Eric Koser: Concluding Matters, July 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Eric Koser

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 22-July 9, 2018

Mission: Lisianski Strait Survey, AK

Geographic Area: Southeast Alaska

Date: July 17, 2018: 900 HRS

 

Weather Data From the Front Porch
Lat: 44°9.48’          Long: 94°1.02’
Skies: Clear
Wind 6 knots, 50°
Visibility 10+ miles
Seas: no seas!
Water temp: no precip to measure
Air Temp: 22°C Dry Bulb

 

Science and Technology Log

Hydrography matters. It allows mariners to travel safely. It allows many of the goods that arrive here in Minnesota to get here! Containers of goods arrive in Minnesota by truck and train from both coasts as well as the great lakes and by barge on the Mississippi river. Right here in Mankato, we often see shipping containers on trucks and trains. But I wonder if many people stop to consider what it takes to assure that the goods they desire arrive safely.

 

These trains carry containers that likely come from one of the coasts on a ship. The containers often transfer to semi trucks to go to their final destinations.

Intermodal Truck

Shipping containers like this one are very common on Minnesota roadways and railways!

In Minnesota, it’s very common to see containers on trucks. The more I am aware, the more often I realize there are shipping containers all around. I wonder how many people stop to consider that trip that some of the containers here on trucks have taken. I would guess that many of them have traveled on the ocean and many across international waters.

 

 

 

Intermodal Truck

Many carriers distribute merchandise via the intermodal system.

 

Seafood matters. People enjoy Alaskan fish, even here in the Midwest. Fishing boats are successful in part due to safe navigation made possible by current charts. The ledges and shoals identified by the hydro scientists on Rainier keep mariners safe, and ultimately support the commerce that many enjoy around the world.

Salmon isn't native to Minnesota!

This looks like a tasty ocean treat!

Navigation matters in many areas! All mariners in the US have free access to the latest navigational charts for inland and coastal waterways, thanks to the work of NOAA’s hydrographers aboard ships like Rainier. The updates we made in Alaska that are most pertinent to safety will be posted in a matter of weeks as “Notice to Mariners.” Here is an example. The general chart updates made by the team will be in the online charts within a year.

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It’s been both exciting and rewarding to be a part of this work. I’ve developed a good understanding of the techniques and tools used in basic ocean hydrography. There are so many great applications of physics – and I’m excited to share with my students.

One of the key take-aways for me is the constant example of team work on the ship. Most everywhere I went, I witnessed people working together to support the mission. In the engineering department, for example, Ray, Sara, Tyler, and Mike have to communicate closely to keep the ship’s systems up and running. More often than not, they work in a loud environment where they can’t speak easily to each other. Yet they seem to know what each other needs – and have ways to signal each other what to do.

On the bridge, one way the teamwork is evident in the language used. There is a clearly established set of norms for how to control the ship. The conn gives commands. The helm repeats them back. The helm reports back when the command is completed. The conn then affirms this verbally. And after a while, it all seems pretty automatic. But this team work is really at the heart of getting the ship’s mission accomplished automatically.

Hydro Team

Here the hydrographers work together with the cox’n to assure our launch captures the needed data.

The hydrographers aboard Rainer sure have to work together. They work in teams of three to collect data on the launches – and then bring that back to the ship to process. They need to understand each other’s notes and references to make accurate and complete charts from their observations. And when the charts are sent on to NOAA’s offices, they need to be clear. When running multibeam scanning, the hydrographer and the cox’n (boat driver) have to work very closely together to assure the launch travels in the right path to collect the needed data.

Even the stewards must be a team. They need to prepare meals and manage a kitchen for 44 people. And they do this for 17 days straight—no one wants to miss a meal! The planning that happens behind the scenes to keep everyone well fed is not a small task.

Ocean Sunset

Sunset on the ocean is an occasion in itself! Its easy to be captivated by such beauty at sea!

I look forward to sharing lots about my experiences. I have been asked to speak at a regional library to share my story and photos. I also will present at our state conference on science education this fall. And surely, my students will see many connections to the oceans!  Kids need to understand the interconnectedness of our vast planet!

Finally, I’m very appreciative of NOAA both for the work that they do and for the opportunities they provide teachers like myself to be involved!

Teacher at Sea

This Teacher at Sea has had a great experience!

 

Cassie Kautzer: TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST! August 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cassie Kautzer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 16 – September 5, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Survey: Enroute to Japanese Bay
Date: August 27, 2014

Temperature & Weather:  10.5° C (51° F), Cloudy, Rainy

Science & Technology Log

The past week/ week and a half, docked alongside the US Coast Guard pier in Kodiak – it was easy to see people settle into a routine.  This morning, however, we are preparing to leave the Coast Guard base – there is something in the air. Without it being spoken, it is clear both the NOAA Corps officers and the wage mariners are excited to get underway.  THIS is what they signed up to do!

The Rainier is 231 feet in length, with a breadth (width) of 42 feet. She cannot be run by a single person – it takes a team, a large team, to operate her safely.  Aboard the Rainier there is a crew of NOAA Corps Officers, including Commanding Officer CDR Van Den Ameele (CO), Executive Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski (XO), Field Operations Officer LT Russ Quintero (FOO) and a number of Junior Officers. There is also a full staff of Surveyors, Stewards, Deck Hands, Engineers, a Chief Electronics Tech (ET) and an Electronics Eng. Tech (EET).  All of the people on the Rainier’s nearly 50 member crew take on more than one job and help with whatever is asked of them.  It takes a team of people to drive the ship, a team to deploy launch boats, a team to process survey data, a team level tide gauges, a team to keep the boat in good maintenance, etc…

This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier.  ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.

This is the Crew Board for all team members currently aboard the Rainier. ENS Micki Ream updates the crew board each leg.

