My name is Stephen Kade, and I’m a middle school art teacher at OL Smith Middle School in Dearborn, Michigan. I’ll be joining the crew of the NOAA Ship Oregon II for a few weeks this summer as part of the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program. We’ll be starting in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and working along the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys, and then moving north in the Atlantic to Cape Canaveral, Florida. We’ll be long line fishing for red snapper and sharks to research. I can’t wait to get aboard and find new ways I learn learn about these fish, and how I can use art to help bring awareness to, and advocate for, all threatened and endangered sea creatures and their ocean environments.
This opportunity is a great chance for me to fulfill a lifelong dream of working with sharks as a marine biologist (at least for a few weeks). As I study in preparation for the coming trip, I’ve realized the many hours of my life spent watching nature documentaries have paid off, as I’ve retained more knowledge of sharks than I thought! I’m also trying to study more about the crew and their roles on the ship, and all the working schedules and procedures to keep myself and other crew safe while we work. I’m finding this process is much like prepping for a lesson as a teacher and bringing many social and logistical resources together to create a strong foundation for learning while working.
I’ll be posting several times during the trip to keep everyone up to date with my findings during the adventure of a lifetime. This photo is of my art students and me in class, after creating their Endangered Animal Awareness Posters for our first annual Night of the Arts 2018.
TAS Stephen Kade and his art students, sharing their Endangered Animal Awareness Posters
Mission: WHOI Hawaii Ocean Timeseries Station (WHOTS)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii
Date: June 29th, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge
(June 29th, 2016 at 12:00 pm)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Temperature: 26.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1017.5 mb
Science and Technology Log
When an anchor is dropped, forces in the ocean will cause this massive object to drift as it falls. Last year, after the anchor of mooring 12 was dropped, an acoustic message was sent to the release mechanism on the anchor to locate it. This was repeated in three locations so that the location of the anchor could be triangulated much like how an earthquake epicenter is found. This was repeated this year for mooring 13 so next year, they will know where it is. From where we dropped the anchor to where it fell, was a horizontal distance of 3oo meters. The ocean moved the 9300 pound anchor 300 meters. What a force!
The next morning as the ship was in position, another acoustic message was sent that triggered the release of the glass floats from the anchor. Not surprisingly, the floats took nearly an hour to travel up the nearly 3 miles to the surface.
Once the floats were located at the surface, a small boat was deployed to secure the end of the mooring to the Hi’ialakai. The glass floats were loaded onto the ship. 17 floats that had imploded when they were deployed last year. Listen to imploding floats recorded by the hydrophone. Implosion.
Next, came the lengthy retrieval of the line (3000+ meters). A capstan to apply force to the line was used as the research associates and team arranged the line in the shipping boxes. The colmega and nylon retrieval lasted about 3 hours.
Once the wire portion of the mooring was reached, sensors were removed as they rose and stored. Finally the mooring was released, leaving the buoy with about 40 meters of line with sensors attached and hanging below.
The NOAA officer on the bridge maneuvered the ship close enough to the buoy so that it could be secured to the ship and eventually lifted by the crane and placed on deck. This was followed by the retrieval of the last sensors.
The following day required cleaning sensors to remove biofoul. And the buoy was dismantled for shipment back to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Mooring removal was accomplished in seas with 5-6 feet swells at times. From my vantage point, everything seemed to go well in the recovery process. This is not always the case. Imagine what would happen, if the buoy separated from the rest of the mooring before releasing the floats and the mooring is laying on the sea floor? What would happen if the float release was not triggered and you have a mooring attached to the 8000+ pound anchor? There are plans for when these events occur. In both cases, a cable with a hook (or many hooks) is snaked down to try and grab the mooring line and bring it to the surface.
Now that the mooring has been recovered, the science team continues to collect data from the CTD (conductivity/temperature/depth) casts. By the end of tomorrow, the CTDs would have collected data for approximately 25 hours. The data from the CTDs will enable the alignment of the two moorings.
The WHOTS (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Hawaii Ocean Time Series Site) mooring project is led by is led by two scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Al Plueddeman and Robert Weller. Both scientists have been involved with the project since 2004. Plueddeman led this year’s operations and next year it will be Weller. Plueddeman recorded detailed notes of the operation that helped me fill in some blanks in my notes. He answered my questions. I am thankful to have been included in this project and am grateful for this experience and excited to share with my students back in Eugene, Oregon.
The long term observations (air-sea fluxes) collected by the moorings at Station Aloha will be used to better understand climate variability. WHOTS is funded by NOAA and NSF and is a joint venture with University of Hawaii. I will definitely be including real time and archived data from WHOTS in Environmental Science.
I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with the crew of the Hi’ialakai. There were many pathways taken to get to this point of being aboard this ship. I learned about schools and programs that I had never even heard about. My students will learn from this adventure of mine, that there are programs that can lead them to successful oceanic careers.
I sailed with Brian Kibler in 2013 aboard the Oscar Dysonup in the Gulf of Alaska. He completed a two year program at Seattle Maritime Academy where he became credentialed to be an Able Bodied Seaman. After a year as an intern aboard the Oscar Dyson, he was hired. A few years ago he transferred to the Hi’ialakai and has now been with NOAA for 5 years. On board, he is responsible for rigging, watch and other tasks that arise. Brian was one of the stars of the video I made called Sharks on Deck. Watch it here.
Tyler Matta has been sailing with NOAA for nearly a year. He sought a hands-on engineering program and enrolled at Cal Maritime (Forbes ranked the school high due to the 95% job placement) and earned a degree in maritime engineering and was licensed as an engineer. After sailing to the South Pacific on a 500 ft ship, he was hooked. He was hired by NOAA at a job fair as a 3rd engineer and soon will have enough sea days to move to 2nd engineer.
There are 6 NOAA Corps members on the Hi’ialakai. They all went through an approximately 5 month training program at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. To apply, a candidate should have a 4 year degree in a NOAA related field such as science, math or engineering. Our commanding officer, Liz Kretovic, attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy and majored in marine safety and environmental protection. Other officers graduated with degrees in marine science, marine biology, and environmental studies.
Ensign (ENS) Nikki Chappelle is new to the NOAA Corps. In fact, this is her first cruise aboard the Hi’ialakai and second with NOAA. She is shadowing ENS Bryan Stephan for on the job training. She spent most of her schooling just south of where I teach. I am hoping that when she visits her family in Cottage Grove, Oregon that she might make a stop at my school to talk to my students. She graduated from Oregon State University with degrees in zoology and communication. In the past she was a wildfire fighter, a circus worker (caring for the elephants) and a diver at Sea World.
All of the officers have 2 four hour shifts a day on the bridge. For example ENS Chappelle’s shifts are 8am to 12pm and 8pm to 12am. The responsibilities of the officers include navigating the ship, recording meteorological information, overseeing safety. Officers have other tasks to complete when not on the bridge such as correcting navigational maps or safety and damage control. ENS Stephan manages the store on board as a collateral assignment. After officers finish training they are sent to sea for 2-3 years (usually 2) and then rotate to land for 3 years and then back to sea. NOAA Officers see the world while at sea as they support ocean and atmospheric science research.
Electronics technician (ET) seem to be in short supply with NOAA. There are lots of job opportunities. According to Larry Wooten (from Newport’s Marine Operation Center of the Pacific), NOAA has hired 7 ETs since November. Frank Russo III is sailing with NOAA for the first time as an ET. But this is definitely not his first time at sea. He spent 24 years in the navy, 10 at Military Sealift Command supporting naval assets and marines around the world. His responsibilities on the Hi’ialakai include maintaining navigational equipment on the bridge, making sure the radio, radar and NAVTEX (for weather alerts) are functioning properly and maintaining the server so that the scientists have computer access.
I have met so many interesting people on the Hi’ialakai. I appreciate everyone who took the time to chat with me about their careers or anything else. I wish I had more time so that I could get to know more of the Hi’ialakai crew. Thanks. Special thanks to our XO Amanda Goeller and Senior Scientist Al Plueddeman for reviewing my blog posts. And for letting me tag along.
Did You Know?
The buoy at the top of the mooring becomes a popular hang out for organisms in the area. As we approached mooring 12, there were several red-footed boobies standing their ground. There were also plenty of barnacles and other organisms that are planktonic in some stage of their lives. Fishing line is strung across the center of the buoy to discourage visitors but some still use the buoy as a rest stop. The accumulation of organism that can lead to corrosion and malfunction of the equipment is biofoul.
One More Thing
South Eugene biology teacher Christina Drumm (who’s husband was Ensign Chappelle’s high school math teacher) wanted to see pictures of the food. So here it is. Love and Happiness.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jeanne Muzi Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson August 2 – 8, 2015
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Date: August 10, 2015
As I head home to New Jersey a few days ahead of schedule, I am reflecting on what I have learned aboard the Thomas Jefferson. From day one, I was asking questions and trying to understand the process of hydrographic surveying, the equipment used and the different roles of everyone involved in the process. I learned why hydrographic surveying is so important and why the mission of NOAA (Science, Service and Stewardship) is demonstrated in all the research and activities aboard the Thomas Jefferson.
The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored. NOAA protects, preserves, manages and enhances the resources found in 3.5 million square miles of coastal and deep ocean waters.
The oceans are our home. As active citizens, we must all become knowledgeable, involved stewards of our oceans.
As my Teacher at Sea experience ends, I wanted to make sure I shared some of the conversations I had with the officers charged with leading the missions of the Thomas Jefferson and the hydrographic work it is involved in.
It is my honor to introduce to you:
Captain Shepard Smith (CO)
Captain Smith grew up on the water in Maine. He always enjoyed reading maps and charts. He received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and earned a Master’s of Science degree from the University of New Hampshire Ocean Engineering (Mapping) Program. He has worked at NOAA in many different capacities.
He served aboard NOAA Ship Rainier, NOAA R/V Bay Hydrographer and the Thomas Jefferson. He was also the chief of Coast Survey’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Captain Smith also served as Senior Advisor to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Deputy Administrator and as Chief of Coast Survey’s Marine Chart Division. Captain Smith explained how he has been involved in integrating many new technological innovations designed to improve the efficiency of NOAA’s seafloor mapping efforts. It was through Captain Smith’s endeavors that Americans enjoy open access to all NOAA charts and maps.
He enjoys being the CO very much and feels the best part of his job is developing the next generation of leadership in NOAA. He feels it is very important to have that influence on junior officers. The worst part of his job is the separation from his family.
Captain Smith’s advice to young students is to pay attention to the world around you and how things work. Try to ask lots of questions. He said, “There are loads of opportunities to be the best at something and so many things to learn about. There are new fields, new ideas and new ways to see and understand things. Never limit yourself.”
Lieutenant Commander Olivia Hauser (XO)
LCDR Hauser grew up in New Jersey and always loved learning about the ocean. As a little girl, she thought she would like to study Marine Science but wasn’t sure how. She grew up and earned her Bachelor’s of Arts in Biology from Franklin and Marshall College and her Master’s of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies. Before coming to NOAA, LCDR Hauser spent time working for a mortgage company, which provided her with different kinds of skills. She soon started officer training for NOAA and got to apply the sonar knowledge she developed in graduate school to her NOAA work. She has served on the NOAA ships Rainier and Thomas Jefferson. She has built her strong background in hydrography with both land and sea assignments. She has been Field Operations Officer, Field Support Liaison and Executive Officer. She explained that in the field of hydrographic surveying, experience is key to improving skills and she is always trying to learn more and share her knowledge. As XO, she is the second highest-ranking officer on the ship.
LCDR Hauser feels the best part of her job is that it never gets boring. Everyday is different and there are always new things to see and learn.
LCDR Hauser also explained that the hardest part of the job is the transitions, that come pretty frequently. She said, “You may find yourself leaving a ship or coming to a new job. There are always new routines to learn and new people to get to know. With so many transitions, it is often hard to find and keep community, but on the positive side, the transitions keep you adaptable and resilient, which are important skills too.”
Her advice to young students is “Take opportunities! Explore things you never heard of. Don’t give up easily! Even the rough parts of the road can work for you. Every experience helps you grow! Keep asking questions…especially about how and why!”
Lieutenant Joseph Carrier (FOO)
As a young boy, LT Carrier was the kind of kid who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He joined the Navy right out of high school. When he got out, he attended University of North Carolina at Wilmington and studied biology as an undergraduate and marine science in graduate school. He taught biology, oceanography, and earth science at a community college and worked at NOAA’s Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, VA before attending officer training. He served on other NOAA ships before coming to the Thomas Jefferson and has learned a lot about the technical aspects of hydrographic surveying, data collection and processing while onboard. He is currently the Field Operations Officer.
LT Carrier feels the best part of his job is the great people he works with. He explained that on a ship you are part of a close family that works together, lives together and helps each other.
He said the hardest parts of the job are the long hours and missing his family very much.
His advice to younger students is don’t get discouraged easily. He explained, “If you are not good at something at first, try again. Know that each time you try something…you have an opportunity to get better at it. Everyone can overcome challenges by working hard and sticking with it!
The experience of living and learning on the Thomas Jefferson will stay with me and impact my teaching as I continue to encourage kids to stay curious, ask questions and work hard!
I would like to thank everyone at NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program for enabling me to come on this adventure! My time as a TAS has provided me with authentic learning experiences and a new understanding of science and math in action. I would like to thank every person serving on the Thomas Jefferson who took the time to talk with me and shared his or her area of expertise. I appreciated everyone’s patience, kindness and friendly help as they welcomed me into their home. Every crewmember has given me stories, knowledge and information that I can now share with others.
In my last blog entry the Question of the Day and Picture of the Day was:
What is this and what do the letters mean?
These containers are life rafts. The letters “SOLAS” stand for “Safety of Life at Sea.”
The First SOLAS Treaty was issued in 1914, just two years after the Titanic disaster. The Treaty was put in place so countries all around the world would make ship safety a priority. The SOLAS Treaty ensures that ships have safety standards in construction, in equipment onboard and in their operation. Many countries have turned these international requirements into national laws. The first version of the treaty developed in response to the sinking of the Titanic. It stated the number of lifeboats and other emergency equipment that should be available on every ship, along with safety procedures, such as having drills and continuous radio watch. Newer versions of the SOLAS Treaty have been adopted and the guidelines are always being updated so people at sea remain safe. If there was an emergency on the Thomas Jefferson, the crew is prepared because they have practiced many different drills. If these lifeboats were needed they would be opened, inflated and used to bring everyone to safety.
Many thanks for reading about my Teacher at Sea Adventure!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jeanne Muzi Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson August 2 – 8, 2015
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Date: August 8, 2015
Weather Data From the Bridge: Temperature: 73°F (23°C) Fair
Wind Speed: N 10 mph
Barometer: 29.94 in (1013.6 mb)
Dewpoint: 58°F (14°C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi
Science and Technology Log:
It is amazing that with hydrography, scientists can “look” into the ocean to “see” the sea floor by using sound.
All the data collected by the TJ, and other NOAA Hydro ships, is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models.
This is important work because the charts are used to warn mariners of dangers to navigation, which can mean everything from rocks to ship wrecks. They also record tide or water level measurements to provide information about water depths. Surveys also help determine if the sea floor is made up of sand, mud or rock, which is important for the anchoring of boats, dredging, construction, and laying pipeline or cables. Hydrography also provides important information for fishery habitats.
The work being done on the Thomas Jefferson is a great example of STEM in action since hydrographic surveying combines science, lots of technology, the engineering of new devices and procedures, and the application of mathematical computations.
Here are two amazing survey images:
A few of my students emailed me yesterday to ask how does the information gathered out on the launch become a chart. That’s a great question!
My XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Olivia Hauser provided me with a great explanation of how the data becomes a chart. She explained it this way:
It starts with deciding where to survey, and ends with an updated chart that is published and available for mariners to use. The decision where to survey is steered by a document called the National Hydrographic Survey Priorities document. It outlines where the top priorities to survey are based on the type of ship traffic that travels the area, the age of the survey in the area, how often the seafloor changes in the area, and specific requests from port authorities, the US Coast Guard, and other official maritime entities. Please see the following link for more information. http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm
The operations branch of the Hydrographic Surveys Division of the Office of Coast Survey in NOAA (where Patrick works-see below) uses this document to decide where the ship will survey next. This branch then provides the ship with project instructions that identifies where the work will be done and divides the survey area into manageable chunks.
The data is raw when we first acquire it, and once it comes back to the ship, we need to apply some correctors to it, to improve the data quality.
One corrector we apply to the data is tide information. The water gets shallower and deeper depending on the stage of tide, and we need to make sure the depths on the chart are all relative to the same stage of tide.
Another corrector we apply to the data is vessel motion. When we acquire depth data with the sonar, the boat is moving with the waves, and the raw data looks like it has waves in the seafloor, too. We know that is not the case, so we take the motion data of the boat out of our depth data.
A third corrector we apply to the data is sound speed. The sonar finds the depth of the seafloor by sending a pulse of sound out and listening for its return, measuring the time it takes to complete that trip. We also measure the speed of sound through the water so we can calculate the depth (see the picture of ENS Gleichauf deploying the CTD to measure sound speed). Speed =Distance/Time. Speed of sound through typical seawater is 1500 meters per second. The speed of sound changes with water temperature and salinity (the saltiness of the water) .If we measure the time it takes for the sound to get to the seafloor and back, 1 second for example, and the sound speed is 1500 meters per second we know the seafloor is 750 meters away from the sonar. (the sound is traveling two ways).
Once all of the correctors are applied to the data, a digital terrain model (DTM) is created from the data to make a grid showing the depths and hazards in the area. A report is written about the survey, and it is submitted to the Atlantic Hydrographic Branch (Where Jeffrey works- See below). This branch reviews the data and makes sure it meets NOAA’s specifications for data quality. They also make a preliminary chart, picking the important depths and hazards that should be shown on the chart.
Once the data has been reviewed, it goes to the Marine Charting Division. This group takes the preliminary chart of the area surveyed, and adds it to the official chart that is being updated. These charts are then distributed to the public.
I had a chance to talk with some of the Survey Techs and project scientists who work on the TJ to find out more about their jobs.
Allison Stone is the Hydro Senior Survey Technician (HSST). When Allison was 12 years old she clearly remembers her school’s Career Day, when lots of parents came in to talk about their jobs. She recalls there was one mom who had a sparkle in her eye when she talked about her job. She was an Oceanographer. That mom became her advisor when she attended the College of Charleston. Allison had an internship at the Atlantic Hydrography Branch in Norfolk and she first came to the TJ as a Student Scientist. She later became a full time technician. She enjoys her job because she gets the opportunity to observe the seafloor like no one has ever seen it before. She gets to solve problems and think outside the box. When she is going through raw data, she is able to make connections and interpret information. The work is interesting and challenging. Allison’s advice for young students is to keep being passionate about things you are interested in. Try to find out more and stay flexible. Try to volunteer as much as possible as you grow up so you can find out what you like to do and love to work on.
Jeffery Marshall was visiting the TJ for a project during my time aboard. Jeffery is a Physical Scientist with the Office of Coast Survey as a member of the Hydrographic Surveys Division, Atlantic Hydrographic Branch in Norfolk, Virginia. Jeffery grew up on the Jersey Shore and loved being out on the water, down at the beach and learning about the ocean. He loved surfing and was always wondering what the weather would be like so he could plan for the waves and the tides. So when he went to college, he studied meteorology. Following graduation, he taught middle school science and loved being a teacher. When he was ready for a change, he decided to attend graduate school and got his masters degree in Coastal Geology. He really enjoys having the opportunity to get out on the ships. His job is usually applying the processed data to charts, what he calls “Armchair Hydrography.” When he gets a chance to work on a NOAA ship mission, he has more opportunities to collect and analyze data. Jeff’s advice to young students is to read a lot and think about lots of different things, like how we use maps. He thinks everyone should take a look at old maps and charts, and think about how they were made. He encourages students to look for patterns in nature and to think about how rocks and sand change over time.
