Meredith Salmon: Let The Surveying Begin! July 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018

Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation


Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge

Latitude: 28.12°N

Longitude: 62.04°W

Air Temperature: 27.0°C

Wind Speed:  14.08 knots

Conditions: Rain and clouds

Depth : 5133.67 meters

Science and Technology Log

Hypack for Line Planning 

This morning, we learned how to upload a variety of planning lines for the survey that will be conducted for the Atlantic Seabed Mapping International Working Group (ASMIWG) established area Southeast of Bermuda.

The black circle pictured on the map below is Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Bermuda’s EEZ is an area of ocean within 200 nautical miles of the island that covers 464,940 km2 of ocean. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Bermuda has special jurisdiction over the use and exploration, management, and conservation of those resources. According to Bermuda’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, this zone was established in 1996 and this distinction allows Bermuda to gain important economic value from these resources.


Bermuda's EEZ
The black circle pictured above is Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The red line is the outline of the survey area and the green lines are previously collected data that will be considered when the Okeanos Explorer collects new mapping data.

The red line (ASMIWG Galway mapping box) displayed on the screen is the outline of the survey area. This area is 145,120 km2; however, during this expedition, we will be mapping a quarter to a third of the region. Within the survey area are small blue lines that are considered to be planning lines. These lines were crafted on the computer using Hypack and are 180 nautical miles in length. For efficiency, it is important for them to be oriented to follow the contour lines, and to be long because it requires less turns, which saves time while mapping. The distance between the lines is 4,300 meters and may be subject to change at the discretion of the mapping team.

The green lines are existing multibeam or bathymetric data in the region. This is crucial information to consider because the Okeanos Explorer’s goal is to map what has not been investigated and combine it with the data that already exists in those areas. The previously collected data was recorded from a variety of ships such as Atlantis, Healy, and Knorr, so we will use our EM 302 sonar to edge match their data.

In addition to the existing data, there is a background telemetry layer (blue background) that shows satellite measurements to predict what the seafloor may look like. Scientists use the existing data to update the layers to create a more accurate depiction of the seafloor.

So far, the data collected in transit has been very reliable due to weather conditions and the flat abyssal seafloor. As survey data is incoming, the personnel on watch must ensure that the sonar and computer systems are operating correctly. We will begin the actual surveying this afternoon once we reach the first line!


Line Plans in Hypack
Red 180 nautical mile planning lines created for the survey area in Hypack


Personal Log

Now that we have begun the survey, everyone is busy collecting, processing, cleaning, and updating data files in the Mission Control room. We have been learning all about the software used to create files, and it is very interesting to learn how all of the different systems are being used to make sense of the data from multiple sources (ex. EM 302, EK 60, and sub-bottom profiler). Everyone on board is really enjoying each other’s company and is eager to collaborate to help one another learn. It is really fun! One of the best parts of being in the middle of the ocean has definitely been watching the sunsets. They are incredible!

sunset 7.14.18
7/14/18 Sunset
sunset 7.15.18
7/15/18 Sunset

Did You Know?

The Sargasso Sea is considered to be one of the great ecological wonders of the world! It is home to golden algae known as Sargassum. This algae serves as a floating habitat and provides food, refuge, and breeding grounds for an array of marine organisms such as fish, sea turtles, marine birds, crabs, shrimp, and more!

The Sargasso Sea is the only sea in the world surrounded by currents, rather than land and Bermuda is the only island within it.

The algae directly benefits Bermuda when it washes ashore and sinks into the sand since it fertilizes the soil and protects the island against storms and erosion.

Sargassum off the side of the bow


Mary Cook: Day 4 at Sea, March 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Time: 7:40pm

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1013 millibars
Speed: 0.0 knots
Location: N 58°51.902’: W 137°04.737’

Science Log

Happy Birthday to Cheryl!

Cheryl small
This is Cheryl!

Unbeknownst to Cheryl, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller, even though she was very busy preparing for the cruise, brought balloons, streamers, candles, and noisemakers to celebrate Cheryl’s birthday today.

Birthday Decor small
Surprise Birthday Decor

The ship’s chef is secretly making her a cake. The celebration is slated for tonight at dinner. Shhhhh……

This morning, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller announced that we are steaming toward the end of the west arm of Glacier Bay to Johns Hopkins Glacier. This is a place where cruise ships take tourists in the Fall. But the Park Service has it closed during the Spring and Summertime because it’s a harbor seal nursery. The nightshift workers are trying to catch a few winks of sleep before we get there. No one wants to miss it. We are hoping for clear skies. Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the few glaciers that is advancing instead of receding. As it advances, it is joining the Gilliman Glacier.

Park Service Map small
Map showing John Hopkins Glacier. Credit: National Park Service

It’s 10:30 am and we’ve arrived sooner than I expected. Johns Hopkins Glacier is really something to see! So massive. Once again everyone is out on deck taking pictures and oohing and aahing.

The glacier has shades of blue and white with streaks of brown and gray. It has a covering of white snow that looks like cake icing. The glassy water is a blue-green color with a multitude of icebergs floating in it. Bob Stone uses a term we all like—“bergy bits”—meaning small pieces of floating ice. He even brought some “bergy bits” onto the ship for us to add to our water or soft drinks. So refreshing!

