Geographic Location: Kodiak and Anchorage Airports and back home
Date: September 8, 2017
A map of the long transit south from the through the Aleutians and then northeast to Kodiak (the dark green line was the Tuesday evening through Friday morning transit from the Yukon River delta)
The last three and a half days of the experience were the transit back to Kodiak. This gave me a lot of time up on the bridge and in the surveyors’ work areas.
So many things impressed me about the crew on this trip. I think most of all, seeing that a group of young scientists between 22 and 38 (I believe) were ultimately responsible for all of the ship operations and were doing a phenomenal job! Fairweather has the largest number of junior officers on board and the atmosphere is of constant training. I kept thinking about the ages of most of the junior officers and how my own students could be in this position in a few years. The opportunity to grow as a member of a uniformed service and receive all of the training while still being able to pursue the sciences is incredible to me and I intend to make sure that my students know about the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I had just known this existed when I graduated college…”
CO CDR Van Waes giving direction
ENS Siegenthaler charting the course
Ops Officer LT Manda taking photos of the Oscar Dyson – another ship in the NOAA fleet
ENS Lawler checking the course
The weather information center on the bridge
ENS Douglas doing the constant course check
On the long trip back, we were traveling through dense fog, narrow rocky passes in the middle of the night, and areas of high and sometimes unpredictable currents. We even managed a rendezvous with another NOAA vessel in order to pass of some medical supplies. Throughout all of it, I watched the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers handle everything with tremendous grace under pressure. But on Fairweather, I found out their work does not stop with the ship operations. Each of the officers are also directly involved with the hydrographic science, and have responsibility for a specific survey area.
The Survey team are also responsible for specific survey areas.
Survey techs Bekah and Drew at their computers. If they’re not eating, sleeping, working out, or on a survey boat – this is probably what they’re doing!
For each area owner, this culminates in a final report (called a Division Report, or DR) giving details of the survey and talking through all anomalies. Survey work does not stop. These folks are working 7 days a week and often 14+ hour days when they are out at sea.
In some cases the owner of a survey area will have very intimate knowledge of a survey area because they had the opportunity to be out on the survey boats. But in many cases, this will not be true. Ultimately their responsibility is making absolutely certain that every piece of necessary information has been gathered and that the data is clean. I was told that in most cases, writing the final report will take a couple months.
These reports will eventually become mapped data that is accessible to anyone through the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But it will also be sent in various forms to be housed for shipping navigation and other industries.
If you’re working long hours 7 days a week, you learn to take advantage of any opportunity you get to rest. A couple members of the survey team, catching a nap on the transit back from the Yukon Delta to Fairweather.
With all of the work they do at sea, ports can become very welcome places. The Fairweather crew had gone into port at Nome, Alaska several time through July and August and were excited to pull into Kodiak. Even on our transit south, I watched the crew get more excited as they left the desolation of the tundra and we began to see cliffs and trees again.
I am so glad that I saw the tundra finally, and that I will now be able to explain it more fully to my students, but I can also completely understand how the sheer vastness of the northern parts of Alaska could make you long for more varied terrain.
Harbors in Southern California don’t look like this!! Coast Guard Base harbor in Kodiak, AK
I only got to spend one day in Kodiak, but it is a breathtaking place. I didn’t get to do any serious hiking, but I did see the salmon running and ended up on an old nature trail. And the best part was that I got to see a bunch of amazing people relax and enjoy their time away from work.
Would I do this again if I had the opportunity? Unequivocally YES!! I would jump at the chance!
Would I recommend this to other teachers? Absolutely! It is an amazing experience. Granted, I think I had the best ship with the best crew…
As I described in another blog, the ACCESS cruise records data about top-level predators, plankton, and environmental conditions as indicators of ecosystem health. Today I’ll explain sampling of plankton and environmental conditions.
Krill from the Tucker Trawl Photo credit: J. Jahncke/ NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
a single krill. Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
a small squid – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
There are two methods of collecting plankton. The Tucker Trawl, a large net with 3 levels is used to sample organisms that live in deep water (200 meters or more) just beyond the continental shelf. The collected krill and plankton are sent to a lab for identification and counting.
Scientist Dani Lipski (left) and myself with the hoop net. Photo credit: C.Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Another method of sampling producers and organisms is the hoop net, deployed to within 50 meters of the surface.
Here I am with my daily job of cleaning the CTD. I also prepare labels for the samples, assist with the CTD, Niskin and hoop net, and Tucker Trawl if needed. Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Deploying the CTD and hoop net – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Environmental conditions are sampled using the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device. It measures conductivity (salinity) of the water, temperature and depth. The CTD is deployed multiple times along one transect line. Nutrients and phytoplankton are also sampled using a net at the surface of the water. I interviewed several scientists and crew who help make this happen.
An Interview with a Scientist:
Danielle Lipski,Research Coordinator, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Dani and myself deploying the CTD Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Why is your work important?
The many aspects of the ocean we sample give a good picture of ecosystem health. It affects our management of National Marine Sanctuaries in events such as ship strikes, harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I like the variety of the work. I get to collaborate with other scientists, and see the whole project from start to finish.
Where do you do most of your work?
I spend 4 – 5 weeks at sea each year. The rest of the time I’m in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary office.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
In high school I was fascinated with understanding why biological things are the way they are in the world. There are some amazing life forms and adaptations.
How did you become interested in communicating about science?
I want to make a difference in the world by applying science.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
An Interview with a Scientist:
Jaime Jahncke, Ph.D., California Current Director, Point Blue Conservation Science
Jaime checks the echo sounder for the location of krill. Photo credit: NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Why is your work important?
