Lesley Urasky: June 30, 2012, Goodbye Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 30, 2012

Latitude: 29.1215
Longitude: -78.9042

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Water Temperature:
Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10 mph), Beaufort scale:  3
Wind Direction: from W-SW
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:   1,012.0 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

During our last night, I had the Third Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement, give me a tour of the engine room and fresh water system.  I can’t believe the engineers are able to work down there – the noise and heat (110°) is amazing!

Steve Clement, Third Assistant Engineer, explaining how things work in the engine room.

I’m not a mechanically oriented person, so Steve had to keep his explanations short; it was more of a show-and-tell tour.  The engine room, majority of equipment controlling the ship’s motion, and water treatment are located on the bottom deck of the ship.  The quantity of both electronic and mechanical equipment is mind-boggling; all the men who work in this capacity have to be proficient in so many areas so the ship can support the science missions.  Hats off to all those hard-working and talented men!

Computer screen showing the operations in the generation plant on the Pisces.

The operation of the ship can be monitored on the main distribution computer screen.  Levels of fluids and functioning of all the components are continually assessed and modifications to operation made from the control panel.

Computer screen showing current fuel consumption for each generator.

The ship uses lots of diesel fuel when it is operating at full steam (14.5 knots/hour) – around 2,500 gallons a day!  The Pisces has a tank capacity of 110,000 gallons; I’d hate to pay their fuel bill when it’s time to fill up! This quantity of fuel allows it to travel about 12,000 NM (nautical miles) or 13,800 miles; that’s a little over half-way around the Earth on one tank of fuel!

Two of the Pisces‘ generators: the one on the left is a 12-cylinder and an 8-cylinder on the right.

The propeller is located at the stern (back) of the ship.  I was able to look down through grating in the floor and see the drive shaft turning at 134 rpm.  It has a diameter of 14.1 feet; it has to be so large so that it can efficiently move the ship through the water.

Main shaft of the Pisces‘ propeller.

Lastly, I got to see the Pisces‘ water generation system.  This is as important as the ship’s engines because without fresh water, the scientists and crew members wouldn’t have drinking water as well as no water for washing or cooking.  The ship isn’t big enough to carry all the freshwater that it needs for a long cruise.  But with reverse osmosis technology, and the fact that we’re surrounded by nothing but water, fresh water is readily available.  The Pisces takes in seawater which is pumped through a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis (RO) system that creates fresh water for the Pisces.

In reverse osmosis, the salty water is forced (pumped) through membranes with very small openings.  These are so small that the ions making the water “salty” cannot pass through; the water is able to pass and after leaving the ions behind, becomes fresh water.  The RO system on the Pisces generates about 624 gallons per hour.  The tan “box” in the picture above contains all of the controls and gauges.  The long, white tube behind it contains the permeable membrane that the water is forced through.

Membrane filter in a reverse osmosis apparatus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Personal Log

It is with some sadness that my adventure as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has come to an end.  Today I said goodbye to the crew of the Pisces.  They are an amazing crew, and made my final portion of the cruise without the scientists interesting and fun.  I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about being without the scientists and seeing the ship under different circumstances (lacking a specific scientific objective), but the Pisces steamed forward with two goals in mind: retrieving the buoy (see my last posting on June 27), and arriving in Mayport in a timely manner to receive the next group of scientists as they embark on their cruise.  I’d like to invite you to continue to follow the Pisces and their new Teacher at Sea, Marsha Skoczek as she learns about Deep Sea Corals.

Pisces life preserver

On the afternoon of the 28th, we encountered a line of squalls generated by Tropical Depression Debby as she moved off the coast of Florida and into the Atlantic.  At one point, we had 40 knot (46 mph) winds and rain.  After the winds had died down a bit, I spent some time up on the bridge. Being up so high in the ship, coupled with 8-foot confused seas (waves coming in from different directions) began to make me feel seasick.  I took another meclazine (similar to Dramamine), had some saltine crackers and ginger ale, and sat on deck looking at the horizon for a while.  When even this failed to make me feel better, I crawled into bed.  I really must have been feeling poorly to miss dinner!

By next morning, the seas had calmed down dramatically, and I was feeling as good as new.  As this was our last full day at sea, I headed up to the bridge to do one last thing that the Commanding Officer told me I could do – drive the ship!  While the ship is underway, it is usually under “auto-pilot”.  A course can be entered into the computer and the ship doesn’t need anyone actively at the helm.  The Navigational Officer, Ensign Michael Doig, placed the Pisces under manual control and showed me how to steer the ship.  The Pisces is an incredibly responsive ship and can turn very quickly in just a few feet.  I was shown the current heading and the compass and tried to keep the ship on course – it was definitely much harder than it looks!  After zig-zagging back and forth, off course by about 10 degrees, I handed control back to Ensign Doig.

Lesley Urasky at the helm (aka “driving” the ship).

