Allison Irwin: Tsunami Awareness, July 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 10, 2019

Weather at 1600 Pacific Standard Time on Monday 08 July 2019.

We’ve made our way back near the coast and we’re currently progressing south at a cautious 6 knots through a relatively shallow, protected area called Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve.  The winds and sea are both calm. The deck is warm and sunny! The sky has just a few high level clouds that look like wisps of white painted onto a clear blue canvas. A long-sleeved cotton shirt is comfortable in this weather along with long pants and boots.

PERSONAL LOG

Sunday Night

07 July 2019

We left Yaquina Bay just after 1700 on Sunday evening. I was eating dinner when we left and had no idea we were moving. The ship is that smooth when it’s traveling slowly. I made it out just in time to see us pass the boundary between the bay and the Pacific Ocean. My job tonight is to stay up until 0200 so I can prepare for my 12 hour shift that starts Monday and runs from 1400-0200. We’ll see how that works out. I’m typically in bed long before 0200.

As the ship started making its way along the coast this evening, I sat on the Flying Bridge.  The Bridge on a ship is often at one of the highest levels and it’s the command center. The Flying Bridge is one level above that. It is all open air with no windows and no walls (there are railings, of course). It was freeing and frightening at the same time! I think that’s my favorite area on the ship. I plan to go there a lot over the next few weeks to feel the sunshine, clear my head, and prepare for the day. 

One of the scientists on board made a sensible comment yesterday. She said we should walk as much as we can before the ship sails because after that we won’t walk more than a few feet at a time in any given direction. Today I walked 7.5 miles all over Newport Marina. I’m tired, but I’m glad I heeded her advice!

THE SCIENCE

Sunday Morning

07 July 2019

Today I learned more than I ever wanted to know about tsunamis. I went on an estuaries tour with the Hatfield Marine Science Center this morning and we saw a lot of “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs along our tour. The tour guide explained a tsunami is actually a series of waves and not just one giant wave like we see in movies. Additionally, it doesn’t really “break” the way we’re used to seeing waves crash into the beach. Those waves are caused by the wind moving over the surface of the water. A tsunami reaches the coastline more like a storm surge or like a very strong tide because the energy forcing this wave forward comes from deep within the ocean floor – from seismic or volcanic activity – and not from the wind. Thankfully, in the ocean (where I’ll be for the next three weeks!) a tsunami is only barely noticeable with maybe a three foot height increase. But once the force of all that moving water hits the shallow bottom of our coastline, the water begins to pile up and can reach anywhere from a few feet all the way up to 100 feet above sea level.

The Newport Marina is in a Tsunami Hazard Zone. Most tsunamis tend to be less than ten feet high because energy from the point of origin must travel many miles before reaching a coastline, but the Newport Marina is in a particularly hazardous area because it lies within the Cascadia Subduction Zone. If a major earthquake hits this close to home, a larger than average tsunami could follow in just fifteen minutes! The Newport Marina is only six feet above sea level, so even a relatively small tsunami would cause intense damage from both flooding and debris.

A major earthquake shakes the Cascadia Subduction Zone once every 300-350 years on average. The last major earthquake in Newport, OR occurred in 1700, so… they’re due for another one soon. That might be why the Hatfield Marine Science Center decided to design its brand new building in Newport Marina to be both earthquake and tsunami resistant using state-of-the-art engineering methods. It includes a unique ramp on the outside of the building that spans multiple levels so people have easy access to the evacuation location on top of the roof. After seeing the current evacuation location, a very small hill just across the street from the marina, I think it’s good they’re adding a facility with capacity for another 900 people!

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) provides a U.S. Tsunami Warning System. It works much like our system for tornadoes and thunderstorms by communicating four different levels – warnings, advisories, watches, or threats.

TEACHING CONNECTIONS

Sunday Afternoon

7 July 2019

The man I met yesterday while he filleted his catch from Yaquina Bay is still sitting on my mind. He shared his story with me.  When he was 18 years old, he was homeless. He had no connection to school because he didn’t fit into the square peg the narrow curriculum required. Pausing his rhythm with the fish, he tried to explain.

He’s dyslexic. When he was a kid, that threw him a gigantic curve ball. It took him a long time to learn how to adapt and overcome that challenge.  What strikes me about his story is that school didn’t help him, it held him back. Dyslexia is one of the most common types of learning disabilities. Students are faced with challenges in school every day – whether it’s a learning disability or other challenge – and teachers are often there to support, teach, and guide students through those challenges. But I see students every year who, like this gentleman, don’t fit into the script. They’re the outliers who need a different approach. 

