Daniel Rivera, Days 3 & 4 Bird & Mammal Observation

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard the Ship R/V Fulmar

July 16-24, 2014


Mission: Water conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) readings; marine bird and mammal counts

Geographical Area: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries; Sonoma County Coast, Pacific Ocean

Dates: July 18 and 19, 2014

 Weather Data from the bridge: Wind speed variable, less than 10 knots; wind waves less than 2 feet; visibility about 3 KMs, temperature range from 59-68

 Science and Technology Log: Friday and Saturday are mostly filled with marine bird and mammal observations, and we covered many transect lines in the last 2 days: Lines 1, 3, 5, 7, N1, and N3-N7.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

These are the paths, or transect lines, taken by our ship on our cruise.

The transects lines with an “N” stand for near-shore lines, and they are shorter. During these two days the near-shore lines were the only lines where we took CTD readings, so the majority of the time was spent monitoring birds and mammals from the flying bridge, which is the top deck of the boat.

Scanning for birds and mammals while riding atop a moving vessel can be quite challenging for a number of reasons. First of all, a boat is at mercy of the waves, so the bobbing motion makes it hard to focus your eyes. Second, the organisms you are monitoring are in motion as well, so you have to have a quick eye to see them and follow them. Finally, many of the organisms aren’t directly in front of the boat, so you have to be well-trained in spotting the subtle and not so subtle differences in hundreds of organisms. It’s a tough job that requires good eyes, patience, a strong stomach, lots of practice, and the ability to withstand ever-changing weather conditions.

When a marine bird is spotted, there are a series of codes that the watcher calls out to the person recording the sightings on the laptop. As mentioned in an earlier post, these codes stand for location, number of organisms, etc. For example, when on the top deck you might here this: Common Murre 2, zone 1, flying, 160. This means that there are two Common Murre birds within 100 meters of the boat, and they are flying toward 160 degrees in relation to the boat (in a 360-degree circle). For this protocol, zero degrees is always at the bow, or the front, of the boat, and 180 degrees points directly to the stern, or the back, of the boat.

When a marine mammal is sighted, there are even more codes. For example, you may hear this: Mammal, by eye, bearing 270, reticle 7, observer 9, side 1, traveling, immature, sex unknown, 2-2-2.

Now, that is a lot of information. What does all this mean? Take a look at this picture, which has the meanings for all of the codes.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Here are the codes that are called out while monitoring marine mammals and birds. As you can see, there is a lot of information that is called out during a spotting.

Now look at the bottom half of this picture where it’s labeled Line Transect Entries-Marine Mammals and Vessels. In order to make sense of these codes, start with the left column and work your way down, moving along to the second column on the right and back down again. By using this chart, you realize what is being said: Marine mammal, spotted by eye (as opposed to binoculars), and it’s located at 270 degrees. Next up is reticule, which is a bit more complicated.

On reticule binoculars, there are 14 tick marks in a vertical column that the observer can see when looking through the lens; the top tick mark is 0 and the bottom is 14. When looking for marine mammals, you can estimate where they are located by these tick marks, called reticules. Reticule 0 is the horizon, and reticule 14 is the boat. If you have a mammal sighting at reticule 7, that means the mammal is roughly somewhere in the middle between the horizon and the boat, which is quite a distance. It takes a lot of practice to accurately estimate distance this way, especially on a rocking boat, but the ACCESS crew is well versed in this task. This is an important data point because the computer program will use compass direction and distance to provide a location on the ocean for the observation. At the end of the cruise, all the observations will be mapped out and you can see how many of which animals were seen in what locations as we criss-crossed the ocean on the boat.

The rest of the codes are pretty self-explanatory until you reach the counts, which gives your best estimate for number of organisms. A count of 2-2-2- means your best estimate of number of organisms is 2, the high number of organisms is 2, and the low count is 2; when you hear a call like this, the observer is certain that the number of organisms is 2 because there is no fluctuation. If you heard a count of 2-3-2, the observer saw at least 2 organisms but it could have been 3. The observers include these different estimates because sometimes it is very hard to count exactly how many dolphins or other fast-moving animals there are.

Here are some pics from the flying bridge (or top deck of the boat). Notice the different weather conditions on two different days, and how the observers have to be prepared to bundle up for the fog and have on hats and sunglasses against the sun. Conditions can change rapidly while at sea.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

Many hours are spent perched atop the flying bridge when marine mammal and bird observations take place.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.

A sunny day on the flying bridge.


Personal Log: I woke up later these past two days because I learned there is time to wake up while the boat is heading out to the first transect. There is no need to wake up before the crew starts the engines because on days such as these we have at least one hour from when we leave port to ready ourselves for the tasks at hand.

As mentioned earlier in the blog, these past two days were mostly bird and mammal observations with CTD readings toward the end of the day. When the boat first set out in the morning, we headed out to the west end of the transect line, and because we have more time, everyone on board shares stories, some work-related, some personal. It’s quite nice to have time for these conversations because even though you spend 8 days at sea with everyone, it’s hard to fit in conversation when you’re watching for organisms or trying not to fall off the boat while deploying a net.

