Taylor Planz: What’s It Like to Be a…, July 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 19, 2018 at 10:53am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 65° 15.541′ N
Longitude: 168° 50.424′ W
Wind:  10 knots NW, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer:  13.60 mmHg
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Temperature: 7.4° C
Sea Surface 7.2° C
Weather: Overcast, light drizzle

Interview Issue!

NOAA hires employees with many different career specialties. So many in fact that I cannot cover them all in one blog post. In an effort to give you a glimpse into some of the day to day happenings of the ship, I chose three different people with widely varying careers to interview today. The first is Oiler Kyle Mosier, who works in the engineering department. Next is Erin Billings, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service visiting NOAA for this leg of the mission. Finally, ENS Jeffrey Calderon who works for the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps as the Medical Person In Charge.

Oiler Kyle Mosier

Oiler Kyle Mosier

Oiler Kyle Mosier


What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
“I am an oiler in the engineering department, and my job is to do maintenance work and watches when we are underway. During my work day, I complete a list of maintenance items called a SAMMS list. On a given day, I might clean strainers, air supply, or air filters. We have 5 fan rooms; fan rooms 1 and 3 go to our staterooms, so I make sure those are always clean.”

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
“An adjustable wrench. We use wrenches just about every day, so if I only had one wrench (and one tool) it would be the one that can adjust to many sizes.”

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working on a NOAA ship?
“My dream job is to be a successful writer. I got started in high school just writing for fun, and I got better as I went through college. I also took an art class in college, and the teacher let me work on my own project ideas. I made my first book cover in that class, for a book called “Natalie and the Gift of Life”. I brought back my original character Natalie years later because I loved that first book so much, and I’m a much better writer now versus back then. My most recent book is “Natalie and the Search for Atlantis”.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“Some people only get certified to be an Oiler, but I went to the Maritime Academy and got my QMED certification (Qualified Member of the Engine Department). I recommend this pathway because it qualifies you to be an electrician, oiler, junior unlicensed engineer, and work in refrigeration. You’re not stuck with one job; instead, you have many different choices for what kind of job you do.”

Erin Billings

Meteorologist Erin Billings

Meteorologist Erin Billings

Tell me about what you do for a living.
“I am general forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, Alaska. I produce forecasts for northern Alaska and the adjacent waters. As an organization, we forecast for approximately 350,000 square miles of land area.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?
“It’s like putting all the pieces of a puzzle together. Forecasting is a lot about pattern recognition. People also rely a lot on forecasts, so I feel like my job is important for people as they plan their day, their weekend, and even their vacations.”

What parts of your job can be challenging?
“When you have a lot going on and the weather is frequently changing, it can be hard to choose what area gets looked at first as well as managing the time it takes to do that. I work rotating shifts as well, so my work hours are always changing and sometimes I work 7 days in a week. I love what I do though, so there’s a trade off.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“In order to get in to a meteorological position, you should find a way to set yourself apart from other people. Get a good foundation of science and math, but focus on something else you can bring to the table. Examples could be learning a foreign language, learning computer programming, or completing an internship or relevant volunteer position. Setting yourself apart will make you more competitive than everyone else who is applying for the same job and has the same degree as you.”

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
“I am a Junior Officer with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. My job is administration of the ship, which is broken down into collateral duties. Each duty needs to be completed to keep the ship operating smoothly. I am the Medical Person in Charge, so I keep track of all the medicines, make sure they haven’t expired, order medical supplies, and inspect medical equipment. I can also perform CPR and first aid. I can follow a doctor’s order to administer medication, including IVs. I am also in charge of all of the keys on the ship; there are about 300. I have to get them back from people when they leave and make copies when needed. I am the auxiliary data manager on the ship. I collect weather data, inspect the sensors (anemometer, barometer, etc), and upload the data to an online system. I also drive and navigate the ship and the small launch boat.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?
“I like being on a ship because I get to travel and see things that I will remember all my life. On the Fairweather, I get to see the aurora borealis, mountains, fjords, whales… things that not everyone gets to see. It also forces me to face new challenges; there’s always something I have to master and learn. I may have to fight a fire on the ship or go out on a launch and rescue somebody on the water.”

What do you miss the most when you are at sea?
“I miss having a real bed. I miss the privacy too. My stateroom is a 2-person stateroom.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“Pick a science-related path. It will be challenging, but it will be worth it in the long run. Science degrees will better prepare you for challenging careers, and it will prove to future employers that you can persevere through challenges. NOAA is also looking for people with good moral character, so stay out of trouble.”

Question of the Day
What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?

Answer to Last Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?

The coldest temperature on record in Nome, Alaska is -54° Fahrenheit! Brrrr!