After this concentration zapping task, he had me plot our current position on the navigational chart and record the hourly weather information.  This included the ship’s current latitude and longitude, course heading, wind speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.

These are some of the nautical charts the Pisces used while on our cruise: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and East Coast of Florida: Approaches to St. Johns River

Lesley Urasky plotting the Pisces‘ current position

While many aspects of travel in the modern age have various computer based technologies to assist with navigation, the crew still needs to know how to find their location manually. I spent some time learning about navigation with Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate on the Pisces.  He showed me how they plot their course on a navigational chart.  Once a ship’s current location is determined, those crew members on watch will use dead reckoning to determine where they will be at a given point in time if all the current conditions remain the same (course and speed).  Peter also attempted to show me how to determine the time of sunrise/sunset for each specific location using our latitude, longitude, and an almanac.  For an interesting way to determine when sunrise/sunset (as well as moon rise/set) for your specific location, NOAA has a great website called Solar Calculator.  This site will also tell you when solar noon occurs (point where the sun is most directly overhead) and show you the path the sun takes across the sky.

Plotting our current position and using dead reckoning to project future positions.

Unfortunately, at that point in time, I wasn’t able to fully understand Peter’s directions as the seasickness was just beginning to hit me. The effects were compounded by being up on the bridge (almost the highest point on the ship) and trying to follow lines of small numbers in the almanac while the ship was being  buffeted by waves from all directions.

As my final day at sea came to a close, I spent quite a bit of time “prowling” the ship and taking pictures of all the little things that had become so “ordinary” to me.  After dinner, I climbed up to the flying deck and spent time watching the sunset with the Commanding Officer (CO), Peter Fischel.  It was a beautiful sight; one that I’ll always remember.

Sunset on the last night of the cruise.

Before I went to bed, I checked the ship’s information board to find out when we’d be arriving in Mayport, Florida.  The board holds important information and updates the crew needs to know as part of their jobs as well as other useful information.

Information board on the NOAA ship Pisces.

Last night when I went to bed, there was nothing but open ocean surrounding the ship.  When I woke up the next morning, the sun was rising and Mayport/Jacksonville, Florida could be seen along our port side (left).  It was a welcome sight after not seeing land for a few days.  However, I knew this view was also bringing my adventure to an end.  It was an amazing journey and full of wonderful experiences.  I met so many kind and knowledgeable people who I won’t soon forget.  A HUGE thank you to NOAA, the science team, and the crew members of the Pisces!

Panoramic view of the Mayport Harbor as we pull in at the end of our cruise.

Marsha Skoczek: Who’s Driving this Ship, Anyway? July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia
Date:  July 9, 2012

Latitude:  31.30748N
Longitude:  79.43986W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.5C (84 F)
Wind Speed:   10.4 knots (11.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity:  81%
Barometric Pressure:  1015.7
Surface Water Temperature:  27.88C (82.4F)

Science and Technology Log

Today, the current was too strong in the area we were going to send the ROV.  The boat and the ROV were not able to keep close enough to the assigned transect line, so the dives for today were cancelled.  Since we had some extra time until the Pisces was able to get us to our next location, I decided to spend some time on the bridge learning about how the Pisces works.

Myself and ENS Pawlishen working on the nautical charts.

Third Officer, Pete Langolis, was on duty when I got to the bridge, and he was nice enough to show me around.  After he let me ring the bell for the noon test of the master alarm system, we got started.  The Pisces is able to keep its course by using both a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.  The magnetic compass has the potential for interference depending on the conditions around it such as the roof of the ship, the types of metals that make up the ship, etc.  To find the correct bearing for the Pisces to travel along, the officer on duty has to take into consideration four factors, where is true north, the variation from the compass rose on the nautical chart, where is magnetic north, and the deviation from magnetic north from the deviation card (this will be different from ship to ship).  This all calculates into the correct compass heading for the officer on the bridge to drive the ship.  Once the correct heading is calculated, it can be programmed into the ship’s tracking computers as well as the bow thruster which acts as an autopilot for the ship.  Every thirty minutes, the officer on deck has to verify with the paper nautical charts that the ship is still on the correct heading.  Any variations from the original heading can be corrected simply by changing the direction on the autopilot.  You can follow along with our current position using the NOAA Ship Tracker website.  Select Pisces from the box in the upper left.

When you are out in the middle of the open ocean, the last thing you want to do is run into another vessel.  The Pisces is equipped with two different radar systems that help look for other ships in the area.  The S-Band radar sends out a longer pulse signal which is good for locating ships that are further away and also seeing through dense fog.  The X Band radar sends out a short pulse signal which better helps to locate ships in closer proximity to the Pisces.

X band radar showing the location of ships near the Pisces

Both of these radars are tied to the Automated Information System (AIS) as well as the Global Positioning System (GPS).  The information about each ship identified on the radar screen can be pulled up and used to help steer the Pisces around other vessels such as cargo ships, commercial fishing vessels, or other military vessels. All targets located by the radar need to be visually confirmed by the officer on deck to insure that they are not on a course that will come too close to the Pisces.

