Linda Kurtz: STEM Teacher AWAY! August 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission:  Cascadia Margin Ocean Mapping Project

Geographic Area: Coastal Oregon and northern California

Date: August 6, 2019


Introduction

I am thrilled to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

I will be embarking August 12 and sailing through August 23 on a Hydrographic Survey mission from Newport, Oregon. Hydrographic Survey missions focus on mapping the seafloor in detail.  I will be sharing more about that soon!  To all my students (past and present), colleagues, fellow STEM enthusiasts, and friends, I hope you will follow along via these blog posts as I share this teacher adventure at sea and learn with me about the important work of NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” 

Most of my time teaching is spent within the walls of the classroom, trying to prepare students for STEM careers that they (or I) have never seen.  Now, as a Teacher at Sea, the dynamic will be flipped!  I will learn with actual scientists about STEM careers that support NOAA’s mission and bring those experiences back to the classroom myself! I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my own knowledge and for my students who will get a front row seat to STEM careers in action.                                

My “classroom” for the next two weeks:

Classroom for Fairweather
My “classroom” for the next two weeks


About Me:

I was born in New Hampshire and moved around quite a bit growing up.  My “hometown” was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I grew up in many places including South Africa.  I currently live on a “pocket farm” in Powder Springs, Georgia with my husband, 3 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats.  My family and I love to travel as well as camp in state and national parks.

Kurtz Family Photo Collage
Kurtz Family Photo Collage

I have always enjoyed a bit of adventure, learning rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, bungee jumping, and skydiving.  My favorite adventure came at the age of 13 when I learned how to scuba dive.  A new underwater world was revealed to me and I developed a deep love and respect for the ocean.  I have tried to teach my children and my students the joys of outdoor adventure and the importance of stewardship.  Powder Springs is about 20 miles away from the Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta.  We love going to NFL Falcons’ games and MLB Braves’ games when we are not out camping!

Family Game Time
Family Game Time

My greatest adventure now is being a STEM teacher.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  I have been a STEM teacher for my entire teaching career and love it!  I see STEM everywhere and believe our students are going to do great things for the world with a strong background in STEM education.  I particularly enjoy teaching Coding and 3D printing to students as well as how to use technology to create solutions to problems instead of being passive users of technology

My undergraduate work was focused in Early Childhood education, and my graduate degree in Integration of Technology into Instruction.  I now teach at Sope Creek Elementary and love my 1,000+ students in our evolving STEM school.  We follow the steps of the EDP or Engineering Design Process every day to solve real world problems.  We especially like to integrate problem solving with technology.  This practice is what drew me to the hydrographic survey projects conducted by NOAA.  I am excited to learn how technology is utilized to create detailed maps of the ocean floor, and learn about the science of Bathymetry, which is the study of the “beds” of “floors” of water bodies including oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. 

Finally, it was the mission of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program is what drew me to apply for this program:  The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation. The program provides a unique opportunity for kindergarten through college-level teachers to sail aboard NOAA research ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew.   As a life-long learner it is difficult to access professional development. In this program, I will gain real world experience as a scientist as sea while also having an adventure at sea!  I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you!   Now I’m off to get my dose of vitamin sea!  More soon. 


Questions and Resources:

Teachers:  Please reach out with questions from teachers or students and keep an eye out for resources I will be sharing in the comments section of this blog.  Check out these K-12 resources available through NOAA!

Students:  Have a teacher or please post your questions.  Here are the answers from questions so far:

Question 1:  Do you think you will end up like the Titanic

Answer:  No way!  The NOAA Ship Fairweather has been conducting missions since 1967 (the ship is older than ME!).  This is a 231 foot working vessel with a strengthened ice welded hull.  I don’t plan on seeing any icebergs off the coast of Oregon in Pacific Ocean, so don’t worry!  NOAA Ship Fairweather’s crew have some of the best professionals in the world to run their fleet, so I will be safe!

Question 2:  Are you coming back?  And will you have to sleep outside like a pirate?

Answer:  Yes, I will be coming back!  I will be away for 2 weeks and will be back in the STEM-Kurtz lab on August 26th-so you can come see me when I get back.  As for your 2nd question, I will get to sleep inside in a “berth” and will have a bed and everything else I need.  I do not have to sleep outside, but you know when I’m home I like to sleep outside in my hammock! 

Student focus of the week:  Hey 5th Grade students!  You are going to be learning about constructive and destructive processes of the earth over time.  Check out this document about the Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards Project Plans.  My mission will link directly to what you are learning in class!

Lacee Sherman: Alaskan Adventure Ahead! June 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6 – 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  May 25, 2018

Personal Introduction:

Hello! My name is Lacee Sherman and I am pleased to have you join me on my Alaskan Research Adventure by following along on my blog.  I am currently the 7th Grade Science teacher at Firebaugh Middle School in Firebaugh, CA.  As I write this, I am just completing my fourth year of teaching middle school science.  I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science with a Biology Emphasis from California State University, Fresno.  I also got my single subject teaching credential in Science from Fresno State.

waterfall photo

TAS Lacee Sherman on a recent trip to Yosemite National Park

Ever since I can remember, science has always captivated me in a way that no other subject was able to.  I love the scientific process and finding creative solutions to problems and even still, always wanting to learn more.  There is something so special about being able to investigate something new in order to learn more about it.  There is so much in this world to be curious about.

