Sue Cullumber: Flexibility – Teacher at Dock, June 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/9/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time – 8:15 am
Latitude and Longitude -41º32N, 71º19W
Temperature – 18º C, 65ºF
Barometer – 1019.5 mb

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The Gordon Gunter at the Newport Naval Station.

Science and Technology Log: 

Since we have been delayed in sailing, I have had the opportunity to interview several of the crew sailing with the Gordon Gunter to learn more about working at sea and in the marine sciences. Sailing one of the NOAA vessels for scientific research requires personnel from many different disciplines including the: scientists, NOAA Corps officers, engineers, ship stewards, fishermen, deck hands, computer and electronics personnel, bird and mammal observers,  and others.  I will continue to interview personnel and add them to my future blogs.

Interviews:

Lab Technician, Cristina Bascuñán

Lab Technician, Cristina Bascuñán

1. Name: Cristina Bascuñán

What is your Position?  Lab Technician

What do you do?  I’m in charge of the Rosette CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) equipment and Sea-Bird equipment. I schedule them for the different surveys and send them out for maintenance.

Why did you decide to work with NOAA and ocean science?  As a sophomore in college I started volunteering and loved it, so I volunteered for several more surveys and then went out to sea on a NOAA cruise and loved that.  I was doing 2 trips a summer.  Around that time I got hold of an oceanography branch chief of NOAA who was in need of a lab technician and the rest is history.

How long have you worked for NOAA?  I have worked for NOAA for 16 years. I volunteered for 3 years initially and was 19 on my first trip.

What do you enjoy most?  Meeting all the different people on the various cruises

What would you like to change?  During long trips I miss the comforts of home.

If not working for NOAA, what would you do?  I would be an architect.

What outside hobbies do you have?  When out at sea, I like to knit.  At home, I’m involved in many water activities like:  kayaking, fishing and going out on our skiff (small sailboat).

Where are you from? I have lived on the Cape for 16 years.

What is your favorite marine animal?  The Lumpfish – they look like they are made out of rubber.

What is the most unusual thing you have seen or found at sea?  While out doing a MOCNESS (Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System and is a net system for plankton in the ocean), we brought up a bunch of bones and some carrots.  Our group could not figure out where this could have come from or what animal the bones were from.  We found out later, that the Steward (meal preparation person) had tossed the slop basket from dinner into the sea and that’s what we brought up!

If a student is interested in pursuing a career in marine science, what would you suggest to them?  Get experience and go out to sea on a research vessel to see if it is something you would like to do for a career.

Marc

Operations Officer, Marc Weekley

2. Name: Marc Weekely

What is your Position? Operations Officer onboard the Gordon Gunter

What do you do? I am the liaison between the operational side of the ship and the science party, making sure that what the scientists want to accomplish gets done.

Why did you decide to go into the NOAA Corps and ocean science? I have a B.S. in environmental science. In 2004, 2005 I found out about the NOAA Corps and it was a good way to mix the operational side with the science I already had.  All NOAA Corps officers have to do watches and get the ship to where the scientists need to go, which includes ship driving and navigation, which I also liked.

How long have you worked for NOAA?  I was commissioned in 2006.

What do you enjoy most?  The variety of operations, science, and projects that are available and learning about the different scientific research. The routine is always new and fresh and you can transfer to new ones frequently. For example, in the NOAA Corps you spend 2 years in the field on a ship and 2-3 years on a land assignment. I was in Antarctic in 2009 doing atmospheric research on air quality monitoring.

What would you like to change? Some of the assignments are only once in a lifetime and cannot return to them like going back to the South Pole.

What part of your job was the most unexpected?  When I first entered everything took me by surprise because I was not aware of the scope of the Corps. The opportunities to pursue what I was training for came much sooner than I realized. I was on the bridge controlling and driving a ship much sooner than I expected.

How are people chosen for NOAA ships? For many of the officers you fill out a “wish list” of where you want to go and then assigned according to needs and timing.

If not working in the Corps, what would you do? A job on or in the water.

If a student is interested in pursuing a career with NOAA or in marine science, what would you suggest to them? The Corps is looking for individuals with science, engineering and math backgrounds.  

What outside hobbies do you have?  Scuba diving and anything outdoors. I tried rock climbing in Boulder before going to the South Pole.

Where are you from? Currently I live in Moss-point, Mississippi, but I’m originally from Texas where my parents still live.

What is your favorite marine animal? Sharks because so little has changed in them over time. Even though they are a very frightening animal, I love to be in the water with them.