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While on deck taking pictures we hoped to see the glacier calve and fall into the sea. It sounds like thunder. We waited and we waited and finally a couple of small ones happened. Also, a couple of snow avalanches slid off the mountains into the water leaving dirty brown streaks along the slopes.

Avalanche medium
Occasional avalanches leave dirty streaks in the glacier’s white snow covering

Our scuba divers went down for another exploratory look and came up with a first! They found Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm! This is the first Primnoa pacifica ever found here. They described it as spindly and small in comparison to the others found in the East Arm.

The scuba divers continue their search for Red Tree Coral.

The significance of this Red Tree Coral being in the shallow water is that it has been considered a deep-water coral. There are two broad categories of coral: warm-water coral and cold-water coral. Generally, warm-water coral live in shallow, tropical waters. Cold-water coral live in deep water. The emergence of cold-water corals like Primnoa pacifica in the shallow waters of Glacier Bay has caused scientists to re-evaluate their understanding and descriptions of these organisms.

The third and last scuba dive for today was described as “mud, mud, and more mud”. A bit of a disappointment but they did bring up an interesting little critter.

Sea Peach small
Maybe a sea peach?

This sea peach is a tan color here in the wet lab, but according to Bob, in its natural habitat it has a bright cherry red color.

Cheryl Birthday Party large
Birthday party for Cheryl!

Well, it’s finally suppertime! That means “Birthday Party Time!” The ship’s chef, Harry served up a delicious meal of salmon, barbeque chicken, steamed kale, baked summer squash, scalloped potatoes and a big salad. For dessert, he prepared a layered chocolate cake with freshly made whipped cream and strawberries. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Cheryl.

After she blew out the candles we went out on the deck and ate cake with new friends in the view of majestic mountains and glaciers.

Eating Cake on the Deck large

A birthday to remember, I’ll say.

Now it’s back to work and the ROV crew is getting ready to deploy Kraken 2 for another night of exploration!

Personal Log

Today has been a day of anticipation and inspiring wonder. I’ve tried to stay out on deck watching the glacier. Hoping for calving and avalanches. It’s really neat to me that no one else is here. We haven’t seen anyone else except four Park Service employees who boated out to meet us today. I found out that there are over 1,000 glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park! Some of them aren’t even named. I enjoyed watching a couple of bald eagles sitting on icebergs. And the absolute coolest thing has been the discovery of Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm of Glacier! I could feel the excitement in the air!

It’s so thrilling to be a part of this scientific exploration and to learn from these world-class researchers!

Mary Cook: From Scammon Bay to Glacier Bay! March 17, 2016


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Thursday, March 17, 2016


Hello!  My name is Mary Cook and I’m a science teacher in Scammon Bay, Alaska. Scammon Bay is a cozy little Yupik village nestled at the base of the Askinuk Mountains on the edge of the vast frozen tundra where the Kun River meets the Bering Sea. We live in what many people call Bush Alaska. It’s remote. We have no roads connecting our village to other places. Everything comes and goes mostly by small Bush planes. Barges bring supplies in the warmer months. We get around locally by snow-go, 4-wheeler, or boat.

map of ak
Map of Alaska showing Scammon Bay
school entrance
Entrance to Scammon Bay School

The Yupik Eskimo of Scammon Bay are traditionally fishers, bird hunters and trappers. Moose have also become an important food source over the last 20 years or so. Today they continue with this subsistence lifestyle blended with more modern conveniences such as cell phones and running water.

My students, co-workers and I are so excited to be involved with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program! Our school has been abuzz with preparations over the last few weeks.

Congratulations to our 4th graders for making a fantastic banner to take aboard the Research Vessel Norseman II! Also, thanks to many students who submitted names for our eagle mascot.


cook poster
Scammon Bay 4th Graders with Vice Principal Harley Sundown (L), TAS Mary Cook, Principal Melissa Rivers, and 4th Grade Teacher Michele Benisek (R)

Drum roll……His name is Qanuk! (Qanuk means snowflake in the Yupik language.) I anticipate that he will make some mystery appearances around the ship in the coming days.

TAS Mary Cook styrofoam cups
Stryofoam Cups decorated by Scammon Bay students

We have decorated and signed lots of Styrofoam cups to be sent to the bottom of the Bay. We are very curious about what will happen to our cups as they descend into the depths! We also can’t wait to find out more about the secrets of the Red Tree Coral, which is the focus of the research for this voyage into Glacier Bay.

Wednesday, I left my students in Scammon Bay as I boarded the small bush plane headed for Bethel. Then flew from Bethel to Anchorage and from Anchorage on to Juneau. It was a long day of flying and waiting and flying and waiting. But the late night flight into Juneau was worth it when, as we rose above the snow clouds, I peered out the window to see a magnificent aurora glowing in the sky!


