Heather O’Connell: Excited and Eager for Imminent Exploration, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 11 -22, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: 04/26/18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 19.6400° N

Longitude 155.9969° W

The current weather in Kona, Hawaii on the Big Island is 86 degrees Fahrenheit with 59% humidity. Winds from the west are coming in at 6 miles per hour or 5.2 knots as we will say on the ship. It is mostly sunny with a 20 % chance of rain.

Personal Log and Introduction

My fascination with the intricacies of the human body led me to pursue biochemistry and earn a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in 2002. While I enjoyed analyzing pharmaceuticals for Pfizer and conducting sleep research with Weill Cornell Medical College, I missed the social aspects of a profession. This prompted me to pursue teaching and I received a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University in 2007.

I began teaching at a small private school in Westchester County, New York, where I taught both middle school and high school science and founded a Habitat for Humanity club and traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students to build homes for the community.  My love of hands on tasks and community service made this an enriching endeavor.

Eight years ago, my adventurous spirit transported me from Long Island, NY to Maui, Hawaii, where I shared my enthusiasm for science with students while exploring the vast terrain, plant life and coral reefs. My next adventure brought me to Hilo on the Big Island where I was part of an enriching professional development program, Ku’Aina Pa, that taught about gardening and culture. Here is where I met my friend Ben who told me about West Hawaii Explorations Academy, W.H.E.A., an outdoor science project based school with a shark lagoon. I never knew charter schools like this existed!

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the W.H.E.A. high school team for the past five years, where I advise science projects, teach Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and an after school Chemistry class. I advise an Urchin Survey project where we monitor the population of urchins at a Marine Life Conservation District and I love providing the opportunity for students to collect real data.  We have access to deep ocean water which students have used for cold agriculture projects in the past and more recently to precipitate O.R.M. (orbitally realigned molecules) to use as a fertilizer. Some of my favorite parts about my job are learning alongside students, as I knew nothing about plumbing a marine tank before W.H.E.A., and working with such a great team! When I am teaching students how to be stewards of the land through the lens of science and math, I feel as if I am pursuing my passion in life and it fulfills me greatly.

WHEA Urchin Survey

Freshman conducting an urchin survey for their research paper.

I participated in the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute last year, where I learned to teach math through a cultural lens with environmental service work. I was inspired by a group of amazing colleagues and met Christina who told me about the NOAA Teacher at Sea opportunity. Since I love experiential learning, I eagerly completed the application and am thrilled to be embarking on this amazing opportunity.

Hikianalia Sail Picture

Cohort 9 of Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute on Oahu

I am passionate about teaching and developing culturally relevant projects that instill a sense of wonder and I seek out soul nourishing experiences like Ku’Aina Pa and the Ethnomathematics and STEM Institute.  I am certain that the Teacher at Sea program will provide a profound, enriching experience that will allow me to develop meaningful curriculum to share with students and fellow educators, while allowing me to grow personally.

When I’m not utilizing my enthusiasm and creativity to instill students with curiosity and responsibility to make a more sustainable future, I enjoy exploring the beautiful Big Island by backpacking or hiking to some of its exotic locations. I also enjoy long distance running, beach yoga, any activity in or around the ocean and cooking nourishing meals.

Kona Sunset

Spectacular Kona sunset…one of my favorite parts of the day

Did you know?

Lo’ihi is the new volcanic island of Hawaii that is forming 20 miles Southeast of the Big Island. This seamount formed from volcanic activity over the hot spot currently rises 10,100 feet off of the ocean floor but is still 3,100 feet from the surface of the water.


Lynn Kurth: Time and Tide Wait For No Man, June 28, 2016


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  57˚57.486 N   Longitude:  152˚55.539 W  (Whale Pass)

Date:  June 28, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Overcast
Visibility: 15 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 164
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 8.3° C (46.94° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1019.6 mb

Science and Technology Log

The ocean supports many ecosystems which contain a diversity of living things ranging in size from tiny microbes to whales as long as 95 feet.  Despite the fact that I am working on a hydrographic ship, when out on a skiff or while in port, I have had the opportunity to view some of these ecosystems and a number of the species found in them.