Taylor Planz: Surveying 101, July 18, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Planz
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 18, 2018 at 10:15am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 66° 24.440′ N
Longitude: 163° 22.281′ W
Wind: 17 knots SW, gusts up to 38 knots
Barometer: 13.5 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 12.2° C
Sea Surface 9.6° C
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has a variety of assignments in different parts of the west coast each year, mostly in Alaska. They also work with many different organizations. In April of 2018, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, hired the ship to complete the last part of the survey of a fault line, the Queen Charlotte Fault, which lies west of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. This was a joint venture between the US and Canada because it is the source of frequent and sometimes hazardous earthquakes. The Queen Charlotte Fault lies between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The North American Plate is made of continental crust, and the Pacific Plate is made of oceanic crust. The two plates slide past one another, so the plate boundary is known as a transform, or strike slip, fault.

Queen Charlotte fault area

This image is from the USGS, who have been surveying the Queen Charlotte Fault area for many years. Photo Source: https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/

The image to the right came from the USGS. Notice the two black arrows showing the directions of the North American and Pacific plates. Strike slip faults, such as this one, have the potential to produce damaging earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault in California is another example of a strike slip fault. The Queen Charlotte Fault moves relatively fast, with an average rate of 50 mm/year as shown in the photo. The USGS explains the Queen Charlotte fault beautifully in this article.

The image below was created after hydrographers on NOAA Ship Fairweather processed the data from their survey in April. The colors show relative depth across the fault, with red being the shoalest areas and blue being the deepest areas. In the top right section, you can see Noyes Canyon. There are many finger-shaped projections, which are result from sediment runoff. Notice that the color scheme in this area does not have much orange or yellow; it basically goes from red to green. If you were to look at this map in 3-D, you would see in those areas that the sea floor dramatically drops hundreds of meters in a very short distance.

Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon

Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon. Photo Courtesty of HST Ali Johnson

It is also worth noting what can be found in the remainder of this image. When NOAA finishes their survey, two different products are formed. The first is the colored map, which you see to the far left of the image. This is useful for anyone interested in the scientific components of the area. Mariners need the information as well, but a colored schematic is less useful for marine navigation, so nautical charts are produced (or updated) for their use. A nautical chart looks just like the remainder of this image. Small numbers scattered all over the white part of the map (ie – the water) show the depth in that area. The depth can be given in fathoms, meters, or feet, so it is important to find the map’s key. The purpose of the charts is to communicate to mariners the most navigable areas and the places or obstacles that should be avoided. The nautical charts usually have contour lines as well, which give a better picture of the slope of the sea floor and group areas of similar depth together.

Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson

Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson

The photo above is a closer view of the Queen Charlotte Fault. Can you see the fault? If you cannot see it, look at the line that begins in the bottom center of the photo and reaches up and to the left. Do you see it now? On the left side of the fault lies the Pacific Plate, and on the right side lies the North American Plate. If you look even closer, you might find evidence of the plates sliding past each other. The areas that resemble rivers are actually places where sediment runoff imprinted the sea floor. If you observe closely, you can see that some of these runoff areas are shifted at the location of the fault. Scientists can measure the distance between each segment to determine that average rate of movement at this fault line.

I also wanted to briefly mention another small side project we took on during this leg. A tide buoy was installed near Cape Lisburne, which is north of Point Hope. The buoys are equipped with technology to read and communicate the tidal wave heights. This helps hydrographers accurately determine the distance from the sea surface to the sea floor. The buoy will remain at its station until the end of the survey season, at which time it will be returned to the ship.

 

 

Personal Log

Northwest Alaska may not be a breathtaking as Southeast Alaska, but it has sure been an interesting trip! It amazes me that small communities of people inhabit towns such as Nome, Point Hope, and Barrow (which is about as far north as one can travel in Alaska) and endure bone-chilling winter temperatures, overpriced groceries, and little to no ground transportation to other cities. Groceries and restaurant meals are expensive because of the efforts that take place to transport the food. During my first day in Nome, I went to a restaurant called the Polar Cafe and paid $16 for an omelette! Although the omelette was delicious, I will not be eating another during my last day in Nome on Friday. It is simply too expensive to justify paying that much money. I also ventured to the local grocery store in hopes of buying some Ginger Ale for the trip. Consuming ginger in almost any form can help soothe stomach aches and relieve seasickness. Unfortunately ginger ale was only available in a 12-pack that happened to be on sale for $11.99. I decided to leave it on the shelf. Luckily the ship store has ginger ale available for purchase! The ship store is also a great place to go when your sweet tooth is calling!

The Ship Store

The Ship Store opens most nights for personnel to buy soda, candy, or even t-shirts!

 

Did You Know?
The Queen Charlotte fault was the source of Canada’s largest recorded earthquake! The earthquake occurred in 1949 and had a magnitude of 8.1!

Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?

Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?