Yesterday I had a little bit of time to get out and see the sights of Juneau. My favorite was the Mendenhall Glacier. Wow! So beautiful and powerfully majestic in all its frozen splendor. In addition to the glacier, there are bald eagles perched in treetops all around town.


Last night I met many of the science crew and a few of the ship’s crew. What a positive and exciting group of people. Even they are excited about being part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program!

This is going to be fun—-and educational.

Don’t you just love that combination?
Fun and educational.

Today we load the ship.
Tomorrow we sail away into the Bay.

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Theresa Paulsen: Mission Accomplished, April 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: April 2, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log:

What are the mappers up to?

After we completed our two priority areas of the cruise, the mappers have been using Knudson subbottom sonar to profile the bottom of the trench. Meme Lobecker, the expedition coordinator sends that data directly to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for processing. They returned some interesting findings.

The subbottom sonar sends a loud “chirp” to the bottom. It penetrates the ocean floor. Different sediment layers reflect the sound differently so the variation and thickness of the layers can be observed. The chirp penetration depth varies with the sediments. Soft sediments can be penetrated more easily. In the picture below, provided by USGS, you can see hard intrusions with layers of sediments filling in spaces between.

The intrusions are basement relief, likely uplifting deformation ridges created by the subduction of the North American Plate. The subduction is now oblique, with the North American and Caribbean plates mostly sliding past each other now – sort of like the San Andreas Fault – but there is still some subduction happening. Subbottom Image and caption courtesy of USGS.

How does the bathymetry look?

In the last two days, I have been really enjoying the incredible details in the bathymetry data the multibeam sonar has gathered. We mapped over 15,000 square miles on our voyage! Using computer software we can now look at the ocean floor beneath us. I tried my hand at using Fledermaus software to make fly-over movies of the area we surveyed (or should I say swim-over movies). Check them out:

I also examined some of the backscatter data. In backscatter images soft surfaces are darker, meaning the signal return is weaker, and the hard surfaces are whiter due to stronger returns. One of the interns, Chelsea Wegner, studied the bathymetry and backscatter data for possible habitats for corals. She looked for steep slopes in the bathymetry and hard surfaces with the backscatter, since corals prefer those conditions.

Intern poster project
Intern Poster Project by Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea Wegner Poster (pdf)

On the next leg, the robotic vehicle on the ship will be used to examine some of the areas we were with high-definition cameras. You can watch the live stream here. You can also see some of the images and footage from past explorations here.
This is a short video from the 2012 expedition to the Gulf of Mexico to tempt you into tuning in for more.

Personal Log:

The people on this vessel have been blessed with adventurous spirits and exciting careers. Throughout the cruise, I heard about and then came to fully understand the difficulty of being away from family when they need us.

I would like to dedicate this last blog to my father, Tom Wichman. He passed away this morning at 80 years of age after battling more than his share of medical issues.  As I rode the ship in today I felt him beside me. Together we watched the pelicans and the boobies fly by. I am very glad I was able to take him on a “virtual” adventure to the Caribbean. He loved the pictures and the blog. I thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for helping me make him proud one last time.

My parents
My Parents, Tom and Kate Wichman

“To know how to wonder is the first step of the mind toward discovery” – L. Pasteur. These words decorate my classroom wall but are epitomized by the work that the NOAA Okeanos Explorer and the Office of Exploration and Research (OER) do each day.

Thank you to the Meme, the CO, XO, the science team, and the entire crew aboard the Okeanos for teaching me as much as you did and for helping me get home when I needed to be with family. I wish you all the best as you continue to explore our vast oceans! My students and I will be watching and learning from you!

I would also like to thank all of the people who followed this blog. Your support and interest proves that you too are curious by nature. Life is much more interesting if you hold on to that sense of wonder, isn’t it?

Answers to My Previous Questions of the Day Polls:

1.  Bathymetry is the study of ocean depths and submarine topography.

2. The deepest zone in the ocean is called the hadal zone, after Hades the Greek God of the underworld.

3.  It takes the vessel 19 hours and 10 minutes to make enough water for 46 people each using 50 gallons per day if each of the two distillers makes 1 gallon per minute.

4.  NOAA line offices include:

  • National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service
  • Office of Marine & Aviation Operations
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

5. The pressure on the a diver at 332.35m is 485 pounds per square inch!

6.  The deepest part of the Puerto Rico Trench is known as the Milwaukee Deep.

Thank you for participating!  I hope you learned something new!

Theresa Paulsen: Ship Navigation, March 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 28, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 26˚C, Wind speed 13-18 knots, Wave height 5-7ft

Science and Technology Log

Mapping of our first priority area is now compete and we have moved to the priority two area on the north side of the Puerto Rico Trench.  We are more than 100 miles from shore at this point.  Land is nowhere in sight.  Able-Bodied Seaman Ryan Loftus tells me that even from the bridge the horizon is only 6.4 nautical miles away due to the curvature of the earth.  At this point with no frame of reference other than celestial bodies, navigation equipment becomes essential.

The ship uses Global Positioning Systems, GPS units:

GPS Units
GPS Units aboard the vessel


Radar display
The radar display.


