John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 27, 2014

 

Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org

 

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 

 

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

John Bilotta: A World of Wonder under the Waves, Days 1-4 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 20, 2014

Weather: Sunny with clouds.  26.6 Celsius.  Wind 13 knots from 251 degrees (west).  1-2m seas from the north.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

 

Science and Technology Log

Research mission objectives – what am I doing out here?

Gathering data on habitat and fish assemblages of seven species of grouper and tilefish in the South Atlantic MPAs . These species are considered to be at risk due to current stock levels and life history characteristics which make them vulnerable to overfishing.   Information gathered will help assess the health of the MPAs, the impact management is having, and the effectiveness of ROV exploratoration to make these health assessments.

Science Part I:  Multibeam sea floor mapping  Multibeam sonar sensors — sometimes called multibeam acoustic sensors echo-sounders (MB for short)  are a type of sound transmitting and receiving system that couple with GPS to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor bottom. See how it works by checking out this cool NOAA animation. MB mapping is occurring all night long on the Nancy Foster by a team of expert mappers including Kayla Johnson, Freidrich Knuth, Samantha Martin, and Nick Mitchell (more on them and their work and NOAA careers in a future blog).  Our Chief Scientist Stacey Harter has identified areas to map.

OK, so we aren't exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist in one of my first pictures.

OK, so we aren’t exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist Stacey Harter in one of my first pictures.

By morning, after the mappers have worked their magic on the data, Stacey is able to see a visual representation of the sea floor.  She is looking for specific characteristics including a hard sea floor bottom, relief, and ridge lines – important characteristics for the groupers, tilefish, hinds, and other fish species under protection and management.   Stacey uses these maps to determine transects for ROV exploration.  Those transect lines are used by both the scientists driving the ROV and the navigation crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  Once down on the ocean floor, the ROV pilot follows this transect and so must the ship high above it in the waves driven by the crew.  Although 3 floors apart – it’s amazing to hear the necessary communication between them.  (Watch for one of my future posts that will highlight a MB map and a sample transect line.)

Science Part II:  ROV exploration – Completion of 8 dives

By the time this posts, we will have made 8 dives with the SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 ROV from University of North Carolina. (perhaps we will have made more dives because internet via satellites is slow and I am uncertain when this will really get posted.)

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

The ROV joined the mission with its two pilots, Lance Horn and Jason White.  Pilots extraordinaire but I otherwise see them as the ROV’s parents guiding and caring for its every move.  The technology aboard the ROV is incredible including a full spectrum video camera, a digital camera, sensors to measure depth and temperature, and 4 horizontal thrusters and one vertical thruster with twin propellers.   The ROV has donned a pair of lasers which when projected on the sea floor allow the scientists to measure items.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

John receiving launch instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

John receiving ROV deployment instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

 

ROV deployment

ROV deployment

 

The ROV control station is daunting!  As one may imagine, it does include three joysticks accompanied by multiple switches, buttons, lights and alarms – all just a fingertip away from the ROV pilot.   Five monitors surround the pilot – some of them are touch screen activated adding more to the selection of options at their fingertips.  Is a Play Station a part of your daily routine?  Perhaps you should consider a career at NOAA as a ROV pilot!

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital pictures, 6.  Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7.  Multiple DVD recorders.

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital picture technician, 6. Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7. Multiple DVD recorders.

 

While the ROV drives and explores a set transect line, six additional scientists and assistants identify and record habitat, fish species, invertebrates, and other items that come into vision on any one of the monitors scattered around the lab located inside the ship.  Two scientists are recording fish species and a scientist accompanied by me the past two days are identifying habitat and invertebrates.

JB Invertebrate Logging

John assisting Stephanie Farrington (not pictured) with habitat and invertebrate identification and logging.

Of course, the ROV is on the move constantly, so fish and items of interest are flying by – you don’t have time to type or write so the scientists use short cut keyboards pre-coded with species and habitat descriptors.   Meanwhile another scientist is narrating the entire dive as everything is being recorded and yet another is controlling DVD video recording and centering and zooming the digital camera capturing hundreds of pictures during a dive.  You would be surprised by the number of computers running for this operation!  What is amazing is that everything will be linked together through a georeferrenced database using latitude and longitude coordinates.

Science Part III.  What have we seen and discovered?

On June 19th & 20th we completed 8 dives.  Some of the first species we saw included the shortbigeye, triggerfish, reef butterflyfish, and hogfish (Here is a good link of fish species on the reefs located here.)   We also observed a few stingrays and speckled hind.  For invertebrates, we saw a lot of Stichopathes (tagged as dominate during the dives) and fields of Pennatulacea (long white feathers).  We also saw echinoderms and solitary cap coral (a singular, white tube coral) and discovered a Demospongiae that Stephanie, one of the Research Biologists (see below) hadn’t seen yet; we called it a bubble-wrap sponge in my hand-written notes.