Engine monitor screen on the bridge.

The Pisces has a single propeller  that is powered by two electric motors.  These motors are powered by four diesel generators.  Before we could leave port last Friday, we had to fuel up with 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  This took about six hours to complete.  This amount of fuel should last the Pisces several months at sea.  The whole propulsion system can be monitored electronically from the bridge to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

So, who actually drives the ship?  Three NOAA Corps officers share bridge watch in shifts of 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  This doesn’t mean they spend the other 8 hours sleeping. All of the officers on board Pisces have other responsibilities such as the Navigation Officer (NAV), the Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and the Commanding Officer (CO).  Before a new junior ensign can be left on their own to be in charge of the bridge, not only do they complete a twenty-week training, they will also spend about six months shadowing a senior officer.  This lets them get hands on training and experience while still having someone watching over their shoulder double checking everything.  After all, the lives of everyone aboard the Pisces depend on them doing everything correctly.

Personal Log

Being out to sea away from land is not something I have ever done before.  I am struck by the vastness of the ocean.  Everywhere you

Lobate ctenophores are translucent and give off a bioluminescent glow. Bolinopsis infundibulum. Picture: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

look, there is nothing but blue water.  It is truly hypnotizing.  Also, knowing that there might not be another vessel within hundreds of miles of us is a little weird.  Last night I went out with my roommate, Stephanie, to see the stars.  There is no light pollution out here in the open ocean, so we were able to see every star in the sky, including the Milky Way Galaxy.  It was an incredible view.  We also could see the bioluminescent organisms as they were getting turned up in the ship’s wake, animals such as jellyfish, copepods, and ostracods.  It was really neat to see bioluminescence in action.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed NOAA Corps officers Ensign Michael Doig and Ensign Junior Officer Douglas Pawlishen.

Ensign Michael Doig

ENS Doig, what is your job title?  I am the Navigation Officer for the Pisces and an Ensign in the NOAA Corps.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I am one of the officers that has bridge duty to steer the ship.  I also keep the nautical charts up to date, maintain the ship’s inventory, and train the new junior ensigns.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Zoology from University of Hawaii and a Masters’ Degree in Science Education.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico on board the Pisces.  One of the coolest things I have seen is a pod of orca whales trying to kill a baby sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico.  The baby sent out a distress call and all of the adult sperm whales encircled the baby to protect it.  The baby sperm whale was saved.

How is the NOAA Corps different from other jobs?  First, when you apply for the NOAA Corps, they look at all of the math and science courses you have taken in college.  They are looking for students with strong background in those fields.  After you are accepted and make it through training, you are assigned to a NOAA ship for two years.  After those two years, you can apply for a land assignment, but that will probably only last for about three years before you have to go back out to sea on a new ship.  You work year round and are granted thirty days of personal leave for the year.

Since your time on the Pisces is almost finished, what land assignment are you applying for at the end of your two years?  I have applied to work in the Miami NOAA branch studying coral reef restoration.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a scientist?  Companies are always looking for employees with strong backgrounds in science. Don’t be afraid of those upper level physics classes or upper level math classes.  Get in there and do it!!


Junior Ensign Douglas Pawlishen

Ensign Pawlishen, what is your job title?  I am an Ensign Junior Officer aboard the Pisces.  This is my first ship assignment in the NOAA Corps and I just started on the ship last Thursday.

What type of job responsibilities do you have on this ship? To shadow Ensign Doig so he can train me about life aboard the Pisces.

Why did you decide to join the NOAA Corps?  I wanted a job where I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all day every day doing the same thing over and over again.  With my science background, I thought the NOAA Corps offered me the opportunity to do something more hands on and different every day.

What type of education do you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree from University of Massachusetts  Amherst in Natural Resources and  a minor in both Criminal Justice and Wildlife Management.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Well, since I am brand new, I haven’t really been out to sea yet.  My best experience so far was aboard the Coast Guard Eagle, which is a massive sail boat confiscated in World War II from the Germans.  All of the NOAA Corps cadets along with the Coast Guard cadets have to spend two weeks on board sailing the Coast Guard Ship Eagle and developing our team work skills.

Paige Teamey: November 6, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 1, 2011

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, between Montauk, L.I. and Block Island
Date: November 6, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: SE 9 knots
Temperature 14.3 ° Celsius
Dry Bulb: 11.5 ° Celsius
Wet Bulb: 8.9 ° Celsius
Barometer: 1030.0 millibars
Latitude: 41°10’59″ ° North
Longitude: 072°05’63″ ° West

Current Celestial View of NYC:

Current Moon Phase:

Current Seasonal Position (make sure to click on “show earth profile):

http://www.astroviewer.com/ http://www.die.net/moon/ http://esminfo.prenhall.com



Science and Technology Log

Sunset on either Thursday, Saturday, or....two months ago :).

