Jenny Gapp: Aboard a Floating Library of Data, July 27, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Gapp (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23, 2023 – August 5, 2023

Mission: Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) Survey (Leg 3 of 5)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the Northern California Coast working north back toward coastal waters off Oregon.
Date: July 26, 2023

Weather Data from the Bridge

Sunrise 6:31am | Sunset 8:46pm
Current Time:  0700 (7:00am Pacific Daylight Time)
Lat 40 16.7 N, Lon 124 33.6 W
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Sky condition: broken cloud cover, aka partly sunny
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: 355°
Barometer: 1014.3 mb
Sea Wave height: 4-5 ft | Swell: 340°, 6-8 ft
Sea temp: 9.8°C | Air Temp: 12.6°C

Science and Technology Log

The Wet Lab:

In addition to interviewing members of the crew, working on my blog, and doing a bit of independent research, I am here to help in the wet lab. What does this entail? It begins with waiting. First, there is a marine mammal watch that lasts for 10 minutes. If an animal is within 500 meters we wait until it moves off. Then a second 10-minute watch is started. We continue monitoring mammal activity even after the net is deployed. Sometimes the navigation crew scouts the transect first to make sure the ocean floor won’t cause issues with the net when it is deployed. 

Deploying the net is a team effort among deck crew, navigation officers, and scientists. Once the net is off the reel and in the water, the crew disconnects the wire line to the reel and it is transferred to the doors. Winches connected to the trawl doors take the weight of the load. Depending on fish sign, the net is payed out according to depths the acousticians wish to fish at.

The length of time the net is streamed is also determined by the scientists. They monitor how many fish are going into the net via an FS70 third-wire trawl sonar which has a similar function to Doppler radar. Nicknamed “the turtle,” it is attached to the head rope. Sometimes there’s a “thunderstorm” of fish, and sometimes a “drizzle.” Once the acousticians have determined how much to punish the wet lab (joke), the lead scientist calls, “haul back.” The average fishing time is around 20 minutes, although it can be as little as a half minute in a fish thunderstorm or as long as 40 minutes in a fish drizzle. A sensor attached to the net records temperature and depth.

Once the net is back on board and we get a look at the catch size, a decision is made where to dump the haul. Under 100kg (220lbs), the catch goes in a black crate; over 100 kg, it goes into a hopper that leads to a conveyor belt inside the wet lab. The hopper door is opened a little at a time to avoid a fishy waterfall over the sides. Dominant species—hake in this case—go down the belt, and all other species are pulled out and sorted. 

All our hauls to date have been on the smaller side, and so the net is hoisted and dumped into the black crate containing three smaller baskets. The deck crew slides this through double doors leading into the wet lab and we begin sorting species. Crew members often linger to see what cool things have been hauled aboard, and when they are impressive enough—like medium-sized squid and King-of-the-Salmon almost as long as you are tall—we take photos of each other, shaking our heads at the marvel of it. Ethan weighs the biomass of creatures that are not hake, then they go down the chute back to the ocean and return to the food chain. 

Jenny, wearing black overalls, rubber boots, gloves, and a Teacher at Sea hat, stands in the wet lab surrounded by plastic sorting bins. With her right hand, she hoists up a very large fish by its gills. it is pinkish in color, with a large head and a body that tapers all the way from a large round eye to the tail. the top of its open mouth is about in line with Jenny's hat, and the tip of its tail rests on her boot.
A King-of-the-Salmon almost as long as me!

The goal is 400 hake per haul, and to date we’ve counted 282 as the biggest catch. A handful of other species are measured, usually others that are commercially fished.

Depending on the number of hake collected, 50 have otoliths (ear bones) removed for aging and a random 10 of these have their stomachs examined. Krill and Blue lampfish appear to be favorite foods. A measuring device for the stomachs provides us with a number for the volume of food in their stomach.

If the ideal haul is taken, 350 hake are sexed and measured. The sexes are sorted into baskets of different colors: green (“little green men”) for the males and white (“snow white”) for the females. A set number of females have their liver and gonads taken for examination. I have yet to find out why just the females have this done.

After we’ve processed everything we clean the lab after each haul. If you don’t, the fishy aspect can get out of control quickly. Allegedly herrings are the smelliest. 

two scientists work at adjacent tables in the wet lab; Ethan in foreground, and Liz in the background. each wears navy blue shirts, orange overalls, orange gloves, and hats. they are working up fish on electronic boards connected to computer screens mounted above the tables. With his left hand, Ethan holds a sliced-open fish (probably a hake) steady; with his right, he reaches with tweezers to remove a part of the fish.
Ethan Beyer, Wet Lab Lead
Liz Ortiz, Fisheries Technician

Taxonomy of Sights

Day 3. Multiple whale spouts throughout the day. Species that appeared in our hauls: King- of-the-Salmon, Pyrosomes, Spiny dogfish, Brown cat shark, Glass shrimp, Jewel squid, and a viperfish that looked like the stuff of nightmares! A couple of albatross cruised behind us during one of the trawls, hoping for some fishy treats.

Day 4. One Jack mackerel mixed in with hake, a monitored species, so we took its measurements. One partial squid tangled in the trawl net.

You Might Be Wondering…

Do you have to wear a life jacket the whole time?

Life jackets and hard hats are required on the aft deck when there is an operation in progress. The safety mantra is, “If you don’t need to be on the deck, don’t go on the deck.” Each of us carries a PLB, or personal locator beacon, in the event of a worst-case scenario. Life jackets, along with immersion suits, are located in staterooms as well as the wet lab. No, I do not wear a life jacket while sleeping, showering, and spending time on the interior of the ship. Safety equipment is never far away. Emergency egress arrows show you a way out, and there are three emergency shower and eye wash stations on the ship. There are also devices called EEBD (Emergency Escape Breathing Device) that contain 15 minutes of oxygen. 

If you have questions you are curious about, please leave them in the comments section!

Floating Facts

Nautical Terms
Aft is the back of the boat where the trawling happens. The bow, or forward, is the front of the ship. Port is left, which you can distinguish from starboard because port and left have the same number of letters. Starboard is right. Stairs are referred to as “ladders,” walls are “bulkheads,” not to be confused with “bulwark,” which are the sides of the vessel above the main deck.

New Blue Economy
The “blue economy” is a new term for me. According to Dr. Richard Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator, it’s “a knowledge-based economy, looking to the sea not just for extraction of material goods, but for data and information to address societal challenges and inspire their solutions.”

40% of the U.S. population lives in or near coastal communities. A NOAA article on the blue economy states, “If American coastal counties were an individual country, they would rank third in the world in gross domestic product, surpassed only by the United States and China.” I assume this means as compared to the remainder of the United States that do not qualify as a “coastal community.”

The demands of climate change only hasten the need for information about our oceans and coastal regions. NOAA serves as a foundation for the blue economy, providing free, open source data–temperature, water level, hydrography, fisheries health, pH, salinity, and surface currents to name a few. The shipping challenges that the recent global pandemic posed have increased the need for U.S. seaports to add terminals and piers. Maritime commerce is expected to triple by 2030. (source: New Blue Economy, NOAA)

Educator Resources
If you are an educator and have not been to the Oregon Coast STEM hub website, it is highly recommended. It is managed by Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. There’s something for everyone, even if you and your students aren’t located in Oregon.

While aboard I learned that the University of Oregon—my alma mater—also has a Marine Biology program. In fact, U of O’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), located in Charleston, Oregon near Coos Bay, is a field institute like the Hatfield Marine Science Center. OIMB also has a section on its website for educators including lessons and resources. There is some crossover with the STEM hub, but both sites are valuable and worth examining. Note that at the time of my visit to the OIMB site there were some broken links on the resources page. 

watercolor illustration of a Pacific giant octopus. handwritten words at the top read: HATFIELD MARINE SCIENCE CENTER Oregon State University.
A watercolor and pen drawing from a previous visit to HMSC.

Personal Log

The NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada has seven levels: (from top to bottom) flying bridge–where our marine mammal and bird observers spend much of their time; bridge–where officers spend much of their time, where navigation happens, where a marine mammal watch happens before a trawl, where the boatswain, also known as a bosun, (deck boss) has a view of the nets going in and out, operates the net reel and communicates between nav crew and deck crew; officers berth–along with the hospital and quarters for the Chief Engineer; science berth–including lounge and offices; labs, mess deck, and access to the aft deck where the net is pulled in and the catch is transferred to the wet lab; deck crew berth–along with gym, winch and trawl rooms, centerboard access; and finally additional machinery rooms–including one for the bow thruster. I have been promised a tour of the engine room toward the end of our cruise, so I am looking forward to that!

Monday and Tuesday were great days, particularly Tuesday. I felt good, held all my meals, talked with a variety of crew members about their work, and got my hands dirty for the first time in the wet lab. Julia Clemons said of Tuesday, “It was a great day for science!” We made a record number of trawls—three—for the 2023 survey thus far.

a gloved hand holds a fish (possibly a hake) straight toward the camera so we can see down its open mouth to its gill rakers
Oh, the horror of being seasick!

Highlights of Wednesday’s trawl were part of a squid tangled in the net (much larger than the jewel squid), and some baby hake. I got into a rhythm assisting Ethan with entering data. He measured, weighed, sexed, examined stomach contents of some, and removed otoliths. I supported by entering the barcodes from the otolith collection vials manually (nothing new for a librarian who has her own trouble with temperamental barcode scanners from time to time), entered sex and maturity level, entered data on stomach contents (primarily blue lanternfish, and euphausiids, aka krill).

Librarian at Sea

“The world turns and the world spins, the tide runs in and the tide runs out, and there is nothing in the world more beautiful and more wonderful in all its evolved forms than two souls who look at each other straight on.” ~Gary D. Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

In this middle-grade novel, a friendship is formed between Turner Buckminster, son of a preacher, and Lizzie Bright Griffin, a resident of Malaga Island. Malaga is located off the coast of Maine and was founded by people who were formerly enslaved. The quote above refers to a moment when the two young people are in a boat and Turner comes eye to eye with a whale five times the size of the dory they are traveling in. It reminds me a little of looking into the eyes of the creatures who come aboard in our net. I wonder if some are still capable of seeing… 

Hook, Line, and Thinker

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program requires fortitude, flexibility, and following orders.
On Monday the crew followed orders for our first safety drills. These include special signals indicating fire, abandon ship, and man overboard. The science crew (which includes me) musters in the wet lab for fire, where the Chief Scientist reports muster to the bridge. “Muster” means that all are assembled who should be there. During an abandon-ship drill, the crew is split up between six life rafts, three on each side of the ship. New members of the crew try on their immersion suit, a bulky get-up that guards against hypothermia and increases flotation. I tried on two different sizes, and while neither was quite right we concluded bulkier was better than too small. As the XO put it, “It will save your life. Throw in your shoes and a loaf of bread and you’re good to go!” The man overboard drill requires the science crew to muster on the flying bridge where we locate the individual in trouble (in the case of a drill, a couple of buoys tied together) and point.

Can you think of an example in which following orders may save your life?

A Bobbing Bibliography

On the bridge you will find binoculars on the sill of many windows. You will also find whale and dolphin identification guides, as well as one for birds. Some of the binoculars are “reticulated.” When you look into the eyepieces of these you see a series of fine lines (reticules) to determine distance between marine mammals and the vessel. Line up the top line to the horizon and you have the distance between objects and the ship.

There are many great spots along the Oregon Coast for whale watching that don’t require going out on the ocean. Oregon State Parks has a whale watching site with more information. 

The book Whales and Other Marine Mammals of Washington and Oregon, by Tamara Eder and illustrated by Ian Sheldon, is propped up against a window. Through the window we can see a deck of the ship, the ocean, sea spray.

Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018



Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  64   42.8 N
Longitude – 171  16.8  W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb   6.2 C
Wet bulb  6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm


Personal Log

I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather?  So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.

Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog.  The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.

During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills.  Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”

(Fun fact:  at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio].  For example:  the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard.  The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name.  You can read about other messages here:

Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel;  the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship.  Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters.  These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !


Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage


What are the working conditions like on board? 

At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet.  Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to.  At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.

View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage


Where do you sleep? 

Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by.  Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?

My stateroom – photo by Tom

Generally, when sharing a stateroom,  roommates will have different working shifts.

Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents !  When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.

Fairweather's Galley
Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom


Are there any activities? 

Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.

The exercise room – photo by Tom


There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.

The lounge
The lounge


What are the working hours like?

During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office.  One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it.  The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.


Buoy Retrieval
Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA


The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room.  Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship;  the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires.  Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.

Tom in Engine Room
Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle


Until next time,  happy sailing !

~ Tom

Helen Haskell: Getting Underway, June 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather


Mission: Hydro Survey

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


Date: June 5th

Weather Data: Full cloud cover, rain showers.

Location: Ketchikan, 55.3422° N, 131.6461° W 

Personal Log

Today the boat is leaving Ketchikan. Breakfast is between 7-8 and as I sat with my plate of eggs and toast, I watch the hustle and bustle of life on a boat preparing it to get underway. There are many challenges to sailing a ship, and while I had a general idea, I did not understand how much organization, safety protocols, equipment and manpower it takes to make a boat run, complete science research, and be a safe place for people to live and work. This first couple of days on the boat have been not focusing on the science research being done here, but one of getting a sense of how a research vessel works, the myriad of roles and jobs that are done here and the multiple hats that most people wear.

The ship’s communication system put an all-hands-on-deck call to help with unloading food deliveries at port. Here we passed boxes one by one from the truck up on to the ship and in to the kitchen storage areas where the stewards will unload and store the food ready for our meals and snacks. There are three main meals per day: breakfast (7-8), lunch (11-12) and dinner (5-6). In between these times snacks and drinks are readily available. What I am finding too is that many people work a shift system, or are on the smaller boats away from the ship for a day. Food for them is packed or available and no one goes hungry. Snacks and drinks are available 24-7 too. The meals are diverse and food is plentiful. I hope to talk with the stewards to figure out how they plan the menus and order all the food, to feed about 50 people for a three-week period.

Next came a safety briefing and tour. The first thing I had to do was to practice putting on my emergency gear – how to describe it? This ‘dry-suit onesie’ would allow me to be in the Alaskan waters and survive. While my whole body is covered except for my eyes, the suit contains a life vest, and would allow me to easily float upright. As you can tell from the photo, the main issue I had was with my hair getting in my face, a common occurrence apparently for those of us with long hair. Next we learned about all of our stations and our role for different scenarios: fire, man-over-board, and a full ship evacuation. We learned about the different alarms that would be sounded, the types of fire extinguishers, where the medical office is, and where the AED’s are. We were also reminded that in each stateroom is a breathing device kit that is can be used to provide ten minutes of oxygen, should it be needed.

Me in my emergency suit

Pulling out of port yesterday, the boat first only went a few hundred yards up the narrows. The next stage was to ‘top up’ on fuel – 18,000 gallons of fuel. The boat can hold much more but the cost in Ketchikan is less than further north so it pays to fill up now. As you can imagine there are big safety issues with fueling of boats and during this time, several temporary bans were put in to place on the ship so that no sparks of any kind were made (no cooking, welding etc). The fuel is stored in several large tanks. The tanks are not connected to each other and each can be turned off individually in the event of a fire or leak. Earlier that day too we had also filled up with water.

There are many conservation and environmental practices put in to place that I have already seen on the ship. There are many protocols put in to place to protect both the environment and to conserve resources. During the fueling, a ring (oil boom) was put around the ship so that if there were an accidental fuel spill or leak, it would be contained on the surface of the water. Laundry is ‘closed’ until next weekend and only full loads are allowed in order to conserve fresh water. Water can be made from seawater using equipment on the ship, but it costs $8/gallon to run the equipment, so conservation is the first measure put in place.

Getting fuel in Ketchikan

We also have practiced emergency drills. In these drills, everyone has a station to go to and a job to do. The fire drill mimicked a fire in the generator room and a person receiving burns. What’s interesting to realize it that people wear multiple hats on the ship and so everyone needs to know what to do and how to help. Formal fire fighting equipment is worn by trained people, radios are used to communicate between groups, diagrams of the ship are pulled out and drawn on and labeled to keep account of who has been tasked to do what and where the situation is located. Out at sea, the fire department and the medics cannot be called. The staff members on the ship are the medics and the fire department. During the drill a person role-played being the burn victim, so not only were firefighters needed but also medics. After the drills, everyone meets to debrief. Ideas and observations are shared. Communication is crucial and common here.

My emergency assignments

With communication at the forefront, there are many mechanisms put in place to make sure the people on board know the specifics of the mission each day and their role in the mission. There are different departments in the boat, but one cannot function without the other. People are hired as Survey crew, Engineers, Deck crew, Stewards, Electronic Tecnicians and as NOAA Corps officers. There are also visitors on the boat, such as myself, some who are with the boat for the whole season, others like myself for a few weeks. Schedules are placed around the boat indicating who is on what shift. Meetings are held at 8am each day with the science and deck teams to discuss where the small research boats are surveying that day. During these briefings safety reminders and weather conditions are discussed as well as the location of where each boat will be. Boats radio in each hour for safety. Department heads meet daily to share their updates, keeping everyone up to date with different aspects of the ship. Debrief sessions happen at the end of each research day after dinner. Everyone participates as no one person’s job is isolated here. Issues and concerns are dealt with and go in to the decision making for the following day. Communication is key.

IMG_0211 2
The morning meeting


Fact of the day:

The Fairweather is divided in to 26 fire zones to help with safety and fire fighting. All the doors operate manually and many internal doors are held open by a magnet. In the event of a fire, the doors can be closed instantly from the Bridge, using a switch to stop the magnets working.

Word of the day: Muster

This is the term used when all the people gathered in the correct place for the fire/emergency drill. Roll was taken and we had a ‘full muster’. 

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).


(Previous answer: Rubber boots with spikes in to help with traction. Here on the boat, and in many parts of Alaska waterproof footwear is very useful. While the boots the staff here don’t have spikes in them, these were on display in the Southeastern Alaska Discovery Center.

 Acronym of the Day

EEBD: Emergency Escape Breathing Device

Lauren Wilmoth: Strange Sea Creatures, October 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 16, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 7.32 °C
Wind Speed: 9.2 knots
Latitude: 57°44.179′ N
Longitude: 152°27.987′ W

Science and Technology Log

ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.
ENS Steve Wall collecting a bottom sample.

Wednesday, I went on a launch to do bottom sampling and cross lines.  Wednesday was our last day of data acquisition, so the motto on the POD (Plan of the Day) was “LEAVE NO HOLIDAYS! If in doubt, ping it again!”  Bottom sampling is pretty straight forward.  We drive to designated locations and drop a device that looks a little like a dog poop scooper down into the water after attaching it to a wench.  The device has a mechanism that holds the mouth of it open until it is jarred from hitting the bottom.  When it hits the bottom, it snaps closed and hopefully snatches up some of the sediment from the bottom.  Then, we reel it up with the wench and see what’s inside.

We took 10 bottom samples and most were the same.  We had a fine brown sand in most samples.  Some samples contained bits of shell, so we documented when that was the case.  At one location, we tried for samples three times and every time, we got just water.  This happens sometimes if the sea floor is rocky and the device can’t pick up the rocks.  If you try three times and get no definitive answer, you label the sample as unknown.  Two times we got critters in our samples.  One critter we found was an amphipod most likely.  The second critter was shrimp/krill-like, but I don’t know for sure.  Cross lines are just collecting sonar data in lines that run parallel to the previous data lines.  This gives us a better image and checks the data.

TeacheratSea 008 (8)
Survey Tech Christie and Me on our bottom sampling launch.

Amphipod found in bottom sample.
Amphipod found in bottom sample.

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.












Staff observations at Terror Bay.
Staff observations at Terror Bay.

Thursday, we closed out the tidal station at Terror Bay. This entailed doing staff observations, a tidal gauge leveling check, and then break down everything including completing a dive to remove the orifice.  Since I have already taken part in a tidal gauge leveling check, I was assigned to the staff observations and dive party.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for staff observations you just record the level of the water by reading a staff every six minutes for three hours.  We did this while on a boat, because the tide was pretty high when we got started, so we wouldn’t be able to read the staff if we were on shore.  Again, the reason we do staff observations is so we can compare our results to what the tidal gauge is recording to make sure the tidal gauge is and has been working properly.

While doing staff observations, I saw a small jellyfish looking creature, but it was different.  It had bilateral symmetry instead of radial symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is what we have, where one side is more or less the same as the other side.  Jellyfish have radial symmetry which means instead of just one possible place you could cut to make two side that are the same, there are multiple places you can cut to make it the same on each side.  Also, the critter was moving by flopping its body from side to side which is nothing like a jellyfish.  I had to figure out what this was!  In between our observations, Jeff, the coxswain, maneuvered the boat so I could scoop this guy into a cup.  Once we finished our staff observations, we headed to the ship.  I asked around and Adam (the FOO) identified my creature.  It’s a hooded nudibranch (Melibe leonina).  Nudibranches are sea slugs that come in a beautiful variety of colors and shapes.

Bilateral versus radial symmetry.

The hooded nudibranch.
The hooded nudibranch.

ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.
ENS Wood and ENS DeCastro diving for the orifice.

After a quick return to the ship, we headed back out with a dive team to remove the orifice from underwater. Quick reminder: the orifice was basically a metal tube that air bubbles are pushed out of.  The amount of pressure needed to push out the air bubbles is what tells us the depth of the water. Anyways, the water was crystal clear, so it was really neat, because we could see the divers removing the orifice and orifice tubing.  Also, you could see all sorts of jellyfish and sea stars.  At this point, I released the hooded nudibranch back where I got him from.


Just as we were wrapping up with everything.  The master diver Katrina asked another diver Chris if he was alright, because he was just floating on his back in the water. He didn’t respond.  It’s another drill! One person called it in on the radio, one of the divers hopped back in the water and checked his vitals, and another person grabbed the backboard. I helped clear the way to pull Chris on board using the backboard, strap him down with the straps, and pull out the oxygen mask. We got him back to the ship where the drill continued and the medical officer took over. It was exciting and fun to take part in this drill.  This was a very unexpected drill for many people, and they acted so professional that I am sure if a real emergency occurred, they would be prepared.

Drill: Saving ENS Wood.
Drill: Saving ENS Wood.

Personal Log

Sadly, this was most likely my last adventure for this trip, because I fly out tomorrow afternoon. This trip has really been a one-of-a-kind experience. I have learned and have a great appreciation for what it takes to make a quality nautical chart. I am excited about bringing all that the Rainier and her crew have taught me back to the classroom to illustrate to students the importance of and the excitement involved in doing science and scientific research. Thank you so much to everyone on board Rainier for keeping me safe, helping me learn, keeping me well fed, and making my adventure awesome!  Also, thank you to all those people in charge of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program who arranged my travel, published my blogs, provided me training, and allowed me to take part in this phenomenal program.  Lastly, thank you to my students, family, and friends for reading my blog, participating in my polls, and asking great questions.

Did You Know? 

1 knot is one nautical mile per hour which is equal to approximately 1.151 miles per hour.


Can you figure out what my unknown shrimp/krill critter is?

Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.
Unknown shrimp/krill critter from bottom sample.


Cassie Kautzer: TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST! August 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Enroute to Japanese Bay
Date: August 27, 2014

Temperature & Weather:  10.5° C (51° F), Cloudy, Rainy

Science & Technology Log

The past week/ week and a half, docked alongside the US Coast Guard pier in Kodiak – it was easy to see people settle into a routine.  This morning, however, we are preparing to leave the Coast Guard base – there is something in the air. Without it being spoken, it is clear both the NOAA Corps officers and the wage mariners are excited to get underway.  THIS is what they signed up to do!

The Rainier is 231 feet in length, with a breadth (width) of 42 feet. She cannot be run by a single person – it takes a team, a large team, to operate her safely.  Aboard the Rainier there is a crew of NOAA Corps Officers, including Commanding Officer CDR Van Den Ameele (CO), Executive Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski (XO), Field Operations Officer LT Russ Quintero (FOO) and a number of Junior Officers. There is also a full staff of Surveyors, Stewards, Deck Hands, Engineers, a Chief Electronics Tech (ET) and an Electronics Eng. Tech (EET).  All of the people on the Rainier’s nearly 50 member crew take on more than one job and help with whatever is asked of them.  It takes a team of people to drive the ship, a team to deploy launch boats, a team to process survey data, a team level tide gauges, a team to keep the boat in good maintenance, etc…

This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier.  ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.
This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier. ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.

This morning, in preparation for getting underway, all NOAA Corps officers met for a Nav (navigation) Briefing, to go over the Sail Plan, to make sure all necessary parties were prepared and informed.  NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services in the United States.  Its commissioned officers provide NOAA with “an important blend of operational, management, and technical skills that support the agency’s science and surveying programs at sea, in the air, and ashore.” (  The Sail Plan, prepared today by Junior Officer, ENS Cali DeCastro, includes step-by-step guidelines for sailing to our next destination.  For each location or waypoint along the route, the sail plan gives a course heading (CSE), Latitude and Longitude, distance to the that point (in Nautical Miles), the speed (in knots) the ship will be cruising at to get to that point, and the time it will take to get there.   Today we are headed to Japanese Bay, and our cruise to get there is about 98 Nautical Miles and will take us almost 9 hours.

As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) - TEAMWORK!  SAFETY FIRST!
As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) – TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST!

It is important to note that nautical miles and knots at sea are different than linear miles and miles per hour on land.  Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the Earth, and are equal to one minute of latitude.  (  Think about the Earth and what it would look like if you sliced it in half right at the Equator.  Looking at one of the halves of the Earth, you could then see the equator as a full circle.  That circle can be divided into 360 degrees, and each degree into 60 minutes.  One minute of arc on the Earth is equivalent to one nautical mile.  Nautical miles are not only used at sea, but also in the air, as planes are following the arc of the Earth as they fly.  1 nautical mile = approximately 1.15 miles.  A knot is a measurement of speed, and one knot is equivalent to 1 nautical mile per hour.

It is also important to be aware of all the safety procedures on board.  There is a lot to keep track of – but the Rainier is well prepared for any kind of emergency situation.  Prior to departing the Coast Guard Base this morning, our emergency alarms and bells were tested.  Emergency bells and whistles are used during a Fire Emergency, an Abandon Ship situation, or a Man Overboard situation.

In any situation, every crew member has an emergency billet assignment.  This assignment tells you where to muster (meet), what to bring, and what to do – dependent on the situation.  For fire and emergency, abandon ship, and man overboard each person has a different assignment.  Within 24 hours of setting sail, the entire crew does safety drill practice (We did this in the early afternoon today!)  For fire and emergency both the general alarm bell and the ship’s whistle will continuously sound for ten seconds; for an abandon ship situation, seven short blasts on the ship’s whistle and general alarm bell will sound, followed by one prolonged blast; and for a man overboard there will be three prolonged blasts of the ship’s whistle and general alarm.

Safety is not only a concern in emergency situations – it is at the forefront of all operations aboard the ship.  Proper safety equipment is donned at necessary times, especially when working on deck or on the survey launches.  Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) are worn anytime equipment is being deployed or handled over the side along with safety belts and lines for those handling equipment over the side.   Every crew member is issued a hard hat and must be worn by everyone involved in recovery or deployment of boats and other equipment.   Closed toed shoes must be worn at all times by all crew and crew must be qualified to handle specific equipment. Everyone is also issued an Immersion Suit (survival suit), affectionately nicknamed a Gumby Suit!  The Immersion suit is a thermal dry suit that is meant to keep someone from getting hypothermia in an abandon ship situation in cold waters.

In my "Gumby" Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill.  This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me.  Do I look warm?  (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)
In my “Gumby” Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill. This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me. Do I look warm? (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)

Personal Log

Believe it or not – I have made a lot of connections from the Rainier to my school.  At the bottom of our daily POD’s (Plan Of the Day), the last reminder is, “Take care of yourself.  Take care of your shipmates.  Take care of the ship!”  The environment here has not only made me feel welcome, but safe as well.

