Annmarie Babicki, August 8, 2010

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

A cargo ship off the starboard side.

Weather Data from the Bridge

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

Science and Technology:

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

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

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

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

Personal Log

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

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

Blue waters

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

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

Beth Spear, July 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth A Spear
NOAA Ship: Delaware II

Mission: Shark – Red Snapper Bottom Long Line Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico to North Atlantic
Date: Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gumby suits for safety

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 (10:00 am)
Position: Latitude 27 degrees 51’N, Longitude 086 degrees 01’W
Present Weather: Partly Cloudy
Visibility: 11 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 31.1 degrees C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 30.4 degrees C; Wet bulb = 27.8 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 1012.8 mb

Science and Technology Log
The first day aboard ship started with a ship orientation meeting presented by the acting executive officer (XO) LT Fionna Matheson. During the meeting the XO covered many shipboard concerns especially safety. LT Matheson suggested you always use one hand for the ship and one hand for you to avoid accidents. We also had some drills in the afternoon. LT Matheson had some really useful ways to remember the signals for drills. Fire is one long whistle, just like someone yelling fire in one long shout. The abandon ship signal is at least six short blasts then one prolonged blast, like yelling get-the-heck-off-the-ship-nooooow. During the abandon ship drill we had to put on survival suits, called “Gumby” suits by the crew. They were hot and very awkward.

Personal Log
We have about four days to steam to the location we will begin fishing. I am using these days to get myself adjusted to the night watch hours, midnight to noon. I am trying to tell myself it’s a good thing because I’ll be working during the cooler evening and morning hours, still hot is hot! The staterooms are quite cramped, it is a good thing I am not claustrophobic. I am still learning names of crew and the other scientists. There is a mix of NOAA volunteers, students, and professors. The food has been excellent, but I’m trying not to overindulge since there is not much activity during these first four days. The ship has a large selection of current movies loaned by the US Navy which I am taking advantage of during our downtime.

New Terms – Shipboard Terminology
Bulkheads = walls.
Ladderwells = stairs or stairwells.
Passageways = hallways.
Deck = floor.
Bow= front of ship.
Stern = back of the ship.
Port = left side of ship while facing bow, remember this because port is a shorter word than starboard or right, ship lights are red on this side.
Starboard = right side of ship while facing bow, remember this because starboard is a longer word than port or left, ship lights are green on this side.
Aft = direction meaning toward the stern (rear) of the ship
Fore = direction meaning toward the bow (front) of the ship

(figure ref. )

Obed Fulcar, July 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

Me in my immersion suit
Me in my immersion suit

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

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

Personal Log:

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

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

Melinda Storey, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Nicolle von der Heyde from St. Louis, MO. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port
The Pisces in port
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Small boat
Small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Oil Boom
Oil Boom

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.

emulsified oil
Rainbow sheen from oil
Emulsified oil
Emulsified oil
Route of the Pisces
Route of the Pisces

Personal Log

We are finally on our way! This is a picture of the other Teacher at Sea and myself in front of our ship, the Pisces.

Nicolle von der Heyde, from St. Louis, MO, teaches 8th grade science. I am from Birmingham, AL, and teach Gifted students in grades 3-6. I’m so glad to have another teacher to talk to! We are so excited thinking about all the science experiments and lessons that we can bring back to our students. Our minds are just whirling! I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms.

My stateroom
My stateroom

I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining (fishing) for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA!

Yesterday was our first day on ship and right off the bat as we left port, we saw about 20 dolphins riding the bow wave. It was so much fun watching them arc in the water and splash around! Some even swam upside down and sideways! The babies, or calves, stuck real close to their moms! As we peered over the side of the ship we could actually see into their blow holes! What a view!


I was also very pleased to see that there are two women who are Junior Officers – Ensign Kelly Schill and Ensign Laura Gibson. Here you can see Ensign Schill as she prepares our navigation. She is also the Medical Officer. There are three female Commanding Officers in the NOAA fleet. Maybe one of our Ensigns will become a CO one day.

Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces
Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces

Here you see our CO (Commanding Officer), Jeremy Adams, as he sits in his Captain’s Chair scanning the horizon. He’s the one who spotted the dolphins which sent the crew rushing to the bow of the ship. The officers, who wear blue uniforms, have been so gracious and patient as they explain things to us.

Commanding Officer Jerry Adams
Commanding Officer Jerry Adams

Right now I’m sitting in the bow of the ship as I watch a bird “catching a ride” on the top of a weather pole. It’s interesting to see birds such as terns and pelicans so far from shore. The XO (Executive Officer) says we are 90 miles from shore.

Today we had a Fire drill and a Man Overboard drill – just like in school. The scientists “mustered” (or gathered) in the conference room where our Chief Scientist had to take a head count just like teachers do during our drills. We’ll have an Abandon Ship drill next week. I thought you would like to see the orange Fast Rescue Boat that we would use if we had to abandon ship.

Fast Rescue Boat
Fast Rescue Boat

My husband and I went to Gulf Shores right before this trip and saw the oil that had washed ashore. I was expecting “globs” of oil like we’d seen on TV but what we saw was very liquid – oil pooled in puddles. It looked like someone had splattered buckets of motor oil on the beach. There were lots and lots of volunteers cleaning the beach but not too many people on vacations. We saw lots of homes and condos with few cars in the parking lots.

Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Oil on the coast
Oil on the coast

The economic hit that businesses are taking on the Gulf Coast is terrible. Our XO told us that NOAA is hiring boat owners to drive through the densest part of the oil to get data. The smaller boat owners have “closed” boats which means they do not take in sea water for everyday usage like the big NOAA ships. They take their water with them in containers. If the NOAA ships go through heavy oil, the oil could get sucked up and lodged in their water filters and do damage to the equipment. Maybe this way some of the small charter boat owners can recoup some of the money they are losing since no one is chartering boats to go deep sea fishing.

New Term/Vocabulary

Bow – front part of the ship
Stern – back part of the ship
Port – left
Starboard – right
Bow wave – the waves at the front of the ship as it travels through the water
Muster – to gather in one place

“Something to think about”

What qualities would you look for in a Commanding Officer? Do you think a woman will ever become an Admiral in the NOAA fleet?

“Did You Know?”

You can track the Pisces on the Internet at the following site:

Just select the ship you want to follow and it will give you our position. Click the last map option to see a map of the oil slick and our path through it.