Frank said an interesting thing today that resonated with a feeling that I have been unable to define. He said that when you are working at sea, every day is a Monday. This specific survey trip is 12 days long, which translates to 11 Monday’s and one Friday. That means there are no weekends, time is not longitudinal, rotational, or accompanied by changing scenery (going from home to the subway to school…all different backdrops). One day drips into the next, sparked by small things that you note as change and reference with a new day. We even had to vote on whether to observe daylight savings this weekend, or pretend it did not exist until we landed in New London on Friday.

Time at Sea.

I awoke yesterday and had the same breakfast I have had for the past week (still tasty, thanks Ace!!); however, there was nothing to punctuate why this day was indeed Saturday and not Friday. Mike the E.T. sat at the same table he had the day before and piled one condiment after the next onto his breakfast until perfection was reached, just as he has done each prior day. I smiled and laughed and told jokes with each of the crew members just as I have each day since I arrived.

Mike: Perfection in every bite.

The mess hall is like an accordion. It acts as a center piece that brings all of us together. After each meal the crew disappears back to the their stations. In this 208ft ship 36 members find their space and focus moving back to our stations to perform our individual duties. When meals begin anew we are pulled back together to resonate until we move away yet again. This center piece is essential otherwise we would continue with our duties whether it be Tuesday evening or Sunday morning. I enjoyed thinking about Frank’s sentence. This idea spoke of time not in hours or minutes, but as a continuum. Time on the TJ is marked with very simplistic relatively small changes that many of us would not pay attention to in our regular New York lives. A small conversation that sparks ideas, or subtle nuances that you begin to discover in an individual especially while sharing silence together, or a new smell that is adrift in the air that allows you to remember Tuesday from Friday (remember Tuesday when we smelled…). A series of simplistic small moments allows you to mark one day from the next.

Brilliant Tom prepping 3102 for a secure departure from the TJ.

There is a lovely gentleman named Tom who has been on numerous ships for over 30 years. He told me his line of work suits him best because he likes being able to keep to himself and if he was unable to work on ships he would be a hermit high on a hill (just a little joke). He has marked time by haircuts or noticing his shirt is slowly falling apart, or having to shave. He does not speak in days, just marked events. His longest time at sea without seeing land was 167 days…

Rock dove...can you find him?

Yesterday, Saturday…I mean Sunday, was marked by a small rock dove staring at me from the deck while I was standing on the bridge as I normally do with Joe and Tony during the 4-8 shift. The dove landed on the steal guard rail and then nestled in an incredibly small nook located in the bow next to the front mast and remained with the ship for the next two hours. It puffed its feathers to a measurable extension and settled in with the rest of the TJ crew. This dove punctuated my day and allowed me to differentiate time from Saturday.

"It's the people that make you happy--that is why I continue. Without people it is like having one shoe," says Tom.

There is constant conversation involved with seeing family, returning home, having creature comforts in hand’s reach, and kissing a wife, husband, or missed child. However many of the crew have also spoken of how even though time away from the ship is welcomed, after a while, they miss these days. Working with and on the ocean takes a certain kind of someone. These individuals tend to have patience, perseverance, and motivation to live on a ship and continue with focus each Monday. Each crew member on the TJ seems very much at ease and almost in a Zen-like state. From what I have observed there is no bitterness or disgruntled workers roaming the ship. Everyone here has served on multiple ships and is self-contained. Silence marks most of the day and conversations occur naturally when the tides are right.

For the last three days I have spoken with every surveyor on the ship at length to understand each stage of the nautical chart making process. I want to know the history, the importance, and most importantly the science. There are many stages and processes that go into the eventual updated chart (this process can take upwards of 1.5 years depending on the layout, and how well the data was accurately retrieved). I have been learning about this information and shooting videos bit by bit in order to make an introduction to hydrographic surveying for those that are following (thanks mom). November 3-5 have been my devoted days to understanding these new ideas. I will hopefully finish with the editing and have the video published soon.

Until then, smooth sails with no gales.

Personal Log


Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese and two pancakes (coffee of course!)

Lunch: Grey noodles…no seriously

Dinner: Spicy noodles with green beans (YUM)

Obed Fulcar, July 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Obed Fulcar
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 27, 2010 – August 8, 2010

Mission:Summer Pollock survey III
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 21, 2010

Weather from the Bridge:
Time: 0345 pm
Latitude: 57.23 degrees North
Longitude:173.33 degrees West
Wind: 12 knots
Direction: 257 degrees West
Sea Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 8.85 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1020.0 mb
Skies: Partly Sunny

Science and Technology Log:

Buddy Gould
Buddy Gould

Yesterday, Tuesday July 20, we finally left Dutch harbor, once all the delayed scientific equipment arrived. I was later told that it included some new and sophisticated technology to track and measure fish underwater. We climbed up to the “flying bridge” at the very top of the ship to see the view of Dutch harbor behind us and the open ocean ahead. After that we came down to the bridge where Acting Executive Officer XO Sarah Duncan, Ensign Amber Payne, and Buddy Gould from the Deck Department gave us a tour of the bridge. They explained that the panels of navigational instruments used to sail the ship included Radar screens, to detect any vessels or ships in the proximity, one for long range, and another for short range, showing any ships close by. The screens show the many readings from instruments on board such as wind speed (in knots), Wind direction (in degrees), Latitude, Longitude, and Air Pressure (in millibars).

