Ashley Cosme: Special Situation Lights, September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 11, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 28 40.5N
  • Longitude: 91 08.5W
  • Wind speed: 22 Knots
  • Wind direction: 080 (East)
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility: 10 miles
  • Barometric pressure: 1014.5 atm
  • Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
  • Sea Water Temp: 29.9°C
  • Dry Bulb: 25.9°C
  • Wet Blub: 24.6°C

 

Science and Technology:

When NOAA Corps officers go through training they learn a poem to help them remember how to identify Special Situation Lights on other vessels.

Red over green, sailing machine.

Red over white, fishing boat in sight.

Green over white, trawling at night.

White over red, pilot ahead.

Red over red, captain is dead.

mast of the Oregon II

The mast of the Oregon II is identified by the arrow.

When driving a vessel like the Oregon II it is always important to have the ability to analyze the radar, locate other vessels in the water, and determine their current situation by reading their mast lights.  Line 1 of the poem describes a vessel that is currently sailing by use of wind without the use of an engine, line 2 describes a boat engaged in fishing operations, line 3 indicates that the vessel is currently trawling a net behind the boat, line 4 indicates that the vessel is a pilot boat (a boat containing a pilot, who helps guide larger tanker and cargo ships into harbors), and line 5 of the poem is used for a situation when the vessel is not operating properly and other vessels should steer clear.

 

 

 

Personal Log:

blacktip shark

NOAA Scientist, Adam, Pollack, and I measuring and tagging a blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

There are currently three named storms in the Atlantic, including a category 4 hurricane (Florence) that is headed towards the Carolinas.  I have never experienced a bad storm while out on the water.  The waves the last 24 hours have ranged from 3-5 feet, with an occasional 8 foot wave.  We have changed our port call location and will now be going back to Pascagoula, Mississippi instead of Galveston, Texas.  There was also no internet for part of the day so my team and I sat in the dry lab and told ghost stories.  I was also introduced to the “dinosaur game” in Google Chrome, which is sort of like a low budget Mario.  Apparently it is the dinosaur’s birthday so he is wearing a birthday hat.

I am still making the most of every minute that I am out here.  Our last haulback was very active with many large blacktip sharks.  It is a workout trying to handle the sharks on deck, while collecting all required data, and getting them back in the water as fast as possible.  I am loving every second!

 

 

Did you know:

Sharks possess dermal denticles (skin teeth) that makes their skin feel rough when running your hand tail to nose.  Shark skin used to be used as sandpaper before it was commercially manufactured.  It can also give you shark burn, which is sort of like a rug burn, if the shark brushes up against you.

 

Animals Seen:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

Blacknose Shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Flying Fish (Exocoetus peruvianus)

Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus)

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Thomas Savage: Which radars are used on the bridge? August 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 6, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge

Wind speed 14 knots
Visibility: 5 nautical  miles
Barometer: 1007.5 mB
Temp:  8.5 C     47 F
Cloud Height: 10,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet

Science and Technology 

The focus of the NOAA ship Fairweather is to generate and update existing maps of the ocean floor called hydrography. The ship is outfitted with state of the art mapping equipment which uses single and multibeam sonar in capturing the physical topography of the ocean floor (more on this in a future blog).  The region we are mapping is located off the coast of Point Hope in north west Alaska.  It takes an amazing amount of technology especially navigational tools located in the bridge to navigate the ship within this challenging region called the Chukchi Sea.  There are two types of radar on the bridge used to navigate the ship using different radio frequencies, the X band and S band.

The X Band radar generates radio waves with 3 cm and 9 GHz, respectively. The radar is positioned high above the bridge and has the ability to pick up ships up to 40 miles in the distance. During the best weather conditions, officers on the bridge can see the horizon at a distance of 6 miles with the highest powered binoculars and make out other vessels out to about 14 miles. This radar extends the visual range of officers especially identifying ships that are not visible through the use of binoculars. This radar is useful for detecting smaller objects such as small boats in the vicinity of the ship, due to its ability to better resolve smaller objects.

