Frank Hubacz: Our First Day at Sea, April 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Frank Hubacz
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
April 29 – May 10,  2013

Mission: Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Mooring Deployment and Recovery
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea
Date: April 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Partly cloudy, Winds 10 – 15 knots
Air temperature: 4.0 C
Water temperature: 5.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.14 mB

Science and Technology Log

The primary mission of this cruise is to deploy and recover moorings in several locations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.  These moorings collect data for a group of scientist under the auspices of the Ecosystems & Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI) which is a joint venture between the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), and the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC).  Participating institutions on this cruise include NOAA-PMEL, AFSC, Penn State, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the University of Alaska (UAF). This interdisciplinary study helps scientist better understand the overall marine environment of the North Pacific.  This understanding will lead to a better management of the fishery resources of the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

To ensure that time at sea is maximized for data collection, a day or so before leaving Seward, Alaska, the science crew begins assembling their various monitoring instruments under the directions of Chief Scientist for this project, William (Bill) Floering, PMEL.

William Floering, Chief Scientist
William Floering, Chief Scientist.
Dan Naber from University of Alaska
Dan Naber from University of Alaska.

Some of the equipment that will be deployed includes an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), which measure speed and direction of ocean current at various depths.  This data helps physical oceanographers determine how organisms, nutrients and other biological and chemical constituents are transported throughout the ocean.  Argos Drogue drifters will also be deployed to help map ocean currents. Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) measurements will be conducted at multiple sites providing information on temperature and salinity data.  Additionally, “Bongo” tows will also be made at multiple locations which will allow for the collection of zooplankton.  The results of this sampling will be used to characterize the netted zooplankton and help to monitor changes from previous sampling events.  In future blogs I will describe these instruments in greater detail.

The furthest extent of our mission into the Bering Sea is very much weather and ice dependent with much variation this time of the year in the North Pacific Ocean.  Current ice map conditions can be found at

Operation Area

Cruise Area
Cruise Area

Personal Log

As I rode in the shuttle bus from Anchorage to Seward, Alaska on Friday, April 27, and then onto the pier where the Oscar Dyson was docked, I was immediately impressed by its size and overall complexity.

Traveling to Seward, Alaska.
Traveling to Seward, Alaska.
Oscar Dyson in port.
Oscar Dyson in port.

Upon arrival I was met by Bill Floering, Chief Scientist on the cruise.  He gave me a tour of the overall ship and then I settled into my room, a double.  Just like being back in college myself, and being the first to the room, I had my choice of bunks and therefore selected the lower bunk (I did not want to fall out of the top bunk if the seas turned “rough”).  Arriving early provided me time to become oriented on the vessel given that I have never been aboard such a large ship before. I also had the opportunity to walk into Seward, AK, with a member of the science team, for a dinner downtown with extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains.

My stateroom!

My stateroom!

View from Seward, Alaska.

On Saturday, April 27, the rest of the science crew arrived and my roommate, Matthew Wilson, moved in.  Matt is from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) based in Seattle, Washington.  That evening we traveled into town again for another great dining experience…halibut salad with views of Resurrection Bay.

Matt Wilson from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Matt Wilson from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Sunday, April 28, was a busy day of sorting and setting up various instruments for deployment.  Winds were very strong, with snow blowing over the peaks of the mountains, glistening in the brilliant sunshine.

Scott McKeever from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center
Scott McKeever from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Scott at work on an ADCP buoy.
Scott at work on an ADCP buoy.
Installing instruments
Here I am helping to install instrumentation.
View of Seward Harbor.
View of Seward Harbor.

Monday, April 29, our day began with a safety meeting followed by our science meeting.  At that time we were assigned to our work shift.  I will be working from 12 midnight to 12 noon each day during the cruise.  Once the ship sets sail, the science crew is working 24 hours per day!

Science team meeting with Bill and crew.
Science team meeting with Bill and Survey Tech Douglas Bravo.

At 1500 hours we set sail!  The Journey begins!

Releasing tie lines.
Releasing tie lines.
Off we go!
Off we go!
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Stacey Klimkosky, July 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stacey Klimkosky
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 7 – 24, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, Alaska
Date: July 7, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Position: 57°36969N, 154°41.154W
Weather: Overcast, Foggy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind: North 17 knots Swells: 2-3’
Waves: 1-2’
Barometric pressure: 1021.4 mb
Air temperature: Wet bulb=10.6°C; Dry bulb=10.6°C

Science and Technology Log 

The Rainier’s a heavy ship!
The Rainier’s a heavy ship!