Navigational Instruments
Navigational Instruments

Next we received a demonstration in how to chart a course using the Electronic chart. I was surprised to understand the navigational terminology, (Iguess my Basic Sailing class is paying off), such as true wind, leeward, aft, forward, et…
I asked if they still used paper Nautical Charts and the answer was yes, they use them to plot the course of the ship using pen, ruler, and compass. I was surprised to know that even with all this technology even though the ship course and navigation is done completely electronically, they still rely on pen and paper charts as back up! On the bridge were also two scientists fro the US Fish and Wildlife service working on Seabird research, as part of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Project, a multidsciplinary study that is looking at how climate change is affecting the ecosystem of the Bering Sea. liz and Marty were both working from the bridge with binoculars, observing and counting all seabirds within 300 meters from the ship. armed with a laptop computer connected to the ship’s navigational system they were able to count and input the GPS location (latitude/longitude) of every sighting of a seabird, and plot a GIS graph in real time. I found this to be really cool! We saw seabirds found on the Bering sea such as Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Tufted/Horned Puffin, Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, and Thick-bill Murre.

Personal Log:
Today is Day 4 of the mission and so far I have done pretty well in terms of motion sickness. A calm sea has been a great factor and has allowed me to get adjusted to life at sea. I am surprised to find myself at home in my my bunk bed, and haven’t had any difficulties sleeping at all, though I do miss my bed. The long schedule from 0400 to 1600 (4pm) full of activities has been of help keeping me busy. The food is great thanks to Floyd the master cook with a variety of international food and home baked pastries. I was also impressed by the international collaboration in this mission, with two Russian scientists on board conducting research on the fisheries of the Bering Sea since part of the transects or line passess done by the Oscar Dyson cover Russian territorial waters as well.
New Vocabulary Words;
Nautical charts, Radar, Latitude, Longitude, GPS (Global Positioning Satelite), Leeward (opposite to wind), Forward (front of ship), Aft (back of ship)

Animals seen today:
Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Tufted/Horned Puffin, Fork-tail storm Petrel, Thick-bill Murre
Bitacora Marina #2: Ayer martes, 20 de Julio finalmente zarpamos hacia alta mar. Los oficiales del Oscar Dyson nos dieron un tour del puente explicandonos los sofisticados instrumentos de navegacion electronica como Radares, sonar acustico, y sistema global de ubicacion por satelite (GPS).A pesar de tanta tecnologia, todavia se grafica el curso de la nave usando Cartas Marinas, compas y lapiz!Tambien me presentaron a una pareja de biologos del Servicio de Pesca y Caza de los EEUU, haciendo un conteo de las aves marinas del Estrecho de Bering, graficando en tiempo real cada observacion en un ordenador laptop usando tecnologia GIS, o sistema de informacion geografica.

Richard Jones & Art Bangert, January 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Jones
January 4 – 22, 2010

Mission: Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: January 9, 2010


Science Log

Today was a busy day. We were up before dawn so we could check on an existing buoy close to the location of our new deployment. We made what was called a ‘fly-by’. The ship closed on the buoy and at about a mile it was vaguely visible in the early dawn. The first buoy deployment of our mission began about 7:30 AM and we had the anchor in the water about 11AM and everything went smooth. The new generation TAO buoy was deployed at 155 W longitude and 8 N latitude in a depth of 5200 meters(about 3.2 miles deep!). The TAO buoys, also called moorings, are anchored to the ocean floor using plastic coated steel cable and heavy rope. We have a drawing of the standard buoy to give you some idea what the whole package looks like, at the surface as well as below. The adjacent image is of the actual buoy that we deployed today.As you can see the color scheme has change to a solid International Yellow above the waterline.

Buoy mooring up close
Buoy mooring up close

During the initial deployment electronic sensors are placed at specific depths on a special coated steal wire. These sensors are designed to by induction and send information about conductivity (salinity), temperature and sometimes depth to the instrument tube in the buoy.This image shows two of the science team placing one of these sensors on the line.

The information provided by these sensors, and those on the buoy that measure surface conditions, help climate scientists better model the behavior of the ocean atmosphere interface and understand what patterns are more representative of El Nino, La Nina, or Neutral conditions.