Patrick Keown is also a Physical Scientist. He was also working on a project on the TJ. Patrick works at the Operations Branch of the Hydrographics Survey Division in Silver Spring, Maryland. Patrick is usually working on plans for where surveying needs to take place. He started college as an Anthropology major but ended up in a Geographic Information Systems class and found that it came easily to him. Geographic Information Systems are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. He had an internship with the Army Corp of Engineers which provided some “on the job learning” of hydrography. When Patrick was young, he didn’t have the chance to travel much, so he spent a lot of time looking at maps and wondering, “What else is out there?” Now he loves to travel and likes to look at what he calls “Social Geography.” Patrick thinks the best part of his job is the chance to experience new things. He has had opportunities to try the latest technology and is inspired by all the new types of equipment, like drones and the Z boats. Patrick’s advice to young learners is “Never be afraid to explore! Never be afraid to ask questions! Most importantly, stay curious!!”
Cassie Bongiovanni is a GIS Specialist who works at The Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center. The center is a partnership between the University of New Hampshire and NOAA, and it has two main objectives: to develop tools to advance ocean mapping and hydrography, and to train the next generation of hydrographers and ocean mappers. Cassie grew up in Texas and did not like science at all when she was young. She attended the University of Washington in Seattle and fell in love with the ocean. She received her Bachelors of Science in Geology with a focus in Oceanography. She is now working with NOAA’s Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping group on processing lidar and acoustic data for post Hurricane Sandy research efforts. Cassie explained that she loves her work because she loves to learn! She has lots of opportunities to ask questions and discover new things. The kid in her loves making maps and then coloring them with bright colors to create 3-D images of things like shipwrecks.
The launch headed out again today to try to find a ship that sank earlier in the summer. Information was gathered and lines were surveyed, but so far no shipwreck was found. The day ended with a beautiful sunset.
In my last blog entry the Question of the Day was:
How was the ocean floor mapped before sonar was invented?
Mariners have used many different methods to map the ocean floor to try to “see” what was under the water. For thousands of years a stick was used to see how deep the water was. Eventually, the stick was marked with measurements. Once ships started exploring the oceans, sticks were no longer good options for finding out the depth of water or if anything was under the water that could harm the ship. Sailors started tying a rope around a heavy rock and throwing it over board. In the 1400’s, mariners began using lead lines, which were marked lengths of rope attached to a lead weight. The lead line was good for measuring depth and providing information about the sea floor. The standard lead line was 20 fathoms long–120 feet–and the lead weighed 7 pounds. In the early 20th century, the wire drag was invented. This meant two ships had a set system of wires hung between them and it enabled mariners to find hidden rocks, shipwrecks or other hazards hidden in the water.
In my last entry, The Picture of the Day showed Ensign Gleichauf lowering an instrument into the water. That is a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is made up of electronic instruments that measure these properties. The CTD detects how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes as it goes deeper into the water. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is how salty the seawater is.
Today’s Question of the Day and Picture of the Day: What is this and what do the letters mean?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast Date: Aug 4, 2015
Coordinates: LAT 3323.870N
LONG 07736.658 W
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 28
Sea Temp (deg C): 29.2
Air Temp (deg C): 24.2
Early this morning the night shift caught and cradled a great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). This is a first for this cruise leg. I’m sure that just saying “Hammerhead” conjures an image of a shark with an unusual head projection (cephalofoil), but did you know that there are at least 8 distinct Hammerhead species? Thus far in the cruise we have caught 4 scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini), one of which I was fortunate to tag.
Science and Technology Log
All eight species of hammerhead sharks have cephalofoils with differences noted in shape, size, and eye placement, to name a few. Research indicates that this structure acts as a hydrofoil or rudder, increasing the shark’s agility. In addition, the structure contains a high concentration of specialized electro sensory organs (Ampullae of Lorenzini) that help the shark detect electric signals of other organisms nearby. The eye placement at each end of the cephalofoil allows hammerhead sharks to have essentially a panoramic view with only a slight movement of their head – quite handy when hunting or avoiding other predators.
Great hammerheadsharks are highly migratory. They are found worldwide in tropical latitudes, and at various depths. There are no geographically Distinct Population Segments (DPS) identified. The great hammerhead, as its name implies, is the largest of the group and average size estimates of mature individuals varies between 10-14 ft in length with a weight approximately 500 lb.; the largest recorded was 20 ft in length. The one we caught was ll ft. in length.
As with most shark species, the numbers declined rapidly between 1975 and 1995 due to the fin fishing industry and focused sport fishing often fueled by fear and misinformation. One has to wonder what the average length was before that time.
Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are the most common hammerhead species. Their habitat overlaps that of the great hammerhead, though they are more often found in slightly shallower waters. In contrast to the great hammerhead, scalloped hammerheads are only semi-migratory, and scientists have identified Distinct Population Segments around the world. This is important information when evaluating population size and determining which groups, if any, need regulatory protection.
The average life expectancy for both species is approximately 30 years. Males tend to become sexually mature before females, at smaller weights; females mature between 7-10 years (sources vary). In my last log I discussed shark reproduction – Oviparous vs. Viviparous. (egg laying vs. live birth). All hammerheads are viviparous placental sharks but reproductive patterns do differ. Great hammerheads bear young every two years, typically having 20-40 pups. A great hammerhead recently caught by a fisherman in Florida was found to be pregnant with 33 pups. Scalloped have slightly fewer pups in each brood, but can reproduce more frequently.
Setting and retrieving the Longline requires coordination between Deck Operations and the Bridge. Up until now I’ve highlighted those on deck. Let’s learn a bit about two NOAA officers on the Bridge.
The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services of the United States and all members are officers. The Corps’ charge is to support the scientific mission of NOAA, operating and navigating NOAA ships and airplanes. Applicants for the Corps must have earned Bachelor’s degree and many have graduate degrees. A science degree is not required but a significant number of science units must have been completed. It’s not unusual for Corps recruits to have done post-baccalaureate studies to complete the required science coursework. New recruits go through Basic Officer’s Training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Lt. Lecia Salerno – Executive Officer (XO) – NOAA
Lt. Lecia Salerno at the helm or the Oregon II during Longline retrieval.
Lt. Salerno is a 10-year veteran of the NOAA Corps and has significant experience with ship operations. She was recently assigned to the Oregon II as the XO. This is Lecia’s first assignment as an XO and she reports directly to Captain Dave Nelson. In addition to her Bridge responsibilities, she manages personnel issues, ship accounts and expenditures. During these first few weeks on her new ship, Lt. Salerno is on watch for split shifts – day and night – and is quickly becoming familiar with the nuances of the Oregon II. This ship is the oldest (and much loved) ship in NOAA’s fleet, having been built in 1964, which can make it a challenge to pilot. It’s no small task to maneuver a 170-foot vessel up to a small highflyer and a float, and continue moving the ship along the Longline throughout retrieval.
Lecia has a strong academic background in science and in the liberal arts and initially considered joining another branch of the military after college. Her assignments with NOAA incorporate her varied interests and expertise, which she feels makes her job that much more rewarding.
Laura has always had a love for the ocean, but did not initially look in that direction for a career. She first earned a degree in International Business from James Madison University. Her interest in marine life took her back to the sea and she spent a number of years as a scuba diving instructor in the U.S. and Australia. Laura returned to the U.S. to take additional biology coursework. During that time she more fully investigated the NOAA Corps, applied and was accepted.
Laura has been on the Oregon II for 1.5 years and loves her work. When she is on shift she independently handles the ship during all operations and also acts as Navigator. What she loves about the Corps is that the work merges science and technology, and there are many opportunities for her to grow professionally. In December Laura will be assigned to a shore duty unit that is developing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV).
It’s amazing to think that just over a week ago I held my first live shark. We caught over 30 sharks at our first station and our inexperience showed. At first even the small ones looked like all teeth and tail, and those teeth are not only sharp but carry some pretty nasty bacteria. It took all of us (new volunteers) forever to get the hooks out quickly without causing significant trauma to the shark–or ourselves. A tail smack from this small-but-mighty tiger shark pictured below left me with a wedge-shaped bruise for a week!
Since then we have caught hundreds of sharks. We’ve caught so many Atlantic Sharpnose that on occasion it seems mundane. Then I catch myself and realize how amazing it is to be doing what I’m doing– holding a wild animal in my hands, freeing it from the circle hook (finally!), looking at the detailed pattern of its skin, and feeling it’s rough texture, measuring it and releasing it back into the sea.
I’m pleased to be able to say that my day shift team has become much more confident and efficient. Our mid-day haul yesterday numbered over 40 sharks, including a few large sharks that were cradled, and it went really smoothly.
At this point I’ve had a chance to work at most of the volunteer stations including baiting hooks, throwing off the high-flyer marker, numbering, gangions, throwing bait, data entry, tagging shark, removing hooks, and measuring/ weighing. A highlight of last night was getting to throw out the hook to pull in the high-flyer marker at the start of retrieval. I’m not known for having the best throwing arm but it all worked out!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Date: July 10, 2015
My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a 2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.
I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science. I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom. Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound. The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.
I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally. I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.
About NOAA and Teacher at Sea
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science. While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems. In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students. The Teacher at Sea Program brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.
The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.
I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass. I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.
My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast. However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change. Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.
Did You Know?
While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast Date: Sunday, May 31, 2015
Air Temperature: 11.1°C
Water Temperature: 11.8°C
Wind Speed (kts) and Direction: 15, SSE
Science and Technology Log
We finally weighed anchor and set sail at 1032 Friday morning. Fog blanketed the shores of Newport as we passed below the Yaquina Bay Bridge and out into the channel created by the North and South Jetties. One of our last sights from shore was Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur’s wife, who had come to see us off. The fog was so thick that before we had even reached the end of the jetty her lime green jacket was hidden from view.
Emily and I and several of the other scientists watched our departure from the flying bridge, the highest observational deck on board the ship. It provides an almost unobstructed 360-degree view of the surroundings—making it perfect for Amanda’s surveys—but it’s also right next to the foghorn, which had to be blown every two minutes until we reached greater visibility. Needless to say, we all found somewhere else to watch the waves.
Once the ship had moved farther offshore, some of the fog cleared but the moisture in the air was still enough to cause concern for the computers so Amanda went to the bridge, an enclosed deck that houses the navigational instruments that the captain and other officers use to drive the ship. Here she began setting up her survey equipment.
Up to this point, I’d been getting a lot of great advice about handling the first few hours on board the moving ship. Some people suggested I lay down, but the go-getter in me wanted to work. Using a program that is linked to the ship’s GPS, Amanda taught me how to code the observations she was making of the seabirds and marine mammals. As she kept her eyes glued on the 90-degree quadrant made by making a quarter port (while facing the front of the ship, counter clockwise or left, for you digital folks) turn from the bow (front of the ship) (in the image at the top of this post, you can see a panoramic view of quadrant I, the port bow of the ship), she would call out codes for the species, distance from the ship and behavior of the bird she observed. If she were to spot any marine mammals–pinnipeds (pin-eh-peds) (seal and sea lions) or cetaceans (ceh-tay-shins) (dolphins and whales)–that gets entered in a separate database.
Amanda has to be prepared to work alone as she is the only ornithologist on the ship, but with a Teacher at Sea and other volunteers on board willing to learn and help out, she’s able to rely on us to share some of the work. She and I were working as quite the well-oiled machine for a solid 20 minutes before I made peace with the fact that I did not have my sea legs. To my great relief, it’s something you can sleep off.
While at sea, the most important thing to remember is to be safe, so once we had been underway for a few hours, the ship’s crew and team of scientists went through drills to practice safety protocols for two of the three significant events that could happen at sea. A 10-second blast on the horn sounded the alarm for the fire drill, and all crew and scientists mustered (gathered) in their assigned locations. Next, 7-short, and 1-long blast signaled the start of the abandon ship drill. The need to abandon ship is highly unlikely, but out at sea you need to be prepared for anything. Most importantly, you need to know how to get into your survival suit, and fast.
Emily and I decided to practice since we were both first-timers to these impressive red neoprene onesies. Since they’re designed to be large enough to fit over your shoes and warm clothes, they can be awkward to put on, especially when you get to the zipping part. And who cares how they look when the water is 8-10° Celsius, a temperature that could cause hypothermia or fatal loss of body temperature.
Saturday was spent sampling a little bit of everything. Of course I paid a visit to Amanda up on the flying bridge to hear about how the birding (and marine mammal-ing) was going. Often, I find Emily there assisting with data entry. Since Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 knots, traveling from station to station gives her time to look, but sometimes these distances are short and our time at the stations, releasing the various equipment needed for different scientists’ data collection, can be long. This is when Amanda goes off effort (not collecting data) for longer periods of time and during these times, Emily and I have taken to teaming up to check out what’s going on in the wet lab.
Home to most of the science crew, the wet lab is wet. Initially, I thought foul weather gear was meant for, well, foul weather, but between the hauling in, spraying down and rinsing of the samples caught in the nets, everyone in the wet lab is wearing theirs full-time. Also, everyone must wear hard hats and PFDs (personal flotation devices, also known as life jackets) when out on deck as the equipment is being released or hauled in. Safety first, as always!
My cabin mate, Jaclyn Mazzella, and Phil White, are the two survey technicians on the Shimada. They help release and monitor the nets and equipment that are being used on this research cruise. More on these two interesting cats later.
While in the wet lab, Emily and I witnessed the CTD being hauled in. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is a measurement of salinity, or how salty the ocean water is. The way it works is by passing an electric current through the water and measuring how fast it travels. This is connected to how salty the water is because when salt is dissolved in water, it separates into ions, these particles carry a charge and allow electric current to pass through. More conductive water will be salty, less conductive water will be less salty or fresh.
We know that temperature provides a measurement of how hot or cold something is. In this case, we’re measuring the temperature of the water. It is mostly cold off the Oregon coast, though the scientists on board have been discussing a recent unexplained area of warmer water, dubbed the “warm blob.” Biologists aim to discover if the warm blob is going to have an impact on the fisheries.
As the CTD is lowered and raised, it can take measurements of these and other factors which allow biologists to compare the diversity and number of species they collect in their nets to the data collected. One of those nets is the neuston tow, a net that skims the surface of the water. It is one of several nets that are being used to collect samples from different layers of the ocean. The scientists on board expect to find jellies and larvae of different species in this net.
I got a chance to see the neuston being released. After it was hauled in, Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, detached the cod-end–a small container at the bottom of the net that collects everything the net caught–and filtered out the contents. Inside were a bunch of beautiful blue jellies! These guys are commonly known as by-the-wind sailors thanks to their interesting sail adaptation that allows them to harness the power of the wind to aid in their dispersal (scattering) throughout the ocean. I helped Sam Zeman, a biologist with the University of Oregon, Tyler and Curtis measure the diameter–the length at the widest point–of the bodies of the jellies.
The more time I spend on the Shimada, the more determined I am to figure out how time travel works so I can go back and thank my September 2014 self for putting in the Teacher At Sea application. I’ve been on the ship for three days now and I love being able to go anywhere, day or night, and be able to observe and assist in research and data collection, but also just sit and talk with people who have all followed many different paths that led them to this ship, for these two weeks.
You might think my biggest struggles right now would be seasickness (which I’m not!) or missing my friends and family, but honestly, the hardest part is keeping the blog down to a readable length. There’s an enormous amount more happening here than I have the room to tell you but I will try and cover everything before our time is up.
Lastly, it’s true, I miss my friends and family, a lot, but there are certain creature comforts here that help ease the transition from land to sea. NOAA certainly knows how to keep morale and productivity up, with a well-stocked kitchen open 24 hours, meals prepared on site by talented cooks, and a TV lounge for socializing with a selection of over 500 movies, it’s easy to feel at home. And when finding a work-life balance is not possible, it’s necessary, all of this helps.
Well, that’s all for now, catch the next installment coming soon to a computer screen or mobile device near you!
Special thanks to Prof. Mary-Beth Decker consulting on the spelling of Vellela vellela and Brittney Honisch for teaching me a good way to remember port vs. starboard. When facing the front of the ship, port is left and both words have four letters.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL Aboard and Inport NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast Date: Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Greetings from NOAA Ship Bell M.Shimada!
From my time onboard I have learned it takes a lot of people to run a ship this size, which helps explain why, due to a staffing issue, we have been delayed until tomorrow, Friday, at 1000. All scientists and crew are being asked to assemble on deck at 0800 for a briefing where I imagine we will go over responsibilities and safety precautions before heading out to sea.
Our run has changed its course slightly since cutting down to 13 DAS (days at sea); we will now cruise between Southern Oregon and Gray’s Harbor, WA, with all the same mission objectives. While we haven’t gone anywhere yet, this time in port is affording me the opportunity to explore Newport and assist in and observe research that is being done by the scientists on land.
Newport has a considerable number of marine science facilities and most of the scientists I will be working with have or will have labs here in which they process the data they collect while in the field—the field can either be the sea or the land, depending on the study—and while the various organizations at the Hatfield cooperate and share research findings (as all good scientists do), there are distinctions in terms of what each scientist studies and, essentially, who pays them to do it.
Let’s start at the beginning. Most of the scientists going on this cruise of the Shimada are biologists. Biologists are scientists who study living things (bio-life, ology-study of) and so far I have met two kinds. Amanda’s specific field of biology is ornithology (making her an ornithologist), which specializes in the study of birds. Will Fennie, among others who you will hear more about, is an ichthyologist, a scientist who studies fish. For both, they will work at sea and on land to first collect and then process the information or samples (known as data in the scientific community). As I mentioned before, Amanda works with the Seabird Oceanography Lab at Oregon State University and starting in the fall semester, Will will begin his Ph.D. studies there as well. Other scientists on board are affiliated with other schools, like University of Oregon and Yale University, and some NOAA employs directly. You’ll meet some of them later on.
So, while I may not be at sea, I’m taking every opportunity I can to learn about how these scientists work, what their lives are like on and off the ship and what the significance of their research is. Yesterday, I rode with Amanda up to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (it’s a beautiful name, really, but hereafter I will refer to it as Yaquina Head). Yaquina Head is home to Oregon’s tallest and second oldest lighthouse, one of a series that were built along the coast to guide fisherman home. It also happens to be home to a unique nesting site, also known as a colony, for many species of seabird, including the western gull and common murre.
We were there to try and adjust an antenna that was meant to pick up VHF signal (very high frequency, just one of several different radio signals that can be used) for a common murre she and her lab mates had previously tagged. Scientists use trackers (or “tags”) for a variety of reasons because they allow them to collect information on the birds’ location. This information will be put into a computer program that can then organize it so scientists can look for trends. Trends are patterns in data, which scientists analyze to gain new understanding or develop theories (ways to explain why these trends exist). For example, maybe the data will show a trend of no pings at the colony for several hours and scientists might theorize that eagles came to hunt during that time, scaring the murres away.
All of that was just hypothetical, but in fact, eagles had been hunting at Yaquina Head earlier that morning so thousands of murres were off the colony and sitting in the water. If you click on the first image in this post and zoom in you can see what look like black dots in the water. Each one is a seabird. As Amanda and her lab technician, Ian, worked to try and get the signal to come in clear without static, I wandered and watched for birds. I was also hoping to spot a spout, the tell tale sign of a whale or dolphin, but, alas, no luck.
In the end, the antenna issue was not resolved. Amanda said another member of her lab would be able to come out and take a look at it, another upside of being able to work in collaboration with others. At sea, she will mostly work solo, keeping a careful watch for various seabird and marine mammal species, but she’s already recruited me for data entry so that while she watches, I can help keep track of which species are spotted, what they were doing when they were spotted, and which direction they were traveling. All of this will be GPS stamped and stored to create a database of information, which will be shared among labs and researchers at different universities and institutions. When it’s operating at its best, science is a collaborative endeavor with the end goal being better understanding of our world.
