Oktay Ince: Reporting from the Ship Engine Room, June 28, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Latitude: 41° 36′ 5 N

Longitude: 81° 30.7′ W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 1.6 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 22.2 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 18.2 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 12.7 °C

Relative Humidity: 55 %

Barometric Pressure: 10.24 in

Science blog

Today, I am going to share some science and technology information from the engineering department. The engine room is located on the two decks below the main deck. The engineers have many tasks and responsibilities on the ship. I am going to share some of the main ones. 

The first responsibility is to make sure the ship engine is working properly. Engineers work around the clock to make sure that in the case of an emergency, they can act quickly. As you may imagine, the ship has a huge engine with many cylinders. I was very lucky to see the engine before and after it was working. When we anchored our ship near the Rocky River, we stopped the engine. The ship’s electric power is powered by three diesel generators. This powers various systems in the ship such as AC, heating, computers, refrigerators etc. 

When we were ready to get underway from anchorage for our next journey on Lake Erie, I thought it was a good idea to observe the engineering department and see how they start and operate the engine. Anyway, I went down there about 20 minutes before our departure. Engineers were busy as bees around the machines touching, clicking, opening/closing valves. There was a constant movement. They all know what to do, including me. My job is to watch how the ship engine operates. I was roaming around to see what would be the best place for me to videotape the moment when they start the engine. Luckily, I found one, and “loudly” waited there. Oh, I forgot to mention. Before you enter this place, you have to have hearing protection. I put my ear plugs in and on top I put on ear muffs. I was told the noise was going to be so loud. Once they checked all the parts, it was time to start the engine. All the pistons started to move, and it reminded me of the sound of my mom’s old sewing machine, where there was constant ticking, clicking sounds. It was fascinating to witness that moment. 

Starting the ship’s engine
The ship engine is fully operational

Hear this! Every important part in the ship has a back up. Some of them even have third, or fourth back up. For example, when I went to the bridge to learn about how they control the ship up there, the first thing they told me was that everything has a back up. If one screen shows a map, here is the same map on a different screen. So the engine also has a back up, an auxiliary engine, in the case of an emergency it would quickly kick in. However, the auxiliary engine does not have the same power as the main engine. Its role is to keep the ship out of danger, until the main engine issue is resolved, or the ship can pull into port. There was also a steering room down in the engine room in case the deck loses its steering control, they can manually steer the ship down below. Isn’t that cool! For that purpose, there is always an engineer on watch who monitors the steering gear around the clock. Remember, the ship works 24 hours. 

Besides engines, the ship has a water treatment system down in the engine room. To be honest, this was the moment where my excitement made its zenith point. You would understand this when you read what I am about to say on this. The water treatment system consists of many tubes which contain membranes to filter the water, desalinate it, and make it ready to drink. The system uses the concept of reverse osmosis (RO) to make drinkable water out of any water systems, even the ocean. However, I must note that even though the technology allows you to make the water, engineers make decisions whether to make the water based on several factors. First, it is preferred to be at least 12 nautical miles offshore in open water. This is because the water is less likely to have pollutants that could clog the filters, which would quickly lead to other issues for engineers to deal with. Deep water is also preferable for similar reasons; sediment, mud, and sand that can be churned up in shallow waters is another way for the filters to be clogged. In the case of Lake Erie, engineers decided to NOT make water because we are working relatively close to shore, and would not be an efficient use of resources. This is because the ship fills all its potable water tanks (~50,000 gallons!) in port using municipal water from the City, which is enough to supply the ship for several weeks. The ship uses ~1,500 gallons of freshwater a day!  But remember, that is for a 30 person crew – eating/drinking, showering, cleaning, etc.  Long story short, we have sufficient water in the tanks for the duration of our mission. Therefore, there is no need to make more water. 

large pipes in an array; tubing; wires
Reverse Osmosis (RO) System

Okay, let’s go back to the concept of desalination by using reverse osmosis. It sounds complicated, right? It is quite simple in principle. To be honest, even myself, who trained in biology both during my bachelors and graduate school, thought that so many people in the world can’t use ocean/sea water to solve the water crisis because the technology is very “expensive” and that is not an option. On the contrary, it is a very simple science concept and it is relatively cheap when you think of the product and the benefits it has. However, why is it still not accessible to everyone in the world? I guess the question will stick in my mind from now on.

Let’s get back to the science concept of osmosis and reverse osmosis. In osmosis, you have a semi-permeable membrane where water moves freely without energy input to the system until the two sides of the membrane have equal number of water molecules. The osmotic pressure to the membrane is equal in both sides due to having the same amount of water molecules on both sides of the membrane. Cells in our body are semi-permeable and water can go in and out of the cell based on the concentration of solutes in both sides of the membrane. You can see the concept of osmosis in every biological system. We have even applied the concept of osmosis since ancient times to preserve foods by dehydration with salt or sugar such as jams, pickles, pastrami and so on. The microorganisms that make food go bad can’t survive without the presence of water. That’s why honey is the only natural product that never goes bad due to its high concentration of substances. 

In reverse osmosis, the movement involves water molecules passing through a higher substance concentration (sea water) to a lower substance concentration. As you can see it is the opposite of osmosis. Water should move the other way around. How do we achieve that? When we apply a pressure high enough to the point where it is higher than the osmotic pressure to the saline water, it causes fresh water to flow through the membrane while holding back the salt. The higher the applied pressure above the osmotic pressure, the higher the rate of fresh water transports across the membrane. Here you have freshwater on the other side of the membrane. Pure and simple. Based on the membrane you use in the system, it also traps all the other pollutants as well. Mind blowing! This is how the ship makes its own freshwater.

So far, we talked about engines and the RO system of the ship. We also have generators down there. They are the ones that generate electricity by using fuel. The ship generally runs on one generator at a time, but may require two during some operations. However, the ship has three generators on board in case others fail. 

One of the generators

I guess I’ll leave it here and let you learn more about the science and technology of ship engines and RO systems on your own!

Personal Log

As educators, we often fail to connect our discipline to other disciplines. We usually don’t understand how one concept has many other applications. If being a Teacher at Sea on Thomas Jefferson taught me one thing, it’s that science concepts intervene with other disciplines. If students don’t see these connections, or how the concepts they learned apply to different circumstances, then I believe they fail to see the bigger picture. As a result, “true” learning will never be achieved.

