Staci DeSchryver: Super Bonus Spiritual History Blog! July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

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:

Scattered Clouds

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.

name song for papahanamoukuakea

The Name song for Papahānaumokuākea, reprinted with permission from Kalani Quiocho.

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 the Pō representing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and spiritual twilight.

ao and po

This diagram shows the separation between the NWHI and the main Hawaiian Islands. The horizontal line through the center divides day (Ao) from night (Pō) and lines up with the Tropic of Cancer. The Island Mokumanamana lies directly on the boundary between the living and spiritual realms. Our destination was Lalo, or French Frigate Shoals, though our travels took us much further northwest than that. (Diagram Credit: Kalani Quiocho)

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 (click here 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.

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Papahānaumokuākea is rich with history – both ancient and recent, and full of its own surprises!

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.

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A rare sighting of Tropical Pacific Orca – one of the first Cetaceans to welcome us to the Monument. What a gift!

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.

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A volcanic neck stands high above the waters surrounding the shoals.

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.

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A closer view of the island. The dots in the air above the island are all birds.

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.

runway

This flat strip of land is a dredged up runway, slowly returning back to the ocean after years of abandonment from use. A mother seal and two pups lounge on the sand, enjoying the sun.

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.

pulley system

Supplies were hauled ashore by the small pulley system jutting up from the shoreline – visible on the left-middle portion of the island.

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?

    fire alarm

    Yup! I got to test the alarm. Thanks Lieutenant Commander Rose!

  •         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. 
    amanda and hexacopters

    Dr. Amanda Bradford gives the Wardroom a lesson on Hexacopter Operations (see blog #5 for more!)

    tim and msds

    ENS Tim Holland gives a lesson on MSDS chemical safety sheets.

  •         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.  

    The tallys

    Officers can make a competition out of ANYTHING!  Here are the tallys for the past 25 days.

Staci DeSchryver: The First Rule of Mammal Club, July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

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

Pressure:  1017.0

Waves: 2-3 feet at 95 degrees

Swell: 3-4 feet

Temperature 27.5

Wet bulb temp: 26.2

 

Science Log

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.

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Marine Mammal Observer Allan Ligon records his cetacean estimates in his “green book” after a sighting.

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.

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Scientist Paula Olson recording her numbers after a sighting, keeping her information separate from others.

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.

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Scientist Kym Yano on the bow of the ship, trying to get an up-close ID photo.

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.

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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.  

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Everyone loves a cetacean sighting! Corps officers Maggied and Frederick on the bow looking at a dolphin sighting.

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.

 

Personal Log

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:

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Try spotting this from two miles away. There is a Steno Dolphin under that splash!

In this:

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Sun Glare. It’s not easy to find mammals in these conditions.

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Beaufort 6 sea conditions: When you’re looking for splashes…and it’s all splashes…

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.  

 

Ship Fun!

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:

 

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana hosts a shave ice party (a traditional Hawaiian treat) on a Monday afternoon

 

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The scientific team gets fiercely competitive when it comes to cribbage!

 

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The Doc and I making apple pie after hours for an upcoming dessert!

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Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana fires up the smoker for a dinnertime pork shoulder. Yum!

 

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Husband and wife team Scientist Dr. Amanda Bradford and Crewmember Mills Dunlap put ice on a freshly caught Ono for an upcoming meal.

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Commanding officer CDR Koes makes a whale shaped ice cream cake to “call the whales over” and aid in our search effort.

Helen Haskell: Changing Latitude, July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: July 11, 2017

Weather Data 

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

Personal Log:  

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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Waiting for the temperature to drop to 50F so I can wear my Fairweather hoodie again…

 

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 24, 2017

Weather Data

Wind:  20 knots

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  1016.0 hPa

Air temperature: 13.2C

Cloud cover: 100%

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

 

Science and Technology Log

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

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

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

 

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

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Drew Leonard and Hannah Marshburn observe the sonar at work

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The mud volcano (within the elevated red area; the white triangle is our ship

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Possible methane plumes ‘caught’ by the sonar

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

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The work

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

 

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

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

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

Personal Log

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

What is this?:

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Acronym of the day:

MWR group – Morale, Welfare and Recreation group

Helen Haskell: Bottom Sampling! June 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 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’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

 

Science and Technology Log 

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Hollings Scholar Carly LaRoche, TAS Helen Haskell, and LT Damian Manda with a bottom sample.

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.

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A bottom sampler

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.

 

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.

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Carly, Denek, the coxswain and me getting some respite from the rain

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.

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Success in our sampling

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.

 

Personal Log

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.

