Erica Marlaine: Happy Fourth of July from the 49th State, July 4, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 4-5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 48.9 N
Longitude: 159º 2.3 W
Wind Speed: 4.2 knots
Wind Direction: 186.5º
Air Temperature:  14.7º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb
Depth of water column 84.5 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius


On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States.  The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state.  By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.

Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style

My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST.  At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks.  (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island. 

Approaching Mitrofania Island
Approaching Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Photographs do not do it justice.  It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views.  Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares.  While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!

Science and Technology

Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat.  I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales.  It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined.  However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.

Whale carcass
Whale carcass

On a happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars). Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their blowhole.  Since different species of whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color, fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales (which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be found together.  In contrast, humpback whales are more often found alone or with their calf.

Whale Fun Facts

While many people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air.  The spout is their exhale. Since they are mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to breathe through their blowhole.

A baby whale is called a calf.

A group of whales travelling together is called a pod.

The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses, and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.

A blue whale’s call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.

Whales are warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay warm in cold water.

Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together

Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.

Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.

Allow your child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.

Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.


Amie Ell: A Whale of Tale, July 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 7 – July 11, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 13, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 57.21N
Longitude: 152.32 W
Ship speed:   10.7 kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 11 degrees centigrade
Surface water temperature: 11 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed:  7.14 kn
Wind direction: 90 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1018 mb

Science and Technology Log:

The CamTrawl being attached to the net.
The CamTrawl being attached to the net.

The scientists on the Oscar Dyson are using several different types of cameras and sensors.  I have already mentioned the CamTrawl.  This camera is attached to the trawl net and takes pictures as the net is being dragged behind the ship.  The pictures are time stamped.  These pictures help to identify at what time and depth things were entering the net.  This is very helpful if you have a haul with a variety of different fish.  Also attached to the net is the FS-70 Netsond sensor, also known as the third wire.

A CamTrawl Picture with pollock and capelin.
A CamTrawl Picture with pollock and capelin.

This third wire uses sound and its echo to see what is entering the net.  One more sensor attached to the net reads temperature and depth this is the SeaBird Electronics SBE-39 Bathythermograph.

Preparing to lower the Drop Cam.
Preparing to lower the Drop Cam.

From left to right: DropCam, winch, CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth),
From left to right: DropCam, winch, CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth),

Sometimes sensors and cameras are dropped from the side of the ship.  These are not attached to a net.  Instead, these are on frames that are dropped over the side and lowered using thick cable wire on a winch.  The CTD sensor measures water conductivity, temperature, and depth.

The Drop Camera also is dropped from the side of the ship and lowered using a winch.  This also has a depth sensor and takes time stamped pictures.  This device can help scientists identify fish present in areas that they are not able to trawl in.

An octopus captured by the DropCam.
An octopus captured by the DropCam.

The compilation of information gathered from these sensors, cameras, and haul data will help scientists get a good picture of what type and how many fish are present in different areas around Alaska and in varying ocean conditions.  The analysis of this data will be used to help determine the quota for commercial fishermen looking for the Alaskan walleye pollock in different areas.

There are sensors on the hull of the ship that are always gathering information.  On the NOAA website Ship Tracker you can see some of this information in real time.

Depths recorded and graphed for this trip.
Depths recorded and graphed for this trip.

A flatfish captured by the DropCam
A flatfish captured by the DropCam

Personal Log

Yesterday was an excellent day for whale watching.  We spent our afternoon and evening surrounded by a pod of Humpback whales.  At times they were so close that I could hear them breathing.  They were much closer and more plentiful than the first whale sighting.  Last night in the mess hall I got up to look out the porthole (window) and a whale came up less than 50 feet from me.  It was amazing!

We continue to trawl pulling up on average 2 to 3 hauls an evening.  In our hauls the majority of the fish are pollock.  This week I have also seen, more capelin, rock fish, and lumpsuckers.  We have also pulled up dog salmon, arrow tooth flat fish, krill, cod, and a spiny lumpsucker.