The S Band radar generates radio waves with 9cm and 3 GHz … for context, a microwave oven operates at around 2.5 GHz; a car radio receives at 0.1 GHz (though most people think in MHz… e.g. “You’re listening to The Mountain on 105.9 (MHz)”… the lower frequency of the radio means it’s even less affected by rain and can travel even farther – both good things if you’re running a radio station). This type sound wave have longer distances between each crest. As a result, the sound wave can better track larger objects than the X band and objects at greater distances. In addition, this radar can be used to detect ships through walls of rain. This radar is used by weather forecasters to track types of precipitation, direction and severity and to identify possible rotations that could develop tornado. Another unique property of this radar is its ability to track precipitation on the other side of mountains. In this region of Point Hope, the Brooks Range is visible to the east and knowing the precipitation and direction is important for planning ship operations.

 

X Band Radar

Ensign Tennyson operating the X Band Radar

Another vital role of these radars is to track current position of the ship when anchored. By using four known coordinates of physical objects on land, in our case, the Brooks Range, located to our east, and known peninsulas are targeted. Officers will use the alidade (and compass rose) located outside the bridge to get their bearings and confirm the ships geographic coordinates. This information reveals whether the ship’s anchor is being dragged.

Alidade

Ensign Tennyson operating an alidade

 

Geography – Point Hope is located just above the Arctic Circle; why is NOAA mapping this region?  The sea ice in this region of Point Hope continues to disappear as a reflection of increased global temperatures. This has generated an opportunity for merchant ships to sail north of Canada instead of using the Panama Canal. The mapping of the ocean floor will provide mariners accurate maps resulting in safer passage.

Personal Log

My journey began at 6 am as my plane from the Asheville airport departed. Traveling over Alaska viewing the Rockies and glaciers from the window has been inspiring and reveals how big Alaska really is.  As soon as I landed in Nome, Alaska, around 1 am eastern time, I was reminded again how important it is to be flexible when participating in any NOAA research. After meeting up with the junior officer at the airport, he informed me that the ship is leaving in two hours due to an approaching storm. Scientists conducting research on board a ship at sea are always at the mercy of mother nature. Everyone on board NOAA’s hydrographic ship Fairweather has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made my transition to life at sea smooth. The tradition of excellent food on board NOAA ships continues!!

Flying out of Asheville

Flying out of Asheville

 

I am looking forward to learning as much as I can during this three week adventure and bring back inspiring lessons and labs to the classroom. It is always my hope and vision to provide real world science in action to excite and encourage our students to explore and possible explore careers in science.

Until next time, happy sailing !

~ Tom

 

 

 

 

Brandy Hill: How to Mow the Lawn and Needle Gunnin’, July 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 – July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 3, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29° 17.5’ N

Longitude: 094° 27.7’ W

Visibility: 10+ NM

Sky Condition: 3/8

Wind: 10 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.5° C

Air: 31.1° C

 

Science and Technology Log

Radar

The ship is equipped with AIS or automatic identification system. AIS is the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport. It provides unique identification, position, course, and speed of ships equipped with AIS. All vessels with 300 or more gross tonnage and all passenger ships must be equipped with AIS.

In the beginning, it took me a little while to realize that we were passing by some of the same oil platforms and seeing the same ships on the radar screen (above). For example, today the Thomas Jefferson covered many nautical miles within the same 2.5 NM area. This is characteristic of a hydrographic survey. A sheet (area to be surveyed) is split into sections and a plan is devised for the ship to cover (using sonar) the area in a “mow the lawn” approach. In the photo below, you can see the blue lines clustered together. These are the main scheme lines and provide the majority of data. The lines going perpendicular in a loose “zig-zag” to the main scheme lines are called crosslines. While main scheme provides the majority of sonar data, crosslines provide validation. For every 100 nautical miles of main scheme, 4 NM of cross lines (4%) must be completed.

CoastalExplorer

You can see the main scheme and cross lines in this image using the Coastal Explorer program.

You can also see the main scheme and crossline(s) in the Hypack viewer below. Hypack is a software program controlled from the Plot (Survey) Room and is duplicated on a screen on the Bridge (steering deck). This allows Bridge watch standers to see track lines and the desired line azimuth (direction). In this case the line azimuth is around 314°. Additionally, the bottom portion showing -0.0 means that the ship is precisely on track (no cross-track errors). Typically, during a survey from the main ship, there is room for up to 10 meters of error in either direction and the sonar data coverage will still be complete. Once the course is set, the ship can be driven in autopilot and manually steered when making a turn. The high-tech equipment allows the rudder to correct and maintain the desired course and minimize cross-track error. Still, at least two people are always on the bridge: an officer who makes the steering orders and maintains watch and a helmsman who steers the ship. I was fortunate to be able to make two cross line turns after a ship steering lesson from AB (able seaman) Tom Bascom who has been on ships his whole life.