Dani Lipski, the Research Coordinator from Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, is a dive master for NOAA. She has lots of wonderful stories about diving, conducting research on different ships and islands up and down the West coast, and she is great at preventing me from tripping over myself on the back deck (I work with Dani the most). Kirsten Lindquist, from the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, loves to cook, spent two seasons in Alaska studying whales, and is an expert seabird observer. Rudy, the man in charge of IT at Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can spot birds, mammals, and even mylar balloons; if it’s on or in the ocean, he’ll notice it. He is also the resident comedian, providing many instances of humor throughout the day. In short, everyone on board is knowledgeable about their jobs and dedicated to protecting the health of the world’s oceans, and it’s inspiring to be around a group as dedicated as the ACCESS cruise team.

Some other tidbits learned: Jaime–the director of all the marine work at Point Blue Conservation and the master of the Tucker Trawl–has a favorite spot to rest on the boat; the bunk rooms never seem to completely dry out; the best place to feel well on a boat is the back because of the least amount of up and down motion; and Dru, mammal spotter extraordinaire from Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, can make an excellent guacamole.

Speaking of food, Cheez-It’s are a favorite of everyone on board, Coke Zero is consumed at nauseam, and apparently the presence of M&Ms brings whale sightings (having a Teacher at Sea on board also seems to bring good whale sightings). Everyone takes turns cooking dinner, but breakfast and lunch are a free-for-all; you basically eat when you want or can while at sea, but dinner is a time for everyone to come together and share their day.

One interesting fact I forgot to mention is that when you come back to shore after spending 10 hours at sea, you still feel like you are moving up and down. When I was in the shower or even just sitting down on land, I felt like I was bobbing up and down and moving back and forth. You have a dizzy-like feeling,. Some people who don’t get sick at sea will get sick from this feeling when they return to land; this is called dock rock. Who knew?!


Did you know? Northern Right whale dolphins do not have dorsal fins.

Question of the Day? What types of foods do you think are ideally suited to a trip to sea with limited or no refrigeration?

New Term/Phrase/Word: Reticule

Something to Think About: Bananas on a boat are considered bad luck for several reasons. First, when they go bad the give off a gas that causes other fruit to rot faster. But there are more superstitious reasons as well: banana boats tended to be overloaded and, thus, sank a lot. Bananas carry tarantulas in them, so sailors didn’t want to get bit. You don’t want to bring something from the mountains to the sea, so you can’t bring bananas; there are sure to be more reasons why.

Challenge Yourself: Next time you’re at the shore or beach, count how many different species of birds you see and try to estimate their direction of travel, using a 360-degree circle as reference and using the horizon as 0 degrees.

Kacey Shaffer: Let’s Go Fishing! August 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: August 1, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 9.7° C

Wind Speed: 11.9 knots

Wind Direction: 153°

Weather Conditions: Foggy

Latitude: 58°19’42 N

Longitude: 175°14’66 W


Science and Technology Log:            

If you’ve ever been fishing, be it on a lake, river or stream, you know it is not productive to fish all day in a spot where they aren’t biting. If the fish aren’t biting in one spot, you would most likely pack up and move to a different spot. Now imagine trying to fish in an area that is 885,000 square miles. The equivalent to trying to find a needle in a haystack! Luckily, the Oscar Dyson has sophisticated equipment to help us determine where the fish are hanging out. Allow me to introduce you to a very important location on the ship – The Acoustics Lab.

When you enter The Acoustics Lab, you’ll immediately see a wall of nine computer screens. The data shown on the screens help Chief Scientist Taina and Fishery Biologist Darin make the key decision of where we will deploy the nets and fish. What information is shown on the screens? Some show our location on the transect lines we are following, which is similar to a road map we would use to get from point A to point B on land. The transect lines are predetermined “roads” we are following. Another screen tells us which direction the boat is heading, barometric pressure, air temperature, surface temperature, and wind direction and wind speed. The most technical screens show the data collected from transducers attached to the bottom of the ship on what is referred to as the Center Board. There are five transducers broadcasting varying frequencies. Frequency is the number of sound waves emitted from a transducer each second. The Dyson transducers emit sound waves at 18kHz, 38kHz, 70kHz, 120kHz and 200kHz (kHz= kilohertz). Why would it be necessary to have five transducers? Certain organisms can be detected better with some frequencies compared to others.  For example, tiny organisms like krill can be seen better with higher frequencies like the 120kHz compared to the lower frequencies. Also the lower frequencies penetrate farther into the water than the higher frequencies so they can be used in deeper water. Having this much data enables the scientists to make sound decisions when choosing where to fish.

A map of the Bering Sea showing transect lines in white. During this pollock survey the Oscar Dyson follows transect lines which benefits both the crew and scientists.

A map of the Bering Sea showing transect lines in white. During this pollock survey the Oscar Dyson follows transect lines which benefits both the crew and scientists.

Transducers produce these images displayed on the screens in the Acoustics Lab. The thick red line at the bottom is the sea floor and the  many red, oblong shaped areas indicate large clusters of fish. Let’s go fishing!

Transducers produce these images displayed on the screens in the Acoustics Lab. The thick red line at the bottom is the sea floor and the many red, oblong shaped areas indicate large clusters of fish. Let’s go fishing!

Personal Log:

Each time I share a blog post with you I am going to focus on one area of the ship so you can get acquainted with my new friend, Oscar Dyson. I’ll begin sharing about my stateroom and the lounge. I was very surprised by the size of my room when I arrived last Thursday. My roommate is Alyssa, a Survey Tech. You will learn more about her journey to the Dyson later. She has been on the ship for a while so she was already settled in to the top bunk which put me on the bottom bunk! The beds are very comfortable and the rocking motion of the ship is really relaxing. I’ve had no trouble sleeping, but then again, when have I ever had trouble sleeping?! We have our own private bathroom facilities, which is a definite bonus. Take a look at our room.