My first taste of an authentic research experience came to me during my last year of Undergraduate education at Fresno State when a professor whom I admire, Dr. David Andrews, encouraged me to participate in the STAR (STEM Teachers as Researchers) program.  The STAR program allows individuals that are going to pursue STEM teaching the opportunity to participate in summer research at different Universities or National Labs for up to three summers.  Through this program I met people in the STEM field that have encouraged me and become lifelong Mentors.

My first summer, I spent working in the research lab of Dr. Brian Tsukimura at Fresno State helping to establish a protocol for quantifying vitellin concentrations in the California Ridgeback Shrimp.

My second and third summers in STAR were spent working with Ben R. Miller at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado as a part of the Global Monitoring Division (GMD).  I would look at data collected at different sites in the United States and help to create visuals to represent the quantities of different types of ozone depleting substances.

STAR Conference

Presenting one of my NOAA research posters at the STAR Conference in 2015

As a member of the STAR Program I was introduced to the 100Kin10 initiative which is working towards adding and retaining 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into the profession within a 10 year time span.  I am proud to be one of the 100Kin10 educators and I am also a member of the Teacher Forum that helps to provide valuable input from a teacher perspective to the partners working to improve the future of STEM Education.

Personal Log

In less than a week’s time I will be boarding NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to participate in research on the Eastern Bering Sea off of the coast of Alaska.  I am so excited to meet all of the scientists and crew aboard the research ship and experience what it is life to live on board and work on research at the same time.  I love getting to jump back into the scientific community and remind my students that I am not just a teacher; I’m a scientist, too.  This research experience will help me to plan more hands on, research-based, and innovative lessons for my students.

I have never been to Alaska and I cannot wait to see the natural beauty and I want to see all of the wildlife that I can.  I am looking forward to being able to share my knowledge and experiences with family, friends, and my students through this blog.

Did You Know?

Imitation Crab meat isn’t made from shellfish at all.  It’s actually made from Alaskan Pollock!

Andrea Schmuttermair, Wander-lusting for Alaska, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 24, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak, AK
Date: June 24, 2015

TAS2012

Ms. Schmuttermair on the Oregon II, 2012

Wanderlust (n): a strong desire or urge to wander or travel and explore the world.

As I sit writing this initial blog post on the beach here in San Diego, California, I find myself reminiscent of the summer of 2012, the “summer of ships”, as I referred to it. In June of 2012, I was preparing for adventures of a lifetime, for I would be on board not one but two ships throughout that summer. The first, the mighty Oregon II, one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, conducting research in the Gulf of Mexico. The second, a luxurious cruise ship, sailing the waters of Alaska. Little did I know I would be sitting here, 3 years later, eagerly anticipating my voyage back to Alaska yet again on board one of NOAA’s fishery vessels, again as a Teacher at Sea.

Andrea and Wesson

Ms. Schmuttermair and Wesson

My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am currently an elementary teacher at the Colorado STEM Academy just north of Denver, Colorado. I just finished my 11th year teaching, and I have had the privilege to teach some amazing students in Germany, California, and Colorado. I have a lot of fun with my students (like 3D printing sharks and coding our own reaction timer), and strive to give them as many engaging science experiences as I can. Outside of the classroom, you can find me creating opportunities for new adventures and experiences through travel and the outdoors. I love to hike and backpack the trails in Colorado with my faithful companion, Wesson. Traveling to new, uncharted territory is also a frequent occurrence.

I first learned about the Teacher at Sea program back in 2008, and it immediately went on my bucket list. After a couple years of applying, I was accepted as a TAS in 2012 and helped scientists conduct the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. It was by far one of the best experiences I have had, so much so, that when given the option to reapply, I knew I just had to. I am thrilled to be heading back to Alaska, this time wearing a different hat, to help scientists conduct the walleye pollock survey. The Walleye pollock is a key species in one of the largest fishing industries in the world. I am looking forward to helping scientists with this important research.

My students spent the last several months of school immersed in the fascinating world of the ocean. Being in a landlocked state, the ocean was still relatively undiscovered for them, yet it drew my students in with a desire and passion I couldn’t feed quick enough. From engaging in problem/project based learning to studying ocean animals and their adaptations to skyping with our favorite shark scientist, Dr. Mikki, to creating 3D printed models of new ocean discoveries, I knew my students had found a niche and a passion for learning. They weren’t done yet though. After some brainstorming, we decided to spend the last month of school on an in-depth project learning about and building our very own underwater ROVs. Inspired by NOAA and James Cameron’s recent film, our class learned about how ROVs are built and how they are used in research in the ocean. Very fascinating! We ended our year building 5 ROVs, which culminated in a competition running them through various challenges. The winning ROV, the Waverunner, is coming with me on this trip to swim through the Alaskan waters off the shore in Kodiak. How cool is that?!

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 I am counting down the days until I head out to sea. Stay tuned for my next entry on board the mighty Oscar Dyson!