Today, I wanted to hike on the South Jetty to get a bit of exercise so I caught a ride with Will who was heading out to surf. If you choose to be an oceanographer or marine biologist, odds are you’ll end up living most of your life by the ocean, so if, like Will, you enjoy being in the water, it’s certainly something to consider.
Hiking out on the South Jetty, the path is easy-going for the first 150 feet or so, after that the distances between the rocks require a more careful eye and take up a bit more of your attention. Every now and then I would stop and try to catch a decent close-up picture of some of the seabirds that were constantly flying overhead.
The sheer number of animals that live off the Oregon coast can keep your head turning for hours, which is good because I was trying to split my time between watching the horizon for spouts and snapping photos of the gulls, cormorants and murres. My eyes may have been playing on tricks on me—I really, really want to see a whale—but I swore I saw a spout. A big part of me wanted to take off running down the jetty to get a closer look, but that was a near impossibility unless I wanted to run the risk of jumping from rock to slippery, yellow-lichen covered rock. I did however manage to get a few of the types of photos I was hoping to get.
After a quick coffee run, Will and I decided to check out the Oregon Coast Aquarium. While it can boast being a member of the top-10 best aquariums in the country, I think its real claim to fame is its former celebrity resident, Keiko the orca (killer whale), star of Free Willy, the 90s film that launched a generation of children who wanted to grow up and become marine biologists.
The aquarium focuses on education about the different marine life native to the Oregon coast, with exhibits on sea otters, harbor seals and California sea lions as well as the mysterious giant Pacific octopus. We were lucky to catch the rotating exhibition on shipwrecks, which focused both on the process by which archaeologists discover, unearth and study artifacts from shipwrecks in order to learn the story of their demise and how they become teeming centers of life, functioning as artificial habitat, once they make their way to the ocean floor.
For our last night in port, Ric wanted to bring together as many of the scientists and crew as he could to give everyone an opportunity to get to know each other a bit before we made way. I met Tyler Jackson, a marine biologist from Oregon State University who is studying crab populations and Emily Boring, an undergraduate from Yale University. She’s just finished her freshman year, and she’s taking advantage of her summer to learn a bit more about a career she’s been interested in since she was in fourth grade. I would say that Emily is making a great choice to learn more and she’s definitely getting a head start if a life of research is what she ends up wanting.
In darkness, we drove across the Yaquina Bay Bridge for the last time, the lights from restaurants and homes outlined the coast and traced down the docks, drawing our eyes to the Shimada, illuminated and waiting for us to take to the sea.
Did You Know?
Giant Pacific octopus are highly intelligent and have such sophisticated camouflage that they can mimic color and texture of their surroundings, allowing them to hide and then pounce on their prey.
You were told there would be seabirds in that panoramic picture and unfortunately, there are not. There are seabirds in this picture below.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Trevor Hance Soon to be Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 12 – 24, 2015
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank Date: May 28, 2015
Personal Log: Permission to Come Aboard?
Greetings from Austin, Texas. In less than two weeks, my grand summer adventure begins. I will be flying out of Austin, and heading to Boston where Peter Pan will magically transport me down the Woods (Rabbit?) Hole and out to sea aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, where I will support scientists conducting a Sea Scallop Survey.
My Real Job
I teach at a fantastic public school in Austin that incorporates student interest surveys in lesson design and enrichment opportunities across subjects. Although we are within the city of Austin, our campus backs up to a wildlife preserve (30,000 acres, total) that was set aside as land use patterns changed, and threatened habitat and ecosystems of 2 endangered birds, 8 invertebrates and 27 other species deemed “at risk.” We have about 5 “wildspace” acres on our actual campus property that is unfenced to the larger Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. We use that space as our own laboratory, and over the last decade, fifth grade students at our school have designed, constructed and continue to support the ecosystem through ponds supported by rainwater collection (yes, they are quite full at the moment!), a butterfly habitat, water-harvesting shelter/outdoor classroom, grassland/wildflower prairie and a series of trails. In the spring, I post job descriptions for projects that need work in our Preserve and students formally apply for a job (i.e. – resume/cover letter). They spend the balance of the spring working outdoors, conducting research relating to their job, and doing their part to develop a culture and heritage of sustainability on our campus that transcends time as students move beyond our campus during their educational journey. My path through the curriculum is rooted in constructivist learning theory (project-based, place-based and service learning) and students are always outdoors. Parents, of course, always get a huge “thank you” at the end of the year from me for not complaining that I’ve ruined too many pairs of shoes.
Below are a few pictures from our game cameras and shots I’ve taken of my classes in action this spring.
As I write, there are about 5 days left of this school year, which means that most of our big projects are complete and the rain has paused, so we’re spending a few days having a big “mechanical energy ball” competition (aka – “kickball”), and I get the distinct feeling that the students are quite prepared for their summer break!
I was an “oilfield kid” and grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country, and about an hour’s drive to the Gulf of Mexico. In college, I worked in the oilfield a bit, and after finishing law school, I was a maritime attorney, so I was able to spend some time aboard vessels for various purposes. My time aboard the Hugh R. Sharp will be my longest stint aboard a vessel, and I’m quite excited for the work!
R/V Hugh R. Sharp (btw students, it is a vessel or ship, not a “boat”) is a 146-foot general purpose research vessel owned by the University of Delaware (go Fighting Blue Hens!). Each summer I get a travel coffee mug from the college where I attend a professional development course, and I’m hopeful I can find one with a picture of YoUDee on it this year!
While aboard the vessel, we will be conducting surveys to determine the distribution and abundance of scallops. My cruise is the third (and northernmost) leg of the surveys, and we’ll spend our time dredge surveying, doing an image based survey using a tethered tow-behind observation vehicle, and some deeper water imaging of lobster habitat. Those of you who know me, know that I am genuinely and completely excited and grateful for the opportunity to “nerd out” on this once-in-a-lifetime get-away-from-it-all adventure! Check back over the summer and see what I’ve been up to!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL Soon to Be Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Ahoy! Alex Miller, Teacher At Sea, here reporting to you from Newport, OR where in just under 24 hours NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada will be underway for 15 DAS (days at sea) which will be filled with fisheries research, seabird surveys and other oceanographic endeavors that I will do my best to report faithfully and in vivid detail. For all images and video, click for a larger view.
Preparing for Sea
My adventure started with my arrival into PDX, the airport in Portland, OR, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. I was lucky enough to have the generous Amanda Gladics, a biologist from Oregon State University, pick me up and give me a place to stay before our trip down to the coast this morning. Apparently no one told either of us that we were going to have plenty of time onboard the ship to get to know each other because, after grabbing some snacks to make it through those upcoming night shifts, we sat up in her living room and talked until both of us looked around wondering why it was suddenly dark outside and we were both starving.
We set out at 0700 this morning in order to be in Newport by 1000. (NOAA and other maritime organizations use the 24-hour clock, which begins at midnight and counts up, so from here on out I will be using that format for time keeping). Amanda and I drove (well, she drove, I talked) down this morning so that she could attend a lab meeting with other scientists to prepare for her time onboard the Shimada.
As we drove in along Route 20 and through the Yaquina Valley, all I could see for miles were forests of Douglas Firs. Timber is a major industry in the Pacific Northwest and the timberlands out here cycle through periods of harvest, planting and new growth. Amanda remembers a section that was planted when she moved away from Newport just 6 years ago and those trees look to be almost 40 feet tall already! So for most of the 2.5 hours from Portland to Newport, our landscape was uninterrupted green, and then we came around a bend in the road and the tree line abruptly stopped, giving way to the steely gray ocean and my future home for the next two weeks.
Crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge to reach the Hatfield Marine Science Center, I learned just how unskilled I am at taking pictures in a moving car, so after I met NOAA researcher, Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of our cruise, I took a hike up a nearby dune (which I later learned is affectionately called “Mount NOAA” because it is the sand that was dug out to make room for the large NOAA ships to dock without getting stuck on the bottom of the bay) to try and capture some images that actually do justice to this beautiful place. Later today Ric will take me to make sure I have all the waterproof gear I’ll need and then we’ll load up all the equipment and either have dinner onboard the ship or maybe get a chance to explore a seaside restaurant. No matter what we do for our last meal before launch, last night was my last night on land. I’ll sleep onboard the Shimada tonight to be ready for launch at 0800 tomorrow.
Once the cruise is underway, the researchers onboard have several goals they hope to accomplish during their time at sea. When NOAA ships go to sea, they have a mission statement that describes their main purpose for heading out; often however, other researchers can benefit from being at sea as well and will join the cruise but have other research goals in mind. Ric Brodeur and other researchers from Oregon State University plan to use these 15 DAS (Days at Sea) to characterize the plankton groups found just off the coast. Essentially, I’ll be helping them find and net samples to figure out what these groups are like. They’re paying special attention to young–referred to as larval or juvenile depending on age and development level–pelagic—meaning they are found near the surface of or in the first 10-30 m of ocean–rockfish and plankton. I’ll keep you informed of the goals of the other scientists I meet onboard the ship.
A Bit About Me
Back in Chicago, I am a member of the Village Leadership Academy family of schools. As the science teacher at the Upper School, I aim to bring my students relevant content that will prepare them to be informed leaders that are capable of confronting future challenges. Our school teaches a social justice focused curriculum so my goal as an educator is to instill a love of learning about the natural world, but also a sense of stewardship and responsibility to the other creatures that share our home. Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked and too often, the most vulnerable populations, human and animal alike, bear the brunt of the abuses of the environment.
I believe education and awareness are part of the biggest reasons ocean conservation is not a hot-topic issue for all Americans. Just look at how much of the country is inland! While my students and I may take a field trip to the wonderful Shedd Aquarium every now and then, the ocean, and the life within it, cannot help but remain an abstract concept for someone who has never seen it. I wish I could take them all on the ship, but for now, I hope that my experiences as a Teacher at Sea will help to open eyes to the reality of the oceans and shed more light on the importance of maintaining their health and creating a more environmentally-just future, not just for marine life, but for all life on this planet.
That’s all for now! Stay tuned over the next two weeks as the Shimada travels up and down the coast between Flint Rock Head, CA and Gray’s Head, OR, trawling for young rockfish and keeping its eyes peeled for seabirds and marine mammals.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States of America. This means there is a chain of command, with the Executive Officer or XO in charge of overseeing all operations and issuing orders to maintain those operations onboard each NOAA ship. I’ll be sure to follow orders and do my part to make the cruise run smoothly!
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 16, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 7.32 °C
Wind Speed: 9.2 knots
Latitude: 57°44.179′ N
Longitude: 152°27.987′ W
Science and Technology Log
Wednesday, I went on a launch to do bottom sampling and cross lines. Wednesday was our last day of data acquisition, so the motto on the POD (Plan of the Day) was “LEAVE NO HOLIDAYS! If in doubt, ping it again!” Bottom sampling is pretty straight forward. We drive to designated locations and drop a device that looks a little like a dog poop scooper down into the water after attaching it to a wench. The device has a mechanism that holds the mouth of it open until it is jarred from hitting the bottom. When it hits the bottom, it snaps closed and hopefully snatches up some of the sediment from the bottom. Then, we reel it up with the wench and see what’s inside.
We took 10 bottom samples and most were the same. We had a fine brown sand in most samples. Some samples contained bits of shell, so we documented when that was the case. At one location, we tried for samples three times and every time, we got just water. This happens sometimes if the sea floor is rocky and the device can’t pick up the rocks. If you try three times and get no definitive answer, you label the sample as unknown. Two times we got critters in our samples. One critter we found was an amphipod most likely. The second critter was shrimp/krill-like, but I don’t know for sure. Cross lines are just collecting sonar data in lines that run parallel to the previous data lines. This gives us a better image and checks the data.
Thursday, we closed out the tidal station at Terror Bay. This entailed doing staff observations, a tidal gauge leveling check, and then break down everything including completing a dive to remove the orifice. Since I have already taken part in a tidal gauge leveling check, I was assigned to the staff observations and dive party. As I mentioned in an earlier post, for staff observations you just record the level of the water by reading a staff every six minutes for three hours. We did this while on a boat, because the tide was pretty high when we got started, so we wouldn’t be able to read the staff if we were on shore. Again, the reason we do staff observations is so we can compare our results to what the tidal gauge is recording to make sure the tidal gauge is and has been working properly.
While doing staff observations, I saw a small jellyfish looking creature, but it was different. It had bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is what we have, where one side is more or less the same as the other side. Jellyfish have radial symmetry which means instead of just one possible place you could cut to make two side that are the same, there are multiple places you can cut to make it the same on each side. Also, the critter was moving by flopping its body from side to side which is nothing like a jellyfish. I had to figure out what this was! In between our observations, Jeff, the coxswain, maneuvered the boat so I could scoop this guy into a cup. Once we finished our staff observations, we headed to the ship. I asked around and Adam (the FOO) identified my creature. It’s a hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina). Nudibranches are sea slugs that come in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes.
After a quick return to the ship, we headed back out with a dive team to remove the orifice from underwater. Quick reminder: the orifice was basically a metal tube that air bubbles are pushed out of. The amount of pressure needed to push out the air bubbles is what tells us the depth of the water. Anyways, the water was crystal clear, so it was really neat, because we could see the divers removing the orifice and orifice tubing. Also, you could see all sorts of jellyfish and sea stars. At this point, I released the hooded nudibranch back where I got him from.
Just as we were wrapping up with everything. The master diver Katrina asked another diver Chris if he was alright, because he was just floating on his back in the water. He didn’t respond. It’s another drill! One person called it in on the radio, one of the divers hopped back in the water and checked his vitals, and another person grabbed the backboard. I helped clear the way to pull Chris on board using the backboard, strap him down with the straps, and pull out the oxygen mask. We got him back to the ship where the drill continued and the medical officer took over. It was exciting and fun to take part in this drill. This was a very unexpected drill for many people, and they acted so professional that I am sure if a real emergency occurred, they would be prepared.
Sadly, this was most likely my last adventure for this trip, because I fly out tomorrow afternoon. This trip has really been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learned and have a great appreciation for what it takes to make a quality nautical chart. I am excited about bringing all that the Rainier and her crew have taught me back to the classroom to illustrate to students the importance of and the excitement involved in doing science and scientific research. Thank you so much to everyone on board Rainier for keeping me safe, helping me learn, keeping me well fed, and making my adventure awesome! Also, thank you to all those people in charge of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program who arranged my travel, published my blogs, provided me training, and allowed me to take part in this phenomenal program. Lastly, thank you to my students, family, and friends for reading my blog, participating in my polls, and asking great questions.
Did You Know?
1 knot is one nautical mile per hour which is equal to approximately 1.151 miles per hour.
Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?
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: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 4.4 °C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Latitude: 57°56.9′ N
Longitude: 153°05.8′ W
Science and Technology Log
Thank you all for the comments you all have made. It helps me decide what direction to go in for my next post. One question asked, “How long does it take to map a certain area of sea floor?” That answer, as I responded, is that it depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to, how deep the water is and how flat the floor is in that area.
To make things easier, the crew uses an Excel spreadsheet with mathematical equations already built-in to determine the approximate amount of time it will take to complete an area. That answer is a bit abstract though. I wanted an answer that I could wrap my head around. The area that we are currently surveying is approximately 25 sq nautical miles, and it will take an estimated 10 days to complete the surveying of this area not including a couple of days for setting up tidal stations. To put this in perspective, Jefferson City, TN is approximately 4.077 sq nautical miles. So the area we are currently surveying is more than 6 times bigger than Jefferson City! We can do a little math to determine it would take about 2 days to survey an area the size of Jefferson City, TN assuming the features are similar to those of the area we are currently surveying.
Try to do the math yourself! Were you able to figure out how I got 2 or 3 days?
Since we’re talking numbers, Rainier surveyed an area one half the size of Puerto Rico in 2012 and 2013! We can also look at linear miles. Linear miles is the distance they traveled while surveying. It takes into account all of the lines the ship has completed. In 2012 and 2013, Rainier surveyed the same amount of linear nautical miles that it would take to go from Newport, Oregon to the South Pole Station and back!
Monday, I went on a launch to collect sonar data. This is my first time to collect sonar data since I started this journey. Before we could get started, we had to cast a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) instrument. Sound travels a different velocities in water depending on the salinity, temperature, and pressure (depth), so this instrument is slowly cast down from the boat and measures all of these aspects on its way to the ocean floor. Sound travels faster when there is higher salinity, temperature, and pressure. These factors can vary greatly from place to place and season to season.
Imagine how it might be different in the summertime versus the winter. In the summertime, the snow will be melting from the mountains and glaciers causing a increase in the amount of freshwater. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, so it mainly stays on top. Also, that glacial runoff is often much colder than the water lower in the water column. Knowing all of this, where do you think sound will travel faster in the summertime? In the top layer of water or a lower layer of water? Now you understand why it is so important to cast a CTD to make sure that our sonar data is accurate. To learn more about how sound travels in water, click here.
After casting our CTD, we spent the day running the sonar up and down and up and down the areas that needed to be surveyed. Again, this is a little like mowing the lawn. At one point, I was on bow watch. On bow watch, you sit at the front of the boat and look out for hazards. Since this area hasn’t been surveyed since before 1939, it is possible that there could be hazards that are not charted. Also, I worked down in the cabin of the boat with the data acquisition/sonar tuning. Some important things to do below deck including communicating the plan of attack with the coxswain (boat driver), activating the sonar, and adjusting the sonar for the correct depth. I helped adjust the range of the sonar which basically tells the sonar how long to listen. If you are in deeper water, you want the sonar to listen longer, because it takes more time for the ping to come back. I also adjusted the power which controls how loud the sound ping is. Again, if you are surveying a deeper area, you might want your ping to be a little louder.
Tuesday, I helped Survey Tech Christie Rieser and Physical Scientist Fernando Ortiz with night processing. When the launches come back after acquiring sonar data, someone has to make all that data make sense and apply it to the charts, so we can determine what needs to be completed the following day. Making sense of the data is what night processing is all about. First, we converted the raw data into a form that the program for charting (CARIS) can understand. The computer does the converting, but we have to tell it to do so. Then, we apply all of the correctors that I spoke about in a previous blog in the following order: POS/MV (Position and Orientation Systems for Marine Vessels) corrector, Tides corrector, and CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) corrector. POS/MV corrects for the rocking of the boat. For the tides corrector, we use predicted tides for now, and once all the data is collected from our tidal stations, we will add that in as well. Finally, the CTD corrects for the change in sound velocity due to differences in the water as I discussed above.
After applying all of the correctors, we have the computer use an algorithm (basically a complicated formula) to determine, based on the data, where the sea floor is. Basically, when you are collecting sonar data there is always going to be some noise (random data that is meaningless) due to reflection, refraction, kelp, fish, and even the sound from the boat. The algorithm is usually able to recognize this noise and doesn’t include it when calculating the location of the seafloor. The last step is manually cleaning the data. This is where you hide the noise, so you can get a better view of the ocean floor. Also, when you are cleaning, you are double checking the algorithm in a way, because some things that are easy for a human to distinguish as noise may have thrown off the algorithm a bit, so you can manually correct for that. Cleaning the data took the longest amount of time. It took a couple of hours. While processing the data, we did notice a possible ship wreck, but the data we have isn’t detailed enough to say whether it’s a shipwreck or a rock. Senior Tech Jackson noted in the acquisition log that it was “A wreckish looking rock or a rockish looking wreck.” We are going to have the launches go over that area several more times today to get a more clear picture of is going on at that spot.
Monday was the most spectacular day for wildlife viewing! First, I saw a bald eagle. Then, I saw more sea otters. The most amazing experience of my trip so far happened next. Orcas were swimming all around us. They breached (came up for air) less than 6 feet from the boat. They were so beautiful! I got some good pictures, too! As if that wasn’t good enough, we also saw another type of whale from far away. I could see the blow (spray) from the whale and a dorsal fin, but I am not sure if it is was a Humpback Whale or a Fin Whale. Too cool!
