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

Introduction

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

D-Deck

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.

ESTRE

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.