We protect wildlife and ecosystems through science and outreach partnerships.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
-being outside in nature and working with people who appreciate what I do.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean Science?
I always wanted a career in marine science.
What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?
I thought whale study would not be a possibility, and I love whale study. (I started my career studying dolphin carcasses!)
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?
The Story of the Essex – the history behind Moby Dick
An Interview with a NOAA Corpsman:
Brian Yannutz, Ensign, NOAA Corps
Brian on the bridge Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Brian retrieving party balloons from the ocean so they won’t harm wildlife. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is a uniformed service of the United States which provides professionals trained in sciences and engineering. Brian has been working for the NOAA Corps for 3 years. He is responsible for the ship while on watch, and other duties such as safety officer.
Why is your work important?
Among other duties, I drive the ship and operate the winch to deploy the trawl and CTD.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I enjoy meeting new people.
Where do you do most of your work?
I’m based out of Monterey, and spend 60 – 90 days per year at sea. I spend 40 hours / week maintaining the boat.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
-the Vessel Inventory Management System, which is a maintenance program.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
In the summer of eighth grade I went to visit relatives in Germany. It was my first time in the ocean. I also spent 15 days in the San Juan Islands.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?
-the movie “The Life Aquatic”
Let’s Talk about Safety:
Brian is responsible for safety aboard ship and it is a high priority. Before sailing I had to do an immersion suit drill where I put on a heavy neoprene suit in 3 minutes. When on deck everyone wears wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), which could be a “float coat” or a “work vest”. A “float coat” looks like a giant orange parka with flotation built in. A “work vest” is a life vest. If you are working on the back deck when the winch line is under tension, you must wear a hard hat. Most people wear waterproof pants and boots to stay dry when hosing down nets.
That’s me, wearing the “gumby” immersion suit! Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS
Bird and Mammals Seen Today in the Bodega Bay Wetlands:
35 Egrets, 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Snowy Egret, many Brandt’s Cormorants, many Western Gulls
Did you know?
A blue whale spout has the general shape of a fire hydrant, and a humpback whale spout looks more like a fan.
I suppose you are wondering what I do in my free time. Between my tasks on board, eating, and blogging, I am pretty busy. Getting extra rest is a big deal, because it’s hard work just to keep your balance on a ship. Some evenings, I feel like I have been skiing all day long! I spend a lot of my time on the flying bridge watching wildlife through my binoculars, or chatting with the scientists and crew. It is fabulous to be out here on the ocean.
Highlight of Today:
Watching several Dall’s Porpoises surfing the wake in front of the bow!
Questions of the Day:
Why do porpoises swim in front of the boat?
Why do whales breach? (Breaching is a behavior that looks like jumping out of the ocean on their side.)
I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!
I know that I have already talked about how much science and technology there is on board, but I am amazed again and again by not only the quantity of it, but also the quality of it. I am also impressed by the specialized education and training that the scientists and rest of the crew have in their designed roles on this ship. They know how to utilize and make sense of it all. I keep trying to understand some of basics, but often I just find myself standing in the back of the room, taking it all in.
We brought in our first haul on Monday. I was given an orientation of each station, put on my fish gear, and got to work. I was shown how to identify the males from the females and shown how to find the fork length of the fish. Finally, I also practiced removing the otoliths from the fish. I finally felt like I was being useful.
I woke up on Tuesday (6/13) to start my 4:00 am shift. After some coffee and a blueberry muffin, I headed down to the “Chem lab.” We had arrived at the Islands of the Four Mountains in the night and were now heading back to start on the transect lines. The scientists had just dropped down the Drop Camera to get an idea of what was happening on the ocean floor. The camera went down to 220 meters to get an idea of what was happening down there. The video images that were being transmitted were mind-blowing. Though it was black and white footage, the resolution had great detail. We were able to see the bottom of the ocean floor and what was hanging out down there. The science crew was able to identity some fish and even some coral. One doesn’t really think of Alaska when one thinks of coral reefs. However, there are more species of coral in the Aleutians than in the Caribbean. That’s a strange thought. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are 50 species of coral in the Caribbean. Scientists believe that there are up to 100 species of coral in the coral gardens of Alaska that are 300 to 5,000 feet below the surface.
The DropCam took images of life on the ocean floor.
Monday, June 12
We have been making progress in getting to the Island of Four Mountains. We should be arriving around noon. At this point the scientists have still been getting everything ready for the first haul. The crew has been working hard to fine-tune the equipment ready for data gathering. I have been sitting in “The Cave” at various times, while they have been working around the clock, brainstorming, trouble-shooting, and sharing their in-depth knowledge with each other (and at times, even with me).
In the afternoon, I was asked to help a member of the Survey Crew sew a shark sling. I was not sure what that entailed, but was willing to help in any way possible. When I found Meredith, she was in the middle of sewing straps onto the shark sling. Ethan and I stepped in to help and spent the rest of the afternoon sewing the sling. The sling is intended to safely return any sharks that we catch (assuming we catch any) back to the water.
We spent many hours sewing the straps onto the sling.
The sling is intended to safely remove any shark we catch from the boat.
Tuesday, June 13
I woke up at 3am, grabbed a coffee and then made my way down to the Chem Lab. After downloading the footage from the DropCam and getting a few still pictures, we started identifying what we saw. Using identification key, we were able to identify the fish and some coral. We saw what we thought was an anemone. We spent about and hour to an hour and a half trying to identify the species. We had no luck. Finally, Abigail, with her scientific wisdom, decided to look into the coral species a bit deeper. And then, AHA!, there it was. It turned out to be a coral, rather than an anemone. It was a great moment to reflect on. It was a reminder that, even in science, there is a bit of trial and error involved. I have also observed that the science, actually everyone else on the ship, is always prepared to “trouble shoot” situations. In the moments where I have been observing in the back of the room, I have been able to take in many of the subtleties that take place on a research vessel like this. Here are some things that I have noticed.
