Erica Marlaine: One Fish, Two Fish, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 26, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 58º 33.15 N
Longitude: 152º 58.87 W
Wind Speed: 17.5 knots
Wind Direction: 229º
Air Temperature:  13º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1020.2 mb

Science Log

Today we did our first two trawls of the trip. According to Webster’s dictionary, trawl is defined as the act of fishing with a trawl net, which is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom in order to gather fish or other marine life. It can also mean the act of sifting through something as part of a search.  Both definitions are accurate for what is done on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

The Oscar Dyson uses a variety of nets to catch the fish being studied. One net that has been used for many years is called an Aleutian Wing Trawl (or an AWT). The mesh size of the AWT is ½ inch.  Attached to the AWT net are smaller nets (called pocket nets) which also have a ½ inch mesh size.  The new net being used this year is an LFS 1421, which has a 1/8 inch mesh size. It has 9 pocket nets, also with 1/8 inch mesh size. It is thought that fewer fish will escape the LFS net because the mesh size is smaller, in turn allowing the scientists to get a more accurate picture of the fish and other creatures living in the areas they are trawling.  Trawls are being conducted using both nets (back-to-back) to determine the extent to which the new net is more efficient and provides a more accurate measure.

AWT and LFS nets
The older AWT net is on the left. The newer LFS 1421 net is on the right.

Once the nets are pulled in, the processing begins. The main net (i.e., codend) is emptied onto the large processing table in the fish lab.

catch on the processing table
One catch on the processing table.

Each pocket net is emptied into a separate plastic bin.  The fish are then identified, weighed, measured, and sometimes dissected in order for us to accurately determine the age and sex of each fish.

Evan with plastic bin
Volunteer Biologist Evan Reeve with a pocket net bin.

Otoliths (ear bones) and ovaries are collected from a sample of the walleye pollock caught in the codend of the net. Otoliths allow scientists to determine the age of the fish.  Over time, ridges form on the otoliths, and are indicative of age in much the same way a tree’s age can be determined by counting the rings of its trunk. 

Ovaries are collected to be sent back to the lab as part of a long-term histology study which hopes to determine whether walleye pollock experience multi-batch spawning events (i.e., do pollock spawn more than one time) within or between seasons. Histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy, uses a microscope to study the anatomy of biological tissues. In contrast, gross anatomy looks at structures without a microscope.

After a trawl, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson examine the ovaries with the naked eye to determine the reproductive stage of the walleye pollock that has been caught. There are 5 stages: Immature (not yet capable of spawning, typically age 0-2); Developing (beginning to develop the ability to spawn) Pre-spawning, Spawning, and Spent (completed spawning).  Once a pollock spawns, it begins the cycle again beginning at step 3 (pre-spawning). Additionally, the histology study also hopes to determine whether the spawning stages being designated by scientists during the cruise are in fact accurate.

Elementary Math Fun

Let’s say 200 total fish were caught in the new LFS 1421 net, including the nine pocket nets attached.

Pocket nets 1, 2 and 3 each had 20 age-0 pollock in them.

Pocket nets 4, 5 and 6 each had 13 lantern fish in them.

Pocket net 7 had 3 small herrings  in it.

Pocket nets 8 and 9 each had 2 age-1 pollock in them.

How many fish were in the codend or main part of the net?

Personal Log

As a Southern Californian, I imagined Alaska to be cold even in the summer, and packed sweaters and a big puffy winter coat.  Apparently shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate! The weather in Kodiak has been warm and beautiful, with the sun shining until midnight.

Barometer Mountain
Barometer Mountain, Kodiak, Alaska

My first day in Kodiak was a free day, so I joined the science team on a hike up Barometer Mountain, which many say is the most difficult hike in Kodiak.  It is 2100 feet straight up a very steep, rocky, brush-filled path, and then 2100 feet down that same, steep path.  It was quite the challenge, but the view from the top was magnificent.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
My home for the next three weeks!

At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, including NOAA corps officers, engineers, deck personnel, cooks, scientists, interns, and me, the NOAA Teacher at Sea. The ship, which was originally launched in 2003, and commissioned into service as a NOAA ship in 2005, is named for Alaskan fisherman and fishing industry leader Oscar E. Dyson. It is one of the most advanced fisheries research vessels in the world, due in part to its acoustic quieting technology.  This allows scientists to monitor fish populations without concern that the ship’s noise will affect the behavior of the fish.

Mark Van Arsdale: Kodiak, September 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018


Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

This morning 25 knot winds from the NE, waves to 8ft, tonight calm seas variable winds, light rain

58.14 N, 151.35 W (Kodiak Line)

Science Log


CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Kodiak line.
CTD (water chemistry) data visualized along the Kodiak line.

My wife and I have traveled to Raspberry and Kodiak Islands twice.  The island’s raw beauty, verdant colors, and legendary fishing make it one of my favorite places on Earth.  Its forests are dense, with huge hemlocks and thick growths of salmon berries.  The slopes are steep and covered with lush grasses.  Fish and wildlife abound.  As we moved our way down the Kodiak line, getting closer and closer to land, that richness of life was reflected in waters surrounding the Island.  In just fifty nautical miles we moved from a depth of a few thousand meters to less than one hundred.  Seabirds became more abundant, and we saw large groups of sooty and Buller’s shearwaters, some of them numbering in the thousands.  Sooty shearwaters nest in the southern hemisphere and travel half way across the planet to feed in the rich waters surrounding Kodiak.  Fin whales were also abundant today, and could be seen feeding in small groups at the surface. Our plankton tows also changed.  Deep sea species like lantern fish and Euphausiids disappeared and pteropods became abundant. We caught two species of pteropods that go by the common names – sea butterflies and sea angels.  Sea butterflies look like snails with clear shells and gelatinous wings.  Sea angels look more like slugs, but also swim with a fluttering of their wings.  Pteropods are an important part of the Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem, in particular to the diets of salmon.

Sooty shearwaters as far as you can see.
Sooty shearwaters as far as you can see.

In the last decade, scientists have become aware that the ocean’s pH is changing, becoming more acidic. Sea water, like blood, is slightly basic, typically 8.2 on the pH scale.  As we have added more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, about half of that gas has dissolved into the oceans. When CO2 is dissolved in sea water if forms carbonic acid, and eventually releases hydrogen ions, lowering the waters pH.  In the last decade, sea water pH has dropped to 8.1 and is predicted to be well below 8 by 2050.  A one tenth change in pH may not seem like much, but the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that that one tenth point change actually represents a thirty percent increase in the ocean’s acidity.   Pteropods are particularly vulnerable to these changes, as their aragonite shells are more difficult to make in increasingly acidic conditions.

A nice introduction to Pteropods

Personal Log

I chose teaching

We have been at sea now for one week. I feel adrift without the comforts and routines of family, exercise, and school. There are no distractions here, no news to follow, and no over-scheduled days.  There is just working, eating, and sleeping. Most of the crew and scientists on board seem to really enjoy that routine.  I am finding it difficult.

There was a point in my twenties where I wanted nothing more than to become a field biologist. I wanted to leave society, go to where the biological world was less disturbed and learn its lessons. I see the same determination in the graduate students aboard the Tiglax. When working, they are always hyper focused on their data and the defined protocols they use to collect it.  If anything goes wrong with tow or sampling station, we repeat it. You clearly need that kind of focus to do good research. Over time, cut corners or the accumulation of small errors can become inaccurate and misleading trends.

When I was in graduate school hoping to become a marine biologist, I was asked to be teaching assistant to an oceanography class for non-science majors. Never having considered teaching, the experience opened my eyes to the joys of sharing the natural world with others, and changed my path in ways that I don’t regret. I am a teacher; over the last twenty years it has come to define me. On this trip, they call me a Teacher at Sea, yet the title is really a misnomer.  I have nothing to teach these people, they are the experts.  Really, I am a student at sea, trying to learn all that I can about each thing I observe and each conversation I have.

Bowler's shearwater, photo credit Callie Gesmundo.
Buller’s shearwater, photo credit Callie Gesmundo.


Animals seen today

  • Fin whales
  • Lost of shearwaters (mostly sooty but also Buller’s), along with puffins, auklets, skua

Tom Savage: Farewell Fairweather and the Drifter Buoy, August 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018



Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 23, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  87  43.9 N
Longitude – 152  28.3  W
Air temperature: 12 C
Dry bulb   12 C
Wet bulb  11 C
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 2 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1011.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 2000 K feet
Waves: 0 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm


Science and Technology Log

Today we deployed the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather off the southeast coast of Kodiak Island Alaska, at 3:30 pm Alaskan time zone. The buoy will be transmitting its location for approximately one year. During this time, students will be have the opportunity to logon and track its progress.

This project is very exciting for many of my students at the Henderson County Early College and elementary students at Atkinson Elementary (Mills River, NC) and Hillandale Elementary (Henderson County, NC) that have participated in my “Young Scientists” program.  Prior to my journey to Alaska, I visited those elementary schools introducing them to the mapping that we were going to collect and the important mission of NOAA.  As part of this outreach, students designed stickers that I placed on the buoy prior to deployment yesterday.  In addition, Ms. Sarah Hills, a middle school science teacher from the country of Turkey, is also going to track its progress.

An interesting note: my “Young Scientists” program was inspired in 2015 after participating in my first Teacher at Sea trip on board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow. I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni coordinator Jenn Annetta and Emily Susko for supporting this effort!


Drifter buoy
Deploying the drifter buoy off the stern of the Fairweather – Photo by NOAA

All schools are welcome to track its current location. Visit the following site In the upper left hand corner enter the WMO ID# 2101601 and then click the refresh map in the right hand corner.

The last day at sea, crew members had the opportunity to fish from the ship in a region called the “Eight Ball,” which is a shoal just of to the southwest of Kodiak Island.  Within ten minutes, the reels were active hauling in Halibut.  I have never seen fish this big before and Eric reeled in the biggest catch weighing around 50 lbs! Alaska is a big state with big fish!

Eric hauling in his catch! Photo by Tom

Personal Log

This is my last day on board the Fairweather. For three weeks I witnessed a young NOAA Corps crew orchestrate an amazing level of professionalism and responsibilities to ensure a productive mission. While on board and I met new friends and I have learned so much and will be bringing home new lessons and activities for years to come.  The crew on board the ship has been very warm, patient and very happy to help answer questions. I am very honored to be selected for a second cruise and have enjoyed every minute; thank you so much!  As we sailed into Kodiak Island, witnessed an eye catching sunrise, wow!

Kodiak Sunrise
Sunrise, Kodiak Island – photo by Tom


I wish the crew of the Fairweather,  Fair winds and happy seas.


Lisa Battig: DRs, The Survey Team and A Goodbye in Kodiak, September 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017


Mission: Alaskan Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Kodiak and Anchorage Airports and back home

Date: September 8, 2017


map of route to kodiak
A map of the long transit south from the through the Aleutians and then northeast to Kodiak (the dark green line was the Tuesday evening through Friday morning transit from the Yukon River delta)

The last three and a half days of the experience were the transit back to Kodiak. This gave me a lot of time up on the bridge and in the surveyors’ work areas.

So many things impressed me about the crew on this trip.  I think most of all, seeing that a group of young scientists between 22 and 38 (I believe) were ultimately responsible for all of the ship operations and were doing a phenomenal job! Fairweather has the largest number of junior officers on board and the atmosphere is of constant training. I kept thinking about the ages of most of the junior officers and how my own students could be in this position in a few years. The opportunity to grow as a member of a uniformed service and receive all of the training while still being able to pursue the sciences is incredible to me and I intend to make sure that my students know about the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I had just known this existed when I graduated college…”


On the long trip back, we were traveling through dense fog, narrow rocky passes in the middle of the night, and areas of high and sometimes unpredictable currents. We even managed a rendezvous with another NOAA vessel in order to pass of some medical supplies. Throughout all of it, I watched the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers handle everything with tremendous grace under pressure. But on Fairweather, I found out their work does not stop with the ship operations. Each of the officers are also directly involved with the hydrographic science, and have responsibility for a specific survey area.

The Survey team are also responsible for specific survey areas.

Drew & Bekah
Survey techs Bekah and Drew at their computers. If they’re not eating, sleeping, working out, or on a survey boat – this is probably what they’re doing!

For each area owner, this culminates in a final report (called a Division Report, or DR) giving details of the survey and talking through all anomalies. Survey work does not stop. These folks are working 7 days a week and often 14+ hour days when they are out at sea.

In some cases the owner of a survey area will have very intimate knowledge of a survey area because they had the opportunity to be out on the survey boats. But in many cases, this will not be true. Ultimately their responsibility is making absolutely certain that every piece of necessary information has been gathered and that the data is clean. I was told that in most cases, writing the final report will take a couple months.

These reports will eventually become mapped data that is accessible to anyone through the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But it will also be sent in various forms to be housed for shipping navigation and other industries.

Sleepy Surveyors
If you’re working long hours 7 days a week, you learn to take advantage of any opportunity you get to rest. A couple members of the survey team, catching a nap on the transit back from the Yukon Delta to Fairweather.

With all of the work they do at sea, ports can become very welcome places. The Fairweather crew had gone into port at Nome, Alaska several time through July and August and were excited to pull into Kodiak. Even on our transit south, I watched the crew get more excited as they left the desolation of the tundra and we began to see cliffs and trees again.

I am so glad that I saw the tundra finally, and that I will now be able to explain it more fully to my students, but I can also completely understand how the sheer vastness of the northern parts of Alaska could make you long for more varied terrain.

Kodiak harbor
Harbors in Southern California don’t look like this!! Coast Guard Base harbor in Kodiak, AK

I only got to spend one day in Kodiak, but it is a breathtaking place. I didn’t get to do any serious hiking, but I did see the salmon running and ended up on an old nature trail. And the best part was that I got to see a bunch of amazing people relax and enjoy their time away from work.

Would I do this again if I had the opportunity? Unequivocally YES!! I would jump at the chance!

Would I recommend this to other teachers? Absolutely! It is an amazing experience. Granted, I think I had the best ship with the best crew…



Sian Proctor: A Fast Farewell!, July 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 22, 2017

Me Back in Kodiak
Me Back in Kodiak, Alaska

Life at sea can often be unpredictable. When I started my 4am shift I learned that we were having issues with the main engine on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and had to return to Kodiak. This cut my adventure at sea down to just two weeks instead of three. An unexpected bonus from returning to Kodiak was getting to visit the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center.

Science and Technology Log: Kodiak Fisheries Research Center

The Kodiak Fisheries Research Center was built in 1998 using funds from the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill (1989). The purpose of the center is to provide educational information about the wildlife, marine life, commercial fishing resources and fisheries research programs on the island. Click this link for more information: KFRC

Interview with Kresimir Williams

Fisheries Biologist

Kresimir in the Acoustics Lab
Kresimir in the Acoustics Lab Image from TAS Mary Murrian

  • Official Title
    • Fisheries Biologist
  • Normal Job Duties
    • On this cruise, I am responsible for collecting physical measurements of fish caught in our science trawls, as well as providing support for various acoustic and camera instruments we’re putting in the water.
  •  How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • Since it’s first science cruise in 2005, but only for a few weeks each year.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I got hooked on sea exploration at an early age spending summers on the Croatian coast, snorkeling, fishing, and riding boats. The ocean represents an exploration opportunity that is more “accessible” to us, unlike the deep jungles or space. The edge of our knowledge is never very far in the marine environment. The more time I spend in ocean research, there always seem to many more questions than answers.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • I enjoy the scientific challenges and the things that are new each cruise, whether it is some unique types of fish we encounter, or new ways of exploring the sea, such as new instrumentation. There always seem to be new things to see, even after being on these cruises for 15 years. And there are also new people on board that are interesting to meet, people with new perspectives and ideas.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • There is a basic component to the work of essentially performing a marine “census” that is the backbone of resource management for the important fisheries that take place here. We have to have good information on the state of the fish populations in order to properly manage sustainable fish harvests. But the results of our surveys also provide essential data for many studies of the ocean, such as climate related fish distributions, questions of fish biology, and marine ecosystem functioning – critical research efforts that are carried on by academic and government researchers. On top of all that, we also do a lot of research into our survey methods, to develop new ways of collecting data and to determine the precision and accuracy of the tools we use. This latter part is more interesting to me.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • I was interested in all things oceanic from an early age. I always wanted to work specifically with fish. My toddler doodles were of fish. I’ve followed this path throughout my education and job history, and have no regrets.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • On the job I somewhat unexpectedly learned how to write computer programs, and to develop and design camera systems. But this is also a very rewarding activity for me.
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • As we incorporate more and more advanced technology into our work, trying to keep all of the systems operational requires a broad base of knowledge, spanning from computer networks, underwater optics, electronics, and engineering that can be a little beyond my background. So this is a challenge for me to keep myself up to speed on these aspects of the work and keep our instruments and cameras running smoothly. Also, as scientists we are obligated to share our work with others, which means writing papers and making presentations, which can be a challenge.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • I love discovering new ways of collecting data in the environment, and understanding how fish behavior influences our ability to observe them. Finding answers to research questions relating to these areas is a very rewarding experience for me. There are distinct moments, not very often encountered even in entire careers, when you know that you have found something, possibly something completely new, that produces an excitement that is almost difficult to describe.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • A positive memorable moment would be when we first started operating cameras inside the trawl and were able to distinguish how fish behaved within the trawl for the first time. The first few tows with the new camera equipment were very exciting. A negative memorable moment: We did run out of coffee on a cruise in the Bering sea a few years ago. Bad scene.