In addition to the deploy of this first buoy on our trip, the ship was also engaged in the deployment and recovery of the first deep CTD. This 3000-meter (about 9750 feet or slightly over 1 3/4thmiles down) cast went fairly smoothly until it was on its way back to the surface. The winch

controller overheated and the CTD had to rest

for about one hour while the instrument package sat at 2000 meters.After the control circuits had a chance to cool we were able to continue the recovery of the CTD and resume or course south on the 155 W to our next station at 7N for a 1000 meter CTD cast. There is a good chance that we will do the CTD later this evening since it will take about six hours for the ship to transit one degree depending on sea conditions.

Sensors monitor the ocean conditions
Sensors monitor the ocean conditions
CTDs being deployed
CTDs being deployed

Matt Lawson, June 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge as of Wednesday 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature: Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat
One of the gravity davits stands waiting for the return of its launch boat

Science and Technology Log 

Out to Launch! 

June 10: At 7:50 am CO Haines met with everyone involved in today’s launches to talk about the work, weather and safety. Acting FOO Smith covered the particulars of the survey work each launch boat would be conducting. Chief Boatswain Kruger briefly reminded us about safety and being in your positions at the right times, then the order in which the launches would depart from the ship. Very shortly after 8am, we climbed aboard RA-#4 (RAINIER launch boat #4) and were lowered into the water. All six launch boats are similar to each other in that they are about 30 feet long, have built-in diesel engines, a cabin, and a canopy over the coxswain’s wheel.  They are housed upon gravity davits, which are not the latest in technology, but very durable and reliable.  More modern davits use hydraulic systems and they require fewer deckhands to operate. It appears to me that each system has its advantages. Today, we mainly used the side scan sonar system on that boat to survey some of the rocky off shore areas of Biali Rock.

RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.
RA-4 leaves a trail as it speeds to the assigned survey site.

The weather was pretty good except that the waves were 6-7 feet tall, making it a little rough for the new guy. Amy Riley, Lead Survey Technician, invited me below deck to see the work she and Grant were doing. Basically, they had a computer with three monitors, showing the current GPS map of where we were, the scanning in real time and a 3-D image of the ocean floor as it was being processed. The job here for the technicians is to monitor the computers as they accumulate data that will later be processed. But this is not yet the end product.  The processed data is finally sent ashore where NOAA cartographers will create the actual charts used for navigation.  Even though quite a number of other things were going on in other smaller windows, I’m not above admitting I didn’t fully understand it all!  I was allowed to take the tech’s chair for a while and we did 4-5 passes with me in control of the system.  Somehow, I managed not to crash us into anything!

The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued.  Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert
The two fishermen in their “Gumby Suits” wait to be rescued. Their capsized fishing boat is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Ian Colvert

Later, I sat in on the survey de-briefing in the wardroom.  This meeting takes place every day immediately after the last launch returns to the ship.  Everyone involved in the launches participates in this meeting.  While everyone is given an opportunity to speak about the day, the lead survey technician for each launch specifically makes an official report on accomplishments, areas of interest or concern, problems and/or issues that need to be addressed before the next set of launches departs. I found this part of the day just as interesting because it created a summary for the entire day’s mission.

Personal Log 

Drill or No Drill? 

NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.
NOAA personnel expertly pluck the stranded fishermen from the sea. Even as they suffered from shock, they thanked the rescue team profusely for being there.

While out on the launch, we were able to catch a little of the radio chatter.  It’s always good to listen to the radio, even when it doesn’t pertain to you.  It keeps you in the know and alert to possible hazards in your path. I’m adding “listening to the radio” as a rule on my “to do” list, and I’m about to give you a good example as to why.  As we listened, it sounded like a “Man Overboard” drill was taking place on the ship. Ha, ha.  Better them than us.  However, the more we listened, we began to realize we were really missing the event of the day.  Apparently, two fishermen were out on a fairly old boat when they began to sink. We don’t know the cause, just that it was going down fast. They were able to get out only one mayday call. However, RAINIER’s bridge was able to pick up on and respond to the call.

Despite the fact that much of the ship’s personnel were out on launches, a sufficient rescue team was mustered and conducted a flawless rescue mission.  The two fishermen were in their emergency immersion or “Gumby suits” and had not suffered too much when they were picked up.  After allowing them time to rest and somewhat recover from shock, they were taken to the nearest port.   I had read how NOAA vessels frequently play vital roles in various rescue missions, but being here when it happens makes a much bigger impression.  Today proved just how easily things can get hairy out here and  how important it is to know how to handle emergency situations.  Drills and safety meetings occur regularly on RAINIER, and once again, came in very helpful.

Ian Colvert, a NOAA Survey Technician was on board RAINIER when the rescue mission took place. He is credited for the rescue pictures.

Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.
Bald eagles are as abundant here as the crows are at home.