1) Things will go wrong, 2) They always take longer than expected to fix, 3) Sometimes there are things that we don’t know (and that’s ok!) 4) Patience is important, 5) Tolerance is even more important, and 6) Clear communication is probably the most important of all. These have been good observations and reminders for me to apply in my own life.
Animals (And Other Cool Things) Seen Today
I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to participate in the DropCam process. We were able to identify:
Anthomastus mushroom coral
Did You Know?
In the NOAA Corps, an Ensign (ENS) is a junior commissioned officer. Ensigns are also part of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and other maritime services. It is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, the lowest commissioned officer, and ranking next below a lieutenant, junior grade.
Interview with ENS Caroline Wilkinson
What is your title aboard this ship?
I serve as a Junior Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
How long have you been working with the NOAA Corps?
Since July 2015 when I entered Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. We train there for 5 months before heading out to our respective ship assignments. I arrived on the Dyson in December of 2015 and have been here ever since.
What sparked your interest in working for them?
I first learned of the NOAA Corps during a career fair my senior year of college at the University of Michigan. I was attracted by all of the traveling, the science mission of the organization, and the ability to serve my country.
What are some of the highlights of your job?
We see some incredible things out here! The Alaskan coastline is stunningly beautiful and there are more whales, sea birds, seals, otters, etc. than we can count. The crew and scientists are incredibly hardworking and supremely intelligent. They are a joy to work with and I love being able to contribute to highly meaningful science.
What are some of challenging parts of your job?
We spend over 200 days at sea each year and operate in remote areas. It is difficult to keep in touch with loved ones and most of us only see family and friends once or twice a year, if we are lucky. That is a huge sacrifice for most people and is absolutely challenging.
How much training did you go through?
The NOAA Corps Officers train for 5 months at the US Coast Guard Academy alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates. It is a rigorous training program focusing on discipline, officer bearing, and seamanship. Once deployed to the ship, we serve 6-8 months as a junior officer of the deck (JOOD) alongside a qualified Officer of the Deck (OOD). This allows us to become familiar with the ship, get more practice ship handling, and learn the intricacies of trawling.
What are your main job responsibilities?
Each Junior Office wears many hats. Each day I stand eight hours of bridge watch as OOD driving the ship and often instructing a JOOD. I also serve as the Medical Officer ensuring all crew and scientists are medically fit for duty and responding to any illness, injury, or emergency. I am the Environmental Compliance Officer and ensure the ship meets all environmental standards for operations with regards to things like water use and trash disposal. As the Navigation Officer, I work with the Captain and the Chief Scientist to determine where the ship will go and how we will get there. I then create track lines on nautical charts to ensure we are operating in safe waters. In my spare time I manage some small aspects of the ship’s budget and organize games, contests, outings, etc. as the morale officer.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or share about what you do?
I am really enjoying my time working for NOAA and in the NOAA Corps; I could not have asked for a better career. It is a challenging and exciting experience and I encourage anyone interested to reach out to a recruiting officer at https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/join/applying.
Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast
Date: June 12, 2017
A Chrysaora colorata jellyfish with an anchovy
As I end my journey on the Reuben Lakser, I wanted to prepare a post about the people on the ship. As in any organization, there are a lot of different people and personalities on board. I interviewed 15 different people and, looking back, I am particularly amazed by how much “Science” drives the ship. The Chief Scientist is involved in most of the decisions regarding course corrections and the logistics. It is really promising as a science teacher — NOAA offers a place for those interested in science to enjoy many different careers.
The people working on the ship can be grouped into broad categories. I have mentioned the science crew, but there are also fishermen, deck crew, engineers, stewards and, of course, the ship’s officers. If you like to cook, there are positions for you here. Same thing if you want to be an electrician or mechanic. Each of those positions has different responsibilities and qualifications. For example, the engineers need proper licenses to work on specific vessels. All of the positions require ship specific training. For some, working on the ship is almost a second career, having worked in the private sector or the Navy previously. Kim Belveal, the Chief Electrical Technician followed this path as did Engineer Rob Piquion. Working with NOAA provides them with a decent wage and a chance to travel and see new places. For young people looking to work on a ship, these are great jobs to examine that combine different interests together.
All of the officers on the ships are members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. They have ranks, titles and traditions just like the Navy and Coast Guard. Commander (CDR) Kurt Dreflak, the Commanding Officer, or CO and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Justin Keesee, the Executive Officer, or XO, are in charge of everything that happens on the Reuben Lasker. To reach these positions, someone must work hard and be promoted through the NOAA Corps ranks. They make the ultimate decisions in terms of personnel, ordering, navigation, etc. The XO acts as most people think a First Mate would work. What impressed me was how they responded when I asked about why they work for NOAA and to describe their favorite moment at sea. They both responded the same way: NOAA Corps provides a chance to combine science and service – a “Jacques Cousteau meets the Navy” situation. They also shared a similar thought when I asked them about their favorite moments at sea – they both reflected about reaching the “Aha” moment when training their officers. This is definitely something I can relate to as a teacher.