When something is less dense than water it floats, and when it is more dense than water it sinks. Something with the same density as water will sit at the surface so that it lies about equal to the water line (picture yourself laying flat on the surface of a lake). Your body is over 50% water, so the density of your body is very close to the density of water and you naturally “half float”. A PFD, on the other hand, is made up of materials which have a lower density than water and they always float completely above water. When you wear a PFD, your body’s total density is a combination of your density and the PFD’s density. Therefore, the total density becomes less than the density of water, and you float!

Sources:
Danny, et al. (2016). Investigating the Offshore Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System in Southeastern Alaska and its Potential to Produce Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Submarine Landslides. USGS Soundwaves Monthly Newsletter. https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/.

Torresan, L (2018). Earthquake Hazards in Southeast Alaska. USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/geohazards/sealaska.html.

 

Taylor Planz: Safety First!, July 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Planz
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 15, 2018 at 8:46am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 68° 22.310′ N
Longitude: 167° 07.398′ W
Wind: 3 knots W, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer: 13.39 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 10.8° C
Sea Surface 9° C
Weather: Overcast, light rain

Science and Technology Log
I was in my stateroom on Friday afternoon when I heard one continuous alarm sound, followed by an announcement that white smoke had been detected on board. My first thought was Oh no! What’s wrong with the engine now??? As I walked out of my room, I noticed smoke permeating through the halls near the ceiling. My muster station was the forward mess, so I walked there to meet up with my group. Two PICs (people in charge) had already laid out a map of the ship, and they were assigning pairs of people to search different sections of the ship looking for smoke and/or hot spots on doors or walls. Each “runner” group took a radio and reported their findings, and the results were written on the map. I was runner group 4 with an intern named Paul, and we were assigned the E level just below the bridge. We saw a small amount of smoke but no hot spots. One runner group opened an escape hatch to the fan room to find smoke EVERYWHERE. After finding the source of the fire, it was put out as quickly as possible and the smoke ventilated out of the ship. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this was our first fire drill.

Safety is always the first priority on all NOAA vessels. Working on a ship is much different than working on land. In the event of an emergency, everyone on board has to be prepared to be a first responder. If one serious accident happens, it could affect all 45 people on board. To ensure emergency preparedness, drills take place on a regular basis. Each drill is treated as though the emergency were happening in real life. Fire drills and abandon ship drills take place weekly, and man overboard drills and hazardous materials drills take place every three months.

An announcement to abandon ship happens as a last resort if there is no possible way to save the ship. If this were to happen, we would hear seven or more bursts of the alarm followed by an announcement. We would then grab our immersion suit and PFD (personal flotation device) as quickly as possible and meet at our muster stations. My muster station is on the port (left) side of the ship at fire station 24. There are life rafts on each side of the ship that can be deployed into the water. Right now, the water in the Arctic Ocean is a chilly 9° C. To protect ourselves from hypothermia, we must don an immersion suit within 60 seconds of arriving at our station. New people to the ship must practice this during our first few days on board.

The immersion suits would be used to keep warm in the event we had to abandon ship

The immersion suits would be used to keep warm in the event we had to abandon ship

In addition to drills, an operational risk assessment (or GAR score) is calculated for the mission each day. GAR stands for Green, Amber, or Red, and it determines whether the mission is safe to pursue that day. The GAR score consists of the following sections: resources, environment, team selection, fitness, weather, and complexity. Each section is given a rating of 1 – 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. Many of the sections are variable depending on the day, so sometimes a mission will be delayed until the weather improves, and other times assigning different personnel to the task may be enough to make the mission safe. The total score is the sum of the six sections. If the score is 45 or above (red zone), then the mission will not happen that day. If the score is between 24 and 44 (amber zone), it means extra caution is advised, and a low GAR score of 0 – 23 is green. The best case scenario is for the mission to be in the green zone.

Some other examples of safe practices on board NOAA Ship Fairweather are detailed below.

LT Manda gives a safety brief before deploying the small boats for the day. Once deployment begins, everyone must wear hard hats and a PFD for safety

LT Manda gives a safety brief before deploying the small boats for the day. Everyone participating in the boat deployment must wear hard hats and a PFD

Many hands are needed to safely deploy a small boat

Many hands are needed to safely deploy a small boat

The small boats are equipped with life jackets, immersion suits, first aid kids, and other safety equipment

The small boats are equipped with life jackets, immersion suits, first aid kids, and other safety equipment

Personal Log
I’m learning what it truly means to be flexible during my time with NOAA Ship Fairweather. Weather can make or break a day of surveying on the sea. The water experiences surface waves from both the wind and swell. Swells are the large waves that originate elsewhere and have a definite direction whereas the surface waves are caused by wind and are much smaller. The surface waves in combination with the swell produce a total wave height, and the NOAA Corps looks at the total wave height when deciding the plan of the day. Unfortunately, waves of up to 14′ are predicted in the Point Hope region this week, which will make it incredibly difficult to launch the small boats. Not only do the large waves create hazardous conditions on the boat, they make it harder to acquire good soundings with the MBES. If the data collected will be of poor quality, it is better to delay the mission and wait for better conditions. The poor weather in combination with the mechanical delay we experienced during the first week of the leg has made it difficult to collect very much data around Point Hope.