Did you know…that the scientific name for the Walleye Pollock was recently changed? After extensive genetic studies, researchers decided to change the scientific name from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. Read more about it here.

Do you…have any questions about the research being done on Walleye pollock? Leave your questions in the comments below!

*Photos courtesy of Caine Delacey and Andrea Schmuttermair

June Teisan, Tuna: From Plankton to Plate (and a side of STEM careers), May 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, May 15, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

tuna

Tuna (photo from NOAA Fisheries)

Bluefin tuna are incredible creatures. Remarkably fast predators, they can swim at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and dive deeper than 3000 feet. They hunt smaller fish and invertebrates, and grow to between 6 to 8 feet long and weigh in at 500 pounds on average. Bluefin tuna are prized for their meat in the US and in other countries. Because bluefin tuna are relatively slow-growing, they are more vulnerable to overfishing than species that are faster growing or more productive. Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn in the western Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico. Since the early 1980s, NOAA has worked to conserve and manage the stock of bluefin tuna by monitoring stock in the Gulf of Mexico.

The data collected on plankton cruises provides one piece of the complex puzzle of the regulation of commercial and recreational fishing. Ichthyoplankton data is added to findings from trawl teams catching juvenile sizes of certain species, analysis of gonads and spawn from adult fish caught on other cruises, and other stock assessment information. Data analysis and modeling examine these information streams, and serve as the basis of stock assessment recommendations brought to policy makers.

Below is how we collect the plankton:

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Spring ichthyoplankton surveys have been conducted for over 30 years, and my Teacher at Sea time has been an amazing glimpse behind the scenes of NOAA’s critical work maintaining the health of our fisheries.

SEAMAP Full Cruise (3)

SEAMAP Cruise Track May 1 – 15, 2015

Personal Log:

I expanded my career queries beyond the NOAA science team to interview a few of the ship’s crew members aboard the Oregon II and heard some terrific stories about pathways to STEM careers.

Laura

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

 

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Laura’s career path began with a bachelor’s degree in International Business. After college she spent time as caretaker for her aging grandmother, then moved to Bali and certified as a scuba instructor. When she returned to the states, Laura investigated the NOAA Corps, and took more university courses for the science credits she needed to apply. In doing so she earned her Master’s in Marine Biology. Laura began her Basic Officer Training in NOAA Corps in January 2013, graduated, and now serves her country as Ensign on the Oregon II.

Best Part of Her Job: Laura knows she has a ‘cool’ job: she gets to pilot a 170 foot vessel.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. Coppock. Laura’s 3rd grade teacher…She was in her late 60s or early 70s but every year Mrs. Coppock would start the school year by doing a head stand in front of the class. The inspirational lesson behind this gymnastic move was two-fold: Women can do anything they set their mind to, and age is just a number.

Larry

LTJG Larry Thomas – Operations Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Larry earned a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.  He worked as a fisheries observer out of NOAA’s Galveston, Texas lab, and volunteered as a guest biologist on NOAA vessels Gordon Gunter and Oregon II. Larry was raised in a military family with both parents serving in the Army, but had not known about the NOAA Corps until he met Corps officers during his time on NOAA vessels. Larry graduated with BOTC 116 in June 2010 and serves as Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG)on the Oregon II.

Best Part of His Job: Larry appreciates that his work allows him to do and see things most people don’t experience, like being up close with 8-10 foot tiger sharks brought in on long line survey cruises or a rare encounter with sea turtles that have been tagged and released.

Favorite Teachers: Frank Ramano and George Cline, both college professors who were passionate about their work and helpful with any questions, offering guidance when Larry needed it.

Olay

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Olay chose a career in the military because it was a great combination of hands on work and potential for training and further education. He served 8 years in the Navy, earning a GSM certification (Gas turbine Systems Mechanic). After his military service, he took exams with the Coast Guard to certify to be able to stand engine watch, which means qualified to be responsible for entire engine room. Olay then found out about NOAA through a friend and now works as a junior engineer on the Oregon II. He enjoys the work and finds it a good fit for his schedule; the shorter trips allow him to visit on shore with his daughter regularly.

Best Part of His Job: The opportunity to continue to build his skills and experience, to advance his career. And the food is good!

Favorite Teacher: Adrian Batchelor, a teacher at Mid-Atlantic Maritime School. “Mr. Batchelor is retired military, holds a GSM, and spent a lot of time with me, explained the job, encouraged me to reach out at any time. He’s been a great mentor.”

Classroom Fish ID Activity:

Correctly identify the “by catch” fish we brought up in our plankton nets. (Hint: we netted Flying Fish, Mahi Mahi, Half Beak, Little Tunny, File Fish, Sargassum Trigger Fish, Chub, Burr Fish, and Sargassum Fish). Enter your answers as a comment to this post!

B

Specimen A

C

Specimen B

A

Specimen C

G

Specimen D

E

Specimen E

F

Specimen F

 

D

Specimen G

Shout out to the students in Ms. Meredith Chicklas’ classes at  in Troy, Michigan, and in Ms. Kelly Herberholz’s classes at Dakota High School in Macomb, Michigan! 