I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship).  Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!
I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship). Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!


For my Students

Here is a wildlife update.  I saw Whales today!  I think there were Humpback Whale.  I saw quite a few blowing out near the ocean service.  I marked three in my graph because I only saw three jumping and playing in the water!

graph (2)

Some questions to reflect on…

  1. Why is teamwork important? What can you do to be a good team member?
  2. Can you make any connections between the mission and rules I am learning on the ship and the mission and rules you are learning at school?

Gregory Cook, Super Fish, August 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 2, 2014

Science and Technology Log 

See this guy here? He’s an Alaskan Pollock.

If fish thought sunglasses were cool, this fish would wear sunglasses.
Alaskan Pollock, aka Walleye Pollock.

“Whatever,” you shrug.
“Just a fish,” you scorn.
“He’s slimy and has fish for brains,” you mock.
Well, what if I told you that guy there was worth almost one billion dollars in exports alone?
What if I told you that thousands of fishermen rely on this guy to provide for their families?
What if I told you that they were the heart of the Sub-Arctic food web, and that dozens of species would be threatened if they were to disappear?
What if I told you they were all secretly trained ninja fish? Ninja fish that carry ninja swords strapped to their dorsal fins?
Then I’d only be wrong about one thing.

Taina Honkalehto is the Chief Scientist onboard the Oscar Dyson. She has been studying Pollock for the last 22 years. I asked her what was so important about the fish.

“They’re the largest single species fishery in North America,” Taina says. That makes them top dog…err… fish… in the U.S. fishing industry.

Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto decides where to fish based on data.
Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto decides where to fish based on data.

“In the U.S. they are fish sticks and fish-wiches (like Filet-o-Fish from McDonalds). They’ve become, foodwise, what Cod used to be… inexpensive, whitefish protein,” Taina continues. They’re also the center of the sub-arctic food web. Seals, walruses, orca, sea lions, and lots of larger fish species rely on Pollock as an energy source.”
But they aren’t just important for America. Pollock plays an important role in the lives of people from all over the Pacific Rim. (Remember that the Pacific Rim is made up of all the countries that surround the Pacific Ocean… from the U.S. and Canada to Japan to Australia to Chile!)

Pollock Need Love, too!
Pollock Need Love, too!

“Pollock provide a lot of important fish products to many countries, including the U.S., Japan, China, Korea, and Russia,” Honkalehto says.

Making sure we protect Pollock is REALLY important. To know what can go wrong, we only have to look at the Atlantic Cod, the fish that Cape Cod was named after. In the last twenty years, the number of Atlantic Cod has shrunk dramatically. It’s cost a lot of fishermen their jobs and created stress in a number of families throughout New England as well as tensions between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. and Canada share fish populations.

The primary job of the Oscar Dyson is to sample the Pollock population. Government officials use the results to tell fishermen what their quota should be. A quota is a limit on the number of fish you can catch. The way we gather that data, though, can be a little gross.

The Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT)

Fishermen Deploy the AWT
Fishermen Deploy the AWT.

The fishermen guide the massive Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT) onto the deck of the ship. The AWT is a 150 meters long net (over one and a half football fields in length) that is shaped like an ice cream cone. The net gets more and more narrow until you get all the way down to the pointy tip. This is known as the “cod end,” and it’s where most of the fish end up. Here’s a diagram that XO (Executive Officer) Kris Mackie was kind enough to find for me.

The Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT). over one and a half football fields worth of Pollock-Snatching Power.

The AWT is then hooked onto a crane which empties it on a giant mechanical table. The table has a hydraulic lift that lets us dump fish into the wet lab.

Allen pulls a cod from the Table
Survey Technician Allen pulls a cod from the Table

Kids, whenever you hear the term “wet lab,” I don’t want you to think of a water park. Wet lab is going to mean guts. Guts and fish parts.

In the wet lab, the contents of the net spills onto a conveyer belt… sort of like what you see at Shaw’s or Market Basket. First we sift through the Pollock and pull any odd things… jellyfish, skates, etc… and set them aside for measurement. Then it’s time to find out what sex the Pollock are.

Survey Technician Alyssa and Oceanographer Nate pull a giant jellyfish out of a pile of pollock!
Survey Technician Alyssa and Oceanographer Nate pull a giant jellyfish out of a pile of pollock!

Genitals on the Inside!

Pollock go through external fertilization (EF). That means that the female lays eggs, and the males come along and fertilize them with their sperm. Because of that, there’s no need for the outside part of the sex organs to look any different. In science, we often say that form follows function. In EF, there’s very little function needed other than a hole for the sperm or egg cells to leave the body.

Because of that, the only way to tell if a Pollock is male or female is to cut them open and look for ovaries and testes. This is a four step process.

Ladies before Gentlemen: The female Pollock (in the front) has ovaries that look like two orange lobes. The Male (in the back) has structures that make him look like he ate Ramen noodles for dinner.
Ladies before Gentlemen:
The female Pollock (bottom) has ovaries that look like two orange lobes. The Male (itop) has testes that make him look like he ate Ramen noodles for dinner.

Step 1: Slice open the belly of the fish.

Step 2: Push the pink, flippy floppy liver aside.

Step 3: Look for a pair of lobes (a bag like organ) that is either purple, pink, or orange-ish. These are the ovaries! If you find this, you’ve got a female.

Step 4: If you strike out on step 3, look for a thin black line that runs behind the stomach. These are the testes… As Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan might say, you’ve got male.

Then the gender and length of the fish is then recorded using CLAMS… a software program that NOAA computer scientists developed for just this purpose. With NOAA, like any good science program, it’s all about attention to detail. These folks take their data very seriously, because they know that so many people depend on them to keep the fish population safe.

Personal Blog


Lobster Gumby
Your teacher in an Immersion Suit. Sailors can survive for long periods of time in harsh environments in these outfits.


On the first day aboard the Oscar Dyson, we were trained on all matters of safety. Safety on a ship is often driven by sirens sounded by the bridge. Here’s a list of calls, what they mean, and what you should do when you hear them:

What you hear… What it means… What you should do…
 Three long blasts of the alarm: Man Over Board Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge (unless you’re the one that saw the person go overboard… then you throw them life rings (floaties) and keep pointing at them).
 One long blast of general alarm or ship’s whistle: Fire or Emergency onboard Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge. Bring Immersion Suit just in case.
 Six or more short blasts then one long blast of the alarm: Abandon Ship Grab your immersion suit, head to the aft (back) deck of the ship, be counted, and prepare to board a life raft.


The immersion suit (the thing that makes me look like lobster gumby, above) is made of thick red neoprene. It has two flashing lights also known as beacons…  one of them automatically turns on when it hits water! This helps rescuers find you in case you’re lost in the dark. It also has an inflatable pillow behind your head to help keep your head above water. Mostly just wanted to wear it to Starbucks some day.


Another thing I can tell you about life aboard the Oscar Dyson is that there is plenty to eat!

kind of awesome. For one thing, there is a never ending supply of food in the galley (the ship’s cafeteria). Eva is the Chief Steward on the Oscar Dyson (though I call her the Head Chef!).

Chief Steward Eva gets dinner done right!
Chief Steward Eva gets dinner done right!

You’ll never go hungry on her ship. Dinner last night? barbeque ribs and mac and cheese. Yesterday’s lunch? Steak and chicken fajitas. And this morning? Breakfast burritos with ham and fruit. I know. You were worried that if I lost any weight at sea that I might just disappear. I can confirm for you that this is absolutely not going to happen.

Tune in next time when I take you on a tech tour of the Oscar Dyson!


Carol Glor: Lights, Camera, Action, July 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Glor

Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp

July 5 – 14, 2014

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey (Third leg)

Geographical Area: Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Date: July 7, 2014

Weather Data from the bridge: Wind SW 18-20 knots, Seas 4-7 ft,  Visibility – good

Science and Technology Log: Starring the HabCam

The HabCam is a computerized video camera system. It is a non-invasive method of observing and recording underwater stereo images, and collecting oceanographic data,such as temperature,salinity, and conductivity.  The vehicle is towed at  1.5 – 2 meters from the floor of the ocean. The main objective of this mission is to survey the population of scallops as well as noting the substrate (ocean floor make-up) changes. Most substrate is made up of sand, gravel, shell hash and epifauna. We also note the presence of roundfish (eel, sea snakes, monkfish, ocean pout, and hake), flatfish (flounders and fluke), whelk, crab, and skates. Although sea stars (starfish) are a major predator of scallops, they are not included in our annotations.

The HabCam awaiting deployment.

The crew and science staff work on alternate shifts (called watches) to ensure the seamless collection of data. The scallop survey is a 24-hour operation. The science component of the ship consists of 11 members. Six people are part of the night watch from 12am-12pm and the remaining members (myself included) are assigned to the day watch which is from 12pm until 12am. During the HabCam part of the survey all science staff members rotate job tasks during their 12-hour shift. These include:

A. Piloting the HabCam – using a joystick to operate the winch that controls the raising and lowering of the HabCam along the ocean floor. This task is challenging for several reasons. There are six computer monitors that are continually reviewed by the pilot so they can assess the winch direction and speed, monitor the video quality of the sea floor, and ensure that the HabCam remains a constant 1.5 – 2 meters from the ocean floor. The ocean floor is not flat – it consists of sand waves, drop-offs, and valleys. Quick action is necessary to avoid crashing the HabCam into the ocean floor.

HabCam pilot
Carol piloting the HabCam.

B. The co-pilot is in charge of ensuring the quality of digital images that are being recorded by the HabCam. Using a computer, they tag specific marine life and check to see if the computers are recording the data properly. They also assist the pilot as needed.

HabCam image
One of the images from the HabCam

C. Annotating is another important task on this stage of the survey. Using a computer, each image that is recorded by the HabCam is analyzed in order to highlight the specific species that are found in that image. Live scallops are measured using a line tool and fish, crabs, whelk and skates are highlighted using a boxing tool so they can be reviewed by NOAA personnel at the end of the cruise season.

Personal Log:

When not on watch there is time to sleep, enjoy beautiful ocean views, spot whales and dolphins from the bridge (captain’s control center), socialize with fellow science staff and crew members, and of course take lots of pictures. The accommodations are cozy. My cabin is a four-person room consisting of two sets of bunk beds, a sink, and desk area. The room is not meant to be used for more than sleeping or stowing gear. When the ship is moving, it is important to move slowly and purposely throughout the ship. When going up and down the stairs you need to hold onto the railing with one hand and guide the other hand along the wall for stability. This is especially important during choppy seas. The constant motion of the ship is soothing as you sleep but makes for challenging mobility when awake.

Top bunk
My home away from home.

Captain Jimmy
Captain Jimmy runs a tight ship.


Before heading out to sea it is important to practice safety drills. Each person is made aware of their muster station (where to go in the event of an emergency), and is familiarized with specific distress signals. We also practiced donning our immersion suits. These enable a person to be in the water for up to 72 hours (depending upon the temperature of the water). There is a specific way to get into the suit in order to do so in under a minute. We were reminded to put our shoes inside our suit in a real life emergency for when we are rescued. Good advice indeed.

immersion suit
Carol dons her immersion suit.

life jacket
Life jacket selfie.


Did you know?

The ship makes it’s own drinking water. While saltwater is used on deck for cleaning purposes, and in the toilets for waste removal, it is not so good for cooking, showers, or drinking. The ship makes between 600 and 1,000 gallons per day. It is triple-filtered through a reverse-osmosis process to make it safe for drinking. The downside is that the filtration system removes some important minerals that are required for the human body. It also tends to dry out the skin; so using moisturizer is a good idea when out at sea.

Photo Gallery:

Waiting to board the RV Hugh R. Sharp

WG flag
West Genesee colors; flying high on the Sharp

Floating Frogs
Floating Frogs at the Woods Hole Biological Museum.

Seal at aquarium
Seal at the Woods Hole Aquarium – Oldest Aquarium in the US.





Carol Schnaiter, Home Again! June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 21, 2014

Mission: I am back home in Amboy, IL, now so my mission is getting back to a “normal” schedule and getting my land legs back!

Weather: Partly sunny, 82 degrees

Date: June 25, 2014

Early morning work
Early morning work!

Science and Technology:

Hypoxia or low oxygen levels in the water is my final topic. The “dead zone” may seem like it does not relate to me being home, but in reality it really does.

This “dead zone” is affected by many things such as the oceanographic conditions, but a major cause is excessive nutrient pollution from agriculture and waste water. Being from a rural agricultural area I wonder how much of what we are doing here in the north affects the ocean waters far away?

So how does this all start? The nitrogen and phosphorus that flows into the water fuels the growth of algae, later when the algae dies and decays, it sinks to the bottom. At the bottom the bacteria will devour the dissolved oxygen from the water. With little or no oxygen the organisms living there must either move, if they can, or they will die.

Where does this nitrogen and phosphorus come from? Most of this can be found in fertilizers from agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, discharges from sewage treatment plants, and even from erosion of soil full of nutrients. Since past spring was very rainy and there were floods near the Mississippi River much of this was taken from the soil into the water. The flood waters then drained back into the river and into the gulf carrying many of these nutrients.

How do we know this is happening and that it is getting worse? On the NOAA Ship Oregon II and other ships there are daily checks of the water oxygen levels. Tests similar to these have been conducted for many years. The results are compared and they show that changes in the oxygen levels are happening and not for the better.

While on the ship the scientist performed these tests using the CTD.  Water taken from the CTD is handled very carefully so no oxygen is added by accident. As chemicals are added, you can see the changes where the oxygen in the water bonds to the chemicals. The results of these tests are compared to the results collected by the computer.  Having both tests generate similar results show more proof of the oxygen levels.

CTD coming up
CTD coming up!

I noticed that when the ship was closer to land, the oxygen levels would be lower and Lead Scientist Kim Johnson said as the ship traveled closer to the mouth of the Mississippi River, the levels would drop even more. (I plan on watching the results as they are posted.)

Can anything be done to stop this? Some scientist say one of the solutions would be to use fewer fertilizers another would be to maybe watch when the chemicals were added, so there would be less runoff.

Of course checking septic systems and sewage treatment plants to be sure they are up to code and working correctly would help. These solutions sound simple, but maybe people do not even realize what happens up north and how it really does affect what is going on at the bottom of the ocean.

Maybe our Amboy Marsh is the beginning, a place where the water can be filtered.

Here is a map showing the levels of oxygen in the water.

Personal Log:

I have been home now for four days. My land legs are back and I only feel dizzy when closing my eyes while washing my hair in the shower. I want to thank everyone for reading my blogs, I hope you enjoyed my adventure and learned something new.

As I look through my pictures, memories of the sixteen days I spent at sea flood my mind. I look at the safety precautions that were taken to make sure everyone on the ship stayed safe. The drills, the posting of where everyone was to go and what they were suppose to do in case of an emergency, and the sign stating how many days the ship had gone without a problem. I always felt safe, everyone was very careful and followed rules to ensure the safety of everyone….just like we do at school!

Accident free days
525 Days without an accident!

Ship's emergency bullets
Emergency bullets

I also think about how what seemed like a tiny space became my home away from home. Everything you need to survive on a mere 178 ft ship! Two showers for everyone to share, three heads (toilets) and one washing machine and one dryer. I thought it would be impossible, but it just proved my husband’s theory that we have too much in our home!

laundry area
Laundry Area!

Shower room
Two showers to share with everyone!

I want to tell you how thankful I am that NOAA has this wonderful program and allowed me to participate. I know many teachers applied for this and I am honored that I was selected. Thank you to the scientists aboard the ship: Kim, for EVERYTHING, the Night Shift: Taniya, Andre, Lee, Chrissy, and Rebeca for all of their guidance and help.

The deck crew: Chris, Chuck and Mike-thanks for your support and for making the night go by so quickly!  Master Dave Nelson and ALL the members of his crew for their help in explaining everything and the tours on the ship!

This survey opened my eyes to what is happening under the water and how fragile life in the deep blue sea really is. It confirmed my thinking that we (the human race) need to look closely at what we are doing everyday and how it affects others. I plan on following the NOAA Ship Oregon II during the rest of the summer groundfish survey and during the fall groundfish survey. I want to see how the oxygen level changes, how the data collected affects the shrimp season, and follow the members of the ship!

Day One
Our first day together! (Photo by Karen Mitchell)

I cannot wait to share with my students and with anyone that will listen! Would I do this again? YES, I would go back to sea in a minute if I had the chance!

Spencer Cody: A Floating City of Life, June 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 6, 2014

Observational Data:

Latitude:  28˚ 18.164 N
Longitude:  92˚ 26.145 W
Air Temp: 27.7˚C (81.9˚F)
Water Temp: 25.5˚C (77.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  86.1 m (282 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  76%
Wind Speed:  3.9 kts (4.5 mph)
Barometer:  1,011.5 hPa (1,011.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log:

The floating mats of Sargassum stay afloat due to a series of small air bladders. The floating brown algae provides habitat for a diverse assortment of sea life.

It has been the subject of many ocean myths and legends:  ships becoming trapped in mats of thick, unrelenting seaweed.  Of course, such stories are not true, but the giant mats of seaweed that inspired such fear in sailors hundreds of years ago are very real and are an important component of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem.  The Carthaginians and later the Romans first described a portion of the Atlantic covered in seaweed.  By the 15th century, the Portuguese had named the area the Sargasso Sea after the sargaco rock rose that grew in their water wells back home, which appeared to be similar to the seaweed that grew on the surface of the water in stagnant parts of the Atlantic.  From this comes the genus name Sargassum or as it is commonly referred to along the Gulf coast as gulfweed.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Sargassum can form large mats acres in size.  These large mats of brown algae provide a floating micro-ecosystem in the Gulf.  Sargassum is a food source for many marine organisms.  The mats also serve as a nursery for fish and invertebrate eggs and developing young.  The thick mats provide structure and cover in an ocean environment that may be lacking in the necessary cover to support the development of their young and to keep them hid from potential predators.  Within the mats many types of marine herbivores can be found.  The presence of various herbivores draws in fish to feed on those organisms grazing on the Sargassum.  In fact, some organisms have evolved to look like Sargassum for protection.  One good example of this is a type of frogfish called the sargassum fish.  The sargassum fish can appear to be brown, yellow, or olive depending on whatever color they need to be in order to blend in with the mat of algae.


Hardhat, life jacket, and work gloves are needed during operations on the weather deck. This is a picture of me placing a float on one of our bandit reel lines.  Credit Kevin Rademacher for the photo.

Personal Log: 

Safety is always a key concern when going on a survey aboard a research vessel such as the Pisces.  This is especially true when a ship is moving and lifting the sensors and equipment to facilitate the science the Pisces is carrying out.  Whenever we are launching or retrieving either the CTD or camera array, protective gear including a hardhat and a life jacket are required.  Whenever we are using a bandit reel, the same equipment is needed as well.  Losing someone overboard is a constant concern.  That is why these precautions are taken whenever operations are occurring on a weather deck and is why we have drills for a man overboard situation to recover someone as fast as possible.

fire hose
Water hoses along with other fire suppression equipment are tested during one of our mandatory fire drills.

As with any building, fire is a serious threat.  On a ship fire is a threat that endangers everyone onboard.  Everyone is given an assignment list on their bunk card.  Each bunk card lists the person’s individual emergency billet assignments for a fire, abandon ship, and a man overboard.  During a fire everyone may end up becoming a part of the fire suppression crew.  People need to report to there assigned stations.  During a drill a mock fire is assessed and contained, and fire suppression equipment is tested out.  The Pisces is designed to contain fire wherever possible by having heavy fireproof doors throughout the ship making it more difficult for fire to spread to other decks.

If an emergency requires the ship to be abandoned, people are required to report to specific life raft stations with life jackets, a survival suit, and other items in order to leave the ship behind.  Life jackets and survival suits are found in our staterooms and throughout the ship.  This is an act of last resort once every attempt to save the ship has been made.  The Pisces is specifically designed to prevent water from entering cabins and corridors by using water tight doors.  This is designed to either prevent taking on water or at least slow the process down enough to abandon ship.

Survival suits are both water tight and thermally insulated keeping a person who needs to abandon ship dry and warm. A flotation device is wrapped around the neck, which inflates, keeping the floating person upright in the water.  Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

Other general precautions must be observed onboard.  Passengers and crew are not allowed to run while onboard for several reasons.  The watertight doors come up from the floor by nearly a foot in addition to many other obstacles.  Places like any of the weather decks or the wet lab where we process fish specimens are often wet and slippery.  Perhaps the most obvious reason one should be careful moving around onboard is the movement of the ship itself.  Large waves and swells can send the ship into an unpredictable motion.  This makes even walking or standing difficult at times and is certainly disorienting.  The Pisces has several features to accommodate this problem.  Handle bars and railings are found throughout the ship in order to stabilize yourself during swells.  Having a handle bar in the shower may seem rather over the top, but when your morning shower starts to resemble a theme park ride that you may have been on before, then you will start to understand why that feature is there.  Cabinet and drawers are self-locking; otherwise, they would constantly slide in and out, which is why we had to tape down many of the drawers in the dry lab that do not have this feature.  When you are on a moving ship, everything takes a little longer to do than on land.  It is just something you have to get used to.

Did You Know?

Even water temperatures as high as 80˚F can be a hypothermia risk if exposed to it for long periods of time.  Water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.

Johanna Mendillo: How Well Do You Know Your Pollock? August 4, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Saturday, August 4, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 62  20’ N
Longitude: 179 38’ W
Ship speed:  0.8 knots (0.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 7.1C (44.8ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.3C (46.9ºF)
Wind speed: 22.7 knots (26.1 mph)
Wind direction: 205T
Barometric pressure:  1009 millibar (1.0 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

Out of the 30,000+ species of fish on earth, I would now like to introduce you to the fish we follow morning, noon, and night: pollock.

It is time for some fish biology 101!  The scientific name for pollock, also called walleye pollock, is Theragra chalcogramma.  This is a different species from its East Coast relative,  Atlantic Pollock.  They are in the same family as cod and haddock.

Juvenile pollock
Juvenile pollock… aren’t they cute?

AGE & SIZE:  Pollock are a fast-growing species that typically live to approximately 12yrs, but some live longer.  They are torpedo shaped (long, narrow, and with a streamlined body) and have speckled coloring that help them camouflage with the seafloor to avoid predators.  They generally range from 10-60cm in size; we have been collecting pollock generally in the 20-40cm range so far on this cruise.  Here I am holding one of the larger specimens I have seen so far:

One of the larger pollock I have seen so far...
One of the larger pollock I have seen so far…41cm!

WHERE THEY LIVE:  Younger pollock live in the mid-water region of the ocean; older pollock (age 5 and up) typically dwell near the ocean floor.  In order to sample both of these groups, we conduct trawls throughout the water column so we can get representative biological information from all habitats.

Here I am weighing pollock...
Here I am weighing pollock…


Juvenile pollock eat a type of zooplankton called euphausids, otherwise known as krill, copepods, and small fish.  Older pollock feed on other fish…. including juvenile pollock, making them a cannibalistic species!  Pollock play an integral role in the Bering Sea food web and you will help construct that web back at school!

REPRODUCTION:  Pollock are able to reproduce by the age of 3 or 4.  In our work, we have to determine the sex of each fish by slicing it open because no reproductive organs are visible on the outside!  So, in addition to seeing the insides of many, many fish heads, I have now seen many, many fish gonads.  Here is a poster we use in the lab to learn how to identify the ovaries and testes at five different developmental stages (immature, developing, pre-spawning, spawning, and spent).

Poster showing male and female reproductive organs for ages 1-5
Poster showing ovary and testes stages 1-5!

And... it is a female!
And… it is a female!

So, how do you tell, exactly?  On the females, we go by the following guidelines:

Immature female pollock contain small ovaries tucked inside the body cavity, the ovary looks transparent, and there are no eggs visible.

Developing females have more visible and pink-ish ovaries, generally transparent to opaque.

Pre-spawning females contain large bright orange ovaries and eggs are easily discernible inside them

Spawning females have large ovaries bursting with hydrated eggs  (the fish has absorbed large amounts of water at this point), so the eggs look translucent or even transparent!

Spent females have empty flaccid ovaries.

It can sometimes be difficult to identify a female maturity stage by this simple visual scale (this is called macroscopic inspection), due to subjective interpretations of color, ovary size, and visibility of eggs, so fisheries biologists can also collect cell samples to look at gamete stages under the microscope (this is called histological analysis).  For example, a female’s ovaries can be slightly different colors based on her diet.  We are not collecting those types of samples on this cruise, however, but those are often collected during wintertime pollock cruises in the Gulf of Alaska.

These are ovaries in the pre-spawning stage
These are ovaries in the pre-spawning stage     (Photo Credit: Story Miller, TAS 2010)

Regardless of the method used, determining the ratio of different maturity stages in the female pollock population has very important implications for how scientists  calculate spawning biomass estimates, which in turn, are entered into statistical models to determine age class structures, overall population sizes, and, finally, catch quotas for the fishing industry.

On the males, we go by the following guidelines:

Immature male pollock have threadlike testes with a transparent membrane (that can be very hard to see).

Developing males have testes which look like smooth, uniformly textured ribbons.

Pre-spawning male testes appear as larger thicker ribbons.

Spawning males exhibit large testes that extrude sperm when pressed.

Spent males have large, flaccid, bloodshot, and watery testes.

These are the testes of a pre-spawning male
These are testes in the developing stage (Photo Credit: Story Miller, TAS 2010)

As for how they reproduce, pollock, like most fish, do external fertilization, which means they release eggs and sperm into the water, where they come together and fertilize.  For pollock in the northern Bering Sea, this tends to happen in the winter, from January-early April.  It appears that sub-populations in other areas of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska spawn during shorter time windows throughout the late winter and early spring.

Fish gather in large groups to spawn, and an individual female pollock can release anywhere from 10,000s – 100,000s of eggs in a single season!  They could also be released at one time or in several batches, called batch spawning.  Interestingly, if conditions are not optimal, such as low water temperatures or  poor nutrition, females can reabsorb eggs, in a process called atresia.

Here are several hundred pollock we have to sort from a typical catch!  We toss the  females in the"Sheilas" side and the males in the "Blokes" side!
Here are several hundred pollock we have to sort from a typical catch! We toss the females in the”Sheilas” side and the males in the “Blokes” side!

After spawning and fertilization, the resulting larvae grow into juveniles, the juveniles grow into adults, and the process starts anew!  Overall, scientists still have much to learn about the timing and mechanisms behind the pollock reproductive process— and I have enjoyed learning about it from the NOAA team!

Personal Log:

First, the answer was… 75 dozen eggs!  Those were some pretty close guesses, good job!

Let’s continue our tour aboard the Oscar Dyson!  Now, as you can imagine, safety and training are very important parts of life at sea.  I feel very confident in the crew and officers’ careful preparedness.  Each week, we conduct safety drills.  There are three types: man overboard, fire, and abandon ship.  For each drill, each member of the ship has to report to a certain station to check in.  In addition, you may be assigned to bring something, such as a radio, first aid kit, etc.

One of our many life rings
One of our many life rings

The drill I was most interested in was abandon ship, because not only do you carry your emergency survival (also known as an immersion) suit with you, but sometimes you practice putting it on!  I had seen many pictures of other Teachers at Sea wearing them and wanted the chance to try it on myself!

So, without further ado, here are Allan and I in our suits:

Survival Suit Stylin'
Survival Suit Stylin’

What do you think, do we look like Gumby???