Not only do the large waves slow down the ship’s data collection, they make me queasy! I felt lucky coming in to the Arctic Ocean on Friday because the sea was calm and beautiful! It was almost eerily quiet. The most amazing part was that the horizon seemed to disappear as the sky and the ocean gently blurred into one. The serenity was short-lived however, and taking the small boats out Saturday morning was quite the adventure! I am so glad I brought motion sickness medication with me!

The Arctic Water was calm and beautiful Saturday morning

The Arctic Water was calm and beautiful Saturday morning

Did You Know?
Did you know NOAA Ship Fairweather weights 1,591 tons? Since one ton is the same as 2,000 pounds, the ship weighs 3,182,000 pounds! The ship stays afloat, so that means the buoyant force it experiences is equal and opposite to its weight. If the buoyant force were any less, the ship would sink!

Question of the Day
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?

Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How many nautical names can you think of for rooms/locations on the ship, and what would their equivalent name be on land?
These are the ones I have learned so far:
Stateroom = Dorm or bedroom
Galley = Kitchen
Mess = Dining room
Scullery = Dish washing room
Head = Bathroom
Gangway = ramp (to get off boat)
Sick Bay = doctor’s office/patient room
Do you know of any that I missed? Feel free to answer in the comments!

 

Taylor Planz: Rocks are Red, Valleys are Blue, July 10, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and Vicinity

Date: July 10, 2018 at 5:30pm

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 64° 29.691′ N
Longitude: 165° 26.276′ W
Wind: 5 knots SW, gusts up to 12 knots
Barometer: 99.9 kPa
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Temperature: 16.0° C
Sea Surface Temperature: 11.9° C
Weather: Cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

The City of Nome from NOAA Ship Fairweather

The City of Nome from NOAA Ship Fairweather

Welcome to Nome

The center of town features a sculpture of a gold pan because Nome is historically known for gold panning and dredging.

I arrived in Nome on Saturday, July 7th around 7:30pm. The weather was a beautiful 65° F with just a few clouds in the sky! By the time I settled in my stateroom (bedroom) and unpacked my belongings, it was raining! According to the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), Nome receives and average of 16″ of rainfall each year and 60″ of snow. Despite this fairly low rainfall total, precipitation is a frequent
occurrence in Nome. Usually, the precipitation falls as more of a light drizzle in the summer, so the accumulation over the course of a year is very small.

I am here in Nome to join NOAA Ship Fairweather on a Hydrographic Survey of the vicinity of Point Hope, Alaska. Nome is the northernmost city in Alaska with a deep enough draft dock and facilities (such as sewage disposal and fresh water) for a ship. Therefore, we will start and end our trip in Nome. The ship has been experiencing some technical difficulties, so we were not able to go underway on our scheduled day of July 9. Over the weekend, engineers discovered a leak in the exhaust from one of the ship’s engines. Left untreated, black smoke could escape into the ship and personnel could be exposed to the unhealthy fumes. As of today, the exhaust pipe has been fixed, but there are a few parts that need to be shipped to Nome to finish the job. Hopefully NOAA Ship Fairweather will be underway later this week.

on a small boat

Here I am aboard one of the small boats with NOAA Ship Fairweather in Background at the Nome Harbor.

Once we are underway, the trip to Point Hope will take approximately 22 hours. That means we must reserve a full day on each end of the leg (another name for the trip) for travel. In order to maximize our limited time near Point Hope, NOAA Ship Fairweather will deploy up to four 28′ boats to work at the same time. There are also enough personnel onboard to allow data to be collected on the small boats for up to 24 hours per day. Two of the four 28′ boats are shown below.

Launch 2805

Two 28′ boats with hydrographic instruments can be found on each side of NOAA Ship Fairweather.

So what are these boats all doing anyways? As previously mentioned, NOAA Ship Fairweather and its small boats are designed for hydrographic research. “Hydro” is a prefix meaning “water”, and “graph” is a root word meaning “to write”. The boats will map the sea floor (i.e. – “write” about what is under the water) and any of its contents with sonar devices. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging. The main sonar device used on this ship is a multibeam echosounder (MBES for short), which can be found on the underside of the ship as seen below. Sound waves are emitted from the front of the device, known as the transmitter. The sound waves travel through the water column, bounce off the sea floor, and then get picked up by a receiver adjacent to the transmitter.