A BIG thank you to the NOAA Fisheries Staff in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to the officers and crew of the Oregon II, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program Staff for this incredible adventure.

June Teisan, Science at Sea! May 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
1600 hours ; Partly Cloudy; wind 6 knots; air temp 27.5C;  water temp 28.4C; wave height 3 ft

twilight

Calm seas on the Gulf

 

Science and Technology Log:

It’s been fascinating to work beside the fisheries science staff here on the Oregon II. Moving through the station protocols – deploying nets and sampling devices, processing, preserving, and cataloging the ichthyoplankton samples, analyzing the chemistry of water samples – I have learned so much and enjoyed every minute.

Personal Log:

I am always curious about why people choose the careers they do. At what point did a door open, who pointed the way, when did the proverbial light bulb go on? So I asked a few members of our science team the when, how, and why behind their chosen career.

Alphonso

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Path to a STEM Career: When his asthma closed the door to a career in the Air Force, Alonzo reluctantly headed to community college instead. From his stellar work at Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute in Prentiss, Mississippi, he earned a full ride to Jackson State University.

When Alonzo showed up for registration at JSU the first day, the attendant at registration told Alonzo that he had not just one, but two academic scholarships! He needed to make a choice between the scholarship he knew he had and an additional biomedical research assistant scholarship. He rushed over to speak with the director of the biomed program, only to be told that the scholarship had been given away without consulting Alonzo. Angry and disappointed, Alonzo stormed out down the hall and literally ‘turned a corner’ into the first door he saw: The Office of Marine Sciences. He asked the director of that division to explain her program to him, which she did and encouraged him to join. As they say, the rest is history.  Alonzo finished his bachelors degree in biology, and went on to Master in Marine and Environmental Sciences. Since 1984, Alonzo has worked with NOAA in the Trawl Survey Unit of NOAA Fisheries in Pascagoula.

Best Part of His Job: He enjoys the new discoveries he sees out on the water.

Favorite Teacher: 6th grade Ms. MaeDora Frelix – “Because she was pretty, and smart, and she said I was smart, so that topped it off”

Taniya

Taniya Wallace

Taniya Wallace

Path to a STEM Career: Taniya always liked science and in high school took the medical program vocational classes which involved clinicals in the hospital and shadowing doctors. However, after she passed out during rounds one day, Taniya decided she didn’t want to be a nurse. She did, however, find a new science interest; she job-shadowed her aunt who was working at Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and loved it. She attended Mississippi Valley State University in Ittabena, MS with a biology major and a minor in chemistry. She completed her bachelors in May 2010 and is now working in marine sciences, with part of her work assisting with research on NOAA vessels.

Best Part of Her Job: Being out on the water, the fact that it is always something different.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. S. Williams, 7th grade science “because she opened my eyes to a new world, it wasn’t regular textbook material. She did nature walks, integrating arts – keeping science exciting and interesting.”

Denice

Denice Dress

Denice Drass

Path to a STEM Career: Denice always liked science, and on vacation trips to the beach as a kid she decided she wanted to do marine biology. She selected a university that had marine bio as undergraduate major. Millersville University in Pennsylvania was part of the Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium of Virginia so Denice could take summer marine science classes in Virginia, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. She then earned her Masters’ in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology. Denice spent 7.5 months working for the state of Florida on their Red Drum Stock Enhancement Program (red drum fish Sciaenops ocellatus) then moved to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Mississippi Laboratories in 1993.

Best Part of Her Job: “Variety! It’s never the same thing twice, and I can go between field work and lab work so that keeps everything interesting.”

Favorite Teacher: Denice had so many wonderful teachers she can’t pick just one.

BOB Trio

Alex Beels, Craig Trebesh, and June Teisan with BOB (basic observation buoy) in the background

The classroom shout out for this blog goes to students with Ms. Alexandra Beels, Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Mr. Craig Trebesh, SOAR Academy in Sheridan, Colorado.

Susy Ellison, A Hydrographic Wonderland, September 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susy Ellison
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
September 9-26, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands
Date:  September 13, 2013

Weather:  current conditions from the bridge
You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing
GPS Reading:  55o 15.037’ N  162o 38.025’ W
Temp: 10.44C
Wind Speed: 9.8 kts
Barometer: 1021.21 mb
Visibility:  foggy on shore

Science and Technology Log

Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland.  Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated.  Think about it.  If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane.  You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?).  Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it.   Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day.  If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion.  OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes?  Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it.  It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind).

How do you know what's down there?

How do you know what’s down there?

Challenge number one—how do you measure something you can’t see or touch with your own hands?  Long ago, sailors solved that obstacle by using a lead line; literally, a line with a lead weight attached to the end.  They would drop the weighted line over the side of their ship to measure the depth.  These soundings would be repeated to get enough data to provide a view of the bottom.  This information was added to their maps along with estimates of the horizontal aspects (shoreline features and distance from the shoreline) to create reasonably good charts that kept them off most of the underwater obstacles. A simple solution to a complex problem.  No electricity required, no advanced degrees in computer science needed, no calculus-based physics necessary.  Fast- forward to 2013 and the world of complex calculations made possible by a variety of computer-based algorithmic calculations (i.e. some darn fancy computing power that does the math for you). The NOAA Ship Rainier’s hydrographers use sound as their lead line, traveling in small boats known as launches that are equipped with multibeam sonar that send a series of sound ‘pings’ to the ocean floor and measures the time between sending and receiving the ping back after its trip to the bottom.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  If it were all that simple I wouldn’t be typing this in a room on the Rainier filled with 20 computer monitors, 10 hard drives, and all sorts of other humming and whirring electronic devices.  Not only that, each launch is equipped with its own impressive array of computer hardware.

