Vincent Colombo, What makes the Oscar Dyson tick?, June 29, 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 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 10.7 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 9.6 degrees Celsius
  • Air Temperature: 10.5 degrees Celsius
  • Air Pressure: 1008.8 mb
Sunrise in Alaska
Sunrise in Alaska
When the fog lifts, hidden beauties and dangers are revealed
Another picture of Shishaldin Volcano – taken by scientist on board the Oscar Dyson, Robert Levine
A view of the Gulf of Alaska
A view of the Gulf of Alaska
In front of Kuiukta Bay
In front of Kuiukta Bay
Mitrofania Bay
Mitrofania Bay
Sandy Point, Alaska
Sandy Point, Alaska

The NOAA Vessel Oscar Dyson is named after the late Oscar E. Dyson. His placard reads the following:

Oscar Dyson

A Friend of Fisheries

Oscar promoted research and effective management

to sustain Alaska’s fisheries for future generations.

Oscar Dyson Plaque
Oscar Dyson Plaque
Learn more about the Oscar Dyson here
The small vessel on the Oscar Dyson is named after his wife
The small vessel on the Oscar Dyson is named after his wife

Science and Technology Log:

If you read the link under my page:*Colombo/ship , it will tell you all about the ship, Oscar Dyson. This ship is nothing less than a modern marvel of technology. Luckily my fellow teacher at sea, Nikki Durkan and I got to experience the science of this ship first hand. Our Chief engineer, Mr. Alan Bennett took us for a tour of the inner workings of this ship.

Chief Engineer Alan Bennett
Chief Engineer Alan Bennett

Our tour started with a look at the Ship’s control panel. From this set of computers and controls, everything, and I mean everything on the ship can be controlled.

The Control Panel below deck
The Control Panel below deck
"We can control the entire ship from right here."
“We can control the entire ship from right here.”

From there, we went into the main engine room. One may recognize the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which in part of the poem says:

“Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.”

Not the case on the Oscar Dyson, because the heat from the engines is used to distill up to 1,000 gallons of freshwater each day!

Where the Oscar Dyson makes fresh water
Where the Oscar Dyson makes fresh water

The ship also uses an Ultra Violet filter to kill all the undesirables in the water just in case.

Ultraviolet Filter
Ultraviolet Filter
Warning for the filter
Warning for the filter

From there, we got to travel through water tight doors into the rear of the ship. These doors are intimidating, and as our Chief Engineer said, in case there is a loss of power, the door can be bypassed so no one is trapped under the ship.

Alan in front of the door showing us the manual bypass
Alan in front of the door showing us the manual bypass
Water tight door. You DO NOT want to be in the way when this closes.
Water tight door. You DO NOT want to be in the way when this closes.

Here you can see one of the massive winches used for the trawl net the ship uses to catch fish. One winch is over 6 foot in diameter and has a thousand meters of steel cable. I wonder if it will fit on the front of a Jeep…

Those winches are no joke. The ship also has a bunch of hydraulic pumps ready and able to bring those trawl nets in fast if need be. Each of these hydraulic pumps has 1,000 gallons of fluid ready to retrieve a net in a hurry if the need exists.

The hydraulic pumps
The hydraulic pumps

One really cool thing I learned was that in case the ship had a major issue and could not be steered from the bridge, there is a way to use the ship’s heading underneath for someone to manually operate the rudder.

Yes you can drive the ship blind
Yes you can drive the ship blind
The manual rudder control
The manual rudder control

From there we got a tour of the remainder of the ship.

One of the ship's massive generators
One of the ship’s massive generators
A water pump for a fire station
A water pump for a fire station
A transformer to convert all that electrical energy
A transformer to convert all that electrical energy

The Oscar Dyson creates ALOT of energy. Here is a read out for one of the many generators on board. Take a look at the Amps produced.

818.6 Amps!
818.6 Amps!

A ship this big also has multiple fuel tanks. Here the engineers can choose which tank they want to draw from. Interesting also is the engineers have ballast tanks to fill with water to compensate for the fuel the ship uses. Alan also showed us the log book for this, as ships taking on ballast water can be an environmental issue. The crew of the Oscar Dyson follows this protocol as set forth by the United States Coast Guard. You can learn more about that protocol by clicking here

Fuel tank selection
Fuel tank selection

Our last stop was seeing the bow thruster. It was a tight space, but the bow thruster can actually power the ship if the main engine loses power.