Dive053089 15 52 18

Dive053061 15 28 29 Cubya Dive052019 12 23 13 ???????????????????????????????

 

Things that we saw today that we wished we hadn’t seen: 

Pollution  So with much of my teaching centered around clean water and pollution prevention and mitigation, I was saddened to discover the following items on the ocean floor during the first five dives: Plastic bags, cans, a barrel, a clearly visible rubber surgical glove, and an artillery shell. Interesting – from the ROV you can easily spot what the scientists call ‘human debris’ as it often has straight lines and corners, distinctly human crafted shapes – not like mother nature engineers.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters.  NOAA UNCW. Mowak ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters. NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 Invasive species – Lionfish are everywhere!  Why are Lionfish undesirablehttp://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html 

Lionfish - multiple sitings today.  Photo credit:  NOAA UNCW

Lionfish – multiple sitings today. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW Mohawk ROV. June 2014.

 

Career highlight:  Stephanie Farrington, Biological Research Specialist

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University

Masters of Science in Marine Biology.  Bachelors of Science in Marine Science and Biology.

Stephanie’s expertise is in collecting, classifying, and mapping marine biology with emphasis in habitats and invertebrates.  She is also proficient in ArcGIS for mapping and maintaining a database of everything she sees, discovers, and observes.  During this research trip, she is the scientist charged with identifying the habitat with an emphasis on the invertebrate species that speckle the sea floor.  For the past two days I have shadowed her side – watching the video feed from the ROV and logging.  She is a wealth of information and I really appreciate sitting next to her the past two days.  She is a master in biology and a master in buttons – and a fun spirit too.

 

Personal Log

Day 2 was spent almost entirely in transit – getting north from Mayport to Georgia, almost 9 hours.  Part of that time was spent getting to know the research team and participating in safety drills.  Sorry everyone; I did not get a picture of me in my red gumby suit (aka the life saving immersion suit).  Upon recommendation from a colleague (you know who you are) I also spent two hours on a bench on the bow reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

“If Earth were the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan, the amount of water on the planet would be in a single half-liter bottle of Poland Spring in one of the van’s thirteen cup holders.” 

Although I have been out on the ocean before as well as the Great Lakes, on this day I simply felt tiny in a vast sea of blue.

For those who know me during my off-work hours, I also hit the ship’s gym -yes, that’s right, I am keeping up my routine with one exception.  My Paleo diet is now nearly broken – too much great food here from the ship’s chef’s, including ice cream.

Last night, at the end of Day 3 (Thursday) I spent the evening on the beach!  Well actually, what they call steal beach – a platform aft (behind) the ship’s bridge equipped with lounge recliners to watch the sunsets.  I sat up for seemingly hours trying to write all my excitements and discoveries in a log I am keeping.  Don’t worry though, I won’t make you read it all; my blog readers will only see a small snapshot of all I have been seeing and discovering!

 

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions HERE.  

  • Immersion suit
  • Transect
  • MPA
  • Invertebrates
  • Rugosity
  • Multibeam mapping
  • Bathymetry
  • Dominate species
  • Habitat
  • Echinoderms
  • CTD probe

Jamie Morris: Diving, Driving, and NOAA Corps, April 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Monday, April 28, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 2 feet
Air Temperature: 72.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 71.0ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The water wasn’t as smooth today as it was yesterday, but the divers still were very successful.  One fish survey was completed today.  A few dives were made to check shackles on the anchors of a receiver and to retrieve a railroad tie at one of the receiver sites.  The divers also began the Marine Debris Surveys today.  A total of 6 surveys were conducted.  Five of the six groups were able to find the marking pin.  Those sites had no marine debris.  The sixth site could not find the marking pin and therefore were not able to fully complete the survey.  The divers did find a lot of fishing line at this site, which they removed.

Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location. Photo: Sarah Webb

Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Sarah Webb

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Richard LaPalme

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

The weather is forecasted to start turning tomorrow.  The divers are scheduled to complete morning dives, but most likely will not be able to complete afternoon dives due to poor weather.  In the morning, Lauren and Hampton will complete one fish survey and one marine debris survey.  The second boat will have Katie, Richard, Sarah Webb, and Randy.  This group will conduct two marine debris surveys.  Hopefully they will be able to get the dives in tomorrow, but safety comes first.