One of the launches is lowered from the ship.

One of the launches is lowered from the ship.

So far on our survey days 2 launches have been sent out to cover identified transects.  Their onboard crew includes a coxswain (boat driver), as well as 2-3 survey technicians and assistants. Each launch is assigned a polygon to survey for the day.

EVERY PING YOU TAKE…

Once they arrive at their assigned area, it’s time to ‘mow the lawn’—traverse back and forth systematically collecting data from one edge of your assigned polygon to the other until the entire area has been surveyed. Just in case you haven’t realized it yet, although that sounds pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Is the area shallow or deep?  Depth affects how much area each traverse can cover; the sonar spreads out as it goes downward sending it’s little pings scampering to the ocean floor. Visualize an inverted ‘V’ of pings racing away from the sonar towards the sea floor. If it’s deep, the pings travel further before being bounced back upwards.  This means that the width of each row the sonar cuts as it “mows the lawn” is wider in deeper water, and narrower in shallow.  Shallower areas require more passes with the launch, since each pass covers a more limited area than it might if the water were deeper.  As the launch motors back and forth ‘mowing the lawn’, the sonar  signature is recorded and displayed on monitors in the cabin area and in front of the driver.  Ideally, each lap overlaps the previous one by 25-50%, so that good coverage is ensured.  This requires a steady hand and expert driving skills as you motor along either over or parallel to ocean swells.  All you video gamers out there, take note–add boat driving to the repertoire of skills you might need if you want to find a job that incorporates video gaming with science!

sonar screen

One of the monitors displays the sonar. The green line is the seafloor. This image shows that the deeper the sea, the wider the swath that is covered with each pass of the launch.

Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch.  It's an art to 'mow' in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the coean's surface.

Calvin Burch uses a computer monitor to guide him as he drives the launch. It’s an art to ‘mow’ in straight lines while anticipating every roll and bounce of the ocean’s surface.

Here’s a small list of some of the variables that need to be considered when using sonar to calculate depth; the chemistry of the water column through which you are measuring, the variability of the water column’s depth at specific times of day, the general depth (is it shallow or deep), and the movement of the measuring device itself.  So many variables!!

Starla Robinson and Randy Shingeldecker monitor our progress on the launch's computer monitors.

Starla Robinson and Randy Shingledecker set up the program that will enable them to monitor our progress

HOW FAST DOES SOUND TRAVEL?

When you’re basing your charts on how sound travels through the water column, you need to look at the specific characteristics of that water.  In a ‘perfect world’, sound travels at 1500m/second through water.  In our real world, that speed is affected by salinity (the concentration of salts), temperature, and depth (water pressure).  The survey crew uses a CTD meter to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The CTD meter is deployed multiple times during the day to obtain data on these parameters.  It is attached to a line on the rear of the launch, dropped into the water just below the surface for 2 minutes, and then lowered to near the ocean floor to collect data.  After retrieval, it’s hooked to the computer on the launch to download the data that was collected.  That data is stored in its own file to use when the data is reviewed in the evening back on board the Rainier.  This is one of the variables that will be applied to the sonar data file—how fast was the sound moving through the water?  Without this information to provide a baseline the sonar data would not be accurate.

ctd deploy 1

Randy Shingledecker gets ready to send the CTD over the side. It’s clipped into a stout line and a reel for lowering it.

ctd retrieval 1

The CTD is lowered to just above the seafloor to collect data on Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. This data will be applied to our sonar data to obtain an accurate sound speed for this area.


 

 

 

ROCKING AND ROLLING…

When you’re out on the ocean in a boat, the most obvious variable is the instability of the surface, itself.  This is called ‘attitude’.  Attitude includes changes to the boat’s orientation fore and aft (pitch), side-to-side (roll), and up and down (heave) as it is gently, and not-so-gently rocked by ocean swells and waves.  This means that the sonar is not always where you think it is in relation to the seafloor.  This is like trying to accurately measure the height of something while you, the measurer, are on a surface that is constantly moving in 3 different directions. Good luck.  Luckily for this crew of hydrographers, each boat is equipped with a little yellow box whose technical name is the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that I call the heave-o-meter, as we bob up and down on this might ocean.  This little box contains 3 gyroscopic sensors that record all those forward and backward pitches, sideways rolls, as well as the bobbing up and down motions that the boat does while the sonar is pinging away.  This information is recorded in the launch’s computer system and is applied to the sonar data during analysis back at the Rainier.

This yellow box is the IMU.  It's internal gyros capture information about the boat's pitch, roll, and heave.