Interview with Caroline Wilkinson

NOAA Corps Junior Officer

NOAA Corps Officer Caroline Wilkinson
NOAA Corps Officer Caroline Wilkinson

  • Official Title
    • Junior Officer
  • Normal Job Duties
    • Standing bridge watch 8 hours a day, often with a Officer of the Deck in training. As Environmental compliance officer- ensuring the ship meets all required environmental standards for garbage disposal, discharge, etc. As medical officer- ensuring all personnel are physically and mentally fit for sea duty, keeping the hospital clean, tidy, and stocked, responding to medical emergencies at sea. As Imprest officer- maintaining our cash fund and reimbursing crew for missed meals. As Navigation officer- planning our route and ensuring the charts and electronic navigation reflects our intended tracklines.
  •  How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • Since December 2015
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I grew up spending summers on Long Island Sound and fell in love with the beach and the smell of the ocean.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • The amazing animals, land masses, and weather phenomenon that we get to experience.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • The work I do facilitates the scientists ability to collect the necessary data to ensure the pollock population remains sustainable.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • As a child, I spent a lot of time out doors looking for bugs and critters; a career in science seemed like a natural next step.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • I didn’t expect there to be so much paperwork involved with driving the ship!
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • The long stints away from friends, family, and civilization.
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • Meeting a variety of incredibly smart and talented people and exploring parts of Alaska most people don’t get to experience.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • Being in the northern Gulf of Alaska at night and spending hours watching the northern lights dance across the sky.

Personal Log

Here is a quick video tribute to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, the NOAA scientists and Oscar Dyson officers and crew. Thank you!

Education Tidbit: 

I have one more NOAA website to share with you. It is a great resource for students who are doing a paper on a particular fish. I use the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center page and information on pollock as my example.

Did You Know?

That the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program has been around for over 25 years! You can learn more about the program by   clicking this link: NOAA Teacher At Sea

Sian Proctor: A Ship & Seashells! July 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 3, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:   57° 47′ 24″ N
Longitude: 152° 24′ 26″ W
Time: 1000
Sky: Broken Clouds
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 068
Wind Speed:  5 knots
Sea Wave Height:   <1 foot swell
Barometric Pressure:  1013.3 millibars
Sea Water Temperature:   9.0° C
Air Temperature:   9.8° C

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, Alaska

Science and Technology Log

Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels. It was commissioned in 2005 and its home port is Kodiak, Alaska. The ship was named after the Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson who was an activist for improving the fishing industry. He passed away in 1995. The purpose of Oscar Dyson is to collect data on marine life and ecosystems primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Most of the research has been focused on the management of Alaska pollock, which is the largest fishery by volume in the United States. The ship houses a crew of up to 24, which includes NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck hands, survey technicians, stewards, and electronic technicians along with up to 15 scientists. They all work together to make daily operations on the Oscar Dyson a success.

The 208 ft. long Oscar Dyson runs on 4 super charged diesel engines. The engines are designed to produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity a day. The alternating current is converted into direct current in order to power the two propulsion motors. Oscar Dyson’s engine room is fully automated and will add or remove diesel generators based on load demand. Oscar Dyson has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious my accommodations are on Oscar Dyson. I am in a 4-person room but have only 1 roommate. Her name is Alex Padilla. She is an ocean engineering graduate student from University of New Hampshire interested in  studying the acoustics of bubbles. Our room has bunk beds on both sides of the room, a desk, multiple storage lockers, a toilet & shower, and a large wall mounted TV with movies and Direct TV.

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Just down the passageway from my stateroom is a crew lounge where we can gather and watch movies. There is a mess deck (cafeteria) that serves three meals a day and is open 24/7 for soup, salad, and snacks. Oscar Dyson has a variety of labs that I will cover in future blogs. I was fortunate to have 3 days on the ship before our departure and have become somewhat familiar with the layout of the ship.

Click here for more specification on the Oscar Dyson: NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Specification

Personal Log

I got to go on a field trip to Fossil Beach before leaving Kodiak and here is a short video about my experience.

To dive deeper into the fossils and geologic history of that region you can click this link for Allison and Marincovich Jr’s geologic survey paper: A Late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene Molluscan Fauna From Sitkinak Island, Alaska

Click this link for more information on concretions.

Did You Know?

The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and Fish and Fisheries in 1971, making up the first conservation agency for the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was started in 1970 as an agency within the department of Commerce. Today NOAA has many branches that focus on weather, climate, ocean & coasts, fisheries, satellites, marine & aviation, etc. You can learn more about the history of NOAA and the various branches by clicking this link:

Marsha Lenz: And We’re Off, June 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 9, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 38’ 38” N

Longitude: 52° 23 48” W

Time: 07:31

Sky: Overcast with fog

Visibility: 3 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 130.96

Wind Speed: 2.41 Knots

Sea Wave Height: <1 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.3°C

Air Temperature: 9.6°C

Science and Technology Log

There such is so much science and technology aboard this vessel. I had a tour of the various labs that the research will take place in as well as the various types of equipment and technology that we will be using. We are holding stationary position right now, calibrating the acoustic equipment and have not actually collected any biological data yet. During my tour of the boat, I observed some of the various roles that different people play on this research cruise. It became very clear to me that it is a composition of talents, specialized skills, communication, and respect that is the underlying thread to the success of this research.

It’s a bit overcast in the Gulf of Alaska.

There are so many specialized skills that are needed for this cruise. Everyone on board has a specific function and it is essential that that function be carried out flawlessly. The central element in all of this is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because everyone on board, from the engineers, to the deck crew, scientists and officers, work for NOAA. NOAA is an agency within the Department of Commerce that was founded in 1970. It merged three different agencies (the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, The Weather Bureau, and the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries) into one. Its mission is to “understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources”. This is easily condensed into three words: Science, Service and Stewardship.

The boat is run by the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. The officers are (obviously) a part of NOAA, where they support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. They are trained in many areas, including engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science.

Becoming a NOAA Corps officer is a career path that some people may choose to pursue. One must have a baccalaureate degree, (preferably in a major course of study related to NOAA’s scientific or technical activities) and attend a 19-week Basic Officer Training Class. This course is very demanding and fast-paced. Once a candidate has completed the training, they are assigned to a NOAA ship for up to three years.

So, what exactly am I doing out here?

That’s a really good question, one that I have been asked many times. I will try to explain it in a nutshell. As you may already know, the fisheries in Alaska are a key part of the economies of Alaska as well as the U.S. Seafood is Alaska’s largest export. According to a study conducted by the McDowell Group in 2015, in 2014, close to 3 billion pounds of seafood product were processed in Alaska with a wholesale value of $4.2 billion. The total seafood harvest for the year was 5.7 billion pounds! That’s a lot of fish.

Needless to say, fishing has always been a way of life for the people of Alaska. Unfortunately, overfishing and poor fishing practices have resulted in a decline in marine health.   Fishing regulations are now in place to ensure that the fisheries can continue to be a vital part of the economy while being sustainable at the same time.

Fishing and crabbing are a vital part of Alaska’s economy.

NOAA’s marine scientists conduct surveys to collect data on various aspects of the ocean to share with not only the fisheries, but the public as well. Ultimately, they are responsible for monitoring the conditions of the climate and environment, and additionally, taking steps to preserve them. The surveys are designed to monitor changes in the marine ecosystems and set sustainable catch limits for the fisheries.

The purpose of this cruise is to conduct a survey of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. The scientists will determine the abundance and distribution of pollock and provide the data to stock assessment managers that set pollock catch limits for the following year. The science team is from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) group of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) in Seattle, Washington. They primarily conduct surveys on the status of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. This is the first of 3 legs of the summer assessment. They will conduct the surveys on randomized transect lines using both the net catches and acoustic technology. Though the main focus is to gather data on the walleye pollock, everything that is caught will be weighted, measured, and entered into the data system.

Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering work together to conduct the walleye pollock surveys.

You might be wondering what pollock are. Do you eat fish sticks? Have you ever had imitation crab at a sushi restaurant? Then you have most likely eaten pollock. Alaska pollock is a white fish that is wild caught in the Gulf of Alaska, mostly with trawl vessels. They are used in many fish products, including Filet-O-Fish. It has consistently been one of the top five seafood species consumed in the U.S. That’s a pretty popular fish!

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Pollock makes up over half of the fish harvested in Alaska (photo credit:

Trawl vessels use trawling as a way to get their fish. It involves dragging or pulling a large net through the water behind one or more boats. We will be using midwater trawls to catch the fish we will be collecting data from.

An Aleutian Wing Trawl is 140 meters long and can  gather fish from  30 to 1,000 meters underwater. 

Personal Log

I arrived in Kodiak on Tuesday afternoon and was met at the airport by the scientists who will be conducting the pollock survey. My flight into Kodiak was fairly uneventful. I was, however, a bit baffled though when we entered the plane from the rear and only the back half of the plane was designated for passengers. The front half of the plane was for cargo. There are two primary ways to get things to Kodiak: cargo planes and freighters.

We took a quick 10-minute car ride to the dock. The weather reminded me of Humboldt County. It was drizzly, cool, and people had on their layers. They took me aboard and gave me a quick tour of the vessel where we will be spending the next three weeks.  The NOAA ship Oscar Dyson is said to be one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world and was named after Oscar Dyson, who was a well-known fishing activist in Alaska. Mr. Dyson was dedicated to managing and improving the industry for those that make their living at sea.


The Oscar Dyson is a survey vessel used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Of course I got lost immediately and spent a good 10 minutes trying to find my way back to my room. After a dinner of tacos back in town, we all went to sleep. The rocking of the boat was a nice way to be lulled to sleep. I do not yet know if I will feel the same way once we are out on the open ocean.

The city of Kodiak has a population of about 6,000 people. (photo credit: Matthew Phillips)

On Thursday, we fueled up. The ship has an 110,00 gallon capacity and uses about 2,100 gallons of gas a day. (Here is a task for my class: Can you calculate how much it costs per day to drive the boat if the cost of gas is $3.00/ gallon?) Fueling up a ship this size is quite a task. It requires a lot of people and a lot of communication. Fuel spill booms are put around the boat to protect the water should there be a gas spill. After the fuel up (which takes over 4 hours!), the booms are removed again. We left the pier and started out. The sky was gray and there was some light rain, but I was still mesmerized by the pure beauty surrounding us. We pulled into a nearby quiet bay so the scientists could calibrate their equipment.

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Leaving the Port of Kodiak

The scientists have been working hard to calibrate the machinery. This requires many hours, many hands, and minds all working together. Once all of the machinery is calibrated, we can set sail to the starting point near the Islands of the Four Mountains in the Aleutian Islands. It should take us 2 and half days (760 miles) to get there. The Oscar Dyson can go 12.5 knots. A “knot” is 1.151 miles/hour.

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We are currently holding stationary position while the scientists calibrate their equipment (photo credit:

We have started adjusting to our 12-hour shifts. My shift will be from 4 am to 4 pm. This means that I will be setting my alarm for 3:30 every morning, grabbing a cup of coffee (well, a double latte, actually!) and heading down to the “Wet lab”. There we will be pull up the hauls of fish, sort them by species, separate males and females, measure their lengths, and remove the otoliths (ear bones). The purpose of studying the otolith is to determine the age of the fish. An otolith is a calcium carbonate structure in the inner ear of the fish. They are very similar to the rings of a tree. They add a new layer every year and give the scientists valuable data on the age structure of the population.

Did You Know?

  • All Pollock is wild-caught in the ocean. There is no commercial aquaculture for this species.
  • Since 2001, U.S. commercial landings of Alaskan Pollock (primarily in Alaska) have been well over 2 billion pounds each year.

Lynn Kurth: Goodbye “Toes”, June 26, 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˚23  Longitude: W 153˚20  (North Coast of Kodiak Island)

Date:  June 26, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Fog
Visibility: 1 Nautical Mile
Wind Direction: 085
Wind Speed: 12 Knots
Sea Wave Height: –
Sea Water Temperature: 12.2° C (54° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.6° C (54.7° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1008.6 mb

Science and Technology Log

As I was looking up at the stars over the ship one evening, I was thinking about the study of space and the 1980’s Teacher in Space program.  It’s difficult to believe that as of this past January it has been thirty years since the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which took the life of educator Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts.  Christa had been selected to become the first teacher in space, which offers such opportunity to learn and grow.  I admire Christa McAuliffe because of this and the fact that she recognized that the study of space offers the opportunity for discovery, innovation and investigation.

Kurth at Sea (Uganik Bay, Alaska)

I love being a Teacher at Sea because the ocean is similar to space in that it is largely unexplored and offers the chance to discover, innovate and investigate.   In fact, less than 5% of earth’s ocean has been explored even though new technologies have expanded our ability to explore.  Scientists like those I am working with on the Rainier use a variety of this new technology such as satellites, complex computer programs, and multi beam sonar to explore and carry out their hydrographic work.  Over the past week, I have been fortunate to work with these scientists in Uganik Bay and gain a better understanding of how they use these technologies in their work.

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Out on the skiff with Chief Jim Jacobson and crew

Before the surveying work using the multi beam sonar system can begin, a small crew is sent off the Rainier in a skiff, a shallow flat-bottomed open boat, to complete near shore work.  During this work, the crew on the skiff meticulously examines the features of the coastline while comparing what they see to any available charts and other sources of information about the area.  The depth of Uganik Bay was last surveyed and charted in 1908 but the area does have some additional charting of shoreline features documented throughout the years via aerial photography and information shared by local mariners.  The skiff used for the near shore work is equipped with a GPS (global positioning system) unit and a computer program which continually maps where it travels.  The skiff moves slowly along the shoreline while circling rocks and other features (reefs, islands, kelp beds, fishing gear) in order to accurately determine their size and location.  The scientists record all of their findings on a sheet illustrating the area they are working in and enter the revisions into a computer program when they return to the Rainier.   These revisions frequently include adding features not previously documented, modifying information on existing features or suggesting possible features to be eliminated when they are not found and verified.

Chief Jim Jacobson enters updated information from near shore work documented while on the skiff.

For example, one of the days while I was working with a crew on a skiff, part of our work involved verifying whether or not a series of rocks existed where they had been previously charted.  Oddly enough, when looking at the chart the formation of rocks looked like a giant left footprint.  This particular feature on the chart, was flagged for us to investigate and verify because each of the rocks that made up “the little toes” seemed to be too equally spaced to be natural features.  When we examined the area we found that there was only one rock, “the big toe”, at the top of the formation vs. a total of five.  The suggested updates to this feature were supported with the documentation of photographs and measurements.  In other words, the scientists suggested that the final revisions completed by NOAA staff in Seattle would include the “amputation” of the four “little toes” from the charts.

Sheet used on skiff to document suggested revisions. Notice the “foot” feature?


All Aboard!

I have really enjoyed chatting with the people on board the Rainier because they have interesting stories to share and are happy to share them. Erin Earley, member of the engine utility crew, was one of those people who graciously gave me some of her time for an interview.

Erin Earley (right) discusses ship operations with Ensign Bethany McAcy (left)

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Erin Earley from Sacramento, California and was a social worker prior to working for NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).  I enjoy water color painting, creating multi-medium sculptures, and anything to do with designing gardens.  And I love dogs, Shelties in particular.

How did you discover NOAA and what do you love the most about your job with NOAA?:

As a social worker I had a couple of young adults in the child protection system who wanted to find a different career.  When looking at career options for them I came across a maritime program for youth in Sacramento that seemed to meet their needs.  So, I went to a parent night to learn more about the program and when I heard about the rate of pay and opportunity to travel I asked if they were considering an option for adults to join the program. They said that they were and I registered for the program and began with the AB (able bodied seaman) program for deck work but after watching the Deadliest Catch I decided that wasn’t for me.  So, I decided to complete the engineering program to be qualified for engine room work.  The course work included survival work, emergency ship repair work and fire fighting skills.

I love my job with NOAA because for the most part I’m working with a small group of people, we all know our duties, and we all help each other out.  I enjoy seeing jobs get completed and things getting fixed.  And, the most important reason I love my job is that I don’t have to drive to work and dress up.  I come from Sacramento, and here I don’t have to wait for traffic coming across town and wait at Starbucks for an hour.  On a ship you become a minimalist, you learn what is important and what is not.   I love meeting new people, trying new foods and seeing new things!

Erin Earley takes a sounding of a fuel tank

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship?  

My primary responsibilities at sea include monitoring the oil levels of the equipment, making sure that everything is running properly, reporting to the engineer anything that might be a problem, making sure the bow thruster has proper fluids, and making sure there’s no excess water in any of the places.  We’re floating on a huge ocean and we want to make sure none of it’s coming in!

What kind of background and/or education do you need to have this job?

It would help to go to a maritime school and a lot of major coastal cities have these schools that offer these programs.  If you want a four year college education you could go to a maritime academy (San Francisco, New York and Baltimore ) to get a degree in mechanical engineering and then you could work on a ship or on the shore side at a port.  If you don’t want to go to a four year college you can still work in engineering but you would have to take certification courses and work your way up.  I think for a young person the adventure of working for NOAA is fun but you should always have a plan as far as where you might want to go.  Keep your options open!

Did You Know?

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The Rainier, Uganik Bay

The Rainier:

  • has 26 fuel tanks
  • uses 500 gallons of fuel a day while at anchor
  • uses 100 gallons of fuel each hour while underway (2400 gallons/day)
  • goes through approximately 50 lbs of beef and 30 lbs of chicken each week
  • uses 8 different kinds of milk (lactose free, soy, almond, cashew, 1%, 2%, whole, and skim)



Virginia Warren: Life at Sea is GREAT!! March 15, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren
Mission: Acoustic and Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shelikof Strait
on NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Date: 3/15/2016

Data from the Bridge:
Sky:  Light and variable
Visibility: 10+ Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: West
Wind Speed: 2.50 (4 knots)
Sea Wave Height:  1 – 2, light swell
Air Temperature: 4.2 degrees C (40 degrees F)
Barometric Pressure: 1004.8


NOAA and NOAA Corps Information:

NOAA is an acronym that stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is a government agency that helps keep citizens informed on weather conditions and the climate. It also conducts fisheries management, and coastal restoration. As stated on their website, NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. NOAA has nine key focus areas, 12,000 NOAA personnel, and 6,773 scientists and engineers.

