Helen Haskell: Mud Volcano, Morale and Moving On, June 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: June 24, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  20 knots

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  1016.0 hPa

Air temperature: 13.2C

Cloud cover: 100%

Location: Gulf of Alaska, 58°58.3N, 138° 49.7W


Science and Technology Log

In the last final week of this long three week leg, survey work on Fairweather has been varied. As data collection for this area has drawn to a close, it has been late nights for the sheet managers, who are making sure all of the holidays (the areas of missing data) are collected, crosslines are accomplished in all areas, and that they have what they need to do a complete report of the area.

Some of the Fairweather crew getting ready to launch small boats for the last data acquisition.

Earlier this week the ship completed an additional smaller project out in the Alaskan gulf. Fairweather was tasked with collecting hydrographic data on a subsurface mud volcano that has been discovered southwest of Ketchikan near the Queen Charlotte –Fairweather fault system.  Sailing during the day to the location, the surveying began late evening.  Rather than using the small launches, Fairweather’s sonar was used.  The survey area was quite large and the boundary extended to the edge of Canadian waters. Just as with the small launches, casts had to be done to factor in the water’s salinity and temperature in order to get accurate data. The water column profiling measurement device for Fairweather is located on the stern and once launched can be operated electronically, by hydrographers.


Hydrographers were divided into shifts, working two four hour shifts, throughout the 24 hour data acquisition period.  From 12am-4am, hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Drew Leonard, and I, check on the quality of data acquisition and monitored the related software.  As we sailed over the vent of the volcano hundreds of meters below the surface, the sonar picked up gas releases, probably methane, coming from the vent.  This volcano is potentially part of a volcanic field in this area.  I am excited to read and learn more about these mud volcanoes on the active fault in this area and to integrate it into my geology class at school.  For more information about mud volcanos in this region, visit https://eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska

Drew Leonard and Hannah Marshburn observe the sonar at work
The mud volcano (within the elevated red area; the white triangle is our ship
Possible methane plumes ‘caught’ by the sonar

Life and work on a ship requires the crew here to learn many things, both about the scientific mission and methodology but also about the ship itself and the safety protocols. NOAA provides training for crew in many different forms, some in situ, some electronically, and others during the non field-season in the form of  land-based workshops. Here on Fairweather, workbooks are provided to prepare officers and survey techs to help qualify them as Hydrographers-In-Charge (HIC).  Individuals work through these books and hand-on trainings to increase their understanding of the mission, the science content, their ability to work with survey systems, launches, field equipment and to serve as backup coxswains on the launches if necessary.

The work

In wrapping up the work in the area west of Prince of Wales Island, one last task was to dismantle the Base Station that the hydrographers had set up at the beginning of the project. The Base Station houses a GPS and receiver that transmits the data to the ship.  


Back on the ship, a route was planned by the NOAA Corps officers  and charted both electronically and on the paper charts.  It was time for Fairweather to say goodbye to this region of Alaska and to begin the journey north.

ENS Linda Junge plots the route to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond on the chart

While June 21 is a date associated with the solstice, it is also World Hydrography Day.  In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on oceans and law of the sea, and encouraged entities/nations to work with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The idea is to increase knowledge of and promote safe marine navigation.  As a result, World Hydrography Day was formed and is used as a method to increase knowledge and understanding of hydrography to the general public. Currently only about 10% of the world’s oceans and 50% of the coastal waterways have been directly measured. Much of the rest of the world is dependent on estimates from satellite gravity based measurements or has no data.  Most people tend not to think about the role hydrography and knowledge of the seafloor plays in our day to day live. While there is the obvious correlation with safe navigation, seafloor knowledge is important for laying cables and pipelines, to develop maritime boundaries and to help make predictions of what tsunamis waves and hurricanes would do.  World Hydrography Day 2017 celebrates the 96th anniversary of the IHO.  To celebrate this day, other than continuing to acquire data for the project, the crew gathered together to watch a film from 1976 of Fairweather in Alaska conducting hydrography. While much of the technology has changed and the ship retrofitted, there was a lot of familiarity with the ship and with the job being done.  

Personal Log

Being on a ship for weeks at a time, working everyday can take its toll.  Over the last couple of days I can see in the faces of the survey crew that, just like the end of a school year, while there still a lot to do before ‘the end’ and people are tired, they are looking forward to a change of pace with their upcoming time in port. The ship is scheduled to be in Kodiak for over a week, allowing for mid-season repairs to be completed. Meanwhile the hydrographers will continue to work on data from this leg and look ahead to the upcoming ones; the deck crew will continue the multitude of tasks that always need to be done; the engineers will continue to fix, clean and monitor the launches, the engines and the myriad of equipment on the ship.  The NOAA Corps officers will continue their rotation of duties. The stewards will continue to provide food for everyone.  It’s the field season. Everyone is still busy, but there will be off-duty time on land and opportunities to explore the area.

IMG_1561 (1)
The Finer Things Club for this leg: (L, clockwise) with LT Manda, ENS Junge, Coxswain/deck crew Nick Granazio, XO Gonsalves, Hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Steve Eykelhoff

One important concept that is apparent on Fairweather is keeping an eye on everyone’s welfare and well being.  Part of the XO’s (Executive Officer) role is to help with morale of all the crew, and to this end, the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) group is key in regular small events.  When the ship is in port, optional excursions are arranged and transportation is available to and from the town during evenings and weekend hours. On Sunday evenings, Sundae Sunday happens at 7pm where people come together to have ice cream; The Finer Things Club happens once per leg, and foods such as cheese and crackers, olives and chocolate are served; on World Hydrography Day, the MWR group arranged a ‘holiday hunt’ on the ship with prizes, and ‘hydrography/Fairweather charades’ was played that evening after we had watched the 1976 Fairweather film. Each evening the Fairweather ship’s store opens and folk can purchase their favorite soda or chocolate bar, or in my case, a Fairweather hoodie.


It will take three days approximately to get to Kodiak. Rather than going directly across the Gulf of Alaska from Southeast Alaska, Fairweather moved north through Tlevak Strait, which includes a rather narrow section of water with islands and rocks close on both sides.  Having had several weeks of cloud and rain, we were graced with clear blue skies and a warm evening as we headed north. Whales swam in the distance and small islands covered in vegetation rose vertically out of the water. On route we were able to stop for several hours in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. Here the crew were able to explore on land for a while, hike to hot springs and a lake, and take in some more of the beauty of Alaska.  It was an incredible blue sky morning (only the third so far this summer according to the locals) , snow was on the peaks around us and bald eagles sat in the nearby trees.  


IMG_1618 (1)

Morale and wellness also come in the form of good food. During my time here on I have been fed excellent food three times a day by the stewards, Ava Speights, Ace Burke, Tyrone Baker and Rory Bacon.  The other day I was able to sit down with Ava, acting Chief Steward, and ask her about her job and how the food is planned and prepared for. She was busy making a menu for the upcoming legs of Fairweather and ordering food that would be shipped to Kodiak, and later on, shipped to Nome.    She discussed how the budget works and the lead time needed to get produce and supplies to these northern regions.   