A sunset trawl in progress
A sunset trawl in progress

From bottom: Dog Salmon, Arrow Tooth, Pacific Ocean Perch (POP)
From bottom: Dog Salmon, Arrow Tooth, Pacific Ocean Perch (POP)

I was given a tour of the engine rooms below by the Chief Engineer.  It was very loud.  There is a lot of machinery on board to make the ship self-sustainable while at sea.  One of the machines is called the “water maker”.  This takes salt water and heats it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  The machine then captures the steam, leaving behind salt and other non desired items in the water.  The steam is then condensed to make all for the fresh water for the ship.

Water Maker distills salt water to make fresh
Water Maker distills salt water to make fresh

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

Blog5 013
Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads
Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

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.

Christopher Faist: Introduction, July 14, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 14, 2011

Personal Log

My name is Chris Faist and I am a NOAA Teacher At Sea participant for the 2011 field season aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow.  I teach middle school life science in southern California at Carmel Valley Middle School.  In a few days I will be traveling from Rhode Island to the coastal waters off the east coast to experience the North Atlantic for the first time.

I have been assigned to a cetacean (whale and dolphin), sea turtle and seabird survey cruise in the North Atlantic.  The cruise objectives are to:
1) determine the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds within the study area;
2) collect vocalizations of cetaceans using passive acoustic arrays;
3) determine the distribution and relative abundance of plankton;
4) collect hydrographic and meteorological data;
5) when possible, collect biopsy samples and photo-identification pictures of cetaceans.

Chris Faist with a Gray Whale
Chris Faist with a Gray Whale

As the trained observers look for animals, my job will be to record their observations in a computer system.  They will be reporting what species they see, the approximate number and location of the animals which I will then input into the ship’s computer.  These observations, as well as the recordings taken from our underwater microphone, or hydrophone, will allow scientists back in the lab to estimate the number of animals that live off the east coast of the United States.

All of my previous boat trips have been in the Pacific Ocean, so this cruise will give me an opportunity to see whales, like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that I have never seen before.

Wish me luck!

Donna Knutson, September 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 12, 2010

Pearl and Hermes

Me on the “Big Eyes”.


Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Seabirds sittings will also be documented.

Jay, a steward, checking out the action!

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature:  27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb

A busy flying bridge.

Pearl and Hermes is the name of an atoll named after two English whaling ships, the Pearl and Hermes, which ran into the surrounding reef in 1822.  The twenty by twelve mile atoll is under water most of the time.  It has a rich history including shipwrecks, over harvesting of oysters, a military site for war practice, and finally conservation.

Atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes.  Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions spill magma onto the sea floor.  The lava eventually becomes higher than sea level creating an island.  With the surface exposed, the now dead volcanoes began to shrink and erode.  Over time the island becomes very flat and barely above the water.  Corals grow in shallow water around the boundaries of the island.  Eventually the island erodes away only leaving the coral reefs around them and a large lagoon in the middle.  Through the actions of wind and waves, sand and coral debris come together to make up small islands called islets in a few places where the original large island used to be.

Ernesto and Allan ready to shoot for biopsy samples.

In 2003 the Pearl and Hermes reef measured 300,000 acres.  This area is home to thirty three species of stony coral.  The islets provide a needed stopping and resting area for seals, turtles and birds.  About 160,000 seabirds of seventeen different species nest at Pearl and Hermes.
The ocean surrounding Pearl and Hermes had never been properly surveyed for cetaceans.  The HICEAS cruise discovered the water is also rich in wildlife, particularly cetaceans.  The beaked whale is one of these cetaceans.  There are twenty different species of beaked whales, but the two found in these waters were the Curvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whales.
One way to tell them all apart from each other is their teeth.  The males all have different sizes, shapes and positions of their teeth in their bottom jaw.  The females and juveniles do not have teeth and need to be identified by other means such as the shape of their beak (rostrum).  Curvier’s Beaked whale has virtually no beak, the melon of the head slopes smoothly onto a short thick beak. It has a sort of “fish face”.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has a moderately long beak.  The melon for the head is small and flat.

Yvonne and Sussanah listening in.

Blainville’s and Curvier’s Beaked Whales seem to have opposite coloring.  The Curvier’s Beaked Whale has a white face and the white coloring continues on to the top of back.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale has the dark gray color on the back and the lighter grey on the underside.
Size is another difference between the whales.  The Blainville’s Beaked Whale is smaller with adult males measuring up to fourteen feet six inches and the Curvier’s whale at twenty three feet.  All male beaked whales are smaller than the females, but not by much and that is unusual compared to the other species mentioned in previous logs.
Personal Log:

Eddie looking at whales.