If you would like to read more about what NOAA does, please check out their website here:

The NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers are in charge of running NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. The officers keep the ship functioning properly and the people safe. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. As stated on the NOAA Corps website, the NOAA Corps mission is to provide officers technically competent to assume positions of leadership and command in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of Commerce (DOC) programs and in the Armed Forces during times of war or national emergency.  If you would like read more about what the NOAA Corps does, please check out their website here:

You can also watch the NOAA Corps Recruitment video here:


Science and Technology Log:

This is my second full day on the ship and my science crew has sorted three trawls. On the first day on shift, I learned that there is a lot of waiting to get the fishing pollock job done correctly. The Chief Scientist, Patrick, is responsible for choosing where and when to launch the trawl. He does this by watching data on a screen that comes from the echo sounder, which is placed under the ship. When you see bright red color on the screen, then you know there is something registering on the echo sounder. This part of the process can take several hours.

Echo Sounder Screen
Echo Sounder Screen

Once you find the fish, then you have to launch the trawl net. This is a very intricate process because as the net is being launched, it has to be kept free of tangles. If tangles occur in the net it could cause the net to rip once the trawl has begun. At the mouth of the trawl where the opening is for fish to enter, there are two large trawl doors that glide through the water like airplane wings, except the “lift” is a spreading force that goes sideways to open the mouth of the trawl for fish to enter.

Scale model of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net courtesy of NOAA Scientist Kresimir Williams


Once the trawl is complete, the catch is dumped onto a table that lifts up to the conveyor belt where we separate pollock from all the other types of animals. The pollock are placed into baskets where they are then weighed. A sample of pollock is taken to examine further. Data on everything that we catch goes into a computer system called CLAMS, which is an acronym for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. I will further explain the sorting and data collection processes, and the CLAMS program on a future blog.

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Personal Log: 

I’m happy to report that all of my flights went great and my luggage didn’t get lost on my way to Kodiak, Alaska. I spent Friday and Saturday nights in Kodiak waiting to rendezvous with the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson Sunday morning.

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Kodiak is a beautiful, scenic fishing community. I love that Kodiak is able to use clean, alternative-renewable energy resources to make their energy for the island. Notice the wind turbines in the picture below, however Kodiak also uses hydroelectric dams to make most of their power.

Wind Powered Turbines
Wind Powered Turbines

The Oscar Dyson anchored up outside of the Kodiak harbor in efforts to save time by not having to completely dock up in the harbor. The Dyson sent out its small boat called “The Peggy D” to take people to and from the ship. We put really warm jackets that also served as life jackets(float coats).

The "Peggy"

I loved this boat ride because it gave me a view of the harbor I hadn’t been able to see yet!

Beautiful Mountains from the Harbor in Kodiak, Alaska
Beautiful Mountains from the Harbor in Kodiak, Alaska

My first view of the Oscar Dyson was spectacular. I saw it as we rounded a very small island outside of the harbor. With the mountains in the background, the ship made a pretty picture.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

This is only the beginning of the trip and I am so looking forward to experience the rest of it.

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Andrea Schmuttermair, Anchors Away from Kodiak, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 5 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56 36.1N
Longitude: 156 04.1W

Visibility: 10nm
Speed: 12 knots
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wind Direction: 202 degrees
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 12.6 C
Barometric Pressure: 1004.6 mbar
Sky: SCT (scattered clouds)

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One of the signs from my walk along the docks in Kodiak. I learned a lot about Kodiak and the fishing industry by reading these signs.

Science and Technology Log:

The walleye pollock fishing industry is the largest commercial fishing industry in the country, and one of the largest fishing industries in the world. Have you eaten fish sticks? Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s? Imitation crab? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have eaten walleye pollock. Since pollock supports such a large industry, scientists need to carefully monitor its abundance each year. Bring on the scientists and crew on board the Oscar Dyson to make this mission possible.

TIn summer, and in a few locations in winter, scientists head out to assess the walleye pollock population in both the Bering Sea and in the Gulf of Alaska. The summer survey alternates between the two areas, and this summer we are traveling in the Gulf of Alaska for our survey. This second leg (out of 3 legs total) will head counterclockwise around the island of Kodiak. This survey, conducted by the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, uses acoustic technology to gather data on the distribution and abundance of fish, which provides researchers with pertinent information about the walleye pollock population.

The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.
The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.

The Oscar Dyson is a relatively new ship, equipped with noise quieting technology in order to create as little acoustic disturbance as possible when out at sea. Another neat feature crucial to the work of the Dyson is the acoustic transducers located on the bottom of the ship. There are several of these transducers, which are composed of small ceramic disks, and they help scientists detect ocean life and map the seafloor. If you are like me, you are probably wondering what a transducer is, right? It took me a couple of explanations and analogies in order to understand what was happening in these tiny devices. Remember, sound waves are pressure waves that move through a medium, in this case water. The transducer converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, expanding and contracting with electrical signal it receives. This expansion and contraction creates sound waves that move through the water away from the transducers. After sending the pressure waves the transducer switches modes to “listen” to the incoming waves. When the sound waves hit something in the water they are reflected back to the transducer. These reflected waves that are received by the transducers indicate the presence of obstacles in the water. An analogy for this process is that the transducer first acts as a speaker and then as a microphone.

The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.
The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.

Five of these transducers are being used for the pollock survey in order to detect pollock and other ocean life. The information the transducer receives back is automatically graphed on the computer. Scientists and other crew members can view and analyze this graph, and will use this information to determine when it is appropriate to send out a trawl to collect fish. There are also several transducers located around the bottom of the ship that are gathering information about the ocean floor. Hydrographic surveys use this technology as they map the sea floor. I am amazed at where we have come with technology, especially out at sea. Stay tuned for my next post to learn about more amazing technology we are using on board!

Personal Log:

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Ready to fly on this little plane from Anchorage to Kodiak.

Lucky. That is how I would describe myself when I landed at the Kodiak airport on my flight from Anchorage. First, I was lucky that the flight I was scheduled on made it to Kodiak on its first attempt, as flights are often cancelled for poor weather or low visibility. Planes have been known to turn around and fly back to Anchorage if they can’t make a safe landing in Kodiak. I am also feeling very lucky to have the opportunity to partake in yet another assignment as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, in another area of the country I haven’t yet explored.

I arrived in Kodiak on the 4th of July, and was swept up from the airport by one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Justin Boeck. We weren’t scheduled to depart on the Oscar Dyson until Monday, July 6th, so Justin gave me a quick tour of the ship. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Oscar Dyson, but when my first thoughts climbing on board were that it would take me a week to find my way around! It is much larger than the last ship I was on, the Oregon II, down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trying to take advantage of the nice weather, I decided to explore the area before we left. The town of Kodiak is quaint, and in walking through the downtown area, it is clear that fishing has been and will continue to be integral to the way of life here.

The science crew came in on the 4th as well from Seattle. I met them all when we went out to dinner Saturday evening. Even though we are going to be sleeping on the ship for next 2 nights before we depart, meals won’t be served until we are underway. I did manage to track down some good sushi and seafood places here in town, and am quite satisfied!

This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.
This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.

On Sunday, the weather turned for the worse, which made the walk into town for coffee a wet one. If you think weather changes quickly in Colorado, try coming to Alaska. My favorite image of the weather status was at a little shop in Homer, Alaska, which outlined a box with a marker on the window and wrote, “If you want to know the weather, look here.”

That afternoon, I was given a little orientation on what some of my tasks would be on the ship, as there is quite a bit going on in addition to the pollock survey. I will be spending most of my time in the acoustics lab analyzing data, the wet lab processing our catches, and chem lab for some of the special projects.

In the evening, the weather cleared just long enough for me to convince ENS Gilman (ok, he didn’t really need any convincing- he was just as excited as I was) to head down to the pier to test out the Waverunner, the ROV made by the students in my class. While the visibility was not the best, we were able to see plenty of moon jellies, sea anemones and some kelp beds. The ROV handled pretty well in the ocean, although we did have some difficulties bringing it back up when it went down too deep. Students, do you have any suggestions for how we could account for this? Any suggestions or modifications we need to make?

We were supposed to be leaving early afternoon on Monday, however due to the bad weather, several of our crew members had not yet made it in to Kodiak. They finally made it over later that afternoon and we left port at 11pm. I stayed up to watch the sun set as we were leaving port (yes, it does actually set in parts of Alaska), and pushed myself to stay awake for a few more hours. I’ll be working the night shift for the next few weeks, which means I’m on duty from 4pm-4am. The faster I can get myself used to this schedule, the better off I’ll be. The first days in Kodiak have been a blast, and I am excited to begin conducting our survey!

Checking out the ship before we set sail.
Checking out the ship before we set sail.

Did you know? Acoustic transducer technology has been in use since World War II.

Where on the ship is Wilson?


Wilson, our ring tail camo shark (so aptly named by our awesome science crew) , has been enjoying his time on the ship as much as I have. He has traveled all over the place, and is having fun with the crew on board. Can you guess where he is in the picture above?

Andrea Schmuttermair, Wander-lusting for Alaska, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 24, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak, AK
Date: June 24, 2015

Ms. Schmuttermair on the Oregon II, 2012

Wanderlust (n): a strong desire or urge to wander or travel and explore the world.

As I sit writing this initial blog post on the beach here in San Diego, California, I find myself reminiscent of the summer of 2012, the “summer of ships”, as I referred to it. In June of 2012, I was preparing for adventures of a lifetime, for I would be on board not one but two ships throughout that summer. The first, the mighty Oregon II, one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, conducting research in the Gulf of Mexico. The second, a luxurious cruise ship, sailing the waters of Alaska. Little did I know I would be sitting here, 3 years later, eagerly anticipating my voyage back to Alaska yet again on board one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, again as a Teacher at Sea.

Andrea and Wesson
Ms. Schmuttermair and Wesson

My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am currently an elementary teacher at the Colorado STEM Academy just north of Denver, Colorado. I just finished my 11th year teaching, and I have had the privilege to teach some amazing students in Germany, California, and Colorado. I have a lot of fun with my students (like 3D printing sharks and coding our own reaction timer), and strive to give them as many engaging science experiences as I can. Outside of the classroom, you can find me creating opportunities for new adventures and experiences through travel and the outdoors. I love to hike and backpack the trails in Colorado with my faithful companion, Wesson. Traveling to new, uncharted territory is also a frequent occurrence.

I first learned about the Teacher at Sea program back in 2008, and it immediately went on my bucket list. After a couple years of applying, I was accepted as a TAS in 2012 and helped scientists conduct the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It was by far one of the best experiences I have had, so much so, that when given the option to reapply, I knew I just had to. I am thrilled to be heading back to Alaska, this time wearing a different hat, to help scientists conduct the walleye pollock survey. The Walleye pollock is a key species in one of the largest fishing industries in the world. I am looking forward to helping scientists with this important research.

My students spent the last several months of school immersed in the fascinating world of the ocean. Being in a landlocked state, the ocean was still relatively undiscovered for them, yet it drew my students in with a desire and passion I couldn’t feed quick enough. From engaging in problem/project based learning to studying ocean animals and their adaptations to skyping with our favorite shark scientist, Dr. Mikki, to creating 3D printed models of new ocean discoveries, I knew my students had found a niche and a passion for learning. They weren’t done yet though. After some brainstorming, we decided to spend the last month of school on an in-depth project learning about and building our very own underwater ROVs. Inspired by NOAA and James Cameron’s recent film, our class learned about how ROVs are built and how they are used in research in the ocean. Very fascinating! We ended our year building 5 ROVs, which culminated in a competition running them through various challenges. The winning ROV, the Waverunner, is coming with me on this trip to swim through the Alaskan waters off the shore in Kodiak. How cool is that?!

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 I am counting down the days until I head out to sea. Stay tuned for my next entry on board the mighty Oscar Dyson!

Did you know…that the scientific name for the Walleye Pollock was recently changed? After extensive genetic studies, researchers decided to change the scientific name from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. Read more about it here.

Do you…have any questions about the research being done on Walleye pollock? Leave your questions in the comments below!

*Photos courtesy of Caine Delacey and Andrea Schmuttermair

Cassie Kautzer: The Big Picture! August 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Woody Island Channel, Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 19, 2014

Temperature:  14°C  (~57°F), Mostly Sunny

Science & Technology Log

Plans have changed quite a bit since I first found out I would be joining the Rainier on the next leg of their mission.  Instead of heading to Cold Bay as originally planned for today, several highly skilled crew members are preparing to join the Fairweather, the Rainier’s sister ship, and help get her back to Seattle, Washington, as she is done for the field season.  Those crew members helping out will return to Kodiak and the Rainier next week, in time to head out and survey around the other side of Kodiak Island.  Until their return, the Rainier is staying “alongside”, (or docked) at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak (the largest Coast Guard Base in the United States).

NOAA Ship Rainier at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, AK.
NOAA Ship Rainier at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, AK.

While we are alongside, however, there is plenty of work to be done!  Some survey technicians are busy processing and analyzing data from past projects and surveys, while other techs are planning and preparing a survey around the Woody Island Channel, slightly Northeast of where we are currently docked.  The Woody Island Channel is an important one to get surveyed, as most of the maritime traffic (traffic on the water) coming into Kodiak, goes through the Woody Island Channel.

We will begin that survey work tomorrow, taking out several Launch boats (Survey Launches that are about 30 feet long, are carried aboard the Rainier and able to be deployed for survey missions) to begin gathering sounding data from the ocean floor  in that area.  While the survey technicians make their plans and preparations, I found myself thinking about the big picture: Why is NOAA here?  Why do we need scientists mapping the ocean floor?

To be honest, I had never heard of Hydrography before I applied for the NOAA Teacher as Sea program.  Hydrography is the science of mapping the ocean floor. I feel that I should have been aware of this, however, because Hydrography work affects all of our lives, even if we don’t live anywhere near the ocean (like those of us that live in Arkansas!  Here is how:

  • NOAA is responsible for producing nautical charts for all of our waters, including the territories. This is approximately 3.4 million square (nautical) miles of underwater territory and 95,000 linear (nautical) miles of shoreline.
  • Looking globally, only 5% of the oceans have been mapped with modern Sonar techniques. About half of the area that is charted, is from Lead Line Soundings (some dating back to the 1800’s).  And then there are places like the Arctic, that have never been mapped.
  • Today, commerce drives the use of our oceanic highways. More than ¾ of all goods and supplies in the United States are shipped and delivered across our oceans.  More than ½ our domestic oil comes by ship as well.  And, the grain that we export to countries around the world, goes by ship!

Without accurate survey information, these commercial ships, as well as any fishing or recreational vessels, cannot safely navigate (find their way) through different ocean routes.  Running into an unexpected feature (underwater landform, rocks, an old wreck (shipwreck), or other obstructions) can be very dangerous and costly to any ship.  Without updated nautical charts (maps), boats, ships, and vessels of any size face many unknown hazards as they try to navigate safely (often with goods we need) to their destination.  The Woody Island Channel that we will be surveying this week, is just three days in Kodiak, I have seen two freight ships, a Coast Guard Vessel near 300 feet long, and many small fishing vessels travel through this passage.

So the Big Picture?

THIS… is dangerous for people, and affects global commerce, import, exports, etc.   THIS is what hydrographers don’t want to happen:

This MV Miner ran ashore on these rocks on its way from Montreal to Turkey in 2011.  This is one thing NOAA hopes to prevent with updated nautical charts from hydrographic surveys.  (Courtesty of Canada's  TheStar.Com)
This MV Miner ran ashore on these rocks on its way from Montreal to Turkey in 2011. This is one thing NOAA hopes to prevent with updated nautical charts from hydrographic surveys. (Courtesty of Canada’s TheStar.Com)

Personal Log     

The first several days in Alaska have been amazing.  While we are alongside in Kodiak, I have been able to do some exploring after work each day! I have walked along the beach and hiked up into the mountains.

Me, atop Old Woman's Mountain, Kodiak Island, Alaska.  (Courtesy of ENS Micki Ream)
Me, atop Old Woman’s Mountain, Kodiak Island, Alaska. (Courtesy of ENS Micki Ream)

Alaska is beautiful – so majestic!  I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some beautiful weather, in the high 50s, and sunny most days!  This is rather unusual, they tell me- it is usually starting to cool down and get very rainy this time of year.  I told them I must have brought the warm weather with me from Arkansas!  I am going to try and enjoy it while it lasts, as I am sure I will not luck out to spend three weeks in the sunshine!

For My Students

Check out this graph of the wildlife I have seen thus far!  I am only tracking wildlife that I have seen UP CLOSE (within 20 feet – except for the bear – it would be dangerous to get that close to a bear)!

Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (
Wildlife I have seen thus far, graphed using Create A Graph (

Oh kids, I am also wondering if you can tell me:

1. What is the difference between SQUARE miles and LINEAR miles?

2. What kind of tools do you think Hydrographers (or Hydrographic Surveyors) need to survey and map the ocean floor?

Denise Harrington: The Best Day Ever, April 30, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 20 – May 3, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: North Coast Kodiak Island

Date:  April 30, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

Location: 58 03.175’ N  127o 153.27.44’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 6.3C (dry bulb), Wind 5 knots @ 250o, clear, 1-2′ swell.

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

Science and Technology Log

The last couple of days have been the best ever: beautiful weather, hard work, deep science. We acquired data along the continental shelf and found a cool sea floor canyon and then set benchmarks and tidal gauges.

In hydrography, we gather data in seven steps, by determining: our position on Earth, depth of water, sound speed, tides, attitude (what the boat is doing), imagery and features.  Step 1 is to determine where we are.

In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna and a GPS antenna that helps us determine our precise location.
In this picture you can see a GOES satellite antenna (square white one) that is used to transmit tide data ashore and a GPS antenna (the small white eggs shaped one) that provides the tide gauge with both position and UTC time. Photo by Barry Jackson

In this picture  Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses the GOES from various locations to determine the exact location of the tide gauge.
In this picture Brandy Geiger, Senior Survey Technician, uses GPS to record the positions of the benchmarks we have just set for the tide gauge. Photo by Barry Jackson

tide gauge install 023
Where we are happens to be the most beautiful place on earth. Photo by Barry Jackson


In Step 2, we determine the depth of the water below us.

Bathymetry is a cool word that means the study of how deep the water is.  Think “bath” water and metry “measure.”  When your mom tells you to get out of the tub, tell her to wait because you’re doing bathymetry.