This morning, in preparation for getting underway, all NOAA Corps officers met for a Nav (navigation) Briefing, to go over the Sail Plan, to make sure all necessary parties were prepared and informed.  NOAA Corps is one of seven uniformed services in the United States.  Its commissioned officers provide NOAA with “an important blend of operational, management, and technical skills that support the agency’s science and surveying programs at sea, in the air, and ashore.” (www.noaa.gov)  The Sail Plan, prepared today by Junior Officer, ENS Cali DeCastro, includes step-by-step guidelines for sailing to our next destination.  For each location or waypoint along the route, the sail plan gives a course heading (CSE), Latitude and Longitude, distance to the that point (in Nautical Miles), the speed (in knots) the ship will be cruising at to get to that point, and the time it will take to get there.   Today we are headed to Japanese Bay, and our cruise to get there is about 98 Nautical Miles and will take us almost 9 hours.

As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) - TEAMWORK!  SAFETY FIRST!

As seen from the fantail (back of the ship) – TEAMWORK! SAFETY FIRST!

It is important to note that nautical miles and knots at sea are different than linear miles and miles per hour on land.  Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the Earth, and are equal to one minute of latitude.  (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nauticalmile_knot.html)  Think about the Earth and what it would look like if you sliced it in half right at the Equator.  Looking at one of the halves of the Earth, you could then see the equator as a full circle.  That circle can be divided into 360 degrees, and each degree into 60 minutes.  One minute of arc on the Earth is equivalent to one nautical mile.  Nautical miles are not only used at sea, but also in the air, as planes are following the arc of the Earth as they fly.  1 nautical mile = approximately 1.15 miles.  A knot is a measurement of speed, and one knot is equivalent to 1 nautical mile per hour.

It is also important to be aware of all the safety procedures on board.  There is a lot to keep track of – but the Rainier is well prepared for any kind of emergency situation.  Prior to departing the Coast Guard Base this morning, our emergency alarms and bells were tested.  Emergency bells and whistles are used during a Fire Emergency, an Abandon Ship situation, or a Man Overboard situation.

In any situation, every crew member has an emergency billet assignment.  This assignment tells you where to muster (meet), what to bring, and what to do – dependent on the situation.  For fire and emergency, abandon ship, and man overboard each person has a different assignment.  Within 24 hours of setting sail, the entire crew does safety drill practice (We did this in the early afternoon today!)  For fire and emergency both the general alarm bell and the ship’s whistle will continuously sound for ten seconds; for an abandon ship situation, seven short blasts on the ship’s whistle and general alarm bell will sound, followed by one prolonged blast; and for a man overboard there will be three prolonged blasts of the ship’s whistle and general alarm.

Safety is not only a concern in emergency situations – it is at the forefront of all operations aboard the ship.  Proper safety equipment is donned at necessary times, especially when working on deck or on the survey launches.  Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) are worn anytime equipment is being deployed or handled over the side along with safety belts and lines for those handling equipment over the side.   Every crew member is issued a hard hat and must be worn by everyone involved in recovery or deployment of boats and other equipment.   Closed toed shoes must be worn at all times by all crew and crew must be qualified to handle specific equipment. Everyone is also issued an Immersion Suit (survival suit), affectionately nicknamed a Gumby Suit!  The Immersion suit is a thermal dry suit that is meant to keep someone from getting hypothermia in an abandon ship situation in cold waters.

In my "Gumby" Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill.  This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me.  Do I look warm?  (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)

In my “Gumby” Immersion Suit during our Abandon Ship Drill. This suit is a universal, meaning it can fit people of many sizes, including someone much much taller than me. Do I look warm? (Photo courtesy of Vessel Assistant Carl Stedman.)

Personal Log

Believe it or not – I have made a lot of connections from the Rainier to my school.  At the bottom of our daily POD’s (Plan Of the Day), the last reminder is, “Take care of yourself.  Take care of your shipmates.  Take care of the ship!”  The environment here has not only made me feel welcome, but safe as well.

I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship).  Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!

I even felt safe when they let me man the helm (steer the ship). Out of picture, Officer LTJG Adam Pfundt and Able Seaman Robert Steele guide me through my first adventure at the helm!

 

For my Students

Here is a wildlife update.  I saw Whales today!  I think there were Humpback Whale.  I saw quite a few blowing out near the ocean service.  I marked three in my graph because I only saw three jumping and playing in the water!

graph (2)

Some questions to reflect on…

  1. Why is teamwork important? What can you do to be a good team member?
  2. Can you make any connections between the mission and rules I am learning on the ship and the mission and rules you are learning at school?

Andi Webb: The Chance of a Lifetime: Oregon II: July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andi Webb
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 11 – 19, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 16, 2014
Science and Technology Log

Do you ever wonder sometimes how people are so generous with their time and talents? That’s how I feel onboard the Oregon II with a crew that is simply amazing at their work. The thing is, though, they make it seem like it’s not work to them. Oh, it’s hard work-that’s certain. But they all seem to enjoy it. There is passion for the ocean here, for the environment, for honing your craft. I feel certain I’m among some of the best scientists, NOAA Corps Officers, Deck Crew, Engineers-you name it. As if that weren’t enough, you can’t beat the food in the Galley! Who knew you could get French Silk Pie on a Groundfish Survey? Shhh….We’ll just keep that a secret!