As my time on Fairweather is coming to an end, I realize that each day contains new normals, and that, after over three weeks here, there will be several transitions to go through such as being back on land and not on a rolling ship, not having food made for me and dishes washed for me, and leaving cloudy cool 50°F weather and cloudy skies to heat waves in New Mexico.   I am taking back with me a large amount of new knowledge and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom and school.  I am also taking back life-changing memories and hopefully long term connections with people from Fairweather and a desire to come back to Alaska.  I know that once I get back to New Mexico more questions will come forth and the Fairweather crew should be prepared to be hearing from me as I figure out how best to use the science in the classroom and in my community.  It’s a little bittersweet leaving, knowing that the crew have four months or more of the field season, and that by the time they head back to dry dock for the winter, that we will be over halfway through the first semester of the next school year.  I am really thankful to everyone on board for teaching me so much and making this an incredible adventure for me.  


Word of the day: Turnover:  Part of the nature of ship life,  I have discovered is that crew come and go. The NOAA Corps officers have an approximate two year stint on a ship before a three year rotation on land.  Deck crew, stewards and engineers are often on ships for multiple seasons, but can apply to move locations and transfer to other ships.  ‘Augmenters’ are crew from all departments who come on to ships for one or two legs at a time to fill in when a ship is short-staffed or someone has taken vacation.  At the end of each leg, people leave the ship and new people join the ship.  The only certain thing here is that there is and always will be staffing changes.  

Fact of the day:  On our journey north of Tlevak Strait, Fairweather was using fuel at the rate of 0.15mpg.   We’ve seen a couple of much larger cruise ships recently and an even larger container ship. Estimate their fuel consumption!

What is this?:

IMG_0330 2

Acronym of the day:

MWR group – Morale, Welfare and Recreation group

Helen Haskell: From Raw Data to Processed Data, June 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017


Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island

Date: June 16, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  3 knots from the east (272° true)

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9 °C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’


54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to assume that once the small boat surveys are conducted and data from the larger sonar equipment on Fairweather is also acquired, that the hydrographers’ work is done and the data can be used to create navigational charts. As I have learned, pretty quickly, there are many parameters that affect the raw data, and many checks and balances that need to be conducted before the data can be used to create a chart. There are also a significant amount of hurdles that the crew of Fairweather deals with in order to get to their end goal of having valid, accurate data.  Some of the parameters that affect the data include tides, salinity of the water, temperature of the water, and the density of the data.


Tides play a huge role in data accuracy.  But how do tides work and how do they influence navigational chart making? Tides on our planet are the effect on water due to forces exerted by the moon and the sun.  The mass and the distance from the Earth to these celestial bodies play significant roles in tidal forces. While the sun has a much greater mass than the moon, the moon is much closer to the Earth and it is distance that plays a more critical role.  Gravity is the major force responsible for creating tides. The gravitational pull of the moon moves the water towards the moon and creates a ‘bulge’. There is a corresponding bulge on the other side of the Earth at the same time from inertia, the counterbalance to gravity.  The moon travels in an elliptical orbit around the planet and the Earth travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun. As a result, the positions of the moon to the Earth and the Earth to the sun change and as a result, tide height changes.   The tides also work on a lunar day, the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth, which is 24 hours and 50 minutes. So high tide is not at the same time in one area each solar day (Earth’s 24 hour day). There are three basic tidal patterns on our planet.  Here is southeast Alaska, the tides generally are what is called ‘semi-diurnal’, meaning that there are two high tides a day and two low tides a day of about the same height. Other areas of the world may have ‘mixed semi-diurnal’ tides, where there are differences in height between the two high and two low tides, or ‘diurnal’ tides, meaning there is only one high and one low tide in a lunar day.   The shape of shorelines, local wind and weather patterns and the distance of an area from the equator also affect the tide levels.  How does this affect the hydrographers’ data? If data is being collected about water depth, obviously tide levels need to be factored in.  Hydrographers factor this in when collecting the raw data, using predicted tide tables.  However, later on they receive verified tide tables from NOAA and the new tables will be applied to the data.

The tide times of the day

Sound Speed Profiles:

Traveling down through the water column from the surface to the seafloor, several factors can change, sometimes significantly.  These factors include temperature, pressure and salinity.  These variables affect the accuracy of the sonar readings of the MBES (Multibeam Echo Sounders), so have to be factored in to account with the raw data analysis.  What complicates matters further is that these factors can vary from location to location, and so one set of readings of salinity, for example, is not be valid for the whole dataset.  Many fresh water streams end up in the waters off the islands of southeast Alaska.  While this introduction of freshwater has effects on the community of organisms that live there, it also has impacts on the hydrographers’ data.  To support accurate data collection the hydrographers conduct sound speed casts in each polygon they visit before they use the MBES.  The data is downloaded on to computers on the boat and factored in to the data acquisition.  The casts are also re-applied in post processing, typically on a nearest distance basis so that multiple casts in an area can be used.  In the picture below, the CTD cast is the device that measures conductivity (for salinity), temperature and depth.  It is suspended in the water for several minutes to calibrate and then lowered down through the water column to collect data. It is then retrieved and the data is downloaded in to the computers on board.



Data Density:

Hydrographers also need to make sure that they are collecting enough sonar data, something referred to as data density.  There are minimum amounts of data that need to be collected per square meter, dependent on the depth of the sea floor in any given area.  Having a minimum requirement of sonar data allows any submerged features to be identified and not missed. For example, at 0-20 meters, there need to be a minimum of five ‘pings’ per square meter.  The deeper the sea floor, the more the beam will scatter and the ‘pings’ will be further apart, so the minimum of five pings occupy a greater surface area.  Hydrographers need to make sure that the majority of their data meets the data density requirements.

Crossline Acquisition:

After much of the initial raw data has been collected, and many of the polygons ‘filled in’, the hydrographers will also conduct crossline surveys. In these surveys they will drive the small boat at an angle across the tracklines of the original polygon surveys. The goal here is basically quality control. The new crossline data will be checked against the original MBES data to make sure that consistent results are be acquired. CTD casts have to be re-done for the crossline surveys and different boats may be used so that a different MBES is used, to again, assure quality control.  At least 4% of the original data needs to be covered by these crossline surveys.

Shoreline verification:

Low tides are taken advantage of by the hydrographers. If the research is being conducted in an area where the low tide times correlate with the small boat survey times, then a vessel mounted LIDAR system will be used to acquire measurements of the shoreline.  Accurate height readings can be extracted from this data of different rocks that could prove hazardous to navigation.  Notes are made about particular hazards and photos are taken of them.  Data on man-made objects are also often acquired. Below are pictures produced by the laser technology, and the object in real life. (for more on LIDAT: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html)







Night Processing:

Each evening once the launches (the small boats) return, the data from that day has to be ‘cleaned’. This involves a hydrographer taking an initial look at the raw data and seeing if there were any places in the data acquisition that are erroneous.  None of the data collected is deleted but places where the sonar did not register properly will become more apparent.  This process is called night processing as it happens after the survey day. After night processing, the sheet managers will take a look at remaining areas that need to be surveyed and make a plan for the following day.  By 6 a.m. the next day, the Chief Scientist will review the priorities made by the managers and let the HIC (Hydrographer In Charge) know what the plan in for their survey boat that day.

