Lauren Wilmoth: Officially a Teacher at Sea! October 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 10, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 10.6 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 59°00.742′ N
Longitude: 150°53.517′ W

Science and Technology Log

On Thursday, I got to sit in on Junior Officer Steve Wall and Survey Tech Christie’s discussion of their holiday plan.  This does NOT mean they were talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  A holiday is a space in an area that has already been surveyed where there still isn’t sufficient data.  This can happen for a number of reasons.  Think about mowing the lawn.  If the lawn mower is going back and forth in lines, just as the ship does, sometimes you can still miss a spot (I know I do).  With the lawn mower though, it is easy to see where you missed a spot, so you can go back over it immediately.  This is not the case with the ship.  What’s more, when you are mowing the lawn it is relatively easy to push the lawn mower in a straight line.  It is not as easy to drive a ship in a straight line, because currents and weather can be pushing and pulling it in different directions.  The purpose of a holiday plan then is to find these missed spots, so a smaller boat can be sent over to fill in those gaps in the data.  The holiday plan also tries to figure out how this can be done most efficiently.  For example, if holidays are close together you can send out one boat one time to take care of multiple holidays.

The holidays are the places outlined in yellow.  This shows the area were are about to survey in Kodiak.
This is part of the holiday plan that Christie and Steve put together for this next part of our trip.  The holidays are the places outlined in yellow and the black are the places where there is already sufficient data.

While I have been aboard the ship, I have constantly be learning more about NOAA corps.  If you were interested in joining the NOAA corps, the first step would be get a four year (Bachelor’s) degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) field.  Many corps members have degrees in Marine Biology.  The greatest need is for people with engineering degrees.  Once you have your four year degree, you can apply to be in the NOAA corps.  If you are accepted in to the program, you will have training for 5 months.  This is a combination of class work and hands-on training.  When you successfully complete your training, you will be assigned to a ship.  You will work on that ship for 2 to 3 years.  During those years, your jobs progress in difficulty and vary, so that you can slowly learn how to do it all.  All NOAA corps officers are trained on navigating the ship!  Even though you are assigned to a ship for 2 to 3 years, you won’t be “gone” the entire time.  Each ship has a season when it operates.  For example, the Rainier‘s season runs from April to November.   When the ship is out of season, it stays in the home port.  Rainier‘s home port is Newport, Oregon.  Just because the ship is out of season doesn’t mean you don’t work.  You still report to the ship daily and work aboard the ship.  It is just docked during that time.   In the off-season, you may do additional training that would occur off of the ship.  Also, many people take their leave during the off-season.  NOAA corps officers get 30 days of paid leave a year!  After your 2 to 3 years on a ship, you work on land for 2 or 3 years.  When you return for your second ship assignment, you will likely have moved up in the ranks.

Today, we finally got underway!  I was invited to listen in on the evolution required to get the ship underway.  Evolution, I quickly learned, has a different meaning in the military then has when we talk about evolution in biology class.  An evolution is a set, step-by-step process.  To ensure that everything is done properly, there is a check list that must be completed before departure.  Some tasks begin an entire day ahead of time.  Some of the items required for the checklist include checking the fire doors, heating up the engine (for about 30 minutes), and much much more.  Just untying the ship involves multiple steps because of the ship’s size.  We actually had to leave two crew members behind to undo the lines.  Then, they hopped on one of Rainier‘s smaller boats (called a skiff) and rode back the ship.  After they got off of the skiff, Rainier hoisted the skiff up and puts it back in its place.

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The skiff coming to the ship after the ship was untied from the pier.
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The skiff being hoisted onto the ship with a crane.














Quickly after getting underway, we had our required emergency drills.  I had NO idea how realistic the fire drill would be!  I thought it would be like a school drill where we just go to our spot and stand around.  This was definitely NOT the case.  I was sitting in my stateroom (where I sleep) when the alarm sounded which announced it was a drill.  The announcement proceeded to say where the fire was located which was the XO’s (Executive Officer) room a few doors down from me.  By the time I was in the hall there was smoke, pretend smoke, but smoke!  People were going to their stations, some were getting on their fire fighting gear, and in no time, they were fighting the pretend fire with gear on and hoses unwound.  I was sent on border control, so basically, I had to go to a bordering area and monitor if the fire was spreading by feeling for heat.  The drill was so realistic that there was even an unconscious victim that had to be treated by the medical officer.  It is vital to have these realistic drills, because unlike on shore, you cannot just call the fire department.  You have to be your own fire department!  Almost immediately after the fire drill, we had an abandon ship drill.   My group mustered (gathered) at life raft #8 and then, we had to put on our red survival suits.

