Mary Cook: Final Day, March 30, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Time: 8:33 am

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1031 millibars
Location: N 58°38.406’, W 136°07.990’

Science and Sea Stories Log

When I heard that this Deep Sea Exploration voyage was going to have a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) working in addition to scuba divers, I was so excited! To be able to watch the operations and meet the people who do the work has been a particular fascination for me on this voyage. I’ve always loved the exploration of the ocean using vessels that can go where humans have limitations.

Kraken2 for the 3-30 blog

The ROV Kraken 2 is owned and operated by the University of Connecticut (UConn)

Crew deploys ROV

Crew deploys the ROV

The big yellow Kraken 2 sits on the stern of the R/V Norseman II. It is a modified ROV that has been customized for special tasks in science research. Kraken 2 is owned and operated by the University of Connecticut. Kraken 2 is usually contracted to do science research for the U.S. government or University clients, but has also done a few jobs of surveying and archaeological work on shipwrecks. Kevin, Matt, Eric, Mike, and Jeff are the members of the ROV team for this voyage. These cool guys have an eclectic background of geography, marine ecology, and engineering coupled with a love of electronics and the computer side of things.


The main parts of the 2,400 lb. Kraken 2 are:

-The big yellow top made of syntactic foam that provides 900 lbs. of buoyancy, which helps maintain neutral buoyancy in water.

-Kraken 2 is tethered to the ship by the green umbilical, which provides power and communications between ship and ROV.

-Kraken 2 carries a number of cameras and lights. Big high intensity lights that provide warm light deep underwater.

-Kraken 2 uses a number of High Definition video and digital still cameras – similar to a camera you might have at home. The video camera has been deconstructed and put into a canister that can withstand high water pressure. These are positioned to get various angles and provide different views around the ROV.

-When the visibility is not good the operators rely on sonar. This allows them to “see with sound” what is in front of Kraken 2 up to 100 meters and helps them make maneuvering decisions.

-An altimeter, which measures height off the bottom and a pressure sensor that determines depth.

-The USBL (ultra short baseline) tracking system has a transducer that emits sound pulses and transponder that receives and sends a pulse back. It can track the vehicle in relation to the ship. All these sound devices are important in marine navigation for obstacle avoidance.

Sample Quivers on ROV

Quivers to hold coral samples

-The manipulator arm is sometimes called the claw. It is very important for collecting samples such as pieces of Primnoa pacifica. An acrylic vacuum tube is also attached onto the arm for “sucking” up moving or delicate samples such as fish and jellyfish. The manipulator arm is used to put samples into quivers then drops a heavy rubber stopper on top to seal it until it is brought to the surface for scientific processing.




There are three people working to “drive” Kraken 2 during deployment. The winch driver gently lifts Kraken 2 from the ship’s stern into the water and also keeps the ROV from crashing into the bottom of the ocean. The pilot is working on the finesse of getting into delicate areas. The navigator operates the claw while maintaining a close dialog with the Bridge. The cameras, radar, and sonar monitors along with the remote controls are all house in a metal shipping container called the Van.

ROV Van Door

Door to the ROV “Van”

Matt and Mike drive the ROV from within the van. The Science Leader in the last picture is Cheryl.


Kraken 2 is a unique ROV for the niche it occupies. It is a science class ROV.

Most Science Class ROVs are large about the size of a small truck and require a dedicated ship and personnel. The advantages of Kraken 2 are that it doesn’t go as deep (up to 1 km) therefore, isn’t as expensive. Smaller ships can deploy it. It’s an excellent ROV for continental shelf and slope exploration.

One night Qanuk got to go down with Kraken 2! Mike attached him to the frame. He is probably the first bald eagle to ever attempt such a feat. Qanuk was videoed as he explored the depths and even had his photo taken with Primnoa pacifica in situ.


Personal Log

Today concludes my voyage as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. Wow! It has been amazing to be a part of the Deepwater Exploration of Glacier Bay. Getting to work alongside scientists, engineers and ship’s crew that are doing adventuresome and cutting-edge work is a dream come true for me. A special “Thank you” to Dr. Rhian Waller, as Lead Scientist for accepting a Teacher at Sea on board to work with her project. I am so thankful that they all welcomed me into their work space and were willing to teach me how to do some helpful things like processing coral for reproductive studies. These people are teachers in their own right. Their enthusiasm for their work and for learning new things is infectious and I plan to carry that attitude back to my students in Scammon Bay, infusing my classroom with awe and excitement to be brave, conscientious, problem-solving citizens of our magnificent Earth!

