David Madden: Land Ho! Return Home, August 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019

Back on land, in Tallahassee, FL

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Weather report in Tallahassee
Conditions early on Friday morning, Tallahassee, FL

Date: August 2, 2019

sunset over aft deck
Sunset aboard Pisces on my last night.

Gratitude Log:

My time on NOAA Ship Pisces is complete. Huge thanks to the folks who made it possible. I am grateful for the grand opportunity and grateful to the many people who helped me along the way. Starting with Emily and Jennifer at NOAA Teacher at Sea. They made everything smooth and easy on my end. Special thanks for allowing me to participate in Teacher at Sea this year, considering I was originally assigned to go last year. I was unable to go last year because my Dad got diagnosed with cancer right before the trip, and I elected to stay home with him during surgery and treatment. Emily, and the NOAA scientists involved, Zeb and Nate, made this year’s trip preparation a breeze. Thank you. Additionally, my Dad is doing well (and even back on the golf course)!

Processing fish
Processing fish with Mike B (the elder) and Todd K. photo by Mike B (the younger)

In some sense I was the little brother tag along on this cruise. “Aww come on, can I play?” was basically what I was saying each day to the scientists and NOAA officers. They were happy to oblige. Thank you for being patient and supportive while I learned how to work on your team.

  1. Zeb, Todd K, Todd W, and Brad were particularly helpful and knowledgeable and patient – thanks, guys!  * Thanks, Brad, for your rocks of the day.  Our minds and our chakras benefited.
  2. Thanks to my roommate, Mike B – for being a great roommate and for helping me out with a ton of things (including excellent slow mo footage of the XBT!)
  3. Thanks to the NOAA officers who were always happy to chat and tell me about how things work and about their careers. Thank you CO, XO, Jamie, Luke, Dan, and Jane. * Did you know that all NOAA officers have a college degree in a STEM field?
  4. And thank you to the scientific team of all stars: Dave H for always being hilarious, Zach for being hardworking and friendly to talk with, Mike B for being so wise and having good taste in music, Kevan, for lots of good chats during meal times, and Lauren, for making Oscar the octopus and being so friendly!
Engine Room
Just hanging out in the engine room one more time with Steve. Thanks to Steve and Garet!

Science and Technology Log

Todd W is the Senior Survey Technician. He works on Pisces full time and helped out the science team with running the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth). Todd also helped me run a few experiments, and was overall real cool with helping me find random stuff during the cruise.

In particular, Todd and I, with Mike B’s help, tricked out the CTD to investigate how colors change with depth. We arts-and-crafted a few color strips and secured them to the CTD along with some GoPros to record video. We wanted to see what happened to various colors as the CTD descended to depth (~90m). See what it looked like at the top vs. the bottom (image below). You can see clearly that indeed the red color disappeared soonest while most everything took on a blue tone. This is because red is the longest wavelength on the visible spectrum and therefore the lowest energy (~ 700 nm); it’s the most easily absorbed by the water. Conversely, blue light has a shorter wavelength (~400 nm), and this means higher frequency and higher energy. I made a video with the footage we collected – coming soon. When it comes out you can see for yourself the reds disappear and the colors shift to blue. We also secured a Styrofoam cup to the CTD in order to watch what happens as the pressure increases on the way down. *See here for my pressure video covering similar topics. The CTD only went down to around 90 meters, but that was still enough to increase the pressure from 1 atm to around 9 atm. This nine fold increase shrunk the cup around 12%. Todd tells stories of taking Styrofoam manikin heads down to 300 + meters and watching them shrink to the size of a shot glass.

testing color and pressure
Science lab aboard the CTD – testing color and pressure.

In addition to CTD excitement, Todd let me conduct an XBT launch. XBT stands for Expendable Bathythermograph. * This cruise had the highest density of acronyms of any experience in my life. Geez. Here’s a link from NOAA describing XBTs.  And my pictures below.


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Bravo, Todd & NOAA Ship Pisces – you got me!!

XBT certificate
Don’t worry, my XBT bravery and expertise didn’t go unrewarded.

Neato Fact:

We stopped by the NOAA Beaufort Lab shortly after we docked in Morehead City. Todd K was awesome and showed me around and introduced me to a series of interesting characters – it was nice to see the lab and see what everyone had been talking about. I spent a short time walking near the sea wall outside the lab. I ran into Larisa who pointed out two cute baby green sea turtles. She said that recently they’ve started coming into the inlet to feed.  Related neato fact: Hawksbill sea turtles have been shown to exhibit biofluorescence.

Baby green sea turtle.
Baby green sea turtle.

Personal Log

It’s good to be back on land, and fun to trade the breezy blue ocean seascape for the hot humid green treescape of Tallahassee. I’m busy trying to process the information from the trip and figure out ways to incorporate it into my teaching and lesson plans. Surely it’ll take two forms – a little bit of distilling and planning now, and a slow seep of info from memories later. I’m hoping the trickle of revisited memories pop up at opportune times during the school year for me to take advantage. We’ll see.

I’m back to school in a few days.  This is the last full blog. Coming up I’ll post some quick hit blogs with links to some videos. Stay tuned.

Until we meet again!