On the radar display, we are in the center of the circle. Our heading is the blue line. Since this photo was taken near shore, the yellow patches on the bottom indicate the land mass, Puerto Rico. The two triangles with what look like vector lines to the left of us are approaching vessels. On the right, the Automated Identification System displays information about those vessels, including their name, type, heading and speed.  The radar uses two radio beams, an S-Band at 3050 MHz and an X-band at 9410 MHz, to determine the location of the vessel relative to other vessels and landmarks within a 1% margin of error.


A gyrocompass
A gyrocompass

A standard compass points to the magnetic north pole rather than true north, therefore mariners prefer to use gyrocompasses for navigation.  Before departing, a gyrocompass is pointed to true north.  Using an electric current, the gyroscope in the device is spun very fast so that it will continually maintain that direction during the voyage.  Slight errors build up over time and must be corrected.  The watch standers post the necessary correction on the bridge.  Since the device is electronic, it can feed data into the system allowing for automated navigation and dynamic positioning systems to work well.

ECDIS Screen
The Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIIS) Screen

On the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) screen, watchstanders can view the course planned by the Expedition Coordinator in charge of the science conducted on the voyage (in red), see the bearing they have set (thin black line), and see the actual course we are on (the black, dashed, arrowhead line).

The Dynamic Postioning System
The Dynamic Positioning System

The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to remain in one spot in very delicate situations, such as when they lower a tethered device like the robotic vehicle they will be using on the next cruise or a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe).  It is also helpful for docking.

The electronics are able to control the ship due to the ingenious way the engine system is designed.  The diesel engine powers generators that convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy.  This way electrical energy can be used to control main hydraulic propellers at the stern as well as electric bow and side thrusting propellers.

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What happens if the power goes out and the electronic navigation devices fail?  There are back ups – no worries, students and family!!

The vessel can sail onward.  It is equipped with a magnetic compass and the watchstanders are well versed in reading charts, using a sextant, and plotting courses by hand – they often do that just to check the radar and GPS for accuracy.

The magnetic compass
The superimposed red arrow is directing your attention to the magnetic compass above the bridge.
Using Nautical Charts
Operations Officer, Lt. Emily Rose cross checking the radar and GPS with nautical charts.
Using a Sextant
Seaman Ryan Loftus teaching me how to use a sextant.

They also have a well-used copy of the “bible of navigation,” The American Practical Navigator written in 1802 by Nathaniel Bowditch.

The American Practical Navigator
The American Practical Navigator, The “Bible” of navigation for over 200 years.

They even let me take it for a spin – okay it was about a 90˚ turn – but hey, it feels pretty cool to be at the helm of a 224ft vessel!

At the helm
Steady as she goes! Mrs. Paulsen’s at the helm!

So where are we right now?

As I said we have begun mapping in our second priority zone, more than 100 miles north of Puerto Rico.  We are near the boundary of the Sargasso Sea.  It is not bordered by land, like other seas.  Instead it is bordered by ocean currents that keep the surface water in one area.

The Sargasso Sea
The Sargasso Sea. Image Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Remember the seaweed I wondered about in an earlier post?  It is called Sargassum.  It grows in rafts in the Sargasso Sea.  This is actually where the Sargasso sea got its name.  According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, these rafts provide habitat for certain fish and marine life.  Turtles use them as nurseries for their hatchlings.  In recent years large blooms of Sargassum have been washing up on nearby coastlines causing problem along the shore.  (Oct 1, 2014, USA Today)  More research needed!  There are always more questions.  Is this caused by warming oceans, by oil spills, or by a combination?  Nothing lives in isolation.  All life forms are connected to each other and to our environment.  Changes in the ocean impact us all, everywhere on the globe.

A Sargassum Mat. Photo courtesy of NOAA.


Want to explore yourself?  Check out NOAA Corps to become ship officer!

Career Profile of a NOAA Corps Officer:

Acting Executive Officer (XO) Lieutenant Fionna Matheson is augmenting on this leg of the trip, meaning she is filling in for the XO currently on leave.  Otherwise, in her current “land job” she works at NOAA headquarters for the NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.  Dr. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, reports to the Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker. Working on the headquarters team, LT Matheson learns a great deal about the breadth and importance of NOAA’s mission.

Lt. Fionna Matheson
Lt. Fionna Matheson

To become a member of the NOAA Corps you must have a Bachelor’s degree in Science or Math. It is a competitive process, so some sort of experience with boating is advantageous, but not required.  NOAA Corps officers are trained not only to drive and manage ships, but also to handle emergencies including fire-fighting, and follow maritime law.  They act as the glue between the scientists and the crew (wage mariners), making sure the scientific mission is accomplished and the safety of the crew and the vessel are secure.  Fionna has been part of the corps for 11 years.  She explains that NOAA Corps officers are stationed for about 2 years at sea (with some shore leave) followed by 3 years on land throughout their careers. During her NOAA career, Fionna has sailed in the tropical Pacific maintaining deep-ocean buoys, fished in the North Atlantic, collected oceanographic samples in the Gulf of Mexico, and now mapped part of the Caribbean. She has also worked as part of an aerial survey team in San Diego, studying whales and dolphins.

