Cara Nelson, The Gales of September, September 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 0830
Latitude: 60º16.073’ N
Longitude: 147º59.608’W
Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30
Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 1003 millibars
Cloudy, light drizzle

Science and Technology Log

There is a tool for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).  As we sorted, shuffled and assembled equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other equipment needed for the different science research being performed as part of the LTER program. 

There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal.  Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use.  Logistics is an important part of any research mission.

Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function.  The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).

The deck full of boxes being unpacked and stored away, as well as the winch pulled apart for rewiring

One of the most complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the computers in the lab for real-time data communication.  A CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the salinity and water temperature at different depths.  The CTD is actually only a small portion of the device shown below.

CTD prep
The CTD is being put together and wired before departure.
CTD output
Temperature (blue line) salinity (red line) and fluorescence (chlorophyll) are transmitted and graphed on the computer as the CTD is lowered and raised.

The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth.  These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients.  As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode.  Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!

One bottle shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring bottle.

On the bottom of the CTD, there are several important sensors.  One is for nitrates and another for dissolved oxygen.  Additionally, there is a laser that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton.  Much of this data is being fed to the computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the end of the cruise. 

A big decision had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th.  A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with 30+ knot winds and high seas.  After several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the storm. 

After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay.  This station is used to test the CTD before heading out.  Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches.  For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly.  Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.

Personal Log

There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders.  Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day.  I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.

Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment.  The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay.  Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions.  I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way.  I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.

Orientation and safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship.  Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax along with a tour of the ship.  We ended on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case of a ship evacuation. 

survival suit practice
The new crew practices with their survival suits: Emily, Jake, Kira and Cara
Cara in survival suit
Although it has been a few years, I was able to don my survival suit pretty quickly.

Adjusting to a night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges.  Usually we work the first night but we had a break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime sampling until Thursday night.  Everyone on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock.  My plan was to stay up as late as possible and then rise early.  Last night however, between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well.  Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can wake refreshed for our first night shift. 

When I awoke this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of collection.  I was able to watch the first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway.  I will share details of these experiences in the coming days.

For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.

Did You Know:

There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton.  To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets.  As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.

Callie Harris: Jellyfish Landslide, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/15/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 16.15 N
Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W
Wind Speed: 6.53 knots
Wind Direction: 182°
Air Temperature: 17.1°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.

transect map of stations
Transect Map of all of our tentative stations to survey (red dots). Image credit: Matt Wilson

Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.

humpback whale spout
Humpback Whale breath spout off of bow.

Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’

A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.

trawl net
Trawl net aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).

Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.

If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).

Jellyfish Landslide
Jellyfish landslide! (I’m desperately trying to stop them from falling over the edge.) Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.
jellyfish landslide thumbs up
Jellyfish landslide, managed. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.

Measuring fork length
Measuring fork length of pollock.

We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.

Callie and salmon
Our first salmon catch in the trawl. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.

Personal Log

This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.

Survival Suit Practice.
Survival Suit Practice. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.

Did You Know?

NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.

Challenge Yourself

Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.

Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 23, 2019

Weather Data: Wind – NW 19-23 knots, gust ~30 knots, wind wave ~7′, swell SSW 1′ at 16 seconds; Partly sunny, with patchy fog early

R/V Fulmar
R/V Fulmar refueling at Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay.

During this week, I am living aboard R/V Fulmar.  The “research vessel” is a 67-foot catamaran (meaning it has two parallel hulls) with an aluminum hull.  This boat was specifically designed to support research projects in the three National Marine Sanctuaries along the central and northern California coast, and was first put in the water in 2007.  Normally, the Fulmar is based out of Monterey Bay harbor in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  However, this week she is being put to work on an ACCESS cruise in the two sanctuaries a little farther to the north, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones.  

Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina
Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina.

Each evening, after a full day of collecting samples, the Fulmar motors back into the harbor for the night.  We are working out of two harbors on this cruise, Sausalito and Bodega Bay.  The vibe in each harbor is quite different.  Sausalito is full of private pleasure yachts, small sailboats, and live aboard boats/houseboats.  Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay is much more of a working marina.  The majority of the boats are large fishing trawlers.  It is currently salmon fishing season, and the boats that are working bring back their daily catch to the marina so that it can be transported to market.

The Fulmar is operated by two crew members on this cruise.  Clyde Terrell is the captain and Rayon Carruthers is the first mate.  In addition to the crew there have been 6-7 scientists on board, and myself.  Jan Roletto is a scientist from Greater Farallones, Kirsten Lindquist and Dru Devlin work at the Greater Farallones Association, and from Cordell Bank we have Dani Lipski and Rachel Pound.  Jaime Jahncke is lead Principal Investigator on ACCESS and works at Point Blue Conservation Scientist.  Kate Davis, currently a post-doc at the University of South Carolina, also joined the first half of the trip.

The boat has 5 main areas.  The “bridge” contains the digital and physical equipment that the crew uses to steer the ship.  There are several computers that display radar signals and a GPS map.  In the main cabin there are bunks for sleeping, a marine head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a lab/work area.  The back deck is where most of the equipment for sample collecting is stored and put to use when samples are being collected.  On the top deck there are life rafts and safety equipment, as well as an additional steering wheel.  This is also where the team sits to make observations as we move along the transects.  Finally, there are two engine rooms underneath the main cabin.

Shelley in immersion suit
Me, putting on the immersion suit. Photo: Jan Roletto

Safety on the boat is obviously very important.  Before we went the first day, I received a full safety briefing and I got to practice donning an immersion suit, which we would need to wear in the case of an emergency where we might need to evacuate the ship and be exposed to cold water for a prolonged period of time.  The immersion suit is like a full-footed, full-fingered, and hooded wetsuit.  The goal is to be able to get into the immersion suit in less than two minutes, which was actually a little more difficult than I expected given that once you have the full-fingered gloves on it is difficult to effectively use your hands to finish zipping up the suit.  Anyone working on the back deck collecting samples is required to wear a life jacket or float coat and a hard hat. 

The daily activities on the boat vary depending on your role.  In general, we have been leaving the marina between 6:30-7:00am and there has typically been a 1-2 hour transit to the first data collection station.  During that time the team is generally relaxing, preparing for the day, or employing their personal strategy to combat seasickness (napping, lying down, or sitting in the fresh air on the top deck).  I’ve been fortunate to feel pretty good on this trip and haven’t struggled with seasickness.  Once data collection begins, my role on the back deck has been a series of action and waiting.  Since we are using heavy tools to collect data at significant depths, we use a crane and cable to hoist the equipment in and out of the water.  The winch that unwinds and winds the cable can lower or lift the equipment at a rate of ~20 m/min.  For the most part while the equipment is away from the boat we are waiting, and at times we have lowered data collection tools beyond 200m, which means a travel time of ~20 minutes, down and back.

Jaime and Kirsten
Jaime Jahncke and Kirsten Lindquist recording observations along ACCESS transect 3N.

However, today we actually did observation-only lines, so I had a lot of time to relax and observe.  The weather also turned a little bit today.  We had pretty dense fog in the morning, and more wind and rougher seas than on previous days.  But, near the end of the day, as we reached Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, the fog suddenly cleared and Point Reyes provided some protection from the wind.  The marine life seemed to appreciate the sun and wind protection as well as there was a large group of feeding seabirds and humpback whales right off the point.  We ended the day on a pleasant, sunny ride along the coast and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, docking for the night in Sausalito.

Did You Know?

Humpback whales are migratory.  The population we are able to see here migrate annually from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  They come each summer to enjoy the nutrient rich waters of the California coast.  Humpback whales thrive here due to upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean, which helps supports their favorite food – krill!  Humpback whales feed all summer on krill, copepods, and small fish so that they can store up energy to migrate back down to the warmer tropical waters for the winter breeding season.  I hope they get their fill while they’re here since they won’t eat much until they return, next summer.

humpback whale tail.
A humpback whale tail. Photo: Dru Devlin

Hayden Roberts: Wet and Wild, July 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019

Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 29.19° N
Longitude: 83.45° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 180
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.5°C
Barometric Pressure: 1019 mb
Sky: Few clouds

Science Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II includes many departments and sections of the ship. As part of the TAS program (Teacher at Sea), I spend most of my time assisting the research team in the wet lab, which occurs in 12-hour shifts. The wet lab is where each catch is brought after it is hauled aboard. The process involves bringing what we find in the trawling net on deck so that we can weigh, sort, count, and measure a subsample of what is found. Fortunately, we do not have to weigh and determine the sex of everything that comes aboard in the net; otherwise, it would take hours when the catch is large. By taking a subsample, fishery biologists can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and sample size. This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch. This conserves our efforts and while still providing an accurate representation of what was caught.

Pulling in the trawling net
Pulling in the trawling net.
Sorting the catch
Opening and sorting the catch.
Wet Lab
Wet Lab aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Sorted samples
Sorted samples ready to be cataloged.

In order to ensure that our leg of the groundfish survey covers the maximum area possible, NOAA uses a method called independent random sampling. A computer program randomly selects stations or research sites based on depth data and spatial area. By choosing random samples independently, fishery biologists can ensure that they have not inadvertently singled out or favored one area over another and that the data collected represents an accurate picture of the fish population in the Gulf. Previous legs of the groundfish survey this summer have focused on research stations along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coast. Our sampling takes place along the Florida side of the Gulf. The goal is to hit 45-50 research sites during our trip.

So far, I have learned that the eastern side of Gulf can be more challenging to survey than the west. NOAA and its SEAMAP partners have covered less area in the eastern part of the Gulf. While the eastern Gulf is not exactly uncharted waters, NOAA is still perfecting its research techniques in this part of the Gulf. As early as the 1970s, NOAA has surveyed the muddy bottom of the western Gulf off the coast of Texas. In that part of the Gulf, silt from rivers (mostly the Mississippi) makes for a more uniform surface to trawl for fish samples. East of Mobile, Alabama, tends to be rocky and sandy with outcrops of coral and sponge. The craggy surface, while ideal for a host of aquatic species, can create challenges for collecting samples. With each research station we visit on our cruise, we have to be careful not to cause too much damage to the sea floor. Therefore, we have been using a torpedo-shaped probe to scan our trawling paths before we drop the net. While this doubles the time it takes to complete each research station, it does improve our odds of collecting good samples as well as protecting our trawling net from jagged objects that might tear the net.

Did You Know?

A fishery biologist is a scientist who studies fish and their habitats. As biologists, they mostly focus on the behavior of fish in their natural surroundings. Some biologists work mostly in a lab or sorting data in a research facility like NOAA’s office in Pascagoula, but many spend quite a bit of time collecting field samples in various ecological settings. To become a fishery biologist, scientists have to study botany, zoology, fishery management, and wildlife management as a prerequisite to a career in the fish and game biology field. A bachelor’s degree may be acceptable for managerial positions, but many fishery biologists have advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate.

Personal Log

At the beginning of the cruise, we conducted safety drills aboard Oregon II. Safety drills include fire, man overboard, and abandon ship. Each drill requires the crew to go to various parts of the ship. For fire, the research crew (including myself) heads to the stern (or back of the ship) to wait instructions and to be out of the way of the deck crew working the fire. For man overboard, we are instructed to keep eyes on the individual in the water, yelling for help, and throw life preservers in the water to help mark the person’s location. For abandon ship, the crew meets on the fore deck with their life jackets and “gumby” survival suits (see picture). If life rafts can be deployed, we put on our life jackets and all of us file into groups. If we have to jump into the water, we are asked to put on our red survival suits, which are a cross between a wetsuit and a personal inflatable raft.

Hayden in gumby suit
Practicing donning my survival suit.

I asked Acting Commanding Officer Andrew Ostapenko (normally the Executive Officer but is the acting “captain” of our cruise) about what we would do in the event of a storm. With a length of 170 feet and a width of 34 feet, Oregon II is large enough to handle normal summer squalls and moderate weather like the ones we have sailed through the first few days our trip, but it is important to avoid tropical storms or hurricanes (like Barry, which is gathering near the coast of Louisiana), which are just too big to contend. On the ship, the officers keep a constant watch on the weather forecast with real-time data feeds from the National Weather Service (NWS).

As part of my orientation to the ship, I took a tour of the safety features of Oregon II with the officer in charge of safety for our cruise, OPS Officer LT Ryan Belcher. He showed us what would happen in case of an emergency. There are 6 life rafts on board, and each can hold 16 people. Three rafts position on each side of the ship, and they automatically float free and inflate if that side of the ship goes underwater. An orange rescue boat can be deployed if someone falls overboard, but that craft is more It is more regularly used for man overboard drills and to support periodic dives for underwater hull inspections and maintenance.

Rescue vessel
Rescue vessel.
radio and satellite receivers
NOAA Ship Oregon II funnel with radio and satellite receivers.
Foghorn is a device that uses sound to warn vehicles of navigational hazards and hazards or emergencies aboard the ship.

If an emergency on the ship did occur, it would be essential to send out a call for help. First, they would try the radio, but if radio communication no longer worked, we also have a satellite phone, EPIRBS (satellite beacons), and a radar reflector (that lets ships nearby know there is an emergency). On the lower tech end, old fashion emergency flares and parachute signals can be launched into the air so other ships could locate us.

Lisa Battig: Of Auroras, Anemometers, Anchors and Adult-sized Exposure Suits, September 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017


Mission: Arctic Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N            Longitude:  165o 48.7 W

Date: September 3, 2017

Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover

Science and Technology Log


Manda aurora 1
A shot of the aurora taken by Lieutenant Damien Manda, Operations Officer. This was my first aurora ever, and I know I was treated to a truly spectacular display. There was a lot of ooo-ing and aaah – ing and shrieks of delight. I was definitely one of those!

So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.

The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.

Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.

ANEMOMETERS: Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.

Fairweather anemometer
Looking up at the anemometers on Fairweather set on the flying bridge. You can see the two levels reasonably well. This is where constant weather data are being gathered which are then relayed to multiple places both on the ship and off.

The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.

All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.


watching the anchor and chain
Commanding Officer Mark Van Waes and Chief Bosun Brian Glunz checking the anchor and chain to be sure it is clear of the ship. Dennis Brooks is standing by.


When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.

Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.

washing the anchor chain
Me. Washing down the anchor chain as it comes up with SS Dennis Brooks helping hold the fire hose (it’s pretty heavy!)


Exposure suit
Me trying on a VERY large adult exposure suit. Look at those legs!!

Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.

I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.

It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.

Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!

The Deck Crew
The amazing deck crew! L-R back row: Terry Ostermeyer, Dennis Brooks, Brian ____. L-R front row: Carl Coonts, Rick Ferguson, Me, Peter “Nick” Granozio

Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!

Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.

Personal Log

Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.

But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…

Little and Big Diomede from Kyle
The islands of Little Diomede (left, foreground) and Big Diomede (right, background). Little Diomede is American land but Big Diomede is Russian. I saw Russia!


 Did You Know?

…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.

Susan Brown: Let’s Go Fishing, September 4, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 43.931N
Longitude: 086 09.617W
Sea wave height: .5 meters
Wind Speed: 2
Wind Direction: 250 degrees
Visibility: good
Air Temperature: 28.3 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016 mb
Sky: partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Numbered tags used for each hook

Mackerel used for bait

Today was my first shift. We are using mackerel to bait the 100 hooks that will be places into the water at a specific station. Each hook is numbered so that we can collect data on which hook brought in a fish and entered into the database. There are several jobs out here from baiting the hooks, placing the buoys, flinging the baited hooks out, and recording data in the computer. My job today is the computer.

entering data on the deployment of the baited hooks

The longline is set and left to sit in the ocean for approximately one hour before we start bringing up the line to see if we have a fish on. Out of the 100 hooks we got one fish, a baby tiger shark and a larger juvenile tiger shark coming in at six feet or so. This tiger shark had several hooks in its mouth as well as a tag so when she was brought up on board, all the hooks were removed and the tag replaced with a new one.

