Louise Todd, From the Bridge, September 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots

Science and Technology Log:

This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II.  Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate, and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!

The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots.  It was built in 1967.  It has two engines although usually only one engine is used.  The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf.  The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line.  My stateroom is below the water line!  Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.

The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation.  There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles.  These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys.  When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination.  The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms,  as they develop.

Radar Screen

The radar screen is on the far right

Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.

The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car.  ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes.  Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.


Navigation charts

When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line.  It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship.  While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed.  Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed.  The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back.  The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in.  The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back.  The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge.  A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!

Personal Log:

I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge!  Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus.  Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station.  We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.

The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake.  We’ve had nice weather too!  A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.

Did you Know?

The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth.  There are A, B and C stations.  A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms.  B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms.  C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms.  One fathom is equal to 6 feet.  A fathometer is used to measure the depth.


The fathometer is the screen on the left

Louise Todd, Setting the Line, September 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 19, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1017.17mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚C
Air Temperature: 27˚C
Wind speed: 18.05 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Those of you following our progress on the NOAA Ship Tracker might have noticed some interesting movements of the ship.  We had some rough weather that forced us to skip a station, and the current by the mouth of the Mississippi River also forced us to skip a station.  The safety of everyone on board comes first so if the seas are too rough or the weather is bad we will skip a scheduled station and move to the next one.  Now we are off the coast of Florida and hope we can get some good fishing done!

This survey is being done using longlines.  Longlines are exactly as their name describes, long stretches of line with lots of hooks on them.  The line we are using is 6,000 feet long, the length of one nautical mile.  From that long line, there are 100 shorter lines called gangions hanging down with hooks on the end.  Each gangion is 12 feet long.


Gangions in the barrel

When we arrive at a sampling station, everyone on our shift helps to set the line.  In order to set the line, we have to bait each one of the hooks with mackerel.

Baited gangions

Baited gangions ready to go

Once the hooks are baited, we wait for the Officer of the Deck (OOD), driving the ship from the bridge, to let us know that we are in position at the station and ready to start setting the line.  The first item deployed is a high flyer to announce the position of our line to other boats and to help us keep track of our line.

High Flyers

High flyers ready to be deployed

This is a bottom longline survey so after the high flyer is deployed, the first weight is deployed to help pull the line to the bottom of the ocean just above the seabed.  After the first weight is deployed, it is time to put out the first 50 hooks.  This is typically a three person job.  One person slings the bait by pulling the gangion from the barrel and getting ready to pass it to the crew member.  Another person adds a number tag to the gangion so each hook has its own number.

Numbers for hooks

Number clips are attached to each gangion

A member of the deck crew attaches each gangion to the main line and sends it over the side into the water.  The gangions are placed 60 feet apart.  The crew members are able to space them out just by sight!  The bridge announces every tenth of a mile over the radio so they are able to double check themselves as they set the line.  Another weight is deployed after the first 50 hooks.  A final weight is placed after the last hook.  The end of the line is marked with another high flyer.  Once the line has been set, we scrub the gangion barrels and the deck.  The line stays in the water for one hour.

Once the line has soaked for one hour, the fun begins!  Haul back is definitely my favorite part!  Sometimes it can be disappointing, like last night when there was absolutely nothing on the line.  Other times we are kept busy trying to work up everything on the line.  When the line is set and brought back in, everything is kept track of on a computer.  The computer allows us to record the time and exact location that every part of the line was deployed or retrieved.  The touchscreen makes it easy to record the data on the computer.


Computer ready to document what is on each hook

Personal Log:

It is nice to be doing some fishing!  There have been some long distances in between our stations so my shift has not gotten the opportunity to set the line as much as we would like.  I’m hopeful that the weather holds out for us so we can get a few stations in on our shift today.  Being able to see these sharks up close has been amazing.  I am enjoying working with the people on my shift and learning from each one of them.  Before we haul back the line, I ask everyone what their guess is for number of fish on the line.  My number has been 45 the past few haul backs and I’ve been wrong every time!  Christine was exactly right on one of our last haul backs when she guessed two.  I know I’ll be right one of these stations.  It is hard to get pictures of what comes up on the line because we get so busy processing everything.  I’m going to try to get more pictures of our next stations.