In the bow thruster room
In the bow thruster room

Here are some other pictures from the tour:

Nikki, Alan, and I in the engine room
Nikki, Alan, and I in the engine room
A serious pipe wrench
A serious pipe wrench
This surface is squishy and covers the entire engine room. It makes the boat super quiet!
This surface is squishy and covers the entire engine room. It makes the boat super quiet!


After our tour, it was back to business as usual, the Walleye Pollock Survey. Our Chief Scientist spends countless hours analyzing the acoustics data then sampling the fish.

Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Patrick Ressler analyzing the acoustic data from the survey
Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Patrick Ressler analyzing the acoustic data from the survey

The Walleye Pollock which we are studying is a very integral part of the Alaskan ecosystem, as well as a highly monetary yielding fishery. One thing I noticed almost immediately is the color change between juveniles and adults. It is theorized that as the fish get older, they move lower in the water column towards the bottom, thus needing camouflage. Take a look at this picture that shows a mature Walleye Pollock and it’s juvenile counterparts.

The adult Walleye Pollock gets "brassy" spots on it's body.
The adult Walleye Pollock gets “brassy” spots on it’s body.

You can learn more about the life cycle of Pollock by clicking here.

Here is another site with some useful information on Pollock, click here.

Personal Log: 

Working on the deck of the Oscar Dyson is no laughing matter. What is required to step on deck? A hard hat, float coat, and life jacket. Watching the deck crew, controlled by the lead fisherman, is like watching an episode of Deadliest Catch… just without the crabs. Giant swells that make the boat go up and down while maintaining a solid footing on a soaking wet deck is no joke. My hat is off to our hard working deck crew and fisherman.


The deck crew and fisherman deploying an Aleutian Wing Trawl
The deck crew and fisherman deploying an Aleutian Wing Trawl
Fisherman Brad Kutyna retrieving an Aleutian Wing Trawl
Fisherman Brad Kutyna retrieving an Aleutian Wing Trawl

The best part about fishing, is it is just that, fishing. NOAA sets the standard when reducing by-catch (fish you do not want to catch), but sometimes a fish’s appetite gets the best of him/her.

This Pacific Cod ended up in our Aleutian Wing Trawl, it wanted Pollock for lunch
This Pacific Cod ended up in our Aleutian Wing Trawl, it wanted Pollock for lunch
These Pacific Cod were 8 pounds each.
These Pacific Cod were 10 pounds each.

Fishing has always been apart of my life. My Grandfather always said, “If the birds are working, you will find the fish.” A good piece of advice… Look for circling gulls and chances are a group of bigger fish has some bait fish balled up under the surface.

Here the birds are working off the stern of the boat
Here the birds are working off the stern of the boat

Meet the Scientist: 

On board the Oscar Dyson this part of the Walleye Pollock survey is scientist Tom Weber. Tom lives in Durham, New Hampshire and is here to test new custom acoustic equipment. Tom is married to his wife Brinda and has two sons, Kavi and Sachin.

Tom has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Ocean Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. He attained his PhD in Acoustics from Penn State in State College, PA.  Currently Tom is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He also is a faculty member of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM for short). Both places of employment are located in his hometown of Durham, New Hampshire.

Tom explaining the brand new acoustic technology
Tom explaining the brand new acoustic technology

Tom has been affiliated with NOAA and their projects since 2006 and is here to test a custom Acoustic Transducer (a piece of technology that sends out a signal to the ocean floor) and sonar transceiver. As he explained to me, this technology sends out a multi-band frequency and the echo which returns could potentially identify a species of fish hundreds of meters below the boat. He is also here to study Methane gas seeps found along the convergent boundary in the Aleutian Islands.  Methane gas seeps are of particular curiosity on this trip because of their unique properties.

Tom busy at work in the Acoustic Lab on board the Oscar Dyson
Tom busy at work in the Acoustic Lab on board the Oscar Dyson

On a side note, Tom saw the first grizzly bear of our trip just hanging out on one of the many coastlines we have passed. He said being on the Oscar Dyson is “Not like being in Beaver Stadium, but the ship moves as much as your seats do during a game.”  When I asked Tom for any words of advice, he said: “Never name your boat after a bottom fish.” Apparently that is bad luck.