Last year my district engaged in a study of Continuous School Improvement. While my understanding of it is still in its infancy, I do know that it requires us to look at multiple forms of data in order to get a wider picture of what is going on in our schools. We then use what we find to determine “where the fire is burning the hottest” (according to our Continuous School Improvement guru working with our district) and correct those issues first. Typically, by correcting those big ticket items, a trickle-down effect occurs that will solve some of the smaller issues organically.

I would definitely categorize the nature of this fisherman’s story as a big ticket item that many districts are trying to understand and correct. We all know that teacher in the building who connects with the students who don’t connect to school. There’s always that one teacher who manages to make this look easy – though it is not. 

Even though reading comprehension, the primary means to learning in most disciplines, is difficult for the gentleman I spoke to at the filleting station, he valued learning so much that he stuck with it even as he failed his classes. He told me that he has thousands of audiobooks and a whole library of traditional books at home which he’s been accumulating for years. We talked about Malcolm Gladwell, tax preparation, real estate, and a host of other diverse topics. He runs his own successful business that he politely called “medium sized” as he smiled, sheepishly at his friend.

I hope, just as I’m sure all teachers hope, that my students who struggle each year will value learning enough to push through the challenges they each face. While I might not always succeed in teaching every student the content of my discipline, I at least hope that they each leave my classroom at the end of the year with a sense of desire to learn more. To not give up when the challenges pummel them, wave after wave, and feel unrelenting. I hope that someone will speak to them one day, 20 years from now, and they’ll wink as they describe how successful they’ve become due to their hard work, resilience, and unshakable love for learning. And that they’ll come to realize strong literacy skills are an integral part of learning.

Teaching Resources

Allison Irwin: Traveling to the Ship, July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather at 0800 on Monday 08 July 2019.

Winds and sea are calm. Weather is cool. Heavy overcast layer of white, thick clouds in the sky. Very comfortable out on deck with a sweater or light jacket. The visibility is unreal – I can see for miles! Nothing but cold water and salty air.


PERSONAL LOG

Friday Night

05 July 2019

Tomorrow I’ll board a ship with NOAA Officers and scientists headed for a three week research cruise in the Pacific Ocean. My whole life at home is not skipping a beat without me. But I feel like I’ve hit a pause button on my character. Like I won’t return to the movie of my life until the end of July. Important decisions get made without me. Disputes with family and friends won’t include my voice again for almost a month. Everything moves forward at home this summer but me.

I have a new appreciation for folks who dedicate their lives to careers requiring them to be away from home for long periods of time. This is only three weeks. I can’t imagine the way I would feel if I were leaving for three months. Or a year.  I do feel very grateful for the opportunity to spend the next three weeks with these people though. They will be, no doubt, passionate about their careers, and I’ll learn a lot from traveling with them.

THE SCIENCE

Saturday Morning

06 July 2019

After a 6 hour flight from the East Coast to the West Coast and a 2.5 hour car ride from Portland International Airport to Newport, Oregon, I’m finally on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker! A handful of scientists, two volunteers, and myself met at the airport. We coordinated so all our flights would arrive within an hour of each other so we could drive together. As soon as we got there, my roommate gave me a tour of the ship. It didn’t take very long, but there are a lot of ways to get lost! I felt a little disoriented after that. There is a galley and dining area which they call the mess. I’ve been told we have one of the best chefs on board our ship! A laundry room, exercise room, plenty of deck space, the bridge where NOAA Officers will navigate and operate the ship, and stairs. So. Many. Stairs.

Upon meeting the chief scientist, Kevin Stierhoff, it became clear that the Coastal Pelagic Species Survey is a big deal. NOAA runs this survey every year for about 80 days! They break it up into four 20 day legs. Most of the scientists will rotate through only one or two legs, but the NOAA Corps Officers in charge of the ship’s operation typically stay for the full survey. That’s a very long time to be away from home.