What is the most unusual thing you have seen or found at sea?  Watching a 20 foot humpback whale full breech (entire body) out of the water is one of the most unusual and amazing things I have seen.

margaret3

Head Steward, Margaret Coyle

3. Chief Steward:  Margaret Coyle

What are some of the skills and experiences a person needs to become a ship’s steward? A person needs good cooking skills, organization,  to be personable, and dedicated. This is a career, I’m working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  “I live to cook and cook to live”.

What do you like most about your job? The cooking and sailing.

What  would you like to change? I hate the paperwork – “If I only had to just cook and order groceries, I would be the happiest person on the planet.”

How long have you been working for NOAA? I have been sailing since I was 20 and cooking for 25 years. I started in the coastguard as an engineer and then went back to school to be a cook. I have been with NOAA for 8 years, 2 months and 7 days.

What do you like most about working on the ocean?  The solitude and the lifestyle of just being at sea and having my own space and my galley setup.  Having a set schedule is something I like and also the rocking of the ship and the weather.

What part of your job did you least expect to do? When I came here I knew exactly what to expect.  Over the years the record keeping requirements have increased, which I did not expect.

How far in advance plan your meals? I have 8 years of menus and keep them all in my computer. I plan my menus by the people we have onboard and how many are going to be at a certain meal.  I have to plan and order 7 days in advance and I have to always order dairy and produce when we pull into a new port.

What training or experience would you suggest for high school students if they want to pursue a career as a Steward or other ocean careers?  You can go the military route and go through their school for cooking. Take Home Economics in HS and work in a restaurant – that will determine if you like it or hate it.

What advice would you give young people to eat more nutritiously? Eat dinner at a table with your family and have a conversation. Don’t sit in front of the TV or play on a computer. Don’t eat out of a bag instead choose something healthy like an apple.

If you weren’t a ship’s steward, what other career would you like to have?  This is my dream job! But if I didn’t cook, I would be a seamstress.

*What’s your favorite meal to prepare? Whatever someone wants to eat, is something I love to prepare.

*Do you ever run out of food? I once ran out of orange juice one year. We were in Mexico and I ordered 100 lbs. of oranges and squeezed 15 lbs each morning for fresh juice.

Do you have an outside hobby?  I sew clothes – My husband and I go to Renaissance fairs and I make the costumes for that. I love old movies as well and gardening.

Where are you from? Hurley, Mississippi and I’m married and have 2 children.

What is your favorite marine animal? The edible kind, salmon!

Here is one of her favorite recipes:

Sweet Potato Cheesecake 

2 cups Mashed sweet potato

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

4 eggs

2 lb cream cheese

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup melted butter

Beat cream cheese and sugar together till light. Add eggs one at a time.  Add sweet potatoes, spices and mix together.  Butter a spring-form pan and dust with graham crackers.  Pour mixture into pan. Bake at 325º till filling is set.  Chill and serve with whipping cream.

I can’t wait to try this when we head out to sea!

newport-sue

Downtown Newport, RI
Photo by Kevin Ryan

okeanos

The NOAA Vessel – Okeanos Explorer

Personal Log:

One thing that I have learned in life is that many things are not under your control and you just have to make the best of each situation and be flexible.  So even though it has taken several more days to leave port than had been planned, I have had the opportunity to explore the base, visit another NOAA vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, interview several of the staff, and work on my blogs and photography. I have really enjoyed talking with the others onboard and visiting the areas around the base and in Newport, RI.

stormw

Stormy day on the Naval Base in Newport, RI

Also by postponing the sailing day, it looks like we missed the bad weather from hurricane Andrea. Friday it was raining constantly in port, so it most likely would have done the same at sea!

NOAAcorps

NOAA Corps’ Flag.

Did you know?  The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Officers work on one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft in support of the atmospheric and oceanic scientific research that  is being carried out on these vessels.

Question of the Day?

What job would you like to have on a NOAA vessel and why?

Emilisa Saunders: Finding the rhythm aboard the Oregon II, May18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emilisa Saunders

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

May 14, 2013 – May 30 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 18, 2013

Weather Data: Wind Speed: 13.94 knots; Surface water temperature: 25.4;  Air temperature: 26.4; Relative humidity: 87%; Barometric pressure: 1,015.33 mb

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Science and Technology Log:

For the scientists on board the Oregon II, each shift follows roughly the same routine.   When we start our shift, we check in at the dry lab to see how much time we have until the next sampling station.  These stations are points on the map of the Gulf of Mexico; they were chosen to provide the best coverage of the Gulf waters.  Our ETA, or estimated time of arrival, is determined by how fast the ship is moving, which is influenced by wind and currents, which you can see in the map below.  A monitor mounted in the dry lab shows us a feed of the route mapping system that is used by the crew on the Bridge to drive the ship.  This system allows us to see where we are, where we are headed, and what our ETA is for the next station.  We also get warnings from the Bridge at one hour, at thirty minutes, and at ten minutes before arrival.

