Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)
Date: July 11, 2019
My name is David Madden. I am a high school science teacher at Maclay School in Tallahassee, FL, and I’m getting ready to go on my NOAATeacher at Sea cruise! I recently completed my 21st year teaching – it’s been a super fun journey. I am as excited heading into year 22 as I was in years 1-5. I’ve been in love with nature since I can remember.
Over the course of my career I’ve taught: AP Biology, regular Biology, Physics, Integrated Science (bio, chem, phys combined), and Marine Biology. This upcoming year I will also be teaching AP Environmental Science. I’ve loved every minute of my job – teaching and learning with students, challenging myself and being challenged by my friends and colleagues, and exploring new adventures – like NOAA Teacher at Sea. Along the way I’ve also been a coach, helping kids learn the value of sports, including: volleyball, basketball, tennis, and track.
Over the last few years I’ve started making educational videos for my students – as a way for them to further develop their love of science and grow their scientific literacy: Madden Science on YouTube and www.maddenscience.com.
Starting on July 15th, 2019, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS). The mission of the cruise will be to conduct “applied fishery-independent sampling with chevron fish traps and attached underwater video cameras, and catch rates and biological data from SEFIS are critical for various stock assessments for economically important reef fishes along the southeast US Atlantic coast.” It’s an amazing opportunity for me to participate in important scientific research. I have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the best scientists in the world.
There are so many things about NOAA Teacher at Sea that I’m looking forward to. Here’s a few:
Spending time out on the ocean, experiencing the energy and power of the wild sea.
Working with and learning from some of the world’s leading oceanic and atmospheric scientists.
Learning about fish and marine biodiversity in the Atlantic.
Asking tons of questions and hopefully learning more about the ocean and its central importance in our changing world.
Sharing my experience with you; my family, friends, students, and the public. I’ll share this adventure via this blog and also via videos I hope to create while on NOAA Ship Pisces. My goal is for these blog posts and videos to serve as a real-time record of the cruise, to be helpful and interesting right now, and also to help serve as resources for my classes and other classrooms around the world.
NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 feet (64 meters) long. To give you an idea, that’s basically 70% of a football field. That’s longer than two blue whales (~90 feet), the largest and longest animal to ever live! Usain Bolt can run that far in 6.13 seconds (assuming 9.58 s for 100 m). A starfish, traveling at 60 feet/hour, would take about 3.5 hours to travel the length of Pisces.
I’d love it if you could join in with me on this adventure – please comment and ask questions. I’ll do my best to respond in a helpful and interesting way!
Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida
Date: August 9, 2018
Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 11 knots, Air Temp: 30c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 3 ft.
Science and Technology Log
Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.
snout of Tiger shark
snout of sharpnose shark
Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.
Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.
Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.
Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.
Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.
Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Sandbar Shark teeth
Great Hammerhead Shark teeth
While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.
TAS Stephen Kade with a sharpnose shark
TAS Stephen Kade removes the hook from a sharpnose shark
Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 25, 2018 at 10:25am
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 33.4146° N
Longitude: 82.3126° W
Wind: 1 mph N
Barometer: 759.968 mmHg
Temperature: 26.1° C
Weather: Mostly cloudy, no precipitation
Science and Technology Log
I’m going to take you back in time to July 13, a day when a once-in-a-leg event took place. We awoke that morning to a strong breeze blowing NOAA Ship Fairweather towards the dock in Nome. Normally a breeze blowing a docked ship is fine, but that day was the start of our long awaited departure to Point Hope! 0900 was quickly approaching, and Ensign Abbott was excited for his first opportunity as conn during an undocking process! With XO Gonsalves at his side for support, he stepped up to the control center outside the bridge on the starboard side.
As you may or may not know, taking the conn is no small feat. “Conn” is an old name for the conning officer, or controller of the ship’s movement. The conning officer used to stand on the conning tower, an elevated platform where the ship’s movement could be monitored. Although the conn no longer stands on a conning tower, the name and role remain the same. The conn makes commands to the rest of the ship and, during docking and undocking, controls the two engines, two rudders, bow thruster, and the lines attaching the ship to the dock. Each part causes the ship to move in specific way and has a very important function in undocking.
ENS Abbott did a great job deciding which parts of the ship to maneuver which way and when. The process was so technical that I cannot begin to describe it. However, the persistent westerly wind just kept drifting the ship back into its docking station. Every time we got the ship positioned the way we wanted, it would push right back into its starting place. The situation turned hazardous because we had a giant barge docked in front of us, a fishing vessel docked behind us, and the wall of the dock to our starboard side. The only direction we could go without danger of crashing into something was to the left. Unfortunately you cannot move a ship side to side very far without forward or backward movement, so there are strategies for moving the ship in a forward to backward motion while simultaneously moving left or right.
In our situation, the best thing to do was to slowly back the ship out while swinging the stern end into the harbor. Once out enough to account for the westerly wind, the engines could push forward and the ship could safely exit the harbor. Unfortunately all did not go as planned and when the engines went forward, the wind pushed the ship so far towards the dock in a short amount of time that the stern narrowly missed a collision with the wall of the dock! It was a close call! The conn was unlucky in the fact that he was assigned control of the ship during weather conditions no sailor would elect, but he did his best and it was a great learning lesson for everyone!
Fast forward to July 19. The members of the NOAA Corps new to ship docking and undocking had a brief in the conference room. They discussed all of the physics involved in the undocking from the week prior, debriefed the challenge the wind posed, and reviewed the different types of maneuvers for undocking. Then they shifted the conversation to planning for the next day’s docking maneuver. XO Gonsalves, with a vast array of unique skills in his toolbox, turned on a PlayStation game that he created for his crew to practice docking and undocking! Docking a ship is a skill with the unique problem that you cannot simply practice it whenever you want to. The only attempt offered to the crew during this leg was on the morning of July 20. It was a “one and done” attempt. Lucky for them, XO thought outside the box! With the video game, they could practice as often as they wanted to and for as long as necessary to get the skill down.
XO’s video game for practicing the docking process
The NOAA Corps getting ready to practice docking
The challenge presented to the crew was to dock and then undock the boat seen in the photo above eight different times with varying obstacles to work through. Examples of obstacles were having a small docking space, turning the boat around, and wind adding a new force to the boat. Three controllers were needed for the job. The first controller, and the little tiny person at the front of the boat, controlled the bow thruster. The bow thruster could push the boat left or right in a jet propulsion-like manner. Using the bow thruster on the port side pushed the boat right, and using the bow thruster on the starboard side pushed the boat left. The XO also assigned this person the roll of the conn, so they had to call out directions to everyone playing the game. The next person controlled the engines. This was a difficult task because there is a port and a starboard engine, and each engine can go forward or backward. The conn could give a simple order like “all ahead” or a more difficult order like “port ahead, starboard back” (trust me, that one is not easy). The last person controlled the rudders. The rudders worked in unison and could be turned right or left. The rudders can be fine-tuned in reality but in the game, due to the controller’s limitations, we used the commands of “half rudder” and “full rudder” to choose how significantly the rudders should be turned. You can see a small clip of the game in action below. Turn up the volume to hear the conn. As a reminder, the Corps members participating are learning the process, so you may hear a variety of commands as they fine tune their vocabulary to use more specific language.
On the morning of July 20, the docking process was smooth with no surprise forces at play on the ship. The NOAA Corps did an excellent job with the maneuver. As soon as we thought we would get a chance to relax, a food order arrived with 2,700 lbs of food that needed to be hauled from the top deck of the ship down to the bottom. Horizontal forces affecting the ship were no comparison to the vertical force of gravity pulling all those boxes down towards Earth, but we used an assembly line of 20 people passing boxes down the stairwell and we all ended the day with a good workout!
It seems fitting to begin my last blog with the story of undocking the Fairweather in Nome at the start of the leg. This is not the end of my Teacher at Sea journey but the start of my work, integrating my personal experience into something relevant for my students in a physical science classroom. Since returning home, I completed my first media interview about my time at sea. Ironically teaching others about myself led to my own epiphanies, namely refining my “why” to becoming an educator. I told Amanda, my interviewer, how I spent my childhood soaking my shoes in ponds trying to catch frogs, harvesting new rocks for my shoe box collection under my bed, and following the streams of water every April when snow melted away. I grew up with a curiosity for all things natural and scientific. Science classes were simply an outlet for my inquisitive mind, so it was easy to be engaged in school. Below are a few photos of me in high school, memories of times that inspired my love for the ocean. That natural wonder, excitement, curiosity I had for the world around me as a child and young adult…that’s what I want to instill in my students. My experience on the Fairweather helped me find new tools for my “teaching toolbox” and new ideas for my curriculum that I hope will inspire more students to become curious about their worlds. You’re never too old to discover the intrigue of the natural world. When you begin to understand that the purpose of science is to explain what we observe, your desire to uncover the secrets will grow!