While the Rainier was in port in Homer, I spent some time at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which, like other estuaries, is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.  An estuary, with accompanying wetlands, is where the freshwater from a river meets and mixes with the salt water of the sea.  However, there are some estuaries that are made entirely from freshwater.  These estuaries are special places along the Great Lakes where freshwater from a river, with very different chemical and physical characteristics compared to the water from the lake, mixes with the lake water.

Because estuaries, like the Kachemak Bay Estuary, are extremely fragile ecosystems with so many plants and animals that rely on them, in 1972 Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than one million estuarine acres.


Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

All estuaries, including the freshwater estuaries found on the Great Lakes, are affected by the changing tides.  Tides play an important part in the health of an estuary because they mix the water and are therefore are one of several factors that influence the properties (temperature, salinity, turbidity) of the water

Prior to my experience in Alaska, I had never realized what a vital role tides play in the life of living things, in a oceanic region.  Just as tides play an important role in the health and function of estuaries, they play a major role in the plants and animals I have seen and the hydrographic work being completed by the Rainier.  For example, the tides determine when and where the skiffs and multi beam launch boats will be deployed.  Between mean low tide and high tide the water depth can vary by as much as 12 feet and therefore low tide is the perfect time to send the skiffs out in to document the features (rocks, reefs, foul areas) of a specific area.

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Rock feature in Uganik Bay (actually “the foot” mentioned in previous blog) Notice tidal line, anything below the top of that line would be underwater at high tide!

In addition to being the perfect time to take note of near shore features, low tide also provides the perfect opportunity to see some amazing sea life!  I have seen a variety of species while working aboard the Rainier, including eagles, deer, starfish, dolphins, whales, seals, cormorants, sea gulls, sea otters and puffins.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to capture quality photos of many of these species, but I have included some of my better photos of marine life in the area and information that the scientists aboard the Rainier have shared with me:

Tufted Puffins:  Tufted Puffins are some of the most common sea birds in Alaska.  They have wings that propel them under water and a large bill which sheds its outer layer in late summer.


Double Crested Cormorants:  Dark colored birds that dive for and eat fish, crabs, shrimp, aquatic plants, and other marine life.  The birds nest in colonies and can be found in many inland areas in the United States.  The cormorants range extends throughout the Great Lakes and they are frequently considered to be a nuisance because they gorge themselves on fish, possibly decimating local fish populations.


Cormorant colony with gulls

Pisaster Starfish:  The tidal areas are some of the favorite areas starfish like to inhabit because they have an abundance of clams, which the starfish love to feed on.  To do so, the starfish uses powerful little suction cups to pull open the clam’s shell.


Teacher at Sea Kurth with a starfish that was found during a shore lunch break while working on a skiff.


Starfish found in tidal zone

Glaucous-winged Gull:  The gulls are found along the coasts of Alaska and Washington State.  The average lifespan of Glaucous-winged Gull is approximately 15 years.


Glaucous-winged Gull watching the multi beam sonar boat

The hydrographic work in Uganik Bay continues even though there are moments to view the wildlife in the area.  I was part of the crew on board a boat equipped with multi beam sonar which returned to scan the “foot feature” meticulously mapped by the skiff.  During this process, the multi beam sonar is driven back and forth around the feature as close as the boat can safely get.  The multi beam does extend out to the sides of the boat which enables the sonar to produce an image to the left and right of the boat.  The sonar beam can reach out four times the depth of the water that the boat is working in.  For example, if we are working in six feet of water the multi beam will reach out a total of 24 feet across. Think of the sonar as if it was a beam coming from a flashlight, if you shine the light on the floor and hold the flashlight close to the floor, the beam will be small and intense.  On the other hand, if you hold the flashlight further from the floor the beam of light will cover a wider area but will not be as intense. The sonar’s coverage is similar, part of why working close to the shore is long and tedious work: in shallow water the multi beam does not cover a very wide area.


“The foot” feature (as discussed in previous blog) being scanned by multi beam sonar



Image of “the foot” after processing in lab. The rocks are the black areas that were not scanned by the multi beam sonar.

All Aboard!

I met Angelica on one of the first days aboard the Rainier and later spent some time with her, asking questions as she worked .  Angelica is very friendly, cheerful and a pleasure to talk with!  She graciously sat down with me for an interview when we were off shore of Kodiak, AK before returning to Uganik Bay.


