Nichia Huxtable: Time to Make a Map, May 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Nichia Huxtable

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

April 28 – May 9, 2016

Mission: Mapping CINMS
Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California
Date: May 8, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:

Science and Technology Log

Seafloor in CINMS

Seafloor in the CINMS

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ME70 multibeam sonar on board Shimada. You’d think that I’ve told you all there is to know about the wondrous data this piece of equipment provides, but oh, no, dear readers, I’ve merely scraped the surface of that proverbial iceberg. In this post, I will explain how the raw data from the ME70 is used to create important seafloor maps. Heck, I’ll even throw in a shipwreck! Everyone loves shipwrecks.

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Nichia Huxtable, Diana Watters, ME70, and EK60; aboard Shimada

Back to the multibeam. As you may remember, the ME70 uses many beams of sonar to capture a 60 degree image of the water column. It collects A LOT of data, one survey line at a time. Lots of data are good, right? Well, if you want to map the bottom of the ocean, you don’t need ALL the data collected by the ME70, you just need some of it. Take, for example, fish. You don’t want big balls of fish obscuring your view of the seafloor, you just want the seafloor! Leave the schools of fish for Fabio.

Kayla Johnson aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Mapping maven Kayla Johnson

The person you need to make your seafloor map is Kayla Johnson. First, she sends the raw data to a program called MatLab. This nifty software separates the bottom data from all the other stuff in the water column and packages it in something called a .gsf file. Next, this .gsf file goes to this huge processing program called CARIS HIPS, where it is converted into an something called HDCS data.

You’d think that all you’d need to make an accurate seafloor map would be data from the multibeam, but it is actually much more complicated than that (of course you knew that! just look at how long this blog post is). Think about it: while you’re running your survey lines and collecting data, the ocean and, therefore, the ship are MOVING. The ship is heaving, rolling, and pitching, it’s travelling in different directions depending on the survey line, the tides are coming in and out, the temperature and salinity of the water varies, etc. etc. All of these variables affect the data collected by the ME70 and, hence, must be accounted for in the CARIS software. Remember how I said it was HUGE? This is why.

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Cross-section of the topography found in the CINMS

Everyone still with me? Ok, let’s continue processing this data so that Kayla can make our beautiful map. Next up, she’s going to have to load data into CARIS from the POS. POSMV (POSition of Marine Vehicles) is a software interface used on the ship that collects real-time data on where we are in relation to the water (heave, pitch, and roll).  She’s also going to load into CARIS the local tide information, since the ship will be closer to the seafloor at low tide than at high. Not including tidal change is a good way to get a messed-up map! Once the POSMV and tide files are loaded into CARIS, they are applied to the survey line.

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Completed map around San Miguel Island

Next, Kayla has to compute the TPU (Total Propagated Uncertainty). I could spend the next four paragraphs explaining what it is and how it’s computed, but I really don’t feel like writing it and you probably wouldn’t want to read it. Let’s just say that nothing in life is 100% certain, so the TPU accounts for those little uncertainties.

Since the data was collected using multiple beams at a wide angle, there will be beams returning bad data, especially at the edges of the collection zone. Sometime a bad data point could be a fish, but most often bad data happens when there is an abrupt change in seafloor elevation and the beams can’t find the bottom. So, Kayla will need to manually clean out these bad data points in order to get a clean picture of the seafloor.

Almost done! Last, Kayla makes the surface. All the data points are gridded to a certain resolution based on depth (lots of explanation skipped here…you’re welcome), with the end result being a pretty, pretty picture of the bottom of the seafloor. Phew, we made it! These seafloor maps are incredibly important and have numerous applications, including fisheries management, nautical charting, and searching for missing airplanes and shipwrecks (see! I told you there would be a shipwreck!). I’ll be getting into the importance of this mapping cruise to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary in my final post, so stay tuned.

Endnote: A word about XBTs                                                                                                      

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

Deploying an XBT off Shimada

 Before all your data are processed, you need to know how fast the sound waves are travelling through the water. When sound is moving through water, changes in temperature and salinity can bend the wave, altering your data. An XBT is an expendable bathythermograph that is sent overboard every four hours. It transmits temperature and salinity readings throughout its quick trip to the ocean bottom, allowing the computer to make data adjustments, as needed.

 

 

Did You Know?
Hey, you’ve made it to the bottom of this post! If you are interested in seafloor mapping, have I got an institute of higher learning for you. The College of Charleston has a program called BEAMS, which trains future ocean surveyors and includes a course called Bathymetric Mappings. Three of the hip young scientists on board have taken this course and it seems to be pretty amazing. If you love sailing the high seas AND data processing, you might want to check it out.

Cristina Veresan, Lights, Camera, Ocean! August 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59° 18.31’N
Longitude: 141° 36.22’W
Sky: Overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 358
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: < 1 feet
Swell Wave: 2-3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.2°C
Dry Temperature: 15°C

Science and Technology Log

When my shift begins at 4am, I often get to participate in a few “camera drops” before the sun comes up and we begin sailing our transect lines looking for fish. We are conducting the “camera drops” on a grid of 5 km squares provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl survey that shows whether the seafloor across the Gulf of Alaska is “trawlable” or “untrawlable” based on several criteria to that survey. The DropCam footage, used in conjunction with a multi-beam echosounder, helps verify the “trawlability” designation and also helps identify and measure fish seen with the echosounder.