The stateroom Kacey shares with Alyssa.

The stateroom Kacey shares with Alyssa.

Our stateroom's private bath. Could that shower curtain be any more fitting?!

Our stateroom’s private bath. Could that shower curtain be any more fitting?!

Alyssa and I are on opposite shifts. She works midnight to noon and I work 4:00pm to 4:00am. There is a little bit of overlap time where she’s off and I haven’t gone to work yet. This is quite common for all of the people on the ship. This is a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week operation. Someone is always sleeping and someone is always working. Fortunately there is a place where we can hang out without bothering our roommates. The Lounge is a great place to kick back and relax. There are comfy chairs and a very large couch and a television with the ability to play dvd’s or video games. Over the years people have brought books with them and then left them on the ship so we have an enormous library. Sometimes there are people just reading in the Lounge and other times a group of us will watch a movie together. There is one important rule of showing movies…if you start a movie you have to let it play all the way out. Even if you get bored with it or need to leave you must let it play because someone may be watching it in their room. It would be rude of us to continually shut movies off an hour into them!

Career Connections: ST Alyssa Pourmonir

ST Pourmonir checks data on the computer during a CTD deployment.

ST Pourmonir checks data on the computer during a CTD deployment.

Alyssa hails from Pennsylvania. During her senior year of high school she chose to further her education at the Coast Guard Academy. She spent three years studying with the Coast Guard, but ultimately graduated from SUNY Maritime this past January. Alyssa landed a 10 week internship with a NASA facility in Mississippi. During the course of her internship she learned of an opportunity with NOAA. This position would be a Survey Tech, traveling on one of NOAA’s many ships. She arrived at the Dyson only a few weeks before I did.

Alyssa has many responsibilities as a Survey Tech. She assists with the deploying and recovery of the CTD instrument, helps process fish in the wet lab, completes water tests, and serves as a liaison between the ship’s crew and its scientists. When a trawling net is deployed or recovered, Alyssa is on the deck to attach or detach sensors onto the net. She also looks for safety hazards during that time.

When asked what the best part of her job is she quickly responds learning so much science is the best! As a Survey Tech, she gets the chance to see how all the different departments on the ship come together for one mission. She works closely with the scientists and is able to learn about fish and other ocean life. On the other hand, she also works side-by-side with the ship’s crew. This allows her to learn more about the ship’s equipment. Being the positive person she is, Alyssa turned the hardest part of her job into a benefit for her future self. Adjusting to 12 hour shifts has been a challenge but she noted this can also be helpful. When she is super busy she is learning the most and it also makes the time go faster.

Looking ahead to her future, Alyssa sees herself getting a Master’s Degree in a science related field. Some areas of interest are oceanography, remote sensing or even meteorology. Alyssa’s advice for all high school students: STUDY SCIENCE!

Did you know?

Lewis Richardson, an English meteorologist, patented an underwater echo ranging device two months after the Titanic sunk in 1912.

Amanda Peretich: CTD and XBT – More Acronyms? July 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
Aboard Oscar Dyson
June 30 – July 18, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise:
Bering Sea
July 8, 2012

Location Data
Latitude: 57ºN
Longitude: 172ºW
Ship speed: 11.2 knots (12.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 6ºC (42.8ºF)
Surface water temperature: 7ºC (44.6ºF)
Wind speed: 2.5 knots (2.9 mph)
Wind direction: 156ºT
Barometric pressure: 1020 millibar (1.0 atm, 765 mmHg)

Science and Technology Log
Today’s post is going to be about two of the water profiling devices used on board the Oscar Dyson: the CTD and XBT.

CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. It’s actually a device that is “dropped” over the starboard side of the ship at various points along the transect lines to take measurements of conductivity and temperature at various depths in the ocean. On this leg of the pollock survey, we will complete about 25-30 CTD drops by the end. The data can also be used to calculate salinity. Water samples are collected to measure dissolved oxygen (these samples are analyzed all together at the end of the cruise). Determining the amount of oxygen available in the water column can help provide information about not only the fish but also other phytoplankton and more. Although we are not doing it on this leg, fluorescence can also be measured to monitor chlorophyll levels.


From left to right: getting the CTD ready to deploy, the winch is used to put the CTD into the water, the CTD is lowered into the water – notice that the people are strapped in to the ship so they don’t fall overboard during deployment

DYK? (Did You Know?): What exactly are transect lines? Basically this is the path the ship is taking so they know what areas the ship has covered. Using NOAA’s Shiptracker, you can see in the photo where the Oscar Dyson has traveled on this pollock survey (both Leg 1 and Leg 2) up to this point in time.

Transect Lines

Using NOAA’s Shiptracker, you can see the transect lines that the Oscar Dyson has followed during the pollock cruise until July 8. The ship started in Dutch Harbor (DH), traveled to the point marked “Leg 1 start” and along the transect lines until “Leg 1 end” before returning to DH to exchange people. The ship then returned to the point marked “Leg 2 start” and followed transect lines to the current location. The Oscar Dyson will return to DH to exchange people before beginning Leg 3 of this survey and completing the transect lines.

