) and processing the fish that we bring in from the trawl net.  Processing the haul involves identifying, sorting, counting, measuring the length, and freezing some of the catch.  The catch is mainly composed of different types of fish like pollock and eulachon, but sometimes there are squid, shrimp, and jellyfish as well.

One of the hardest parts of the trip so far is getting used to starting work at noon and working until midnight.  We have predetermined lunch and dinner times, 11:30 AM and 5:00 PM respectively, so I basically eat lunch for breakfast and dinner for lunch and then I snack a little before I go to bed after my shift ends at midnight.  As the days go by, I’m sure I’ll get more used to the schedule.

Did You Know?

During one of our trawls, we found a lanternfish.  Lanternfish have rows of photophores along the length of their bodies.  Photophores produce bioluminescence and are used for signaling in deep, dark waters.  The fish can control the amount of light that the photophores produce.  Lanternfish belong to the Family Myctophidae and are “one of the most abundant and diverse of all oceanic fish families” (NOAA Ocean Explorer).

Lanternfish caught during a trawl. Note the dots along the bottom of the fish, these are photophores that emit bioluminescence.

Photo of bioluminescing lanternfish (Photo Credit: BBC Animal Facts


Avery Marvin: Brown bears, fish guts, WW2 bunkers and fossils, OH MY! Adventures in Kodiak, Alaska, August 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 30, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 8, 2013

Current Location: 57° 47’ 35” N, 152° 23’ 39” W

Personal Log:

My Teacher at Sea experience ended on the island of Kodiak where the Rainier docked for a few days to stock up on supplies and give the crew a much-needed rest. They departed Kodiak 3 days later to begin the next 2-3 wk leg of their survey season. I had the good fortune of staying on the island for 4 days to explore its unique natural landscape and rich cultural history.

As I walked around downtown, perused the storefronts and enjoyed a latte at Harborside Coffee and Goods, one thing was very clear to me: this town is centered around fish, not tourists. Shelikolff drive is an entire street lined with fish processing plants. Trident Seafood, housed inside an old ship sprawls out on the other side of town.  The harbor itself is home to over 1000 fishing vessels, ranging from huge 125 foot crab boats to 18 foot set net skiffs.  Xtra Tuff fishing boots are the preferred footwear by all the locals and smelling of fish is a natural occurrence.

Kodiak fishing vessels
Kodiak fishing vessels

Crab pot parking spot!
Crab pot parking spot!

Trident seafoods
Trident seafoods

Fish tackle
Fish tackle

Avery next to a recycled fish
Avery next to a recycled fish

Avery at the NOAA Kodiak Fisheries Research Center
Avery at the Alaska/NOAA Fisheries Research Center in Kodiak where a lot of important shellfish research is conducted.

Reindeer (Caribou) sausage sandwich
Reindeer (Caribou) sausage sandwich–The MOST delicious sauauge I have ever tasted!

When I was in the coffee shop, I noticed a young women in her late twenties with a toddler next to her, writing a letter to her husband who presumably was out at sea fishing. The letter had pictures of her son taped onto it and lots of hearts and colorful doodles–a gentle reminder that living in Kodiak is not for the faint-hearted. The life of a fisherman is physically demanding and maintaining relationships can be trying.

Kodiak has always been an industrious port and its people have always had a strong connection to the ocean.  The first people of Kodiak, the Aleut from Kamchatka, inhabited the island 10,000 years ago and lived off the nutrient-rich waters for 7,500 years.  They were true “nature engineers” using resources around them for fishing, clothing, dwellings and other needs. Nothing was wasted. Fishing with nets made of nettle fiber and sinew (tendon). Catching bottom dwellers with seaweed line and bone hooks. Using whalebone for door frames and sod for walls. Lighting the way with whale and seal oil lamps. Dressing in mammal skin and intestines.