The views out in the Gulf are gorgeous.  I never get tired of them!

Moon Rising

Can you see the moon?

Sunset over the Gulf

Sunset over the Gulf

Did You Know?

When we arrive at a sampling station, the officer on watch must be aware of other ships and rigs in the area.  At times the bridge watchstander will make the decision to adjust the location of our sampling station based on large ships or rigs in the area.

Rig and Ship

Rigs and other ships in the area of a sampling station can force us to move the station

Staci DeSchryver: A Whale of a Time, August 8, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver

Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 26 – August 12, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Location: Barnabas Trough  56 deg 54.05N, 152 deg 38.100W 
Heading: 252 at 2.4 kts
Date: August 8, 2011

Weather Data From the Bridge
Dry Bulb Temp:  11.0 deg C
Wet Bulb Temp: 10.0 deg C
Pressure:  1020 mb and steady
Cloud cover:  Mostly Cloudy, Altostratus
Wind:  16 kts at 271 deg
Station model 08.09

Science and Technology Log

One of the most important abilities the NOAA Corps officers should master is the capability of navigating the ship.  Today, I got a brief tour of the all of the neat gadgets on the bridge that keep us “headed” in the right direction!

The tour started off with me playing the “What if?” game.  Poor guys.  It went a little something like this:

ENS Rodziewicz:  This machine tells us our current heading.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  What if that thing breaks?  Then what?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well, then we use this machine over here.

Landlubber Deschryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  (sighs)  We use this alternate machine.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And if that breaks?

ENS Rodziewicz:  Well,  this would be our last stop if we were in a real pinch.  He points to the magnetic compass.

Landlubber DeSchryver:  And what do you do if that breaks?

I realized my gaffe as it was flying out of my mouth.

He politely informed me that compasses don’t break.   I knew that.  I just didn’t remember it right that second…

Thankfully, he didn’t hold it over my head too long as the tour continued.  As it turns out, much of the tour went in the same manner.  The Oscar Dyson’s bridge can also be called the Department of Redundancy Department.  There are multiple back-up systems to combat malfunctions on all counts.  They even have a hand-held crank phone on the bridge in case things really head south.  The bridge has the following instruments/gadgets:

  • Two Radars to detect oncoming traffic/small islands
  • One computer screen to list, by name and give speed/direction of said oncoming traffic
  • Two computers for plotting course – one of them has “layering” capabilities to include depth, traffic, heading, and the ability to program the ship to steer itself
  • Speaking of steering – there are at least 4 separate places for the “driver” to “drive  the ship.”
  • Two compasses
  • A radio, hand-crank phone, and backup generator power supply for all items in the event of a cataclysmic failure.
  • A superior selection of hard candies for bridge visitor/users perusal.

After the tour, I was a little cross-eyed at all of the instrumentation and its capabilities.  I’ve also evaluated and concluded that the Oscar Dyson would be a great place to hole up in the event of an apocalypse, as she is truly ready for anything.

At the end of the day, I really enjoyed looking at the multi-colored information recorders, but what I really wanted to know was “How did the old school guys get the job done?  You know, drive the ship with maps and compasses?”

nav tools

Here are some handy tools for navigation!

As it turns out, there are many factions of Old School sailing.  The oldest group had nothing more than a map, a compass, a sextant, and the stars or the sun to get the job done.  But we’ve been using GPS for quite some time now, so some would consider a single GPS system with satellite passes that would “ping” the ship twice a day as Old School.  It was a nice reminder that we certainly live in a different age!