Not Yet a Salty Dog 
I have to diverge a little here.  Operating a computer on a wildly thrashing boat was indeed a new experience in and of itself, as well as a point of hilarity for the Lead Technician, Amy, who’s been doing this for a long time.  Just working the mouse was like riding Ferdinand the Bull after being stung by an unfriendly bee. Anyway, after an hour of this, I began to get seasick.  Yes, the new experiences just keep coming!  At the risk of using too many analogies in one paragraph, I will say sea sickness pretty much just feels as if you’ve been traveling in the back of a tired old Chevy Impala being driven through very hilly country roads by a driver who should’ve had his/her license taken away 35 years ago.  Basically, puke city. I had to return to the deck where I could see the horizon and let my brain make sense of things again.  Recovery was a slow process in 6-7 foot waves, but I did eventually manage and was normal again long before we returned to the relative steadiness of the ship.

Sailing/Nautical terms for all you land lovers:

  1. FOO – Field Operations Officer
  2. SONAR – SOund Navigation Ranging – technology which uses sound to determine water depth.
  3. Side scan SONAR – a category of SONAR that is used to create an image of a large area of the sea floor. This type of SONAR is often used when conducting surveys of the seafloor in order to create nautical charts for navigation.
  4. Gravity Davit – davit system which relies on the weight of the boat to lower it into the water.
  5. GPS – Global Positioning System – a mechanism which uses satellite systems to determine location.
  6. Coxswain the helmsman or crew member in command of a boat.
  7. Manual Floatation Device – any life jacket that must be activated by the wearer (usually a rip cord and air canister system) to make it buoyant.
  8. Positive Floatation Device – a life jacket that does not require manual activation and is designed to keep the wearer’s head above water.
  9. Immersion Suit – a full body suit which functions as a positive floatation device.  Used in emergency situations, such as abandoning ship.  The insulation and water proofing of these suits are important factors in colder waters.
  10. Muster – to gather.
  11. Bridge – sometimes called a pilot house, the place from which the ship is steered.  This is the heart of ship operations.

Animals Seen Today 
No new ones, but it was still exciting to see so many.  Even though the somewhat higher waves kept me busy with the challenge of standing up, I did notice a large colony of starfish hanging on some rocks in calm waters.

“Did You Know?” 

  • There are cold water corals which grow in the Alaskan waters.
  • The Gulf of Esquibel (pronounced “es-ki-bell”) was originally named by Fransisco Antonio Maurelle about May 22,1779 in honor of Mariano Nunez de Esquivel, the surgeon of the ship La Favorita.
  • Alaska itself was purchased by the United States from Russia in 1867.
  • Prior to its sale to the U.S., the Russians referred to it as “Russian America.”
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.
Sea otters bathed and ate nonchalantly on their backs as we passed between the islands.

Matt Lawson, June 9, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Matt Lawson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 9-20, 2008

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bay of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: June 9, 2008

Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.
Chief Boatswain, Jim Kruger, demonstrates a life raft in a session aboard the RAINIER.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: Longitude: 50° 17.89’ North (N) Latitude: 134° 24.68’ West (W)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (Nm.)
Wind Direction: none
Wind Speed: none
Sea Wave Height: none
Seawater Temperature: 7.8 Celcius (C)
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.1 millibars (Mb.)
Cloud Cover & skies: overcast
Air Temperature:  Dry bulb – 12.2 C Wet bulb – 8.3 C

Science and Technology Log 

Arrival evening and day one were spent mostly getting oriented with the ship, safety procedures, as well as a quick visit into Juneau before sailing out. Safety is the foremost concern in every scientific field of study. Since we’re on the ocean, there is a lot to be aware of and how to handle potentially disastrous situations. Therefore, we new arrivals were fitted and familiarized with a number of safety gear.  First were the positive floatation devices. These just look like orange coats, but they’re heavily insulated and highly buoyant.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Matt Lawson, in a Positive Floatation Device and hard hat.

They’re always worn as a precaution when boarding launch boats and in any other similar situations. In the unlikely event that you would fall into the water, you’d already be wearing a life jacket.  We were also fitted with our immersion suits.  These are whole body suits and are only worn in cases of emergencies, such as abandoning ship.  There are emergency escape breathing devices (EEBD) hanging in convenient locations everywhere on the ship in case of fire. Hard hats were issued for wearing in work areas. A manual floatation device was also issued for wearing once you’re off on a launch, so long as you are in the cabin of the boat.  Even these vests have a built in air canister, which can inflate the vest by pulling a cord located on the front. Last, but not least are the launch boats, which would be our first means of escape from a sinking ship.  To back those up are the inflatable rafts, which open upon contact with the water. Jim Kruger, Chief Boatswain, briefed us about all these issues and supervised the fitting of our gear.  