During a dogfish shark dissection, I discovered that my shark had been pregnant
A horseshoe crab that appeared on a rocky shore in Connecticut
Measuring the length of marine organisms with calipers
The ability of a ship to make 3,000,000 lbs of weight float on water, that is intriguing. The idea of using sound waves, something we interact with constantly on land, under the water to map what we cannot see, that is amazing. Collecting an array of data that, to the untrained mind seem unrelated, and putting them together into a chart used by mariners all over the world, that is revolutionary. NOAA hydrographic ships connect science and the economy in a way not dissimilar to how I hope to connect education and career for my students. This experience inspired me in ways beyond my expectations, and I cannot wait to share my new knowledge and ideas in my classroom!
Did You Know?
The Multibeam Echosounder on the ship obtains ocean depths accurate to 10 centimeters. The average depth of the ocean is 3,700 meters, or 370,000 centimeters, according to NOAA. That is an average percent accuracy of 99.997%!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 11, 2018
Weather from the Bridge:
Latitude:57°43.3 N Longitude:133°35.5 W Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 5 knots Wind Direction: variable Visibility:3 nautical miles Air Temperature: 11.5°C Sky:100% cloud coverage
Science and Technology Log
The area that NOAA Ship Fairweather is surveying is Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. These are fjords, which are glacial valleys carved by a receding (melting) glacier. Before the surveying could begin the launches(small boats) were sent up the fjords, in pairs for safety, to see how far up the fjord they could safely travel. There were reports of ice closer to the glacier. Because the glacier is receding, some of the area has never been mapped. This is an area important for tourism, as it is used by cruise ships. I was assigned to go up Endicott Arm towards Dawes Glacier.
Almost as soon as we turned into the arm, we saw that there was ice. As we continued farther, the ice pieces got more numerous. We were being very careful not to hit ice or get the launch into a dangerous place. The launch is very sturdy, but the equipment used to map the ocean floor is on the hull of the boat and needs to be protected. We were able to get to within about 8 kilometers of the glacier, which was very exciting.
The launches have been going out every day this week to map areas in Tracy Arm. I have been out two of the days doing surveying and bottom sampling. During this time I have really enjoyed looking at the glacial ice. It looks different from ice that you might find in a glass of soda. Glacial ice is actually different. It is called firn. What happens is that snow falls and is compacted by the snow that falls on top of it. This squeezes the air out of of the snow and it becomes more compact. In addition, there is some thawing and refreezing that goes on over many seasons. This causes the ice crystals to grow. The firn ends up to be a very dense ice.
Glaciers are like slow moving rivers. Like a river, they move down a slope and carve out the land underneath them. Glaciers move by interior deformation, which means the ice crystals actually change shape and cause the ice to move forward, and by basal sliding, which means the ice is sliding on a layer of water.
The front of a glacier will calve or break off. The big pieces of ice that we saw in the water was caused by calving of the glacier. What is also very interesting about this ice is that it looks blue. White light, of course, has different wavelengths. The red wavelengths are longer and are absorbed by the ice. The blue waves are shorter and are scattered. This light does not get far into the ice and is scattered back to your eyes. This is why it looks blue.
Meltwater is also a beautiful blue-green color. This is also caused by the way that light scatters off the sediment that melts out of the glacial ice. This sediment, which got ground up in the glacier is called rock flour.
Mapping and bottom sampling in the ice
NOAA Ship Fairweather has spent the last four days mapping the area of Tracy Arm that is accessible to the launches. This means each boat going back and forth in assigned areas with the multibeam sonar running. The launches also stop and take CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) casts. These are taken to increase the accuracy of the sound speed data.
Today I went out on a launch to take bottom samples. This information is important to have for boats that are wanting to anchor in the area. Most of the bottom samples we found were a fine sand. Some had silt and clay in them also. All three of these sediment types are the products of the rocks that have been ground up by ice and water. The color ranged from gray-green to tan. The sediment size was small, except in one area that did not have sand, but instead had small rocks.
The instrument used to grab the bottom sediment had a camera attached and so videos
were taken of each of the 8 bottom grabs. It was exciting to see the bottom, including some sea life such as sea stars, sea pens and we even picked up a small sea urchin. My students will remember seeing a bottom sample of Lake Huron this year. The video today looked much the same.
I have seen three bears since we arrived in Holkham Bay where the ship is anchored. Two of them have been black. Today’s bear was brown. It was very fun to watch from our safe distance in the launch.
I have really enjoyed watching the birds too. There are many waterfowl that I do not know. My students would certainly recognize the northern loons that we have seen quite often.
I have not really talked about the three amazing meals we get each day. In the morning we are treated to fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, made to order eggs, potatoes, and pancakes or waffles. Last night it was prime rib and shrimp. There is always fresh vegetables for salad and a cooked vegetable too. Carrie is famous for her desserts, which are out for lunch and dinner. Lunches have homemade cookies and dinners have their own new cake type. If we are out on a launch there is a cooler filled with sandwich fixings, chips, cookies, fruit snacks, trail mix, hummus and vegetables.
The cereal and milk is always available for snacks, along with fresh fruit, ice cream, peanut butter, jelly and different breads. Often there are granola bars and chips. It would be hard to ever be hungry!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cindy Byers Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather April 29 – May 13
Mission: Southeast Alaska Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska
Date: May 9, 2018
Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 57° 43.2 N Longitude:133° 35.6 Sea Wave Height: 0 Wind Speed: 3 knots Wind Direction: Variable Visibility:10 Nautical miles Air Temperature: 15° C Sky: 90% cloud cover
Science and Technology Log
When I reflect on the personalities of the people living and working on NOAA Ship Fairweather, two words come to mind: challenge and adventure. They are also people that are self-confident, friendly, they see great purpose, and take great pride in their work. Life is not always easy on board a ship. People are often very far from family and away from many of the comforts of home. But for this group, it seems that they are willing to give up those hardships for being at sea. Below are some interviews I did with personnel on the ship.
Terry – Deck Crew
Terry is part of what is called the deck crew. He reported to me that his duties include standing bridge watch, which means looking out from the bridge to warn the bridge crew of any obstacles or dangers ahead of them. On this trip those hazards have been fishing vessels, and gear, and whales. He also will be at the helm, which means steering the ship as directed by a bridge officer. Other bridge duties include monitoring the radio and radar when the ship is anchored. He said that like everyone on the bridge, he needs to be aware of where the ship is at all times. He is part of the Deck Department so he does maintenance such as keeping things greased, painted and clean. The deck department also keeps the ships interior clean, except for the galley and the mess
What got you interested in the sea? When I was eight, I moved from Michigan to Florida and I fell in love with the sea. I used to run up and down the beach.
I liked Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Turns Forty,” and I liked reading adventure books by Jack London. When I was 13, I also read Moby Dick and The Odyssey. I read The Odyssey every year, I love that book. I really like the lore of the sea and the freedom of being at sea. I like the idea of going to exotic places.
When were you first in a boat in the ocean? When I was 10 years old I went on a day cruise from Tampa, Florida. It was a dive boat that was used to take tourists out. I loved it, if I could get on a boat, I would go. I tried to build a skiff, but it took on water.
When did you first work on the ocean? I went to sea when I was 24 years old. In my first job I worked bringing supplies to oil rigs. I found an ad for the job and they said no experience was needed. I wanted to be a captain, I wanted to travel and see the world. I watched a lot of Indiana Jones. I wanted to be an adventurer. When oil prices went down I was out of a job, but in 2000 I worked for another oil company.
What other jobs have you had? After 9/11, I joined the Military Sealift Command, which is a civilian part of the Navy. They bring food, fuel, and supplies to Navy ships [he was in the Mediterranean Sea.] Military ships do not fuel in ports where they could get attacked.
In 2013 I had a wife and two kids and so I did different jobs, not at sea.
When did you first start to work for NOAA? In 2016 I was hired by NOAA on NOAA Ship Fairweather. This boat and NOAA Ship Rainier are where people start. I started as an Ordinary Seaman. Now I am Able Seaman. To move up I needed to take a course in survival training and fire training. I did this in Louisiana at a community college, it took two weeks. I also needed six months of experience on a NOAA vessel.
