Catherine Fuller: Into the Copper River Plume, July 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 59° 40.065 N
Longitude: 146° 04.523 W
Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Wind Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind Direction: 254 degrees
Visibility:  100 m
Air Temperature: 12.0 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1015.4 mb
Sky: Overcast, foggy

Science and Technology Log

Usually LTER cruises are more focused on monitoring the ecosystem, but in our case, the cruise will also focus on a process study of the Copper River plume.

Copper River plume
This is a satellite photo of the plume with an overlay of the salinity of the water along our course. The darker colors represent the lowest salinity.

This seasonal plume brings iron and fresh water into the marine ecosystem, where they are dispersed by weather and currents. Because our winds have been very light, the plume is retaining its coiled shape remarkably well.  Our sampling on the Middleton Line (prior to the plume study) will add information about how both the Copper River fresh water and iron are spread along the shelf and throughout the food web.  

Clay Mazur
Clay checking the fluorescence of a sample.

Clay Mazur has a particular interest in the iron-rich waters of the plume.  He is a graduate student from Western Washington University who is working under Dr. Suzanne Strom (also onboard). He is one of a few on board who are working on their own experiments as opposed to assisting others.  The overall goal of his work is to study how iron in phytoplankton is limited and how the sporadic addition of it can stimulate growth.  He has a gigantic on-deck incubation experiment in which he will take an iron-limited plankton community from offshore in the Gulf and introduce iron-rich water from the Copper River plume to see what happens.  Clay will measure chlorophyll – an indication of biomass – by which he can estimate the plankton population.  He will also be checking the physiology of plankton in different size classes, and taking samples to see the pigments that every cell produces and if they change over time with the addition of water from the Copper River plume. His hypothesis is that everything should change: phytoplankton species composition, cell size, photosynthetic ‘health’, and chlorophyll production. When phytoplankton are iron-limited, they cannot produce healthy photosynthetic structures. 

Clay measured the same indicators on every station of the MID (Middleton Island) line and will also measure the same on GAK line.  These samples will use the metrics described above to show environmental heterogeneity along the cross-shelf sampling lines. Samples from the MID and GAK line will also allow his iron experiment to be seen in context.  Does the iron-rich community that develops during the experiment match anything that we see on the shelf? How realistic is experiment within the Gulf of Alaska? Clay would also expect a diatom bloom with the introduction of iron into his sample population, but he says there are not a lot of cells greater than 20 microns out here and 5 days may not be enough for diatoms to grow up from this small seed population.

The Acrobat

One specialized instrument being deployed to gather information about the Copper River plume is the Acrobat.  Where the CTD is critical to give a site-specific profile of various indicators in the water column, the Acrobat can provide much of the same information along the path of the research ship, such as through the plume or across the shelf from deep regions to shallow.

CTD Screen
This is an example of the readout that comes from the CTD when it is deployed.

Lead scientist Dr. Seth Danielson from UAF, and Pete Shipton, a mooring technician from UAF’s Seward Marine Center are using the Acrobat to record a number of parameters as it moves through the water column.  The Acrobat is lowered off the stern of the ship and towed behind us.

Acrobat on deck
Bern, the Marine Tech, and Paul, the Bosun, with the Acrobat on deck prior to launch

As it is towed, it dives and climbs in a repeated vertical zigzag pattern to sample the water column vertically along the length of our course, creating a “cross-section” of the ocean along our line.  The Acrobat measures water temperature, salinity, density, chlorophyll, particle concentrations and CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter). The CDOM indicator allows the Acrobat to distinguish between different water colorations.