I had the chance to see many original Aleut artifacts at the Baranov Museum in Kodiak. The most interesting piece was the Kayak splashguard made of mammal skin, the predecessor of the modern nylon kayak skirt used today. The translucent thin waterproof jackets made of mammal intestines also fascinated me. They looked very delicate but were actually strong and flexible when wet. Suspended from the museum ceiling, was an actual seal skin kayak or Bairdarka used by the Aleuts.  They wrapped seal skin around a wood frame, tied the seams with sinew and then added a layer of seal oil for waterproofing. Aleut craftsmanship at its finest!

Avery in front of the Baranov Museum
Avery in front of the Baranov Museum (I am waving in the back right.)

Bairdarka splashguard
Baidarka splashguard made of mammal skin

Aleut waterproof jacket made of mammal intestine
Aleut waterproof jacket made of mammal intestine

Aleut kayak or Bairdarka
Aleut kayak or Baidarka

The Aleuts clearly adapted well to their island home, making use of all that surrounded them but never exploiting these resources. Sadly in 1784, this peaceful existence was abruptly terminated by the Russians who, armed with muskets and cannons, took the island by force.  Having already decimated both the sea otter and native Aleut population around the Aleutian islands, the Russians under the command of Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov established a permanent settlement in Three Saints Bay on Kodiak to capitalize on the remaining otter population in North Pacific waters.  Following the success of the fur trade industry on Kodiak, the Russians expanded their colonization on the Alaska mainland, establishing several subsequent fur trade centers.

Russian conquest was bittersweet. They brought with them diseases and modern necessities such as flour, tea, tobacco and sugar. They built several structures for their needs including fur warehouses, a school, a hospital, a stone quay, a saw mill and an ice making plant. They forced the Aleuts to be their skilled craftsmen and otter hunters. Between old world diseases, murder and abuse, many Aleuts lost their lives and those left standing witnessed the slow demise of their ancient seafarer culture.

The 126-year Russian occupation of Alaska finally came to an end when tired and poor from the Crimean war with France and England, they sold the territory to the U.S. for 7.2 million (2 cents per acre) in 1867.  With high-powered firearms, the Americans continued to slaughter the otters at an unsustainable rate. Teetering on the brink of extinction, an international treaty banning the killing of otters was signed in 1911. Post otter years, Americans tried their hand at other industries including trapping, whaling, clamming, cattle ranching, fox farming and gold mining.  Salmon fishing though proved to be the most reliable and profitable natural resource so the U.S. quickly established several salmon processing plants around Kodiak. Wooden dories replaced Baidarkas and by the end of the 19th century, Kodiak had transitioned from a fur-trading hub to a fishing mecca.

Things progressed unchanged until World War II, when Kodiak seen as a strategic waypoint between Asia and the North American west coast, was transformed into a military town.  The population went from 400 to several thousand in a short time. A huge self-sufficient navel base was built along with new roads around the island. In preparation for a Japanese attack, several concrete bunkers and underground bomb shelters were constructed. With all of this new infrastructure came indoor plumbing and electricity to the island. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941 followed by Dutch Harbor on June 3, a Japanese attack on Kodiak seemed imminent but surprisingly the emerald isle went untouched.

Avery in WW2 bunker
Avery in WWII bunker

Today Kodiak remains an important fishing port with a wide variety of crab and fish species (salmon, cod, halibut, Pollack) caught and processed.  Modern fishing equipment and boats have replaced older, more natural gear but many of the fishing methods are still the same. Similarly, the factories along Sheikolf Drive have become more automated, with less human hands along each assembly line. Also, the fish industry as a whole on Kodiak has become much more regulated.

Kodiak is a fascinating place to explore because you can see several remnants of its past interspersed around the island: concrete WWII bunkers at Fort Abercrombie, Russian Orthodox church in downtown, old WWII ship anchors lying around, a 200 year old fur warehouse (now the Baranov Museum). Unfortunately, many historical landmarks were destroyed in the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The tsunami that followed the earthquake wreaked more havoc, killing 106 Alaskans and a family of 4 camping at Beverly Beach State Park near Newport, Oregon.