What is your favorite part of the job? I like being at the helm and steering the ship. I like going to different places and seeing different things. I like that the ship has extra functions to keep up moral up. I even did a comedy show twice. It is like your own community. It is great being part of a team and accomplishing a goal.
What is the hardest part of the job? The hardest thing is being away from home. For every 9 months away, I am home for a few months, that is spread out over a year. The season is 7-8 months.
What do you think it takes to be on a ship away from your family? Everyone has to be a team player. You need to really get along with others. People need to be confident and you need to show respect to each other. You live in very tight quarters. Nobody has a job that is small, everybody’s job needs to be done.
Jeff – NOAA Corps Junior Officer
I grew up in Juno, Alaska and went to college there. I got a Bachelor’s degree in math, I never thought I would be interested in math. I started out with an art major then went to geology, then biology, then math. I liked that I learned a new set of rules during the day and then got to apply them to problems that I could solve. It took me six years to get my degree. I paid for it myself by working and I was living in a sailboat in the harbor.
What brought you to a career in NOAA? Previously I was a Sergeant in the Army for five years. I was searching for tide information for a fishing trip and was on a NOAA website, There I saw a recruiting video and decided to do that. It took a couple years to get into the NOAA Corps. I was first hired on a NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a General Vessel Assistant in the deck department. Then I found out I was accepted into the NOAA Corps. After my Officer Training in New London, Connecticut I was assigned to NOAA Ship Fairweather.
What is your role on the ship? I am a Junior Officer. I am here to learn how to drive ships and learn the science of hydrography. I am learning how to become a professional mariner.
What are the best parts of your job? Ever since the Army I enjoyed being part of a team. On the ship there is a lot of social interaction. It is a tight community of people that live and work together. We have all types of personalities.
I really like going out on a launch (the small boats used for surveying) and collecting data. We are in beautiful places and we get to eat our picnic lunches and listen to music and work together to figure out how to drive our lines and to collect the data we need.
I also like processing and organizing the data we get. Our project areas are divided up into acquisition areas and I work as a Sheet Manager for an area. So, I am responsible for taking the data that is cleaned up from the night processors (who clean up the data when it first comes in) and getting a map ready for the launches with areas that need more data collection and safety hazards marked. I keep track of what needs to be done and report those needs to my superiors.
What do you like to do on the ship when you aren’t working? I like the VersaClimber. (This is in the gym. There is a ship contest going on to see who can climb highest!) I used to do some fishing. I also spend time communicating with my family.
What do you miss when you are at sea? Mostly I miss my family. I also miss doing things like going for a walk to get coffee. Since the field season is all summer, I really miss going camping with my family.
What will you be doing for your next assignment with NOAA? Assignments are two years on a ship and three years on land. Next, NOAA is sending me to graduate school for three years. So I will be working on a Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering with an emphasis in Ocean Mapping.
Niko – Chief Engineer
I had a conversation with Niko one day because I was really interested in how the water on the ship was acquired and disposed of. I learned that and a little more!
I asked Niko what got him interested in being at sea. He told me that this family had a cabin on an island in the state of Washington. He loved driving the families small boat whenever he could. He would take it out for 8 hours a day. In Middle School and High School he did small engine repair. He took a lot of shop classes and was in a program called “First Robotics.” He thought he wanted to be a welder. His mom worked for the BP oil company and through that he learned about maritime school. He went to school at Cal Maritime, (The California State University Maritime Academy.) There he studied Marine Engineering Technology. He said it was hard. Of the 75 students that started in his class, only 14 graduated on time.
He told me that NOAA Ship Fairweather has engines from 1968, and they are due for a rebuild, They have 20,000 hours since the last rebuild in 2004, that is like running them 3 straight years..
Niko is the Chief Engineer. He has a department of nine engineers.
I asked him about the freshwater on the ship. He said the ship uses 600 gallons a day without the laundry and 2000 gallons a day if the laundry is in use. It takes 17,000 gallons of water to go for 10 days. The ship has freshwater tanks that are filled when they are in port, but the ship can produce freshwater from salt water. To do this the ship must be moving. It uses a method which evaporates the salt water so the freshwater is left behind. This costs one gallon of diesel to produce 9.7 gallons of freshwater. This costs is $0.30 a gallon for water. The sinks, showers, dishwasher and laundry all use freshwater. The toilets use saltwater.
I have learned an amazing amount about ocean mapping from my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. I have also learned a lot about different NOAA careers and life on a ship. But like any good experience, it is always the people that make things great!
I have really enjoyed getting to meet all of the people of the ship. They have been so kind to take me in and show me their jobs and let me try out new things, like driving a ship and a launch!
We have also had fun kayaking, watching wildlife, and taking a walk on shore.
Geographic Area: Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 29, 2017
Location: 20 deg, 20.0 min N, 156 deg, 08.6 min W
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Visibility: 10 nmi
Wind @ 23 kts from 65 degrees
Pressure: 1015.1 mb
Waves: 4 – 5 feet
Swell: 7-8 feet at 70 deg
Temp: 26.5 deg
Wet bulb: 23.5 deg
Dewpoint: 25 deg
Bonus Spiritual History Blog
On July 23, we briefly suspended our operations to help out fellow scientists camped out on the French Frigate Shoals (Lalo), located along the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain – about halfway between the northernmost main islands and Midway (Kuaihelani). The trip was brief, and we never set foot on terra firma, but with the help of the Big Eyes we could see something that we had not seen up close in 3 days – land.
Two nights prior, we finally crossed over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands – a sacred and certainly mysterious (at least to me) area for the Hawaiian People. I was waiting with some anticipation for the moment we would cross into these waters. The entire Northwest Hawaiian Island chain and its surrounding seas are limited-access for the vast majority of seafarers; the waters are protected by a proclamation signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016. This Marine Sanctuary’s designated area begins near the start of the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain, and stretches all the way to the Kure Atoll (Hōlanikū), just past Midway Island (Kuaihelani). We were not permitted to cross into these waters until we had a permit, part of which included a component requirement of a briefing on the history of the area before we entered. ers Native Hawaiian Program Specialist Kalani Quiocho introduced us to this sacred ground during our pre-cruise training with this briefing on this Marine National Monument, Papahānaumokuākea. His presentation was so moving that I felt it necessary that the story of these waters (through my limited experience) must be told.
Mr. Quiocho’s presentation began with the name song for Papahānaumokuākea. His voice bellowed out in an ethereal chant – one in a smooth and haunting language with sound combinations like nothing I had ever heard before. His song was punctuated with ‘okinas and kahakōs, and accented with stunning photographs of ocean life, ritual, and artifact. The music moved me to a tear, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion that was supposed to accompany it.
I realize now that I have traveled to this sacred place that it was one of simple reverence for the culture and its people who belong so fully to it. It was at that moment that I realized that this trip would be a whole other ball game – one that is sacred, cosmic, and mysterious.
Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced Papa-hah-now-mow-coo-ah-kay-a) is the first officially designated Mixed Cultural and Heritage site, and is the largest fully protected conservation area in the United States. Its name commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors – Papahānaumoku and Wākea, who according to Hawaiian ancestry gave rise to the Hawaiian archipelago, the taro plant and the Hawaiian people. These two ancestors provide a part of the Genesis story for Hawaiʻi – land to live on, food to eat, and people to cultivate, commune, and thrive as one with the gifts of their ancestors. The namesake alone of this marine sanctuary highlights the importance of its existence and its need for protection. Many of the islands are ancient ceremonial sites, two of which we passed on the way to the Shoals (Lalo).
Crossing over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands also marks a celestially significant line in the Hawaiian archipelago – the Tropic of Cancer. The Tropic of Cancer is the furthest north that the sun will reach a direct overhead path during the solar year – you might know this as the summer solstice. Right on the Tropic of Cancer lies the island Mokumanamana, a sacred place of cultural distinction for the Hawaiian people. The Tropic of Cancer divides the entire Hawaiian archipelago into two distinct sections, Pō and Ao – the Ao represents the more southern islands and spiritual daylight, and thePō representing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and spiritual twilight.
