Susan Kaiser: Introduction: A 7th Grade Memory, June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 24 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A California coast tide pool.

A California coast tide pool.
Can you find the Sculpin fish?

My first ocean encounter happened while on an overnight field-trip to San Francisco in 7thgrade. Our Science Club traveled from Reno, Nevada by school bus to visit a museum, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and the tide pools on the coast. I had no idea how this experience would eventually impact my life. Our teachers, who were our guides, lead the group to a steep drop off where the land ends and the beach lies below.  Carefully we picked our way single file down a worn path cutting through a sea of ice plants descending slowly to the sandy shore. Outcroppings of rocks trapped the cold ocean water, forming small natural containers for water AND living sea organisms.  We had to step carefully to be sure of our footing and to avoid crushing the live inhabitants of these rocks. California mussels closed tight to preserve their moisture, and slippery seaweed covered most of the rock surface. They were waiting for the sea level to rise again. Peering into the sparkling pools revealed spiny purple sea urchins, colorful sea stars and tiny crabs, betrayed by their movement across the pool bottom. Seeing these organisms up close was amazing to me and created a lifelong memory.  It awakened a curiosity about living things that inspired me to study biology in college and become a science teacher.

I am Susan Kaiser and I teach 7th grade Life Science at Pine Middle School in Reno, Nevada. Soon, I will be embarking on a voyage that combines all of these elements: biology, sea organisms and teaching. It promises to be even more memorable than my first trip to a tide pool.  Best of all, I get to bring my students at Pine along with me! Well, at least through this blog…read along and see what is in store.

Since, 1990 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been including teachers on board their research vessels through a unique program called Teacher at Sea. Each year teachers apply from across the county and about 25 are selected to participate. After several years of wanting to apply, I finally mustered my courage and completed an application. I am proud to have been selected and will sail aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster leaving from the port of Key West, Florida.  I will have the opportunity to observe and learn about organisms in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the help of the crew and scientists led by chief scientist, Scott Donahue. Their research includes monitoring sensitive marine organisms over a long period of time. In this way, scientists can detect population changes that may occur due to extreme events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms (HAB) or more recently, impacts of possible oil spill contamination. You can see that I have some homework to do to prepare for this adventure. I am reading the websites you can click on and learning all I can to contribute to the success of the mission.

Kaiser Family snorkeling in 2005

Here we are snorkeling and meeting a ray in 2005! That is me on the left. Then my sons, Nathan and Stefan, my daughter, Rachel, and my husband , Phillip.

If it could get any more exciting, I saved the biggest news for last. In addition to working alongside the scientists and living on an ocean-going vessel for two weeks,  I may also have the opportunity to snorkel in the coral reef study areas. To be truthful, my snorkeling skills are a little rusty. Living in the desert makes it a challenge to stay in practice! The last time I snorkeled was on a family vacation in 2005. But not to worry, I have a plan. I have been spending time at the pool practicing with the snorkel equipment I borrowed from my friend and colleague at Pine Middle School, Jencie Fagan. It turns out that Ms. Fagan is SCUBA certified and willing to help me build my skills before I set sail next month. Thank you Ms. Fagan, you rock!

My snorkeling tutor

Me and my snorkeling tutor, Jencie Fagan.
Photo by Larissa Hirning

It is time for my practice session at the pool. The next time you read my blog I will be writing from the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. Join me on this  adventure of ocean learning. What memory will you make of your 7th grade year in Science?

Melissa Fye, April 12, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa Fye
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
April 4 – 25, 2005

Mission: Coral Reef Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 12, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Buoy maintenance

Buoy maintenance

Science and Technology Log

The ship arrived overnight near Tern Island in the Northern Hawaiian Island Chain. The AHI research boat was deployed early this morning again today to continue survey lines with its sonar equipment. Aboard the AHI were scientists Scott Ferguson, Joyce Miller, and Rob O’Connor. They returned to the HI’IAKALAI at approximately 1 PM to trade personnel, swapping Scott and Rob for Scientist Emily Lundblad and Jeremy Jones.  The lead scientists are in the process of training the new scientists on how to use the sonar equipment aboard the AHI, and schedule people for half day trips at this time for training.