One of the neat tricks I learned to do tonight was how to calculate the true wind speed.  If you aren’t familiar with true wind speed and direction, here’s a brief tutorial:

It’s time to think in terms of relativity.  Everything on Earth is relative to something else.  Think about the last time you got into a car and sat in the passenger seat.  Relative to the car, the passengers in the car don’t appear to be moving.  BUT…to an observer on the street outside of the car, both the driver and the passenger are moving – in a given direction with a given speed.  (To get technical, they are moving with velocity only – recall that velocity is speed with direction.)  Now, let’s picture riding in the back seat of a car.  The passengers in the front don’t appear to be moving.  If the driver accelerates past another moving car, the car that is getting passed appears to be moving backward.  Some people blame their eyes playing a trick on them.  They shouldn’t.  Relative to your position in the moving car, they are moving backward.  To viewers watching the cars move while standing on the street, both cars are moving forward.  Tricky.

Now, let’s think about this with a ship.  If a ship is trying to calculate the wind speed while it’s moving, it’s not going to get a good reading.  Why not?  The boat effectively creates its own wind as it’s zooming through the ocean.  It can also give a false direction because the ship is not necessarily cruising along in the same direction of the wind.  How do we solve the problem?

Tonight, I learned how to use a Maneuvering Board to calculate the true wind speed and direction.  A maneuvering board is like a fancy piece of circular graph paper that can do so much more than regular graph paper can.  If graph paper is the cat’s meow, the Maneuvering Board is the lion’s roar.    By drawing the vectors of the ship and the relative wind, the true wind can be calculated on the board.

maneuvering board

This board is useful to sailors becuase it can be used for many calculations - wind speed and direction, charting around stationary objects, and charting around other ocean traffic are some good examples.

Remember, the ship has a speed and a direction – its total motion is a vector quantity.  Wind also has a speed and a direction – its total movement is ALSO a vector quantity.  I’m sure as you read you can hear the vector demon whispering in your ear, prophesizing about what is to come…time to resolve vectors…time to resolve vectors…Just give in.  There’s no use fighting it, mostly because vectors are super-awesome.

In order to calculate the true wind speed, both the relative speed and direction of the wind and the true direction and speed of the ship must be taken into account.  Once those two vector quantities are added (or subtracted, depending on the motion of the ship and the wind) the true wind speed and direction can be calculated.

But we only have to do that if all of the instrumentation catastrophically fails on the bridge.  A lot of the people on the bridge will complete a maneuvering board on occasion, just to stay fresh.  Otherwise, you just read the screen.

Personal Log

WHALES!!!  WHALES EVERYWHERE!!!  Tonight as we were moving between transects, we were invited to join a humpback whale party.  I was on my way up to the bridge to see what sorts of shenanigans were going on when someone informed me that the bridge was the place to be because there was a whale.  Well, when I got to the bridge, it was NOT a whale.


This is a picture of one of the whale's flukes. The pattern on the underisde of the fluke acts like a "fingerprint" for scientists to help identify particular whales. This helps marine mammal scientists understand the Humpback's behavioral patterns.

There were at least 15.  It started off as two or three spouts in the distance.  Then came the tail flukes slowly and playfully slapping the water.  They were everywhere!  As if that weren’t a beautiful enough show, they began to breach – exploding out of the water and returning via a graceful dive.  We must have seen 8 to 10 breaches.  I don’t know if any one whale breached more than once, but it felt like just as one re-entered the water, someone was shouting “Breach!” in a completely different direction. Two swam within about 50 feet of the Dyson, and we had to change our course briefly for one particular whale who was fancying our transect line as a place to play.  We stayed up on the bridge for about an hour, just watching them have a good old time in the sea.  I’ve never seen anything like it, but I hope to see it again soon.  I got some on video, but my plan is to wait until I’m home to upload videos to my blog because it takes up a lot of internet to upload videos at sea.  It was an incredible and powerful sight.  Scientists still can’t completely confirm why they breach, in particular why humpback whales breach, but I’m not going to ask questions as long as they keep doing it!  What a trip!

In other news, I’ve been combatting seasickness quite handily (I hope I haven’t spoken too soon! Uh oh!) by using a transdermal ear patch.  I tried using  some other anti-seasick meds, and they worked just fine, but they made my brain feel foggy – not a good state to be in while assessing fish stocks!  Finally I just gave up and went to the patch.  I didn’t want to overload my body with medication, but it’s critical that I remain alert while at sea.  It is also critical that I do not hang halfway over the side-rails for extended periods of time.  After all, I still don’t have my sea legs.