Multibeam Echosounder

Multibeam Echosounder on NOAA research vessel (Photo courtesy: NOAA)

Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Sensor (CTD)

Conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor (CTD)

There is a lot of math involved both before and after sound wave data is collected! The photo below is a CTD instrument, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well an object conducts electricity. This instrument is lowered through the water column, collecting data on all three parameters listed above. The speed of sound varies based on conductivity and temperature, so the sonar data can be adjusted based on the results. For each individual data point collected along the sea floor, the actual speed of sound is multiplied by half of the time it took the sound wave to travel from transmitter to receiver. Using the equation distance = rate x time, one can find the distance (i.e. – depth) of each point along the sea floor. Put a bunch of those results together, and you begin to see a map!

Workstation

Many screens are needed to put all of the data together into an accurate sea floor map.

Sea floor maps use color to show different depths. The most shallow areas are colored with red, while the deepest areas are colored with blue. The remaining colors of the rainbow form a spectrum that allows us to see slopes. Today, we took a small boat out and surveyed the harbor where NOAA Ship Fairweather is docked. The harbor was very shallow, so every large rock in the harbor showed up as red on the map. The deeper areas showed up as blue. Hence my blog title! In my next blog, I will include pictures of maps that have recently been completed! Stay tuned!

Personal Log

Sea glass and rock treasures

Sea glass and rock treasures from the Bering Sea

Living on a ship that is docked in a tiny town with little to no cell phone service is fairly challenging. However, everyone on the ship finds creative solutions to keep themselves and others entertained. It is not uncommon for groups to form in the conference room to watch a movie on the big projector screen or to host a game night. There is also a fitness room onboard with plenty of exercise options! The Bering Sea and a long beach are a short, five minute walk from the ship. We had a campfire with marshmallows the first night that everyone returned to the ship from their time off. One person in our group found a whale bone on the beach! See the picture below. I spent some time walking the water line looking for sea glass. I actually found a few pieces, in

Whale bone

This is a whale bone that was found on the beach near NOAA Ship Fairweather

addition to a couple of rocks I thought were quite pretty! Sea glass is made from containers, bottles, and other glass objects that end up in the ocean. Over time, these objects break into smaller pieces, and the sandy and/or rocky sea floor erodes them. By the time they reach the beach, the pieces of glass have smooth edges and a translucent color. They are fun to collect as they come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes!

Did You Know?
Ocean water has a high conductivity, or ability to conduct electricity, because of all of the dissolved salts in sea water. The ions that form from dissolved salts cause ocean water to be about 1,000,000 times more conductive than fresh water!

Question of the Day
If a CTD determined that the speed of sound in an area was 1,504 m/s and the time it took for the sound wave to travel from the ship’s transmitter to receiver was 0.08 seconds, how deep was the water in that specific area? Make sure to use proper units, and remember that the total time is two ways and not just one way!
(Answer in the next blog post)

Victoria Obenchain: Launching Boats, July 9, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25 – July 6, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 9, 2018

Science and Technology Log

My last few days at sea were rather exciting.  Wednesday, I got to attend some medical training necessary at sea in the morning, and then in the afternoon we practiced safety drills. The whole crew ran through what to do in the case of three different ship emergencies: Fire, Abandon Ship and Man Overboard.  These drills were pretty life-like, they had a fog machine which they use to simulate smoke for the fire drill. Once the alarm was triggered people gather in their assigned areas; roll was taken, firemen and women suited up and headed to the location where smoke was detected, and from there teams are sent out to assess damage or spreading of the fire, while medical personnel stood prepared for any assistance needed. The abandon ship drill required all men and women on board to acquire their life preserver and full immersion suit, and head to their lifeboat loading locations. Roll is then taken and an appointed recorder jots down the last location of the ship. Once this is done, men and women would have deployed the life rafts and boarded (luckily we did not have to). And for the man overboard drill they threw their beloved mannequin Oscar overboard in a life vest and had everyone aboard practice getting in their look out positions. Once Oscar was spotted, they turned the ship around, deployed an emergency boat and had a rescue swimmer retrieve him.

Fast Rescue Boat

Deployed emergency boat for rescue of the beloved mannequin, Oscar.

These drills are necessary so that everyone on board knows what to do in these situations. While no one hopes these emergencies will happen, knowing what to do is incredibly important for everyone’s safety.

Thursday was maybe my favorite day on board. Due to the fact that there are a handful of new personnel on board, practice launching and recovering the survey launch boats was necessary. There are 4 launch boats on top of NOAA Ship Fairweather, each equipped with their own sonar equipment. These boats sit in cradles and can be lowered and raised from the sea using davits (recall the video from the “Safety First blog a few days ago). These four boats can be deployed in an area to allow for faster mapping of a region and to allow for shallower areas to be mapped, which the NOAA Ship Fairweather may not be able to access.  Since this is a big operation, and one which is done frequently, practice is needed so everyone can do this safely and efficiently.