Mary Cook: Day 7, March 25, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Friday, March 25, 2016
Time: 6:49 pm

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1012 millibars
Speed: 0.2 knots
Location: N 58°52.509’, W 137°04.299’

Science Log

Last night we headed out to open-sea and the waters got a bit rougher. I felt queasy so I took seasick meds and went to sleep. We steamed ahead to open sea and arrived to the site for our ROV dive. But the ROV dive didn’t occur due to a mechanical problem with the ship’s engine, so we headed back into the Bay on toward Johns Hopkins glacier for another round of sampling. Today was a very good day for many of the scientists to get a much-needed rest. The ship’s labs were quiet as we traveled back to the glacier. The ship’s crew on the other hand did not get a break. The ship must still be piloted. The galley work continued with meal preparation. The engine room and all of the ship’s operations were still in working mode.

Once we arrived at Johns Hopkins glacier, the ROV proceedings for the night began. It didn’t take long to find Primnoa pacifica! Samples were being carefully taken and put into quivers until resurfacing in the morning.

ROV Quivers for Samples

ROV samples stored in quivers overnight


There are all sorts of other important work that’s occurring in addition to coral collection. One of those is water sampling.

Amanda water sample

Amanda filters water samples

Scientist/Diver Amanda Kelley helps with filtering seawater collected in a Niskin bottle attached to the ROV Kraken. The Niskin bottle has plugs at both ends that are propped open to allow it to fill with water. When the plugs are tripped, the water at a certain depth is collected and sealed so that no other water will enter that sample.

Niskin bottle demo

Dann Blackwood demonstrates Niskin bottle mechanics

Filtering the water sample will help determine the concentration of particulate organic matter in a given amount of seawater at the same location of the Primnoa pacifica being collected. Scientists are trying to determine if the corals derive their food from the particulate organic matter or chemosynthetic sources. The filtered matter will be used to assess for the presence of nitrogen and carbon isotopes helping the scientists better understand the nutritional pathways of the coral ecosystem within Glacier Bay.

The scientists are measuring as many environmental variables as possible and hoping to link these to the health of the coral in Glacier Bay.

Accurate record keeping is of the utmost importance!
Oh my goodness! There are backups to the backups!

Kathy recording data

Kathy records data and checks the logbooks

Geologist Kathy Scanlon shares that she is putting geographic position data into a Geographic Information System (GIS), a digital mapping system, along with the other data collected such as diver comments and coral samples.

Kathy and GIS

Kathy records data in the Geographic Information System (GIS)

In a nutshell, it’s a way to organize data based on geographic location. In the process of gleaning this information, she says it’s also a great way of double-checking the record keeping for any inconsistencies. Another backup to the backups!
Some of the data points being recorded and re-recorded are date, time, site, depth, species, several reference numbers, and diver’s comments.

In addition to samples of Primnoa pacifica being collected, the divers are gathering samples of other organisms for documentation. These scientist divers are looking for something new—something they don’t recognize—possibly a new species or an extension of a known species location. When they surface with something unusual to them, the excitement is palpable! Everyone on the ship wants to see what’s new!

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Personal Blog

Today I’ve been a bit groggy because seasick meds make me sleepy, but I was glad to avoid the “5-star barfing” as one person described their seasick experience.

I’m so impressed with the enthusiasm for education amongst the people involved with this scientific cruise. Yesterday, I met several people at Bartlett Cove who were reading my blog and keeping up with this research cruise. All the scientists and crew onboard the Norseman II are willing and eager to answer any of my questions.

I got an email from a co-worker, Holly, one of Scammon Bay’s English teachers! She told me that she shared my blog with two of her classes and used it as a journaling prompt. Also, our principal Melissa Rivers, is sharing photos and facts with the entire school on a monitor in the Commons. I so appreciate the enthusiasm from my co-workers and their willingness to help our students learn about this cutting-edge research being done in Alaska. What a wonderful opportunity to learn and expand our horizons together!
Thanks again for your support and interest!

Where’s Qanuk?