I was a scientist by training before I became an educator, and of course I know what osmosis is in biological systems. However, I must confess that I did not see the applications of osmosis this far, not even during my graduate studies. There has not been a single educator who showed me the concept of osmosis in this perspective. I don’t blame them. They probably haven’t had a chance to learn that way too. All I remember is the “U” shaped diagram with a semi-permeable membrane in the middle, and each side having different concentrated solutions, which shows how the water moves freely. And then they explained how once it reached equilibrium, both sides of the membrane had equal concentration. From there, they talked about different solution types, energy requirements of moving molecules from one side to another, etc. I guess you all remember this from your biology or related courses.

From this teaching, did you ever think about how this science concept is used in different applications? Like in this case, reverse osmosis to make freshwater from seawater. If you did, lucky you! You are one of those lucky ones- I didn’t have that opportunity. At least, I did not think about it at the moment. All I worried about was learning the concept and moving on. I guess my teachers at that time had the same “vision” as me. Teach the concept, test it with multiple choice questions and then move on thinking that students learned. When those students come across the same concept in different settings, they mostly fail. The justification of the educator would be like, “I don’t know why they failed. I taught them the materials and had great scores. They must have had a bad day during the testing.” Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! I know those.

Sorry for my long thoughts about our educational system. We really should, at least, teach science concepts to our classroom through its real world application. Only then, would they appreciate the power of the science concept they are learning, which could open a lot more creative ideas on their own, leading to innovation. These were thoughts that sparked my mind thanks to reverse osmosis (RO) system technology on the ship. 

Another important thing that came to mind while I was down in the engine room was the importance of teamwork, and how important it is to always have a back up. We all know the importance of teamwork, and how the members of each team are equally important. But when it comes to teaching teamwork to the kids who have not experienced real teamwork, do they really understand its importance? If we want our students to work as a team in our classrooms, we need to design our lessons in a way that if one of the team members fails to complete a task assigned to them, the whole task fails along with it. Once they know this, I think the true understanding of teamwork will prevail to the students. 

These were the thoughts that I have been contemplating while witnessing all the cool things I saw in the engine room. Who knows how students would be impacted if they saw these things?

Did you know? 

  • Waves in Lake Erie are mainly caused by winds because of its shallow nature. If those waves move away from their generation zone, they become more regular and then are referred to as swells.

Jill Bartolotta: The Ins and Outs of Going, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 13, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 31, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°29.0’ N

Longitude: 079°34.1’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: 155

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.6 °C

Barometric Pressure: 1013.7

Sky: Few

Science and Technology Log

Today and tomorrow I am learning all about the who and how of making the ship go. Ric Gabona, the Acting Chief Marine Engineer, has been teaching me all about the mechanics of powering the ship, managing waste, and providing clean drinking water. Today I will focus on two aspects of making it possible to live on a ship for weeks on end. First, I will teach you about waste management. Second, I will explain how freshwater is made to support cooking, drinking, cleaning, and bathing needs. In conjunction, all of these systems contribute to our comfort on board but also our safety.

Wastewater Management

Waste on board has many forms and it all must be handled in some way or it can lead to some pretty stinky situations. The main forms of waste I will focus on include human waste and the waste that goes down the drains. The waste is broken down into two categories. Black water and gray water. Gray water is any water that goes down the drain as a result of us washing dishes, our hands, or ourselves. Gray water is allowed to be discharged once we are 3 miles from shore. The water does not need to be treated and can be let off the ship through the discharge valve. Black water is water that is contaminated with our sewage. It can be discharged when we are 12 miles from shore. Black water goes into a machine through a macerator pump and it gets hit with electricity breaking the solid materials into smaller particles that can be discharged into the ocean.

Discharge of gray or black water has its limitations. These discharge locations follow strict rules set in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The CFR are set by the federal government and the regulations tell you where (how far from shore) you are allowed to discharge both gray and black water. However, sometimes Okeanos Explorer is in areas where black water cannot be discharged so the black water must be turned into gray water. At this point, once the black water has been mashed it will pass through a chlorine filter that will treat any contamination and then the waste can be discharged. However, there are places where nothing can be discharged such as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i. When in these no discharge areas the ship will store the gray and black water and then discharge when regulated to do so.

It is important to follow these regulations because as Ric says, “We are ocean stewards.” It is important that ships such as Okeanos Explorer be able to explore the ocean while making the smallest environmental impact as possible. The engineers and other ship and science mission personnel are dedicated to reducing our impact as much as possible when out at sea.

Making Water

Water makes up 60% of the human body and is vital for life. However, 71% of the water on earth is saltwater, not able to be taken up by humans, making it challenging to access freshwater unless you live near an inland freshwater system like where I come from up in Ohio along the Great Lakes. While out at sea, we have no access to freshwater and we cannot store freshwater from land on the ship so we must make it. On Okeanos Explorer freshwater is made using two types of systems, reverse osmosis and desalination. Reverse osmosis is used by seabirds to turn saltwater into freshwater. Saltwater passes through a semipermeable membrane allowing the smaller water particles to pass through while leaving the larger salt particles and other impurities behind. If you are seabird, you excrete this salt by spitting it out the salt glands at the top part of your bill or if you are a ship out through a separate pipe as brine, a yellow colored super salty liquid. The other method on the ship used to make water is desalination. Desalination is the process of boiling salt water, trapping the water that evaporates (freshwater), and then discharging the salty water left behind. The engineers could use a separate boiling system to heat the salt water however they have a much more inventive and practical way of heating the water. But before I can let you know of their ingenious solution we must learn how the engines run. Oops! Sorry, I need to go. Need to switch my laundry. So sorry. We will explore ship movement and the engines in the next blog. Stay tuned…

Reverse osmosis system
Reverse osmosis system on the ship.
flow meters for potable water and brine
Can you see the yellow colored brine and the clear colored potable water?
Filtered water station
Filtered water station on the ship. Look familiar? You may have one like this in your school.


Personal Log

I really enjoyed learning all about the mechanics of operating the ship. It takes lots of very skilled people to make the equipment work and I love the ingenuity of the machines and those who run them. Space is limited on a ship and I am just fascinated by how they deal with the challenges of managing waste and making freshwater 50 plus nautical miles from coast for up to 49 people. Today was a great learning day for me. I do not know much about engines, wastewater treatment, and water purification systems so I really learned a lot today. I now have one more puzzle piece of ship operations under my belt with many more to go.