Over the past week I have been talking to all the crew members learning about their different jobs.  There are basically several groups on the ship.  There is the scientific party.  This group conducts different research on the ship.  These groups are constantly changing and are the guests of the ship.  The permanent groups are the Commissioned Officers, Engineering Department, Deck Department, Survey Department, and the Stewards.  All the departments are incredibly important and play vital roles in the operation of the ship.  The Commissioned officers are in charge of the movements of the ship.  The Engineering department controls the mechanical aspects of the ship.  The Deck Department operates the cranes and maintains the small boats.  The scientific and electronic equipment is controlled by the Survey Department and the Stewards keep all the crew well nourished.  (For a more detailed description of these roles, please visit the GRNMS website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/log_04242014.html )

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn

Today I want to focus on the Commissioned Officers.  The Commissioned Officers are members of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps members can be found on the 19 NOAA Ships and 12 NOAA Aircraft.  They can be found working on projects on the land, in the air, and at sea.  The NOAA Corps was originally established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 with the responsibility of surveying the coasts.  Today the NOAA Corps works in a variety of fields including oceanography, fisheries, engineering, earth sciences, and meteorology.  NOAA Corps provide the leadership and operational support to meet NOAA’s mission of surveying the Earth’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere to ensure the economic and physical well-being of the Nation.

All NOAA Corps officers hold at least a baccalaureate degree, preferably in science or engineering.  All officers must have completed at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework and must have completed college level calculus and physics.  Other requirements include passing a mental and physical as well as a background check.  You also must be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before your 62nd birthday.

Each new NOAA Corps officer must complete an initial training program that lasts about 5 months.  The NOAA Corps now conducts this program with the US Coast Guard.  During this training officers learn about maritime activities such as navigation, ship handling, and emergency and rescue procedures.  The training also teaches the officers about military procedures such as marching, drills, and the military ranks, structures and protocols.  After completing the training, NOAA Corps members continue their training aboard a ship.  This training lasts around 12 to 15 months.  During this time the new officer is trained by the experienced officers.  After the training period, the new officer must pass a test to demonstrate mastery of the necessary skills.  Some ships do this as an oral test format where the officers ask the new officer how to they would handle certain situations.  On the Nancy Foster, a life ring is thrown overboard and the new officer has to retrieve it.  This simulates a Man Overboard.  After the new officer passes the test they earn a permanent position on the ship.  This position will last between 2 to 3 years.  Officers are reassigned positions every 2 to 3 years.  They rotate between ship and land based positions.  Land based positions can include working at NOAA Labs, Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Administrative offices.

Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship's path on paper.    ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.

Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship’s path on paper. ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.

For more information on the NOAA Corps, please visit: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/

I honestly did not know that the NOAA Corps existed until this trip.  I really wished I had known about it earlier, not only for myself, but for my students.  I do hope that my former and current (as well as future) students consider looking

into the NOAA Corps.  It is a wonderful way to serve your country while still working with the sciences.

 

Did You Know?

There are seven uniformed services in the United States.  These include the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, NOAA Corps, and the Public Health Service.

 

Personal Log

I had one of the most fun experiences last night.  I went up to the bridge to get the weather data as well as watch the sunset.  Executive Officer LCDR Mark Blankenship and Junior Officer Ensign Conor Maginn were on duty.  The ship was recording acoustics for the Fish Acoustics project.  To do this, the ship makes several short passes over a specific area.  The ship was set on autopilot to complete this task.  ENG Maginn would make small adjustments to keep the ship on the desired path.  As soon as the acoustics survey was complete, XO Blankenship asked if I wanted to drive the ship.  They took the ship off autopilot and I drove for an hour.  I had to steer it into the wind for a while so that the survey technician could fill the dive compressor which is used to fill the SCUBA tanks and then I had to steer around some sailboats. I ended by getting the ship back to the site that they ended the sonar mapping from the previous night.

It was very difficult.  When driving the ship, you cannot rely on simply looking out the window (this is especially true in the dark).  There are many tools and computers that you need to utilize.  There are five different monitors you have to look at plus the rudder position and the compass.  The rudder is controlled by a switch.  It took me a while to learn how to keep the ship in a specific position.  It is not like a car that will keep in a straight line.  You constantly need to be move the rudder.  Luckily, I had ENS Maginn guiding me.  He was an excellent teacher.

The switch used to control the rudder.

The switch used to control the rudder.

This is the monitor used to control the ship's movements.

This is the monitor used to control the ship’s movements.

Driving the ship was the one thing that I told my students I really wanted to do.  When I told them that, I thought that there would be a steering wheel.  I was very shocked not to find one.  Rather, the ship feels like you are controlling a video game.  It is controlled using switches, knobs, and joysticks.  You move the rudder with a switch that rotates almost 180°.

The ship's controls.  No longer do you move a steering wheel.  Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.

The ship’s controls. No longer do you move a steering wheel. Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.