Did You Know?
Killer whales are technically dolphins, because they are more closely related to other dolphins than they are to whales.
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: Sunday, October 12, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 1.92 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 58°00.411′ N
Longitude: 153°10.035′ W
Science and Technology Log
In a previous post, I discussed how the multibeam sonar data has to be corrected for tides, but where does the tide data come from? Yesterday, I learned first hand where this data comes from. Rainier‘s crew sets up temporary tidal stations that monitor the tides continuously for at least 30 days. If we were working somewhere where there were permanent tidal station, we could just use the data from the permanent stations. For example, the Atlantic coast has many more permanent tidal stations than the places in Alaska where Rainier works. Since we are in a more remote area, these gauges must be installed before sonar data is collected in an area.
We are returning to an area where the majority of the hydrographic data was collected several weeks ago, so I didn’t get to see a full tidal station install, but I did go with the shore party to determine whether or not the tidal station was still in working condition.
A tidal station consists of several parts: 1) an underwater orifice 2) tube running nitrogen gas to the orifice 3) a nitrogen tank 4) a tidal gauge (pressure sensor and computer to record data) 5) solar panel 6) a satellite antennae.
Let me explain how these things work. Nitrogen is bubbled into the orifice through the tubing. The pressure gauge that is located on land in a weatherproof box with a laptop computer is recording how much pressure is required to push those bubbles out of the orifice. Basically, if the water is deep (high tide) there will be greater water pressure, so it will require more pressure to push bubbles out of the orifice. Using this pressure measurement, we can determine the level of the tide. Additionally, the solar panel powers the whole setup, and the satellite antennae transmits the data to the ship. For more information on the particulars of tidal stations click here
The tidal station in Terror Bay did need some repairs. The orifice was still in place which is very good news, because reinstalling the orifice would have required divers. However, the tidal gauge needed to be replaced. Some of the equipment was submerged at one point and a bear pooped on the solar panel. No joke!
After the tidal gauge was installed, we had to confirm that the orifice hadn’t shifted. To do this, we take manual readings of the tide using a staff that the crew set-up during installation of the tidal station. To take manual (staff) observations, you just measure and record the water level every 6 minutes. If the manual (staff) observations match the readings we are getting from the tidal gauge, then the orifice is likely in the correct spot.
Just to be sure that the staff didn’t shift, we also use a level to compare the location of the staff to the location of 5 known tidal benchmarks that were set when the station was being set up as well. As you can see, accounting for the tides is a complex process with multiple checks and double checks in place. These checks may seem a bit much, but a lot of shifting and movement can occur in these areas. Plus, these checks are the best way to ensure our data is accurate.
Today, I went to shore again to a different area called Driver Bay. This time we were taking down the equipment from a tidal gauge, because Rainier is quickly approaching the end of her 2014 season. Driver Bay is a beautiful location, but the weather wasn’t quite as pretty as the location. It snowed on our way in! Junior Officer Micki Ream who has been doing this for a few years said this was the first time she’d experienced snow while going on a tidal launch. Because of the wave action, this is a very dynamic area which means it changes a lot.
In fact, the staff that had been originally used to manually measure tides was completely gone, so we just needed to take down the tidal gauges, satellite antenna, solar panels, and orifice tubing. The orifice itself was to be removed later by a dive team, because it is under water. After completing the tidal gauge breakdown, we hopped back on the boat for a very bumpy ride back to Rainier. I got a little water in my boots when I was hopping back aboard the smaller boat, but it wasn’t as cold as I had expected. Fortunately, the boat has washers and driers. It looks like tonight will be laundry night.
The food here is great! Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs, and they were phenomenal. Every morning I get eggs cooked to order. On top of that, there is dessert for every lunch and dinner! Don’t judge me if I come back 10 lbs. heavier. Another cool perk is that we get to see movies that are still in the theaters! They order two movies a night that we can choose from. Lastly, I haven’t gotten seasick. Our transit from Seward to Kodiak was wavy, but I don’t think it was as bad as we were expecting. The motion sickness medicines did the trick, because I didn’t feel sick at all.
Did You Know?
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) contains several different branches including the National Weather Service which is responsible for forecasting weather and issuing weather alerts.
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: Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 3.82 °C
Wind Speed: 6.1 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W
Science and Technology Log
The launch that I participated in on Tuesday was awesome! We went to an area called Thumb’s Cove. I thought the divers must be crazy, because of how cold it was. When they returned to the boat from their dive, they said the water was much warmer than the air. The water temperature was around 10.5°C or 51°F while the air temperature was hovering right above freezing. One diver, Katrina, took an underwater camera with her. They saw jellyfish, sea urchins, and sea stars.
The ride to and from the cove was quite bouncy, but I enjoyed being part of this mini-adventure! Later that day, we did what is called DC (Damage Control) familiarization. Basically, we practiced what do in case of an emergency. We were given a pipe with holes in it and told to patch it with various objects like wooden wedges. We also practiced using a pump to pump water off of the ship if she were taking on water. Safety drills are also routine around here. It’s nice to know that everyone expects the best, but prepares for the worse. I feel very safe aboard Rainier.
Today, I got a chance to meet with the CO (Commanding Officer), and he explained the navigational charts to me. Before the ship leaves the port, there must be a navigation plan which shows not only the path the ship will take, but also the estimated time of arrival to various points along the way. This plan is located on the computer, but also, it must be drawn on a paper chart for backup.
This illustrates again how redundancy, as I discussed in my last blog post, is a very important part of safety on a ship. Every ship must have up-to-date paper charts on board. These charts get updated with the information collected from the hydrographic surveys. The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet which is why Rainier‘s mission of mapping the ocean is so important. There are many areas in Alaska where the only data on the depth of the water was collected before sonar technology was used. In fact, some places the data on the charts comes from Captain Cook in the 1700s! If you look at the chart below the water depth is measured in fathoms. A fathom is 6 feet deep. Places that are less than 1 fathom deep have a 05 where the subscript indicates how deep the water is in feet.
Today, I also spoke with the AFOO (Acting Field Operations Officer), Adam, about some work that he had been doing on Rainier‘s sister ship NOAA Fairweather. One project they are working on is connecting hydrographic data to fish distribution and abundance mapping. Basically, they want to find out if it is possible to use sonar data to predict what types of fish and how many you will find in a particular location
They believe this will work, because the sonar produces a back scatter signature that can give you an idea of the sea floor composition (i.e. what it is made of). For instance, they could tell you if the sea floor is rocky, silty, or sandy using just sonar, as opposed to, manually taking a bottom sample. If this hydrographic data is integrated with the data collected by other NOAA ships that use trawl nets to survey the fish in an area, this would allow NOAA to manage fisheries more efficiently. For example, if you have map that tells you that an area is likely to have fish fry (young fish) of a vulnerable species, then NOAA might consider making this a protected area.
On Tuesday, I had a little extra time in the afternoon, so I decided to ride my bike down to the Alaska SeaLife Center which is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Seward. There were Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), Stellar Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus), Puffins (Genus Fratercula), Pacific Salmon (Genus Oncorhynchus) and much more. I really appreciated that the SeaLife Center focused on both conservation and on organisms that live in this area. A local high school even had their art students make an exhibit out of trash found on the beach to highlight the major environmental issue of trash that finds its way to the ocean.
Can you think a project we could do that would highlight a main environmental concern in Eastern Tennessee? I also thought is was really interesting to see the Puffins dive into the water. The SeaLife Center exhibit explained about how Puffin bones are more dense than non-sea birds. These higher density bones are an adaptation that helps them dive deeper.
I officially moved into the ship today. Prior to that, I was staying at a hotel while they were finishing up repairs. We are expected to get underway on Friday afternoon. I am staying in the princess suite! It is nice and cozy. I have all of the essentials. I have a desk, bunk beds, 2 closets, and one bathroom (head).
Did You Know?
Junior Officers get homework assignments just like you. At the navigation briefing today, the CO (Commanding Officer) told the Junior Officers what that they needed to review several documents before going through the inside passage (a particularly tricky area to navigate). He is expecting them to lead different parts of the next navigation briefing, but he isn’t going to tell them which part they are leading until right before. Therefore, it is important that they know it all! It’s a little like a pop quiz and presentation in one.
Word of the Day
Bathymetry – the study of the “beds” or “floors” of bodies of water.
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: Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 0.77 °C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Latitude: 60°07.098′ N
Longitude: 149°25.711′ W
Science and Technology Log
Our departure from Seward was originally scheduled for today, but the ship is having some repairs done, so our expected departure is now Wednesday or Thursday. In case you were wondering, this doesn’t delay my return date. Regardless of the fact that we are not underway, there is still so much to learn and do.
Yesterday, I met with Christie, one of the survey techs, and learned all about the Rainier’s mission. The main mission of the ship is to update nautical charts. Up-to-date charts are crucial for safe navigation. The amount of data collected by Rainier if vast, so although the main mission of the Rainier is updating nautical charts, the data are also sent to other organizations who use the data for a wide variety of purposes. The data have been used for marine life habitat mapping, sediment distribution, and sea level rise/climate change modeling among other things. In addition to all of that, Rainier and her crew sometimes find shipwrecks. In fact, Rainier and her crew have found 5 shipwrecks this season!
Simplified, hydrographic research involves sending multiple sonar (sound) beams to the ocean floor and recording how long it takes for the sound to come back. You can use a simple formula of distance=velocity/time and divide that by two because the sound has to go to the floor and back to get an idea how deep the ocean is at a particular spot. This technique would be fine by itself if the water level weren’t constantly fluctuating due to tides, high or low pressure weather systems, as well as, the tilt of the ship on the waves. Also, the sound travels at different speeds according to the water’s temperature, conductivity and depth. Because of this, the data must be corrected for all of these factors. Only with data from all of these aspects can we start to map the ocean floor. I have attached some pictures of what data would look like before and after correction for tides.
I was also given a tour of the engine room yesterday. Thanks, William. He explained to me how the ship was like its own city. In this city, there is a gym, the mess (where you eat), waste water treatment, a potable (drinkable) water production machine, and two engines that are the same type of engines as train engines. Many of my students were interested in what happens to our waste when we are aboard the ship. Does it just get dumped into the ocean? The answer is no. Thank goodness! The waste water is exposed to bacteria that break down the waste Then, salt water is used to produce chlorine that further sterilizes the waste. After those two steps, the waste water can be dumped. The drinking water is created by evaporating the water (but not the salt) from salt water. The heat for this process is heat produced by the engine. William also explained that there are two of everything, so if something fails, we’ll still be alright.
Sunday, I drove from Anchorage to Seward. The drive was so beautiful! At first, I was surrounded by huge mountains that were vibrant yellow from the trees whose leaves were turning. Then, there was snow! It was actually perfect, because the temperature was at just the right point where the snow was melted on the road, but it had blanketed the trees. Alaska is as beautiful as all of the pictures you see. The drive should have been about 2.5 hours, but it took me 3.5 hours, because behind each turn the view was better than the previous turn, so I had to stop and take pictures. I took over 100 pictures on that drive. Once I arrived in Seward, I was given my first tour of the ship and then I had some time to explore Seward.
Yesterday (the first official day on the job), I learned so much. Getting used to the terminology is the hardest part. There are acronyms from everything! Immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and I have been immersed in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) language. There is the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer), FOO (Field Operations Officer), TAS (Teacher at Sea or Me!), POD (Plan of the Day) and that is just the tip of the iceberg. I also had to learn all of the safety procedures. This involved me getting into my bright red survival suit and learning how to release a lifeboat.
Today, I am going on a dive launch. The purpose of this launch is to help some of the divers get more experience in the cold Alaskan waters. I will get to ride on one of the smaller boats and watch as the Junior Officers scuba dive.
Did You Know?
NOAA Corps is one of the 7 branches of the U.S. uniformed services along with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC).
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lauren Wilmoth Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier October 4 – 17, 2014
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island Date: October 2, 2014
My name is Lauren Wilmoth, and I have been teaching biology at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge, TN for 3 years. Prior to teaching in Jefferson County, I conducted research on pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) caterpillars in East Tennessee as a part of my master’s thesis at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. My research involved a lot of hiking in the woods and catching butterflies with my net. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I learned a lot about how science works while obtaining my master’s degree, and now, as a teacher, I get to share my fascination with nature and my expertise with my students!
I grew up in Alabama, and like many families in Alabama, mine spent many spring breaks at the beach. We camped every year at state parks on the Florida panhandle. It was on these trips that I began to appreciate the ocean as a fun and interesting place. We enjoyed the dune trails and the peculiar dune ecosystems. We even went deep sea fishing one time, and I didn’t get seasick! (Hopefully, I will be able to say the same after this trip). I distinctly remember one time when a Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish (Physalia physalis) washed ashore. It was the highlight of my trip to see this strange creature I had never even heard of! Although I grew up enjoying the ocean and it’s bounty (crab and shrimp are my favorites), I didn’t start to understand its importance until I became a biology major in college (oddly enough in the landlocked state of Arkansas). No matter where you live, you are connected to the ocean through its role in our climate, our water cycle, and as the main source of oxygen on our planet among other things. The ocean intrigues me with its mystery, and that is the reason I applied to be a part of this NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea Program. I am thrilled about this once in a lifetime opportunity to help with hydrographic research off of the coast of Alaska this fall. In fact, I learned the news of which cruise I would be on while at Dublin Airport after an amazing vacation with my husband in Ireland. I checked my e-mail and let out an audible shrill of excitement.
I have never been to Alaska, and I know very little about hydrographic research. This cruise excites me, because I will have the opportunity to learn something complete new, and after the cruise, I will be able to share what I learned with my students and colleagues! In case you were wondering, hydrographic research involves mapping the ocean floor which is particularly important for safe navigation in these waters. Also, hydrographic research can involve determining the composition of the seafloor. If you want to learn more about hydrographic surveys, click on the link. Of course, you can also learn more about our hydrographic survey by continuing to read my blog during my trip. To complete this hydrographic research, I will be working with the NOAA team aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier. It contains a lot of fancy equipment used to complete these surveys that I hope to gain a better understanding of on this trip. This is a large ship. It is 231 feet long and is equipped with a dining area and 8 smaller boats! To give you some perspective on its size, it would reach from the end goal line on a football field to the 23rd yard line on the opposite side of the field! To learn more about NOAA ship Rainierclick the link. Stay tuned to my blog to hear firsthand what life aboard NOAA Ship Rainieris like.
Last night and afternoon was by far the craziest we’ve seen on the Oscar Dyson. The winds were up to 35 knots (about 40 miles an hour). The waves were averaging 12 feet in height, and sometimes reaching 15-18 feet in height. Right now I’m sitting on the bridge and waves are around 8 feet. With every rise the horizon disappears and I’m looking up at stark grey clouds. With every drop the window fills with views of the sea, with the horizon appearing just below the top of the window frames.
Ensign Gilman, a member of NOAA Corps, explains to me how the same thing that makes the Bering Sea good for fish makes things rough for fishermen.
“This part of the Bering Sea is shallow compared to the open ocean. That makes the water easier for the wind to pick up and create waves. When strong winds come off Russia and Alaska, it kicks up a lot of wave action,” Ensign Gilman says.
“It’s not so much about the swells (wave height),” he continues. “It’s about the steepness of the wave, and how much time you have to recover from the last wave.” He starts counting between the waves… “one… two… three… three seconds between wave heights… that’s a pretty high frequency. With no time to recover, the ship can get rocked around pretty rough.”
Rough is right! Last night I got shook around like the last jelly bean in the jar. I seriously considered finding some rope to tie myself into my bunk. There were moments when it seemed an angry giraffe was jumping on my bunk. I may or may not have shouted angrily at Sir Isaac Newton that night.
Which brings us to Sea Sickness.
Lt. Paul Hoffman, a Physician’s Assistant with the U.S. Public Health Service, explains how sea sickness works.
“The inner ears are made up of tubes that allow us to sense motion in three ways,” Hoffman explains. “Forward/back, left/right, and up/down. While that’s the main way our brain tells us where we are, we use other senses as well.” He goes on to explain that every point of contact… feet and hands, especially, tell the brain more information about where we are in the world.
“But another, very important piece, are your eyes. Your eyes are a way to confirm where you are in the world. Sea Sickness tends to happen when your ears are experiencing motion that your eyes can’t confirm,” Hoffman says.
For example, when you’re getting bounced around in your cabin (room), but nothing around you APPEARS to be moving (walls, chair, desk, etc) your brain, essentially, freaks out. It’s not connected to anything rational. It’s not enough to say “Duhh, brain, I’m on a boat. Of course this happens.” It happens in a part of the brain that’s not controlled by conscious thought. You can’t, as far as I can tell, think your way out of it.
Hoffman goes on to explain a very simple solution: Go look at the sea.
“When you get out on deck, the motion of the boat doesn’t stop, but your eyes can look at the horizon… they can confirm what your ears have been trying to tell you… that you really are going up and down. And while it won’t stop the boat from bouncing you around, your stomach will probably feel a lot better,” Hoffman says.
And he’s right. Being up on the bridge… watching the Oscar Dyson plow into those stout waves… my brain has settled into things. The world is back to normal. Well, as normal as things can get on a ship more than a third of the way around the world, that is.
Let’s meet a few of the good folks on the Oscar Dyson.
NOAA Crew Member Alyssa Pourmonir
Job Title: Survey Technician
Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I’m a liaison between crew and scientists, work with scientists in the wet lab, put sensors onto the trawling nets, focus on safety, maintaining all scientific data and equipment on board.” A liaison is someone who connects two people or groups of people.
Education Level Required: “A Bachelors degree in the sciences.” Alyssa has a BS in Marine and Environmental Science from SUNY Maritime with minors in oceanography and meteorology.
Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a life guard/swim instructor in high school, then I was in the Coast Guard for three years. Life guarding is the BEST job in high school!”
Goal: “I strive to bring about positive change in the world through science.”
Weirdest thing you ever took out of the Sea: “Lump Sucker: They have big flappy eyebrows… they kinda look like a bowling ball.”
Dirtiest job you’ve ever had to do on a ship: “Sexing the fish (by cutting them open and looking at the fish’s gonads… sometimes they explode!) is pretty gross, but cleaning the PCO2 filter is nasty. There are these marine organisms that get in there and cling to the filter and you have to push them off with your hands… they get all slimy!”
NOAA Rotating Technician Ricardo Guevara
Job Title: Electronics Technician
Responsibilities on the Dyson: “I maintain and upkeep most of the low voltage electronics on the ship, like computer networking, radio, television systems, sensors, navigation systems. All the equipment that can “talk,” that can communicate with other devices, I take care of that.”
Education level Required: High school diploma and experience. “I have a high school diploma and some college. The majority of my knowledge comes from experience… 23 years in the military.”
Job or career you’ve had before this: “I was a telecommunications specialist with the United States Air Force… I managed encryption systems and associated keymat for secure communications.” This means he worked with secret codes.
Trickiest problem you’ve solved for NOAA: “There was a science station way out on the outer edge of the Hawaiian Islands that was running their internet off of dial-up via satellite phone when the whole thing shut down on them… ‘Blue Screen of Death’ style. We couldn’t just swap out the computer because of all the sensitive information on it. I figured out how to repair the disk without tearing the machine apart. Folks were extremely happy with the result… it was very important to the scientists’ work.”
What are you working on now? “I’m migrating most of the ship’s computers from windows xp to Windows 7. I’m also troubleshooting the DirecTV system. The problem with DirecTV is that the Multi-Switch for the receivers isn’t communicating directly with the satellite. Our antenna sees the satellite, but the satellite cannot ‘shake hands’ with our receiver system.” And that means no Red Sox games on TV! Having entertainment available for the crew is important when you’re out to sea for two to three weeks at a time!