HyPack

Hypack software is one point of communication between Survey and the Bridge Watch.

Communication between Survey and the Bridge Watch is critical. Every time the ship makes a turn, the side scan towfish and MVP must be taken in. The Bridge also notifies Survey if there are any hazards or reasons to pull in survey equipment.

At night, the ship is put into “night mode” and all lights are switched to red. The windows are covered with a protective tinted sheet and all computer screens switch over. The CO leaves a journal with posted Night Orders. These include important summary points from the day and things to look out for at night It also includes a reminder to complete hourly security rounds since most shipmates are asleep. A “Rules of the Road” section is included which serves as a daily quiz for officers. My favorite part of CO’s Night Orders are the riddles, but they are quite difficult and easy to over think. So far, I have guessed one out of five correctly.

Bridge Watch Night Vision

ENS Sydney Catoire explains how important it is to preserve your night vision while maintaining watch, thus the dimming and/or use of red lighting. Her favorite watch time is from 0800-1200.

CO Night Orders from June 28, 2018

CO Night Orders from June 28, 2018

With a lot of my time spent looking at computer screens in survey, I was happy to spend an afternoon outside with the Deck Crew. Their job is highly diverse. Rob Bayliss, boatswain group leader, explained that the crew is responsible for maintaining the deck and ship. This includes an ongoing battle with rust, priming, painting, and refinishing surfaces. Rob wiped his hand along the rail and showed the massive amount of salt crystals collected throughout the day. The crew has a PR event and will give public tours the day we arrive in port, so the ship is in full preparation!

Needle Gun

I was introduced to the needle gun- a high powered tool used for pounding paint and rust off surfaces to prepare them for the wire wheel and paint primer. CO thanked me for my contribution at maintaining the preservation of the TJ.

Revarnishing Deck Work

One of the Thomas Jefferson wooden plaques sanded and receiving a fresh coat of varnish.

I also spoke with Chief Boatswain, Bernard Pooser. He (along with many crew members) have extensive experience in the navy. Pooser enjoys life on the ship but says, “It’s not for everyone; you have to make it work for you.” He claims that the trick is to find a work and recreation balance while on the ship. He gave me some examples like being sure to take breaks and have fun. Pooser even pulled out a corn hole set that we may use one of these evenings.

Chief Boatswain Bernard Pooser

Chief Boatswain Bernard Pooser

 

Peaks

+ It’s been fun being on the bridge at night because all of the ships and platforms light up.

+ I was given my own stateroom which was nicely furnished by its usual occupant. She has even installed a hammock chair!

+I hadn’t realized how responsive the ship would be when steering. At 208 feet, I thought it would be a bit more delayed. The maximum turn angle is 35 degrees and we have usually been making turns around between 5-15 degrees.

+We saw two sea turtles and dolphins while taking bottom samples! (See future post.)

 

Heather O’Connell: Voyage through the Inside Passage, June 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Heather O’Connell

NOAA Ship Rainier

June 7 – 21, 2018

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska

Date: 6/9/18

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude and Longitude : 49°49.7’ N, 124 °56.8’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 5 knots, Air Temperature: 12.2°C

Science and Technology Log

Today while in transit through the Inside Passage, I learned to mark the position of the vessel from the pilot house, or Bridge of the ship, using three different methods thanks to Junior Officer Airlie Pickett. Utilizing this triangulation of data ensures accuracy in the placement of the ship on the two dimensional chart located on the port side of the bridge. This process must be completed every fifteen minutes when the ship is in motion close to small landmasses or every thirty minutes when further from land.

The first method involves choosing three different landmarks and recording the angular measurement to the body using alidades. Alidades are located on the port and starboard sides directly outside of the Bridge. When looking at your landmark, it is important to choose the easternmost or westernmost side of the body with a more prominent feature. When viewing the landmass through the alidade, there will be a bearing of the object in relation to the bridge. Once you have the measurements, use the north lines on the map as the zero degree of the protractor and mark a line with the proper angular measurement from the landmass. Repeat this process for the other two locations. Then, draw a circle within the triangle formed from the three intersecting lines along with the time to mark the placement of the ship.