Assistant Survey Technician Angelica Patyten works on processing data from the multi beam sonar

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Angelica Patyten originally from Sacramento, CA and happy to be a part of NOAA’s scientific mission!  I have always been very interested in marine science, especially marine biology, oceanography and somewhat interested in fisheries.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins.  My cousin said that when I was really young I was always drawing whales on paper and I’d always be going to the library to check out books on marine life.  I remember one of the defining moments was when I was in grade school, we took a trip to see the dolphins and orca whales and I thought they were amazing creatures.

As far as hobbies, I love anything that has to do with water sports, like diving and kayaking.  I also want to learn how to surf or try paddle boarding as well.

How did you discover NOAA?:

I just kind of “stumbled upon” NOAA right after I had graduated from college and knew that I wanted to work in marine science.  I was googling different agencies and saw that NOAA allows you to volunteer on some of their vessels.  So, I ended up volunteering for two weeks aboard the NOAA ship Rueben Lasker and absolutely loved it.  When I returned home, I applied online for employment with NOAA and it was about six months before I heard from back from them.  It was at that point that they asked me if I wanted to work for them on one of their research vessels.  It really was all good timing!

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship? 

My responsibilities right now include the processing of the data that comes in from the multi beam sonar.  I basically take the data and use a computer program to apply different settings to produce the best image that I can with the sonar data that I’m given.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?

I love the scenery here in Alaska and the people I work with are awesome!  We become like a family because we spend a lot of time together.  Honestly, working aboard the Rainier is a perfect fit for me because I love to travel, the scenery is amazing and the people I work with are great!

Personal Log:

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer’s words are so fitting for my time aboard the Rainier which is going so quickly and continues to revolve around the tides.

Lynn Kurth: Solstice at Sea!, June 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Assigned to:  NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20th-July 1st, 2016

Personal Log: 

My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work aboard NOAA Ship Rainier as a Teacher at Sea during the summer solstice.  Over the past twenty years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard research vessels on Lake Superior and the Atlantic, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad.  The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is.


Me aboard the Oregon II for a Long Line Shark and Red Snapper Survey in 2014

Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom:  Most recently I worked with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students to improve local water quality by installing a school rain garden.  During the project students learned about the importance of diverting rain water out of the storm sewer when possible and how to do it in an effective and attractive way.  Other projects included the restoration of our riverbank last year and using a Hydrolab to monitor the water quality of the Prairie River, which runs adjacent to our school.  So, sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier to learn more about hydrography (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) seems like a most natural and logical way to move forward.

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Eighth grade science students jumping for joy during the fall testing of the Prairie River with the Hydrolab. Notice the fellow in waders holding the Hydrolab with great care!

I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from Homer, Alaska, on June 20th.  Until then I have a school year to wrap up, a new puppy to train, a project with Wisconsin Sea Grant to work on and packing to get done.  There are days I’m a bit nervous about getting everything done but when NOAA Ship Rainier casts off from the pier in Homer I will be 100 percent focused on gathering the knowledge and skills that will enhance my role as an educator of students who are part of the next generation charged with the stewardship of this planet.

IMG_1564Newest addition to our family: Paavo a Finnish Lapphund Photo Credit: Lynn Drumm, Yutori Finnish Lapphunds


Denise Harrington, Getting Ready for an Adventure, April 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016

Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist.  Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.


I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing.  In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska.  I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon.  I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts.  It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.

As an avid sea kayaker, I was able to share my deeper understanding of the ocean with fellow paddlers. Photo courtesy of Bill Vonnegut

Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!

On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions.  I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.”   When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!

Another important commercial catch is grouper.  My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon.  NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.

I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship?  Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink?  Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.

I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school.  Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

liz with a crab


During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries.  Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”

Rebecca Loy, Full STEAM ahead! September 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 21, 2015

Current Location: Viecoda Bay, North Kodiak, Alaska

After learning how areas to be studied are decided, organized and surveyed, I wanted to see what happens after the data is collected.  I spent some time in the Plotting room with NOAA visiting physical scientist Adam Argento.  Adam instructed me on hydrographic research and what is involved with completing their work.  Needless to say, using the term “blowing my mind” is very appropriate here.

Sitting with Adam and discussing the work that is accomplished was great.  He even made me think of space – and you know how much I love a space tie-in!!  While we were talking about the data that would be collected we began speaking of how do researchers know where the ship is?  You might automatically think of GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  We have them on our phones, in our cars and other forms of technology to help us find our way home, but the GPS systems we use are not as accurate as NOAA needs.