 

With the aid of Ali Johnson as my line coach, I got to help launch and recover two of the survey launch boats from the davits on the top of the ship into the Bering Sea. This is an important job for all personnel to learn, as it is a key part of most survey missions. Learning line handling helps to make sure the survey launches are securely held close to the ship to prevent damage and to safely allow people on and off the launch boats as they are placed in the sea.  From learning how to handle the bow and aft lines, to releasing and attaching the davit hooks, and throwing lines from the launches to the ship (which I do poorly with my left hand), all is done in a specific manner. While the practice was done for the new staff on board, it was fun to be involved for the day and I got to see the beauty of the NOAA Ship Fairweather from the Bering Sea.

And I truly enjoyed being on the small launch boats. I then understood what many of the officers mentioned when they told me they enjoyed the small boat work. It’s just fun!

 

My trip ended in Nome, Alaska, which was in and of itself an experience. Students, you will see pictures later.  I am extremely thankful for the crew on board NOAA Ship Fairweather, they are a wonderful mix of passionate, fun professionals. I learned so much!

Personal Log

Being a Teacher at Sea is a strange, yet wonderful experience. Being a teacher, I normally spend the vast majority of my day at work being in charge of my classroom and beautiful students; leading lesson and activities, checking-in with those who need extra help and setting up/tearing down labs all day, as well as hopefully getting some papers graded. However during this experience, I was the student, learning from others about their expertise, experience and passions, as well as their challenges; being in charge of nothing.  And given that I had no prior knowledge of hydrography, other than its definition, I was increasingly impressed with the level of knowledge and enthusiasm those on board had for this type of work.  It drove my interest and desire to learn all I could from the crew. In fact, I often thought those on board were older than they were, as they are wiser beyond their years in many area of science, technology, maritime studies, NOAA Ship Fairweather specifics and Alaskan wildlife.

Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather

NOAA offers teachers the opportunities to take part in different research done by their ships throughout the research season as a Teacher at Sea. The 3 main types of cruises offered to teachers include (taken from the NOAA Teacher at Sea website):

  • Fisheries research cruises perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats.
  • Oceanographic research cruises perform physical science studies to increase our understanding of the world’s oceans and climate.
  • Hydrographic survey cruises scan the coastal sea floor to locate submerged obstructions and navigational hazards for the creation and update of the nation’s nautical charts.

I was excited to be placed on a Hydrographic Survey boat, as this is an area in my curriculum I can develop with my students, and one which I think they are going to enjoy learning about!

While I was sad to leave, and half way through had a “I wish I would have known about this type of work when I was first looking at jobs” moment (which I realize was not the goal of this fellowship or of my schools for sending me), I am super excited to both teach my students about this important work and also be a representative of this awesome opportunity for teachers. I will wear my NOAA Teacher at Sea swag with pride!

Teacher at Sea gear!

Me in my awesome Teacher at Sea gear!

 

Victoria Obenchain: Robots in the Arctic, July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 61o 04.7’ N
  • Longitude: 167o 53.5’ W
  • Wind Speed: 4 Knots
  • Wind Direction: South, southwest
  • Visibility: 150 feet
  • Air Temperature: 9.8o C
  • Current Sky Conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center have partnered up to test out an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV), a programmable robotic survey boat. In two weeks, they will be deploying the ASV in the Arctic, in the Point Hope vicinity, where NOAA Ship Fairweather has been tasked to map the ocean.

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There are many benefits to using the ASV for ocean mapping. First, it is able to survey in shallower waters than the launch boats, especially along coastlines. This data will be helpful to those who work on predicting storm surges and flooding for coastal communities. Second, the ASV can survey in potentially dangerous areas the launches would not be able to gain access to, such as in rocky areas or areas where there may be sandbars, that data will be helpful for smaller boats who use the area. Third, it can provide additional survey capacity in conjunction with the launches. For example, 4 launch boats could be sent out and an ASV to get an area surveyed, cutting down on the time required to accomplish missions. And lastly, if trained personnel are not available to drive or survey in a launch, this gives an additional option to the crew to accomplish the survey.

While those benefits are the goal of using ASV’s in the future, this summer’s mission with the ASV is to allow people to get acquainted with the robot, work out issues with software and the robot itself, and see how effective this tool is. The crew will practice deploying and recovering the robot. While robots can make jobs easier and possibly even safer for humans, until it is tested, you are never sure if they will actually be helpful. Robots in general tend to be finicky, have no sense of danger, and are not be able to work when waves are too high. Additionally, sometimes how we presume something will work in theory plays out differently in practice. I see this in my classroom all the time when the first and fourth graders are working with their robots and inventions, so trial and error is important, especially with a new tool. However, with any luck, this will serve as an excellent resource for the future of ocean hydrography.

How do you keep spirits high in Alaska, on a research vessel?

The crew on NOAA Ship Fairweather seems to have the right idea when it comes to keeping moral high. As I have said before, living and working in the same smallish space can have it challenges. Yet this ship has been doing scientific hydrographic research for 50 years, and has people on board who love their job and this small community. So how do they do it? I have learned a few of their ways.