My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.
My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

Personal Log

On Thursday, Meclizine was passed out in the dispensary.  This is a medication to prevent motion sickness.  I will definitely be taking some.  Even if it doesn’t work 100%, I have been given some tips on how to settle the feelings of nausea.  It was recommended for one that I get further down in the ship and closer to the center of the ship.  There is a lounge with couches called the ward room that is in a more ideal place to reduce motion sickness than my berthing area, so I may go there if I start feeling bad.  If my nausea is still bad, I have been told to go the back of the ship (the fantail) and watch the horizon.  You might wonder why watching the horizon off the back of the ship would help.  Motion sickness is caused when your senses are giving you conflicting information.  So if you are in a ship, your inner ear ,which controls your balance, knows your body is moving, but visually, since the boat is moving with you, your eyes are telling you a different story.  This explains why it can be helpful to go to the fantail.  Your visual sensory input (what you see) will match more with what your inner ear is telling your brain if you are watching the movement.

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Selfie with my motion sickness medicine.

Between the fire drill and the abandon ship drill, the captain called me up the bridge (the place where you control the ship).  He wanted me to see all of the orcas (killer whales).  There was a whole pod of them.  There were possibly 50 orcas (Orcinus orca) and they were pretty close to the ship at times!  There were also dall’s porpoise’s (Phocoenoides dalli) swimming in our wake.  It was so cool!


Here is a picture of dall’s porpoises like the ones we saw today. This photo was taking by Teacher at Sea alumna Britta Culbertson.


Did You Know? 

There is more than one way to “rock the boat.”  The ship can pitch, roll, or yaw.

Animal Spotting

Thursday night I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by the piers.  I didn’t get a picture, because it flew way too fast.  It was still awesome though!

Jennifer Fry: March 10, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 10, 2012

Pago Pago

Personal Log:

The Rotary Club of Pago Pago, American Samoa was chartered in 1969

When we first arrived in town I met up with family friend, Steve Watson who had emigrated  to  Samoa 35 years ago.  When I met up with Steve,  he  invited me to join him at the monthly Rotary International Club of Pago Pago.

After a lovely lunch we listened to the business at hand presented by the members.  Rotary International is a philanthropic organization that helps local groups in need.  Current projects that the club is working on include helping build the school playground at the local Montessori School,  an annual scholarship given to a deserving senior in high school , and  donating to   relief efforts in the Philippines after their recent devastating earthquake.

The rotarians’ guiding principles are included in the Four-Way Test.

The Four-Way Test

The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions:

Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

While listening to the various speakers, Steve leaned over and asked, “Do you want to be a guest speaker?” I nodded and found myself in front of Pago Pago’s businessmen and women excitedly talking about the upcoming NOAA research vessel’s scientific experiments being conducted offshore in American Samoa.  Included in my brief presentation was the variety of scientific research including:

  • Studies of microplastics
  • A variety of fishing with the aid of fishing reels and tackle and trawl nets
  • Plankton studies and collection
  • Photographing  and data collection of fish species for later research

Everyone was so supportive and welcoming.

Here’s a bit about Rotary International of Pago Pago.  The chapter began meeting in October 1969.

The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

  • FIRST. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
  • SECOND. High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
  • THIRD. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
  • FOURTH. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

For more information about Rotary International go to:

Barbara Koch, October 3, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, October 3, 2010

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude 39.72
Longitude -72.16
Speed 11.30 kts
Course 289.00
Wind Speed 25.11 kts
Wind Dir. 69.68 º
Surf. Water Temp. 19.78 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 33.94 PSU
Air Temperature 16.40 ºC
Relative Humidity 71.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1016.80 mb
Water Depth 121.67 m
Cruise Start Date 10/02/2010

Science and Technology Log

Safety is very important on NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow. We participated in a Fire Drill and an Abandon Ship drill today. Each person on board is assigned a location to “muster” (gather) in case of emergencies. For a fire drill, all scientists are to carry their life vest and survival suit and muster in the lounge directly across from my stateroom. Life vests and survival suits are kept in the staterooms, so we are to grab those and get to the lounge as quickly as possible.