A methane gas seep on the ocean floor makes quite a disturbance. Here Chris Bassett is observing what it looks like.
A methane gas seep on the ocean floor makes quite a disturbance. Here Chris Bassett is observing what it looks like.

Tom loves working side by side with the scientists on this study and is ecstatic to see this new technology being used on this survey.

Meet the NOAA Corps Officer: 

Meet Lieutenant Carl Rhodes, the Oscar Dyson’s Operations Officer, and acting Executive Officer for this part of the Walleye Pollock Survey. LT Rhodes is from Bayfield, Colorado and joined the NOAA Corps to use his degree in science. LT Rhodes has a Bachelors degree in Marine Science with an Associates Degree in Small Vessel Operations from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine. LT Rhodes also has a Masters of Science in Facilities Management from Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

His job as Operations Officer on board the Oscar Dyson includes:

  • Ensuring all scientific operations are conducted safely and efficiently.
  • Act as a liaison between all members of the ship’s crew and scientific parties.
  • Record and observe all scientific missions during the day.

His extra duties as acting executive officer include:

  • Managing the ship’s personnel and human resources
  • Taking care of payroll and travel requests
  • Supervising junior officers and crew members
Lieutenant Carl Rhodes on the bridge of the Oscar Dyson
Lieutenant Carl Rhodes on the bridge of the Oscar Dyson

Hands down, the best job of all not mentioned above is driving the boat! All officers stand watch (aka drive the boat) for two, four hour shifts a day. Not to mention all the other work they are required to do. Being a NOAA Corps officer is no easy job. LT Rhodes has the goal to one day be the Captain of a NOAA research vessel.

In his free time, LT Rhodes enjoys scuba diving, climbing mountains, hiking, camping, biking, photography, and flying drones. LT Rhodes shared with me how he has overcome many obstacles in his life. His words of advice to any student are: “Anyone can get anywhere if they try hard and really fight for it.”

LT Rhodes and all the rest of the crew of the Oscar Dyson have not had a day off yet on this research cruise, and work 12 hour shifts around the clock. Seeing this first hand has given me much respect for the type of work NOAA does!


Did You Know? 

Seafood is a billion dollar industry in Alaska, with more than half of U.S. commercially captured fish caught in the state nicknamed “The Last Frontier.” According to Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce, around 32,200 people fished commercially in Alaska in 2011, averaging 8,064 people per month. Salmon harvesting represents half of all fishing jobs in Alaska, with ground fish and halibut following in second and third place, respectively, according to the state’s labor bureau. Read more here.

 Thanks for reading my blogs! I am hooked on Alaska and would love to come back! I will see you all soon in Delaware!

DJ Kast, Interview with Survey Tech Geoff Shook, May 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 24, 2015, Day 6 of Voyage

Interview with Geoff Shook, Survey Tech

Geoff Shook running the Bongo at a station site. Three screens and his walky talky to the rest of the crew to make sure everything is deployed correctly. Photo by DJ Kast
Geoff Shook running the Bongo at a station site. Three screens and his walky talky to the rest of the crew to make sure everything is deployed correctly. Photo by DJ Kast

What is your job here on the ship?

Survey Tech

What does that mean?

I have two similar but different jobs

  1. Run and monitor the ship’s scientific equipment
    • I help fix things when they break down
    • I am the Liaison between the ship and the scientific party (we mean everything). Anything the scientist needs, the survey techs help provide it.
    • I know the capabilities of equipment.
      • For example, the fish lab is one of the most high tech fish labs in the world. Incredibly advanced.
  2.  We work within the science spaces, so we are always around. Point of contact!
    • I work with deck department and with their help I deploy a lot of gear
    • Jack of all trades. We get to be involved with a little bit everything;computer software, electronics, plumbing, carpentry etc. I am also on the bridge for lookout sometimes.

Right now, I am planning for the marine mammal and deep water coral cruise. We are also taking multi-beam data when we pass through certain points on this cruise that helps us prepare for future cruises.

When you are in the dry lab with us (deploying the bongo plankton nets or Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) unit) what do all of the techy things on your computer mean?