The past two days we have been circumnavigating the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  There are only two other “land masses” before we reach the top of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This region has more animals than anticipated.  The science crew of the Sette had 16 sittings and 17 biopsy samples to report.  It was a very exciting couple of days.  The little boat was launched both mornings and was traveling around the atoll also, but at a closer distance to the coral on its own mission.

In addition to the sightings, Yvonne Barkley, Sussanah Calderan and Niky where listening attentively to the sounds picked up by the array.  The array has four mini-mircophones housed in a long rubber cable that picks up various sound frequencies.  The acousticians are inside the ship recording and  analyzing the sounds they hear.  Working together really paid off!  A lot of ocean was covered and many animals were discovered.

Beaked Whales

I brought a plastic lawn chair up on the flying bridge because even though I want to write, I don’t want to miss out on any of the action.  I wasn’t the only one who wanted a look at the animals, the second steward Jay came up to also take a look through the “big eyes”.   I can’t imagine a boat that has a friendlier, more supporting crew!

Bottlenose Dolphin

Some of the sightings included Bottlenose Dolphins, the Curvier’s Beaked Whale, the Blainsville’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales (mentioned in log #3), Spinner Dolphins, and Rough Toothed Dolphins (mentioned in log#2).
To me the most exciting part of the two day survey was when the Bottlenose Dolphins were swimming in front of the bow.  At one time there were sixteen abreast.  All sizes of dolphins playing and “singing” right in front of us!  Their whistles were much louder than I ever imagined!
The dolphins were jumping over each other and swimming on their sides and on their backs belly up.  It almost seemed to be a contest on silliness.  It makes your heart warm when they look you in the eye and seem to want your attention.  They had my attention the whole time they swam there!  I had to get up on tip toe just to look over the edge as they were so close to the rush of water caused by the ship.  The group was traveling and frolicking effortlessly in front of a ship going ten knots! I stayed on tiptoe until the last dolphin drifted away to join the rest of the pack.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is definitely the friendliest, playful cetacean I have seen for far!

Justin Czarka, August 15, 2009

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

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD
This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 15-20 knots (kt), gust to 25 kt
Visibility: unrestricted to 1-3 nautical miles in mist
Waves: northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: 18°C high, 12°C low
Water Temperature: 17.5°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made it out to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast; the farthest out we will go. The depth of the ocean is 2867 meters (9,406 feet).  It is pretty interesting to imagine that we are on the summit of a nearly 10,000-foot mountain right now!  Last night the CTD was deployed 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).  Even at this depth, the pressure is immense (see photo, page one). When taking the CTD down to this depth, certain sensors are removed from the rosette (the white frame to which the CTD instruments are attached) to prevent them from being damaged.

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II.  These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers
Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II. These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

The crew aboard the McArthur II is such an informative group. Many possess a strong insight into NOAA’s research mission.  Today I spoke with Kevin Lackey, Deck Utility man.  He spoke to me about the cruises he has been on with NOAA, particularly about the effects of bioaccumulation that have been studied.  Bioaccumulation is when an organism intakes a substance, oftentimes from a food source, that deposits in the organism at increasing levels over time.  While sometimes an intentional response from an organism, with regards to toxins, this bioaccumulation can lead to detrimental effects.  For example, an organism (animal or plant) A on the food web experiences bioaccumulation of a toxin over time.  Imagine organism B targeting organism A as a food source. Organism B will accumulate concentrated levels of the toxin. Then, when organism B becomes a food source for organism C, the effects of the toxins are further magnified.  This has serious effects on the ocean ecosystem, and consequently on the human population, who rely on the ocean as a food source.

While aboard the McArthur II, Morgaine McKibben, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU), shared with me her research into harmful algal blooms (HABs), which potentially lead to bioaccumulation.  Certain algae (small plants) accumulate toxins that can be harmful, especially during a “bloom.” She is collecting water samples from the CTD, as well as deploying a HAB net, which skims the ocean surface while the ship is moving to collect algae samples.  She is utilizing the data in order to create a model to solve the problem of what underlying conditions cause the algae blooms to become toxic, since they are not always as such.