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The Drop Camera being deployed

The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and two cameras, one color and one black and white, contained in a steel frame. The cameras shoot in stereo, calibrated so scientists can get measurements from rocks, fish, and anything else on the images. When the ship is stopped, the DropCam can be deployed on a hydrowire by the deck crew and Survey Tech. In the Chem Lab, the wire can be moved up and down by a joystick connected to a winch on deck while the DropCam images are being viewed on a computer monitor. The ship drifts with  the current so the camera moves over the seafloor at about a knot, but you still have to “drive” with the joystick to move it up and down, keeping close to the bottom while avoiding obstacles. The bottom time is 15 minutes for each drop. It’s fun to watch the footage in real-time, and often we see really cool creatures as we explore the ocean floor! The images from the DropCam are later analyzed to identify and length fish species, count number of individual fish, and classify substrate type.

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Emily “drives” the camera from the Chem Lab as the sun begins to rise

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DropCam images (clockwise from top left) a skate, brittle stars, a cruising halibut, two rockfish in rocky habitat

Technology enables scientists to collect physical oceanographic data as well. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) is a probe that is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water column. The depth is calculated by a known fall rate. A very thin copper wire transmits the data to the ship where it is recorded in real-time for later analysis. You launch the probe from a hand-held plastic launcher tube; after pulling out the pin, the probe slides out the tube. We also use a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) aboard the Oscar Dyson; a CTD is an electronic device used by oceanographers to measure salinity through conductivity, as well as temperature and pressure. The CTD’s sensors are mounted on a steel frame and can also include sensors for oxygen, fluorescence and collecting bottles for water samples. However, to deploy a CTD, the ship must be stopped and the heavy CTD carousel lowered on a hydrowire. The hand-held XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations. We launch XBT’s twice a day on our survey to monitor water temperatures for use with the multi beam echosounder.

xbt

Cristina launching the XBT probe Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir

ctd

Survey Tech Alyssa servicing the CTD carousel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser

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Ensign Benjamin Kaiser, NOAA Corps

Tell me a little more about the NOAA Corps?
We facilitate NOAA scientific operations aboard NOAA vessels like hydrographic work making charts, fisheries data collection, and oceanographic research.

What do you do up on the bridge?
I am a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), so when I am on the bridge driving the ship, I am accompanied by an Officer of the Deck (OOD). I am on my way to becoming an OOD. For that you need 120 days at sea, a detailed workbook completed, and the Commanding Officer’s approval.

What education or training is required for your position?
I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Boston University. My training for NOAA Corps was 19 weeks at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut– essentially going through Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.

What motivated you to join the NOAA Corps?
A friend of mine was an observer on a fisheries boat, and she told me about the NOAA Corps. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t know it was an option. We’re a small service, so recruiting is limited; there’s approximately 320 officers in the NOAA Corps.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love not being in an office all the time. In the NOAA Corps, the expectation is two years at sea and then a land assignment. The flexibility appeals to me because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing. There are so many opportunities to learn new skills. Like, this year I got advanced dive training for Nitrox and dry suit. I don’t have any regrets about this career path.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
There’s a steep learning curve. At this stage, I have to be like a sponge and take everything in and there’s so much to learn. That, and just getting used to shipboard life. It is difficult to find time to work out and the days are long.

What are your duties aboard the Oscar Dyson?
I am on duty 12pm to midnight, rotating between working on the bridge and other duties. I am the ship’s Safety Officer, so I help make sure the vessel is safely operating and coordinate drills with the Commanding Officer. I am also the Training Officer, so I have to arrange the officers’ and crew members’ training schedules. I am also in charge of morale/wellness, ship’s store, keys, radios, and inspections, to name a few.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I grew up in Rhode Island and was an ocean kid. I loved sailing and swimming, and I always knew I would have an ocean-related career.

How would a student who wanted to join the NOAA Corps need to prepare?

Students would need an undergraduate degree from a college or university, preferably in a STEM field. Students could also graduate from a Maritime Academy. When they go to Officer Candidate School, they need to be prepared for a tough first week with people yelling at them. Then there’s long days of working out, nautical science class, drill work, homework, and lights out by 10pm!

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy rock climbing, competitive swimming, hiking, and sailing.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
There’s no rock climbing!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Sailfish because they are fast and cool.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Chem Lab

chemlab

This lab is called the Chem Lab (short for Chemical). For our survey, we don’t have that many chemicals, but it is a dry lab with counters for workspace when needed. This room is adjacent to the wet lab through a watertight door, so in between trawls, Emily and I spend a lot of time here.  In the Chem Lab, we charge batteries for the CamTrawl and the DropCam. There are also two computer stations for downloading data, AutoLength analysis, and any other work (like blogging!). There is a window port to the Hero Deck, where the CTD and DropCam are deployed from. In the fume hood, we store Methot net samples in bottles of formalin. There is a microscope for viewing samples. Note the rolling chairs have their wheels removed and there are tie-downs on cases so they are safer at sea. Major cribbage tournaments are also played in this room!