Gulf Currents

The currents in the Gulf of Mexico, plus our planned route.  Image courtesy of NOAA.

At the 10-minute mark, we put on our protective gear – more on that later in this post – and bring the cod ends up to the bow of the boat, where we attach them to the ends of the appropriate nets.  Then, we drop the Bongo nets, the regular Neuston net, the Sub-surface Neuston net, and the CTD into the water, in that order.  These all go down one at a time, and each one is pulled out and the samples collected before the next net goes in.

Neuston

Towing the Neuston net on the night shift

The idea of dropping a net into the water probably sounds pretty simple, but it is actually a multiple-step process that requires excellent teamwork and communication amongst several of the ship’s teams.  The scientists ready the nets by attaching cod ends and making note of the data that tracks the flow of water through the net.  Because the nets are large and heavy, and because of the strong pressure of the water flowing through the nets, they are lifted into the water using winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The crew members operate the machinery, and guide the nets over the side of the ship.  While this is happening, the crew members communicate by radio with the Bridge, providing them with information about the angle of the cable that is attached to the net, so that the Bridge can maintain the a speed that will keep the net at the correct angle. At the same time, a scientist in the dry lab monitors how deep the net is and communicates with the deck crew about when to raise and lower the nets.  This communication takes place mostly over walkie-talkies, which means that clear and precise instructions and feedback are very important.

Operating the winches

Crewmember Reggie operating the winch, while crewmember Chris measures the angle of the cable

When each net is pulled back out of the water after roughly 5-10 minutes, we use a hose to spray any little creatures who might be clinging to the net, down into the cod end.  At stations where we run the MOCNESS, we head to the stern of the ship, where the huge MOCNESS unit rests on a frame.  Lowering the MOCNESS takes a strong team effort, since it is so large.  After we retrieve each net, we detach the cod ends and bring them to the stern, where a station is set up for us to preserve the specimens.  I’ll go into more detail about the process of preserving plankton samples in a later post.

Hosing down the nets

Alonzo, hosing down the Bongo nets before bringing them aboard.

We’ve had a couple of nights of collecting now, and so far it has been completely fascinating.  I’m in awe of the variety of organisms that we’ve come across.  The scientists on my shift, Glenn and Alonzo, are super knowledgeable and have been very helpful in explaining to me what we are finding in the nets.  Although this is a Bluefin Tuna study, we collect and preserve any plankton that ends up in the nets, which can include copepods, myctophids, jellies, filefish larvae and eel larvae, to name a few.  When we get the samples back to shore, they will be sent to a lab in Poland, where the species will be sorted and counted; then, the tuna larvae will be sent back to labs in Mississippi or Florida for further study and sometimes genetic testing.

My favorite creature find so far has been the pyrosome.  While a pyrosome looks like a single, strange creature, it is actually a colony of tiny creatures called zooids that live together in a tube-shaped structure called a tunic.  The tunic feels similar to cartilage, like the upper part of your ear.  Pyrosomes are filter feeders, which means they draw in water from one opening, eat the phytoplankton that passes through, and push out the clean water from the other end.  So far on the night shift, we’ve found two pyrosomes about four inches in length and one that was about a foot long; the day crew found one that filled two five-gallon buckets!

Me holding a pyrosome.  So neat!

Me holding a pyrosome. So neat!

Alonzo and the pyrosome

Alonzo holding the pyrosome

Challenge Yourself:

Hello, Nature Exchange Traders!  Pick one of the of the zooplankton listed in bold above, and research some facts about it: Where does it live?  What does it eat?  What eats it?  Write down what you find out and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them Emmi sent you!

Gumby Suit

In the Gumby suit, practicing the Abandon Ship drill. Photo by Glenn Zapfe

Personal Log:

Safety is the top priority on board the Oregon II.  We wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of our scientific goals if people got hurt and equipment got damaged.  We started our first day at sea with three safety drills: the Man Overboard drill, the Abandon Ship drill and the Escape Hatch drill.  For Man Overboard, everyone on board gathered, or mustered, at specific locations; for the Science team, our location was at the stern, or back of the ship.  Aft is another word for the back.  From there, we all scanned the water for the imaginary person while members of the crew lowered a rescue boat into the water and circled the Oregon II to practice the rescue.