This yellow box is the IMU. It’s internal gyros capture information about the boat’s pitch, roll, and heave.

TIME AND TIDE…

Now that you’ve gotten your launch to the correct polygon (using GPS data to pinpoint your location), taken CTD readings to create a sound transmission profile for your transect area, and started up the heave-o-meter to account for rocking and rolling on the high seas, it’s time to start collecting data.  Wait—there’s still another variable to think about, one that changes twice daily and affects the height of the water column.  You also have to factor in changes in the depth of the water due to tidal changes. (for an in-depth look at how tides work, check out this link: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/tides/tides01_intro.html).  At high tide, there’s a greater likelihood that subsurface obstacles will be covered sufficiently.  At low tide, however, it’s pretty important to know where the shallow spots and rocks might lurk.  NOAA’s hydrographers are charting ocean depths referenced to mean lower low water, so that mariners can avoid those low-water dangers.

You might be asking yourself, who keeps track of all that tide data and, not only that, how do we know what the tide highs and lows will be in an area where there are no other tide gauges?   NOAA has tide gauges along many coastal areas.  You can go online to http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/and find out predicted tide heights and times for any of these locations.  While we are working here in Cold Bay, we are using a tide gauge in nearby King Cove, as well as a tide gauge that the Rainier’s crew installed earlier this summer.  More data is better.

Here's the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.

Here’s the tide chart from the King Cove tide gauge.

What do you do if you’re surveying in an area that doesn’t have existing tide gauges?  In that case, you have to make your own gauge that is referenced to a non-moving point of known elevation (like a rock).  For a detailed description of how these gauges are set, check out NOAA TAS blogs from some of the teachers who preceded me on the Rainier. On Wednesday, I helped dismantle a tide gauge on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands that had been set up earlier this season (check out TAS Avery Martin’s July 12th posting), but had ceased to report reliable data.  Our mission on Wednesday was to find out if the station had merely stopped reporting data or if it had stopped collecting data entirely. 

Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.

Setting off in a skiff to check on the Bird Island tide gauge.

When we arrived at Bird Island we found out exactly why the gauge had stopped sending data—its battery bank had fallen from one rocky ledge to another, ripping apart the connections and breaking one of the plastic battery boxes in the process.  That took a lot of force—perhaps a wave or some crazy gust of wind tore the 3 batteries from their mooring.  Since each battery weighs over 25lbs, that means that something moved over 75lbs of batteries.  Ideally, the station uses solar panels to keep the batteries charged.  The batteries power up the station so that data can be sent to a satellite. Data is also stored on site in a data logger, but without power that data logger won’t work.

This is the data logger for the tide gauge.  It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.

This is the data logger for the tide gauge. It is housed in a watertight box and was retrieved for downloading on the ship.

We retrieved all the equipment and will be able to download whatever data had been recorded before the system broke. The automated tide gauge is, basically, a narrow diameter air-filled tube that is underwater and set at a fixed depth with a narrow opening pointed downward to the seafloor. The pressure required to balance the air in the tube is equal to the pressure of the water column directly above the opening.  The tide gauge measures this pressure and converts it to depth.  Pressure/depth changes are recorded every six minutes—or ten times each hour. As it turns out, the damaged battery bank was only one of the problems with this station.  Problem number two was discovered by the dive team that retrieved the underwater portion of the gauge; the hose had been severed in two locations. In this case, something had caused the tube to break, so it was no longer connected to the data logger.  That must have been some storm!

ENC Carrier inspects the battery bank that inow s on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed!

ENS Carrier inspects the battery bank that rests on a rock ledge 2 feet below where it had been placed weeks ago!

The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.

The waterproof battery boxes were broken in the tumble.

The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.

The solar panels that charged the batteries were intact, still tied into bolts in the rocks.

The dive crew gets ready to jump in

The dive crew gets ready to jump in

Brrr, it's chilly work diving in arctic waters.  The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose

Brrr, it’s chilly work diving in arctic waters. The divers are investigating the gauge and removing the damaged hose

While there, we set to work checking on benchmarks that had been set earlier in the season.  We used a transit and survey rods (oversized rulers) to measure the relative heights of a series of benchmarks to ensure accuracy. There are 5 benchmarks along the beach.  Each one was surveyed as a reference to the primary benchmark nearest the gauging station.  Multiple measurements help ensure greater accuracy.

I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.

I am holding the survey rod on top of a benchmark.

 

I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb--perpendicular to the benchmark.  No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!

I used a level to make sure the rod was plumb–perpendicular to the benchmark. No easy feat with a strong wind blowing!

We also were tasked with checking the primary benchmark’s horizontal location.  While this had been carefully measured when it was set back in July, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t moved.  It might seem a crazy concept to think that a benchmark cemented into a seemingly immovable piece of rock could move, but we are in a region that experiences seismic events on an almost daily basis.  (You can check out seismic activity at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/) NOAA Corps Officer ENS Bill Carrier set up a GPS station at the benchmark to collect 4 hour’s data on its position, a process called HORCON (horizontal control).  Unfortunately, the winds were in charge of how much data we were able to collect that day, and blew down the station after only 3 hours! [image of station down]  Sometimes the best laid plans …..