We’re traveling on the 2nd leg, so the survey has already been underway since June. It started farther north off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and will meander down the coast for almost three months until it reaches the US-Mexico border. Kevin described the ship’s movements like someone explaining how to mow the lawn – we will run perpendicular to the coast in a back-and-forth pattern traveling south, slowly, until we get to the waters off San Francisco Bay. First we’ll travel straight out into the ocean, turn south for a bit, then travel straight back toward the coast. Repeat. Repeat… for three weeks.

mowed lawn
Patterned lines in a freshly mowed lawn – accessed on pixabay.com

Why such a funky pattern, you might ask? We’ll be using acoustic sampling during the day to determine where the most densely populated areas of fish are located. Then at night, we’ll put that data to good use, immediate use, as we trawl the waters for specific types of pelagic species. There are five species in particular that the scientists want to study – anchovy, herring, sardines, mackerel, and squid – because they’re managed species or ecologically important as prey for other species. That funky pattern of travel allows us to sample the whole coastal region.

It reminds of me of one of the scanning patterns the Civil Air Patrol uses when we conduct search and rescue missions from a Cessna. When I was trained to be a scanner in the back seat of the plane, they taught me to look for signs of a missing person or downed plane below me in a systematic way. If I just look sporadically at everything that pops into my line of scan, I’ll never find anything. It’s too haphazard. But if I start from a fixed point on the aircraft and scan out up to a mile, then bring my scan line back in toward the plane, I’ll naturally scan all the ground below me for clues as the plane moves forward.

Even though they’re looking primarily at those five coastal pelagic species, the scientists will catalogue every kind of fish or marine life they find in their trawl nets. They are meticulous. It’s such an important endeavor because it helps us to fish our waters using sustainable practices. If this survey finds that one of the fish species in question is not thriving, that the population sample of that species is too low, then NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will set harvest guidelines next year to help that species rebound. If it’s looking very dire, they might even determine that commercial fishing of that species needs to be put on pause for a while.

For more details about NOAA Fisheries and the importance of the annual Coastal Pelagic Species Survey, read this short two page guide called U.S. Fisheries Management: Sustainable Fisheries, Sustainable Seafood.

TEACHING CONNECTIONS

Saturday Evening

06 July 2019

Since the three hour time change traveling in this direction worked in my favor, I gained three extra hours of daylight to explore Newport.  I spent most of the evening walking around the small port where NOAA docked Reuben Lasker. It’s only a couple square miles, but it houses the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Visitor Center, Rogue Brewer’s on the Bay, and a public fishing pier. I walked a total of 6 miles today and was never bored.

The fishing culture struck me the most. Kids, adults, everyone seemed to have a working knowledge of local sustainability, ecosystems, commercial fishery practices, things that are so foreign to me. I suppose it would be like going to Pennsylvania and asking someone to explain deer hunting. Trust me, we can. But fishing? Not as much. I wish that we as teachers would tap into the local knowledge base more fully. From Pennsylvania for example, we could share Amish culture and heritage, details about the coal mining industry, steel production and engineering practices, hunting, and so much more. Until I realized how unaware I was of the local knowledge here in Newport, I never stopped to think about how rich and diverse my students’ local knowledge must be as well. One thing I plan to do this school year is dig into that local culture and explore it with my students.

I watched one gentleman as he filleted his catch at the filleting station just off the pier. To me it looked like a cooler of fish. I could tell you with certainty that they were indeed fish. But he knew each type, why the Lingcod had blue flesh instead of white, how many of each type he was allowed to take home with him, how to cook them, and the list goes on. I was impressed. In talking with others this evening, it seems like that’s par for the course here. Later, a couple of fishermen with a cooler full of crab started talking to me and offered me some to try. It was cleaned, cooked already, fresh out of Yaquina Bay. It was delicious – sweet and salty.

The people I interacted with today, every single one of them, were genuinely kind. They were patient and explained things to me when I didn’t understand. This is a lesson every teacher can take to the classroom. We know how important it is to smile and be kind. We know it. But sometimes it’s hard to put that into practice when we’re rounding into May and having to explain that one tricky concept again, pulling a different approach out of our magic hat, and hoping that this time it will click.

It’s not always easy to mask the frustration we feel when something that is so natural for us (in no doubt because we love the subject and have studied it for at least a decade) just doesn’t make sense to a student. And it’s not always the student I get frustrated with, it’s myself. Teachers tend to be their own worst critics. When a lesson doesn’t go as well as we expected, we double down and try harder the next day. No wonder so many of us burn out in the first five years and switch to a different career!