Personal Log 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

The weather has cleared up allowing grand ocean vistas—a 360° panorama of various blues depending on depth, nutrients, clouds overhead, and so forth.  At first glance, it just looks blue.  But as you gaze out, you see variance. A little green here, some whitecaps over there. As the ship moves on, the colors change. Wildlife appears, whether it is a flock of birds, kelp floating by, or an escort of pacific white-sided dolphins. I wondered if the ocean would become monotonous over the course of the eleven days at sea.  Yet the opposite has happened. I have become more fascinated with this blue water.

It was interesting today to notice how we went back in time.  Two nights ago the sun had set at 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)  But because we went so far out to sea, last night the sunset had changed to 20:33 (8:33 p.m.).  While this happens on land as well, it never occurred to me in such striking details until out to see.

Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge (highest deck on the ship) 

  • Rhinoceros Auklet – closely related to puffins
  • Whale (breaching)
  • Common Murres
  • Western Gull
  • Hybrid Gull – We are at a location off the coast of Oregon where different species interbreed
  • Leech’s Storm Petrel – Mike Force, the cruise’s bird and marine mammal observer, found the bird aboard the ship by in an overflow tank.  It will be rereleased.

Did You Know? 

NOAA has a web page with information especially for students?

Beth Carter, July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beth Carter
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 25 – July 7, 2007

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Esquibel, Alaska
Date: July 10, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility:  2 nautical miles
Wind direction:  125 degrees
Wind speed:  11 knots
Sea wave height: 0-1 feet
Swell wave height: none
Seawater temperature:  11.7 degrees C
Dry bulb temp: 12.8 degrees C; Wet bulb temp:  12.2 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1021.0 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8, fog and drizzle

The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor in Alaska.
The NOAA ship RAINIER, also known as S221, at anchor.

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, I went out on launch #6, which utilizes a sonar system called the “C3D,” that produces interferometric sonar, which is a combination of side scan and multibeam sonar, to produce bathymetry.  Interferometric sonar is the latest technological advance in hydrographic mapping. This is the third technology I’ve been able to observe at work. The RAINIER has two launches that use single beam technology ( June 29 log), three launches that use multibeam technology (June 28 log), and Launch 6 has the side scan sonar.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Erin Campbell, my Tarheel buddy who is a physical scientist from the Pacific Hydrographic Branch of NOAA, took the time to explain some of the features and limitations of side scan sonar. The greatest advantage to side scan is that it produces sound waves that can cover a much wider swath of ocean floor, with very good resolution. This means that NOAA can be more fuel-efficient with its launches and cover more floor in less time.  Side scan can form accurate 3-D images of rocks, wrecks, and features of concern and interest on the ocean floor.  Hydrographers say that the side beam enables them to “paint the ocean floor.”

Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.
Erin Campbell, physical scientist, and Beth Carter, Teacher at Sea…two Tarheels at a rainy beach party near Bushtop Island, Alaska.

The greatest disadvantage to side scan sonar is that it does not actually provide depths associated with those features.  In other words, the hydrographers can look at the side scan images and locate a downed plane accurately on the ocean floor, but not know the exact depth of the plane. Another disadvantage to use of side scan in Alaska is that the extreme angles of slope of the islands and landforms cause the sound waves to create shadows on the resulting data. This means that some features in the shadows are missed.  Side beam sonar is used with great success on the eastern coast of the U.S., where the sea floor is sandy, is more uniform, and has less slope than in Alaska. Therefore, NOAA uses side scan to cover wide areas of territory, and then examines the images collected.  If the technicians see rocks or other potential hindrances to navigation, they send out the multibeam sonar launches to collect more detailed information on the depths.  If the concern is in a really shallow area, they might send out the single beam launches, which can get into shoal areas more easily with less threat of damage to the sonar equipment.