Personal Log

It has been so calm on this cruise, but I have to say that I was looking forward to some bigger waves! Well, Sunday night to yesterday afternoon we experienced some rain and rough seas due to a nearby storm. For a while the ship would do big rolling motions and then a quick lurchy crash. Sea waves were about 2 feet in height, but the swell waves were over 5 feet at times. When I was moving about the ship, I’d have to keep a hand on a rail or something else secured. In the wet lab while I was working, I would lean against the counter and keep my feet spread apart for better balance.

waves

Seas picked up and the ship was rocking and rolling!

Remember the Methot net? It is the smaller net used to catch macroplankton. We deployed one this week and once it came out of the water, it was rinsed and the codend was unscrewed. When we got the codend into the wet lab, we realized it was exclusively krill!

methotlaunch

The Methot net is deployed by the Survey Tech and deck crew members

Krill

#krillfordays

Krill are  small crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. Krill eat plant plankton (phytoplankton), so they are near the bottom of many marine food chains and fed on by creatures varying from fish like pollock to baleen whales like humpbacks. They are not so small that you need a microscope to see them, but they are tiny. We took a subsample and preserved it and then another subsample to count individuals…there were over 800 krill in just that one scoop! Luckily, we had them spread out on a board and made piles of ten so we did not lose count. It was tedious work moving individual krill with the forceps! I much prefer counting big things.

I love it when there is diversity among the catch from the AWT trawls. And, we caught some very memorable and unique fish this week.  First was a beautiful Shortraker Rockfish (Sebastes borealis). Remember, like the Pacific Ocean Perch, its eyes bulge when its brought up from depth. The Shortraker Rockfish is an open-water, demersal species and can be one of the longest lived of all fish. There have  been huge individuals caught in Alaskan waters that are over 100 years old. This fish was not particularly big for a Shortraker, but I was impressed at its size. It was probably my age.

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Holding a Shortraker Rockfish. Photo by Emily Collins

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Smooth Lumpsucker fish: so ugly it’s cute?! Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

We also caught a Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). It was inflated because it was brought up from depth, a form of barotrauma. This scaleless fish got its name for being shaped like a “lump” and having an adhesive disc-shaped “sucker.” The “sucker,” modified pelvic fins, are located ventrally and used to adhere to substrate. These pelagic fish are exclusively found in cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific. The lumpsucker fish, and its roe (eggs) are considered delicacies in Iceland and some other countries.

lumpsucker

You can see the “sucker” on the bottom of its body. Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

Pollock are pretty slimy and they have tiny scales, so when we process them, everything gets covered with a kind of speckled grey ooze. However, when we trawled the other day and got a haul that was almost entirely Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), I was amazed at their scales. For small fish, the herring had scales that were quite large and glistened like silvery sequins. The herring’s backs are an iridescent greenish-blue, and they have silver sides and bellies. The silver color comes from embedded guanine crystals, leading to an effective camouflage phenomenon in open water.

As this last week comes to a close, I am not ready to say goodbye…

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Herring scales are nature’s sequins

Vincent Colombo, Dynamic Positioning, June 15, 2015

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

Mission: Annual Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 15, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 4.52 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
  • Air Temperature: 6.4 degrees C
  • Air Pressure: 1034.33 mb
A United States Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk flying over the Oscar Dyson

A United States Coast Guard Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk flying over the deck of the Oscar Dyson

Science and Technology Log:

Are you a morning person? How about a night owl? Well if you said yes to the first question, then Alaska during the summer is your place to be. Currently where we are right now, the sun officially rises at 5:08 and sets at 23:12 (that’s 11:12 pm for those of you not used to 24 hour format). But, do not think that it means it turns dark by any means. Sunrise and Sunset are when the sun is officially seen, or disappears on the horizon respectively. So far in my time spent here in Alaska, I have only seen it dark for about one hour.

The 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth exaggerates the effect of the sun during the time around a solstice

The 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth exaggerates the effect of the sun during the time around a solstice

The reason why is easily explained, seasons. Students in Delaware learn about seasons in 8th grade, and again if they take Physics or Astronomy in high school. The tilt of the earth causes the northern hemisphere to be more exposed to the sun for longer periods of time. Thus the concept of day and night is greatly changed.

In order to fully grasp this concept, you must also understand why it never gets dark either. The term we use is twilight, or the time between darkness and sunrise in the morning,  and sunset and complete darkness in the evening. Twilight is also defined as when there is light outside, but the sun is below the horizon.

There are 3 types of twilight: civil, nautical, and astronomical.