Removing hooks from the tiger shark’s mouth

The tag that was on the tiger shark was opened up to reveal a small scroll of paper with a unique number so that this shark can be tracked from where it was first picked up to when it ended up with us for the brief visit. Below is a short video of us bringing up the shark in the cradle! [no dialogue or narration.]

We will be setting another line tonight at our second station as we continue to motor southeast following the coast of Florida.

Beside recording data on the sharks, a CTD is deployed to collect data on conductivity, temperature and depth. We will use this data in the classroom to look for trends between the abiotic factors that may influence where we are finding certain shark species and the number of overall sharks at any given station.

The CTD that measure conductivity, temperature and depth

Personal Log

There are many different scientists on board researching different things. I am sharing a stateroom with Dani who is on the night shift. She is looking into how different sharks handle stress. I see very little of her since we are on opposite shifts so we get a quick visit at noon when there is a changing of the guards so of say. Brett and Carlos, as mentioned in an earlier post, are looking into parasites that inhabit the various animals we are bringing up. I will do a separate blog on those two and their research later this week to share what they are finding.

Donning the survival suit during abandon ship drill

Today we had a few drills to practice in case of an emergency. One was a fire drill and the other was an abandon ship drill where I had to don a large neoprene suit in less than two minutes. Here I am in that suit! It was quite cumbersome to put on.

Learning new words as I get acclimated to the ship. Here are a few for you:

The head = bathroom

Stateroom = room where I sleep

Muster = to assemble

Bow = the front of the ship

Stern = the back of the ship

Did You Know?

Military time is used on board this ship. See the photo of the clock below.

Question of the Day: Why use military time?

NOAA clock

Louise Todd, Underway, September 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 16, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1014.01mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚Celsius
Air Temperature: 29.9˚C
Wind speed: 19.22 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Oregon II
Oregon II (Photo Credit NOAA)

We left Galveston a little before 2pm on Sunday, September 15.  We were in transit to our first sampling location and should arrive there around 8pm tonight.  Depending on the conditions we might actually be able to do some fishing tonight!

Today we went through our abandon ship drill.  The ship’s alarm is used to alert everyone on board in the event of an emergency.  Abandon ship is indicated by 7 short rings followed by one long ring of the alarm.  When the alarm sounds with the abandon ship signal, we must carry our survival suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), long pants, a hat and a long-sleeved shirt to the well deck, at the bow (front) of the ship.  My survival suit and personal flotation device (PFD) are kept in cabinets in my room.  The survival suit is tricky to get on and it gets very, very warm when you are wearing it!

Survival Suit
In my survival suit (Photo Credit Lisa Jones)

Personal Log:

During this initial transit, there hasn’t been much for me to do.  I spent a lot of time sleeping on Sunday.  The way the waves rock the ship back and forth makes me very sleepy!  I have taken a few short naps today in order to be ready in case we do any fishing on the later part of my shift tonight.  I am on the day shift which means I will work noon to midnight.  I think it will take me some time to get used to staying up that late but I think these naps will help!  As we start fishing the days will be much busier for me so staying awake will be easy I hope.  The views off of the ship are amazing.  I was surprised to see how blue the water gets.

View off the ship
View off the Oregon II

My stateroom is very comfortable and I have plenty of space in drawers and cabinets for everything I brought with me.  I am getting used to latching doors and drawers behind me so they do not slam back and forth as the ship rocks.  On the ship there is always someone sleeping so everyone works hard to be courteous and stay quiet.

My stateroom
My stateroom

My roommate is an officer on the ship so we are usually in the room at different times.  Officers on NOAA ships are part of the NOAA Corps.  Roommates are usually assigned based on the shifts people are working so each person has some time alone in the room.  As we start fishing more I will bring my computer and other items I might want throughout the day into one of the labs on the ship so I won’t have to go in and out of the room when my roommate might be sleeping.  The curtains are helpful in blocking out any light that might prevent you from sleeping.  The showers are right next to my room which is convenient and the common head (bathroom) is just around the corner.

There are plenty of food choices in the galley on the ship and everything has been delicious.  In the mornings you can even get eggs made to order!  I certainly don’t think I will be going hungry!

Did You Know?

Even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hypothermia is risk due to the difference in water temperature and our body temperatures.  The survival suit helps to protect our bodies from the difference in temperature.


Liz Harrington: The Adventure Begins – Setting Sail! August 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Cloudy
Lat. 24.24 ° N  Lon. 81.17 ° W
Temp.  86.9° F ( 30.5 °C)
Wind speed 12.1 knots
Barometer 1017 mb
Visibility 10 mi

Science and Technology Log

I’m very excited to finally be aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Everyone I have met has made me feel very welcome.  I know I’m going to have a fantastic time.

Oregon II
Oregon II docked in Mayport, FL

The Oregon II set off from Mayport, Florida (near Jacksonville) Saturday at 1:30 pm (which is 13:30 our time since the crew uses the 24 hour time system).

24-hour Clock
24-hour Clock

We will travel along the entire eastern coast of Florida, around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico where the fishing will begin.  I am on the second leg of a four leg Shark/Red Snapper survey.  This is a yearly survey with the purpose of gathering data on a number of shark species and Red Snapper, a popular commercial and recreational fish.  The majority of the sharks caught are weighed, measured, tagged and released.  A few are dissected, with tissue samples being taken for further studies.  The focus on the Red Snapper is to assess the health of the population.  With this information the fishing regulations are revised to ensure a sustainable Red Snapper stock.

The general public is beginning to understand that sharks don’t deserve their reputation as vicious killers but are actually an important link in the marine food web.  The data collected from the surveys will be used to better understand the various shark species and to inform those responsible for updating the fishing regulations.

The Oregon II is a beautiful ship with a friendly and welcoming crew.  One thing that stands out to me is the focus on safety.  Upon arriving at the ship I immediately noticed the bright red message stenciled upon her.  The commitment to that message is evident throughout the ship with safety equipment readily available, briefings for the new people arriving, life raft assignments and safety drills carried out.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.
Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Yesterday we participated in two safety drills.  The first was a Spill Drill.  When the alarm sounded people went to their assigned stations.  Members of the Science Team went to the dry lab and were all accounted for. Other members of the crew reported to the spill area with the appropriate gear to contain and clean up the mock spill.  A second drill we performed was an Abandon Ship drill.  In this drill we all needed to report to the foredeck with our survival suit, our PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) and a set of clothing to protect against sun exposure (hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt). We all had to demonstrate putting on our PFD as well as our survival suit. It may not surprise you to hear that I had plenty of room inside my survival suit and it was very easy to get into.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.
Fire fighting gear ready to go.

However, I did have to concentrate to zip the suit with my big, mitted hand. You may have thought, as I had, that survival suits were for the chilly northern waters.  But the ocean temperature here is close to 80° F while our body temperature is 98.6°.  It wouldn’t take long to chill and become hypothermic.  It is very comforting to know that safety plays such an important role on this ship and the captain and crew follow the saying “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.

survival suit
Abandon ship drill requires putting on a survival suit.

This morning we are located just south of the Florida Keys.  Our latitude is 24.24° N.  We are close to the Tropic of Cancer, but we won’t be crossing it.

sunrise off Florida Keys
Sunrise off the Florida Keys

Once around the Keys we’ll begin to head north again.  We may begin fishing this evening or early tomorrow morning, as soon as we reach our first survey point.  I’m looking forward to learning how the fishing is done and especially seeing what we catch.

storing suit
Survival suit is properly stored so it is always ready for use.

Easy access to PFDs stored in our rooms.

life raft
Self-inflating life raft. I am assigned to Life Raft #1.

Amie Ell: Deadman’s Bay, July 11, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 7 – July 11, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 11th, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 56.56 N
Longitude: 152.74 W
Ship speed:   11.3 kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 10.7 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed:  18 kn
Wind direction: 250 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1016 mb

Science and Technology Log:

Nets on Spools
Nets on Spools

Full net on deck

Pollock from a bottom trawl

So now that you know what we do with the fish after they are caught, let’s go back and see how the fishermen trawl.  There are two large nets at the stern of the ship.  Today we used both nets for the first time.  The scientists, crew, and fishermen all work together to catch the fish.  In the acoustics lab Paul is reviewing and scrutinizing the data he receives from the echo locators mounted on the hull of the ship.  There are many factors he must evaluate in order to have a good trawl.  There are places in our area that have been marked as “untrawlable”.  This is usually due to a sea floor that is rocky.  Trawling in these places may ruin the nets.  We have completed at least one trawl a day since we have been out to sea.  Today we completed two during my watch.  The first was with a larger net and was not sent all the way to the bottom.  The second trawl was sent to the bottom with a smaller net.  The bottom trawl brought up the largest pollock I have seen so far.  The longest pollock was 75 cm.  We also brought up a salmon, cod,   rock fish, and a whole lot of herring.

Crane lifting the net to be dumped into the bin.
Crane lifting the net to be dumped into the bin.

The CamTrawl being removed after a trawl.

The nets are both on large spools and are released or returned with the help of a very large winch.  Before the net is released into the water the CamTrawl is attached to it.  This is a camera that takes pictures that help the scientists see at what point in the trawl fish were entering the net.

Example photo from the CamTrawl.  A Salmon Shark caught on the first leg.
Example photo from the CamTrawl. A Salmon Shark caught on the first leg.

The time that the net is in the water depends on the information about the amount of fish coming from the acoustics lab.  Scientists watch the echo information to determine how much time the net should be in the water to catch enough fish to sample.  We must have at least 300 pollock to make a complete survey.

The fishermen bring the nets back to the trawl deck and wind them back onto the spools.  They then will use a crane to lift the catch and dump it into a bin.  From the fish lab we can lift this bin to dump the fish onto the conveyor belt.

Personal Log

Me in my survival suit
Me in my survival suit

Entering Deadman's Bay
Entering Deadman’s Bay

On Monday, we had our weekly fire and abandon ship drills.  After the drills I practiced putting on my survival suit.  This suit is designed to keep you afloat and warm in the event that you have to go into the water.

Deadman's Bay
Deadman’s Bay

On Tuesday, we surveyed up into Deadman’s Bay.  It was a beautiful sun shiny day and the scenery was amazing.  We were very close to the shore on both sides.  I sat out on the trawl deck and scanned the hillsides with my binoculars.  I was told that it is common to see bears here, but I did not see any.

Marla Crouch: Gumbi Marla and Setting Course, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8-26, 2013 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 1900
Wind Speed 13.48 kts
Air Temperature 7.0°C
Relative Humidity 99.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,010.00.5 mb

Latitude:  54.31N   Longitude: 159.80W

Science and Technology Log

Another fashion statement – Gumbi Marla

Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.
Here I am, all zipped up in my immersion suit.

I’ve donned an immersion suit, also known as a survival suit.  One of the first things I did when I came aboard was to locate this suit and my life vest, two pieces of equipment that save lives.  In the event we had to abandon ship, the survival suit would keep me both warm and afloat until rescue.  During our evacuation drill we needed to unpack and get into the suit, and be completely zipped up in 60 seconds or less.  Getting into the suit was much easier after I took my shoes off, as the soles caught on the fabric of the suit.  The suit is made of neoprene, which was invented in 1930.  SCUBA wetsuits are also made of neoprene, and even some laptop and tablet cases.

In an earlier blog I talked about the CTD being used to calibrate the sonar aboard the Oscar Dyson, but not all technologies on the Dyson are as high tech as the CTD and sonar equipment.  In fact you can build a weather station at home that is similar to some of the equipment used by the Dyson’s crew.  Below is a picture of a hygrometer.  There are actually two hygrometers aboard, one is located on each side of the bridge.  Hygrometers are used to measure relative humidity (how much moisture is in the air).   Also pictured is the wind bird which shows the direction the wind is moving.  The propeller was actually turning rapidly when the picture was taken.  The camera was able to “stop” the action.  The wind bird is mounted atop the jack staff, high above the bow.

Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.
Hygrometers are weather instruments used to measure relative humidity.

Wind bird

The following link shows you how to build six instruments for monitoring the weather.

If you checked out the above link, how many snow days to you think the kids in North Dakota had?

Did you check out ship tracker?  If you did, the screen shot below will look familiar.  The blue lines in the water display the Dyson’s course.  Each segment of the course is called a transect.  Transects are numbered, enabling scientists to easily reference a location.

Oscar Dyson's course as of 6 18 13
Oscar Dyson‘s course as of 6 18 13

Are you wondering why we have traveled in rectangular patterns?  The scientists establish this course for a several reasons:

  1. Transects run perpendicular to the coast line, covering a wide range of bathymetry over the shortest distance.
  2. Regularly spaced transects (as opposed to randomly spaced or scattered) are correlated with historical data, and are the best way to describe the distribution of pollock.
  3. The combination of transects collects sufficient data to allow scientists to estimate the overall size of the pollock population with a high degree of certainty.

Does anyone have an idea about the meaning of “bathymetry” and a “leg”?  No, in this case a leg is not something you stand on.  Bathymetry is the shape and depth of the ocean floor, and a bathymetry contour line on a chart connects points of equal depth (like a topographic map).  A leg, in this context, is a segment of the overall distance covered in the survey.

The information collected during this year’s survey helps determine the number of pollock that can be caught in next year’s fishing season.

Here is the ship tracker link, you can check out the Dyson’s course and other NOAA ships as well.

Personal Log 

I want to revisit the sonar of Mystery Mix One.  In my last blog I talked about what was happening near the surface of the ocean.  This time I want to focus beneath the sea floor.

Graphic provided by NOAA
Graphic provided by NOAA

Look beneath the red, yellow, and green bands, depicting the sea floor, at the blue color, notice how the density of color changes over time.  The density of the color tells scientists about the composition of the sea bed.  The denser the color, the denser or harder the seafloor is likely to be; probably, the places with the dark, dense color are rocky areas, which attract the fish schools seen in the water above.

Looking at this graph reminds me of an experiment that my husband worked on, when he worked for Charles Stark Draper Labs, in Boston, MA.  He worked on a Gravity Gradiometer that was sent to the moon on Apollo 17.  The gradiometer measured the changes in gravity.  The changes in gravitational strength give scientists information about what lays beneath the moon surface, like the sonar provides information about the sea bed.  The Gravity Gradiometer was a very specialized version of equipment that is commonly used in prospecting for oil on Earth.  I am sharing this story because, in class, one of our foci is to take what we know and apply the knowledge to a new scenario.  Next question:  Where will what we know now, take us in the future?

Did You Know?

Some fish can see color.

Patty McGinnis: Let’s Go Trawling! May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Farallones
Date: Friday, May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 ° 41.2’  N
Longitude: 122 ° 52.0’ W
Air Temperature: 10.5 Celsius
Wind Speed:  24 knots with gusts as high as 30 knots
Wind Direction: NW
Surface Water Temperature: 9.11 Celsius
Weather conditions: mostly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Last night was my first night of actual work; work that is a challenge given the fact that the boat is moving constantly. There are quite a few tasks that the scientists hope to accomplish over the next week. They will be periodically be deploying a unit called the CTD. The CTD is a carousel that samples for conductivity/salinity temperature, and depth, at a continuous rate as it is lowered from the craft towards the bottom of the ocean floor. The unit transmits data to a computer program which in data analysis and for calibrating the instruments on the CTD itself.