 

Additional Photos

 

Sunset on the Nancy Foster Photo: ENS Conor Maginn

Sunset on the Nancy Foster
Photo: ENS Conor Maginn

Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand. Photo: Richard LaPalme

Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

Jackknife Fish trying to hide. Photo: Richard LaPalme

Jackknife Fish trying to hide.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS Photo: Richard LaPalme

Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS
Photo: Richard LaPalme

 

Jamie Morris: Successful Dives and a Mystery Visitor, April 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 0-1 feet
Air Temperature: 71.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 70.2ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The dive operations on the Nancy Foster have continued to progress.  The Fish Telemetry Project has been very successful.  All the receivers that needed replacing have been replaced and Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman has downloaded the data.  She has run into a small delay in identifying many of the fish because the database with the microchip numbers has not been updated.  Right now we know that there have been several mystery visitors to GRNMS.  Hopefully the identities of these fish will be revealed soon.  It is exciting to see where these fish have traveled from.  The dive team continues to work on this project by servicing the other receivers in the water.  They dive to the receivers and try to clean off any organism growing on receivers as well as make sure that the receivers are still securely attached to their anchors.  There are currently 18 receivers in GRNMS.  The receivers are replaced every 4 to 6 months, depending on the location.

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver. Photo: Sarah Webb

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver.
Photo: Sarah Webb

The Fish Acoustics project is also progressing very well.  Lauren Hessemann is the team’s fish ID expert.  She continues to make about 4 dives a day to six specific sites.  She needs to record each site twice.  The ship than travels to these sites and records the acoustics (fish noises).  Lauren is always accompanied by a second diver who is tasked with filming the fish.  A scientist will use Lauren’s data and the video to compare it to the acoustics that were recorded from these sites.

The divers have reported seeing many interesting animals.  The team has observed seven sea turtles, all floating at the surface.  Many curious black seabass have been seen.  These fish like to investigate and will swim very close to the divers.  The divers have reported that if you look behind you while swimming, many times a small school of black seabass are following.  Some usual sightings have included several guitarfish and many Jackknife fish.  So far there have not been any Lionfish sightings.  It is believed that the cold winter has prevented their migration to GRNMS.

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water Photo: Amy Rath

An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole.

An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole. Photo: Richard LaPalme

I have been able to go out on two different dive boats.  I am not able to get in the water, but I have been able to assist from the surface.  At the surface I help the divers get in and out of the boat, keep the dive and projects logs, as well as assist with the site markers.  Site markers are small anchors attached to a buoy with a long rope.  These markers need to be dropped at precise GPS locations.  They are used by the divers to find the specific location for the assigned tasks.  It is very important to have accurate drops.  Many times divers are looking for specific objects or very precise locations.  The marker is what they use to find these items.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.

An excellent placement of the dive marker. Photo: Hampton Harbin

An excellent placement of the dive marker.
Photo: Hampton Harbin

I have had the opportunity to sail with two different coxswains.  A Coxswain is a person who is in charge or steers a boat.  Yesterday I was with coxswain Jim Pontz.  Jim is an Able Seaman on the Nancy Foster.  Today I was with Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio.  Carmen has been a NOAA Corps member for a year and a half.  Both Jim and Carmen explained the role of the coxswain during dives.  The coxswain will drive the divers out to their dive site, but their role does not end there.  They need to accurately place the dive marker.  They then assist the divers getting into the water.  Once the divers are in the water, the coxswains must be extremely vigilant.  They need to keep a constant eye on the diver marker buoy.  This lets the coxswain know the general area that the divers will be located in.  If it is a calm day with small waves and low currents, this part is easy.  However, most days there is a current or there are waves which cause the dive boat to drift making it difficult to stay in a specific location.  The coxswain needs to also keep constant watch of the divers.  You are able to “see” where the divers are based on the air bubbles that reach the surface.  By tracking the bubbles, you know the path of the divers.  The coxswain needs to make sure the boat is close to the divers, but not on top of the divers.  While the divers are in the water, the coxswain serves the important role of being the diver’s lookout and ultimately their protection at the surface.  They need to stand watch for any hazards such as other boats or dangerous wildlife and they need to be ready to get the divers out of the water in the event of an emergency.

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen  wraps up the stern line

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen wraps up the stern line

Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

The dives all have gone very well and the team has been progressing.  Tomorrow they will finish the receiver dives and will begin the Marine Debris Surveys.  The purpose of these surveys is to analyze the types of debris in GRNMS as well as the location of the debris.  There are nine sites that have been marked for debris surveys.  The sites have been marked with metal pins.  The survey will occur over a 50 meter distance.  The divers will swim the 50 meters and will look 2 meters to the right and left of the line.  As the divers swim they will be recording the types, amount, and the specific locations of the debris.  The normal types of debris found in GRNMS are fishing line, beer bottles, and cans.  Hopefully the divers will not see a lot of debris.

 

Did You Know?