Other NOAA Corps officers have different responsibilities, such as the OPS or Operations Officer, and take shifts on the bridge and on the deck, driving the ship, coordinating trawls and keeping the ship running smoothly in general. Most of the NOAA Corps has a background in marine science, having at least a degree in some science or marine discipline. When I asked them why they decided to work for NOAA, the common response was that it allows them to serve their country and contribute to science. Again, this is an awesome thing for a science teacher to hear!
To emphasize how important science is to the organization, two NOAA Corps officers, LTJG Cherisa Friedlander and LTJG Ryan Belcher, are members of the science crew during this leg of the Juvenile Rockfish Survey. They worked with us in the Science Lab, and did not have the same responsibilities associated with the ship’s operations.
Cherisa provided a lot of background about the NOAA Corp and the Reuben Lasker in particular. I am including her full interview here:
What is your name?
Lieutenant Junior Grade Cherisa Friedlander
What is your title or position?
NOAA Corps Officer/ Operations Officer for the Fisheries Ecology Division in Santa Cruz,CA
What is your role on the ship?
I used to be the junior officer on board, now I am sailing as a scientist for the lab. It is kind of cool to have sailed on the ship in both roles! They are very different.
How long have you been working on the Reuben Lasker?
I worked on board from 2013-2014
Why did you choose to work on the Lasker?
I originally listed the RL as one if the ships I wanted after basic training in 2012 because it was going to be the newest ship in the fleet. It was very exciting to be a part of bringing a new ship online. I got to see it be built from the inside out and helped order and organize all of the original supplies. The first crew of a ship are called the plankowner crew of the ship, and it stems from olden times when shipbuilders would sleep on the same plank on the deck while they were building the ship. It is a big task.
Cherisa (far right) when the Reuben Lasker was commissioned From: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/reuben-lasker
What is your favorite moment on the ship or at sea?
I was the first Junior Officer the ship ever had and got to plan and be on board for the transit through the Panama Canal!
Why do you work for NOAA?
I love my job! I come from a service family, so I love the service lifestyle the NOAA Corps offers while still incorporating science and service. I like that every few years I get to see a new place and do a new job. Next I head to Antarctica!
If a young person was interested in doing your job someday, what advice would you give them?
Explore lots of options for careers while you are young. Volunteer, do internships, take courses, and find out what interests you. The more activities you participate in, the more well rounded you are and it allows you to find a job you will love doing. It is also appealing to employers to see someone who has been proactive about learning new ideas and skills.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or experiences at sea?
Working at sea can certainly be challenging. I can get very seasick sometimes which makes for a very unhappy time at sea. It can also be hard to be away from family and friends for so long, so I make sure to spend quality time with those people when I am on land. 🙂
Wrapping up a trawl – measuring & bagging
The remainder of the science crew is at different points in their careers and have followed different paths to be a part of this cruise. Students motivated in science can take something from these stories, I hope, and someday join a field crew like this.
Last Haul- off coast of San Diego Photo by Keith Sakuma
Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has been part of the Rockfish Survey since 1989. He started as a student and has worked his way up from there. Various ships have run the survey in the past, but the Reuben Lasker, as the most state-of-the-art ship in the fleet, looks to be its home for the near future.
Thomas Adams is an undergraduate student from Humboldt State University. He has kept his eyes open and taken advantage of opportunities as they come up. He has been part of the survey for a few years already and looks to continue his work through a Master’s degree program.
Maya Drzewicki is an undergrad student from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She was named as a Hollings Scholar -in her words this is: “a 2 year academic scholarship and paid summer internship for college students interested in pursuing oceanic or atmospheric sciences. I am a marine biology major and through this scholarship program I have learned so much about ocean sciences and different careers.”
Measuring Northern Lampfish
Rachel Zuercher is a PhD student associated with the University of California- Santa Cruz. She joined the survey in part because the group has provided her samples in the past that she has used for her research.
Mike Force is a professional birdwatcher who was able to make a career out of something he loves to do. He has been all over the globe, from Antarctica to the South Pacific helping to identify birds. As a freelance contractor, he goes where he is needed. His favorite time at sea was also a common theme I came across- there is always a chance to see something unique, no matter how long you have been on ship.
Mike Force at his perch on the Flying Bridge
Ken Baltz is an oceanographer who ran the daytime operations on the ship. He was associated with NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz lab – Groundfish Analysis Team. As advice to young people looking to get in the field, he suggests they make sure that they can handle the life on the ship. This was a common theme many people spoke to – life on a ship is not always great. Seas get rough, tours take time and you are working with the same group of people for a long time. Before making a career of life on a ship, make sure it suits you!
Sunday, June 11th
I experienced a truly magical moment on the Flying Bridge this evening as we transited off the coast near Santa Barbara. For a good 20 minutes, we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of birds, dolphins, sea lions and humpback whales. It was awesome! The video below is just a snippet from the event and it does not do it justice. It was amazing!
Monday, June 12th
Sad to say this is my last night on the ship. We had plans to do complete 4 trawls, but we had a family of dolphins swimming in our wake during the Marine Mammal Watch. We had to cancel that station. After we wrapped up, it was clean up time and we worked through the night. The ship will arrive in San Diego early tomorrow morning.
Thank you NOAA and the crew of the Reuben Lasker for an awesome experience!!!