This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth
This machine is called a CTD and measures conductivity, temperature, and depth

The CTD also holds bottles are “fired” at various depths for the purpose of capturing a sample of sea water. The first of these occurs at the lowest point, which is approximately at 10-20 meters above the sea floor. The second bottle fires at the point at which the highest chlorophyll concentration was measured as the CTD made its way to the bottom. This chlorophyll max indicates the productivity created by photosynthetic organisms. The last bottle is fired at five meters below the surface. Water from the bottles is filtered and run through a benchtop fluorometer to obtain chlorophyll concentration which can then be used to estimate primary productivity, or the speed at which photosynthetic organisms produce new matter. Although this measurement may seem a bit boring to some, especially when compared to fish and marine mammals, it is important to remember that photosynthetic organism make up the basis of the food chain and without them no other organisms would exist in the oceans.

The Ocean Starr's floating laboratory
The Ocean Starr’s floating laboratory

My work, however, involves sifting the trawl catches. A trawl is a net that is dragged 30 meters from the surface of the water and is designed to catch organisms in the water column. The trawl is shaped like an ice cream cone with an end called the codend made up of a small mesh that prevents organisms from escaping. The scientist is charge of this part of the operations is Keith, an entertaining character who enjoys telling stories. He has informed me that trawling is conducted at night because if held during the day the fish can see the net and avoid it. Night trawls are therefore the preferred method for sampling for juvenile fish. There are several other people who assist in sorting the catches. Among them are Amber, a member of the NOAA core, Lindsay, who is a fisheries technician, and Kaia, who is a volunteer.

The water has been quite rough, so rough that we altered course last night and made modifications to our planned course which meant only four 15-minute trawls were conducted instead of the planned five. The majority of last night’s haul was krill; a shrimp-like organism about an inch or inch and a half in length. Mixed in with the numerous krill was a variety of organisms that included juvenile rockfish species, juveniles from other types of fish, market squid, Gonatus squid, and several octopi. In addition, we collected jelly-fish like organisms called ctenophores and colonial salps (a common name for any type of gelatinous zooplankton). Ctenophores have sticky cells that trap their food while colonial salps are filter feeders; both consume phytoplankton and zooplankton. Someone unfamiliar with these organisms might have difficulty believing that they are animals since they lack any readily apparent brain, eyes, ears, or mouth.

Does this look like an animal to you?
Does this look like an animal to you?

This salp is from the genus Thetys
This salp is from the genus Thetys

assortment of catch
Some of the typical organisms in a catch


Tonight we conducted a 5-minute trawl to “test” the waters for the presence of jellyfish. Since jellyfish can quickly clog a net, it is important to determine if the area is suitable for trawling before commencing operations. The exploratory trawl produced no jellyfish, so a 15-minute trawl has conducted. Unfortunately, little was obtained during the first trawl, while the second trawl yielded a number of market squid. We’ll continue operations throughout the evening. There is a good bit of down time between each trawl since we have to move to a different point between trawls and wait for the CTD to be deployed at each site. While I keep busy working on my blog, others surf the Internet, nap, eat a snack, or chat. Which would YOU do???

Lindsay and Amber record data
Lyndsey and Amber record data

Check out the krill!
Check out the krill!

I'm holding a juvenile rockfhish
I’m holding a juvenile rockfish

Personal Log

Yesterday morning Dave, one of the crew, went over the safety rules and emergency procedures with me. As part of my training I put on my survival suit which is designed to keep me afloat if there should be a reason to have to evacuate the ship. I hope I never have to actually use it, as is not the easiest item to put on. The large rubberized gloves make it very difficult to pull up the zipper (and it gives you some bad “hat hair!”).

Thumbs up for the survival suit
Thumbs up for the survival suit

I have quickly come to realize that the galley area is the place people come to congregate. Because of the various shifts, food is available 24-7. A whiteboard proclaims the meal times (6 am, 11 am, 5 pm, and 11 pm). The cook, Crystal, has been very accommodating regarding my request of non-dairy products; I have been treated to several non-dairy cheeses and was happy to see soy milk in the fridge. Others were happy to spot the special freezer that contains ice cream.

Along with the varied mealtimes comes varied sleep times; I will be working the night shift starting last night. I am a bit surprised to learn that the majority of the work is actually done during the night; while there are six of us who do the sampling for the night shift, there are only three who work during the day.

Shhhh! People sleeping!
Shhhh! People sleeping!

I have spent quite a bit of time chatting with Don, a fisheries biologist who dabbles in hobbies such as robotics, computer animation, and origami. His main job is to communicate with the captain regarding our course to ensure that we are trawling in the correct areas. He had warned me that things would get rocking once we are underway. Evidently a stubborn stationary high pressure system is responsible for rough seas. A small weather craft has been declared, and although we are not a small weather craft, we are not immune from the effects of the elements.

Don has been correct in his predictions. As I sit here typing in the laboratory, papers and magazines are sliding from one end of the table to the other as the ship rolls back and forth. The pitch today has changed from yesterday. The intensity is no doubt responsible for my discomfort. As the ship pitches unpredictably, I find that my stomach rolls as well despite a preventative course of seasickness medication. Even the old trick of looking out on the horizon did not help much this afternoon when the horizon disappeared and reappeared with each roll. I find it interesting that I am in minority and wonder if immunity to seasickness is something akin to immunity to poison ivy (not that I’m immune to that, either!). My friend Don assures me that things will be calmer soon; the swells are supposed to decrease substantially within the next 24 hours and as long as I “don’t mind a little rain” things should be improving.

Despite this, I am enjoying the friendship of my new acquaintances and have many new “firsts” such as holding an octopus in my hand, truly comprehending what krill look like, and seeing blue whales for the first time. Tomorrow will no doubt bring more surprises as I continue to adjust to life at sea.

Did You Know?

That fish are aged by their ear bones?

Andrea Schmuttermair: Tows Away! June 26, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge:
Latitude:  2805.26N
Longitude: 9234.19W
Speed:  10mph
Wind Speed:  5.86 knots
Wind Direction:   E/SE
Surface Water Salinity:  35.867 PPT
Air Temperature:  28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure:  1010.51 mb
Water Depth:  96.5 m

Science and Technology Log

Sunrise on the Oregon II

Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!

Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?

Check out Ship Tracker at

If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.

It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).

Shrimp in the Gulf
A comparison of the various sizes of shrimp we pull up from our trawls.

Shrimp waiting to be measures
A relatively small catch in comparison to the 200+ we’ve been pulling up recently.

When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters).  For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeus setiferus), pink (farfantepenaeus duorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeus aztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.

Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)

The trawl net at sunrise

We’ve now started doing 2 different tows  in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.

The trawl on deck
Alex, Alonzo and Reggie unloading the trawl net.

At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.

Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.

neuston tow
The Neuston tow about to pick up a lot of Sargassum- oh no!

The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.

Bongo tow
The bongo tow on deck waiting to be sent down to about 3m from the ocean floor.

After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow.  The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube  called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net)  and brought back up immediately.

Sifting through the sieve
The remnants from our Neuston tow. This is the sieve we use to weed out what we want and don’t want.

bongo leftover
Here are our 2 samples from the bongo tow. The left one is preserved in ethanol and the right is preserved in formaldehyde (10% formalin and sea water)

Neuston tow samples
Here is a sample from the Neuston tow. Carefully camouflaged are thousands of crab megalops, aka juvenille crabs.

For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.

Flying fish
Flying fish we pulled up in our Neuston tow at nighttime.

Personal Log

My stateroom
My sleeping quarters (top bunk), also known as a stateroom. My roommate is Kristin, one of the scientists on board.

Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.

You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness.  I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!

We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.

Survival Suit
Here I am in my survival suit. Judd also decided to be in the picture. 🙂

I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.

We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:

cownose ray
Here I am holding a cownose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus)- my favorite catch yet. He weighed about 25lbs! This one was the highlight of my day as rays are some of my favorite ocean critters!

Atlantic sharpnose shark
One of the 4 Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) we’ve caught so far.

A sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)- these guys hang onto sharks to catch a ride- he’s still alive so is able to hang onto my arm!

Critter Query Time!

Critter Query #1: What is a fathom (in your own words please)?

Critter Query #2: What are the differences between skates and rays?

Maureen Anderson: Out To Sea, July 26, 2011 (Post #2)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maureen Anderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 25 — August 9, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 27.90 N
Longitude: -086.42 W
Speed: 11.50 kts
Course: 140.00
Wind Speed: 9.10 kts
Wind Direction: 272.65
Surface Water Temperature: 30.10 C
Surface Water Salinity: 26.89 PSU
Air Temperature: 30.10 C
Relative Humidity: 64%
Barometric Pressure: 1011.94 mb

Science and Technology Log

We set off from Pascagoula, Mississippi yesterday at 3PM. We had a short delay in leaving due to some maintenance that had to be handled, but it wasn’t too long until we were underway. It turns out we will be motoring around the southern coast of Florida and up the Atlantic to reach our stations. This project’s mission is to monitor the variability in shark populations off the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico. We should begin setting line with baited hooks on Thursday. Each shark caught will be measured for length, mass, and sex. Some sharks will also be tagged in order to collect more data after their release.

Map of our course
This is our course map. It may or may not change.

The Oregon II has 30 people aboard, including crew, scientists and volunteers. The crew includes officers, fishermen, cooks, an electronics technician, engineers, and other NOAA personnel. In addition to the mission of the NOAA survey, there are volunteers who are performing their own research, such as studying the stress levels of sharks, shark reproduction, and identifying plankton species. The boat itself is a 170-foot vessel.

The Oregon II
Here is the Oregon II before leaving port.

Personal Log

I’m having a great time on the ship and the people aboard are wonderful. Everyone has been very welcoming and willing to answer my (many) questions about nearly everything. I will be working the day shift when we reach our first station (noon to 12AM), which is great because I can sleep at night normally. I settled into my room which has bunk beds, a sink, and a shared bathroom/shower with the room next door. One of the officers, Sarah, gave us a tour of the boat, including three exercise rooms! I have yet to try them out, but I’m thinking it will be the ultimate test of balance to run on a treadmill while the boat is in motion. Since we have a few days (three) before reaching our first station, many of us have been watching movies (there is a big screen TV in the lounge), reading, and relaxing. I’m sure the work will pick up soon enough, so it’s nice to take it easy for a while. But I am eager to get started. I had a hard time eating dinner last night. For some reason, I lost my appetite. I don’t think it had to do with sea-sickness, but perhaps adjusting to the rocking motion of the boat. The seasickness patch I’m using is working out well so far.

My room
Here is my room. Good 'ole bunk beds!

Today we practiced a fire and emergency drill (abandon ship). During an abandon ship drill, we put on our survival suits. They are big, orange, and take some practice getting into! The suits will keep you warm and buoyant in water. Each one has a strobe light and whistle. When I finally got into mine (with some helpful tips from others) I looked like a big orange Gumby. That is why the survival suits are also called “Gumby” suits.

Survival suit
Here I am in my survival suit. It is my best outfit ever - I am ready for anything!

Something to Think About

A ship out to sea has to be self-sustaining. We are like our own floating city. How do we get fresh drinking water? Where does our waste go? How do you feed 30 people 3 times a day for 16 days? These are questions you may or may not have wondered about…well I’m going to tell you anyway! The boat makes its own fresh water through a process known as reverse osmosis. This removes salt and other molecules from water to make it usable. It gives us drinking water, and water to wash with (for showers, laundry, dishes, etc.) The heads (or toilets) are flushed using salt water. This makes sense because we have an unlimited supply! We have a marine decomposing system that adds bacteria to break down human waste before releasing it to sea. Food scraps? Also sent out to sea to decompose or be eaten. Garbage? Well…we have to hang on to that for the entire trip. This really makes you think about trying to reduce the amount of garbage you produce.

Kathleen Harrison: Getting Underway, July 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Barometric Pressure:  1018.32 mb
Air Temperature:  8.77 ° C
Sea Temperature:  9.31 ° C
True Wind Direction:  218.63 °
True Wind Speed:  16.94 knots
Latitude:  55.12° N, Longitude:  157.31° W
Ship’s speed:  12.5 knots

Personal Log

Fishing Fleet of Kodiak
Kodiak has the second largest fishing fleet in the U.S. This photo shows some of the various kinds of fishing boats that are docked in Kodiak.

abandon ship drill
This is the survival suit, equipped with strobe light, inflatable, and leash. It is affectionately called "Gumby Suit". Isn't it adorable?

July 5, 2011:  I might not have seen fireworks yesterday, but it was still a pretty exciting day, with the departure of the Oscar Dyson from the pier.  I stood outside on the forward deck, and enjoyed the view as we pulled away from Kodiak.  We have been cruising at a steady 12.5 knots (13.5 mph), heading toward the start point of Leg II of the Walleye Pollock Survey.  Our charted course will take us from an area that is southwest of Kodiak Island, up past the east side of the island, and around to the west side of the island, ending back in the port of Kodiak.  I will start working tomorrow morning – 4 am!  Scientific information will probably be included in the next log entry.  Kodiak is a scenic fishing town, on the edge of the island. In the picture above is one of the marinas.

Right before we left Kodiak, the ship ran 2 drills.  We had to carry our survival suit to our muster station, and learn about abandoning ship, and fire drill procedures.  I hope I never have to wear this suit for real, as I was quite claustrophobic putting it on.  I know I would be thankful for it, if the need for wearing it ever came about.

I spent some time on the bridge, learning about radar, navigation, and sea birds.  I even saw a whale spout!

Species seen today:

Northern Fulmar
Tufted Puffins
Black-footed albatross
Black-legged kittiwakes

Laura Rodriguez, May 24th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Rodriguez
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 24 – June 2, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 24, 2010

Pollock Survey Begins

Robert and Kerri deploy the CTD

Deploying the Bongo nets

The bongo nets are almost in

Retrieving the bongo nets, full of algae and hopefully full of Pollock Larvae

On Saturday, my watch began at 10:00 AM. Two of the scientists, Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey have watch from 4 AM until 4 PM. The other two scientists, Tiffany Vance and Steve Porter, have watch from 4 PM until 4 AM. I guess being the teacher they took pity on me and gave me half and half. Before getting to one of the stations, the scientists make sure that everything is ready. They lay out the bongo nets on the deck where they will be used. The bongo nets are two nets that from the top look like bongo drums. (See picture) There is an instrument attached to the bongo nets called a SEACAT that takes conductivity, temperature and salinity measurements during the tow. Inside the lab, buckets, bowls and tweezers are all laid out ready to be used.

As we approach each station, the bridge informs the scientists and survey technicians. The bongo nets have already been readied and are set to be deployed (put into the ocean) from the hero platform. When the OK is given, the nets are lifted by the hydrowinch to a point where they can be maneuvered over the rail and then they are lowered into the water. The nets are lowered until they are at 100 meters or 10 meters off the bottom. As they are lowered, the pilot of the boat keeps the wire at a 45° angle by moving the boat slowly forward. Once the nets reach their maximum depth, they are slowly brought back up again.  ( I tried to upload a video showing the deployment and retrieval of the bongo, but it won’t work so I’ll show you the video when I get back.

Pollock larvae under the microscope

When the nets clear the water, they are hosed down to get any organisms into the bottle on the end of the net (called the cod end.) The cod end is then removed and the contents of one net are poured into a bucket for sorting. The contents of the other net are preserved and sent to a lab in Poland where they use instruments to get a very accurate count of the Pollock.

Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey in the chem Lab

Inside the chem lab, the contents of the bucket are scooped out and poured little by little into a mixing bowl. We then perform a rough count by removing the very small Pollock larvae and any other fish larvae and put them into a petri dish with cold water (the petri dish is placed on top of ice.) They are only a few mm long (averaging between 6-10mm.) Once we have gone through the entire contents, the Pollock larvae are counted, photographed and the length measured. They are then placed into a labeled vial with 95% ethanol. The other fish larvae are placed in a separate vial in 100% ethanol. They are kept in case another scientific team needs the data. The Pollock larvae will be sent to the scientists’ lab back in Seattle where they will perform further analysis on them. I’ll tell you more about that in the next blog.


Answers to your questions:

Annalise – The ship travels at 12 knots when we are going between stations.

Abandon Ship drill – You need to know how to put on your survival suit

Matt T– The ship is very safe. Drills are conducted every week. My first day on the ship, we had a fire drill and abandon ship drill. (See photo of me in my survival suit.)

Dan – The Oscar Dyson observes and records a number of environmental conditions. The bridge takes weather readings every hour and keeps them in a weather log. These include wind direction, wind speed, seawater temperature, air temperature, air pressure, cloud cover, sea swell height and direction. Conditions in the water are also constantly monitored such as temperature, conductivity, salinity, and amount of oxygen.

Olivia – The bongo tow is one way to get fish eggs. The mesh used on the bongo nets is very fine). It is able to filter out these very small larval fish and fish eggs, too.

Brittany – There is no specific number of fish that need to be caught for this experiment. Part of the experiment is to see how many larval fish there are. For our rough count, the scientists measure 20 larvae to get an estimate of their size. They will then look at the otoliths (small inner ear bones) to estimate their age.

Euphausid – Krill


Amy – Aside from the Pollock larvae in the nets, we have caught cod larvae, larval squid, fish eggs, amphipods, terapods, jellies, Euphausids or krill, copepods and the larvae of other fish. The nets are small enough that we don’t catch any large fish or other animals.

Josh W. and Jon – Joel Kellogg has the night shift, so I haven’t met him yet. Stephen Macri is not on this cruise so I can’t ask him your questions.


Questions for today

In your answers to the last blog, many of you researched the large animals that live here in the Gulf of Alaska. The most abundant organisms, however, are much smaller. Two organisms that are very important to the survival of the large animals here are copepods and Euphausids. The larval Pollock feed on the larval copepods that are called copepodites.

Find out what other animals feed on copepods and euphausids. Then, describe at least one food chain that includes copepods and one that includes krill. In your food chain start with a producer or autotroph Ex. Algae) and end with the highest level of consumer or predator (Ex. blue Whale)


Again, Please be sure to include the link to the website where you got your information.  Answer the questions in your own words writing complete sentences with as much detail as you can.

Karen Matsumoto, April 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 16, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The research mission for this cruise is to follow a transit from Guam to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i via Wake Island, and conduct an acoustic (hearing) and visual (seeing) survey of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) along the way. A transit is similar to a transect line you use to monitor our beaches in our nearshore studies! This transit study will be conducted from April 19 to May 4, 2010. This project represents important and groundbreaking research for whale biologists, since very little is known about the distribution and vocal behavior (the sounds made by whales) of baleen whales in this part of the Pacific.

Our research mission has several objectives:

  • Collect data on the presence of whales/dolphins and their abundance (how many)
  • Collect tissue samples from whales/dolphins for genetic studies
  • Collect photo identification on any whales/dolphins observed
  • Collect acoustic (sound) data on whales/dolphins to help in species identification and understanding their vocalizations
  • Collect acoustic data on fisheries to understand the distribution of prey species along the transit line
  • Recover and install underwater acoustic monitoring equipment, called a HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package), near Wake Island that will remain there for a year.

The research team consists of 12 scientists who are trained in visual observations of cetaceans and acoustic monitoring. I am part of the research team, and will fill in for staff conducting the visual observations and routinely conduct the acoustic monitoring.

The visual observation team consists of eight biologists rotating between four stations: Two “big eye” (25 x 150) binocular stations, one on the port (left) side and one on the starboard (right) side; one station forward observing with the naked eye and 7X binoculars; and one station rear-facing looking behind the ship with naked eye and 7X binoculars. Scientists work on 2-hour shifts and rotate among the scientists.

Visual observation station on flying bridge.

Research team member Adam on a “Big Eye”.

The acoustic team monitors whale vocalizations using two different methods. One method uses a hydrophone array towed behind the ship 24 hours a day (mostly to monitor toothed cetaceans, including dolphins). This hydrophone array is similar to the ones installed at Seattle Aquarium, Neah Bay, and other locations to monitor orcas and other whales in Washington State.

The other acoustic monitoring method uses Navy surplus sonobuoys (which were originally developed to detect submarines) that are launched three times a day at 0900, 1300, and 1700. The sonobuoys have a wide range in frequency response. They are able to pick up sounds between 5 Hz (cycles per second) and 20,000 Hz. Although humans have a hearing range of about 20 Hz to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz), our hearing is most sensitive between the frequencies of 1 kHz (1000 Hz) and 10 kHz (10,000 Hz). So, we can hear some of the clicks, whistles, and ‘boings’ of some dolphins and whales (‘boings’ are made by minke whales), but we have to “visually hear” others that are too low for humans to hear. The vocalizations of some baleen whales are not audible to the human ear, but are detected by the sonobuoy and are visible on the computer with the use of special software. We visually monitor from a range of 10 Hz to 240 Hz, to detect the presence of baleen whales, while listening for higher frequency vocalizations. Signals picked up from the sonobuoys are transmitted to a radio receiver on the ship. All data, including measurements of a vocalization frequency range and duration are recorded on a computer program and also logged in a hand-written journal and rerecorded on an Excel spreadsheet. All data collected will be carefully analyzed in a lab at a later date.

So far on the research cruise, there has been very little cetacean activity observed by visual observers or the scientists conducting acoustic monitoring. These waters have not been widely surveyed for cetaceans, so any data will add to the collective knowledge base of this area. As a scientist, it is important to remember that “the absence of data is data” in understanding the presence/absence and abundance of cetacean species in these deep, low productivity ocean waters.

Personal Log

The Oscar Elton Sette received its sailing orders to leave at 1500 on Monday, April 19, 2010. The generator part we were waiting on finally arrived (by way of Japan!) and we set sail promptly at sailing time. I am finally getting used to using the 24-hour clock!

Sailing orders.

Leaving the dock at Guam.

Sette’s colors flying!

We left Guam with fairly calm seas, but the winds picked up and we were soon rockin’ and rollin’! We had our “Welcome Aboard” meeting, where we learned about ship protocols and safety, as well as getting to know some of the ship’s crew. Of course, a large part of sailing preparation is the “safety drill” and I had my first “close encounter” with a survival suit! The Safety officer, Mike promptly provided me with a survival suit that actually fits much better…the first one could have accommodated two of me!

Karen in survival suit made for 2 Karens.

…and out of the survival suit! Whew!

I was ill prepared for what was to come. With high seas, and no “sea legs” I was struck by seasickness, which sent me right to my bunk to sleep—in fact that was about all I could do! We are fortunate to have a wonderful Doc on board, who provided me with the right meds and advice to be able to recover and feel human again! The greatest comfort I’ve gotten in a long time was to know that “the survival rate for seasickness is 100%!”

Doc Tran who took care of all of the seasick scientists!

My bunk, where I spent most of two days recuperating!

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: sonobuoy

Question of the Day: Did you know that sonobuoys were first developed by the U.S. Navy, made to be dropped from aircraft, and designed to locate submarines during WWII?

Something to Think About:

Whales migrate to tropical waters to give birth in winter and spring, and travel to colder, food rich waters for feeding during the summer.

Animals Seen Today:

• Spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)

Did you know?

…that scientists take tissue biopsy samples from cetaceans by using a crossbow to shoot a special dart with a metal tip that penetrates the skin and blubber then pops out. The dart has a float and string attached to one end so that it can be retrieved easily with the tissue sample (about the size of a pencil eraser) still inside the tip. Whale research scientists have to be good archers! Don’t worry, the animals rarely notice when they are darted!

Richard Jones & Art Bangert, January 4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Jones
January 4 – 22, 2010

Mission: Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: January 4, 2010

The ship is underway
The ship is underway

Personal Log

Art and I arrived at Pearl at 7AM today at the Visitor Check-in and ID office. We were a half hour early and were still 12th and 13th in line. The process was pretty slow, but we got picked up by one of the science crew (James) when we got our passes around 8:15AM. We then went the ship and came on board durning the first of three drills for the day. Within in a few minutes of getting to the ship we were already involved in the ship board fire drill. Both Art and I were shlepping fire fighting equipment to the “fire scene”, I had a ventilation hose and Art a really big, and nasty looking, pry bar. It looked like a pry bar on steroids. After the fire drill it was the abandon ship drill, where we all put on our “gumby” suits ( I wish I had thought to have my camera ready first thing) and exchanged our old whistles for new ones without cork balls. After the abandon ship drill, it was man overboard and then we were able to stand down by about 10AM. Once the drills were done it was time to get with moving the equipment to the ship and setting up the instruments. The process of meeting the crew, loading the equipment and stores, and setting up the science stuff took until almost 6PM.

Robert Oddo, July 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Oddo
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown 
July 11 – August 10, 2009 

Mission: PIRATA (Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic)
Geographical area of cruise: Tropical Atlantic
Date: July 12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temp 27.5o C(81.5F)
Relative Humidity 76.63
Sea Temp 28.22
Barometric Pressure 1015.15 inches
Latitude 11o42.80 North Longitude 56o 07.33 West
Traveling at 10.7 knots

Setting up the lab
Setting up the lab

Science and Technology Log 

There is a lot of unpacking and setup that has to be done on a scientific cruise like this one. Researchers were busy today getting schedules setup, equipment working and orienting themselves to their workspaces. We are now steaming directly to 0o, 23oW to service a buoy in the PIRATA backbone that has not been transmitting data since 21 June 2009.

Yesterday, I wrote about PIRATA (Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic). Another project that is also going on simultaneously is the Aerosol and Ocean Science Expedition (AEROSE).  Saharan dust storms are estimated to inject three billion metric tons of mineral aerosols a year into the troposphere. The aerosols impact precipitation, fertilize the ocean, and change the air quality and impact ecosystems in the Caribbean and the US eastern seaboard. Red tides, increased rates of asthma and changes in precipitation in the eastern Atlantic and Caribbean have been associated with this dust from the Sahara. The data collected from this cruise will help us understand better the impact of his Saharan dust on the Caribbean and the US eastern seaboard.

Here I am out on the back deck.
Here I am out on the back deck.

One must be prepared for emergencies at sea and today we had an abandon ship drill and a fire drill. There are 49 people aboard the Ronald H. Brown and it is important to know what do in case of an emergency and make sure everyone is accounted for.

Personal Log 

We got underway from Barbados yesterday afternoon and the seas were described as being a bit “lumpy”.  I noticed little by little people seemed to disappear and was wondering what was going on and then it hit me.  Nausea, cold sweats and not being to get comfortable at all.  I got real sleepy and found a spot in the library and crashed for a couple hours. There is really no place to go. I woke up around dinner, took some seasickness medicine and hung out for the rest of the evening. Believe me, I was not the only one trying to get their sea legs.  There were very few people around. It takes time for the body to adjust to the rocking of the boat and some adjust faster than others.  This morning, I feel much better.

The course we have taken since we departed from Bridgetown
The course we have taken since we departed from Bridgetown

Sunset from the back of the ship
Sunset from the back of the ship

Robert Oddo, July 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Oddo
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown 
July 11 – August 10, 2009 

Mission: PIRATA (Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic)
Geographical area of cruise: Tropical Atlantic
Date: July 11, 2009

NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown docked in Barbados
NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown docked in Barbados

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature 27.6o C (81.7o)
Relative Humidity 82.6%
Sea Surface Temperature 28.4oC (83.1oF)
Atmospheric Pressure 1014.8

Science and Technology Log 

The Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic (PIRATA) is project that is monitoring the upper ocean and near surface atmosphere of the Tropical Atlantic.  This is done by the deployment and maintenance of moored buoys and meteorological stations across the Atlantic. One of the purposes of this cruise is to do maintenance work on some of the buoys. The last couple of days have been spent loading equipment onto the ship and preparing the ship for this mission.

One of the science labs with equipment ready to be unpacked
One of the science labs with equipment ready to be unpacked

There is an incredible amount of preparation for a cruise such as this one. Scientific equipment must be packed carefully, shipped to the location where the ship is docked, and then unloaded and set up. If you forget something you might not be able to collect some of the data that you hoped to obtain. The data collected from this array of buoys will lead to a better understanding of an area of the Atlantic which is the main development region of tropical cyclones that threaten the United States.

Personal Log 

Arrived in Barbados late on the night of July 9th. Got to the R. H. Brown early on the morning on the 10th. Spent most of the day getting situated and meeting members of the scientific team as well as the crew.  Berths are small but comfortable.  I was surprised at all the amenities on the ship.  There is wireless Internet, a ship store, movies at 5:30pm and 7:30pm, laundry and even an exercise room with free weights, and elliptical and a treadmill. We attended an orientation session this morning regarding ship procedures, safety and general life onboard the R. H. Brown. 

Picture of my berth.  I have the top bunk.
Picture of my berth. I have the top bunk.

 Practicing getting in and out of immersion suits
Practicing getting in and out of immersion suits 

John Schneider, July 7, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 7, 2009

58º01.18’ N, 153° 29.56’ W  (en route to the Shumagin Islands)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System: Fog
Barometer: 1019.5
Temperature: 11.8º C
Sea State: 1-2 feet but to increase through the night

Ships in the distance as seen from the Fairweather
Ships in the distance as seen from the Fairweather

Personal Log 

It’s 0610 and at almost exactly 0600 the generator started. The generators (there are 2) on board the Fairweather each put out about 300 kilowatts of electrical power. It’s the electrical power plant that will provide us with electricity for the next 2••• weeks. We’re going to sea in just 4 or 5 hours! I was fortunate to have breakfast with Captain Baird. Focused, professional, likeable, gregarious. He demonstrates characteristics of a fine leader.

Forty-five minutes prior to sailing, the ship’s alarm, fire alarm, watertight doors and PA were all tested. The professionalism of the crew is repeatedly demonstrated and I am in excellent hands. Every crew member has specific duty stations for specific duties.  For docking and undocking the ship, my station is forward on the bow for assisting with line handling.  The dock lines are really big and they are so long that they require several people to manage.  Once again, teamwork, clear communication and coordination were displayed.

You can see how big the lines are when compared to my hand.
You can see how big the lines are when compared to my hand.

Well, my hands are still trembling from the exertion; in the comfort of my cabin I tried on my cold water immersion abandon ship suit (“Gumby suit”.) I wanted to see what was involved before we have an abandon ship drill later on. I sure hope we never need it.  Being somewhat claustrophobic, the notion of being fully enveloped in a neoprene rubber suit with only half of my face showing is not exciting. To make it worse, I had a heck of a time escaping from the suit.  It literally took about 7 or 8 minutes without assistance.  I’ve got to ask if that’s normal or if there are any bigger suits!