The path of the Acrobat can be constrained by distance from the surface or seafloor, in which case it receives depth sounder readings from the ship itself to inform its “flight” behavior.  It can also be set to run a path of a set distance vertically, for example, within a 20m variation in depth.  When set to a maximum depth of 40 m, it can be towed at 7-8 kts, but someone must always be monitoring the “flight” of the Acrobat in relation to ship speed to ensure the best possible results. The operator provides a watchful eye for shallow regions and keeps an eye on the incoming data feed.  The Acrobat also has two sets of wings.  The larger set will allow the Acrobat to reach a maximum depth of 100m or carry a larger sensor payload.  The profile being created as we tow through strands of the plume indicates that there is a pronounced layer of fresh water at the surface.  A concentration of phytoplankton, indicated by high chlorophyll a fluorescence levels, lies just beneath the fresh water layer and as we exit the plume, we observe a subtle shift towards the surface.  The fresh water also contains a good deal of sediment from the river that settles to the bottom as the plume spreads out. As we cross through the plume, we see the sediment levels at the surface drop, while the temperature, salinity and density remain fairly constant, showing a continued flow of fresh water at the surface. 

The readout from the Acrobat appears as a series of bar graphs that record in real time and provide a clear picture of what’s happening in the water column as we move.

Acrobat screen
This is what the Acrobat readout looked like as we went through a portion of the plume.

Once the data from the Acrobat is gathered, Dr. Danielson is able to create three-dimensional representations of the water column along our path according to the individual indicators. One that is particularly interesting and important for the Gulf of Alaska is salinity, which exerts strong control on water column stratification and therefore the supply of nutrients into the ecosystem.

Acrobat salinity graph
Here is a 3-D representation of the salinity along our plume route.

The low-salinity waters of the Gulf of Alaska are influenced by the fresh water precipitation, snow melt and glacier melt in the coastal Alaska watershed, including the big rivers like the Copper River and the thousands of un-gauged small streams.  Some of the fresh water runoff eventually flows into the Bering Sea, the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean, playing its role in the global hydrological cycle and the conveyor belt that circulates water through the world’s oceans.  Oceanographic monitoring has shown that the Gulf of Alaska water column is warming throughout and getting fresher at the surface, a consequence in part of glaciers melting along the rim of the Gulf of Alaska.

Personal Log

Finding my way around onboard was initially somewhat confusing.  I would exit the main lab and turn the wrong way to locate the stairway back up to my room, and it took a few days to figure it out.  Here’s an idea of the path I take in the mornings to get from my room to the lab:

Here’s what our stateroom looks like…yes, it’s kind of messy!

One rule when you open a door, because the hallways are narrow and the doors are heavy, is to open slowly and check for people.

The stairs are steep with narrow treads and necessitate careful and constant use of the handrails.

From the main hall, I usually go into the wet lab.

From the wet lab I can either go into the main lab…

Main lab
Main lab

… or into the Baltic Room.

Baltic Room
Baltic Room

There are six levels to the ship.  At the bottom are supply rooms, equipment, the engine room, workrooms and the gym.  On the main floor are the labs, workrooms, laundry areas and computer center.  On the first floor are science team quarters, a control room for the main deck winches, the mess hall and a lounge.  On the second floor are crew quarters.  The third floor has officer quarters, and the fourth level is the bridge.  There are also observation decks at the stern and bow on the third level.

I have a bit of a reprieve during the plume study, since Steffi’s project does not focus on these waters.  It’s been a great opportunity to shadow other teams and learn about what they’re doing, as well as to explore more of the ship. Now that the first phase of the plume study is over, we are extending it farther out in the gulf to be able to examine a fresh water eddy that is showing up on satellite imagery.  After that, we will have about a 12-hour transit to the next line of stations, called the GAK (Seward) line, where Steffi (and I) will resume her testing. 

Did You Know?

It’s still foggy and the sea state is very calm compared to what everyone expected.  It’s great for the experiments, but doesn’t help with wildlife sightings.  We’re under the influence of a high pressure system currently, which is expected to keep things quiet at least through Wednesday.  At some point next week, we may have a low-pressure system pass through, which would increase wind speed and wave height. 

What Do You Want Kids to Learn from Your Research?

**Note: I’m asking the various scientists on board the same question.  Clay took five days to formulate this and it really captures the essence of his passion for his research and the effects of climate change.  It’s worth the read!