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 7, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 050°NE
Wind Speed: 13 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-4 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1006.7 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 14.8°C
Air Temperature: 12.8°C
The Eve of Debarkation (Tuesday, June 6)
Today is the eve of my debarkation (exit from NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter). Our estimated time of arrival (ETA) to Pier 2 at the Naval Station Newport is 10 a.m. tomorrow, June 7th. Before I disembark, the sea apparently wants to me remind me of its size and force. Gordon Gunter has been rocked back and forth by the powerful waves that built to around 5 feet overnight. Nonetheless, it is full steam ahead to finish collecting samples from the remaining oceanography stations. All hands on deck, as the saying goes. The navigational team steer the vessel, engineers busy themselves in the engine room, deck hands keep constant watch, scientists plan for the final stations, and the stewards continue to provide the most delicious meals ever. I am determined to not let a bumpy ship ride affect my appetite. It is my last full day aboard Gordon Gunter, and I plan to enjoy every sight, sound, and bite.
Coming into Port (Wednesday, June 7)
I am concluding my log on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, in port. It seems fitting that my blog finish where it took life 10 days ago. When I first set foot on the gangway a week and a half ago, I had no idea of the adventure that lay in front of me. I have had so many new experiences during the Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey—from sailing the Gulf of Maine to collecting plankton samples, along with many special events in between.
I have grown accustomed to life on board Gordon Gunter. The constant rattling of the ship and the never-ending blowing of the air-conditioner no longer bother me, they soothe me. It is remarkable what we as humans can do when we just do it. At this time last year I never would have imagined working on a research vessel in the North Atlantic. It is nice proving yourself wrong. There is always a new experience waiting. Why hesitate? The memories I have made from the Teacher at Sea program will be amongst the ones I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I won’t keep the experience and the memories just for myself either. Back home at Simpson Elementary School, 670 eager 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders are waiting to experience oceanography and life at sea vicariously through their librarian. Through the knowledge I have gained about the EcoMon Survey, my blog, photographs, and videos, I am prepared to steer my students toward an understanding and appreciation of the work that is being done by NOAA. Gordon Gunter steered us in the right direction throughout the entire mission, and I plan to do the same for students in my library media center.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Many types of zooplankton and phytoplankton are microscopic, unable to be seen by the naked eye. From 300 plus meters out, birds can appear to be specks blowing in the wind. But with a microscope and a pair of binoculars, we can see ocean life much more clearly. The organisms seem to grow in size when viewed through the lenses of these magnification devices. From the smallest fish larvae to the largest Blue Whale, the ocean is home to millions of species. All the data collected during the EcoMon Survey (plankton samples, wildlife observers, ship’s log of weather conditions, and GPS coordinates) creates a bigger picture of the ocean’s ecosystem. None of the data aboard Gordon Gunter is used in isolation. Science is interconnected amongst several variables.
Take for instance the avian observers’ data which is most useful when analyzed in terms of the current environmental conditions in which each bird or marine animal was seen: sea temperature, wind speed, and water currents. This kind of data in conjunction with the plankton samples will help scientists create predictive models of the marine environment. Our understanding of the hydrographic and planktonic components of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem will help us prepare for a more sustainable future where marine life flourishes.
My answer would be that we need to do these ecosystem monitoring surveys because we are on the front lines of observing and documenting first hand what’s going on in our coastal and offshore waters. The science staff, aided by the ship’s command and crew, is working 24 / 7 to document as much as they can about the water conditions, not just on the surface but down to 500 meters, by measuring light, chlorophyll, and oxygen levels as well as nutrients available. Water column temperatures and salinities are profiled and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) levels are checked as a way of measuring seawater acidity at the surface, mid-water and bottom depths. What planktonic organisms are present? Plankton tows across the continental shelf down to 200 meters are made to collect them. What large marine organisms such as whales, turtles and seabirds are present in different areas and at different times of the year, and are they different from one year to the next? From one decade to the next? Two seabird observers work throughout the daylight hours to document and photograph large marine organisms encountered along our cruise track. Without this information being gathered on a regular basis and in a consistent manner over a long period of time, we would have no way of knowing if things are changing at all. [Source — Jerry Prezioso, Chief Scientist]
Just as the ocean changes, so does the science aboard the ship. So, what’s next for Gordon Gunter? Three days after my debarkation from the vessel, Gunter will be employed on an exploratory survey of Bluefin Tuna. This is quite an iconic survey since scientists could be on the brink of a new discovery. Bluefin Tuna were once thought to only spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea. That is until researchers began to find Bluefin Tuna larvae in the deep waters between the Gulf Stream and the northeast United States. Fifty years ago fishermen believed Bluefin Tuna were indeed spawning in this part of the Gulf Stream, but it was never thoroughly researched. The next survey aboard Gordon Gunter (June 10-24) will collect zooplankton samples which scientists predict will contain Bluefin Tuna larvae. The North Gulf Stream is not an area regularly surveyed for Bluefin Tuna. It is quite exciting. The data will tell scientists about the life history and genetics of these high-profile fish. NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter has executed countless science missions, each special in its own right. Yes, it is time for me to say farewell to Gordon Gunter, but another group of researchers won’t be far behind to await their turn to come aboard.
360-degree of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
A BIG Thank You!
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the NOAA crew for such an amazing voyage I would like to thank the ship’s stewards, Chief Steward, Margaret Coyle and 2nd Cook, Paul Acob. Their hospitality cannot be matched. From day one, they treated me like family. They prepared each meal with care just like my mother and grandmother do. I cannot imagine enjoying another ship’s food like I have that aboard Gordon Gunter.To the stewards, thank you.
I would like to thank the deck team for their continual hard work throughout the cruise. Chief Boatswain, Jerome Taylor is the definition of leadership. I watched on countless occasions his knack for explaining the most difficult of tasks to others. Jerome knows the ship and all her components like the back of his hand. The deck crew left no stone unturned as they carried out their duties. To the deck crew, thank you.