Fire drill
Fire drill

The fire drill began while the day watch was in the wet lab, one level below my stateroom. The scenario was that there was a “fire” on the 01 deck beside the lounge. That was right where my stateroom and the lounge were! Since we couldn’t get to our staterooms to gather our survival suits and life vests or muster in the lounge, due to the “fire,” we grabbed extra life vests and suits from the wet lab and mustered in the mess hall, which is near the wet lab.

Once everyone was accounted for during the fire drill, we moved out to the back deck of the ship for our Abandon Ship drill. Each person on board was assigned a life boat, and that is where we mustered for the Abandon Ship drill. First, we put on our life vests and made sure they were secured tightly. Next, we took off the life vests and put on our survival suits, which are often called “Gumby Suits” because they are large and look a lot like the animated Gumby character from the 1960’s. The survival suit is bright orange and is made out of neoprene. This makes the suit waterproof and very warm. The zipper and face flap are designed to keep water out, as well. Other features of the suits include reflective tape for greater visibility in the ocean, a whi8stle, a water-activated strobe light, a buddy line to attach to others, and an inflatable bladder behind the head to lift one’s head out of the water.

In my 'Gumby' suit
In my ‘Gumby’ suit

Boots and mittens are attached so that all one has to do is jump into the suit and zip it up. It’s not that easy, however. The arm cuffs are very tight, so it takes some strength to push your hands through. It also takes strength to pull the zipper all the way up to the center of your face. All personnel aboard the ship must be able to put this suit on and abandon ship in one minute. I was able to put my suit on in the allotted time, but we didn’t have to abandon the ship during the drill.

My stateroom
My stateroom

Personal Log

Living on a ship is an interesting experience. Space is at a premium, but the Henry B. Bigelow is actually quite comfortable. The scientists told me that this ship has a lot more amenities than some of the other research ships. My stateroom is small and narrow, but roommates are normally working on separate watches, so no one feels cramped or without personal space. You can see in this photo that the room has two bunk beds. Mine is on top, and it has been a fun challenge trying to get in and out of bed when the ship is rocking! I haven’t fallen yet! Each bunk has a curtain that can be pulled closed to darken your sleeping area, if you are sleeping during daylight hours. There is also a desk with latched drawers, so they don’t fly open when the ship is in rough waters. Bungee cords are attached to the walls and desks to hold chairs and large items in place, too. It’s important to keep everything tied down and in the locker so it doesn’t role around and get damaged, or make noise. I learned the importance of that my first night on rough seas when hangers were banging in my locker.

The Head
The Head

My stateroom also has its own “head” (bathroom). The term “head” comes from long ago when boats were powered by the wind. Sailors had a grated area at the front or “bow” of the boat where they could use the bathroom. It was at the front of the boat so bad odors would blow away from the rest of the ship. The figurehead was also attached at the front, so it became common practice to refer to that area as the “head.” The head in my room has a toilet that flushes, and is much nicer than the heads of days gone by, thank goodness!

These are all great amenities, but the best part of my stateroom is the view! First thing every morning, I pull back the curtain to see what’s going on outside. One morning I saw several dolphins jumping out of the water as they moved swiftly toward our ship. Most days, I’ve seen fog, rain, and roiling waves, but I still enjoy looking out and seeing nothing but water as far as the eye can see, and sometimes, a beautiful sunset.


Mechelle Shoemake, June 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (07:00am)
Position: Latitude = 28.80.02 N; Longitude = 090.20.40 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height:  3 foot swells
Sea Water Temp:  29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.9 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.5 degrees Celsius

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish.

Science and Technology Log
We are on twelve hour shifts while on the Oregon II. That means that we have two crews of scientists that work around the clock taking fish, plankton, and water samples.  My shift begins at 12:00 noon and ends at midnight.  Our first shift began on Sunday. We had finally reached our first station for study, so we took over for the first set of scientists.  They had just finished a trawl and had separated the fish.