Aside from my lesson in thermodynamics, combustion, chemistry, physics, and other sciences that I have not touched since college, I learned about the safety operations on the vessel. Today we practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. We learned where we need to go on the ship should one of these events ever occur and which safety gear is needed. I donned my immersion suit and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) to make sure they fit and all the pieces/parts work. Being in the ocean would be a bad time to realize something isn’t right. Donning the safety suit was a funny situation for all movement is super restricted and you feel like a beached whale trying to perform Swan Lake on point shoes.

Jill in immersion suit
Me in my immersion suit, fondly known as the gumby suit.

However, with some help from my friends we were all able to get suited up in case an emergency should arise.

Tonight I look forward to another sunset at sea, some yoga on the deck, and seeing a spectacular star display.  

view of deck with sunset
My yoga spot

Did You Know?

Eating an apple a day while at sea can keep seasickness at bay.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Galley: Kitchen

Mess Deck: Space that crew eat aboard ship

Fantail: Rear deck of a ship

Pipe: Announcement on the ship via a PA system

Muster: Process of accounting for a group of people. Used in safety drills on a ship such as a fire or abandon ship drills.

Stateroom: Sleeping quarters on the ship

Abeam: On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the ship’s keel

Bearing: The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects

Animals Seen Today

1 flying fish

Whales (Too far away to tell what they were but we saw their spouts!)

Sandra Camp, Beam Me Up, JJ!, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sandra Camp
Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 14 – 24, 2015

Mission: Main Hawaiian Islands Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Date: June 22, 2015

Weather Data: partly cloudy, visibility > 7 NM (nautical miles), winds ENE 10-15 KT (knots), seas SE 3-5 ft., air temperature 88° F, water temperature 79° F

Science and Technology Log

Chief Engineer
Chief Engineer James Johnson, “JJ,” in his domain on the engineering deck
Science is not just happening with the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division’s fish survey aboard the Hi’ialakai, science is happening all the time all over the ship. Today I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of the engineering deck with the ship’s Chief Engineer, James Johnson (“JJ”), to take a look at some of the technology and machinery that keep this ship running. Engineering is so huge, it requires its very own deck. On this deck, there is the propulsion room, the shaft alley, and the control room, just to name a few. Besides the engines and rudders and propulsion equipment that keep the ship running literally, there are so many things that have to function properly on a daily basis, because life on board depends on them. We need fresh water for showers, scientist gear cleaning stations, drinking, cleaning, and cooking. We have air conditioning so the temperature is comfortable on board. The galley needs refrigeration to keep food fresh and power for cooking. There must be an efficient system for disposing of waste. There are washing machines and electric gym equipment, and a host of other things that all need to work on the ship. All of that takes place in the Chief Engineer’s domain.

Steering Controls
In a worst-case-scenario, the ship could be steered from engineering.
One of the interesting things I learned on my tour is that the ship uses about 2,000 gallons of fresh water on a daily basis. After 10 days at sea, we have used about 20,000 gallons of fresh water all together. Where does all that fresh water come from? The ocean! The engineering deck contains a machine called the Watermaker. It uses reverse osmosis to desalinate seawater. This device is capable of producing 3,000 gallons of fresh water a day. It is pretty amazing.

There is so much going on in the engineering deck, I found it a bit overwhelming. I am amazed that one person (with a small army of helpers) could know how to run all of that different equipment, and to know how to fix it all if anything goes wrong. I know JJ has had many years to develop his skills, but I am still very impressed.

Interview with the Captain!

I have been very impressed with the professional and efficient way the Hi’ialakai is run, particularly with its attention to safety. This is all to the credit of CDR Daniel M. Simon, the commanding officer of the ship. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me and talk about what it’s like to be a NOAA Corps officer and the captain of a NOAA ship.

CDR Daniel M. Simon
CDR Daniel M. Simon
What are your primary responsibilities?

Overseeing the overall safety of the ship and the completion of the mission. I ensure that navigation routes are safe and take care of any issues driving the ship. I work with the chief scientists to make sure the mission is completed as safely as possible.

What do you love most about your job?

There are two things I love most: First, the adventure of it all. We are getting to see parts of Hawaii most people never get to see. Earlier this year, we were in Samoa, and last year we had a mission in the Marianas. Second, organizing and managing everything and seeing it all come to fruition.

What kind of education do you need to have this job?

In order to become a NOAA Corps officer, you need a four-year college degree in math, science, or engineering. After that, you can apply to be an officer. I have so far worked for 14 years as a NOAA Corps officer. I spent time on research vessels as an ensign and as an executive officer. I worked in many different capacities in those positions and gained experience that was valuable to becoming commanding officer of the Hi’ialakai, the position they have assigned me to here. I did not always want to be the captain of a ship. I did not have any experience with the ocean before applying to NOAA Corps; it was all new to me. Even though my background was in science, it had nothing to do with a ship. I looked at it as a treasure trove of new information to learn. NOAA sent me to dive school, and I had never even snorkeled before!

Do you have any advice for young people interested in your line of work?

Get the education. College degrees open a lot of doors. Have an open mind, be open to learning new things, and be willing to try new things. I still learn new things every day. Love learning because it never ends. Recruiters are looking for these things: open-mindedness, love of learning, and the ability to handle yourself.

Personal Log

Today, I got to go up to the bridge and see what the command center of the ship is like. Besides a nice view, they have a lot of special equipment up there that helps them navigate the ship and keep an eye on the small boat operations taking place on a daily basis. I learned how to plot the ship’s location on a nautical chart using both GPS coordinates and visual fixed-point references. They even let me steer the ship.

My time aboard the Hi’ialakai is quickly drawing to a close. I am very grateful for the opportunity to come aboard and be part of this mission. I learned so many new things every single day, that I have enough material for at least 20 more blogs! Unfortunately, I will be unable to write them. I would like to thank the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division and the rest of the science team conducting the mission for letting me learn about and share their very important research. I would also like to thank the crew and the officers for being friendly and making my short stay here a pleasant one, and particularly the captain for keeping us all safe.