Well, it’s 4 hours later and I just finished my safety briefing with Mr. Rice.  Putting the suit on and taking it off are MUCH MUCH easier with assistance and instructions!  I’m now comfortable and capable of donning it easily – but in no means don’t I want to need to! We’ve been under way for about 5 hours now and just completed a fire drill simulating smoke in a cabin aft on C-deck. Once again, well done. Shortly later, that was followed by the Abandon Ship drill. The entire crew had to don their Gumby suits and I was as ready as anyone. The two previous donnings saved me from looking foolish!

Here I am in my immersion suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.
Here I am in my immersion suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.

Almost 1800 hours.  Dinner was: fried chicken, barbequed pork chops with chipotle/sundried tomato glaze, fresh snow peas, cheesy potatoes, salad, and rice pudding with fresh whipped cream and raspberries!!! OMG I don’t want to go home!  The BBQ is on the port side and the smell of dinner cooking just permeated the air.  What a joy!

Animals (or other cool stuff!) Observed Today 

While I was in the safety briefing the bridge spotted a couple whales /   but there will be others! And as I get ready to turn in for the day, brilliant sunlight at 2200 hours!

Questions for You to Investigate 

Without the immersion suit, in 45ºF water, how long would a normal person survive before hypothermia set in?

The mooring lines are a synthetic material less dense than water.  Why is that an advantage?

What do “RADAR,” “SONAR” and “GPS” stand for?

Which animals are whales more closely related to, people or tuna?

Lots of fog on the sea…
Lots of fog on the sea…

Mary Patterson, June 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 16, 2009

The sonar processor and computers
The sonar processor and computers

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind 19 kts
4-6 ft seas, 9-11 ft swells
10 nautical mile visibility
Sea Temp 6.1◦ C
Sea level air pressure 1001.0 mb
Dry Bulb 8.9 Wet Bulb 8.3

Science and Technology Log 

The day was spent in 17 hours of transit to our survey location. During the day the seas turned heavy with 4-6 foot seas and 9-11 foot swells. Even some of the crew and seaman had to hold onto the walls as they walked. The ship definitely rocked and rolled! This was a great test of the trans-derm scop patch to prevent sea-sickness. I was so surprised that it worked so well.

ET John Skinner checked my computer to be sure it was virus free and then set up access to the ship’s email and internet. The ship receives internet through a satellite signal. All ship personnel have to take a computer security test in order to login to the ship’s network.

The Rainier sails through 10-foot swells!
The Rainier sails through 10-foot swells!

After completing my computer safety module, John took me and fellow Teacher at Sea, Jill Stephens, on a quick tour of the launch boats and described the technology installed on them. Each 29 foot launch boat is worth more than a million dollars with all the equipment aboard. John showed us the sound velocity meter, the high and low frequency multibeam echosounder transducers to send and receive the signal, and the computers that collect and store the data. (I’ll explain more about how these work in my next journal). Each boat also has GPS (Global Positioning System), Iridium satellite phone, AIS ship identification (Automatic Identification System that broadcasts in the VHF frequency), marine RADAR, VHF marine radio, fathometer, compass, life raft, fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems.

Here we see the low-frequency multibeam sonar on the left and the high-frequency multibeam sonar on the right.
Here we see the low-frequency multibeam sonar on the left and the high-frequency multibeam sonar on the right.

Personal Log 

After dinner, the first POD (Plan of the Day) was posted. This is produced by the FOO (Field Operations Officer). I excitedly found my name on Launch # 5. Our mission tomorrow will be to find a safe anchorage for the ship on the south side of Ukolnoi Island. We will be surveying ocean floor that has not ever been charted before. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into the ship’s routine here. Breakfast is at 7:00 am, lunch at 12 noon and dinner at 1700 (5:00PM). After dinner, I visit the Bridge and see the many instruments used to guide the ship safely. My favorite piece of equipment is the Clearview screen, or “rain spinner”. It has two pieces of glass that spin and keep the windshield clear of rain.

The Clearview screen, also called a “rain spinner”
The Clearview screen, also called a “rain spinner”

I learn that all the weather data is taken here on the bridge and then submitted to NOAA for their meteorological database.  Next, I visit the chart room where the survey techs process the data collected by the launches. Tonight, they are anxiously planning the areas to survey tomorrow. The people on the ship are so very interesting and friendly. It’s great to hear their stories of how they came to the ship and how much they enjoy the work they do.

Did You Know? 

Sergio Taguba, our Steward, has been on the Rainier the longest of anybody? He’s been here for 36 years!

Mary Patterson, June 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 15, 2009

A life ring aboard the Rainier
A life ring aboard the Rainier

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast 10 nautical mile visibility
Sea Temp 7.2◦ C
Sea level air pressure 1015.2 mb
Dry Bulb 13.3 Wet Bulb 10.0

Science and Technology Log 

After lunch came safety training and a quick tour of the ship. We watched several videos about survival at sea, fire and abandon ship drills and even conflict resolution. Some of the same principles of conflict resolution that we use in school were in the film. JO (Junior Officer) Russell Quintero passed out our bunk cards. These cards fit into a pocket in our bunks and list all our stations for all our drills.

Next, we were fitted for our bright orange survival suits otherwise know as the “Gumby” suit. These suits are designed to help minimize the shock of extremely cold water. They may look funny, but I’d be glad we had them in an emergency. We were also issued a lightweight vest, a bright orange deck coat and a hard hat. It’s good to know that all the emphasis I put on safety in my classroom, really does translate to the real world of science. NOAA is all about safety first! After dinner, we had our first fire drill and not long after that, an abandon ship drill.

With a ship this size it is crucial that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Usually, by dinnertime, the orders for the next day are posted in several spots throughout the ship. These list the survey boats that will be going out, their crews and where they are going and what they will survey. This is called he Plan of the Day (POD) and everyone is expected to read them when they are posted.

Being able to put out a fire on a ship is really important when you’re at sea.  There are no fire departments to save you.
Being able to put out a fire on a ship is really important when you’re at sea. There are no fire departments to save you.

Personal Log 

Excitement built as fellow Teacher at Sea, Jill Stephens and I made our way to the ship. We were greeted by ENS Matt Nardi and shown to our bunks to unpack. Our first chow in the crew mess hall was at 12 noon.  This food is nothing like cafeteria food! Our cooks, Dorethea, Raul, Floyd and Sergio like to keep the crew happy! Our first lunch was roasted veal or a chicken cheese sandwich. I also learned that there is always ice cream in the freezer and salad available 24 hours a day.

Here I am in my survival suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.
Here I am in my survival suit, also called a “Gumby” suit.

As we left the dock, we saw quite a few puffins. Those crazy birds flap and flap their wings but look afraid to fly. They are quite entertaining. We also passed approximately 50 or so sea otters playing and feeding in the kelp. Later in the evening, I saw whales spouting in the distance. I really hope we get to see one up close. As the engines were turned on, it seemed like all the jellyfish in the water came towards the ship. I wonder if they are attracted to the vibrations made by the engines. The sun set at 11:10 pm and so did I.

“New Terms/Phrases/Words” 
Bunk card, POD, Rack, Standing orders

Duane Sanders, June 8, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Duane Sanders
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: New England Coast
Date: June 8, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: Speed 16.1 KTS, Direction 50.5 degrees
Barometer:  1014 millibars
Air temperature: 16.8 0C Seas: 1-3 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

The Hugh R. Sharp at dock in Delaware
The Hugh R. Sharp at dock in Delaware

I have been assigned to participate in the annual scallop survey in the New England fisheries area. Our ship, the Hugh R. Sharp, is two years old and designed specifically for ocean research. The Sharp is owned by the University of Delaware and is under contract with NOAA for the scallop survey. It has laboratories, a workshop and specialized equipment for handling large or bulky devices. There is a continuous data stream gathered by the ship’s instruments and posted on monitors on the bridge and in the lab. This includes some parameters related to ocean chemistry as well as the usual weather data. There are several other high-tech sensing systems to assist in a variety of research projects. The ship’s flexible design allows for the science team to install computers, servers and ancillary equipment specific to the research project at hand.  Also, modular labs outfitted for specific purposes can be secured to the fantail (rear deck) of the ship.

My favorite piece of technology is the diesel electric drive system.  Diesel generators produce electricity that supply power to the drive motors all other electrical needs on the ship.  Propulsion is provided by thrusters, which are capable of rotating in any direction as needed.  There are two thrusters in the stern and one in the bow.  These three acting together can keep the Sharp within six feet of a specified location.  The ship’s engineer can monitor all systems from his station on the bridge. This system is very quiet and vibration is kept to a minimum.  That means we can sleep much better than with a conventional diesel engine drive. All in all, this vessel seems to me to be an ocean scientist’s dream come true.  It is designed for high-tech applications and configurations that change as the need arises.

Here I am practicing donning my emergency immersion suit.
Here I am practicing donning my emergency immersion suit.

Personal Log 

Today is our first day at sea. We spent the morning hours getting acquainted with each other and learning about safety, emergency procedures and shipboard etiquette. For example, the science team was divided into two watches, midnight to noon and noon to midnight.  The rule is that people coming on watch need to take everything they want to use during watch hours with them. This allows those coming off watch to get some undisturbed rest.  Living in close quarters requires everyone to be considerate and cooperative. We all rely on each other to do their part to help make the cruise a safe and successful one.  While there is always room for some fun, everybody takes their responsibilities quite seriously.  Life and limb often depend on this careful approach to our work. 

Dave Grant, November 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
November 6 – December 3, 2008

MissionVOCALS, an international field experiment designed to better understand the physical and chemical processes of oceanic climate systems
Geographical area of cruise: Southeast Pacific
Date: November 10, 2008

Science and Technology Log 

“Ships and sailors rot at port.”  – Captain Horatio Nelson

Today is a bit frustrating for the science staff since we are delayed in our departure; although the crew doesn’t object to another day of restaurant meals and visits to town to make final purchases.

The Brown’s Meeting Room
The Brown’s Meeting Room

This gave the science and navigation team time to get up to speed on the cruise track, and view satellite images of what is happening offshore, and to determine the first waypoint of the ship – Point “Alpha.” Alpha is at -20° S, 075 W (That will put us 130-miles southwest of Arica, 1200-miles south of the Equator, and in 4,000-meters of water.) We will be at the same Longitude as Philadelphia, PA.  Surface and subsurface sampling of the sea and air is to be done at the same time air samples are captured by several aircraft passing overhead at different altitudes. Low passes by a slow-flying US Navy Twin Otter will take samples at the “boundary layer” where particles of salt spray and other particles are cast into the air by wave action; while higher passes are made by a much larger C-130 operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Simultaneously, meteorologists on the ship will be launching SONDES (Weather Sounding Balloons) that collect data on the air temperature, humidity and air pressure up to about 25,000 meters; and oceanographers will be taking water samples with a CTD meter (Conductivity, Temperature, Density) at the surface and down to 3,000-meters.

Rules and Regulations! 

“You’ll never get in trouble following orders.” Commander Tom Kramer – US Navy


 “One hand for the ship and one hand for yourself.” Onboard, the 3-Point Rule is in effect. Even at dock the ship can move, so you should always have three points of contact. (Two feet and at least one hand on a railing.) “Only YOU can prevent…!” Fire, not drowning, is the biggest hazard on a ship. Smoking is only permitted in the designated area outside the ship and at the stern.

“If it’s too hot, stay out of the kitchen!” This is an open ship, but for obvious safety reasons and to avoid interfering with operations, certain places like the engine room, machine shop and galley are generally off-limits. Inform the bridge of your activities and always wear your safety vest and helmet while on the fantail.


“Wash your hands!” Living in close quarters requires good hygiene. Wash frequently since you are constantly touching doors and railings. Immediately report any injuries to the health officer “Doc.” Know the signs of seasickness and immediately seek attention if you feel dizzy, nauseous or groggy. Stay hydrated.


“Can you hear me now?” We were reminded that we will be working where people live (the crew), and to observe others’ privacy whenever possible. Earplugs were on our list of Items to bring and one quickly learns that there is always inherent mechanical noise on a ship in addition to any work sounds. Since the ship is metal, any vibrations from the constant scraping, grinding and chipping of rust by the maintenance crew can often be heard reverberating through several decks to the sleeping quarters; sounding like your worst nightmare about visits to the dentist. (And they start work early, and work late!)


The Galley staff serves dessert -sweet potato pie!
The Galley staff serves dessert -sweet potato pie!

“Eat it and beat it!” To paraphrase that old Army saying, a ship sails on its stomach too, and the first order of the day was food, meal times and consideration of the galley staff. Meals are closely spaced and on a tight schedule because of rotating schedules (Someone on the ship has to be maintaining power, scientific equipment and our course every minute.). Also, the kitchen is in a constant state of clean-up and prep for the next meal, which means the small staff must start at “0-Dark-Thirty” hours (Well before dawn) and is not finished until evening. Mealtime is not the time for chit-chat. Eat and make room for others who are coming off duty. Many WWII veterans admit that their motivation for joining the Navy was to be assured of warm chow. (And a dry bunk instead of a foxhole!) Regardless of your culinary tastes and dietary needs, they are met at every meal on this ship.  The cuisine…in a word?  Excellent! For those who are tardy, sleep late, like to spread out their meals, or are delayed because of  a sampling conflict or problem in the lab; the cooks are always considerate enough to leave out fruit, soup, leftovers, world-class dessert (On the rare event that any is left) and predictably, the old standby – peanut butter and jelly. 

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 9.16.00 PM


Abandon ship drill - Fitting survival suits
Abandon ship drill – Fitting survival suits

“This is a Drill!” The earsplitting ship’s bell keeps everyone aware of any serious problems. There are three signals you must respond to without hesitation: “HEL-LO Gumby” Everyone has seen or used a life jacket, but the Brown’s bright orange ones are specially designed equipment with the ship’s name on the back, reflector tape, an oversized whistle, and a strobe-light that is activated automatically when it comes in contact with the water. Since they are fairly thick, they also make good windbreakers when you are on deck; so there is little excuse not to wear them. Survival suits are oversized orange neoprene “dry” suits like the ones divers wear. Putting them on during our weekly drills is quite and adventure for the first time, but this is serious business and we are all checked out by the Safety Officer. And yes, you do look like the cartoon character, especially when you are walking in your “Jumbo Immersion Suit.”

“The two-man rule” Any doctor will tell you that nothing is better for allergies than an ocean cruise, and the air here between the desert and sea is very refreshing. However, in the confines of the ship we must be aware of gases like Nitrogen and Helium that the scientists need to operate analytical equipment, and since the ship has large and powerful engines, Carbon Monoxide is always a consideration. When working with these gases and in tight quarters, we were reminded to have a partner, while the Safety Officer trained us on the 10-minute rescue breathers in our cabins.

Interesting observation: One sign that odorless, suffocating gases are present is that someone passes out while you are talking to them. (Certainly THAT is every teacher’s worst nightmare!). We are also issued an EEBD (Emergency Evacuation Breathing Device) which would give us 10 minutes of air to escape such a situation. Feeling informed, safe and secure, we were given one very important final tip from the maintenance crew: “Please don’t flush anything down the head besides toilet paper and whatever your last meal was!”  We are ready to go to sea. 

Emergency breathing device - Demonstration by safety Officer
Emergency breathing device – Demonstration by safety Officer

Personal Log 

There may be miles of cordage on a ship: Line (Thin rope), Rope (Thick rope more than 1-3/4 inches in circumference) and hawser (Really thick rope at least 5-inches in circumference). Hawsers are used to secure and tow the largest ships.  As many as ten bow, stern, breast and spring lines, ropes and hawsers secure a vessel to the wharf.