A gust of wind blew the recording station down.

A gust of wind blew the recording station down.

 

DATA, DATA, and MORE DATA

While data collection is important, it’s what you do with the data that really gets complicated.  Data management is essential when working with so many files and so many variables. Before each launch returns to the Rainier, the day’s data is saved onto a portable hard drive.  Immediately after being hauled back up onto the ship, the data is handed off to the ‘Night Processing Team’ and hustled off to the Plotting Room (computer HQ) to be uploaded into a computer.  This is where the magic happens and an advanced degree in computer science or GIS (geographic information systems) can come in handy.  I have neither of those qualifications, but I know how to read a screen, click a mouse, and follow directions.  So, on Friday evening I was ushered into the ranks of ‘night processor’.

When each launch returns to the ship, their day's data is saved onto a hard drive.  This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.

When each launch returns to the ship, their day’s data is saved onto a hard drive. This drive is transported to the plotting room to download onto the computer.

First, data is downloaded into the main computer.  Each launch’s files are called raw data files and are recorded in the launch’s acquisition logs.  Once the data is on the computer, it is important to set up what I call a ‘file tree’; the series of files that increase in specificity.  This is analogous to having an accurate list of what files live within each drawer and section of your file cabinet. These files are color-coded according to the operations manual protocols to minimize the chance of misfiling or the data.  They are definitely more organized than the files on my laptop—I might change my lackadaisical filing ways after this trip!

Once the data are placed in their folders, the fun begins.  Remember, you have files for multiple variables;  sonar, CTD casts, the IMU Heave-o-meter, and tide data.  Not only that, you have, with any luck, performed multiple casts of your CTD meter to obtain accurate data about the conditions affecting sound wave transmission within your polygon.  Now you get to do something I have never done before (and use a vocabulary word I never knew existed and one that I might try to spell in a future Scrabble game); you concatenate your CTD data.  Basically, you put the data from all your CTD casts together into one, neat little file.  Luckily, the computer program that is used does this for you.  Next, you direct the program to add all the variables to your sonar files; the concatenated CTD data, tide data, and IMU data.

 

Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.

Survey Tech Brandy Geiger and NOAA Corpsman ENS Wall begin to upload the data and organize it into files.

Assuming all goes well and you have merged all your files, it’s time to ‘clean’ your data and review it to make sure there are no obvious holes or holidays in the data that was collected.  Holidays can occur if the launch was bouncing too much from side to side during data collection and show up as a blank spot in the data because the sonar was out of the water and not pinging off the bottom.  You can identify these holidays during the data collection process [holiday signature], but sometimes there are smaller holidays that show up once the data is merged and on your computer screen.  There can also be miscellaneous errant pings caused by debris in the water column.  Cleaning involves systematically searching each line of your surveyed polygon to identify and delete those ‘bad’ pings.  Kind of like photoshopping away the parts of a digital image that you don’t want in the final image.  You work methodically in a grid pattern from left to right and top to bottom to ensure that you are covering the whole file.  It sounds easy, but to a non-PC person such as myself all that right click, left click, center click stuff was a bit boggling.  The program is amazingly complex and, rumor has it, a little bit ‘buggy’ at times.

Multiple screens, multiple tasks.  I am learning the art of 'cleaning' the data--getting rid of extraneous pings.

Multiple screens, multiple tasks. I am learning the art of ‘cleaning’ the data–getting rid of extraneous pings.


After all this, guess what?!  You still don’t have a chart.  It takes almost 2 years to go from data collection to chart publication.  There’s endless amounts of data compilation, reports to be written, and quality control analysis to be completed before the final report and charts are issued.

Personal Log

So far I have spent two nights on the ship ‘in transit’, moving between ports. The other nights have been spent anchored offshore. While the first night at sea was a little bouncy, the second was, in my opinion, the wildest roller coaster ride I have ever taken.  Imagine being pulled to the top of a high roller coaster, and released to fly down to the bottom while you are lying flat in your bed.  That’s what it felt like as we motored from the Shumagin Islands to an anchorage in Cold Bay.  An endless series of up, up, ups, followed by a wild ride down, down, down. Luckily all the drawers and doors have latches that keep them from flying open—although I had a jacket hanging on a hook that seemed to hit the latch on one closet door and actually knock it open—after this happened a couple of times I gave up and put the coat on the floor and firmly shut the door.  My bathroom trash can ended up in the shower stall.  At one point I heard a loud thump in the dark—and realized my survival suit in its orange bag had fallen from the top bunk to the floor—glad I wasn’t in its way! It was time to just hang on and try not to roll out of bed.

If your chair isn't tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!

If your chair isn’t tied down, put tennis balls over the wheels to keep it from rolling!

tiedown1

Strap the printer tightly to a table!

tiedown2

Don’t forget to secure the trashcans!

We finally stopped rocking and rolling around 3 in the morning.  I thought maybe I was just a bit sensitive to the rocking motion, but was comforted to find out the everyone agreed that it had been a wild night.  In fact, one of the potential ‘hazards’ for our work on Thursday was ‘lack of sleep’.

FOO Meghan Mcgovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD).  Today's identified hazards included 'Lack of Sleep'.