Mary Cook: Day 4 at Sea, March 22, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Time: 7:40pm

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1013 millibars
Speed: 0.0 knots
Location: N 58°51.902’: W 137°04.737’

Science Log

Happy Birthday to Cheryl!

Cheryl small

This is Cheryl!

Unbeknownst to Cheryl, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller, even though she was very busy preparing for the cruise, brought balloons, streamers, candles, and noisemakers to celebrate Cheryl’s birthday today.

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Surprise Birthday Decor

The ship’s chef is secretly making her a cake. The celebration is slated for tonight at dinner. Shhhhh……

This morning, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller announced that we are steaming toward the end of the west arm of Glacier Bay to Johns Hopkins Glacier. This is a place where cruise ships take tourists in the Fall. But the Park Service has it closed during the Spring and Summertime because it’s a harbor seal nursery. The nightshift workers are trying to catch a few winks of sleep before we get there. No one wants to miss it. We are hoping for clear skies. Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the few glaciers that is advancing instead of receding. As it advances, it is joining the Gilliman Glacier.

Park Service Map small

Map showing John Hopkins Glacier. Credit: National Park Service

It’s 10:30 am and we’ve arrived sooner than I expected. Johns Hopkins Glacier is really something to see! So massive. Once again everyone is out on deck taking pictures and oohing and aahing.

The glacier has shades of blue and white with streaks of brown and gray. It has a covering of white snow that looks like cake icing. The glassy water is a blue-green color with a multitude of icebergs floating in it. Bob Stone uses a term we all like—“bergy bits”—meaning small pieces of floating ice. He even brought some “bergy bits” onto the ship for us to add to our water or soft drinks. So refreshing!

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While on deck taking pictures we hoped to see the glacier calve and fall into the sea. It sounds like thunder. We waited and we waited and finally a couple of small ones happened. Also, a couple of snow avalanches slid off the mountains into the water leaving dirty brown streaks along the slopes.

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Occasional avalanches leave dirty streaks in the glacier’s white snow covering

Our scuba divers went down for another exploratory look and came up with a first! They found Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm! This is the first Primnoa pacifica ever found here. They described it as spindly and small in comparison to the others found in the East Arm.

The scuba divers continue their search for Red Tree Coral.

The significance of this Red Tree Coral being in the shallow water is that it has been considered a deep-water coral. There are two broad categories of coral: warm-water coral and cold-water coral. Generally, warm-water coral live in shallow, tropical waters. Cold-water coral live in deep water. The emergence of cold-water corals like Primnoa pacifica in the shallow waters of Glacier Bay has caused scientists to re-evaluate their understanding and descriptions of these organisms.

The third and last scuba dive for today was described as “mud, mud, and more mud”. A bit of a disappointment but they did bring up an interesting little critter.

Sea Peach small

Maybe a sea peach?

This sea squirt is a tan color here in the wet lab, but according to Bob, in its natural habitat it has a bright cherry red color.

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Birthday party for Cheryl!

Well, it’s finally suppertime! That means “Birthday Party Time!” The ship’s chef, Harry served up a delicious meal of salmon, barbeque chicken, steamed kale, baked summer squash, scalloped potatoes and a big salad. For dessert, he prepared a layered chocolate cake with freshly made whipped cream and strawberries. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Cheryl.

After she blew out the candles we went out on the deck and ate cake with new friends in the view of majestic mountains and glaciers.

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A birthday to remember, I’ll say.

Now it’s back to work and the ROV crew is getting ready to deploy Kraken 2 for another night of exploration!


Personal Log

Today has been a day of anticipation and inspiring wonder. I’ve tried to stay out on deck watching the glacier. Hoping for calving and avalanches. It’s really neat to me that no one else is here. We haven’t seen anyone else except four Park Service employees who boated out to meet us today. I found out that there are over 1,000 glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park! Some of them aren’t even named. I enjoyed watching a couple of bald eagles sitting on icebergs. And the absolute coolest thing has been the discovery of Primnoa pacifica in the West Arm of Glacier! I could feel the excitement in the air!

It’s so thrilling to be a part of this scientific exploration and to learn from these world-class researchers!