  • Civil twilight occurs when the Sun is between 0 degrees and 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, civil twilight begins when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and ends at sunrise. In the evening, it begins at sunset and ends when the Sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon. Typically civil twilight begins and ends one half hour before or after sunrise or sunset. Most outdoorsmen know this as the 1/2 hour before and after rule. If you’re a deer hunter, civil twilight signifies legal shooting time has begun or ended.
  • Nautical twilight occurs when the geometrical center of the Sun is between 6 degrees and 12 degrees below the horizon. Nautical twilight is usually an hour before and after sunset. This twilight period is less bright than civil twilight and artificial light is generally required for activities.The term, nautical twilight, dates back to the time when sailors used the stars to navigate the seas. During this time, observers on Earth can easily see most stars. Although not completely dark outside, one could safely get around.
  • Last is Astronomical twilight, and this occurs when the Sun is between 12 degrees and 18 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, the sky is completely dark before the onset of the astronomical twilight, and in the evening, the sky becomes completely dark at the end of astronomical twilight. This is typically an hour and a half before or after sunrise or sunset respectively.
  • During the summer months, especially around the Summer Solstice, the North and South Poles experience several days with no complete darkness at all. Currently our civil, nautical, and astronomical twilights are exaggerated, only leaving about an hour of actual darkness.

My next scientific topic I would like to discuss is the system the vessel Oscar Dyson uses called Dynamic Positioning. When we were calibrating the acoustic equipment in my last post, the ship did not move more than 0.3 meters in any direction.

Dynamic positioning diagram

Dynamic positioning diagram

The ship uses GPS systems to hold it in one single place for a period of time. Using a minimum of three satellites and triangulation, the ship’s position is able to be maintained. The ship uses its main engines as well as bow thrusters to keep it steady in one position.  I was also introduced to some new vocabulary:

  • surge: moving the ship forward or back (astern)
  • sway: moving the ship starboard (right) or left (port)
  • heave: moving the ship up or down
  • roll: the rotation about surge axis
  • pitch: the rotation about sway axis
  • yaw: the rotation about heave axis
How a ship is able to maintain it's position

How a ship is able to maintain its position

Not only can the ship stay in one position, I also learned that it can stay in one position over a column of water, which is vital for a research ship like the Oscar Dyson when conducting research one specific area of the ocean.

A view of the dynamic positioning monitor from the bridge

A view of the dynamic positioning monitor from the bridge

A view of the current state of the rudder of the ship. It changes as the dynamic positioning controls the ship

A view of the current state of the rudder of the ship. It changes as the dynamic positioning controls the ship

The bow thruster control on the bridge of the ship

The bow thruster control on the bridge of the ship

Personal Log:

It took us almost three days to reach where the scientific study was to begin. For those of you who know me, it is hard for me to stay in one place for an extended period of time. Luckily the ship has an abundance of DVDs to watch, Direct TV and a fantastic galley (aka kitchen) to make it feel more like home. I can honestly say the food is some of the best I have ever eaten.

Luckily (knocking on wood), our ship has not hit any rough seas. It has taken a day or so to get used to the rocking, just make sure you have a free hand to grab hold of something when moving about.

Underway, I got to deploy the first An Expendable Bathy Thermograph or XBT for short. You can find out more by going to this NOAA website: XBT uses

Getting briefed on use of the sensor

Getting briefed on use of the sensor. Notice I am harnessed in.

Deploying the sensor

Deploying the sensor

According to our Executive Officer, LT Carl Rhodes, we will be seeing some AMAZING Alaskan geography including volcanoes. Check back for some awesome photos.

Did You Know?

Most modern oil rigs are not fixed to the sea floor! They also use dynamic positioning. Learn more about dynamic positioning here.

 

DJ Kast, Pre-Cruise, May 18, 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 18, 2015 (Pre-cruise)

Personal Log

Chris Melrose picked me up from the hotel and really helped me get a grasp of life aboard a research vessel. I learned all about Narragansett Bay and the lab here in Rhode Island.

I then met Jerry Prezioso, the Chief Scientist for the voyage, who gave me a great tour of the Narragansett Bay Lab. I learned what an XBT (expendable bathythermograph) was and how it measures temperature at various depths.

XBT  Photo by: DJ Kast

XBT
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I learned how a Niskin bottle works and how many Niskin bottles lined up in a circle to make a piece of equipment called a rosette. The Niskin bottle is like a hollow tube with a mechanism that closes the tube at a specific depth that will then bring a water sample indicative of that depth. They apparently cost $400 each.  I am already making plans on how to make a DYI one for the classroom.

Niskin Bottle Photo by: DJ Kast

Niskin Bottle
Photo by: DJ Kast

This is a Rosette with 12 niskin bottles. Photo by: DJ Kast

This is a Rosette with 12 niskin bottles. Photo by: DJ Kast

With Jerry, I also met Ruth Briggs who works for the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators division and she showed me the shark tags that she has citizen scientists put onto sharks on the base of their dorsal (top) fin that they catch. When the sharks are caught again, the information she requests is sent back to her and includes species, size, sex, location to shore, and weight. She even let me borrow a decommissioned tag to show to my students in California.

Decommissioned shark tag from the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators Division Photo by: DJ Kast

Decommissioned shark tag from the Narragansett Bay Apex Predators Division
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I saw a drifter buoy that I will be decorating with all of my programs (USC, JEP, YSP and NAI) logos.

Jerry also sent me the map of all the stations that we will be visiting on our ship and at each station we are projected to measure salinity, depth, temperature, nutrients and plankton! I am so excited! We are expected to go as far south as North Carolina and as far north as the Bay of Fundy in Canada (International Waters!!!).

