Vincent Colombo, A Brief Look at Alaskan Geography, June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 19.3 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 7.1 degrees C
  • Air Temperature: 6.4 degrees C
  • Air Pressure: 1020.9 mb
Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island – the location of Dutch Harbor (Where they film the Deadliest Catch)

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island

Science and Technology Log:

Everywhere we have gone on this cruise has had landscapes that pictures do no justice. Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to what you can see as you step out onto deck, feel the cool air hitting you in the face, and look out at a fog bathed landscape ahead. But how did these structures get here, and more importantly, how are they changing?

The answer has to do with a topic in science called plate tectonics. Imagine the earth was the size of an egg. The outermost layer, which we call the crust, would be about the thickness of an eggshell. This shell is broken into a number of pieces called tectonic plates. A tectonic plate may contain oceans, continents, or both. The plates move slowly relative to each other at rates of one to four inches per year. Where two plates meet is called a boundary (also fault), and this is the cause for many of the geologic events found on our planet.

There are three types of boundaries which can form.

  • Divergent: where two tectonic plates separate
  • Convergent: where two tectonic plates collide (the one of most importance in the Aleutian Islands)
  • Transform: where two tectonic plates slide past one another

In Integrated Science at Sussex Technical High School, students learn how plate tectonics cause phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanoes. During our research cruise, we are exploring the areas around the Aleutian Islands, Islands whose origin can be credited to plate tectonics.

Approaching the Island of the Four Mountains

Approaching the Island of the Four Mountains

In the picture above, you can see the Island of Four Mountains. Not surprising is the fact they are not mountains at all. In fact, they are massive Stratovolcanoes, or volcanoes that have built up massively over time in layers. The most active one, Mount Cleveland is the perfectly conical one to the right. Ash from eruptions in the Aleutian islands, Mount Cleveland in particular, delay plane flights on a regular basis.

But how do these massive volcanoes just shoot out from under the water? The answer is a convergent plate boundary and something called subduction. What we cannot see is the Pacific Plate colliding with the North American plate under the ocean. The Pacific Plate is being forced under the North American Plate in an area called a subduction zone. That plate being forced under causes a tremendous amount of pressure to form and magma (molten rock) is forced to the surface. The end result is the stunning, but dangerous landscape you see in the Aleutian Islands.

Not far away is the Aleutian trench, who’s depth is the flipside of the volcanoes and landscapes we are able to see. At one point in our trip we were floating in over 4,000 meters (about 12,000 feet) of water. In its deepest point, the Aleutian trench reaches a maximum depth of 8,109 meters, or (26,604 feet) at about 51° N, 178° W . Trenches are common along convergent boundaries and are one of their identifiying features. Here is a great link to a website which will let you learn more about the formation of Mount Cleveland, one of the MOST active volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands. Click here to learn more about Mt. Cleveland!

A view of Mount Cleveland

A view of Mount Cleveland

One very important thing to remember is the ocean is able to hide the various hazards which make the landscape so beautiful. The areas around some islands are referred to as widowmakers, because if a boat were to trawl a net behind them, the end result would not be positive.

A topographical map of the area

A topographical map of the area

The depth finder shows the hazards which the water can hide.

The depth finder shows the hazards which the water can hide.

Thought for the day: The Aleutian Trench said Mount Cleveland wasn’t my fault.

Personal Log:

Yesterday we got to go fishing for the first time with the trawl net. This makes my recreational gill net in Delaware look like child’s play. We caught over 300 Walleye Pollock, the fish we came to study. NOAA’s trawl net is much smaller than commercial nets, due to the fact they want to sample the fish, not catch the school of fish.  Now that the ball has started rolling, the fishing has just begun.

The trawl net being set out on deck.

The trawl net being set out on deck.

The net being set

The net being set

Could you ask for a more beautiful view while fishing?

Could you ask for a more beautiful view while fishing?

What we are here to catch

What we are here to catch

Meet the Crew: Brad Kutyna. Brad is a Fisherman onboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Brad has been a commercial fisherman out of Kodiak, Alaska ever since high school. Brad’s family owns and operates two commercial fishing boats out of Kodiak, Alaska named the F/V Victory and F/V Alitak. Being on the water is no strange feeling for Brad, he joined NOAA to assist in the preserving the fisheries which have been the life blood of his family. Brad is also an avid outdoorsmen who loves hiking, camping, and hunting.