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish

We finished weighing and measuring the fish. Next on the agenda was a fire and abandon ship drill.  We had to “muster” to our stations for a head count  during the fire drill.  Next, the alarm sounded for the abandon ship drill.  We all had to get our survival suits and meet on the top deck.

As soon as the drill was over, we were able to get back to work. we first did a CTD test, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and density. This fancy machine tests these variables of ocean water at different depths. We took water samples from the bottom of the ocean, in the middle, and on the surface of the water column.  This is a very important sampling because it will help to determine if the shrimping and fishing waters can be opened back up since the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

During the safety drill, I donned my survival aute, also called a Gumby suit!
I’m assisting in getting the CTD ready for deployment

We then had to take a plankton samples. This is done buy using a plankton net called a Neuston net. it is very fine woven net that catches all of the small fish and other animals that we label as plankton. This was amazing to see. The net caught “floating nursery,” a plant called  sargassum. Many fish lay their eggs in this floating grass. Sea turtles also use it as a resting ground. We gathered all the plankton and preserved it for further testing. Sad to say, we also picked up some tarballs in our plankton net. This is not a good sign.

We soon did a trawl with the shrimping nets. This was very interesting to see what we caught. You never know what you might catch when you drag the ocean floor with a net. I never realized how many different species of fish there are. We caught some very nice sized brown shrimp. We had to count, weigh, and preserve all the fish and other critters.

This is a close up of the Neuston net.
I’m helping sort the catch. Those are squid I’m holding up.

Personal Log

I really admire the NOAA employees. They all work very hard for us. Our ship is performing a very important job by determining whether areas of the Gulf will be safe for fishing again. These men and women are gone from their families for extended periods of time and stay at sea for long voyages. I am enjoying my stay on the Oregon II, but I have to admit that I am still trying to grow my “sea legs”.

Melinda Storey, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Nicolle von der Heyde from St. Louis, MO. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port
The Pisces in port
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Small boat
Small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Oil Boom
Oil Boom

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.

emulsified oil
Rainbow sheen from oil
Emulsified oil
Emulsified oil
Route of the Pisces
Route of the Pisces

Personal Log

We are finally on our way! This is a picture of the other Teacher at Sea and myself in front of our ship, the Pisces.

Nicolle von der Heyde, from St. Louis, MO, teaches 8th grade science. I am from Birmingham, AL, and teach Gifted students in grades 3-6. I’m so glad to have another teacher to talk to! We are so excited thinking about all the science experiments and lessons that we can bring back to our students. Our minds are just whirling! I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms.

My stateroom
My stateroom

I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining (fishing) for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA!

Yesterday was our first day on ship and right off the bat as we left port, we saw about 20 dolphins riding the bow wave. It was so much fun watching them arc in the water and splash around! Some even swam upside down and sideways! The babies, or calves, stuck real close to their moms! As we peered over the side of the ship we could actually see into their blow holes! What a view!


I was also very pleased to see that there are two women who are Junior Officers – Ensign Kelly Schill and Ensign Laura Gibson. Here you can see Ensign Schill as she prepares our navigation. She is also the Medical Officer. There are three female Commanding Officers in the NOAA fleet. Maybe one of our Ensigns will become a CO one day.

Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces
Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces

Here you see our CO (Commanding Officer), Jeremy Adams, as he sits in his Captain’s Chair scanning the horizon. He’s the one who spotted the dolphins which sent the crew rushing to the bow of the ship. The officers, who wear blue uniforms, have been so gracious and patient as they explain things to us.

Commanding Officer Jerry Adams
Commanding Officer Jerry Adams

Right now I’m sitting in the bow of the ship as I watch a bird “catching a ride” on the top of a weather pole. It’s interesting to see birds such as terns and pelicans so far from shore. The XO (Executive Officer) says we are 90 miles from shore.

Today we had a Fire drill and a Man Overboard drill – just like in school. The scientists “mustered” (or gathered) in the conference room where our Chief Scientist had to take a head count just like teachers do during our drills. We’ll have an Abandon Ship drill next week. I thought you would like to see the orange Fast Rescue Boat that we would use if we had to abandon ship.