TAS and the NOAA Ship Arrival

My stateroom is amazing! My roommate and I even have our own head (bathroom) in our room with sink, shower and all. There are two beds in a bunk bed format, and since I showed up about 6 hours before the other scientists I chose the bottom bunk and the cabinet I wanted for my stuff. I unpacked (and gladly didn’t over pack) and managed to fit it all in the closet that was given to us. I feel so fortunate to have such amazing accommodations like this.

Important People who Keep the Ship Afloat and on Course

Today I met the Operations Officer, Laura, who showed me the ropes and introduced me to people on the ship at dinner at the bowling alley on the naval base here in Newport, RI. She also showed me the buoy yard filled with lots of different buoys that indicate different paths of travel and safe/unsafe waters for ships coming into port.

I entered a yard of buoys on the Newport Naval Base and here I am for a size comparison. They are HUGE!

I entered a yard of buoys on the Newport Naval Base and here I am for a size comparison. They are HUGE!

Here is a look at what happens when  a buoy is freshly painted and when its being fouled by marine organisms and algae (RUST!) Photo by: DJ Kast

Here is a look at what happens when a buoy is freshly painted and when its being fouled by marine organisms and algae (RUST!) Photo by: DJ Kast

 

Important Ship Personnel
CO: Commanding Officer
XO: Executive Officer
CME: Chief Marine Officer
OO or Ops: Operations Officer= Laura
NO: Navigational Officer or Nav= Eric
CB: Chief Boson or Deck Boss= Adrian
AB: Able Seaman or a Deckhand = Roger

Meal Schedule
I also learned about food times (Very important).
7AM- 8 AM or 0700-0800 hours= Breakfast
11- 12 PM or 1100-1200 hours= Lunch
5- 6 PM or 1700-1800 hours = Dinner

Roommate in Stateroom 2-22

 

DJ Kast on the Gateway Photo by: DJ Kast

DJ Kast on the Gangway
Photo by: DJ Kast

Here I am boarding the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Photo by: DJ Kast

Here I am boarding the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow
Photo by: DJ Kast

 

I met my amazing roommate Megan and she is a master’s student at the University of Maine. We will sadly have opposite schedules for most of the trip because I will be on the 12 PM- 12 AM shift and she will be on the 12 AM- 12 PM shift. We have a lot of things in common including our love of the ocean, geology and Harry Potter. She will be looking at dissolved nutrients in the water and she will be monitoring the instruments that measure conductivity, temperature and depth or (CTD) and requesting water samples while at various stations.

Theresa Paulsen: Getting my Hands Dirty with Data, March 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Theresa Paulsen
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16 – April 3, 2015

Mission:  Caribbean Exploration (Mapping)
Geographical Area:  Puerto Rico Trench
Date:  March 24, 2015

Weather from the Bridge:  Scattered Clouds, 26.6˚C, Wind 10kts from 100˚, Waves 1-2ft, swells 2-3ft

Science and Technology Log

Now that the interns have been trained in data collection and processing, it was my turn to learn.

Mapping Intern Chelsea Wegner taught me how to launch an XBT and how to process the data gathered by the multibeam sonar. It is a fairly simple procedure that requires diligent record keeping in logs.  I processed four “lines.” A line is about one hour of data collection, or shorter. Two of my lines were shorter because the sonar had to be turned off due to a whale sighting! This is bad for data collecting, but AWESOME for me! Again, I missed it with the camera, though.

Mapping Instructors

My Mapping Instructors: Intern, Chelsea Wegner; Expedition Coordinator, Meme Lobecker; and Mapping Watch Lead, Jason Meyer.

I have also been given the task of using a sun photometer to measure direct sunlight over the ocean as part of the Maritime Aerosol Network, a component of AERONET, a NASA project through the Goddard Space Flight Center.  Every two hours when the sun is shining and there are no clouds in the way of the sun, I use this tool to measure the amount of sunlight able to penetrate our atmosphere.

Using the Sun Photometer

Using the Sun Photometer

I use a GPS to determine our location and transfer that information to the sun photometer.  Then I scan the sunlight with the photometer for about 7 seconds and repeat 5 times within two minutes.  Keeping the image of the sun in the target location on the photometer while standing on a rocking boat is harder than it may look!

Sun Photometer

The little bright light in the dark circle above my right hand is the image of the sun.  It must remain in the center of the traget circle during a solar scan.

According to the Maritime Network, the photometer readings taken from ground level helps determine the Aerosol Optical Depth, meaning the fraction of the sun’s energy that is scattered or absorbed while it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. The reduction in energy is assumed to be caused by aerosols when the sunlight’s path to earth is free of clouds.  Aerosols are solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere.  Sea-salt is a major contributor over the ocean as well as smoke and dust particles from land that are lifted and transported over the oceans.  There are many stations over land that collect this data, but using ships is also important because the data is used to provide “ground truth” to satellite measurements over the entire earth, including the oceans.  The data is also used in climate change research and aerosol distribution and transport modeling.