They are a super welcoming community. They accept each other, and the different perspectives people bring to the job, and make each other feel appreciated. This welcoming attitude plays well for those who visit, as well.

They have Carrie, a chef who makes three delicious meals a day with her fellow stewards. She uses quality foods, remembers everyone’s likes and dislikes, and cheerfully greets everyone as the come into the mess line. Everyone on board looks forward to meals and especially her desserts! From cookies, carrot cake, puddings to even cheese cake; she is keeping everyone a bit spoiled- especially me!

They have a gym on board. There are machines, weights, group challenges and goal setting going on. Working out helps people have an outlet for their stress and any pent up energy. Also, it can help you feel better after having a bit too much dessert one night!

There is a ship store, which stocks essentials, candy, people’s favorite sodas, and some ship memorabilia. And let’s be honest, sometimes you need a Diet Coke, M&M’s, or a Zip Fizz to help you get 41,000% of your daily B12! All profits go into the staff’s moral fund. This can get used for the staff to have extra snacks, excursions and community evenings on the boat.

They have a Moral, Wellness and Recreation committee (MWR). This group of 5 individuals plan and put on community events some evenings while at sea, excursions while in port and support other community gathering events.

General community gatherings take place regularly. While I have been on board, there have been movie and TV show nights where people gather in the lounge and watch together. A board game evening where those interested gathered to battle each other at Settlers of Catan. A Rock Band evening where even I found myself singing and playing guitar with officers, visitors and the CO and XO of the ship.

There is a Finer Things Club where people listen to classical music, light fake candles, share candies, cheeses and other items not on the ships menu with one another. And just have some nice, classy relaxation time with one another.

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They have access to a huge collection of movies; both old and brand new. This creates much excitement and joy for many. In addition to that, there is an extensive board game collection, model planes that can be built and puzzles for those who prefer quieter evenings.

They celebrate holiday and maritime events in a big way! The MWR club decorates the ships common areas for such events, and works overtime to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. From drawing decorative hand turkeys for Thanksgiving, carving pumpkins for Halloween and making red white and blue rag tapestries for Independence Day; even though they are at sea, they are not missing out!

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Everyone helps out when one department needs it. This helps create unity among the staff and for everyone to get to know each other better. Those in Survey help out the Deck Department for docking and launching, and if someone gets sick or a department is low in personnel, they sign up to help out that department.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the ship, so I will be posting one more blog when I return home. My experience has been so enlightening about NOAA, hydrography, Alaska, and life on a ship! I can not wait to share this with all of you, my students!  For those of you still reading along this summer, this is the path we have taken from Juneau to Nome, AK. I unfortunately will not be continuing on with NOAA Ship Fairweather as they venture farther north, but am so impressed with their dedication and skill in making our coastlines safe for both the mariners in the area and the environment.

 

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Our route to Nome, AK.

Victoria Obenchain: NOAA Corps Officers, July 3, 2018

Teacher at Sea Blog

Victoria Obenchain

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 25th-July 6th, 2018

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest, Alaska

Date: July 3, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Lat.: 54o 53.1’ N
  • Long.: 162o 30.8’ W
  • Sea wave height: 1 foot
  • Wind speed: 29 knots
  • Wind direction: East, southeast
  • Temperature: 10.0oC
  • Visibility: 4 nautical miles
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast/Hazy

Personal Log

I am writing my personal log first this time, because I am just in awe of the beauty around me. We pulled in to Kodiak, AK on Sunday to pick up an Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) which will be used later in the summer, and to refuel. The scenery here is just amazing, I spent the day on the Flying Bridge (the highest point I am allowed to stand) and just took in the sun, scenery and beauty. The water was a crystal royal blue, the mountains a bright green topped with white snow; and as we finally pulled out, fascinating sea life appeared all around us. From jellyfish, sea otters, porpoises, whales and puffins; it was beautiful. While I was not fast enough with my camera when an animal decided to grace my presence, here are some pictures of the scenery.

Science and Technology Log

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers of the NOAA Corps work hard to keep our ship on course and accomplish the ship’s mission. The ship has a wide range of officers; senior officers who are within a few years of retirement, officers who have worked on multiple assignments and are working their way up the ranks to one day being a commanding officer (CO) of their own ship, down to junior officers who have just joined NOAA a few months ago and are still learning all they need to know to be a part of this amazing team.  They are an incredible example of respect, self discipline, perseverance and teamwork.

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Officers on the bridge of NOAA Ship Fairweather

Today, the newer junior officers had a chance to take part in a docking and launching ship simulation. The XO designed a Playstation ship game to have the officers practice commands for the rudder, bow thrusters, and forward and back engines. The junior officers had to then try docking, turning, walking and driving the ship in different sea conditions. The officers yelled out the commands and the other players responded accordingly, much like they would do as an Officer on Duty. The ship on the screen then would move as it would in the sea. Junior officers could then see how a ship would respond to their calls. Docking and launching are done very little once on a mission, so junior officers might not get too many chances to practice this important skill. This seemed to get everyone a bit involved.