Deploying the CTD

I was lucky enough to be able to operate the winch during a CTD deploy. The winch is basically what pulls in or lets out the cable attached to the CTD to raise and lower it in the water. Special thanks to the chief boatswain Willie for letting me do this!

The CTD can only be deployed when the ship is not moving, so if weather is nice, we should just stay mostly in one place. The officers on the bridge can also manually hold the ship steady. Or they can use DP, which is dynamic positioning. This computer system controls the rudder and propeller on the stern and the bowthruster at the front to maintain position.

Here is a video from a previous Teacher at Sea (TAS) about the CTD and showing its “drop” into the water: Story Miller – 2010. Another TAS also has a video on her blog showing the data being collected during a CTD drop: Kathleen Harrison – 2011.



The thermocline is the area where the upper isothermal (mixed) layer meets the deep water layer and there is a decline in temperature with increasing depth.

XBT is the acronym for the eXpendable Bathymetric Thermograph. It is used to quickly collect temperature data from the surface to the sea floor. A graph of depth (in meters) versus temperature (in ºC) is used to find the thermocline and determine the temperature on the sea floor.

DYK? Normally, temperature decreases as you go farther down in the sea because colder water is denser than warmer water so it sinks below. But this is not the case in polar regions such as the Bering Sea. Just below the surface is an isothermal layer caused by wind mixing and convective overturning where the temperature is approximately the same as on the surface. Below this layer is the thermocline where the temperature then rapidly decreases.

The MK-21IISA is a bathythermograph data acquisition system. This is a portable (moveable) system used to collect data including ocean temperature, conductivity, and sound velocity and various depths using expendable probes (ones you can lose overboard and not get back) that are launched from surface ships. The depth is determined using elapsed time from surface contact and a known sink rate.

There are three different probes that can be used with this data acquisition system:
1. XBT probe – this is the probe that is used on OD, which only measures water temperature at various depths
2. XSV probe – this probe can measure sound velocity versus depth
3. XCTD probe – this probe measures both temperature and conductivity versus depth

On the XBT probe, there is a thermistor (something used to measure temperature) that is connected to an insulated wire wound on two spools (one inside the probe and one outside the probe but inside the canister). The front, or nose, of the probe is a seawater electrode that is used to sense when the probe enters the water to begin data collection. There are different types of XBT probes depending on the maximum depth and vessel speed of the ship.

XBT Canister and Probe

This shows a sideview (left) and topview (middle) of the canister that houses the probe (right) released into the water during an XBT.

There are really four steps to launch the XBT probe using the LM-3A handheld launcher on board:
1. Raise contact lever.
2. Lay probe-containing canister into cradle (make sure to hold it upwards so the probe doesn’t fall out of the canister!).
3. Swing contact level down to lock in canister.
4. Pull release pin out of canister, aim into ocean, and drop probe.
Important: the wire should not come in contact with the ship!

Launching an XBT

“Launching” an XBT probe from starboard side on the Oscar Dyson. There is no actual trigger – you just make a little forward motion with the launcher to allow the probe to drop into the water.

Be sure to check out the video below, which shows what the data profile looks like as the probe is being dropped into the water. An XBT drop requires a minimum of two people, one at the computer inside and one outside launching the probe. I’ve been working with Scientist Bill and ENS Kevin to help out with the XBT launches, which also includes using the radios on board to mark the ship’s position when the probe hits the water.

Personal Log

Quickest Route?

We’ve been taught in school that the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line, so you’d think that the red voyage would be the fastest way to get from Seattle, Washington across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. But it’s actually a path up through Alaska!

It’s been a little slow on the trawling during my shift recently, so I’ve had some extra time to wander around the ship and talk to various people amidst researching and writing more blog posts. I think one of my favorite parts so far has been all of the great information I’ve been learning up on the bridge from the field operations officer, LT Matt Davis.

DYK? When looking at the map, you’d think the quickest route from Seattle, Washington to Japan would be a straight line across the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not! Actually, ships will travel by way of Alaska and it is a shorter distance (and thus faster).

View from the Bow

View from the bow of the Oscar Dyson.

Vessels  use gnomonic ocean tracking charts to determine the shortest path. Basically a straight line drawn on the gnomonic projection corresponds to a great circle, or geodesic curve, that shows the minimum path from any two points on the surface of the Earth as a straight line. So on the way to Japan from Seattle, you would travel up through Alaskan waters, using computer software to help determine the proper pathway.

I’ve also had some time to explore a few other areas of the ship I hadn’t been to before. I’ve learned some new lingo (look for this in an upcoming post) and plenty of random facts. One of the places I checked out is the true bow of the ship where, if I was standing a bit higher (and wearing a PFD, or personal flotation device), I’d look like I was Rose Dawson in one of the scenes from Titanic.

Animal Love
All of the time I spend on the bridge also allows for those random mammal sightings and I was able to see a few whales from afar on July 7!

Whale Sighting

Whale sighting from the bridge! You have to look really closely to see their blow spouts in the middle of the photo.

Kathleen Harrison: First Trawl, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
  July 6– 17, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed:  18.7 knots
True Wind direction:  145.55°
Sea Temperature:  8.12° C
Air Temperature:  9.65° C
Air Pressure:  1013.2 mb
Ship’s Heading:  299°, Ship’s Speed:  11.8 knots
Latitude:  54.59°N, Longitude:  145.55°W

Science and Technology Log
The primary mission of the Oscar Dyson Walleye Pollock Survey is to estimate the biomass (mass of the living fish) of the Pollock in the Gulf of Alaska.  Read about why Pollock are important here:  Pollock    Now, you can’t exactly go swimming through the Gulf of Alaska (brrrr) and weigh all of the fish, so the NOAA scientists on board use indirect methods of measuring the fish to come up with an estimate (a very accurate estimate).  Two of these methods include using nautical charts, and trawling.