Fionna’s advice to high school students is this, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is action.  Take the initial risk.”

Personal Log

What do we do for fun in our free time?

We read.

Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos.
Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Lead, reading on the Okeanos during his off hours.

We play games like chess, although I am not very good.  I try, and that is what is important, right?

Chess Tournament
Chief Steward Dave Fare and CO Mark Wetzler playing a warm up game before the chess tournament.

We watch movies – even watched Star Trek on the fantail one evening.   Very fitting since we are boldly going where no one has gone before with our high-resolution sonar.

Movie Night
Movie night on the fantail.

And we watch the sun go down on the ocean.

A view from the fantail of the ship.

Mostly, I like watching the water when I have time.   I would have made a great lookout – I should look into it after I retire from teaching.  I have been trying to use my Aquaman powers to summon the whales and dolphins, but so far – no luck.   Maybe on the way back in to shore we’ll catch another glimpse.

What do I miss?

My family and friends.  Hi Bryan, Ben, Laura, Dad, Mom, and the rest of the gang.

My family
My family

And my students and coworkers.  Go Ashland Oredockers!

Ashland Public Schools, Ashland, Wi

I am fortunate to have such supportive people behind me!  Thanks, guys!

I do not miss snow and cold weather, so if you all could warm it up outside in northern Wisconsin over the next week, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll see what kind of strings I can pull with these NOAA folks!   ¡No me gusta la nieve o el frío en la primavera!

Did you know?

Sky conditions on the bridge are determined by oktas.  An okta is 1/8th of the sky.  If all oktas are free of clouds the sky is clear.  If 1-2 oktas contain clouds, the bridge reports few clouds, 3-4 filled oktas equal scattered clouds, 5-7 equal broken clouds, and 8 filled oktas means the sky is overcast.

Question of the Day

Theresa Paulsen: And We’re Off! March 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench
Date: March 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.

Science and Technology Log

Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Physical Scientist Hydrographer with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and our Expedition Coordinator, gave the science team aboard the vessel an overview of our expedition on Sunday after an evening of becoming acquainted with the ship and other members of the science team.

Meme Lobecker
Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Expedition Coordinator from the NOAA Office of Oceanic Exploration Research (OER)
Mapping Introduction
Mapping Introduction

She explained how oceanic exploration research is different from the rest of the scientific community and even other projects within NOAA, because it focuses purely on exploration and discovery that can generate hypotheses. In other areas, a scientist has a hypothesis first and sets out to test it through research and experimentation.

The information gained on our mission could generate hypotheses in all kinds of areas of research such as geology, fisheries, oceanography, marine archeology, and hydrography. It could help us identify areas that need protection, such as spawning grounds for commercial fish populations.  Meme and her team will turn the data over to the National Coastal Data Development Center within three weeks. From there, it goes to the National Geophysical Data Center and the National Oceanographic Data Center, where it is freely accessible through public archives within 60-90 days of the end of the cruise.  From there, any entity, public or private, can access the data for use in their work. Have you ever wondered how Google Earth and Arc View GIS get the background data for their ocean floor layer? This data contributes to those layers. Now you know! Public data access is through and

While we currently have low resolution data from satellites, less than 5% of the oceans have high-resolution images. We have better data now about the features of Mars than we do about our oceans on earth. Why? Because ocean surveying is difficult and time-consuming. High resolution maps cannot be made of the ocean floor with current technology on satellites.  The technology is getting better and better, though. The image below shows the progression from a leadsman dropping a 10 pound weight attached to a line in the water to the multibeam sonar being used as I type.

Developing Hydrographic Survey Techniques.

Learn more about the history here.

The multibeam sonar aboard the Okeanos Explorer sends out a ping at 30 kHz that bounces off the seafloor and returns to the transducer that is equipped with sensors oriented in 432 different directions receiving up to 864 beams per swath. This method has been tested in depths of up to 8000 meters. It can give us not only bathymetry data, but also water column backscatter and bottom backscatter data. This allows us to know if there are features in the water column like gaseous seeps escaping from the ocean floor. We can also tell something about the surface features, whether they are soft sediments or hard rock, from the bottom back scatter.

Meme has a crew of mappers working with her including Scott Allen, Senior Survey Technician;  Melody Ovard and Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Leads; and several interns. Another important part of the mission is to train a new generation of ocean explorers. These interns, Chelsea Wegner, Kristin Mello, and Josue Millan, come from colleges all over the country.  Their main job is to make sure the data is good and to create logs to document data collection.  They have to correct the multibeam sonar data by deploying XBTs (Expendable Bathythermographs) that determine the temperature changes within the water column because sound speed increases as water temperature increases.  They also use sensors on the ship to measure the conductivity and therefore determine the salinity of the water.  Since sound waves penetrate saltier water more easily, the salinity affects the sound intensity measurements.  Pressure must also be calculated into the equation because sound speed also increases with increasing pressure.