The camera to the side sampling station, the winch and weather screen and the CTD screen. All of these Geoff monitors. Photo by DJ Kast
The camera to the side sampling station, the winch and weather screen and the CTD screen. All of these Geoff monitors. Photo by DJ Kast
  • Left side of the screen: Winch Data (winch data, line speeds (how fast they are moving), depth, depth of instrument, how much line is out). There is also data from the ship’s meteorological sensors available as well.
    • Performance of the winches as well as the instrument information.
Winch and Weather Data. Photo by DJ Kast
Winch and Weather Data. Photo by DJ Kast
  • Weather conditions that relate to the deployment of the instrument.
    • For example, wind conditions (speed and direction)
    • Set the wind on the starboard side so that the boat gets pushed away from the instruments and lines.
  • Right side of the screen: the Vertical profile of theCTD. Watching this to make sure theCTD is functioning correctly. Oceanographers use it differently, for example trying to find the chlorophyll maximum depth and the thermocline, where the temperature changes suddenly with depth.
    • My job is to make sure that the equipment is functional and collecting accurate, valid data.
Vertical Profile of the CTD in action. Photo by DJ Kast
Vertical Profile of the CTD in action. Photo by DJ Kast


  • Whenever the sensor on the CTD on the bongos is activated by seawater, the numbers show up on Geoff’s screen. He then announces, “We’ve got numbers, lets Bongo!”  It’s literally my favorite quote of the trip and makes me laugh every time he says it.
    • CTD numbers means that it is on, functioning properly, and is ready to be deployed.
    • Sometimes there is a software/ hardware glitch, or a plug or connection might fail. If this happens, the cast cannot be completed. So observing the CTD output is very important.
  • Label printing! This has Ot (Other), I (Ichthyoplankton), Z (zooplankton) designations to indicate the type of nets used on the bongo frames.
Labeling of the Plankton collected in the bongo nets. This one was used for the baby bongos, and processed with ethanol to preserve the specimens. Photo by DJ Kast
Labeling of the Plankton collected in the bongo nets. This one was used for the baby bongos, and processed with ethanol to preserve the specimens. Photo by DJ Kast
  • I will also do post processing, which summarizes everything.
    •  To me its important to make sure we are properly collecting accurate data for the end user, I care about how the data is collected. I need to make sure that the sensors are all working and displaying the accurate data so that scientists can go ahead and use that data in their research.

How do you get trained to be a survey tech?

(He laughs.) Truthfully, it’s a lot of On the Job Training (OJT). I read manuals and study our various equipment, and so I have a full understanding of how all of our equipment works and how to fix something when it breaks.

*As a side note from the XO: You need a degree in science and some motivation to be a survey tech, and its a great job for recent college graduates because survey techs make pretty good money, ball-parking approximately $60,000 annually, and sometimes even more depending on the sailing schedule.*

While these next trainings are not directly part of my job as survey tech, the two trainings below are a part of being a well-rounded ship crew member.

  • Ship SCUBA divers- NOAA Dive School. This allows us to check on the ship’s echo-sounders, seawater intakes, propeller and rudder.
  • Medpic training – one of the ship’s medics. I do anything from minor first aid to assessing an injury to responding to medical emergencies. I am qualified to administer medicine but not prescribe it.

My background is actually in fisheries. I worked in a fisheries lab as a fisheries scientist, which is why I was originally brought onto the Henry B. Bigelow in the first place. I then realized I was more interested in the vessel operations, so I made the switch over to the survey department.

I was hired to do a lot of Bottom Trawl Surveys and would only go on cruises when they pertained to that particular survey. While I wasn’t on board a research vessel, I was a sailing instructor and a substitute teacher. I taught 8th grade social studies for a year as a long-term sub and what I’ve learned is that it’s most important to teach students how to learn. It’s something that I use to explain new boat protocols and equipment to new crew.

I think that working and going to sea is a very unique experience, and even though the romantic idea of being on a research vessel is very different from the reality, it’s still an interesting life and I love it. I love going to sea.  I’ve spent about a decade of half year ship time on vessels. My wife keeps asking me, “When are you done going to sea?” My reply would be that I don’t know if I can ever be done. The ocean’s siren call always seems to call me back.