AK Sun

I've been working hard, but when my view from the chem lab looks like this, I would call it hardly workin'. Gorgeous!

Up on the bridge, one of the NOAA Corps Officers asked me how long I had been wearing my patch.  I told him I was going on hour 48.  He told me I ought to take it off because my pupils were wildly dilated, which is a side effect of this particular medication.   Admittedly, I kind of blew the advice off, because even if my pupils are big, at least I’m not feeding fish.  A reasonable trade off in the grand scheme of things, in my meek opinion.

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Have you ever seen the cartoon classic feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  Yeah.  I look like one of those bad-guy Toontown  weasels after he gets hit on the head with a frying pan.  Both of my pupils are large, but one (the one that shares the same side as the ear patch) is considerably larger.  In case you are having a hard time picturing this, I have converted this image into a “dilated emoticon face” to give you a reasonable  representation of my eyes:  o_O    <– me.   So, I’m currently at an impasse.  I was told that after three or so days at sea, it’s not necessary to continue medication because your body adjusts to everything constantly moving.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I also don’t know how I feel about looking like a crazy cartoon weasel for the next five days.   So, with that being said, I think I may resolve the issue by cutting the patch in half and reducing the medication amount.  It is my hypothesis that my pupils may return to regular, well matched sizes at that juncture.  It is also my hypothesis that I will remain an able-bodied sea girl in doing so.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Trivia Question:  Where was the Oscar Dyson built?  In what year was she launched?

*Answer:  She was built in Mississippi, and launched in 2005.

Kirk Beckendorf, July 6, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kirk Beckendorf
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 4 – 23, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
July 6, 2004

Daily Log

If you are standing on the ground, or in our case floating on the ocean, looking up into clear skies how could you tell the speed and direction of the wind a mile or two above you?

I spent the morning with Dan and Michelle who are from NOAA’s Environmental Technology Lab in Boulder, Colorado. Dan spent most of the morning showing me how the wind profiler he designed, can determine the wind speed and direction at any point above the ship, up to 6 kilometers in altitude. Dan was the chief engineer in designing NOAA’s wind profiler network, which has facilities strategically located across the United States. One of the phased-array radar wind-profilers is also installed on the BROWN. The profiler uses radar to remotely detect wind speed and direction in the column of air above our location. Five radar beams are aimed upwards from the ship, one looks straight up and the other four look upwards but at a slight angle. The radar signals bounce off turbulence in the air (kind of like air bubbles in a flowing river) and are then picked up by an antenna back at the profiler. The instrument then combines the signals from the five beams and determines the wind speed and direction at any point above the ship, up to about 6 kilometers (km). The computer monitor on the profiler gives a constant readout of the air’s movement. The chart this morning is showing that the air from the surface to about 3 km has shifted considerably both in speed and direction during the past 24 hours as a weak cold front passed through. However, the air above 3 km did not change its speed and direction much at all.

Dan and Michelle will also be launching radiosondes (commonly called weather balloons) four times a day. The radiosonde is attached to a large helium balloon. As it is rises through the atmosphere it measures relative humidity, air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction. Normally the sonde will rise to a height of 50,000 – 60,000 feet before the balloon burst and the radiosonde falls back to Earth. So this afternoon we went to the aft (back) of the ship. There Dan filled the balloon with helium until the balloon was about four feet in diameter. He then attached the radiosonde, which is smaller than a paperback novel, so that it was hanging from the bottom of the balloon. Once the computer had a good signal from the radiosonde’s Global Positioning System (GPS) he released the balloon. We all went back inside to the computer monitor that was graphing the relative humidity, air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction as the balloon ascended.

In the evenings after dinner the scientists have show and tell time. Different research groups showed some of the data that was collected today and gave a status report of how their equipment is working.

Questions of the Day

Why would the helium balloon burst as it reaches high altitudes?

How many MILES high can Dan and Michelle’s wind profiler determine wind speed and direction?

What is a GPS used for?