As I explained in my first blog, we measure depth by sending out a swath of sound, or “pings,” and count how long it takes for the pings to return to the sonar, which sits beneath the ship or smaller boat.

Yesterday we used the multi-beam sonar to scan the sea floor.  Here is a screen shot of the data we collected.  It looks like a deep canyon, because it is!

Here is the image of the trench Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered.  We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after us.
Here is the image of the sea floor canyon Starla Robinson, a Senior Survey Technician, and I discovered. We decided it should be named Denla Canyon, after the two scientists who discovered it.

Here I am, gathering pings.

Here I am talking with "the bridge,"  the team responsible for navigating the ship while surveyors collect data.
While collecting data, I kept in contact with “the bridge,” the team responsible for navigating the ship, by radio to ensure the ship’s safety and maximum, quality data acquisition.     Photo by Starla Robinson


Step 3, we take into consideration the tide’s effect on the depth of the water.  Tides are one predictable influence on water depth. There are over 38 factors or “constituents” that influence the tides.  The gravitational pull of the sun and the moon at various times of the day, the tilt of the earth, the topography, and many other factors cause water to predictably bulge in different places on earth at different times. The Rainier crew works 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so they must find a way to measure depth throughout the days and month, by taking into account the tide. Arthur Doodson, who was profoundly deaf, invented the Doodson Numbers a system taking into account the factors influencing tide in 1921. Flash forward to the 21st century, our Commanding Officer, Commander Rick Brennan worked with a team of NOAA scientists to develop a software program called TCARI, as an alternate method to do tide adjustments, taking into account 38 factors, even the moon’s wobble. Inventions abound at NOAA.

The Rainier crew worked for 14 hours today to set up a tide gauge station, an in depth study of how the tide affects our survey area.  On this map, there is a Red X for each tide gauge we will install.  This process only happens at the beginning of the season, and I feel fortunate to have been here–the work we did was….amazing.


Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed.  The one we installed today in Diver's Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.
Each Red X is approximately where a tide gauge will be installed. The one we installed today in Driver Bay is in the north west corner of the sheet map.

You can see an animation here that shows the combined effect of two sine waves that produce a signal like our tide data.  Just imagine what it looks like when you factor in 38 different variables.

The earth goes around the sun in 24 hours and moon goes around the earth in a little more than 12 hours, much like these two gray sine waves. Interestingly, when you add two different waves, you get the wonky blue sine wave, with ups and downs. This combined effect of the sun and the moon (two dots) causes the ups and downs of the tide (blue wave). Graph taken from Russell, D. Acoustics and Vibration Animation, PSU,


Low tide is the best time to see sea stars, mussels and barnacles, but it is also a more hazardous time in the tidal cycle for mariners to travel. Therefore, navigational charts use the mean lower low water level, low tide, for the soundings, or depth measurements on a chart.  The black numbers seen on a nautical chart, or soundings, represent depth measurements relative to mean lower low tide. Driver Bay, the area on the chart where we installed the tide gauge today, is the crescent shaped bay at the northwest end of Raspberry Island.

This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.
This is a nautical chart used to help mariners navigate safely.

Installing Tide Gauge Stations

Before gathering sonar data, ground and boat crews install a tide gauge to measure changes in water level and to determine the mean lower low water level datum. A tide gauge is a neat device that has air pumped into it, and uses air pressure, to determine how deep the water is.   The tide gauge uses a formula of (density of sea water)(gravity)(height) = pressure.  The gauge measures pressure, and we apply factors for gravity and sea water.  The only missing factor is height, which is what we learn as the gauge collects data.  This formula and nuances for particular locations is a fascinating topic for a blog or master’s thesis.  Scientists are looking for tidal fluctuations and other location specific variances. Then, by computer they determine the mean lower low tide depth, factoring in the tidal fluctuations.

There are permanent tide gauge stations all over the world.  The nearest permanent tide gauge station to our study area is in Kodiak and Seldovia.  These permanent gauges take into account many factors that affect tides over a 19 year period of time, not just the gravitational pull of the moon.

The tide gauge stays in place for at least 28 days (one full tidal cycle).  During the month, data of the tides is collected and can be compared to the other tide gauges we install.

Installing the Tide Gauges and Benchmarks

Excitement built as the crew prepared for the “Tide Party,” packing suitcases full of gear and readying the launches.  Installing Tide Gauges signals the beginning of the season and is one of the few times crew gets paid to go on shore.


Why Bench Mark?

There are three reasons I have figured out after many discussions with patient NOAA crew as to why we put in bench marks.


I installed this benchmark by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location.
I installed this benchmark in Driver Cove by having a hole drilled in bedrock and affixing the benchmark with concrete if anyone ever returns and needs to know their exact location. Photo by Barry Jackson

The first reason we install benchmarks is to provide a reference framework to ensure both our tide staff and the tide gauge orifice are stable and not moving relative to land.  The second reason is if we ever come back here again to gather or compare data to previous years, we will know the elevation of the tidal datum at this location relative to these benchmarks and can easily install a new tide gauge.  The third reason is that the earth and ocean floor changes constantly.  As scientists, we need to make sure the survey area is “geologically stable.”  We acquire several hours of GPS measurements on the primary benchmark to measure both its horizontal and vertical position relative to the earth’s  reference frame.  Should there ever be an earthquake here, we can come back afterwards and measure that benchmark again and see how much the position of the Earth’s crust has changed.  After the last big earthquake in Alaska, benchmarks were found to move in excess of a meter in some locations!

Teacher on Land Polishing Her Benchmark Photo by Brandy Geiger
Teacher on Land
Polishing Her Benchmark
Photo by Brandy Geiger

Installing the Benchmark

Today, our beach party broke into two groups.  We located stable places, at about 200 foot intervals along the coastline.  We drilled 5 holes on land and filled them with concrete.  A benchmark is a permanent marker you may have seen at landmarks such as a mountain peak or jetty that will remain in place for 100 years or more.  We stamped the benchmark by hand with a hammer and letter stamps with our station identification.   If we chose a good stable spot, the benchmark should remain in the same location as it is now.

Tide Gauge

As one group sets up benchmarks, another group installed the tide gauge.


Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.
Here, Chief Jim Jacobson, Lead Survey Technician, sets up a staff, or meter stick, I used to measure the change in water depth and others used for leveling.  Photo by Barry Jackson

To install the tide gauge, you must have at least three approved divers who install the sensor in deep water so that it is always covered by water.  Because there were only two crew on board trained to dive, Lieutenant Bart Buesseler, who is a dive master, was called in to assist the team.   The dive team secured a sensor below the water.  The sensor measures the water depth with an air pressure valve for at least 28 days.  During this time there is a pump on shore that keeps the tube to the orifice pressurized and a pressure sensor in the gauge that records the pressure. The pressure is equal to the number of feet of sea water vertically above the gauge’s orifice. An on-board data logger records this data and will transmit the data to shore through a satellite antenna.

Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters.  Good thing they were wearing dive suits!  Photo by Barry Jackson
Divers install the tide gauge, and spent most of the day in the cold Alaska waters. Good thing they were wearing dive suits! Photo by Barry Jackson

Leveling Run

After the gauge and benchmarks are in place, a group does a leveling run to measure the benchmark’s height relative to the staff or meter stick.  One person reads the height difference between 5 different benchmarks and the gauge. Then they go back and measure the height difference a second time to “close” the deal.  They will do the same measurements again at the end of the survey in the fall to make sure the survey area has not changed geographically more than ½ a millimeter in height!  Putting the bubble in the middle of the circle and holding it steady, leveling, was a highlight of my day.


Finally, a person–me– watches the staff (big meter stick above the sensor) and takes measurements of the water level with their eyes every six minutes for three hours.  Meanwhile, the sensor, secured at the orifice to the ocean floor by divers, is also measuring the water level by pressure. The difference between these two numbers is used to determine how far below the water’s surface the orifice has been installed and to relate that distance to the benchmarks we have just leveled to.  If the numbers are consistent, then we know we have reliable measurements.  I won’t find out if they match until tomorrow, but hope they do.  If they don’t match, I’ll have to go back to Driver Bay and try again.

As we finished up the observations, we had a very exciting sunset exit from Raspberry Island.  I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but glad to have the memories.

Last minute update: word just came back from my supervisor, Ensign J.C. Clark, that my tidal data matches the gauge’s tidal data, which he says is “proof of my awesomeness.” Anyone who can swim with a car battery in tow is pretty awesome in my book too.

The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line.  The exact measurements we collected are on the table.
The data Starla Robinson and I collected is represented by the red line and the data the gauge collected is represented by the blue line. The exact measurements we collected are on the table.

Spotlight on a Scientist

Lieutenant Bart Buesseler came to us straight from his family home in the Netherlands, and before that from his research vessel, Bay Hydro II.  The main reason our CO asked him to leave his crew in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, and join us on the Rainier is because he is a dive master, capable of installing our sensors under water, and gifted at training junior officers.


Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to  Floyd Pounds, an amazing cook from the south who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet.
Lieutenant Beusseler knows he needs to be particularly nice to the amazing chefs aboard Rainier, including Floyd Pounds, who cooks food from every corner of our ocean planet with a hint of a southern accent.

During his few years of service, LTJG Buesseler adventured through the Panama Canal, along both coasts of North America, and has done everything from repairing gear to navigating the largest and smallest of NOAA vessels through very narrow straits.  He loves the variety: “if I get tired of one task, I rotate on to another to keep engaged and keep my mind sharp.”  He explains that on a ship, each person is trained to do most tasks.  For example, he says, “during our fast rescue boat training today, Cal led several rotations. But what if he is gone? Everyone needs to be ready to help in a rescue.”  Bart says at NOAA people educate each other, regardless of their assignments, “cultivating information” among themselves. Everyone is skilled at everything aboard Rainier.
In the end, he says that all the things the crew does are with an end goal of making a chart.   His motto? Do what you love to do and that is what he’s doing.

Personal Log

Today was a special day for me for many reasons.  It is majestic here: the stark Alaskan peninsula white against the changing color of the sky, Raspberry Island with its brown, golden, crimson and forest green vegetation, waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  I’m seeing whales, Puffins, Harlequin Ducks and got up close with the biggest red fox ever.  Most importantly, I felt useful and simultaneously centered myself by doing tide observations, leveling and hiking.  I almost dove through the surf to make it “home” to the ship just in time for a hot shower. Lieutenant Buesseler’s reference to “cultivating information” rings very true to me.  In writing these blogs, there is virtually nothing I came up with independently.  All that I have written is a product of the patient instruction of Rainier crew, especially Commander Brennan. Each day I feel more like I am a member of the NOAA crew here in Alaska.


Susy Ellison: There’s a Volcano Outside My Window, September 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 10, 2013

Partly cloudy
GPS Coordinates   540 49.627’  N ,   159o 46.421’  W
Temp. 10.3C
Wind Speed 10-14 kts
Barometer 1008.49 mb

Science and Technology Log

You never know what you might see first thing in the morning! When I awoke and looked out my porthole I saw this in the distance.

The volcano has been active for the past few months, but I saw no smoke today.  You can check out volcanic activity at
The volcano has been active for the past few months, but I saw no smoke today. You can check out volcanic activity at


We  are scheduled to leave Kodiak at 1000 Hrs, RST
We are scheduled to leave Kodiak at 1000 Hrs, RST

We cast off yesterday morning at 1000 hrs, RST—Rainier Ship Time.  Although we are still in the Alaska Daylight Savings time zone, our time on the ship has been adjusted backwards 1 hour to give us more daylight during ‘working hours’.  Since the ship is its own floating universe, time that is referenced to a specific time zone is not as important as time that is referenced to our day and the work that needs to be completed.  Einstein would be pleased to see that time is, indeed, relative here aboard the Rainier!

There is science involved just to leave port and set forth on this cruise.  There’s data to be collected, such as a weather forecast—and decisions to be made based on that data.  Today’s weather report called for rain and high winds.  That data input resulted in a travel plan including taking a more protected route north of Kodiak Island instead of heading out to more open water right away.  We didn’t reach the wide-open spaces until evening, and I was lulled to sleep by the endless rocking and rolling of the boat.

We need to take out the trash before we leave.
We needed to take out the trash before we left.

Heading into the Shelikof Strait
Heading into the Shelikof Strait

Science can also include the protocols needed to keep everyone on board safe and healthy during a cruise.  With that in mind, I spent part of the day learning about the ship and the safety routines we need to follow.  Ensign Wall gave me my survival suit, aka Gumby Suit and showed me how to don that lifesaving apparel.  The suit is a foam-filled drysuit, providing insulation and floatation in one handy, non-form-fitting package.  They are, apparently, one size fits none, but when it’s a matter of survival, I doubt that style counts for too many points!

Each person aboard is assigned stations to report to in case of fire or in case it becomes necessary to abandon ship.  I found out that I go to the Boat Shop near the stern in case of fire, and that I head to Station 1 near the bridge.  We had a fire drill in the afternoon, followed by an abandon ship drill.  Much like fire drills at school, it’s a good time to practice and figure out the best way to get to where you need to go.  Since I’m still learning my way around the ship, it was especially important to figure out where I needed to go and how to get there.

Where do I go?
Where do I go?

Trying on my Gumby suit
Trying on my Gumby suit

Then there’s the ‘real’ science—the science of hydrography and the point of this entire venture.  The NOAA Ship Rainier has been tasked with charting (creating maps) of the Shumagin Islands and Cold Bay areas. It’s amazing to think that there are still some parts of our coastline that haven’t been charted.  I spent much of this afternoon talking with the scientists who are making these maps and came away with the overwhelming sense that this is, indeed, a complicated and multi-faceted process. I’ll be writing separate journals on all the science that goes into creating these detailed maps of the ocean floor.  If you just can’t wait and need to know more right now, check out the blogs from previous TAS teachers on the Ship Rainier.

Personal Log

Much of my first day at sea was spent getting used to being aboard a large floating object on a rather bumpy sea.   Our day was spent in transit, from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, around 28 hours away.

My very first rainbow at sea!
My very first rainbow at sea!

There’s a lot to learn about life on board the Rainier.  Most important has been orienting myself and figuring out where everything is located.  Decks are labeled from ‘A’, the lowest, to ‘G’, the uppermost deck area. My quarters are on the ‘E’ deck.  The Galley, where food is prepared and served, is on the ‘D’ deck below me, and the Bridge (steering and control of the ship) is above me on the ‘F’ deck.

I have my own room—kind of luxurious living!  There’s a bunk, the head (bathroom), a couple of closets, drawers, and even a small fold-down desk area so that I can write my journals.  Every drawer latches tightly to minimize the chance of unidentified flying objects if we hit some rough weather.

Home, sweet home.
Home, sweet home.

I took a short tour of some of the more esoteric parts of the ship, including a visit to the cofferdam, whose access was through a hatch and down a ladder hidden in one of the heads (bathrooms).  This is sort of like accessing the crawl space under your house through a small tunnel in your bathroom.  While we speculated on just what purpose this area served (storage, poor planning in designing the hull and layout, a random skinny place to hang out?), it turns out that it is a watertight compartment that separates the contact between liquids that might be in the bow area and those in the stern area of the ship.

Starla Robinson leads us down the hatch into the cofferdam
Starla Robinson leads us down the hatch into the cofferdam

Lt. Quintero in the cofferdam.
Lt. Quintero in the cofferdam.

There was also an escape hatch that was incredibly heavy to lift—but I am sure you could lift it if your life depended on it!  I don’t plan on having to test this thing out!!

Just in case you need to get out in a hurry!
Just in case you need to get out in a hurry! 

Britta Culbertson: Exploring the Oscar Dyson and Kodiak, AK Before Departure, September 3, 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: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 4th at 8:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 5.11 kts
Air Temperature: 12.6 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure: 1003.2 mb
Latitude: 57.78 N              Longitude: 152.43 W

Personal Log

Oscar Dyson
Oscar Dyson in Port – Kodiak, AK

My trip to Kodiak from Washington, DC was a long one.  I left DC early in the morning on September 2nd and I nearly missed my connection in Seattle after our flight left late from Reagan National Airport.  I tried to dash off the plane, lugging my suitcase and backpack, with only 10 minutes to get to my connecting flight before it was supposed to take off.  Fortunately, I know my way around SEA-TAC airport and with all of my escalator running experience from a year of DC living, I was able to get to my gate with 2 minutes to spare.  On the plane, I was reunited with the scientists for my cruise and off we flew to Anchorage.  Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Anchorage and from there it was just a one-hour flight to Kodiak Island where the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson was in port.

While the ship was in port, we slept on board and I got used to the subtle rolls of the ship, which of course is nothing like when the ship is in motion.  After a long day of travel on Monday, we ate dinner in town and went straight to bed afterwards.  I spent the first day on the ship getting acquainted with the twists and turns of the hallways and the multiple staircases leading to different parts of the ship.  Interestingly, you can’t walk from bow to aft on the same level on the Dyson, which makes it kind of difficult to get a nice deck side stroll.

There are 8 people, including myself, on the science team and a total of 33 people aboard the ship.  I’m sharing a cabin with one of the scientists and we each have our own bunk with a small lamp and a curtain so we can close ourselves in and get some shut-eye.  Each stateroom (cabin) has a shower and toilet, which is pretty luxurious!  Once we get underway and get started working, I will work the noon to midnight shift and my roommate will work the midnight to noon shift.  That way we will each have time alone in the cabin when the other is working.

My stateroom on the Dyson

Private bathroom
Our private bathroom.

Mess Hall
Mess Hall (cafeteria) on the Dyson. Note the tennis balls and the tie downs on the chairs.

Science and Technology Log

Tuesday was our first full day in Kodiak and we started the day aboard the Dyson with a briefing about the scientific work that we would be doing during the cruise.  It was a bit overwhelming at first, because every term is completely new to me.  But because of the repetitive nature of the work we will be doing, everyone has assured me that once we get going, I will totally get the hang of it.  In short, one of the things we will be looking at is the year 0 pollock (those fish which haven’t had a first birthday yet).  The fish we collect during the survey will be analyzed back in Seattle to see how healthy they are.  From there, projections can be made about how many pollock will make it through the winter and survive until their first birthday.  Fish become vulnerable to the fishing when they reach year 3, so it’s important to understand the health of the young pollock now to set the numbers that can be caught by the fishing boats down the road.