Besides a rich cultural history, Kodiak Island is full of natural beauty and an assortment of cool creatures.  Rosalind and I got the chance to explore fossil beach on the south-eastern side of Kodiak where we collected many unique fossils. My top finds were a snail fossil and a shale rock with encased petrified wood.

Avery finds a cool fossil at Fossil beach
Avery finds a cool fossil at Fossil beach

Rosalind at Fossil Beach
Rosalind at Fossil Beach

After Rosalind left, I was blessed by another Teacher at Sea, Katie Sard, who spent the day with me on a spontaneous adventure around the island. We did all sorts of fun things like tide pooling, checking out WWII bunkers at Fort Abercrombie and eating Greek food at sunset at Monashka bay.

TAS's Avery and Katie Sard :)
TAS’s Avery and Katie Sard 🙂

Fly fisherman in Kodiak Bay
Fly fisherman in Kodiak Bay

One of the highlights of my entire Alaska trip, was the float plane trip I took to the Kenai Peninsula on the mainland to see Brown bears.  These are the 2nd largest bears in the world (next to Polar Bears), living off a rich diet of berries and salmon. I had never been in a float plane before and was impressed by how soft the landing and take off were. The aerial views were also incredible. I spotted 2 Humpback whales on the way over to the peninsula from Kodiak and on the way back another passenger spotted a pod of about 45 Orca whales! The pilot was just as excited as we were, and circled around this giant pod for about 10 minutes giving us all good views of their movement and sheer numbers. Incredible!

Avery in the cockpit with the pilot
Avery in the cockpit with the pilot

Bear tour seaplane
Bear tour seaplane

Wading over to the beach
Wading over to the beach

We landed about a football field away from the peninsula, and waded in hip deep water to the beach. The scenery was beautiful with snow-covered mountains as a backdrop and wild flowers and meandering streams in the foreground. This was perfect bear country! Within about 3 hours we saw the Brown bear Trifecta: Brown bear trying to catch salmon, Brown bear mother with 2 cubs and to cap it all off, Brown bears mating. All of these sightings were of different bears and within a stones throw away.  I was surprised at how okay the bears were with our close presence. As I learned from my guide, human safety is ensured by the ability to read nonverbal bear clues which can be very subtle. For example, if a bear turns its back to you, it is saying “Please leave me alone.” You also never make eye contact with a bear or walk directly towards it. You want the bear to feel like he/she has plenty of surrounding space and an escape route if need be.  Jo, our guide said that in the 20 years of leading bear tours, she has only had to get out her bear spray 3 times. And one of these times involved a naïve group of students eating Subway sandwiches in front of the bears!

Mama and cubs crossing the river
Mama and cubs crossing the river

Mama and cubs
Mama and cubs

Cub staring contest
Cub staring contest

Brown bear in search of salmon
Brown bear in search of salmon

Brown bears mating
Brown bears mating

The last day of my Kodiak stay was spent touring several fish factories where I got to experience the real backbones of this city. At all 3 factories, it was Pink salmon processing time which meant the machines were in full swing, with humans at various checkpoints along each assembly line.  The machines did everything from decapitating each salmon to cleaning out its guts to skinning it. Each factory processed about 200,000 pounds of Pink salmon per day.  In peak season with several different fish species being processed at once, the factories can see around ¾ million pounds of fish processed per day! At one factory, I learned that the big money comes from making surimi (ground fish) which is used as imitation crab all over the world. The most common fish used in surumi is the Alaska Pollock which is very plentiful in Kodiak waters. I am glad to hear that imitation crab is actually fish and not some other protein filler.

Check out these videos to see the factory process in action. It’s fascinating!!!

Avery gets her hands fishy!
Avery gets her hands fishy!