In order to dive on a NOAA mission, divers must be NOAA Dive Certified.  This is a lengthily process that includes having a minimum of 25 previous open water dives, completing NOAA diving coursework and passing a series of tests.  NOAA has different classes of divers.  There are scientific divers and working divers.  Scientific divers can perform only scientific tasks including making observations and collecting data.  Working divers can complete construction and troubleshooting tasks under the water.

 

Personal Log

Life on the ship is always interesting.  I am constantly learning and am having a great time.  Today was particularly exciting.  At lunch time one of the dive boats was brought to the side of the Nancy Foster and was raised to the hip (the side of the ship, even with the deck, but not onboard).  The boat was being held out of the water by the crane.  Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio NOAA Corps Officer with GRNMS Jared Halonen were in the boat while Sarah Fangman and I were standing on the Nancy Foster.  We were loading the dive boat with our equipment when someone spotted a large dorsal fin right next to the Nancy Foster.  The fin belonged to a shark that we estimate to be 14 feet long.  We are not certain of the species.  You can see the photo below.  It was shot through polarized sunglasses, so there is a bit of a glare.  People on the ship are guessing that it is a Great White or Bull Shark.  Photos have been sent to fish experts and we are waiting for confirmation.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship.  We are still trying to identify it.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship. We are still trying to identify it.

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Sarah Fangman, Jared Halonen, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Jared Halonen, Sarah Fangman, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Our shark friend decided to stay next to the ship, swimming back and forth hovering many times under the dive boat.  He was at the surface for about 10 minutes when it was decided to move the Nancy Foster so that the dive boat could safely be deployed.  Once we were away from the shark, the dive boat was deployed.  The four of us set off to our dive site.  We made it to the site and dropped the dive marker.  We were leaving that site to drop a second marker when we noticed a dorsal fin heading toward the first marker.  We drove toward the dorsal fin to get a better look at the shark.  It was an 8 foot long hammerhead.  After some discussion the divers, Sarah and Jared, did get into the water.  They had safe dives and did not see any more sharks.  The initial sightings of the two different sharks was exciting.

 

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Additional Photos

 

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman Photo: Amy Rath

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman
Photo: Amy Rath

Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive. Photo: Sarah Webb

Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

 

Jamie Morris: The Diving Begins, April 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 10 knots
Swell Waves: 2-3 feet
Air Temperature: 71.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 69.1ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.

Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.

Last night the dive team arrived.  The team consists of Jared Halonen, Hampton Harbin, Lauren Heesemann, Richard LaPalme, Katie Mahaffey, Randy Rudd, Sarah Webb and of course Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman.  The divers quickly settled into the ship.  We then had a science meeting where diving safety and the diving tasks were discussed.  The divers than had to have their gear checked and it was loaded into the dive boats.

The dive operations began this morning.  The beautiful, calm waters from the past 2 days changed into choppy water with up to 3 foot waves.  The divers reported strong currents and a relatively large thermocline as they descend.  A thermocline is where there is a change in the temperature.  The divers reported a noticeable change in the temperature of the water as they descended.  These conditions gave the divers a bit of a challenge.

The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives

The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives

The divers were very successful today.  They completed 2 fish acoustics surveys.  Lauren and Randy dove to two different sites.  At each site, Lauren had to identify and count all the different species of fish.  Randy had the task of filming the site and capturing images of the different fish, especially any predator-prey relationships.  They were able to see many different species of fish.  The data gathered by Lauren and Randy will be used to compare to the acoustic data that is being recorded from the ship at this location.

The other dive group was tasked with replacing the Telemetry Receivers.  In the morning this group consisted of Sarah Fangman, Randy, and Hampton.  In the afternoon, Hampton and Jared completed this task.  Together, the different dive teams were able to replace 5 receivers.

The receivers were brought on the ship and the data was downloaded to a computer.  Every time a microchipped fish swam past these receivers, the receiver recorded the information.  When the data is downloaded, you are able to see the number of the microchip from those fish and the date and time that they swam by the receiver.  Using a database of microchip numbers generated by a group of scientists along the East Coast of the United States, we are able to identify the fish that have been in the area.  From today’s data, we learned that Gray’s Reef had two visitors, an Atlantic Sturgeon in early March and Sand Tiger Shark in early April.  Both were originally tagged in Delaware.

Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog.

Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog. Photo: Sarah Webb

While the dive teams were out I kept busy on the Nancy Foster.  In the morning I helped prepare logs for the Acoustics dive team.  I also spent time at the bridge learning about the ship’s systems.  Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colin Kliewer, and Junior Officer, Ensign Conor Maginn showed me the different systems in the bridge and explained how they are able to keep the ship in a precise location using the two thrusters on the ship.