Research boats are not like cruise ships.  There are few comfortable places to sit outside of the lounge and people are working around the clock on various shifts, so you have to be really quiet when walking through the hallways.  On board, there are automatically closing doors that slam shut during drills and emergencies, very steep staircases, and slippery floors. The Oscar Dyson has several labs below deck.  I will spend most of my time working in the wet lab processing the pollock that we collect.  There are computers on board and we also have internet, though the ship has to be going the right direction for us to be able to use it because otherwise the incoming signal gets blocked by the exhaust stack when the ship is at certain headings.

On Tuesday morning, we also had a short briefing about by Operations Officer Mark Frydrych, one of the NOAA Corps officers aboard the Dyson.  He described the general rules and regulations on board the ship.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head out to sea in the afternoon after the ship gets fueled.  We will have to travel for a few hours to get to our first station where the work begins.  I’m really looking forward to getting out to sea and starting to work on the project!

Did You Know?

Oscar Dyson
Oscar Dyson (Photo credit: NOAA)

“NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson R-224 supports NOAA’s mission to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management. Its primary objective is as a support platform to study and monitor Alaskan pollock and other fisheries, as well as oceanography in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The ship also observes weather, sea state, and other environmental conditions, conducts habitat assessments, and surveys marine mammal and marine bird populations.

Oscar Dyson, was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on October 17, 2003, and was commissioned May 28, 2005 in Kodiak, Alaska. Oscar Dyson is the first of four new fisheries survey ships to be built by NOAA. The ship, one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world, was christened Oscar Dyson by Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, wife of the late Alaskan fisherman and fisheries industry leader, Oscar Dyson. The ship is homeported in Mr. Dyson’s home town of Kodiak, Alaska.”

Excerpt taken from:

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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.

Katie Sard: The Science Needed to Get the Data, July 31, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Sard
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of the Cruise:  Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
GPS location:  54°52.288’N, 159°55.055’W
Sky condition:  Overcast (OVC) with Fog (FG)
Visibility:  Less than 2 nautical miles (nm)
Wind: 120 degrees true, 13 knots (kt)
Sea level pressure:  1009.7 millibar (mb)
Sea wave height:  1 foot (ft)
Swell waves:  180 degrees true, 3 ft
Water temperature:  9.4°C
Air temperature:  12.2°C

Science and Technology Log

From the moment I stepped on to the NOAA Ship Rainier in port at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak three days ago, it was apparent to me that this ship functions in order to acquire information.  Hours upon hours of teamwork, dedication, money, and precise planning go in to making sure this ship gets to the right spot, functions properly, and has the correct instrumentation to collect the data.  My goal for this post is to share with you all of the science that goes into making sure that this ship is able to perform the overall mission of doing hydrographic surveys.

A view of the bow of the ship from the flying bridge as we began to get underway.
A view of the bow of the ship from the flying bridge as we began to get underway.

First perhaps I should give a brief background of what a hydrographic survey is and why they are done.  The NOAA Ship Rainier uses sonar in order to collect information about the ocean floor.  Each time the ship, or any of the survey launches (smaller boats), use this sonar, they are surveying the area for hydrographic information.

Two of the launches had to get rearranged into their standard locations on the ship as we left port.  They had been switched around while at port for maintenance.
Two of the launches had to get rearranged into their standard locations on the ship as we left port. They had been switched around while at port for maintenance.

This information is then processed and used to create nautical charts which NOAA produces for navigational purposes.  These nautical charts contain information on ocean floor depth, but they also give detailed information on areas that may be hazardous to those navigating the waters in that area.  I will stop there for now on the hydrographic surveys because the surveys have only just begun today on the ship.  The ship has been in transit the past two days, meaning that we have been moving from port to our survey area.   Little did I know how much science it takes to even get the ship to the survey area where the hydrographic surveys can begin.

If you are one of my students reading this blog, you may know how I say that science is everywhere.  One of my students even asked me this past year, “Mrs. Sard, are you like ALWAYS thinking about science?”  Well it turns out that science IS everywhere on this ship.  I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with several different crew members in my first few days, and they’ve been eager to explain the many functions of the ship and the crew.  What is important to understand is that there are several departments that all must work together in order to allow the ship to function properly.  Here is a brief breakdown of each department and what their main tasks are:

Wardroom – These are mostly members of the NOAA Corps which is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Besides managing and operating the ship, these dedicated workers also function as scientists and engineers.

Survey – These are the scientists that are mostly in charge of the hydrographic data.  They collect, process, and manage the information that is collected during the surveys.

Engineers – These people have the important task of keeping the ship in functioning order.  They do things like maintain the engine room and respond to any mechanical type issues.

Electronics Technician (ET) – This crew is in charge of the technology on board the ship.  They ensure that things like the computers, internet, and phones are all up in working condition.

Steward – This department is tasked with the job of feeding the crew members.  (They do a great job, and I think I might actually gain weight while out a sea because I cannot say no to the delicious food they prepare!)

Part of the galley where the food is served and we eat three delicious meals each day!
Part of the galley where the food is served and we eat three delicious meals each day!

Deck – The deck crew members are responsible for things like driving the small launches, maintaining the ship’s equipment, and so on.

Visitors – These would be people, like me, who are only on board the ship temporarily.  They have a specific purpose that usually falls within one of the other departments.

Navigating the Ship

Now that you are aware of the overall goal of the ship, and you are familiar with the departments, let me discuss the science that is needed to get the ship where we need to go.  It was an overwhelming and exciting feeling to be on the bridge of the ship while we were getting underway.  The Officer On Deck (OOD) was giving orders to both the helmsman, who marked his orders down on a marker board, and the “lee helm” or engine controls operated by ENS Poremba. The third mate was acting as the navigator and had precisely mapped out the route for safely and efficiently departing the Coast Guard base.

You can see part of the route that the navigator has mapped out for the ship.
You can see part of the route that the navigator has mapped out for the ship.

The Commanding Officer (CO) was overseeing all that was happening, along with several other officers.  I was in awe of how smoothly everything came together, and how efficiently the people worked together as a team.  LT Gonsalves eloquently said that the ship is like a “floating city” and that all of the pieces must come together in order for it to function.

As I awoke yesterday, after our first night out at sea, I could hear the fog horn coming from the bridge.  I decided to go and observe again to see how things were functioning out at open sea.  ENS Wall showed me how to do a GPS fix to make sure that we are following the plans laid out for navigation.

Ens Wall taking a GPS fix that he showed be how to do!
Ens Wall taking a GPS fix that he showed be how to do!

These are taken about every fifteen minutes.  He used the current chart that was laid out as well as electronic GPS measurements and plotted them on the chart with a compass.  He then marked the latitude and longitude with the time to show that we were on course at that moment.

The OOD, John Kidd, went on to explain a bit more about the navigation of the ship including the gyroscope. Simply put, a gyroscope is an instrument used for measuring and maintaining orientation while out at sea, but it’s not as simple as it looks.  I noticed a sign that read “Gyro Error” and so I asked.  John went on to tell me that the gyro error is the difference between true north and what the gyro thinks is north.  The difference between true north and magnetic north is the combination of “variation” which is a function of local magnetic fields, and “deviation” which is the effect the magnetic fields aboard the boat have on the compass.  The steel ship itself and all of the electricity on board have some crazy magnetic fields that interfere.

Finally, I went up to the bridge this morning to quickly get the weather data that I needed for my blog.  What I thought would be a quick visit turned into a 30 minute conversation with the crew.  It was remarkable to see all of the data that is collected each hour dealing with the weather.  The conning officer is required to take the data once each hour and enter it into the computer.  They don’t simply look out and take a rough estimate of the weather.  It is a detailed process that takes a variety of instrumentation in order to get the quantified weather data that is needed.   All of the weather data is then sent off to  NOAA’s National Weather Service and is used to refine the local at-sea weather forecasts.

Weather data from the Bridge.  Hey INMS students - check out this data table! Data tables can be good!
Weather data from the Bridge. Hey INMS students – check out this data table! Data tables can be good!

I couldn’t help but smile at all of the science and math that was taking place in order to have safe navigation through the sea.  So much science goes in to making sure that the officers have accurate data in order to navigate the ship.  This is one of my goals as a TAS: I want to show my students how many different opportunities they have, and the possible fields of science that NOAA has to offer.

Personal Log

When I arrived in Kodiak on Saturday, Avery Marvin, the previous Teacher at Sea (TAS) was still on board for one night.  She took me on a tour of the ship, and gave me the low down on how everything functions.  Avery and I decided that before departing on Monday, we would take the day on Sunday to explore the island of Kodiak.  I couldn’t believe all of the wildlife I saw including the various creatures of the tide pools, bald eagles, sea otters, salmon, and so much more.

TAS Marvin (left) and myself (right) as we went tide pooling at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
TAS Marvin (left) and myself (right) as we went tide pooling at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.

I have been so impressed by the functionality of the ship.  Every inch of space is used, and the people on board truly understand what it means to work as a team.  Yesterday we had our safety drills including Fire/Emergency and Abandon Ship.  When the different alarms sounded, I was required to quickly get to my muster station where I was checked in and accounted for to the CO.  I also was asked to try on my immersion suit.  In all of the excitement, I wasn’t able to get a picture, but it was an experience to practice these drills.

The rack where I will be staying over the next three weeks.
The rack where I will be staying over the next three weeks.

The head or the bathroom in my room that I share with my roommate Martha.
The head or the bathroom in my room that I share with my roommate Martha.

I believe my body is starting to get accustomed to the constant movement of the ship. While sleeping in my rack (bed) at night, I can feel it as the ship sways back and forth.  At times the waves are large, but for the most part it feels as though I’m being rocked to sleep.

Please post comments, or email me at if you have any questions or information that you would like me to blog about.  I’m looking forward to sharing more information on my experience with you next time!

Best wishes,

TAS Sard

Did You Know…

Each ship has it’s own call sign.  These signs are displayed on the ship by flags that each represent one letter in the alphabet, and they are international symbols that are used.  The call sign for the NOAA Ship Rainier is WTEF.

The flags for the call sign of the Rainier.  From top to bottom they read WTEF.
The flags for the call sign of the Rainier. From top to bottom they read WTEF.

To ensure clearness when reading off these letters, the military alphabet is used.  For example, if you were reading the call sign for the Rainier it would read Whiskey Tango Echo Foxtrot instead of just WTEF.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Sixteen: Lumpsucker (there is no more perfect title)

JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: October 25, 2011

Personal Log:

"It's not a party without a lumpsucker?"
“It’s not a party without a lumpsucker?”

What is the best birthday party you ever had? Let me set the stage for you to picture mine. It was a theme celebration: the guests came as a superhero or supermodel. Everyone was in costume. Balloons covered the floor. People brought so many flowers that I started putting them in washed out mayonnaise and pickle jars. The cake was homemade: I can’t now remember if it was chocolate oblivion or an upside-down fruit. I just remember that it was made from scratch. There were prizes for the best costumes. People danced for hours. I didn’t think that it could have ever gotten better. Until recently. Recently, I discovered lumpsuckers. For all of these years, I had no idea that my 29th could have gotten any better. Until now. Now I know that It’s not a party without a lumpsucker (Cartoon citations 1, 2 and 3).

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 16
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 16

Smooth and spiny lumpsuckers.
Smooth and spiny lumpsuckers.

I should explain why I chose a squishy dumpling with fins for the final cartoon of Adventures in a Blue World. It isn’t because my 29th birthday balloons should have been adorned by adorable fish (although admittedly they would have been grand). It is because, once again, I have found yet another inhabitant of our planet that I was ignorant of. As a biology teacher, I like to think that I have a fairly good handle on life, especially of our Animalia Kingdom. Who could have guessed, in their wildest dreams, that there were creatures like the lumpsucker that inhabit our oceans–our planet? With only 3% of the oceans explored, I can’t even fathom what else is out there. If we don’t explore, catalog and protect our oceans, we may never know.

I want to thank the Teacher at Sea Program of NOAA for an excellent and amazing adventure. In particular, the crew of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my fellow Teacher at Sea (rockstar) Staci DeSchryver and Elizabeth McMahon deserve special recognition. Thank you all so much.

Until our next adventure!
I wish you fair winds and following seas, a sailor’s farewell…

Cathrine Prenot Fox

Last evening: green flash watch.
Last evening: green flash watch.

Leaving Kodiak, AK.
Leaving Kodiak, AK.

Before I left I may have tagged some of the hard hats with cartoons...
Before I left I may have tagged some of the hard hats with cartoons…

Staci DeSchryver: A Front Row Seat to the Bottom of the Ocean, August 12, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Alaska

Location:  Kodiak, AK
Heading: back to the docks
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge: N/A

Science and Technology Log

My last night on the Oscar Dyson was a busy one!  Because our trip was cut so short, we had to “break protocol” so to speak.  Typically, nighttime operations consist of seafloor mapping (which I will get to in a minute), and do not consist of trawling for Pollock.  For science students, you probably have a good idea why – running operations only in the daytime means that the experiment is controlled.  Since Pollock behave differently in the night-time, it is important to only run operations when their behavior is consistent.  However, because we were so short on time, we had to make a “run” for the shelf break that got us to the area well after dark.  So we got to do one more trawl!  This one was the best kind, in my humble opinion.  We completed a bottom trawl, which means that the net went almost down to the bottom of the ocean – within a couple of meters.  The reason why bottom trawls are so neat is because there are plenty of ocean critters down there that the average Joe doesn’t get to see on a daily basis.  Of course, the scientists do their absolute best to catch only Pollock to minimize bycatch, but one or two fish of different species are difficult to avoid.  On this trawl, we had a few jellies, two Pacific Ocean Perch, and a Herring.  We finished late – right around one in the morning.  At that time, we began our night-time operations.

Night time operations are run by Dr. Jodi Pirtle.   Dr. Pirtle is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of New Hampshire  Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping.  Her research is a collaborative effort between the UNH CCOM and the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.   Even though Jodi is traveling all the way from New Hampshire,  she is actually very close to home right now.  She is quite connected to the Alaska fisheries – she grew up in Alaska, and has both family and friends who are involved in the commercial fishing industry.  The fisheries hold a place very close to her heart, and her passion for her current line of work is well evident.

So, why, then, does Dr. Pirtle work in the cover of night?

acoustics lab
Here, the scientists are working in the acoustics lab on daytime operations. As you can see, most of the electronic equipment is used during the day. At night, Dr. Pirtle gets the opportunity to chart her own path and select an area to map without interfering with the ship's primary operations.

At first I suspected it was some sort of secret service operation, but the reality is much more strange and explainable.  Her line of work is a side project on the Oscar Dyson, which means that she can work when the ship is not working for its primary purposes.  Hence, she works from 6pm until 6am.   One focus of her research is to identify whether or not certain areas of the Gulf of Alaska are trawlable or untrawlable by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom-trawl survey for groundfish.   How is an area determined to be untrawlable?  Let’s say, for example, there is a commercial fishing ship somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska.  This ship decides to do a similar trawl as the one that I did earlier this evening, but they use a net that makes contact with the seafloor because they are fishing for groundfish species – say, Rockfish, for example.  But, something happens.  When the net comes up, it is all torn up – as though it got caught on a series of rocks or ledges.  In order to warn other ships of the dangers of losing a very expensive net, the fisherman deems the area “untrawlable.”  It’s kind of like putting caution tape around the area.

Untrawlable areas are problematic for scientists because every area deemed untrawlable is an area where they can’t sample with the bottom-trawl gear.  For example, a large component of the groundfish fishery are several species of rockfish (Sebastes spp.) that associate with a rocky habitat.  Rockfish are delicious with garlic and butter, but they are sneaky little guys because they like hanging out around rocks (who knew?).  Many rockfish could be in areas that are untrawlable, but scientists would never know because it is inadvisable to tow a bottom-trawl net in the area to find out.  In a sense, untrawlable areas are a source of error, or uncertainty in the population estimate for species of groundfish in those areas.  This is where Dr. Pirtle’s research starts.

A few years ago, a group did research in an area called Snakehead Bank – a location previously deemed to be untrawlable.  They wanted to tighten the definition of “untrawlable.”  For example, there is a possibility that an untrawlable area is covered with steep cliffs, many sharp, large rocks, and impossibly tough relief.  However, there is also the possiblity that the area is relatively flat and trawlable, but the fisherman was just unlucky enough to drag his or her net over a rogue boulder that found its way onto the vast, flat, continental shelf.  So, the scientists decided to see what kind of “untrawlable” this particular area was.   The group took the time to make a bathymetric profile of the area and couple that research with camera drops – video cameras that would make the trek to the bottom of the ocean and provide a second set of data for scientists to confirm what the bathymetric profile showed them.  From the camera drops and the bathymetry, the scientists determined that Snakehead bank was not completely untrawlable – in fact, most areas could support trawl nets without the risk of tearing the nets.  Dr. Pirtle is continuing with this important work.

One focus of the research is determining seafloor trawlability in the Gulf of Alaska using the same acoustic transducers that we use to catch fish in our daytime operations.  The fishery that the  survey is concerned about  is groundfish –   a general term that encompasses many species such as flatfish, cod, and rockfish.  These sneaky guys enjoy habitats that are associated with rocky areas, so we are not getting the best estimate of populations in those areas.  Dr. Pirtle is looking in to alternative methods to determine whether an areas of the seafloor is untrawlable or trawlable using the mulibeam sonar.  Not only is she looking for areas that can now be considered trawlable, she’s also using the data she collects to determine certain seafloor characteristics.  Hardness, roughness, and grain size are all data that can be collected using the acoustic transducers.  This information will help her to determine the relative trawlability of an area, as well.  Therefore, the groundfish survey benefits because she is either finding areas to be trawlable (thus, they can now sample there) or somewhat trawlable, which can tell them ahead of time that alternative sampling methods might be needed in a particular area.