Aerosols in our Atmosphere

“This portrait of global aerosols was produced by a GEOS-5 simulation at a 10-kilometer resolution. Dust (red) is lifted from the surface, sea salt (blue) swirls inside cyclones, smoke (green) rises from fires, and sulfate particles (white) stream from volcanoes and fossil fuel emissions.” (NASA,Goddard website)
Image credit: William Putman, NASA/Goddard

It is pretty cool to be part of such an interesting project!  The people here are interesting too.  I thought I’d highlight some of their stories in my next few blogs.

Career Profile of Intern Chelsea Wegner

Chelsea’s story is a great example for high school students.  She graduated from a high school in Virginia that is similar in size to Ashland High School, where I teach.  Her family enjoyed spending time near the ocean and had a library of books about ocean adventures.  Her grandfather served in the Navy on Nuclear Submarines and liked to build models of ships.

Chelsea Wegner reading "My Father, the Captain:  My Life with Jacque Cousteau"  by Jean Michel Cousteau  in her free time.

Chelsea Wegner reading “My Father, the Captain: My Life with Jacque Cousteau” by Jean Michel Cousteau in her free time.

In high school, her career interests began to take shape in her Environmental Science in Oceanography class.   She went to college at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia majoring in environmental science with particular interest in geology and river systems.  She took advantage of a research opportunity studying sediment transport from rivers to the coast during her undergraduate career.  She took sediment core samples and analyzed them to determine human impacts, contamination, and dated the sediment layers.  She took more research courses that took her to the US Virgin Islands to conduct a reef survey, identifying and counting fish.  She described that as a pivotal experience that led her toward her Masters Degree in Marine Science.  Her Masters thesis project was a coastal processes study the potential effects of sea level rise on coral reefs and the corresponding coastline.  She used the connections she had in the US Virgin Islands and in her university to fund and/or support her research.

After competing her Masters Chelsea applied for a marine science and policy fellowship, the Knauss Fellowship, which allowed her to work as an assistant to the Assistant Administrator of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) within NOAA, Craig McLean, for one year.  Through this fellowship, Chelsea traveled the world to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand, and France getting a first-hand look at how science informs marine policy and vice versa.

Chelsea learned early on that experience matters most when trying to make yourself marketable.  That is why she is here now serving as a mapping intern.  She takes the opportunity to learn every piece of equipment and software available to her.  She is a rising star in the world of science.  After this voyage, she will begin her new job as a program analyst at OAR headquarters working in the international office handling engagements with other countries such as Indonesia and Japan.  And she is only 28!

Did You Know? 

At 10 AM this morning there was tsunami drill, LANTEX (Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise) on the east coast from Canada all the way down to the Caribbean.   So students in schools inside Tsunami-threatened areas likely participated in evacuation drills.  The test is part of NOAA National Weather service Tsunami Warning Program.  It helps governments test and evaluate their emergency protocols to improve preparedness in the event of an actual tsunami.

Question of the Day

David Murk: Do You Know Your ABCs? May 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: Off the Coast of Florida and Georgia – Western portion of the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa)
Date: May 14, 2014

Weather data from Bridge:

We are sailing south and are at 28.55 degrees  North, 79.44 degrees  West

Wind: 23 knots out of the southeast.
Visibility: 10 miles
Water Depth in feet: 653 feet
Temperature: 27 degrees Celsius  – both sea and air temp. are 80 degrees!

Our location can also be found at:  (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

Science and Technolgy Log:

DO YOU KNOW YOUR ABCs?

Can you understand this sentence?

“During a watch change, the XO checked the AIS then handed control over to the  CO.  When contacted by the mapping room regarding the XBT launch and CTD termination check, the CO said,“Roger that”.  

After reading this- you’ll have a better idea what some of these acronyms mean and how we use them on the Okeanos Explorer. In other words, you’ll be able to say- “roger that” to show you understand and agree.

Let’s start with the XO and CO  –  They are easy and make sense.

CO – The Commanding Officer – He or she is responsible for everything on the ship. (see Personal Log for more information on Commander Ramos of the Okeanos Explorer)

XO – The Executive Officer – Reports to the Commanding Officer and is second in command.

AIS –What is it and why do we need it?

Okeanos Explorer AIS screen

Okeanos Explorer AIS screen

Automatic Identification System.  The Okeanos Explorer has an electronic chart display that includes a symbol for every ship within radio range.  Each ship “symbol” tells Commander Ramos the name of the ship, the actual size of the ship, where that ship is going, how fast it’s going, when or if it will cross our path, and a lot of other information just by “clicking” on a ship symbol!  Here is a link to get more information on AIS.  I also took a picture of the Okeanos Explorer AIS screen and below that there’s the actual picture of our closest neighbor,  the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon) .  If the CO feels like the ship is going to need to change course, he will inform the scientists in the mapping room right away.  Safety and science RULE!

Explanation of AIS

Our closest neighbor,  the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon).

Our closest neighbor, the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon).

XBT- What is it and why do we need one?

Sam Grosenick, mapping intern, launches the XBT.

Sam Grosenick, mapping intern, launches the XBT.