The crossing over as we passed Mokumanamana is significant in that we entered a different spiritual zone of the Hawaiian Islands. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s website (clickhere to read much more about it) describes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as “a region of primordial darkness from which life springs and spirits return after death.” In this sense, transiting past Mokumanamana represented a “crossing over” into a different realm of ancient history. Mokumanamana is known for its high density of ancient ceremonial sites and is considered a center of Hawaiian religion and ideology. Mr. Quiocho expands on the geographical importance of the area to the Hawaiian people in his commentary stating that,
“Papahānaumokuākea encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which is ¾ of the Hawaiian archipelago and includes high basalt islands and low-lying atolls, and surrounding marine environments. It stretches nearly 2,000 kilometers and straddles the Tropic of Cancer also known to Hawaiʻi as Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kāne – The sacred black glistening path of Kāne, the patron god of the sun. It is believed that the Hawaiian Archipelago is divided into two regions called Pō and Ao, which essentially means night and day. Most of the NWHI is within Pō, a place of creation and origin where ancestors return to after death. The region known as Ao includes the main Hawaiian Islands where man resides. The entire Hawaiian Archipelago represents the dualisms and cycles of the Hawaiian universe. From the east where the sun rises and the islands are volcanically birthed from the oceanic womb to the west where the sun sets and the islands return to the sea. And all of the extraordinary biology that is found in the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands are accounted for in our oral traditions. The Kumulipo, a creation chant with more than 2,000 lines expresses the cosmology of the Hawaiian Islands, beginning with the birthing of the coral polyp and eventually the Hawaiian people. Naturally this is an inspiring place that is the framework of our worldview and the knowledge systems that tell us we are people of place. Which is why many refer to this area as the kūpuna islands, kūpuna meaning elder or grandparent.”
Today, Native Hawaiians will travel by double-hulled canoes from the main islands all the way up to Nihoa and Mokumanamana during times of ritual importance and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to honor the tradition and the spiritual practice. I’m sure the journey is both treacherous and fulfilling, one that would rival other more commonly known great expeditions, especially considering its spiritual significance.
Mr. Quiocho continues by expanding on the importance of the navigation of these waters to the Hawaiian people and how it honors their homeland connections:
“Native Hawaiians believe that the vast region that makes up the NWHI is an incredibly sacred place and is regarded as the construct of their cosmological genealogy. This region is rooted in creation and origin as a place where all life began and to which ancestors return after death. Native Hawaiians have historical connections to all parts of their homeland, which encompass all the islands, atolls, shoals, coral reefs, submerged seamounts and ocean waters that connect them. While the islands themselves are focal destinations for traditional voyages, the vast ocean is equally important. It is a cultural seascape that is imbued with immense value. The ocean is more than an unknown empty space that isolates islands, but rather a pathway for movement and potential.
Long-distance voyaging and wayfinding is one of the most unique and valuable traditional practices that Native Hawaiians have developed and continue to advance. It is an ancient way of interacting with the ocean that continues to inspire and create social change. The ocean region surrounding the NWHI is the only cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Archipelago. The main Hawaiian Islands are large enough for any novice navigator to find, but the ocean region throughout and surrounding Papahānaumokuākea provides challenging opportunities for apprentice navigators to excel. This expansive ocean environment was the setting for ancient Hawaiian chiefs to voyage back and forth between the main Hawaiian Islands and the NWHI over the course of 400 years.”
On our journey, we slipped passed Mokumanamana in the cover of night – through the invisible gates and into this ancient ancestral realm. Although we had been in the monument since the previous day, for some reason this crossing marked a distinction for me personally in an indescribable way. Since arriving on Oahu and in my travels since, I’ve known there was something special and different about this place, and I’ve known that part of the “different” was me. Walking through Ala Moana Park on the 4th of July revealed threads of a culture that formed a beautiful tapestry of family, community, and heritage as I strolled past hundreds of families camped out in anticipation of the upcoming fireworks over the ocean.
There was something communal and sacred about it, even though the time and event was modern. There was an “old” feeling of togetherness that buzzed through the park amongst strangers and friends. I knew I was an outsider to this energy, but I didn’t feel entirely left out of it. It’s one thing to feel like a foreigner on the “day” side of the Tropic of Cancer, but the “night” side held a spiritual distinction, as though I was trespassing in a dimension to which I did not belong. Knowing that the only passage of ships through this area would come with permits and regulations left a feeling of emptiness in an already vast ocean. Knowing the ocean is full beneath with life both current and past – fish and whale and ancient Hawaiian spirit alike gave back some reassurance that we were not entirely alone. For the first time I didn’t want to just know about Papahānaumokuākea, I wanted the ocean to tell me the story herself.
Nestled in the middle of Papahānaumokuākea was our target destination – French Frigate Shoals (Lalo). On this tiny island a small team of scientists have been camped out for a little over six weeks studying the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. We were tasked with delivering critical supplies to the scientific team – fuel, replacements of scientific gear, and a small care package with a few creature comforts they had not had access to in quite some time. (I mean, seriously. Who drops off fuel without dropping off chocolate? Not us!) We also picked up some specimens from them to take back to the lab in Honolulu. The Shoals are a special place – a World War II military outpost slowly decays on the far side of the island, providing some cover for the scientists as they work. The island hosts thousands upon thousands of terns, flying en masse around the island in huge swarms.
The terns were in preparation of fledging, and in anticipation of that day, tiger sharks stalked the surrounding waters, waiting for their next meal. On the opposite side of the island a few hundred meters away from shore, a lone sandbar (formerly dredged up for use as a military runway) rose to the surface providing a quiet place for a monk seal and her two pups to lounge in the sand. One seal pup practiced swimming in the shallows as the mother casually glanced in its direction. The other pup would hobble a few feet away down the beach, only to run back to its mother and lie next to her for a time. It was a little reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell beach vacation painting, had Rockwell chosen an animal personification route as his medium. A turtle dotted the far edge of the landscape on the main island, basking in the rising sun as the waves gently rolled on to the beach behind him.
The structures on the land from afar looked like a distant movie set for an apocalyptic storyline. The wind howled as we approached the atoll, and birds fought against the invisible currents in frantic circles around the island. Two boats lay destitute along the far side of the island while waves crashed merciless against the sea wall built to hold the atoll in place during the time the island was volunteered to serve in a wartime capacity. The island itself is a surreal duplicity – serving both as a protector of life and a vessel of war. I found myself taking stock of this history; watching from far away to learn the eternal evolution of this strange place – first a volcano, sunk beneath the surface, then to a primordial breeding ground for coral, fish, and shark – onto a pristine landscape, possibly used by ancestral Hawaiians for ceremony and stopover en route to Kure (Hōlanikū) – a military base as a refueling station and an outpost – and finally a protected home for hundreds of species, some hanging desperately onto the last strings of life but finally thriving under the care of a dedicated research team.
As much as I desperately wanted to go on to the island to have a look at this former military operations base-turned-endangered-animal-sanctuary, none of us could go on shore – even those who shuttled supplies to the scientists. French Frigate Shoals marked the first time I had ever seen a coral atoll in anything other than a picture, and it seemed a natural part of my inner explorer to want to pop on to shore to have a look about, even for just a few minutes. Everything in French Frigate Shoals is protected under the Papahānaumokuākea permitting restrictions.
Had we wanted to explore the land, we would have needed to quarantine our clothing and ourselves for a minimum of 72 hours to protect the landscape from anything foreign taking foot on shore. Our ship couldn’t make it much closer than a mile or two from the island so as not to put it in danger of running aground. So, a team of four people shuttled supplies in the small boat, navigating the shallows and hauling the supplies on shore through a pulley system. Two quick trips out to the island, and we were soon on our way again in our search for cetaceans.
When Mr. Quiocho parted ways with us after our training, he made a casual but powerful statement in closing. He told us the whale dives deeply to commune with ancient wisdom commissioned to the deep ocean, bringing this deep knowledge from the ancestral depths to the surface so that it can become part our collective consciousness. Our trip, then, is a not merely a collection of data or a series of samples. Each time we interact with the whales, they are bringing us the knowledge of the ancients in hope that we will continue to pass that information on to anyone at the surface willing to listen. The responsibility of our work when described in this light brought a new reverence to the study – one that is not just a story for the present in hopes of preserving for the future, but that weaves ancient knowledge from the past into our work, as well.
Did you know?
Each day at noon, the ship’s alarms are tested to ensure they will work in an emergency situation. Guess who got to test the alarms?
Ship safety is the height of the focus of everyone on board. Each Friday, we complete drills to make sure we are ready in the event of an emergency. Of the many dangers at sea, a fire can prove to be most catastrophic. It’s not like the fire department can come out to the middle of the Pacific at the first sign of burning bacon (which may or may not have happened to me two days before I left for Oahu). The entire Sette crew acts as the fire department, so it is important for them to practice in the event of an emergency. This week we simulated a live-fire scenario, complete with a fog machine. I got to call the drill up to the bridge! It was a little extra fun built into a very serious situation.