Her research is also concerned with developing alternative sampling methods for untrawlable locations.  These methods could involve a combination of acoustic seafloor mapping to characterize seafloor habitats for groundfish, acoustic midwater data (to observe the fish that like to hang out on tall pinnacles and rocky banks) and, the most fun method – dropping a camera to the ground to identify species and biomass assessment (which is a fancy term for seeing how many fish are in a particular area).  Improved understanding of groundfish habitats can lead to better management models, and the work Dr. Pirtle is doing can also contribute to conservation of areas that are sensitive to fishing gear that touches the seafloor.

The area that Dr. Pirtle decided to survey this evening was an area that was deemed to be untrawlable surrounded by many trawlable areas.  These areas are often good candidates for mapping and camera surveys because both untrawlable and trawlable seafloor types are likely to be encountered, so the area can more easily be compared against existing data.  We began our transects – driving transects with the ship over the area while sending sound waves to the bottom of the ocean to figure out differing ocean depths and seafloor type.  Transect lines are close together and driven in a pattern similar to mowing a lawn, which gives Dr. Pirtle 100% coverage of her targeted area.  Dr. Pirtle selects a location to drop a CTD – Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter – usually in the middle of the mapped area.  The CTD is used to estimate sound speed in the location she is mapping.  This is important because ocean depth is measured by the amount of time it takes for a sound wave to leave the ship, bounce off the ocean floor, and return back to the ship.

This is a photograph of a halibut on the uncharted pinnacle discovered by Dr. Pirtle, similar to what I saw real-time on the camera late at night.

She then selects three to five areas to conduct camera drops.  The camera travels to the bottom of the ocean where she can see if the area is untrawlable or trawlable based on what the camera shows her.  I, on the other hand, get to see deep ocean critters in their habitats, which is also very cool.   There are two types of camera drops – ones that record the information and then get played back later, and real-time camera drops where we can literally watch the camera make the trek to the bottom of the ocean in real-time.  Dr. Pirtle uses the camera data to “groundtruth” or check the seafloor type against her acoustic map, to identify fish and other animals in the area, and to observe how species use the seafloor habitat.

As my shift was coming to a close, I could barely keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to miss this.  Tonight, we dropped the live camera into the depths.  I stayed awake for the first drop so I could see what these operations looked like.  Dr. Pirtle expertly maneuvered the camera into the deep using something that looked much like an old-school Atari controller.

slide o' fun
This photograph shows Dr. Pirtle's work in combination - the area she surveyed is in the bottom right corner. The other three photos are snapshots of the surveyed area.

As the camera dropped, we saw a few pollock and some other unidentified neritic creatures, but the real fun started when we got to the bottom.  It was intense as Dr. Pirtle relayed information back to the bridge about the direction in which to travel, holding the ship still in the waves and currents when she wanted to examine an area more closely, and communicate with the technicians on the hero deck to relay the height that she wanted the camera held at.  We saw all sorts of interesting creatures on the ocean floor – some arrowtooth flounder, a halibut, and Pacific Ocean Perch.  We also observed beautiful cold-water corals and sponges that form a living component of seafloor habitat for many marine animals, including our target – rockfish.   We even saw a shark!  It was completely worth getting to bed a little bit later to see this incredible work in real-time.

unmapped pinnacle
This is the unmapped pinnacle discovered by Dr. Pirtle and her colleague! Now, seafloor maps have been updated to include this potentially dangerous sea hazard.

On a side note, in a previous leg of the survey, Dr. Pirtle and her colleague from UNH CCOM, Glen Rice,  found an underwater pinnacle that was later determined to be a navigational hazard!  This pinnacle came so close to the surface of the water that in a “perfect storm” of low tide and a large enough ship with a deep enough hull, it could have unknowingly collided with this unmapped pinnacle – which could have potentially been disastrous.  Glen, a NOAA hydrographer, was able to update the navigational charts in the area, alerting ships to the pinnacle’s presence.  It just further supports the idea that the our oceans are so vastly unexplored – there is so much we don’t know about the feature that takes up the biggest portion of our Earth!   I asked her if she named it because she discovered it – I quickly learned that just because you find something in the Ocean, it doesn’t mean you get to keep it.  Apparently, you can’t name it, either.  But I still called it Pirtle’s Pinnacle.  I think it has a nice ring.

Personal Log

It was a sad day today watching the scientists pack up and box and tag the lab equipment and computers.  As everyone bustled about, I spent some time hanging out for the last time on the bridge, in the galley, and in the fish lab thinking about my journey coming to its close.  Although we spent the majority of it tied to the dock, I am so grateful for the opportunities we experienced that we otherwise would not have – it was a blessing in disguise, because we really got to experience all of Kodiak, and much of the bays and inlets around the island from the ship.  The pictures will bring no justice to the beauty I’ve experienced in the last three weeks, whether it was walking along a beach with wild horses or staring in all directions to find nothing but water for as far as the eye could see.  I spent an hour one night on the bridge watching the Leonids streak across the sky – a front row and first class seat, in my opinion.  I never though that dodging whales would be an area of concern in my small life until we sailed through pods of them every day.  If you would have told me three years ago I’d be petting an octopus three weeks ago, I would have called you a fool.  If you would have told me three hours ago that this experience would be coming to a close three minutes from now, I would believe you even less.  In the last three weeks, I have never laughed harder, worked more eagerly, or learned more with and from these incredible individuals who call this ship Home.  As I quietly stood on the bridge watching the fast rescue boat dart off to the docks, I remembered the last time it was in the water watching carefully over us as we swam around the ship in our gumby suits.  As we drove silently through the still waters to the city docks, we bade farewell to the animals that accompanied us on our trips – otters, eagles, puffins, and even sea lions gathered around to see us off to our homes and families.  Or, they just so happened to be there looking for food and doing other instinctual things, but I do really think I saw an otter wave me goodbye.

Here is a whale "waving goodbye" with his fluke in the Gulf of Alaska - I will never forget the journey I had here!

Thank you so much to the crew and scientists of the Oscar Dyson – you fed my soul this summer and rejuvenated me in a way I never could have imagined.  I am more revived today than I was on the first day of my second year of teaching (because, let’s face it, the first day of your first year you spend most of your time trying not to vomit) and I owe it completely to the Teacher at Sea Program and to all of the fine people I got to work with.  To my partner in crime, Cat Fox – I’ll see you when we’re landlocked again!  It was a total blast working with you.  Thanks for always being there for a good laugh and for finding me so many salmon berries!  If you are wondering whether or not you should apply for this program in the 2012 season – this is the advice I will give to you:  JUST APPLY!  It will change your life – promise.

Until our next adventure,

Staci DeSchryver

Did you know…

While I was working my night shift, I got the opportunity to help Dr. Pirtle “log the turns” of the ship as it was “mowing the lawn” in the zigzag pattern.  This meant that I got to communicate with the bridge via radio every time they ended a transect and began turning in the opposite direction.  I’m sure you may have predicted that this was most certainly a highlight of my work.  It took great restraint on my part to behave myself with the radio, as everyone knows that radios can be a lot of fun.  I did, however, let a few nautical words fly on the airwaves up to the bridge, one of them being “Roger, Willco.”

I had no clue where the origin of the word “Roger” came from.  But now I do…

Roger, which starts with the letter R, means “Received”, which means, “I received your last transmission.”  A long time ago, the radio alphabet (you know, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Foxtrot, Whiskey, etc.) used Roger to represent the letter R.  It has since been changed to “Romeo.”  Adding Willco to the end, means “I received your transmission, and I WILL COmply.”   So saying that I received a message from the bridge and I was going to comply with it really made me look like a navigational moron – because they weren’t asking me to comply with anything.  But I still had fun.

Kevin Sullivan: Awaiting Departure, August 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Personal Log

I arrived into Kodiak Island late Wednesday night.  I came in around midnight local time, which  put my total travel time for the day somewhere in the 17-hour range!  Coupled with a time difference of 4 hours from the East Coast I was surely in need of some downtime.

After some rest, the next day I was able to explore a bit of Kodiak Island until the remaining crew came into town.   I went to the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, as well as some local museums and other points of interest.  Despite the rain and fog, I walked around and really enjoyed the opportunity to explore in seclusion.  Later that evening, the rest of the scientific crew arrived into Kodiak, we all met up and grabbed some dinner and introduced ourselves and spoke of our future together.

Thursday was continued with more overcast, socked in pea-fog conditions, with visibility coming down to <.25 mile at times.  Our trip was supposed to leave early in the morning this day which was delayed until 3:00 PM and then again delayed until 1:00 PM the following day (Friday the 20th). The delays were a result of having to wait for a specific part that the boat needed prior to leaving port.  Due to the added delay, we decided to go  investigate some intel from locals about Kodiak Bear spotting sites.  Luckily enough, we found them taking advantage of pink and coho salmon spawns occurring.  The Kodiak bear, in preparation for winter and hibernation, must gorge itself leading up to the cold winter months.  The salmon spawns coinciding with this bear’s requirement are a perfect example of evolution and “nature’s clock” at work.  It reminds me of the Horseshoe crab back in NJ wherein their eggs laid in the spring become the food for the migratory red knot bird coming all the way from South America.  The timing is just perfect.  The Kodiak seems to target the brains of the salmon as well as the belly of this fish where the eggs are located (you can see this in the picture I took below of the pink Salmon).  This ensures that every bite is as most calorically packed as possible with the warmer days ending and winter approaching.

Kodiak Brown Bear. Taken 08-19-11
Kodiak Brown Bear. Taken 08-19-11

Pink Salmon Spawn.  Taken 08-19-11
Pink Salmon Spawn. Taken 08-19-11

Friday morning all scientists and new crew attended a meeting at 8:30 A.M. to discuss the logistics of the trip.  Specifically, the lead scientist, Ed Farley, reviewed how the average day was going to unfold with the various investigations going on.  The goal seems to be to get to three stations a day with each station consisting of acoustics studies, oceanography, zooplankton and lastly, a fishing trawl.  Conducting this much research all on one boat in one trip is quite ambitious and unique in the marine world.  I will be getting into the details of these activities as the trip gets underway.  Lastly, the meeting included a debriefing on vessel safety.

So far, the trip has been eye-opening.  It is amazing to be able to experience the amount of planning and logistics that must go into an expedition of this magnitude.  Every corner I turn, there are crew-members busily working and focused on their duties.   The ship itself is analogous to a bee’s nest and its crew members the bees themselves.  They are all performing certain functions all for a common goal.  It is also very inspiring to see how passionate these leading scientists and crew members are about the work they do.  It is truly contagious and has reinvigorated my own passion for the sciences.

Mountain Peak Through The Fog
Mountain Peak Through The Fog

Staci DeSchryver: Getting Ready to Sail! July 23, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 23, 2011

Personal Log

Hello, from Denver, Colorado!  My name is Staci DeSchryver, and I am an Honor’s Earth and Physical Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO.  Our school is the newest addition to the Cherry Creek School District family, but starting our ninth year is hardly enough to make us the babies any longer.  We are an outstanding school with absolutely outstanding students, and I can’t wait to share this experience with them!  I will be starting my eighth year teaching this fall, and my seventh year at CTHS.  I’ve been around for a while, and Trail is definitely my teaching home.

Stephen and I
This is a picture of me and my husband, Stephen!

I applied tor the NOAA Teacher At Sea program because our oceans are vast, largely unexplored, and a critical planetary resource.  I love their mystery.  More importantly, I love that we have the technology to uncover what hides beneath the surface.  In addition, I am a firm and vocal believer that our ocean fish supplies are a lynchpin in our food supply.  How so, you ask?  I’ve broken it down into a simple and digestible equation:

Overfishing = fish can’t reproduce to keep up with the demand = fish become scarce = people starve = sad, hungry people.

Therefore, because few people on this planet enjoy being sad or hungry, NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) works tirelessly to ensure that we have sustainable fish populations now and in our future.

As part of this tireless work, I have the chance of a lifetime — to sail on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson!  The Oscar Dyson will be completing a stock assessment survey (data collection) on Walleye Pollock, a smart-looking fish that is a staple of the American (and world) diet.  I am excited and nervous! I have never been on a ship before — not even a cruise ship!  Come to think of it, I have never entered the ocean past knee-depth.  (Thanks, Mom.)  While the training has prepared me well, I know nothing can prepare me for the size, depth, and wealth of knowledge and surprises that are surely in store for me.

This is our family mascot, Marshmallow Bear. He usually is a stealthy bear who manages to become a stowaway on all of our travels. Something tells me this isn't the last you will see of him!

Please be sure to check the links to the Ship and the Mission!  The sites there explain what we will be doing in clear detail.

As far as a little more information about myself, I am currently packing up, tying up loose ends at home, and making sure all of my electronic equipment is in working order before I leave.   I have also just learned from a fellow TASer that using the word “boat” for a “ship” is quite improper etiquette and akin to swearing.  How did I miss that?   Therefore, I am currently seeking out synonyms for “ship” and “vessel” to keep my writing nice and spicy without angering anyone who holds my life in their hands.

The next time you hear from me, it will be from the Gulf of Alaska on my mission to help protect our fish populations, spread the word about scientific careers, and develop killer lesson plans that teach our students the science of Oceanography!  Cheers!

Anne Mortimer: The Oscar Dyson is like a floating city, July 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Monday, July 18, 2011—sunny and breezy
Air Temperature: 11.2 ⁰C
Sea Temperature: 10.7 ⁰C
Wind direction: 219⁰
Wind speed:  7.06 knots

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday I took a tour of the engine room and all of the behind the scenes areas that allow 30+ people to live comfortably at sea. One of the engineers, Terry, agreed to show me around, and now I understand that the Oscar Dyson is like a floating city.

First, this city needs power – power to drive the boat, power to run all of the computers and lab equipment for scientists, power to cook food, power to do laundry, and power to watch movies! This power comes from 4 diesel engines that run generators. The generators create electricity, and that electricity is shared throughout the boat to whatever needs it, including 2 electric motors that turn the propeller, pushing the ship ahead. All those engines create a lot of heat, but a seawater cooling system helps counteract that.

An amazing fact: the Oscar Dyson can hold 107, 000 gallons of fuel, and the last fill up was a top-off of only 37,000 gallons! At $3.86 per gallon of diesel, that was a hefty chunk of change – about $142,820!  The Oscar Dyson isn’t exactly fuel efficient, either. According to Jerry, the 1st Assistant Engineer, depending on the speed and fishing operations (fishing requires much slower speeds), the Oscar Dyson uses around 100 gallons per hour. We usually average about 10 knots per hour, that equals around 0.1 knots/gallon (and remember that 1 nautical mile = 1.2 miles). Wow! Because the fuel is so vital to all of the functions on the ship, the diesel is run through a purifier system that spins out any residuals and ensures the engines receive pure fuel. The fuel is stored in compartments throughout the ship, and is routinely monitored and moved using a series of valves to ensure the ship is balanced. All of the engines and electric motors are run by computers, and monitored by the engineers.

Diesel engine and generator number 2.

These computer monitors tell the engineers about the diesel engines, generators and motors.

I talked to Jeff, the Chief Engineer about the water and waste on the Oscar Dyson. A floating city must also use lots of fresh water, about 50 gallons per person per day to use in the sinks, showers, toilets, and kitchen.  The Oscar Dyson takes sea water in and converts it to freshwater by boiling the water at very high altitude in two water-makers. Once the water is used (gray water from sinks and drains, sewage from toilets) it goes to a water purifier that uses aerobic bacteria to break it down and then chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria in the effluent before it is released to the ocean. This is a similar to a septic system without the leach-field.  International codes require ships to dump waste water at least 3 miles from the shoreline. On the Oscar Dyson, the engineering crew will calculate when the holding tank’s volume is high enough to warrant releasing the waste — anywhere from 1000-6000 gallons. According to Terry, my tour guide, you could drink the treated water, but he wouldn’t do it! Terry also showed me the vacuum system that pulls the waste/water from toilets through the water treatment system, rather than a regular plumbing system using gravity. Much like an airplane toilet, they have a very auspicious “suck.”

Waste and gray water purifier.

Another necessary part of a floating city is a means to dispose of waste – and thankfully it’s not over the side! All solid waste, except for metals, compostables (food waste) and hazardous materials are burned in an incinerator. All metals used by the engineering department are retained and recycled in port. Aluminum cans are also collected and taken ashore to a recycling facility. Hazardous materials such as fluorescent lights and batteries are collected and taken to hazardous material collection facilities, also in port. The Chief Engineer, Jeff Hokkanen, told me that ship is attempting to change out hazardous fluorescent bulbs with l.e.d. lights in an attempt to reduce hazardous waste and to make the “hotel load” (every thing on the ship needed for living) more energy efficient, reducing the limits of the power supply.

The final part of the floating city are the crew that keep it running smoothly so the scientists can do the research they plan for. The ship’s crew is made of several groups – the NOAA Corps officers, deck crew, electronics crew, engineers, survey crew and stewards. The NOAA Corps officers (one of the seven uniformed services of the United States)  are responsible for managing all operations and departments on the ship, including navigation. The deck crew are the people who make fishing and other research operations happen. Some specialize in fishing, others are general deck crew and assist in deploying equipment. As I stated before, the engines and motors are all run by computers and monitored by the engineers. The engineers are a vital part of the crew — if anything on the ship is not working properly or is broken, the engineers can fix it. There is also an electrical crew – on this cruise only one person – who manages and maintains all of the communication and electronics. The survey crew play a key role in assisting the deck crew and scientists. These people have a degree in science, participate in all the research operations, and monitor information and data that the ship’s systems generate. The final group, the stewards, are also important for the ship to run smoothly – the cooks! Without these two, there would be many hungry crew members! The stewards cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also retain food in several refrigerators for folks on the night shift that need more than a midnight snack.

Check out the Oscar Dyson on NOAA ship tracker to see where this floating city is now!