On Rainier they need to know exactly where they are!!  Just like when we give you rules you need to follow in doing your work, the researchers here have very limited parameters for creating/updating their charts for safety.  While collecting data they want to make sure that the charts are as accurate as they can make them.  If the data collected is off just a bit, there could be a dangerous situation.  The people updating the charts work very hard to create high quality and safe charts.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

A satellite GPS receiver on one of the launches.

Adam showed me some of the satellite receivers on the ship and launches.  We couldn’t reach the Rainier receivers, but see the picture of a receiver on a launch, they are much smaller than I imagined.  Each launch has two receivers at least six feet apart.  They are needed for the satellites to know which direction the launch is going in. The satellites use the smallest of time measurements sent down and received back between the two, but it works!

Adam asked me some questions – now it’s your turn to think about this…How would Rainier know exactly where it is?  You might say it uses a GPS because I just mentioned it and simply put, yes it does.  Except, one, two even three satellites will not give Rainier the accurate positioning they need.  Four satellites can give Rainier a specific point.  Just take a moment and think about this.  In short, four satellites will give you a good position, but Rainier uses up to seven to be much more accurate.  For more information on satellites check out this website: http://www.gma.org/surfing/sats.html#nav

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Adam Argento at his computer in the Plot room.

Another question… how do the satellites know where they are?  We can’t use a marker on the Earth reliably, or to the level that NOAA needs, because our planet is constantly moving (think tectonic plates and earthquakes).   Are you ready?  Adam told me satellites use pulsing QUASARS that are far out in space to know exactly where they are!!! (In case you were wondering, this is the part where my mind was blown, I thought they used land based markers).

Like I mentioned earlier, the CARIS program takes all of the data, including changes in the Earth’s Ionosphere and differences in the ocean water due to CDT (conductivity, depth and temperature) and puts it together to create a working document or chart.  This is a lot of information that needs to be controlled.  Adam works for NOAA in Seattle so he will be part of the team taking the data and putting it into more accurate charts once he gets back on land.  A pretty cool job if you ask me!!

Path to Rainier

To continue sharing some of the fascinating people on Rainier, I sat down with Rainier General Vessel Assistant (GVA) Carl Stedman to learn how he came to work here.  Carl started his career in the Army and retired after 20 yrs.  Incredibly, after proudly serving our country for so long, he then went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Francisco State.

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

With GVA Carl Stedman. Photo Credit: Bob Steele

About half way through earning his MBA (Masters of Business Administration) he decided to take some time off.  He rode his motorcycle around the US for three months.  Realizing wearing a suit or working in a cubicle would not make him happy, he moved to Virginia and opened his own coffee shop for three years where he met his wife.  He then worked as a patient service manager in Norfolk hospital.  With more introspection he thought back to his time in the Army.  After having lived in Germany and serving in other areas of the world for a long time, he remembered his time on an Army ship for the last 7 years of  his Army career and how much he enjoyed it.  He then applied to work for NOAA and was put on Rainier.

On Rainier, Carl has some very interesting jobs!!  Along with the very busy job as a GVA, Carl is also an Advanced Firefighter and is on the first response team (he was also in his firefighter outfit when we had drills, but I did not get a picture of him).  He is an MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) which is like an EMT that we have on land.  Another job he has (and one that makes me nervous just thinking about it) is as a Confined Space Rescuer.  Yikes… he clearly does not have claustrophobia!!  Another exciting job he has is the driver for the fast rescue boat that is on Rainier.  Carl is another unique person on this incredible ship and I feel very safe knowing he is around.  Thank you, Carl, for taking the time to chat with me and show me so much!!!

Personal Log

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Moving my bucket filled with water. See Jason near it. Photo credit: Bob Steele

This wonderful crew has been teaching me a great deal about this ship.  One day, acting Boatswain (pronounced Bo-son) Jason Kinyon took time to teach me how to work the two smaller cranes on the bow of the ship.  He had me move a filled bucket of water to different areas on the bow WITHOUT SPILLING ANY OF IT!!

I really liked it!!!  The most challenging part was when he sat down right next to where I had to place my bucket of water.  I did not want to get the deck boss wet and I didn’t!  I did spill a little bit on one of the hatches though.  Jason was very patient showing me all the tricks to moving the crane!  Bring on the big aft crane next!!!!