Many people like to write about the scientific facts of NOAA in their blogs and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I mean, this is science in action, right? Me, however? I like to write about how people make me feel. The people of the Oregon II make me feel welcome. They make me feel happy I’m here. I asked one of the scientists today to please tell me, without worrying about political correctness, if the crew really enjoys the teachers being on board. She readily answered, “I love for teachers to be here. You’re all so excited to learn and that makes it fun for us!” How refreshing. As I write this, someone just knocked on my door and told me they put my clothes in the dryer for me. Really? Does it get much better than this? Teacher at Sea is about learning what scientists do but to me, it’s also about immersing yourself in the work and the friendship on board. As I work the noon to midnight shift each day and the trawls come in, we “haul back” together. Brittany, Michael, and Mark know so much and I learn more and more each day. I’m thankful for them. Kim is sharing items I can use in my classroom. They’ve included me in what they do, they’re teaching me, and I’m making friends. For that, I am thankful.

She's an amazing ship. Something I've heard on board is that she's "a good 'ole girl."

She’s an amazing ship. Something I’ve heard on board is that she’s “a good ‘ole girl.”

The beautiful blue ocean today~Blue skies and blue waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The beautiful blue ocean today~Blue skies and blue waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Brittany, Michael, and Mark share their wisdom with me as I learn about all the creatures of the sea. It's truly magnificent to see so many different types of animals.

Brittany, Michael, and Mark share their wisdom with me as I learn about all the creatures of the sea. It’s truly magnificent to see so many different types of animals.

It takes everyone working together to get the job done.

It takes everyone working together to get the job done.

There are beautiful creatures like this every day here.

There are beautiful creatures like this every day here.

Well, they have beautiful qualities, too!

Well, they have beautiful qualities, too!

This is the food chain in action!

This is the food chain in action!

Pretty cool!

Pretty cool!

Suzanne Acord: Teamwork Is a Must While at Sea, March 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Suzanne Acord
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
March 17 – 28, 2014

Mission: Kona Area Integrated Ecosystems Assessment Project
Geographical area of cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: March 25, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge at 14:00
Wind: 7 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Weather: Hazy
Depth in fathoms: 577
Depth in feet: 3,462
Temperature: 27.0˚ Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Teamwork

Kona cruise map

2014 Kona IEA Cruise Map. Locate H1 and H2 to determine where our HARPs are retrieved and deployed.

Throughout the past week, it has become obvious that all operations aboard the Sette require team work. Scientific projects and deployments require the assistance of the Bridge, engineers, and heavy equipment operators. This was clear during our recent deployment of our HARP or High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (see my earlier posts to learn why we use the HARP). Marine Mammal Operations lead, Ali Bayless, leads our morning HARP retrieval and deployment operations. We first prepare to retrieve a HARP that has completed its duty on the floor of the ocean. At least a dozen scientists and crew members attempt to locate it using binoculars. It is spotted soon after it is triggered by our team. Crew members head to the port side of the ship once the HARP at station H2 surfaces. H2 is very close to the Kona Coast. A fresh HARP is deployed from the stern of the ship later in the morning. Both the retrieval and deployment of the HARPs take immaculate positioning skills at the Bridge. Hence, the Bridge and the HARP crew communicate non-stop through radios. The coordinates of the drop are recorded so the new HARP can be retrieved in a year.

A Conversation with Commanding Officer (CO) Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

A selfie with CO Koes

Morale is high and teamwork is strong aboard the Sette. These characteristics are often attributed to excellent leadership. CO Koes’ presence is positive and supportive. CO Koes has served with NOAA for the past thirteen years. She came aboard the Sette January 4, 2013. She is now back in her home state of Hawaii after serving with NOAA in California and Oregon. She is a graduate of Kalani High School in Hawaii and earned a BA in chemical engineering at Arizona State University.

As CO of the Sette, Koes believes it is important to create trust amongst crew members and to delegate rather than to dictate. She provides support and guidance to her crew twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. She is the CO of all ship operations such as navigation, science operations, deck activities, trawling, and engineering. She is highly visible on board and is genuinely interested in the well-being of her crew and ship. She does not hesitate to start a conversation or pep talk in the mess or on the deck. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she states that she “likes to see the lights go on in the eyes of junior officers when they learn something new.” Koes goes on to state that her goal as CO is to have fun and make a difference in the lives of her officers and crew.

Personal Log

Ship Life

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

Bunkmate and scientist, Beth Lumsden, and I during an abandon ship drill on the Texas deck.

I have found that one can acclimate to life aboard a ship quite quickly if willing to laugh at oneself. The first couple of days on board the Sette were fun, but shaky. We had some rough weather on our way to the Kona Coast from Oahu. I truly felt like I was being rocked to sleep at night. Showering, walking, and standing during the rocking were a challenge and surely gave me stronger legs. Regardless of the weather, we must be sure to completely close all doors. We even lock the bathroom stall doors from the outside so they don’t fly open. The conditions quickly improved once we hit the Kona Coast, but conditions change frequently depending on our location. When up in the flying bridge for Marine Mammal Observation, we can easily observe the change in the wave and wind patterns. It is difficult to spot our dolphins and whales once the water is choppy. It is these changes in the weather and the sea that help me understand the complexity of our oceans.

Meal time on board is tasty and social. Everyone knows when lunchtime is approaching and you are sure to see smiles in the mess. All meals are served buffet style so we are able to choose exactly what we want to eat. We can go back to the buffet line numerous times, but most folks pile their plates pretty high during their first trip through the line. After our meals, we empty our scraps into the slop bucket and then rinse our dishes off in the sink. This gives us the chance to compliment our stewards on the great food. If we would like, we can eat our meals in the TV room, which is next door to the mess. It has a TV, couches, a few computers, a soda machine, and a freezer filled with ice-cream.

Chain of command is important when performing our science operations, when net fishing, when in the engineering room, and even when entering the Bridge. Essentially, if someone tells me to put on a hard hat, I do it with no questions asked. Everyone on board must wear closed toed shoes unless they are in their living quarters. Ear plugs are required on the engineering floor. Safety is key on the decks, in our rooms, in the halls, and especially during operations. I have never felt so safe and well fed!

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

Dr. Tran is always smiling.