Clay: Recently, I was asked by Cat, our Teacher at Sea for this cruise, what I want members of the general public to take away from my work studying iron limitation of phytoplankton. Though I can provide her a superficial answer to my research question immediately, the motivations for my work go much deeper than answering “How does a micronutrient affect phytoplankton growth?”

There are two main levels at which I want to answer Cat’s question:

1. Proximal: Though phytoplankton are microscopic, they have macroscopic impacts.

2. Philosophical: Why bother in the quest for such knowledge?

Level 1: The Macroscopic Impacts of a Microscopic Organism 

Both human societies and phytoplankton communities are impacted by global climate change. Globally, humans are realizing the need to combat carbon emissions and mediate the effects of increasing global temperatures. Consequences of global climate change for us include mass emigration as sea levels rise and increased frequency of extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, wildfires). As a result, humans are racing to bridge political divides between countries, develop sustainable energy, and manage natural disaster response.

Phytoplankton, too, must respond to global climate change. As sea surface temperatures rise, phytoplankton will have to adapt. CO2 that is dissolved in seawater removes the precious materials some diatoms use to make their “shells” and takes away their protection. Dissolved CO2 can also alter the ability of micrograzers to swim and find food!

Melting glaciers are a double-edged sword. Glacial flour in freshwater runoff brings in vital nutrients (including iron) through the Copper River Plume and phytoplankton love their iron! But freshwater also works to trap phytoplankton in the surface layers. When all the nutrients are used up and you’re a phytoplankton baking in the heat of the sun, being trapped at the surface is super stressful!

As global climate change accelerates in the polar regions, phytoplankton in the Northern Gulf of Alaska are in an evolutionary race against time to develop traits that make them resilient to their ever-changing environment. Phytoplankton crossing the finish line of this race is imperative for us humans, since phytoplankton help to mediate climate change by soaking up atmospheric CO2 during photosynthesis to produce ~ 50 % of the oxygen we breathe!

Phytoplankton also form the base of a complex oceanic food web. The fresh salmon in the fish markets of Pike’s Place (Seattle, WA), the gigantic gulp of a humpback whale in Prince William Sound (AK) and even entire colonies of kittiwakes on Middleton Island (AK) are dependent on large numbers of phytoplankton. When phytoplankton are iron limited, they cannot grow or multiply (via mitosis). In a process called bottom up regulation, the absence of phytoplankton reduces the growth of animals who eat phytoplankton, the animals who eat those animals, and so on up the entire food chain.

Let us consider “The Blob”, an area of elevated sea surface temperature in 2015 to illustrate this point. “The Blob” limited phytoplankton growth and that of herbivorous fishes. As a result, the population of kittiwakes on Middleton Island crashed as the birds could not find enough fish to provide them the nutrients and energy to reproduce successfully. In this way, the kittiwake deaths were directly attributed to a lack of phytoplankton production.

Not only are phytoplankton ecologically important, they are commercially important. For consumers who love to fish (and for the huge commercial fisheries in the Northern Gulf of Alaska), the base of the food web should be of particular interest, as it is the harbinger of change. Fisheries managers currently use models of phytoplankton growth to monitor fish stocks and establish fisheries quotas. If sporadic input of iron from dust storms, glacial runoff, or upwelling stimulate phytoplankton to grow, fish stocks may also increase with the newfound food source. Because phytoplankton are inextricably linked to fish, whales, and seabirds, in years where nutrients are plentiful, you may well see more fish on kitchen tables across the U.S. and Native Alaskans may be able to harvest more seabird eggs.  

Level 2: The Nature of Science

As a supporter of place-based and experiential learning, I view myself as a student with a duel scientist-educator role. To succeed in these roles, I have to be able to combine reasoning with communication and explore questions like “How does science relate to society?” and “How do we foster scientific literacy?” What better way to think about these questions than embarking on a three-week cruise to the Pacific Subarctic?! Not only am I working with amazing Principal Investigators in an immersive research experience, I am able to collect data and think of creative ways to communicate my findings. These data can be used to build educational curricula (e.g. Project Eddy modules, R shiny apps, etc.) in an effort to merge the classroom with the Baltic room (where the CTD is deployed). But what’s the point of collecting data and sharing it?

