Alex Miller: Delayed but Still Determined, May 28, 2015

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

Personal Log

A panoramic view from Yaquina Point, gray whales can often be seen from the Point on their migration route, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.

A panoramic view from Yaquina Point, gray whales can often be seen from the Point on their migration route, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.

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.

The lighthouse at Yaquina Point.

The lighthouse at Yaquina Head.

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.

Common murres return to their nesting sites once the eagles are out of sight.

Common murres return to their nesting sites once the eagles are out of sight.

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.

Amanda and Ian adjust the VHF antenna to try and catch 24-hour presence-absence data for a tagged common murre.

Amanda and Ian adjust the VHF antenna to try and catch 24-hour GPS data for a tagged common murre.

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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.

A panoramic view of the South Jetty and the beaches of Newport.

A panoramic view of the South Jetty and the beaches of Newport.

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.

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A cormorant flies by me.

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.

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A flock of what appear to be cormorants.

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.

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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.

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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.

shimada at night

Good night Shimada. 

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.

 

Correction:

You were told there would be seabirds in that panoramic picture and unfortunately, there are not. There are seabirds in this picture below.

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Trevor Hance: Permission to Come Aboard? May 28, 2015

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.

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Photo from the NOAA Fisheries website that I’ve been using to determine how to dress!

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.

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Texas bluebonnets are beautiful, and even more spectacular when you get close and see “the neighborhood.”

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Rain or shine

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Early morning observation in the Preserve

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Gambusia — my favorite!

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Western ribbon snake snacking at the tadpole buffet.

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One of our frog surveys in action

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So, did anyone figure out what does the fox say?

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Wild pigs rooting

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Bandits abound when the sun goes down.

 

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The endangered golden cheeked warbler, taken by me early May

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!

My Background

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!

My Mission

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!

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Photo from the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health

 

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Photo from the University of Delaware bookstore website of the mug I might pick up while traveling this summer

 

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R/V Hugh R. Sharp

 

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!

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That’s me!

Alex Miller: A Sailor’s Life is a Life for Me (for the Next 15 Days), May 26, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Soon to Be Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

 

Representing the Teacher At Sea program

Representing the Teacher At Sea program

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Personal Log

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.

A view from the front seat along Route 34.

A view from the front seat along Route 20.

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–pelagicmeaning 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.

From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It's 208 ft. long!

From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It’s 208 ft. long!


 

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.

Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve.

Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve. Photo credit: Silvia Gonzalez

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.


 

Signing Off

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.

Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.

Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.


 

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!

Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.

Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.

Lauren Wilmoth: Strange Sea Creatures, October 16, 2014

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

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

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

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.

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Survey Tech Christie and Me on our bottom sampling launch.

Amphipod found in bottom sample.

Amphipod found in bottom sample.

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staff observations at Terror Bay.

Staff observations at Terror Bay.

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.

Bilateral versus radial symmetry.

The hooded nudibranch.

The hooded nudibranch.

ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

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.

Jellyfish!

Jellyfish!

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.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Personal Log

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.

Challenge:

Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: “Wreckish looking rock?” October 15, 2014

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: 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!

Area we are currently surveying.

Area we are currently surveying (outlined in red) with some depth data we have collected.

Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.

Casting a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) gauge.

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.

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I’m driving the boat.

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.

Eli working the sonar equipment.

Eli working the sonar equipment.

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.

H12662_DN195_2804 This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.

This is an example of noisy data. In this case, the noise was so great that the algorithm thought the seafloor went down 100 extra meters. Manually cleaning the data can adjust for this so our end product is accurate. The actual seafloor in this case is the relatively straight line at about 100 meters depth.

Personal Log 

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!

Bald Eagle Sighting!

Bald Eagle Sighting!

Sea otter

Sea otter

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Orca!

Very close orca!

Very close orca!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know? 

Killer whales are technically dolphins, because they are more closely related to other dolphins than they are to whales.

Lauren Wilmoth: Shore Party, October 12, 2014

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: 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

The top part of a tidal station.  In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.

The top part of a tidal station. In the plastic box is a computer and the pressure gauge.

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

Tidal station set-up.  Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.

Tidal station set-up. Drawing courtesy of Katrina Poremba.

Rainier is in good hands.

Rainier is in good hands.

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.

Micki and Adam setting up the staff, so they can make sure it hasn't moved.

ENS Micki and LTJG Adam setting up the staff, so the surveyor can make sure it hasn’t moved.

Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.

Mussels and barnacles on a rock in Terror Bay.

Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven't moved.

Leveling to ensure staff and tidal benchmarks haven’t moved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Raspberry Bay

Driver Bay

Personal Log 

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.

Animal Spotting

There are sea otters everywhere!

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.

Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) sighting.

 

Lauren Wilmoth: Safety First, October 8, 2014

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

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: 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

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb's Cove.  Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

Junior Officer Micki Ream diving in Thumb’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Junior Officer Katrina Poremba.

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.

Seastar from Katrina Poremba from the dive at Thumb's Cove.

Sea star and anemones taken by diver Katrina Poremba at Thumb’s Cove.

This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area.  We will be working near the red x.

This source diagram from Kodiak Island shows when the latest data was collected in for an area. We will be working near the red x.

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.

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One of the nautical charts that will help Rainier navigate back to its home port in Newport, Oregon. Notice the ocean depth marked in fathoms.

CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

CO (Commanding Officer) and me after discussing nautical charts.

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.

Personal Log

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

Artwork from the SeaLife Center created by high school students to illustrate how much trash ends up on our beaches.

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.

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

Puffin at the Alaska SeaLife Center

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).

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward Alaska

Rainier, my home for the next week and a half, in Seward, Alaska

My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed "The Princess Suite."

My berthing area (where I sleep) nicknamed “The Princess Suite.”

 

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.