“Doc” Tran

Did you know that we have a doctor on board who is on call 24/7? The Sette is fortunate to have “Doc” Tran on board. He is a commander with the United States Public Health Service. Doc Tran has served on the Sette for four years. He is our doctor, our cheerleader, our store manager, and our coach! When not on duty, he can be seen riding an exercise bike on the deck or making healthy smoothies for anyone willing to partake. He also operates the ship store, which sells shirts, treats, hats, and toiletries at very reasonable prices. He truly enjoys his service on the Sette. He loves to travel, enjoys working with diverse groups of people, and appreciates our oceans. He is a perfect match for the Sette and is well respected by the crew.

 

 

Paul Ritter: Teamwork, July 20, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 20, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-20-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach day the fish traps aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces are baited and prepared with cameras, and sent to the ocean floor where they must sit for ninety minutes.  It is necessary to keep this time consistent for all locations and traps so we can compare apples to apples.  We call this a “control variable”.  The particular parameter that someone measures that is a constant and non-changing point of comparison in an experiment or scientific observation is a controlled variable for consistency.

After being on the bottom for the time allotted, the officers on the bridge drive the ship back to the number one trap and drives alongside the trap’s buoys.  Approximately, half way down the ship is the side sampling deck.  From the side sampling station, approximately halfway down the ship, we take a grappling tied to a long rope and hurl it over the side, aiming between the two buoys. It is important that we hit it on the first attempt.

If we miss, the ship has to take vital time to maneuver around to make another attempt at the buoys.  Have we missed?  Honestly, yes but only a couple of times.  If we have done our job correctly, we pull in the grappling hook and with it the buoys, and rope.  The buoys are then unhooked from the rope and the rope is threaded into a pot hauler, which is a large tapered wheel that grabs onto the rope without slipping.  The pot hauler then hydraulically pulls the rope and trap up to the surface.  Once at the surface, another hook and winch is connected to the trap and the entire rig is pulled up on the side sampling deck.  It is at this time that our team attacks the trap by taking off the cameras and unloading its cargo of fish.  If we have fish, they are taken to the wet lab and all the measurements are taken.  Once empty, the trap is carried to the main aft deck and prepared for the next round of trapping.  It really is a lot of heavy work but it is all worth it to understand the ecology of our ocean reefs.

Personal Log

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Patrick and I Working on a Red Snapper

7-20-13

Today started around 12:30 am.  It was not something that I intended to do.  The night before we went to bed around 10:00 pm.  I was sore and very tired from the long and hard day we had fishing.  For some reason I woke up and looked out the window and saw that it was very bright outside.  I thought it was daybreak and it was time to get up.  I looked at my clock and it said it was 12:30.  But that could not be.  It was too light outside for just pass midnight.  I actually thought my clock was broke so I fired up my computer to check the time.  Sure enough, it was 12:30.

The moon was so bright and reflecting off of the water in a way that the light was coming right into my room.  Crazy.  After the confusion, I finally made it back to sleep.  Around 5:30 my internal alarm clock went off.  I actually never need an alarm clock to wake up, ever.  For some reason I always have been able to just think about when I want to get up and I do.  Anyway, I got up, brushed my teeth and headed to work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our Team in the Wet Lab

At 6:15, I met up with my brothers and sisters of the trap setting team which consists of Doug Devries – NOAA Scientist; Patrick Raley – NOAA Scientist; Jenny Ragland – NOAA Scientist; Julie Vecchio – volunteer Scientist; Zach Gillum – graduate student / Scientist, and me – the new guy scientist.  Have you ever watched Star Trek?  Usually each show’s scientific mission consists of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, Lt. Uhura, who are all in one color uniform, and a new guy who is in the red shirt.  The mission goes something like this.  Captain Kirk will say “Mr. Spock go check out the nondescript rock.  Bones see if you can get some readings on that green flower over there, Uhura please open up a channel to the ship, and New Guy, go check out that purple pulsating blob over next to the cliff.”  I really hope these guys don’t watch Star Trek…..

To be completely honest, it is nothing like Star Trek at all.  Our team is amazing.  I am very humble that they have accepted me into their family.  They are so fun to be around and I could not be more thankful for their friendship and guidance.  Each of us has to play many vital roles in the mission. This expedition would not work if we did not have each other to rely on.  I don’t want to let my teammates down, and I will do anything to make sure that does not happen.

Anyway, back to the traps…..  We set our first set of traps of the day and ninety minutes later we discovered that our return was not very good.  Our second set of traps, on the other hand, were much better and netted many fish.  Some of the fish included Black Sea Bass, Grey Trigger, Tomtate, White Grunt, and one of the most desirable fish on the market, the Red Snapper.  Red Snapper is a fish that can grow upwards of 40 lbs. and live as long as 50 years if it can escape being caught.  This amazingly beautiful red fish has had much pressure from commercial and sport fishermen and as a result their numbers have dwindled.  After speaking with Zeb Schobernd, our mission’s Chief Scientist, it is his hope that due to strict regulation of the harvest of the species, we will see an increase of the population.  The data we are collecting will help develop a better survey for reef fish populations in the future, especially grouper and red snapper..  Lunch was at 11:00 and what a lunch it was.  Crab legs, and prime rib.  Man, the crew of the Pisces eats very well and I am thankful.  My wife is a great cook, and I would say that the ship’s chief steward is a close second.  After lunch, we quickly we set our third series of traps and were able to increase our catch exponentially.  Dinner consisted of Jamaican jerk chicken, pork roast, green beans, lettuce salad, and cheese cake.  After dinner I took a little time to visit the team in the acoustics lab.  The acoustics lab is responsible for mapping out the ocean floor to determine where we should put traps out the next day.  I will probably touch more on them in my next blog.

Swabbing the deck

Swabbing the deck

Did you know?

