Allison Irwin: Tsunami Awareness, July 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 10, 2019

Weather at 1600 Pacific Standard Time on Monday 08 July 2019.

We’ve made our way back near the coast and we’re currently progressing south at a cautious 6 knots through a relatively shallow, protected area called Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve.  The winds and sea are both calm. The deck is warm and sunny! The sky has just a few high level clouds that look like wisps of white painted onto a clear blue canvas. A long-sleeved cotton shirt is comfortable in this weather along with long pants and boots.


Sunday Night

07 July 2019

We left Yaquina Bay just after 1700 on Sunday evening. I was eating dinner when we left and had no idea we were moving. The ship is that smooth when it’s traveling slowly. I made it out just in time to see us pass the boundary between the bay and the Pacific Ocean. My job tonight is to stay up until 0200 so I can prepare for my 12 hour shift that starts Monday and runs from 1400-0200. We’ll see how that works out. I’m typically in bed long before 0200.

As the ship started making its way along the coast this evening, I sat on the Flying Bridge.  The Bridge on a ship is often at one of the highest levels and it’s the command center. The Flying Bridge is one level above that. It is all open air with no windows and no walls (there are railings, of course). It was freeing and frightening at the same time! I think that’s my favorite area on the ship. I plan to go there a lot over the next few weeks to feel the sunshine, clear my head, and prepare for the day. 

One of the scientists on board made a sensible comment yesterday. She said we should walk as much as we can before the ship sails because after that we won’t walk more than a few feet at a time in any given direction. Today I walked 7.5 miles all over Newport Marina. I’m tired, but I’m glad I heeded her advice!


Sunday Morning

07 July 2019

Today I learned more than I ever wanted to know about tsunamis. I went on an estuaries tour with the Hatfield Marine Science Center this morning and we saw a lot of “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs along our tour. The tour guide explained a tsunami is actually a series of waves and not just one giant wave like we see in movies. Additionally, it doesn’t really “break” the way we’re used to seeing waves crash into the beach. Those waves are caused by the wind moving over the surface of the water. A tsunami reaches the coastline more like a storm surge or like a very strong tide because the energy forcing this wave forward comes from deep within the ocean floor – from seismic or volcanic activity – and not from the wind. Thankfully, in the ocean (where I’ll be for the next three weeks!) a tsunami is only barely noticeable with maybe a three foot height increase. But once the force of all that moving water hits the shallow bottom of our coastline, the water begins to pile up and can reach anywhere from a few feet all the way up to 100 feet above sea level.

The Newport Marina is in a Tsunami Hazard Zone. Most tsunamis tend to be less than ten feet high because energy from the point of origin must travel many miles before reaching a coastline, but the Newport Marina is in a particularly hazardous area because it lies within the Cascadia Subduction Zone. If a major earthquake hits this close to home, a larger than average tsunami could follow in just fifteen minutes! The Newport Marina is only six feet above sea level, so even a relatively small tsunami would cause intense damage from both flooding and debris.

A major earthquake shakes the Cascadia Subduction Zone once every 300-350 years on average. The last major earthquake in Newport, OR occurred in 1700, so… they’re due for another one soon. That might be why the Hatfield Marine Science Center decided to design its brand new building in Newport Marina to be both earthquake and tsunami resistant using state-of-the-art engineering methods. It includes a unique ramp on the outside of the building that spans multiple levels so people have easy access to the evacuation location on top of the roof. After seeing the current evacuation location, a very small hill just across the street from the marina, I think it’s good they’re adding a facility with capacity for another 900 people!

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) provides a U.S. Tsunami Warning System. It works much like our system for tornadoes and thunderstorms by communicating four different levels – warnings, advisories, watches, or threats.


Sunday Afternoon

7 July 2019

The man I met yesterday while he filleted his catch from Yaquina Bay is still sitting on my mind. He shared his story with me.  When he was 18 years old, he was homeless. He had no connection to school because he didn’t fit into the square peg the narrow curriculum required. Pausing his rhythm with the fish, he tried to explain.

He’s dyslexic. When he was a kid, that threw him a gigantic curve ball. It took him a long time to learn how to adapt and overcome that challenge.  What strikes me about his story is that school didn’t help him, it held him back. Dyslexia is one of the most common types of learning disabilities. Students are faced with challenges in school every day – whether it’s a learning disability or other challenge – and teachers are often there to support, teach, and guide students through those challenges. But I see students every year who, like this gentleman, don’t fit into the script. They’re the outliers who need a different approach. 

Last year my district engaged in a study of Continuous School Improvement. While my understanding of it is still in its infancy, I do know that it requires us to look at multiple forms of data in order to get a wider picture of what is going on in our schools. We then use what we find to determine “where the fire is burning the hottest” (according to our Continuous School Improvement guru working with our district) and correct those issues first. Typically, by correcting those big ticket items, a trickle-down effect occurs that will solve some of the smaller issues organically.