Alidade on the port side of ship

Alidade on the port side of ship

Another way to mark the placement of the vessel visually is to look at the radar for three known landmarks. Record the distance to each landmark. One nautical mile equals one minute of latitude. Longitude cannot be used for distance since these values change as you approach the poles of the Earth. Use a compass to mark the appropriate distance from the scale on the perimeter of the map. Then, draw an arc with the compass from the landmass. Repeat this process for both of the other landmarks. The three arcs intersect at the current location of the vessel and should be marked with a circle and the time.

Protractor and compass

Protractor and compass used to mark the course of the ship on the chart.

The two visual methods for marking the placement of the vessel are used in conjunction with an electronic fix. The digital latitude and longitude recording  from the G.P.S, or Global Positioning System, provides the third check. This data is recorded and then charted using the latitude and longitude marks on the perimeter of the chart.

Another responsibility of the navigator is to mark on the nautical chart the approximate location of the ship moving forward. This is called D.R, or dead reckon, and it shows where you would be if you were to continue on coarse at the current speed for up to two hours.

Personal Log

As we approached the Inside Passage, a feeling of peace and serenity came over me as I viewed snow capped mountains beyond islands with endless evergreen trees. The feelings of the navigators may be different since this is a treacherous journey to traverse, although it is preferred to the open sea. The Inside Passage proves to be a great learning opportunity for new junior officers without much navigation experience. However, due to the weather issues and narrow passages, the Commanding Officer, Senior Watch Officer and Officer of the Deck have extended experience navigating the Inside Passage.

The strong currents at Seymour Narrows in British Columbia can make this voyage dangerous. This was taken into consideration and we crossed them during slack tide, the time between high and low tide, with a current of only about two knots. Tides can get as high as 15 knots during maximum ebb and flood tides. The visible circular tides, or eddies, are created from the current coming off of Vancouver Island being forced into a narrow channel. As Senior Survey Technician Jackson shared, the Seymour Narrows once had Ripple Rock, a two peak mountain, that caused several shipwrecks and was home to the largest non-nuclear explosion in North America in 1958.

Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows

Inside Passage by Seymour Narrows

As we entered the Inside Passage, islands covered in Western red cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock provided the beautiful green amongst the spectacular ocean and sky blue. These colors paint the canvas indicative of the Pacific Northwest that make my soul feel at home. The cloud covered sky could be seen in every direction. We saw moon jellyfish floating by from the flying bridge and later a group of porpoises jumping up out of the water. The watch from the deck crew would spot lighthouses and fishing boats with binoculars well before anyone with a naked eye. I observed the approaching sunset from the bow of the ship and felt gratitude for the day.

Approaching sunset in Inner Passage

Inner Passage Sunset

Did You Know?

There are two different types of radar on the Bridge. S Band radar sends out pulses between 4 and 8 centimeters at 2-4 GHz and can go over longer distances. This is helpful to determine what is happening far from the boat. The X Band radar sends out smaller pulses of 2.5 -4 cm at 8-12 GHertz and can create a clear image of what is occurring close to the boat. Both radar systems provide useful information and must be used in conjunction with one another to have an understanding of what is happening near and far from the ship.

Source – https://www.everythingweather.com/weather-radar/bands.shtml

Louise Todd, From the Bridge, September 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots

Science and Technology Log:

This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II.  Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate, and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!

The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots.  It was built in 1967.  It has two engines although usually only one engine is used.  The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf.  The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line.  My stateroom is below the water line!  Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.

The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation.  There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles.  These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys.  When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination.  The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms,  as they develop.

Radar Screen

The radar screen is on the far right

Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.

The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car.  ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes.  Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.

Charts

Navigation charts

When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line.  It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship.  While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed.  Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed.  The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back.  The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in.  The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back.  The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge.  A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!

Personal Log:

I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge!  Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus.  Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station.  We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.

The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake.  We’ve had nice weather too!  A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.

Did you Know?

The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth.  There are A, B and C stations.  A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms.  B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms.  C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms.  One fathom is equal to 6 feet.  A fathometer is used to measure the depth.