Aloha Honolulu
A last view of the Oahu coastline as our ship pulls in to Pear Harbor

Sarah Boehm: The Dead Zone, July 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 5, 2013

Weather at 19:13
Air temperature: 26°C (79°F)
Barometer: 1017mb
Humidity: 93%
Wind direction: 135°
Wind speed: 18 knots
Water temp: 27°C
Latitude : 28° 44’ N
Longitude: 85° 32’ W

Science and Technology Log

Mr. Cummiskey, the other science teacher at CDCPS, asked if we saw an influence from farming along the Mississippi River in the Gulf ecosystem. At first it seems crazy that something happening over a thousand miles away can have an impact on an ecosystem as vast as the Gulf of Mexico, but it really is happening and part of our research is to monitor the effects. The first clue I had that something was changing was the color of the water. In the deep waters off Texas the water was a beautiful clear blue. As we got closer to the Mississippi delta the sea water turned a murky brown–a mix of mud brought down by the river and the phytoplankton that was thriving in the nutrient dense waters. Just like eating too much food is bad for people’s health, too many nutrients is actually bad for an ecosystem.

The CTD instrument. The bottles on the top collect water and the instruments on the bottom take measurements.

Each time we get to a sampling station we start by taking measurements of the water quality with the CTD (conductivity temperature and depth). From the bridge the officers control the ship to keep it in one place. Then the deck crew uses a winch and pulley system to move the heavy CTD equipment overboard and down into the water almost to the sea floor. All the way down and back up the machine is taking dozens of readings a second that are transmitted back to a computer in the dry lab.

The CTD records the depth, water temperature, the salinity (how salty the water is), and the dissolved oxygen. We are most concerned with the oxygen level because it greatly impacts the organisms living in the water. Fish and marine invertebrates breathe oxygen molecules that are mixed in with the water. Without enough dissolved oxygen in the water they will suffocate and die. Healthy levels in the Gulf of Mexico are 4 to 6 milligrams of O2 per liter of water.  If there is less than 2 mg/L it is considered hypoxic, meaning there is not enough oxygen. This map uses the data we have collected this cruise to show dissolved oxygen levels in the bottom waters of the Gulf. The green and yellow colors shows the healthy areas, the orange areas are hypoxic.

Click on the map for a larger version. The map is updated as new data comes in.

hypoxia map

See those orange areas in close to the coast of Louisiana? That is known as the Dead Zone. Runoff of fertilizer and other nutrient sources wash down rivers and out to sea where they contribute to algae blooms. When the algae dies it sinks and is decomposed, a process that uses up a lot of oxygen. Check out this video to learn more. All my 6th graders should notice similarities between this situation and the virtual pond we worked with this spring.

Hypoxia video

Not only do the oxygen levels change, but the composition of the fish trawls changed dramatically too.  At station #144 we had an oxygen reading of 3 mg/L and an average sized trawl (26 kg) with a variety of species. At station #146 we had an oxygen reading of 1 mg/L (which is hypoxic) but pulled up a huge net of fish that filled 18 buckets. The total weight was 340 kg, but over 300 kg was just two species – croaker and butterfish. We were surprised by this catch and so did another oxygen reading and found while our nets started in hypoxic waters, during the 30 minute trawl we moved into better water with 3 mg/L of oxygen .  At station #147 we had a very low oxygen reading of only 0.2 mg/L. Our trawl only brought up 1.7 kg, most of which were jellies and crabs with just a few little fish.  There just wasn’t enough oxygen to support more life. Why was station #146 so huge? As the low oxygen waters spread out from the Mississippi River delta, critters were fleeing the hypoxia zone and moving to better water. So along the edge of the dead zone is an area with high population density; the oxygen refugees and the fish swooping in to eat them.  However, not all creatures can move themselves out of the way. Creature like bivalves and gastropods (clams and snails) don’t have the capability to move much and so get caught in the annual hypoxic zone of the Gulf.

big catch
Bringing up the big catch at station 146

Hypoxia zones caused by nutrient runoff from fertilizer and other man-made sources do not just happen in the Gulf of Mexico. They have also been recorded in the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound and at the mouths of rivers around the world. They can also happen in fresh water ponds and lakes.

The CTD is our main method of recording oxygen levels, but we need to make sure it is functioning properly. So each day we also take a water sample and use a titration method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen. Check out the colorful chemical reactions in this video.

Personal Log

People, like fish, need oxygen and water to survive. Out on the ship oxygen in the air is easy to come by, but fresh water is another story. We are surrounded by water of course, but cannot drink the salt water. I tracked down out Chief Engineer, Sean Pfarrer, to find out more about where all the fresh water on board comes from.

The reverse osmosis machine

Down in the engine room there is a reverse osmosis machine that processes salt water and turns it into fresh water. The salt water is pumped into the machine under 950 psi of pressure. The pressurized water is forced through a selectively permeable membrane that lets water molecules through, but not the larger salt molecules. (My 6th graders should find this all sounding familiar) The super salty water left behind is pumped back out to sea, and the fresh water is used on board. Our sinks, showers and laundry all use fresh water. We go through about 1,000 gallons a day, which is close to the 1,200 gallon limit of the RO system (but only about half what 30 average Americans would use on land). To conserve fresh water the heads (toilets in sailor speak) flush with salt water.

RO element
A rod from the RO machine. Water is pumped in the tube and forced through the yellow filter.

Which brings me to one of my favorite science teacher topics – poop. Thirty people over the course of fifteen days generate a fair amount of waste. What happens to all that poop? Just emptying it into the water would be harmful to the marine environment, so we have a little waste water treatment system right on board. When you flush, it all goes down to the marine sanitation device where poop eating bacteria consume our waste.  The waste water then passes by chlorine tablets that kill any bacteria before it gets dumped into the sea. I’ll admit I’m a little fascinated by the systems and technology that keeps our floating community operating in a rather comfortable fashion.

We completed our science work this afternoon and are now heading back to port. Check out the Ship Tracker to see where we have been.

CDCPS Science Students:

How did sailors long ago during the age of exploration deal with the drinking water problem?

What do you think we could do to lessen the hypoxia problem in the Gulf?