So, how exactly does it work?  Well, it is a special type of waterproof dry suit that protects the wearer from hypothermia in cold water after abandoning a sinking or capsized vessel. It is made of stretchable flame retardant neoprene, and contains insulated gloves, reflective tape, whistle, and a face shield for spray protection.  The neoprene material is a synthetic rubber with closed-cell foam, which contains many tiny air bubbles, making the suit sufficiently buoyant to also be a personal flotation device.

There are various types of immersion suits.  Some contain:

  • An emergency strobe light beacon with a water-activated battery
  • An inflatable air bladder to lift the wearer’s head up out of the water
  • An emergency radio beacon locator
  • A “buddy line” to attach to others’ suits to keep a group together
  • Sea dye markers to increase visibility in water

We keep them in our rooms and there are many others placed throughout the ship in case we are not able to return to our rooms in a real emergency.

I hope that gives you a good feel for life onboard here in week two.  Please post a comment below, students, with any questions at all.

A nice sunny day in the Bering Sea!
A nice sunny day in the Bering Sea!

Allan Phipps: Let the Fishing Begin! July 28, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: July 28, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 61°24’39″N
Longitude: 177°07’68″W
Ship speed: 3.8 knots (4.4 mph) currently fishing

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 6.9 knots (7.9 mph)
Wind Direction: 30°T
Wave Height: 2ft with 2-4ft swells
Surface Water Temperature: 8.7°C ( 47.7°F)
Air Temperature: 7.9°C ( 46.2°F)
Barometric pressure: 1005.8 millibar (0.99 atm)

The NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Science and Technology Log:

Since the main goal of this voyage is the acoustic-trawl survey of the mid-water portion of the Alaskan pollock population, I thought I would start by telling you how we go fishing to catch pollock!  This isn’t the type of fishing I’m used to… Alaskan pollock is a semi-demersal species, which means it inhabits from the middle of the water column (mid-water) downward to the seafloor.  This mid-water survey is typically carried out once every two years.  Another NOAA Fisheries survey, the bottom trawl survey, surveys the bottom-dwelling or demersal portion of the pollock population every year.  I will begin by describing how we are fishing for pollock on this acoustic-trawl survey.

The Oscar Dyson carries two different types of trawling nets for capturing fish as part of the mid-water survey, the AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl which is a mid-water trawl net) and the 83-112 (a bottom-trawl net that is named for the length of its 83 foot long head rope that is at the top of the mouth of the net and the 112 foot long weighted foot rope at the bottom of the mouth of the net).  One of the research projects on board the Oscar Dyson is a feasibility study that involves a comparison of the AWT and using the 83-112 bottom-trawl net as if it were a mid-water net.  The 83-112 is much smaller than the AWT, so there is concern with the fish avoiding this net and thus causing a reduction in catch.  While the bottom trawl survey acquires good information on the bottom-dwelling pollock using the 83-112 bottom trawl, if they also used this net to sample in mid-water they could help “fill in” estimates of mid-water dwelling pollock in years when the acoustic mid-water trawl survey does not occur.

Scale model of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net courtesy of NOAA Scientist Kresimir Williams

When the net is deployed from the ship, the first part of the net in the water is called the cod end.  This is where the caught fish end up.  The mesh size of the net gets smaller and smaller until the mesh size at the cod end is only ½ inch (The mesh size at the mouth of the net is over 3 meters!).

The AWT is also outfitted with a Cam-Trawl, which is the next major part that hits the water.  This is a pair of cameras that help scientists identify and measure the fish that are caught in the net.  Eventually, this technology might be used to allow scientists to gather data on fish biomass without having to actually collect any fish (more on this technology later).  This piece of equipment has to be “sewn” into the side of the net each time the crew is instructed to deploy the AWT.  The crew uses a special type of knot called a “zipper” knot, which allows them to untie the entire length of knots with one pull on the end much like yarn from a sweater comes unraveled.

Cam-Trawl on deck, ready to be “sewn in” to the AWT.

The Cam-Trawl is now “sewn in” to the AWT and is ready to be deployed.

 Along the head rope, there is a piece of net called the “kite” where a series of sensors are attached to help the scientists gather data about the depth of the net, the shape of the net underwater, how large the net opening is, determine if the net is tangled, how far the net is off the bottom, and see an acoustic signal if fish are actually going into the net (more on these sensors later, although the major acoustic sensor is affectionately called the “turtle”).

Close-up view of the AWT scale model to highlight the kite and the turtle that ride at the top of the net. The third wire holds the electrical wires that send data from the turtle to the bridge (courtesy of Kresimir Williams).

Once the kite is deployed, a pair of tom weights (each weighing 250 lbs), are attached to the bridal cables to help separate the head rope from the foot rope and ensure the mouth of the net will open.  Then, after a good length of cable is let out, the crew transfers the net from the net reel to the two tuna towers and attach the doors.  The doors act as hydrofoils and create drag to ensure the net mouth opens wide.  Our AWT net usually has a 25 meter opening from head rope to foot rope and a 35 meter opening from side to side.

This picture shows the A-frame with the two tuna towers on either side. The AWT is being deployed down the trawl ramp on the stern of the ship.

The scientists use acoustic data to determine at what depth they should fish, then the OOD (Officer on Deck) uses a scope table to determine how much cable to let out in order to reach our target depth.  Adjustments to the depth of the head rope can be made by adjusting speed and/or adjusting the length of cable released.

The scientists use more acoustic data sent from the “turtle” to determine when enough fish are caught to have a scientifically viable sample size, then the entire net is hauled in.  Once on board, the crew uses a crane to lift the cod end over to the lift-table.  The lift-table then dumps the catch into the fish lab where the fish get sorted on a conveyor belt.  More on acoustics and what happens in the fish lab in my next blog!

The port side crane is lifting the cod end over to the starboard side where the lift-table will receive this morning’s catch.

Personal Log:

WOW!  What an adventure!!!  So I must get you caught up on some of the happenings thus far.  After a mix-up where my reservation was cancelled on the Saturday afternoon flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor and the threat of being stranded in Anchorage for another day, I finally made it to Dutch.  The weather cooperated (which is not the case more often than not), and we landed on Dutch Harbor after a quick refueling stop in King Salmon.  Since we landed after 8pm, we went straight to one of the few restaurants in Dutch Harbor and had a late dinner before heading to the Oscar Dyson for the night.

My flight after landing in Dutch Harbor, Alaska!

Sunday morning, we went with several of the scientists out to Alaska Ship Supply to get some gear.  I picked up my obligatory “Deadliest Catch” shirt and hat as all tourists do here in Dutch Harbor. We made three trips to the airport throughout the day to see if some of the science gear and luggage came, but came back disappointed.  On one of our trips to the airport, we had lunch at the airport restaurant.  I had Vietnamese Pho, which is a beef noodle soup, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the Pho my wife makes. 🙂 We also drove up the “Tsunami Evacuation Route” to an overlook where we could see all of Dutch Harbor and the town of Unalaska.  Later, we drove around Unalaska and stopped to check out some tidal pools on our way back to the Oscar Dyson.  In the afternoon, we checked out the World War II museum that was absolutely fascinating!  I did not know Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and that so many American soldiers were stationed in the bunkers surrounding the harbor.  For dinner, I had black cod (sablefish) at the Grand Aleutian Hotel.  Yummy!

Overlooking Dutch Harbor after driving up the Tsunami Evacuation Route.

Monday we embarked on our adventure shortly after noon.  We had to leave the dock because another ship was scheduled to offload there in the afternoon.  The scientists’ equipment arrived on a late Monday morning cargo flight, but they didn’t make it to the ship on time!!! We couldn’t go to sea without them, so we deployed the “Peggy D” to go pick them up and bring them aboard!

The Peggy D brings our scientists Rick and Kresimir with their long-awaited research equipment to the Oscar Dyson so we may head out to the Bering Sea!

Once we had our missing scientists, we left the safety of Dutch Harbor and ventured into open water.  On our way, we saw dozens of humpback whales!  None of the whales breached (jumped out of the water), but several of them fluked (dove and put their tail out of the water).

A couple of humpback whales spotted as we were leaving Dutch Harbor.

We started our day and a half journey to get to the starting point of our survey transects (the end point of last month’s survey).  On our trip out, we experienced 6 to 10 ft seas and a 25 knot wind.  It was a “gentle” welcome to the Bering Sea, but I struggled to get my sea legs underneath me.  Meclizine is great motion sickness medication, but it sure knocked me out.  I feel better now that I am not taking anything and am used to the rocking deck.  While we made our way to our first transect, we had a couple of emergency drills.  Here I am with fellow Teacher at Sea, Johanna, in our immersion suits as we completed our abandon ship drill.

Relaxing in the lounge after putting on our “gumby” suits.

On Wednesday morning, we began our first transect and did our first trawl along the transect (more on that later).  I learned how to work in the fish lab collecting biological data on the catch we brought on board.  I have been struggling to adjust to both my shift, which is 4am to 4pm, and the fact that the sun sets around 1am and rises at about 7am.

In the fish lab processing Pollock! Did someone order fish-sticks?

Thursday morning I woke on time and observed the survey scientists and crew deploying the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) rosette from the hero deck (on the starboard side).

Skilled Fisherman Jim is assisting with deploying the CTD.

We also had beautiful clear skies and I was able to see Venus and Jupiter.  At sunrise, I saw the GREEN FLASH!!!  It was a beautiful start to the day.

A Bering Sea sunrise!

We processed one mid-water AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl) trawl that was all pollock, then switched to the 83-112 bottom trawl net (83 foot long head-rope and 112 foot long foot-rope) and pulled up a lot of jellyfish with our pollock.

Last night, I finally got a really good night sleep!  This morning (Friday), I watched the CTD deployment again and learned more about the data being collected (more on this later).  No spectacular sunrise this morning as it was the typical gray, foggy weather.  I went up and spent some time on the bridge and Chelsea, our navigator/medic, taught me a lot about the instrumentation used for navigating the ship.  There sure is a lot of technology on board!!!

A picture of the helm with some of the displays the OOD (Officer on Deck) uses to navigate the ship.

From the bridge, we saw a pod of Dall’s Porpoise feeding, splashing around, and moving fast!  We processed another AWT trawl of pollock that had quite a few herring mixed in.  We traveled further into Russian waters than originally anticipated as we tried to identify the northern boundaries of the pollock population to get the best picture of the entire pollock range.  We spotted a huge Russian trawler from the bridge!

A Russian trawler! I took this picture through the lens of the CO’s (Commanding Officer) binoculars.

We then headed south again towards American waters, but needed to do a quick water column profile test.  Since we did not want to stop to drop the CTD again, I got to deploy a XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph)!  After all the talk about safety briefings, the use of ballistics, and outfitting me with every piece of safety gear we could muster, I got ready to fire the XBT!!!  Turns out, when you pull the firing pin, the XBT just slides out of the tube… no fireworks, no big bang… just a small kurplunk as the XBT enters the water.  We all had a good laugh at my expense.  See, scientists know how to have fun!

Safety first!!! All decked out for the “fireworks” of shooting the XBT. My “was that it?” face says it all…

WOW!  So I have just scratched the surface of our voyage thus far!  Next time, I will give you a snapshot of what life was like aboard the ship.

Susan Kaiser: Safety and Teamwork Needed for Success, July 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 27, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 41 min N
Longitude:  82 deg 59 min W
Wind Speed: 5.61 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.33 C
Air Temperature: 29.33 C
Relative Humidity: 79.0%

Science and Technology Log

Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
Close up of the bridge of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Safety is first in the science classroom AND on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster too. Our expected departure was delayed by one day because the Public Announcement (PA) system was not working. Without the PA system, communication about emergency situations would not be possible. The ship’s crew worked to solve the problem themselves and also contacted outside help, but in the end a part had to be replaced so we stayed in port at Key West an extra day. Ships don’t sail without meeting safety requirements. By morning on Friday the system was working fine and the crew prepared to set sail.

Lt Josh Slater leads the science team safety briefing in the dry lab.

After boarding the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster one of our first tasks was to review the safety protocols of the ship with one of the ship’s officers.  We learned the whistle signals for man overboard (3 prolonged blasts of the alarm), fire (1 continuous blast of the alarm) and abandon ship (7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast) and the designated places to report in these situations. We will be practicing abandon ship in a drill very soon so I will report on that later. Since the ship works on a 24 hour schedule someone is always awake on board which means someone is always asleep too.  Lt. Slater stressed the importance of not being too loud and showing respect for others’ space.  After all this ship is home to the crew and the science team are guests in that home.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers ENS Jamie Park, ENS Michael Doig and Lt Josh Slater (hidden), inspect diving equipment.

Teamwork is critical on board the ship. The science team and the ship’s crew work closely to help each other achieve the best results and stay safe. Most of the data collected on this cruise uses divers. Twice each day, the science team meets to review the Plan of the Day or POD. This meeting allows team members to learn the expectations of them to meet the research objectives of the day. They also have the chance to provide input or to ask questions. What do you think is a main focus of this meeting?  You got it…Safety! While we waited for the PA system repair, the scientists checked their SCUBA gear again under the supervision of the ship’s crew members. This double-check insures all the equipment is safe to use.

After we steamed away from the keys, the scientists did a practice dive to simulate an unconscious diver at the surface. This drill included 5 science team divers as well as the ship’s crew and allowed them to practice their response in an emergency situation as well as deploying a small boat. A debriefing meeting afterward helped to identify the important tasks that need to be completed in the event of an emergency.   Practicing through drills allows a quick response to an unusual situation and helps everyone stay safe.

Unconscious diver drill. Pictured Ben Binder, Lt. Slater, and Chris Rawley. Sarah Fangman, who acts as the unconscious diver, is in the boat.

With the safety issues well-covered, the science team is ready to begin retrieving the “listening stations” called VR2s from their positions on the ocean floor tomorrow.  VR2 stands for Vemco Receiver 2 and is the model of the equipment used by the scientists use to collect fish movement information.  What do you think the “listening stations” are listening for? Read about the “listening stations” in a future posting of my blog. For now you can make an educated guess by reading for hints in this blog and answering this poll.

Personal Log

Mrs. Kaiser at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport ready to start her NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure!

Flying out of Reno, NV the plane took off heading south climbing quickly into the sky.  From my window seat I could see Pine Middle School below. Then after a quick glimpse of Lake Tahoe to the west, the plane turned gracefully eastward. As I looked down I could see the desert valleys that once lay beneath the ancient Pleistocene lakes, covering a good part of the Great Basin with water. Although it doesn’t seem possible, one can still find shells and marine fossils in these now desert locations. I thought how different the landscape is today compared to the distant past. Our environment is undergoing constant changes even though the processes may seem slow and may not be noticed from day to day.

This is why it is important to observe, record and think about all aspects of our environment and to be aware of small changes so we can predict if they may become big impacts. Soon I would be landing in Florida, a state very different from Nevada, and joining the science team aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. This team is one of many that makes observations of their marine ecosystem, recording data and interpreting any changes or patterns they notice. I am very pleased to join them for the next 2 weeks and expect to learn a great deal.

Greeting me at the airport were artistic decorations made of models of tropical fish found along the Florida coast.  High on the walls, they are creatively arranged in geometric patterns reminding me of synchronized swimmers competing in the Summer Olympics. These fish are more than art. They represent an important economic factor to Florida. They lure tourists for diving and snorkeling activities. Some of them are harvested for food or fished for sport. They are also important to the ecosystems of the coastal reefs and shore communities of Florida. I wonder what changes these scientists are seeing in this marine ecosystem. What are the solutions they will propose to the public? How can a balanced management meet the needs of people who live and work there? These are difficult questions to answer.

Great Basin at 30,000 ft. This area would have been covered with small lakes during the Pleistocene period.

It is dark when I arrive finally in Key West but a scientist meets me at the airport and drives me to the ship where I find my bunk and spend the night! Everyone has been very kind and helpful which makes participating in NOAA Teacher at Sea even more amazing – if that is even possible!

Stacey Jambura: We’re All in This Together! July 20, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – July 17, 2012
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Current Geographical Area: Waterloo, Iowa 
Date: July 20, 2012

Science and Technology Log

Crew of the NOAA Ship Oregon II

It is no small feat to conduct a research survey for NOAA. It takes many individuals with many different strengths to ensure a safe and successful cruise. From the captain of the ship who is responsible for the safety of the ship and the crew, to the stewards who ensure the crew is well fed and well kept, every crew member is important.

I interviewed many of the crew members to get a better idea of what their jobs entail and what they had to do to become qualified for their jobs. I complied all of the interviews into a video to introduce you to some of the Oregon II’s crew.

Safety Aboard the Oregon II

While out at sea, safety is a critical issue. Just as schools have fire and tornado drills, ships have drills of their own. All crew members have a role to fulfill during each drill. Emergency billets (assigned jobs during emergencies) are posted for each cruise in multiple locations on the ship.

Emergency Billets
Emergency Billets

Abandon Ship Billets
Abandon Ship Billets

Fire on a ship is a very critical situation. Because of this, fire drills are performed frequently to ensure all crew recognize the alarm, listen to important directions from the captain, and muster to their assigned stations. (To muster means to report and assemble together.) One long blast of the ship’s whistle signals a fire. (Think of someone yelling “Firrreee!!!”) Each crew member is assigned to a location to perform a specific duty. When the fire whistle is blown, some crew members are in charge of donning fire fighting suits and equipment, while others are in charge of making sure all crew have mustered to their stations.

Immersion Suit
Donning My Immersion Suit

Another drill performed on the ship is the abandon ship drill. This drill is performed so that crew will be prepared in the unlikely event that the they need to evacuate the ship. Seven short blasts of the ship’s whistle followed by one long blast signals to the crew to abandon ship. Crew members must report to their staterooms to gather their PFDs (personal flotation devices), their immersion suits, hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Once all emergency equipment is gathered, all crew meets on the deck at the bow of the ship to don their shirts, pants, hats, immersion suits, and PFDs. All of this gear is important for survival in the open ocean because it will keep you warm, protected, and afloat until rescue is achieved.

The last drill we perform is the man overboard drill. This drill is performed so that all crew will be ready to respond if a crew member falls overboard. If a crew member falls overboard, the ship’s whistle is blown three times (think of someone shouting “Maann Overr-boarrrd..!). If the crew member is close enough, and is not badly injured, a swimmer line can be thrown out. If the crew member is too far away from the ship or is injured, the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) will be deployed and will drive out to rescue the crew member. The crew member can be secured to a rescue basket and lifted back onboard the ship.

Man Overboard
Chris Nichols and Tim Martin performing a man overboard drill.
(photo courtesy of Junie Cassone)

Man Overboard Drill
Man Overboard Drill

Safety Equipment
Donning my hard hat

It is important to practice allof these drills so that everyone can move quickly and efficiently to handle and resolve the problem. All drills are performed at least once during each cruise.

Daily safety aboard the Oregon II is also important. When any heavy machinery is in operation, such as large cranes, it is important that all crew in the area don safety equipment. This equipment includes a hard hat and a PFD (personal flotation device). Since cranes are operated at least once at every sampling station, this safety equipment is readily available for crew members to use

Personal Log

July 20th

At the bow of the Oregon II
At the bow of the Oregon II
(photo courtesy of Junie Cassone)

I have now returned home from my grand adventure aboard the Oregon II. It took a few days for me to recover from “stillness illness” and get my land-legs back, but it feels nice to be back home. I miss working alongside the crew of the Oregon II and made many new friends that I hope to keep in touch with. Being a Teacher at Sea has been an experience of a lifetime. I learned so much about life at sea and studies in marine science. About half way through the cruise I had started to believe this was my full-time job! I am eager to share this experience with students and staff alike. I hope to spark new passions in students and excitement in staff to explore this opportunity from NOAA.

I want to thank all of the crew of the Oregon II for being so welcoming and including me as another crew member aboard the ship. I also want to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program for offering me such a wonderful opportunity. I hope to be part of future opportunities offered by this program.

Valerie Bogan: First Days at Sea, June 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, June 9, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:  Sea temperature 27.5 degrees celsius, Air temperature 24.2 degrees celsius, calm seas with thunderstorms in the area.

Science and Technology Log

As I mentioned in the previous entry the Oregon II is conducting a groundfish survey.  During this research cruise we are studying many aspects of the Gulf’s ecosystem.  We start by collecting general information about the water chemistry.  To do this we use a piece of equipment called a CTD which stands for Conductivity/temperature/depth.  This piece of equipment collects information on the temperature, salinity, fluorescence and turbidity.

This is the instrument used to measure salinity, called a CTD.

I am going to briefly explain what each of these readings are and why they are important to the scientific community.  Everyone knows what temperature is but you may not be aware of its importance to the health of our planet.  The phrases global warming and climate change have become very popular in the last few years. By collecting temperature data in the same spot year after year scientists can determine if the oceans really are getting warmer.

sea surface temperature map
Map of the surface temperatures around the world. The highest temperatures are found in the red areas the lowest temperatures are found in the blue areas. (photo courtesy of

The oceans contain salt water which  is the most important difference between oceans and lakes.  The measurement of the amount of salt in an ocean is called salinity.  And the amount of salt in an ocean can reflect the workings of the water cycle.  If there is an excessive amount of evaporation due to high temperatures, the ocean will become more salty due to the fact that there is more salt in less water.  On the other hand  if there is a lot of rain or melt waters from glaciers and mountains then the water will become less salty because now the same amount of salt is dissolved in more water.

The amount of salt in the water determines the salinity.

Fluorescence is the measurement of light which is connected to the photosynthesis rate of algae.  The health of the algae has a direct connection to the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed by the ocean.  Algae produces its own food just like a tree so if the algae is healthy,  more carbon dioxide will be necessary  to carry out photosynthesis  and then ocean can absorb more natural and man-made carbon dioxide.   These readings can also tell us how well the oceans are responding to climate change.

These algae make their own food through the process of photosynthesis.(photo courtesy of

Turbidity is the measure of water clarity.  If the turbidity is high it means that light isn’t getting through to the organisms below which in turn means that the algae and seaweed can’t get the light they need to make their own food.  High turbidity can also cause the water temperature to go up due to the excessive amount of silt and particles floating and absorbing energy from the sun.  High turbidity can also cause small animals on the bottom  of the ocean to be buried alive as the particles settle out the water column.

muddy Mississippi river
This is an example of the silt and particulate matter which is flowing into the ocean everyday.(photo courtesy of

Personal log

Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico.  I have now been onboard  the Oregon II for one complete day and am slowly but surely becoming accustomed to the layout of the ship.  It has all the comforts of home even if they have different names and  look different from the parts of your home.  The place I sleep and keep my belongings in  is called a stateroom.  It is a small space but honestly the only thing I use it for is sleeping .  One other difference from your room at home is that the cabinets have latches which keep them closed even when the ship is rolling with the waves.  Given the fact that large waves may come up at any time it is important that all personal belonging are securely stored so that they don’t become flying projectiles which can hurt someone.

This is where I am bunking for the voyage.


The ship also contains restrooms but they are called the heads.   Fresh water is an important resource on the ship as we only brought so much with us so the toilets are flushed using  seawater which is very easy to come by out here on the gulf.  There are also a couple of showers something which is very important given the fact that our work has the ability to make us very dirty and nobody wants to be stuck on a boat with a bunch of dirty stinky people.

This is where we clean off all the dirt that accumulates during sampling runs.

Safety is very important on ship so we have drills to practice what to do in case of emergency, just like the drills we do at Maple Crest middle school.  Today we had a fire drill during which the scientists were to muster (that means to report) in the lounge and stay out-of-the-way of the crew members who are actually trained to put out a fire if one should occur on the ship.  Following that we had an abandoned ship drill during which we had to put on long pants and shirts and a survival suit.  The purpose of all this clothing is to keep you protected from the elements if you have to float in the water for an extended time while waiting on a rescue ship to come

Survival suit
This is the suit you must wear during abandon ship drills.

Dave Grant: Terra Nova, February 13, 2012

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

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26.30N Latitude – 71. 55W Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 C / 74 F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

After an uneventful flight from New Jersey and an eventful trip from the airport at Charleston and through security at the naval base (Taxi drivers don’t like to have their vehicles inspected…), I am setting up my bunk on the Brown. There is a skeleton crew since I have arrived early and everyone else is expected to report tomorrow. Crates of equipment are still being loaded, so it is advisable to stay off the outside decks, and after a quick orientation by every  ship’s most important crew member (the chef),  I will have the evening free to find my way around the ship and explore the dock.
First order of business: Pick up bedding from the laundry down below.
Next: PB&J sandwich (Since the galley doesn’t open until tomorrow).
Finally: Grab the camera to catch the sunset and an amazing assortment of cloud types.

South Carolina’s estuaries are noted for their fine “muff” mud and oyster banks and the tideline at the docks is covered with a dense ring of oysters. Besides filtering great quantities of water and improving its quality, oyster “reefs” provide a secure habitat for a myriad of marinelife, and food for many creatures. (As a frustrated oyster farmer in South Jersey once remarked: “There ain’t much that lives in the ocean that doesn’t like to eat oysters!”)

Oyster Chain
Oyster Chain




The prettiest bird around is the red-breasted merganser, another diving fish eater. Hunters nicknamed mergansers “saw-bills” since their bills have tooth-like notches for snaring fishes. The word merganser comes via Latin mergere meaning “diver” and “to plunge.” Curiously, one of my favorite students always mixes up the word and somehow it comes out as Madagascar (!).

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The most secretive and uncommon bird around the piers is the pied-billed grebe. It also dives for its dinner, but on the bottom. When frightened (or pestered by a photographer trying to get close in the fading light) it discreetly sinks straight down and disappears like a submarine. Locally, this trick earned the grebe the nickname water witch, and by Louisiana sportsmen Sac de plomb (bag-of-lead).


By far the noisiest birds around and the only ones onboard, are boat-tailed grackles. The iridescent, purple-black males are hard to ignore when gathering for the night on our upper rigging. A common bird of Southeastern marshes; since the 1960’s boat-tails have been expanding their range north along the Eastern seaboard beyond Delaware Bay, and now breed all along the New Jersey coast. (A normal extension of their population, or perhaps a response to warming climate? Time will tell.)

Just before dark a peregrine falcon surprised me as it glided past the ship – undeniably the most exciting sighting of the day and a great way to end it.

 “Oh end this day,
me the ocean.
When shall I see the sea.
May this day set me in emotion
I ought to be on my way”
(James Taylor)

Dave Grant: The Ship Was Cheered, the Harbor Cleared…, February 15, 2012

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

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Crew and scientists are reporting for duty and everyone is to be onboard by sunset for a scheduled departure tomorrow morning. There are many boxes of equipment to unload and sampling devices to assemble, so everyone is busy, even during meal times.

Tall ships had miles of rope and lines for handling enormous amounts of sail.
The Brown is also carrying miles of line and cable too, but not for sailing. This is coiled neatly on reels and will be used to anchor moorings of monitoring equipment that will record water temperatures and salinities for an entire year until they are recovered on the next cruise. These moorings are anchored with ship recycled chain and old railroad wheels and their long lines of sensors rising to the surface from 5,000 meters form the electronic “picket fence” spaced between Florida and Africa across the 26.5 degree North Latitude line we are sailing.

On our last night ashore we went downtown to enjoy dinner at one of the many nice restaurants in the historic district. It was a good time to update each other on different projects and make any last minute purchases. Everyone is anxious to get started. As captains like to say:

 “Ships and sailors rot at port.”
(Horatio Nelson)

Day 3 
We are leaving the dock on schedule and heading down river.

Old sailors’ superstitions say that a small bird or bee landing on the deck of a departing vessel foretells good luck on a voyage, and a tangled anchor line forecasts bad luck. Glancing around, I observe our noisy grackles preparing to depart neighboring ships at dock –  so I hope they qualify as small birds. And huddled out of the wind on deck is a crane-fly – not a bee, but a harmless bug that looks like a giant mosquito. Perhaps no guarantee of good luck, but since all our lines and chain are neatly stowed, I am confident that an old “salt” – seeing how ship-shape the Brown is – would concur that we shouldn’t unnecessarily envision any bad luck on our cruise.