Kaitlin Baird: Some Essential Tools! September 14, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Date: September 14th

Location Data:
Latitude: 35′ 10.67
Longitude:  75’33.60     

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.40 (approx.74 °F)
Wind Speed: 2.17 kts
Wind Direction:  Southwest
Surface Water Temperature:2 7.61 °C (approx. 82°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

One of the things I was curious about was the deployment of these large instruments and the technology that supports it. One of the keys to the deployment of things like the BONGO nets, Continuous Depth Recorders (CTD’s) and the trawl net itself are winches. A winch spools the wire cable that is hooked to all of the instruments and allows them to move up, down and out into the water column. With some of the instruments, like the BONGO’S and CTD casts, a retractable A-Frame is used to lower the cable from the winch. You can see the A-Frame on the right and the winch on the left in the photo below. This winch in particular controls the deployment of the net and connects to two winches on the stern that roll out the net to open up the mouth. The wire is constantly monitored from the bridge on the screen below and is automatically adjusted to maintain equal tension on both sides.

Winch for fishing nets, Tension monitor on winches from the bridge and A-frame
Winch for fishing nets, Tension screen for winches from the bridge and retractable A-frame

Once the net is run out with the aid of the winches, it is constantly monitored for its shape during the tow with a number of different censors attached to the net. There is an autotrawl system that sets the depth of the trawl and the tension of the wires. A Global Positioning System (GPS) plots the position of the net for each trawl so that it can be associated with all organisms caught in the tow. At the end of the tow the winches reel back the cable and a crane brings the net with the catch over to the “checker” where the net is unloaded!

Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water
Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water

Personal Log:

The fun part begins when the net opens and all the animals enter the checker. When all of the catch goes into the checker the scientists take a look at the catch, and remove anything too large to go up the conveyor belt. If a fish dominates the catch it will “run”. This means, as it goes down the conveyor belt it won’t be taken off and it will be weighed by the basketful and then a subsample will be taken for further analysis.

The fish are all divided up by species and electronically coded in the FSCS system to be measured. After they are measured, the system will prompt for further analysis for that particular species. If extra sampling of the fish is required,  it is labeled with a printed sticker for the species with a unique barcode that can be scanned to retrieve its record in the database.

tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it
Tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it

I thought I’d share some photos with you of some of the unique things we have seen so far fishing today. We are off the coast of Carolina and finishing up our Southern stations today into early morning!

Fish caught off of North Carolina
Fish caught off of North Carolina

Catch of the day! Thanks for reading!

Shark caught off of Carolina coast
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark caught off of Carolina coast

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.

John Taylor-Lehman, June 29, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea 
John Taylor-Lehman 
Onboard R/V Savannah 
June 24 – July 1, 2011 
NOAA Teacher at Sea: John Taylor-Lehman 
Ship: R/V Savannah 
Mission: Fisheries Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Continental Shelf off of Florida
Date: Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Longitude. 80.15
Latitude 29.08
Salinity 36.343
Temperature 27.25
Barometric pressure 32.00
Depth 47.7 m
Winds S,SW 26 knots

Science and Technology Log 

We continue to bait and deploy traps during the daylight hours. Three sets of 6 traps are typically deployed at one location. On Tuesday, 4 sets were deployed because of the low number of fish caught on the previous 3 sets.

There is an art to selecting sites and retrieving traps. Some traps can get hung-up on the ledges they were meant to be resting upon. Our Chief Scientist, Nate Bacheler, must communicate with the winch operator and captain with gestures to subtly move the tether in the hopes of freeing the trap. In rare events, a trap can be lost.

Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap.  On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap.
Camera on top of the fish trap.
Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap. On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap
Here I am getting ready to deploy a fish trap. On the right is the camera that goes on the front of the trap

Mounted on each trap are 2 video cameras. They record the habitat and activity in the vicinity of the trap. The resolution on the videos is remarkable! During the winter months the films will be viewed and the fish species identified and counted.

What Happens to the Data? 

Eric taking measurements on a Red Snapper
Eric taking measurements on a Red Snapper

The data collected on these cruises allows scientists to create an “index of abundance” for each species of interest. This information is combined with information from other sources and in-put to an existing assessment (population) model. The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council then looks at the output from the model to decide on management regulations. They’ll decide on loosening or strengthening harvesting rules for each species.

So What Happens Once the Fish Are Caught? 

There is a great deal of information collected on each fish caught. For example: site location, weight, species, total length, length to fork in tail, and length before the tail. Select fish are later dissected to collect their otoliths (a bone in the head that can be used to determine age) and gonads (for maturity and sex determination). All fish are kept on ice in a large cooler until they are processed. Some of the fish are filleted, wrapped and frozen to ultimately be given away to charity.