Meanwhile, back on board the ship, data from the multibeam sonar equipment continued to be edited in the computer lab.  The edited swaths of data will then be compiled to form maps of the ocean floor. It’s an ongoing process that will continue until the end of the cruise and back at labs on dry land. Scientist Kyle Ferguson, Joe Chojnacki, Rob O’Connor and I then boarded the HI#1 10m Speedboat, with BGL Keith Lyons in control, to drive out to the CREWS (Coral Reef Early Warning System) buoy that was installed on the reef just east of Tern Island yesterday.  The scientists finished anchoring it permanently, using wire cutters and other tools to secure it, then basic plastic ties were added to the top of the buoy, near the measurement equipment, placed sticking up, to keep birds from roosting and defecating all over the buoy, which could make it ineffective for transmitting data through satellite systems.

After completing the task at hand, we were given permission to explore the ecosystem under La Perouse Pinnacle nearby.  We snorkeled to discover white tip reef sharks, giant green turtles, chum fish, and coral acropora (table coral) below the water’s surface at the rock outcropping. We returned to the ship some 15 minutes later without incident.  While we were gone the ship continued survey lines NW and SE of the French Frigate Shoals and practiced the weekly fire and safety drills.

Exploring the reefs

Exploring the reefs

Personal Log

After breakfast today, I was invited to attend a trip to the CREWs buoy installed yesterday by Scientist Kyle Hogrefe.  Plans got changed and we were delayed, not leaving until 1:00. The seas were much calmer than my previous trip on Monday (seas were only 1-2 feet this day) and we boarded the speedboat. When we arrived at the buoy location, the 2 divers worked on securing the line while scientist Rob O’Connor and I looked on and snorkeled around them. The water there was not very deep (maybe 15 feet) but the current made it fairly cloudy, difficult to see through, and I was amazed and how strong the pressure was on your ears as soon as you dove down.  You have to be careful when you dive or you can get a bloody nose from diving too deep.  I got used to the snorkeling mask and at the end of the work we took turns getting on the CREWS buoy for pictures.

Once back on board the HI#1 speedboat, we were told over the radio that we could go snorkeling at La Perouse Pinnacle, only a couple miles away in the distance.  What a great treat! We jumped in and immediately saw a thriving ecosystem below our feet.  The underwater current wasn’t nearly as severe in this location and it was almost protected from the rock outcropping towering above. La Perouse Pinnacle is a volcanic rock about 122 feet high and 60 yards long that is used by sailors as a landmark around the atoll. It is nearly inaccessible because it is so steep and rugged and its guano-coated (bird poop coated) outline resembles an old brig ship with billowing sails from a distance.

Mrs. Fye snorkeling

Mrs. Fye snorkeling

As soon as we dove in we saw 2 white tip reef sharks about 15 feet below. After being reassured they wouldn’t bother us, I got comfortable and snorkeled around! The sharks were no more than about 6 feet in length and just swimming below. There was also a giant green sea turtle resting on the reef below and millions of fish and coral systems.  Several rare table coral (coral acropara) were noticed and I took pictures of everything intermingling in this ecosystem. An underwater cave was the main habitat of the shark, and two of the scientists swam in and out to see it. Fish darted in and out and the colors of the coral here were brighter and easier to see because of the lack of strong current. It was a fantastic experience! An adventure I didn’t think I would ever get to do, and was pleasantly surprised! My students wanted to know if I was going to swim with the sharks while on this cruise and now I can tell them I sure did!

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students: The white tipped reef shark was one of the animals I discovered today in the coral reef ecosystem I was snorkeling in. Using a reference source:  1) list 3 facts about this shark 2) list the name of the reference source you used 3) draw a food chain for the shark like this example:  white tipped reef shark—-(eats)-> __________–(eats)—->________

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’S QUESTION (Log 8): A barometer measures sea level pressure. The barometer reading from that log was 1017.9 (high).  High pressure brings good weather, low pressure usually indicates a storm.  The barometer reading is one of the most important pieces of equipment on the ship’s bridge, and is checked every hour because if the measurements begin to indicate a change, the captain can prepare for a storm coming.