Science is “a collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations” (Bill Nye) and is “the best tool ever devised for understanding how our world works” (Richard Dawkins). The goal of communicating my results in a way that touches the lives of students is two-fold. One aim is to allow them to appreciate the philosophy of science – that it is iterative, self-correcting, and built upon measurable phenomena. It is the best way that we “know” something.

The other aim is to allow students to engage in scientific discourse and build quantitative reasoning skills. As the renowned astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said, “When you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you and that understanding empowers you.” Using phytoplankton to model the scientific process allows students to enter into the scientific enterprise in low-stakes experiments, to question how human actions influence ecosystems, and to realize the role science plays in society. Ultimately, I want students to use my data to learn the scientific process and build confidence to face the claims espoused by the U.S. government and seen on Facebook with a healthy amount of skepticism and an innate curiosity to search for the truth.

Robert Ulmer: Know Your Surroundings, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 15–July 3, 2013

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 28, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.038’, W 134⁰20.908’ (southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Weather conditions:  13.53⁰C and falling, scattered cumulus clouds with intermittent light rainfall, 81.05% relative humidity, 1019.55 mb of atmospheric pressure, breezy with gusts of wind out of the NNW at 10 to 15 knots

Explorer’s Log:  The layout of the ship

An explorer who doesn’t make himself familiar with his new surroundings is truly no explorer at all, and he might just as well stay home.  Why would you venture forth if not to witness the events and items along the way?

The "big eyes" on the flying deck with the anchor deck visible below

Keep your eyes open.  There’s so much to see everywhere!

For the past few days, NOAA Ship Rainier has been continuing its mission to complete a detailed and thorough survey of the sea floor along Chatham Strait, a channel used by many nautical vessels in their transit of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.  So, aside from noticing the appearance and disappearance of some rock features in the rising and falling tides and the daily incremental reduction of snow as it melts on the high mountaintops nearby in the relative warmth of early summer, most of what I see from the deck of the ship and from the smaller launch vessels is the same topography in every direction that I’ve seen for the past week, along with occasional clouds, whales, otters, birds, and other boats.  The scenery beyond the rails is very beautiful, but the temporary respite from faster passage to any new geographic destination also has given me a chance to take a few photos of the space around me:  the ship herself.

Using the shadow cast by a gnomon in one city while the sun reflected straight up from the bottom of a well in another city, along with alternate interior angles and a proportion, Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE. Image by Dr. John H. Lienhard, University of Houston.

However, instead of writing nautical miles* of text to talk you through a verbally descriptive tour of the entire vessel, I’ve posted a bunch of captioned photos that will give you some view of what I see while wandering around my current home away from home.

Before we begin the tour, a brief note:  In case you’ve ever wondered (as I have!), a nautical mile is a unit of length approximately equal to one minute (1/60 of a degree, and there are 360 degrees in a circle) of latitude measured along any meridian or about one minute of arc of longitude measured at the equator.  Because our understanding of the exact shape of Earth has evolved from a perfect circle into that of an ellipsoid since Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of his perfectly round model of the planet (and assigned the first latitudes and longitudes), the definition of nautical mile has changed over time.  To address the variation in actual one-minute arc lengths around Earth, the definition of a nautical mile has been standardized by international agreement to be 1,852 meters (approximately 6,076 feet).  A statute mile, by comparison, evolved both in etymology and in length-definition from the Latin term mille passuum (“one thousand paces”), commonly used when measuring and marking distances marched by Roman soldiers across Europe.  Healthier and better-fed soldiers often took longer strides, and so their “miles” were longer than the miles marched by less-healthy counterparts.  To address this variation, most countries eventually agreed to standardize the statute mile at its current length of 5,280 feet (about 1,609 meters).