What’s a challenging part of your job on the Dyson? “I don’t like it, but I do it when I have to… sometimes in this job you have to work pretty high up. Sometimes I have to climb the ship’s mast for antenna and wind sensor maintenance. It’s windy up there… and eagles aren’t afraid of you up there. That’s their place!”
Lt. Paul Hoffman
Job Title: Physician Assistant (or P.A.) with the U.S. Public Health Service
Responsibilities on the Dyson: He’s effectively the ship’s doctor. “Whenever a NOAA ship travels outside 200 miles of the U.S. coast, they need to be able to provide an increased level of medical care. That’s what I do,” says Hoffman.
Education required for this career: “Usually a Masters degree from a Physician’s Assistant school with certification.”
Job or career you’ve had before this: “Ten and a half years in the U.S. Army, I started off as an EMT. Then I went on to LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) school, and then blessed with a chance to go on to PA school. I served in Iraq in 2007-2008, then returned for 2010-2011.”
Most satisfying thing you’ve seen or done in your career: “Knowing that you personally had an impact on somebody’s life… keeping somebody alive. We stabilized one of our soldiers and then had a helicopter evac (evacuation) under adverse situations. Situations like that are what make being a PA worthwhile.”
Could you explain what the Public Health Service is for folks that might not be familiar with it?
“The Public Health Service is one of the seven branches of the U.S. Military. It’s a non-weaponized, non-combative, all-officer corps that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services. We’re entirely medical related. Primary deployments (when they get sent into action) are related to national emergency situations… hurricanes, earth quakes… anywhere where state and local resources are overrun… they can request additional resources… that’s where we step in. Hurricane Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti… a lot of officers saw deployment there. Personally, I’ve been employed in Indian Health Services in California and NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center (AOC)… they’re the hurricane hunters,” Hoffman concludes.
Kids, when you’ve been around Lt. Hoffman for a while, you realize “adverse conditions” to him are a little tougher than a traffic jam or missing a homework assignment. I’ve decided to call him, and the rest of the Public Health Service, “The Batman of Health Care.” When somebody lights up the Bat Signal, they’re there to help people feel better.
“Whatever,” you shrug.
“Just a fish,” you scorn.
“He’s slimy and has fish for brains,” you mock.
Well, what if I told you that guy there was worth almost one billion dollars in exports alone?
What if I told you that thousands of fishermen rely on this guy to provide for their families?
What if I told you that they were the heart of the Sub-Arctic food web, and that dozens of species would be threatened if they were to disappear?
What if I told you they were all secretly trained ninja fish? Ninja fish that carry ninja swords strapped to their dorsal fins?
Then I’d only be wrong about one thing.
Taina Honkalehto is the Chief Scientist onboard the Oscar Dyson. She has been studying Pollock for the last 22 years. I asked her what was so important about the fish.
“They’re the largest single species fishery in North America,” Taina says. That makes them top dog…err… fish… in the U.S. fishing industry.
“In the U.S. they are fish sticks and fish-wiches (like Filet-o-Fish from McDonalds). They’ve become, foodwise, what Cod used to be… inexpensive, whitefish protein,” Taina continues. They’re also the center of the sub-arctic food web. Seals, walruses, orca, sea lions, and lots of larger fish species rely on Pollock as an energy source.”
But they aren’t just important for America. Pollock plays an important role in the lives of people from all over the Pacific Rim. (Remember that the Pacific Rim is made up of all the countries that surround the Pacific Ocean… from the U.S. and Canada to Japan to Australia to Chile!)
“Pollock provide a lot of important fish products to many countries, including the U.S., Japan, China, Korea, and Russia,” Honkalehto says.
Making sure we protect Pollock is REALLY important. To know what can go wrong, we only have to look at the Atlantic Cod, the fish that Cape Cod was named after. In the last twenty years, the number of Atlantic Cod has shrunk dramatically. It’s cost a lot of fishermen their jobs and created stress in a number of families throughout New England as well as tensions between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. and Canada share fish populations.
The primary job of the Oscar Dyson is to sample the Pollock population. Government officials use the results to tell fishermen what their quota should be. A quota is a limit on the number of fish you can catch. The way we gather that data, though, can be a little gross.
The Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT)
The fishermen guide the massive Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT) onto the deck of the ship. The AWT is a 150 meters long net (over one and a half football fields in length) that is shaped like an ice cream cone. The net gets more and more narrow until you get all the way down to the pointy tip. This is known as the “cod end,” and it’s where most of the fish end up. Here’s a diagram that XO (Executive Officer) Kris Mackie was kind enough to find for me.
The AWT is then hooked onto a crane which empties it on a giant mechanical table. The table has a hydraulic lift that lets us dump fish into the wet lab.
Kids, whenever you hear the term “wet lab,” I don’t want you to think of a water park. Wet lab is going to mean guts. Guts and fish parts.
In the wet lab, the contents of the net spills onto a conveyer belt… sort of like what you see at Shaw’s or Market Basket. First we sift through the Pollock and pull any odd things… jellyfish, skates, etc… and set them aside for measurement. Then it’s time to find out what sex the Pollock are.
Genitals on the Inside!
Pollock go through external fertilization (EF). That means that the female lays eggs, and the males come along and fertilize them with their sperm. Because of that, there’s no need for the outside part of the sex organs to look any different. In science, we often say that form follows function. In EF, there’s very little function needed other than a hole for the sperm or egg cells to leave the body.
Because of that, the only way to tell if a Pollock is male or female is to cut them open and look for ovaries and testes. This is a four step process.
Step 1: Slice open the belly of the fish.
Step 2: Push the pink, flippy floppy liver aside.
Step 3: Look for a pair of lobes (a bag like organ) that is either purple, pink, or orange-ish. These are the ovaries! If you find this, you’ve got a female.
Step 4: If you strike out on step 3, look for a thin black line that runs behind the stomach. These are the testes… As Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan might say, you’ve got male.
Then the gender and length of the fish is then recorded using CLAMS… a software program that NOAA computer scientists developed for just this purpose. With NOAA, like any good science program, it’s all about attention to detail. These folks take their data very seriously, because they know that so many people depend on them to keep the fish population safe.
On the first day aboard the Oscar Dyson, we were trained on all matters of safety. Safety on a ship is often driven by sirens sounded by the bridge. Here’s a list of calls, what they mean, and what you should do when you hear them:
What you hear…
What it means…
What you should do…
Three long blasts of the alarm:
Man Over Board
Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge (unless you’re the one that saw the person go overboard… then you throw them life rings (floaties) and keep pointing at them).
One long blast of general alarm or ship’s whistle:
Fire or Emergency onboard
Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge. Bring Immersion Suit just in case.
Six or more short blasts then one long blast of the alarm:
Grab your immersion suit, head to the aft (back) deck of the ship, be counted, and prepare to board a life raft.
The immersion suit (the thing that makes me look like lobster gumby, above) is made of thick red neoprene. It has two flashing lights also known as beacons… one of them automatically turns on when it hits water! This helps rescuers find you in case you’re lost in the dark. It also has an inflatable pillow behind your head to help keep your head above water. Mostly just wanted to wear it to Starbucks some day.
Another thing I can tell you about life aboard the Oscar Dyson is that there is plenty to eat!
kind of awesome. For one thing, there is a never ending supply of food in the galley (the ship’s cafeteria). Eva is the Chief Steward on the Oscar Dyson (though I call her the Head Chef!).
You’ll never go hungry on her ship. Dinner last night? barbeque ribs and mac and cheese. Yesterday’s lunch? Steak and chicken fajitas. And this morning? Breakfast burritos with ham and fruit. I know. You were worried that if I lost any weight at sea that I might just disappear. I can confirm for you that this is absolutely not going to happen.
Tune in next time when I take you on a tech tour of the Oscar Dyson!
Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina
Date: August 1, 2014
Science and Technology Log
After the fish are weighted and measured some are returned to the sea and others are kept for further study. For the fish that are kept the Pisces scientists usually keep two parts of the fish the otoliths and a part of the gonads (reproductive organ).
As I mentioned in an earlier post the otoliths are the fish ear bones, which can be used to determine the age of the fish. The otoliths are located behind the eyes so scientists use a knife to cut through the head being careful not to break the otoliths. They are removed from the fish rinsed in water and put into a labeled envelops to be taken back to the lab for further study.
Scientists are also interested in studying fish gonads to understand more about fish growth and reproduction, which is important for helping maintain a healthy fish population. You don’t want to catch fish before they are old enough to reproduce. The NOAA scientists use tissue teks to collect a small section of the gonads. Each fish is given a number based on the trap that it was caught in, this number is printed on the tissue tek and the envelop with the fish otoliths.
When the gonads are removed sometimes they are very small and thin and fit easily into the tissue tek but often times they have to be trimmed to fit. You don’t want to overfill the tissue tek because you may destroy the sample or cause it to spoil if the chemical preservative can’t get into the middle of the sample.
Back at the lab scientists slice the tissue into thin strips and examine it under a microscope to determine development: presence of eggs, size of eggs.
Did you know that fish can be male, female or transgender. Some fish start out as females when they are young and become male as they mature.
I have to tell you, typing a blog while my body sways from one side to the other is very strange. I still have to take a Dramamine after I wake up and I have to sit down when the water gets rough, however life on the ship has gotten easier. We have been fortunate to have great weather for our two week cruise, it only rained on our last day out at sea. I can’t believe that tomorrow we will be back in Morehead City, North Carolina.
A warm thank you to all the crew and scientists aboard the Pisces. I have learned so much and will take back to my classroom a new excitement and love of the ocean. I will be able to introduce my students to what it means to be a scientist at sea and how what we learn in the classroom translates to what they can do in the future. I have enjoyed getting to know you and hearing about your lives. You are a talented group of people.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lynn M. Kurth Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 9, 2014
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Date:July 31, 2014
Lat: 30 11.454 N Long: 80 49.66 W
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure: 1014.93 mb
Temperature: 29.9 Degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log: It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you! I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift. There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!! When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.
From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed. This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters. Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis. Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes. And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.
We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days. One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker. The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin. When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.
The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world. Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade. Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.
Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure. Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.
Did you Know?
Sargassum is used in/as:
fertilizer for crops
food for people
Personal Log: I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings! The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II. One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis. Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer. Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.
Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina
Date: July 31, 2014
Weather Information from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 25.3C
Wind Speed: 13.5 knots
Science and Technology Log
The dry lab is the technology center of the day shift. This is where chief scientist Zeb Schobernd works throughout the day to decide when and where to drop the traps. Dropping and retrieving traps is a real team effort, the night shift creates the maps, Zeb decides where to set the traps, the Pisces crew deploys and retrieves the traps and finally the fishery scientists collect and analyze the fish samples.
After 90 minutes in the water the traps are brought back to the surface and the wet lab gets to work on processing the fish while Chris Gardner a NOAA scientist takes the cameras into the dry lab for analysis. On this cruise we are trying to gather information on the fish populations off the coast of North and South Carolina. Fish can be an indicator of a good hard bottom habitat but what happens if the fish don’t go into the trap?
For various reasons fish may not go into the traps, this is where cameras come into play.Each trap has a large Cannon camera mounted on the back of the trap and a smaller go pro camera on the front.
These cameras allow scientists to visually sea the sea floor as well as allowing them to see the fish that do not go into the traps. In the dry lab Chris plays the footage to confirm the habitat and fish presence. However the real work begins back in the lab when the scientists analyze the videos. Each video is watch and the number and type of fish is recorded. This data in addition to the caught fish gives NOAA scientists a better indicator of the quality of habitat in the Atlantic Ocean.
The cameras are put into protective casing and the scientists have to make sure the case is fully closed to prevent any water from entering and destroying the cameras. The Go Pro camera has three different cases that can be use. From left to right they are the IQ Sub House Golem Gear which is approved for up to 150m, the middle case is called a Dive House and is approved for up to 60m and the far right case is the standard Go Pro Case and is approved for up to 40m. On this cruise we have been using the IQ Sub Golem Gear. You will notice that the camera has a number 5 written on it. Each camera is labeled (1-6) and corresponds with the traps that it will be attached too.
On Monday I was woken up at noon by the abandon ship drill. The ship does safety drills every week and for this drill we had to grab our life jackets and survival suits and head outside. I didn’t know what to expect from the drills since I was sick last Monday for the practice drills. We had to put on the life jackets but we didn’t have to put on the survival suits this time. The drill was over quickly and I headed down the wet lab to check out the traps. The cool catch of the day was a spiny lobster that wandered into one of the traps. Everyone was surprised to see the lobster!
SPOTLIGHT ON SCIENCE
Name: Adria McClain
Title: Survey Technician
Education/Training: Undergraduate degree in Biology; graduate degree in Meteorology & Physical Oceanography.
Where are you from? Born and raised in Los Angeles, California.
Job Description/Duties: I am responsible for collecting, quality-controlling, and managing the ship’s meteorological data (temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, wind speed/direction) and oceanographic data (water temperature, salinity, current speed/direction, speed of sound in water). Additionally, I am responsible for the ship’s scientific equipment (e.g. conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensor, scientific seawater system) and the ship’s scientific software. I also assist the visiting Fisheries Biologists with sorting and measuring fish.
How long have you worked for NOAA? About six months.
How did you get into this work? I am also a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy – I belong to the METOC (Meteorology & Oceanography) community. While I was on active duty, I did oceanographic surveys aboard the Navy’s research ships. I like doing science at sea so this job is a good fit.
What are your future plans (how long will you stay on the ship)? My crystal ball is a bit fuzzy right now so I don’t know how long I’ll be on this ship. I do plan to go back to grad school for a PhD in Earth Systems Science at some point in the future.
How many days are you out at sea? I believe we have 150 sailing days on the schedule for this fiscal year.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Being away from home for extended periods of time.
What do you do when you aren’t on the ship? U.S. Navy Reserve military duty. In my free time, I like to read and travel.
What is your favorite fish? The Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lynn M. Kurth Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 9, 2014
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Date:July 28, 2014
Lat: 24 17.334 N Lon: 082 30.265
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind: 7.52 knots
Barometric Pressure: 1017.85 mb
Temperature: 31.1 Degrees C
Science and Technology Log:
We have been traveling across the Gulf over the past two days and will continue traveling until Monday night when we will reach our first testing station. Wondering exactly where we are? You can see the ship’s location live at: NOAA Shiptracker
Our official survey has not begun but Dr. Jim Nienow, an instructor from Valdosta University, is aboard for the cruise and has been doing some basic plankton sampling while we are on the move. Dr. Nienow participated in his first shark longline survey back in 2008 and this is his sixth cruise aboard the Oregon II. He enjoys being part of the shark longline survey because it provides him with the opportunity to collect the samples that he analyzes with his students when he returns to the university. In the first few years that Dr. Neinow began collecting plankton samples he was interested in the overall biodiversity he found in the samples.
But over the past few years his work has evolved and he is currently focused on the distribution of diatoms. Diatoms are microscopic single celled photosynthesizing algae and are the most common type of phytoplankton found. Diatoms represent approximately half of the ocean’s production. In other words, these little buggers are important because they serve as the base of the food chain for the ocean. By studying diatoms scientists are able to study the overall health of the particular environment that they were collected from.
We have spent some time preparing the gear for the survey by getting the fishing lines ready. Circle hooks are used for the shark long line survey vs. J hooks so that the sharks are rarely hooked deep which makes the hook easier to remove and reduces the potential of harming the shark.
Did you Know?
Diatoms are used for the following:
as mild abrasives found in cleaning products and sometimes toothpaste
as filter material when making alcoholic/non alcoholic drinks, syrup and medicines
as insulation in sound proof or fire proof doors
During our time traveling we had an abandon ship drill. If we were to abandon the ship we would put on a full neoprene survival suit before entering the water. The water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is around 87 degrees Fahrenheit so the suit protects folks from hypothermia that would occur over time.
Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina
Date: July 23, 2014
Weather Information from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 27.4 C
Relative Humidity: 85%
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Science and Technology Log
The goal of the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey (SEFIS) is to assess the location and abundance of different species focusing on snappers and groupers as well as collecting bathymetric data about the ocean floor that can be used in the future. The scientists are divided into day and night shifts, the night shift maps the ocean floor, while the day shift uses these maps to set traps and catch fish.
Each morning the scientists set up six chevron traps on the back deck of the Pisces, each trap is stocked with 24 menhaden, which serves as the baitfish. The traps contain the same amount of bait, two cameras one on the front and one on the back, and each trap stays underwater for 90 minutes. Chief Scientist Zeb Schobernd works in the dry lab to let the crew know when and where to drop the traps (more on this later).
When its time to retrieve the traps the crew of the Pisces works with chief scientist and the Bridge to retrieve the traps. When you are on the deck waiting for the traps to be lifted on board you have to wear a safety helmet and life preserver. Once the traps on are on the deck the scientists really start to hustle. They remove the cameras from the traps and empty the trap into black bins.
Once we are in the wet lab the first step is to sort the fish by species. In the picture on below you will see 3 bins with red porgy, vermilion snapper, and trigger fish these are 3 of the 4 most common commercially important fish we catch the 4th is black sea bass.
Next we need to weight the sample in kilograms and record the total size of the fish in millimeters. The fish that are not being kept for further study are returned to the ocean. It can get very busy and messy in the wet lab when the traps produce a large catch. The goal is to process one trap before the next trap is brought on deck. The traps are dropped three times daily for a total of 18 traps caught per day; it is the scientist’s goal to completely process the traps before the completion of their 12 hours shift. Certain fish are of special interest to the scientists because they are commercially and recreationally important to the fishing community so these fish are set aside for further study. On Monday July 21st we caught a 10.47 kg Red Grouper, which is one of the fish that is studied in more detail.
For this fish in addition to recording the weight and total length, scientists also record the fork length and standard length. The scientists also collect the otoliths (ear bones) from the fish which are used to determine the age of the fish just likes rings on a tree are used to determine age. Finally scientists collect DNA and part of the gonads for additional study back at the laboratory.
My first few days on the Pisces have been busy and very exciting there is so much to see and learn. Everyone on board has been very friendly and welcoming. As I look out my window every morning all is see is blue for miles. Even though we are only 10-50 miles off the coast of North Carolina on any given day there is nothing out here but ocean. It’s impressive how vast the ocean is and how little we know about the geography of the ocean or the animals that inhabit the sea floor.
We set sail from Morehead City, North Carolina at 10am on Sunday July 20th and I had a great view from the top deck of the Pisces as we left the harbor. After lunch we practiced the abandon ship and fire drills, however I was not able to participate because I was seasick. Did you know that seasickness occurs when our brain receives conflicting information from our body. Onboard the Pisces it doesn’t look like anything is moving so my eyes sent my brain a message that there was no movement, but my inner ear, which is responsible for balance, sensed the motion of the boat and this conflicting information caused my seasickness. By Monday I was feeling much better and I was ready to get to work.
Life on the Pisces is very comfortable. I am sharing a stateroom with Mary who is a great roommate. We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy as well as lockers for storage. Additionally our bathroom is located in our room, which was a wonderful surprise because I thought that we would all be sharing a single bathroom. There is a lounge across from our room with large comfy chairs and an impressive DVD collection, however I have been too tired from working in the wet lab to enjoy it yet. There is also a gym somewhere on the ship but I don’t think that I will ever have enough balance onboard the ship to use the gym safely. Stay tuned, tonight I’m going to spend the night mapping the ocean floor and I’ll let you know how it goes.
SCIENTIST SPOT LIGHT
Zeb Schobernd : Chief Scientist
Education: Masters from Earlham College and a Masters from College of Charleston in Marine Biology
How long have you worked with NOAA? Since 2007, started this project in 2010
How important is collaboration in your research? Being able to share and work together is a large part of the marine biology community. On this cruise for example we are collaborating with scientists from Beaufort as well as with local universities we have 2 volunteers from the College of Charleston sailing with us.
How long have you participated in this survey? Since the start of the SEFIS survey in 2010, currently in its 5th season.