Brad is also a former United States Marine. He graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, then proceeded to serve for four years with multiple deployments to Iraq,  and one stationing in Okinawa, Japan. Brad now happily resides in Kodiak, Alaska with his wife and two children. Brad’s wife has ties to Delaware, and it was very cool to talk about Sussex County with a man who lives half way around the world. Make no mistake, according to Brad, his adventure is not over, it has only just begun.

Brad Kutyna

Brad Kutyna

Brad wasting no time getting this by-catch salmon shark back in the water

Brad wasting no time getting this by-catch salmon shark back in the water

 

Did you know that?: Alaska contains over 130 active volcanoes and volcanic fields. Learn more by clicking here: Alaska Volcanoes

 

 

Lindsay Knippenberg: I Made It! September 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 3, 2011

Weather/Location Data for Unalaska, AK
Latitude: 53°54’0”N
Longitude: 166° 32′ 36″ W
Wind Speed: Calm
Air Temperature: mid 50’s°F

Personal Log

It was a long day of traveling. I flew from Washington DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor.

It was a long day of traveling. I flew from Washington DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor.

Whew…I made it to Unalaska. After an entire day of sitting on airplanes and running through airport terminals, I am finally here. I can’t believe how beautiful it is here. The surrounding mountains are a stunning green color and there have even been some sightings of blue sky between the normal grey clouds. I am also amazed at how warm it is. It almost got up to 60°F today, but I was told that the weather can change here pretty quickly. We have already heard of bad weather coming our way next week. The National Weather Service issued a Gale Warning with predictions of wind gusts of up to 50 knots and waves above 20 feet. I had better take my seasickness medications.

The beautiful town of Unalaska.

The beautiful town of Unalaska.

We don’t ship out until tomorrow, so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and explore Unalaska. Unalaska is much bigger than I thought that it would be. It is a major international fishing port and is one of the larger cities in Alaska with about 4,000 residents. Life in Unalaska revolves around fishing. Most residents are either commercial fishermen, work in the processing facilities, support the fishermen through stores and other services, or work in the ship yards where the seafood is shipped to all parts of the world. The name of the harbor where all of this is going on might be familiar to you. It is called Dutch Harbor and is where the show “Deadliest Catch” is filmed about the commercial crab fishermen. Crab is not the only type of commercial seafood coming out of Dutch Harbor. Pollock, Cod, Halibut, Rock Sole, and Mackerel are just a few of the other commercial fisheries in Dutch Harbor.

A World War II bunker on top of Bunker Hill in Unalaska (Photo Credit: Jillian Worssam).

A World War II bunker on top of Bunker Hill in Unalaska (Photo Credit: Jillian Worssam).

For those of you interested in history, Dutch Harbor also has historical significance from World War II. Dutch Harbor was the only land in North America, besides Pearl Harbor, that was bombed by Japanese Zeros during World War II. In our exploring around the island today, we saw evidence of Armed Forces’ bunkers, Quonset huts, and barracks still visible amongst the green hills of Unalaska. The National Park System opened a WWII National Historic Area and Visitor Center in 2002 in Unalaska and I hope to have time to visit it either before or after my cruise.

Enjoying the beach at Summer Bay in Humpy Cove. In 1997 this was the site of a 47,000 gallon oil spill.

Enjoying the beach at Summer Bay in Humpy Cove. In 1997 this was the site of a 47,000 gallon oil spill

What’s the best place to go on a beautiful, sunny day in Unalaska? The beach, of course. We didn’t go to the beach to get sun tans or to go for a swim. We went to check out the tide pools. I love tide pools! It is amazing how resilient the little creatures are that live in the tide pools. When the tide is in they are completely submerged under water and then six hours later they are above the water level when the tide goes out. To make life even harder, they are also smashed by huge waves crashing on them as the tide goes in and out. It is a tough life, but there was such a diversity of life that they must be pretty tough and have some helpful adaptations. As I explored amongst the rocks, I found sea anemones, barnacles, mussels, and lots of different types of seaweeds. On our way back to the van, we also found a stream leading back to a brackish lake and the salmon were running. They are amazing creatures to watch too. The amount of energy that they exert and the sacrifice that they make to reproduce is incredible.

I am now a member of the female dominated science team onboard the Oscar Dyson.

I am now a member of the female dominated science team onboard the Oscar Dyson.