Vince Rosato and Kim Pratt, March 22, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vince Rosato & Kim Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
March 9 – 28, 2006

Mission: Collect oceanographic and climate modeling data
Geographical Area: Barbados, West Indies
Date: March 22, 2006

Preparing the sounder
Preparing the sounder

Science and Technology Log: The Echo Sounder

For the past few days, we’ve been transiting back and forth picking up (recovering) and launching (deploying) a special kind of buoy called an Inverted Echo Sounder (IES).  This buoy is attached to a weight and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  There it sends out a sound pulse to the surface and measures the travel time of that pulse to hit the surface and return to the unit on the bottom of the ocean. Using the travel time of the sound, scientists use it with a historical profile of the water to estimate temperature and salinity of the water. They obtain the historical profile by doing repeated CTD casts and especially the cast before deploying the IES. Sound speed is proportional to salinity/density and scientists use the density and temperature estimations to identify water mass and current movement.  Remember, these currents are moving all over the world! The buoy we deployed also had a current sensor as well as a pressure and temperature sensor.  When scientists are ready to get the information from the buoy, they travel to the site of the buoy, and park the ship right on top of it, and the buoy sends the information to them.

The buoy at night.
The buoy at night.

The buoys stay down in the bottom of the ocean sometimes as long as 6 to 7 years but usually they’re picked up after 5 years. They cost between $25,000 and $45,000 each! When scientists are ready to pick up the buoy, they send a signal that tells the buoy to detach from the weight holding it down and then it floats to the surface attached to a large yellow float. At night, it sends a strobe light flashing across the water so it can be easily found. Also in the past week, all the Styrofoam cups that have been decorated by students at Cabello, Searles Elementary, Key Biscayne Community School, and members of the crew of the RON BROWN were lowered into the ocean at about 5000 meters, or a little more than 3 miles below sea level.  The effect of pressure can be as great as 70,500 pounds of pressure! This rids the cups of all the air and shrinks them to 75% of their original size. It’s sort of like when you dive into a swimming pool, and while going down you feel your ears get tight— that is the effect of pressure.

The buoy deployed
The buoy deployed

Finally, although we’ve been out to sea for over two weeks, we’ve seen very little wildlife.  We’ve seen pilot whales, two or three squid, flying fish and some little fish called Ballyhoo that dance on top of the water with a long snout.  They look like mini swordfish.  The reason we haven’t seen much wildlife is that there is very little life in the middle of the ocean.  In fact, if you look at the middle of the ocean from space, it almost looks purple because there is no phytoplankton, (green plant material that is the base of the food chain). You’ll find life near the coasts or in the North Atlantic because all animals need nutrients to live and you need currents or up welling to move the nutrients around to feed the phytoplankton (plants) which feed the zooplankton (little animals), which feed the fish, which feed the dolphins, which feed the sharks!  This is an example of the food chain.


The cups before pressure…
The cups before pressure…

Interview with Chris Churylo – Chief Electronics Technician 

An important person on any cruise is the Chief Electronics Technician or Chief ET as they are called. Their main job is to make sure that all the electronics are working – that means sonar, networks, navigation, radio and all the things that keep the ship going to where it needs to go, and people talking to whom they need to talk.  On board the RON BROWN, the Chief ET is Chris Churylo. Chris is multi-talented—not only is he a Chief ET, he’s also a Licensed Practical Nurse, an Emergency Medical Technician, a truck driver, a fireman, a pilot, has a real estate license and is a Notary. Chris likes working on the RON BROWN because he works two months on and gets two months off. While he’s at sea and not working, he likes to play chess, learn guitar and work out in the gym.  During his off-time he likes to fly his plane, a Cessna 150, explore local places and hang out with his girlfriend of 18 years.  Chris, who grew up in Philadelphia now calls a farm in West Virginia his home.  During his career he has traveled all over the world, notably to the South Pole and Barrow Alaska during his 20 years of government service.  Chris’s attitude on board the RON BROWN is contagious.  He is a happy spirit, energetic and genuinely likes what he does.

Assignment:  In your logs, illustrate the effect of pressure.  Step one – Draw your decorated Styrofoam cup at the surface.  Step two – draw it on the CTD in a bag ready to go to the bottom of the ocean.  Step three – draw it now 2/3 smaller than when it started.

…and the cups after pressure!
…and the cups after pressure!

Personal Log – Kimberly Pratt 

Yesterday was a quiet day.  We headed back to Marsh Harbor, Bahamas so the science staff had most of the day off with CTD casts in the evening.  I got to do some reading about Great White Sharks off the Farallones Islands – outside of San Francisco Bay.  One of the main researchers in the book is Peter Pyle, who I sailed with last year on the MCARTHUR II. I’ve really met some great people being a Teacher at Sea.  This trip feels like it is winding down with less than a week to go.  The weather is still beautiful.  Sorry to hear about all the rain and hail back home.  Keep writing I love hearing from you all.

Personal Log – Vince Rosato 

Sad news came on three fronts today.  First, a crewmember heard by ship’s phone of a tragedy in the family and had to be brought to shore to catch a plane back home.  If you noticed the ship tracker had us going back and forth from Abaco Island, one of those trips was to bring a crewmate ashore.  Second, I heard from my home that a neighbor friend had a stroke and is under observation in the hospital.  And third, from my school, a teacher friend is taking the rest of the year off for health reasons.  Those things drained my energy. Work doesn’t stop whether we are happy or sad, so I continued becoming proficient at salinity analysis.  If counting time, however, I spent most of the day replying to your wonderful emails and working on logs.  I got to call out on the radio set the depths to the winch driver, and fire the CTD bottles on the late night cast.  That boosted my morale with Dallas, the author, and Mick, the father of Dr. Beal.  We have formed a bond with Carlos, our CTD team leader, through our tradition of after-shift snack time in the galley.