Personal Log

Well, I am in my last week as a Teacher at Sea. This has been quite a trip. I am really enjoying the Shelikof Strait– there have been calm seas, sunny days, lots of whales, good fishing and beautiful sunsets.  I was really happy to get a tour of the lower decks of the ship, it really is impressive to see and hear it all. I got a nice pair of ear plugs for going into the engine room that replaced the ones that I’ve lost while sleeping these past weeks (since I go to sleep when the next crew comes on, sometimes fishing happens early and it can be noisy when they bring the doors back on board!).  Terry did assure me that the engine room wasn’t as loud or as damaging to my ears as a rock concert. We have about 3 more days of fishing and then we head in. I’m starting to transition my sleep schedule but getting up earlier and earlier everyday, which is hard because I can’t seem to get to bed any earlier.

There was is a small chance to see auroras on the 19th and 20th, I’ll be up during those hours so you can bet I’ll be looking!

Species List

WHALES! humpbacks and fin whales — I saw at least 7 blows at one time, far off in the distance. Fulmars, tufted puffins, sea gulls, cormorants

Anne Mortimer: Shelikof Strait, July 16, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sat. July 16, 2011—sunny and windy
Air Temperature:  10.8⁰C
Sea Temperature: 9.3 ⁰C
Wind direction: 208.9⁰C
Wind speed: 23 knots

Science and Technology Log

Everyday on the ship there are many other research projects that are occurring, in addition to the pollock survey. Other scientists (currently not on this leg) are collecting data from a multiple beam system to look at the characteristics of the ocean floor, such as roughness or sound reflectivity, using 30 sound beams (of various frequencies between 100 and 115kHz) in a fan-shaped configuration. For this project, the researchers use several devices. First, they need updated temperature and depth data, which allows them to calculate the speed of sound and the attenuation coefficient (how easily a fish is penetrated by a beam – a large attenuation coefficient means that the beam is quickly weakened as it goes through the fish), which vary as a function of temperature and salinity. To do this, they have chosen select locations to release an expendable bathythermograph, or “XBT.”

This chart shows locations for XBT drops. The yellow and blue stars show where on the transect the XBT should be released.

This torpedo-shaped device is launched overboard with a gun-like dispenser. It has a long coil of fine, copper wire that begins spinning out when it’s released and the wire transmits temperature data back to the ship through the cable in the launch dispenser, and then to the database in the lab. The depth is calculated based on the assumed descent rate of the torpedo.

Getting Ready to Launch
Getting Ready to Launch

Link to Graph of XBT data

In order to confirm the suspected bottom composition from the multi-beam measurements, a drop camera is deployed at specific locations. The drop camera is usually performed off the side of the ship at night, so it doesn’t interfere with operations that can only happen during the day.  The deck crew will deploy the drop-camera using a hydraulic winch, where it is lowered to the bottom. The camera then records for 5 minutes of time at the bottom. Several camera drops are usually completed in an area.

Another operation that happens mostly at night, is using the “Drop TS” or Drop Target Strength echo-sounder. The DTS is used to get a stronger signal at closer range to fish. This helps the scientists differentiate the signals, or echo, that individual fish may give. Many fish have swim bladders (or air bladders) that allow them to regulate their buoyancy in the water. There is a large difference in the sound velocity in air and in water, so this swim bladder causes fish to give strong echo returns.  The DTS can give them a better idea of fish counts when looking at the echograms, but they aren’t perfect. No fish will remain still or perfectly straight. Just like the echograms from the single source mounted on the hull of the ship, the colors red and brown show strong signals, yellow is medium, and blue and green are weak.

This echogram was created with data from the DTS. Each wavy line is probably a separate fish.

Shelikof Strait

We are now traveling south through Shelikof Strait. This body of water runs northeast to southwest along the Alaska Peninsula on the east side of the Kodiak Archipelago. It extends about 150 miles and is dominated by many glaciers, cliffs, and both active and dormant volcanoes. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands are part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” This is a seismically active area because the Pacific plate is subducting below the North American plate. This has been occurring for millions of years, also giving glaciers time to scour away at the mountains, creating U-shaped valleys and sharp peaks. We’ve had particularly good weather the past few days and caught a great sunset behind the island-volcano Augustine.

Sunset on Augustine

Raspberry Island

Personal Log

So far we are on day 2 (3?) of fair weather and partly sunny skies and I love it. Shelikof Strait is just amazing–there are volcanoes every direction you look and we’ve had beautiful sunset after beautiful sunset. The transect lines we are running in these waters run east-west so we are very close to shore every few hours which means lots of time for pictures. Tonight I went to the flying bridge with Kathleen, the other teacher, so we could whale watch. She had been up earlier (she works the day shift!) and saw a fin whale not too far from the shore and boat. We saw lots of whale blows far off in many directions, but none again that close.

Later after the sun went down and I had started my laundry and next blog entry. The net was in the water for another trawl. Luckily it wasn’t a big catch (I was tired and not ready to slice open tons of fish), but a very little one — literally! We caught mostly juvenile pollock and some smelt fish called eulachon and capelin. We also got our token salmon — we seem to catch one with every trawl — and some squid and jellies. We had some technical difficulties with the catch-processing program, so we were a little delayed in getting started and we had a team of two rather than three. Needless to say, we didn’t finish until after 2 am. Just in time to have some Cheerios for dinner.

The highlight of the night was Dall’s porpoises, which were following the boat to four different drop-camera sights! They were darting everywhere — it was fantastic!

Species Observed

Humpback whales, seagulls, storm petrel, northern fulmar, Dall’s porpoises, juvenile pollock, eulachon, capelin, squid, adult pollock, chum salmon

Kathleen Harrison: Getting Underway, July 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Barometric Pressure:  1018.32 mb
Air Temperature:  8.77 ° C
Sea Temperature:  9.31 ° C
True Wind Direction:  218.63 °
True Wind Speed:  16.94 knots
Latitude:  55.12° N, Longitude:  157.31° W
Ship’s speed:  12.5 knots

Personal Log

Fishing Fleet of Kodiak
Kodiak has the second largest fishing fleet in the U.S. This photo shows some of the various kinds of fishing boats that are docked in Kodiak.

abandon ship drill
This is the survival suit, equipped with strobe light, inflatable, and leash. It is affectionately called "Gumby Suit". Isn't it adorable?

July 5, 2011:  I might not have seen fireworks yesterday, but it was still a pretty exciting day, with the departure of the Oscar Dyson from the pier.  I stood outside on the forward deck, and enjoyed the view as we pulled away from Kodiak.  We have been cruising at a steady 12.5 knots (13.5 mph), heading toward the start point of Leg II of the Walleye Pollock Survey.  Our charted course will take us from an area that is southwest of Kodiak Island, up past the east side of the island, and around to the west side of the island, ending back in the port of Kodiak.  I will start working tomorrow morning – 4 am!  Scientific information will probably be included in the next log entry.  Kodiak is a scenic fishing town, on the edge of the island. In the picture above is one of the marinas.

Right before we left Kodiak, the ship ran 2 drills.  We had to carry our survival suit to our muster station, and learn about abandoning ship, and fire drill procedures.  I hope I never have to wear this suit for real, as I was quite claustrophobic putting it on.  I know I would be thankful for it, if the need for wearing it ever came about.

I spent some time on the bridge, learning about radar, navigation, and sea birds.  I even saw a whale spout!

Species seen today:

Northern Fulmar
Tufted Puffins
Black-footed albatross
Black-legged kittiwakes

Cathrine Fox: Issue Two: NOAA?

JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Personal Log
As my date of departure nears, I have been having a lot of conversations about what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is, what I will be doing in Alaska, and what a Teacher at Sea does. The best way to answer your questions is through another cartoon.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 2
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 2

The official title of my mission is “NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center for their Walleye Pollock Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.” (Say that ten times fast.) The Teacher at Sea goals also align with some of NOAA’s Enterprise Objectives: 1) An engaged and educated public with an improved capacity to make scientifically informed environmental decisions; and 2) Diverse and constantly evolving capabilities in NOAA’s workforce.

To read more about NOAA, check out their website: A peruse through just the headlines will teach you about ‘elusive basking sharks,’ why evenings are getting warmer, what to expect for solar flares in 2013 (a lot!) and how NOAA satellites are tracking wildfires across the west. Pretty interesting.

In the meantime, I am packing up for the trip of a lifetime: warm layers, my trusty binocs, and, of course, some anti-seasickness precautions, which I’ll be discussing in my next cartoon.

Until our next adventure,

Tammy Orilio, Last Days in Kodiak…, July 2, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 2 July 2011

Personal Log:
We arrived back at the City Dock in Kodiak early Wednesday morning, so I had all day Wednesday and most of Thursday to explore the area. One of the science team and I set off around noon on Wednesday to check out the town, and boy, did it feel good to finally be off the ship!! 18 days is a long time to be confined to one space! The area where the Oscar Dyson is docked is an “industrial” area, with lots of fish processing plants and canneries, and you could definitely tell even if you weren’t looking- the smell was that strong! Once we got past the industrial area, we were in the main part of the town of Kodiak- lots of little shops catering to fishermen, some restaurants, lots of bars, and a few little gift shops. We first went to a grocery store because we wanted to buy some candy (one thing we didn’t have on the ship!) and as soon as I got inside the store, I started feeling some “dock rock.” It didn’t last very long though, thank goodness!! We walked around a little more, then stopped in to the Kodiak Visitors Center, where they’ve got displays about all of Kodiak’s wildlife. A few of us went out to lunch for sushi later that day- you could definitely tell the salmon was fresh!! Later on, we went to a Mexican place for dinner, and I gotta say, Mexican is not very good up in Kodiak!

Big bear chase me! (Who knows the movie?)
Big bear chase me! (Who knows the movie?)

Mrs. Pearce used to work here!
Mrs. Pearce used to work here!

The marina.
The marina.

On Thursday, Jason (the other TAS), Rick (one of the scientists) and I went to a place called Fort Abercrombie to do some hiking before we left later that evening. It’s got campsites, hiking trails, and remnants of World War II stuff there. I’d love to go back and camp there sometime!

Jason & Rick on some of the artillery.
Jason & Rick on some of the artillery.

What an amazing view.
What an amazing view.

It kind of looks like a monster with a big mouth.
It kind of looks like a monster with a big mouth.

Clouds over the mountain.
Clouds over the mountain.

Lake Gertrude in the foreground.
Lake Gertrude in the foreground.

Little waterfall.
Little waterfall.

Jason and I were on the same flight out of Kodiak on Thursday evening, and we both also had a long (about 3 hour) layover in Anchorage, so we ate one last good Alaskan seafood dinner at the airport, and looked at some of the Native Alaskan art they had there. I left Anchorage around 9 p.m., and was unfortunately stuck in the middle seat for the LONG nearly 7-hour flight to Houston. Since I was stuck in the middle seat (and the guy next to me kept spreading his legs into MY space, grrrr) I didn’t sleep much on the flight. As soon as I landed in Houston (about 30 minutes later than scheduled), I had to get right on my last plane to Fort Lauderdale. I was back in the warm South Florida climate around 11 am Friday, and totally wiped out from traveling! Here are some of the last pics from my trip.

The Kodiak Airport. That's all of it!
The Kodiak Airport. That’s all of it!

You can see the Oscar Dyson- it's the second ship from the left.
You can see the Oscar Dyson- it’s the second ship from the left.

The town of Kodiak.
The town of Kodiak.

Jason Moeller: June 29-30, 2011


NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Kodiak Harbor
Date: June 29-30

Ship Data
Latitude: 57.78 N
Longitude: -152.42 W
Wind: 4.9 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 69%
Depth: 18.99

Personal Log

For the last time, welcome aboard!

We are now back in Kodiak, and I fly out on Thursday, June 30th. We got in late on the 28th, and so that gave us some time to explore! Once again, it was back to the trail to try and look for some bears!

We had a nice start when this bald eagle flew right above our heads and landed on a light!

Another photo of the eagle.

On June 29th, after stopping for some Mexican food, Paul, Jake, Jodi and I hopped in a car and drove out to Anton Larsen Bay in hopes of some great photo opportunities and wildlife. Below are some of the best photographs that I took of the trip.

The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.
The first place we stopped the car had this beautiful view of rolling hills and mountains in the background.

The road we took to get here. In the middle of the image is a lake, and if you look hard enough we could see all the way to the ocean.

Jodi has fun demonstrating a yoga pose!

Our next stop was to explore the actual bay. This mountain overlooked the spot where the water ended and land began.

An empty boat was randomly just drifting in the bay. It made for a nice photo though.

After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.
After looking at the bay, we began to explore a trail that led into the woods. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end of the trail, but the trail just ended with no falls in sight. Oh well! This stream ran alongside of the trail the entire way.

stream 2
Another photo of the stream.

It was nice and sunny yesterday, making it the first time I had seen sun in Kodiak! It made for some picturesque moments while walking through the woods.

In the end, once again, I didn't see a bear. However, as we were driving back, we did see this fox catch a mouse!

Science and Technology Log

As the survey is now over, there is no science and technology log.

Species Seen

Arctic Tern
Bald Eagle
Red Fox

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

There are no questions of the day for this last log. However, I would like to extend some thank yous!

First, I would like to thank the NOAA organization for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to travel aboard the Oscar Dyson for the past three weeks. I learned an incredible amount, and will be able to bring that back to my students. I had a great time!

Second, I would like to thank the crew of the ship for letting me come onboard and participate in the survey. Thanks for answering all of my questions, no matter how naive and silly, teaching me about how research aboard this vessel really works, editing these blogs, and for giving me the experience of a lifetime.

Third, I would like to thank Tammy, the other NOAA Teacher at Sea, for all of the help and effort that she put into working with me on the science and technology section of the blog. Tammy, I could not have done it without you!

Next, a huge thank you to the staff of Knoxville Zoo for their support of the trip and granting me the time off! A special thanks especially needs to go to Tina Rolen, who helped edit the blogs and worked with the media while I was at sea. She helped keep me from making a complete fool of myself to the press. Another special thanks goes out to Dr. John, who loaned me the computer that I used to post the first several logs.

Thanks also go out to Olivia, my wonderful and beautiful wife, for supplying the camera that I used for the first half of the trip.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who read the log and sent comments! I received many positive comments on the photography in this blog, although I must confess that I laughed a bit at those. Paul, our chief scientist, is the expert photographer on board, and his photos expose me for the amateur that I actually am. I would like to end this blog by posting some of the incredible images he gave me at the end of the trip.

Cliffs rise sharply out of the ocean in the Gulf of Alaska

A waterfall plummets into the Gulf of Alaska

Clouds cover the top of an island.

Fog rolls down the cliffs toward the ocean.

Twin Pillars
The Twin Pillars

A closeup of the cliffs that make up the Alaskan shoreline.

Since we saw so much of it, it seems appropriate to end this blog with a photo of fog over the Gulf of Alaska. Bye everyone, and thanks again!

Jason Moeller: June 11, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 11, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Kodiak, Alaska

Today was my official first day in Kodiak Alaska! Kodiak is a small city on Kodiak Island, which lies off the southern coast of Alaska. The city had a population of 6,653 people in 2009, and is likely growing due to its unique population of animals, including salmon, Kodiak bears, and bald eagles. The city’s main livelihood comes from the ocean, where halibut, pollock, several species of salmon, scallops, and crabs are pulled from the waters surrounding the island. A second source of income comes from tourism.

I woke up today to find the city covered in mist with rain steadily falling. This was bad news for several of our scientists and Tammy, the other teacher at sea on our trip, as they were unable to fly in from Anchorage due to the weather.

Jason's Stateroom on the Oscar Dyson

The weather, however, did not stop me from having an active day in the city. The first thing that I did was move onto the ship into my stateroom, where I will be sleeping during the research expedition. I was surprised at the size, as the room was larger than several college dorm rooms that I had seen.

Once I was moved in, I began to explore the ship. While I have not been given an official guided tour as of yet (that will happen when Tammy arrives), I was able to move around and find some of the rooms that I will be in frequently during the trip.

Acoustic Room
This is the sound/acoustic room, where we will look for the fish using sonar!

Command Deck
This is the command deck of the Oscar Dyson. If I ask nicely, will they let me drive?

Mess hall
The all important mess hall!

Kodiak Bridge
Fred Zharoff Memorial Bridge

In talking with several individuals onboard, I found out that some of the best hiking in the area was within walking distance of the Oscar Dyson. Even better, hikers in this area occasionally saw bears. As I still wanted to see a bear in the wild, I immediately left for the bridge that would take me to another island right off the coast of Kodiak Island. I passed through town on the way.

After walking through town, I reached this bridge and crossed it.

The Island
This is the island that I was headed to.

After crossing the bridge, I came across the following park which had some stunning nature trails. I am going to let my photographs do the talking for this next part of the blog, as words do not do justice for the beauty of this place.

There were many of these thick bodied pines in the park.

This image, as well as the next, shows the abundant moss in the woods. It carpeted the forest floor completely!

moss image 2

ocean view
A nice view of the ocean from the trail.

ocean view 2
Another beautiful view of the ocean from the trail.

moss on bushes
Many of the low-lying bushes also had moss and lichens on them.

One of the most common trees was the Pacific Red Elderberry. Elderberries are often used for making wines, and occasionally as the punchline in a joke.

A few Elderberry trees!

Surprisingly, I did not see a great deal of wildlife, only seeing songbirds. I still have time to see a bear, but I did not spot one today and did not see any bear tracks. Deer tracks were in abundance but I did not see any deer on the pathways.

All in all, I was out hiking on the trails for over three hours, and was soaking wet when I got back.

After the hike and a change of clothes (it rained the entire time), I went out to dinner with a few of the ship’s engineers to a sushi/seafood restaurant. The salmon just melted in my mouth, I have never had salmon that fresh. I also had the opportunity to taste Alaskan king crab, and wish that I hadn’t. I am now addicted, and it is expensive at $47.00 a pound being the market price!

Science and Technology Log

The science and technology section of this blog will begin after the survey of the Walleye Pollock has been started.