Night Processing

Personal Log 

Throughout the Science and Technology log in this blog post, I keep referring to technology and computer programs.  What stands out to me more and more each day is the role that technology plays in acquiring accurate data.  It is an essential component of this project in so many ways, and is a constant challenge for all of the crew of Fairweather.  Daily on Fairweather, at mealtimes, in the post survey meetings, or on the survey boats themselves, there is discussion about the technology.  Many different programs are required to collect and verify the data and ‘hiccups’ (or headaches) with making this technology work seamlessly in this aquatic environment are a regular occurrence. I am in awe of the hydrographers’ abilities, not only in knowing how to use all the different programs, but also to problem solve significant issues that come up, seemingly on a regular basis.  Staff turnover and annual updates in software and new equipment on the ship also factor significantly in to technology being constantly in the foreground.  It often eats in to a large amount of an individual’s day as they figure out how to make programs work in less than forgiving circumstances.  Tied to all of this is the fact that there is a colossal amount of data being collected, stored and analyzed each field season.  This data needs to be ‘filed’ in ways that allow it to be found, and so the tremendous ‘filing system’ also needs to be learned and used by everyone.



Word of the day:   Fathom

Fathom is a nautical unit of measurement, and is the equivalent of 6 feet.  It is used in measuring depth.

Fact of the day:

Prince of Wales Island, west of which this research leg is being conducted is the fourth largest island in the United States. 4,000 people live on the island, that is 2,577sq mi.

What is this? 


(Previous post: a zoomed in photo of ‘otter trash’ (Clam shell)

Acronym of the day:  

LIDAR: Light Detecting and Ranging


DJ Kast, Interview with a Chief Scientist, June 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical areas of cruise: Mid Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine
Date: June 3, 2015

Science and Technology Log: Interview with the Chief Scientist, Jerry Prezioso


Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and graduate student Megan Switzer. Photo by DJ Kast
Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and graduate student Megan Switzer. Photo by DJ Kast

What is your job on the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow?

 Chief Scientist.

What does your job entail?

My job contains three main parts: pre-cruise setup, science underway, and post-cruise wrap up activities.

Pre-cruise Setup. (this starts long before the cruise)

  • Have to have the project instructions.
  • Fishing zone license if in Canadian waters
  • All Scientists are required to have a TB Test and Medical clearance to come aboard.
  • If any of the scientists are not a US citizen,  green cards or security clearance are needed
  • I pick out the station locations and route.
  • Make sure there are enough materials/ supplies/ chemicals.

During Cruise:

  • Supervise and coordinate all the scientists
  • During this cruise I had the day shift and so I did all the day time bongos and CTD’S with the Teacher at Sea DJ Kast
Jerry watering down the net to collect plankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Jerry washing down the net to collect plankton. Photo by DJ Kast
  • Track updates: I need to adjust for time and weather. I keep the ship working all the time 24/7. The ship costs thousands of dollars a day to run, so I make sure its never sitting. That’s why there are two shifts. If it is bad offshore, we move inshore to keep working.
  • Check logs, data.
  • Instruct the Teacher at Sea and provide them with awesome buoys.
Collecting water samples from the Niskin bottles in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast
Collecting water samples from the Niskin bottles in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast

After Cruise:

  • Destage the vessel.
  • Deliver samples and data
  • Write cruise report
  • Operations table- what we did at every station. Bongo vs. CTD, Bongos for CMARZS, Dave, Jessica.
  • Make sure all scientists get home OK.

How many years have you been doing this?

I have 40 years of government service. Back in 1968, I had my first student NOAA job. At Northeastern University, I was a co-op student, which meant I alternated school with a work-related job until graduation in 1974. I  got a job with NOAA as a biological technician. Afterwards, I was a fishery biologist. Then I went to the University of Rhode Island (URI) for my masters degree in biological oceanography (1991) and since then it has been oceanography all the way- 23 years of oceanography. I started helping out on research cruises. I would help with the plankton tows and show up to collect samples. I started going on many cruises like trawling cruises, fishing cruises, and would even travel on foreign vessels. I’ve been on quite a few foreign vessels: Russian vessels, Japanese, East and West German, Polish, and Canadian and it’s in these type of environments that you really learn to do more things yourself and learn more about different cultures.

What is your own personal research?

I am interested in the influences of distribution of plankton in various areas. This is what I did for my master’s thesis. I wanted to see what environmental parameters could affect plankton distribution. So far, temperature seems to be the strongest influence. Decades ago plankton that was originally found down south is found north now. Such dramatic change between 1970s and now. My boss has seen the same regional change with fish, seen them move up more north as the climate has changed. I am much more field oriented than research (lab) oriented, which is why I am out on the boats so much.

What are some of your hobbies besides SCIENCE?

  • Mainly SCUBA diving and photography
  • SCUBA diving: When I was younger, SCUBA diving was definitely a major push for me to get into oceanography. I was certified during college and I have loved it ever since.
  • Underwater photography is my favorite.
Photo by Jerry Prezioso
Underwater Photography: Herring photo by Jerry Prezioso


  • I remember being able to photograph River Herring which spawn in freshwater and then go out to sea to grow to adulthood.
Jerry in the steam filming herring. Photo provided by Jerry Prezioso
Jerry in the steam filming herring. Photo provided by Jerry Prezioso
  • I have lots of ocean fish photos, flounder and striped bass.


Comb Jelly. Photo by Jerry Prezioso


  • I also use my photography skills on the ship. For example, I combined SCUBA diving and photography by taking pictures of the crew cleaning lines out of the propeller (which is underwater).
  • Photo skills have definitely helped me on the job.


Selfie! Photo by DJ Kast
Selfie! Photo by DJ Kast

Emily Whalen: Looking at Lobsters, Moving a 208-foot Boat, and Favorite Creatures, May 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 5, 2015

Weather Data:
Air Temperature:  8.4°C
Water Temperature: 5.1ºC
Wind:  15 knots NW
Seas:  1-2 feet

Science and Technology Log:


This is a large female lobster.  The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the ripper.  For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!
This is a large female lobster. The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the pincer. For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!

Not everything that comes up in the net is a fish.  One of the things that we have caught many of on this trip is Homarus americanus, commonly known as the lobster.  Lobsters are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a backbone or an internal skeleton.  Instead, they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton to give their body structure and protect their inner organs.  Because their exoskeleton cannot expand as the lobster grows, a lobster must molt, or shed its shell periodically as it gets bigger.  In the first few years of their lives, lobsters need to molt frequently because they are growing quickly.  More mature lobsters only molt yearly or even every few years.

Another interesting fact about lobsters can regenerate lost body parts.  After a claw or leg is lost, the cells near the damaged area will start to divide to form a new appendage.  The developing structure is delicate and essentially useless while it is growing, but after a few molts, it will be fully functional.

This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it.  What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?
This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it. What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?
This is a lobster  that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.
This is a lobster that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.
This is a lobster with two fully functional claws.  Why do you think each claw has a different shape?
This is a lobster with two fully functional claws. Why do you think each claw has a different shape?

When we catch lobsters, we measure and record the distance from their eye cavity to the posterior end of the carapace.  Many of the lobsters we have caught are similar in size to those you would find at the grocery store, which typically weigh about a little more than pound.  Commercial fishermen can only keep male lobsters that are over 101 millimeters.  Can you guess why?  We have seen some smaller lobsters that measure about 50 millimeters, and also some much larger lobsters that measure as much as 150 millimeters!

These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.
These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.
This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen.  Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone's best estimate for this one was about 20 years.  I put my hand next to the claw for scale.
This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen. Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone’s best estimate for this one was about 20 years. I put my hand next to the claw so that you could see how big it is!  I wasn’t brave enough to put my hand any closer!