Fathometer

The fathometer is the screen on the left

Marsha Skoczek: Who’s Driving this Ship, Anyway? July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia
Date:  July 9, 2012

Location:
Latitude:  31.30748N
Longitude:  79.43986W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.5C (84 F)
Wind Speed:   10.4 knots (11.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity:  81%
Barometric Pressure:  1015.7
Surface Water Temperature:  27.88C (82.4F)

Science and Technology Log

Today, the current was too strong in the area we were going to send the ROV.  The boat and the ROV were not able to keep close enough to the assigned transect line, so the dives for today were cancelled.  Since we had some extra time until the Pisces was able to get us to our next location, I decided to spend some time on the bridge learning about how the Pisces works.

Myself and ENS Pawlishen working on the nautical charts.

Third Officer, Pete Langolis, was on duty when I got to the bridge, and he was nice enough to show me around.  After he let me ring the bell for the noon test of the master alarm system, we got started.  The Pisces is able to keep its course by using both a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.  The magnetic compass has the potential for interference depending on the conditions around it such as the roof of the ship, the types of metals that make up the ship, etc.  To find the correct bearing for the Pisces to travel along, the officer on duty has to take into consideration four factors, where is true north, the variation from the compass rose on the nautical chart, where is magnetic north, and the deviation from magnetic north from the deviation card (this will be different from ship to ship).  This all calculates into the correct compass heading for the officer on the bridge to drive the ship.  Once the correct heading is calculated, it can be programmed into the ship’s tracking computers as well as the bow thruster which acts as an autopilot for the ship.  Every thirty minutes, the officer on deck has to verify with the paper nautical charts that the ship is still on the correct heading.  Any variations from the original heading can be corrected simply by changing the direction on the autopilot.  You can follow along with our current position using the NOAA Ship Tracker website.  Select Pisces from the box in the upper left.

When you are out in the middle of the open ocean, the last thing you want to do is run into another vessel.  The Pisces is equipped with two different radar systems that help look for other ships in the area.  The S-Band radar sends out a longer pulse signal which is good for locating ships that are further away and also seeing through dense fog.  The X Band radar sends out a short pulse signal which better helps to locate ships in closer proximity to the Pisces.

X band radar showing the location of ships near the Pisces

Both of these radars are tied to the Automated Information System (AIS) as well as the Global Positioning System (GPS).  The information about each ship identified on the radar screen can be pulled up and used to help steer the Pisces around other vessels such as cargo ships, commercial fishing vessels, or other military vessels. All targets located by the radar need to be visually confirmed by the officer on deck to insure that they are not on a course that will come too close to the Pisces.

Engine monitor screen on the bridge.

The Pisces has a single propeller  that is powered by two electric motors.  These motors are powered by four diesel generators.  Before we could leave port last Friday, we had to fuel up with 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  This took about six hours to complete.  This amount of fuel should last the Pisces several months at sea.  The whole propulsion system can be monitored electronically from the bridge to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

So, who actually drives the ship?  Three NOAA Corps officers share bridge watch in shifts of 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  This doesn’t mean they spend the other 8 hours sleeping. All of the officers on board Pisces have other responsibilities such as the Navigation Officer (NAV), the Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and the Commanding Officer (CO).  Before a new junior ensign can be left on their own to be in charge of the bridge, not only do they complete a twenty-week training, they will also spend about six months shadowing a senior officer.  This lets them get hands on training and experience while still having someone watching over their shoulder double checking everything.  After all, the lives of everyone aboard the Pisces depend on them doing everything correctly.

Personal Log

Being out to sea away from land is not something I have ever done before.  I am struck by the vastness of the ocean.  Everywhere you

Lobate ctenophores are translucent and give off a bioluminescent glow. Bolinopsis infundibulum. Picture: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

look, there is nothing but blue water.  It is truly hypnotizing.  Also, knowing that there might not be another vessel within hundreds of miles of us is a little weird.  Last night I went out with my roommate, Stephanie, to see the stars.  There is no light pollution out here in the open ocean, so we were able to see every star in the sky, including the Milky Way Galaxy.  It was an incredible view.  We also could see the bioluminescent organisms as they were getting turned up in the ship’s wake, animals such as jellyfish, copepods, and ostracods.  It was really neat to see bioluminescence in action.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed NOAA Corps officers Ensign Michael Doig and Ensign Junior Officer Douglas Pawlishen.