Species Seen

Arctic Tern

Pacific Red Elderberry

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The reader question(s) of the day will start after the survey of the walleye pollock begins. I will answer at least one question during each log, and hopefully will be answering more than one. Please submit your questions to me at

Jason Moeller: June 10, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 10, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome aboard, explorers!

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jason Moeller, and I am the on-site coordinator of education at Knoxville Zoological Gardens. I teach the school groups, scouts, homeschool students, and student researchers who come to the Zoo to learn about the natural world.

Oscar Dyson

The Oscar Dyson sits in Kodiak Harbor

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has invited me on board the Oscar Dyson, a research vessel that will be spending the next three weeks researching a fish known as the walleye pollock in Alaska’s Bering Sea. According to NOAA’s website, the pollock made up 56.3% of Alaska’s groundfish catch, easily making it the most caught fish in Alaska’s waters. Pollock is commonly found in imitation crabmeat as well as a variety of fast food fish sandwiches.

The crew of the Oscar Dyson will be studying the population of pollock over the course of the next three weeks. I will be working with Tammy Orilio (another teacher at sea) in processing the catch. Orientation will be on June 11th, and we will set sail on June 12th.

Clouds from an airplane

Clouds above Canada

Today (June 10th), however, was mainly a travel day. After waking up at four in the morning, I caught a two-hour flight from Knoxville to Chicago, which was then followed by a six-hour flight to Anchorage. Finally, I had a forty-one minute flight from Anchorage to Kodiak. Cloud cover marred what would have been spectacular scenery, but there were some beautiful views from the aircraft otherwise.

After a quick look at the Oscar Dyson and dinner at the hotel, I went to explore the river running by our hotel. According to several fishermen, Sockeye Salmon are beginning their yearly run upriver. Grizzly Bears, though uncommon this time of year, are also occasionally spotted.

Possible Bear track

Unknown Large Track

Unfortunately, I did not see bears or salmon, but I did see this track. While faded, it did look suspiciously like the mold of a track back at the zoo.

While I did not see any bears or salmon, I did get lucky in other regards. I saw a beautiful red fox, which moved too quickly to catch on film, and rabbits were in abundance. The scenery was also beautiful.

Sideways trees

Wind on a hill shaped these trees

river in Kodiak

A river in Kodiak

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology segment of this blog will begin after the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson begins.

Species Seen

Red Fox


Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The reader question(s) of the day will also begin after the start of the Walleye Pollock Survey aboard the Oscar Dyson. Readers are encouraged to send questions to I will attempt to answer one or more questions in future posts.

Richard Chewning, June 6-7, 2010

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

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Dates: June 6-7, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Snakehead Bank, Gulf of Alaska
Time: 1700 hrs
Latitude: N 56 00.390
Longitude: W 153 46.380
Cloud Cover: Overcast
Wind: 12 knots from the SE
Temperature: 7.1C
Barometric Pressure: 1016.9 mbar

Science and Technology Log

I have been impressed by the wide array of oceanographic research the Oscar Dyson is able to conduct. A few examples include biological studies of organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to massive marine mammals, collecting a variety of weather data, describing both physical and chemical characteristics of seawater (such as temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen), conducting acoustic surveys of marine life and the sea floor, and much more.

Three Saints Bay nautical chart

One of the Dyson’s ‘bread and butter’ surveys is our survey studying the distribution, biomass, and biological composition (male/female ratios and age) of walleye pollock in the Bering Sea. Walleye pollock is a very important fishery for Alaska. You have almost certainly been a part of this fishery as most fish sandwiches in fast food restaurants and fish sticks in the frozen food section of your local grocery store are Alaskan-caught pollock.

One of the Oscar Dyson’s many tools for this research is her impressive array of acoustic sensors located on the ship’s hull and centerboard. The centerboard is an extension of the hull that can be raised and lowered in the water in order to position most of the Dyson’s sensitive acoustic sensors below the bubbles often found near the water’s surface. These air bubbles interfere with sound traveling through the water and degrade the quality of the data being collected. The Dyson has six downward looking centerboard-mounted transducers, each transmitting a different frequency. Why so many frequencies? Since different types of marine organisms interact with sound waves differently producing varying acoustic signatures, the Dyson must be equipped with a variety of sensors to best characterize the variety of marine life encountered during a survey.

For example, lower frequencies are better suited for fish such as pollock and the higher frequencies are better suited for smaller organisms such as plankton. Think of transducers as a downward shining flashlight illuminating the depths of the ocean with sound rather than light.

The Dyson also has other acoustic sensors such as the ME-70 multibeam echosounder that has the unique ability to look over a much wider angle through the water. Acoustic research works on the same echo location principle that bats and marine mammals employ to find food and navigate. By sending out sound waves and measuring the time the sound takes to travel back after encountering an object, one can learn a great deal about that object’s properties such as distance, size, and movement.

Before traveling to the Bering Sea to start our pollock survey, the Dyson’s scientists must take great care to ensure that their echo-sounding equipment is calibrated correctly. Calibrating the transducers is similar in concept to tuning a piano string or zeroing a sight on a rifle. To this end, the Dyson anchored in Three Saints Bay, a sheltered bay protected from the wind, waves, and currents of the open ocean, at least theoretically. While a troublesome storm passed almost directly overhead, scientists from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) Program (part of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) located in Seattle, WA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS located in Anchorage, AK), and the Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (located in Vladivostok, Russia) worked diligently to fine tune their acoustic sensors.

Copper sphere used to calibrate the acoustic sensors

Bill and Patrick positioning spheres under the Dyson

Paul Walline, Patrick Ressler, Darin Jones, Bill Floering, and Mikhail ‘Misha’ Stepanenko worked day and night calibrating their equipment using metal spheres positioned directly under the ship.

Spheres of different sizes and materials with known acoustic signatures (such as tungsten carbide and copper) are used to calibrate the transducers.

The crew of the Dyson works around the clock as ship time is precious. The scientists work 12 hour shifts, either from 4am to 4pm (the shift to which I am assigned) or from 4pm to 4am. The acoustics lab where the data is collected and analyzed is affectionately called ‘The Cave’ as there are no portholes (windows) to tell the time of day outside.

The acoustic lab, a.k.a. “the cave”

Personal Log

I wasn’t sure when the Dyson arrived at Three Saints Bay as I had retreated to my stateroom early in the evening of the 4th as I was feeling the effects of the rolling seas. I am being berthed with the ship’s 2nd Cook, Floyd Pounds, who is also from Georgia but now calls the Dyson home.
Floyd works with the Chief Steward, Rick Hargis, who has been with NOAA for 20 years and is originally from Washington State. So far the meals have been very filling and satisfying (there is even an ice cream bar!).

My stateroom is located on the crew deck, one level below the main deck near the bow (the pointy end of the ship) on the starboard side (the right side when facing the bow). Utilizing every nook and cranny and with no wasted space, my berth is quite cozy and is surprisingly comfortable. Fortunately with the help of some seasickness medication, I soon found my sea legs and awoke feeling refreshed and hungry (always a good sign!). Seasickness comes from conflicting messages received from the inner ear and the eyes by the brain (the inner ear feels the motion of the boat rolling and pitching in the water but the eyes report a stable environment confusing the brain).

Snug as a bud in a rug

Richard, ready for a swim

A person soon observes that safety is paramount onboard the Dyson as with any NOAA vessel. For example, within 24 hours of leaving Kodiak, the entire crew conducted fire and abandon ship drills. These drills are conducted once a week and are essential for maintaining readiness in the event of an emergency. During the abandon ship drill, I was able to practice donning my survival suit just like our visiting Coast Guard kids did in Kodiak! Although the suit is designed to be quite snug to keep cold water out and to keep the body warm, I was thankful I didn’t have to put the suit to the test by going over the side. To my surprise, Chief Marine Engineer Jerome ‘Jerry’ Sheehan and ENS Russell Pate did just that, going for a dip in the frigid 7.3 degrees Celcius or ~45 degrees Fahrenheit waters! Jerry and Russell used dry suits to scuba dive under the Dyson to check the hull, the prop, and the transducers for anything out of place such as barnacles on the transducers or tangled fishing gear. The only discovery was of a piece of bull kelp snagged on one of the blades of the prop which may explain a noise that was heard on the hydrophones (microphones located under the Dyson’s hull) during our departure from Kodiak.

CO Hoshlyk overseeing recovery divers Jerry Sheehan and ENS Russell Pate

After completing our calibrations and safety operations, the Dyson sailed for a site called Snakehead Bank located 60 nautical miles southeast of Kodiak. The name comes from the bathometric profile of the seafloor of this area which resembles the head of a snake. We soon began conducting camera operations for ground-truthing sea floor composition that I will discuss in my next log!

Remnants of Nunamiut, earliest Russian settlement 1792 in three saints bay, Kodiak

Departing Three Saints Bay


Where did the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson’s name originate?


The Oscar Dyson is named for an Alaskan fisherman who was very influential in fisheries development and management in Alaska. From his days as a commercial fisherman, Oscar Dyson was a pioneer and advocate for Alaska fisherman and was very influential in the growth of this important industry. Alaska’s commercial fishing industry spans the state and includes salmon, herring, pollock, various shellfish, and various ground fish like halibut. While traveling through the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, I learned that Alaska is a land defined by water with more than three million lakes and more coastline than the rest of the United Sates combined! Alaska is also the only state in the US to have coastlines with three different oceans/seas: the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and the Bering Sea.

Richard Chewning, June 5th, 2010

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

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

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology Log

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

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson tied up in Kodiak, AK.

The Bridge
The Bridge

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

The Big Eyes
The Big Eyes

Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson
Safety onboard the Oscar Dyson

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

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

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

Holding a Baby King Crab
Holding a Baby King Crab

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

Personal Log

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

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

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

Animals Seen Today

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

Laura Rodriguez, June 2nd, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Rodriguez
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 24 – June 2, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: June 2, 2010

Why is Ocean Science Important?

Four Peak Glacier
Four Peak Glacier

My cruise is coming to an end. We are now sampling the last of the stations as we make our way back to Kodiak. On Saturday, we had a safety stand down drill. This entailed finding a spot close to shore where we could drop anchor and then have a little bit of free time. Some people fished for halibut off the boat and others went ashore to explore a little bit. I went ashore with a group that included the XO, Jeff Shoup, Ensign Amber Payne, Glen Whitney, Dennis Boggs, and two of the scientists, Tiffany Vance and Kevin Bailey.  We hiked around a part of Katmai National Park and Preserve. This is an area filled with active volcanoes and glaciers. We saw a brown bear and a fox.

Four peaked glacier

We also saw a raft of sea lions close to shore that eventually came closer and told us to go away. Katmai Preserve is home to an estimated 2,000 bears. The area we visited is very remote with no roads leading to it.  Once back on board, it was back to work sampling more stations.

My time on board the Oscar Dyson has shown me both the beauty of the ocean and the need for people to understand and care for it. We are inextricably connected to the ocean. Whether we live near or far from the ocean, we depend on the ocean for fresh water (think water cycle) oxygen (the majority of oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by the phytoplankton in the ocean), food, medicines, and mineral and energy resources. Many people depend on the ocean for jobs and recreation. Our oceans, however, are fragile ecosystems that are affected by the activities of humans. Dumping wastes into the ocean, overfishing, drilling for oil and development along coastal areas all have consequences for the living things that call the ocean home. I have learned about areas where overfishing has depleted species of fish that may never come back. There is an area in the Gulf of Mexico that is called the dead zone because of fertilizers from farms dumped into the Gulf from the Mississippi River. Right now, there is the Deep Horizons oil leak that has already spilled 20 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and is leaking over 500,000 gallons of oil a day. We have a history of taking the ocean for granted and believing that it is so big that it can absorb unlimited amounts of pollution. We are finding out how wrong we are. Taking care of the ocean is everyone’s responsibility. In order to take care of the ocean, it is crucial that we understand the interrelationships between what we do here on land and what happens in the sea. This is why research such as what the scientists are doing on the Oscar Dyson is so important.

Me and the four peaks
Me and the four peaks

Answers to your questions:

Dan 1. – Radar is different from sonar. Radar uses radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation (light) to detect objects. Radar stands for radio detection and ranging. Sonar uses sound waves to detect objects.  Sonar stands for sound navigation and ranging.

Dan 2. –  The weather is not nearly cold enough to need the de-icers. I was, however, standing by one the other day and felt the warmth, so they are on.

Olivia – My classification on this cruise is officially “Teacher at Sea.” I am, however, included with the scientists.

Kylei – I have been very lucky with the weather. We have not had any bad weather. One day, the ocean had some pretty good swells and we were rocking and rolling a bit, but no real storm. It has actually been unusually sunny and mild here.

Sea Lions
Sea Lions

Your question to answer: Research one of the activities below that affects life in the ocean:

  1. Overfishing ( factory fishing ships)
  2. Whaling
  3. Offshore oil Drilling
  4. Ocean pollution
  5. Coastal development

Find out:

  1. Why are people concerned about this activity?
  2. What are people doing to protect the ocean from the negative aspects of this activity?
  3. What can you do to help protect the ocean and the life within it?

John Schneider, July 5, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 5, 2009

USCG Pier – Kodiak, AK

Personal Log 

Slept in some for a little fly-time recovery.  Once I got up (about 0900) I went up to the mess and had a cup of coffee and worked on yesterday’s log.  While doing so I met several members of the crew, most of who were up to doing something on an off day.  Hikes, chiropractor visits, shopping, etc. were all on the agenda. The engineers, however, were working down below in the engine room in preparation for our departure scheduled for the morning of the 7th.

When in port in Kodiak, the Fairweather has access to a van and a couple of vehicles for ship’s work and transportation to and from the town of Kodiak.  The “liberty van” runs every hour on the hour into Kodiak and back on the half hour.  Being new to the ship (and Alaska) I thought it would be a cool, scenic idea to walk into town.  A couple miles later, I changed my mind and resorted to something I hadn’t done in 30 years – hitchhiking (turns out it’s about 6••• miles!).  I got picked up by a local guy who moved to Kodiak 20+ years ago.  He took me all the way in to the commercial fishing docks and I walked the remaining quarter mile.  On Shelikof Road I went to Kodiak Marine Supply and bought a couple of charts for the areas we will be surveying.  I will use these to plot our positions whenever I get them from the bridge.

My cabin door.
My cabin door.

Once in town I had a great lunch with two of the crew – Ron and Mark – at a place called Henry’s. The crew members seem to migrate there for the food, although they all prefer eating on board the Fairweather. My ship is blessed to have 3 chefs in the steward’s department.  Two are graduates of the Culinary Institute and the third is out of Johnson and Wales!  I can’t wait to get under way!  On my second trip into town (this time by the liberty van,) Tami, a member of the survey team, told me she had rented a car on the island and was real glad to have done so.  I figured that was good advice and rented a small car for a day.  By the time I had gotten back to the Fairweather I had put on over 100 miles just driving around one side of the island.  Tomorrow I’ll put on some more miles and return the car in the late afternoon.  I went by Kodiak High School and Middle School and hope to stop into their board/district offices just to see what’s overtly similar and dissimilar to home. I’m all unpacked and settled in.  It’s 2330 hrs so I’ll have a glass of water and turn in.

Hanging locker and fold-away desktop.
Hanging locker and fold-away desktop.

I’m on C-Deck (the 3rd deck up from the bottom of the ship.) To the right in the picture is my hanging locker, then the top shelf folds into a desktop (on which I am writing now) and below it are 3 drawers for clothes.  The door to the left is the head and shower which I share with 1 other crew member.   In the photo, you can see the TV and dish network box to the left.  Below the bed are 2 more drawers.  Even though the space may appear small, I could easily move in here and have all the comforts of home.  Below that are a couple more shelves and an open space where my PFD (personal flotation device/life jacket) and immersion suit are stored.  At the upper left is a 10-minute air supply kit to be used in event of fire.  These kits are located all over the ship.

Kristin Joivell, July 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 1, 2009

To me, the beach on Big Koniuji Island looks very similar to the beaches at the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
To me, the beach on Big Koniuji Island looks very similar to the beaches at the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Position: In transit to Kodiak, Alaska
Clouds: mostly cloudy
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: 7 knots
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 10.5 dry bulb
Temperature: 8.7 wet bulb
Barometer: 1026.5

Science and Technology Log 

The NOAA training materials define hydrography as “the science of measuring and describing the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface adjoining coastal areas, with special reference to their uses for the purpose of navigation.” The definition describes the project that I’ve been helping with on the Fairweather, but it doesn’t mention everything that is involved in the journey or all the components that must come together to have a successful project.

TAS Joivell displays some of the kelp found on the beach at Big Koniuji Island.  The tube like part is full of air and the leaves feel like plastic.
TAS Joivell displays some of the kelp found on the beach at Big Koniuji Island. The tube like part is full of air and the leaves feel like plastic.

Different departments on the ship all contribute to the project.  Though each department has its own focus, they are all essential to the ship’s well being. The officers all work together to navigate the ship and decide how to gather the data without putting anyone at risk.  The survey team gathers, processes, and analyzes data. The deck department contributes to the upkeep of the ship.  Engineers make sure the ship’s engines keep it moving through the water.  The electronics technician makes sure that the many computer systems are working correctly.  The stewards make sure that everyone’s food needs are met.  It’s up to everyone on board to contribute in their own way to make the journey significant and meaningful.

A great movie from NOAA that describes the history of surveying in the United States is called “The Surveyors:  Charting America’s Course” and can be watched online here. The first scene shows the ocean waves and a quote from John F. Kennedy that states, “Knowledge of the ocean is more than a matter of curiosity.  Our very survival may hinge upon it.”  I was encouraged to watch this movie on one of my first days onboard and it really set the stage for the work I was to help with.  The work that I assisted with on the Fairweather is going to be used to help ships travel safely through previously uncharted or incompletely charted waters.  I gained a respect for the crew’s mission from the first day on and am proud that I play my small part in it.

You can see the lake on Big Koniuji Island on the right.  I am calling it “Muck Lake” because of the large amounts of sediment on the bottom.  You can see a small part of the sandy beach off to the left.
You can see the lake o