When we went to the fuel pier in Kodiak I was able to throw the “heave line” that goes up to the dock and is then knotted around the bigger mooring lines so they can be pulled up to the pier.

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Getting ready to throw the heave line! Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

I feel the need to add that three big, strong deck crew who were back in the fantail of the ship with me missed where they had to throw their lines.  GVA Carl Stedman was very reassuring to me and I got the line where it had to go.  Everyone on the ship was talking about how I made it on the first try when the seasoned crew did not.  In case you are wondering, yes, that is a cruise ship in the distance at the Kodiak public dock.

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

Pulling slack on the line. Photo Credit: ENS Chris Wood

To name just a few more things, I have been shown lots about navigation, I have also driven the launch, worked the davits that raise and lower the launches, learned about the anchor and basically anything else I can learn about and what people are able to teach me.  Thank you, again, to everyone for teaching the teacher so I can share this amazing experience with others!!

Learning to lower the launches.

Learning to lower the launches.  Here, I already put the launch in the water.

Rebecca Loy, Does Rainier Run on Diesel or STEAM?  September 14, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 14, 2015

Current Location: South Arm of Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island, Alaska

To answer this question, Rainier runs on both diesel and STEAM.  The diesel keeps this ship running where it needs to go and the engineers are masterful at keeping this ship maintained.  The STEAM is everywhere, and I am not just talking about water steam in a pipe or in the galley.  This ship has serious Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math!!

I met with acting (Executive Officer) XO LT Adam Pfundt and acting (Field Ops Officer) FOO LT Steve Loy (even though Loy is a unique name, we are not related – but it is pretty cool that another Loy is here).  They were discussing who was going to lead certain jobs.  I learned a great deal about the process needed.  During research, an area in review is called a “sheet”.  Why do you think they call the areas sheets and not something else?  Do you think there could be some historical mariner significance?

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Map with NOAA sheet areas listed

Like most tasks on Rainier, research begins with a geographical area being assigned to a manager, assistant plus a mentor.  They will work together as a team on their sheet until the hydrographic branch of NOAA accepts the data.  Like I mentioned in my second blog entry, this could take weeks or months after the initial data collection to complete.

I have decided to use sheet number H12692, which was just assigned to the team of  ENS Matt Bissell, manager, ENS Shelley Deveraux as assistant, and LT Steve Loy as mentor this past week.  Can you find H12692 on the photo above?

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid

ENS Bissell and I discussing his polygon grid. Photo Credit: Chris Palmer

All team members are responsible for maintaining work logs so they can report on them.  Even here writing & communication is very important – remember this when I help you with YOUR writing!  Here is a brief overview of the duties:

Sheet Manager – this is the biggest of the jobs given.  The sheet manager is responsible for organizing the team.  This person needs to prepare the area to be studied by separating it into more manageable areas called polygon plans.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

Sheet H12962 in polygon planning.

They decide which area gets studied by the large Rainier or if a smaller launch is needed.  The smaller launches are good for areas closer to the shore or shallow areas.

The manager has to know if Rainier should use its multibeam echolocation sounder (MBES) in large runs or drag its Side Scan Sonar (SSS) behind it in the area to be studied.  Another option the manager has to decide is do they need to use the MBES or Side Scan Sonars that are mounted on the smaller launches and where should this be.

The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed.

The MBES on one of the launches. The SSS is currently removed. Photo Credit: ENS Matt Bissell

ENS Bissell has a many choices to make to get the best information possible.  Looking at the polygon grid ENS Bissell organized can you pick out which areas Rainier will cover?

Managers need to attend meetings and review data that was processed the night before.  They do this to see if any problems were encountered and if an area needs to be scanned again.  The manager uses the immense CARIS HIPS and SIPS marine data processing program, prepares dive teams if needed, does more reviewing of data and organizes the pilots that take the launches closer to shore.  This is truly just a brief overview.  Sheet Manager is a very important job.

Sheet Assistant – The assistant works very hard right alongside the Sheet Manager.  This person is in training as well and will someday be a Sheet Manager.  It is important for the Sheet Manager to give the assistant guidance to learn.   The assistant needs to ask questions so they can be an effective manager in the future.  They need to set up the launches, help with polygon plans, maintain the bottom sample notebook, load charts, assist with data acquisition and follow what the manager needs them to do.

ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area.

ENS Deveraux showing me how she is plotting a course to our research area. Photo credit: Anthony Wright

Sheet Mentor – The mentor’s role is an advisor to the manager, especially if this is the first time someone is managing.  They also train the sheet assistant and work between the FOO and the management team (in this case the FOO is also the mentor).  The more the mentor can teach the assistant the easier their transition will be from assistant to manager in the future.

Once all of the extensive planning is taken care of, this team begins to collect data.  This is the actual field work that Rainier does!  I know all of you at school were most excited to hear about this!




Drilling for tide marker "Echo" while HAST Mike Bloom looks on.

Drilling for tide benchmark “Echo” while HAST Mike Bloom looks on. Photo credit: Chris Palmer

To begin, we went ashore in the South Arm of Uganik Bay, northern Kodiak Island and had to place a tide gauge station.  To begin the scuba divers had to place part of the equipment called the orifice under water.  This orifice holds air bubbles.  When the tide is higher and the water level is high, more bubbles will be pushed out of the orifice letting the system know that the water level is up.  The more water pressure on the orifice, the higher the tide level and the opposite is also true.  This information is sent to the satellite links where solar panels and batteries keep everything powered so people on the ship can read the data.  We also had to place tide benchmarks in five different areas near the tide station.  I helped with tide benchmark 7588 E or “Echo” which was the fifth benchmark to go in.  Due to movement in the Earth, we need to have tide benchmarks throughout the areas we are studying so when the ship returns in 30 days they will have accurate information.

Tide gauge 1788 E

Tide benchmark 7588 E


I worked very hard drilling into just the right rock to cement it down (I actually drilled in 4 areas before this one, but the shale kept breaking apart, LT Pfundt found this great spot with a more stable rock).  Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech (HAST) Michael Bloom and I made a great team working together.  It took 1 1/2 days to place everything, survey and link the systems plus take 3 hours of observations for the tides.  During this 3 hour period the observer checks the water level on the staff every 6 minutes.  This is a lot of close observation to make sure everything is running properly!

Surveying all the tide gauges!

Surveying all the tide benchmarks!

Do you know why we would need to know when the sea rises and falls?  Sometimes it can change over 6 feet in depth – two times per day here in the Pacific!!  We need to know the levels for the charts that are being made.  The researchers are looking at updating water depths on a chart.  They will use the tide level that is lowest to be safest.  This will give boats traveling above the best depth for clearance below them.  The opposite is true if there is bridge on a chart.  The researchers will use the highest tide depth so ships can know if they can make it under a bridge.  Knowing tides is very important to chart development!  Here is some more information on Vertical Control-Tides.

Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.

Our finished tide gauge installation from the water.  See the tall stick where water measurements were taken every 6 minutes.  In the back, are the satellite up-links with the GOES and Iridium data retrieval boxes under the blue tarp.


Path to Rainier

Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis

Hydrographic Survey Tech Eli Smith and I. Photo Credit: Tracey Davis

Another fascinating person on board is Hydrographic Survey Technician Eli Smith.  Eli has been on Rainier for 1 1/2 years now.  He started as a Hydrographic Assistant Survey Tech  in May of 2014.  Originally, he graduated from Western Washington University with a BA in Geology.  I was curious how he went from being a geologist in the oil fields of Denver to working on the ocean.  While he was in Denver, Eli would take soil samples.  So many samples that he was called a “Mud Logger” which is a pretty interesting term even though Eli didn’t enjoy it very much.  He did a lot of “soul searching” and realized he needed to do something else.  Between remembering an ocean based field experience in college off the coast of Hawaii and contacting a career counselor, Eli was led to NOAA.  He was pleased when he was placed on Rainier.

On Rainier, Eli works a great deal up in the Plotting room or in another room called the “Hologram Room” where survey techs also work.  Currently, he is a sheet manager for sheet H12691.  This sheet includes Viekoda Bay and Terror Bay.  You can see his area in the photo above.  Eli has been  hard at work doing his own polygon plot and preparing plans for his sheet.  He is also part of the Tides Team placing tidal gauges in areas that are being studied.

When Eli is not working, he has his bike on board and likes to ride that when he can.  He is also a hiker and snowboarder.  I appreciate Eli spending some time with me telling me about himself and all your help on shore.  Thank you!