Dolphin "X"

Sailing down river we receive a great treat and are guided to the sea by small groups of dolphins surfing underwater in our bow wave. These are Tursiops – the bottle-nosed, the most common and well-known members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Tursiops is Latin for “dolphin-like.”  Their comradeship is another reassuring sign of good luck to suspicious sailors. It is a remarkable spectacle and entertainment to everyone, even the veteran crew members, who, like the ancient mariners, have reported it many times. Although they seem to be taking turns at the lead, one dolphin that keeps resurfacing has a small cross-shaped scar on the port side (Left) of the blowhole; proving that at least one member of the pod has kept pace with us for the entire time.

Ship mates. (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Curiously, they know to abandon us near the river mouth to join other “bow riders” that have caught the wave of a freighter that is entering the river and heading upstream. Noteworthy is the bulbous bow protruding in front of the freighter. Reminiscent of the bottle nose of a dolphin, the bulb modifies the way the water flows around the ship’s hull, reducing drag – which increases speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability – things dolphins were rewarded with through evolution. And what a show the dolphins make riding the steeper bow wave! Actually launching out of the vertical face of it like surfers.

Bow rider!

Passing historic Ft. Sumter we receive an impromptu lecture by some of the crew on Charleston’s rich history from the days of Blackbeard the pirate, up through the Civil War. There is an interesting mix of people on board, from several countries and with extraordinary backgrounds. There is also a great assortment of vessels using the bay – freighters, tankers, tugs, patrol boats, cranes, sailboats and a huge bright cruise ship. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song for All Seas, All Ships:

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading
As far as the eye can reach,
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing,
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations…



 I note a transition here from the river to bay ecosystems reflected in the birdlife observed. Grebes and mergansers are replaced by pelicans and gulls.

The bay mouth is protected from wave action by low rip-rap jetties, and outside of them in a more oceanic environment are loons, scoters, and our first real seabirds – northern gannets. Loons spend the summer and nest on pristine northern lakes like those in New Hampshire (Reminding me of the movie On Golden Pond) but migrate out to saltwater to winter in ice-free coastal areas.

Scoters (Melanitta) are stocky, dark sea ducks that winter over hard bottoms like the harbor entrance, where they can dive down and scrape mussels and other invertebrates from the rocks and gravel.

Gannets are cousins of the pelicans but much more streamlined. They too dive for food but from much greater heights, sometimes over 100’. They also plunge below the surface like javelins to snare fishes. They are wide-ranging visitors along the East and Gulf coasts, wintering at sea, and returning to isolated cliff nesting colonies known as a “gannetry”  in Maritime Canada

The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared,
Merrily did we drop,
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

 Sullivan Island lighthouse
Latitude: 32.75794
Longitude: -79.84326

The odd triangular shaped tower of Sullivan Island lighthouse originally had installed the second brightest light in the Western Hemisphere. (Said to be so powerful that keepers needed to wear asbestos welding gear when servicing the light)
At 163 feet, its unusual flash pattern is tricky to catch on camera, but it is our last visual link to the mainland, and it will be the only land feature we will see until we are off the lighthouse at Abaco, Bahamas, after ten days at sea. A lighthouse keeper at the lens room, watching us sail away, could calculate at what distance (in miles) we will disappear over the horizon with a simple navigator’s formula:

The square root of 1.5 times your Elevation above se level.
Try it out:  √1.5E’ = _____ Miles 

√1.5 x 163′  = _____ Miles  to the horizon

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Elizabeth Bullock: We Are Underway! December 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 2:30pm
Air Temperature: 24.5 degrees C (76 degrees F)
Wind Direction: 65.9 degrees east northeast
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 78%

Science and Technology Log

Today is the first day of the research cruise.  The R/V Walton Smith left its home port in Miami, FL this morning at about 7:30am.  After a delicious breakfast, the crew and scientific party received a safety briefing from Dave, the Marine Tech.  We learned about the importance of shipboard drills and we were shown the location of all the safety gear we might need in case of an emergency.  This ship works like a self-contained community.  The crew of the ship must also be the policemen and firemen (or policewomen and firewomen).

After our safety briefing, the science party went outside to our first station of the day.  The first piece of equipment we put into the water was a CTD.  The CTD is named after the three factors the equipment measures: conductivity, temperature, and depth.  The CTD will be deployed at precise locations along our route.  Since they conduct this research cruise twice a month, they can see if conditions are changing or staying the same over time.

Liz at computer
Here I am, reading the data that came up from the CTD.

This is the CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Question for students: What is the relationship between salt and electrical conductivity?  If the salt content in the water increases, will it conduct electricity better or worse?

The next piece of equipment we deployed was the Neuston Net.  This net sits at the water line and skims organisms off the surface of the ocean.  The net is in the water for 30 minutes at a time.  After bringing the net onto the deck, the fun part starts – examining the contents!  Our Neuston Net had two main species: moon jelly (Aurelia) and sargassum.  The term sargassum actually describes many species, so the scientists on board will study it carefully in order to classify which kinds they caught in the net.  Sargassum is an amazing thing!  It is planktonic (which means that it floats with the current) and it serves as a habitat for bacteria and small organisms.  Since it is such a thriving habitat, it is also a great feeding ground for many different species of fish.

Once we emptied the contents of the Neuston Net, Lindsey and Rachel, two of the scientists on board, began to measure the quantity of each species they caught.  In order to measure the weight of the moon jellies, they used the displacement method.  This is because we can’t use regular scales onboard.  Here are the steps we took to measure the moon jellies:

1)      We poured water into a graduated cylinder and recorded the water level.  For example, let’s say that we poured in 100ml of water.

2)      We put a moon jelly into the graduated cylinder and recorded the new water level.  For example, let’s say that the new water level read 700ml.

3)      We subtracted the old water level from the new, and we could tell the volume of the moon jelly we had caught.  For example, based on the numbers above, we would have caught a 600ml moon jelly!

Neutson Net
Lindsey examines what we caught in the Neuston Net.

Both the CTD and the Neuston Net will be deployed many times over the course of the cruise.


Personal Log

Despite a bit of seasickness, I am having a wonderful time!  Everyone on board is very welcoming and happy to answer my questions.  Everyone is so busy!  It seems like they have all been working nonstop since we arrived on board yesterday.

Answers to your questions

First, let me just say that these are great questions!  Good job, Green Acres.  Here are some answers, below.

1)      How do the currents make a difference in the water temp?  The currents play a major role in water temperature.  In the Northern Hemisphere, currents on the east coast of a continent bring water up from the equator.  For example, the Gulf Stream (which is a very important current down here in Florida) brings warm water from the tropics up the east coast of the United States.  This not only keeps the water temperature warm, but it also affects the air temperature as well.

2)      How does the current affect the different algae populations?  Currents regulate the flow of nutrients (which phytoplankton needs to survive).  Strong currents can also create turbidity, which means that it stirs up the water and makes it harder for light to penetrate the water column.  As you know, phytoplankton rely on sunlight to grow, so if less light is available, the phytoplankton will suffer.  I’m told by Sharein (one of the phytoplankton researchers) that algae are hearty creatures.  This means that as long as the turbid conditions are temporary, algae should be able to thrive.

Staci DeSchryver: A Major Ursus, August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

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

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location:  57.43287 N, 152.28867 W
241.2 (Stationary)
Date: August 3, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Overall Weather:  Clouds and fog

Science and Technology Log

One of the most serious emergencies that can take place onboard a ship is a fire.  The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has many security measures in place in the event of a fire while underway.  During our time in port, the crew of the Dyson planned a ‘’Safety Stand Down” Day to review safety protocol for all types of emergencies, particularly what the crew should do in the event of such a serious issue.

Before we began discussing some of the features of fire-fighting and emergency equipment, we participated in a survival activity that will certainly be used for the first days of school in my AVID class.    The activity consisted of a list of 15 items that we had in a mock abandon-ship emergency situation.  We were supposed to rank order the items of greatest to least importance for survival.  Some items were quite obviously important (water, food, and shelter, for example) and some were quite important but at first glance appeared to be about as useful as chewing gum.  There was a third group of items that appeared to be important, but in reality, ended up being about as valuable as a lawn ornament.  We rank ordered the items first on our own, and then formed groups of four or five to discuss our lists and come up with a group consensus of what is valuable.  As I predicted, repurposing items was the name of the game and those seemingly useless chewing gum items realized their full potential for being used for some other function.  Overall, I won!  I will be accepting applications for spaces in my life raft in the event of an emergency.  Preference will be given to those who can demonstrate strong paddling capabilities and have a deep aptitude for celebrity impersonations for entertainment purposes while on the raft.  Although all candidates will be judged carefully, those who write detailed, yet succinct and poignant essays will be given highest consideration due to limited on-raft seating.

After we finished the safety exercise, we were given the opportunity to take a look at the fire-fighting gear.  Think about this:  what happens when there is a fire at home?  It is usually detected by a smoke alarm, then, if there is time, the type of fire is determined.  Did it start with grease in the kitchen?  Or is it coming from an unknown source, maybe like an electrical fire?  The type of fire will determine what can and cannot be used to put it out.   If the fire can’t be put out quickly, the next step is to…call…the…fire…department.  Now, think about this:  What would happen on a ship in the event of a fire?  Well, many people are typically on watch to ensure that fires don’t start to begin with.  But fires can start on board in all of the same ways they can start at home.  So, in preparation for this, the ship must be equipped not just for fire, but for all kinds of fire.  If the fire can’t be put out quickly, the next step is to…call…the…fire…department…but wait!  That really can’t be done.  Who, then, do we call?  (Not the Ghostbusters, but good try.)  The crew doubles as the fire department.   In fact, any person who is on the ship is a member of the fire-fighting team to a certain extent.  My job is to be accounted for and stay the heck out of the way so the pros can do their job.

All of the crewmen are trained in firefighting procedures.  There are two fire lockers, one fore and one aft of the ship.  Inside the fire locker is a treasure trove of nozzles, hoses, and fire axes.  They are ready for anything on the ship because they have equipped themselves with a variety of means with which to fight different kinds of fires.

fire gear
Here, two members of the Oscar Dyson practice changing out air supply tanks.

What I found both interesting and important is that all of the hose lengths must be able to reach any connection on the ship so that all parts of the ship are covered in the event of a fire.  This can easily be explained if you think about a poorly designed sprinkler system.  If your sprinklers don’t cover all areas of the yard, you end up with conspicuous brown patches in the grass where the water doesn’t reach.  However, if the sprinkler system is set up correctly, no brown patches exist.  The Oscar Dyson requires that all of the hoses are long enough so that there are no “brown areas” on the ship.  If appropriate and necessary, the hoses will pull seawater out directly from the ocean to fight a fire in favor of the purified water onboard.  Usually, they prefer to use carbon dioxide to fight the fire.  It’s relatively benign in terms of dangerous reactions that could potentially take place.  For example, if there was a grease fire onboard, it wouldn’t make much sense to put water on it, but Carbon Dioxide would be a great option.

Next, we were given a demonstration of all of the nifty features of the firefighting gear. Ensign David Rodziewicz, the head safety officer, gave pointers on how to effectively put fire-fighting gear on.  The goal is to be able to get in and out of fire gear in less than two minutes, with the ideal time being less than a minute.  ENS Rodziewicz indicated that the most important way to be successful with suiting up is to have the gear properly set up – if boots are tipped over and gloves are strewn all over the place, not much will be accomplished in the time frame allotted – and being able to fight a fire quickly, while critical in all areas, is imperative on a boat.  Where land-based fires are a tragic and sobering experience, there is often an escape.  One can leave and go to a wide parking lot or out to the street away from the flames.  On the ship, the only place to go if things really take a turn for the worse is the ocean.  This is why timing is so important.There are some neat features on the fire-fighting equipment.  The air supply tanks are equipped with a 45-minute supply of air.  Most fire fighters are not expected to stay in an active fire area for that long, but the supply is large enough just in case there is a problem.   There is no need to keep time while fighting fires.  A “heads-up” display is clearly visible in the fire mask, with green, yellow, and red indicator lights representing the percentage of air left in the tanks.  The batteries for the light displays are changed quarterly – an important thing to check off on a to-do list!  Of all of the things to remember to do on a ship, it seems to me like that would be an easy task to forget.  But, they never do.  Another interesting feature is the communications system.  Each fire-fighting mask has a built-in communications system, so there is no need to take a radio in to an area with flames.  It’s almost like having a fire-fighting Bluetooth.  Each coat is also equipped with a flashlight and an emergency nylon strap in case of an emergency.  The neatest feature to me was the emergency bypass for the oxygen tanks.  If a crew member runs out of air, he or she can “latch” on to another person’s tank by ENS Rodziewicz utilizing a connector hose from the back of the rescuing party’s tank.  This will give approximately a ten minute air supply, although  points out that if one finds    himself or herself in that kind of a situation, he or she should not be in a fire zone for an additional ten minutes.  The emergency air supply is to safely remove a crew member only – not for fighting fires.One of the most useful ways to fight fire on a ship is to simply cordon off the area and then let the fire run its course in the offending room.  On the ship, there are many fire-retardant walls built into the bulkhead.  At that point, the fire fighters will utilize a tactic known as “boundary cooling.”  When you shut off a single room in the ship, the above and below decks can still conduct heat.  Therefore, the crew will spray a layer of ocean water in the rooms directly above and below the target area to ensure that the fire does not spread above or below floors.  Water has a high specific heat, so it acts as an excellent energy absorber.   This tactic is called boundary cooling, and is used often used in fire-fighting on a ship.Afterward, we watched the crew practice putting on, activating, and utilizing their fire-fighting equipment.  Each person who is responsible for fire-fighting has a partner who assists him or her in getting suited up, changing out air supply tanks, and assisting in other duties as necessary.Here, Cat and I are pret-a-porte in our stylish life-saving devices. Will we go into the water? Check out my other blog to find out…

From there, the day got really exciting, but if you want to read about it, you’ll have to visit my other blog at– a quick hint:  it involves a gumby suit and a big splash!  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Here’s a preview in the picture to the left.  Also, be sure to check out Cat’s blog: to see what she’s been up to!  Cat does some incredible cartoons that are really funny and informative, so she is capturing this adventure in a completely different light.  We make a great team!

Personal Log

Will Cat and I make a big "splash?" Check out my other blog to find out!
Will Cat and I make a big "splash?" Check out my other blog to find out!

Yesterday, Cat and I went out to Fort Abercrombie.  Fort Abercrombie was an established World War II outpost that was designed to defend American soil in the event of an attack from the Axis Powers.  We found this really interesting interpretive trail called the Wildflower Trail.  Along the trail, there were informative signs about various wild flowers, their scientific name, their Inuit name, and uses for the roots, blossoms, stems, and leaves.  After encountering a sign, it was a sure bet that we would see the celebrity flower just a few clicks up the trail.  The trail carried us to a decrepit lookout post over the inlet that we could enter into and see what the defenders of our nation saw when they looked out on the glass blue waters of the bay.

The lookout
Here at Ft. Abercrombie, Marshmallow busied himself by taking post in the military lookout. He claims he was scanning the air for potential threats to our borders. Since there are not imminent threats to Alaska at this juncture, I maintain that he stole Cat's binoculars to look for Salmon.

Old buildings stood steadfast, fighting reclamation by the forest while many had a legacy left only by a sign pounded in to a rotting foundation.  Again, I found myself trying to tell the story of those who used to call this enchanted forest home.

We also (sound trumpets!) saw a Kodiak Brown Bear!  There is a difference between a Brown Bear, a Kodiak Bear, and Grizzly Bear – mainly demographic.  A Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) is called a brown bear because it is found in coastal areas.  Kodiak Bears are the largest of the Brown bears and are found only on Kodiak Island.  Inland bears (like the ones you find in Yellowstone) are called Grizzlies (Ursus arctos horriblis).  Bears on boats are called Marshmallows.  All bears (excepting Marshmallow himself) are in the genus Ursus.   Brown bears, Grizzly Bears, and Kodiak Bears are Ursus arctos, while Marshmallow’s distant cousins to the north are Ursus maritimus.  After discovering this as his namesake, Marshmallow was quite revolted.  He has decided to write a strongly worded letter to the Linnaeus Society as the term maritimus paints a less menacing and voracious picture of polar bears than does the Grizzly’s namesake.

Mbear in the flowers
Marshmallow has been quite incorrigible since his discovery of his species name. I suggested that he attach this photo to his strongly worded letter, which paints him in a most frightening manner.

He has suggested instead to be called Ursus kickyerbuttus.    I maintain that Marshmallow should be renamed Ursus domesticus stuffedus wimpus, because the closest he has ever been to a salmon run is from the comfort of his 60 inch HDTV.  He has a stateroom for crying out loud.

As we drive along the road, we slow down to a crawl at all of the river crossings hoping to see Kodiak Bears.  Our luck was good that day, because we saw three in a matter of about 4 hours.  Here he is now.

Brown Bear
This bear is not a Marshmallow. Nor is he a Pooh or a Yogi. Let me break this down into a simple equation: No stuffing + large + curious and furtive glances at surrounding humans + large teeth and claws = I should probably be further away than I am right now.

A fisherman nearby hypothesized he was a juvenile male, about 2 or 3 seasons away from his mamma and on his own as a hunter.  He was pretty indifferent to the existence of people, but not menacing in any way.  He ambled along, chasing after magpies and hopping in and out of the water.  It was neat to see him up so close, but still have the safety of the bridge to keep us at a safe distance.  This was of course, until he decided to climb up onto the road.  He was quicker than I would have liked him to be!

After dinner, we were driving back to the ship along Women’s Bay and one ran out in front of the car!  His shoulder blade was at the same level as the roof of the Impreza we were driving – no fish tale.  He glanced casually at us and loped off into the trees toward the salt marsh.  The next creek up the bay hosted a third bear, but we only got a glimpse of him as he was gone by the time we turned the car around.  It was really a blessing to get to see (more than once!) such neat little critters.  And by little critters I mean large toothed, long clawed beasts that have the capability to chew your head off in one fell swoop.  Thankfully, they are more interested in salmon at this time of year, and really don’t have much of a taste for people.  (In defense of Mr. Kodiak, there are more casualties from dogs in a given year than there are fatal maulings in ten years from Kodiak Browns.  We would have much more to worry about if we tasted like Salmon or Salmonberries, as this is what comprises the majority of their diet.  However, they should be treated with a healthy respect – especially a momma bear with her cubs.)

It has been an action packed week so far.  We are hoping to learn as much as we can about the island while we are here, and we are making the best of being in port while we wait to set sail.  It’s been wonderful to walk out on the peninsula every morning and have some time to myself to show gratitude for all that has been done for me to get me out here and experience this first hand.  The standing joke when we witness something truly spectacular is to say “I think in my evaluation of the Teacher At Sea program I am going to suggest that they actually find places for us to go that aren’t so ugly.  This place is such an eyesore…”  I hope you sense the sarcasm dripping in my voice.

Trivia Question:

True or False?  Sea Stars are Echinoderms that can regenerate lost body parts.

Answer:  True.  “Sea stars are remarkable, as they are able to regenerate lost or damaged parts of their bodies. An arm that is broken off can be regrown. Some species can actually regrow a complete new body from a single severed arm, if it is attached to part of the central disc.”


Caitlin Fine: Chemistry Is All Around Us, August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed:  7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: clear
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%

Science and Technology Log

As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.

First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.

Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!

Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.

We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.

The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.

Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom.  Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs.  Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton.  Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.

The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.

I am running a chlorophyll analysis of one of the water samples

Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.

Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.

The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.

The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.

This is an image of the conveyor belt movement of ocean currents

The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?

I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.

Personal Log

This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.

It is important to keep organized records

It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.

I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!

Did you know?

The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

–       Many jellyfish

–       Two small crabs

–       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

–       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

–       A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Sue Zupko: 17 Life on the Pisces

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Jacksonville, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 24, 2011

If you are just beginning this blog, you might wish to go back to post #1 and start reading there.

Before reading this post further, take the quiz.

Life at Sea

Red sunset within clouds over the ocean
Dusk on a limitless ocean

Life at sea is things in miniature—except the view.  The ocean seems to stretch on forever.  It’s easy to see why people in ancient times thought you would fall off the edge if you got too close.  Explorers ventured out to prove them wrong.  Mathematicians and astronomers also studied it to try to discover the truth.   We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the universe since then, but there is so much more to explore and learn.  The ocean is just one of those unexplored and undiscovered places.

Men exiting a gate with suitcases
ROV Guys departing

After the scientists disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale, I stayed aboard the Pisces to learn about the workings of the ship while it steamed back to its home port of Pascagoula, MS.  After all, how often does one get an opportunity like this?  I had a tour of engineering, discussions on the bridge, conversations with the crew in the mess,  and a lesson on bandwidth.  This post is an attempt to describe some everyday things you need to know about going to sea with NOAA.


Shortly after we boarded, we had a briefing in the conference room.  This was mostly to cover safety issues and things to help us understand procedures.  Of course, meal time hours were shared.  I made a mental note of those hours since I knew I wouldn’t want to miss any meals. The stewards’ reputation for good meals preceded them.

ENS Michael Doig began our briefing by drawing the following on the white board.


_______      _________      _________

_____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     _____     __________________________________

Black submarine next to an orange tug in the center of the harbor
Nuclear Sub

I thought this was a clever way to introduce what he would later discuss—our alarm bell and whistle patterns.  Mike, a former high school teacher, brought this method of capturing the class’s attention to his work on the Pisces.  One of the first things we practiced after the briefing was the “fire” drill.  Mike explained that one long bell and whistle meant either fire, collision (I figured we would feel that as well), or security alert.  If we heard this, we were to bring our PFD (Personal Floatation Device—life preserver), located under our bunks, to the conference room, which was the mustering (gathering) station for the scientists.  Our chief scientist, Andy David, would take a head count and call 101 on the phone to report to the bridge our headcount.  Mike explained that fire is one of the big concerns on a ship.  It really needs to be taken seriously.  You can’t run out to the mailbox to gather as many families do for their emergency spot where everyone knows to go.  So, they gather the scientists together since we are more like guests and wouldn’t know the correct procedures to fight a fire.  Of course, for the first drill the alarm said the fire was near the conference room so we had to muster on the fantail (back-end of the ship).  It was interesting to watch the crew quickly go to their duty stations in full gear to fight the fire.

ENS Doig clasps face in alarm in front of fire alarm box
Oh, no! Ensign Doig poses in fake alarm.

During the course of our trip, I did hear alarms sound on the bridge from different locations.  Often it was something someone needed to check on.  None turned out to be real emergencies, but were alerts to the crew to check on something.  Thank goodness.  These were always attended to immediately—not just when the bridge crew finished what they were working on.  ENS Doig happened to be on duty when one of these alarms went off and I was on the bridge.  Knowing I was going to take a picture, he made a face full of alarm.  It’s good to have a sense of humor, especially since they had checked out the possibility of a fire and determined the cause for the alarm wasn’t a fire.

Sue posing in bulky orange body suit
Gumby survival suit

After we finished our fire drill (by the way, when the alarm sounds they always announce whether it is a drill or not), we were told we’d be practicing our abandon ship drill.  For this you must bring a hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, PFD, and your “Gumby suit” (survival suit) to your muster station.  The Gumby suit probably has some long special name, but no one calls it that.  It is located in one’s stateroom in an orange bag next to the door.  It has handles and even pictures and directions explaining how to put it on.  Those who hadn’t donned a suit recently, crew and scientists, had to put it on.  Never having been at sea, I, of course, had to put it on.  What a pain!  One hopes never to have to abandon ship, but it would be difficult to put that on in the water.  I am pretty sure I’d have it on within the required minute if we were doing the act of last resort and abandoning ship.  Easier putting it on aboard the ship than in the water.   The signal to abandon ship is  6 or more short bells and/or whistles followed by one long one.

The answer to the quiz is three short bells or whistles is the signal for man overboard.  Our mustering station was the conference room for this activity so a head count could be taken.

Sue in yellow helmet and orange PFD taking photograph with long lens
Get that shot!

When working with a crane or winch and lifting something over the side of the boat, you must wear a hard hat and PFD —even if you’re just watching.  My first experience with this was when I stepped out by the door to take a picture of the ROV being launched.  The fisherman standing nearby told me I had to get properly dressed.   They were just getting ready to launch and I needed to be ready.  Oops!  I went right in and put on my hard hat and PFD.  Stephanie Rogers captured that moment after I was properly attired.  I later learned that when entering or leaving a port, you had to wear a hard hat on the bow.   Lots of safety rules.

Stainless steel counters in long lab
Sliding doors at the far end of the wet lab close automatically.

If  there is a fire alarm, some doors automatically close and you must know about it so you won’t stand in the way if they start to close.  I think the door would win in a battle for possession of that space.  We have similar doors at the school which slam shut during fires.  Watch out!  In other words, on a ship, just as in school, safety is always on everyone’s mind.

Captain leaning over filing cabinet referring to book
Captain refers to book

On the bridge, someone is always assigned to watch.  The captain pulled out his book, COMDTINST M16672.2D: Navigation Rules (COLREGS), to show me the regulation which he had just quoted.  I’m telling you, there is a book for everything on the bridge and they use them.  Reading makes life so much easier.  The Inland Steering section, Rule 5, says the ship “must maintain proper look-out by sight and hearing”.  The watch officer cannot risk a collision.  There are two radar screens displayed prominently on the helm station.  What do you need to watch for?  Won’t the radar pick up the boats?  Well, no.  Large boats usually have a “black box” like airplanes, which have a transponder telling the ship’s name and what type of craft it is.

Small boat crossing in front of the Pisces' bow
Game of chicken

Small boats often don’t have this equipment and are a big threat.  I found that out the day after we left port.  Boaters don’t seem to realize that there might be someone besides them on the water.  Even in deep water small fishing boats would cut in front of us.   It often seemed like a game of “Chicken”.  Victor, an able-bodied seaman (special certification for those with extra training and skill) pointed out that whenever the winds pick up to 15 or 20 knots there are more than a few incidents of boaters getting in trouble and the Coast Guard alerts all ships to be aware and possibly assist in rescue.  Besides possibly tipping over, small boats cannot be seen in high swells until a large ship is almost upon them.  Many don’t have transponders or radios to contact anyone to communicate problems or questions.  Also, they often drink alcohol and drive.  Dumb!  I asked Victor what the Pisces would do if a small boat got too close.  Run ‘em down was not the answer.  Trying to radio them, calling to them with a loudspeaker, or blowing the horn usually gets their attention, he told me.

Grey sneakers with red short socks
Scott always had interesting socks.

You must wear shoes enclosed on the toes and heels.  It’s readily apparent why.  The stairs can be treacherous when you are flopping around.  In waves you could slide and hurt yourself, walk out of the shoes and twist an ankle, or slip on a wet deck.  I found out several reasons for the deck being wet: rain (no kidding), humidity (it’s amazing how quickly water vapor condenses on the deck and makes a pond that sloshes around), swabbing (cleaning), and potable water runoff.

Two pipes, one with blue valve the other with black valve on top
Fresh Water Overflow

The ship makes its own fresh water.  If there is too much in the potable (drinking) storage tank, the excess water will exit out a runoff valve onto the deck.  I discovered this one morning toward the beginning of the trip.  The engineer who explained it to me said that the people on the ship were conserving their water, most likely, and the excess from the tank drained off onto the deck.  I heard the captain make the same comment a week later about how the people on this research expedition were doing a good job conserving.  That made me feel really good.  Those short showers paid off.  Fun fact: it takes one gallon of diesel fuel to produce one gallon of fresh water on the ship.