Does your team change every year? The core group of research scientists stays the same, but the volunteers and lab assistants’ changes year to year.
How does the Pisces compare to other ships? The Pisces is larger than other ships I have worked on. It’s more comfortable, there is more space for scientists to spread out and work. Additionally the Pisces has the equipment need to map the floor, which makes determining where to drop traps more efficient.
How many days a year do you go out to sea? I spend about 45 days out at sea.
What do you do when you are not out at sea? I work on processing the videos that were collected on the cruise; we need to identify the fish species that are on caught on camera. The cameras are often more valuable then the fish that we trap because some fish may never go in the trap so these videos allow us a better picture of the underwater ecosystem.
What is the biggest challenge about doing research at sea? The biggest challenge would be bad weather that impacts sea conditions. Also time away from home can be challenge on long cruises.
What would be your dream research cruise? I would like to be able to use a submersible to record videos of tropical fish for further study.
Any advice you have for students interested in marine biology as a career? Gain hands on experiences in the field by doing internships while in college to determine if this is what you really want to do. What I do on a day to day basis is very similar to what I experienced on a research cruise while I was in grad school.
Weather Data from the bridge: Wind SW 18-20 knots, Seas 4-7 ft, Visibility – good
Science and Technology Log: Starring the HabCam
The HabCam is a computerized video camera system. It is a non-invasive method of observing and recording underwater stereo images, and collecting oceanographic data,such as temperature,salinity, and conductivity. The vehicle is towed at 1.5 – 2 meters from the floor of the ocean. The main objective of this mission is to survey the population of scallops as well as noting the substrate (ocean floor make-up) changes. Most substrate is made up of sand, gravel, shell hash and epifauna. We also note the presence of roundfish (eel, sea snakes, monkfish, ocean pout, and hake), flatfish (flounders and fluke), whelk, crab, and skates. Although sea stars (starfish) are a major predator of scallops, they are not included in our annotations.
The crew and science staff work on alternate shifts (called watches) to ensure the seamless collection of data. The scallop survey is a 24-hour operation. The science component of the ship consists of 11 members. Six people are part of the night watch from 12am-12pm and the remaining members (myself included) are assigned to the day watch which is from 12pm until 12am. During the HabCam part of the survey all science staff members rotate job tasks during their 12-hour shift. These include:
A. Piloting the HabCam – using a joystick to operate the winch that controls the raising and lowering of the HabCam along the ocean floor. This task is challenging for several reasons. There are six computer monitors that are continually reviewed by the pilot so they can assess the winch direction and speed, monitor the video quality of the sea floor, and ensure that the HabCam remains a constant 1.5 – 2 meters from the ocean floor. The ocean floor is not flat – it consists of sand waves, drop-offs, and valleys. Quick action is necessary to avoid crashing the HabCam into the ocean floor.
B. The co-pilot is in charge of ensuring the quality of digital images that are being recorded by the HabCam. Using a computer, they tag specific marine life and check to see if the computers are recording the data properly. They also assist the pilot as needed.
C. Annotating is another important task on this stage of the survey. Using a computer, each image that is recorded by the HabCam is analyzed in order to highlight the specific species that are found in that image. Live scallops are measured using a line tool and fish, crabs, whelk and skates are highlighted using a boxing tool so they can be reviewed by NOAA personnel at the end of the cruise season.
When not on watch there is time to sleep, enjoy beautiful ocean views, spot whales and dolphins from the bridge (captain’s control center), socialize with fellow science staff and crew members, and of course take lots of pictures. The accommodations are cozy. My cabin is a four-person room consisting of two sets of bunk beds, a sink, and desk area. The room is not meant to be used for more than sleeping or stowing gear. When the ship is moving, it is important to move slowly and purposely throughout the ship. When going up and down the stairs you need to hold onto the railing with one hand and guide the other hand along the wall for stability. This is especially important during choppy seas. The constant motion of the ship is soothing as you sleep but makes for challenging mobility when awake.
Before heading out to sea it is important to practice safety drills. Each person is made aware of their muster station (where to go in the event of an emergency), and is familiarized with specific distress signals. We also practiced donning our immersion suits. These enable a person to be in the water for up to 72 hours (depending upon the temperature of the water). There is a specific way to get into the suit in order to do so in under a minute. We were reminded to put our shoes inside our suit in a real life emergency for when we are rescued. Good advice indeed.
Did you know?
The ship makes it’s own drinking water. While saltwater is used on deck for cleaning purposes, and in the toilets for waste removal, it is not so good for cooking, showers, or drinking. The ship makes between 600 and 1,000 gallons per day. It is triple-filtered through a reverse-osmosis process to make it safe for drinking. The downside is that the filtration system removes some important minerals that are required for the human body. It also tends to dry out the skin; so using moisturizer is a good idea when out at sea.
The title of this post should actually be, “when science doesn’t go exactly as planned,” but that doesn’t sound quite as dramatic.
If you have ever written a lab report, you know that there is a section for procedures (what you did). The procedures need to be explicit so that they can be replicated by another individual who will obtain the same results. If your experiment cannot be replicated, your experiment is not valid and is useless. While it is okay for your hypothesis to be different than your expected outcomes, you always have to follow your procedure.
But . . . what if you’re in the middle of the ocean potentially hundreds of miles away from shore and on a deadline? You can’t go back to shore. There are at least thirty people on your boat and a lot of money invested in this data collection. Yet you still have to come up with a way to complete your survey. The events that follow are incidents that occurred on the Oregon II from July 26-July 6 and how the scientists coped with these situations.
In August, NOAA conducts a Longline Survey surveying sharks. Sharks are captured, identified and many are tagged with tracking devices to monitor the location and population density of sharks. Other sharks are sampled to determine age, analyze growth, sexual maturity and study stomach contents.
When sharks are captured in the trawl net on the Groundfish Survey, Robin (the intern) has been releasing them back into the Gulf after collecting data. However, not all of the sharks survive being pulled up in the net. The picture to the left is of a juvenile Hammerhead that did not survive. While this saddens me, he has been frozen and will be used to educate students in the outreach programs that NOAA participates in.
Nature vs Science
Sometimes mother nature interferes with the survey and things don’t go exactly as planned. For the first week of my trip we ran into some bad weather. There was a series of storms that came off the coast bringing rain, thunder, lightning and waves that were five to seven feet high. The weather conditions were so bad that the day shift couldn’t immediately collect data at a number of stations. They spent a lot of time waiting for the squalls to pass until it was safe to collect data. In fact, the weather in the Fall Groundfish Survey is so bad that there are a few extra days built in to run from hurricanes.
This morning we were trawling off the mouth of the Mississippi River and brought up a net full of sargassum (seaweed). The entire net, all 42 feet of it, was completely full of sargassum and very little marine life. No one on the boat had seen this much sargassum in the net before. This catch had to be thrown back overboard because the data is not usable. Basically, with that much sargassum in the net, the scientists are not sure if the trawl was fished properly. There is the possibility that because the net was so heavy, it was bogged down, uneven or not scraping the bottom of the ocean floor evenly.
The beginning of a squall courtesy of Andre DeBose
Squall moving the doors on the trawl net courtesy of Andre DeBose
Trawl Net filled with Sargassum
Warren and Mike checking to see if we are keeping the trawl
Mike and Eloy checking out the Sargassum
On the Oregon II, plankton samples are preserved in Formalin (40% Formaldehyde). Formalin is a clear substance that stops cells from breaking down. A few days ago we noticed that the Formalin was no longer clear, it was in fact opaque. You can see this in the picture on the left. My night shift crew was worried that it was no longer useful and that we could not bring planktons samples back to the lab in Pascagoula. However, our chief scientist assured us that we could still use the Formalin and that it would be effective. The color change indicated that the base in the mixture was breaking down but since we only have a couple more days of plankton sampling, that it will be fine.
I arrived back home last night and let me tell you it is strange to be back on land. I was never seasick on the Oregon II, but I am 100% landsick now. I find myself swaying from side to side anytime I’m standing still (Dock Rock is the official term). And when I woke up last night to get a glass of water, I fell over because I was swaying so much. It’s actually pretty funny but I will be glad once this goes away.
I’m still taking in my experience from the last two weeks but I am so grateful for the people I met and was able to work with. Everyone on the Oregon II was helpful, accommodating, friendly and made me feel at home. They took time out of their day to answer my questions, give me tours, tell me stories about their history and adventures on board, go over their research and they were genuinely interested in what I do in my classroom. XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Eric Johnson spent a good chunk of his time telling me about the NOAA Corps and made me want to sign up. Although I’m not too old to apply, (I have too many attachments at home to do so) if I could do the last ten years over I would apply to their program. I will definitely make sure my students know that the NOAA Corps is an option for them and am hoping to make a trip down to San Diego to take them on one of the boats next year.
I’m particularly grateful to the Chief Scientist Andre DeBose and Watch Leader Taniya Wallace who made sure I knew I was not going to die at sea. As the boat was leaving Galveston I could not stop crying because I was 100% certain I was never coming back ( I may have watched The Perfect Storm too many times). Andre and Taniya were so reassuring and comforting and I can never thank them enough for that.
I’m looking forward to using the knowledge, pictures and data from this trip in my classroom next year. I’m also excited because I heard that I can apply to be a volunteer on a NOAA cruise and am looking forward to this in the future.
Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey
Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic
Date: June 27, 2014
Weather: Hazy sun. 27 degree Celsius. 8.0 knot wind from the southwest.
Locations: North Florida MPA. LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W
These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster. We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans. It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans. I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience. In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.
After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.” While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.
Science and Technology Log
Science Part I. Let there be color
Hint: See the pictures LARGER. If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better
I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with. So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness. Here are two good websites to checkout for more information: The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org
Science Part II. The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves
Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville. Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago. We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before. During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places. The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor. In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest. Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears. In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights. Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.
Science Part III. What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?
Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive. A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.
The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?
Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean. Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.
The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA: The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s). How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship? One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps. I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.
Ship Technology and Engineering: There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port. While at sea, each has their unique and important role. During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room. Here are a few technology tidbits:
Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers. I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does. I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
D.P. – Dynamic Positioning. A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes. The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew). Simply amazing!
The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.
NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV
What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?
The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill. Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience. I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs. I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement. I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults. Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!
Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup. The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.
I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman. The last quote I will end my blog with
“Water is unpredictable. Water is fickle. But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.” (p775)
I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.
Glossary to Enhance Your Mind
Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge. I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment. In the meantime, some might have links to further information.
NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at
The Oregon II carries an instrument called a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) that is lowered into the ocean by a crane. On the bottom of the CTD are sensors that detect and relay information back to a computer onboard the Oregon II. On top of the sensors are Niskin (gray) bottles that are manually opened before the CTD is lowered into the water, and are tripped by the Watchleader (closing and trapping water inside) when it reaches the desired depth. Data from the CTD is sent to the ship where it is recorded and stored. After the CTD is back on board, the water from the Niskin bottles is used to check the amount of dissolved oxygen. This data is then combined with numerous stations/stops and used to create a real time map of the dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the missions of the SEAMAP cruise is to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Gulf of Mexico. Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen that is present in the water and is available for marine life. When the dissolved oxygen content drops below 2mg/L, the water is considered to be hypoxic and the area may be called a dead zone. Basically, what this means is that marine life cannot survive because they do not have enough oxygen.
If you can imagine living at the top of Mt. Everest without an oxygen tank, that is what living in hypoxia would be like to a fish. While the majority of organisms cannot survive in a dead zone, those organisms that do survive have been found to have permanent changes in their reproductive systems, such as smaller ovaries and fewer eggs in female fish. Dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are due to runoff from Nitrates and Phosphates that come from fertilizers, detergents and human/animal waste. Because of hypoxia, phosphate detergents have been banned in the Great Lakes and you may even notice that some of your household detergents say “phosphate free”.
Overall I’m pretty exhausted both mentally and physically. While I have taught my Environmental Students about some of the things I am doing, it’s my first time putting these into practice myself. Although I am grateful for the experience, it is a bit much to take it all in and I feel slightly overwhelmed. Luckily, I will have the chance to perform these tasks over and over before the Oregon II returns to shore. And more importantly, I am working with an amazing team of scientists who are happy to answer all of my questions and walk me through procedures multiple times.
I’m slowly adjusting to being in a different time zone, but am definitely feeling the time change. I am on the night shift which means I start work at midnight and finish at noon. This is unusual for me since I like to be in bed by ten every night. On the bright side, my night shift means I get to beat the heat during the middle of the day when the temperatures are in the eighties.
Yesterday we had an emergency abandon ship drill where we had to don survival suits. You put them on as though you were getting into a sleeping bag. This meant a lot of rolling around on the floor for me, but I like to think I entertained the crew while I was doing it. My dad thinks I look like Sebastian from the Little Mermaid in my suit, but I’m confident that I will be a warm lobster until rescue arrives in the unlikely event I have to abandon ship.
Did You Know?
Male seahorses, not female seahorses, carry fertilized eggs and give birth to their young. They will also eat any of their offspring that don’t swim away quickly enough. It pays to be a female seahorse!
Hello, my name is Carol Glor and I live in Liverpool, New York (a suburb of Syracuse). I teach Home & Career Skills at Camillus Middle School and West Genesee Middle School in Camillus, New York. Last summer, I was selected to participate in Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a week-long camp full of activities that use space to become more effective educators within science, technology, engineering and math. When one of my space camp teammates told me about her experiences as a Teacher at Sea, I knew that I had to apply.
I am so excited to have been chosen by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to be part of the 2014 Teacher at Sea field season. As a Home & Career Skills teacher, I have the opportunity to educate students about the connections between real-life skills in math, science, technology and engineering while learning about important topics such as conservation, career exploration and current events. The best way that I can learn to teach these skills is by practicing them myself. During my upcoming cruise, I will become a real scientist and learn more about the scientific research that is involved in keeping our oceans alive for generations to come.
Sustainability is an important topic of concern for our oceans as well as our lakes and streams. I currently live less than a mile from Onondaga Lake. For many years it has been considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the US. Since 2007, the Honeywell Corporation has implemented the Onondaga Lake Remediation Plan (slated for completion in 2015) to result in an eventual recovery of the lake’s habitat for fish and wildlife as well as recreational activities on and around the lake. Most recently, the West Shore Trail Extension was opened for the public to enjoy. Onondaga Lake Park has always been one of my favorite places to go to experience nature while walking, running, biking or watching my daughters’ crew races. Now I can enjoy it even more.
Science and Technology:
I will be sailing from Woods Hole, Massachusetts aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp to participate in an Atlantic sea scallop survey. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is a coastal research vessel, built in 2006, is 146 feet long, and is part of the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment fleet.
The purpose of a sea scallop survey is to determine the scallop population on the east coast. This survey is important to protect the sea scallop from being over-harvested. By collecting digital video data and sea scallop samples, the science crew is able to advise which areas of the east coast are open for scallop fishing.
What I hope to learn:
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. While there, I experienced the beauty of the coastal island as well as savoring the bounty from the sea. As a casual observer, I noticed a few lobster boats, trawling vessels and pleasure cruisers. Each has a stake in the future abundance of sea life in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. I would like to learn first-hand the impact of over-harvesting on sea scallops and be able to observe them in their natural habitat. My work as a scientist will give my students a taste for the vast amount of research careers that are available to them.
Today’s blog is all about post processing, or “cleaning up” the data and being on night shift. It is a balmy, sliver moon night at port here, in Kodiak. We have come a long way in the last two weeks, during which survey crews have been working hard to finalize a Cold Bay report from last season before they devote themselves entirely to North Kodiak Island. I am in the plot room with Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Smith who is on Bridge Duty from midnight until 4 a.m. with Anthony Wright, Able Seaman.
People work around the clock on Rainier whether it be bridge watch, processing data, or in the engine room. One thing that makes the night shift a little easier is that there is no shortage of daylight hours in Alaska: within two months, there will be less than an hour of complete darkness at night.
In previous blogs, I described how the team plans a survey, collects and processes data. In this blog, I will explain what we do with the data once it has been processed in the field. Tonight, Lieutenant Dan Smith is reviewing data collected in Sheet 5, of the Cold Bay region on the South Alaskan Peninsula. In September, 2013, the team surveyed this large, shallow and therefore difficult to survey area. The weather also made surveying difficult. Despite the challenges, the team finished collecting data for Sheet 5 and are now processing all the data they collected.
While I find editing to be one of the most challenging steps in the writing process, it is also the most rewarding. Through the editing process, particularly if you have a team, work becomes polished, reliable and usable. The Rainier crew reviews their work for accuracy as a team and while Sheet 5 belongs to Brandy Geiger, every crew member has played a part in making the Sheet 5 Final Report a reality, almost. On the left screen, Lieutenant Smith is looking at one line of data. Each color represents a boat, and each dot represents the data from one boat, and each dot represents a depth measurement computed by the sonar. The right screen shows which areas of the map he has already reviewed in green and the areas he still needs to review in magenta.
While the plot room is calm today in Kodiak, there have been times when work conditions are challenging, at best. .
The crew continues on, despite the weather, so long as work conditions are safe.
Several days ago, Lieutenant Smith taught me the difference between a sonar ping that truly measured depth, and other dots that were not true representations of the ocean floor. Once you get an eye for it, you kill the noise quickly. In addition, when Lieutenant Smith finds a notable rise in the ocean floor he will “designate as a sounding.” Soundings are those black numbers on a nautical chart that tell you how deep the water is.
If the line has dots that rise up in a natural way, the computer program recognizes that these pings didn’t go as far down as the others and makes a rise in the ocean floor indicated with the blue line. It is the hydrographer’s job to review the computer processed data. One of the differences between a map and a nautical chart is the high level of precision and review to ensure that a nautical chart is accurate.
Now let’s kill some noise on this calm May evening.
In this image of a shipwreck on the ocean floor most sonar pings reached the ocean floor or the shipwreck and bounced soundings back to the survey boat. Look carefully, however, and you see white dots, representing pings that did not make it down to the ocean floor. Many things can cause these false soundings. In this case, I predict that the pings bounced back off of a school of fish. Here, the surveyor kills the “noise” or white pings by circling them with the mouse on his computer. It wouldn’t be natural for the ocean floor or other feature to float unconnected to the ocean floor, and thus, we know those dots are “noise” and not measurements of the ocean floor.
Lieutenant Smith estimates that at least half of his survey time is spent in the plot room planning or processing data. The window of time the team has in the field to collect data is limited by weather and other conditions, so they must work fast. Afterward, they spend long, but rewarding hours analyzing the data they have collected to ensure its accuracy and to provide synthesized information to put into a nautical chart that is easy to use and dependable. Lieutenant Smith believes that in many scientific careers, as much time or more time is spent planning, processing and analyzing data than is spent collecting data.
As we post process our data, I too, begin post processing this amazing adventure. I am hesitant to leave: I have learned so much in these two short weeks, I want to stay and keep learning. But at NOAA we all have many duties, and my collateral, wait–my primary duty is to my students and so, I must return to the classroom. I will leave many fond memories and a camera, floating somewhere in Driver Bay, behind me. I will take with me all that I have learned about the complexity of the ocean planet we live on and share my thirst to know more back to the classroom where we can continue our work. I will miss the places I’ve seen and the people I met but look forward to the road or channel of discovery that awaits me and my students.
Did You Know? The Sunflower Sea Star is the largest and fastest moving sea star travelling up to one meter per minute.
Below are a few photo favorites of my time at sea.
Weather Data from the Bridge Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 2 feet
Air Temperature: 72.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 71.0ºF
Science and Technology Log
The water wasn’t as smooth today as it was yesterday, but the divers still were very successful. One fish survey was completed today. A few dives were made to check shackles on the anchors of a receiver and to retrieve a railroad tie at one of the receiver sites. The divers also began the Marine Debris Surveys today. A total of 6 surveys were conducted. Five of the six groups were able to find the marking pin. Those sites had no marine debris. The sixth site could not find the marking pin and therefore were not able to fully complete the survey. The divers did find a lot of fishing line at this site, which they removed.