One of the members of my watch is Dr. Joe Kunkel, who is doing something called ‘landmark analysis’ on some of the lobsters that we have caught.  This process involves recording the exact location of 12 specific points on the carapace or shell of each lobster.  Then he compares the relative geometry different lobsters to look for trends and patterns.  In order to do this, he uses a machine called a digitizer.  The machine has a small stylus and a button.  When you push the button, it records the x, y and z position of the stylus.  Once the x,y and z position of all 12 points has been recorded, they are imported into a graphing program that creates an individual profile for each lobster.

Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell.   So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.
Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell. So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.

So far, it appears that lobsters that are caught inshore have different geometry than lobsters that are caught further offshore.  Typically, an organism’s shape is determined by its genes.  Physical variations between organisms can be the result of different genes, environmental factors or physiological factors like diet or activity.  Dr. Kunkel doesn’t have a certain explanation for the differences between these two groups of lobsters, but it may suggest that lobsters have different activity levels or diet depending on whether they live near the shore our out in deeper waters.  In recent years, a shell disease has decimated lobster populations south of Cape Cod.  This study may give us clues about the cause of this disease, which could someday affect the lobster fishery.

This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.
This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.  The single point on the right hand side represents the rostrum, which is analogous to the nose, and the two points furthest to the left represent the place where the carapace or shell meets the tail.

Moving Forward

In order to move from station to station as we complete our survey, the Bigelow has a powerful propulsion system different from most other types of ships.  Typically, a ship has an engine that burns diesel fuel in order to turn a shaft.  To make the ship move forward (ahead) or backward (astern), the clutch is engaged, which causes the shaft to spin the propeller.  The throttle can then be used to make the shaft spin faster or slower, which speeds up or slows down the boat.   Throttling up and down like this affects the amount of fuel burned.  For those of you who are new drivers, this is similar to how your car gets better or worse gas mileage depending on what type of driving you are doing.

Like this class of ship, the Bigelow has a giant propeller at the stern which is 14 feet across and has 5 blades.  However, the unlike most ships, the propeller on the Bigelow is powered by electricity instead of a combustion engine.  There are four electricity-producing generators on the ship, two large and two small.  The generators burn diesel fuel and convert the stored energy into electricity.  The electricity powers two electric motors, which turn the propeller. While the electricity produced powers the propeller, it is also used for lights, computers, pumps, freezers, radar and everything else on the ship.  There are several benefits to this type of system.  One is that the generators can run independently of each other. Running two or three generators at a time means the ship makes only as much electricity as it needs based on what is happening at the time, so fuel isn’t wasted.  Since the ship can speed up or slow down without revving the engine up or down, the generators can always run at their maximum efficiency.
Also, there is much finer control of the ship’s speed with this system.  In fact, the ship’s speed can be controlled to one tenth of a knot, which would be similar to being able to drive your car at exactly 30.6 or 30.7 mph.  Finally, an added benefit is that the whole system runs quietly, which is an advantage when you are scouting for marine mammals or other living things that are sensitive to sound.

Personal Log

I have seen a lot of fish on this trip, but it would be a lie to say that I don’t have some favorites.  Here are a few of them.  Which one do you think is the coolest?

This is a sea raven.  Most of them are brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow.
This is a sea raven. Most of the ones we have seen are  brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow
Windowpane flounder.  We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these look the coolest.
Windowpane flounder. We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these are the coolest.
Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!
Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!
I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.
I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.
How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?
How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?
This is a particularly colorful four-beard rockling!
This immature cusk eel will lose these colors and eventually grow to be a dull grey color.
These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color.  You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.
These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color. You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.
This lamprey eel has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey.  Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!
This Atlantic hagfish has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey. Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!
You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth.  This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals.  Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!
You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth. This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals. Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!
We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish.  While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.
We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish. While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.

Kate DeLussey: TowCam Anyone? July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everyone works at sea. Here I am helping with the pre-deployment checklist.   (See how wet Lowell is!  He has been to the ocean floor many times.)

Latitude:  39.8493°
Longitude: -69.5506 °

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 19.30° C
Wind Speed: 20.74 knots  5  on the Beaufort  wind scale
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,020.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 21.39° C

Science and Technology Log

High winds, moderately rough seas, and difficulties with the ship’s positioning system all contributed to the delay of the first scheduled launch of TowCam on our midnight shift.  Even though the necessary decision meant a loss of precious underwater time, it is better to delay than risk losing  expensive equipment.

When the seas calmed down we were able to launch TowCam, but first we had to go through the pre-launch checklist.  I helped Lizet as she prepared TowCam.

Did you guess that Batteries power the components of TowCam?          Lizet must test the batteries  before and after each launch.

The batteries are under very high pressure when TowCam goes to the ocean floor so we have to push out the air before each trip.   I help by tightening the battery caps.  Every time I am on deck I must put safety first.  I always wear a hard hat and the life vest.

One of my jobs is to help with TowCam.

When everything has been checked and double checked, the operator gives the signal, and the deck crew of the Bigelow use the winch and tag lines to launch TowCam on its next mission.

The winch swings TowCam off the deck and lowers it into the ocean.

Look at the picture carefully.  The deck crew always wear their safety equipment too!  They hook themselves to the ship by their belts, and they wear safety vests and hardhats.  The deck crew on Bigelow also make sure everyone follows the safety rules.

As soon at TowCam is in the water, everyone wants to view the images sent by the camera, but the TowCam operator must keep an eye on the monitors.

These are six of the monitors used to control and guide TowCam.

TowCam operators watch eight different computer monitors to control TowCam’s movements.  With the help of mathematic modelers and previously collected data about the structure of the ocean floor, the scientists choose  locations where they think they will find corals. These locations are called “stations.”

This map from the NOAA web site shows the track of the Bigelow. The places where the lines cross over one another are some of the stations where the scientists looked for coral

The ship must make very small movements to get the camera in the correct place on station. The operator will say something like, “Lab to Bridge- move 10 m to the North please.”… Then they watch the camera and the monitors to see if TowCam moves to the correct position.   Sometimes TowCam floats right past the spot scientists want to see, and then the operators have to try to get it back into position to take the pictures.  Not every station has the corals the scientists hope to find.  But even knowing where corals are not is important information.  After several hours of picture taking, we move on the next station.

I sit next to the TowCam operator and keep the logs.

Even in calm seas controlling TowCam is a challenging process.  Remember, TowCam hovers over the ocean floor  attached to the ship by a wire.   Fully loaded it weighs over 800 pounds in the air.  Since the ship moves TowCam by pulling it, it is not easy to follow the scientists’ plan.

However, when the perfect coral images appear on the screen, no one thinks about how hard they were to find.  We all crowd around the monitors and watch in amazement.  The scientists try to figure out  types of corals in the picture, and then they wait for the next picture to see if there are even more!  We have found corals at lots of stations!

Think about a time you tried to pull something tied to the back of  a rope.  Was it easy to steer?  Did it get stuck?  

Personal Log

We have talked a bit about how scientists find and try to study corals using the underwater camera and other sensors on TowCam.  On other missions scientists  sometimes use remote control underwater vehicles ROVs.   Unlike TowCam which is dragged behind the ship, these vehicles are more versatile because they are driven and controlled remotely using a joy stick similar to the ones you use for computer games.    Sometimes scientists even go to the ocean floor and drive themselves around using submersibles.  One thing is certain,  you have to get under the water to study corals.

Scientists go to all this trouble because corals are important to our Earth’s oceans. They are very old, and they provide habitat for other animals. 

As you grow, it will be your job to find ways to study and protect corals and all other living things in the oceans. 

Who knows how corals could help us in the future!