Now for some snapshots from NOAA Ship Rainier:

This log, called a "camel," is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.

This log, called a “camel,” is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.

Mechanism for operating the port side davits

Mechanism for operating the port side davits, which use hydraulics to lift and lower the launch vessels

Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits

Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits

Ventilation pipe from the incinerator

Ventilation pipe from the incinerator

Some interesting-looking tube joints

Some interesting-looking hydraulic hose fittings for the davits

The galley

The crew’s mess and the galley

Fire Station No. 23, starboard, deck D

Fire Station No. 23, D deck starboard side

Crane, anchor, vents, and the stowed gangplank on the bow

Crane, anchor windlass, vents, and the stowed gangway on the bow

Muster Station 1

Muster Station 1, where I am to report in the event of an abandon ship order

Docking bits on the bow

These large bits on the bow are used for securing lines while docking.

Cranes on the bow

Cranes on the bow

Electric boxes on the forward mast

Electric boxes keep the important electrical equipment that is mounted on the forward mast properly powered

The view along starboard from the flying deck

The view along the starboard side from the flying bridge

Machinery for lowering and hoisting the anchor

The anchor windlass (machinery on the bow for letting go and weighing anchor) includes gypsy heads, a riding pawl, a devil’s claw or pelican hook, and a wildcat.  (Many other “animals” are referenced on a ship, including a goose neck and a bull nose.  Look up others on your own!)

The forward mast

The forward mast carries radar equipment for navigation. The halyards (lines from the mast) are for support and for hanging items used for distant communication.

The "big eyes" on the flying deck

The “big eyes” on the flying bridge allow magnified distant viewing from above the bridge.

Passageways are narrow, from deck (floor) to bulkhead (ceiling)

Passageways are narrow aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from the overhead to the deck and bulkhead to bulkhead.

Stateroom C-04-103-U

This is the view from corner to corner of stateroom C-04-103-U, one of the larger two-man staterooms on the ship, which I share with HSST John Doroba. (His is the lower bunk.)

Some of the internal communications equipment on the bridge

A phone on the bridge that gets its power from the energy of sound waves spoken into it (so that the phone still can work even if the generators fail — awesome, right??)

Ensign Micki Ream plotting a course on the bridge

Ensign Micki Ream uses old-fashioned compass-and-straightedge geometric constructions and calculations to plot a course through Hecate Strait on the bridge.

Bicycles for use ashore during liberty

Bicycles for use ashore during liberty

Port ladder to launches alongside Rainier

Launch crews usually board launch vessels by walking directly level off the deck onto the smaller boats while the davits hold the small launch vessels in place. This Jacob’s ladder is lowered to launch vessels like the skiff when they are placed in the water alongside NOAA Ship Rainier.

Fishing poles

Fishing poles, to be used only when licensed and permitted

A cool light and electric fixture

A cool-looking light and electric fixture

A hatch on the fantail

A hatch on the fantail that leads to After Steering

The winch control mechanism for the "fish"

The “fish” is a very heavy brass device that is towed on a strong Kevlar-sheathed electric cable up to 600 meters behind the ship, and it requires a sophisticated winch mechanism for casting, retrieval, and transfer of data to the computer system aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.

A lifebuoy and the "fish"

On the fantail the “fish,” a part of the Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP), is the very heavy CTD device that is towed by winch behind NOAA Ship Rainier, usually during multi-beam sonar data acquisition. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water, all of which affect the speed of sound from and to the ship’s sonar device.  (The lifebuoy is a nearby safety measure, of course.)

One of many ladders

One of many ladders (which is what staircases are called aboard ship)

The skiff secured on the fantail

The skiff secured on the fantail underneath a sign that reminds everyone of NOAA’s culture of safety

Stowage space

All stowage space is used efficiently aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

The emergency pull station, just in case

The emergency pull station, just in case

The galley service line

The galley service line

Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying deck

Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying bridge

Launch vessels secured in starboard davits

Launch vessels secured within the starboard davits

A tie-down the port deck

Line (rope in use aboard a ship) is one of the most important tools on a ship for tying, supporting, securing, pulling, and hoisting, and so it is treated with proper respect at all times.