Personal Log 

I no longer see the placid Atlantic under the ship. Strong winds (40 knots) have been blowing and stirring up the surface, creating 3-4 ft. waves and at times 4-5 ft. My stomach has noticed the change in conditions so I have been trying to keep busy and my mind distracted. Tried chewing some ginger, a remedy many people have suggested. Later, as the seas calmed and/or the ginger took effect, my stomach settled.

The weather conditions have stimulated much discussion among the science staff and crew. It was decided that conditions were ok to deploy the traps but too “sketchy” to retrieve them safely.

Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew
Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew

The chief scientist seems to have many contingency plans for when the weather does not cooperate. Decisions can be made at a moment’s notice to head to another site or cancel the trap drops. The fall back plans maximize the productivity of the research with the limited time at sea. The “down” time has given me some extra time to interview the science staff and crew. They are all very interesting people.

Zeb , David and Nate, members of the science crew

New animal sightings: (birds) brown boobies, yellow-throated warbler, Wilson’s storm-petrel, royal terns, (fish) reticulated moray eel, purplemouth moray, and red porgy.

Here I am holding a Red Snapper
Here I am holding a Red Snapper

Sue Zupko: 13 Who Ya Gonna Call? Mud Busters!

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 9, 2011
Time: 1900

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.4°N  79.5°W
Present weather: overcast
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 075°true
Wind Speed:  20 kts
Surface Wave Height:  4 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 100° true
Swell Wave Height:  4 ft
Surface Water Temperature:28.5 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Water Depth:  308 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 28°/24.8°

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take this quiz before reading this post.


James and Jeff wait for the winch to lift the pyramind-shaped grey grab
Waiting to lift the grab

When I started my journey as a Teacher at Sea, I wondered what scientific research the ship I would be placed on would be doing.  Would it be marine mammals in Alaska or Hawaii, hydrography (bottom mapping), a fishery study, buoy placement, or something I’d never heard of.  When I was told I was placed on the Pisces and we’d be using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), I only knew we’d be using the vehicle to go to the bottom and look at corals since it is too deep to scuba dive.  I had no real concept of what else would be going on.  I did know my students liked the idea of the ROV since I am the Robotics Club advisor at Weatherly Heights Elementary.

Pyramid shaped grey grabber hanging over the ocean
Benthic Van Veer Grab

We have three missions on the Pisces.  One is to look at the bottom through the eyes of the camera lens to see what is actually happening with the coral and its habitat.  Another purpose was to update existing maps.  The third mission was the most difficult for me to get a grasp of just because it sounds so strange.  Benthic grabbing.  Benthos means bottom in Greek.  Like the soil on land, sediment lying on the bottom of the sea is full of creatures and information needed to fully understand the health of the corals and their habitat.  You don’t see the most of the animals living in soil usually either.  In soil on land and in the sea sediment, the animals living inside are called infauna, and provide food and nutrients to the epifauna (those living above the surface).  What effect has man had on this foundation of the coral reef?  What diversity of life is there and how plentiful are they?  What size are the lithogenic (of rock origin) particles?  It all means something and needs to be studied.

Sand on bottom of ocean
Sandy bottom for grab

According to Dr. Jeff Hyland, NOAA NCCOS (National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences), “People may wonder why scientists want to study the seemingly ‘barren’ sand (or muddy sand) layer that covers vast stretches of the ocean floor.  One good reason is because this important habitat is not barren at all!  The unconsolidated (loose) bottom that occupies the majority of the sea floor can be teaming with life.  The types of animals found can include polycheate worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.  Some are large enough to see with the naked eye, but many are so small that you would need to use a microscope to see them. “

Three men in safety gear standing behind the pyramid shaped grey grab
James, Steve, and Jeff harvest their grab

The crew of scientists using the Van Veen grab equipment include: Dr. Jeff Hyland, James Daugomah, and Steve Roth (Grab Guys) of NOAA’s NCCOS Laboratory in Charleston, SC.  Ocean floor mapping is done prior to an ROV dive to help pinpoint the choicest spots for investigation.  After the ROV records the video from its dive, the “Grab Guys” go to work.  The science team confers and selects the best spots for study.  The beginning spot is relayed to the bridge, which then “makes it so” by taking the ship to those coordinates.