Mary Cook: Day 3 at Sea, March 21, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Monday, March 21, 2016
Time: 7:54pm

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1007 millibars
Speed: 1.9 knots
Location: N 58°51.280’: W136°05.795’

Science Log

My Lab Work large

My lab work: a tray of Primnoa pacifica samples labeled and preserved for reproductive studies

Today, the coral processing continued for genetic, isotope, and reproductive studies, which has been very intensive for the last two days and nights. During the daylight hours, the divers collected samples of the coral in shallow water (30 meters) and during the nighttime hours ROV Kraken 2 collected the coral samples from the deep (210 meters).

Chief Scientist Rhian Waller tells me that the coral processing work will slow down for a few days because we are leaving the known sampling sites and heading into the unknown. Unknown territory for Primnoa pacifica, that is.

According to Rhian, the most important task today has been the completion of this collection series for Primnoa pacifica (Red Tree Coral). With both shallow and deep samples, geneticist Cheryl Morrison will be able to map the spreading patterns of the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay!

There were a total of four exploratory dives today. The divers are having a blast! They wore GoPro cameras on their helmets and used “underwater scooters” to go faster and farther during their dive time constraints. A scooter is a handheld engine with a propeller that pulls a diver behind it. Bob Stone describes it to be like sledding underwater!

In addition to the Red Tree Coral, they’ve brought up some really interesting specimens, which include sea stars, nudibranchs, shrimps-one very pregnant shrimp loaded with eggs, a polychaete worm, a bioluminescent ctenophore, sea pens, and sponges.

On one of the dive outings, they took Qanuk and sat him on an iceberg! It was a really beautiful blue iceberg. Blue icebergs have ice crystals that are more tightly packed therefore they reflect more blue light wavelengths than other colors of wavelengths.

Qanuk Sitting on Iceberg large

This evening, scientists are once again gathered around the monitor to see what the ROV Kraken 2 will discover. So far, we’ve seen crabs, goose barnacles feeding on plankton floating in the water, anemones, poacher sturgeon, sea cucumbers and moon snails. Sounds like a yummy salad, doesn’t it?

Personal Log

Today everyone settled into their jobs and it was a smooth operation. The scientists and crew are still brimming with excitement about the possibilities for this voyage. I was glad to get the intensive coral processing completed. Though it’s very important work, it’s tedious and repetitive. One very nice bi-product of working with the coral is the scent. Red Tree Coral smell like cucumbers! Also, we get to see all the other curious types of samples brought aboard such as glowing ctenophores and jumping shrimp! I’m getting to see so many things I’ve never seen before and it’s wonderful to have experts help explain everything. They are genuinely interested in sharing knowledge with me in hopes that I will take it back to the classroom for my students in Scammon Bay. Scammon Bay kids have become important to these world-class scientists! Another cool thing about these scientists, even though they are experts in their fields, they are also eager students for learning something new. Enthusiastic lifelong learners— what an inspiration!

All in all, it’s been a good day in Glacier Bay.


Mary Cook: Day 2 at Sea, March 20, 2016

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

Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Sunday, March 20, 2016
Time: 6:00pm

Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1005 millibars
Speed: 0.3 knots
Location: N 59°02.491’ , W136°11.193’
Weather: Sunny with a few clouds

Science Log

Happy First Day of Spring!

Last night the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Kraken2 dove and collected many samples of Primnoa pacifica (Red Tree Coral). The science crew excitedly gathered around the monitor to see what Kraken2 was “seeing”-lots of rocks, a few fish, a few shrimp, a few crabs, a couple of sponges, an octopus and lots of beautiful Red Tree Coral attached to the rock faces.

The ROV Kraken2 is run by a crew of engineers from the University of Connecticut and makes nighttime dives to deeper depths between 130 and 170 meters.

Today we busily processed the coral for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction studies to be conducted later by a series of scientists in various labs scattered across several states.


For the genetic samples, polyps (one individual) of coral are smashed onto special paper folders that contain a preservative. For the isotope samples, polyps are put into tiny vials then frozen. For the reproductive samples, an intact piece of coral is placed in a 15-milliliter tube and then submerged into formalin preservative. Later the formalin will be poured out and ethanol will be poured into the tubes. Preparing the reproductive samples is my job!

Three divers went down four different times collecting samples, all near White Thunder Ridge and Riggs Glacier in the eastern arm of Glacier Bay.

Riggs Glacier is showing numerous crevasses, which are usually snow-covered at this time of year. A crevasse is a big crack on the topside of the glacier.