I would definitely categorize the nature of this fisherman’s story as a big ticket item that many districts are trying to understand and correct. We all know that teacher in the building who connects with the students who don’t connect to school. There’s always that one teacher who manages to make this look easy – though it is not. 

Even though reading comprehension, the primary means to learning in most disciplines, is difficult for the gentleman I spoke to at the filleting station, he valued learning so much that he stuck with it even as he failed his classes. He told me that he has thousands of audiobooks and a whole library of traditional books at home which he’s been accumulating for years. We talked about Malcolm Gladwell, tax preparation, real estate, and a host of other diverse topics. He runs his own successful business that he politely called “medium sized” as he smiled, sheepishly at his friend.

I hope, just as I’m sure all teachers hope, that my students who struggle each year will value learning enough to push through the challenges they each face. While I might not always succeed in teaching every student the content of my discipline, I at least hope that they each leave my classroom at the end of the year with a sense of desire to learn more. To not give up when the challenges pummel them, wave after wave, and feel unrelenting. I hope that someone will speak to them one day, 20 years from now, and they’ll wink as they describe how successful they’ve become due to their hard work, resilience, and unshakable love for learning. And that they’ll come to realize strong literacy skills are an integral part of learning.

Teaching Resources

Lesley Urasky: DART Buoy Rescue, June 27, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 27, 2012

Latitude: 24.6271
Longitude: -67.2819

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 32°C (90°F)
Wind Speed:   14 knots (16 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure:   1,018.9 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Science and Technology Log

Today the Pisces had a mission that they don’t normally take on.  The goal for today was to recovery a Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis  (DART) transponder buoy that had come detached from its anchor and was drifting with the currents.  The buoy is an integral part of the U.S. early tsunami detection system.

Tsunami Factsheet (PDF)

The program began in 2001 with six buoys deployed along the U.S. coast.  These buoys were specifically located along regions that had been historically affected by tsunami.  By 2008, the program had expanded to 39 stations located along the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, and the Western Pacific Ocean.  It is a critical component of the NOAA Tsunami Program.

Map of original 6 buoy locations

Current DART buoy locations

“The Tsunami Program is part of a cooperative effort to save lives and protect property through hazard assessment, warning guidance, mitigation, research capabilities, and international coordination . . . It also includes the acquisition, operations and maintenance of observation systems required in support of tsunami warning such as DART®, local seismic networks, coastal, and coastal flooding detectors.” (National Data Buoy Center, 2011)

The hull buoy we were retrieving, 2.6D70 from DART station 41421, went adrift after 5/12/2012 01Z.  Since this type of equipment is very expensive to produce (around $60,000/buoy) and expensive to retrieve (another ~$20,000) it was the logical choice to swing a little out of our way to retrieve it on our journey back to Mayport.

The NOAA ship Pisces is primarily a fishing vessel; therefore, logistical planning is different for retrieval from this ship than it would be for a ship specifically designed for this type of equipment.  Once the buoy was sighted, the ship’s Commanding Officer (CO) Fischel; Junior Officer, Ensign Doig; Fisherman and Medical Officer, Ryan Harris; and Chris Zacharias, Junior Engineer, boarded the ship’s small boat and went to inspect the buoy.  Ensign Doig got in the water with a snorkel mask to see how much, if any, chain or cable was trailing the buoy.  Depending on what was attached, it would pose an additional concern when retrieving the buoy.

Drifting DART buoy 2.6D70 from station 41421

Pisces small boat towing the DART buoy to the ship for loading

Once the crew members were able to attach the buoy to a line, they towed it toward the Pisces where they attached the tow rope to the crane.  Retrieving the buoy proved to be a much easier endeavor than dropping the anchor.

Hauling the DART buoy onto the deck of the Pisces.

Once the buoy was on deck, it had to be strapped down to prevent it from rolling around and becoming a safety concern.  A couple of strong chains fit the bill.

DART buoy prior to being secured to the deck.

After is was secured, a couple of the deck hands set to work scraping off the organisms that had taken up residence on the submerged portion of the buoy.  It is much easier to do this while the buoy is still wet; after is dries, the algae and mollusks encrusted on the outside as well as the crabs and brittle stars hiding in the nooks and crannies would in essence, be cemented onto it.

Underside of the DART buoy coated with algae and small marine organisms.

Mollusks attached to the underwater portion of the DART buoy.

Personal Log

Once we arrived at the buoy, we took a bit of time to fish for our dinner.  In just a short period, we had caught enough for dinner.  We caught a few yellowfin tuna, a mahi-mahi, and a couple of rainbow runners.  The crew has been fantastic; Garet Urban, the Chief Engineer, allowed me to use his fishing rod so that I could try and catch a fish.  I got lucky and after only a couple of casts, I caught a rainbow runner!  I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh fish for dinner; it was fantastic!

Here I am with the rainbow runner I caught.