TEACHING RESOURCES

Justin Garritt: What is NOAA and Why Are We Sailing? September 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 3, 2018

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon
Date: September 3, 2018

Today was day two and my first full day on-board. I learned so much about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I learned about what our ship, Bell M. Shimada’s, mission was this cruise. I started to get acquainted with all the impressive things the ship has to offer. However, what I enjoyed most was meeting all the wonderful people who spend their lives on-board for months (or even years) serving us. Every single professional was warm and welcome and answered the thousand questions I asked today with a smile. It was an amazing day because of the crew and scientists who already made me feel at home.

I was unaware of what NOAA did before joining the Teacher at Sea Program. Today’s post is all about NOAA, the ship I am sailing on, and the mission ahead the next two weeks.

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My home for the next two weeks. . . NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

What is NOAA? Before I can get in to details about my journey, here is some information about the governmental agency that welcomes Teacher At Sea applicants with open arms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an American scientific agency that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere. It was formed in 1970 and as of last year had over 11,000 employees. NOAA exists to monitor earth systems through research and analysis. It uses the research to assess and predict future changes of these earth systems and manage our precious resources for the betterment of society, the economy, and environment.

One component of NOAA studies our oceans. They ensure ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy, and productive. One of the many ships that are used to study the oceanic environment (which I am fortunate to sail on these next two weeks) is NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. This ship is stationed on the west coast with forty-plus crew who work endlessly to make this ship run so NOAA scientists can perform important environmental studies. Every person I have met the past two days has been remarkable and you will hear more about them throughout my future blogs.

 

Why Are We Sailing? NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is one of dozens of NOAA ships that sail the ocean every day in order to research vital information about our environment. Every sailing has clear objectives that help achieve the goals that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association sets. On NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, hake fish surveys are completed every other year and research is done during off years. Fish surveys determine estimates of certain fish species. This vessel sails the entire west coast of the United States and then works with their Canadian counterparts to provide an estimate of a variety of species. NOAA uses this information to provide the fisherman with rules governing the amount of species that can be fished. During research years, like the one I currently am on, the vessels have different objectives that support their work.

For this leg, the ship has three main objectives:

#1: Pair trawling to determine net size impact: Evaluate the differences between the US 32mm nets and the CANADIAN 7mm nets. The questions being asked are does the differences in size of the two nets affect the size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.

The reason this research is needed is because currently the Canadians and the United States have always used different size liners on the far tip of the net while surveying. The purpose of this experiment is to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two countries when surveying their respective territories with slightly different net sizes.The hope is that the different liners do not affect the  size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.

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#2: Comparing old acoustic equipment with new equipment: An acoustic transducer is a highly technological piece of equipment used on board scientific and commercial fishing vessels around the word. It emits a brief, focused pulse of sound into the water. If the sound encounters objects that are of different density than the surrounding medium, such as fish, they reflect some sound back toward the source. On-board N

OAA Ship Bell M. Shimada these echoes provide information on fish size, location, and abundance. NOAA is modernizing all of their acoustic equipment to a higher range of frequency. This is equivalent to when televisions went from black and white to color. This will hopefully allow scientists to collect more precise and accurate data.

The second goal of this cruise is to determine the differences in the frequency levels of both the new and the old technology. The goal in the long run is to reduce the number of surveying trolls needed to determine the population of fish, and instead, use this highly advanced acoustics equipment instead. It would be a more efficient and environmentally smarter option for the future.

Multibeam Sonar

An illustration of a ship using multi-beam sonar. Image courtesy of NOAA

#3: Using oceanography to predict fish presence: During the night time, scientific studies continue. The ship never sleeps. Depending on where we saw and caught fish during the day time experiments, the captain will bring the boat back to that same area to determine what water characteristics were present. The goal is to find the correlation between increased hake presence and certain water characteristics.

Throughout the next two weeks I will take you behind the scenes on how the ship is collecting data and using the data to create a hypothesis for each goal.