The weather is forecasted to start turning tomorrow. The divers are scheduled to complete morning dives, but most likely will not be able to complete afternoon dives due to poor weather. In the morning, Lauren and Hampton will complete one fish survey and one marine debris survey. The second boat will have Katie, Richard, Sarah Webb, and Randy. This group will conduct two marine debris surveys. Hopefully they will be able to get the dives in tomorrow, but safety comes first.
Over the past week I have been talking to all the crew members learning about their different jobs. There are basically several groups on the ship. There is the scientific party. This group conducts different research on the ship. These groups are constantly changing and are the guests of the ship. The permanent groups are the Commissioned Officers, Engineering Department, Deck Department, Survey Department, and the Stewards. All the departments are incredibly important and play vital roles in the operation of the ship. The Commissioned officers are in charge of the movements of the ship. The Engineering department controls the mechanical aspects of the ship. The Deck Department operates the cranes and maintains the small boats. The scientific and electronic equipment is controlled by the Survey Department and the Stewards keep all the crew well nourished. (For a more detailed description of these roles, please visit the GRNMS website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/log_04242014.html )
Today I want to focus on the Commissioned Officers. The Commissioned Officers are members of the NOAA Corps. NOAA Corps members can be found on the 19 NOAA Ships and 12 NOAA Aircraft. They can be found working on projects on the land, in the air, and at sea. The NOAA Corps was originally established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 with the responsibility of surveying the coasts. Today the NOAA Corps works in a variety of fields including oceanography, fisheries, engineering, earth sciences, and meteorology. NOAA Corps provide the leadership and operational support to meet NOAA’s mission of surveying the Earth’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere to ensure the economic and physical well-being of the Nation.
All NOAA Corps officers hold at least a baccalaureate degree, preferably in science or engineering. All officers must have completed at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework and must have completed college level calculus and physics. Other requirements include passing a mental and physical as well as a background check. You also must be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before your 62nd birthday.
Each new NOAA Corps officer must complete an initial training program that lasts about 5 months. The NOAA Corps now conducts this program with the US Coast Guard. During this training officers learn about maritime activities such as navigation, ship handling, and emergency and rescue procedures. The training also teaches the officers about military procedures such as marching, drills, and the military ranks, structures and protocols. After completing the training, NOAA Corps members continue their training aboard a ship. This training lasts around 12 to 15 months. During this time the new officer is trained by the experienced officers. After the training period, the new officer must pass a test to demonstrate mastery of the necessary skills. Some ships do this as an oral test format where the officers ask the new officer how to they would handle certain situations. On the Nancy Foster, a life ring is thrown overboard and the new officer has to retrieve it. This simulates a Man Overboard. After the new officer passes the test they earn a permanent position on the ship. This position will last between 2 to 3 years. Officers are reassigned positions every 2 to 3 years. They rotate between ship and land based positions. Land based positions can include working at NOAA Labs, Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Administrative offices.
I honestly did not know that the NOAA Corps existed until this trip. I really wished I had known about it earlier, not only for myself, but for my students. I do hope that my former and current (as well as future) students consider looking
into the NOAA Corps. It is a wonderful way to serve your country while still working with the sciences.
Did You Know?
There are seven uniformed services in the United States. These include the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, NOAA Corps, and the Public Health Service.
I had one of the most fun experiences last night. I went up to the bridge to get the weather data as well as watch the sunset. Executive Officer LCDR Mark Blankenship and Junior Officer Ensign Conor Maginn were on duty. The ship was recording acoustics for the Fish Acoustics project. To do this, the ship makes several short passes over a specific area. The ship was set on autopilot to complete this task. ENG Maginn would make small adjustments to keep the ship on the desired path. As soon as the acoustics survey was complete, XO Blankenship asked if I wanted to drive the ship. They took the ship off autopilot and I drove for an hour. I had to steer it into the wind for a while so that the survey technician could fill the dive compressor which is used to fill the SCUBA tanks and then I had to steer around some sailboats. I ended by getting the ship back to the site that they ended the sonar mapping from the previous night.
It was very difficult. When driving the ship, you cannot rely on simply looking out the window (this is especially true in the dark). There are many tools and computers that you need to utilize. There are five different monitors you have to look at plus the rudder position and the compass. The rudder is controlled by a switch. It took me a while to learn how to keep the ship in a specific position. It is not like a car that will keep in a straight line. You constantly need to be move the rudder. Luckily, I had ENS Maginn guiding me. He was an excellent teacher.
Driving the ship was the one thing that I told my students I really wanted to do. When I told them that, I thought that there would be a steering wheel. I was very shocked not to find one. Rather, the ship feels like you are controlling a video game. It is controlled using switches, knobs, and joysticks. You move the rudder with a switch that rotates almost 180°.
Weather Data from the Bridge Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 10 knots
Swell Waves: 2-3 feet
Air Temperature: 71.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 69.1ºF
Science and Technology Log
Last night the dive team arrived. The team consists of Jared Halonen, Hampton Harbin, Lauren Heesemann, Richard LaPalme, Katie Mahaffey, Randy Rudd, Sarah Webb and of course Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman. The divers quickly settled into the ship. We then had a science meeting where diving safety and the diving tasks were discussed. The divers than had to have their gear checked and it was loaded into the dive boats.
The dive operations began this morning. The beautiful, calm waters from the past 2 days changed into choppy water with up to 3 foot waves. The divers reported strong currents and a relatively large thermocline as they descend. A thermocline is where there is a change in the temperature. The divers reported a noticeable change in the temperature of the water as they descended. These conditions gave the divers a bit of a challenge.
The divers were very successful today. They completed 2 fish acoustics surveys. Lauren and Randy dove to two different sites. At each site, Lauren had to identify and count all the different species of fish. Randy had the task of filming the site and capturing images of the different fish, especially any predator-prey relationships. They were able to see many different species of fish. The data gathered by Lauren and Randy will be used to compare to the acoustic data that is being recorded from the ship at this location.
The other dive group was tasked with replacing the Telemetry Receivers. In the morning this group consisted of Sarah Fangman, Randy, and Hampton. In the afternoon, Hampton and Jared completed this task. Together, the different dive teams were able to replace 5 receivers.
The receivers were brought on the ship and the data was downloaded to a computer. Every time a microchipped fish swam past these receivers, the receiver recorded the information. When the data is downloaded, you are able to see the number of the microchip from those fish and the date and time that they swam by the receiver. Using a database of microchip numbers generated by a group of scientists along the East Coast of the United States, we are able to identify the fish that have been in the area. From today’s data, we learned that Gray’s Reef had two visitors, an Atlantic Sturgeon in early March and Sand Tiger Shark in early April. Both were originally tagged in Delaware.
While the dive teams were out I kept busy on the Nancy Foster. In the morning I helped prepare logs for the Acoustics dive team. I also spent time at the bridge learning about the ship’s systems. Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colin Kliewer, and Junior Officer, Ensign Conor Maginn showed me the different systems in the bridge and explained how they are able to keep the ship in a precise location using the two thrusters on the ship.
In the afternoon I assisted Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman with the receivers that were brought on board. Using Bluetooth, she was able to download the data from the receivers to her computer. We then used the Microchip Data table and identified the tagged fish. We finished the project by cleaning the receiver and preparing them to be placed back into the ocean tomorrow. We prepared them by wrapping them in electrical tape and then placing them in nylon stockings. This is to protect the receiver from the organisms that will grow on them. Please see the “Before” and “After” photos below.
We finished our day with a science meeting. We discussed the dives that occurred today. Issues, tips, and advice were shared. We also shared the data that was discovered on the receivers as well as the animals that were seen. Additional tasks for the diving teams were discussed including the sea turtle identification, the removal of the lionfish, and fish surveys. After the meeting concluded the group prepared for tomorrow’s dives by filing the SCUBA tanks, programming the GPS in the boats, and finishing preparing the receivers and logs.
Did You Know?
There is a fish called the guitarfish. This fish is a cartilaginous fish closely related to sharks and rays. One was spotted today at GRNMS.
As of 5 pm tonight, I have been a board the Nancy Foster for one week. I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by. It feels like it was just yesterday that I boarded in the pouring rain, afraid to move around the ship. It took me a while to become comfortable walking on the ship. I am doing pretty well now, but every once in a while we hit a swell and I go flying toward the wall. Luckily the ship has railings all over allowing you to catch yourself. There is the rule on the ship to always have one free hand. I completely understand this rule and use it all the time. The most difficult places to move are going up or down in the ship. The stairs are a combination of stairs and a ladder. They are incredibly steep. The most difficult part is descending. I am getting much better at them. I am having a wonderful experience aboard the Nancy Foster. I have met many great people and am constantly learning. I cannot wait to see what this next week brings.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier April 6 – April 18, 2014
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island Date: March 28, 2014
My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek running past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier. I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!
In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters. Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality. They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.
Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent! I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.
NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on. And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world! NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.” Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts. These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat. Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra
Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?
Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.
I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season. It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!
In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.
Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Susy Ellison Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier September 9 – 26, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Area: Carbondale, CO Date: November 5, 2013
Weather: You can go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where the Rainier is and what weather conditions they are experiencing while I am back at school in Glenwood Springs, CO.
GPS Reading: 39o 24,13146 N 107o 12.6711 W
Wind Speed: 0
Barometer: 1026.00 mb
Science and Technology Log
How do you become a hydrographer? After spending 2 ½ weeks aboard the Rainier as a Teacher at Sea, I found that this question had as many answers as the ship had hydrographers. In fact, if you take time to concatenate the data (obviously, I have become fond of my newest vocabulary word!), you will learn that being a hydrographer is incredibly multi-faceted and is a confluence of ocean-, cartographic-, and computer-based sciences, with some outdoor skills thrown in for good measure.
The Rainier’s CO, Commander Rick Brennan, finished college with a degree in Civil Engineering. In 1991, his senior year, he discovered NOAA when a professor suggested he check out the NOAA Corps during a recruiter’s visit to campus. He started as a NOAA Corps member in 1992 and has been involved in hydrographic survey work ever since. His studies in the NOAA Corps training included coursework on ships, radar, and navigation, and led to his appointment as Commanding Officer (CO) of the NOAA Ship Rude (http://www.moc.noaa.gov/Decomm Ships/ru-index.html). This ship was NOAA’s smallest hydrography vessel at only 90’ long.
Commander Brennan has seen many changes in hydrography during his career. First and foremost, has been its evolution as an academic discipline. The University of New Hampshire, based in Durham, NH, founded the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping in 1999. Their Joint Hydrographic Center was created through a partnership between the University and NOAA. (http://ccom.unh.edu/about-ccomjhc, http://www.eos.sr.unh.edu/) Prior to this, hydrography was part of more general courses in oceanography. Now, you can get a Master’s Degree in Hydrography.
The last 20+ years have also seen significant changes in hydrographic technology, especially in the tools used to map the ocean floor. Prior to 1994, hydrographic vessels were outfitted with single beam sonar, instead of the multi-beam sonar that is today’s standard. The single beam only provided bathymetric data at a single position on the seafloor directly below the vessel, while multi-beam sonar can give us high resolution information about the seafloor across a swath of the seafloor stretching several hundred meters to either side of the vessel. The Rainier, as NOAA’s premier hydrography vessel, was fully outfitted with multi-beam sonar by 1998. Other technological advances have included significant changes in information processing, from the days of paper tape and punch card programming, to the development of hydrography-specific data analysis programs such as CARIS.
While data collection capabilities have changed exponentially over the past 20 years, CDR Brennan noted changes in how that data is used. NOAA has set the industry standard worldwide for collecting hydrographic data. Departments within NOAA are able to use that data to more than make charts. Fisheries biologists can use the detailed seafloor information in their assessments of ecosystem health and the availability of suitable prey species for all parts of the complex ocean-based food web. Shorelines are dynamic; charting plays a role in establishing baseline data in a changing world. Brennan foresees a future where navigators will view charts using a variety of platforms besides merely lines on paper; this will take educating mariners in how to utilize some of the new electronic tools that are available.
Brennan reflected that, while there have been significant advances in the field of hydrography, there is still much work to do. NOAA publishes an annual review of its hydrographic survey goals (http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/hsd/NHSP.htm) . While this might not sound like the most scintillating of reads, it’s a fascinating look at the enormity of the concept of charting our coastline. Depending on how you view coastline—is it a smoothed-out line of the coast, does it include all the ins and outs and bays, or does it include all the United States’ navigable coastline extending out 200 nautical miles—one thing is certain, there’s a lot of it. In Alaska, alone, NOAA has identified 324,465 square nautical miles as Navigationally Significant. The identified total for all of the United States, including the Caribbean, is 511, 051 square nautical miles. Alaska is big! The crew of the Rainier will have plenty of work!
Chief Survey Technician Jim Jacobson’s favorite area to survey is Southeast Alaska with its varied topography, underwater features, and interesting ports. He should know, since he’s been a member of the Rainier’s survey crew since 1990. Jim graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Oceanography—at that time there were no hydrography-specific programs. When he began, a large part of the training consisted of good old, OJT—on the job training, learning new skills as new equipment and techniques became available. Needless to say, there have been more than a few changes over the past 20+ years.
Jim began his career before GPS was a part of hydrographic survey. Setting benchmarks to establish sea levels was done using transits and theodolites, triangulating from known points on land to establish location and elevation on shore. Information was transmitted using microwave towers that were erected on site. Fast forward to 2013, where GPS is part of everyone’s vocabulary and the ability to know ‘exactly’ where you are is often in the palm of your hand. The Rainier’s tide gauge stations are set using GPS units that can identify location and elevation to within centimeters.
He also began his career using single beam sonar, instead of today’s multi-beam. While single beam doesn’t have the pinpoint accuracy that multi-beam sonar might offer, there were a few advantages. It was a faster way to collect data, since you weren’t collecting as much information with each ‘ping’. Thus, you could complete more ‘sheets’ (an identified area for mapping) during your time at sea.
There have been incredible advances in data analysis since Jim started on the Rainier. Data collected each day has become more complex, requiring more hours of ‘cleaning’ to remove extraneous pings and information. Hydrographers use increasingly complex computer software to produce charts, often spending up to 5 hours to process one hour’s data.
What’s next? Jim imagines a future with underwater mapping done by ROVs, remotely operated vehicles, cruising the seafloor to send back terabytes of information. ROVs are already used in a variety of information-gathering capacities, sending back high-quality video of seafloor conditions, information on water chemistry, or video of marine life from far below the surface.
Christi Reiser didn’t start out planning to be a hydrographer. She has, perhaps, the most diverse resume of any of the survey team. Christi is currently a college student, and will be receiving her BA in Geography from the University of Colorado, Denver at the end of this year. Her hydrography career began in May, 2012 when she was hired as an intern on the Rainier, earning college credit while working for NOAA.
Since high school, Christi has earned an Associate’s Degree in Business, was employed as a saddle maker in Austria, and worked for an oil company as a mapping technician. While all of those pathways gave her something to ponder, it was the GIS part of her mapping job that really ignited the fire that sent her back to college to pursue a degree in Geography with a focus on GIS and a minor in Environmental Science. To further stoke that fire, Christi worked to design and pursue an internship experience that would allow her to ‘test drive’ a career combining GIS, hydrography, and life on the high seas. Through a combination of motivation, Google-based searching, a diverse and applicable set of educational and experiential skills, and the courage to make some phone calls and take a few risks, Christi ended up on the Rainier, working as a paid intern. How cool is that? She earns college credit, gains expertise working with challenging software and data acquisition programs and equipment, charts the uncharted ocean floor, and sees parts of Alaska that aren’t on the usual tourist’s destination list. One of her projects during her first season on the Rainier was the creation of an online blog describing her work. You can check it out at http://rainierinternship.blogspot.com/
Through her internship Christi has found that NOAA is one of the most education-oriented organizations she has worked for, constantly providing opportunities to learn new skills and information. She is excited to be working in a GIS-based field and considers it to be one that is ‘never-ending’, since only 4% of the sea floor has been mapped! After graduation, her next step may be a Master’s Degree in Geography, to add more science research experience to her knowledge base. After that? Well, all I can say is that Christi plans to create a new job that “doesn’t even exist”. Stay tuned.
So, the next time you’re talking to your guidance counselor about college plans, or wondering what you might want to be when and if you grow up, consider the field of hydrography. Where else do you get to wear a life jacket to work?
Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, it’s time to reflect on my Teacher at Sea experience. I’ve been asked, more than once, “Did it meet my expectations”? That’s an easy question to answer—the answer is “No, it exceeded my expectations!” I came away from my time on the high seas with much more than just knowledge of the complexities of seafloor mapping. As a firm believer in the concept that ‘everything is interesting’, it would be hard to point to any aspect of my trip that wasn’tsomething fun and interesting to learn!
The science of hydrography is amazing. Just thinking about mapping something that you can’t actually see is an incredible concept. I have always been fascinated with maps and the process of creating a map, but I look at those maps a little differently now, going beyond the story the map tells to thinking about how that map was made. The science of mapping has undergone many changes since those first sailors with their lead lines creating maps of harbors and shorelines. In case you’re still wondering why hydrography and the Rainier’s mission is so important, check out this clip from a PBS special that aired in September–http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/climate-change/july-dec13/arctic_09-17.html
The teamwork, efficiency, and camaraderie on the ship were a common thread uniting each day’s activities. Each crew member played a role in the success of the ship’s mapping mission. It took everyone from the engine room to the bridge to keep it all ‘shipshape’. There was really no job too small—everything and everyone had a necessary role. I especially appreciated the fact that every crew member was willing to answer the myriad questions I had; from specific questions about their job to questions about how they ended up on the Rainier.
At the end of my Teacher at Sea experience I have to conclude that NOAA is one of our country’s best kept secrets. What other federal agency can bring you such treats as the daily weather report or tide predictions for an entire year, monitor fisheries along our coastal areas, keep track of our changing climate, or survey marine mammals? Of course, you shouldn’t forget all those nautical charts produced by the hydrographers on the Rainier. NOAA’s webpage says it all (http://www.noaa.gov/); from the ocean floor to the top of our atmosphere—and everything in-between. In a world with a rapidly changing climate I can’t think of an agency that is doing more important work.
Many thanks to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing me with this incredible learning experience.
NOAA Teacher at Sea John Clark Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow September 23 – October 4, 2013
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: September 18, 2013
Thank you for reading about my adventures at sea. My name is John Clark and I’m entering my 7th year teaching science at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. Our community is just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Teaching is my second career, after working in the telecommunications field, and I love getting students excited about science. I’ve even earned a few awards for being successful at it. I’m married to the love of my life, Jill, who is also a teacher. In our lives are three grown children and seven grandchildren. With great blessings, I share that they are all healthy, happy, and live close enough for us to see them regularly. At home we have replaced the kids with two cats and a dog.
In a few days, anticipation will be replaced by action as I board a plane headed for my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience I’ve waited for all summer to begin. I’ll be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a ship specially built for NOAA to carry out the type of fisheries research I’ll be taking part in. I’ll be working side by side with experienced scientists who not only are knowledgeable in how to do the research conducted on board but also have the skill to share their knowledge with volunteers like me who have limited background in the science behind the work. It is the experience of a lifetime that I hope will energize my students about studying science as we carry out lesson plans developed from the experience and I share with them the stories of my time at sea. I’m sure a giant boat-eating squid will be in there somewhere.