As the evening approached, the ship steamed to the northernmost end of the East Arm where Muir Glacier was waiting to greet us. Muir Glacier is named for Naturalist John Muir who explored in Glacier Bay during the late 1800’s.

Muir Glacier was once a tidewater glacier at the water’s edge but in the last ten years has melted and receded back up into the valley.

The sky was clear and the snow-capped mountains and waterfalls were beautifully reflected in the still waters of the Bay. A gibbous moon rose over the mountain peaks just as the Sun was setting.

Personal Log

Today I learned how to process the samples for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. My responsibility was to put a small branch of coral into a tube of Formalin. Labeling the tubes with place, depth, and species is important so the scientists as they begin working in the laboratory weeks later will know the source of the coral sample.

The Norseman ll as seen from the RHIB leaving for a dive outing

R/V Norseman II as seen from the RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) leaving for a dive outing

As we worked, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller came into the wet lab asking if anyone wanted to ride in the skiff, my heart started beating faster! I didn’t want to be pushy so I kept quiet. Then she said, “Mary would you like to go out on the skiff?” “Yes! I loved to go!” was my reply. I donned the Mustang suit, hardhat, and rubber boots. I grabbed Qanuk and went outside to load into the little RHIB, which had been lowered from the deck on to the water beside the ship’s hull. When everyone was ready, we motored closer to White Thunder Ridge. The diver’s entered the water and explored the region at about 70 feet deep. Meanwhile we waited for them and kept a watch on their bubbles rising to the surface. We used binoculars and viewed five fluffy mountain goats moving along the Ridge! It was cool to see the mountain goats but they were creating a “falling rocks” hazard for those of us down below. Our boat driver decided to move the RHIB away from the Ridge in order to avoid the rocks tumbling down into the water.

Later in the day, when the Norseman II got closer to Muir Glacier, almost everyone was on deck getting that perfect photo of the mountains reflected in the mirror-like waters of Glacier Bay. It was a remarkable scene!

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So at the end a good day, I am feeling very thankful to be a witness to the scientific work in an effort to better understand this pristine wilderness.

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

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

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

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

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

Ranger Greg is a good sport

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

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


Chief Scientist Dr. Waller conducts science meeting

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

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

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


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

Kraken 2 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

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

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

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Andrea Schmuttermair, Anchors Away from Kodiak, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 5 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56 36.1N
Longitude: 156 04.1W

Visibility: 10nm
Speed: 12 knots
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wind Direction: 202 degrees
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 12.6 C
Barometric Pressure: 1004.6 mbar
Sky: SCT (scattered clouds)

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One of the signs from my walk along the docks in Kodiak. I learned a lot about Kodiak and the fishing industry by reading these signs.

Science and Technology Log:

The walleye pollock fishing industry is the largest commercial fishing industry in the country, and one of the largest fishing industries in the world. Have you eaten fish sticks? Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s? Imitation crab? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you have eaten walleye pollock. Since pollock supports such a large industry, scientists need to carefully monitor its abundance each year. Bring on the scientists and crew on board the Oscar Dyson to make this mission possible.

TIn summer, and in a few locations in winter, scientists head out to assess the walleye pollock population in both the Bering Sea and in the Gulf of Alaska. The summer survey alternates between the two areas, and this summer we are traveling in the Gulf of Alaska for our survey. This second leg (out of 3 legs total) will head counterclockwise around the island of Kodiak. This survey, conducted by the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, uses acoustic technology to gather data on the distribution and abundance of fish, which provides researchers with pertinent information about the walleye pollock population.

The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.

The Oscar Dyson at Pier 2 before departure from Kodiak.

The Oscar Dyson is a relatively new ship, equipped with noise quieting technology in order to create as little acoustic disturbance as possible when out at sea. Another neat feature crucial to the work of the Dyson is the acoustic transducers located on the bottom of the ship. There are several of these transducers, which are composed of small ceramic disks, and they help scientists detect ocean life and map the seafloor. If you are like me, you are probably wondering what a transducer is, right? It took me a couple of explanations and analogies in order to understand what was happening in these tiny devices. Remember, sound waves are pressure waves that move through a medium, in this case water. The transducer converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, expanding and contracting with electrical signal it receives. This expansion and contraction creates sound waves that move through the water away from the transducers. After sending the pressure waves the transducer switches modes to “listen” to the incoming waves. When the sound waves hit something in the water they are reflected back to the transducer. These reflected waves that are received by the transducers indicate the presence of obstacles in the water. An analogy for this process is that the transducer first acts as a speaker and then as a microphone.