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A beautiful view while calibrating today

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Immersion suit practice during drills

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The beautiful Seattle skyline

Upcoming Blogs through Sept 14:

Life on-board these beautiful ships

The galley is a work of art

Tour of the ship

Careers on-board

Daily tasks and updates on our ship leg’s mission and goals

Victoria Cavanaugh: Newport, Oregon Bound!, April 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16 – 27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 12, 2018

Weather Data from My Classroom at School

Latitude: 42.3306° N
Longitude: 71.1220° W
Sea Wave Height: N/A
Wind Speed: 16 km/h
Wind Direction: SW
Visibility: 14.5km
Air Temperature: 5.6oC  
Sky:  Scattered Clouds

Personal Log

Greetings from Brookline, Massachusetts!  I am a 7th grade math teacher at the Edward Devotion School, where I have the wonderful opportunity to work with 80 creative and enthusiastic students each day.  I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program as I’m eager to bring real-world math to the classroom, or maybe to bring my classroom to the real-world math. 🙂 The 7th graders are currently in the midst of our data and analysis unit, and I can’t wait to learn more firsthand about how NOAA scientists gather, graph, and analyze data.  I look forward to sharing my learning with my class, and I’m excited about to what future class projects this opportunity may lead.

Math Class Fish

Our 7th Grade Math Class Fish, Swim Shady, & the Inspiration for Our Aquaponics Garden Design Project

 

Previous to teaching 7th grade math in Brookline, I taught for nearly a decade in El Salvador.  I’m happy to be able to share this adventure with students there as well.

El Salvador group photo

Visiting with Some Former Students & Family along the Ruta de Flores, El Salvador

In just a few days, I will fly from Boston, MA to Portland, OR, and from there I’ll board NOAA Ship Fairweather in Newport, OR.  It was a nice surprise to learn I’d begin my journey in Newport as I first visited Oregon when I was in seventh grade myself.  From there, we’ll sail towards Southeast Alaska.

Newport beach

My Brother and I (as a 7th Grader) Visiting the Beach in Newport, OR

While aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather, I’ll be participating in a hydrographic survey, which entails working with scientists to measure and describe oceanic features that can affect maritime navigation. According to NOAA,  “Alaska’s charts are in need of updating, especially in the Arctic region where some soundings date back to the work of Captain Cook in the 18th century.”  Conducting a hydrographic survey of the region is especially important because many towns and villages in Alaska are reachable only by boat or plan, so accurate and updated navigational charts will benefit all who live and travel through the area.

One aspect of the Alaska Hydrographic Survey Project, I’m eager to witness is the way in which scientists, technicians, and cartographers utilize some of  the same geometry and algebra concepts we’ve been studying in seventh grade math this year in their work aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Fairweather’s home port is Ketchikan, Alaska, which will also be where I’ll disembark at the end of my trip.

Fairweather

NOAA ship Fairweather, in front of its namesake, Mt. Fairweather. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Cathrine Prenot: Lights in the Ocean. Thursday, July 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cathrine Prenot
Aboard Bell M. Shimada
July 17-July 30, 2016

Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem

Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA

Date: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 46º18.8 N
Lon: 124º25.6 W
Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind speed: 12.35 degree/knots
Barometer: 1018.59 mBars
Air Temp: 16.3 degrees Celsius

 

Science and Technology Log

The ship’s engineering staff are really friendly, and they were happy to oblige my questions and take me on a tour of the Engine Rooms. I got to go into the ‘belly of the beast’ on the Oscar Dyson, but on the tour of the Shimada, Sean Baptista, 1st assistant engineer, hooked us up with headsets with radios and microphones. It is super loud below decks, but the microphones made it so that we could ask questions and not just mime out what we were curious about.

I think the job of the engineers is pretty interesting for three main reasons.

On the way to see the bow thruster below decks

On the way to see the bow thruster below decks

One, they get to be all over the ship and see the real behind-the-scenes working of a huge vessel at sea. We went down ladders and hatches, through remotely operated sealed doors, and wound our way through engines and water purifiers and even water treatment (poo) devices. Engineers understand the ship from the bottom up.

One of four Caterpillar diesel engines powering the ship

One of four Caterpillar diesel engines powering the ship

Second, I am sure that when it is your Job it doesn’t seem that glamorous, but an engineer’s work keeps the ship moving. Scientists collect data, the Deck crew fish, the NOAA Corps officers drive the ship, but the engineers make sure we have water to drink, that our ‘business’ is treated and sanitary, that we have power to plug in our computers (the lab I am writing in right now has 6 monitors displaying weather from the bridge, charts, ship trackers, and science data) and science equipment.

I did not touch any buttons. Promise.

I did not touch any buttons. Promise.