The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch
The C3D sonar transducer on the hull of the launch

Side scan sonar is still evolving as a technology. NOAA provides valuable feedback and information to the makers of this technology, which enables the manufacturers to fine-tune and improve the technology. As I prepare to leave the RAINIER, I am impressed with the depth of knowledge of the Commanding Officer, the survey crew, and officers on the ship. They take very seriously their work, which is to take information gathered utilizing sonar, and to produce the most accurate bathymetric products possible.  The resulting charts and hydrographic maps are critical aids to shipping companies and fishermen, whose lives and safety and economic livelihood depend on the accuracy of the maps. I’ve also learned that NOAA hydrographers are called in to assist after hurricanes.  Erin, for example, was called upon to join a NRT (Navigational Response Team) after Hurricane Katrina.  There were many container ships and other ships waiting in the Gulf of Mexico for the hydrographers to survey the waters in order to locate hazards (debris in the water, wrecks, storm damage) in the water that were blocking the port and docks. NOAA has six such teams that assist when there are oil spills, wrecks, storms, etc.

Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.
Erin Campbell operating the C3D sonar aboard the launch.

Terms Used

Bathymetry:  the science of measuring ocean depths.  It is the underwater equivalent to altimetry, or measuring altitude of land forms.  Bathymetry is utilized to create DTM’s, or digital terrain models, or three-dimensional models of the ocean floor.

Hydrography: the study and science of ocean mapping.

Questions of the Day: 

  1. What kind of sonar would be best utilized in the search for a tugboat that sank unwitnessed, suspected to be in a deep harbor – vertical beam, multibeam, or sidescan sonar?
  2. To see an example of a chart created with interferometric sonar, take a look at this website.

Personal Log

I want to close out my last log with a few pictures, which definitely communicate the Alaska experience better than my words.  I also want to thank the entire crew of the RAINIER for its kind hospitality, for teaching me so much, and for reminding me what it feels like to not understand something.  I can empathize with my students so much better, as I have been in their shoes now for almost 3 weeks…struggling to understand technologies that were totally unfamiliar to me, feeling frustrated, feeling glimmers of hope when a few concepts dropped into place in my brain. Alaska is incredibly beautiful, incomprehensibly vast…I hope to return someday.

A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!
A humpback whale breaching… breathtaking sight!

A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.
A bald eagle on the fly above Alaskan waters.

Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.
Alaska…known for its snow-topped majestic mountains.  

David Riddle, July 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Riddle
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 13 – 28, 2006

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: July 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.
NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.

Science and Technology Log

My first shift involved getting accustomed to the job. It seems like an incredible amount of detailed instructions and procedures at first, but over time, the routine emerges.  The dredge goes out and tows for 15 minutes.  Then it comes back in and the inclinometer data is downloaded. The inclinometer is attached to the frame of the dredge and measures the angle of the dredge in relation to the bottom. This data allows verification that the dredge was towing at the proper angle. Then the dredge frame is moved, the net is dumped, and I take a photo of the catch with Amanda holding a sign telling which tow and which location. Then we dig through the pile, on hands and knees, sorting out scallops, clappers (recently dead scallops with the shell halves still hinged), all fish species, and every third station we save and count crabs and do a random sample count to estimate the number of starfish.  Starfish are scallop predators. Also, at every third station before we do a tow the CTD measuring device is lowered over the side. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Density, and these numbers are used to calculate salinity. The temperature data from the CTD helps establish the conditions which scallops may or may not prefer.  CTD data is not only related to the Scallop Survey, but NOAA ships regularly collect data that is used by scientists working on other projects.

The location of each tow is selected randomly by computer within various strata which vary by depth. There’s a navigational chart posted on the wall that shows the precise location of all the areas being sampled.  Some samples are taken from areas that are closed to commercial fishing, for resource management purposes.  Some areas may be closed indefinitely while others are rotated or allow fishing on a “restricted access” program.

Sightings: In the afternoon, whales were blowing on the horizon, too far away to see any more than that.  I counted five spouts together in one place, then two more a little farther behind. Hammerhead shark, reported from the bridge.  I saw the fin. Dolphins alongside in the dark: they look silver-gray, in the reflection of the ship’s lights.

Personal Log 

I awoke feeling fine, and went around taking some video of fishing operations.  But I felt uneasy from late morning on.  Twelve hours is a long time to work when feeling queasy, but interestingly, when I was focused on a specific task, even something as simple as shucking scallops and talking, I was less aware of my discomfort.  I was tired toward the end of my 12-hour shift, tired of feeling queasy, tired of the half-asleep feeling that comes from the anti-nausea medication.  A shower and bed were most welcome!