Did you know that NOAA ships do not just stay in one particular location of the world?

The Pisces has sailed from Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, and down to Venezuela and back.  Not to mention the Pisces is one of the fastest ships in the NOAA fleet capable of reaching speeds greater than 17 knots with a following current.

Robert Ulmer: The Company You Keep, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.075’, W 134⁰20.96’

(southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 25, 2013

Weather conditions:  Misty rain under a blanket of thick clouds and fog, 13.76⁰C, 84.88% relative humidity, 1001.09 mb of atmospheric pressure, very light variable winds (speed of less than 1.5 knots with a heading between 344⁰ and 11⁰)

  • Remember that headings on a ship are measured around a full 360⁰ circle clockwise from north.  Therefore, 344⁰ and 22⁰ are only 38⁰ apart directionally.
NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, underway in Behm Canal

The operation of NOAA Ship Rainier, S-221, requires the cooperation of a large, hard-working, and multi-talented crew.

Explorer’s Log:  The crew of NOAA Ship Rainier

Especially as we leave the confines of childhood, society views us, at least in part, by our intentional decisions about which people make up our circle of friends and our group of colleagues.  Certainly such outside judgments can be unfair when based only on short-term glimpses, predisposed biases, or moments misunderstood for lack of context, but I think that long-term observations of our personal associations can provide meaningful information about us.

With Ai Wei Wei's zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With Ai Wei Wei’s zodiac sculptures in Washington, DC

With the crew after the 5K race at O'Leno State Park

After the 5K race at O’Leno State Park

My closest circle of friends – intentionally – is populated by a rich gumbo of personalities, ideas, ideals, physiques, insights, humors, tastes, preferences, and behaviors, all of which serve to stimulate my mind, activate my creativity, enrich my soul, entertain my spirit, and motivate my direction.  In other words, they are the scaffolding that supports me and the team that carries me along through so many parts of my own explorations.  Jasmine’s appreciation of intelligence and beauty, Collin’s sharp wit, Reece’s focused intensity, Dad’s analysis, Mom’s honesty, Lisa’s support, Grandma Madeline’s generosity, Aunt Marilyn’s and Uncle Marc’s welcome, Aunt Lynn’s spunkiness, Cheryl’s cool, Dillon’s quiet observation, Jack’s vision, Teresa’s organization, Bob’s perspective, Katy’s goodness, Chris’s enthusiasm, Emilee’s wonder, Kyle’s repartee, Casey’s lyricism, Will’s genuineness, Rien’s kindness, Tyler’s motivation, Zach’s creativity, Brian’s investment in service, Matt’s passion for justice, Gary’s sense of direction, Tommy’s helpfulness, Silas’s wordsmithery, Loubert’s jocularity, Jonathan’s love….

And then add the brilliant and rich colors and flavors and voices of my larger group of friends and acquaintances:  the teachers, administrators, students, and neighbors who daily contribute their own stories and wisdoms to my experiences, and the result – again, intentionally – is very nearly a portrait of me… or at least the me that I aspire to become in my own journeys.

(For my varied generations of readers, think of the Magnificent Seven, the Fellowship of the Ring, and/or the Order of the Phoenix.  This is my posse.)

In other words, we often are judged and almost always are defined by the company we keep.

Wedding celebration

Wedding celebration

The NOAA Ship Rainier is no exception.  Beyond the mechanical body of the ship herself, the personnel here are the essence of the vessel that carries them.

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge

Acting CO Mark Van Waes maintains a vigilant lookout on the bridge.

Smart and funny, resourceful and dedicated, skilled and hard-working, the crew members of NOAA Ship Rainier are an impressive bunch, all of whom have enriched me in the short time that I’ve been aboard, and all of whom do their jobs and interact in ways that produce superb results.  And the wholeness of their shared strengths, talents, and personalities is far greater than the sum of their individual aspects, as always is the case when a team is well-assembled.

MB_2, Red Bluff Bay, Chatham Strait, Alaska, June 23, 2013

One of the NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers appreciates the beauty of Southeast Alaska.

For more than 150 (and sometimes more than 250!) days per year, the men and women aboard ships in the NOAA fleet sacrifice time away from their own homes, friends, and families – and regularly that remoteness isolates them from news, television, phone, and internet for days or weeks at a time – in service to the public at large through their assigned missions at sea.  Currently, nearly four dozen crew members serve aboard Rainier in several departments, each of which serves its own set of functions, but all of which are unified by their shared mission, like the instrumental sections of an orchestra in the production of a symphony.

NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, sharply outfitted aboard ship in their navy blue ODUs (operational dress uniforms), is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States government.  For this leg of the mission, the officers  aboard Rainier serve under Acting Commanding Officer (ACO) Mark Van Waes and Executive Officer (XO) Holly Jablonski to perform three sets of functions:  administrative, navigational, and participatory.  As the administrators of the ship, the officers are responsible for everything from payroll to purchases, and communications to goodwill.  In the navigational capacity, the officers are responsible for charting the courses to be traveled by the ship and moving the vessel along those courses, sometimes with helm in hand and sometimes by giving the command orders to effectuate those maneuvers.  Finally, aboard Rainier and her sister hydrographic vessels, the junior officers are trained members of the hydrographic survey team, participating at all levels in the gathering and processing of data regarding the floor of the sea.  Ultimately, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps members work to define the missions of Rainier and oversee the execution of those missions.

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier

NOAA Commissioned Officers and Third Mate Carl VerPlanck of the Deck Department navigate NOAA Ship Rainier.

Deck Department

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow

Members of the Deck Department let go the anchor on the bow.