Stuffed pelican sitting on rail in hall
Petey Pelican on handrail

“One hand for yourself, and one for the ship” is how you walk on a ship safely.  There are railings everywhere for you to hang on to.  It’s a challenge in choppy seas to carry something, such as a laptop, and successfully maneuver down the hall while holding on as well.  When the seas were about seven feet high I found it more than a little challenging to stand let alone walk.

Ship Tour

Looking down stairwell with white railings and black steps
Steep Stairs

Let me explain how a ship is laid out.  When I say there are a lot of stairs, I’m not kidding.  Before I knew anything about the ship, we took a tour of most of the places we’d be “living” and a few extras.  Of course it was all fascinating.  We started in the conference room on the deck right across from my stateroom.  That deck inside includes staterooms, the lounge and conference room, the dive locker (the ship has three divers who can inspect the propeller, rudder and underwater parts of the hull if there is a problem), and business office.  Outside is the rescue boat, a couple of winches, and the bow.

Two green oxygen tanks strapped to wall
Oxygen tanks at top of stairs on O-2 deck

We climbed some stairs and as we got there the guide told us that this was the O 2 deck.  At first I thought he was kidding since right in front of me were two oxygen tanks.  I asked for clarification and he said this is the deck with the staterooms of the NOAA officers, bosun, chief engineer, and chief scientist.  Hmmm…still didn’t make any sense to me.  What does that have to do with oxygen?  I kept my thoughts to myself.  Later I found a map of the ship.  I slept on the O-1 deck, the officers were on the O-2 deck, and the bridge was on the O-3 deck.  Hello!  It was the level name of the deck and had nothing to do with oxygen.  It was just a coincidence.  Too funny.

Climbing above the bridge was the “flying bridge” (I wonder if that’s because the flags are there).  It houses the radio towers and says, “Danger–Radiation Warning.”  We were told to let the bridge know when we were going up there.  It’s a great place to try to catch a cell phone signal or watch a sunrise.

Sue with feet up on base of wheeled watertight door
Had to throw my weight into this door leading to the exercise room.


On the Pisces, and I would assume on other ships, there are doors everywhere.  I was surprised at how much strength I needed to operate them.  When entering the lab from where the ROV was being piloted, which was the center of all the dive activity, I found that I had to “put my hip into it” to push it open.  As a matter of fact, I noticed I have a few door-pushing bruises.

There are doors for everything.  The fire and watertight doors are to keep you safe from fire and flood.  The refrigerator and freezer doors protect food from bacteria and keep them preserved until it’s time to eat.  There are doors to the bathroom (yeah), doors for lockers, doors for closets, doors for equipment, medicine cabinet doors, stateroom doors, doors, doors, doors.  Almost all doors have a latch at the ceiling behind them so they can be held open.  A swinging door is a real safety issue.  You either close it right after you use it or go through it, or you latch it open.  I found it a pain to have to keep closing my locker door.  It would swing with the waves and I didn’t want to have it wake anyone up.  The noise bugged me as well.  As you can see, I had a bit of trouble with the door leading to the exercise room down below the main deck.  The engineers could close it with one hand.  I was there for two weeks and, try as I might, it never got any easier.

Sue pushing into a door with a wheel
Wheeled water tight door with wind behind it

Close all watertight doors and fire doors, all the time.  Fire or flooding can lead to a rapid death.  The engineers and NOAA Corps constantly monitor for this.  Although it is a safety thing, opening and shutting doors was one of my biggest challenges on ship.  Good thing I have been working out with weights.  Opening those doors was often a very difficult—especially if there were a door or window open to the outside at the other end of the room.  I brought home several bruises on my hip for throwing my body into the door to get it open.  I once remarked that if someone ever opened the door to the ROV lab when I was pushing my way in from the other side, I’d go flying into the room.  Not cool since there is a counter right inside the door.  Think law of inertia.  Push hard against something (heavy door), it moves out of the way (someone opens it), you’re no longer stopped and off you fly (until you run into something).  Newton’s law of inertia….

Open door to a storage locker with ropes neatly coiled
Storage Locker


Taking a walk on the ship for aerobic exercise isn’t easy.  The whole ship is only 209 feet long.  Well, you have to go through doors just about everywhere.  The only place I could have done this for any real length was to start near the wet lab, travel around to the right, over the fantail, up the stairs, up to the bow (front of ship), climb stairs to the bridge and turn around.  Can’t go farther since there are doors to enter the bridge.  When I needed to go just about anywhere inside the ship there were a minimum of two doors to open.  To get from my stateroom to the exercise room I had to go through three watertight or fire doors—and three to return.  When tired I’d pray for the door to open and someone to step through.

At night, make sure someone knows you are on deck.  ENS Doig told us to dial 101 and tell the bridge you’ll be outside in the dark.  Even better, take a buddy.  I also found it was good to carry a flashlight.  If you turn the flashlight off when on deck when you get where you are going, your eyes adjust and it seems almost as bright as day.  For this, you must extinguish (turn off) the flashlight.

Four white haired mops with buildings in the background
The Moppets

Politeness Counts

Living on a ship means if you want to make/keep friends, you are nice.  People are very close.  You can’t even walk two abreast down the hall.  If you enter a hallway and someone is half way down, wait for the other person to exit before entering yourself.  Same goes for the stairs.  If someone is coming down, or going up, don’t start until they pass you.  Not only is it polite, it’s just good common sense.

Jana on floor next to Sue in chair in stateroom
Buddies Jana and Sue

I was fortunate to have the Queen of Politeness, Jana Thoma, as a roommate.  She was always thinking of others and expressed thanks for everything they did–often several times.   I have thought of myself as pretty polite, but I don’t think I can even compare to Jana.  What a great example for me to follow.  She was always a patient teacher as she tried to help me learn about cnidarians.  Perhaps one of my students will work in her lab someday.

Ice machine, coffe pot, microwave, refrigerator
Drink station with juices, water, ice, coffee, etc

If someone drinks the last cup from a pot of coffee, he/she should make a fresh pot for the next folks.  Although I am not a coffee drinker, from the way this was stressed by the officers and stewards, it must be very frustrating for someone coming for a warm drink to not have it readily available.  They don’t have real long breaks.  Remember, they have a lot of doors to slow them down.  I think if they found out you took the last cup and didn’t refill the pot, you might be doing the Man Overboard drill as the victim (just kidding).

Clean up after yourself.  Seems like common sense.  The stewards are not your mother–they are busy working in the kitchen and cleaning.  They shouldn’t have to come and bus (clean) the tables.  You should take your dishes to the window, put the silverware in the water to soak, and put dishes, cups, bowls, and glasses in the plastic tub.  There are two trash cans.  One is for paper and plastic and a slop bucket for leftover food.  At Tremont food you don’t eat on your plate is called food waste.  If you take only what you’ll eat, this bucket has very little in it.  They separate the food from the other trash so it won’t get smelly.  They cover it with a lid and empty it when folks are all done eating for the day.

Jana peeking out from curtains in top bunk Sue peeking out from bottom bunk
Curtains were great for privacy

The ship runs 24 hours a day so someone is probably sleeping at any time.  Loved the curtains around the beds.  I could get up and not disturb Jana and vice versa.  Don’t slam doors.  This is not always easy, especially in rough seas.  I know I mumbled a couple of times “sorry” when the door slipped from my hands.  Locker doors and bathroom doors in staterooms also flop around and make a racket if left open.  I got in the habit of keeping these closed so they wouldn’t make noise.  Our bathroom door had a neat feature.  It had an automatic stay open fixture on it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work in rough seas so we had to prop open.  I know if we had told the engineers they would have fixed it, but we kept forgetting to mention it.

The Pisces has an entertainment room for when you or the crew is off duty.  There is a selection of DVDs and home theatre chairs to lounge in.  My stateroom was right across the hall from this lounge.  I never noticed anyone playing the TV too loudly.  Movies also would feed into the staterooms.  You could put the DVD on a certain channel and go watch while lying in bed.  If you put a movie in, the rule was to let it play to the end.  Someone might be watching it in their room.  I am not sure how many movies can be played at the same time, but it is several.  I put one in one time and didn’t get to watch since I had to go do some work.  I figure I can watch movies at home, but will probably only be in this situation once.

The walls are really thin between staterooms.  Conversations can be heard as can loud TV.  Jana and I found that it’s easy to have a not so quiet discussion, especially if telling jokes, and tried to whisper.  We did have a lot of fun and had to think of any neighbors who might be sleeping.  Laura had hours opposite us and was our neighbor.   One rule of politeness is to use headphones when listening to music so as not to disturb others.  I used to work the midnight shift and went to school in the morning.  Only had a few hours to sleep before going back to work.  My upstairs neighbor got a new sound system and literally rocked me awake .  I had to go upstairs and remind them that I slept during the day.  Headphones would have let me sleep in peace.  On a ship this seems to be doubly important because walls are so thin.  The one exception to the headphone and music rule is in engineering.  When I was exercising it was nice to have some good music playing.  This happened a couple of times and it made the walking on the treadmill more enjoyable.  I’m glad they were there in the next room working with the music on.

White basket with condiments neatly arranged with Jesse in background
Putting things where they belong makes it easy for those who eat next.

Use paper if not eating during scheduled times.  The stewards have to keep the dishes washed and if someone put dirty dishes in the bin, they would have to clean it.  I noticed the crew was polite and used disposables after hours.


Remember to shut off the water when just lathering up in the shower.  This limits water use to about two minutes.  I learned to do this during the power outage we had for 5 days in north Alabama after the tornadoes on April 27.  My husband and I limited the length of our showers and had warm water for many days.  Jana and I both said we loved how the shower on the ship works—it makes short showers possible.  It has a knob in the middle to turn the water on and off.  The knob on the right adjusts the temperature.  When you turn the shower back on after lathering, the temp is the same as when it was shut off.  Very neat.

Reuse your cup.  One of the scientists said that she loves to bring her coffee cup which has a lid.  It’s her way of staying in touch with home when on a ship and she always has a drink nearby.  The best part is she is reusing her cup and limiting waste.  That’s very smart.

Besides limiting water use and reusing cups, the crew recycles their aluminum cans just as we do at our school.  The money is put in a special fund for things such as deaths, births, and celebrations.


Jana learned on another ship that if you leave the heat lamp on in the head (bathroom), the water from the shower dries on the floor quicker.  I would think it would also inhibit mold growth.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope.  Diego in the background.
It was cold in this lab.

I learned that temperatures vary on a ship.  The acoustics lab, filled with computers, is freezing.  I used to work in a computer center on the midnight shift.  I brought an afghan to wrap up in when sitting at my station and had to wear pants (women didn’t usually wear pants to work in this office back then).  However, it wasn’t as cold as the chemical lab where the scientists photographed specimens, cataloged their data, and examined specimens under the microscope.  Then, go outside and it would be 82° F (about 28° C).   Jason Moeller writes in his blog that it is a lot colder.  Check that out.  He dresses in many layers–with good reason.

One thing I’ll remember is how bright the stars are.  What is really cool about being on a ship at night is that there are no trees to get in the way when viewing the stars.  There is very little light pollution too.  If I ever get to go to sea again, I’d like an astronomer with me to point out all the constellations.  I have a lot of trouble seeing them since there are so many stars which crowd out the major stars in constellations.


Chief engineer standing at large console watching gauges
Watching gauges in engineering.

I didn’t see the engineers very often unless they were fixing something nearby or eating.  They stayed below most of the time working on keeping the equipment purring or doing preventive maintenance.  Often they were making something using the lathe or other tools.  There is always something going on with them in their sauna-like work spaces. I did learn that they watched for a few bad things: squirting fluids, smoke, strange sounds, and changes in their gauges.

The engineers have to be able to fix just about anything.  When you’re out at sea on a mission, you don’t just stop and run down to the boat repair shop to get things fixed.  They bring the boat repair shop with them.  In engineering there are milling machines, lathes, welding equipment, and so much more.  I was impressed.  At one point I saw Joe Jacovino making a frame to hold a light they were going to be adding outside.  Another engineer, Steve Clement, was nominated for an award on the mission for making a part to repair a piece of scientific gear.

Drill press
Lots of useful machines to help keep the ship operational

I was very interested in engineering.  There was so much to learn there.  I took more videos than I did photographs there since it was difficult to take notes and juggle all the stuff I had.  My students can put together something with all the video I took.  It was more  as a reference to remind me of the facts that Chief Engineer, Brent Jones, was teaching me.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience.  I hope more teachers will apply to learn about the work that NOAA is doing and pass this on to their students.  I am looking forward to learning from the other Teachers at Sea.  We will have lots of stories and lessons to share.

I took zillions of pictures (well, it seems like it).  If you’d like to see some more, click here.

Sue Zupko: 16 The NOAA Corps

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 13, 2011
Time: 14:00 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 30.4°N 88.6°W
Present weather: 2/8 Cumulus
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 192° true
Wind Speed: 12.5 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.9°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Water Depth: 10.9 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 35°/25.5°

This blog runs in chronological order. If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take the quiz before reading this post.

I think it would be fun to be in the NOAA Corps (listen to the NOAA Corps song, “Forward with NOAA”).  To be an officer in the NOAA Corps you need at least a Bachelor’s degree and must be younger than 42 years old so you can give 20 years to the Corps before age 62.  An interest in science would be very helpful since that is NOAA’s mission,  to support science.  Basic officer training is 22 weeks long.  However, once assigned to a ship the real  training begins.  I observed how seasoned officers helped to lead the ensigns, the least experienced and lowest ranking officers, to build upon the training they received in basic training.  It’s OJT (on-the-job-training) at its best.  There is so much to learn.

Purple barrel sponge
Purple Barrel Sponge

I didn’t realize that NOAA did anything other than forecasting the weather.  I have the NOAA weather page on my favorites on all my computers.  After applying to be a Teacher at Sea, I realized that NOAA does so much more than the weather. According to NOAA’s home web page, “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency providing information and data about life on earth, our oceans, atmosphere, and the Nation’s living marine resources. NOAA’s programs range from marine sanctuaries, environmental satellites, global climate change, and ocean exploration initiatives to climate, weather, and water services.”    The ocean creates weather.  Without the ocean, there wouldn’t be hurricanes.  The water cycle begins and ends with the ocean.  It didn’t occur to me that NOAA actually works with fish, coral, and the environment in general, not just the weather.   I have decided that Teacher at Sea is an incorrect term for me.  Learner at Sea makes more sense.  Although I will take what I learned here on the Pisces back to my classrooms and to my colleagues, I have been a learner first.  Lindsey, one of the NOAA officers on the bridge, said I’ll probably be glad to be home since I’m constantly taking in information while on the ship.  Nah!  I’m a professional student at heart.  I even considered calling myself the Sponge at Sea since everyone has been so generous in sharing their thoughts and information with me, and I just soak it in.

Hands using a compass on a map
Figuring Distance

While on the bridge, I asked questions about so many things, but only touched on the surface of what they know.  It was interesting learning how to use a compass to see how far we were from land.  This compass is a ‘V’ shaped tool with the legs of the ‘V’ hinged at the top which adjusts the distance between the points at the bottom of the ‘V’.  There is also a compass used to tell which way is north. Same name, but different tools.  I used it to measure how far it was from 29° N latitude to 30° N latitude.  1 minute = 1 nautical mile and 60 minutes = 1°.  Therefore, 60 miles = 1° latitude.  I put one of the points on each of the latitude lines to get the measurement.  Then, went to where our present position and put one point on it.  The other point was then 60 miles.  I “walked” the compass across the map to the nearest point of land and counted my “steps”.  I tried again later and found I could do it.  That was fun.  I love math.

US flag unfurled off back of ship at sunset
Retiring the Colors

I am interested in flags.  When in Mayport, FL at the naval base,  I was moved by the striking of the colors and the playing of taps on the base.  The sailors on the naval vessel next to us, and the NOAA crew, stood at  attention as the sun was setting and they slowly lowered the flag into a waiting seaman’s arms.  Both ships were sitting side by side and with great ceremony each proceeded to fold their ship’s flag.  When I was in the Army, this was my favorite service to perform.  It always brings a swell of emotion to hear taps played and see people showing respect to our country’s flag by standing at attention.

Intricate mast with American flag in center, 4 flags flying vertically, the NOAA flag, and AL state flag
Mast with call sign flags on left

I noted that the flag on the back of the ship only flies while in port.  When we left the dock, we again struck the colors and hoisted (put up) a smaller flag over the flying bridge.

Cabinet with flags rolled up, letter posted on left of cube
Flag Cabinet

There is a cabinet on the bridge with an assortment of flags.  I asked what they all meant.  My gaze was directed to the side of the cabinet to help answer my question.

Poster with flags in two vertical columns going 3/4 of way down, and 2 rows of flags across bottom
International Flag Chart

Posted on the side of the cabinet is a chart which explains what the flags stand for.  The Pisces’ call sign is WTDL.  A call sign is used to communicate who you are.  It’s easier than going through a long explanation on a radio or over long distances.  Airplanes, ham radio operators, ships, etc. all have call signs to identify themselves.  In addition, the ship can use its flags.  Each letter in the call sign has a specific flag as you can see in the picture above.  These flags are flown from the mast at the top of the ship to communicate information.

Red and white tugboat with a white waves around it

Flags are used to communicate on a ship, but ships use lights and shapes to communicate as well.  When a ship has restricted ability to move, the ship displays vertically (up to down) from the mast a black ball, diamond, and black ball.  At night a white light between two red lights vertically lets everyone know the ship has limited movement for some reason, such as an ROV underwater or engine trouble.  Don’t forget that the ship has a red light on its port (left) side and a green light on its starboard (right) side.  These lights help other boaters know whether the other boat  is coming or going.

Lindsey shows Mike a white card/instrument to help determine vectors
Studying Vectors-More Math

What do the NOAA Corps personnel “do” on the ship?  The Corps members, who are the ship’s officers, are lead by the captain, in this case CDR Jeremy Adams.  The captain is ultimately responsible for everything which happens on the ship.  An analogy would be he is the processor on a computer.  Just as a computer assigns tasks or jobs to the peripheral equipment, the captain is the person responsible for delegating jobs.  Some of the jobs the Corps are responsible for knowing include navigation, recovering fishing equipment (the Pisces supports scientists who are learning about diverse fish populations so they must fish for them), currents and how they affect the ship, working oceanographic sampling equipment (such as the CTD), underwater cameras and sonar devices, etc.  Of course, he has heads of departments, such as the steward (food), bosun (deck), and engineer (workings of the ship) who do the daily delegating within each department.

Captain bending over a desk and looking in a book
CDR Adams refers to a book for me

Here are some specifics I noticed aboard the Pisces.  The captain decides who is qualified to be in charge on the bridge (officer of the deck).   These responsibilities include, but are not limited to: steering, looking for safety hazards, responding to alarms, communicating directions and information to the ship’s personnel, and so much more.  Think about it.  He is responsible for the safety of the people on the ship, the safety and working of the ship, the support of the scientists and their missions, and all the paperwork which shows these things have been done.  To be designated an OOD, you must demonstrate a cool head under pressure, a knowledge of the workings of the ship, and an understanding of the ocean systems themselves.  It takes a lot of practice as I’ll explain later.

Round disk on left with red and green buttons to the right
Ship's Bell

Oh, yes.  One of the responsibilities of the noon watch was to ring the bell and announce the time.   I hoped to watch this and ring the bell myself.  I would think about it daily, but would either be busy or forget about it.  I wanted to see the bell rung from the bridge and the announcement made that it was “12:00 aboard the Pisces.”

Ensign Schill speaks into microphone
Ensign Schill announces time

Another announcement they made was, “The following  is a test of the ship’s alarm.  Please disregard.”  One of my favorites was, “The ship’s store will be open in 10 minutes in the lounge.”  I needed a few things.

Let’s look at some interesting things.  First, drills.  As I have mentioned, the ship is running 24 hours a day, so someone is always sleeping.  Our first drill was at 4:00 in the afternoon.  Drills are run weekly.  The second week, the drill was at midnight.  I wore earplugs on the ship so strange noises wouldn’t disturb me.  Well, I did hear the fire alarm through my earplugs.  I had just gotten to sleep.  The captain later explained another reason for having a midnight drill besides not always waking up the day sleepers.  Emergencies don’t always happen in the day.  You must be prepared for emergencies whenever they occur.  I hadn’t thought of that.  At night on the bridge, they use red light so their eyes stay adjusted to the darkness while on watch.  Writing with red light is a bit different from with white lights so practicing at night helps the bridge crew practice this.

Red sunset reflecting off the surface of the ocean

Weather Report

One of my opportunities as a Teacher at Sea was to report the weather with my blog posts.  I have participated in The Globe Program at my schools in the past where students monitor weather and share observations with scientists around the world.  I have always been interested in the weather.  It was a natural fit for me to get to go to the bridge and learn more about it from the crew.  The most interesting was the dry/wet bulb thermometers located just outside the bridge’s watertight doors on either side.

Two thermometers sitting side by side in an orange case inside a white box
Dry/Wet Bulbs

The bulb on the left is just the regular air temperature.  The bulb on the right has a wick which surrounds the bulb and trails off into a water reservoir underneath.  This measures the temperature of the water as it evaporates.  When the dry and wet bulb temperatures are close together, it means it is humid (there is a lot of water vapor in the air).  What happens when there is a lot of water vapor?  Think about a glass of water sitting on the table.  Have you noticed it gets beads of water on it if you have ice cubes inside?  What happens when water vapor hits something cold?  Yep, it condenses and turns to a liquid.  No, the water from the glass isn’t leaking through the glass.  The water vapor in the air condenses on the glass.  Make sure you use a coaster under a glass sitting on a wooden table. That condensation will not make your parents happy because it will leave a water ring.  Isn’t science great?  So, if the dry/wet bulb temperatures are real close and there is a lot of water vapor in the air floating up to the cold air above, what might happen next?  If you suggest that clouds will form, you are correct again.  That probably means it will rain soon.  We rarely had dry/wet bulb temperatures close together.  What was the weather like during my time on the Pisces off the coast of Florida?  If you said gorgeous for the most part, you are correct.  We had lovely weather except for June 1, the first day of hurricane season, when a tropical disturbance formed right over us.  We had thunder, lightning, and rain for a short time and we had to postpone launching the ROV for a while.  I thought the boat would rock terribly, but it wasn’t bad at all.  Yeah!

Man Overboard

Man wearing a helmet holding onto a pole
Ryan in Rescue Boat Recovery

Having someone fall overboard would be awful at any time.   It would be much more difficult to find someone at night than during the day.  It’s hazardous to run a man overboard drill during the day.  I’d hate to have them do it at night.  During our man overboard drill, everyone went to their assigned positions.  Three people went out on the rescue boat.  One was the driver, one was a rescue swimmer, and one kept his eye on the person who was in the water.  I didn’t see them get on the rescue boat since I was at my muster station in the conference room, which is on the starboard side of the O-1 deck and the rescue boat launches off the port side.  The rescuers got in the boat and those assigned to the winch which was to lower the boat, mostly the fishermen,  lowered the boat into the water.  Now, I can only imagine, but most people aren’t going to fall overboard in nice calm seas.  There are railings in the way.  I would bet that if someone fell over it was because they were jostled over during violent seas–perhaps while working recovering fishing nets or equipment.

The victim, a dummy in orange, is brought aboard
The Victim is Rescued

Going down in that rescue boat from the O-1 deck would be scary to me.  The crew on deck had someone watching the rescue boat on both sides of the deck, someone watching the victim from both sides, people with medical training standing by to administer first aid, and those on the bridge were driving based on where the victim and rescue boat were.

Orange rescue boat speeding along the ocean's surface
Rescue Boat Returns

Wouldn’t be good to run over either, nor to leave them behind.  Everyone worked as a team.  I was able to witness the drill with special permission once I checked in at my muster station to make sure I wasn’t the victim.  Also, they probably want to keep us out of the way:)  From my observation, everyone was professional and treated this as if our dummy they threw over was a real victim.  Just as we practice fire and tornado drills at school and expect students and teachers to treat it seriously in case there ever is a real emergency so everyone will be prepared, so did the crew.  As I watched, I noted the concern on the faces of the fishermen as they retrieved the boat from the water.   There was a leader in charge who told people where they needed to stand on the rescue boat and who should get off when.  The last person off was someone light, but strong.  He was responsible for attaching equipment and had to be light to make it easier for those maneuvering the rescue boat up to the deck and back to its cradle.

Ship’s Control

Sue standing at the console on the bridge taking notes
Sue Driving?

I waited until I knew the captain would be on the bridge for my driving lesson.  CDR Adams said he would be happy to let me give it a try.  I still joked that because of the autopilot I could say I was driving and just stand on the bridge.  He was serious so I went up on Monday morning during his watch.  He wasn’t there.  Hopes dashed, I mentioned it to the officers on duty who had switched schedules since the captain had other responsibilities to attend to.  “No problem.  We’ll let you steer.”  At last, my chance.  The OOD, LT Lindsay Kurelja, alerted the captain and engineering, that I would be steering.  Seems that if you slow way down or the ride gets rocky the crew calls and to check on what’s happening.

Lindsey monitors Sue's driving
Close Monitoring

The steering lesson began.  Can’t do anything without instructions.  “Although it looks like a sports car steering wheel, if you turn it quickly in either direction the boat will list (roll) heavily.”  The cooks won’t like that kind of surprise.  Others might fall out of bed.  How about those guys on deck painting?  Whoops!  “So, be sure to watch the rudder angle indicator gauge and don’t let it move left or right more than 5°.”  “Focus forward.  If you look left or right your natural tendency is to move your arms in that direction as well.”  “Got it?  Ready?’

ENS Michael Doig reduced speed to 60% from 128 rpm (revolutions per minute) to 72 rpm.  Hey, don’t they think I can handle this?  Apparently not!  These are smart folks.  When I took the helm, I watched the rudder angle indicator like a hawk.  No matter what I did, the ship kept going one direction or another.  Zig zag all the way.  I’d correct, but not enough.  Then it would be too far to the right and I’d have to correct left.  You have to wait a while before the ship responds to the wheel turning.  They stood right over me to make sure I wasn’t messing up.  After all, even though I was driving, they were responsible and no one wants the soup all over the kitchen:)  I found it very nerve-wracking to have the ship’s course in my hands, literally.

Sue driving and concentrating on it
Concentrating on driving

When I finished and they turned the auto pilot back on, Lindsay said that I only went “62 miles” off course.  I don’t think that is physically possible since we were just going about 9 knots and I only drove a couple of minutes.  I’m hoping she was exaggerating.  She congratulated me and said I did very well for a first time.  I think she was just being polite.   All I know is it didn’t feel the way my car feels when driving it.  However, it was interesting to experience driving the ship.  I was grateful to have trained professionals watching over me.  We might have ended up in New Zealand or something.

Dredging boat resembles old time riverboat with large paddle wheel
Lots of interesting boats in Pascagoula

When we arrived at the port in Pascagoula later that afternoon, I was told that we would be docking in front of another NOAA ship already at dock but before a bridge.  It reminded me of parallel parking, which many people consider the most difficult skill in driving and some people avoid like the plague.  One of the crew members groaned and said it would take forever since it was difficult to do.  We had no idea who was going to be bringing the ship in.  Well, to her credit, LT Tracy Hamburger piloted the vessel flawlessly and we were at the dock very shortly.  The crew was happy to be at their home port so they could get off the ship and relax for a while.  I, on the other hand, was happy to stay on the ship and get last-minute pictures, clean my room, pack, and blog.  For awhile I thought I was alone on the Pisces and wondered about security.  Not long after my ponderings, a security guard came walking by.  That made me feel more comfortable.  I also found that many folks returned to the ship later because they live on the ship.  Interesting home.

Five sailboats on a blue ocean
Sailboats near Ft. Lauderdale

I am grateful to NOAA for giving me this opportunity to learn about NOAA and the science missions they support.  The Pisces has a wonderful crew who were always willing to help me learn.