Linda Armwood, April 27, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Armwood
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 25 – May 5, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Date: April 27, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 4  nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 120 °
Wind speed:  20 kt
Sea wave height: 1-2 ft.
Swell waves dir: 300
Swell waves height: 2 ft.
Sea level pressure: 1006.0mb
Present weather: Drizzle
Temperature:  °C~ 7.6dry/7.1wet

Science and Technology Log 

I attended the navigation meeting in preparation for today’s departure from home port.  The personnel responsible for conducting the navigation meeting and providing all of the essential information for exploration are junior officers who are trained in atmospheric science, oceanography, mathematics and navigation technology.  Several charts were displayed to show the route of travel and the location of the intended areas for research.  The first priority of the project is tide gauge installation.  One particular area of the travel route (Snow Passage) will present a challenge because it is hard to go through during this time of year as a result of the currents in the narrow parts.  One of the areas of research (Gulf of Esquibel) contains lots of navigational hazards such as rocks and low water levels near high water levels. The FAIRWEATHER only needs four fathoms of water to navigate, but generally stays in water deeper than ten fathoms due to the nature of the seafloor and the age of the charts.

An in-depth explanation of the survey tech procedures in data acquisition and processing was provided by a member of the survey tech team.  Survey techs are given a charted sheet that represents their area of concentration.  In order to do this, the tech first collects raw data, including depth information, with the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Shallow Water Multibeam (SWMB), and the Position and Orientation System for Marine Vessels (POS-MV) in operation at the same time.  The POS-MV does the inertial motion of the vessel’s roll, heave, pitch, and gyro positions.  Next, the tech uses processing systems as a visual way to look at the surface of the water.  The third and fourth steps are to apply motion corrections and tide corrections.  The fifth step is to create the sound velocity profile based on water conductivity, temperature, and density.  The next step is to combine each of the files into one file – a concatenated file.  Following is the step involving computing total propagated error.  This will result in the error value based on error associated with sonar data.  Step eight is for the tech to make a digital terrain model which is a basic grid from XYZ data. The final step is to view or look for errors caused by the system. These errors may indicate dangerous uncharted errors.

Personal Log 

First time feeling the boat leave dock was a rush!  The whale sighting was awesome!  Too far from my cellular phone extended network coverage to call home and share with family.

Question of the Day 

Environmental Science Students 

Explain the importance of water conductivity, temperature and density to sound velocity.

Geospatial Semester Students 

Using course software, produce a map that indicates the bodies of water associated with the Gulf of Esquibel. Identify those areas that have less than 30-40 fathoms.

Mrs. Armwood

Leyf Peirce, July 15, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 15, 2004

Time: 18:00
Latitude: N 56°22.60
Longitude: W 152°56.70 Visibility: 10 nm

Wind direction: 115
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Swell wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Sea water temperature: 12.2 °C
Sea level pressure: 1013.5 mb
Air temperature: 13.3 °C
Cloud cover: 5/8

Science and Technology Log

We are still in transit today to Kodiak, with a planned stop for some “biological testing”, a.k.a. fishing. About two hours before we were going to stop to fish, we heard the bridge announce, “Whales breaching off the port bow!” This is the call for everyone to rush to the portside to see the whales. And what an incredible sight! I was atop the fly deck with TAS Norton and ENS Slover, and none of us could believe the symphony of spray that lay 150 meters ahead of us. It seemed choreographed, almost, with one humpback whale to the right blowing spray into the air at the same time as a whale on the left side. The finale consisted of at least 3 whales breaching so far out of the water you could see their entire underside! Just when we thought the show was over, two whales came within 20 meters of the portside of the boat and breached, waving hello as they went under. Luckily, we had slowed the boat down, so the chances of hitting these whales were small. For such massive and mysterious creatures, these animals completed their whale ballet show gracefully!

We later started fishing, and this sight was yet another of awe at the creatures that inhabit this part of the world. After only 10 minutes, there were about 12 fish on the fantail, 3 of which were halibut that were over 125 pounds, one which was at least 5 feet! After another 10 minutes, the fantail was covered with fish and blood and guts, promising a feast for weeks to come. The birds circled above waiting in anticipation, arguing when a piece of fresh fish was thrown overboard. Again a new image to me, the albatross intimidated the other gulls with its large wing span and threatening call. This day was certainly full of wildlife!