Returning to the Brown after a long day hiking around and hoping to see some unusual wildlife during our last hours of “shore leave” I noticed the gang plank was moving back-and-forth appreciably, even though the harbor was flat calm. At the beach I enjoyed watching thunderous “overhead” surf breaking on the point and speculated about what sea conditions would be like at our rescheduled Midnight departure. Back in the harbor, the circular, movement of the ship was confirmation that there was a good long period swell refracting around the breakwater and setting the port’s water in motion. Watching the ship’s lines tighten and slacken at regular intervals of about a minute, I imagined the Brown was telling us she was biting at the bit to sail! Checking the lines I realized the hawsers had become a perfect roost for Inca terns; a bird I had searched for in vain at the shore – hoping to spot at least one before the end of my trip. The Inca tern (Larosterna inca) is the most distinctive of this gregarious group of seabirds. Rare elsewhere, it is fairly common along the coasts of Chile and Ecuador…and becoming increasingly abundant on the Brown! At night they outnumber every other bird in the port.

Brown at dock with birds gathering on lines
Brown at dock with birds gathering on lines

Birds of a feather flock together and this is certainly the case with terns. They roost, breed and fish in groups, often made up of different, but similar-looking, mostly grey and white species. Identifying them can be a challenge; except in the case of the dark grey Inca tern. Its red bill and especially its whiskered facial plumes separate it from its cousins, and all seabirds. Terns are my favorite group of birds and they have a cat-like aloofness when it comes to tolerating people. Sailing home from fishing trips in New Jersey waters, I usually have plenty of bait left over (Testimony to my questionable fish-finding ability.) and I soon learned that our common and least terns in Sandy Hook Bay are happy to dive down and perform fantastic midair catches of the bait I toss off the stern. These sharp-eyed hunters never seem to miss, and for me this is often the best part of the trip.

Terns on the hawser
Terns on the hawser

I thoroughly enjoyed my night with the whiskered terns, photographing them and watching their behavior. The birds were most crowded on the thick hawsers at the bow and stern. (Unlike perching birds like robins, most seabirds are flat-footed and can’t grip a perch.) There are two lines at each end of the ship (An inner and outer) and they behave differently – the outer lines stretching more but less gracefully, and occasionally shuttering. Also, the inner lines were better lit by the harbor lights than the outer lines. What follows is some of my data-driven research on the topic of Inca terns: It appears that some subtle differences encourage a definite hierarchy in the arrangement of the birds on the lines. Between 7075% of the group were adults (with their fancy plumes and dark coloration), however they were not distributed randomly. Almost all of the birds on the inner lines were always adults, and the juveniles (brown, “clean-shaven” and with less colorful bills) were banished to the outer lines. I monitored them for many hours and the whole group regularly would take off, even if only a few were disturbed (A typical tern behavior sometimes called “panic flights.”). They would circle out over the harbor, squawk a bit, and then return to sort themselves out at the lines. Adults would always jockey for space and replace any younger birds settled in the prime locations by hovering over them and making a few squawks and stabs with their bill. I never saw juveniles dislodge adults.

Balancing flat-footed Inca tern
Balancing flat-footed Inca tern

I also noticed some courtship behavior with the terns. This involves catching a small fish and offering it to your prospective bride; and since it only occurred between adults, I assume that like the gulls at the beach, they were approaching their breeding season too. At one point before it was too dark, a large gull wandered across the parking lot and was immediately dive-bombed and chased away (More typical tern behavior near colonies). There may even have been birds on eggs inside the few select hollow openings in the wharf’s walls, since individual birds stationed themselves at the dark entrances, defending them from others that tried to land there. Hmmm…Are Inca terns cavity nesters…cliff nesters…beach nesters? There is so much to learn about Inca terns….So many birds, so little time!

Marilyn Frydrych, September 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marilyn Frydrych
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
September 15-25, 2008

Mission: Atlantic Herring Hydroacoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: New England Coastal Waters
Date: September 15, 2008

The Delaware II  (Photo courtesy Jacquie Ostram)
The Delaware II (Photo courtesy Jacquie Ostram)

Weather Data from the Bridge 
41.27 degrees N, 70.19 degrees W
Partly Cloudy
Wind out of the W at 19 knots
Dry Bulb Temperature: 26.0 degrees Celsius
Wet Bulb Temperature: 20.9 degrees Celsius
Waves: 2 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Sea Surface Temperature: 21.6 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log 

The purpose of my trip on the Delaware II was to find interesting venues for presenting various math lessons to students at Pikes Peak Community College where I teach and to students of different grades and ages at the K-12 public schools in Colorado Springs. We left on time yesterday, though I was unaware of the departure. I had been busy unpacking my things and making my bed.  Then I decided to learn my way around the boat.  I happened to look through a porthole and noticed we were about 25 yards from the peer.  The NOAA Corps officer, ENS Charlene Felkley, taking us out had used the bow thruster to move us away from the dock. It was so smooth that I hadn’t noticed any movement.  I thought that strange considering the size of the Delaware 2.  We steamed all day toward our station about 250 miles east of Cape Cod. 

NOAA’s dock at Woods Hole, Massachusetts
NOAA’s dock at Woods Hole, Massachusetts

After we were out of the channel we started our drills.  We’d all been given a station billet stating where our stations were for emergencies.  The first was a fire drill followed by an abandon ship drill. I started to my station at the stern for the fire drill, but one of the engineers redirected me to the bow stating that the fire was in the stern.  About 15 of us gathered in the bow. We had all carried our survival suit, life vest, long sleeve shirt, hat and gloves, and anything we thought we might need.  I brought as extras my sunglasses and a bottle of water. When we were dismissed, about 15 minutes later after the officers and crew had practiced using the fire hoses by spaying over the side of the boat, we proceeded to the stern where those of us who had not been on the last cruise dressed in our survival suits.  I soon learned that the easiest way to put on a survival suit is to stretch the legs and boots out on the deck, sit down in its middle, draw its legs onto your legs, stand up and finish with the upper body. Pulling the zipper up proved quite difficult.  The hood enveloped my face and I could feel its suction.  The suit is designed to keep the cold water away from your body. It was well insulated but still in icy cold waters would only protect you for about an hour.

Jacquie Ostrom and Marilyn on the bow
Jacquie Ostrom and Marilyn on the bow

Personal Log 

That evening we spotted some whales spouting.  It was migration time so we must have been crossing their path as they headed south. We were told they were probably humpback whales because of their size and the shape of their spouts.  I saw a couple fins, but mostly just their massive bodies surfacing.  I learned about “fin prints” the spot where their fin flattens the water.  The little ripples, prevalent everywhere on the ocean’s surface, seem to be smoothed out at the spot where the fin hits the water. These areas were about 6 ft by 4 ft and glistened smooth in the setting sun. We watched spout after spout for about 2 hours.

Marilyn and Debbie Duarte on the bow
Marilyn and Debbie Duarte on the bow

Our four bunk room.  Debbie Durate on the night shift and Jacquie Ostrom and I on the day shift shared this room.  It was understood we were not to return to the room any time during our 12 hour shift. The shower is behind the sink and not much wider.
Our four bunk room. Debbie Durate on the night shift and Jacquie Ostrom and I on the day shift shared this room. It was understood we were not to return to the room any time during our 12 hour shift. The shower is behind the sink and not much wider.

Marilyn in survival suit
Marilyn in survival suit

Robert Gambel, scientist, standing in front of our fishing net ready to put on his survival suit
Robert Gambel, scientist, standing in front of our fishing net ready to put on his survival suit

Mary Ann Penning, July 14, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Ann Penning
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 9 – 20, 2007

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 14, 2007

An example of a “Gumby” suit.
An example of a “Gumby” suit.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 006 degrees
Wind speed: 16 knots (kts)
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell wave height: 4 feet
Seawater temperature: 22.8 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1010.9 millibars (mb)
Air Temperature: 22.3 degrees C
Cloud cover: cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Our ship has been rocking and rolling – literally and figuratively.  I think I have my sea legs now, for the most part, but I still sometimes take a zig-zag route over the deck getting from one point to another.  The weather has been varied. There have been some cloudy days where the fog can creep in unexpectedly. The sunny days are great, but that promotes very sweaty working conditions. I’ve seen two beautiful sunsets; I want to get in at least one sunrise before I leave the ship. As I begin to write this, our room is rolling gently from one side to another. Is this how a baby might feel rocked in their cradle? 

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mary Ann Penning, measures a fish.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Mary Ann Penning, measures a fish.

After we left the dock Tuesday afternoon, the staff gradually got us into the routine of shipboard life.  We had a disaster drill and tried on the famous, heavy foam – like, bright orange survival suits. They come rolled up in their own little sleeping bag.  Remember Gumby?  Think of him and imagine all of us on deck getting ready to go trick or treating on Halloween!

Not far from Martha’s Vineyard, we did two trial dredge deployments.  The Chief Scientist tested the equipment and the exercise gave the volunteer scientists a chance to run through the exercises of sorting, weighing, and measuring the catch.  We donned our foul weather gear – boots and slickers.  We did a modified twelve hour work schedule that evening. While the night shift tried to sleep, we went on duty from 6:00 to midnight.  Since there was really nothing to do, it was fun watching a movie in the lounge, but I found it hard to stay awake. I was glad to crawl into my bottom bunk and finally drift off to sleep.

Crew of the ALBATROSS prepare the dredge.
Crew of the ALBATROSS prepare the dredge.

With a twelve hour work schedule, I’ve been trying to get into a routine of work, writing my logs, answering e-mail, doing some light reading and, oh yes, squeezing in time for eating.  I’m still adjusting and find myself tired at various points throughout the day.  I’m finally delving into the Harry Potter series.  I need to keep up with my fifth graders who are enthralled with the books and movies. I brought the first three books with me.  Reading is a good way to spend the 20 minutes we might have between the scallop collecting duties. It just feels good to sit down after the physical labor of collecting specimens from the dredge.

Our dredge, designed by NOAA fisheries staff, drags along the surface layer of the marine habitat for scallops and other benthic organisms.  Benthic means animals that live on the sea floor. The dredge is eight feet wide and about 20 feet long.  It is made of heavy steel and metal rings that are linked together to create the bag behind the dredge frame.  There is an inside liner of netting which allows us to catch the smaller scallops, too.  Our Chief scientist , Victor Nordahl, is responsible for the standardization of the gear.  He describes it like dragging a butterfly net along the bottom of the Atlantic.  This envelope of rings and netting comprise about ten feet of the total length.  (It is similar to what commercial scallop fisherman use except that they can’t use the inside liner.  Their nets are bigger too -two fifteen foot dredges with 4” rings.) The ALBATROSS IV tows the dredge for one nautical mile for 15 minutes while traveling at 3.8 knots.  It takes a heavy duty winch below the decking to recover the dredge back on deck.  A typical dredge haul weighs about 2,000 lbs and the dredge itself weighs 1,500 lbs.  Its catch is what we’re after.

A small fishing ship as seen from the ALBATROSS.
A small fishing ship as seen from the ALBATROSS.

Personal Log 

Our state rooms are small, yet big enough for three people to sleep.  There is a bunk bed and one single bed on the opposite wall. Both are metal and are built into the wall.  One built in desk with six drawers for clothes sits between the beds.  There is one freestanding chair. Underneath the beds are three drawers for extra storage.  Surprisingly we have two closets which are great for storing luggage. There is a small sink with a mirror and medicine cabinet across from the dresser/desk. A bathroom with toilet and shower sits between our room and the room next door.  Two of us are on the day watch and one is on at night.

Questions of the Day 

Can you estimate how many square meters we cover during that time? Can you guess the number of scallops we catch in one haul, depending on the station?  Or the astropecten, a type of starfish that love to feast on baby scallops? Over the course of one day, after visiting about fourteen different stations during each shift, while using various sampling techniques, the answers are astounding. Look for these amazing statistics in my next log. 

Turtle Haste, June 5, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Turtle Haste
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
June 4 -7, 2007

Mission: CalCOFI Survey: Ecosystem Survey and Seafloor Recovery Evaluation
Geographical Area: Central CA National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 5, 2007

The Oblique Bongo nets.
The Oblique Bongo nets.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  6 miles
Wind Direction: Northwest
Wind Speed: 10-20 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Height: 3-5 feet at 10 second intervals
Surface Water Temperature: 13.96 – degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 16.1 – degrees Celsius
Sea Level Pressure: 1017.6 millibars

Science and Technology Log 

Bongo Nets-Upon arriving at station 60-50, Kit Clark and I began the zooplankton tows with the oblique Bongo nets, also referred to as the “bongos.” The process involved is to tow the nets an oblique angle acquired by calculating the wire put out with the angle it is towed at. There is an angle measuring tool that looks like a level attached to the payout line that is monitored. Adjustments are made depending on the angle to achieve  an angle of 45 degrees +/-3 degrees for the nets to reach  an approximate depth of 200 meters. The bongo device itself has a 22 kg weight attached to the bottom of the yoke frame to cause it to sink. As the ship is traveling at 1-2 knots, a fixed amount of cable is paid out; the net is held at depth for 30 seconds and then is retrieved at a constant rate of 20 meters per minute.  Upon retrieval of the bongo, samples are hosed into the cup at the end of the net to collect as much material as possible. A volume displacement measure is acquired by subtracting the amount of water the zooplankton displaces in a 1000 milliliter cylinder.  The time to reach depth, time at depth, and retrieval time are recorded to monitor angle and depth.  

Kit Clark identifies various zooplankton caught in a Bongo net to Charlotte Hill.
Kit Clark identifies various zooplankton caught in a Bongo net to Charlotte Hill.

A tow was made at each station along the 60 survey line after the first station. The first station had too many crab pots and was too shallow to acquire a depth of 200 meters. At night, the anticipated nocturnal rising of krill occurred to present a sample dominated by krill as compared to the daytime samples of copepods.  Daylight hours also presented samples of ctenaphore tendrils that “gunked” up the net. An obvious difference between daylight and night tows was the presence of krill in greater numbers. This is expected as especially near Monterey Bay over the canyon is known for Humpback and Blue whales who stop to feed on their migration. Kit noticed that the krill out past the continental shelf and along most of our tows with the exception of the ones conducted in Monterey Canyon were not as “fat and well fed” as the ones within the canyon area itself. Krill over the canyon are in overall better condition due to a localized upwelling feature in the canyon that brings nutrient rich deep water up to increase the productivity of phytoplankton.

Kit Clark strains zooplankton from the bongo nets to evaluate the displaced volume of organisms trapped while towing.
Kit Clark strains zooplankton from the bongo nets to evaluate the displaced volume of organisms trapped while towing.

A general list of zoo plankton collected: Euphausiid (krill) and Copepods Pteropods (sea butterfly) Heteropods (Gelatinous Molluscs) Velella velella (By the Wind Sailors) a surface traveling creature Doliolids and Salps Ostracods Argyropelecus aculeatus (Hatchet fish) Atolla (deep water jelly) Cephalopods Tomopferiids Myctophild Ichthyoplankton Flashlight fish Siphonophore Radiolaria have used with students is identifying water masses in the Atlantic by physical characteristics. We use Temperature-Salinity (T-S) diagram at specific depths to identify water masses based on the density. I was hoping to collect water samples from various depths in the Pacific as well to use in the same activity. In discussions with Dr. Collins of the US Naval Post-Graduate school I learned that the Pacific is less uniquely identifiable than the Atlantic. The layered masses of the central Atlantic would not be as easily recognizable. We spent several days discussing the formation and circulation of deep waters in the Pacific in an attempt to understand the interaction between the atmosphere, chemistry, and surface current contribution to deep water mixing.  From these discussions I learned that there are actually three sources of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW).  Furthermore, I learned that the mixing of NADW and Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) in the Pacific created what is known as Common DeepWater (CDW) and that it is more difficult to actually identify Pacific water masses that I originally understood.