Ensign Michael Doig

ENS Doig, what is your job title?  I am the Navigation Officer for the Pisces and an Ensign in the NOAA Corps.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I am one of the officers that has bridge duty to steer the ship.  I also keep the nautical charts up to date, maintain the ship’s inventory, and train the new junior ensigns.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Zoology from University of Hawaii and a Masters’ Degree in Science Education.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico on board the Pisces.  One of the coolest things I have seen is a pod of orca whales trying to kill a baby sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico.  The baby sent out a distress call and all of the adult sperm whales encircled the baby to protect it.  The baby sperm whale was saved.

How is the NOAA Corps different from other jobs?  First, when you apply for the NOAA Corps, they look at all of the math and science courses you have taken in college.  They are looking for students with strong background in those fields.  After you are accepted and make it through training, you are assigned to a NOAA ship for two years.  After those two years, you can apply for a land assignment, but that will probably only last for about three years before you have to go back out to sea on a new ship.  You work year round and are granted thirty days of personal leave for the year.

Since your time on the Pisces is almost finished, what land assignment are you applying for at the end of your two years?  I have applied to work in the Miami NOAA branch studying coral reef restoration.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a scientist?  Companies are always looking for employees with strong backgrounds in science. Don’t be afraid of those upper level physics classes or upper level math classes.  Get in there and do it!!

 

Junior Ensign Douglas Pawlishen

Ensign Pawlishen, what is your job title?  I am an Ensign Junior Officer aboard the Pisces.  This is my first ship assignment in the NOAA Corps and I just started on the ship last Thursday.

What type of job responsibilities do you have on this ship? To shadow Ensign Doig so he can train me about life aboard the Pisces.

Why did you decide to join the NOAA Corps?  I wanted a job where I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all day every day doing the same thing over and over again.  With my science background, I thought the NOAA Corps offered me the opportunity to do something more hands on and different every day.

What type of education do you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree from University of Massachusetts  Amherst in Natural Resources and  a minor in both Criminal Justice and Wildlife Management.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Well, since I am brand new, I haven’t really been out to sea yet.  My best experience so far was aboard the Coast Guard Eagle, which is a massive sail boat confiscated in World War II from the Germans.  All of the NOAA Corps cadets along with the Coast Guard cadets have to spend two weeks on board sailing the Coast Guard Ship Eagle and developing our team work skills.

Lesley Urasky: Get that fish outta here! The invasive lionfish, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 24, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 19.8584
Longitude: -66.4717

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   16 knots (18 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure:   1,015.3 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Lionfish in its native habitat. ( Source: National Geographic; Photograph by Wolcott Henry)

Science and Technology Log

One of the species the scientists are continually scanning for in their videos is the appearance of the Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles); this is one fish they’re hoping not to see.  It is not native to these waters and is what is known as an invasive or exotic  species.

An invasive species is one that is not indigenous (native) to an ecosystem or area.  Many times these organisms are able to exponentially increase their populations because they may have no natural predators, competition for resources, or they may be able to utilize those resources not used by native organisms.  Most invasions are caused by human actions.  This may involve intentional introduction (many invasive plant species were brought in to create a familiar environment or crop/foraging source), accidentally (rats travelling on ships to distant ports), or unintentionally (people releasing pets that they can no longer take care of). Invasive organisms are problematic because:

  • They can reduce natural biodiversity and native species.
    • Push other species to extinction
    • Interbreed, producing hybrids
  • Degrade or change ecosystem functions
  • Economically:
    • They can be expensive to manage
    • Affect locally produced products causing a decline in revenue (decline of honey bees due to a mite infestation which, in turn, decreases pollination rates)

Within its native habitat, the Indo-Pacific region, the Lionfish  (Pterois volitans/miles) is not a problem because that is where they evolved.  It is in the family Family Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes). They inhabit reef systems between depths of 10 m – 175 m.  During the day, they generally can be found within crevices along the reef; at night they emerge to forage in deeper waters, feeding upon smaller fish and crustaceans.