Finally, if something breaks on the ship, engineers fix it. Right there, with whatever they have on hand. Before we were able to take the tour, 1st Assistant Engineer Baptista gave us a stern warning to not touch anything—buttons, levers, pipes—anything. There is a kind of resourcefulness to be an engineer on a ship—you have to be able to make do with what you have when you are in the middle of the ocean.

The engineers all came to this position from different pathways—from having a welding background, to being in the navy or army, attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, or even having an art degree.  The biggest challenge is being away from your family for long periods of time, but I can attest that they are a pretty tight group onboard.

 

In terms of the science that I’ve been learning, I’ve had some time to do some research of some of the bycatch organisms from our Hake trawls. “Bycatch” are nontargeted species that are caught in the net.  Our bycatch has been very small—we are mostly getting just hake, but I’ve seen about 30-40 these cute little fish with blue glowing dots all over their sides. Call me crazy, but anything that comes out of the ocean with what look like glowing sparkling sapphires is worthy of a cartoon.

So… …What is small, glows, and comprises about 65% of all deep-sea biomass? Click on the cartoon to read Adventures in a Blue World 3.

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Lights in the Ocean

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Lights in the Ocean

 

Personal Log

The weather is absolutely beautiful and the seas are calm. We are cruising along at between 10-12 knots along set transects looking for hake, but we haven’t seen—I should say “heard” them in large enough groups or the right age class to sample.  So, in the meanwhile, I’ve taken a tour of the inner workings of the ship from the engineers, made an appointment with the Chief Steward to come in and cook with him for a day, spent some time on the bridge checking out charts and the important and exciting looking equipment, played a few very poor rounds of cornhole, and have been cartooning and reading.

I was out on the back deck having a coffee and an ice cream (I lead a decadent and wild life as a Teacher at Sea) and I noticed that the shoreline looked very familiar. Sure enough—it was Cannon Beach, OR, with Haystack Rock (you’ll remember it from the movie The Goonies)! Some of my family lived there for years; it was fun to see it from ten miles off shore.

Chart showing our current geographic area. Center of coast is Cannon Bean, Oregon.

Chart showing our current geographic area. Center of coast is Cannon Beach, Oregon.

View of Tillamook Head and Cannon Beach. It looked closer in person.

View of Tillamook Head and Cannon Beach. It looked closer in person.

 

Did You Know?

One of the scientists I have been working with knows a lot about fish. He knows every organism that comes off the nets in a trawl down to their Genus species. No wonder he knows all the fish—all of the reference books that I have been using in the wet lab were written by him. Head smack.

Dan Kamikawa, our fish whisperer

One of the books written by Dan Kamikawa, our fish whisperer

 

Resources

My sister (thank you!) does my multi media research for me from shore, as I am not allowed to pig out on bandwidth and watch lots of videos about bioluminescence in the ocean.  This video is pretty wonderful.  Check it out.

If you want to geek out more about Lanternfish, read this from a great site called the Tree of Life web project.

Interested in becoming a Wage Mariner in many different fields–including engineering?  Click here.

Alex Miller: A Sailor’s Life is a Life for Me (for the Next 15 Days), May 26, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Soon to Be Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

 

Representing the Teacher At Sea program

Representing the Teacher At Sea program

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Personal Log

Ahoy! Alex Miller, Teacher At Sea, here reporting to you from Newport, OR where in just under 24 hours NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada will be underway for 15 DAS (days at sea) which will be filled with fisheries research, seabird surveys and other oceanographic endeavors that I will do my best to report faithfully and in vivid detail. For all images and video, click for a larger view.


 

Preparing for Sea

My adventure started with my arrival into PDX, the airport in Portland, OR, yesterday afternoon around 2:00PM. I was lucky enough to have the generous Amanda Gladics, a biologist from Oregon State University, pick me up and give me a place to stay before our trip down to the coast this morning. Apparently no one told either of us that we were going to have plenty of time onboard the ship to get to know each other because, after grabbing some snacks to make it through those upcoming night shifts, we sat up in her living room and talked until both of us looked around wondering why it was suddenly dark outside and we were both starving.

We set out at 0700 this morning in order to be in Newport by 1000. (NOAA and other maritime organizations use the 24-hour clock, which begins at midnight and counts up, so from here on out I will be using that format for time keeping). Amanda and I drove (well, she drove, I talked) down this morning so that she could attend a lab meeting with other scientists to prepare for her time onboard the Shimada.