OPS  LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship's movements

OPS LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship’s movements

The Ship's Controls

The Ship’s Controls

In the afternoon I assisted Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman with the receivers that were brought on board.  Using Bluetooth, she was able to download the data from the receivers to her computer.  We then used the Microchip Data table and identified the tagged fish.  We finished the project by cleaning the receiver and preparing them to be placed back into the ocean tomorrow.  We prepared them by wrapping them in electrical tape and then placing them in nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receiver from the organisms that will grow on them.  Please see the “Before” and “After” photos below.

The Reciever Before it is placed in the water.  It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.

The Receiver Before it is placed in the water. It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.

This receiver was in the water for 4 months.  It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs

This receiver was in the water for 4 months. It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs

We finished our day with a science meeting.  We discussed the dives that occurred today.  Issues, tips, and advice were shared.  We also shared the data that was discovered on the receivers as well as the animals that were seen.  Additional tasks for the diving teams were discussed including the sea turtle identification, the removal of the lionfish, and fish surveys.  After the meeting concluded the group prepared for tomorrow’s dives by filing the SCUBA tanks, programming the GPS in the boats, and finishing preparing the receivers and logs.

The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.

The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.

Did You Know?

There is a fish called the guitarfish.  This fish is a cartilaginous fish closely related to sharks and rays.  One was spotted today at GRNMS.

NOAA Photo Library Image - fish4420

Atlantic Guitarfish Photo: NOAA Photo Library Image

 

Personal Log

As of 5 pm tonight, I have been a board the Nancy Foster for one week.  I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by.  It feels like it was just yesterday that I boarded in the pouring rain, afraid to move around the ship.  It took me a while to become comfortable walking on the ship.  I am doing pretty well now, but every once in a while we hit a swell and I go flying toward the wall.  Luckily the ship has railings all over allowing you to catch yourself.  There is the rule on the ship to always have one free hand.  I completely understand this rule and use it all the time.  The most difficult places to move are going up or down in the ship.  The stairs are a combination of stairs and a ladder.   They are incredibly steep.  The most difficult part is descending.  I am getting much better at them.  I am having a wonderful experience aboard the Nancy Foster.  I have met many great people and am constantly learning.  I cannot wait to see what this next week brings.

 

Additional Photos

Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.

Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.

he crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.

The crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.

The science team meets to review that day's events and to discuss the next day's activitites

The science team meets to review that day’s events and to discuss the next day’s activitites

Jamie Morris: Time to Plan, Prepare, & Revise, April 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 7 knots
Swell Waves: 1.3 feet
Air Temperature: 68.5ºF
Seawater Temperature: 67.6ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Today was our third day at sea.  We again were very fortunate to have had beautiful weather.  We are continuing to “mow the lawn” and are creating the seafloor map.

Lowering the dive boat.  This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.

Lowering the dive boat. This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.

Since it was a relatively quiet day, the crew decided to practice launching and running two of the dive boats.  As they were lowering the first dive boat into the water one of the guide ropes snapped.  The crew worked quickly to reattach a new rope.  Once the boat was under control, the passengers boarded and they sailed away to practice marking dive locations.  A few minutes later the crew launched a second dive boat.  The boat was lowered into the water with no problems and the passengers boarded.  Right before they unhooked from the crane, the line carrying the hydraulic fluid on the crane popped off.  Hydraulic fluid shot all over. (The hydraulic fluid is biodegradable so it is safe, but a mess to clean up).

The engineers were able to work quickly to repair the crane.  Meanwhile, both dive boats went on their practice missions.  The second boat was the first to return and was reloaded onto the Nancy Foster without any problems.  The first boat, however, did not return on its own.  It ended up having engine problems.  The Nancy Foster had to stop mapping the seafloor and go retrieve the dive boat and its passengers.  What was supposed to be a quiet morning turned into an eventful one, but fortunately no one was injured.  The only causality was a boat.

We are now down to only two dive boats.  This means that a third of the planned worked might not be able to get accomplished.  Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman had to revise the mission’s plans to try to accomplish as much as we can with only two boats.  She first had to prioritize the different projects.  It was determined that the Fish Acoustics and Telemetry projects would be completed first.  The Fish Acoustics study involves two divers going to 6 specific sites.  One diver will identify and record the fish species that are present.  The other diver will be filming the animals seen.  The Telemetry teams will be replacing the receivers that are currently positioned throughout the sanctuary.  These receivers record information from micro chipped fish that swim past.  New receivers will be placed in the water and the old ones will be brought on board and the data will be uploaded onto a computer.  While these projects are being conducted, the divers will also be looking for sea turtles and Lionfish.  Data will be gathered about the sea turtles and photos will be taken.  If Lionfish are located, they will be speared and brought on board the Nancy Foster where information such as length and weight will be gathered.  Lionfish are an invasive species and need to be removed from the ecosystem.  For a detailed description of Lionfish, please visit the Mission’s Website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/welcome.html Once these projects are complete, the Marine Debris Survey will begin.