Karen Rasmussen, June 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Rasmussen
Ship: R/V Tattoosh
Geographical area of the cruise: Olympic Coast NMS
Date: June 28, 2011
Cruise to: La Push
Crew: Rick Fletcher, Nathan Witherly, Karen Rasmussen
Time: Start 9:25 – End 16:00

The first part of mission is to conduct Multibeam mapping and to collect ground-truthings at the LaPush/Teahwhit areas of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We will also service the OCNM buoy, Cape Alava 42 (CA42). The second week of this mission is to explore the Teahwhit Head moorings, ChaBa and sunken ships, and North and South moorings.

Weather Data

Wind 5 to 10 Knots
SW Swell 4 to 7’
Science and Technology Log

Seal Rocks
Seal Rocks

We began this morning at 8:00. We loaded the boat and filled the tanks with diesel. Rick completed the safety brief (Risk Factor 21 today). Then we went over roles and responsibilities, PFD’s (personal floatation devices), Immersion Suits (location of, and completed drill- all crew completed), Emergency Situations of fire, abandon ship, MOB (Maintain Lookout, Notify Skipper), and communication systems. We left Port Angeles at 9:25 with Rick and Nathan. Nancy is driving all of our supplies to Forks. We will be spending the next three nights in Forks, WA at the Olympic Suites.

Seal Rocks

The water was choppy today with swells of about 7 feet, which makes it difficult to write in a journal. Our first stop was off of Seal Rocks. We observed sea lions and many different seabirds. An airplane was flying low over and around the islands, which was a concern because there are distance parameters that are enforced for the sea life on and around coast islands. We also noted a small boat. I tried to take a picture of the plane for further reference. The plane and small boat turned out to be State/Federal wildlife resource people doing a mammal count on the islands.

Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.
Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.

Our next stop was at the Cape Alava 42 buoy. The “42” indicates meters in depth. Nathan piloted the boat and Rick put on protective raingear and boots. His job consisted of standing on the swim deck while Nathan maneuvered the boat as close as he could to the buoy. When we were in the correct position, Rick pulled the buoy up while I controlled the winch. He replaced the current meter which measures how fast the current is going in that area. The buoys in the Sanctuary are serviced about once every six weeks.

From Cape Alava we continued to travel south down the coastline to LaPush. We cleaned up, hosed the Tatoosh off, and packed up stuff. Nancy met us in La Push. We loaded up the car and headed to Forks for the night. Nancy and Rick continued the work from one of the hotel rooms on how to get the technology of this mission up and running correctly.

Personal Log

I had a great time today. I have to admit I was a little worried about traveling from Port Angeles to La Push in such a small vessel. We bounced a lot, but the weather was wonderful. I was very impressed with Nathan Withery’s ability to manipulate the Tatoosh in such swells. I also observed how Rick and Nathan can walk the deck with such ease. We talked a little about how much energy is used to be onboard a small vessel all day. We all are famished!
Rick servicing the Cape Alava 42 buoy.

John Taylor-Lehman, June 24, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: 24 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds from the South at 10 mph
Barometric Pressure 29.93

The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah
The Research Vessel Savannah sitting at dock in Savannah

Science and Technology Log 

We departed on time from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography dock at 0001 hours with 6 crew members, a compliment of 8 scientists and myself. The crew consists of Captain Raymond Sweatte, 1st Mate Michael Richter, Marine Technician John Bichy, 2nd Mate Kevin Holliday, Chief Engineer Richard Huguley, and Joel Formby. Though they have different titles, it became obvious from our discussions that their duties are often shared or overlap. This arrangement is necessary because the R/V Savannah is functioning 24 hours per day.

Because we are in transit to our first sampling site my interest has focused on the operators of the ship and how the ship functions.

Capt. Sweatte outlined for me the steps in his career that have led him to being Captain of this vessel. Though military training is one avenue to prepare for a commercial captain’s license he did not follow that path. He worked his way up through various jobs as an able bodied seaman second mate, first mate, and finally the captain with 1600 ton vessel certification. His training is ongoing through “continuing education” programs in fire safety, sonar, survival training, and first aid.

Chief engineer Richard Huguley gave me an interesting tour of the 4 compartments of the engine room. Water cooling systems, two 450 horse power Caterpillar brand engines, electrical and hydraulic system all have to be monitored and maintained during our cruise. Some systems are checked for pressure, temperature and fluid levels several times per day and around the clock. Engineer Richard Huguley had an interest in machines and an aptitude for mechanics at an early age. His skills have allowed him to have consistent employment in land based industrial enterprises and nautical work.

Personal Log 

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit
Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

My apprehensions about seasickness have been unfounded… thus far. I’m using a Transderm patch with scopolamine. It is difficult however to tease out the exact reason for my relatively calm stomach. Is it the chemical? Is it the relatively calm seas (4-5 ft. waves last night and 2-3 ft. waves today)?

During the safety instructions last night a person was required to don the “survival suit” (also known as the “Gumby” suit). The attempt to don the suit quickly is always good for a laugh. Shelly, part of the science party, was our reluctant “volunteer” for the demonstration.

Shelly in the “Gumby” suit

Since we are in transit, there has been time to explore the ship, talk with science staff and crew, as well as enjoy the view of the Atlantic from the deck. Today I saw dolphins, barracuda, and flying fish, close to the ship and a submarine off in the distance.

Tammy Orilio, A Little Bit of Science…, June 18, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 18 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 52.34 N
Longitude: -167.51 W
Wind Speed: 7.25 knots
Surface Water Temp: 6.6 degrees C (~43.9 degrees F)
Water Depth: 63.53 m
Air Temp: 7.1 degrees C (~44.8 degrees F)
Relative Humidity: 101% (it’s very cloudy/foggy, but not raining)

Science & Technology Log:

The XBT Launcher mechanism.
The XBT Launcher mechanism.

Today I used the Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) a few times. The WHAT??   The expendable part means we use it once and don’t recover it.  Let’s break down the second part into the two main roots:  bathy– which refers to depth, and thermo which refers to temperature.  This probe measures the temperature and depth of the water when it is dropped over the starboard (right) side of the ship.

“Dropping” isn’t exactly the correct phrase- we use a launcher that kind of resembles a gun.  The probe sits inside of the black tube, and after we uncap the end of the tube, we basically fling our arm out over the side of the ship to launch the probe into the water.  I can’t show you any pics of the probe, because if we take it out of the black tube, it’ll start recording data.  The probe is connected to a length of copper wire, which runs continuously as the probe falls through the water column, collecting data.  It’s important to launch the probe as far away from the ship as possible, because if the copper wire touches the metal on the ship, the data feed will be disrupted and we’d have to launch another probe.  Big waste of money and equipment! One of the survey technicians decides to cut the wire (or tells me to) when they’ve decided that a sufficient amount of data has been collected, and we can then look at a graph to see the relationship between temperature and depth.
The XBT is a quick and easy method of data collection, and can be run while the ship is in motion.  The ship does have another piece of equipment- the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter (CTD)- to collect the same data, but the CTD is very big and bulky, and the ship must be stopped in order to deploy the CTD.  The CTD can also measure parameters such as dissolved oxygen concentration, current velocity, and other things (depending on the additional equipment on the meter).  The main advantage the XBT has is that it is quick and can be deployed as the ship is sailing.


Data Collected from an XBT probe today:
Latitude: 53.20 N
Longitude: -167.46 W
Water Temp at Surface: 6.7 degrees C
Water Temp at Bottom: 5.1 degrees C
Thermocline located from 0-25 meters depth

What is a thermocline, you ask?  Root word time!  We’ve already gone over thermo, and cline refers to a gradient, or where things change rapidly.  So, the thermocline is the area where you see the greatest change in temperature.  See the diagram as an example (it’s not our actual data).  Beneath the thermocline, the water temperature remains relatively constant.
Personal log:

Launching the XBT in full safety gear (minus the hardhat, it fell off)
Launching the XBT in full safety gear (minus the hardhat, it fell off)

Safety first, my friends.
Safety first, my friends.

Yesterday, as we were finally on our first transect of many, we needed to use the XBT to collect temperature and depth data.  A couple of the scientists told me that I could do it- yay, something for me to do!!  So I go to the lab room and see a ton of safety gear out- heavy coat, hardhat, gloves, soundproof earmuffs, goggles.  The survey tech tells me that I have to use all that protective gear because the XBT launcher is just like a gun- have I shot a gun before?  No!  So this is interesting.  I don the gear, and he explains what I need to do…which doesn’t seem that dangerous.  So now here I am, all geared up, and the rest of the scientists come trickling in to the lab to watch me.  That should’ve been a red light right there.  Why would they want to watch me do something so simple?  Turns out that it’s something that all the new people on the boat go through- we get all hyped up about shooting a loud gun, get loaded with gear, and then…not much.  So I basically got all dressed up in my protective gear for no other reason than the entertainment of the crew!!


Why is it important to know the temperature and/or depth of the water that we’re trawling in?

Margaret Stephens, May 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date:  May 28, 2011 (Last day!)

NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo credit: Richard Hall

Weather Data from the Bridge
As of 06:43, 28 May
Latitude 30.15
Longitude 80.87
Speed 7.60 knots
Course 285.00
Wind Speed 10.77 knots
Wind Direction 143.91 º
Surface Water Temperature 25.53 ºC
Surface Water Salinity 36.38 PSU
Air Temperature 24.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 92.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1011.10 millibars
Water Depth 30.17 m
Skies: clear

r at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Margaret Stephens and Scientist David Hoke in Pisces attire.

Science and Technology Log

These scientists are not only smart, but they are neat and clean, too! After completing final mapping and fish sampling on the second-to-last day, we spent the remainder of the time cleaning the wet (fish) lab, packing all the instruments and equipment, and carefully labeling each item for transport. We hosed down all surfaces and used non-toxic cleaners to leave the stainless steel lab tables and instruments gleaming, ready for the next research project. The Pisces, like other NOAA fisheries ships, is designed as a mobile lab platform that each research team adapts to conform to its particular needs. The lab facilities, major instruments and heavy equipment are permanent, but since research teams have different objectives and protocols, they bring aboard their own science personnel, specialized equipment, and consumable supplies. The primary mission of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels, like Pisces, is to conduct scientific studies, so the ship’s officers and crew adjust and coordinate their operations to meet the requirements of each research project. The ship’s Operations Officer and the Chief Scientist communicate regularly, well before the project begins and throughout the time at sea, to facilitate planning and smooth conduct of the mission.

Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane
Gag grouper (top, Mycteroperca microlepis) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) specimens, labeled for further study Photo credit: David Berrane

“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team
“Wet” (fish) lab aboard Pisces, cleaned and ready for next research team

We made up for the two days’ delay in our initial departure (caused by mechanical troubles and re-routing to stay clear of the Endeavor space shuttle launch, described in the May 18 log), thanks to nearly ideal sea conditions and the sheer hard work of the ship’s and science crews. The painstaking work enabled the science team to fine tune their seafloor mapping equipment and protocols, set traps, and accumulate data on fish populations in this important commercial fishing area off the southeastern coast of the United States. The acoustics team toiled every night to conduct survey mapping and produce three dimensional images of the sea floor. They met before sunrise each morning with Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler to plan the daytime fish survey routes, and the fish lab team collected two to three sets of six traps every day. The videographers worked long hours, backing up data and adjusting the camera arrays so that excellent footage was obtained.  In all, we obtained ten days’ worth of samples, brought in a substantial number of target species, red snapper and grouper, recorded hours of underwater video, and collected tissue and otolith samples for follow-up analysis back at the labs on land.


Scientists and engineers often use models to help visualize, represent, or test phenomena they are studying. Models are especially helpful when it is too risky, logistically difficult, or expensive to conduct extensive work under “live” or real-time conditions.

Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT
Divers exploring hardbottom habitat Photo Credit: Douglas E. Kesling, UNCWilmington, CIOERT

As described in previous logs, this fisheries work aboard Pisces involves surveying and trapping fish to analyze population changes among commercially valuable species, principally red snapper and grouper, which tend to aggregate in particular types of hardbottom habitats.  Hardbottom, in contrast to sandy, flat areas, consists of rocky ledges, coral, or artificial reef structures, all hard substrates. By locating hardbottom areas on the sea floor, scientists can focus their trapping efforts in places most likely to yield samples of the target fish species, thus conserving valuable time and resources. So, part of the challenge is finding efficient ways to locate hardbottom. That’s where models can be helpful.

The scientific models rely on information known about the relationships between marine biodiversity and habitat types, because the varieties and distribution of marine life found in an area are related to the type of physical features present. Not surprisingly, this kind of connection often holds true in terrestrial (land) environments, too. For example, since water-conserving succulents and cacti are generally found in dry, desert areas, aerial or satellite images of land masses showing dry environments can serve as proxies to identify areas where those types of plants would be prevalent. In contrast, one would expect to find very different types of plant and animal life in wetter areas with richer soils.

Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source:‐a.html
Recovering ROV aboard Pisces Photo source:‐a.html

Traditional methods used to map hardbottom and identify fish habitat include direct sampling by towing underwater video cameras, sonar, aerial photography, satellite imaging, using remotely operating vehicles (ROV’s), or even setting many traps in extensive areas. While they have some advantages, all those methods are labor and time-intensive and expensive, and are therefore impractical for mapping extensive areas.

This Pisces team has made use of a computer and statistical model developed by other scientists that incorporates information from previous mapping (bathymetry) work to predict where hardbottom habitat is likely to be found. The Pisces scientists have employed the “Dunn” model to predict potential hardbottom areas likely to attract fish populations, and then they have conducted more detailed mapping of the areas highlighted by the model. (That has been the principal job of the overnight acoustics team.) Using those more refined maps, the day work has involved trapping and recording video to determine if fish are, indeed, found in the locations predicted. By testing the model repeatedly, scientists can refine it further. To the extent that the model proves accurate, it can guide future work, making use of known physical characteristics of the sea floor to identify more areas where fish aggregate, and helping scientists study large areas and develop improved methods for conservation and management of marine resources.

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke
Deploying CTD. Photo credit: David Hoke

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Measurements

Another aspect of the data collection aboard Pisces involves measuring key physical properties of seawater, including temperature and salinity (saltiness, or concentration of salts) at various depths using a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)  device.

Salinity and temperature affect how sound travels in water; therefore, CTD data can be used to help calibrate the sonar equipment used to map the sea floor. In other instances, the data are used to help scientists study changes in sea conditions that may affect climate. Increases in sea surface temperatures, for example, can speed evaporation, moisture and heat transfer to the atmosphere, feeding or intensifying storm systems such as hurricanes and cyclones.

Pisces shipboard CTD, containing a set of probes attached to a cylindrical housing, is lowered from the side deck to a specified depth. A remote controller closes the water collection bottles at the desired place in the water column to extract samples, and the CTD takes the physical measurements in real time.

Fresh Catch

Of all the many species collected, only the red snapper and grouper specimens were kept for further study; most of the other fish were released after they were weighed and measured. A small quantity was set aside for Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens to prepare for the all the ship’s occupants to enjoy, but the bulk of the catch was saved for charitable purposes. The fish (“wet” lab) team worked well into overtime hours each night to fillet the catch and package it for donation. They cut, wrapped, labeled and fresh froze each fillet as carefully as any gourmet fish vendor would. Once we disembarked on the last day, Scientist Warren Mitchell, who had made all the arrangements, delivered over one hundred pounds of fresh frozen fish to a local food bank, Second Harvest of Northern Florida. It was heartening to know that local people would benefit from this high-quality, tasty protein.

Careers at Sea

Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones
Crewmen Joe Flora and Vic Pinones

Many crew members gave generously of their time to share with me their experiences as mariners and how they embarked upon and developed their careers. I found out about many, many career paths for women and men who are drawn to the special life at sea. Ship’s officers, deck crew, mechanics, electricians, computer systems specialists, chefs and scientists are among the many possibilities.

Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens worked as a cook in the U.S. Navy and as a chef in private restaurants before starting work with NOAA. He truly loves cooking, managing all the inventory, storage and food preparation in order to meet the needs and preferences of nearly forty people, three meals a day, every day. He even cooks for family and friends during his “off” time!

First Engineer Brett Jones
First Engineer Brett Jones

Electronics specialist Bob Carter, also a Navy veteran, is responsible for the operations and security of all the computer-based equipment on board. He designed and set up the ship’s network and continually expands his skills and certifications by taking online courses. He relishes the challenges, responsibilities and autonomy that come along with protecting the integrity of the computer systems aboard ship.

First Engineer Brent Jones has worked for many years in the commercial and government sectors, maintaining engines, refrigeration, water and waste management, and environmental control systems. He gave me a guided tour of the innards of Pisces, including four huge engines, heating and air conditioning units, thrusters and rudders, hoists and lifts, fresh water condenser and ionizers, trash incinerator, and fire and safety equipment. The engineering department is responsible for making sure everything operates safely, all day and night, every day. Brent and the other engineers are constantly learning, updating and sharpening their skills by taking specialized courses throughout their careers.

Chief Boatswain James Walker
Chief Boatswain James Walker

Chief Boatswain James Walker is responsible for safe, efficient operations on deck, including training and supervising all members of the deck crew. He entered NOAA after a career in the U.S. Navy.  The Chief Boatswain must be diplomatic, gentle but firm, and a good communicator and people manager. He coordinates safe deck operations with the ship’s officers, crew, and scientific party and guests.

NOAA officers are a special breed. To enter the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in mathematics or sciences. They need not have experience at sea, although many do. They undergo an intensive officers’ training program at a marine academy before beginning shipboard work as junior officers, where they train under more experienced officers to learn ship’s systems and operations, protocols, navigation, safety, personnel management, budgeting and administrative details. After years of hard work and satisfactory performance, NOAA officers may advance through the ranks and eventually take command of a ship.

Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger
Operations Officer, Lt. Tracy Hamburger

Junior Officer Michael Doig
Junior Officer Michael Doig

All the officers and crew aboard Pisces seem to truly enjoy the challenges, variety of experiences and camaraderie of life at sea. They are dedicated to NOAA’s mission and take pride in the scientific and ship operations work. To be successful and satisfied with this life, one needs an understanding family and friends, as crew can be away at sea up to 260 days a year, for two to four weeks at a time. There are few personal expenses while at sea, since room and board are provided, so prudent mariners can accumulate savings. There are sacrifices, as long periods away can mean missing important events at home. But there are some benefits: As one crewman told me, every visit home is like another honeymoon!

Personal Log

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

Navy Showers

I had expected that life aboard Pisces would include marine toilets and salt water showers with limited fresh water just for rinsing off.  I was surprised to find regular water-conserving flush toilets and fresh water showers. Still, the supply of fresh water is limited, as all of it is produced from a condensation system using heat from the engines. During our ship orientation and safety session on the first day, Operations Officer Tracy Hamburger and Officer Mike Doig cautioned us to conserve water.  They explained (but did not demonstrate!) a “Navy” shower, which involves turning the water on just long enough to get wet, off while soaping up, and on again for a quick rinse. It is quite efficient – more of us should adopt the practice on land. Who really needs twenty minute showers with fully potable water, especially when more than one billion people on our “water planet” lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation?

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

“Abandon Ship!”

One size fits all?
One size fits all?

The drill I had anticipated since the first pre-departure NOAA Teacher at Sea instructions arrived in my inbox finally happened. I had just emerged from a refreshing “Navy” shower at the end of a fishy day when the ship’s horn blasted, signaling “Abandon ship!” We’d have to don survival suits immediately to be ready to float on our own in the sea for an indefinite time. Fortunately, I had finished dressing seconds before the alarm sounded. I grabbed the survival suit, strategically positioned for ready access near my bunk, and walked briskly (never run aboard ship!) to the muster station on the side deck. There, all the ship’s occupants jostled for space enough on deck to flatten out the stiff, rubbery garment and attempt to put it on.  That’s much easier said than done; it was not a graceful picture. “One size fits all”, I learned, is a figment of some manufacturer’s imagination. My petite five foot four frame was engulfed, lost in the suit, while the burly six- foot-five crewman alongside me struggled to squeeze himself into the same sized suit. The outfit, affectionately known as a Gumby, is truly designed for survival, though, as neoprene gaskets seal wrists, leaving body parts covered, with only a small part of one’s face exposed. The suit serves as a flotation device, and features a flashing light, sound alarm, and other warning instruments to facilitate locating those unfortunate enough to be floating at sea.

Thankfully, this was only a test run on deck. We were spared the indignity of going overboard to test our true survival skills. I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few jumping jacks and pushups while encased in my Gumby.

Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver
Fish bet ‐‐ Rigged results? Photo credit: Jen Weaver

Bets Are On!

These scientists are fun-loving and slightly superstitious, if not downright mischievous. On the last day, Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler announced a contest: whoever came closest to predicting the number of fish caught in the last set of traps would win a Pisces t-shirt that Nate promised to purchase with his personal funds. In true scientific fashion, the predictions were carefully noted and posted for all to see.  As each trap was hauled in, Nate recorded the tallies on the white board in the dry lab. Ever the optimist, basing my estimate on previous days’ tallies, I predicted a whopping number: 239.

I should have been more astute and paid more attention to the fact that the day’s survey was planned for a region that featured less desirable habitats for fish than previous days. Nate, of course, having set the route, knew much more about the conditions than the rest of us did. His prediction: a measly 47 fish. Sure enough, the total tally was 38, and the winner was………Nate!   Our loud protests that the contest was fixed were to no avail. He declared himself the winner. Next time, we’ll know enough to demand that the Chief Scientist remove himself from the contest.


Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler and red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: David Hoke


Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi
Crewman Kirk Perry with Mahi‐mahi

Catching Mahi-mahi

Once the day’s deck work was over, a fish call came over the ship’s public address system. Kirk Perry, one of the avid fishermen among the crew, attached a line baited with squid from the stern guard rail and let it troll along unattended, since a fishing pole was unnecessary. Before long, someone else noticed that the line had hooked a fish. It turned out to be a beautiful mahi-mahi, with sleek, streamlined, iridescent scales in an array of rainbow colors, and quite a fighter. I learned that the mahi quickly lose their color once they are removed from the water, and turn to a pale gray-white once lifeless. If only I were a painter, I would have stopped everything to try to capture the lovely colors on canvas.


We entered Mayport under early morning light. An official port pilot is required to come aboard to guide all ships into port, so the port pilot joined Commander Jeremy Adams and the rest of the officer on the bridge as we made our way through busy Mayport, home of a United States Naval base. Unfortunately, the pier space reserved for Pisces was occupied by a British naval vessel that had encountered mechanical problems and was held up for repairs, so she could not be moved. That created a logistical challenge for us, as it meant that Pisces had to tie up alongside a larger United States naval ship whose deck was higher than ours.  Once again, the crew and scientists showed their true colors, as they braved the hot Florida sun, trekking most of the gear and luggage by hand over two gangplanks, across the Navy ship, onto the pier, and loading it into the waiting vehicles.

The delay gave me a chance to say farewell and thank the crew and science team for their patience and kindness during my entire time at sea.

These eleven days sailed by. The Pisces crew had only a short breather of a day and a half before heading out with a new group of scientists for another research project. To sea again….NOAA’s work continues.

All aboard!

A big “Thank you!” to all the scientists and crew who made my time aboard Pisces so educational and memorable!


Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig
Science team. Photo credit: NOAA Officer Michael Doig

Links & Resources

Literature cited:

Dunn, D, Halpin, P (2009) Rugosity-based regional modeling of hard-bottom habitat. Marine Ecology Progress Series 377:1-11

Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!
Safety! I hope I never have to use that fire axe!

Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke
Sky view from Pisces. Photo credit: David Hoke

View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship
View from Pisces: United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll
Engineers Abe Goldberg and Bob Carroll

Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist

Loading gear with crane & hoist
Loading gear with crane & hoist

Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall
Commander Jeremy Adams looks out from Pisces’ bridge Photo credit: Richard Hall

Margaret Stephens, May 25-27

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens
NOAA Ship:
Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Dates: May 25-27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 

View from the Pisces bridge: calm seas
View from the Pisces bridge: calm seas

As of 11:43 May 27, 2011
Latitude 29.94
Longitude 80.29
Wind Speed 0.60 knots; calm
Wind Direction 167.50 º
Surface Water Temperature 26.60 ºC
Air Temperature 25.70 ºC
Relative Humidity 81.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1013.70 millibars (mb)
Water Depth 54.59 m
Skies: clear to partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

I struggle to measure a squirmy black sea bass, Centropristis striata.
I struggle to measure a squirmy black sea bass, Centropristis striata.

Previous logs describe in some detail the three principal components of this research work aboard Pisces: overnight mapping using acoustics (SONAR) technology; daytime fish trapping; and underwater videography. The nighttime mapping is used to identify the hardbottom habitats favored by red snapper and grouper species and helps the science team determine where to set traps the next day. The videography provides additional visual clues to the contours and composition of the sea floor, water clarity, and marine life in the area.

Scientific research at sea is far from neat, clean and predictable. Messy, hot, smelly, sometimes frustratingly unpredictable – and not for the weak-stomached– are better descriptors. The work goes on as long as it takes, well past the scheduled twelve hour shifts. The “wet” lab could just as well be called the “fishy” lab. For good reason, the seasoned researchers wear special waterproof bibs and boots and clothing they don’t mind getting dirty. A distinctly fish-infused aroma fills the air and embeds skin, hair and garb. The best laid plans go awry. Equipment and instruments are checked, double- and triple-checked; nevertheless, they don’t always function properly or yield the expected results. Despite using high-tech SONAR to locate what appear to be promising locations, and baiting traps with the most appetizing bait imaginable (dead menhaden), the fish move around and are not always lured into the traps we set so carefully. While this project has been graced so far with unusually calm seas, the currents, other boat traffic, threatening weather and other factors can cause the ship to deviate from its appointed path.

These scientists seem to thrive as they meet the challenges of the ever-changing seascape, solving problems and continuing the hard work day and night.

Todd Kellison (l) and Warren Mitchell (r) confer at sunrise as their long night’s acoustics lab work continues past dawn. Photo credit: David Berrane
Todd Kellison (l) and Warren Mitchell (r) confer at sunrise as their long night’s acoustics lab work continues past dawn. Photo credit: David Berrane

After spending the first few days south of Cape Canaveral, mapping and trap sampling, calibrating and making adjustments to the instruments and deployment procedures, we headed north, because strong currents and turbid (cloudy) waters were limiting the team’s ability to deploy traps and capture useful underwater video images. When the currents are too strong (>2.5 – 3 knots, or nautical miles per hour), the moving water tends to drag the traps, making it very difficult to position them in the desired locations on the sea floor. In addition, the currents swirl sediments around, reducing visibility and yielding video images that are less than revealing. Since moving north of Cape Canaveral, the currents have been less of a problem, and the water clarity has improved.

The mapping, trapping, and video procedures all went more smoothly after the team made adjustments guided by the first days’ experiences. The acoustics team leaders, Warren Mitchell and Todd Kellison, have worked assiduously throughout the taxing, tiring overnight shifts to produce useful bathymetry maps with the ship’s state-of-the-art ME70 multibeam sonar unit. Investigator Jen Weaver has applied her expertise with GIS and mapping software to help Warren and Todd translate the sonar data into three dimensional maps most useful for Nate Bacheler, the Chief Scientist, to plan the trapping routes.

Sonar image shows ledges and outcrops. Photo credit: Christina Schobernd
Sonar image shows ledges and outcrops. Photo credit: Christina Schobernd

By the second and third nights on the acoustics team, I was getting better at recognizing the features on the sonar screen displays, such as ledges and rocky outcroppings, that are indicative the hardbottom habitats we were seeking. Chief Scientist Nate has perfected the timing and communications with the deck crew so that the traps are released off the stern deck at just the right time, sinking to the bottom in the desired locations. Radio transmitter in hand, Nate studies an array of monitors displaying the sonar images of the sea bottom mapped the night before, the navigation system with the ship’s position and path, and a live video feed showing the crew awaiting instructions on the deck. The helmsman alerts Nate that the ship is approaching the next drop point and slows the ship.