Sherie Gee: Eco-Friendly Ships, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 — July 7 

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  June 26, 2013 

Science and Technology Log:

I was very pleased to learn that the R/V Hugh R. Sharp is environmentally friendly.  I was lucky enough to run into some of the crew members that were getting the ship ready to leave the dock.  One of the crew members named Tim, showed me around the ship and pointed out various features that keep the ship running.  I noticed many piles of crystal salt bags and asked what they were for.  That conversation led to the discovery of how this ship and many other research vessels recycle their water while out at sea.  Water is categorized into three types:  clean water, gray water, and black water.  Clean water is used for drinking, showering and washing clothes and dishes.  Gray water is the water that has been used after washing the dishes, clothes and other uses.  This water is not potable but can be reused in other areas that do not need purified water.  Then there is the black water that is basically “toilet water.”  The toilet water is run through a reverse osmosis process which is where the salt crystals are used.  Once the water has been through the process, then it can be discharged back into the environment; in this case, the ocean.  It is now clean and safe enough for all organisms in the ocean.  Of course they try to get some volunteers to test this water before discharging it into the ocean but haven’t gotten any so far.

Bags of salt crystals used in reverse osmosis
Bags of salt crystals used in reverse osmosis

Along with the recycling of the water, the ship also recycles plastic bottles and aluminum cans.  All trash such as paper, table scraps and other is bagged up and disposed of once they return to port.  So nothing is thrown overboard.

He also explained that there are very stiff penalties for ocean pollution and not being in compliance.  One accidental spill of any sort of substance that goes into the ocean is equal to a $10,000 fine right off the bat.  This applies to all commercial fishermen.

Tim also discussed the portable laboratory vans which in this case is used as the wet lab.  These vans can be relocated and used on any of the ships that need them.

Portable Science Laboratory
Portable Science Laboratory

Personal Log:

I have learned so much just in the first hour on board.  I felt like a sponge absorbing all the new knowledge that I was receiving. There are so many people who make up the crew.  Thanks to them for making the ship run smoothly.  Then there are the research scientists that come on board.  I would say about fifteen scientists.  Many come from the University of Delaware, NOAA and Woods Hole.  We were put into two teams:  the day shift from 12:00 P.M. to 12:00 midnight and the midnight shift from 12:00 midnight to 12:00 P.M. in the afternoon.  We had to pack our backpacks with everything that we thought we would need for that day because we were not allowed to go back to the stateroom because the other shift was sleeping.  I was on the day shift and actually slept a good eleven hours between shifts.

I have the bottom bunk
I have the bottom bunk

Yaara Crane: Engineering a Floating Town, June 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013

My roommate, Ensign Kristin, is teaching me how to steer at the helm.

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013

Latitude: 38.81°N
Longitude: 75.06°W

Weather Data from Bridge:
Wind Speed:  13.50 knots|
Surface Water Temperature: 22.61°C
Air Temperature:  23.30°C
Relative Humidity: 87.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1001.38mb

TJ sunset
Sunset over the bow of the Thomas Jefferson.

Science and Technology Log

At any given time, the Thomas Jefferson is home to about 30-40 individuals. These individuals come from all walks of life to become deck hands, engineers, stewards, scientists, or officers. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with Chief Engineer Tom learning about how his team of engineers works to keep this home afloat and functional. There are currently 4 licensed engineers, and 3 QMEDs (Qualified Members of the Engine Department) aboard the TJ.

engineering console
The engineering control console keeps and eye on all of the mechanics of the ship. If the bridge loses control, the engineers could steer the ship from here!

How do you become an engineer on a NOAA ship?  There are two routes to becoming an engineer on a NOAA ship. If you wanted to start working immediately aboard a ship, you could apply to start as an undocumented engineer. You are required to work 180 days at sea, pass a basic safety course, and then would become eligible to take a test to become a QMED. Another 1080 days would make you eligible to take a licensing test to become third engineer. From there, time and more licensing tests help you work up the ranks. There are a myriad of licensing tests that depend on the horsepower of the ship you want to work on. For example, most NOAA ships require the same license, but the NOAA ship Ron Brown has more horsepower and requires what is called an unlimited license. All licensing falls under the purview of the U.S. Coast Guard and various federal regulations. A different route to becoming an engineer involves attending a four-year program at a maritime academy. The maritime academy gives graduates the necessary skills to move straight into a third engineer position because it includes internships and semester at sea opportunities. The students from the academy must still take all of the same licensing tests. Clearly, engineers must have a great amount of knowledge as part of their toolkit no matter their background.

What really stood out to me was when Tom mentioned the fact that the word engineer comes from engine. The primary purpose of the engineer is to make sure that the ship has enough power for all of the tasks that happen around the clock. The TJ has two engines for propulsion and three generators for electricity that can be put online to boost the power output. When I was in the engine room yesterday, second engineer Steve was on watch and communicating with the bridge about having more power for their bow thruster. The bow thruster increases the maneuverability of the ship when it is slowing down, such as when anchoring. Steve made sure that Generator 1 was providing the energy needed for this particular task while Generator 2 was providing power for the rest of the ship’s needs. Overall, the Thomas Jefferson can hold approximately 198,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and uses about 1,500 gallons a day for all of its operations.

RO comparison
Can you tell which of these reverse osmosis machines is working, and which one is offline?

Most of the engineering equipment comes in duplicate just in case anything breaks down. For example, there are two reverse osmosis machines whose purpose is to turn seawater into potable water. One of them is currently down, so it is imperative that we have a second aboard. Reverse osmosis is the process by which seawater is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane in order to filter out the solutes, and only allow the water solvent through. The solute (sea salt) can then be dumped right back into the ocean. The water that is collected must be chlorinated before use, but will then go on to the galley, bathrooms, laundry, etc. The TJ can store around 21,500 gallons of freshwater and uses about 2,500 gallons of fresh water a day.

The internal workings of reverse osmosis. Image credit: http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04sum/saline_popup.htm

When being built, NOAA ships are outfitted for water usage in different ways, and Tom is busy planning how to make the ship more energy efficient. The TJ does not have the ability to use and recycle gray water or sea water very efficiently. Some NOAA ships have the ability to use seawater in the toilets, but the TJ does not. Have you ever thought of how much water is used when flushing a toilet? Well, you might have to think of that if you live in a desert area, or on a ship! Tom will be able to reduce the amount of water used in each flush by about 1.4 gallons with a simple valve that he plans on installing when the ship is docked for some maintenance work this summer. If we assume that there are 35 people on board the ship, and each person flushes 5 times a day, then the TJ can save 245 gallons of water each day with just a simple upgrade. This amounts to a reduction in water use of around 10% a day!