I would like to thank the engineers. Without the engineering team our cruise would not have been possible. The engineers keep the heart of the ship running, the engine. I am astounded by the engineers’ ability to maintain and repair all of Gordon Gunter’s technical equipment: engines, pumps, electrical wiring, communication systems, and refrigeration equipment. To the engineers, thank you.
I would like to thank the wonderful science team, who patiently taught me the ropes and addressed each of my questions. It is because of their knowledge that I was able to share the research being done during our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. To the science team, thank you.
I would like to thank the NOAA Corps officers who welcomed me and my questions at all times. These technically skilled officers are what make scientific projects like the EcoMon successful. They remained steadfast in the way of any challenge. They ensured the successful completion of our mission. To the NOAA Corps officers, thank you.
NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps): “Stewards of the Sea”
NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. With 321 officers, the NOAA Corps serves throughout the agency to support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. The combination of commissioned service and scientific expertise makes these officers uniquely capable of leading some of NOAA’s most important initiatives. [Source — NOAA Corps]
Great Black-backed Gull
All officer candidates must attend an initial 19-week Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC). The curriculum is challenging, with on board ship-handling exercises coupled with classroom instruction in leadership, officer bearing, NOAA mission and history, ship handling, basic seamanship, firefighting, navigation, and first aid. BOTC is held at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where new NOAA Corps recruits train alongside Coast Guard officer candidates before receiving their first assignment to a NOAA ship for up to 3 years of sea duty. [Source — NOAA Corps] The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is built on honor, respect, and commitment.
Meet Gordon Gunter’s NOAA Corps Officers
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Lindsay Kurelja!
Lieutenant Commander, Lindsay Kurelja
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? As Commanding Officer (CO) I am wholly responsible for everything that happens on board. I’m the captain of the boat. I am in charge of all people and actions that happen on board.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I started going to sea when I was 18. That’s 20 years.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I stay on a four hour watch on the bridge where I am in charge of the navigational chart and maneuvering of the vessel. I also disperse myself amongst managing the four departments on board to concentrate on the engineering and maintenance side of things.
What is your educational background? I graduated from Texas Maritime Academy with a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Marine Transportation which gave me a third mate unlimited license with the U.S. Coast Guard. I then came straight to work for NOAA.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Our navigational equipment. Nothing is more important to a navigational officer than a pair of dividers and a set of triangles.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite marine animal are Ctenophoras. Ctenophoras are little jellyfish that are unique in the evolutionary scale because of their abilities despite the lack of brains.
Meet Lieutenant Commander, Chad Meckley!
Lieutenant Commander, Chad Meckley
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Executive Officer (XO) aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. I am second in command after the Commanding Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Yes. This is my third sea assignment. My first sea assignment was for two years on the Albatross IV. I also sailed aboard the McArthur II for a year, I did six months on the Henry Bigelow, and I was certified while sailing on the Coast Guard Cutter EAGLE. I have had quite a bit of sea time so far in my career.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? If I am not on the bridge on watch, you can find me in my office. As XO one of my primary responsibilities is administrative work—from time and attendance to purchasing.
What is your educational background? I earned a bachelor’s degree at Shippensburg State University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. I studied Geography and Environmental Science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The biggest tool we have aboard the ship that we use more than anything are the nautical charts. Without our nautical charts, we wouldn’t be going anywhere. We could not get safely from point A to point B and accomplish our mission of science and service aboard these vessels.
What is your favorite marine animal? That’s a tough one because there’s so many cool animals in the sea and on top of the sea. I am really fascinated by Moray eels. The way they move through the water and their freaky, beady eyes make them really neat animals.
Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade, Libby Mackie!
Lieutenant Junior Grade, Libby Mackie
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Operations Officer on board. One step below the Executive Officer. I do the coordination of the scientists.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I had some experience at sea when I was in the NAVY. Even though I never went underway in the NAVY, but I did have a second job on some of the dive boats in Hawaii. After I got out of the NAVY and went to school I got some small boat time there. Other ships I have sailed on with NOAA are the Oscar Dyson, the Reuben Lasker, and the Bell M. Shimada.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge and in the dry lab with the scientists.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science in Marine Biology and an associate’s degree in Mandarin.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? The coffee machine!
What is your favorite marine animal? Octopus.
Meet Ensign, Alyssa Thompson!
Ensign, Alyssa Thompson
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a Junior Officer. I reported here May 20th of last year. I am the Navigation Officer and Safety Officer. I am an ensign, so I do all of the navigational planning. I also drive the ship.
Have you had much experience working at sea? I have been at sea with the NOAA Corps for over a year now.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the bridge, driving the ship.
What is your educational background? I went to Virginia Tech. I earned my undergraduate degree in Biology/Animal Sciences. I took a lot of Fisheries classes, too. I interned in Florida researching stingrays and general marine biology with the University of Florida.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Probably radar. I could not live without the radar. It shows you all of your contacts, your targets, especially in the fog up here in the Northeast. Radar is a wonderful tool because there are times you can’t see anything. Sometimes we have only a half mile visibility, and so the radar will pick up contacts to help you maneuver best.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins. I love dolphins, always have.
Meet ENS, Lola Ajilore!
ENS, Lola Ajilore
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?
I am a NOAA Corps Junior Officer. I joined NOAA in July of 2016. I work with navigation, and I am the secondary Environmental Compliance Officer.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not yet. I have only been at sea for one month.
What is your educational background? I earned my undergraduate degree in Environmental Policy from Virginia Commonwealth University. I have a master’s in Environmental Science from John Hopkins University.
What is most challenging about your work? It is a challenge learning to drive a ship. It is much different from a car, especially because there are no brakes. I also miss being around my family. You miss out on a lot of special events like birthdays when you work at sea.