Preparing the recievers.  They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.

Preparing the recievers. They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.

Today we did prep for the different missions.  Sarah and I organized all the supplies that will be used.  This included filling a dive bag with the receivers and tools needed to secure the receivers under water as well as tools to remove the current receivers.  Yesterday we had prepped the receivers.  Sarah replaced the batteries and then we wrapped the receivers in electrical tape and then placed them inside nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receivers and to keep them clean.  When they are under the water different organisms will start to grow on them.  When we retrieve the receivers, we can cut away the stockings removing any organisms growing there and then unwrap the tape and the receivers will look brand new.

We also gathered the supplies for the Lionfish removal.  These included dive bags to hold the lionfish, gloves for removing the fish, and placing the spear guns into the dive holsters (designed by a GRNMS member made out of PVC pipes).  We copied all the dive logs onto waterproof paper and organized the paperwork for the dives.  We also prepared all the underwater cameras.  Hopefully we are all set for when the divers arrive tomorrow.

Spear Gun Holster

Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman models the spear gun holster.

First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.

First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti, fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.

Today’s lesson was flexibility.  It is so important to be flexible.  On a ship, no plan is going to work out perfectly.  There are many uncontrollable factors such as the weather or mechanical issues.  It is important to always have backup plans and be able to adjust if problems arise.

 

Did You Know?

You can identify sea turtles using the scales on their neck.  This pattern is unique to each individual sea turtle.  Just like how fingerprints can identify humans.

 

Animals Seen Today

Hammerhead Shark – spotted from the bridge; estimated to be 10-12 feet long; it is very uncommon to see one in GRNMS (sorry no picture)

 

Personal Log

Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach.  We were working very hard in the beautiful weather

Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach. We were working very hard in the beautiful weather

I am truly having a wonderful time on this trip.  I am meeting so many amazing people and learning a lot from everyone.  The crew and all the scientific party are really nice people with many interesting stories.

Every day Keith Martin, the Electronics technician, makes Cuban coffee.  I was teasing him today about the cups he uses to pass out the coffee.  Cuban coffee is incredibly strong so you do not drink it like typical coffee.  You drink only a tiny amount.  Keith was using coffee cups to pass out the coffee.  I asked him where are the tiny cups (plastic cups about the size of the paper cups you use at fast food restaurants to get ketchup)?  He said that you can only find them in Miami.  That led to a conversation about Miami.  It turns out that he is a graduate of Miami Palmetto Senior High.  (Ms. Evans taught him Biology, Coach Delgado was his Drivers Ed teacher, Mr. Moser taught him weight training, and he was a member of TVP).  It really is a small world!

I do not know if I will be posting tomorrow, so I want to give an early shout out to my Seniors.  I hope that you have a wonderful time at Grad Bash.  Make sure to ride the Hulk for me (I prefer the 1st row).  Have fun!!

Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni Photo: Amy Rath

Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni
Photo: Amy Rath

Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee

Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee

 

Jamie Morris: “Mowing the Lawn”, April 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 1-2 feet
Air Temperature: 66.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 64.8ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Due to rough seas, we were not able to depart on Sunday. We waited until yesterday when the waves were only 3 feet at times (much better than 8 feet on Sunday).  It took us 5 hours to travel from Savannah to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).  Once we arrived at the sanctuary, machines were calibrated and we began mapping the seafloor.  The mapping will take 3 days running 24 hours a day.  We are currently “mowing the lawn.”  We started at one end of the sanctuary and are traveling in a straight line across to the other side of the sanctuary.  Once we reach the edge of the sanctuary the ship turns around and we return to the other side slightly overlapping the previous path.  The goal is to map the entire Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).

Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping data

Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping

The seafloor is being mapped using a multibeam sonar.  Multibeam sonar involves sending out 512 sound waves at once at different angles.  The sound waves bounce off of the seafloor and are reflected back to receivers on the ship.  There are a series of computer programs that uses the information to calculate the distance the wave traveled (depth of the ocean) and generate an image.

The scientists and technicians need to avoid errors while mapping and therefore need to account for the tides, the differences in the temperature and salinity of the water as well as sound velocity.  There are several tools and computer programs used to avoid errors and adjust any differences.  One of these tools is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density).  The CTD is deployed off of the back of the ship.  It is sent down a cable to the seafloor.  As it descends it is gathering data and sending the data to a computer in the lab.  The scientists and technicians make adjustments to the computer programs using this data and can compensate for again changes in the water column.