Nate issues a series of commands to the deck crew by radio:

Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on
Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on

Ready the cameras. Ready the cameras.” – A few minutes before the ship approaches each trap point, a team member activates the two video cameras attached to the trap.

Crew deploys baited trap above guard rail on

Go on standby; stand by to deploy trap.”- The deck crew positions the trap at the edge of the stern (back) deck and makes sure all the lines are clear.

Deploy trap; deploy trap.” The deck crew pushes the trap over the edge of the stern and lets the line attaching it to the ship run free. Once the line goes slack, indicating the trap has reached the bottom, the crew releases the bright orange buoys to float on the surface, marking the trap locations to warn other ships to steer clear and facilitate retrieval.

The deck crew then positions the next trap, and the helmsman, Nate and crew repeat the choreographed sequence until all six traps in each set are in place. Soon after, the helmsman maneuvers the ship for the deck crew to retrieve the traps and their contents one by one using a pothauler, a special hoist.

Technical/Logistical Challenges 

We ran into some initial difficulties with the video cameras attached to the traps when they turned off and failed to record. As good scientists, the team observed the procedures closely and determined that the force of the cameras hitting the water upon release was probably causing them to shut off. At first, the traps with cameras attached were being pushed off the stern above a fixed guard rail, which sits about 1.5 meters above the deck, with three removable guard wires below the rail. A simple adjustment seems to have fixed that problem – instead of releasing the traps above the guard rail, the crew lowered the traps to the deck floor and pushed them off more gently from there. This modified procedure seems to have done the trick, as the cameras have not shut off since.

Science team adjusts camera-trap arrays on stern deck
Science team adjusts camera-trap arrays on stern deck

We are constantly reminded of the ship’s mantra, “Safety first!”, as anyone working on deck while machinery is in operation is required to wear a hardhat and personal flotation device (PFD). He or she who forgets to do so is quickly alerted by others. Because the change in the trap release procedure necessitated removing the three safety wires below the stationary guard rail, leaving a gap large enough for a person to slip overboard, the crew members tied themselves to tethers attached to the deck. Falling off the stern of the ship is dangerous, not least because the propellers turn rapidly and create a backwash effect that could draw a person underwater, even one wearing a PFD.

After each set of six traps is collected, the crew and wet lab team prepare them for redeployment. They empty any fish caught from the traps into bins, separate them into species, then weigh, measure, and release or preserve them for further study. With the help of the deck crew, two or three members of the science team stay on the side deck, dressed in waterproof bibs, boots, life vests and helmets. They detach and dry the cameras and hand them to the dry lab video coordinator, Christina Schobernd, who immediately removes the memory cards, sets up the video to view, and readies the cameras for the next trapping sequence. Occasionally, a camera tilts out of alignment, possibly in the jolt of travel or by hitting something underwater or on the bottom. Each time that happens, Christina meticulously assesses the situation and adjusts the cameras’ attachments.

Under these conditions, working with expensive equipment, it is crucial to anticipate possible problems and build redundancy into the operations as much as possible. This year, the team added a second, high-definition camera to the video array, and each camera is attached to the trap frames with at least six heavy-duty plastic ties and a tether wire and clip. That tether has been a camera-saver, as in one instance the cameras somehow broke free and would have been lost without it.

Fish measuring “assembly line” in the wet lab
Fish measuring “assembly line” in the wet lab

Thanks to good planning, enhanced by a measure of good luck, so far we have not lost any traps or equipment. It is not unheard of to have a trap break free from impact, from a boat propeller running over and cutting the line, or for some other reason. If a trap breaks loose in a place that’s too deep for human divers to search, or if the ship is not equipped with diving capability or a ROV (remote operating vehicle), the trap must be given up for lost.

Once the traps’ fishy contents are brought in and separated by species, three to four people in the wet lab process the fish in assembly-line fashion, as described in the previous log. With traps containing one hundred fifty (150) fish or more, we have to work fast and furiously to weigh, measure and release them before the next haul is aboard. The fish flop and squirm and squirt, and as I learned the first time I handled them, the black sea bass have some mighty sharp spines that can penetrate even the heavy, protective gloves we wear.

To ready the array for the next trap set, the team then

  •  “freshens” the bait by taking out any fully or partially eaten bait and replacing it with the same number of whole menhaden fish;
  •  reattaches the cameras;
  • lines up the numbered traps on deck, ready to go again.

Sometimes, the interim between trap sets coincides with the ship’s lunch time: 11 a.m. If so, the science team takes a short break to refuel with Steward Jesse Stiggens’ tasty culinary creations. If not, the stewards leave the lunch buffet available for whenever the team can get away for a few minutes. While the traps are “soaking” (sitting on the sea floor for the required ninety minute intervals), the science team keeps busy viewing video from the previous haul, processing fish specimens, tidying the deck and lab area, speculating about what the next trap might yield, and telling fish stories from past field work. As anyone who has spent time around fishers (the gender-neutral form of fishermen) knows, fishing stories always get better with time!

Processing and Collection of Biological Samples 

Otolith showing age rings Photo source:
Otolith showing age rings Photo source:

To assess fish stock and population trends, scientists must do more than identify species and catch, weigh and measure fish. They also determine the sex, size and ages of fish and genetic diversity within the populations studied. Connecting size and age can help determine the fishes’ growth rates, where they are in their reproductive cycles, and how likely they are to spawn, or reproduce.

Why is it important to determine the age of fish? By knowing the age of fish, fisheries managers can better understand and monitor how fish populations change over time, and how they are affected by environmental stresses or disturbances, including environmental changes, storms, pollution, commercial and recreational fishing, natural mortality, predation, and changes in the availability of food. The age information helps inform policies promoting fishing practices that protect the fish resources for sustainable, long-term benefit.

David Berrane removes otoliths from red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: Christina Schobernd
David Berrane removes otoliths from red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus Photo credit: Christina Schobernd

To determine fish age most accurately, the scientists remove otoliths, two bones located on either side of fish’s skull that are analogous to the human ear bone. The otoliths show annual growth rings, so the technique used is similar to counting tree rings. You may clickhere to try aging a sample fish.

On board Pisces, the experienced scientists remove the otoliths from dead fish with a sharp knife and scalpel, then place the otoliths in small envelopes, labeled with the date and location caught, ready to be analyzed back in laboratories on land. At the same time, they preserve tissue samples used for DNA/genetic analysis. They may also remove the gonads, or egg sacs, of female fish, if they are needed for further study. They can approximate how close the fish are to spawning based on the condition of the egg sac. The closer they are to spawning, the fuller and larger the sacs become.

Removing egg sacs from female black sea bass, Centropristis striata
Removing egg sacs from female black sea bass, Centropristis striata

Through laboratory analysis using DNA from tissue samples, scientists can evaluate the genetic diversity within each species and other population dynamics. Genetic diversity among fish populations, as in other animal and plant species, is desired because more genetically diverse populations are generally more resilient, more resistant to disease and more able to withstand changes in environmental conditions, availability of food, and other stresses.

Personal Log 

We’ve been fortunate to have had a stretch of unusually fine weather and calm seas. Thank goodness, not a single person has shown a hint of sea sickness. It may be bad luck to say this while we are still out on the water, but I have never been seasick, and I certainly would not want this to be the first time. I’ve seen people who literally turned green and felt absolutely miserable while traveling on rough seas. Some of the crew members who served in the United States Navy or on commercial vessels told me that they had been violently sick every day for weeks when they first went to work at sea. Most eventually get over that. I cannot imagine how debilitating and horrible it must be to feel so wretched. There’s no place to go once you are on a ship — you cannot just jump overboard and swim home through long distances and possibly shark-infested waters, although if you are sick enough, that prospect might seem a welcome relief!

Significant events 

Late one afternoon, I noticed that we had changed direction. We had been heading south, and then turned back north. Since this was not the planned route, I thought perhaps I had missed or misunderstood something, so I went up to the bridge to investigate. Commander Jeremy Adams (the CO = Commanding Officer) informed me that he had turned the ship around in response to a radio call from the Coast Guard, the branch of the armed services of the United States in charge of monitoring the coasts for navigation, safety and law enforcement. The radio call was a Pan-pan alert, one step short of the emergency Mayday call that mandates immediate action. A Pan-pan is urgent but not imminent, and ships in the area are not required to respond. In this case, the Coast Guard announced that they had received a report of a partially submerged small boat with possible man overboard/missing. Since Pisces was the closest vessel to the reported location, CO Adams made the decision to deviate from the planned course and redirect her at nearly full speed, approximately fourteen knots (nautical miles per hour), to search and assist if necessary. As Captain Jerry put it, even though he was not obligated to respond, he would not have been able to rest knowing there was a possibility the ship under his command could have helped. While en route there, another radio relay from the Coast Guard canceled the Pan-pan, because the initial report was apparently a false alarm. The CO informed me that false alarms of this kind occur all too often. Sometimes disgruntled or troublemaking recreational boaters, perhaps annoyed with the Coast Guard’s vigilance or just pulling a prank, call in alarms. These are akin to and at least as dangerous as intentionally false bomb scares or fire alarms on land. Such maliciously false reports take emergency personnel and resources away from true emergencies, cause tremendous waste of public funds, and can put emergency responders and others at risk. At sea, if the perpetrators are caught, they can be fined heavily and held responsible for all the costs incurred.

Devastation in Joplin, Mississippi 

On Sunday, May 22, news of the catastrophic tornado in Joplin, Mississippi reached Pisces. One of the crew members watched the news feed in horror, as the images of an elementary school that had been completed flattened played over and over again on the large screen in the mess. His friend lived just two blocks from that same school and had probably been at home when the powerful twister hit. The crew member tried in vain to call her cell phone or reach anyone who might have heard from her.

In the next hours, we learned that this NOAA ship’s crew is like family. The CO authorized the crew member to take personal leave and arranged for Pisces to meet a Coast Guard vessel the next morning to transport the young man to shore, so he could catch a flight and drive to Mississippi to search for his friend. Since he is also a certified medic, he would be allowed in to the town, despite any official restrictions.

We all felt for him and waited anxiously for word from Joplin. Thankfully, a day later, the ship received a message that his friend was alive and physically intact, although her home and entire neighborhood were destroyed, and so many other residents were critically injured, missing or dead.

It would be terrible to be isolated at sea in such circumstances and feel utterly helpless. I was reminded of the sacrifices so many service members make. As other crew members who had served in the U.S. Navy and other military branches know all too well, home leave, even in emergencies, is not always possible. Many of them had missed key personal events and tragedies while they were away from home on active duty.

Links & Resources

Peggy Deichstetter, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 1, 2010


Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat
Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat

On the bridge
On the bridge

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).. NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Annmarie Babicki, August 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2010

A cargo ship off the starboard side.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 16:17 Military time, 4:17 P.M.
Latitude: 2636.96 degrees North
Longitude: 8510.18 degrees West
Clouds:  Mostly cloudy
Winds:  7.68 knots (kts.)
Air Temperature:  30.4 Celsius (C)
Sea Temperature: 30.2 Celsius (C)
Dry Bulb Temperature: n/a
Wet Bulb Temperature: n/a
Barometric Pressure: 1012.97 mB

Science and Technology:

Today the sea is very calm, so it was a great opportunity to have a diver’s drill. This was a very special event because they occur only once a month, so it was great to be able to watch the drill in action. Safety is of the utmost importance in everything both ship personnel and scientists do on this ship.  Prior to the dive, the Captain, Dave Nelson, called a meeting for all who were involved. Their  discussions included their mission, current and potential weather changes, possibility of sharks in the water, the role of each pair of divers and what the plan is in case of an emergency.  There is an in depth checklist to follow along with the recommendations of the Captain, Executive Office, Navigator, Junior Officer, Diver Master, Chief Boson, divers and skilled fisherman. Everyone on board has multiple roles and the key to everything going to plan is teamwork and safety.

The rescue boat, called a RHIB, was put into the water prior to divers going in. There were two people in the boat who monitored the divers and were there in case of an emergency.  This boat costs about $125,000 and needs to be cared for carefully so that it does not incur any damage. The divers jumped in the water, which was about 80 degrees and gave the OK (a pat on the head) that they were ready to begin their mission.  When they were about 12 feet down in the water,  I could clearly see them (No oil in these parts).

RHIB, the rescue boat used in the diver’s drill

They checked out the bow and propeller blades to make sure there was not a barnacle build up that could impact them functioning properly. The dive went off without a hitch and their diving gear was hauled out of the water prior to the divers coming aboard.  The Captain explained that this was done because the equipment is over 40 pound and would make it difficult for the divers to climb the floating ladder which is over the side of the ship. After the dive was completed, they had a debriefing session, where they discussed the status of the barnacles and concluded that at this time they were not having any impact the propeller or hull.

Personal Log

What an unbelievable 24 hours.  The crew and scientists have been so supportive and patient with me, as I asked them a thousand questions.  They are all willing to share their time, knowledge and experiences with me. I keep a small notebook with me at all times as there is so much I am learning every minute of the day.
We have been traveling to our first survey site, which is over 400 or so miles from the port in Pascaguola, Mississippi.  At a speed of about 12 knots, it will take us about 34 hours to reach our destination.  This has given me time to get my “sea legs”, which I’m still working on.  No sea sickness yet, and besides there’s too much I want to see and do to have time to get sick.

One thing I have been struck by is the color of the ocean.  It has change color many times since we left port.  It has been a muddy brown because the fresh water coming down from the Mississippi River is carrying sediment, which is then mixing with the salt water of the ocean. As we got farther away from shore, the color changed from a muddy brown, to a green and then to a very dark blue. We are currently in very deep waters  (approx. 10,750 feet) and the color of the ocean is a beautiful blue like I have never seen before. It almost took my breath away.

Blue waters

We will reach the survey site about 2 A.M. and get to work right away.  It is a 24 hour working ship, which means that surveying never stops.  I am part of a group of 5, who will work noon to midnight, therefore my work will start tomorrow.  I have lots to do and learn in the meantime and can’t wait to see my first shark.

“Question of the Day”: What is a fin clip?  Find out tomorrow after we begin the survey.

Obed Fulcar, July 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Obed Fulcar
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 27, 2010 – August 8, 2010

Mission:Summer Pollock survey III
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 22, 2010

Weather from the bridge:
Time: 0355 am
Latitude:58.22 N
Logitude:175.10 W
Wind speed:19.48 kts
Wind Direction:230 W/SW
Sea Temp:8.10 C (approx. 46.58 F)
Air Temp:8.72 C (approx. 47.70 F)
Barometric Pressure:1090.0 mb
Cloudy skies

Science and Technology Log:
Yesterday afternoon we had a Fire/Emergency drill, just like we do in school. Safety is definately big around here. Everywhere you look there is an orange sign for an EEBD (Emergency Escape Breathing Device), to be used in case of a fire,to avoid intoxication from breathing the smoke. Fire is the number one enemy in a ship, and it can have disastrous consequences at sea. For the fire drill we had to follow a path leading to a safe room where we had to be accounted for.

Me in my immersion suit
Me in my immersion suit

Fire stations are in every corner with Fire Hoses, and evenFire Axes. Next we had to do an Emergency drill where we had to practice abandoning ship. I had to grab my assigned Immersion suit, or “Mustang suit”, also known as a “Gumby suit”, which is an orange jumpsuit, made of neoprene (the material used in drysuits or diving suits). It is supposed to keep you warm and alive in the event you have to abandon ship and hit the icy waters of the Bering Sea. I had to practice putting on the cumbersome but necessary safety gear. Everyone is issued one that has to be kept in their staterooms. I had to pack it again and put it back in it’s original bag after I finished trying on. As part of the emergency drill we also had to gather around the ship’s Life Rafts, that where contained inside a set of 3 white canisters on both sides of the ship (Port (right), and Starboard (left)). I was surprised to see my name on the evacuation plan assinged to Life rafts 2-3.

Each life raft can hold up to 20 people inside, and many more, until rescue arrives. I noticed that aboard the ship chairs, tables, cabinets and pretty much anything that can get loose during bad weather are safely anchored to avoid falling off. There are safety signs everywhere you go reminding you to be ready at all times. Also safety is No 1 whenever working on the deck near the water, from the use of a PFD (personal Flotation Device), a hard hat, due to cranes and heavy duty cables, to a safety harness to be anchored to the boat. Eye wash emergency stations are everywhere, as well as signs telling you to use hand sanitizer at all times.

Personal Log:

Safety first: Just like in school, the possibility of a fire can lead to disaster and tragedy. It is a serious matter that we should all be prepared for. Fire drills in school, like in the Oscar Dyson, help us get familiar with our nearest exit starcase, and to know a safe place to gather up away from the fire, just like when we go across the street from our school during a drill. Also as a member of the Washington Heights, Manhattan North CB12 CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), it is my job to help educate the community at large about fire emergecy preparedness awareness. Fire is the #1 emergency affecting buildings in New York City and every resident is at risk of been affected. Since 9-11, NYC OEM has been promoting emrgency awareness by educating and getting the public involved in emergency awareness ranging from fire, heat waves, to hurricane emergencies. I encourage everyone to visit to learn more about protecting yourself, family and neighbors in case of an emergency.

Ayer tuvimos una practica deEvacuacion de emergencia y de Incendio. Practicamos siguiendo el Plan de Evacuacion en caso de fuego reuniendonos en un lugar designado (en este caso el salon de Conferencias). Tambien practicamos el abandonar la nave, donde teniamos que ponernos los Trajes de Supervivencia o de Inmersion, requeridos por ley. En caso de que al abandonar la nave nos protegerian de las gelidas aguas del Estrecho de Bering manteniendonos secos y abrigados si llegaramos a caer en el mar. Me sorprendi mucho de ver mi nombre en la lista de evacuacion ya asignado a una de las Balsas Salvavidas, de la nave. Hay dos juegos de 3 balsas en ambos lados de la nave(Babor o derecha, y Estribor o izquierda) con capacidad para 20 personas. La seguridad es No 1 abordo del Oscar Dyson, con letreros en todas partes indicando desde el uso de Chalecos Salvavidas, Trajes de Inmersion, hasta estaciones de emergencia, con mangueras y hachas de incendio. Asi como en la escuela y en los edificios todos debemos estar educados en que hacer en caso de incendio, que es la emergencia #1 en la Ciudad de Nueva York.

Elizabeth Warren, July 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July, 9 2010

Getting into it!


Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Water: 30.5℃ Air: 29.6 ℃
Wind: 2 knots
Swell: .3 meters
Location: 27. 51° N, 91.48° W
Weather: Sunny, Humidity 70%, light clouds

Science/Technology Log
Today we began the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey.
A little background information: The surveying began in 1992 through now with a few years with no data in the middle where there wasn’t enough funding or boat time. The survey is conducted to show what types of species of fish live around the different types of topographical locations on the seafloor, specifically around the continental shelf (think about the sea floor as if it is a continent, there are mountain ranges, plains, banks, ledges, etc). The survey runs from Brownsville, TX to the Dry Tortuga’s, FL. Currently, I am on the second leg of the survey. The first leg was two and half weeks.

The areas that are surveyed are called blocks they are 10 by 10 nautical miles, these sites are selected randomly from previous bathymetric data, this is the mapping that we did yesterday. At each site an aluminum four stereo camera array and a Seabird 911 CTD is dropped, more information about this tomorrow. The camera pod, which NOAA actually makes in their lab, is composed of specially designed housing units that include two black and white still cameras that take pictures like you would blink your eyes, as well as a color mpeg camera that runs continuously.

Camera Array
Camera Array

Droping the Camera Array
Droping the Camera Array

Attached to the aluminum casing is a Temperature Depth Recorder (TDR), more about this later. At each site the pod is dropped over the side of the ship using a hydraulic side A-frame. The camera is left in the water for 45 minutes, once the camera is at the seafloor it begins to record. Throughout the day the cameras save their data to the 180 GB hard drive, all of the day’s drops are then downloaded onto an 2 TB external hard drive and burned to a blue ray disc during the night. This disc is briefly observed by the chief scientist and then later taken back to the onshore lab to identify and count all species of fish.

Chevron Trap
Chevron Trap

Also throughout the day, 4 sites are randomly chosen to drop either a bandit reel or a chevron fish trap. This random selection is done very scientifically. One scientist asks another to pull up a randomly created number table on the computer, the person at the computer wiggles the mouse and closes his eyes and then calls out one of the numbers that corresponds with the site numbers. A chevron fish trap which is a large wire cage is baited with squid, (Yes!) then left at the site to soak for an hour.

Dropping the Chevron Trap
Dropping the Chevron Trap

A bandit reel is a vertical line with ten evenly spaced hooks baited with mackerel. The line is lowered to the sea floor and soaked in for ten minutes. When these fish are brought on board they are weighed, measured, cataloged, and some are frozen to preserve for further research. On this survey groupers, trigger fish, and snapper are frozen and taken back for baseline testing by National Seafood Inspection Laboratory.

Today we were sampling at Sweet Bank. All together we dropped the camera at 7 different sites throughout this block. Science out at sea is 10 minutes of a lot of excitement followed by an hour of waiting. For the first site I observed from inside the lab, watching as they dropped the camera and brought it back up. The first site was early in the day so when they pulled the camera’s up they found that they couldn’t see anything because the light had not yet penetrated to the ocean floor. At the second site I had my first job, I was to go out after they pulled the camera, turn it off, then turn the other knob to configure then turn the camera back on. I was so nervous that I turned the second knob to configure then back to record! Oops!

Cowboys Hardhat
Cowboys Hardhat

We also dropped the first chevron trap of the day. While the trap was soaking we moved to the third site and dropped the camera. We went back to the fish trap to pick it up. When you go out and there are hydraulic A-frames working you have to wear a hard hat and aPDF (Personal Floatation Device).

Personal Flotation Device
Personal Flotation Device

Bob Carter, the electronics technician lent me his helmet. When Captain Jerry was on deck he took issue with the design on the helmet. Anne-Marie and I got all ready and watched as they pulled up an empty fish trap, something had eaten the bait but they escaped capture. We were all dressed up with no fish to go! When we went back in the labs Kevin explained to us that one of the hardest things to learn as a scientist is that zero is a number. Even though it was disappointing that the trap came up empty it did mean something to the data.
We moved on to pick up the camera at the fourth site. At the fourth site we also did a bandit reel. I have no problem getting a little dirty so I helped bait the bandit reel. You have to put the hook through the bait then turn it and pull the hook through again. I got pretty fishy! We waited with baited breath to see if what we could pull up. The crew pulled up the bandit reel and there were two enormous fish caught on the reel. One was red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and the other was a red porgy (Pagruspagrus).

Me with a red snapper and a red porgy
Me with a red snapper and a red porgy

We took the fish into the wet lab and measured them. There are three different ways to measure the fish. First you measure the total length which is to the end of the tail. Then you measure the forked length which is to the fork of the tail. Then you measure the standard length which is to the end of the hyplural plate at the end of the vertebrae. Then, the fish is weighed on a scale. All of this is done using the metric system. ( Ahh hah! There is a reason I teach the metric system of measurement! ) Lastly, Joey Salisbury, the watch leader for the scientist crew, checked to see what the sex of the two fish were. With the porgy he could cut him open and check the sex because he wasn’t being kept for Seafood Inspection, another way to tell the sex on some species that are dimorphic ordichromatic, is to look at the color of their lips . For the red snapper, since it had to be kept for inspection we were not able to tell what the sex was.

Dissecting fish in the wet lab
Dissecting fish in the wet lab

After some cajoling Joey also agreed to pull the otoliths (ear bones) of the porgy for me so I could bring them back to my class. You can tell the age of the fish from their ear bones, you stain them and count the rings just like you would for a tree.


 While all of this was happening on deck, in the lab the bathymetric mapping was noticing an odd mass, that was eating up everything and leaving behind blank space. Kevin decided to run an oil soaking rag down on the bandit reel to test if the mass was oil. Thankfully, when he pulled the rag back up it was oil free! We decided that the mass on the screen must have been a school of fish.

View of bathymetric mapping data
View of bathymetric mapping data

Dry lab
Dry lab

At each site we were able to do a little bit more of the science. I was able to weigh and measure the second set of fish from the last bandit reel. The fish were so heavy, and they move. I did squeal a little but I’m proud to say I did not scream! The spines on the snapper’s dorsal fin could poke holes in you, so I had to be careful when I picked her up. We could tell she was a female because when we pulled her up the change in pressure blew her air bladder and pushed her ovaries came out. (I know , I know, but remember this is in the realm of science so you all should be saying “how interesting” no ewws out there. )

Holding a Red Snapper
Holding a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper
Measuring a red snapper

Personal Log:
Where to start! Yesterday really felt like three days in one. All of the science is so interesting. I keep asking a billion questions and everyone is a hundred percent willing to answer every one. Their patience is greatly appreciated since for every answer they give me I come up with 50 more questions  to clarify their answers. They were also extraordinary patient when I made a mistake. I was so embarrassed and worried that I had somehow messed up the video feed! They assured me that I hadn’t messed it up, but for the rest of the day Joey, the watch leader, gave me a hard time about knobs, hatches, and doors. The hatches and doors are incredibly heavy so I have to stop and really pull whenever I go into any hallway, and closing the hatches requires me to have nothing in my hands. At one point during the day I got confused as to which way to turn the hatch, and the crew kept telling me to pull the wrong way.

Heavy doors
Heavy doors

Everyone jokes constantly and you have to go with the flow and be a quick. Attempting to come up with comebacks is keeping me on my toes. As most of you know I’m willing to get dirty so any job that dealt with touching things I’m all over it. Baiting the bandit reel and the chevron fish trap were gooey and squishy and I was covered in fish guts and squid parts by the end of the day. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be smelly and gross! It was pretty funny that they put me in the Cowboys helmet, you know cause you know I watch so much football. Captain Jerry threatened to throw it overboard because he is a Saints fan. The first two days we were conserving water while we were in possible oil impacted waters; today we were given the go ahead to take what the captain called “rock star showers”. Boy, was I in need of one today, at the end of the day I even had a streak of grease up my leg!
The crew is hilarious! They are constantly working everywhere you go. I go down one passageway and they are mopping, another they are vacuuming, down the ladder well and I run into someone sweeping. Think about how important it is to keep the ship clean. As we were standing waiting for the bandit reel to come up one of the crew started to fish with a line and a hook right off the side of the boat.

Fishing off the side of the boat
Fishing off the side of the boat

We caught a mackerel
We caught a mackerel

When they threw the fish heads in from the cut up mackerel they caught a bunch of blue runners (Caranx crysos). I even managed to catch one! I was okay trying to kiss the fish..until he tried to kiss back!

Kissing a fish
Kissing a fish

At the end of the day, Anne Marie and I went out to the back deck to try and work on our logs but the crew was out their fishing. One of the crew, Ryan, caught a 55 lb greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and then turned around and caught another one that was just a little bit smaller! The big one was almost as long as I am tall! The Junior Officer Kurt caught a yellow-edge grouper, which Kevin pulled the otoliths out of for me and Anne-Marie. Every other minute another of the crew would catch another fish. I didn’t get much of my log done I was so distracted by the different fish they kept catching.

55 lb greater amberjack
55 lb greater amberjack

Yellow-edge grouper
Yellow-edge grouper

I’m leaving so much out, but I’ll include more in my next log.