Polyps are extended from deep-sea coral colony.
Photo from NOAA Undersea Research Program.

Kate DeLussey: Lowell Searches Beneath the Ocean, July 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Sunday, July 8, 2012

Latitude:  38.9580 °
Longitude: -72.4577 °

Liz thought we needed our school mascot on the mission. When she went to the store, she brought back Lowell the Lion.

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 24.60° C
Wind Speed: 4.5 knots
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,010.30 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 24.49° C


Science and Technology Log

Look who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  No you silly students…not me!  TowCam is exploring the deep ocean between the twilight zone and the midnight zone, and it is not possible for people to travel in deep water without very special equipment.

Our mascot Lowell Lion accompanied TowCam as it was deployed for Tow 2.

At this location, TowCam reached a depth of over 1900 meters below the surface of the ocean.  That is more than one mile-straight down!  It was a good mission.  The camera was sending some very interesting images back to the ship.  As I was doing my job logging, I was watching these first images.  I was able to see hard bottom- the best habitat for corals.  I also saw fish and sea stars, and then I saw the corals! They looked like little fuzzies on the rocks. The scientists had the ship hold position right over of the corals so they could take lots of pictures.  The TowCam operator used controls on the ship to raise and lower TowCam to get close to the corals without touching the cliffs where the corals were living.

Students:   Can you imagine using remote controls to move the TowCam?  I bet you would be good at it.  Perhaps the video games you play will help prepare you to fly TowCam when you finish college. 

Doesn’t Lowell look proud?  He survived his first dive and brought some interesting friends back with him.

Well, when TowCam came back on the ship, Lowell was very wet, but he handled the cold, dark high pressure very well.   Thanks to Greg and Lizet, Lowell stayed on the TowCam Sled!

Once TowCam was secured on the deck. We went out to take care of TowCam.   What a big surprise to find other creatures hitchhiking on TowCam.   Lowell the Lion must have made some friends.

This sea star was hidden on TowCam

The first deep sea visitor was a spiny orange sea star.

The orange sea star was found on TowCam deployment #2.

Isn’t it beautiful?  We all rushed to see it.  Dr. Nizinski carefully examined and measured the sea star.   She used her tweezers to pick up a tiny sample the sea star leg, and she put the sample into a little bottle with a label.  She will use the sample to test the DNA to help classify the sea star.  She will find the sea star’s “family.”

It was exciting to find the sea star, but when we looked further one of the scientists saw a piece of coral tucked in a hiding place on TowCam.   Dr. Martha took care of the coral also.  The coral will become a permanent record that reminds us that this type of coral lives here.

   These corals were hidden in the batteries after Tow 2. July 8, 2012


Do you see how carefully the sample is documented?  Some of the things we do in school like labeling and dating our illustrations and our work prepare you to be a scientist.  

Many years from now someone can look at the coral in this picture and see that the sample was collected on the Bigelow TowCam #2, on July 8th.  The ruler in the picture helps everyone know the approximate size.

One of the components on TowCam we have not talked about yet is the slurp.  


TowCam slurp

Try to find the Slurp on TowCam.              

The “slurp” is really an underwater vacuum cleaner that sucks up water, sediment, and sometimes small creatures.  When TowCam is in deep water, the scientists watch the images to decide when it is a good time to trigger the slurp.   They have to choose carefully because the slurp can be done only once on each trip to the bottom.

The scientists used the slurp on Tow #2.  The collection container looked like it just had “mud” and water.   It was emptied through a sieve to separate the “mud” and other things from water.  The scientists carefully examined what looked like regular mud but tiny organisms like bivalves, gastropods, and small brittle stars were found in the sieve.  These animals were also handled very carefully.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment slurped from the ocean bottom.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment that was slurped from the ocean bottom.

Can you find any other living things in this picture?


You never know what is hiding in the mud.  I bet we could do this kind of exploring right in our school’s courtyard.  What do you think we could find if we examined our mud?


Kate DeLussey on the Bigelow July 12

Personal Log

I think we should talk about the ocean today.  Many of us have had some experience with the ocean.  Maybe you have been to the beach, and maybe you have even seen some of the cool creatures that can be found on the beach.  I have seen crabs, horseshoe crabs, clams, and plenty of jellyfish, but the scientists on Bigelow are working in a very different part of the ocean.

If you visit the beach, you are only swimming in a teeny tiny part of the ocean.  Maybe you are allowed in the ocean up to your knees to a depth of 20 inches (about 1/2 a meter), or maybe you are brave and are able to go in the ocean with an adult up to your waist to a depth of 30 inches (about 3/4 a meter).  Even if you have been crabbing or fishing in the Delaware Bay where the average depth is 50 feet (15.24 meters) you have been in only the most shallow part of the ocean.  TowCam has been down as far as 1.2 miles (2000 meters).  That is not even the deepest ocean!  The ocean is divided into zones according to depth and sunlight penetration.  I learned about the top three zones.

  • The sunlight zone– the upper 200 meters of the ocean are also called the euphotic zone.  Many fish, marine mammals like dolphins and whales, and sea turtles live in this band of the ocean.  At these depths there is light, plants, and food for creatures to survive.  Not much light penetrates past this zone.
  • The twilight zone– this middle zone is between 200 meters and 1000 meters and is called the disphotic zone.  Because of the lack of light, plants cannot live in this zone.  Many animals like bioluminescent creatures with twinkling lights do live in this zone.  Some examples of other creatures living in this zone includes: crabs, gastropods, octopus, urchins, and sand dollars.
  • The midnight zone– this zone is below 1000 meters and is also called the aphoticzone has no sunlight and is absolutely dark.  At these depths the water pressure is extreme, and the temperature is near freezing.  90% of the ocean is in the midnight zone.So you can see that when you are at the beach, you are never in the “Deep Ocean.”  You are still in a great place to find many amazing creatures.  Keep your eyes open!  Be curious! Make sure you do some exploring the next time you visit this important habitat.  Then write and tell me about the things you find. Try to draw and label the three zones of the ocean.  Be sure to draw the living things in the correct zone.
  • Next time:  Someone will be working on deck getting TowCam ready for deployment.  Hint:   It will not be Lowell. : )

Kate DeLussey: Underway and Under the Sea, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date:  Monday, July 7 , 2012


Here I am on the bridge of Henry B. Bigelow.  ENS. Zygas put me to work looking up changes for navigational charts.

Latitude:  39.29 °
Longitude: -72.25°

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 23.40° C
Wind Speed: 15 Kts
Relative Humidity:  90.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,011.99 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 23.66° C

Science and Technology Log

At 7:00 pm last night the Henry B. Bigelow left Pier 2 from the Newport Naval Base.  Narragansett Bay was crowded with sailboats, yachts, and even a tall ship, but once we passed under the bridge, we knew we were really on our way.  Now that we are at sea, everyone onboard will begin his or her watch.  I will be working 12 am to 12 pm along with some of the scientists.  Even though I never worked night work before, I was excited to learn about my jobs!

One of our jobs is to keep track of the “TowCam” when it is in the water.  Every ten minutes while the TowCam is deployed (sent underwater) we log the location of the ship using Latitude and Longitude. We also have to keep track of other important data like depth.  The information is logged on the computer in a spreadsheet and then the points are plotted on a map.  A single deployment can last 8 hours.  That is a lot of data logging!  These documents provide back up in case something were to happen to the data that is stored electronically.   I will have other jobs also, and to get ready for those duties, Lizet helped me get to know the TowCam better by explaining each component.

