Mary Cook: My First Day at Sea! March 19, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Saturday, March 19, 2016
Time: 8:28pm

Weather Data from the Bridge
1013 millibars
0.2 knots
N59° 01.607’, W136° 10.159’
Weather Conditions:
Intermittent light rain

Science Blog
Before the Norseman II left port, the Boatswain conducted all the required ship safety drills with us: fire drill, man overboard, and abandon ship. This is where we learned to don the emergency flotation suit, gathered at the Muster Station for roll call, and went over procedures in case of an emergency. These drills are taken very seriously.

Ranger Greg is a good sport

We left the port of Auke Bay just north of Juneau at around 10 pm Friday night and steamed into Glacier Bay to arrive at Bartlett Cove this morning at 9 am. We disembarked to attend a required safety orientation for Glacier Bay National Park. Ranger Greg informed us that he had recently seen 4 humpback whales headed into the Bay! Also, that orca live in the Bay year round. Many of the channels are ice-free now because it is warmer than usual for this time of year.

After the brief stop at Bartlett Cove, we steamed into the East Arm of Glacier Bay toward White Thunder Ridge. Many of us were on deck with binoculars looking for wildlife and enjoying the scenic snow-capped mountains. We saw birds, otters, moose and mountain goats!


Chief Scientist Dr. Waller conducts science meeting

While en route, Chief Scientist Dr. Rhian Waller conducted a science meeting reviewing the purpose and plans for the cruise, which is to explore, collect samples and data on the presence and emergence of Primnoa pacifica in Glacier Bay. Primnoa pacifica is commonly called Red Tree Coral. NOAA’s Dr. Bob Stone, who first pursued collecting data on the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay back in 2004, is working on this expedition. Other than Bob’s documentation, the Primnoa pacifica of Glacier Bay, Alaska is a mystery.

Two dives were conducted below the steep incline of White Thunder Ridge. The divers got into their dry suits, reviewed their plans on how to communicate and collect samples underwater, and then boarded the little boat called a RHIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat). They returned to Bob’s old spot and dove about 72 feet down for sample collection. The dive took about 30 minutes and when they returned with samples, we began processing each one.

The Primnoa samples will be assessed for three different things: genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. The genetic fingerprints will be useful in determining the generational spreading pattern of the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay. The isotopes will aid in understanding what they eat and their place in the food web. The reproduction assessments will identify sex and level of maturity. An interesting observation is that Primnoa pacifica is one of the first corals to seed newly exposed rock faces when glaciers recede. Bob estimates that the tallest of these coral are about 40 years old because that is when the glacier receded past this point. Using that fact, he also calculates their growth rate to be about 2 centimeters per year.


Tonight, the ROV Kraken 2 will be deployed in order to explore deep depths for the presence of the Red Tree Coral. ROV means remotely operated vehicle. More on that tomorrow!

Kraken 2 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

Personal Blog
I must say it is a pleasure to be aboard the Norseman II with such enthusiastic scientists and crew. The atmosphere on the ship is one of anticipation and this is how I imagine the early explorers of Glacier Bay must have felt. Rhian, our Chief Scientist, described this expedition as exploratory in nature. I’ve always dreamed of being an explorer and now I get to watch some real explorers in action! These guys and gals have done so many cool things like study life in Antarctica, map uncharted territory, design and build new equipment, and travel to the deep ocean in the Alvin submersible. I am so thankful that they are excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and share with our students in Scammon Bay and beyond. I’ve enjoyed listening as they brainstorm ways to use our eagle mascot, Qanuk, to engage young people in real science and exploration.

So, as I call it a day, I’d like to congratulate our Scammon Bay Lady Eagles who become the Class 1A Alaska State Champions today! Go Eagles! I’m so proud of both our boys and girls teams and their coaches. They’ve worked hard, played smart and represented our community with dignity and respect.
Good night…..

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

This is going to be fun—-and educational.

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

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

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