Nautical charts are used for navigation, and location.  The Oscar Dyson has several systems of charts, including electronic and paper.  Each chart contains latitude, longitude, and ocean depth, as well as lands masses and islands.  A chart that shows ocean depth is called a bathymetric chart.

bathymetric map

Here is a bathymetric map for part of the Gulf of Alaska. The change in color from green to blue shows the edge of the continental shelf.

These need updating continually, because the sea floor may change due to volcanic eruption or earthquakes.  The Officer of the Deck (OOD, responsible for conning and navigating the ship) needs to know how deep the ship sits in the water, and study the bathymetric charts, so that the ship does not go into shallow water and run aground.  The lines on the bathymetric chart are called contour lines, depth is shown by the numbers on the lines.  Sometimes every line will have a number, sometimes every 5th line will have a number.   A steep slope is indicated by lines that are close together, a flat area would have lines that are very far apart.  The OOD also need to know where seamounts (underwater volcanoes) and trenches (very deep cracks in the ocean floor) are because these may affect local currents.  GPS receivers are great technology for location, but just in case the units fail, and the ship’s technology specialist is sick, the OOD needs to know how to use a paper chart.  He or she would calculate the ship’s position based on ship’s speed, wind speed, known surface currents, visible land masses, and maybe even use star positions.  Here in Alaska, star position is helpful in the winter, but not in summer.  (Do any of my readers know why?)

The Oscar Dyson’s charted course follows a series of parallel straight lines around the coast of Kodiak Island, and other Aleutian Islands.  These are called transects, and allows the scientists to collect data over a representative piece of the area, because no one has the money to pay for mapping and fishing every square inch.

The Chief Scientist on the Oscar Dyson is always checking our location on the electronic chart at his desk.  It looks something like this:

map of transects, Gulf of Alaska

This chart shows some of the transects for the Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska.

Several things are indicated on this chart with different symbols:  the transect lines that the ship is traveling (the straight, parallel lines), where the ship has fished (green fish), where an instrument was dropped into the water to measure temperature and salinity (yellow stars), and various other ship activities.  It also shows the ocean depth.  This electronic version is great because the scientists can use the computer to examine a small area in more detail, or look at the whole journey on one screen.

They can also put predicted activities on the map, and then record actual activities.  The scientists also use several systems for the same thing;  recording the ship’s path and activities in the computer, as well as making notes by hand in a notebook.

When the scientists want to catch fish, they ask the crew to put a trawling net into the water.  The basic design of the trawl is a huge net attached to 2 massive doors.

otter trawl

This is the basic design for a trawl net, showing the doors that hold the net open, and the pointed end, where the fish are guided, called the cod end.

The doors hold the net open, as it is dragged behind the boat.  There are 2 different trawling nets aboard the Oscar Dyson:  one that trawls on the bottom called the PNE (Poly Nor’Easter), and one that trawls midway in the water column called the AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl).  Another net called the METHOT can be used to collect plankton and small fish that are less than 1 year old.  The scientists determine the preferred depth of the net based on the location of fish in the water column; the OOD gets the net to this requested depth and keeps it there by adjusting the ship’s speed and the amount of trawl warp (wire attached to the net).
A trawl typically lasts 15 – 20 minutes, depending on how many fish the scientists estimate are in the water at that point (more about this later).  Today, a bottom trawl was performed, and 2 tons of fish were caught!  The net itself weighs 600 pounds, and is handled by a large crane on the deck at the stern (back) of the ship.  Operating the trawl requires about 6 people, 3 on the deck, and 3 on the bridge at the controls.  When the scientists judge that there are the right amount of fish in the net, it is hauled back onto the deck, weighed, and is emptied into a large table.

poly nor'easter

Here is the PNE being weighed with the cod end full of fish.

Then the scientists (and me) go to work:  sorting the fish by species into baskets, counting the fish, and measuring the length of some of them.  NOAA technology specialists have designed a unique data collection system, complete with touch screens.  A fish is placed on a measuring board, and the length is marked by a  magnetic stylus that is worn on the finger.  The length is automatically recorded by the computer, and displayed on a screen beside the board.  I measured the length of about 50 Atka Mackerel after the first trawl.

using the measuring board

In the fish lab, this mackerel is having his length measured. The data goes directly into the computer, and shows up on the screen in front of me.

By sampling the fish that come up in the trawl net, the scientists can estimate the size of the population.  Using the length, and gender distribution, they can calculate the biomass.

Personal Log
Some great things about living on the Oscar Dyson:  the friendly and helpful people, the awesome food, the view from the bridge.

Some challenging things about living on the Oscar Dyson:  taking a shower, putting on mascara, staying in bed while the ship rolls.