Officially, I’m taking part in 2013 Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey conducted by the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the NOAA Fisheries Service. That’s a long fancy way of saying that the ship is going to drag a net for a short period of time near the bottom of the ocean and then collect data on the types of fish we catch as well as the environment they live in. Affectionately called a “critter cruise”, I now join a long line of Teacher at Sea alumni who have taken part in the biannual surveys of North Atlantic marine life. And there are a lot of critters to learn to identify as I’m finding out from watching the CD I was sent to be better prepared to support the research team. There are two types of Dogfish which look suspiciously like little sharks, flounders that are left eyed or right eyed depending on which side they decided to leave up, and squid distinguished by the length of a pair of fins down the side of the body. All you do is hold them upright, tentacles hanging toward the ground, and take a look. And don’t forget the large lump fish which is described as have the texture of a dog’s chew toy. Whatever the species, the role of the research volunteer is to sort them out and then collect data for the scientists to study.
What can be overlooked in the preparation is the part about how to handle fish. I do not like to touch fish so I will be facing my fears even while wearing gloves. And I really don’t like it when they flop around. I envision I’ll be the one with the hand in the wrong place when the shark twists around to see who is holding its tail or, at a minimum, squeeze too hard on the species that will poke you with a poison spine if you upset them. Other good advice I’ve learned from the CD is that there is a 100% recovery from seasickness and if the seas get rough, wedge yourself into your bunk with your life vest so you don’t roll around and fall out. My two year old granddaughter, Ireland, was watching the video with me while I studied and all she could say was “Oh my.”
Weather Data from Newport, OR: GPS location: 44°38’12.63” N, 124°3’12.46”W
Sky condition: OVC
Air temperature: 10.6°C
Science and Technology Log
During my final days aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier, I began to understand the big picture of all that goes in to hydrographic survey. While we were transiting from the Shumagin Islands back to the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak, the scientists invited me to sit in on a survey review meeting. During the meeting I listened as the Commanding Officer (CO), the Chief Survey Technician, the Field Operations Officer (FOO), the sheet manager, and others went over the Descriptive Report for a project that had been completed on a previous leg in Behm Canal. It was interesting to listen to the conversation and actually understand what these researchers were talking about! I felt as though it was appropriate for me to attend this meeting on my final day on the ship, as this truly is the last step for the scientists on board before the chart and attached data are sent off the ship to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch where the data is further processed in order to ensure accuracy of the data. As I have now participated in most parts of the survey process, allow me to show you a step-by-step explanation of hydrographic survey from start to finish.
Step One: Getting to the Survey Location
It takes a dedicated and skilled team to safely navigate the ship to the correct survey location. It is also important that the FOO conducts a survey meeting to review the plan of the leg with the research crew. When I sat in on this survey meeting at the start of the leg the crew discussed what has been accomplished to date, which sheets we would be focusing on during this leg, and any technical issues that needed to be reviewed with the team.
Step Two: Setting up Vertical and Horizontal Control Stations
Before data can be collected, it is necessary to have a reference of where the data is being collected. As I discussed in a previous post, tidal gauges are set-up prior to survey in order to guarantee accurate water depths. The NOAA Ship Rainier is currently setting up a tidal gauge near Cold Bay, Alaska so that they may begin working in their upcoming survey location. You can track the Rainier at http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/
Step Three: Running Shoreline Verification
Before the launches (small boats) are able to get data close to the shore, it is important for the skiff to visually check the shoreline to make sure that there are no major hazards to navigation. The shoreline crew is responsible for marking any dangers, and getting close enough to shore to decide where the sheet limits should be set. These sheet limits dictate how close the shoreline and rock formations are that the launches need to survey.
Step Four: Data Collection on Ship and Launches
This is the time when the hydrographers and ship crew can begin “coloring in the lines” by filling in designated polygons with sonar data. The hydrographers are in charge of determining where the ship or launch needs to be driven in order to gather the required data using navigation software on the ship called HYPACK. They are also responsible for taking Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) measurements in order to apply accurate sound speed profiles to the data. The deck department and the NOAA Corps officers are responsible for following the plan laid out by the hydrographers in order to navigate the ship to gather data. This takes attention to detail, because if the ship goes off course, data is missed for a certain area creating a “holiday”, or a gap in the data. If a holiday is created it means that the crew has to go back and get the missing data later. Nobody likes a holiday as it costs time and money to fix. While data is being collected, the hydrographers are in charge of keeping an acquisition log that is a detailed record of everything that is taking place during a specific survey. The team uses a program called Seafloor Information Systems (SIS) in order to collect the sonar data on the ship. On the launches, HYPACK serves a dual function as the navigation software and the sonar software.
Step Five: Processing and Cleaning the Data
This was one of the most interesting parts of the process as you begin to see the data come to life. The “lines” of data that are collected using the Konsberg sonar unit are brought over to a program called CARIS. Certain correctors such as sound velocity and the predicted tides are added to the data in CARIS as well. While each processing step is being completed, the hydrographer is responsible for making notes in the acquisition log.
Next it is important to “clean” the data. This is done by moving carefully over each line of data to filter out any noise that shouldn’t be there. When the data has been cleaned it can then be added to the project file for the sheet manager. This way the hydrographer that is in charge of that specific sheet of data can see what progress has been made and what steps are still required for the work to be completed.
Step Six: Writing the Descriptive Report (DR) and Conducting a Survey Review
The Descriptive Report (DR) seems to be the most tedious part of the process. This is the report that is included with the sheet when it is sent to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch for review and further processing. It thoroughly explains things like the area surveyed, how data was acquired, and results and recommendations. After a DR is thought to be complete, the ship conducts an internal review. This is what I got to sit in on during my last day on the ship. After it has met the expectations of the Chief Survey Technician, the FOO, and the CO, the project can then be sent off the ship to the Pacific Hydrographic Branch before being sent on to the Marine Chart Division (MCD) where the charts are finalized.
Like I said in my previous blog post, the scientific process is not easy. These scientists and crew work tirelessly to ensure that they are producing quality work that can be utilized for safe navigation. I appreciate their efforts, and I want to thank them for their long hours and their attention to detail.
I find myself unable to fully express my gratitude to the crew of the Rainier for my time with them. They allowed me to ask endless questions, they welcomed me into their close-knit community, and they provided me with an experience of a lifetime. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity, and I wanted to be sure to offer my appreciation.
It has been over a week since I’ve been back in Newport, Oregon, and I’ve had a great time reliving my Teacher at Sea (TAS) experience with family, friends, coworkers, and students. While we were transiting from the Shumigans, Christie Reiser, a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technician on board gave me an awesome video that she had made with several crew members. The video gives a tour of the Rainier, and I thought it would be a nice to share it on my blog as a way to show people where I spent my 18 days at sea.
In this section I usually do a detailed interview with one crew member. As this is my last blog post, I wanted to be sure to include all of the other interviews that I had while on the ship. For each of these interviews I have included a snapshot of the conversation that I had with each person. While I wasn’t able to interview everyone on board, I can say for a fact that each person I met had a unique story. I was particularly fascinated by the various pathways that people have taken in order to become part of the Rainier crew. Enjoy!
Thank you for following my blog and for sharing this experience with me. Thanks again to the crew of the Rainier for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve learned so much from this experience, and I plan to take the knowledge I’ve gained and pass it along to my students, friends, and community members.
Best wishes to the crew of the Rainier, good luck with the rest of your field season, and happy hydro!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 29, 2013-August 15, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area of the Cruise: Shumagin Islands, AK Date: August 9-13, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: GPS location: 54°49.910’N, 159°46.159’W
Sky condition: OVC
Visibility: 5 nm
Wind: 10 kt, 135 true
Water temperature: 7.2°C
Air temperature: 11.0°C
Science and Technology Log
At the beginning of my time aboard the Rainier I couldn’t believe it when one of the hydrographers told me that it takes almost two years for the data that we are collecting right now to go into print. After spending time with the scientists trying to understand the process, I have a better idea of why the data can take up to 24 months to appear on a chart. There are numerous things to take into account: variables that need to be controlled for, inclement weather that may restrict completing data collection, limited personnel to process the data, reports that need to be written to accompany the data, and so on. The point being is that it is not as simple as surveying the ocean floor and making a chart.
The tides are one important variable that hydrographers must control for when they are collecting data. Tides constantly cause the depths of the water to change, but it is important for the charts to show the shoalest (most shallow) depth possible for safe navigation.
It’s not practical to only conduct surveys during low tides, so the data must be corrected to take water depth to a universal constant. For most of the charts, NOAA uses Mean Lower Low Water as the control. To explain Mean Lower Low Water, I have to review a bit about the tides themselves. Most places, including Alaska, experience semidiurnal tides meaning that in one day, there are two high tides and two low tides. If you look at the two low tides in one day, one of the two will be lower than the other one. An average should be taken of the “lower low” water levels for 19 years. This is how long the earth, sun, and moon to go through their various orbital eccentricities. Typically, it is not reasonable to have a gauge installed for 19 years so by acquiring one 30 day cycle of tide data we are able to get approximately 90% of the solution and the remaining 10% is solved for using “primary stations” (ones which have a 19 year record) that are nearby. This calculated average of the lower low tides is called the Mean Lower Low Water and all data is corrected to this value.
Before the water depth can be corrected to Mean Lower Low Water, the tides must first be measured. The National Water Level Observation Network has stations all over the United States which give data on how to figure out local tide conditions. The closest one to use in the Shumagins is at Sand Point on Popof Island. In order to verify that the tides are being accurately predicted, the crew on the Rainier installs their own tidal gauge to verify the tidal data.
A tide gauge is installed on the sea floor near the coast line by divers. It must be fairly deep so that it is always covered by water. In order to verify that the tide gauge is working, a tide staff is installed nearby for the crew to take visual water level measurements every week for 3 hours in 6 minute increments. They use this manually collected data and compare it to the tide gauge to make sure that the gauge is functioning accurately and also to ensure that the gauge has not moved relative to the land after it has been installed.
It is a complicated process to install one of these tidal gauges, and they have to be calibrated to that Mean Lower Low Water. In order to assure that we have a reference point on land, benchmarks are put in near the tide gauge. These benchmarks should be able to be utilized for centuries by anyone who wished to come back to set-up a tide gauge.
Last Friday I was assigned to the skiff (small boat) as part of the crew of people who would go observe the tide staff and complete other necessary tasks at the tide gauge station on Bird Island. It was a 30 minute ride in the skiff from the ship, and when we got the island, the coxswain pulled the boat next to the rocks so we could quickly transfer ourselves and our gear onto the island. A total of five benchmarks had been put into the bedrock during the last visit to Bird Island, and it was our job to verify the location of each benchmark.
We took GPS locations, measured from benchmark to benchmark, and took pictures with detailed notes telling where each of the five was located. If something happened to the primary benchmark, there would be four back-ups that could be used to reference the location of the tide gauge. It was also the responsibility of our crew to do the 3 hour tide staff observations, but bad weather only allowed us to complete one hour of data collection before we were required to return to the ship.
It constantly impresses me how many variables these scientists need to control for in order to get accurate depths to place on the charts. I have only received a snapshot of the work that goes into one of these projects during my time aboard the Rainier. I have begun to see a problem when so many people of this generation expect instant results and instant gratification. From now on it will be important for me to show my students that the scientific process is slow and arduous, but the overall results are impressive when you learn to appreciate and understand the steps that it takes to get there.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit the engine room as the ship was getting underway. Evan McDermott , a 1st Assistant Engineer on board, was kind enough to let me to follow him through the heart of the ship. As we walked and ducked under the various equipment, I began to realize just how naïve I am about how the ship is powered. As I began to observe and ask questions, I realized just how much time and effort it takes to get the ship in motion.
When I first went down to the engine room they had just turned the pumps on. These pumps are used to help turn the rudders. Each time the pumps are powered on, it is required that the engineers do a steering test. I went with Joshua Parker, a GVA (General Vessel Assistant) in the engineering department on board, as he showed me how to complete the steering test with the rudder.
While we were anchored, the engines were powered down and we were running the basic functions of the ship with two generators which stay on 24 hours a day while the ship is underway. When I came back to the engine room it was time to turn the engines on, and Evan walked me through how to do this. Really all I did was push two buttons that he showed me, but it was neat to hear the engines come to life.
While I was in the engine room, I remembered several of the questions my students had when the CO came to speak to my class last year. I seemed to remember a lot of students asking questions about the fuel that the Rainier uses. I decided to do some investigating by asking some of my own questions. It turns out that the ship is able to carry a total of 103,000 gallons of fuel at a time. On a typical 18 day leg, the ship will burn about 30,000 gallons of fuel. Evan pulled up a detailed Microsoft Excel sheet and showed me how they keep track of the fuel being used. He showed me that while underway the ship typically burns about 2,000 gallons each day, but if the ship is anchored it is more like 600 gallons.
Something else I learned while in the engine room was how this ship uses fuel as ballast. Normally on a ship, ballast is water that is taken in to help keep the ship balanced. The Rainier has 17 fuel tanks all around the ship, and one of the reasons for this is to give the ship stability.
For this reason, it is important that the fuel is burned in a certain order based on which tank it is in. Once the engineers decide that they need to use fuel from a certain tank, it is transferred into two settlers. This is where the water is allowed to settle out of the fuel before it is purified and transferred to the day tanks. These two-day tanks are where the two engines suck fuel from directly.
The last thing that grabbed my attention in the engine room was the process on how the sewage is filtered. I know it sounds gross, but it is such a simple chemical reaction that I feel compelled to share it! The machine that is responsible for this treatment uses salt water and DC current. The current is run through the water and breaks the salt (NaCl) into the ions Na+ and Cl–. The Cl– ions go on to reform with the OH– ions from the water forming sodium hypochlorite. This substance acts to kill the bacteria in the sewage. Chemistry at work!
Just another Day at the Office
Evan McDermott, 1st Assistant Engineer
After touring the engine room, I sat down with Evan to talk about his job and how he came to work for NOAA as a 1st Assistant Engineer. He told me that he graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy with a BS in Marine Engineering as well receiving his US Coast Guard license. I didn’t know what a Maritime Academy was until I came aboard the Rainier, so I asked him how he originally heard about this field. Evan told me that in high school he went through a unique program where he spent two days each week doing marine engineering outside of his school. A guidance counselor told him more about the benefits of marine engineering, and that’s when Evan decided to apply to Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
During our conversation, Evan told me that what he enjoys most about his job is the variety of hands-on work that he gets to be involved in, and he also enjoys the scenery here in Alaska. He is required to stand watches in the engine room for two 4-hour shifts while the ship is underway, and he also plays a supervisory role. The engineering department on the ship is mostly responsible for the maintenance and operations. I asked him to share the advice he would give to students hoping to get into this field of work, and he said that it is important to keep up on your math to become a marine engineer! Evan told me that the Maritime Academy was a tough four years of his life, but that his hard work has paid off as he has now secured this job with NOAA.
Evan appreciates the fishing that is available in Alaska, and when not on the ship he enjoys snowboarding.
Your Questions Answered!
A friend from my high school, Derek Cusimano, works with similar technology that is being utilized on the Rainier. I was excited to see the questions he had for me, and also to realize that I actually understood how to answer some of the more technical questions. First he asked about the program that is used to collect and process the data on board. It is my understanding that on the ship, Hypack is the navigation software that is used. The bridge sees this screen, and the hydrographers use it to draw the lines to show where the ship needs to be navigated in order to collect the data. Seafloor Information Systems (SIS) is the sonar software for the EM710. Finally, CARIS is the software that is used to process the data once it is collected.
Derek also asked me about what positioning the crews use for their surveys. The tidal gauges that I discussed in this post are used for vertical control, as the water moves up and down with the tides. The scientists also have to take into account horizontal control. They need to accurately be able to tell where their position is, because without that information the water depths that we are gathering with the sonar are useless.
Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) is used from the Coast Guard station in Kodiak Alaska to gain accurate latitude and longitude. However, the Rainier crew also installs their own GPS base stations to correct the GPS positions acquired on the ship and launches during “post processing”. For this project, a GPS base station was installed on Bird Island near the tide gauge and data is down loaded via a VHF radio. These stations listen to all GPS signals and correct the locations for each satellite down to the decimeter. This allows the Rainier to correct their GPS positions to have an accuracy of just a few centimeters.
The next question comes from my 2-year old nephew Ollie Burgeson. He wanted to know what I was eating on the ship. My answer to him is a little bit of everything! I can’t say that I’ve had the same meal twice while out at sea. Meals are at 0700, 1130, and 1700, and each day a menu is posted that tells what will be available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The stewards also provide a stocked ice cream freezer and other snacks 24 hours a day. Many know that I eat mostly vegetarian food, and each meal there is always a vegetarian option which several crew members and I enjoy. While out on the launches, the coolers are packed full of food for the crew of each boat. Sandwiches, fresh fruit, chips, and dessert are all included on the launches.
Did You Know…
On Sunday I saw at least a dozen whales while I was looking out over the waters of the Shumagins. The ship was anchored while the launches were out gathering data. It was such a clear day that I decided to spend time on the bridge whale watching. It didn’t take long before I saw several breach in the distance. I was told by some of the crew that I was observing humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae. I didn’t know much about them, so I decided to do a bit of research. Here are some of the interesting things I learned about humpback whales:
Humpback whales can be found in all major oceans from the equator to sub-polar latitudes
The humpback whale’s lifespan is about 50 years
They eat mostly krill, plankton, and small fish
Humpback whales can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food per day
Females are typically longer than males, and they can reach up to 60 feet in length
Newborns weight about 2,000 pounds and adults can grow to be between 50-80,000 pounds
Weather Data from the Bridge: GPS location: 54°49.402’N, 159°33.182’W
Sky condition: Overcast (OVC)
Visibility: 5 nm
Wind: 210 true, 15 kts
Water temperature: 8.3°C
Air temperature: 11.0°C
Science and Technology Log
While I was speaking with ENS Rosemary Abbitt, a Junior Officer on board, she used an analogy to describe the amount of information that she takes in every day while on the job. She said that it is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. I thought that this was fitting as each day as a Teacher at Sea I am constantly trying to take in and process the huge amount of new information I am learning. I have jumped in to the heart of hydrographic surveys, but in this post I would like to take a step back and look at a brief history of how the use of sonar has evolved.
Before coming on the Rainier, I knew that the use of sonar on ships had something to do with sound waves traveling in the water in order to map the ocean floor. After gathering information from the crew, and a bit of my own research, I found out that sonar actually stands for Sound Navigation and Ranging. I also found out that sound waves travel better in water as compared to radar or light waves, so that is why they are used for this type of work.
The NOAA Ship Rainier is equipped with a Kongsberg EM710 Multibeam Sonar System which falls in the category of active sonar. The system emits acoustic signals into the water, and when the sound bounces off of an object it returns an echo to the sonar transducer. By determining the time between emission and reception, the range and the orientation of the object can be determined. The range of an object is equal to the sound speed times the travel time divided by two.
It is extremely important that the hydrographers using this technology have accurate measurements for sound speed. The Rainier is equipped with a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) which generates sound speed profiles. These profiles include information such as temperature, salinity, depth, and most importantly, sound speed. These measurements are applied to real-time sonar data in order to make sure that these variables are controlled for.
Sonar was first used during World War I as a way of detecting submarines. The US Coast and Geodetic Survey were the first to use sonar to map deep water areas in the 1920s. As I discussed in a previous post, lead line surveys were the primary way to gather bathymetric data up until that point. It astounds me to see all of the technology on board, but it also leaves me wondering where we’ll be in another 10 to 20 years. I suppose only time will tell what new technologies will allow for the continued exploration of our Ocean!
The beauty of Alaska has truly come to life for me in the last few days. Last night, the CO was kind enough to take a group of people to a nearby beach on Chernabura Island. From time to time he will do this, and the crew calls these events “Beach Parties”. It took me several minutes to gain my land legs as my body has acclimated to life on a ship. I walked the beach, but I soon turned to hike up one of the peaks that I had been seeing from a distance for so many days.
The hike up to the top was HARD! The ground beneath my feet was not solid earth, but rather soft, boggy terrain that required a great deal of energy to hike through.
When I made it to the top I could not believe my eyes. The beauty of this untouched land was overwhelming, and I realized how very lucky I am to be on this wonderful adventure.