So, now what?  Every group on deck must wear hard hats and PFDs (life jackets—Personal Floatation Devices) since the winch will be used and they will be working near the side rail of the ship.   The fishermen (deck hands), scientists (both observers and the Grab Guys), and anyone who happens to be nearby must wear this equipment.  Safety first.

The fishermen and Grab Guys prepare for the sampling by dragging the 300 pound Van Veen grab close to the side.  It sits on a specially constructed table made of 2×4 wood and is painted grey.

Sink with water and plug plus two buckets on the left
Benthic cleaning equipment

Nearby, Steve sets up a smaller table with a sink in it, plus several buckets, a large spoon, and two rectangular plastic tubs nearby.  I really wondered what that was all about.

The winch hook is attached to the Van Veer grab and everyone stands ready.  When the bridge radios to the fishermen that the ship is over the drop site, they spring into action.  The winch operator waits for the signal from the lead fisherman that all is ready and is told by hand signals to raise it up.  As the winch lifts up the grab, those working the equipment help steady it over the deck and release it when it’s over the side.  The grab is lowered to the bottom as the winch operator monitors the amount of cable deployed.  The idea is that when the grab hits the bottom the release bar will pop and close the “grab jaws”.  If the grab isn’t going fast enough or lands on an angle it won’t close.  Plus, it might not go deep enough into the sediment to get a good sample.

Men standing in protective gear looking upward at the winch pulley
Watching the pulley for movement

It takes longer than you would think for that grab to hit bottom.  Remember, patience is a virtue.  The equipment drops 80 meters per minute.  Yesterday we were dropping to 320 meters.  All eyes are targeted on the winch’s pulley.  When the grab hits the bottom, it causes the pulley on the winch cable to swing, meaning that the grab has made contact.  Everyone crosses their fingers that the grab not only closed, but also got a large enough sample for an accurate test.  The winch driver begins to retrieve the gear.  It’s just like doing a science fair project.  You must repeat your experiment and have the right amount of sample so your repeated experiments  are as similar as possible when you repeat your procedure.  They must make three grabs which bring up the correct amount of sediment.  Often trial and error comes into play.  The current not only made things difficult for the ROV operations, it made the grab go down at an angle so it wouldn’t close (grab or fire) a few times.  They had to keep dropping until it worked correctly.  At one point the bottom was 370 meters and we had let out 425 meters of cable.  That meant that the wind and the current were really strong and pulling the grab out at an angle.

Pulley wheel hanging from an orange support
The winch pulley moved
Sieve bucket being swirled around in sink
Cleaning the mud off

Once the grab gets a sample, they scoop out sediment with a spoon and put it in a blue bin.  This is carried over to a sieve bucket and is half submerged and swished around in the sink to get the mud off.  This is repeated until all the sediment particles are clean.

Jeff in white helmet and orange PFD write information on a clipboard
Jeff records important information

The samples are scooped out of the sieve bucket and placed in containers which will be processed back at the laboratory.  In general, they are looking for sediment size (grain size), infauna (living organisms from the sediment), and chemicals from man.  The containers have been labeled with what tests need to be run.  Jeff is recording the numbers on the containers and whether that sediment should be tested for metals, toxicology, total carbon, organics, and sediment size.

Steve in PFD holding container with sediment and pink color
Steve holding organics sample

A special insert is placed in the grab to measure an exact amount of sediment to determine the amount of  the infauna.  This sample is cleaned and put in a large container with formalin mixed with rose bengal.  The rose bengal had been premixed by Dr. Hyland the first day so that when added to the sediment it will turn the living organisms a pink color, making them easier to find.

After the sediment samples are put in the smaller bottles, the top is screwed on, sealed with electrical tape to make sure it doesn’t open, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. All these benthic samples will be sent to Barry Vittor, a company specializing in sediment analysis.

I have a new appreciation for the sediment in the ocean.  I’ve learned that sediment on the north side of a coral mound in the Gulf Stream usually has less nutrients since the current flows from south to north.  The coral and other plankton-consuming animals eat a lot of the food flowing in the current over the mound so the water on the north side contains less food and can support less infauna.  I hope my students enjoy learning about the benthos as much as I have.  Perhaps with the data we collected, scientists will be able to help determine what we need to do to preserve the corals of the reefs.