I started my 12-hour shifts, working from 4 am to 4 pm.  Well, maybe working is not the right word, I actually worked about 3 hours, and asked a lot of questions during my first shift.  The scientists are very patient, and explain everything very well.  We did one trawl today, and it was a good one.  I enjoyed sorting and counting the fish, and then measuring the length of them.  I will probably take a shower, eat dinner, and read for a short time before climbing into bed.  I have the top bunk, and it is plenty of room, except I can’t sit up straight.  Here is a picture of the stateroom.  After my shift, I will probably take a shower, eat dinner, watch a movie and fall asleep around 8:30.

view of my room

Standing at the door, this is the view into my stateroom. The bunks are on the right, the desk and closets are on the left. There is a tiny bathroom, as well as a small refrigerator.

The weather today has been windy, so there are 6 – 8 foot swells, and the ship is rolling a bit.  I have not been seasick yet – yippee!  The wind is supposed to calm down tomorrow, so hopefully we will have a smoother ride tomorrow night.

I learned the difference between pitch, roll, and heave:  pitch is the rocking motion of the ship from bow to stern (front to back), roll is the motion from side to side, and heave is the motion up and down.  The Oscar Dyson is never still, demonstrating all 3 motions, in no particular pattern.  Imagine standing in a giant rocking chair, and someone else (that you can’t see) is pushing it.

Here is a view from the bridge:

from the aft deck

View from the deck in front of the bridge, showing a gyrorepeater (the white column on the right), and a windbird (anemometer and wind vane) on top of the forward mast. You can also see a horizontal black bar in the center of the picture - that is the provisions crane.

Species seen today:
Northern Rockfish
Dusky Rockfish
Walleye Pollock
Pacific Ocean Perch
Kelp Greenling
Atka Mackerel
Pacific Cod
Fanellia compresson (octocoral)
Sea Urchin

Sue Zupko: 10 Steamin’ an’ a Beamin’

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
MissionExtreme Corals 2011; explore the ocean bottom to map and study health of corals and their habitat
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States deep water from off Mayport, FL to St. Lucie, FL
Date: June 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 29.1° N  80.1°W
Time: 11:00 EDT
Wind Speed: calm
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Surface Water Temperature: 27.6°C
Air Temperature:27.6°C
Relative Humidity: 72%
Barometric Pressure:1018.4 mb
Water Depth: 85.81 m
Salinity: 36.55 PSU

When the strong current from the Gulf Stream stretched the tether of  the ROV  and broke one of the three fiber optic cables inside, it was time to come up with a new plan.  What do you do in the middle of the ocean if the main gear is not functioning?  Plan B.  Well, Plan B was using the spare fiber optic in the tether.  The spare one then broke as a result of being rubbed, most likely, by the sharp end of the original broken fiber during the next dive.  Now we had to go to Plan C .  Fortunately the ROV crew is experienced, and, like Boy Scouts, were prepared.  They brought a spare ROV and tethers from their lab in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), CA just in case.    The ship is running the sonar gear back and forth over the area we plan to dive tomorrow, mapping out the bottom, looking for coral mounds.  This process is called “mowing the lawn” since you run the beams back and forth to get complete coverage of the bottom, and it looks like the lines on the lawn left by the mower.  Think of the beam as having the shape of a flashlight’s beam shining on the floor.  Another interesting feature is that the acoustic beam can also read what fish are present.  It needs to have a swim bladder for the signal to bounce back.  When it does, based on the sound, an experienced acoustician can read what fish the signal represents.  Sharks don’t have a swim bladder like most fish do so their signals are a bit more difficult to read.

I was just up on the bridge and it seems we hit “pay dirt” (like gold miners).  The captain had been explaining to me a symbol shown on the Electronic Chart Display System (ECS).   It looks like a graphic math problem showing the intersection of lines, in this case one line running on a 110° angle with three lines parallel to each other intersecting it.  The line in the middle is a bit longer than the other two.  I asked how he knew what that symbol meant.  Apparently, there is a book for everything on the bridge.  He whipped out his handy-dandy book entitled, Chart No. 1.  It is a key to reading nautical charts (maps).  He searched for the correct page with bottom obstructions of all types and showed me that symbol and what it means.  Whenever I have a question, the bridge crew whips out a book of some type to let me see the answer.  It’s really interesting.  The Pisces is a really modern ship with the latest electronic navigation and scientific features.  The other day I asked about navigating without power.  There is a book for that.  Bowditch American Practical Navigator has everything you need to know about crossing the ocean without electronics.  As it says on my classroom door, “Reading makes life a lot easier.”  Turns out that symbol is a shipwreck.

Laura sitting in front of computer screen

Laura Kracker looks at maps

But I digress.  Back to the pay dirt (we struck gold).  Laura Kracker, our geographer started getting excited.  “Look at this!  Look at this!  Write down these coordinates.”

She went running back to the acoustics lab (where they use sound echos to map the ocean floor and the presence of fish) to mark the location along the transect (lines we’re running) because we apparently were over coral mounds.  Using  information gathered by others in years past as a guide, they were mowing the lawn with the sonar to find interesting habitat to study with the ROV.  As the ship went back and forth along the planned transect to develop a much better map than existed, Laura would radio the bridge about any changes to the courseto pinpoint the best areas for us to study over the next couple of days.

ROV crew working on transferring gear from one ROV to the other on deck

ROV crew swtiches gear from one ROV to the other

Everyone was very excited.  So, although the ROV had to be switched out, which took a lot of work, we made good use of the time on the ship.  After a whole day of mapping, it’s now late at night and the map looks gorgeous.  This is important work and many cruises are devoted entirely to mapping.  Andy David, our lead scientist, says this acoustic mapping is useful to many people and will allow more precise coral surveys for years to come.