Fast Rescue Boat
Fast Rescue Boat

My husband and I went to Gulf Shores right before this trip and saw the oil that had washed ashore. I was expecting “globs” of oil like we’d seen on TV but what we saw was very liquid – oil pooled in puddles. It looked like someone had splattered buckets of motor oil on the beach. There were lots and lots of volunteers cleaning the beach but not too many people on vacations. We saw lots of homes and condos with few cars in the parking lots.

Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Oil on the coast
Oil on the coast

The economic hit that businesses are taking on the Gulf Coast is terrible. Our XO told us that NOAA is hiring boat owners to drive through the densest part of the oil to get data. The smaller boat owners have “closed” boats which means they do not take in sea water for everyday usage like the big NOAA ships. They take their water with them in containers. If the NOAA ships go through heavy oil, the oil could get sucked up and lodged in their water filters and do damage to the equipment. Maybe this way some of the small charter boat owners can recoup some of the money they are losing since no one is chartering boats to go deep sea fishing.

New Term/Vocabulary

Bow – front part of the ship
Stern – back part of the ship
Port – left
Starboard – right
Bow wave – the waves at the front of the ship as it travels through the water
Muster – to gather in one place

“Something to think about”

What qualities would you look for in a Commanding Officer? Do you think a woman will ever become an Admiral in the NOAA fleet?

“Did You Know?”

You can track the Pisces on the Internet at the following site:

Just select the ship you want to follow and it will give you our position. Click the last map option to see a map of the oil slick and our path through it.

Kristin Joivell, June 16, 2009

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

Left is my bunk card.  Notice the precise location or “muster” for each emergency.
Left is my bunk card. Notice the precise location or “muster” for each emergency.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 15-16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge   
Position: Woody Island Channel
Clouds: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind: light
Waves: less than 1 foot
Temperature: 15.8 dry bulb
Temperature: 12.9 wet bulb
Barometer: 1012.6

Science and Technology Log 

From a teacher’s standpoint, the best thing about being on a ship is seeing the real world applications for all of the basic science process skills that I teach.  Skills like making accurate observations, collecting data precisely, and communicating clearly are second nature in a career with NOAA.

The Fairweather appears out of the fog.
The Fairweather appears out of the fog.

One of the things that impressed upon me as we left the port at Kodiak and began the journey to the Shumagin Islands was the need for each person on board to know just what to do at the necessary time.  The need to be in the “right place” at the “right time” is shown again and again.  For example, each person has a bunk card that describes where to be when different types of alarms sound.  When one of the three alarms sounds, each person on the ship has a specific job and place to report. Whether it is an abandon ship, man overboard, or fire alarm, each person must be in their place to be accounted for and to do their job to help regain control of the situation. For someone still learning where all of the decks are located, this was a small challenge!

Here I am reading the temperature for the Weather Log.  There are two thermometers:  wet bulb and dry bulb.  The readings on both of these thermometers are read to help determine weather patterns, specifically relative humidity.
Here I am reading the temperature for the Weather Log. There are two thermometers: wet bulb and dry bulb. The readings on both of these thermometers are read to help determine weather patterns, specifically relative humidity.

Another point that stood out to me was the importance of accurate observations.  I often try to impress upon my students the importance of making observations in a precise scientific manner, but here on the ship I noticed real world applications of this skill in action especially on the bridge. Everywhere on the ship, but especially on the bridge, accuracy of observations is a must.  Weather is checked every hour. This weather is periodically sent into a weather service.  Accurate observations are necessary so that weather can be predicated and charted and the necessary changes can be made in plans for missions and travel.

Also, the ship’s course is charted on a map.  Although computers are used for much of the navigation, the location on a paper map is charted as well. In fact, the whole goal of the mission is to attain more accurate charts of the ocean floor.  The NOAA film, ‘The Surveyors,’ discusses the historical roots of hydrographic surveying.  The film promotes the idea that NOAA was formed since so many ships were being lost at sea.  As I watched the film, I realized the just how NOAA is an essential part of the battle against lost ships.  After beginning my surveying training on the computer, I found out that 95% of all US foreign trade enters or leaves by ship. To make the job even more complicated, surveying the ocean floor is an ongoing task since changes occur in the ocean floor constantly. Thinking about this made me look forward to the surveying work in the Shumagins even more since the data collected by NOAA could save someone’s life.