XBTS launch
Josue Millan launching an XBT

The vessel’s attitude also has to be factored into the sonar (like teachers need to factor in student attitudes when planning a lesson!) Similar to an airplane, a boat can pivot on its center of gravity in all three-dimensional axes: Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.  Think about your own head.  Pitch is like nodding your head in agreement, yaw is like shaking your head to say no, and roll would be like putting your ear to your shoulder.  Gives new meaning to the phrase “Heads are going to roll,”  doesn’t it?  Boats also heave, or move up and down as swells pass beneath them.

Mapping Data Collection Screen
This screen shows the data being collected by the mappers.

The screen shot above shows the data as it is being collected by the mappers.  In the main window in the upper right is the bathymetry data.  Below that is the water column backscatter.  In the bottom left is the attitude of the vessel on all axes.   The center left gray image shows the bottom backscatter while the number 421 above is the current depth beneath the vessel.  Finally, the display on the top left indicates the quality and intensity of each of the 432 beams.

We also have a team of researchers from the University of Puerto Rico that are deploying free vehicles to study water masses within the Puerto Rico Trench. More about them in the next blog!

Safety First!    On Monday, we had our first drills as part of our safety training. We practiced the “Abandon Ship” and “Fire” drills. We tested the fire hoses and donned our gumby suits. Mrs. Paulsen is looking pretty good, eh? It is comforting to know I’ll be well-protected by good equipment and a great crew in the event of an emergency.

Kristin Mello and Theresa Paulsen in their gumby suits during the first "Abandon Ship" drill.
Kristin Mello and I are trying out our gumby suits during the first “Abandon Ship” drill.
Fire hose test
Chelsea Wegner testing a fire hose.

After mapping all morning, we learned we had to return to port due to a medical issue. I discovered that engineers are vital to the operation. Without them, we don’t sail – and they are hard to come by.  All of my students interested in marine engine repair should consider NOAA in the future. The pay is good and the adventure is awesome!

I took the time in port to work in the galley helping to make lunch with the chefs. They are a friendly bunch. We made fajitas of all kinds and swordfish. Delicious! I also learned how to garnish a buffet line and even washed dishes afterward. In my high school and college days I worked in many restaurants, but they never let me work in the back. They said I was too much of a “people person” and so I was always waiting on customers. Today I got to cook on one of those large grills I see on cooking shows. Fun to cook on, but not fun to clean. The Chief Steward, Dave Fare, said he brought 5000 lbs of food on board for our trip! We’ll be eating well! Good thing there is a fitness room on board too!

Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed my how to garnish a line.
Ranier Capati, Chief Cook showed me how to garnish a line.
Cooking in the Galley.
Cooking in the Galley.

Personal Log

After training on Sunday I had some time to take in a little of the history and culture of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a lovely place filled with beautifully colored buildings and fun music. The history is fascinating. According the National Park Service, this is where Chrisotopher Columbus landed on his 2nd voyage and laid claim to the land for Spain. Under Juan Ponce de Leon, Spain took control of the island, displacing the Taíno Indians in 1508. An enormous wall of defense was built to keep hold of the island. Trade winds and ocean currents allowed ships to easily sail here from the east. The fortifications on the island took 10 generations to build.

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Spain kept control of the island against invaders until the Spanish-American war in 1898 when Puerto Rico became a US Territory. The fortress including the Castillo de Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal are now historical sites managed by the National Park Service. You can learn more here.

After touring the city, I found my way to the sea! I watched children running from the waves.  This reminded me of my childhood. My father used to take us to the coast when we lived in California and Oregon. That is where my love of the sea began. Both of my parents have adventurous spirits and strong work ethics. They taught me that anything is possible if you are willing to take the chance and put in the effort. This is a belief I hope I pass on to my students.

Question of the Day

Can you identify this crustacean I found along a beach in San Juan?

Crab on the beach of Sn Juan.  Can you classify it?
Crab on the beach of San Juan. Can you classify it?


Paige Teamey: Introduction and Excitement about Approaching Voyage, October 31, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 11, 2011

Sailing on the Hudson River Estuary next to Liberty Island.

Greetings, my name is Paige Teamey and I will be sailing on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson  as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  I am a graduate of Wheaton College with a double major inPhysics and Environmental Science.  I am a native Oregonian, but have called Brooklyn, NY home for the last eight years.  I love the outdoors and have had many opportunities to explore upstate New York and observe a side of the east coast that is raw and beautiful.  I have a great love for being outside and spending as much time as I can with my family.

I have lived and taught high school earth science, anatomy and physiology, forensics, experimental design, and material science for the past seven years at Brooklyn Academy High School.  I deeply enjoyed the students I taught as well as the faculty and community that existed at  the school and in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy.

Iridescent Family Science

I departed from Brooklyn Academy this year to follow a passion and help provide students at a younger age access to science and engineering with  Iridescent.   Iridescent is a non-profit science and engineering educational organization located in Hunts Point, NY  where our vision is to use science, technology and engineering to develop persistent curiosity and to show that knowledge is empowering.  Iridescent is a community-based educational outreach organization that supports student growth through lifelong mentorships and community sharing, development, and learning.