What is your favorite marine animal? Dolphins!
Meet Ensign, Mike Fuller!
Ensign, Mike Fuller
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am an Augmenting Junior Officer on Gordon Gunter for the time being until I head off to my permanent duty station.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Not in this position. I did have some research experience when I was at the University of Miami.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? Most of my work is on the bridge standing watch and operating the actual ship itself—general ship driving and operations.
What is your educational/training background? Those who decide to do the NOAA Corps are required to have a science background. My background is in Marine Science and Biology. I studied a lot of invertebrates in university. After university I went to a 19-week training course where the NOAA Corps trains alongside the Coast Guard learning about different maritime regulations and standard operating procedures.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? From a very broad standpoint the tool we use regularly are our navigational charts. You can’t do anything without those. That’s how we setup the entire cruise. It gives us all the information we need to know for safe sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? There’s so many, it’s hard to pick. My favorite would have to be a species of crinoid that you find in really old rocks. They are a really cool invertebrate.
Meet Ensign, Mary Claire Youpel!
Ensign, Mary Claire Youpel
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the newest Junior Officer aboard the Gordon Gunter. I just reported; this is my first sea assignment.
Have you had much experience working at sea? Limited. I did research at Louisiana State University during grad school. My lab worked on Red Snapper research in the Gulf of Mexico. This is my first time going out to sea with NOAA.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? I work in the bridge or the pilot house. This is where we drive the ship.
What is your educational background? I have a bachelor’s of science from the University of Illinois-Champaign in Environmental Science. I have a master’s of science in Oceanography and Coastal Studies from Louisiana State University. I also have a master’s of Public Administration from Louisiana State University.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Radar, because it helps us navigate safely on our track lines.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Great White Shark.
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) with a fish in its talons
For my final glossary of new terms and phrases, I would like to share ways to say goodbye. It has been difficult for me to find parting words for all of those I have worked with and got to know the past 10 days. If you cannot think of one way to say goodbye, try 10!
See you later.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Corps traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson. In 1970, NOAA was created to develop a coordinated approach to oceanographic and atmospheric research and subsequent legislation converted the commissioned officer corps to the NOAA Corps. [Source — NOAA Corps] https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/about
I am on the day schedule which is from noon to midnight. Between stations tonight is a long steam so I took the opportunity with this down time to visit the bridge where the ship is commanded. The NOAA Corps officers supplied a brief history of the corp and showed me several of the instrument panels which showed the mapping of the ocean floor.
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, known informally as the NOAA Corps, is one of seven federal uniformed services of the United States, and operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific agency within the Office of Commerce.
“The NOAA Corps is part of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and traces its roots to the former U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which dates back to 1807 and President Thomas Jefferson.”(1)
During the Civil War, many surveyors of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey stayed on as surveyors to either join with the Union Army where they were enlisted into the Army, or with the Union Navy, where they remained as civilians, in which case they could be executed as spies if captured. With the approach of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson, to avoid the situation where surveyors working with the armed forces might be captured as spies, established the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps.
During WWI and World War II, the Corps abandoned their peacetime activities to support the war effort with their technical skills. In 1965 the Survey Corps was transferred to the United States Environmental Science Services Administration and in 1979, (ESSA) and in 1970 the ESSA was redesignated as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and so became the NOAA Corps.
“Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.” (1)
“The combination of commissioned service with scientific and operational expertise allows the NOAA Corps to provide a unique and indispensable service to the nation. NOAA Corps officers enable NOAA to fulfill mission requirements, meet changing environmental concerns, take advantage of emerging technologies, and serve as environmental first responders.” (1)
There are presently 321 officers, 16 ships, and 10 aircraft.
We are steaming on a course that has been previously mapped which should allow us to drop the net in a safe area when we reach the next station.
The ship’s sonar is “painting” the ocean floor’s depth. The dark blue is the deepest depth.
The path of the ship is highlighted. The circles are the stations to drop the nets for a sample of the fish at that location.
This monitor shows the depth mapped against time.
This monitor also showing the depth.
A view inside the bridge at dusk.
The full moon rising behind the ship ( and a bit of cloud )
What can you do ?
When I asked “What can I tell my students who have an interest in NOAA ?”
If you have an interest in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts you might begin with investigating a Cooperative Observer Program, NOAA’s National Weather Service.
“More than 8,700 volunteers take observations on farms, in urban and suburban areas, National Parks, seashores, and mountaintops. The data are truly representative of where people live, work and play”.(2)
Did you know:
The NOAA Corps celebrates it 100 Year Anniversary this May 22, 2017!
This bobtail squid displays beautiful colors! (3 cm)
The crew of NOAA Ship Pisecs. Some people have asked me if it is an all male crew. Nope! Even two out of the six NOAA Corps are ladies.
Mother Nature has put a hamper on surveying for right now. Field work requires patience and tenacity, which is appropriate given that is the motto of NOAA Ship Pisces: Patiencia Et Tenacitas. During this downtime I was able to interview a couple members of the crew. Our first interview is with the Operations (Ops) Officer, LT. Noblitt:
The emblem of NOAA Ship Pisces.
The NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services of the U.S. What are possible paths to join and requirements? Do you need a college degree to apply? Yes, you need a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. The only path is through the application process which starts with contacting a recruiter. NOAA Corps officers are always willing to work with interested applicants and are willing to give tours as well as to field any and all questions.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I decided I wanted to pursue a career with the NOAA Corps during graduate school when I realized that I desired a career path which combined my appreciation for sailing tall ships and pursuing scientific research.