Warnings on the stack

Noise, fire, and heavy equipment can be dangerous if not addressed with caution, as these signs on the stack warn.

Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)

Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)

Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background

Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background

Alidade on the port bridge wing

The alidade on the port bridge wing, which is used for determining a “true” line of sight for navigation

I aligned the photos to give you a more authentic feel of passing waves.  Oh, I hope that you didn’t get seasick!  If you did, just head to the dispensary on D deck near the bow amidships, and then go on deck and look at the horizon so that your inner ears and your eyes can agree about which way actually is up.

Now that you’ve seen many random angles in no particular order — but  — maybe you also need a tour to put the whole package together into a meaningful map of NOAA Ship Rainier.  Fortunately, HAST Christiane Reiser created a video of just such a tour for visitors, and you can watch it here.

The gangplank

This is the gangway to board Rainier when the ship is docked. Uniformed personnel must salute the colors when boarding or exiting the vessel.

… And now you’re ready to come aboard!

Remember always that half the fun of the journey is getting there… but the other half is actually being somewhere.  So look at the scenery in the world around you — wherever you happen to be — as you keep exploring, my friends.

Did You Know?

Before you board a seagoing vessel, you’d better be able to talk the talk.  People on ships have a vernacular that can sound like a foreign language if you’re not familiar with the terminology, so here’s a list of some key words worth knowing before you come aboard, with definitions and descriptions from a glossary of terms provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a partner agency of NOAA with regard to training crew members and making nautical travels safer:

  • Starboard:  The right side of the ship when facing forward.  The name is a very old one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon term steorbord, or steering-board.  Ancient vessels were steered not by a rudder amidships, but by a long oar or steering-board extended over the vessel’s right side aft.  This became known, in time, as the steering-board side or starboard.
  • Port:  The left side of the ship when facing forward.  The original term was “larboard,” but the possibility of confusing shouted or indistinct orders to steer to larboard with steering to starboard at a crucial moment was both obvious and serious.  The term was legally changed to ‘port’ in the British Navy in 1844, and in the American Navy in 1846.  The word ‘port’ was taken from the fact that ships traditionally took on cargo over their left sides (i.e., the side of the vessel facing the port).  This was probably a holdover from much earlier times when ships had steering-boards over the right side aft; obviously, you couldn’t maneuver such a vessel starboard side to the pier without crushing your steering oar.
  • Wings:  Extensions to either side of the ship.  Specifically, the port and starboard wings of the bridge are open areas to either side of the bridge, used by lookouts and for signaling.
  • Bow:  The forward end of any vessel.  The word may come from the Old Icelandic bogr, meaning “shoulder.”
  • Stern:  The rear of any vessel.  The word came from the Norse stjorn, meaning “steering.”
  • Deck:  What you walk on aboard ship.
  • Below:  Below decks, as in “going below to C Deck,” never “down.”
  • Fore:  An adverb, meaning “toward the bow.”
  • Aft:  An adverb, meaning “toward the stern.”
  • Boat:  Any small craft, as opposed to a ship, which carries boats.
  • Ship:  A general term for any large, ocean-going vessel (as opposed to a boat).  Originally, it referred specifically to a vessel with three or more masts, all square-rigged.
  • Stateroom:  An officer’s or passenger’s cabin aboard a merchant ship, or the cabin of an officer other than the captain aboard a naval ship.  The term may be derived from the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, ships often had a cabin reserved for royal or noble passengers.
  • Stack:  The ship’s funnel on an engine-powered vessel.
  • Bridge:  The control or command center of any power vessel.  The term arose in the mid-19th century, when the “bridge” was a structure very much like a footbridge stretched across the vessel between or immediately in front of the paddle wheels.
  • Galley:  The ship’s kitchen, where food is prepared.  The origin is uncertain but may have arisen with the ship’s cook and helpers thinking of themselves as “galley slaves.” (A galley was originally a fighting ship propelled by oars rowed by slaves, from the Latin galea.)
  • MessPart of the ship’s company that eats together, (such as the officers’ mess) and, by extension, the place where they eat.
  • Head:  The bathroom.
  • Ladder:  On shipboard, all stairs are called “ladders.”