Hunts Point is located on a peninsula and is home to the largest food distribution site in the world as well as the largest fish market in the world outside of Japan.  Hunts Point receives enough food annually by ship to feed 30 million people in and around New York City.  Hunts Point is a tidal strait located between the Bronx River and the East River.  Each ship that Hunts Point residential and food distribution port (notice the Bronx River and East River) travels from their homeland bringing products to NYC relies on nautical charts in order to steer around shallow areas, especially at low tides (check out the current moon phase today).  On my voyage with NOAA, I will learn how to conduct seafloor mapping (hydrographic surveying) of Block Island in order to update and generate nautical maps.

95% of our oceans have yet to be explored!!!  Humans have only researched, taken data, and “observed” 5% of our Earth’s watery shores.  Gene Feldman an oceanographer and earth explorer stated it best by describing the ocean as a really a hard place to work in the following statement,

70% of our world contains OCEANS.
70% of our world contains OCEANS.

“In many ways, it’s easier to send a person to space than to the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is dark and cold. In space, you can see forever. Deep in the ocean, you can’t see much. Your light can’t shine very far.”

Life exist in a very small slice on land when compared to the enormous depths of our oceans.

Life on land occurs in a very thin layer from just below the ground to the tops of our tallest trees  (about 1 mile or 20 blocks) .  In the ocean life occurs in every layer where some areas are more than seven miles deep (140 blocks).  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is an amazing organization that has hundreds of scientists and engineers exploring and learning about our oceans everyday.  NOAA shines new light on our oceans unexplored worlds everyday.

For the students and families following my journey Shine your light!!  Be curious with a passion.  Keep your eyes open to the skies, below your feet, into the wind, with every step to school/work or while sitting in silence… question everything.  I look forward to bringing you answers and videos to any questions or any interests you have about my journey.  Click on the words when they are highlighted purple/blue in order to learn more.

You can follow my journey and adventures in this blog and daily ship position via the NOAA Ship Tracker.  Just click on the hyperlink, enter the ship tracker and select the Thomas Jefferson from the drop down menu on the right side of the screen.

NOAA Thomas Jefferson

Noah Doughty, September 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Noah Doughty
Onboard Research Vessel Western Flyer
September 18 – 22, 2006

Mission: USS Macon Wreck Archeological Expedition
Geographical Area: California Coast
Date: September 22, 2006

Weather Report from the Bridge 
Visibility: Good
Wind direction and speed: ESE at 7kts
Swell direction and height: NW at 4-6’
Seawater temperature: 56.4
Sea level pressure: 1013.3 millibars
Cloud cover: 8/8

NOAA Teacher at Sea Noah Doughty with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) R/V WESTERN FLYER in the background.
TAS Noah Doughty with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute R/V WESTERN FLYER in the background.

Science and Technology Log 

Dr. Rock and Kristof Richmond of Stanford University left the ship late yesterday afternoon, wrapping up the image collection for the photo-mosaic.  Leaving with them was John Geoghegan, a writer for the Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine and the Naval History Magazine. Joining the expedition are Scott Rayder, NOAA Chief of Staff, Richard G. Van Treuren, representing the Naval Airships Association, and Tim Thomas from the Maritime Museum of Monterey.

Today’s activities were devoted to groundtruthing side-scan sonar anomalies located away from the two main debris fields. This is accomplished by simultaneously moving the ROV and the WESTERN FLYER from site to site, a process that would take the better part of an hour depending on the distance being traveled. The transition provided me with an opportunity to briefly operate the “Science Cam”, the seat were you get to operate the zoom, angle and focus of the HDTV camera.  Most of the anomalies were shallow depressions in the muddy bottom with two large sonar hits turning out to be old fish traps.  We did find one large artifact resembling an imploded fuel cell quite a ways from the main debris fields. 

Today is the last day of the expedition and I would like to take the opportunity to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Program, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for the opportunity to be part of such an amazing experience.  Finally I would like to thank the ROV Pilots of the Tiburon and the crew of the WESTERN FLYER for providing insightful answers and explanations to a number of questions.

NOAA Chief of Staff (left), Scott Rayder, and TAS Noah Doughty
NOAA Chief of Staff (left), Scott Rayder, and TAS Noah Doughty

Noah Doughty, September 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Noah Doughty
Onboard Research Vessel Western Flyer
September 18 – 22, 2006

Mission: USS Macon Wreck Archeological Expedition
Geographical Area: California Coast
Date: September 21, 2006

Weather Report from the Bridge
Visibility: Good
Wind direction and speed:  NWxW 24kts
Swell direction and height: NW 6’-8’
Seawater temperature: 55.7oF
Sea level pressure: 1019 millibars
Cloud cover: 2/8

Science and Technology Log 

Work at the USS MACON wreck site continues, alternating between mosaic work and survey work depending on water conditions at the bottom.  Today’s log will profile two members of the expedition whose jobs provide a context for the information being gathered.