Classes are still continuing each afternoon on the bridge, Monday through Friday.
Officers are in a friendly competition to see who is on watch when the most sightings occur, among other friendly battles. It is the topic of lively discussion at most meal times.
Geographic Area: Near the Maro Reef, Northwest Hawaiian Islands
Date: July 24, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Location: 23 deg, 39.5 min N, 169 deg, 53.5 min W
Wind: 85 degrees at 12 kts
Waves: 2-3 feet at 95 degrees
Swell: 3-4 feet
Wet bulb temp: 26.2
Most of us know the first rule of Fight Club – Don’t talk about Fight Club. In previous blogs, we’ve established that if acoustics hears a vocalization from the lab, they do not inform the observers on the flying bridge – at least not until all members of the vocalizations are “past the beam”, or greater than 90 degrees from the front of the ship. Once the vocalizations are past the beam, acoustics can elect to inform the observers based on the species and the specific protocols set for that particular species. The purpose of this secrecy is to control for bias. Imagine if you were a marine mammal observer, headed up for your last two hour shift on your ten hour day. If you stopped by the acoustics lab to say hello and found the acoustician’s computer screens completely covered with localizations from a cetacean, you might change the way you observe for that animal, especially if you had a general idea of what angle or direction to look in. One experimental goal of the study is to eliminate as much bias as possible, and tamping the chatter between acousticians and the visual team helps to reduce some of this bias. But what about the observers? Could they bias one another in any way? The answer to that question is yes, and marine mammal observers follow their own subset of Fight Club rules, as well.
Let’s say for example, a sighting of Melon-Headed Whales is occurring. On the flying bridge, available observers come up to assist in an abundance estimate for that particular group (more on how these estimates are made later). They also help with photographing and biopsy operations, when necessary. Melon-Headed Whales are known to travel in fairly large groups, sometimes separated into sub groups of whales. After spending some time following the group of whales, the senior observer or chief scientist will ensure that everyone has had a good enough opportunity to get a best estimation of the number of Melon Headed Whales present. At this point, it’s time for the observers to write their estimates. Each observer has their own “green book,” a small journal that documents estimation numbers after each observation occurs. Each observer will make an estimation for their lowest, best, and highest numbers. The lowest estimate represents the number of cetaceans the observer knows for certain were present in the group – for example they might say, “There couldn’t possibly be fewer than 30”. The highest estimate represents the number that says “there couldn’t possibly be any more than this value.” The best estimate is the number that the observer feels totally confident with. Sometimes these values can be the same. The point is for each observer to take what he or she saw with their own eyes, factor in what they know about the behavior of the species, and make a solid personal hypothesis as to the quantitative value of that particular group. In a sighting of something like our fictitious Melon Headed Whales, those numbers could be in the hundreds.
Once the documentation is complete in the green books, the observers direct the ship to return back to the trackline, and begin observing again. They never discuss how many animals they saw. This is such an important part of what marine mammal observers do as professionals. At first glance, one would assume that it would be beneficial for all observers to meet following an observation to come to a consensus on the numbers sighted. But there are a lot of ways that discussion on numbers can turn sideways and skew overall data for the study. Let’s take an obvious example to highlight the point.
Imagine if you were a new scientist in the field, coming to observe with far more senior observers. Let’s assume you’ve just spotted a small group of Pygmy Killer Whales and although you are new on the job, you know for an absolute fact that you counted six dorsal fins – repeatedly – through the course of the sighting. If the sighting ends, and the more senior observers all agree that they saw five, the likelihood that you are going to “cave” and agree that there were only five could be higher.
If you never talk about your numbers, you never have to justify them to anyone else. The question often comes up, “What if an observer consistently over or underestimates the number of cetaceans?” It’s much better for the scientists to consistently over or underestimate their counts than to spend time trying to fine tune them against the rule of another’s estimate. If counts skew high or low for a scientist each leg of the trip as the co-workers change, that can create a problem for those trying to analyze the abundances after the study is complete. Further, not discussing numbers with anyone at all ever gives you a very reliable estimation bias over time. In other words, if you consistently over estimate, the people who complete the data analysis will know that about you as an observer and can utilize correction factors to help better dial in cetacean counts. It is because of this potential for estimation bias that all marine mammal observers must never talk numbers, even in casual conversation. You’ll never hear a marine mammal observer over dinner saying, “I thought there were 20 of those spinner dolphins, how many did you think were there?”
Where do these data go after the study is over? Data from each sighting gets aggregated by the chief scientist or other designee and the group size for each sighting is determined. Then, via many maths, summations, geometries, and calculuses, population abundance estimates are determined. This is a dialed-in process – taking the number of sightings, the average sighting group size, the length of the transect lines, the “effective strip width” (or general probability of finding a particular cetacean within a given distance – think smaller whales may not be as easy to see from three miles away, and therefore the correction factor must be taken into account), and finally the probability of detection – and combining those values to create a best estimate for population density within the Hawaiian EEZ.
The probability of detection is an interesting factor in that it used to always be considered as a value of 1 – meaning that if a cetacean shows his friendly (or ferocious) mug anywhere on the trackline (the predetermined path the ship is taking in the search) the value assumes that a mammal observer has a 100% chance of spotting it. This is why there is a center observer in the rotation – he or she is responsible for “guarding the trackline,” providing the overlap between the port and starboard observers in their zero to ninety degree scans of the ocean. Over time, this value has created statistical issues for abundance estimates because there are many situations when a 100% detection rate is just not a realistic assumption. Between the HICEAS 2002 study and the HICEAS 2010 study, these detection factors were corrected for, leading to numbers that were reliable for the individual study itself, but not reliable to determine if populations were increasing or decreasing.
Other factors can play a role in skewing abundance estimates, as well. For example, beaked whales often travel in smaller-sized groups and only remain at the surface for a few minutes before diving very deeply below the surface. Sightings are rare because of their behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are declining in population. In HICEAS 2002, there was an unusual sighting of a large group of these whales. When the statistical methods were applied for this group as a whole, the abundance numbers were very high. In 2010, the sighting frequency was more “normal” than finding the anomalous group, and the values for the numbers of these whales dropped precipitously. There wasn’t necessarily a decline in population, it just appeared that way because of the anomalous sighting from 2002. Marine mammal observer Adam Ü assists on a sighting by taking identification photos.
Statistical analysis methods have also changed over the years once scientists took a harder look at some of the variables that the marine mammal observers must contend with in their day to day operations. At the start of every rotation, mammal observers make general observations about the sea conditions – noting changes in visibility, presence of rain or haze, wind speed, and Beaufort Sea State. Observers will go “off effort” if the Beaufort Sea State reaches a 7. To give you an idea of how the sea state changes for increasing numbers, a sea state of Zero is glass-calm. A sea state of 12, which is the highest level on the Beaufort scale, is something I’m glad I won’t see while I’m out here. Come to think of it, we have gone “off effort” when reaching a sea state of 7, and I didn’t care for that much, either.
Most of our days are spent in at least a Beaufort 3, but usually a 4 or 5. Anything above a 3 means white caps are starting to form on the ocean, making it difficult to notice any animals splashing about at the surface, especially at great distances – mainly because everything looks like it’s splashing. Many observers look for splashing or whale blows as changes against the surrounding ocean, and the presence of waves and sea spray makes that job a whole heck of a lot more difficult. Beaufort Sea States are turning out to be a much bigger player in the abundance estimate game, changing the statistical probabilities of finding particular cetaceans significantly.
One species of beaked whale has a probability of sighting that drops off exponentially with increasing sea state. As sea state goes up, the chances of seeing any cetacean at all decreases. Other factors like sun glare play a role in decreased sightings, as well. When a beaked whale “logs” at the surface in glass calm waters, chances are higher that it will be spotted by an observer. When the ocean comes up, the wind is screaming, and the waves are rolling, it’s not impossible to see a whale, but it sure does get tough.
The good news is that for most species, these abundance estimates account for these variables. For the more stealthy whales, those estimates have some variation, but overall, this data collection yields estimate numbers that are reliable for population estimates.
It is darn near impossible to explain just how hard it is to spot mammals out in the open ocean. But, being the wordy person I am, I will try anyway.
I had some abhorrently incorrect assumptions about the ease at which cetaceans are spotted. These assumptions were immediately corrected the first time I put my forehead on the big eyes. Even after reading the reports of the number of sightings in the Hawaiian EEZ and my knowledge of productivity levels in the tropical oceans, I had delusions of grandeur that there would be whales jumping high out of the water at every turn of the ship, and I’d have to be a blind fool not to see and photograph them in all of their whale-y glory.