Beyond the uniformed NOAA Corps crew members, Rainier also employs many highly-skilled civilian merchant mariners who work around the clock to support the officers in the duties of navigation and sailing of the ship while it is underway.  Essentially, while following the decisive command orders of the Officer Corps, the Deck Department handles the endless details involved in steering the ship and its smaller boats, along with deploying and anchoring those vessels.  Under the departmental leadership of Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”) Jim Kruger, the members of the Deck Department all hold various levels of U.S. Coast Guard ratings in navigational watch-standing and deck operations, and their experiences and proficiencies earn them respect with regard to many facets of decision-making and operations on the bridge.

(The NOAA Corps and the Deck Department together have been responsible for the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through the waterways of Southeast Alaska during my weeks aboard.  To see a cool video of NOAA’s travel through Alaska’s Inside Passage made using stop-motion photography by Ensign John Kidd, click here.)

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day's launches

Survey and Deck Department members work together to prepare for the day’s launches.

Survey Department

The members of the Survey Department aboard NOAA Ship Rainier are civilian scientists (working hand-in-hand with survey-trained NOAA Corps officers) who have been trained in the specialized work of conducting surveys of the sea floor using single-beam sonar, multi-beam sonar, tidal gauges and leveling devices, CTD devices (to gather data about conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water column), and several very highly-technical components of computer hardware and software packages.

Only the highest point of this 150-meter-wide rock remains above the water line at high tide.

Can you see the horizontal lines on this rock formation? They are caused by cyclical changes in the elevation of the sea water as a result of tidal forces. Only the highest point (around where the bald eagle is perched) of this 150-meter-wide set of rocks (extending beyond the boundaries of this image in both directions several times the width of what this photograph shows) remains above the water line at high tide. However, the portions that become submerged remain extremely dangerous to seagoing vessels, which is why the work of the Survey Department is so important.

From Hydrographic Assistant Survey Technicians (HASTs) upward through the ranks to Chief Survey Technician (CST) Jim Jacobson, they are superb problem-solvers and analysts with undergraduate- and graduate-level degrees in the cartography, biology, geography, systems analysis, and many other fields of scientific expertise, and one survey technician aboard Rainier is an experienced mariner who transferred into the Survey Department with a broad educational background ranging from the humanities to computer science.  The members of the Survey Department spend countless hours gathering, cleaning, analyzing, and integrating data to produce nautical charts and related work products to make travel by water safer for everyone at sea.

Two-dimensional slice of data

The Survey Department compiles raw sonar and quantitative data from the ship and the launch vessels and first converts those data into a graphic file that looks like this…

... which becomes this ...

… which is a slice of this image …

Soundings

… which then goes through this sounding selection stage before eventually being finalized into a nautical chart for public use.

Physical Scientists

 NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait


NOAA physical scientist Kurt Brown joins Rainier in surveying the sea floor of Chatham Strait.

One or two physical scientists join the ship’s crew for most of the field season from one of two NOAA Hydrographic offices (in Seattle, Washington and Norfolk, Virginia), where their jobs consist of reviewing the hydrographic surveys submitted by the ships to make sure that they meet NOAA’s high standards for survey data, and compiling those surveys into products used to update the approximately 1000 nautical charts that NOAA maintains.  The ship benefits from the physical scientists’ time on board by having a person familiar with office processing of survey data while the surveys are “in the field,” and also by receiving an extra experienced hand for daily survey operations.  The physical scientists also get a refresher on hydro data collection and processing along with a better understanding of the problems that the field deals with on a daily basis, and they bring this up-to-date knowledge back to the office to share with coworkers there.

Engineering Department

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

Oiler Byron Doran of the Engineering Department chooses the right tools for the job.

The Engineering Department is a combination of U.S. Coast Guard licensed Engineering Officers (CME, 1AE, 2AE, and 3AE) and unlicensed engineering personnel (Junior Engineer, Oiler, and GVA).  Their work is concerned with the maintenance of the physical plant of the ship — everything from stopping leaks to making mechanical adjustments necessary for Rainier‘s proper and efficient running in the water.  The engineers are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who wield multiple tools with great dexterity as needs arise.

Electronics Technicians

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin hard at work

Electronics Technician (ET) Jeff Martin is hard at work.

The Electronics Technician aboard NOAA Ship Rainier (some ships have a larger department) has the important role of making sure that the many computerized systems — both hardware and software — are properly networked and functional so that navigation and survey operations can proceed effectively and efficiently.  Having trained on radar equipment with the U.S. Navy “back in the days of glass tubes,” ET Jeff Martin is an expert’s expert, adept at prediction and troubleshooting, and skilled at developing plans for moving systems forward with the ship’s mission.

Steward Department

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Doretha Mackey always cooks up a good time and a great meal.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

Chief Steward Kathy Brandts and GVA Ron Hurt keep the crew happily well-fed.

The Steward Department runs the galley (the ship’s kitchen) and currently is composed of four crew members aboard Rainier.  Specifically, they are responsible for menu preparation, food acquisition, recipe creation, baking, and meal preparation for the 40+ people who must eat three meals (and often have snacks) spread across the entire day, both underway and at port, including special meals for away-from-the-galley groups (like launch vessels and shore parties), when local goods (like fish, fruits, and vegetables) are available, and/or for crew members or guests with dietary restrictions.  An army moves on its stomach.  The meals aboard this ship, by the way, show great diversity, technique, and nutritional value, including grilled fish and steaks, vegetarian casseroles, curried pastas, homemade soups, fresh salads, and a wide variety of delicious breakfast foods, snacks, and desserts.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

Second Cook Floyd Pounds works to prepare a meal for the crew.

So those are the current citizens of the seagoing vessel NOAA Ship Rainier, harmonizing within a common chord, travelers who together explore the seas by working together to achieve their unified mission.  They are the excellent company that I keep on this leg of the exploration.