Finally we are underway, having pushed off of the dock in Seward around 1500 on Monday, July 6. The cruise time to the area where RAINIER and her crew will be conducting hydrographic surveys is approximately 40 hours.  The distance is 519 nautical miles.  (One mile on land = 0.869 nautical miles, so 1nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles).  Thus far, we have traveled approximately 240 nautical miles in a time of 19 hours—just about ready to finish passing Kodiak Island to the port (left) side.

In the meantime, there is plenty to do aboard— learning about the many aspects of safety aboard a working vessel being the most important.  NOAA personnel new to the ship and guests watched a variety of safety videos as well as received our safety gear. My closet, which was fairly empty yesterday morning, is now stuffed with a survival suit (a.k.a. The Gumby Suit); a Float Coat (a warm orange coat that provides both buoyancy and warmth if you “go into the drink”, or fall overboard) and an inflatable safety vest that I will wear whenever I am working inside the cabin on one of the launches once the surveys begin.  We also had our abandon ship and fire drills. It’s very similar to the fire and safety drills we do in school.  Everyone has a specific place to meet (muster) and some have specific jobs to do or items to bring.  Like the sign on the fantail of the ship says: TEAMWORK SAFETY FIRST!

Alaska has many jagged volcanic mountains.
Alaska has many jagged volcanic mountains.

I’ve also had time to begin speaking to different members of the crew—their responsibilities, how they arrived on RAINIER, and what the hydrographic surveys will be like.  One of the most interesting conversations was with Steve Foye, a Seaman Surveyor.  Steve told me that RAINIER is scheduled for a complete mid-life repair after this year’s survey season is completed in September.  RAINIER will then go into dry dock and the repairs and changes will begin.  The entire inside of the ship will be gutted and remodeled.  While all of that is going on, a decision has to be made—where will RAINIER’s homeport be?  Steve brought up quite an interesting point: a port that has brackish (part salt/part fresh) water is better for the ship.  Why? When a ship is at sea for long periods of time, creatures such as barnacles cement themselves to the hull.  It’s essential to remove them; however, the process is costly—both in time and money. Having moving fresh water along the ship’s hull while docked for the “off season” will eliminate the barnacles. But there’s another problem—after a winter docked in fresher water, algae and plant material starts to grow where the barnacles once were.  Solution? Begin a new survey season and sail the ship in salt water.  The plant material is then eliminated, but guess what starts to come back?  An interesting example of a cycle.

Personal Log 

It’s great to finally be a Teacher at Sea!  Not a Teacher on a Plane, or Teacher on a Train, or Teacher at Port.  I’ve been waiting a long time for this to get underway.  Thus far, the entire experience has been new.  I’ve had the opportunity to see some amazing scenery—the landscape is so different from that of Cape Cod, Massachusetts! Jagged volcanic mountains literally rise up from the water.  I’ve also seen some wildlife including bald eagles, otter, Dahl sheep, Arctic terns and a moose on the Alaska Railroad train that I took from Anchorage to Seward. We also passed three glaciers. The glacial melt off causes nearby lakes and streams to take on a milky light green color.

As far as being on the ship, this is my first at sea experience. I’m finding that it really reminds of my first days of college—living in close quarters; trying to get into a routine with a roommate; learning where things are and how schedules operate; figuring out the hierarchy of individuals. The constant movement is also something new.  I actually had a couple of fun rides in my bunk during the night!  I wonder if that’s what a Nantucket sleigh ride felt like. (A Nantucket sleigh ride, for those who don’t know, is a term from whaling days.  After a whale was harpooned, it would often take off, pulling the small boat of men behind it until the whale tired.)

Did You Know? 

  1. The NOAA ship RAINIER is 231 feet overall. Her cruising speed is 12.5 knots and she can travel a range of 7000 nautical miles!  Medium sized survey ships are customarily named for a prominent geographic feature in the ship’s area. RAINIER’s namesake is Mount Rainier, a volcanic cone that rises 14, 410 feet above sea level in Washington State’s Cascade Range.
  2. Today, sunrise was approximately 0520 and sunset will be at 2314 (that’s 5:20am and 11:14 pm—plus the light lingers for awhile)  Imagine falling asleep at 10:00pm when the sun is still shining!
  3. You can follow the ship’s course by taking a look at the NOAA Ship Tracker . Click on RAINIER (RA).

Alaska Fun Facts 

  1. Seward, AK is located on Resurrection Bay, the northern-most ice-free bay in the US.  It was founded in 1902 by the surveyors of the Alaska Railroad as the ocean terminus of the railroad. Originally a gold rush encampment, the famous Iditarod Trail that miners took into the mountains began here.  To the east, Mount Marathon rises up 3,022 feet.  Every 4th of July, hundreds of runners scurry up and down Marathon to see who can claim bragging rights for a year.
  2. This year, Alaska celebrates its 50th birthday. One of its original names was Alyeska (AlYES-ka), an Aleut word that means “great land”.