I was so wrong.
Imagine trying to find this:
Here’s the long and short of it – there were times when we were in pretty decent conditions, and marine mammal observers were “on” a sighting, and I trained the big eyes in exactly the direction and my eyes at the exact distance and I still couldn’t see them. There were times when the mammals pretty much had to be launching themselves out of the water and onto the ship before I was like, “Oh, hey! A whale!” I can think of at least four sightings where this happened – whales were out there, everyone else could see them…and I couldn’t find them if they were pulled out of the water and handed to me in a paper bag. Which is extra disappointing because a) a whale doesn’t fit in a paper bag, and 2) if it did, it would likely soak the bag so that it fell out of the bottom and now I’d have a whale that I couldn’t see anyway who now has a headache and is ornery because someone shoved him in a paper bag that he promptly fell face first out of. And as I’ve learned over the time I’ve been on the ship and through many forays into the wilderness – don’t anger things with teeth.
I have had the good fortune of watching our six marine mammal observers as they do their work and I am continually floored at the ability and deftness in which they do their jobs. I have done a few independent observation rotations – I try to get in at least three each day – and I have only once been able to complete a rotation in the same way the observers do. Looking for forty minutes through the port side big eyes, sitting and guarding the trackline for 40 minutes, and looking for forty minutes through the starboard side big eyes is exhausting. Weather conditions are constantly changing and sometimes unfavorable. The sun could be shining directly in the path of observation, which turns the whole ocean into the carnage that could only be rivaled by an explosion at a glitter factory. While the canopies protect the observers from a large majority of incoming sunlight, there’s usually a few hours in the day where the sun is below the canopy, which makes it blast-furnace hot. Today the winds are blowing juuuuust below the borderline of going off effort due to sea state conditions. Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow at all, or worse – it blows at the exact speed the ship is traveling in – yielding a net vector of zero for wind speed and direction. Out on the open ocean, Beaufort Sea States rarely fall below a 3, so observers are looking through piles of foam and jets of sea spray coming off the waves, searching for something to move a little differently. Trying to look through the big eyes and keep the reticle lines (the distance measures on the big eyes) on the horizon during the observation while the ship moves up and down repeatedly over a five foot swell? I can say from direct experience that it’s really, really hard.
The animals don’t always play nice, either. It would be one thing if every animal moved broadside to the view of the observers, giving a nice wide view of dorsal fin and an arched back peeking out of the water. A lot of cetaceans see ships and “run away.” So, now as an observer, you have to be able to spot the skinny side of the dorsal fin attached to a dolphin butt. From three miles away. Some whales, like sperm whales, stay at the surface for about ten minutes and then dive deep into the ocean for close to an hour. We’re lucky in that if we aren’t on the trackline and spot their telltale blows when they are at the surface, the acoustics team knows when they are below the surface and we can wait until they do surface, so that’s a benefit for everyone on the hunt for sperm whales.
But overall? These things are not easy to find. We aren’t out here on a whale watching tour, where a ship takes us directly out to where we know all the whales are and we have endless selfie opportunities. The scientific team couldn’t bias the study by only placing ourselves in a position to see cetaceans. In fact, the tracklines were designed years ago to eliminate that sort of bias in sampling. Because we cover the whole Hawaiian EEZ, and not just where we know we are going to see whales (looking at you, Kona) there could be times where we don’t see a single cetacean for the whole day. As an observer, that can be emotionally taxing.
And yet, the marine mammal observers persevere and flourish in this environment. Last week, an observer found a set of marine mammals under the surface of the water. In fact, many observers can see mammals under the water, and it’s not as though these mammals are right on the bow of the ship – they are far far away. Most sightings happen closer to the horizon than they do to the ship, at least initially. The only reason why I even have pictures of cetaceans is because we turn the ship to cross their paths, and they actually agree to “play” with us for a bit.
Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried to hone my non-skill of mammal observation in to something that might resemble actual functional marine mammal observation. I have been thwarted thus far. But I have gotten to a certain point in my non-skill – where at first, I was just in glorious cod-faced stupor of witnessing cetaceans, and trying to get as many photos as possible – now, a sighting for me yields a brief moment of awe followed by an attempt to find what the observers saw in order to find the animal. In other words, I “ooh and ah” for a few moments at first, but once I can find them, I start asking myself, “Ok, what do the splashes look like?” “How do the fins look as they come out of the water?” “What does the light look like in front or behind the animal, and would I be able to see that patterning while I’m doing an observation?” So far, I’ve been unsuccessful, but I certainly won’t stop trying. I have to remember that the marine mammal observers who are getting these sightings have been doing this for years and I have been doing this for hours comparatively. Besides, every sighting is still very exciting for me as an outsider to this highly specialized work, and the star-struck still hasn’t worn off. I imagine it won’t for quite some time.
Being at sea for 28 days has its advantages when it comes to building strong connections between scientists, crew, and the officers. Everyone pitches in and helps to make life on this tiny city a lot more enjoyable. After all, when you spend 24 hours a day on a ship, it can’t all be work. Take a look at the photos below to see:
Geographic Area of Cruise:Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey
Date: July 11, 2017
Wind: 6mph coming from the south
Visibility: ~62.44 miles (100.48km) (to Mount Taylor on the horizon) but a little hazy
Air temperature: 72°F (22°C) getting to 94°F (34°C) by the afternoon
Cloud: 0%, but hopefully thunderclouds will build later and we will have rain
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Latitude. It is a word I use regularly during the school year. In my 6th and 9th grade science classes, we review latitude as the angular distance north or south of the equator. We pull out maps, of New Mexico, of Antarctica, of our planet, and we explore. In January of this year, we sponsored two SOCCOM floats (https://soccom.princeton.edu/) and this upcoming school year, we will chart where Sundevil Sam and Sundevil Lion are, as they send data back from the Southern ocean, data that my classes can access online. Now, after my time on Fairweather, thanks to NOAA’s vast amount of resources, my students will be able to pull up the nautical charts of places I went (http://www.charts.noaa.gov/BookletChart/17408_BookletChart.pdf) and we can integrate even more mapping and bathymetry into our world. In the last five weeks I’ve gone from 35°N to ultimately as far north as 58° and back again, but in so many ways, my latitude has been much greater.
Sailing in to Warm Springs Bay, AK
Abiquiu Lake and Cerro Perdernal, NM
Latitude is also defined, in photography, as being the range of exposures photography paper can be given and still achieve a quality image. So, applying this definition, there is no doubt that my latitude professionally and personally has increased as a result of my experiences on Fairweather this summer. My exposure to hydrography, my exposure to new careers, my exposure to new places and my exposure to new people and new friends is significant, in some ways quantifiable, and in other ways immeasurable. As I sit here in my New Mexico home, preparing to teach a desert field ecology class for the University of New Mexico next week, I find that my brain after a while wanders off from reviewing the ecology of desert species, and I begin to wonder where Fairweather is on route to Nome. I wonder how the landscape has changed from the dense Sitka Spruce, hemlock and alder I got used to seeing from the ship in Southeast Alaska. As I fill my birdfeeders and watch the goldfinch flock, I wonder if the crew have seen more albatross species as they have gone north. As I spend a somewhat frivolous Sunday morning driving two hours north to play and cool down in Abiquiu Lake, near where the artist Georgia O’Keefe gained much inspiration, I am reminded of the Gulf of Alaska’s water temperatures, discovered on a wet day when bottom sampling west of Prince of Wales Island, and of the Argillite carvings produced by Haida artists not far from Ketchikan.
Carved raven from Argillite
Georgia’s O’Keeffe’s Perdernal
Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, me, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.
Me and two great friends on our frivolous outing
Latitude also refers to freedom in actions and choices. I feel fortunate to teach at the school that I do, as I have a lot of latitude when it comes to my curriculum and a lot of support in allowing me to apply for opportunities such as Teacher At Sea. This makes it very easy to incorporate the science of hydrography I have learned this summer into my existing curriculum. I have latitude in exposing students to my experiences, and hopefully as a result, expanding theirs. On the 21 days I sailed on Fairweather I was able to make time to review curricula Teachers At Sea have created in the past, and develop new hydrography lessons I hope many of us can use. I was able to directly ask Fairweather hydrographers for support, and thanks to Sam Candio, I have images of the mud volcano and Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault we surveyed, that I can use in the classroom next month. I am using data collected by Hollings scholar, Carly LaRoche, in the classroom -my 6th graders will analyze her maps and the data to see if there are correlations.