Unfortunately we couldn’t spend our entire day exploring. The plan for the rest of the day is to get settled onboard the Dyson, have a science team meeting to discuss the science that we will be doing and the logistics associated with the different stations and sample sites, and have a safety meeting with the crew of Dyson to discuss life onboard the ship and emergency situations. I am so excited to go out to sea tomorrow and actually start fishing.

Rebecca Kimport, JULY 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Rebecca Kimport
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 30, 2010 – July 19, 2010

Mission: Summer Pollock survey
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 1,  2010

Off to the Pribilofs

As a former student of community development (go fighting okra!), I am always interested in the social science aspects of communities and towns. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and was very excited when I learned we needed to make a pit stop in St. Paul, the largest of the Pribilof Islands. I learned about the Pribilofs at the Museum of the Aleutians and was intrigued by the islands’ remote location, abundant wildlife and complex history. The islands were uninhabited until Russian fur traders forced Aleuts to relocate to the Pribilofs in the late 18th century to harvest fur seal. Many Aleuts endured centuries of servitude and continue to call the Pribilofs home. As reported on a sign at the edge of town, St. Paul is home to the largest Aleut community in the world.
St Paul Taxi

St Paul Taxi

Overnight, the Oscar Dyson had stopped to pick up an ice-flow sensor from a buoy and needed to ship it back to Seattle for another project. As we were close to St. Paul, the decision was made to send a small crew into port to transport the sensor to the airport. After expressing my enthusiasm for the Pribilofs (the fur seals! the reindeer! The “Galápagos of the North!”) to our CO (Commanding Officer Mike Hoshlyk), he allowed Katie, Michele and I to accompany Amber Payne and Joel Kellogg on their mission into port.

Off in the Zodiac

Off in the Zodiac

For our mission, we got decked out in our protective weather gear (complete with float coats – basically, a winter coat with a PFD inside). After days of bopping around the boat in regular clothes, it was exciting to get “dressed up” and go out on “official business.” The water was glassy and still as we rode on the small Zodiac through the fog into the cove on St. Paul’s.

We met a taxi at the dock and headed to the airport. Driving through town was an amazing experience as the dark volcanic soil, the rolling green mossy hills and the dense fog created the sense of another world. We were probably a surprising sight as well when the we arrived at the airport — imagine four women in full boat gear (Joel stayed back to watch the boat) hauling a heavy, silver box through the small, fog engulfed building.

Ghost Ship Oscar Dyson

Ghost Ship Oscar Dyson

Once we had secured shipment for the sensor, we headed back into the fog on our way back to the ship. The fog produced limited visibility as we rode out of the cove, although we were able to spot some sea lions. There was a moment when we were surrounded by fog and I was relieved when the ship appeared in front of us. It looked like an eerie ghost ship on the calm water.

Almost everyone was on deck when we returned, as of course they were eagerly awaiting our arrival to get back on course and continue our journey. While I am unlikely to visit the Pribilofs again, I am glad that I was able to see such a unique place.

Want more information about the Pribilofs? Check outhttp://www.amiq.org/aleuts.html

Animals Seen
Auklets
Murre (2 different types differentiated by bill type)
Puffins
Sea lions
(but no fur seals…not sure why as there should be several hundred thousand living amongst the islands but their numbers have been in decline. See here for more information)

Bonus picture: Katie, Michele and I in our full gear. Check out those rain pants!

Katie, Michelle and I in our full gear

Katie, Michelle and I in our full gear

Maggie Prevenas, April 8, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 8, 2007

Personal Log

I’m in Dutch.

When I was a kid growing up, being in Dutch meant you were in big trouble. I don’t think that’s what it means for me today. It means I am in a beautiful new environment, one that I haven’t had the joy of exploring before.

A big bald eagle the size of an ostrich perches on a sign just outside the airport. Gazing skyward, I see two others glide in lazy concentric circles over Maggie Bay. Maggie is what the locals call the body of water that joins ‘Dutch’ to the world’s most productive fishing waters, the Bering Sea. Maggie is less formal than Margaret Bay. I can identify with that.

I see stacks of crab pots with bright orange buoys piled ten feet high. I see a big grocery store, bustling with locals buying last minute Easter treats and fisherman stockpiling supplies. There’s a gas station, a hardware store, and wooden pallets. Lots and lots of those.

Large grassy mountains, frosted with thick icy frosting encircle the water. Clouds hold their snowy breath. Cold showers are promised. I believe them.

All in a three-minute drive from the ‘Unalaska’ airport to the Grand Aleutian Hotel. Well, I’ll be darned.

I’m in Dutch.