Caroline Singler, September 1-2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean

Date of Post: 2 September 2010

Pizza Operations – Saturday 28 August 2010

Crew of Cutter Healy

Crew of Cutter Healy

Location and Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 1 September 2010
Time of Day: 20:15 (8:15 p.m. local time); 03:15 UTC
Latitude: 75º 12.98’ N
Longitude: 131º 29.0’ W
Ship Speed: 8.2 knots Heading: 6.9º (NNE)
Air Temperature: 1.36ºC / 34.45ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1010.0 mb Humidity: 86.5 %
Winds: 9.6 knots NNW
Wind Chill: -4.93ºC / 23.16ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.3ºC Salinity: 27.55 PSU
Water Depth:2503.9 m

Date:2 September 2010

Time of Day: 22:15 (10:15 p.m. local time); 05:15 UTC
Latitude: 76º 36.2’ N
Longitude: 129º 42.1’ W
Ship Speed: 3.9 knots Heading: 270 (W)
Air Temperature: -1.08ºC / 30.05ºF
Barometric Pressure: 1017.3 mb Humidity: 99.1 %
Winds: 9.3 knots N
Wind Chill: -6.53ºC / 20.15ºF
Sea Temperature: -1.4ºC Salinity: 27.52 PSU
Water Depth: 2492.8 m

When you are at sea for as long as the Coast Guard crew of the Healy, it’s important to build some things into the schedule that break up the monotony. Days pass without much sense of what day of the week it is, often with little difference between day and night. TheHealy Morale Committee is responsible for planning activities for the crew, and I have enjoyed attending their meetings as a science team point of contact (POC) during this cruise. Saturday nights are big nights on Healy. They start with the Morale Dinner, where the regular galley staff gets the night off and a different group prepares the meal. Then there is bingo in the mess, followed by a movie shown on the big screen in the helicopter hangar.

Last Saturday was the science team’s turn to try our hands at preparing dinner for the crew. We chose to make pizza, figuring it is usually a crowd pleaser and a complete break from the normal menu. Under the watchful eye of FS3 Melissa Gomes, we spent Saturday afternoon chopping and cooking toppings, pre-cooking the crusts, and baking a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for dessert – that was my idea; this late in the trip, it seemed like everyone could use a good dose of chocolate. Note that in the galley, everyone must where a cover (hat), but hats are not permitted elsewhere in the Mess.

Canadian Coast Guard Ice Analyst Erin Clark, USCG FS3 Melissa Gomes, USGS Scientists Helen Gibbons and Brian Edwards (in the scullery)

Canadian Coast Guard Ice Analyst Erin Clark, USCG FS3 Melissa Gomes, USGS Scientists Helen Gibbons and Brian Edwards (in the scullery)

Jerry Hyman (National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency) and Canadian Coast Guard Captain Michel Bourdeau – yes, we used premade pizza crusts; we are in the Arctic Ocean not a New York pizza parlor!

Jerry Hyman (National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency) and Canadian Coast Guard Captain Michel Bourdeau – yes, we used premade pizza crusts; we are in the Arctic Ocean not a New York pizza parlor!

Me making a cake

Me making a cake. Photo courtesy of Sherwood Liu

Here I am trying to figure out how to use the mixer – for this cake, the mix came in a can and the frosting mix was in a box. My watch stander partner Peter Triezenberg helped me frost the cakes, but no one was around to take our photo! Photo courtesy of Sherwood Liu.
USGS geologist Andy Stevenson shows that he can cut a cake with the same precision that he uses to cut core samples. Photo courtesy of Sherwood Liu

USGS geologist Andy Stevenson shows that he can cut a cake with the same precision that he uses to cut core samples. Photo courtesy of Sherwood Liu

Erin Clark, USGS engineering technicians Jenny White and Pete dalFerro, and USGS geochemist Chris Dufore (pictured from right to left) put their skills to the test with an efficient assembly line, combining toppings for a diverse array of pizza choices. Photo courtesy of Helen Gibbons.

Erin Clark, USGS engineering technicians Jenny White and Pete dalFerro, and USGS geochemist Chris Dufore (pictured from right to left) put their skills to the test with an efficient assembly line, combining toppings for a diverse array of pizza choices. Photo courtesy of Helen Gibbons.

Captain Michel Bourdeau and Jerry manned the pizza ovens with great style and flair, earning the self-proclaimed designation “SPT” or Ship’s Pizza Technicians.

Captain Michel Bourdeau and Jerry manned the pizza ovens with great style and flair, earning the self-proclaimed designation “SPT” or Ship’s Pizza Technicians.

Sherwood Liu of the University of South Florida showed that he can cut pizza with the same good cheer and dedication that he applies to analyzing water samples.

Sherwood Liu of the University of South Florida showed that he can cut pizza with the same good cheer and dedication that he applies to analyzing water samples.

 PolarTREC teacher Bill Schmoker, Marine Mammal Observer Sarah Ashworth, and Andy Stevenson (pictured from right to left) greeted the hungry Coasties and served up hot pizza, mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers. (Pete dalFerro and Jenny White work the deep fryer in back, with Erin Clark lending moral support.)

PolarTREC teacher Bill Schmoker, Marine Mammal Observer Sarah Ashworth, and Andy Stevenson (pictured from right to left) greeted the hungry Coasties and served up hot pizza, mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers. (Pete dalFerro and Jenny White work the deep fryer in back, with Erin Clark lending moral support.)