The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.

The transducers on the bottom of the ship sending out a signal to the ocean floor.

Five of these transducers are being used for the pollock survey in order to detect pollock and other ocean life. The information the transducer receives back is automatically graphed on the computer. Scientists and other crew members can view and analyze this graph, and will use this information to determine when it is appropriate to send out a trawl to collect fish. There are also several transducers located around the bottom of the ship that are gathering information about the ocean floor. Hydrographic surveys use this technology as they map the sea floor. I am amazed at where we have come with technology, especially out at sea. Stay tuned for my next post to learn about more amazing technology we are using on board!

Personal Log:

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Ready to fly on this little plane from Anchorage to Kodiak.

Lucky. That is how I would describe myself when I landed at the Kodiak airport on my flight from Anchorage. First, I was lucky that the flight I was scheduled on made it to Kodiak on its first attempt, as flights are often cancelled for poor weather or low visibility. Planes have been known to turn around and fly back to Anchorage if they can’t make a safe landing in Kodiak. I am also feeling very lucky to have the opportunity to partake in yet another assignment as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, in another area of the country I haven’t yet explored.

I arrived in Kodiak on the 4th of July, and was swept up from the airport by one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Justin Boeck. We weren’t scheduled to depart on the Oscar Dyson until Monday, July 6th, so Justin gave me a quick tour of the ship. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the Oscar Dyson, but when my first thoughts climbing on board were that it would take me a week to find my way around! It is much larger than the last ship I was on, the Oregon II, down in the Gulf of Mexico.

Trying to take advantage of the nice weather, I decided to explore the area before we left. The town of Kodiak is quaint, and in walking through the downtown area, it is clear that fishing has been and will continue to be integral to the way of life here.

The science crew came in on the 4th as well from Seattle. I met them all when we went out to dinner Saturday evening. Even though we are going to be sleeping on the ship for next 2 nights before we depart, meals won’t be served until we are underway. I did manage to track down some good sushi and seafood places here in town, and am quite satisfied!

This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.

This sculpture was made entirely of trash found in the ocean.

On Sunday, the weather turned for the worse, which made the walk into town for coffee a wet one. If you think weather changes quickly in Colorado, try coming to Alaska. My favorite image of the weather status was at a little shop in Homer, Alaska, which outlined a box with a marker on the window and wrote, “If you want to know the weather, look here.”

That afternoon, I was given a little orientation on what some of my tasks would be on the ship, as there is quite a bit going on in addition to the pollock survey. I will be spending most of my time in the acoustics lab analyzing data, the wet lab processing our catches, and chem lab for some of the special projects.

In the evening, the weather cleared just long enough for me to convince ENS Gilman (ok, he didn’t really need any convincing- he was just as excited as I was) to head down to the pier to test out the Waverunner, the ROV made by the students in my class. While the visibility was not the best, we were able to see plenty of moon jellies, sea anemones and some kelp beds. The ROV handled pretty well in the ocean, although we did have some difficulties bringing it back up when it went down too deep. Students, do you have any suggestions for how we could account for this? Any suggestions or modifications we need to make?

We were supposed to be leaving early afternoon on Monday, however due to the bad weather, several of our crew members had not yet made it in to Kodiak. They finally made it over later that afternoon and we left port at 11pm. I stayed up to watch the sun set as we were leaving port (yes, it does actually set in parts of Alaska), and pushed myself to stay awake for a few more hours. I’ll be working the night shift for the next few weeks, which means I’m on duty from 4pm-4am. The faster I can get myself used to this schedule, the better off I’ll be. The first days in Kodiak have been a blast, and I am excited to begin conducting our survey!

Checking out the ship before we set sail.

Checking out the ship before we set sail.

Did you know? Acoustic transducer technology has been in use since World War II.

Where on the ship is Wilson?


Wilson, our ring tail camo shark (so aptly named by our awesome science crew) , has been enjoying his time on the ship as much as I have. He has traveled all over the place, and is having fun with the crew on board. Can you guess where he is in the picture above?