Avery at the fish factory
Avery at the fish factory

Frozen salmon
Frozen salmon

Frozen aisle at fish factory
Frozen aisle at fish factory

As you saw from the above videos, the most hands on section of the whole process is in the production of roe (salmon eggs).  This is because the roe must be gently handled and graded (1-3 scale) in preparation to be sold to Japan. At $50 per pound, roe is a delicacy in Japan and often eaten raw over rice or in sushi. Also Pink and Chum salmon produce the most desirable roe called ikura or red caviar. This roe is about the size of a pea and is sold as individual pieces. In contrast, the smaller eggs of Coho and Sockeye salmon produce sujiko, which is roe still connected in the sac. Throughout each of my fish processing plant tours, I was curious to know HOW the roe was graded. To my surprise, none of the factory managers could tell me how and I unfortunately could not communicate with the highly skilled Japanese roe technicians.

So I looked it up and it turns out roe is graded using the following criteria: size (larger is better), salt content (lower is better), drip (zero is best), firmness (firm is better but not so firm the egg breaks), color (bright, red-orange outer color with a center the color and consistency of honey), luster (eggs should be shiny and slightly transparent).

It was fitting to end my Kodiak stay with some down and dirty fish factory tours as this is the lifeblood of the city (and Alaska) and a good representation of the Kodiak spirit. These factories operate 24/7 with workers on their feet for 12 hour shifts. From the Aleuts to now, the Kodiak people have always been a hardy bunch with an incredible work ethic, and the ability to adapt to one of the most challenging environments in the world. This is the ring of fire: weather and natural disasters are unpredictable.  So why do people stay?  It’s the sea.  Beautiful. Vast. Mysterious. Full of life. She calls them back day after day, year after year. Welcome to Kodiak life.

Fun Factoid: The infamous Kodiak brown bear, the sole species of bear on the island of Kodiak, is a sub-species of the Alaskan mainland Brown bear population. Hunters come from all around the world to hunt this sub-species, paying thousands of dollars per expedition.

Melissa George: Yakutat or Bust, July 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa George
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 22, – August 9, 2013

Mission:  Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Current Data From Today’s Cruise

Weather Data from the Bridge (6:00 am Alaska Daylight Time)
Sky Condition: Scattered Clouds
Temperature: 12º C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1017.2 mb
Humidity: 93%

Sun and Moon Data
Sunrise:  5:40 am
Sunset: 10:38 pm

Moonrise:  10:36 pm (July 23, 2013)
Moonset:  9:11 am

Sunrise on July 24, 2013
Sunrise on July 24, 2013

Geographic Coordinates  (6:00 am Alaska Daylight Time)
Latitude: 58º 30.5’ N   Longitude:  150º 53.9’ W

The ship’s position now can be found by clicking:

Oscar Dyson’s Geographical Position

Science and Technology Log

This blog is titled Yakutat or Bust because there is a great deal of hope to complete the survey around Yakutat, Alaska in the southeast.  On the map below, the green mark is our position in the water near Kodiak Island (the survey actually began a bit west near the islands of Four Mountains) and the red is our final destination of Yakutat Bay.  (Photo courtesy of GoogleEarth)

Gulf of Alaska Map
Gulf of Alaska Map

The purpose of this cruise is to survey the walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) in the Gulf of Alaska. Pollock is a significant fishery in the United States as well as the world.  Pollock, a certified sustainable fishery, is processed into fish sticks, fish patties and imitation crab.  Last year, about 3 million tons of pollock were caught in the North Pacific.  The scientists on board will collect data to determine the pollock biomass and age structure.  These data are used with results from other independent surveys to establish the total allowable pollock catch.

Our First Pollock Catch
Our First Pollock Catch

According to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, typically pollock grow to about 50 cm and weigh about .75 kg.  They live in the water column and feed on small krill, zooplankton, and small fish as they grow.  As they age they will eat other pollocks.  Sexual maturity is reached around age 4.  Spawning and fertilization occurs in the water column in early spring.  The eggs stay in the water column and once hatched are part of the zooplankton until they are free swimming.

The general process used to catch the pollock involves multiple parts.  I will break down those steps in a series of blogs.  But basically, acoustics are used to locate fish in the water column.  Once the scientists have located the fish along the transect (transects are the paths that the ship will travel on so the scientists can collect data), the Oscar Dyson sets out a trawl equipped with a camera.  The trawl is brought in and data from the catch is documented.  And then the ship continues on.