CTD

Senior Survey Technician, Sam Martin, Deploying the CTD

For a detailed description of Multibeam sonar, please visit: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2013_nancy_foster/multibeam.html

Several other projects will be conducted on this mission as well, but most will not begin until Thursday when the dive team arrives.  These will include Marine Debris Surveys, Lionfish Removal, Sea Turtle data collection, and Fish Telemetry.  In preparation for these projects, a small dive boat was just deployed off the ship.  Chief Scientist, Sarah Fangman, with a few crew members went in the boat to test the marker drops.  The divers will be looking for very specific sites.  It is important to precisely mark the sites from the surface so that the divers will easily be able to find the spots or objects that they are looking for.

The Nancy Foster carries 3 small dive boats.  The boats need to be lowered into the water using the crane located at the back of the ship.  It is a group effort to deploy these boats.  A member needs to operate the crane and four others use guide ropes to assist in lowering the boat.  Once the boat is in the water, members need to crawl aboard using a rope ladder that is connected to the Nancy Foster.

A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.

A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.

I have quickly learned that the most important skill on the ship is teamwork.  One person cannot do it all.  From safety procedures to gathering data to the general functioning of the ship, you need to work together.

 

Did You Know?

When using Sonar, extra sound waves are generated.  This was once thought to be background noise.  Scientists now call this Backscatter and can analyze this data and determine that type of seafloor bottom or the sediment that is present (sandy, rippled, hard bottom).

 

Personal Log

Earth Day Selfie

ENS Conor Magnin, LT Colin Kliewer, Me, and Amy Rath pose for an Earth Day Selfie
Photo: Amy Rath

Happy Earth Day!!! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this beautiful planet than sitting out on the deck enjoying the vast ocean.  Or by submitting a Selfie to NASA to participate in their Global Selfie Project to create an image of the earth using selfies from around the world.

I have been aboard the Nancy Foster for four days now.  I arrived in pouring rain on Friday night so I did not really get to explore the ship that night.  On Saturday, I assisted with an Open House on the Nancy Foster where the public was able to tour the ship.  Members of the GRNMS including Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman, Acting Superintendent George Sedberry, and Communications and Outreach Coordinator Amy Rath led the tours.  Financial and IT Coordinator Debbie Meeks, volunteer Marilyn Sobwick and I signed people up for the tours and discussed GRNMS, NOAA, and the upcoming mission with the public.  It was a wonderful experience being able to meet new people and introduce them to the Nancy Foster and Gray’s Reef.

I was all ready to set sail on Sunday, but the weather had different plans.  We were all boarded on the ship and the crew was making the final preparations when it was decided to postpone the trip.  The waves were 8 feet tall at Gray’s Reef.  The rough water would have made it impossible to create an accurate seafloor map.  Since that was the only task we had, the trip was postponed.

We were able to set sail yesterday.  It was a beautiful day, as it is today.  It is gorgeous outside with warm weather and calm waves.  I have found several wonderful spots to sit outside and enjoy the ocean.

Many of my students had several concerns about life on the ship.  Living on the Nancy Foster is quite comfortable.  I am staying in a four person stateroom.  Right now I am

The bunks in the stateroom

The bunks in the stateroom

sharing it with Amy who is a great roommate.  We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy. The bathroom, or Head as it is called on a ship, is down the hall.  I do feel like I’m back in college sharing a bathroom.  The Galley (or kitchen) and Mess (dining room) is directly across the hall.  As for my students who were very concerned about food – I am eating VERY well.  The Nancy Foster has 2 amazing stewards, Lito Llena and Bob Burroughs, who are wonderful chefs.  Yesterday they made a Ginger Chicken Soup that was honestly the best soup I had ever had.  Many crew members tell me that the Nancy Foster is one of the best fed ships.  I can agree.  As for entertainment, the ship has a gym, tv and games in the galley, and a Movie Room!

Movie Room

The Movie Room

The gym aboard the ship

The gym aboard the ship

Some of my students were very concerned about my safety.  NOAA Ships want to make sure everyone is prepared for any situation.  They are required to conduct weekly drills and all members aboard must participate.  We practiced what to do in a blackout situation or how to find your way if you have chemicals in your eyes.  We did this by being blindfolding and finding your way out of ship or to an eyewash station.  We also practiced an Abandon Ship drill.  We had to put on our survival suits and get to our life rafts.  I am glad we are prepared.

Survival Suit

Me in the Survival Suit.
Photo: LT Colin Kliewer

Abandon Ship Drill

Preparing to get into the survival suits during the Abandon Ship drill

 

 

Additional Photos:

Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah

Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah, GA

Leaving Savannah and heading down the river

Leaving Savannah and heading down the river

Leaving Savannah

Leaving Savannah

Sunset from the ship on April 21st.

Sunset from the ship on April 21st.

Drill

GVA Richard Odom practicing finding his way to an eye wash station without the ability to see. ENS Conor Maginn assists

Blackout Prep

ENS Carmen practicing how to evacuate the ship during a blackout.