Native range of the Lionfish

Lionfish are venomous and when a person is “stung” by the spines on the dorsal fin, they experience extreme pain, nausea, and can have breathing difficulties.  However, a sting is rarely fatal.  Despite the hazards of the spines, Lionfish are a popular aquarium species.  The problem arises when pet owners irresponsibly get rid of the fish in their aquariums.  Instead of giving them away to pet shops, schools, organizations, or other fish enthusiasts, or contacting a local veterinarian about how to humanely dispose of them, they release them into a nearby marine body of water.  It’s important to realize that even the smallest, seemingly isolated act can have such large consequences.  Remember, if one person is doing it, chances are, others are too. The responsibility of owning an organism is also knowing how to manage it; we need to realize how to protect our marine habitats.

This is where the problem in the Atlantic began.  The occurrence of Lionfish was first noticed along the southeastern coast of Florida in 1985.  An invasive species is considered established when a breeding population develops.  Since their establishment in the waters off of Florida, they have rapidly spread throughout the Atlantic as far north as Rhode Island/Massachusetts , throughout the Caribbean, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Animated map depicting the spread of the Lionfish

While on our cruise every sighting of a Lionfish was cause for further examination.  There was one Lionfish that exhibited a behavior that Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist) had never seen before.  The fish was on the bottom and moving himself along instead of freely swimming.  Videos like this are instrumental in helping scientists figure out Lionfish behavior in their “new” environment as well as their interactions with the surrounding organisms and environment.  Hopefully, as this database continues to grow, scientists will develop new understandings of the Lionfish and its effect on the waters of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.

Divers are encouraged to kill any Lionfish they encounter.  The only safe way to do this is from a distance (remember, their dorsal spines are venomous); usually, this is accomplished by using a spear gun.  The Commander of the Pisces, Peter Fischel,  was doing a final dive off the pier before we left St. Croix.  He saw three Lionfish, speared them, and brought them to the scientific crew for data collection.  These were frozen and placed in a Ziploc back for preservation.  They will be examined back at the lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Three Lionfish caught along the Frederickstad, St. Croix pier. (Notice the 6″ ruler for scale.)

Personal Log

The science portion of the cruise is coming to a close. Today was our last day of sampling.  As with yesterday, no fish were caught by the day crew, so we were able to begin cleaning and packing throughout the day instead of waiting until the end.  A few days after we arrive in Mayport, Florida, the Pisces will be going out on another cruise along the east coast.  On Sunday, July 1st, Joey Salisbury will be arriving in Mayport with a trailer to unload all the scientific equipment and personal gear from this research cruise.

Bandit reel with St. Thomas in the background

In addition to packing, the wet lab and deck have to be cleaned.  This entails scrubbing down the tables, coolers, and rails along the deck where we baited our hooks to remove all the fish “scum” that has accumulated over the past three weeks.  Between the four of us, we were able to make quick work of the job.  There is only one task left for me to do, and that is to take all of our leftover bait, Atlantic Mackerel, and throw it overboard once we are away from the islands.  (The bait has been used over the course of the past two years, and has essentially outlived its freshness.)

Day operations crew on the Pisces Caribbean Reef Fish Survey (left to right: Ariane Frappier, Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist), Joey Salisbury, and myself).


I want to thank all the scientists on the day operations crew and the deck hands for making me feel so welcome, being ever so patient as I learned how to bait hook, load the bandit reel, remove otoliths, sex  the fish, and answer every type of question I had.  They’re all amazing people and are passionate about their jobs.  Kevin was not only great at thoroughly answering any and all questions, but anticipated those I might have and brought interesting things to my attention.  Thank you everyone for an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!

Another incredible person that helped make my trip memorable is my roommate, NOAA Operations Officer, Kelly Schill.  She was very welcoming and made me feel immediately at home on the ship.  She gave me a thorough tour and introduced me to the crew.  I interviewed her briefly about her job in the NOAA Corps.

Kelly Schill, Operations Officer aboard the NOAA ship Pisces. (Source: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov)

LU: Kelly, what is your job title and what do you do?

KS: I am a Lieutenant junior grade in the NOAA Corps.  The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 uniformed services and I serve as the Operations Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

LU: How long have you been working with NOAA?

KS: I have worked for NOAA a total of 4 years; 3 of which were aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as a NOAA Corps Officer. My first year, I was a physical scientist and developed geospatial visualizations to assist in the generation of navigational warnings and maritime safety information for Dangers to Navigation for the NOAA and contractor surveys.  I assisted NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in the field with the acquisition, converting and cleaning of multi-beam and side-scan sonar data.