Every two or three hours the mapping team calls the bridge (the driver seat of the ship) and asks permission to launch an XBT – which is short for an eXpendable BathyThermograph.   That’s a heavy weighted probe that is dropped from a ship and allows us to measure the temperature as it falls through the water. WHY do we need to measure the temperature of the water if we are using sonar?  Sound waves travel at different speeds in different temperature water, just like they travel at different speeds in cold air than warm air.  So they need to know the temperature of the water to help calculate how fast the sound or ping that the ship’s sonar sends out so they can map the bottom of the ocean.  A very thin wire sends the temperature data to the ship where the mapping team records it.  There is more information about XBT’s here:

explanation of XBT

NOAA’s network of XBT data

CTD – What is it and why do we need one?

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Chief Boatswain Tyler Sheff prepare for a dawn launch of the CTD

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Chief Boatswain Tyler Sheff prepare for a dawn launch of the CTD

Many oceanographic missions use CTD’s.  The Okeanos Explorer is no exception.  CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth, and refers to the electronic instruments that measure these properties. The grey cylinders are water sampling bottles and the big white frame protects everything.   WHY do scientists need CTD’s? Scientists use a CTD to measure the chemistry of the Ocean from surface to bottom.  The CTD can go down to near the bottom and the cylinders close when the scientist on board ship pushes a key on the computer and close so that a water sample is captured at that depth.  It’s a lot easier than swimming down there and opening up a jar and closing it.

WHY do they want to know about conductivity? Why do they care how much electricity can go through the water?   If the water can conduct more electricity, then it has a higher salinity, i.e. more salt.   That helps the scientists know the density of the water at that depth and can help inform them of the biology and ocean currents of that area.

It’s a CTD, not a railing! (picture taken by Kalina Grabb)

It’s a CTD, not a railing! (picture taken by Kalina Grabb)

Close-up of CTD

Close-up of CTD

More info on a CTD from NOAA

CTD vertical cast

 

Personal Log 

Commander Ramos at the helm

Commander Ramos at the helm

As I mentioned in last blog, everyone plays a part on the Okeanos Explorer.  The CO plays a big part in making sure the scientists achieve their goals.  The man in charge- Commander Ricardo Ramos answered a few of my questions last night  in his office in the forward part of the ship.

When I say Oregon Trail, fifth graders usually think of covered wagons.  I doubt that they think of a family of immigrants from Mexico deciding to leave family and friends in sunny Los Angeles and hit the trail north to rainy Oregon. But the devastating riots in Watts in the 1960s caused Commander Ricardo Ramos’s parents to do exactly that. There were some adjustments to be made to life in tiny Klamath Falls, Oregon but his parents, 3 brothers and sister were up to the challenge of no family support and a new community.  The family worked for Weyerhaeuser and Commander Ramos knew he did not want to work in the plant the rest of his life.  It was never IF he’d go to college, but “WHERE”.  He was the second of the five children to attend college, earning 2 Associates degrees and a degree in Electrical Engineering.   After entering NOAA and gaining his masters from Averett University, he spent time on various NOAA ships and in other capacities.  He is also a graduate of Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program.

He had a couple words of advice for elementary school students.  First, take advantage of all learning opportunities, for you will never know when you might need the knowledge you will gain.  Second, that communication, both written and oral,  is probably the most important part of his job.  He is not afraid of getting input and editing of his writing for the job.  His greatest reward is realizing that he is charge of a tremendous asset of the United States that provides a platform for scientist to explore our vast oceans.

 

Did You Know? 

My ship – The Okeanos Explorer is about  70 meters - the length of the top of the  arch on the Eiffel Tower!

My ship – The Okeanos Explorer is about 70 meters – the length of the top of the arch on the Eiffel Tower!

Displacement – When you think displacement, you probably think of a quick definition like “moved aside” that we learned when we made aluminum foil boats.  When you get in a kiddie pool, bathtub or any body of water, you move aside water. If you measure the weight or amount of water that you move aside, that is your displacement.  The Okeanos Explorer moves aside a lot of water – more than 2,500 TONS of water.  That’s about 700,000- gallons of water that gets displaced.  The ship is 224 feet long and 43 feet wide in its widest part.  Now, I don’t know about you – but I start thinking about the really big ships and tankers that we see passing by the Okeanos Explorer on the radar (their ‘deets’ are given to us by the AIS system – See the Section on ABC’s for an explanation of AIS) Well, there was a ship called “The Knock Nevis” and it was 1500 feet long!  Did it displace water?  You bet!. 650,000 tons of water when fully loaded! (use a ton of water = gallon converter on google to figure out how many gallons that is). Let’s just say that it’s a lot more than our little MUFFIN – the winner of the Coon Creek Boat Race.

MUFFIN, the boat race “WINNER” and Mr. Murk on the high seas. (picture taken by Sam Grosenick)

MUFFIN, the boat race “WINNER” and Mr. Murk on the high seas.
(picture taken by Sam Grosenick)

Paul Ritter: Lock and Load the XBT – The Joke is on Me, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 22, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-22-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was a very exciting day.  After we dropped off our first traps, the ship’s officers brought the ship to a full stop and it was time to release the CTD.  What is a CTD?  CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The CTD unit  is an array of sensors that is lowered to just above the bottom of the ocean to take a continuous profile of the water column.  Moments after the CTD reaches the bottom it is brought back to the surface and the deck hands bring it back on board the ship.  From here, the scientific crew can analyze the data from the CTD to determine the water conditions for the drop area.  On some expeditions, the CTD is fitted with a device that actually takes water samples at the different depths for chemical and biological analysis.   This information allows the scientists to get a complete picture of the water column where the traps are set and where the fish live.