A view from the front seat along Route 34.

A view from the front seat along Route 20.

As we drove in along Route 20 and through the Yaquina Valley, all I could see for miles were forests of Douglas Firs. Timber is a major industry in the Pacific Northwest and the timberlands out here cycle through periods of harvest, planting and new growth. Amanda remembers a section that was planted when she moved away from Newport just 6 years ago and those trees look to be almost 40 feet tall already! So for most of the 2.5 hours from Portland to Newport, our landscape was uninterrupted green, and then we came around a bend in the road and the tree line abruptly stopped, giving way to the steely gray ocean and my future home for the next two weeks.

Crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge to reach the Hatfield Marine Science Center, I learned just how unskilled I am at taking pictures in a moving car, so after I met NOAA researcher, Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of our cruise, I took a hike up a nearby dune (which I later learned is affectionately called “Mount NOAA” because it is the sand that was dug out to make room for the large NOAA ships to dock without getting stuck on the bottom of the bay) to try and capture some images that actually do justice to this beautiful place. Later today Ric will take me to make sure I have all the waterproof gear I’ll need and then we’ll load up all the equipment and either have dinner onboard the ship or maybe get a chance to explore a seaside restaurant. No matter what we do for our last meal before launch, last night was my last night on land. I’ll sleep onboard the Shimada tonight to be ready for launch at 0800 tomorrow.

Once the cruise is underway, the researchers onboard have several goals they hope to accomplish during their time at sea. When NOAA ships go to sea, they have a mission statement that describes their main purpose for heading out; often however, other researchers can benefit from being at sea as well and will join the cruise but have other research goals in mind. Ric Brodeur and other researchers from Oregon State University plan to use these 15 DAS (Days at Sea) to characterize the plankton groups found just off the coast. Essentially, I’ll be helping them find and net samples to figure out what these groups are like. They’re paying special attention to young–referred to as larval or juvenile depending on age and development level–pelagicmeaning they are found near the surface of or in the first 10-30 m of ocean–rockfish and plankton. I’ll keep you informed of the goals of the other scientists I meet onboard the ship.

From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It's 208 ft. long!

From atop Mount NOAA, the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. It’s 208 ft. long!


 

A Bit About Me

Back in Chicago, I am a member of the Village Leadership Academy family of schools. As the science teacher at the Upper School, I aim to bring my students relevant content that will prepare them to be informed leaders that are capable of confronting future challenges. Our school teaches a social justice focused curriculum so my goal as an educator is to instill a love of learning about the natural world, but also a sense of stewardship and responsibility to the other creatures that share our home. Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked and too often, the most vulnerable populations, human and animal alike, bear the brunt of the abuses of the environment.

Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve.

Me and several of my younger students canoeing at the forest preserve. Photo credit: Silvia Gonzalez

I believe education and awareness are part of the biggest reasons ocean conservation is not a hot-topic issue for all Americans. Just look at how much of the country is inland! While my students and I may take a field trip to the wonderful Shedd Aquarium every now and then, the ocean, and the life within it, cannot help but remain an abstract concept for someone who has never seen it. I wish I could take them all on the ship, but for now, I hope that my experiences as a Teacher at Sea will help to open eyes to the reality of the oceans and shed more light on the importance of maintaining their health and creating a more environmentally-just future, not just for marine life, but for all life on this planet.


 

Signing Off

That’s all for now! Stay tuned over the next two weeks as the Shimada travels up and down the coast between Flint Rock Head, CA and Gray’s Head, OR, trawling for young rockfish and keeping its eyes peeled for seabirds and marine mammals.

Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.

Commercial fishing boats are docked for the night, with the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the distance.


 

Did You Know?

The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States of America. This means there is a chain of command, with the Executive Officer or XO in charge of overseeing all operations and issuing orders to maintain those operations onboard each NOAA ship. I’ll be sure to follow orders and do my part to make the cruise run smoothly!

Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.

Prints found atop Mount NOAA. Comment if you think you know what animal left these behind.

Denise Harrington: Getting Ready for an Adventure! March 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington

Almost Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
April 6 – April 18, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Kodiak Island
Date: March 28, 2014

My name is Denise Harrington, and I am a second grade teacher at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon. Our school sits at the base of the coastal mountain range in Oregon, with Coon Creek rup1000004nning past our playground toward the Pacific Ocean. South Prairie School boasts 360 entertaining, amazing second and third grade students and a great cadre of teachers who find ways to integrate science across the curriculum. We have a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grant that allowed me to meet Teacher at Sea alumni, Katie Sard, who spoke about her adventures aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.  I dreamed about doing something similar, applied, and got accepted into the program and am even on the same ship she was!