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, my responsibility is to be the liaison between the ship’s crew and scientific party to ensure the mission is carried out smoothly and efficiently.  A big part of my job is to handle the logistics and transportation, such as project planning and setting up dockage at different ports from Texas to the Caribbean up to Massachusetts. Most importantly, to continue to learn the intricacies of the ship, effectively operate, and practice safe navigation at all times.

LU: What background and skills are necessary for your job?

KS:  A Bachelors Degree of sciences.  You must complete a year of chemistry, physics and calculus.  Geographic information System (GIS) is equally important. To be well-rounded, internships or field research experience is highly recommended.

Kelly Schill showing off the otolith she just extracted from a Red Hind.

LU: What type(s) of training have you been through for your job?

KS: Being in the uniform service, I was sent to Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC) to learn military etiquette, terrestrial and celestial navigation, safety aboard ships, search and rescue, fire prevention, hands on experience in driving small boats up to larger vessels, etc.  Once out of BOTC and on an assigned ship, I was able to attend further training:  hazardous material courses, dive school, rescue swimming, and medical. There are many more opportunities that were offered. I have only touched on a few.

LU: Have you worked on other ships not associated with scientific research?  If so, what was your job and what type of ship was it?

KS: No, all my experiences were on ships regarding scientific research:  NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (hydrographic ship) and the NOAA Ship Pisces (fisheries ship).

LU: Does being on a science research ship bring any specific/different expectations than being on another type of merchant ship?

KS: I am unfamiliar with the expectations on a merchant ship.  Generally, the research vessels are used to support studies intended to increase the public’s understanding of the world’s oceans and climate. Research vessels are not set on a point A to point B system. Various operations are conducted from fisheries, bathymetry, oceanographic, to marine mammal data collection.   These various research projects dictate operation area.  Contrary to research vessels, merchant ships usually have a set destination, from point A to point B transporting cargo of one type or another.

LU:  We are in the middle of a huge ocean, and our destination – a specific sampling site – is a pinpoint on a map. What has to be considered to make sure you get to the exact location?

NOAA ship Pisces ECDIS map. This is a nautical map that is updated monthly.

Closeup of navigational maps showing the location of our sampling sites.

KS:  We use a number of tools: ECDIS, Rosepoint, paper charts, GPS, Dynamic Positioning, and of course manual operation. The scientists will provide a location where they want the ship to be for operations to take place. We use all navigational tools to navigate to that position by creating a route, based on a good GPS feed. Navigational tools include: ECDIS (shows an electronic vector chart), Rosepoint (shows an electronic raster chart), and paper charts.  Multiple navigational tools are for redundancy to ensure safe navigation.

All routes are created on the side of safety to avoid collision with shoals, wrecks, land, neighboring ships, platforms, buoys, obstructions, etc. Once, we are close to our sampling station, the ship is set up into the wind or the current (whichever force is stronger), reduce propulsion, turn rudder hard over to one side to assist in the reduction of propulsion and to line up on a heading in favor of wind or current. The bow thruster can assist in turns as well. Depending on how strict the mission is to hold an exact coordinate, the dynamic position is dialed in and activated.  Otherwise, the watch stander will manually control the engine speed, bow thruster, and rudder to maintain position utilizing outside forces, such as wind, swell, wave state, and currents.

The ship’s radar. The yellow objects at the bottom are St. Thomas and its surrounding small islands, while other vessels will appear in green.

LU: Once we reach a site, what do you need to do to maintain that position during the sampling process?

KS: Every ship has its perks and not all are the same in maintaining a position during the sampling process. Our ship has dynamic positioning (DPS) which uses the rudder, propulsion, and a bow thruster simultaneously to hold position. However, just like any software system, it only works as well as the operator.  The parameters have to be just right to accomplish this goal.  Parameters are set up based on wind speed, swells, sea state, and currents.  All must jive for a positive outcome. Our ship works more efficiently facing into the wind or current; whichever force is the strongest. If both are strong, we split the difference. Should either the bow thruster, main engine, or steering fail, the dynamic position will not properly compensate.

Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) screen. This instrument helps hold the ship at a precise location.

Kelly, thanks for the interview as well as being a great role model for women!  Remember, girls, if you want it, go get it!