Students:  See if you can find each part Lizet showed me on the picture of the TowCam in my last blog.


The camera on TowCam faces down to capture images in the deep ocean

Camera– The camera is the most important part of the TowCam.  You need a very special camera that will work in cold deep water.  When the TowCam is close to the ocean floor this digital camera takes one picture every 10 seconds. The thumbnails or samples of the pictures are sent to computers on the ship by the data link. The camera operator described the thumbnails like the picture you see when you look at the back of your camera. When I look at the thumbnails I don’t usually see much in the picture.  The scientists know what they are looking for, and they can recognize hard bottom on the ocean floor and corals.  They see fish and other sea creatures too, and when they see a picture they like, they will ask the ship navigator to “hold the setting” so they can take more pictures.  Remember, the scientists are trying to find corals, or places where corals might live.  If they have a picture, they have proof that these special animals live in a certain habitat that should be protected.

Strobe light– There are two strobe lights on the TowCam.  The deep ocean does not have

Strobe light illuminates the darkness of the deep ocean

natural lighting because the sunlight does not reach down that far.  The strobe light flashes each time a picture is taken.  If the TowCam did not have these special lights, you would not be able to see any of the pictures from the camera.  These lights are tested every time the TowCam is deployed.

The CTD measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

      CTD- The CTD is an instrument that has sensors to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth in a certain water column.  It is attached to the TowCam and the information from the CTD is sent to the computers through the datalink.  This information gives the scientists a better understanding about the ocean water and the habitat for the creatures they are looking for.  Look for more components on the TowCam.  How do you think the TowCam gets its power?


Personal Log

I am getting adjusted to life at sea.  For the first few days, when we were still on the dock I did not have much to do.  ESN Zygas gave me a job and let me find updates for the navigational charts that are stored on the bridge.  The charts are maps of the oceans and waterways that help the NOAA Corps team steer the boat, and these charts get updated when markers like buoys are moved or when the water depths and locations change.  Up-to-date charts keep the ships safe.  I was glad to do a job that helped keep us safe.  Now that we are at sea, I have been working my watch.  The work varies.  We have hours of watching TowCam on the bottom of the sea and charting the positions of the ship. Then we have the excitement when the camera comes on-board with pictures and samples that need to be processed.

One of the best things about this experience is that I am the student just like my students at Lowell.  I am excited to learn all of the new things, but I am frustrated when I don’t understand.  Sometimes I am embarrassed when I have to ask questions.  Yesterday I was working with some of the images and I was looking for fish. All I had to do was write “yes” there is a fish in this photo.  Well, I had to ask Dave (one of the scientists) for help.  I had to ask, “Is this a fish?”  Can you imagine that?  A teacher like me not knowing a fish!  It was like finding the hidden pictures in the Highlight magazine!

So instead of being frustrated, I am open to learning new things.  I keep practicing and try not to make mistakes, but when I do make those mistakes, I just try again. By the time we go through the thousands of pictures I may not be a pro, but I will be better.  I can see that I am improving already.  I can find the red fish without zooming in -the red color probably helps!

Next time:  Wait until you see who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  You won’t believe what they brought back with them.

Until next time:)

Kate DeLussey: Teacher on the Pier, July 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission: Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date: Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kate DeLussey
My picnic table perch aboard the Henry B. Bigelow

Latitude: 41.52778° N
Longitude:  -71.31556° W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Wind Speed:  19 knots (22 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from N
Relative Humidity: 80%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.90  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Happy Independence Day!

Science and Technology Log

Here aboard the Henry B. Bigelow we are sporting the red, white, and blue showing our pride for our Nation.  The grill is hot and the hamburgers and hotdogs are ready for our lunch. Our July 4th is much more relaxing than we expected. We should be out gathering data.  Images from TowCam verifying true bottom have not been observed.  Creatures from the deep have not been collected, and important discoveries have not yet been made.  We are still on  Pier 2 at the Newport Naval Base. The information we have received from the Bigelow engineers is that the winches are not operational because  a printed circuit board, which is involved with the computerized control of the hydraulic system that powers the winches has burnt out.   It cannot be fixed with duct tape.

Waiting for winches to work.

Engineers, crew and the scientific team are attempting to get the parts we need … from locations across the country…from another ship the Nancy Foster… on a holiday.  Are you feeling their pain?

The scientific team has worked so diligently in preparing for this cruise.  Teams of researchers who do not normally work so closely came together for this mission.  They joined their funding sources, their research and their “equipment” (the ship, TowCam, computer software, etc.) to develop a multipurpose mission that will add data to their work in order to build a deeper understanding of deep-sea coral habitats.   Some of the most experienced people in the ocean science community are aboard. Their enthusiasm and passion for their work is contagious. I heard one of the scientists is on his 50th cruise!  (Happy golden anniversary!)  What a lineup!

While the team is visibly disappointed with the setback, they have worked together to solve the problem.  During the science team meeting scientists shared when something like “this” happened to them. Executive Officer Bohaboy wrote about problem solving at sea. He wrote, “Though it is very rare that we suffer multiple lost days at sea like we did at the beginning of this trip, every cruise always has issues to overcome. The ship itself is a very complex system of linked systems.  A break down in one of these systems can cause a delay in the mission.  Note that one of the most important shipboard systems, which might be easy to overlook, is the ship’s crew and scientists, whose specialized skills and training are crucial to completing the mission.” Yes, the mission is not what was expected, but everyone moves forward and makes the best of a difficult situation.  The members of the team have also kept working on their individual projects, and while Vince may have enough work to keep him busy for two years, I am trying to find things to do.

Personal Log

I too have made the best of the situation.  Not used to sitting around, I have been reading and writing.  (See I told you never to travel without a good book!)  I found an excellent small picnic table on deck where I can be out of the way, and still watch what is going on.  I have also found ways to keep busy by watching, listening, and having conversations with the scientists so I can build a better understanding of their work.  We all have lots of questions when we are learning new things, but before I ask questions, I watch, listen and think.  I try to find of answers myself.  Everyone on board has been helpful and supportive.  The most exciting thing is when the scientists, mappers, or modelers say, “Let me show you!”

The students at Lowell helped create a list of Big Questions about the oceans and corals, and today we will begin to talk about question #2:

Tow Cam aboard Bigelow
TowCam aboard the Bigelow

How do scientists study deep sea coral?

One way the scientists study the corals is by identifying places where corals like to live.  They figure if they find the habitat, they will locate corals.  On this mission, a TowCam (towed camera) is towed by the ship and will record images of what the bottom of the ocean looks like (Ground-truthing).  It will also show what animals live there.

Personal Log

When you think about it, the technical setback is an excellent lesson for you students at Lowell School.  Many times we want to do something and we just cannot do it.   So many things can keep us from doing our best work.  Some problems are within our ability to fix, some are not.  We can blame others, get emotional, and give up, or we can find solutions that will help us meet those challenges to be better prepared the next time.  This team solved their problems by cooperating with and working with one another.  You can use the teamwork problem solving strategy in your work too!  The simple message of problem solving crosses all activities we do as students, teachers, and scientists.  We may not be conducting the research (yet), but we are problem solving. “How can we make this work?”  “How can we do this better?”

Until next time:)

Carmen Andrews: Introduction June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 6 – 18, 2012

Carmen Andrews
Carmen Andrews


Happy Summer Solstice Day! I am Carmen Andrews.  I work as a science specialist at  Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport, CT.  I have just finished my 5th year at this school.  I create science curriculum for grades pre-K through 8. I also teach many classes to help teachers improve their understanding of science concepts and inquiry methods.