Tom has thought through many other types of upgrades, most not so simple, to better put to use the resources on board. Instead of using reverse osmosis, some NOAA ships make water through an evaporator. An evaporator is a much more efficient way of creating water because it needs a reduced pressure and average temperature near 160°F. On ships that have evaporators, water is diverted into pipes near the heat of the main engine so that the waste energy created by the engine can be transferred to reduce the amount of energy needed in the evaporator.

Although I have a particular interest in wastewater treatment and energy usage, these are by no means the extent of the engineer’s tasks. They are also responsible for checking fuel levels, keeping the air conditioning running (crucial considering the heat generated by the servers required to hold all of the ship’s scientific data), maintaining a workshop, being the ship’s electricians, and much more. Finally, they also work to keep up the morale of everyone in this floating town.

 Personal Log

I am trying to keep myself busy learning about all of the aspects of the ship. It is difficult to throw myself into the data analysis because the CARIS program is so complex; however, I spend lots of time watching the scientists plug at it. I have also been spending a lot of time on the bridge where some of the officers have been letting me help to collect hourly weather data, and teaching me to take navigational fixes. It is interesting to see that even with all of the digital data, the bridge officers must still take time to read a wall-mounted barometer and interpret cloud formations in the sky. For navigation, the officers still need to know how to use a compass and protractor, which brought me back to 1998 and my days in geometry class.

I also love hearing travel stories from the many people on board. Keith, a deckhand, has travelled all over the world on a NOAA ship based in Hawaii. It motivates me to continue to find opportunities to expand my horizons and see the world. I hope that I can also motivate my students back at Annandale to get creative with their ambitions.

 Did You Know?

Officers must be on watch 24/7, even when at anchor. To help preserve their night vision after the sun sets, the bridge is stocked with red plastic squares which are mounted over the screens to help minimize glare from white light.

night vision
The monitors on the bridge at night.

Lesley Urasky: June 30, 2012, Goodbye Pisces

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 30, 2012

Latitude: 29.1215
Longitude: -78.9042

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Water Temperature:
Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:  9 knots (10 mph), Beaufort scale:  3
Wind Direction: from W-SW
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:   1,012.0 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

During our last night, I had the Third Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement, give me a tour of the engine room and fresh water system.  I can’t believe the engineers are able to work down there – the noise and heat (110°) is amazing!

Steve Clement, Third Assistant Engineer, explaining how things work in the engine room.

I’m not a mechanically oriented person, so Steve had to keep his explanations short; it was more of a show-and-tell tour.  The engine room, majority of equipment controlling the ship’s motion, and water treatment are located on the bottom deck of the ship.  The quantity of both electronic and mechanical equipment is mind-boggling; all the men who work in this capacity have to be proficient in so many areas so the ship can support the science missions.  Hats off to all those hard-working and talented men!

Computer screen showing the operations in the generation plant on the Pisces.

The operation of the ship can be monitored on the main distribution computer screen.  Levels of fluids and functioning of all the components are continually assessed and modifications to operation made from the control panel.

Computer screen showing current fuel consumption for each generator.

The ship uses lots of diesel fuel when it is operating at full steam (14.5 knots/hour) – around 2,500 gallons a day!  The Pisces has a tank capacity of 110,000 gallons; I’d hate to pay their fuel bill when it’s time to fill up! This quantity of fuel allows it to travel about 12,000 NM (nautical miles) or 13,800 miles; that’s a little over half-way around the Earth on one tank of fuel!

Two of the Pisces‘ generators: the one on the left is a 12-cylinder and an 8-cylinder on the right.

The propeller is located at the stern (back) of the ship.  I was able to look down through grating in the floor and see the drive shaft turning at 134 rpm.  It has a diameter of 14.1 feet; it has to be so large so that it can efficiently move the ship through the water.

Main shaft of the Pisces‘ propeller.

Lastly, I got to see the Pisces‘ water generation system.  This is as important as the ship’s engines because without fresh water, the scientists and crew members wouldn’t have drinking water as well as no water for washing or cooking.  The ship isn’t big enough to carry all the freshwater that it needs for a long cruise.  But with reverse osmosis technology, and the fact that we’re surrounded by nothing but water, fresh water is readily available.  The Pisces takes in seawater which is pumped through a reverse osmosis (RO) system.

Reverse osmosis (RO) system that creates fresh water for the Pisces.

In reverse osmosis, the salty water is forced (pumped) through membranes with very small openings.  These are so small that the ions making the water “salty” cannot pass through; the water is able to pass and after leaving the ions behind, becomes fresh water.  The RO system on the Pisces generates about 624 gallons per hour.  The tan “box” in the picture above contains all of the controls and gauges.  The long, white tube behind it contains the permeable membrane that the water is forced through.

Membrane filter in a reverse osmosis apparatus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Personal Log

It is with some sadness that my adventure as a NOAA Teacher at Sea has come to an end.  Today I said goodbye to the crew of the Pisces.  They are an amazing crew, and made my final portion of the cruise without the scientists interesting and fun.  I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about being without the scientists and seeing the ship under different circumstances (lacking a specific scientific objective), but the Pisces steamed forward with two goals in mind: retrieving the buoy (see my last posting on June 27), and arriving in Mayport in a timely manner to receive the next group of scientists as they embark on their cruise.  I’d like to invite you to continue to follow the Pisces and their new Teacher at Sea, Marsha Skoczek as she learns about Deep Sea Corals.

Pisces life preserver

On the afternoon of the 28th, we encountered a line of squalls generated by Tropical Depression Debby as she moved off the coast of Florida and into the Atlantic.  At one point, we had 40 knot (46 mph) winds and rain.  After the winds had died down a bit, I spent some time up on the bridge. Being up so high in the ship, coupled with 8-foot confused seas (waves coming in from different directions) began to make me feel seasick.  I took another meclazine (similar to Dramamine), had some saltine crackers and ginger ale, and sat on deck looking at the horizon for a while.  When even this failed to make me feel better, I crawled into bed.  I really must have been feeling poorly to miss dinner!

By next morning, the seas had calmed down dramatically, and I was feeling as good as new.  As this was our last full day at sea, I headed up to the bridge to do one last thing that the Commanding Officer told me I could do – drive the ship!  While the ship is underway, it is usually under “auto-pilot”.  A course can be entered into the computer and the ship doesn’t need anyone actively at the helm.  The Navigational Officer, Ensign Michael Doig, placed the Pisces under manual control and showed me how to steer the ship.  The Pisces is an incredibly responsive ship and can turn very quickly in just a few feet.  I was shown the current heading and the compass and tried to keep the ship on course – it was definitely much harder than it looks!  After zig-zagging back and forth, off course by about 10 degrees, I handed control back to Ensign Doig.