For the Abandon Ship drill, we all grabbed our floatation devices and survival suits from our staterooms and mustered toward the bow, or front of the ship.  I got to practice putting on the survival suit, which is affectionately called a Gumby suit.  In the unlikely event that we would ever have to abandon ship, the suit would help us float and stay relatively warm and dry; it also includes a whistle and a strobe light so that aircraft overhead can see us in the water.

For the Escape Hatch drill, we all gathered below deck where our staterooms are, and climbed a ladder, where crew members helped pull us up onto the weather deck (the area of the ship exposed to weather) on the bow of the ship.  This is meant to show us how to escape dangers such as fire or flood below deck.

Safety gear

Safety gear on; ready for station!  Photo by Glenn Zapfe

But safety isn’t just practiced during drills; it’s pretty much a way of life on the ship.  Whenever winches or other machinery are in operation, we all have to wear hard hats and life jackets; that means that we wear them every time we reach a station and drop the nets.  We are also all required to wear closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes at all times, unless we’re sleeping or showering.  Another small safety trick that is helpful is the idea of, “keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship.”  That means we carry gear in one hand and leave one free to hold onto the swaying ship.  This has been really useful for me as I get used to the ship’s movements.

Until next time, everyone – don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Emilisa Saunders: Away We Go! May 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher st Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14th – 30th, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, May 13th, 2013

Science and Technology Log:

Boarding the Oregon II

Me and the Oregon II (and the silly crewmember in the background). Photo by Kaela Gartman

I’m finally aboard the Oregon II!

Today I got a sneak preview from the lead scientist, Andy, of the labs and some of the equipment that we’ll be using to collect plankton once we’re underway.  There are three labs where we’ll be doing science for the next 17 days: the dry lab, the wet lab, and the chem lab.  The dry lab, where I’m sitting and typing right now, is a room with computers that are used to remotely monitor the depths of the nets once they have been dropped, and to record data about those drops.  The wet lab is where samples of plankton are preserved in jars to be sent back to shore and studied.  The chem lab is where chlorophyll is separated from plankton samples.

I got to see the CTD, which is a unit that collects water at specific depths in order to measure physical characteristics of the water, such as salinity, fluorescence, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.  I’m looking forward to learning more about this physical data and why it is important once we are underway.

CTD

The CTD collects water samples for testing

Andy also showed me the nets we will use to collect plankton.  All of the nets are large and heavy and are raised and lowered by winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The first is a Bongo net.  If you’ve ever seen bongo drums, you can get a sense of what this unit looks like: two side-by-side nets with round openings.  The nets themselves are shaped like cones, and we’ll attach a bottle called a cod end on the end of each to capture all of the plankton from the nets.  Then there are two Neuston nets, which have large, rectangular openings.  The regular Neuston net will be towed along the surface, and the Subsurface Neuston will be towed in a pattern at various depths, as will the Bongo.  The unit that I am most excited about is the MOCNESS.  This big frame holds up to ten nets, which can be opened and closed at certain depths; that way, we can collect samples from various depths and monitor plankton at separate locations and at specific depths in the water column.  In the other nets, you know what you get and where it came from, but not how deep it was.

Bongo nets

Bongo nets

Subsurface Neuston

Subsurface Neuston Net

The water column is an idea that scientists use to think about and study the ocean from top to bottom, or from the surface to the ocean floor.  When you think about the water column, imagine the ocean as an aquarium, and you’re looking into it and seeing the organisms that live at different depths and what the water is like at those depths.

The reason that the MOCNESS is so exciting to me is that it reminds us that the water in the ocean is not just a uniform mixture all throughout; different creatures live at different depths, and in different numbers at those depths.  It’s easy to imagine that creatures that are benthic – meaning, they live on the ocean floor – will vary depending on where they are in the world and how deep the ocean floor is in that spot.  It’s harder to imagine that pelagic organisms – those that live in the water column, neither at the very surface, nor at the bottom or at the shore – will also vary greatly depending on depth and location.  The water itself is different as well; the temperature of the water and the amount of salt, light and oxygen changes with depth.

Challenge Yourself:  Here’s a challenge for my Nature Exchange Traders: go on into the Nature Exchange and explain the terms water column, benthic and pelagic to earn some bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

NOAA Oregon II

The journey begins! Photo by Kaela Gartman

Personal Log

Flying over Alabama on the descent into Mobile on Sunday, I was struck by how much water there was everywhere below me.  Everywhere I looked, there were slow, meandering rivers, sparkling ponds, lakes and streams.  At times when I thought I was looking down on a forest, I saw the sun reflecting off of water blanketing the ground beneath the trees and shrubs.  I was even struck by the number of puddles in parking lots and lining the streets.  I kept thinking that, living in the desert, I’m just not used to seeing so much water – and I hadn’t even reached the harbor yet!  It was as if I was being slowly introduced to the world that I’m about to live in for the next 17 days.