FOO LT Meghan McGovern goes over the Plan of the Day (POD). Today’s identified hazards included ‘Lack of Sleep’.

 

After almost a week aboard the Rainier I have been impressed with the teamwork, precision, and overall efficiency which overlays all operations. This crew can get a launch loaded, lowered, and underway in less time than it sometimes takes me to record my morning attendance at school!  This is no simple feat (the boat, not the attendance!).  It reminds me of a buzzing beehive filled with activity and focused on a single task; data collection. Each day begins on the fantail (the rear of the boat) at 0800 with the FOO (Field Operations Officer) reviewing the POD (Plan of the Day) and a summary of the day’s goals, work assignments, weather, and potential hazards, prior to sending out the survey crews.

The Boatswain (bo’sun) directs the next part of this tightly choreographed activity, as the launches are lowered by their davits (small cranes), while lines and hooks are handled with an eye to safety and efficiency.  Within 5 minutes the two launches have been lowered, loaded with crew and supplies, and are on the water, buzzing away from the hive like bees to perform their daily waggle dance as they move back and forth collecting hydrographic data.

At 1630 they return to the hive, filled with the sweet nectar of hydrographic data.  Launches are lifted back onto the ship and the data is whisked off to the computer room for downloading. 5 Minutes later a survey team debrief is held to review work accomplished that day and any problems that may have come up so that plans can be made for the next day’s work.  This crew is organized!!

The NOAA Ship Rainier

The NOAA Ship Rainier

 

 

 

Obed Fulcar, July 30, 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:Tuesday ,July 30, 2010

Weather from the Bridge:
Time:11:47 am
Latitude:58.47 North
Longitude:178 West
Wind Speed:2.9 knots
Wind Direction:270 West
Sea Temperature:9.7 C (49.46 F)
Air Temperature:7.2 C (44.96 F)
Barometric Pressure:1008 millibars

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY LOG:
During this cruise the tech crew has been very busy working on getting to work the prototype for a new Camera Trawl. This new camera array is designed to be deployed independently from the trawl and able to take pictures and footage of the fish down below. The pictures then can be analyzed to determine if the size of the Pollock is the rights one, thus reducing the need to launch the trawl net unnecessarily. So far the camera has not worked as expected and the team has done countless adjustments to it. They suspect that there is a bug in the software causing the problems. This is an example of how technology has to be tested many times in labs and in the field in order to become available for use. I always tell students in the class that many of the technology that we use today, such as cell phones, laptop computers, flat screen TVs, and even microwaves, we owe it to the scientists and technicians that developed them originally for the astronauts in the aerospace program.

Test

Camera Trawl

Camera Trawl

Camera Trawl

PERSONAL LOG:
Coming to the ship on this cruise I was very excited because I had seen on the Oscar Dyson website pictures of an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) underwater robot been deployed, and was really looking forward to see it in action. I was a little disappointed when I learned that the ROV was not on board, because it was part of a test done the year before. This gave me the inspiration to implement in September a technology project i have been meaning to do with my students:to build a student ROV, using NOAA’s “Rov in a bucket” activity. The students will incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering) as part of the process of learning to design, create, and build the ROV. This project will be built during/after school and once assembled and operational it can be used to broadcast pictures or even underwater footage. We could use it during our community events on the Harlem River to create awareness amongst residents that the river is cleaner than ever, and that many aquatic species inhabit the waters.

“Camaras Aquaticas a Robot Sumergibles” 
Durante todo el crucero los tecnicos de la nave han estado muy ocupados en hacer funcionar una Camara Sumergible, que a diferencia de la Camara de Arrastre, que se lanza junto a la red para tomar fotos, esta tomaria fotos y video de los peces a diferentes profundidades sin necesidad de tener que lanzar la red de arrastre. El beneficio seria que esta camara usaria un programa especial que permitiria analizar en tiempo real las dimensiones de el tipo de pez expecifico. El personal tecnico realizo incontables ajustes, sin ningun exito hasta el momento. Se cree que es un malfuncionamiento del program de computadora. Este es un ejemplo de como la tecnologia es probada y examinada tanto en el laboratorio com en el campo antes de estar disponible al publico. Siempre le digo a los estudiantes que mucha de la tecnologia que usamos como el telefono celular, el microndas, y el ordenador laptop, han sido fruto de la investigacion del program aeroespacial para los astronautas. Antes de yo venir al Oscar Dyson estaba muy entusiasmado en poder ver en accion al robot sumergible ROV, o Vehiculo de Control Remoto, que yo habia visto en fotos del website. El desencanto que recibi cuando me dijeron que el ROV no estaba abordo, y que las fotos eran de una vieja mision, no fue poco. Esto me ha inspirado a en Septiembre a hacer un proyecto de STEM (Ciencia, Tecnologia, Ingenieria y Matematicas), donde los estudiantes armaran un ROV sumergible. ellos usaran estrategias similares a las que usan los technicos y cientificos en la creacion de un robot. El ROV tendra la capacidad de tomar fotos y video bajo el agua, y posiblemente ser usado en exhibiciones ambientales de la comunidad.