Personal Log 

Here I locate the Fairweather’s position on a map.  The location of the ship is determined using triangulation and simple geometry.
Here I locate the Fairweather’s position on a map. The location of the ship is determined using triangulation and simple geometry.

Yesterday, while still in port at Kodiak, I went on a hike to the top of Barometer Hill.  I think the name “Hill” is misleading since at the summit it is approximately 2500 feet above ground level. As I looked up at the mountain, I was in awe of its height and the purity of the surrounding terrain. Most of the hikes I’ve been on show signs of civilization throughout the hike, from garbage to power lines over the trail, but not here in Alaska!

I was not to be disappointed.  About halfway up to the summit, a brown bear approached our group.  Another hiker and I were nearing the top of a rise.  Upon glancing behind, we noticed a bear peeking out from below the rise we had just climbed. We made some noises and it went down the mountain, leaving tracks in the snow patches.  We were able to watch its progress down the mountain and through the brush at the base…the brush we had just walked through to get to the trail!


Here is Barometer Hill from the base of the mountain.  Note the total absence of human impacts such as billboards, structures, and especially power lines.  Hiking up the mountain there were a few scraps of paper, but not much trash at all compared to my experiences hiking in Pennsylvania.
Here is Barometer Hill from the base of the mountain. Note the total absence of human impacts such as billboards, structures, and especially power lines. Hiking up the mountain there were a few scraps of paper, but not much trash at all compared to my experiences hiking in Pennsylvania.
The brown bear going down Barometer Hill. It covered the distance quite quickly and made it to the base of the mountain in about 10 minutes, much quicker than my hiking speed.  Photo courtesy of David Francksen.
The brown bear going down Barometer Hill. It covered the distance quite quickly and made it to the base of the mountain in about 10 minutes, much quicker than my hiking speed. Photo courtesy of David Francksen.

As we continued hiking to the top, much of the terrain was steep, treacherous, and rocky, but the views at the summit were extraordinary and gave a 360 degree vantage point of the surrounding land and water. Looking around at the surrounding geography, I was able to see just how special Alaska is from a naturalist’s standpoint.

The view from the top of Barometer Hill.  The wilderness keeps extending in the distance.
The view from the top of Barometer Hill. The wilderness keeps extending in the distance.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 
You can collect weather data using the same tool used on the bridge of the Fairweather. Create a wet and dry thermometer system by wrapping the bulb of one thermometer in wet paper towels and keeping one thermometer uncovered.  Compare the temperatures over a period of time and make a line graph.  What trends do you see on the graph?  Which temperature tends to be lower? What can you infer from this about the way your body feels when you’re in wet clothes compared to the way your body feels when you’re in dry clothes?

After further investigating the wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures here on the ship, I found that the book National Weather Service Observing Handbook No. 1 printed by NOAA in 2004 gave me a better understanding of how this all fits together scientifically by stating, “The wet bulb thermometer works on the principle that water evaporating from the muslin wicking [paper towel] absorbs heat from the thermometer bulb and mercury.  When the air is dry, containing little moisture, evaporation will be rapid.  If the air is very moist, evaporation from the muslin [paper towel] will be slight.” (p. S-93).  To me this makes sense since evaporation, biologically as precipitation, helps to cool your body.  The graph below provides a more in depth look into the connection between dry bulb temperatures, wet bulb temperatures, and relative humidity.

On this graph, you can see how the relative humidity percentage gets higher as dry and wet bulb temperatures get closer together.  The inverse is true as well; the relative humidity gets lower as dry and wet bulb temperatures get further apart.  Psychrometric chart provided courtesy of Richard Brennan.
On this graph, you can see how the relative humidity percentage gets higher as dry and wet bulb temperatures get closer together. The inverse is true as well; the relative humidity gets lower as dry and wet bulb temperatures get further apart. Psychrometric chart provided courtesy of Richard Brennan.