I’ve been aboard the Oregon II at dock for just a few hours now, and I’m already overwhelmed with fascination, excitement, curiosity, and anticipation.  I started the morning at my hotel feeling very nervous, knowing that I was about to experience a rush of newness: new people, places, sights, sounds, rules, routines, you name it.  I told myself just to take a deep breath and take it in one thing at a time, and that really helped me to enjoy the experience.  Now the nerves are mostly gone and I’m just very much looking forward to the ship’s departure tomorrow afternoon!

To my great fortune, I’ve already found everyone I’ve met to be incredibly kind and friendly.  I got to meet some of the NOAA lab scientists who study the plankton that is collected from the Gulf, as well as field scientists Alonzo and Glenn, with whom I’ll be working the night shift on the Oregon II.  Last but not least is Andy, the lead scientist for this cruise, who helped plan logistics for my arrival, gave me a tour of the ship and helped me get situated on board.

The folks I’ve met on board are from all over the United States.  Some of them came to Pascagoula to work for NOAA to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; some came as part of their graduate school studies.   Everyone I’ve met either has or is pursuing an advanced degree, so the intelligence on board the ship is impressive.  As challenging as it can be to for the scientists to be away from home for more than a hundred days out of the year, all of them have some level of appreciation for doing field work.  Not all of the scientists who study plankton in Pascagoula are able to leave the lab to go on the cruises, so I am even more grateful that I have the honor of taking part.  I’m also extremely grateful to learn that I will be of help to the team.  Because of limited staffing and budgets, the science team depends on teachers, like me, to provide extra sets of hands during the field work.

Stateroom 5

My stateroom on the Oregon II

I’ll be staying in Stateroom 5 for this cruise, which I’ll share with a volunteer scientist named Jana.  “Stateroom” is the word used for a bedroom on a ship.  The stateroom is small, as expected, but it actually feels like it’s the perfect size.  All of my belongings are unpacked in drawers and cabinets, and they all fit just fine.  There’s a bunk with two beds, a sink, and three storage cabinets.  Two of the cabinets are entirely for our use, and one mostly holds safety gear and flotation devices.  There is enough floor space that I could lay on the floor and do snow angels, so there will be plenty of room to move around.  I don’t expect to be spending all that much time in the stateroom once we are underway.

Time has taken on a whole new meaning in the past two days.  Yesterday morning I left Las Vegas in the Pacific Time Zone and flew to Atlanta in the Eastern Time Zone, then to Mobile in the Central Time Zone.  It was almost like time travel.  After we embark tomorrow, I’ll start my work schedule, which will have me on duty from midnight to noon every day.  Work goes on around the clock on NOAA vessels.  This schedule will take some getting used to, but as a morning person, I am excited that I’ll be awake and active for my favorite part of the day, and I’ll get to watch the sun rise.  Right now, I’m attempting to stay awake for my entire first night on the ship so that I can get on my work schedule right away.  To add another level of confusion to my sense of time, ship crews observe 24-hour military time instead of using AM and PM.  Numbers are difficult for me and don’t come naturally, so this will take some getting used to.

Military time

The clocks on the ship show the 24-hour military time system.

Just being on the ship feels quite surreal.  As I write this at 23:33hrs, there are just a handful of people on board, and we are still at dock.  Every once in a while some subtle movement reminds me that this is a ship in the water, but mostly it feels like solid ground.  I know that will change once we get moving.  Aside from the obvious signs, there are other little reminders that this is a ship, where everything must be secured for rougher waters.  Computers and monitors are strapped and bolted to the tables, there are gripper pads spread out on tables and in drawers, and every door, from drawers and cabinets to staterooms, has to be latched shut and unlatched to open, and open doors have to be secured with a hook so that they don’t slam shut when the ship shifts.   There’s also a constant hum of noise on the Oregon II.  I’m interested to see how loud it is when we’re actually moving!

The adventures in science begin tomorrow!

Sunset at Dock

Sunset at dock, from the dry lab of the ship

Did you know?

Bluefin tuna plankton are a type of ichthyoplankton, which comes from the Greek words for “fish drifters.”  For those of you in Nevada, think of our state fossil, the ichthyosaurus, which means “fish lizard!”