Lesley Urasky at the helm (aka “driving” the ship).

After this concentration zapping task, he had me plot our current position on the navigational chart and record the hourly weather information.  This included the ship’s current latitude and longitude, course heading, wind speed, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.

These are some of the nautical charts the Pisces used while on our cruise: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and East Coast of Florida: Approaches to St. Johns River

Lesley Urasky plotting the Pisces‘ current position

While many aspects of travel in the modern age have various computer based technologies to assist with navigation, the crew still needs to know how to find their location manually. I spent some time learning about navigation with Peter Langlois, 3rd Mate on the Pisces.  He showed me how they plot their course on a navigational chart.  Once a ship’s current location is determined, those crew members on watch will use dead reckoning to determine where they will be at a given point in time if all the current conditions remain the same (course and speed).  Peter also attempted to show me how to determine the time of sunrise/sunset for each specific location using our latitude, longitude, and an almanac.  For an interesting way to determine when sunrise/sunset (as well as moon rise/set) for your specific location, NOAA has a great website called Solar Calculator.  This site will also tell you when solar noon occurs (point where the sun is most directly overhead) and show you the path the sun takes across the sky.

Plotting our current position and using dead reckoning to project future positions.

Unfortunately, at that point in time, I wasn’t able to fully understand Peter’s directions as the seasickness was just beginning to hit me. The effects were compounded by being up on the bridge (almost the highest point on the ship) and trying to follow lines of small numbers in the almanac while the ship was being  buffeted by waves from all directions.

As my final day at sea came to a close, I spent quite a bit of time “prowling” the ship and taking pictures of all the little things that had become so “ordinary” to me.  After dinner, I climbed up to the flying deck and spent time watching the sunset with the Commanding Officer (CO), Peter Fischel.  It was a beautiful sight; one that I’ll always remember.

Sunset on the last night of the cruise.

Before I went to bed, I checked the ship’s information board to find out when we’d be arriving in Mayport, Florida.  The board holds important information and updates the crew needs to know as part of their jobs as well as other useful information.

Information board on the NOAA ship Pisces.

Last night when I went to bed, there was nothing but open ocean surrounding the ship.  When I woke up the next morning, the sun was rising and Mayport/Jacksonville, Florida could be seen along our port side (left).  It was a welcome sight after not seeing land for a few days.  However, I knew this view was also bringing my adventure to an end.  It was an amazing journey and full of wonderful experiences.  I met so many kind and knowledgeable people who I won’t soon forget.  A HUGE thank you to NOAA, the science team, and the crew members of the Pisces!

Panoramic view of the Mayport Harbor as we pull in at the end of our cruise.

Jennifer Goldner: Underway/Behind the Scenes, August 12, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29 03.78 N
Longitude: 080 32.183 W
Wind Speed: 9.76 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.20 C
Air Temperature: 29.88 C
Relative Humidity: 84%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.55 mb

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II is like a city. This 175’ research vessel has the capability of making potable water, processing sewage, and making its own power. Yesterday I followed around the engineers as they prepared for us to go to sea so all these things would run smoothly.

Because there are so many fluids on board (such as lubricating oil, hydraulic oil, waste oil, and diesel), it is very important to know their levels in order to be able to balance the ship. The Captain runs stability tests before going to sea. The engineers measure these fluids. How do they do it? They take tank soundings. If the engineer is measuring how much diesel is in the tanks, it is called innage. If the air space in the tank is measured, it is ullage.

Stainless steel tape and brass plumbob used for sounding the tanks
Stainless steel tape and brass plumbob used for sounding the tanks

William, 3rd Assistant Engineer, sounding a tank
William, 3rd Assistant Engineer, sounding a tank

The lid to the tank is taken off first. Next a stainless steel measuring tape with a plumbob (weight) is lowered down into the tank. (Stainless steel and brass are used to prevent static electricity.)  When the plumbob hits the buckler plate at the bottom, the tape is reeled in to see the level of the diesel. On this ship the readings are done in feet and inches. Some ships use the metric system. Either way, it is crucial that the measurements are read accurately. After the readings are taken, they put the numbers into a sounding table to calculate how many

Gene, 1st Assistant Engineer, making conversions on the sounding table
Gene, 1st Assistant Engineer, making conversions on the sounding table

gallons still remain in the tank. There are 9 diesel tanks for NOAA ship Oregon II. Can you guess how many gallons of diesel the ship holds?

After soundings are taken for diesel, hydraulic fuel, and lubricating oil, a sounding is done for waste/dirty oil. All ships have to keep an oil record book to account for proper disposal of the dirty oil. In the event there is an oil slick on the ocean, the record book will show where all the oil for the ship went. NOAA is very cautious with the oil. One drop of oil can contaminate 100,000 gallons of water!

Dirty strainer
Dirty strainer

Another task to perform before going to sea is cleaning the strainers. Salt water is used to cool the engines; however debris comes in, too. The strainers stop the debris. When they get full the engines will overheat if they aren’t cleaned. According to the engineers, the strainers are much fuller in Pascagoula than in Charleston.

Reverse osmosis machine
Reverse osmosis machine

NOAA Ship Oregon II also makes potable (safe to drink) water. This is done by the reverse osmosis machine. Essentially the water is squeezed through membranes. The government allows up to 700 parts per million (ppm) of salt, but on this ship it is kept to 150 ppm. Water is made 22 miles or more from the coast. This is due to the fact that there are more pollutants closer to shore. The ship can carry 7,000 gallons of potable water.

Brian, Junior Officer, laying down the tracks
Brian, Junior Officer, laying down the track lines

Charting is one of the many other things that must be done before sailing. This is done by the Junior Officer, Brian. He is responsible for laying down the track lines (the course the boat will take). At any given time, he has 3 days tracked. This is done electronically then it is logged on the paper chart. On the map, blue is shallow water and white is deeper water. For Charleston Port, blue is 18 feet and below and white is 18 feet or above. This differs from port to port.