The bottles on the CTD rosette. In the foreground is the bottle containing 4380meter water at 1.518 degree water, the background contains the water from near the surface at 14.169 degrees.
The bottles on the CTD rosette. In the foreground is the bottle containing 4380 meter water at 1.518 degree water, the background contains the water from near the surface at 14.169 degrees.

The two casts were made at the farthest points from shore with the collection of water in the bottles to be used specifically for evaluation of dissolved oxygen and nutrients. Dr. Collins asked for my input to for the overall bottle collection depths to ensure that I would have a set of samples from similar depths to match the Atlantic set I use. The Pacific deep water cast bottles are from the following meter depths for the first cast: 4462, 4000, 3500, 3000, 2500, 2000, 1500, 1000, 7500, 500, 250. The Pacific deep water cast bottles are from the following meter depths for the second cast: 4380, 4000, 3500, 3000, 2500, 2000, 1500, 1000, 7500, 500, 250, and 14. The Atlantic deep water samples that I already have are from the following meter depths and associated water masses: 4000 (Antarctic Bottom Water), 2000 (Antarctic Intermediate Water), 1000 (North Atlantic Deep Water), 500 (Mediterranean Intermediate Water), and 100 (North Atlantic Central Surface Water).  Once the CTD was brought on deck, I noticed that the bottles containing the deepest water, although insulated showed condensation. Even though I understand that the temperature of the deep water is considerable colder than sea water at the surface, the ability to observe this drove the point home. Erich Rienecker of MBARI suggested that I feel the water around the rosette of bottles to really understand the temperature difference. This was the first time I had the opportunity to work with the CTD as I was working specifically with the Bongo nets. The bottle from 4380 meters had a temperature of 1.518 degrees Celsius and the surface bottle (14 meters) Another activity that the MBARI folks made sure that all of the science team and MCARTHUR II crew members had the opportunity to participate in was to send a decorated Styrofoam cup down in a mesh bag to “squish” it, or remove the air as a result of the pressure differential. Science team members spent quite a bit of time decorating cups. We even sent down a cup decorated with Flat Stanley. 

Charlotte Hill of the US Naval Academy prepares a cup to be sent down to -4500 meters with the CTD.
Charlotte Hill of the US Naval Academy prepares a cup to be sent down to -4500 meters with the CTD.

Zooplankton – Wikipedia has a good general description of most of the organisms listed. I found specific information as I used Google for the unique species, although some of the more specific critters were really hard to find. For further information visit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. A census of plankton is being conducted through the Census of Marine Life.

AABW = Antarctic Bottom Water;  NADW = North Atlantic Deep Water;  AAIW = Antarctic Intermediate Water;  SACW = South Atlantic Central Water;  NACW= North Atlantic Central Water.

Water Mass – a body of water with a common formation history. “This is based on the observation that water renewal in the deep ocean is the result of water mass formation in contact with the atmosphere, spreading from the formation region without atmospheric contact, and decay through mixing with other water masses.”

Flat Stanley – A character from a story by Jeff Brown who has adventures as a result of being flattened by a bulletin board. Classes read the story, send out their versions of Stanley to friends and associated with a scrapbook to record his adventures here.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber prepares a cup to be sent down to -4500 meters with the CTD.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber prepares a cup to be sent down to -4500 meters with the CTD.

The CTD on the fantail of the MCARTHUR II with Styrofoam cups in the green mesh bag for the second deep cast of -4500 meters.
The CTD on the fantail of the MCARTHUR II with Styrofoam cups in the green mesh bag for the second deep cast of -4500 meters.

This is a “regular” Styrofoam 10 oz cup and the two cups that returned from 4500 meters. The far right cup has a Flat Stanley drawn on it.
This is a “regular” Styrofoam 10 oz cup and the two cups that returned from 4500 meters. The far right cup has a Flat Stanley drawn on it.


Turtle Haste, June 4, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Turtle Haste
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
June 4 -7, 2007

Mission: CalCOFI Survey: Ecosystem Survey and Seafloor Recovery Evaluation
Geographical Area: Central CA National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 4, 2007

Charlotte Hill and Erich Rienecker collect water samples from a CTD cast.
Charlotte Hill and Erich Rienecker collect water samples from a CTD cast.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 0 – fog
Cloud Cover: 100 %
Wind Direction: 280 – degrees
Wind Speed: 9 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 foot in AM, 2 foot in PM
Swell Height: AM swells of 2-3 feet, PM mixed swells of 4-6 feet
Surface Water Temperature: 14.15 – degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 14.16 – degrees Celsius
Sea Level Pressure: 1017.15 millibars

Science and Technology Log 

Established survey lines on this cruise have been monitored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute or MBARI, since the early 1990 by collecting the same biological and chemical data. I was referred to for more details and the overview of the survey. Our particular survey lines begins outside of the Golden Gate Bridge, traveling westward  for a while, then we will perform a cast of 4500 meters then travel south to for another 4500 meter cast and turn East to finish the survey line near Monterey Bay. The survey lines are numbered in a particular pattern that will be used to identify all samples from each station. At some points we will be beyond the Territorial Seas of the United States, but within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Kit Clark and Troy Benbow demonstrate the bowline to NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber.
Kit Clark and Troy Benbow demonstrate the bowline to NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber.

What is collected at each station:  A CTD measures specific properties of seawater including salinity, temperature and fluorescence as it is lowered off the stern of the ship. The CTD descends under the supervision of the CTD technician, crane operator and assisting crew member to the prescribed depth while generating real-time data in graph form through the descent. Once at depth, the technician is in radio contact with the crane operator who raises the CTD to prescribed depths where bottles are tripped to collect water samples at stated intervals. Generally the prescribed depth is 1000 meters with exceptions at the near shore stations where the depth is less than 1000 meters. Other data is collected from HyperPro Optical sensor casts, made at midday stations and Secchi disk casts made at all daytime stations following CTD casts. Oblique bongo net tows for zooplankton are made after the CTD casts at a depth of 200 meters.  As the water is collected, several chemical tests are performed, including dissolved oxygen and nutrients. Dissolved oxygen is tested from each cast using a set of chemicals that is very similar to ones I have used in fresh water chemical analysis as well as nutrients to assess the changes in sediment load. Phytoplankton samples are collected for processing and culturing. In addition, a surface observer is stationed on the flying bridge to document all marine mammals and birds that are encountered. There is an interest in cetaceans, specifically beaked whales.

Marguerite Blum models under the Bay Bridge while loading science gear.
Marguerite Blum models under the Bay Bridge while loading science gear.

Personal Log 

I found a ship’s billet on my door to tell me where to muster for fire, man overboard, and abandon ship.  I made sure to visit all the locations to ensure that I knew where to go. The “plan of the day” is posted in convenient locations by ship’s personnel and is required reading in order to know what activities and meetings, are planned. I was able to try on my “gumby” suit and heavy PFD. I identified what is now called the “Leedo Deck” reminiscent of the television show Love Boat where science team members have placed a few lawn chairs for relaxing on aft section of  deck one, near the phytoplankton incubation trays. As we depart San Francisco, we will sail out of the Golden Gate, under the Golden Gate Bridge. Although I had hoped for clear weather for the trip under the bridge, it was foggy.

Dr. Kurt Collins listening to the ball game on the “Leedo deck” off watch.
Dr. Kurt Collins listening to the ball game on the “Lido deck” off watch.

Question of the Day 

How does the collection and evaluation of phytoplankton assist with monitoring oceanic primary production and our understanding of the role the ocean plays as a global carbon sink? 

I need to read more about the total project and perform more interviews of the cooperating scientists to better answer this.

Addendum : Glossary of Terms 

An overall map of all the stations is here.

Exclusive Economic Zone – extends for 200 nautical miles (370 km) beyond the baselines of the territorial sea.

Territorial Waters or sea-an area of coastal waters that extends at most twelve nautical miles from the mean low water mark of a littoral state that is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state.

Nautical Mile – is 1852 meters.

Erich Rienecker sets up the filter system to process phytoplankton from the CTD casts.
Erich Rienecker sets up the filter system to process phytoplankton from the CTD casts.

CTD – A CTD recorder, which stands for Conductivity-Temperature-Depth recorder, measures salinity, the amount of seawater conductivity in practical salinity units. It also measures pressure recorded in decibars. Since depth and pressure are directly related, a measurement in decibars can be converted to depth in meters. Temperature is measured as well and other sensors may be placed on the device as well. The one used had an altimeter to compare to the ships depth sounder and deployed cable for an accurate measure of the depth of the device.

HyperPro Optical sensor – measures light refraction at different wavelengths through the water column as compared to the surface measurement. This device is lowered by hand to a set depth. It is a hyperspectral radiometer, recording optical data in the wavelength region between 350 and 800 nanometers.

Oblique bongo net – a set of rings (thus the name bongo as it looks like a bongo drum) designed for oblique plankton tows. The rings are connected to nets which cone into two catch devices at the ends. Bongos are towed at 200 meters , devised by allowing 300 meters of cable out and towing it at an angle of 45-degrees. Adjustments in cable length are made depending on the angle reached. 

NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber prepares the seawater phytoplankton incubation trays.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Elsa Stuber prepares the seawater phytoplankton incubation trays.

Secchi disk – is used to measure how deep a person can see into the water. It is lowered into the ocean by unwinding the waterproof tape to which it is attached and until the observer loses sight of it. The disk is then raised until it reappears. The depth of the water where the disk vanishes and reappears is the Secchi disk reading. The depth level reading on the tape at the surface level of the ocean is recorded to the nearest foot.

Sea Level Pressure (from Wikipedia) Also referred to as Mean sea level pressure (MSLP or QFF) is the pressure at sea level or (when measured at a given elevation on land) the station pressure reduced to sea level assuming an isothermal layer at the station temperature. This is the pressure normally given in weather reports on radio, television, and newspapers or on the Internet. When barometers in the home are set to match the local weather reports, they measure pressure reduced to sea level, not the actual local atmospheric pressure.  Average sea-level pressure is 101.325 kPa (mbar) or 29.921 inches of mercury (inHg). 

Visibility – how far in front, or around the ship one can see. In this case, using the marine mammal observer’s scale, based on nautical miles.

Wind Direction- Which direction the wind is blowing FROM. 0 is north, 180 is south, 270 is west. This may also be recorded using the abbreviation of the direction in capital letters.

Sea Wave Height and Swell Height – estimates (based on an average of waves passing under buoys) the height of a wave (from crest to trough) of individual waves and larger waves.

Dissolved oxygen- the amount of oxygen that is available in the water for organisms to use for ventilation, typically referred to in parts per million, or ppm.

Phytoplankton – (from Wikipedia) are the autotrophic component of the plankton that drift in the water column. The name comes from the Greek terms, phyton or “plant” and πλαγκτος (“planktos”), meaning “wanderer” or “drifter”. Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye. However, when present in high enough numbers, they may appear as a green discoloration of the water due to the presence of chlorophyll within their cells (although the actual color may vary with the species of phytoplankton present due to varying levels of chlorophyll or the presence of accessory pigments such as phycobiliproteins).

Zooplankton – (from Wikipedia) are the heterotrophic (or detritivorous) component of the plankton that drift in the water column of oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The name is derived from the Greek terms, ζον (“zoon”) meaning “animal”, and πλαγκτος (“planktos”) meaning “wanderer” or “drifter”[1]. Many zooplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye. Zooplankton is a broad categorisation spanning a range of organism sizes that includes both small protozoans and large metazoans. It includes holoplanktonic organisms whose complete life cycle lies within the plankton, and meroplanktonic organisms that spend part of their life cycle in the plankton before graduating to either the nekton or a sessile, benthic existence. Through their consumption and processing of phytoplankton (and other food sources), zooplankton play an important role in aquatic food webs, both as a resource for consumers on higher trophic levels and as a conduit for packaging the organic material in the biological pump. 

Gumby Suit – big, plastic, orange suits that are designed to protect a person from the cold water. Made of a material similar to what scuba divers wear. The suit is thicker, more buoyant and designed to remain dry inside. Suits are very bulky and are supposed to cover the entire body except the face.

PFD – personal floatation device, lifejacket, or “puff-duh”

Flying Bridge – located on the very top and most forward deck of the ship. On the MCARTHUR II, the flying bridge is above, or on top of the bridge. All ship personnel and crew when engaging in science activities keep in contact through the bridge with radios. Radio protocol requires the location being called to be stated first, followed by the calling location. For example,” bridge, flying bridge” If one is calling the bridge from the flying bridge.

Plan of the Day – is posted throughout the ship in common locations. This bulletin informs both crew and science personnel as to ship activities, wave height and safety issues.

Brett Hoyt, October 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Brett Hoyt
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
October 8 – 28, 2006

Mission: Recovery and maintenance of buoy moorings
Geographical Area: Southeast Pacific, off the coast of Chile
Date: October 11, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10nm (nautical miles)
Wind direction:  220º
Wind speed:  12 knots
Sea wave height: 3-4ft
Swell wave height: 3-5 ft
Sea level pressure: 1012.9 millibars
Sea temperature:  25.5ºC or 77.9ºF
Cloud type: cumulus, stratocumulus

The Commanding Officer of the RONALD H.BROWN, CAPT. Gary Petrae
The Commanding Officer of the RONALD H.BROWN, CAPT. Gary Petrae

The Ship and Crew 

I am presently on board the NOAA ship RONALD H. BROWN.  This ship was commissioned in 1997 and is 274 feet in length (just 16 feet shorter than a football field) and 52 feet wide. The ship displaces 3,250 tons and has a maximum speed of 15 knots.  Captain of the RONALD H. BROWN (RHB) is Gary Petrae.  Captain Petrae has just celebrated his 28th year serving in the NOAA Officer Corps. The RHB is the fifth ship Captain Petrae has served on and the second ship he has commanded in his tenure with NOAA. We are truly lucky to have such an experienced captain at the helm.  When you are thousands of miles out to sea, you entrust your life to the captain and crew. One of the interesting facts about a ship at sea is that someone must be at the helm 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Now the captain cannot be there all the time so he turns over the job of “driving” the ship to one of his other officers. 

They take “watches” which in this case are four hours in duration.  During a recent trip to the bridge (this is what they call the command center for the ship) I was fortunate enough to visit with the Officer Of the Deck (OOD for short) Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Lt (JG). Jackie Almeida.  She stands approximately 5’0” with reddish/brown hair and a confidence that fills the bridge. Her bright eyes and effervescent personality quickly put me at ease. She earned her degree in meteorology and joined the NOAA Officer Corps. When she finishes her assignment with the RHB she will join the NOAA hurricane hunters and be advancing our knowledge of these deadly storms.

Ltjg. Jackie Almeida On the bridge of the RONALD H. BROWN
Ltjg. Jackie Almeida on the bridge

The Scientists 

The scientists are spending the day checking and rechecking their equipment making sure that when the crucial time comes all will go well.

The Teacher 

I spent the day observing the scientist preparing equipment and rechecking systems.  I am trying to remember all the safety information that was delivered on the first day. Just like in school, we have safety drills so that in the event something goes wrong everyone knows what to do. We practice fire drills just as you do in school. We also have abandon ship drills.  Below you can see me modeling the latest fashion in survival suits.  The crew calls them “Gumby suits.” 