Bringing in the Aleutian Wing Trawling (AWT) Net
Bringing in the Aleutian Wing Trawling (AWT) Net

Trawling is usually completed only during daylight hours.  Fortunately the sun does not set here in Alaska right now until after 10 pm.  When it is dark, work aboard the Oscar Dyson continues.  For example, one of the scientists is documenting the sea floor with a drop camera.  She is looking at life that is there as well as potential threats to the trawl nets for the bottom trawl surveys.

Preparing the Drop Camera
Preparing the Drop Camera

Questions to Think About:

  • How do scientists use acoustics to locate pollock?
  • How are the transects locations determined?
  • How are pollock and the rest of the catch processed?
  • What information is retrieved from the trawl camera and other types of sensors?
  • What is a bottom trawl and how is it different from a mid-water trawl?
  • What types of careers are available on the Oscar Dyson?

Personal Log: 

Before we left Kodiak Island on July 22, I was able to spend a day exploring alone and with some of the members of the science team while the crew prepared the ship.  The town of Kodiak is one of seven communities on the island and the central location for all commercial transportation on and off the island either by airplane or ferry boat.  

Flying into the Kodiak Airport
Flying into the Kodiak Airport

Kodiak is the ancestral land of the Sugpiaq, native Alaskans of the Alutiq Nation, who subsisted by hunting, fishing, farming, and gathering.  Russian explorers were the first outsiders to visit the island, and under Grigory Shelikof, established a settlement in 1792 that became the center of Russian fur trading.  Following the 1867 Alaska Purchase from Russia, the island and the rest of Alaska became the 49th of the United States in 1959.  Russian influence is still apparent on Kodiak:  the Shelikof Strait separates Kodiak Island from mainland Alaska and the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral holds a full house on Sunday mornings.

Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church
Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church

Flora and fauna are abundant in this beautiful location.  On a short hike, I was able to sample the delicate salmonberries; fear the beautiful, yet invasive and poisonous hogweed; and watch a gorgeous sunset.

Delicate Salmonberries
Delicate Salmonberries

Invasive Hogweed
Invasive Hogweed

Sunset on Kodiak Island
Sunset on Kodiak Island

Did You Know?

The background of scientists on the Oscar Dyson varies; however, most have a strong affinity for the ocean and spent a lot of time outdoors exploring nature and playing with various critters as children. Kirsten, for example, is a post-doctoral researcher funded by the National Research Council.  She has a BS degree in Marine Biology from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island as well as MS and PhD degrees in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences with a concentration in Fishery Science from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.  She came aboard the ship to develop a time series of krill distribution in the Gulf of Alaska and to relate that to other species of importance such as pollock.

Kirsten's Krill Collection
Kirsten’s Krill Collection

Something to Think About: 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are not the only important subjects to know to work on the Oscar Dyson.  All three crews on the ship (NOAA Corp, Deck/Fishery Crew, and Scientists) use writing every day. Below are pictures of two log books: one records Weather Data by the NOAA Corp and the other Scientists’ notes.

NOAA Corp Weather Log
NOAA Corp Weather Log

Scientists' Trawling Log
Scientists’ Trawling Log

Fun Fact:

Alaska’s official flag is based on a design by Benny Benson, a thirteen year old boy.  It was submitted in a territory-wide contest for schoolchildren sponsored by the American Legion in 1926.  Benny Benson chose the background color of the flag to represent both the blue sky and the forget-me-not. The Alaska legislature later named the forget-me-not as Alaska’s official state flower.  The flag inspired the state song, the lyrics of which are seen in the picture below.  Marie Drake wrote the lyrics, and Elinor Dusenbury composed the song.