Six to Six Magnet School
Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School, Bridgeport, CT

Our school has a unique academic program that incorporates partnerships with the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT and the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, CT.  Our students visit many other places, including the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale Leitner Family Planetarium and Observatory in New Haven. We also allow our students to remotely operate the Gold Apple Valley Radio Telescope in California. My favorite places to teach classes are the unspoiled outdoor sites in Connecticut where we take our students for field studies.

4th Grade Marsh Field Study
4th Graders on a Marsh Field Study
Kindergarteners Investigating Invertebrates
Kindergarteners Investigating Marine Invertebrates
Sixth Graders
6th Graders Counting Intertidal Organisms Using a Quadrat

I love research!

One of my passions as an educator is creating opportunities for students to investigate real world problems using science inquiry. This year my 6th and 7th graders took on a big environmental research project. They were asked to research bioremediation and to develop a creative solution to a major problem in their community  — toxic oil spills. The work was funded by a NSTA/Toyota Tapestry Grant award, which enabled us to find out about blue and gray oyster mushrooms’ ability to metabolize oil spills in soil. Our project is called Going Green in Brownfields: A New Diet for Mushrooms. You can see our blog here: mushroomdiet.info 

Mushroom Harvest
A 7th Grader Massing Blue Oyster Mushrooms Grown in Motor Oil

My Teacher at Sea Adventure

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program was created to provide teachers with experiences in science research. We share our knowledge with our school communities using blogs, teaching and writing articles when we return from our Teacher at Sea assignment. I am very excited to learn about the work of NOAA in monitoring fisheries in U.S. coastal waters. I am eager to share this  scientific research with students. I also want to expose students to the variety of maritime and marine science careers that they can consider pursuing in later life.

I will be departing on the R/V Savannah in about 2 weeks to participate in a reef fish survey.  The next time I write, I will most likely be somewhere near Skidaway Island, GA.  My target audience for my blogs while I am at sea, are students, colleagues and friends of all ages. Please feel free to post your comments and questions about this important science research.

Kate DeLussey: Introduction, June 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep Sea Coral Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date: June 6, 2012

Current Location: Philadelphia, PA; Latitude:40.0409483; Longitude:-75.1287162

Greetings and Welcome to My NOAA Blog!

I am Kathleen (Kate) DeLussey from the J. R. Lowell School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in a city of 1.5 million, I have spent most of my life in the same five-mile radius.  The school where I teach is right down the street from the elementary school I went to when I was a child.  I am a true city kid.  You may have taken a yellow bus to school, but I rode the “El” train.  Water came out of the “tap” and early fish experiences included both rectangular “sticks” and orange pets, but we will not talk about either of those things here.

Visit Philadelphia! The city needs the oceans too!

So, you may question why a woman like me, a teacher with four children who experienced her first plane flight last year, would be excited about participating in scientific research aboard a NOAA vessel as a Teacher at Sea.  Especially when I am not exactly sure about what I am going to be doing, (Hint:  The more I learn about the Oceans and Atmosphere, the more information I have to share with our students at Lowell School.)

You may also be wondering why a Reading Specialist in a K-4 school would be so interested in what is happening in Earth’s Oceans and Atmosphere, especially when I come from such a large city.  (Hint:  We all need to learn about and care for our Earth’s Oceans.)

Finally, you may be wondering how a teacher’s experience at sea will encourage our students, and their families to connect with and learn more about the Earth’s Oceans and Atmosphere.  (Hint:  When I show you how wonderful and important our Oceans are to the life of all things on Earth, you will just have to get involved!)

If you are thinking and asking questions like these as you read, GREAT!  When students and teachers just have to know, they are behaving like scientists, and like writers.

I just had to know more about NOAA’s work.  I have read many things, seen TV programs, and visited Web sites to teach me about oceans, but I still have many questions.

How do the scientists at NOAA understand and forecast the weather?

How do they understand fish?

What types of jobs do the people at NOAA have?

How can my students prepare for careers at NOAA?

Where can my students find the answers to their own questions?

How can I find out more?

I was researching the answers to these questions on the NOAA website when I saw the chance for teachers to go to sea.  I applied, and I was chosen!  To use the words of our principal Mrs. Runner, “WHOOOO WHOOOO!”  I am so excited to be participating as a Teacher at Sea.

After I found out I was going to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I wanted to prepare my students for ocean learning and did what all good teachers do at the beginning of a lesson.  I asked my third grade friends in Room 207 some questions.  “What do you know about the Oceans?  Tell me everything you know!”  Of course, the students wrote the “lists” of things they “knew” about the oceans and they really shared some of their thinking as they wrote.

What the students in Room 207 report they know about the oceans:

Emily, Isaiah, and Lusine had the longest lists, and while all of the students reported they  “knew” something about oceans, most of the answers on the student lists looked like this:

  • The oceans cover most of the Earth’s surface
  • The oceans have lots of living things like fish, crabs, and sharks
  • The oceans are important to the Earth
  • You can swim in the ocean

You can see that for our students to become ocean experts, they really needed more details to add to their list of “what they know.”

(Some of the ideas the students put on the list were not true, and I do not want to put those ideas on this list, because I want to include only true information in my Blog.)  I do not want to confuse anyone about a topic as important as Earth’s Oceans.

This list only had Big Ideas about the oceans and even with my thinking, we could not add many detailsYou can see we all have a lot to learn about our oceans.

So, I am be bringing the future “Ocean Literacy” of our 1,000 students with me as I work with NOAA during my Teacher at Sea adventure.  (Hi kids!)

Our big questions for this mission will be:

  1. What are Deep Sea Coral Reefs?
  2. How do scientists study deep sea coral reefs?
  3. What do scientists do with the information they gather during their research?

I am participating on this trip because I want to find answers to our questions.  I also want to be sure everyone understands NOAA’s work so we all can participate as scientists and writers to help protect our Earth’s Oceans and Atmosphere.

Join me–not only a teacher–but also a citizen of the Earth planet as I work as a guest scientist aboard the Henry B. Bigelow, a NOAA research vessel.

Continue to ask questions as you read my blogs.  We may not find the answers to all of our Big Questions, but we will be better prepared to find our answers as we gain knowledge and as we add details to our scientific knowledge and to our writing.

Hopefully, at the end of my journey, you may be wondering if you could to this “At Sea” research too!


Wes Struble: Get to Know the Scientists, February 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 21, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 deg 30 min north Latitude & 74 deg 48 min west Longitude
Windspeed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: 40 deg / NE
Air Temperature: 21.3 deg C/70 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.3 deg C/ 75 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1021.38 mb
Water Depth: 4500 meters/14765 ft
Cloud Cover: mostly clear with some clouds
Cloud Type: cumulus & statocumulus

Science and Technology Log

In a previous post I mentioned that two of the researchers I work with here on the Ron Brown are Shane Elipot and Aurélie Duchez. Both are originally from France but currently work for a UK government organization called NERC (Natural Environment Research Council). Shane works for the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool and Aurélie works for the same governmental department but is stationed at their branch in Southampton. Both have earned Doctoral degrees in Oceanography.