Personal Log

Being on this ship is like being part of a hard working family.  People are all over this ship.  I have come to appreciate the true gift that this crew gave me with my own stateroom, head and starboard side porthole.

I even have my own head!

I even have my own head!

Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.

Looking into my stateroom from the hallway.

I found out the room they gave me is called the “Princess Suite.”  I  learned this name comes from using the initials PS for the visiting Physical Scientists who often come aboard.  I extend an apology to visiting NOAA physical scientist Adam Argento.  You will learn about Adam in a future blog.  He did not get to sleep in the wonderful “Princess Suite” on this trip.

Rebecca Loy, DC means Damage Control! September 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Loy
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 8 – 24 , 2015

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of Research: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: September 13, 2015

Current Location: transitioning between Shelikoff Strait and Uganik Bay, North Kodiak Island, Alaska

As I mentioned earlier, safety is top priority here on Rainier.  The crew is required to have safety drills within 24 hours of leaving port.  This includes drills such as Fire and Emergency drills, Man Over Board (MOB) drills and Abandon Ship drills.

When I arrived I was quickly told how to find 2 ways out of my cabin.  My cabin also has a device called an EEBD – Emergency Escape Breathing Device that will allow me to breathe for 10 minutes in a smoky corridor if needed.  Each and every cabin has these and they are also in various places around the ship.

All new crew and visitors are given a thorough safety briefing before we leave port.  We started by doing some paperwork and discussing what everything means.  Then, ENS Danial Palance took us around the ship and showed us the important areas.  He made sure I could find my safe places to report to since I am so new to the ship.

My Rainier safety card

My Rainier safety card

Every person, including me, has a job during an emergency.  Each person is given a “bunk card” that is held near your sleeping bunk.  It lists the three main emergencies we practice and where each person reports to.

Fire and Emergency Drills – the ship’s whistle will blow for a long 10 second blast when there is a fire or other emergency.  Go ahead and slowly count to 10 to see how long it is – 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3…

This will definitely get your attention!   If it is a drill it will be announced.  If not, it will say this is an emergency.  My job is to get to the “BRAVO station” which is on the Fantail or back of the ship near the boat shop.  My primary duty is to “assist as directed” if help is needed.   All over the ship are stations for the firefighters. What I find most interesting is these are not people they bring on board specifically… it is the crew you see around you who have also trained to be Firefighters and Advanced Firefighters!  ENS Palance is one of them!

The fire station in the mess hall.

The fire station in the mess hall.

Also throughout the ship you can see Fire Stations and fire extinguishers, fire alarm boxes, radios for communication.  Some of the areas with more dangerous items (like paint or the machine shop) are labeled “CO2 PROTECTED SPACE”.  I was most curious about this.  What do you think CO2 and fires have in common?  If you answered that fires need oxygen to burn and CO2 will put a fire out then you are correct.  In one area of the ship there are many large canisters with CO2 in them.  If there is a bad fire in one of the CO2 protected spaces, someone can send the CO2 to that area and put the fire out.  It will remove all the oxygen from the space.

Man Over Board drills – On a ship if someone falls into the water you will hear the whistle blow for 3 long blasts.

Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.

Along with many other orange safety rings, this one has smoke attached to it.

If you are the person who saw this, you will need to keep your eye on the person and let others know.  Everyone has a station for this as well.  My job is to report to the “Flying bridge” on top of the ship and be a lookout and help as needed.  The ship has many orange safety rings that can be throw overboard to someone.  There are also two rings with smoke signals attached that can be released from both port (left side) and starboard (right side) of the ship.  We learned how to release those as well.  Rainier has to do monthly drills for MOB.  They don’t actually put someone in the water for this, it is usually a buoy or it could be “Oscar” the medical mannequin (He must be Rainier’s version of “Buster” from the show Mythbusters).

In my survival suit!

In my survival suit!

Abandon Ship drills – Being out on the cold waters of Alaska and leaving this ship is a scary thought, but it needs to be practiced.  Everyone has their own Survival Suits to wear for these drills.  Check me out with mine!!  We also need to bring long sleeved shirts, warm hats and flotation devices with us.  I will be reporting to Liferaft #4 on the port side of the ship with Liferaft #3 on the starboard side as back up.  My indoor meeting place is in the Wardroom and, again, I assist as directed.  If we have to leave the ship, people have jobs to go get the EPIRB which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, the SART is a Search and Rescue Transponder and the GMDSS which are Global Maritime Distress Safety Signal.  All of these will help the Coast Guard rescue us!!