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7-13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind: 7-9 mph
Other Weather Features:
Sunny, scattered light clouds
Waves 1’; Swells 3-4’
Location: 28.37.2 N
089.33 W

Science and Technology Log

Hello, my name is Anne Marie Wotkyns and I am participating in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. I teach 4th grade at J.B. Monlux Magnet School in North Hollywood, California. I joined the NOAA ship Pisces on the evening of July 6 to begin a 6 day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. I will be posting logs to share the information I learn and the experience of working aboard a scientific research vessel. We will be working on the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey of Offshore Banks, a project which provides information about the relative abundance of fish species associated with geographic features such as banks and ledges on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be explaining this project more in my next log entry.

Me in front of the Pisces
Me in front of the Pisces

After meeting the other Teacher at Sea, Liz Warren and bird expert Scott Mills, at the Gulfport Mississippi Airport, we were driven to the NOAA docks in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was quite late when we boarded the Pisces, so we found the cabin Liz and I would share, explored the ship a bit, and turned in for the night.

Wednesday, July 7 found us eager to get started on our TAS adventure. We started the day at the NOAA office and lab building, adjacent to the ship docks. There we met Kevin Rademacher, Chief Scientist for the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) offshore reef fish survey which we will be participating in on our cruise. He showed us around the NOAA facilities, which house the Southeast Marine Fisheries Offices, Seafood Inspection, and Documentation Approval and Supply Services. The fisheries division deals with resources surveys, harvesting, and engineering related to commercial fishing. The seafood inspection division deals with issues related to seafood safety and chemical and microbiological analysis of seafood. These labs can help determine if the “red snapper” your favorite restaurant serves is really red snapper or a different type of fish! This division will also be testing some of the fish we collect on our cruise for baseline data on fish from areas outside the oil spill for possible later comparison to fish collected within the spill zone.

Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building
Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building

Now a little more about the Pisces, my home away from home for the next 6 days. The Pisces was commissioned in 2009 and is one of NOAA’s newest ships. She is 63.8 meters (209 feet) long, 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide, and has a draft of 6 meters (19.4 feet.) Her cruising speed is 14.5 knots and she can stay out to sea for 40 days if necessary. On this cruise there are 22 crew comprised of a commanding officer, deck officers, engineering officers, deck hands, engineers, stewards, and survey and electronic technicians. There are 6 on our science team and 2 bird observers conducting surveys of pelagic seabirds possibly affected by the oil spill.

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces

After we set sail on Tuesday afternoon, we spent much of the late afternoon up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship. We observed a wide variety of boats and ships in the channels around Pascagoula Bay. Scott and Ron, the bird observers, helped us identify the bird species we saw, including Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and Sandwich Terns. We also saw several Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin swimming near the ship. Soon the seas grew rougher and after dinner and a short welcome meeting, we retired to our cabins for the night.

Wednesday morning brought calmer seas, and the start of “science “ on board the Pisces. Before we reached the areas selected for the SEAMAP fish surveys, Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher wanted to conduct bathymetric mapping of an area called Sackett Bank, off the coast of Lousiana. This involves sailing the ship in a series of overlapping transects 1.6 miles long, .05 miles apart, similar to “mowing your lawn” at home. The ME70 multibeam acoustic system covers a swath of 120 degrees using 27 beams which can detect and map features on the sea floor down to .5 meters in size. This will allow NOAA to produce highly accurate nautical charts of the region. The charts will eventually be available to commercial and sport fishermen, sailors, shipping companies, and anyone else who is interested.

Mapping Sackett Bank
Mapping Sackett Bank

When a ship is conducting activities like this bathymetric mapping or other “Restricted Mobility and Manuevers” work, they hoist a nylon “Ball-Diamond-Ball” to notify other ships in the area that it is restricted in its movement so the other ships can change their course. This message is also sent electronically by VHF radio signal. I happened to be on the bridge while they prepared to start the first transect, so Commanding Officer (CO) Jeremy Adams let me hoist the ball-diamond-ball.

Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

    Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball
Hoisting the ball-diamond-ball

Transect Lines
Transect Lines

In this photo, the green boat indicates the position of the Pisces as we conduct the mapping transects.

Tomorrow the plans are to begin the SEAMAP reef fish surveys, “one hour after sunrise” – looks like we’ll be working from about 7 am to 7 pm with the fish! Bring it on!!

Personal Log

After submitting Teacher at Sea applications for 3 years (the first 2 years I was not selected) I am thrilled to be here! The opportunity to participate in a cruise like this on such an amazing ship is truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Here are a few more pictures of life aboard the Pisces.




Our cabin is a little small, but very clean and functional. Liz volunteered to take the top bunk, so I have the bottom. I love the little curtains that can enclose the bunk – makes a dark little “cave” for me! And the reading lamp lets me read late at night! We have a flatscreen TV, but so far we have only been able to watch the USA network – one channel only. But we don’t spend much time in the cabin anyway. The bathroom is very similar to a cruise ship bathroom, and the shower has great water pressure – however the ship is under water conservation so showers need to be quick. Notice we’re eating on paper plates with plastic utensils. No dishwashing either! After the ship moves farther from the oil spill they will able to use their salt water to fresh water conversion process and we’ll be able to use water more freely.

Pascy chooses his dinner in the “mess” – sorry – no fish!

In Pascagoula I purchased a small stuffed penguin and named him “Pascy” (for Pasacagoula.) Pascy has been exploring the Pisces so here are some shots of him around the ship!

Pascy helps check off each transect in the acoustics lab.

A little coffee is always good in the morning.

The cookies here are great!

Another big event today was the fire drill and abandon ship drill. We were assigned “muster stations”, places we would go to in event of an emergency. Part of the drill was to practice donning our “survival suits” – one piece insulated buoyant suits that would keep us afloat and warm if we ever had to abandon ship. The hardest part of the drill was getting the awkward suit on and off – they seem to be one-size-fits all and I seem to be smaller than most sailors!

Even Pascy got to participate in the drill! I don’t think he need to worry about staying afloat or warm in the water! Good thing, because that lifejacket looks a little big!

Immersion suit
Immersion suit

Me in my Gumby Suit
Me in my Gumby Suit

Elizabeth Warren, July 7-8, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Elizabeth Warren
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Mission: Reef Fish Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July, 15 2010

Here we goooo……

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Temperature: Dry Bulb 30̊℃, Wet Bulb 26.2 ℃
Wind: 7-9 mph
Swell: 3-4 feet
Location: 28 37.12° N, 89.33° W
Weather: Sunny, Humid, Scattered clouds

Science/Technology Log

Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building
Me in Front of the Southwest Fisheries Building

Yesterday, Anne-Marie and I were given a tour of the NOAA facilities in Pascagoula. In the new building they house several different divisions; Southeast Marine Fisheries Unit, Seafood Inspection and Documentation and Approval Center. Kevin Rademacher our Chief Scientist showed us around. The labs in the Marine Fisheries unit take what is being done on the vessels and use it for research. They run many different types of research on the ships. Beside the Pisces, there are two other ships that are run out of Pascagoula; Oregon II,  and The Gordan Gunter.

Seafood Inspection Lab
Seafood Inspection Lab

On one of the floors were the Seafood Inspection labs. They bring in fish from different areas and test it. In one lab they had a set of partitions up which were the tasting areas. An example of what they have done in the past that Kevin gave us was a restaurant bought some red snapper. They brought it to the lab where they cooked in clear Pyrex containers then they smelled, checked the consistency, and tasted the fish. They discovered that the fish was not really snapper! Right now due to the oil spill they are mainly focusing on the fish that we bring in on our survey. We are required to save 10 fish out of every trap we bring up so that they can have a baseline testing of fish from an area before being it has been impacted by the oil spill.

Another floor of the building is the science labs. We walked through the plankton lab, where each person had their own station with a computer and a high powered microscope. They had several different samples out that were labeled. Just like our trip in the 6th grade they used  nets with different size holes to catch different types of plankton. Another lab was called the Age and Growth lab. Here is a picture of shark vertebrae they were preparing for aging.

Plankton lab
Plankton lab

Today we are not working on the Reef Fish survey. Our Chief Scientist Kevin Radechamer wanted to do some mapping of an area called Sackett Bank which is south of Louisiana. The mapping they had done before did not give them an accurate depiction of the sea floor and now they have new technology. They are using an acoustic system called ME70. This system has 27 beams that run in a 120 degree swath. With the technology they had before they were only able to see 1 meter “bumps” on the surface now they can see to within a ½ meter. The white line that you can barely see shows the surface of the seafloor. The red is sand or mud that is on the bottom, as the red gets thinner and darker it is showing the harder rock that is below. As the sound waves go down they bounce back and we are able to see any see critters that are down there. Most of what you can see in the picture is plankton but occasionally you can see fish as well. This is a before and after shot of the two types of mapping. In one the map technology was guessing what was in between the bands. This information will give scientists new information about the seafloor.

Mapping Sacket Bank
Mapping Sackett Bank

    Mapping Sackett Bank
Mapping Sackett Bank

Personal Log:

Sailing Board
Sailing Board

I’m finally here! The last two days were very exciting. When we got to the ship it was 7:00ish and most of the ship’s crew were out and about, so we had the ship to ourselves. We wandered around taking pictures and investigating. I only went on an “adventure” (lost my way) twice. Everywhere you turn there is a doorway, hatch or stairwell. I was awed by the amount of technology that they have on board. There are computer labs on almost every floor. I am envious of the color printer! Ann Marie and I are sharing a state room. It’s fantastic! The crew takes pride in what they do and it is very obvious, our beds even had mints on them. We have a T.V. and an internet connection in our room. I don’t plan on spending a lot of time in there but it is pretty fabulous!

My Stateroom
My Stateroom

We left port yesterday and headed south. The scientists and teachers stayed on the fly deck as we moved closer to the Gulf. As we were leaving you could see what impact the oil spill has had on the Mississippi Coast and on the Barrier Islands.

Impact of Deepwater Horizon
Impact of Deepwater Horizon

As a result of the tropical storm over the weekend there were some pretty high swells. We had waves from 6 to 8 ft. The ship was rocking pretty badly. After our Safety Meeting where we were told about all of the safety precautions and the rules. No matter where you go there are rules. Including.. No wearing tank tops to the galley and NO sitting in the captains chair.  After the safety meeting the rolling was beginning to get to us so Anne Marie and I took to our bunks. I didn’t get sick! I did however go to sleep at 7:30.

Today we have spent most of the day wandering around the ship and talking to the many different crew members on board. Oh.. and we had a fire drill. The fire drill was a lot like having one at school, the bell rang we walked to our area and then we sat for awhile. The next drill was much more exciting. We had an Abandon Ship Drill! We had to grab a long sleeve t-shirt, a hat, pants, our Gumby suit, and a life jacket. It was a lot of stuff to carry with us! Everyone met out on the deck and I was introduced to Chief Marine Engineer Garrett who would be in charge of getting me where I needed to be in an emergency. As a first timer I was required to get into my Gumby suit. Yes, for those of you old enough to remember they are named after Gumby and Pokey. This would definitely not be my choice of a fashionable outfit. To get into it you have to lay the suit down on the ground and climb in like a sleeping bag. Then you zip it up!

In my gumby suit
In my gumby suit

Everywhere you look in the Gulf you see oil rigs or tankers moving away or to an oil rig. We passed the disaster site this morning but we were 9 miles away so we did not see any oil or much of anything. In fact I haven’t seen oil yet, which is a good thing. The interesting thing that has come about for our trip as a result of the spill is the two bird experts, Scott and Ron. The birders were hired to look for pelagic birds, those that spend most of their lives at sea. Fish and Wildlife hired one, and the other is here for BP. They are looking to see if any pelagic birds have oil on them or if they find any dead birds. So far, in the four hour s they watched this morning they saw 11 birds. Listening to them talk has been fascinating!


This was the sunset tonight. I’m heading in with tea in hand to try and upload the rest of my pictures. I’m ready for tomorrow! Kevin said we will start a half hour after sunrise so I’ll be up bright and early! Let’s do it! Bring on the giant fish and things for me to get dirty with!

Laura Rodriguez, May 24th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Rodriguez
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 24 – June 2, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 24, 2010

Pollock Survey Begins

Robert and Kerri deploy the CTD

Deploying the Bongo nets

The bongo nets are almost in

Retrieving the bongo nets, full of algae and hopefully full of Pollock Larvae

On Saturday, my watch began at 10:00 AM. Two of the scientists, Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey have watch from 4 AM until 4 PM. The other two scientists, Tiffany Vance and Steve Porter, have watch from 4 PM until 4 AM. I guess being the teacher they took pity on me and gave me half and half. Before getting to one of the stations, the scientists make sure that everything is ready. They lay out the bongo nets on the deck where they will be used. The bongo nets are two nets that from the top look like bongo drums. (See picture) There is an instrument attached to the bongo nets called a SEACAT that takes conductivity, temperature and salinity measurements during the tow. Inside the lab, buckets, bowls and tweezers are all laid out ready to be used.

As we approach each station, the bridge informs the scientists and survey technicians. The bongo nets have already been readied and are set to be deployed (put into the ocean) from the hero platform. When the OK is given, the nets are lifted by the hydrowinch to a point where they can be maneuvered over the rail and then they are lowered into the water. The nets are lowered until they are at 100 meters or 10 meters off the bottom. As they are lowered, the pilot of the boat keeps the wire at a 45° angle by moving the boat slowly forward. Once the nets reach their maximum depth, they are slowly brought back up again.  ( I tried to upload a video showing the deployment and retrieval of the bongo, but it won’t work so I’ll show you the video when I get back.

Pollock larvae under the microscope

When the nets clear the water, they are hosed down to get any organisms into the bottle on the end of the net (called the cod end.) The cod end is then removed and the contents of one net are poured into a bucket for sorting. The contents of the other net are preserved and sent to a lab in Poland where they use instruments to get a very accurate count of the Pollock.

Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey in the chem Lab

Inside the chem lab, the contents of the bucket are scooped out and poured little by little into a mixing bowl. We then perform a rough count by removing the very small Pollock larvae and any other fish larvae and put them into a petri dish with cold water (the petri dish is placed on top of ice.) They are only a few mm long (averaging between 6-10mm.) Once we have gone through the entire contents, the Pollock larvae are counted, photographed and the length measured. They are then placed into a labeled vial with 95% ethanol. The other fish larvae are placed in a separate vial in 100% ethanol. They are kept in case another scientific team needs the data. The Pollock larvae will be sent to the scientists’ lab back in Seattle where they will perform further analysis on them. I’ll tell you more about that in the next blog.


Answers to your questions:

Annalise – The ship travels at 12 knots when we are going between stations.

Abandon Ship drill – You need to know how to put on your survival suit

Matt T– The ship is very safe. Drills are conducted every week. My first day on the ship, we had a fire drill and abandon ship drill. (See photo of me in my survival suit.)

Dan – The Oscar Dyson observes and records a number of environmental conditions. The bridge takes weather readings every hour and keeps them in a weather log. These include wind direction, wind speed, seawater temperature, air temperature, air pressure, cloud cover, sea swell height and direction. Conditions in the water are also constantly monitored such as temperature, conductivity, salinity, and amount of oxygen.

Olivia – The bongo tow is one way to get fish eggs. The mesh used on the bongo nets is very fine). It is able to filter out these very small larval fish and fish eggs, too.

Brittany – There is no specific number of fish that need to be caught for this experiment. Part of the experiment is to see how many larval fish there are. For our rough count, the scientists measure 20 larvae to get an estimate of their size. They will then look at the otoliths (small inner ear bones) to estimate their age.

Euphausid – Krill


Amy – Aside from the Pollock larvae in the nets, we have caught cod larvae, larval squid, fish eggs, amphipods, terapods, jellies, Euphausids or krill, copepods and the larvae of other fish. The nets are small enough that we don’t catch any large fish or other animals.

Josh W. and Jon – Joel Kellogg has the night shift, so I haven’t met him yet. Stephen Macri is not on this cruise so I can’t ask him your questions.


Questions for today

In your answers to the last blog, many of you researched the large animals that live here in the Gulf of Alaska. The most abundant organisms, however, are much smaller. Two organisms that are very important to the survival of the large animals here are copepods and Euphausids. The larval Pollock feed on the larval copepods that are called copepodites.

Find out what other animals feed on copepods and euphausids. Then, describe at least one food chain that includes copepods and one that includes krill. In your food chain start with a producer or autotroph Ex. Algae) and end with the highest level of consumer or predator (Ex. blue Whale)


Again, Please be sure to include the link to the website where you got your information.  Answer the questions in your own words writing complete sentences with as much detail as you can.

David Altizio, May 17-18, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Altizio
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
May 17 – May 27, 2010

NOAA ship Fairweather
Mission: Hydrographic survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: SE Alaska, from Petersburg, AK to Seattle, WA
Dates: Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Petersburg to Ketchikan
Time: 0800 on 5/18
Latitude: 550 18.4’ N
Longitude: 1310 29.1’ W
Clouds: Overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Winds: 10 knots from the NE Waves: Less than one foot
Dry Bulb Temperature: 13.50C
Wet Bulb Temperature: 13.00C
Barometric Pressure: 1004.0 mb
Tides (in feet):
High @ 0358 of 15.8
Low @ 1038 of ‐1.5
High @ 1711 of 13.6
Low @ 2246 of 3.9

View out the window of the plane to Petersburg of a meandering river
View out the window of the plane to Petersburg of a meandering river

View out the window of the plane to Petersburg

View out the window of the plane to Petersburg of a
meandering river

Science and Technology Log

The main purpose of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys which measure the depth and bottom configuration along SE Alaska. This work assists in the production of nautical charts and ensures safe navigation in the U.S. The surveys also identify sea‐floor materials, dredging areas, cables, pipelines, wrecks and obstructions. The Fairweather supports a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging), coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone management, and offshore resource development. Hydrographic surveys are conducted primarily by using side scan and multibeam sonar. SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) uses sound waves to find and identify objects in the water and determine water depth.
Side scan sonar is most useful to locate sea‐floor features and possible obstructions, but does not provide depth information. While multi‐beam sonar systems emit sound waves directly beneath the ship’s hull to produce fan‐shaped coverage of the sea floor. These systems measure and record the time elapsed between the emission of the signal to the sea floor or object and back again. Multi‐beam sonar produces a “swath” of soundings (i.e., depths) to ensure full coverage of an area.
Safety is hugely important while out at sea. Today we performed two safety drills, a fire/emergency situation, and an abandon ship drill. During the first drill I reported to the mess hall (dining area), and a fire was supposedly going in the paint room. When more help was needed I and one of the engineers scurried to the bow (front) of the ship and climbed down a hatch to help determine if the “fire” was spreading. Moments after that we tested two of the ship’s fire hoses, which definitely work. A little while later another alarm sounded signaling an abandon ship drill. For this I needed to go to my room and get my survival suit, and life vest, and then reported to my life raft. Practicing these drills is vital to life at sea. The officers of the Fairweather also become firefighters and we all need to communicate and work together to ensure everyone’s safety.

Here I am operating one of the ship’s fire hoses

Personal Log

Let me start off by saying that I feel like I have won a science teacher lottery. I feel so lucky and privileged to be able to represent New Rochelle High School, and be part of a science research cruise. My first two days in SE Alaska have been absolutely amazing. I flew from New York to Seattle, and then on to Anchorage, AK. I spent one night there and then in the morning flew to Petersburg, with a brief stop at the Juneau airport. Once on the ground in Petersburg I was met and picked up by the Executive Officer (XO) and a Junior Officer (JO). Within two minutes of being on the ground I was asked if I would like to play softball. I told him I could be considered “a ringer”.

Me in my survival (Gumby) suit

The setting was truly surreal. There were snow capped mountains in all directions, and I spotted my first bald eagle of my trip. We played 7 innings on a gravel ballfield; with members of both the Fairweather and its sister ship The Rainier, which is being serviced currently. I smacked the ball around pretty good and almost made a sliding catch in the outfield. Once the game was over (we lost), I went to dinner with some of the ships officers. After a long night in town, I finally made it to the Fairweather. We spent most of Monday at the dock, waiting for the tide to come up. The first stretch of the journey is a place called Wrangell Narrows. As the name implies it is a very narrow stretch of water and it is best for a ship the size of the Fairweather to pass at high tide. The first few hours of the trip were absolutely beautiful. From the time on the ship until now I must have seen over a dozen bald eagles, almost too many to count. From there we entered Sumner Strait, and then went through Snow Pass and into Clarence Strait. Next, after dark (the sun does not set until 9 p.m., and it is not dark until an hour or so after that), we cruised through Nicholls Passage and in the morning through Tongass Narrows and into the port of Ketchikan.

Dinner the first night was delicious; I had roasted eggplant ragout over polenta, with roasted broccoli on the side. Yum. I have heard people onboard say that the Fairweather has the best food in the NOAA fleet and I already agree. After a long nights sleep, our first day of work started. At 0800 there was a safety briefing on the stern (back) of the ship. The two survey teams were launched from the ship. Those who stayed onboard went into Ketchikan to get almost 30,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel. For dinner the second night I had Halibut with a curried corn sauce, mushroom risotto, and snap peas. Again it was great. In my next log I will show you some of the ships facilities.

Here I am hitting a double to right centerfield, in a losing effort

Animals Seen Today

Bald Eagles – so many I lost count, at least a dozen
A few people said that bald eagles in Alaska are as common as pigeons in New York. A few seals while in Petersburg
Many other birds while out at sea

Karen Matsumoto, April 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 27, 2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the deployment of the acoustic sonobouys and monitoring of the towed hydrophone array, we also do “XBT” drops three times a day, at sunrise, noon, and sunset. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean. The XBTs deployed by the Sette research team measures temperature to a depth of 1000 meters.

The XBT is a probe which is dropped from a moving ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two thin copper wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis. The probe is designed to fall at a known rate, so that the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time since it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. It is amazing to think that over 1000 meters of thin copper wire is packed into that small tube! When I first launched an XBT, I was expecting to shoot it off like a rifle, but it actually just falls out of the unit by gravity. I was relieved that I didn’t experience “kick-back” from the probe unit when I pulled the lynch pin!

Chief Scientist Marie Hill preparing to launch the XBT unit.

XBT deployed and falling to a depth of 1000 feet.

Marie cutting the copper wire ending the connection to the probe and computer.

Bellow: Temperature and depth information is sent to the computer from the probe attached to the XBT unit by thin copper wires. The wires are cut when the unit reaches a depth of 1,000 meters, and the unit falls to the ocean floor. The researchers on the Sette use XBTs to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean, as seen on the computer screen at bellow.

We are continuing to conduct visual observations on the “Flying Bridge.” I had a chance to take a shift on the “Big Eyes” which are 25 x 150 magnification binoculars. The person at each of the Big Eye stations does a slow 90 degree sweep toward the bow and then back again, searching the ocean from horizon to ship to spot whales. I have a renewed appreciation for the skill it takes to use binoculars, especially one that weighs over 40 pounds! I had to use stacked rubber mats to be able to reach the Big Eyes at its lowest height setting, and even then it was a struggle to keep them steady every time we hit a wave! I think the Big Eyes were designed by the same people that made the huge Norwegian survival suits!

Karen on the “Big Eyes.”

Personal Log

The more I learn about sperm whales, the more I want to see one! I heard sperm whale clicks this morning, which was super exciting. John Henderson, a member of our science team sent me a cool website that shows an MRI of a juvenile sperm whale. I’ve included it below. Sperm whales are still on my wish list for whale sightings on this trip!

QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.

MRI Image of a juvenile sperm whale. © 1999 Ted W. Cranford.
See website at:

Question of the Day: How do sperm whales make their vocalizations? Sperm whale clicks are produced when air is passed between chambers in the animals’ nasal passages, making a sound that is reflected off the front of the skull and focused through the oil-filled nose. It has been suggested that powerful echolocation clicks made by sperm whales may stun their prey. Recent studies have shown that these sounds are among the loudest sounds made under water by animals (they can travel up to six miles despite being fairly high frequency).

Sperm whale clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are diving and foraging. These sounds may be echolocation (“sonar”) sounds used to find their prey, calls to coordinate movement between individuals, or both. Clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are in groups, while individual sperm whales are generally silent when alone. Most of the sounds that sperm whales make are clicks ranging from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Expendable Bathythermograph or the XBT was developed in the 1960s by former The Sippican Corporation, today Lockheed Martin Sippican. Over 5 million XBT’s have been manufactured since its invention. The XBT is used by the Navy and oceanographic scientists to provide an ocean temperature versus depth profile. Some XBTs can be launched from aircraft or submarines, and have been used for anti-submarine warfare. How many XBTs do you think are on the bottom of the ocean?

Something to Think About:

“Thar she blows!” was the cry of the whaler!

Whale researchers can identify many whales by their “blows,” when the whale comes to the surface to breathe. Observers look for the direction and shape of the blow. For example, sperm whale blows are almost always directed at a low angle to the left, as their single nostril is located on the left side.

Grey whales, on the other hand, have two blowholes on the top of their head, and have very low heart-shaped or V-shaped blows, with the spray falling inwards. What do you think are you seeing when you see whale blows?

Animals Seen Today:

• Flying fish

Did you know?

Cetaceans evolved from land mammals in the even-toed ungulates group. The hippopotamus is most likely their closest living relative!

Picture of the Day

Abandon ship drill on the Sette!

Kathy Virdin, July 25, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Virdin
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 20 – 28, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 25, 2004

Latitude:55degrees 17.215 N.
Longitude: 160 degrees 32.231 W.
Visibility:1 nautical mile
Wind direction:140 degrees
Wind speed: 10 kts.
Sea wave height: 0-1 ft.
Swell wave height: 2-3 ft.
Sea water temperature:10 degrees C.
Sea level pressure: 997.4 mb.
Cloud cover:Cloudy, light rain

Science and Technology Log

Today we had a visitor from Tenix Lads, Inc. named Mark Sinclair who does LiDAR depth readings for NOAA. LiDAR means light detection and ranging. It is done from a small aircraft, flying at an altitude of 1800-2200 ft. They over fly an area with two laser beams that measure the surface of the water and the depth of the water. They get the difference in these heights, with geometric corrections for tides and other factors, to give them the ocean floor depths. They are able to take an incredible 324 million soundings in an hour! Their information is used for nautical charting, coastal zone management, coastal engineering, oil and gas development, military applications and research and development. They will identify depths, buoys, beacons, lighthouses, kelp areas on digital display (via computers) and on spreadsheets. The benefits of the LiDAR technology is that it is very cost effective, has amazing speed, and greater safety. They do 200% coverage of an area by measuring lines and then taking new lines in between the first lines. They run a swath beam that is 192 meters, which is larger than the ones that the RAINIER does. Each beam of pulsar light is 15 meters with 4 meters in between.

They are finding changes that need to be made on maps that date back to the 1940s. NOAA contracts with this company to do soundings for them and NOAA picks small segments of these areas to do spot checks with the ship to compare accuracy. So far, they have been extremely accurate. At this point in time, they are not comfortable with the greater depth measurements that the RAINIER does, but expect that to change in the future. Various crew members that I’ve spoken with foresee this becoming the depth measurement instrument of the future. Eventually, all depth readings may be done from satellites, which could become very accurate, as well as safe. Right now, NOAA will continue to use both methods.

Personal Log

I spent the day working on the computer, listening to the LiDAR presentation and reading the information about this new system. It’s very interesting to predict how useful this will become in the next 10-20 years. I’d love to see some of my students flying the airplanes that will send back this newer technology. Right now, the RAINIER is anchored while launches go out to do shallow survey each day. It’s fascinating to watch them lower the launches and bring them back onto the boat. They use hydraulic winches that raise and lower the boats. Everyone has to be very careful at this point, wearing hard hats, because it’s a time when equipment failure could bring a dangerous situation. Generally three or four people go out on each day’s launch. They have several more days of launches scheduled, then they must go to the Kodiak Coast Guard base to refuel.

Virdin 7-25-04 screenshot