Susan Kaiser: Safety and Teamwork Needed for Success, July 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 41 min N
Longitude:  82 deg 59 min W
Wind Speed: 5.61 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.33 C
Air Temperature: 29.33 C
Relative Humidity: 79.0%

Science and Technology Log

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Safety is first in the science classroom AND on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster too. Our expected departure was delayed by one day because the Public Announcement (PA) system was not working. Without the PA system, communication about emergency situations would not be possible. The ship’s crew worked to solve the problem themselves and also contacted outside help, but in the end a part had to be replaced so we stayed in port at Key West an extra day. Ships don’t sail without meeting safety requirements. By morning on Friday the system was working fine and the crew prepared to set sail.

Lt Josh Slater leads the science team safety briefing in the dry lab.

After boarding the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster one of our first tasks was to review the safety protocols of the ship with one of the ship’s officers.  We learned the whistle signals for man overboard (3 prolonged blasts of the alarm), fire (1 continuous blast of the alarm) and abandon ship (7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast) and the designated places to report in these situations. We will be practicing abandon ship in a drill very soon so I will report on that later. Since the ship works on a 24 hour schedule someone is always awake on board which means someone is always asleep too.  Lt. Slater stressed the importance of not being too loud and showing respect for others’ space.  After all this ship is home to the crew and the science team are guests in that home.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

Teamwork is critical on board the ship. The science team and the ship’s crew work closely to help each other achieve the best results and stay safe. Most of the data collected on this cruise uses divers. Twice each day, the science team meets to review the Plan of the Day or POD. This meeting allows team members to learn the expectations of them to meet the research objectives of the day. They also have the chance to provide input or to ask questions. What do you think is a main focus of this meeting?  You got it…Safety! While we waited for the PA system repair, the scientists checked their SCUBA gear again under the supervision of the ship’s crew members. This double-check insures all the equipment is safe to use.

After we steamed away from the keys, the scientists did a practice dive to simulate an unconscious diver at the surface. This drill included 5 science team divers as well as the ship’s crew and allowed them to practice their response in an emergency situation as well as deploying a small boat. A debriefing meeting afterward helped to identify the important tasks that need to be completed in the event of an emergency.   Practicing through drills allows a quick response to an unusual situation and helps everyone stay safe.

Unconscious diver drill. Pictured Ben Binder, Lt. Slater, and Chris Rawley. Sarah Fangman, who acts as the unconscious diver, is in the boat.

With the safety issues well-covered, the science team is ready to begin retrieving the “listening stations” called VR2s from their positions on the ocean floor tomorrow.  VR2 stands for Vemco Receiver 2 and is the model of the equipment used by the scientists use to collect fish movement information.  What do you think the “listening stations” are listening for? Read about the “listening stations” in a future posting of my blog. For now you can make an educated guess by reading for hints in this blog and answering this poll.

Personal Log

Mrs. Kaiser at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport ready to start her NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure!

Flying out of Reno, NV the plane took off heading south climbing quickly into the sky.  From my window seat I could see Pine Middle School below. Then after a quick glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the west, the plane turned gracefully eastward. As I looked down I could see the desert valleys that once lay beneath the ancient Pleistocene lakes, covering a good part of the Great Basin with water. Although it doesn’t seem possible, one can still find shells and marine fossils in these now desert locations. I thought how different the landscape is today compared to the distant past. Our environment is undergoing constant changes even though the processes may seem slow and may not be noticed from day to day.

This is why it is important to observe, record and think about all aspects of our environment and to be aware of small changes so we can predict if they may become big impacts. Soon I would be landing in Florida, a state very different from Nevada, and joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This team is one of many that makes observations of their marine ecosystem, recording data and interpreting any changes or patterns they notice. I am very pleased to join them for the next 2 weeks and expect to learn a great deal.