What is a CTD? CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.

Another instrument that is used by the ship is the Expendable Bathythermograph or XBT.  This device was used by the military for many years to measure the temperature of the water at various depths.  The most interesting thing about this probe is how it is deployed.

Warren Mitchell, a fisheries biologist for NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory, decided it would be a good idea for me to be trained firsthand to deploy this vital instrument.  The first thing I had to do was put on my hardhat and safety vest and step on to the recovery deck.  At that point Warren called up to the bridge to ask for permission to drop the XBT.  The officers on the bridge gladly gave us permission and Warren then got me into a launching position with my feet spread apart and my elbow braced on hip.  The CO then happened to walk by and asked me if I had my safety glasses on, to which I immediately said yes.

It was at this point that Warren gave me permission to launch the XBT.  I was excited.  I was ready.  I could not wait for Warren to give me the signal.  The only problem was I did not know the signal and I could not find the trigger.  I did not know what to do.  I was getting worried.  Warren then repeated the orders “launch”.  “How?” I replied.  Tip the barrel forward, lean forward, he replied, and the XBT slid out of the tube into the water.

The joke was on me.  Here I had been led to believe that this was going to be some grand launch something just shy of the space shuttle taking off into space.  The reality was that the XBT just falls into the water.  Very non-exciting for me but everyone on the boat laughed for hours.  So did I.  It is good to be treated like one of the family.  After our final set of traps for the day, I ventured out to see what it is like to work in the acoustics lab.

Warren Mitchell NOAA Scientist instructs Paul Ritter on the proper use of the XBT.

Warren Mitchell NOAA Scientist gives instruction to Paul Ritter on the proper deployment of the XBT.

Personal Log

Monday 7-22-13

Nurse shark outside chevron trap.

Nurse shark outside our chevron trap.

To this point this expedition has been so amazing.  Would you believe there are 3 people aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces that live or once lived within 60 miles from my home town? Crazy I know.  We have had only one medium sized squall to this point with 3 to 5 foot seas.  We have brought up traps with tons of jellyfish, in which I got a nematocyst (jellyfish stinging cell) to the hand.  It was not too bad but I did feel a slight burning sensation.

We have had a number of different types of starfish, all of which I have never seen.  One particular trap that we sent to the ocean floor, while upon retrieval did not have any fish, but did have a secret to share.  After Julie Vecchio, one of our volunteer scientists replayed the video cameras that are on the top of the trap, we discovered that a nurse shark had been trolling the area around our trap. I have seen so many amazing things.  Several days ago we were hauling traps and just as we brought our trap up there was a sea turtle that came up to the boat.  I snapped a couple of photos, as quick as I could and then went right back to work.  It was not two minutes later and I saw a baby sea turtle the size of a fifty cent piece.  Immediately, the first thing that came to my mind was thought of Crush and Squirt from Disney’s Finding Nemo talking to me.

Crush: Okay. Squirt here will now give you a rundown of proper exiting technique.

Squirt: Good afternoon “Paul”. We’re gonna have a great jump today. Okay, first crank a hard cutback as you hit the wall. There’s a screaming bottom curve, so watch out. Remember: rip it, roll it, and punch it.

 Paul: Whoa! Dude! That was totally cool!

Turtle off the port bow.

Turtle off the port bow.

Tuesday July 23, 2013

Somewhere in the middle of the night the wind picked up and so did the waves.  I share a stateroom with Zach Gillum a graduate student from East Carolina University.  This kid is amazing.  We really have become great friends.

One of the great things about this trip is to be totally immersed in an expedition with like-minded people. We will all hang around waiting for traps, or eating dinner and start conversations about some environmental issue or ecological principle.  I sure wished I lived closer to my new friends.  Anyway, our stateroom window is about 4 foot above the waterline.  Many times during the night, our window was under the water as a wave passed by.  When we woke up, the wind and waves increased.  A four to seven foot wave is enough to make many run for the toilet.  So far so good for me when it comes to sea sickness.

I just hope we don’t find any bigger waves.  We gathered on the aft deck as we usually do but we delayed deployment, waiting for improvement in weather conditions.  The major problem we had was with larger waves comes the possibility of the traps bobbing up and down on the ocean floor.  With adverse conditions on pick-up, we are also more likely to drag traps across the bottom.  We set the first six traps, pulled them up and just as we had suspected not many fish.  Around 1:00 P.M. Zeb Schobernd, our Lead Scientist, made the decision to head to another location.   It just goes to show you that when you are at sea, you need to follow the 3 F’s.  Flexibility, fortitude, and following orders.

Waiting to work.

Waiting to work.

Did You Know?

Did you know that a jelly fish’s nematocyst are like mini speargun?

These little stinging cells fire when they come in contact with the surface of and organism.  Some jellyfish tentacles can contain up to 5000 or more nematocyst.