As you endeavor upon your own journeys, remember always to choose your company wisely so that your efforts are supported when challenging, insulated when vulnerable, motivated when difficult, and celebrated when successful.  And once you are surrounded by those good people, keep exploring, my friends.

Even the sea otters take some time to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Sea otters enjoy one another’s company along their way.

Personal Log:  Enjoy yourself along the way

Although they all work long, hard hours at their many assigned tasks, members of the team aboard NOAA Ship Rainier also enjoy one another’s company and occasionally get to have a good time.  Sharing an isolated, moving home barely 70 meters long with four dozen people for several weeks at a time guarantees social interaction, and the sounds of testimonies of laughter and friendship regularly fill the air in and around the ship, both among the workstations and away from the ship.

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

Ensign Theresa Madsen and Second Assistant Engineer Evan McDermott, my exploration partners in Red Bluff Bay

One of Carl's many catches

One of Carl’s many catches

Since joining the crew of Rainier just a week and a half ago – and beyond the many exciting excursions that are simply part of the regular jobs here – I already have been invited to join various smaller groups in exploring a town, dining in a local eatery, watching a movie, climbing a glacier, fishing in the waters of Bay of Pillars, walking on a beach, and kayaking through beautiful Red Bluff Bay past stunning waterfalls, huge mountains, and crystal-clear icy streams, including a spontaneous hike into the deep and wild, verdant and  untrammeled woods above the shore, following uncut paths usually trod only by deer and bears on their way to the frigid water running down from the snow-capped peaks high above.

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the stream

Evan replaces his socks after walking through the frigid stream.

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods (armed with bear spray and an adventurer's spirit)

Evan takes the lead hiking into the woods, armed with bear spray and an adventurer’s spirit!

Truly, the people aboard Rainier know how to enjoy the gift of life.  And I feel honored, flattered, privileged, and happy to be included among these new friends on their great adventures.

Beautiful waterfall in Red Bluff Bay

A beautiful waterfall that Theresa, Evan, and I explored in Red Bluff Bay

Robert Ulmer: Quo Vadimus? June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Robert Ulmer

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

Underway from June 15 to July 3, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 55⁰47.254’, W 130⁰58.264’

(at anchor in Behm Canal at the mouth of Chickamin River)

Mission:  Hydrographic survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak

Log date:  June 16, 2013

Weather conditions:  26.04⁰C, scattered altocumulus clouds, 32.91% relative humidity, 1012.18 mb of atmospheric pressure, light variable winds (speed of less than 3 knots with a heading between 26⁰ and 51⁰)

A bit of breathing room in Wrangell Narrows

A rare bit of breathing room in the passage of NOAA Ship Rainier through Wrangell Narrows

Explorer’s Log:  Preparing for the transit through Wrangell Narrows

When watching a great concert, recital, or athletic event, we often forget the hours upon hours of preparation that were invested before the starting whistle or the rise of the curtain.  History remembers and recites the first few moments of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the surface of Earth’s moon, but too often neglected from that history are the many years of research, discussion, calculation, prediction, and practice by thousands of people – including Armstrong – prior to that famous “one small step,” for without those advance preparations the brilliant moment likely never would have occurred.

Photos at the top of Everest belie the training, packing, mapping, and grueling climb that precede the snapshot.  Last-minute buzzer beaters arise out of years of dribbling and shooting in empty gyms long after scheduled team workouts end.   The revolutionary insights of Copernicus and Kepler were built upon hundreds of previous models and millions of recorded observations and related calculations.  Great campaigns are waged on drawing boards long before they approach the battlefield.

Chart showing approach to Wrangell Narrows

This is the chart used during the navigational team meeting in preparation for Rainier’s approach to Wrangell Narrows.

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier the culture of preparation is omnipresent.  Posted on the door of my stateroom and carried in my pocket at all times is a billet card that delineates where I am to report and what task I am assigned in each of several emergency situations aboard ship.  Within an hour of getting underway from the port of Juneau, the alarm sounded for a fire drill, and every person aboard reported smartly to his or her assigned station.  Heads were accounted, gear was readied, and some crew members even donned full firefighting suits and deployed hoses and fans to address the fictional fire in the XO’s office.  Because every person aboard knew his or her role in advance, the ship was prepared for the drill.  And more importantly, because the entire ship participated actively in the drill, dealing with a genuine emergency, if necessary, will be more seamless and effective.

Then only ten minutes later, the alarm rang again.  This time an abandon ship drill.  As assigned, I retrieved my emergency gear and moved quickly to Muster Station 1 on the starboard bridge wing, where ACO Mark Van Waes explained in detail what would happen in the event of such an emergency.

Teamwork and Safety first

As this sign above the fantail proudly displays, NOAA Ship Rainier values teamwork and puts safety first in all operations and missions.

Leaving the dock at Juneau Port

Careful navigation requires attention to details, like avoiding this small dock while leaving Juneau Port.

Of course, most of the preparatory work aboard Rainier is not about emergency situations, but rather is focused on readying for the work of navigating and operating the ship or the scientific missions of conducting surveys and samples, and that aspect of life aboard ship is non-stop.  Everywhere around me, crew members and scientists are constantly working together, giving formal and informal trainings and lessons, offering one another ideas, insights, questions, and answers, unencumbered by the impediments of pride and arrogance that too often prevent achievement through growth.  To the left of me, a young ensign is given room to make navigational decisions, while to my right two expert hydrographers consult available data and each other while they brainstorm about technical and theoretical issues on their own horizons.

Passing Petersburg, Alaska

The entrance to Wrangell Narrows is alongside the town of Petersburg, Alaska.

Reviewing the data and documents during the mission

Scientists from the survey team review data and documents while aboard the launch.