Greeting me at the airport were artistic decorations made of models of tropical fish found along the Florida coast.  High on the walls, they are creatively arranged in geometric patterns reminding me of synchronized swimmers competing in the Summer Olympics. These fish are more than art. They represent an important economic factor to Florida. They lure tourists for diving and snorkeling activities. Some of them are harvested for food or fished for sport. They are also important to the ecosystems of the coastal reefs and shore communities of Florida. I wonder what changes these scientists are seeing in this marine ecosystem. What are the solutions they will propose to the public? How can a balanced management meet the needs of people who live and work there? These are difficult questions to answer.

Great Basin at 30,000 ft. This area would have been covered with small lakes during the Pleistocene period.

It is dark when I arrive finally in Key West but a scientist meets me at the airport and drives me to the ship where I find my bunk and spend the night! Everyone has been very kind and helpful which makes participating in NOAA Teacher at Sea even more amazing – if that is even possible!

Susan Kaiser: Introduction: A 7th Grade Memory, June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 24 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A California coast tide pool.

A California coast tide pool.
Can you find the Sculpin fish?

My first ocean encounter happened while on an overnight field-trip to San Francisco in 7thgrade. Our Science Club traveled from Reno, Nevada by school bus to visit a museum, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and the tide pools on the coast. I had no idea how this experience would eventually impact my life. Our teachers, who were our guides, lead the group to a steep drop off where the land ends and the beach lies below.  Carefully we picked our way single file down a worn path cutting through a sea of ice plants descending slowly to the sandy shore. Outcroppings of rocks trapped the cold ocean water, forming small natural containers for water AND living sea organisms.  We had to step carefully to be sure of our footing and to avoid crushing the live inhabitants of these rocks. California mussels closed tight to preserve their moisture, and slippery seaweed covered most of the rock surface. They were waiting for the sea level to rise again. Peering into the sparkling pools revealed spiny purple sea urchins, colorful sea stars and tiny crabs, betrayed by their movement across the pool bottom. Seeing these organisms up close was amazing to me and created a lifelong memory.  It awakened a curiosity about living things that inspired me to study biology in college and become a science teacher.

I am Susan Kaiser and I teach 7th grade Life Science at Pine Middle School in Reno, Nevada. Soon, I will be embarking on a voyage that combines all of these elements: biology, sea organisms and teaching. It promises to be even more memorable than my first trip to a tide pool.  Best of all, I get to bring my students at Pine along with me! Well, at least through this blog…read along and see what is in store.

Since, 1990 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been including teachers on board their research vessels through a unique program called Teacher at Sea. Each year teachers apply from across the county and about 25 are selected to participate. After several years of wanting to apply, I finally mustered my courage and completed an application. I am proud to have been selected and will sail aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster leaving from the port of Key West, Florida.  I will have the opportunity to observe and learn about organisms in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the help of the crew and scientists led by chief scientist, Scott Donahue. Their research includes monitoring sensitive marine organisms over a long period of time. In this way, scientists can detect population changes that may occur due to extreme events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms (HAB) or more recently, impacts of possible oil spill contamination. You can see that I have some homework to do to prepare for this adventure. I am reading the websites you can click on and learning all I can to contribute to the success of the mission.

Kaiser Family snorkeling in 2005

Here we are snorkeling and meeting a ray in 2005! That is me on the left. Then my sons, Nathan and Stefan, my daughter, Rachel, and my husband , Phillip.

If it could get any more exciting, I saved the biggest news for last. In addition to working alongside the scientists and living on an ocean-going vessel for two weeks,  I may also have the opportunity to snorkel in the coral reef study areas. To be truthful, my snorkeling skills are a little rusty. Living in the desert makes it a challenge to stay in practice! The last time I snorkeled was on a family vacation in 2005. But not to worry, I have a plan. I have been spending time at the pool practicing with the snorkel equipment I borrowed from my friend and colleague at Pine Middle School, Jencie Fagan. It turns out that Ms. Fagan is SCUBA certified and willing to help me build my skills before I set sail next month. Thank you Ms. Fagan, you rock!

My snorkeling tutor

Me and my snorkeling tutor, Jencie Fagan.
Photo by Larissa Hirning

It is time for my practice session at the pool. The next time you read my blog I will be writing from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. Join me on this  adventure of ocean learning. What memory will you make of your 7th grade year in Science?