Classroom Activities 

Mr. Hoyt “looking good” in his survival suit.  Hey kids, wouldn’t your teacher look good in this suit?
Mr. Hoyt “looking good” in his survival suit. Hey kids, wouldn’t your teacher look good in this suit?

Elememtary K-6 

Today’s activity is to give the students an idea of the ship that I’m on.  The teacher will need at least 650 ft of string (you can tie shorter rolls together) and as long a tape measure as you can find (a 100ft one works best).  This activity would be best done on the playground or any other large open space.  Have student-A hold one end of the string and measure out 274 feet in a straight line.  Then have student-B hold the string loosely and run the string back 274 feet to a different student-C but even with student-A. Now have students A and C move 52 feet apart and finish up with student A holding both the beginning and end of the length of string-Do not cut the string as you will need to keep letting out more string as you complete the next part.  Now have the rest of your class hold the string 52 feet apart between the two long lengths of string working your way up to student B remembering that the ship comes to a point (the bow). Go to this website for complete drawings.

Middle School  

At the beginning of this log, I mentioned that the Ronald H. Brown displaces 3,250 tons. What does this mean?  Can you use the concept of water displacement to measure other objects? Hint.

High School 

The ship travels at a maximum speed of 15 knots.  Approximately how long would it take for the ship to sail at maximum speed from Panama City to 25 degrees south latitude and 90 degrees west longitude off the coast of Chile?  How many nautical miles would be traveled?  How many land miles would that be? Hint.

Here, a scientist is checking an acoustic release mechanism.  They lowered it to 1,500 m or approximately 4,500 feet to test it. It will eventually be located 4,000 m beneath the surface or approximately 12,000 ft!
A scientist is checking an acoustic release mechanism. They lowered it to 1,500 m to test it. It will eventually be located 4,000 m beneath the surface!

On my next few postings we will be visiting with some of the scientist and finding out more on what experiments are being conducted and why.

Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey, August 29, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 15 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 29, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  <1 nautical mile
Wind direction: o
Wind speed:  20-25 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3’
Swell wave height: 4-6’
Seawater temperature: 14 C
Sea Level Pressure: 1015.2 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8

The rain has stopped but it’s a very foggy day here in the Gulf of Maine – not unusual for this area, according to the officers.  I visited the bridge early this morning before dawn and Acting XO Jason Appler mentioned the “cabin fever” that can result from sailing through fog for days on end. We were hoping to see the beautiful coast of Maine but we may pass without ever catching a glimpse if this fog keeps up.

On the second station of our watch, in addition to the bongos, we used another plankton net which extends from a rectangular frame.  It’s called a neuston net and it’s towed right at the surface, partly in and partly out of the water.  The object of this tow is to catch lobster larvae which, according to Jerry, are often found clinging to seaweed drifting at the surface. We’re doing this sampling for a student who is considering studying the distribution of lobster larvae for a thesis.

Jerry reminded me of two terms I learned at some point in the past but had forgotten.  Meroplankton  are animals that are residents of the plankton for only part of their lives, e.g., larvae of fish, crustaceans, and other animals.  Holoplankton is made up of jellyfish, copepods, chaetognaths, ctenophores, salps, larvaceans, and other animals that spend their entire lives in the plankton.

Jerry has a copy of the book The Open Sea by Sir Alister Hardy, a classic work of biological oceanography.  As only one example of his many marine expeditions, Hardy served as Chief Zoologist on the R.R.S. Discovery when it voyaged to Antarctica in the 1920’s. The first half of the book is devoted to plankton and the second half to fish and fisheries. Both parts contain a number of his beautiful watercolors of the animals discussed, painted from freshly caught specimens and all the more remarkable for the fact that they were done on a rocking ship!

Personal Log – Karen Meyers 

The seas got pretty bouncy this evening. I had been feeling pretty cocky about my “sea legs” but was getting a little uneasy. However, I did cope without any problems.  I don’t really understand seasickness and I get the feeling no one else does either.  I wonder how often and for how long one has to be at sea before their sea legs become permanent.

Personal Log – Alexa Carey 

It’s like riding a bucking bronco out here on the ocean.  Walking, by itself, is forcing me to improve my coordination.  I love it. I’m only worried about how I’ll be on land…last time I was swaying back and forth for a few hours. I think Karen got quite a kick out of that.

We’re still taking pictures for the contest.  It’s difficult being creative, especially because we’re limited on what we have for resources.  We’ve got one picture that I hope turns out well. One of Tracy’s good friends sent her the picture of the Brady Bunch.  I’ve been trying to work the picture so that our shift’s faces are in place of the original cast.  The only one that truly looks in place is Wes, he actually looks natural!  We’re having such a great time!

We all climbed into our survival suits again and took pictures on the stairs.  Believe me when I say that sitting on the stairs in those “Gumby” suits, is a very difficult task.  Wes was holding all of us up. Tracy had a hold of the side and I was propped up in between them.  Alicea was very ready to jump forward in case we were to all start the journey downstairs a bit too quickly. I’m still having an amazing time.

Jacquelyn Hams, July 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacquelyn Hams
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 24 – August 11, 2006

Kenneth Keys, RAINIER Deck Utilityman
Kenneth Keys, RAINIER Deck Utilityman

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: July 24, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

The RAINIER will depart today at 1600 for the Shumagin Islands. This morning all visitors and new personnel onboard were given a safety orientation by Kenneth Keys, Deck Utilityman.  I decide to put on my sea sick patch after breakfast just in case the seas get rough.

One of the most important orders of business for the day was to receive Survival Suits and Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) from Ken.  In addition, Ken issued hard hats and life jackets. I must admit, the idea of having to wear a Survival Suit was sobering. The suit was so tight that I could barely breathe.  But, as Ken pointed out, the idea was to stay alive and not swallow salt water. Visitors and new personnel were also required to view the videocassettes listed below:

  • “Right to Know” – about hazardous waste materials and proper handling
  • “Asbestos Awareness” – about the proper handling and identification of asbestos
  • “OCENCO EEBD” – Emergency Escape Breathing Devices used aboard the RAINIER.

TAS Jacquelyn Hams in full survival suit
TAS Jacquelyn Hams in full survival suit

At 1300, the TAS met with the Surveying Department to go over surveying techniques and a schedule for this leg. Surveying crew members recommended that I read “Coast Pilot #9, part of a NOAA reference for sailors. Part of the NOAA mission is to update the Coast Pilot book series to maintain accuracy. At 1600 the RAINIER departed Kodiak Island.

1600 Readings Weather Data 
Weather: CL (cloudy) F (fog)
Barometer: 992 mB
Visibility: 4 nm (nautical miles)
Wind: Light
Sea Wave height: 8.9 ft
Temperature in degrees C: 12.8
Wet Bulb T: 11.7 degrees C
Dry Bulb T: 12.8 degrees C
Speed: AIRS on departure
Speed at 1700: 4 knots

The RAINIER’s course allowed me to see more spectacular scenery and the marine wildlife was abundant.  We saw lots of otters and whales. When I retired for bed, the RAINIER was cruising in Kupreanof Strait. This has been a special day and the seas have been a lot calmer than anticipated.

Personal Log 

The crewmembers of the RAINIER are very interesting and come from a variety of backgrounds. Many of them are on second and third careers and have interesting stories to tell. I am particularly struck by how young the officers look! This is a sure sign that I am getting old.

TAS Jacquelyn Hams attempting to remove survival suit
TAS Jacquelyn Hams attempting to remove survival suit

Floyd Pounds, 2nd Cook
Floyd Pounds, 2nd Cook

Megan McGovern, NOAA Ship Gary Streeter, RAINIER
Megan McGovern, NOAA Ship Gary Streeter, RAINIER

Gary Streeter, RAINIER Engineering Technician examines the laptop for TAS Jacquelyn Hams
Gary Streeter, RAINIER Engineering Technician examines the laptop for TAS Jacquelyn Hams

Jessica Schwarz, June 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jessica Schwarz
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 19 – July 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Alaska
Date: June 20, 2006

The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER.  RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!
The first boat launching of the day off NOAA ship, RAINIER. RA4 is being lowered into Kanga Bay for a full day of hydrographic surveying!

Science and Technology Log 

Today I awoke for my first day in Kanga Bay. The bay was absolutely beautiful this morning, looking perfectly still and glassy. The Captain, CDR Guy Noll, said it’s not normally this clear.  I was absolutely awe-struck by the scenery!  The first thing I did was head to the fantail for muster with the crew involved in launching the hydrographic survey boats off the ship.  The fantail is the area outside in the very back of the ship. Muster was led by the Captain and FOO, Field Operations Officer. They informed the crew of potential weather changes for the day’s mission that may affect the survey boats.  It was incredible to watch the boats being launched from the ship.  A large crane lifted each boat up and over the side of the ship and into the ocean.  After the survey boats were launched two additional skiffs were launched as rescue boats, in case of an emergency.  The first skiff lowered weighs up to 3,000 lbs, with the second skiff lowered, weighing 2,400 lbs. The Captain said the rescue skiff can travel up to a speed of 45 knots (nautical mile/hour).

The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER.  The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.
The 3,000lb skiff is being lifted up and over one of the survey boats off of NOAA ship RAINIER. The skiff will serve as a rescue boat in case of an emergency while the survey boats are collecting data near the bay.

Today survey boats RA4 and RA5 were launched from the ship.  RA stands for the RAINIER. Ben, the ships FOO, explained to me the difference between the two survey boats being launched. RA4 is a Reson 8125. It uses a multi-beam sonar system that covers an area of 120° using 240 individual beams to collect sonar data.  This gives the RA4 the ability to collect very high resolution data.  RA5 is a Reson 8101, and is more of an all purpose survey boat Ben mentioned.  He said this boat does not have the high resolution capabilities that the RA4 has because it has around 150° of coverage using only 101 individual beams to collect sonar data.  Tomorrow I will be going out on a survey and will have a much better understanding of how the data is actually collected and processed. While the survey boats were out today, I was spending my time on the NOAA ship getting administrative things taken care of. Once most of that was finished I made my way to the bridge to ask a few questions about the navigating process. Olivia, the Officer on Duty, or OOD was very helpful in answering some of my questions and then once she needed to leave the bridge, Jonathon one of the ship’s Abs, explained how to get a radar fix.

As I mentioned in my last log, the ship’s course is already plotted prior to departure by the Navigation Officer. He plotted the course on a chart of the Sitka area on down to the Islet Passage and Kanga Bay where the ship is anchored now. Jonathon was on the bridge today collecting radar data to be sure the ship wasn’t shifting too much, constantly confirming that the anchor is effectively keeping the ship in place.  A reading is taken every 30 minutes.  You would never know it while being on board, or at least I didn’t notice, but the ship had rotated 300° on the anchor and then swung back again.

Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill.  “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!
Teacher at Sea, Jessica Schwarz into her immersion suit after an abandon ship drill. “Gumby suit” was keeping Jessica Schwarz very warm for the moment!

Jonathon showed me how to get what you call a radar fix.  A radar fix is basically used to find the exact position of the ship. I observed Olivia, one of the officers doing this in the bridge while we were underway yesterday. Although the officers do their best to remain on the plotted course line, there are other factors that will cause the boat to get off the line. Current is one of them. Readings of three points of land, the bearing as well as the range, are taken from the radar screen.  Points of land are simply points from the land that are distinctive enough to use to plot the position of the ship using the chart.  Once the three points are taken with the bearings (angle to the point) and range (distance to the point) recorded, they are brought over to the chart where a tool called a divider is used so plot the three angles. The point at which those three angles intersect is the exact position of the ship. This can then be compared to the line already plotted to mark the ship’s course.  The crew will then have an idea of the ships cross track error.  Cross track error is how far the ship is off the plotted course line.  Whew.

Personal Log 

I have been asking a million questions, picking the brains of the crew. Everyone has been so giving of their time to explain things to me on the ship! Things can be complicated on the RAINIER.  There is just so much to learn!!  Something that was particularly fun about today was the abandon ship drill. This was only something I would consider fun because I got to put on my immersion suit (or Gumby suit, as I heard it called today).  The immersion suit would be used to keep warm in the water if we all needed to abandon ship.  I had fun trying it on. The XO had to help me get it on; these things are not that easy to get into.  I tried really hard to make the gloves of the suit shake for a picture, but it wasn’t easy!  I grabbed extra blankets for a warmer nights sleep tonight.  The ship can feel drafty in my stateroom.  I’m looking forward to a long day of surveying!!! I’m so excited to share!

Calling All Middle Schoolers–We Need Help Answering a Few Questions! 

These questions come straight from the RAINIER’s Captain:

What is a nautical mile?  How is it different from a mile on land? How would I convert a nautical mile into miles/hour?

Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.
Shaka Hawaii! Jessica Schwarz sends aloha to her home on the Big Island while wearing her Gumby suit onboard the NOAA ship RAINIER.

Kazu Kauinana, May 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kazu Kauinana
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
May 9 – 23, 2006

Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical Area: Hawaiian Islands
Date: May 9, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Latitude:  22, 33.4n
Longitude: 162, 06.2W
Visibility:  10
Wind direction: 070
Wind speed: 21 kts.
Sea wave heights: 2-4
Swell heights: 4-6
Seawater temperature: 24.8
Sea level pressure: 1020.4
Cloud cover: 4/8 Cumulus, Altocumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday was primarily orientation and familiarizing myself with the ship, staff, and scientists.  It was so interesting to talk to the scientists and discover that the main motivation for their chosen profession was the same as that of artists: Passion!  Most of them had an early interest in animals or plants and were now fulfilling a life-long dream.  In spite of all of the sacrifices (money, family, material possessions) they love what they do and consider themselves lucky to be doing it.

Part of the day was spent on a cetacean watch, or marine mammal search, from the flying bridge. We used two Fujinan, 25×150, 4-mile range, light gathering, “Big-Eye” binoculars to methodically scan 180 degrees in front of the ship.  Ironically, a mother and baby calf Humpback whale surfaced almost directly in front of the ship. That was the only sighting, mostly due to choppy wave conditions.  I have to tell you that methodically scanning the ocean all day on a boat that is pitching and rolling can be very tedious, but very ZEN.

I also witnessed an XBT (Expendable Bathymetry Thermalgraph), a foot-long torpedo attached directly to the ship’s computer by a thin, hardly visible copper wire, dropped 460 meters.  It sends back the temperature data to the ship’s computer and then is released, thus the name, “expendable.”  I asked the scientist conducting the test if there had been any significant temperature changes during the past 10 years but that information was not available to her.

Today was a repeat of yesterday’s data gathering except for a CDT (conductivity, depth, temperature and oxygen) cast.  The “fish” CTD, or data sampling device, is hoisted with a crane over the side of the ship and submerged to a depth of 500 meters.  I found that the most interesting information taken was the chlorophyll count.  There was a dramatic  increase spike at 100-200 meters, and then a dramatic drop to about zero.  Chlorophyll is the beginning of the food chain.

Personal Log 

A large part of the day on a research vessel like this deals with the practical everyday functioning of the voyage. Today we had a fire drill, which was very straightforward and required that we all meet on the escape boat deck.  We also had an abandon ship exercise, and we all gathered on the same deck next to our prospective escape boats with our life vests and immersion suits.  We tried on our one-piece, head-to-toe, neoprene suits and got a good laugh because we looked like bright orange GUMBYS.  Actually, we felt a sense of relief mixed with anxiety that if we had to use them that we would be  prepared.