Personal Log

Brian, Electronics Technician
Brian, Electronics Technician

NOAA Ship Oregon II has an entire crew of experts.  Thanks to Brian, Electronics Technician, for fixing my laptop which had a virus.  Had it been plugged into the network, it could’ve shut down the entire NOAA fleet!  All the ships rely on the internet for weather, latitude and longitude, etc.  Thank you, Brian for fixing the problem!

You may have noticed from the Ship Tracker that we left from Charleston rather than Mayport. This was a precaution taken because of Tropical Storm Emily. When I arrived at Papa Pier in Charleston, I was greeted by Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson. He told me to just call him “Dave.” He is extremely down-to-earth and eager to share what he knows with me. It is obvious he has earned the respect of the entire crew.

Boarding NOAA Ship Oregon II
Boarding NOAA Ship Oregon II

Cliff, Fisherman
Cliff, Fisherman

Over the course of the evening, I got to meet many of the crew members. They each were very helpful in getting me ready to sail. One of the fishermen, Cliff, greeted me and explained longline fishing.  Right now, however, we are transiting, or steaming, down the coast for 3 days. They won’t start fishing until we round the Florida peninsula on Sunday. Suffice it to say, I’m having the time of my life! This crew is awesome!

At the airport with Mom and Dad
At the airport with Mom and Dad

I had two added bonuses for my trip to sea. My parents dropped me off at the airport. They said it reminded them of me going to my first day of kindergarten with my shorts, T-shirt, and backpack! I also got to see my sister and her kids on a layover in Dallas. My nieces made a card for me which I have in my locker. In it my niece Ellie asked, “What are you going to grow up to be?” I have to say, the very fact that she doesn’t think I’m grown up makes me smile. Robert Ballard said it best, “I am a lifelong learner . . . a kid who has never grown up.” So Ellie, in answer to your question, I want to be a kid when I grow up. I don’t ever want to stop asking questions and asking “why?” It’s what kids do best.

Picnic with my nieces and nephew on a layover at DFW
Picnic with my nieces and nephew on a layover at DFW 

Card from my nieces
Card from my nieces

Photo Gallery from NOAA Ship Oregon II

My living quarters, stateroom 12
My living quarters, stateroom 12

Dolphin playing on starboard side of the ship
Dolphin playing on starboard side of the ship

Walter, Second Cook, and Paul, Chief Steward in the galley- The meals are WONDERFUL!
Walter, Second Cook, and Paul, Chief Steward, in the galley- The meals are WONDERFUL!!

The Bridge
The Bridge

Sunset- Southern Atlantic
Sunset- Southern Atlantic

Watching the sunrise through my window
Watching the sunrise through my window

Mess Hall- Notice the Captain's Saints chair!
Mess Hall- Notice the Captain's Saints chair!

Hanging out in the lounge on our down time
Hanging out in the lounge on our down time

Engine Room
Engine Room

Maureen Anderson: Out To Sea, July 26, 2011 (Post #2)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maureen Anderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 25 — August 9, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 27.90 N
Longitude: -086.42 W
Speed: 11.50 kts
Course: 140.00
Wind Speed: 9.10 kts
Wind Direction: 272.65
Surface Water Temperature: 30.10 C
Surface Water Salinity: 26.89 PSU
Air Temperature: 30.10 C
Relative Humidity: 64%
Barometric Pressure: 1011.94 mb

Science and Technology Log

We set off from Pascagoula, Mississippi yesterday at 3PM. We had a short delay in leaving due to some maintenance that had to be handled, but it wasn’t too long until we were underway. It turns out we will be motoring around the southern coast of Florida and up the Atlantic to reach our stations. This project’s mission is to monitor the variability in shark populations off the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico. We should begin setting line with baited hooks on Thursday. Each shark caught will be measured for length, mass, and sex. Some sharks will also be tagged in order to collect more data after their release.

Map of our course
This is our course map. It may or may not change.

The Oregon II has 30 people aboard, including crew, scientists and volunteers. The crew includes officers, fishermen, cooks, an electronics technician, engineers, and other NOAA personnel. In addition to the mission of the NOAA survey, there are volunteers who are performing their own research, such as studying the stress levels of sharks, shark reproduction, and identifying plankton species. The boat itself is a 170-foot vessel.

The Oregon II
Here is the Oregon II before leaving port.

Personal Log

I’m having a great time on the ship and the people aboard are wonderful. Everyone has been very welcoming and willing to answer my (many) questions about nearly everything. I will be working the day shift when we reach our first station (noon to 12AM), which is great because I can sleep at night normally. I settled into my room which has bunk beds, a sink, and a shared bathroom/shower with the room next door. One of the officers, Sarah, gave us a tour of the boat, including three exercise rooms! I have yet to try them out, but I’m thinking it will be the ultimate test of balance to run on a treadmill while the boat is in motion. Since we have a few days (three) before reaching our first station, many of us have been watching movies (there is a big screen TV in the lounge), reading, and relaxing. I’m sure the work will pick up soon enough, so it’s nice to take it easy for a while. But I am eager to get started. I had a hard time eating dinner last night. For some reason, I lost my appetite. I don’t think it had to do with sea-sickness, but perhaps adjusting to the rocking motion of the boat. The seasickness patch I’m using is working out well so far.

My room
Here is my room. Good 'ole bunk beds!

Today we practiced a fire and emergency drill (abandon ship). During an abandon ship drill, we put on our survival suits. They are big, orange, and take some practice getting into! The suits will keep you warm and buoyant in water. Each one has a strobe light and whistle. When I finally got into mine (with some helpful tips from others) I looked like a big orange Gumby. That is why the survival suits are also called “Gumby” suits.

Survival suit
Here I am in my survival suit. It is my best outfit ever - I am ready for anything!

Something to Think About

A ship out to sea has to be self-sustaining. We are like our own floating city. How do we get fresh drinking water? Where does our waste go? How do you feed 30 people 3 times a day for 16 days? These are questions you may or may not have wondered about…well I’m going to tell you anyway! The boat makes its own fresh water through a process known as reverse osmosis. This removes salt and other molecules from water to make it usable. It gives us drinking water, and water to wash with (for showers, laundry, dishes, etc.) The heads (or toilets) are flushed using salt water. This makes sense because we have an unlimited supply! We have a marine decomposing system that adds bacteria to break down human waste before releasing it to sea. Food scraps? Also sent out to sea to decompose or be eaten. Garbage? Well…we have to hang on to that for the entire trip. This really makes you think about trying to reduce the amount of garbage you produce.