Dr. Elipot and Dr. Duchez take a short break from their research to answer some of my questions

Dr. Aurélie Duchez attended high school in Nîmes, France until 18 years of age. Following high school she participated in 2 years of of grandes écoles (preparatory classes) held at her high school in Nîmes to prepare her for engineering school. From here she enrolled in an engineering school in Toulon (the ISITV) where she majored in “Applied Mathematics” with a specialty in fluid mechanics. This three year course of study not only involved normal class work but also included three different internships in the following order: A six week internship concentrating on computing, a two month internship in Miami, Florida working on breaking waves, and a six month internship in Grenoble, France studying ocean modeling in the South Atlantic. She remained in Grenoble and after three years earned her PhD by studying ocean modeling and data assimilation of the Mediterranean Sea. She secured a post-doctoral fellowship as a research scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK where she currently works as an ocean modeler.

Dr. Duchez prepares some documents for her research in the Main Science Lab of the Ron Brown

Dr. Shane Elipot attended high school in France until 18 years of age majoring in the sciences. After high school he spent two years in preparatory classes to take the competitive entrance examination for the “grandes écoles” (France’s engineering schools). After being accepted, he majored in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in hydrography and oceanography. During this period he earned two masters degrees: Master of Advanced Studies in Meteorology, Oceanology & Environment and a Masters in Oceanography & Hydrography. He followed these with a PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California and the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Elipot currently resides in Liverpool, UK where he works for the National Oceanography Centre.

Dr. Shane Elipot monitors a CTD cast in the Ron Brown’s Computer lab during the early morning hours
Data acquisition hardware for the CTD in the Science Computer Lab of the Ron Brown

They are both serious and dedicated scientists who enjoy their work and they are also a pleasure to engage in conversation. I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet them.

I would encourage you to consider visiting the following websites:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography                http://sio.ucsd.edu/

Natural Environment Research Council            http://www.nerc.ac.uk/

Staci DeSchryver: Patiently Awaiting Departure, July 26th, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location:  57°43.287’N,152°28.867’W
Heading:  242.2° (But we are stationary)

Date: July 26, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Cloudy and Light Drizzle
Air Temperature:  14.0°C
Relative Humidity:  approx 79%

Science and Technology Log

Well, I have arrived safely and soundly on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  For the next three weeks, we will be catching, catching, catching as many walleye pollock as we possibly can to determine the health of the stock.  How is that done, you ask?  Well, they send the Teachers at Sea out to the stern of the ship where we gently call them over for processing.

“Here, Fishy, Fishy…”  Just kidding.

First, the scientists use acoustics to find concentrated masses of walleye pollock beneath the surface.  The echoes appear on a computer screen for the scientists to evaluate.  Once they determine that the acoustic signature is indeed pollock, they take a direct sample of the fish by dropping a large net, called a trawl, down to the location of the fish. The net then captures the fish and they are brought to the surface.  The procedure is more like “hunting” rather than “fishing” in that the scientists have sophisticated equipment to detect the locations of the fish – they aren’t just attaching a worm to a hook and hoping for the best.  They actively seek out locations where they know pollock exist – this helps preserve the stock populations because if they can “see” the echoes on the screen, they can be sure they are pulling up the right species.  In addition, the sample sizes that are taken are quite small in comparison to the commercial fishing industries – we take only what we need to get accurate data.

Here I am on the docks getting ready to see my "home away from home" for the first time!
Here I am on the docks getting ready to see my "home away from home" for the first time!

After the fish are caught, they are sent down a ramp for processing.  Unfortunately, most of the fish brought to the surface “donate their bodies to science,” as they don’t survive the trip up from depth to the surface.  Why don’t the fish survive?  Sometimes, it is simply the stress of being caught.  But another contributing factor is stress that is put on a special organ in the fish called a gas bladder.   It is easily explained using a reverse example.

Remember the video clip from Mythbusters on the “MeatMan?”  In the program, the myth claimed that a person’s body would indeed be crushed by the weight of ocean water at a depth of 300 feet.  If you recall, the myth was confirmed when “MeatMan’s” helmet caved in after the Mythbusters removed the pressurizing hose from the back of the diver’s suit after the “diver” was lowered to a depth of 300 feet.  With pollock, the reverse happens.  The pollock’s body is “conditioned” to being at a particular depth.  Inside the pollock is a swim bladder that is filled with air that pushes back on the water at the same pressure that the water pushes in on the fish – much like the pressurized diving suit.  As long as the pressure remains constant – both pushing outward on the surrounding water and inward on the swim bladder – the fish is fine.  When the fish is forced too quickly above a particular depth, the bladder will expand because the outward pressure is no longer strong enough to push in on the bladder – the exact opposite of what happened to the meat man – the bladder expands too quickly, and it can sometimes cause the fish  to die.  Pollock do have the ability to regulate their swim bladders, but when the are pulled too quickly to the surface by means of say, a net, for example, they can’t adjust to the pressure changes quickly enough.  I’ve shortened this complex idea into to a simple and digestible equation:

Person too deep = squish.  Fish too shallow = pop.

Despite the fact that the fish usually perish in their journey, they do so to benefit the overall health of the stocks.  Researchers gain a wealth of information from the catch.  They measure the size, age, sex, and sometimes the stomach contents of each of the fish! As the data gets collected, it is analyzed to determine the overall health of the population so that fishermen know how much is safe to catch and sell for profit without doing harm to the population.

Personal Log

Well, we haven’t left yet.  Some complications on the ship have kept us safely in the comfort of our harbor and will most likely keep us there until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.  So, we’ve been keeping busy with tours of the ship, introductions to the ship’s crew, and trips to town to look around and sample the local fare.  We are staying on a Coast Guard base, so it’s a secure location that most civilians can’t access.  The base is really interesting.

Marshmallows Stateroom
It appears as though a stowaway has made it onboard the Oscar Dyson and overtaken my stateroom! Marshmallow has found his quarters to be comfortable and accommodating. He has also informed me that he would like his bedroom at home to henceforth be referred to as his Stateroom, as it sounds much more prestigious and astute.

I especially enjoy hiking around the peninsula that is attached to the base.  All along the road are freshly ripened Salmonberries (which coincidentally do not taste like Salmon.  They taste like delicious.)   Along the opposite side of the road is a rocky shale beach.  About a half a mile down the road is a rotting old dock that is commissioned only by grasses and pony-sized seagulls.  It is decaying in the most gorgeous manner – to witness an object simultaneously rusting, collapsing, and growing is a delicious paradox for the imagination.

Like an old World War II veteran, I imagine it not as it appears today, but as a majestic and commanding behemoth – an anchor and a doorway home for the ghosts of a time passed bustling about on its intact surface.   It’s a good thing there is no possible way to access it, otherwise I may have found myself out there teasing out the details of its surely magnificent story.

dock II
This is the old dock on the peninsula in the harbor. There are trees growing out of it!

When we do leave port, I will be working the night shift.  While to some that might seem a bit intimidating, I am actually quite excited.  If my shift does not end until 4am, that gives me the luxurious liberty to remain comfortably in my rack until ten am without anyone thinking less of me.  Interestingly enough, there are a decent number of people who work nights onboard.  This means that there is someone awake at any given hour somewhere on board.  It’s hard to feel alone when there is always someone up and about – which is a comfort in the foreign world of a research ship.

For now, there isn’t much to report on other than we are hurrying up and waiting to leave.  Hopefully the weather will be friendlier tomorrow for a hike to the top of Mt. Barometer where it is rumored that the view from the top rivals any Hollywood production.  Well, maybe except Avatar , but what landscape can compete with an alien land full of glowing trees?  I would like to be the judge of that.