And the gathering of minds aboard Rainier is impressive.  Today the hydrographic survey team assembled in the wardroom to talk about the upcoming week’s launches of smaller vessels to perform multi-beam sonar surveys and gather bed samples from the floor of Behm Canal.  Under the guidance of FOO Mike Gonsalves, data were shared, schedules were outlined, and every member of the team – regardless of rank or role – was encouraged to share thoughts, concerns, and inquiries relevant to preparation for the task at hand, the ultimate task of this leg of Rainier’s mission.  Like those other great events throughout history, here is yet another example of prior preparation preventing poor performance at the critical moment.  And those were not the last conferences regarding the survey launches, either.  A meeting regarding safety and other last-minute issues was held on the fantail before putting the launches out, and the various people aboard each small vessel constantly interacted to update and modify their ideas before executing their actions.

(Note:  My next blog post will be about the scientific survey launches, so stay tuned!)

The view forward through Wrangell Narrows

A panoramic view of the passage forward through Wrangell Narrows

The most impressive preparation during the past few days, though, was that of the navigational crew.  After hours of work compiling past data and available current information and building itemized route plans for passage through the potentially-treacherous Wrangell Narrows, Ensign JC Clark led a large and comprehensive meeting to discuss every bit of the upcoming traverse.  Utilizing charts, mathematics, weather forecasts, and expert opinions, the group of men and women in the boardroom created a plan of execution that considered everything from tides to local traffic, from channel depths to buoy patterns.  Adjustments were made in an air of excitement tempered by the confidence of experience, preparation, and skill.

Alidade on starboard bridge wing

This device (called an alidade) on the starboard bridge wing is used for visual bearings.

And when the ship approached the town of Petersburg at the mouth of Wrangell, the preparation paid off.  Turn after turn, command after command, the teamwork was superb, and the resulting passage was seamless.  The ride was so smooth as the bridge maneuvered Rainier through the slalom in that deep and narrow fjord, that only the beautiful scenery itself was breathtaking.

Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger practicing knots

During a brief opportunity to look away from the water, Chief Boatswain Jim Kruger worked on maintaining his expert knot-tying skills.

We tend to envision genuine explorers as being people who dare to travel beyond the horizon, choosing adventure over caution every time they set out.  But the truth is that every great explorer, long before he lifts his foot for the first step of the travel, asks himself and his companions:  Quo vadimus?

Where are we going?

Pre-launch meeting on the fantail

Field Operations Officer Mike Gonsalves conducts one last survey team meeting on the fantail before the launches get underway.

The answer to that question might be a physical location, or it could just as easily be a direction.  Up that mountain.  Toward that little island.  Around the bend.  It could even be broad and metaphorical.

Sea lions basking on a buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows

The ACO pulled out the binoculars to answer his own question of why that red buoy at the entrance to Wrangell Narrows was listing so much to the right. The tilt was because these sea lions were using the buoy to bask in the warm near-solstice sun.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

But regardless of the short answer, the great explorer knows that the value of good preparation ultimately is the maximization of adventure can be maximized.  Explorers may appear to disregard caution, but in fact, they have done the training, built the skills, plotted the course, and considered the likely obstacles in order to address that caution before getting underway.

ACO Van Waes shared with me a superb insight:  The difference between a road map and a nautical chart is that a road map outlines a suggested path of travel, while the chart simply shows the traveler what things are out there.  The hydrographic survey teams and supporting scientists who work for NOAA make nautical charts so that seagoing explorers can continue the great human endeavor of creating their own maps to turn curiosity into discovery, and I am very proud to spend these weeks working and learning among the people who keep that grand tradition going forward.

So prepare yourselves, practice your skills, plan a bit, and choose a direction or two.  And then keep exploring, my friends.

Personal Log:  Father’s Day

On the day before I left Florida I cropped my hair closely and stopped shaving my face (for the first time ever), in part to minimize the need for maintenance away from home, and also as a minor-league scientific experiment to compare rates of hair growth on the face and on the crown.  After five days the chin, cheeks, and jawline seem to be winning the race.  But the most interesting datum – as so often is the case in scientific tests – is a peripheral notation:  When passing a reflective window this morning, I saw a familiar face framed by the short beard and small wrinkles at the edges of the sunglasses under the brim of my hat, but the face that I saw wasn’t my own.  This third Sunday in June, thousands of miles from home, sort of pensively half-smiling at a fleeting thought that was blending with a pretty view of the treeline off starboard, I saw the face of my dad looking back at me.  And my smile grew a bit softer and fuller when I caught glimpses of my sons in the reflection, too.

So happy Father’s Day to you three other Ulmer men who do so much to define this Ulmer boy.  I’m proud of you, and I love you guys.

And on behalf of children everywhere, happy Father’s Day to the rest of you readers who have undertaken the great task of raising kids.  Your work is important.  

Did you know?

Underway through Gastineau Channel

Underway through Gastineau Channel, outbound from Juneau

The ship’s propellers are called screws because essentially they spiral through the water to propel the boat forward by pulling water from in front and pushing it backward.  NOAA Ship Rainier has two screws, one starboard (right) and one port (left), and they spin in opposite directions to make smoother and more efficient fluid dynamics.  On this ship the screws constantly spin, but they are tilted differently to increase or decrease forward propulsion.

To increase forward vessel speed, the screws hang with a vertical profile so that the water moves horizontally backward from the boat, thus pushing the boat forward.  To decrease forward vessel speed, the screws are tilted toward a more horizontal plane, decreasing the backward push of water, and consequently reducing the ship’s thrust force.  It’s very much like holding your open, flat hand outside the window of a moving car and feeling the wind push it backward, upward, or downward, depending upon the angle of your palm relative to the car’s (and the wind’s) trajectory.  Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that every action comes with an equal and opposite reaction, and so the more directly backward the water is pushed, the more directly forward (with the same amount of force) the ship is pushed in the opposite direction.