 

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Me and Carly at the end of the day

 

Word of the day:

Hollings Scholarship Program: this NOAA program provides undergraduate students with a ten week internship at a NOAA facility and academic assistance, as well as an orientation and symposium. For more information: http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship

Fact of the day:

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?

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(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

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

June 5 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

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

Date: June 16, 2017

Weather Data

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

Visibility: 6 nautical miles

Barometer:  997.6 hPa

Air temperature: 9 °C

Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’

Location

54°54.4’N  132°52.3’W

Science and Technology Log

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

Tides:

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

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The tide times of the day

Sound Speed Profiles:

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

 

 

Data Density:

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

Crossline Acquisition:

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

Shoreline verification:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Processing:

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

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Night Processing

Personal Log 

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

 

 

Word of the day:   Fathom

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

Fact of the day:

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

What is this? 

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

Acronym of the day:  

LIDAR: Light Detecting and Ranging

 

Denise Harrington: Saying Farewell To NOAA Ship Pisces and the Pacscagoula Lab, May 12, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 12, 2016

“Gross!”

“Is that an eyeball in its stomach?”

“Can I touch it?”

 

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I hear the inquiry skills of tomorrow’s scientists develop under the guidance of Fisheries Biologists Lisa Jones and Christian Jones during a recent shark dissection at the Pascagoula, Mississippi Laboratories of NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center. The NOAA mission of “Science, Service, and Stewardship” is taken very seriously as fishery biologists work with students of all ages to learn about our natural resources and how to understand and manage them wisely. But NOAA Fisheries doesn’t just educate people about science, they do research, provide national data collection, collaborate with other scientists, help make everything from nets to policies to help manage our scarce resources, and even sniff our fish to make sure it is safe to eat.

Science

Developing scientific methods to answer questions that can only be answered by collecting data, science, is the first of NOAA’s three part mission.  Kevin Rademacher, a Fisheries Biologist, uses his understanding of scientific inquiry and standardized data collection to inspire students.  He encourages students to consider characteristics, purpose, and habitat to expand their inquiry when they ask questions like why one shell spiky and the other one is smooth.

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Kevin shows students the head of an Atlantic cutlassfish.

Kevin’s deep understanding of the diversity of life in the Gulf of Mexico is obvious as he inspires students from nearby Pascagoula, and as far away as Tillamook, Oregon to learn more about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Stewardship

While Kevin, Christian and Lisa teach science, other students head outside to learn about stewardship. Stewardship, using sound science to protect and manage people and resources, is another component of NOAA’s mission. The Harvesting Systems Unit helps develop and test more efficient and environmentally friendly gear used to catch fish and other seafood.  For example, fishermen are happy to let other marine species like sea turtles escape from nets, leaving more room for the shrimp they are trying to catch and helping sea turtles at the same time.

Provide national fisheries gear engineering support in the development, fishery-dependent assessment and implementation of more efficient and environmentally friendly fishing gear;

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Here, Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist Warren Brown builds and makes changes to a Turtle Excluder Device using generations of family history in the shrimp trawling industry to guide his work.

By 1978, all five species of sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico were on endangered or threatened species list, in no small part because of shrimp trawling methods.  Sea turtles, who need to take a breath of air at least every 55 minutes, would get caught in the nets and die.  NOAA responded to this problem by designing new equipment and gear meant to decrease the amount of by-catch, or other living things, shrimp trawlers and fisherman pulled up in their nets. A Turtle Excluder Device, or TED, allows sea turtles to escape from shrimp nets. Learn more about sea turtles and what you can do to help them through NOAA’s great educational resources.

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This sea turtle is escaping from a bottom opening TED!        Photo Credit: NOAA

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist, educates, inspires, and engages students of all ages as they learn what it feels like to be an endangered sea turtle crawling out of a shrimp net through the TED.

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Andre DeBose shows students each component of the TED, how it was designed and how it works.

 

Service

The three components of NOAAs service, science, and stewardship mission are inseparable. While most scientists work in the field or educate others, the scientists in National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) use good science to make sure the seafood we eat is good.

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Angela Ruple wears protective glasses to make sure the germs that grow in these petri dishes don’t get in her eyes!

Angela Ruple is the Lead Analyst at NSIL, keeping a close protected eye on any seafood that is tested for hazards like Salmonella and chemical contaminants.  She works with other government agencies and encourages food safety education programs such as the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s FightBac program, which uses fun games and other tools, to educate us about food hazards like bacteria.

Shannara Lynn is one of NOAA’s seafood detectives.  Untrustworthy seafood dealers may sell fish that are easy to catch as more expensive fish.  They will take a piece of less expensive ray or shark and pretend it is a scallop. But each species of fish has DNA and protein markers that make them unique.  Looking at proteins, Shannara can run 72 fish in 1 day to see if they match their label, but only 8 fish in 2 days using DNA analysis.  So, stores like Kroger, with lots of fish to test, might want to screen with protein banding first to make sure they aren’t getting hoodwinked.