3D image of Queen Charlotte-Fairweather fault
Chart of mud volcano and fault
3D image of the mud volcano
On the ship, after a few days, I also realized that I was now the student. I’ll admit that it was slightly humbling and when I got over the ‘I’m used to being in charge and doing’ feeling I relished the new position I found myself in. While I had anticipated learning a lot about the science of hydrography and what it takes to sail and run a large science vessel, I hadn’t thought about the indirect observations I would make, about myself as a student and the consequences of my experiences as a student to my classroom. I began to examine how I could tweak a lesson here and there to make it more applicable to my students experiences, and how even excellently explained concepts can be confusing initially, and repetition and re-introduction can be essential for some students. I watched myself be overwhelmed by acronyms in the beginning and get excited 18 days in to the leg when I could remember one without looking it up. I never did quite remember what each of the computer software programs were for, and marveled at my hydrographer colleagues as they navigated HYPAC, HYSWEEP, CARIS, SIS and Charlene (or Sharr-lene at it became affectionately known in honor of one of the NOAA Corps officers). I learned that I had a bit of a stumbling block when it came to learning what each program did, and it was a reminder to me that these stumbling blocks can be present for my students in the classroom setting too.
My degrees of latitude have changed significantly in the last two months since I found out, in the dusty remote gas station parking lot in southern Utah, that I would be going to be on a NOAA hydrography ship in Alaska. The longer I have been home, the more I have realized what an incredible opportunity I was given by NOAA Teacher at Sea. Life changing may sound ‘hokey’ but I think that is a good succinct summary. I now have a profound understanding of the time consuming and often hard work needed to create nautical charts. I have a new understanding of what it is like for the crew of Fairweather, and many other vessels, to spend weeks, and in their case, months, away from family and friends; I have a healthy respect and comparisons to make and share about the ecology and geology of Alaska. I have new friends and new ideas. And now, as a teacher, the real work begins in synthesizing this experience.
This weekend I spoke with my friend Jillian Worssam, a TAS alumna and incredible science teacher in Flagstaff, AZ, who has founded a program Scientists in the Classroom. Her work, ideas and community engagement are inspirational, and while I was on the ship, I shot her an email as I knew I wanted to make sure I did not lose ground, I did not want to lose momentum once I returned to ‘normal life’. As a teacher, things pile up as the school year progresses, and I am profoundly aware that it’s so easy, when things ‘get crazy’ to fall back on what’s been done before. While that is not always a bad thing, it is a constant challenge to integrating new experiences and new learning from professional development such as Teacher At Sea. As a teacher, I have also learned, that while my brain is good, when I ‘beg, borrow and steal’ other people’s’ knowledge and ideas, my classroom becomes stronger and my students’ degrees of latitude increase. My new NOAA contacts, both on the ships and on land, should have a heads up that this is only the beginning.
Geographic Area of Cruise:Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey
Date: June 24, 2017
Wind: 20 knots
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Barometer: 1016.0 hPa
Air temperature: 13.2C
Cloud cover: 100%
Location: Gulf of Alaska, 58°58.3N, 138° 49.7W
Science and Technology Log
In the last final week of this long three week leg, survey work on Fairweather has been varied. As data collection for this area has drawn to a close, it has been late nights for the sheet managers, who are making sure all of the holidays (the areas of missing data) are collected, crosslines are accomplished in all areas, and that they have what they need to do a complete report of the area.
Earlier this week the ship completed an additional smaller project out in the Alaskan gulf. Fairweather was tasked with collecting hydrographic data on a subsurface mud volcano that has been discovered southwest of Ketchikan near the Queen Charlotte –Fairweather fault system. Sailing during the day to the location, the surveying began late evening. Rather than using the small launches, Fairweather’s sonar was used. The survey area was quite large and the boundary extended to the edge of Canadian waters. Just as with the small launches, casts had to be done to factor in the water’s salinity and temperature in order to get accurate data. The water column profiling measurement device for Fairweather is located on the stern and once launched can be operated electronically, by hydrographers.
Hydrographer Drew Leonard with the CTD cast
The winch needed to lower the cast in the water
Hydrographers were divided into shifts, working two four hour shifts, throughout the 24 hour data acquisition period. From 12am-4am, hydrographers Hannah Marshburn and Drew Leonard, and I, check on the quality of data acquisition and monitored the related software. As we sailed over the vent of the volcano hundreds of meters below the surface, the sonar picked up gas releases, probably methane, coming from the vent. This volcano is potentially part of a volcanic field in this area. I am excited to read and learn more about these mud volcanoes on the active fault in this area and to integrate it into my geology class at school. For more information about mud volcanos in this region, visit https://eos.org/articles/active-mud-volcano-field-discovered-off-southeast-alaska
Life and work on a ship requires the crew here to learn many things, both about the scientific mission and methodology but also about the ship itself and the safety protocols. NOAA provides training for crew in many different forms, some in situ, some electronically, and others during the non field-season in the form of land-based workshops. Here on Fairweather, workbooks are provided to prepare officers and survey techs to help qualify them as Hydrographers-In-Charge (HIC). Individuals work through these books and hand-on trainings to increase their understanding of the mission, the science content, their ability to work with survey systems, launches, field equipment and to serve as backup coxswains on the launches if necessary.
In wrapping up the work in the area west of Prince of Wales Island, one last task was to dismantle the Base Station that the hydrographers had set up at the beginning of the project. The Base Station houses a GPS and receiver that transmits the data to the ship.
Bekah and Nick taking down the base station
Hannah taking down the base station
Sam, Steve and Brian on the way to the Base Station
Hydrographers, Hannah and Bekah on the ANWAR boat
The base station
Great views from the base station
Back on the ship, a route was planned by the NOAA Corps officers and charted both electronically and on the paper charts. It was time for Fairweather to say goodbye to this region of Alaska and to begin the journey north.
While June 21 is a date associated with the solstice, it is also World Hydrography Day. In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on oceans and law of the sea, and encouraged entities/nations to work with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The idea is to increase knowledge of and promote safe marine navigation. As a result, World Hydrography Day was formed and is used as a method to increase knowledge and understanding of hydrography to the general public. Currently only about 10% of the world’s oceans and 50% of the coastal waterways have been directly measured. Much of the rest of the world is dependent on estimates from satellite gravity based measurements or has no data. Most people tend not to think about the role hydrography and knowledge of the seafloor plays in our day to day live. While there is the obvious correlation with safe navigation, seafloor knowledge is important for laying cables and pipelines, to develop maritime boundaries and to help make predictions of what tsunamis waves and hurricanes would do. World Hydrography Day 2017 celebrates the 96th anniversary of the IHO. To celebrate this day, other than continuing to acquire data for the project, the crew gathered together to watch a film from 1976 of Fairweather in Alaska conducting hydrography. While much of the technology has changed and the ship retrofitted, there was a lot of familiarity with the ship and with the job being done.
Being on a ship for weeks at a time, working everyday can take its toll. Over the last couple of days I can see in the faces of the survey crew that, just like the end of a school year, while there still a lot to do before ‘the end’ and people are tired, they are looking forward to a change of pace with their upcoming time in port. The ship is scheduled to be in Kodiak for over a week, allowing for mid-season repairs to be completed. Meanwhile the hydrographers will continue to work on data from this leg and look ahead to the upcoming ones; the deck crew will continue the multitude of tasks that always need to be done; the engineers will continue to fix, clean and monitor the launches, the engines and the myriad of equipment on the ship. The NOAA Corps officers will continue their rotation of duties. The stewards will continue to provide food for everyone. It’s the field season. Everyone is still busy, but there will be off-duty time on land and opportunities to explore the area.
One important concept that is apparent on Fairweather is keeping an eye on everyone’s welfare and well being. Part of the XO’s (Executive Officer) role is to help with morale of all the crew, and to this end, the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) group is key in regular small events. When the ship is in port, optional excursions are arranged and transportation is available to and from the town during evenings and weekend hours. On Sunday evenings, Sundae Sunday happens at 7pm where people come together to have ice cream; The Finer Things Club happens once per leg, and foods such as cheese and crackers, olives and chocolate are served; on World Hydrography Day, the MWR group arranged a ‘holiday hunt’ on the ship with prizes, and ‘hydrography/Fairweather charades’ was played that evening after we had watched the 1976 Fairweather film. Each evening the Fairweather ship’s store opens and folk can purchase their favorite soda or chocolate bar, or in my case, a Fairweather hoodie.