Erica Burton works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and is responsible for operating VARS, which stands for Video Annotation and Reference System.  VARS is a database that allows screen images to be captured, logged, and georeferenced with annotated notes. For the MACON expedition these notes list the possible identity of the artifacts. In addition to the captured image, VARS also records the time stamp in the video and a geographical location. All the images and video captured are archived at MBARI (the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), and later, in conjunction with the National Marine Sanctuary Program, staff will process and interpret to produce a final photo-mosaic poster that will be made available to the public. Burton, who has a background in marine biology, also notes that the USS MACON wreckage provides an artificial hard-bottom habitat in an otherwise soft-bottom habitat, and the organisms observed are primarily soft-bottom fishes with occasional encrusting organisms on the wreckage.

Erica Burton, on the left, operates VARS (Video Annotation and Reference System), and works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Lee Murai, on the right, is the expedition’s GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst, and comes from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
Erica Burton, on the left, operates VARS (Video Annotation and Reference System), and works for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Lee Murai, on the right, is the expedition’s GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst, and comes from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

Lee Murai is a Geological Oceanography student at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and is the GIS (Geographical Information System) analyst.  Through GIS software he is able to spatially organize the data collected on this expedition and compare it to the 1990 and 1991 expeditions. Types of data collected in the past include side-scan sonar, multi-beam bathymetry, and waypoints collected by Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles.  For this expedition he is working closely with the Stanford University team to assist with the photomosaic collection procedure. The GIS map posted on day 1 was provided by Murai. Compare that to the low-resolution image tiles posted today.  While the use of GIS is relatively new to the field of marine archeology, it is generally used in marine environments to provide geologic and biologic habitat characterization maps.

This image, created with low-resolution copies of the image files, shows a Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (plane #4 in the GIS map on the Day 1 log).  High-resolution tiles will be fused into the final photo-mosaic.  The nose of the plane is in the lower left.
This image, created with low-resolution copies of the image files, shows a Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (plane #4 in the GIS map on the Day 1 log). High-resolution tiles will be fused into the final photo-mosaic. The nose of the plane is in the lower left.

Noah Doughty, September 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Noah Doughty
Onboard NOAA Ship Western Flyer
September 18 – 22, 2006

Mission: USS Macon Wreck Archeological Expedition
Geographical Area: California Coast
Date: September 20, 2006

Weather Report from the Bridge 
Visibility: Fair
Wind direction and speed: calm
Swell direction and height: WNW 8-9’
Seawater temperature: 56.1oF
Sea level pressure: 1023.0 millibars
Cloud cover: 8/8

Principal Investigators, left to right: Chris Grech (MBARI), Robert Schwemmer (CINMS), and Bruce Terrell (NMSP).
Principal Investigators, left to right: Chris Grech (MBARI), Robert Schwemmer (CINMS), and Bruce Terrell (NMSP).

Science and Technology Log 

As the mosaic work continued on the sea floor I was able to briefly pull the three Principal Investigators (PI) away from the action to ask questions regarding the history of the MACON and the eventual plans for the wreck site. The three PI’s are Chris Grech, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Robert Schwemmer, West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator based out of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS), and Bruce Terrell, a Senior Archeologist for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program.  Their answers are summarized below:

Question 1: Has the condition of the wreckage changed since the first visit in 1991? 

GRECH: Yes.  There is more sediment on the bottom than before.  Some of the smaller pieces of debris are no longer visible. Meaning they have been moved, covered up, or corroded. Overall the major features are still there, the Sparrowhawk’s and the Maybach’s engines.

Question 2: What technology is being employed this time that wasn’t employed before? 

GRECH: We are using a High Definition camera and HMI lights on the Tiburon. The

Underwater image of the Curtiss Sparrowhawk F9C-2 port wing.  Note it is still possible to make out the Navy Star painted on the wing fabric.
Underwater image of the Curtiss Sparrowhawk F9C-2 port wing. Note it is still possible to make out the Navy Star painted on the wing fabric.

HMI lights are high-powered underwater lights.  We know the position of the Tiburon relative to the WESTERN FLYER through the use of USBL (Ultra Short Base Line) technology. Central to the effort is the Stanford Control System, which provides computer aided ROV control enabling us to create the site photo-mosaic. At the same time we are using GIS (Geographical Information System) technology to create a map tied to geographical coordinates. The Stanford Control System and GIS software is run separately but their use is closely linked. Finally, the WESTERN FLYER is able to maintain her position through Dynamic

Positioning, a system where a GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinate is set and the ship is automated to maintain that position.

Question 3: What might eventually happen to the wreck site in terms of protection policy? 

TERRELL/SCHWEMMER:  The MACON already has the ultimate protection regimen.  The wreckage is within the boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the Sanctuary has a clearly defined mandate to protect archeological resources.  The US Navy still owns the MACON and the Navy has its own legislation to protect submerged vessels and aircraft.  Last, the wreck site is within State of California waters and so is protected by state law.  From the data gathered on this cruise we will do three things. First is to generate a report on the project that will go to the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, who provided much of the funding.  Second will be an archeological assessment that will go to the National Marine Sanctuary Program and to peers.  This assessment will include management recommendations regarding the values and needs of the wreck site. Third will be to begin the process to nominate the MACON to the National Register of Historic Places.  This is a one to two year process.