Personal Log

I have never seen whales breach in the wild before, and it truly was an amazing spectacle! Parallel to that, I have never caught a fish any bigger than a 20 inch rainbow trout. Catching a 25 pound black rockfish was extremely exciting, as well as seeing all of the halibut caught! I will say that while fly fishing takes a lot more patience and technique, the fishing that occurred today required more strength and team work. There were at least 4 people helping lug the largest of the fish onto the ship!

We are almost to Kodiak, should be there by morning, and I find myself sad to leave this boat. It has truly been an amazing experience, one in which I learned a lot about the wildlife, research, crew, and myself. I realize now that two weeks at sea really does allow for a lot of self-contemplation and growth. I am very thankful to have had this experience.

Question of the Day:

How big is the biggest humpback whale recorded? How big is the biggest whale recorded? How does this compare to the average sized person?

Leyf Peirce, July 10, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 10, 2004

Time: 18:00
Latitude: N 55°17.29
Longitude: W 160°32.13
Visibility: 6 nm
Wind direction: 110
Wind speed: 12 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 foot
Swell wave height: —
Sea water temperature: 10.6 °C
Sea level pressure: 1016.3 mb
Air temperature: 13.3 °C
Cloud cover: 3/8

Science and Technology Log

Today was the first day we launched the survey boats. I was assigned to a boat with SS Foye, ENS Welton, and ENS Samuelson. A very interesting and eventful day, the best way to describe it is with a timeline:

08:00 board 5 boat with SS Foye, ENS Welton, and ENS Samuelson; Lt. Slover (the FOO—Fieldwork Operations Officer) came aboard for about 20 minutes to run tests on the Reson 80101 multibeam echo sounding equipment we are using (soon dropped Lt. Slover back at the Rainier); NOTE: Reson 80101 is used primarily for shallower water, for it has better resolution at depths less than 75 meters

08:45 arrived at our first way point near Halfway Rock; took first cast with the CTD (testing for conductivity, temperature and depth—all things that factor into velocity speed profile) and found an average depth of about 65 meters

09:00 started doing lines (mowing the lawn pattern) around Halfway Rock; after about 3 lines, Lt. Slover called us back in because the data he had taken did not process correctly—the new programs aboard the ship were not working as well as they had thought

11:25 board the RAINIER while FOO checked our equipment; turned out we had to switch to 6 boat—including downloading new maps and figuring out a new system

11:45 board launches 6 boats and sets out for new set of lines at deeper water than the morning; this boat uses the ELAC multibeam systems which are better for deeper waters (up to 400 meters)

12:00 arrived at new line destination (lat: N 55/14/54, long: W 160/27/43) and ate lunch before doing our CTD cast

12:30 conducted first CTD cast, but computer messed up, so had to repeat the cast and got a better reading (average depth = 150 meters) began line pattern

** After a few lines of learning the computer program, SS Foye allowed me to drive the boat for almost the rest of the time—my experience on boats made this part so much fun—especially using the computer imaging as a navigational chart**

17:30 arrived back at RAINIER for dinner

I was truly impressed with the amount of different technology aboard these ships: 5 computer screens, 2 key boards, and a lot of different software programs used to immediately process the information we were gathering. This was also a great change from being on the big ship all day!

Personal Log

This was definitely my favorite day on the ship so far! The fog lifted early this morning to reveal beautiful islands, puffin, sea gulls, kelp, and even a whale! I was able to experience what it is like to have to make computer programs do what you want them to do (any researcher knows this isn’t always easy), and I had to do this on a rocking boat (for all of you “land researchers”, I suggest you trying it once!). SS Foye, ENS Welton, and ENS Samuelson were all extremely helpful and very good at explaining the technology and theory behind what we were doing. I was extremely impressed with how everyone handled various problematic situations. Computers and technology can be very frustrating sometimes, and the crew aboard the boat handled everything optimistically and professionally. SS Foye asked if I ever would consider giving up teaching and join NOAA—after my experience today, I said I would definitely consider it!

Question of the Day:

What is the effect of different densities of water on sound waves?