A Popular Hang Out on Board
A Popular Hang Out on Board

Melissa George: Contemplating Kodiak, July 20, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa George
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 22–August 9, 2013

Mission:  Alaska Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  July 20, 2013

Introductory Blog

Greetings from Lafayette, Indiana, where I recently moved back after spending two years in Washington, D.C. as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Environmental Biology.  In my recent position, I learned of many of the interesting research projects that ecosystem ecologists, population and community ecologists, systematic biologists, and evolutionary biologists are working on in various parts of the world. Beginning this fall, I will be returning to the Lafayette School Corporation to teach Biology and Zoology at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana.  I am excited to integrate aspects of the research I have learned about into my classroom.

Enhancing my understanding will be the authentic research experience in the  Gulf of Alaska as a  NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I will fly to Kodiak Island and board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, a support platform to study and monitor various aspects of the ocean:  environmental conditions,  habitat assessments, and marine mammal, fish, and bird populations.

Map of Kodiak Island
Map of Kodiak Island

This particular mission will be surveying the population of a species of fish called Alaskan pollock or scientifically speaking, Theragra chalcogramma.   These fish belong to the cod family and are one of the United States’ most valuable fisheries; they are typically sold as fish sticks, fish patties, or imitation crab, scallops, or shrimp.  Pollock populations vary from year to year, thus fish surveys, help to enact management practices as well as monitor the effects of climate change.

Ways to Identify the Alaskan Pollock
Ways to Identify the Alaskan Pollock

This adventure is exciting to me for several reasons.  First, growing up on the Pacific Coast in Santa Cruz, California I fell in love with the ocean at a young age.  I realize the importance of respecting the ocean and the ecosystems within it and around it.  Having spent the second half of my life in the Midwest, I have missed its calming effect as well as the wealth of ecological wonders it holds.  I escape to the ocean whenever I have the chance.  Below is a picture of me resting on the beach at Halawa Bay on the east end of Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands.

On Beach at Halawa Falls
On Beach at Halawa Falls

Second,  I hope to incorporate what I learn about how ocean scientists monitor various animal populations  into my high school classes.  There are so many aspects to this endeavor, I think my students will be excited to learn about many, if not all, of them.

Fun Fact:

I have four traveling companions.  They are in the photo below.  One of them will be accompanying me on the Teacher at Sea mission.  See if you can find pictures of this traveling companion in future posts and please comment when you do!

My Four Traveling Companions:  Manny, Molly, Mini Me, and Bust of Einstein
My Four Traveling Companions: Manny, Molly, Mini Me, and Bust of Einstein

Amie Ell: Out to Sea, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
June 30 – July 21, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Shelikof Strait
Date: July 3, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 154.35.3 W
Longitude: 57.65.65 N
Ship speed: 12  kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature:
Surface water temperature:
Wind speed: 13.01 kn
Wind direction: 271.17
Barometric pressure: 1,008.6 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday was the first day at sea for this 18 day research cruise.  You should now be able to follow the Oscar Dyson online by visiting the NOAA ship tracking website:

ShipTracker Zoom in
The path the Oscar Dyson is taking through Shelikof Strait

The red triangle shows the location of the  Oscar (photo courtesy of NOAA)
The red triangle shows the location of the Oscar Dyson (photo courtesy of NOAA)

Here are some questions I’m getting from my students.

From Kathy H.:

Why is the Pollock so popularly used for our fast food meals and imitation crab? I am thinking it must be plentiful, dense, and mild.

You are correct Kathy! One reason Pollock is used for fast food restaurant and imitation crab is that it is a mild fish. Another reason would be that  when cooked it has the desired characteristics of being white, dense, and flakey.  Also, the pollock is higher in oil counts which make this fish more flavorful than others.

Pollock waiting to be measured.
Pollock waiting to be measured.

From Lorie H.: Do you know if the Pollock are fished in other areas besides Alaska?

The Alaskan Pollock that the scientists are studying here on the Oscar Dyson are commonly found in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and the Russian Sea of Okhotsk.  Another type of pollock is the Atlantic pollock. These are not fished at the same level as the Alaskan pollock.  While about 11 million pounds of the Atlantic pollock are fished each year around 1 million tons of Alaskan Pollock are fished in a year.      