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This graph I made is similar to the ones Shannara uses on the computer.  A shark (red line) has three characteristic protein peaks above the 500 unit line. The blue line represents a different species of fish. No match!

Cheryl Lassitter, Lead Chemist at NSIL, (pictured below) combined her mathematical, technological, and scientific skills, to make a library that makes the protein identification of each fish easy to find in a computer program.

All senses are used at NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program (SIP) to test fish.  Susan Linn, Approving Officer for SIP, travels around the nation to teach seafood inspection testers to use the same vocabulary and methods when testing fish with their noses.  If it smells like “dirty socks,” it’s gone bad.

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Susan sniffs a salmon for freshness.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Rademacher.

Patience and Tenacity

Patience and tenacity do not start with an “S,” but these two life skills are what fuel the “Science, Service, and Stewardship,” three part mission of NOAA aboard the Pisces.

When told there was a problem that would delay our departure, I asked to “see it.” What I learned over the next ten days is that science requires precision, complex tools, experts working in teams, and lots of money.  Brent Jones, Chief Engineer and Augmenter William Osborn, showed patience and tenacity as they helped me understand some of the unique features of the power system for the Pisces.

CLICK ON PICTURES BELOW TO MAKE THEM BIGGER AND TO READ ABOUT PARTS OF THE POWER SYSTEM.

 

For fisheries science, the boat has to be quiet in the water.  A simple diesel engine would have been easy to fix, but would scare away many of the fish that scientists are trying to study. Second graders use their “fox feet” in our outdoor classroom, and Pisces scientists use a stealthy diesel electric engine, to sneak up on their specimens.   The unique ship requires experts capable of finding problems in a maze of technology without major calamity.

Once again, the more questions I asked, the more questions I had.  The problems were in the SCR drives, behind big gray panels.  Diodes convert AC power to DC power and the SCR drives smooth out and clean up the pulses of power.

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How fortunate I was to meet Eric Richards, from VT Halter Marine, who built Pisces and  drew this block diagram, and gave me a builder’s perspective on how the ship operates.

Somewhere in a room of grey closets filled with live wires, pulsing with 600 volts of electricity, was the problem that kept Pisces from sailing.  As long as I worked as a Teacher in Port, the problem hid like a second grader after the recess whistle blew.

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Here Chief Engineer Brent Jones, “Chief,” sensing my desire to get my hands on the problem, tells me to stay away from the SCR drives. Photo credit: William Osborn

The Reef Fish Survey has four parts or legs.  During the first leg, the motor died a couple times while at sea.  Fortunately, the crew was able to shut down the engine and restart it.  If something like this happened when pulling into a tight space, the ramifications could be scary.

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Commanding Officer, Commander William Mowitt, Field Party Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher, and Junior Officer Nathan Gilliam have one of many brainstorming meetings as they figure out how to tackle mechanical problems and reschedule surveys, so that they can collect the scientific data needed to complete the Reef Fish Survey on time.

Experts took a systematic approach to solving the intermittent problem, complicated by a limited budget, with equanimity. Yet they could not solve the problem fast enough to go on leg two or three of the survey. Now, Kevin Rademacher, the Field Party Chief Scientist has to negotiate other ways to collect the data required for the last two legs of the survey. Junior Officer Nathan Gillman summed it up as follows, “with science, nothing goes according to plan, but it gets done.”

Personal Log

While Pisces ultimately never left port, I imagine that I learned a broader scope of the role NOAA plays in protecting and managing our ocean resources on land than I would have at sea. Thank you, Kevin Rademacher, for showing me the port side of NOAA while juggling a crazy, changing schedule, and teaching me about many intriguing aspects of fisheries science. I also send a big thank you to the scientists in the lab who have inspired me to continue asking curious questions, and to encourage students to embrace science and technology. Thanks to the ship engineers who showed me how the ship works, and sometimes doesn’t. Thank you Keigm and Eric Richards, for showing me the path less traveled.

Thank you to Daeh Kujak, Second Grade Teacher, Karen Thenell, Principal, South Prairie Elementary, and our superintendent Randy Schild for being so flexible and supportive, allowing me to become inspired, ocean literate, and an advocate for our limited natural resources. Thank you TAS administrators for creating a life changing program that inspires teachers and students by getting us out in the field with scientists. It takes the whole team to manage our limited ocean resources, and to educate our leaders of tomorrow.  Thanks to the team, I can see the significant, beneficial difference in how I learn and teach.