In Tillamook, we can’t help but notice how the tidal influence, flooding and erosion affect our land and waters.  Sometimes we can’t get to school because of flood days. The mountainside slips across the road after logging, and the bay fills with silt, making navigation difficult. As a board member for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership (TEP), I am proud to see scientists at work, collecting data on the changing landscape and water quality.  They work to improve fish passage and riparian enhancement. Working with local scientists and educators, our students have also been able to study their backyard, estuary, bays and oceans.

Now that we have studied the creek by our school, the estuary and Tillamook Bay, with local scientists, it seems to be a logical progression to learn more about our larger community: the west coast of the North American Continent!  I hope the work we have done in our backyard, will prepare students to ask lots of educated questions as I make my journey north on Rainier with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) north to Alaska.

NOAA has the best and brightest scientists, cutting edge technology and access to the wildest corners of the planet we live on.  And I have got the most amazing assignment: mapping coastal waters of Alaska with the best equipment in the world!   NOAA Ship Rainier is “one of the most modern productive hydrographic survey platforms of its type in the world.”  Rainier can map immense survey areas in one season and produce 3-D charts.  These charts not only help boaters navigate safely, but also help us understand how our ocean floor is changing over time, and to better understand our ocean floor geology and resources, such as fisheries habitat.   Be sure to check out the Rainier link that tells more about the ship and its mission. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/ra

Rainier is going to be doing surveys in “some of the most rugged, wild and beautiful places Alaska has to offer,” says the ship’s Commanding Officer CDR Rick Brennan. I am so excited for this, as an educator, bird surveyor, and ocean kayaker. After departing from Newport, Oregon on April 7th, we will be travelling through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, the place many cruise ships go to see beautiful mountains and water routes. I have many more questions than I do answers. What kinds of birds will I see? Will I see whales and mountain peaks? Will the weather cooperate with our travels? Will the crew be willing to bear my insatiable questions?

Once we are through the Inside Passage, we will cross the Gulf of Alaska, which will take 2 ½ days. As we pass my brother’s home on the Kenai River, I will wave to him from the bow of Rainier. Will he see me? I think not. Sometimes I forget how big and wild Alaska is. Then we will arrive on the north side of Kodiak Island where we will prepare for a season of survey work by installing tide gauges.

I always love to listen to students’ predictions of a subject we are about to study. What do I know about tide gauges? Not a lot! Even though I can see the ocean from my kitchen window, I cannot claim to be an oceanographer or hydrographer. I had never even heard the word “hydrographer” until I embarked on this adventure! I predict I will be working with incredibly precise, expensive, complicated tools to measure not just the tide, but also the changes in sea level over time. I am excited to learn more about my neighbor, the ocean, how we measure the movement of the water, and how all that water moving around, and shifting of the earth affects the ocean floor. I am proud to be a member of the team responsible for setting up the study area where scientists will be working and collecting data for an entire season.  It will surely be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime!

 

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

Here are my two favorite travelling companions and children, Martin and Elizabeth.

In my final days before I embark, I am trying to pick up the many loose ends around the Garibaldi, Oregon home where I live with my dorky, talkative 18 year old son and 16 year old daughter who take after their mother. They share my love of the ocean and adventure. When they aren’t too busy with their friends, they join me surfing, travelling around the world, hiking in the woods, or paddling in our kayaks. Right now, Elizabeth is recovering from getting her tonsils out, but Martin is brainstorming ways to sneak my bright orange 17 foot sea kayak onto Rainier next week. I moonlight as a bird surveyor, have taxes to do and a classroom to clean up before I can depart on April 6. Once Rainier leaves Newport, I will become a NOAA Teacher at Sea, leaving Martin, Elizabeth and my students in the caring hands of my supportive family and co-workers.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

Here I am having fun with kayaking friends in California in December.

 

Having gone through the Teacher at Sea pre-service training, I feel more prepared to help the crew, learn about all the jobs within NOAA and develop great lesson plans to bring back to share with fellow educators. I want to bring back stories of scientists working as a team to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems. And I am looking forward to being part of that team!