Me waiting for the fish to come in.
Me waiting for the fish to come in.

Personal Log:

Since many of you asked to hear more about what it is like to live on the Oscar Dyson, the following will give you an idea of  some of the amenities on board the Oscar Dyson.

I get top bunk!
I get top bunk!

The head (bathroom)

The Oscar Dyson has 21 state rooms.  I share this room with another scientist.  Our stateroom consists of a porthole (window), a set of bunks (I have top bunk), desk, telephone, refrigerator, and a set of lockers.  My roommate and I are on opposite watches.  The rooms are very small and quickly become crowded when just two people are in the room.   She works from 4 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, while I work from 4 in the afternoon to 4 in the morning.  Each stateroom has its own head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower.

There are several common areas as well.  Across the passage way from me is the lounge.  This is a very comfortable room with a couch, large chairs, many books, games, and a large screen TV with a DVD player. Another popular common area is the galley.  This popularity probably can be attributed to the fact that the stewards on the ship are excellent cooks.

The Galley
The Galley

Did You Know:

A pollock otolith

Fish have tiny bones in their heads known as otoliths.  This bone is found in the ear of the fish.  These bones have circular rings and can help scientists determine the age of a fish.   Do you remember learning about other rings in nature that can be used to determine age?  Reply below if you can think of one.

For Next Time:  The Labs on the Oscar Dyson

Jason Moeller: June 28, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Whale Pass
Date: June 28-29, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 58.01 N
Longitude: -152.50 W
Wind: 23.95 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Air Temperature: 10.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 71%
Depth: 177.72 m

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Due to the injury to the deck hand, we are done fishing. Our trip has been cut a day short and we are now headed back to Kodiak. We should arrive tomorrow morning, and I will fly back home on the 30th.

The shortest route to Kodiak was through Whale Pass, a break in Kodiak Island. The pass made for some spectacular scenery.

The entrance to Whale Pass
The entrance to Whale Pass, from the back of the Oscar Dyson

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.
Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

nav point
An island with a navigational marker in whale pass.

mountain 1
There were some spectacular views of the mountains in the pass as well.

Mountains 2
Another view of the mountains.

Mountain 3
Another view of the mountains.

And another...

Last one, I promise! We all liked the shape of this one.

A waterfall drops away into the ocean.

The coolest part of the pass, though, is definitely the wildlife. We saw sea otters everywhere! Unfortunately, they were so fast and at a great enough distance that the following shot is the only decent one I was able to take.

A sea otter at Whale Pass.

We also saw an animal that I have been hoping to see for a long time.

killer whales
Sorry about the grainy image, but it is the only one of the Orcas we were able to get.

We also saw a puffin, but it moved so quickly that there was no hope at a photo for it. Bummer. Several humpback whales were also spotted, along with numerous gulls and other seabirds.

Science and Technology Log

Today, lets talk about krill!

What are krill, you ask? They’re animals in the Phylum Arthropoda, which means they’re related to insects, spiders, crabs, lobsters, etc. They have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, are usually a couple of centimeters in length, and are reddish/orange-ish in color. They can often be found in dense schools near the surface of the water, and play an important role in the ecosystem as a source of food for lots of larger animals (like fish, whales, & penguins).

I’ve mentioned the two types of trawl gear that we use to catch fish, but if we want to catch smaller things like plankton, the mesh on those nets is way too small. Therefore, we use a third type of trawl called the Methot which has very fine mesh to corral the plankton down into a collection container at the end of the net. In addition to having a hard container at the end — as opposed to just a bag/codend that you see in the fish trawls — the Methot trawl also has a large metal frame at the beginning of the net. Check out the photos below.

The Methot trawl being taken from the water. Note the square frame.

The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.