Our rewards for our efforts were the smiling, satisfied faces we saw leaving the Mess that evening, which made the job of washing dishes, cleaning tables and swabbing the decks that much easier. Somehow no one remembered to take pictures of the cleaning crew, which included many of those already named as well as Mark Patsavas (University of South Florida), Justin Pudenz (Marine Mammal Observer), and David Street (Canadian Hydrographic Service). It was a great night. We had a lot of fun and showed that we can work as a team in the kitchen as well as in the lab and on the decks.

Mission Status: We are in the home stretch now, leading Louis on what will probably be the last transect through ice. Sometime soon we will break away and start heading for Barrow to start the journey home. I am spending a good part of each day out on the decks, taking photos and enjoying my last look at Arctic ice. Yesterday’s snow added a new element to the scene.

Snow On Deck

Snow On Deck

Snow on bow

Snow on bow

Morning After Snow

Morning After Snow

Sarah Finds Her Polar Bear

Sarah Finds Her Polar Bear

We’ve also had a couple of polar bear sightings, though none were close enough to get good pictures with my camera, but here’s my roommate, Sarah, right after she spotted Wednesday’s bear.Caroline

Justin Czarka, August 9-10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II 
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Dates: August 9-10, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

Sunrise: 6:26 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m)
Weather: fog Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind speed: 15 knots
Wind direction: North
Visibility: less than 1 nautical mile (nm)
Waves: 9 feet

Science and Technology Log 

August 9 was a day for getting all the science gear aboard.  In order to conduct a research cruise at sea, you have to plan and pack all the materials you envision needing beforehand.  Once out at sea, there is nowhere to stop and pick up additional supplies.  Bill Peterson, the chief scientist from NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), and another member of the science team,

The McArthur II at port in San Francisco prior to the cruise. She is 224 feet long with a breadth (width) of 43 feet.
The McArthur II at port in San Francisco prior to the cruise. She is 224 feet long with a breadth (width) of 43 feet.

Toby Auth out of Oregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), up all the science equipment onto the deck of the McArthur. Some of the equipment we hauled onto the ship included bongo frames and bongo nets (used to collect specimen samples in the ocean), Niskin bottles (to collect water samples in the water column at various depths), dissecting microscopes, a fluorometer (to measure the amount of phytoplankton in the water), and crate after crate of sample jars.

In order to transfer all of the science equipment onto the McArthur II we laid out a cargo net flat on the pier that the crane dropped to us.  Then we hauled the equipment from the truck and placed it on the cargo net.  Next the cargo net holds were attached to the crane, which lifted the materials onto the deck of the ship. We unpacked the cargo net, conducted additional cargo lifts, and then stored all the equipment in the labs.  Using the crane sure beat hauling up all the equipment by hand!  The scientists have to get all the equipment placed in the labs, which is a lot of work.  I helped one of the scientists, Tracy Shaw, who studies zooplankton, set up the dissection microscope by securing it to the table.  On dry land, tables will not move around, but we had to tie it down to prepare for any possible rough seas.

This is me working to prepare the CTD for a practice launch in San Francisco Bay. We made sure that the Niskin bottle seals were in working condition.

This is me working to prepare the CTD for a practice launch in San Francisco Bay. We made sure that the Niskin bottle seals were in working condition.

August 10 we were to set sail in the morning. That has been changed until this afternoon, which gives the science team time to prepare some of the equipment before heading out to sea, along with conducting emergency drills and briefings. This morning the science team and NOAA crew worked together to prepare the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe. This involved cleaning the Niskin bottles and replacing cracked O-rings to ensure a secure seal around the bottle openings. If the bottles are not sealed properly, water and air (upon reaching the surface) can enter the bottle from the water column at an undesired location.  We also ensured that the lids close tightly, providing a vacuum seal.

Personal Log 

Living and working on a boat will be a new experience for me.  There are many unknowns in the process, but it is exciting to be learning something new nearly every minute.  I took a walk around the ship’s interior this afternoon, amazed by how much space is contained inside the McArthur II. The staterooms (where one sleeps) are large, containing a desk and a lounge chair.  They also have a sink, with a bathroom that is shared by the adjoining stateroom. The McArthur also has a fitness room for staying fit at sea, along with a lounge to for relaxing with movies, books, and even espresso!  The McArthur II surely will be home for the next nine or ten days.

I have been most impressed with the welcome I have received from both the NOAA crew and the scientists from NOAA, Oregon State University, the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Everyone is friendly, helpful, and full of cooperation. It is encouraging to observe the teamwork between people.  I appreciate having the opportunity to learn alongside the scientists and crew.  Being a teacher, I am used to being the one with the knowledge to impart or the activity to do.  It is exciting being aboard because now I am the student, eager to take notes, ask questions, and learn from those alongside me.  I have to say, each person has been an effective teacher!  So we are off to Bodega Bay for our first sampling and there’s a rumor going around that a Wii Fit competition might be getting under way!

Today’s Vocabulary 

Transect line- when conducting research at a predetermined latitude or longitude and continue to collect data samples along that line Niskin bottles- these containers have openings on both the top and bottom.  As it drops through the water column it fills with water.  At a predetermined depth both ends close, capturing water from that specific depth inside the bottle that can be brought back to the surface and analyzed. Water Column- a vertical section of water where sampling occurs