I have had my training, and you know what needs to be done.  Now, time for the real drills at sea!!!

Suddenly, we hear a long 10 second whistle… it was the drill for fire and emergency.  Everyone quickly went to their assigned areas.  There was a fire near the mess hall and the fire team was on the job!!  ENS McKay and AB Wright worked on putting the fire out.  Below are some pictures of them in their fire gear!

ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.

ENS McKay practicing with the fire hoses.

AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.

AB Wright and ENS McKay practicing fighting the fire with all their gear on.











The fire drill turned into an Abandoned Ship drill.  Calmly and quickly, everyone gathered their survival suits, a warm hat, long sleeved shirt and their PFD (personal floatation device) and went to their station.  Everyone had to put their survival suits on.  ENS McKay was my group leader and he had to help me with mine.  He was incredibly fast putting his on and gave me some great pointers on being quicker in a real emergency.

Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits!

Abandon ship drills when everyone puts on their survival suits! Photo Credit: Eli Smith

ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine.

ENS McKay had his suit on and off very quickly, he then helped me with mine. Photo Credit: Eli Smith











While safety drills are important.  I hope we will never have to do this for real!

Path to Rainier

This crew is truly an incredible bunch.  I thought it would be interesting for others to see how people ended up working here.   While I would like to highlight everyone, I could only pick a few.

The first person I want everyone to meet is Able Seaman (AB) Lindsey Houska.  Lindsey is one of the deck hands on Rainier.   I wanted to know what path led her to this unique work place.

With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele

With AB Lindsey Houska. Photo credit: Bob Steele

Lindsey started with a degree in Economics from South Dakota State University and worked in Montana for the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture) for 4 1/2 years.  She realized she wanted to get a bit more out of life than working at a desk.  She sold her house and car, stored her belongings with her parents and went to Indonesia to volunteer instructing farmers on better growing practices.  This was the beginning of her life adventures!  After 3 months living in Indonesia and 5 months traveling other areas of Southeast Asia, she headed out to Australia.  This incredibly hard working woman did a few jobs but ended up working on a commercial fishing vessel catching prawns on the West Coast of Australia.  Later, she got a job in Seattle and South East Alaska as a deck hand on a luxury yacht.  Realizing she had a love of positive environmental practices she wanted to do more for the world in general.  This is when Lindsey applied to work for NOAA.  NOAA are true stewards of the ocean!

On Rainier, Lindsey has been a very busy deck hand for nearly 2 years.  She loves working with all the other deck hands and they have an amazing camaraderie with each other.   I learned so much more about her job when we sat down together.  Lindsey is a trained fire fighter, has been to radar school and even has her captain’s license for smaller vessels.  She works hard with boat deployment, maintenance on the weather deck, inport bridge watch for security and anchor watch so the ship stays in place when it is at anchor.  She also works the cranes, does lookout on the flying bridge and can be a helmsman steering the ship.

In her free time, Lindsey can be found reading, working out in the gym on board, meditating for some quiet time and she also has a bicycle on board that she likes to ride when the ship is in port.  When I asked Lindsey what she did to reduce stress on the job, she said having a good sense of humor with colleagues goes a long way.  They also enjoy time in port together and having meals together.  This amazing woman has traveled all over the world including most of Southeast Asia, all over Australia and New Zealand.  She has been to Europe, Mexico, British Columbia and Manitoba, Canada.  Incredibly, but not surprising as I get to know her, many of the areas Lindsey backpacked to on her own!

I am truly impressed by this lady; how hard she works and how kind she has been to me.  Thank you, Lindsey, for letting me get to know you better!

Personal Log

So true!

So true!

TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST   Three words that I have discovered run Rainier.  I am incredibly impressed by the teamwork, communication, hard work and commitment to our oceans that is evident here.  The umbrella over all of this is an even bigger obligation to safety.  Above I have highlighted just a bit of what makes this ship work in regard to safety.  In future blogs you will read more about this topic when you learn about the people here.   Needless to say, even though we will be out in very big, deep waters and in narrow bays with tall mountains, I feel incredibly safe in the hands of this reliable crew.

Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.

Even getting fuel, this team is safe. Here a fuel boom went around the ship.