After the net is brought back on deck, one of the fishermen or deck hands brings the container of krill into the fish lab. The first thing we do is dump the container into a sieve or a bucket and start picking out everything that isn’t krill. The two most common things that are collected (besides krill) are gelatinous animals (like jellyfish & salps) and larval fish. The fish get weighed (as one big unit, not individually) and then frozen for someone to look at later on.

The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.

After sorting the catch, we’re left with a big pile of krill, which gets weighed. We then take a small subsample from the big pile of krill (it’s a totally random amount depending on how much we scoop out!) and then weigh the subsample. Then the fun begins, as I’m the one that does this job; I get to count every single individual krill in the subsample. Tedious work. All of the data is then entered into the computer system, and the krill and anything else that we’ve caught (besides the larval fish) are thrown back into the water.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.
Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

counting krill
How many individual krill are in this picture?

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Humpback Whales
Killer Whale!!!
Sea Otters!!!

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Q. What has been your favorite thing about this trip so far?

A. I’ve been asked this question several times over the course of the last few weeks, but I’ve waited until the end to answer it.

Truth be told, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite thing that I’ve seen or done. There are so many candidates! Exploring the Buskin River and seeing bald eagles before we set sail was a blast! Eating fresh caught salmon for the first time was a great experience, as it just melted in my mouth. Leaving shore for the first time was a lot of fun, as there is no feeling like the salt air blowing past your face at the front of a boat. Trying to take pictures of flying birds with a digital camera was a challenge, and we all had a good time laughing at the blurred images. Getting better at photography is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel like I have improved that. The first fish lab with the sleeper shark was great! Working in the fish lab, as messy as it was, was also a lot of fun! The XBT prank that was pulled on me was one of the best executed pranks I’ve ever seen, and it was hilarious! Hanging out and reading Martin’s Game of Throne series during breaks with my fellow scientists was a lot of fun as well, as it was just like a book club. Today’s ride through Whale Pass with the otters, whales, and mountains was exactly what I dreamed Alaska would be like.

The scientists sense of humor also made it an enjoyable trip. For example, this is what happens when you play around with the net camera for too long.

Cam Trawl Dinner
See what I mean?

That being said, if I was absolutely forced to pick a favorite memory, it would probably the impromptu fishing trip at Sand Point. You know you love your job when you decide to keep going at it on your day off.

There will be one last log posted, so if you have questions please send them to me at!

Dr. Laura Brezinsky, April 15, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Brezinsky
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
April 8 – April 22, 2004 

Day 7: Thursday, April 15, 2004

Latitude: 57.40.47N
Longitude: 155 12.38

Weather: continuous clouds
Visibility: 29.5-49.5 ft (Very High)
Wind direction: 220 degrees
Wind speed: 11 (m/s)
Sea level pressure: 26

Science and Technology Log:

Yesterday afternoon we began to collect data on “line 8” which is a line that goes across the Shelikof Straight from Kodiak Island to the Aleutian Peninsula. This is a line of moorings that has been in place for many years. After servicing the moorings, we began transiting back and forth taking CTD readings. This operation will take approximately 24 hours at which time we will begin moving South/West down the Aleutian Island Chain. As part of “The Ring of Fire” The Aleutian Islands are volcanically active and they continue to erupt on a regular basis. According to one of the ship’s crew who has been on this ship for many years and has seen them erupt, these volcanoes are explosive unlike our Hawaiian Volcanoes. Personal log Last night the ship had a couple hours of down time and I got a chance to go fishing. No one actually caught anything, but I suppose that’s why they call it fishing. Although thousands of tourists and commercial fishers flock to Alaska every year to catch the many different species of Salmon, the fishery remains one of the most healthy and prolific in the country. This is probably due to the relative inaccessibility of much of the state in combination with strict regulations. Recently the practice of farming Atlantic Salmon

has increased, much to the dismay of conservation Biologists.

Question of the day: Describe how Atlantic Salmon are farmed and processed? What are the negative impacts related to the farming of Atlantic Salmon? Discuss potential impacts to wild populations as well as local impacts due to pollution.

Picture of bumper sticker.
Picture of bumper sticker.