What is your rank and what responsibilities does that entail? I am an O3, Lieutenant; the responsibilities include operational management. A lot of day to day operations and preparation for scientific requests, ship port logistics, and some supervision. Operation Officers keep the mission moving forward and always try to plan for what is next.
Why is your work important? By supporting the scientists we are able to assist in enhancing public knowledge, awareness, and growth of the scientific community which ultimately not only benefits the Department of Commerce but the environment for which we are working in.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? There is nothing better then operating a ship. I enjoy the feel of the vessel and harnessing the elements to make the ship move how I choose. I enjoy knowing that I am working on something that is bigger than just the ship. This job is a microcosm of all the science that is going on around the world and knowing that we are contributing to the growth of the nation, well nothing can really compete with that.
What is the most challenging part of your work? In all honesty, being away from family simply does get challenging at times. You are guaranteed to miss birthdays, special events, and even births of your children. Gratification comes from knowing that you are providing everything you can for your family.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Now this is an interesting question; I would have to say there really is not just one tool as a NOAA Corps Officer we pride ourselves in being versatile. If it weren’t for the ability to use multiple tools we would not be capable of running and operating a ship.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? On average the ship sails 295 days a year.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? You are living the average day. Day and night operations three meals a day and keeping operations moving smoothly, all this happens as the ship becomes a living entity and takes on a personality of her own.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? In the beginning and early on in a NOAA Corps career an Officer may feel underutilized especially in regards to their educational background when they are working on trivial duties, however with growth over time our scientific backgrounds serve us more than we realize.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a uniformed service or a maritime career? If you are seeking to travel and discover an unknown lifestyle at sea; being a Commissioned Officer is a truly diverse whirlwind of experiences that goes by faster then you realize.
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA? If I was not working for NOAA I would probably try working for a similar governmental entity, or even NOAA as a civilian, studying near coastal benthic (bottom of aquatic) ecosystems.
Our second interview is with Todd Walsh, who is a Survey Technician on NOAA Ship Pisces:
What is your title and what responsibilities does that entail?
Modern vessels require a team of technicians to run. Pictured here is part of the computer server on NOAA Ship Pisces.
Operations and some equipment maintenance of position sensors, sonars, and software. You need to know water chemistry because you also take water samples such as temperature, depth, conductivity to determine the speed of sound. From that we can make sure the sonar is working right, so you need the math to make it happen.
Pisces is different than some other NOAA vessels because it has a lot of other sensors. On some other NOAA vessels I have worked on there are also smaller boats that have the same equipment to keep in shape. You also need to analyze the data and make recommendations in a 60 page report in 90 days.
What are the requirements to apply for this job? A bachelor’s of science in computer mapping, engineering, geology, meteorology, or some other similar degree.
When did you know you wanted to pursue this career? I was a project engineer for an engineering company prior to this. We did work on airports, bridges, etc. I retired and then I went back to work in 2009 and I’ve been working for NOAA ever since. I got involved with NOAA because I wanted to see Hawaii and I found a job on board a ship that would take me there. I’ve now worked in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific.
Why is your work important? No matter which NOAA division you are working at it is integral to commerce in the country. The work we are doing here is important for red snapper and other fisheries. The work I did in the Bering Strait helped determine crab stocks. Ever watch Deadliest Catch? I got to play darts with the captain of the Time Bandit. There’s a different code for people who are mariners. You help each other out.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I like that we get to go exploring in places that most people never get to go (in fact, some places have never been visited before), with equipment that is cutting edge. There are always puzzles to solve. You also meet a lot of different people.
Working on NOAA vessels as a survey technician means keeping state-of-the-art equipment and software operational.
Sonar picture of a ship wreck Todd mapped out.
What is the most challenging part of your work? It is: -Man versus nature. -Man versus machine. -Man versus self because you are pushed to your limits. Another challenge is missing my wife and kids.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Since you are stuck on a boat, the biggest tool is to be able to deal with that through being friendly and having ways to occupy yourself in downtime.
Work-wise, it used to be the calculator. Now it’s the computer because it can do so much. All the calculations that used to be done by pen and calculator are now by computer. Cameras are also very useful.
How many days are you usually out at sea a year? Used to be 8 months out of 12. That’s tough since there is no cellphone coverage but some ships are close enough to shore to use them. The oceanographic vessel Ronald H.Brown went around the world for 3 years.
What does an average day look like for you on the NOAA Ship Pisces? I’m relatively new to this ship, but all ships are unique depending on what they’re studying. Each ship is a different adventure.
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing? When I was in Alaska training less experienced survey technicians in the Bering Strait, I got to see really neat stuff like being next to a feeding orca, atop a glacier, and got too close to a grizzly bear.
What’s at the top of your recommendation for a young person exploring a maritime career? Stick with the science classes and you can never go wrong with learning more math.
Imagine the size of the wave capable of getting the top wet!
When bringing in a camera array today that was left out overnight, a huge wave crashed aboard all the way up to the top of the bridge. At that same time I was in my stateroom laying down trying to avoid seasickness. I could hear the metal moving, the engines running strong, and knew something interesting was happening. I almost went down to check out the action, but decided against bumping into everyone during higher seas operations and potentially really getting sick.
Quote of the Day:
Joey asked which stateroom I am in and I say, “The one next to the turny-door-thingy.” to which Joey replies, “You mean the hatch?” What can I say? If you can not remember a word, at least be descriptive.
Did You Know?
NOAA operates the nation’s largest fleet of oceanographic research and survey ships. It is America’s environmental intelligence agency.