Sailing terms for all you land lovers:

  1. Bow – the very front of the ship
  2. Stern – the very rear of the ship.
  3. Forward – nearer the front of the ship
  4. Aft – toward the back of the ship
  5. Port side – as you’re facing the front, the left side.
  6. Starboard side – as you’re facing the front, the right side.
  7. Hydrography – the science of the measurement, description, and mapping of the sea bottom and tidal mudflats, as well as the positions of stationary objects at sea (both below and above the water’s surface), with special reference to navigation.
  8. Commanding Officer (CO) – the officer in charge of the ship.
  9. Executive Office (XO) – the officer second in charge of the ship.
  10. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boe-sun”) – the primary person responsible for the boats, sails rigging, anchors, and cables.
  11. Electronics Technician (ET) – the primary person responsible for all telecommunications, computers, and other electronics on board the ship.
  12. Davit – a crane that projects over the side of stern of a ship and is used as a joist; a pair of davits is used to carry and launch/recover small boats such as a survey launch.
  13. Launch – a boat, typically less than 30 feet, used to conduct surveys.
  14. Hull – the frame or body of a ship, boat, or buoy.
  15. Latitude – the distance north or south of the equator of a point on the Earth’s surface; and imaginary line that runs east-west and ranges from 0-90 degrees north and 0-90 degrees south.
  16. Longitude – the distance east or west of the Prime Meridian of a point on the Earth’s surface; an imaginary line that runs north-south and ranges from 0-180 degrees east and 0-180 degrees west.
  17. Chart – a map designed to assist navigation by air or sea.
  18. NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  NOAA falls under the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for prediction and research of weather and climate-related events, charting the sea and skies, and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coast and marine resources.
Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.
Three of RAINIER’s launches hang in their davits.

Personal log 

June 8th 

The captain of Alaska Airlines flight 59 announced our upcoming descent into Juneau.  I looked out the window. The mountains poked their snow capped peaks through the clouds.  It was my first ever glimpse of Alaska.  As we descended, we momentarily disappeared into the white.  Then things cleared up and an awe inspiring sight appeared.  Juneau and the surrounding mountains were there. My gaping mouth and “Cheshire Cat” grin were seemingly permanent.  I had no idea it would be this beautiful. Christy Shultz, (Junior Officer/JO) met Mark Friedman, (fellow Teacher At Sea/TAS) and me at the airport. We rode in a van with two other NOAA employees, Amy & Mike Riley back to where the RAINIER was docked.

Upon arrival at the ship, Christy gave all the new arrivals the grand tour.  Wow, what a nice ship! The personnel aboard keep this place looking spotless.  RAINIER was built in 1967 and launched in 1968. Many adjustments have been made over time to meet changing needs and she has taken them all gracefully from what I can see. At this time, RAINIER is carrying 6 launch boats (metal hulled with canopies) and two skiffs (smaller, open top, with an outboard motor). Each vessel, including RAINIER herself, is equipped with various forms of sonar technology for hydrographic charting. Hydrography is RAINIER’s main objective, specifically around the coastline of the Gulf of Alaska, and this is what we are to do for the next two weeks.

RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow
RAINIER bridge and forward starboard bow

We were introduced to a large number of rooms, and access to most of them is very casual. Basically, one should read labels on doors, and if it’s locked, don’t go in. Anyway, There are two main passageways: amid and athwart ship.  The crew’s mess is in the very center of the ship.  The decks are ordered alphabetically, A-F with A at the bottom and the Fly bridge on top. My quarters/stateroom, which I share with Able Bodied Seaman, Joe Normand, is in a small section of C Deck accessed by a ladder way.  Ladder ways are sort of a hybrid between stairs and ladders. There are three staterooms in this section, each containing four bunks. Joe and I have the run of our stateroom for this leg of RAINIER’s ’08 journey. Near the front, of course, is the bridge, officers’ quarters, offices, (CO, XO, ET, and others) officers’ mess, and wardroom.

Orientation and dinner aboard ship finished, newly acquainted friends, Matt, Adam, Fernando, & Mark conversed and talked about what our jobs and duties would be in the coming days.  We were all very tired from traveling, but we knew we had to get our bodies aligned with the time zone, so we didn’t allow ourselves to sleep too early. Instead, we chose to watch movies in the wardroom.  I’m guessing on other ships, this room is normally reserved for officers only, but we were told teachers and other visiting professionals usually commandeer it for themselves.

June 9th 

Today was sailing day. There were more people and there was a definitely different buzz about the ship than yesterday as crew and officers alike went about the business of preparing for departure. We new arrivals worked to complete orientation: safety videos, drills and online tech safety training. At 3:45, (1545) the gang plank was pulled aboard, ropes were untied, and by 4pm, (1600) we were off.  Most importantly . . . the food here is great!  The cooks do a terrific job. They all have their specialties and they seem to love what they’re doing.

“Did You Know?” 

  • When referring to the air and oceans, mapping is actually called “charting.”
  • Alaska experiences all four seasons and is not completely covered in ice and snow.
  • Rainforest ecosystems can be found in Alaska.
  • Desert ecosystems can be found in Alaska.