Every few years, officers rotate between ship deployments and land assignments. While an officer may really love their current assignment or position, this change in location and assignment allows them to learn new skills and develop as NOAA officers. NOAA’s commitment to science and technology has attracted some of the most passionate and scientifically-minded individuals to this career path; developing their skills and challenging them to grow within their field seems to be something NOAA has excelled at. On board NOAA Ship Fairweather, officers are constantly learning, pushing or supporting each other and following a chain of command with the highest respect.  I am constantly impressed with their knowledge of the ship, the engines, native sea life, navigational skills, safety protocols, survey planning (yes they do surveys, too!) and patience, especially with a very interested and inquisitive Teacher at Sea.

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ENS Lawler and ENS Junge keeping us on course.

NOAA Corps is the smallest of the seven uniform services in our country. NOAA’s mission has a scientific focus, so all officers have an undergraduate degree in a scientific field and some level of science expertise. While many are excited to join this amazing team, there are some challenges outside the work itself. A ship assignment is not the easiest of jobs; to be in a self-contained area which serves as both your work and your home, one that may offer you little privacy and connections to the outside world when cell service is not available or wifi is slow, and yet together they lift each other up, help each other succeed and move past disagreements quickly, as they are all going through some of the same issues.

I have spent some time talking to a few of the newer officers about why they joined NOAA Corps. They are all so passionate about their job, yet, only one of them, when they were in middle school or high school, even thought this would be where they are today.  For time and space reasons, not to mention for my students’ attention spans, I will paraphrase a few of them below.

What was appealing about joining NOAA Corps?

-I really wanted to go to sea, and do science. I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-NOAA Corps moves you around every few years, between land and sea assignments. This allows you to never get stagnant in your skills, you are always learning. – LT Steve Moulton

-Before this I was in the Coast Guard reserves and working on my science graduate degree, and this seemed like a good next step. What cemented it for me was when I got to go to Antarctica for some research on a ship for 37 days, it made me realize this was what I wanted to do. -ENS William Abbott

What are the best days like on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-Driving the ship in cool places and in interesting, challenging passes. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-I like doing the small boat surveys; small boat operations and data collection, and getting diving practice in when possible. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

-Just being on the bridge, orienting yourself with where you are, and figuring out the big picture when it comes to the ship. – ENS William Abbott

-Being on the bridge with your co-workers, figuring things out together, it can be really fun. -ENS Jeff Calderon

What challenges are there to working on the ship and in NOAA Corps?

-It can be a lot of pressure to perform your job well. You are responsible for those on board. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

-Being on a ship for so long, it starts to feel small, and you miss things like gardening and just the land in general. – ENS Linda Junge

-There is a lot of electronic equipment to become acquainted with and know how to work without thinking about. – ENS Cabot Zucker

What are you looking forward to in your NOAA Career?

-My next assignment is in Maryland, I’ll be doing small boat surveys and mapping in the Chesapeake Bay. It will be nice to be closer to home. – ENS Patrick Lawler

– Hopefully getting sent to Antarctica, they have a station there. It would be cool to work there for a bit. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

-Hopefully going to dive school. I also like that throughout this job I will be constantly learning. – ENS Cabot Zucker

-I hope to be getting into pilot training/flight school within a few years.- ENS Jeff Calderon

What did you want to be growing up or what did you see yourself doing when you were older?

-Totally wanted to be a baseball player… or I guess something with Marine Biology or Marine Science, doing field research. – ENS Patrick Lawler

-Was very interested in being a pilot for a bit of a time. Sometimes I was unsure, but definitely knew I wanted to travel! – ENS Linda Junge

-I wanted to be on a ship, my Mom and Godmother worked on ships, this was kind of where I saw myself. – ENS Jackson Vanfleet-Brown

– The stereotypical mad scientist. Yep, that’s what I thought. – ENS Kevin Tennyson

Is there anything else you would tell someone about this job, in particular some adorable science loving, students who maybe have not heard much about this type of career?

-This is a lot of fun! It’s a good mix of science, active and outside work, and you get to see the world. –ENS Kevin Tennyson

– I definitely did not know about this growing up! I would say to look at Maritime Academies for those who might be interested. There are a lot of ship jobs out there that pay well and offer you fun interesting work that is not behind a desk. – ENS Peter Siegenthaler

– A ship is a cool environment to work in, not just for NOAA, any ship job can be great. If you are interested in research options to more exotic or isolated places, employers like those who have ship work skills. Those people can usually be resourceful and diffuse stressful situations; because, well you have to be able to. And it’s cool… so why not be on a ship? – ENS Linda Junge

– This job is all about adventure, it will definitely challenge you! – LT Steve Moulton

One last thing: I got a very short video of some porpoises, check them out!