Jennifer Richards, September 4, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 4, 2001

Latitude: 32.7° N
Longitude: 117.2° W
Temperature: 75° F

Seas: Since we are still at port in a protected harbor, there is no swell. The water is extremely calm.

Travel Log

Tomorrow the ship departs San Diego, California for its big adventure! I saw the ship for the first time this morning, and had the opportunity to meet Captain Dreves and Chris Fairall, the Chief Scientist. At 274 feet long, the ship certainly isn’t small, but it is docked at the Naval Station and is surrounded by huge grey navy ships, dwarfing the RONALD H. BROWN. Some of my students had asked if the captain has a white beard, smokes a pipe, and has a peg leg or a patch on his eye. The answer is “no” to all of those questions (sorry to disappoint you). I’ll be sure to take his picture as soon as I unpack my camera.

The pre-trip hoopla was pretty exciting and tiring. A reporter from the Navy Compass and a cameraman from KUSI, a local television station, came to the ship to interview the captain, Chris, and me. The weatherman at KUSI did a nice 2.5 minute piece about the cruise on the evening news in which he spoke about the importance of the research being conducted, and the Teacher at Sea (me!). Dr. John Kermond from NOAA gave me a tour of the ship, which Captain Dreves described very eloquently as “an industrial workplace with an enhanced chance of drowning.” On the inside, it has laboratory areas, a mess hall, small library, lounge with a television, lots of staterooms, and a lot of industrial areas filled with heavy equipment and people with dirty shirts. There’s something for everyone!

This afternoon John Kermond came up to my school (Guajome Park Academy in Vista, California) so I could say goodbye to my students. They wanted to know if I’m going to miss them, so let me put it in writing right here- YES! I really enjoy spending my days with my 9th and 10th grade Earth Science and Math students, and I will miss getting to see them every day.

Finally, I made it home to get my suitcase and say goodbye to my dog and cat, Birch and Hobbes. Birch knew something was going on- he gets nervous when suitcases leave the house and he’s not invited. Then back to the ship for a photo shoot with the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. What a busy day! I’m definitely not used to being in the spotlight like this, and I felt pretty awkward with cameras on me the whole day, but I survived.

Once things settled down, my husband, Rob came to the ship to see me. John and I gave him the tour, and I was very happy to see him before my big departure. Although the ship doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning, I thought I would spend the night here so I can get used to is layout before it gets too wobbly in the ocean.

My first adventure on the ship went something like this: I was getting ready for bed and put my sneakers in a drawer in my stateroom. When it was time to visit the head (bathroom) I found that it had been locked from the inside. Since I share a head with another room, I thought someone was using it. After waiting a while, and realizing that the only way in was to go through my neighbor’s room, I went to get my shoes on. Now, you need to understand that I received at least a half-dozen emails prior to getting on the ship telling me to bring shoes that cover my whole feet, because anything else will not be allowed outside of the stateroom. Well, when I went to get my shoes on, so that I could walk down the hall to the neighbor’s stateroom, so that I could get into the bathroom, I realize the drawer had locked!! Without shoes, I couldn’t leave my room, and I couldn’t unlock the head! So I poked my head out of my room until someone walked by and I asked for help. The Chief Scientist showed me how to unlock the head with a penny, but we had no luck unlocking my shoes.

Question of the Day: The name of the ship I am on is the “R/V RONALD H. BROWN.” This question has two parts: 1. What does R/V stand for, and 2. Who is Ronald H. Brown?

Keep in touch,