Tlevak Narrows on chart
One of the many small islands
It will take three days approximately to get to Kodiak. Rather than going directly across the Gulf of Alaska from Southeast Alaska, Fairweather moved north through Tlevak Strait, which includes a rather narrow section of water with islands and rocks close on both sides. Having had several weeks of cloud and rain, we were graced with clear blue skies and a warm evening as we headed north. Whales swam in the distance and small islands covered in vegetation rose vertically out of the water. On route we were able to stop for several hours in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. Here the crew were able to explore on land for a while, hike to hot springs and a lake, and take in some more of the beauty of Alaska. It was an incredible blue sky morning (only the third so far this summer according to the locals) , snow was on the peaks around us and bald eagles sat in the nearby trees.
Sailing in to Warm Springs Bay, AK
A view of the lake
Look back towards the main strait
The river next to the hotsprings
Kayaking by the waterfall in Warm Spring Bay
Morale and wellness also come in the form of good food. During my time here on I have been fed excellent food three times a day by the stewards, Ava Speights, Ace Burke, Tyrone Baker and Rory Bacon. The other day I was able to sit down with Ava, acting Chief Steward, and ask her about her job and how the food is planned and prepared for. She was busy making a menu for the upcoming legs of Fairweather and ordering food that would be shipped to Kodiak, and later on, shipped to Nome. She discussed how the budget works and the lead time needed to get produce and supplies to these northern regions.
As my time on Fairweather is coming to an end, I realize that each day contains new normals, and that, after over three weeks here, there will be several transitions to go through such as being back on land and not on a rolling ship, not having food made for me and dishes washed for me, and leaving cloudy cool 50°F weather and cloudy skies to heat waves in New Mexico. I am taking back with me a large amount of new knowledge and ideas that I can integrate into my classroom and school. I am also taking back life-changing memories and hopefully long term connections with people from Fairweather and a desire to come back to Alaska. I know that once I get back to New Mexico more questions will come forth and the Fairweather crew should be prepared to be hearing from me as I figure out how best to use the science in the classroom and in my community. It’s a little bittersweet leaving, knowing that the crew have four months or more of the field season, and that by the time they head back to dry dock for the winter, that we will be over halfway through the first semester of the next school year. I am really thankful to everyone on board for teaching me so much and making this an incredible adventure for me.
Carly and I on Fairweather heading to the Gulf
Black bear on the shore
Quilegia canadensis (Canada columbine)
A calm evening west of Prince of Wales Island
A swarm of jellies
Word of the day: Turnover: Part of the nature of ship life, I have discovered is that crew come and go. The NOAA Corps officers have an approximate two year stint on a ship before a three year rotation on land. Deck crew, stewards and engineers are often on ships for multiple seasons, but can apply to move locations and transfer to other ships. ‘Augmenters’ are crew from all departments who come on to ships for one or two legs at a time to fill in when a ship is short-staffed or someone has taken vacation. At the end of each leg, people leave the ship and new people join the ship. The only certain thing here is that there is and always will be staffing changes.
Fact of the day: On our journey north of Tlevak Strait, Fairweather was using fuel at the rate of 0.15mpg. We’ve seen a couple of much larger cruise ships recently and an even larger container ship. Estimate their fuel consumption!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island
Date: June 17, 2017
Weather Data (on day of bottom sampling –June 14th)
Wind: 27 knots from the west (110° true)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1005.3 hPa
Air temperature: 9.4°C
Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’
Science and Technology Log
If you have ever taken a look at a nautical map, other than just depths listed on it, there will be symbols and definitions that provide information to help with safety and knowledge of the area. For example, asterix-like symbols represent rocks, and a branch-like symbol represents kelp. Also written on the maps is information about the seafloor and what it is composed of, such as gravel, sand, or bedrock. Here in southeast Alaska, off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, much of the data that is currently on the charts was collected over 100 years ago. Fairweather’s mission is to collect new information to allow these charts to be updated, and this includes information on the seafloor too.
The other day I was tasked with joining a survey crew to conduct bottom sampling. The assigned bottom sample locations are provided by the Operations branch at headquarters. The sheet managers adapt the locations if they think there are better locations that will provide information for anchoring or to help characterize different regions in the area. With less than glassy water conditions on a windy and rainy day, the boats were launched and we moved to our first sample area.
The technology behind sampling is a little more antiquated than other parts of the research I’ve seen. It involves hooking up a self-closing scoop like device to a rope, and lowering it in to the water until it hits the seafloor. Ideally, the trigger is released when it hits the seafloor and it closes. With closed scoops, the bottom sampler is winched up, ideally full of whatever material is located on the seafloor in that immediate location. There were three different styles of these bottom samplers and we quickly had a firm favorite that seemed to work the best. Easing the boat in the swell to the location, the coxswains, Dennis and Denek, would keep the boat in position so we did not tangle the rope in the motor. We could tell from the rope going slack when the bottom sampler had hit the sea floor, and a mechanical winch made the return journey easy.
Lowering the bottom sampler in to the water
Pulling up the sampler
Wet windy conditions
Dumping the contents in to a bucket we were able to see the diversity of the seafloor in just a few samples. Occasionally rocks or shells would get stuck in the mechanism and we’d have to repeat the procedure, but overall we had tremendous success.
There are international protocols to follow in collecting bottom samples. These allow for communication and consistency of data on navigational charts. In general, the main medium of the sample is described, such as sand, mud or pebbles, and an adjective used to describe it, such as broken, sticky or soft. Color is also assigned to the sample as well as appropriate size of the grains (fine, medium or coarse). Symbols are used for all this data: For example, ‘the sample is mostly fine brown sand with mud and a little bit of broken shell’ would be written fne br S M brk Sh. Protocols indicate that if sampling is attempted three times in one location and it doesn’t work then ‘unknown’ is documented in that location.
At each of the sampling locations, we marked the spot on the chart and took latitude and longitude coordinates. We also documented additional observations we had about the sample, including findings that were not included as data choices. For example, in our second sampling site we found what we thought initially were mammal hairs. Several sites later we struck ‘gold’ again, finding what appeared to be more hairs in a mud matrix. Upon reflection and discussion, it’s possible they are more likely decomposing kelp fibers. It would be interesting to have the samples analyzed to identify what these fibers/hairs come from. We also found whole clamshells as well as having a sample that only contained water. Our thoughts with the water only samples were that perhaps we were hitting bedrock rather than failing on obtaining any kind of sediments. We also observed that in the more sheltered bays, the samples were very odiferous dark mud. In both of these occasions, the landscape surrounding the bay was heavily logged, and it would be interesting to see if there were correlations between the logging and the dark sediments, perhaps containing higher levels of carbon material washed in from terrestrial sources. In one of these areas, documentation from 100 years ago suggested that at that time, the seafloor was gravel.
The bottom-sampling day was challenging day weather wise, both for the coxswains and the science crew, but very rewarding. Due to the rough seas it wasn’t a good day to collect sonar data, and on days like this, other parts of the total data collection are put in to place. Part of our work that day was to also do crosslines (sonar data verification) but the water conditions were too hazardous in certain directions of travel, and so it was decided that we should focus on bottom samples. To be frank, this was my favorite day as a Teacher At Sea so far. Truth be told, I was reminded that I quite enjoy sticking my hand in a bucket of mystery ‘goop’ and trying to figure out what it is composed of. The diversity of samples was completely surprising and finding hair samples, twice, completely intriguing. It was great also to observe upcoming OPS officer, LT Damian Manda at work logging the data, and realize again, the role technological knowledge plays a role in the success of this research. And, thank you to Coxswain Dennis Brooks for taking most of the photos for this blog entry.
Backscatter is the intensity of acoustic energy received by the sonar after interacting with the seafloor. Backscatter data can be used to help determine the surface of the seafloor. In softer areas, perhaps a surface of mud, returns a weaker signal, but a harder surface, such as bedrock returns a stronger signal. Hollings scholar Carly LaRoche from American University is on the boat for several legs this summer and is collecting and analyzing backscatter data in the area. Bottom sampling of the area is allowing Carly to compare the backscatter data with the sediments collected to see if there are correlations.
What is this?
(Answer from previous blog: part of the vertical struts of an old pier at a former salmon canning factory.)
Acronym of the day: Used in bottom sampling
NATSUR: Nature of surface -example: mud, gravel, coral
NATQUA: Qualifying terms for NATSUR -example: sticky, soft, calcareous