NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14-April 29, 2013
Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 26, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: NE 3KT
Pressure: 1017.1 mb
Air Temperature: 74 F (23C)
Water Temperature: 78 F (25 C)
Science and Technology Log
I was extremely fortunate to be invited to ride along on a day-long BotCam deployment aboard the Huki Pono along with IT Scott Wong. Dr. Kobayashi got approval for it and before I knew it I was descending down a rope ladder and on my way in a small boat to rendezvous with the Huki Pono to work with scientists Jamie Barton, Chris Demarke, and Bo Alexander.
The BotCams are designed to descend to the sea floor, attract fish with bait, and video record the fish that are in range of the camera. The BotCam is then retrieved, the video uploaded, and then the BotCam is deployed again until the mission is completed. The videos are saved and someone then reviews them and classifies the fish by species and counts how many there are of them. The results are added to a multi-year study of the fisheries in the area.
The BotCams are heavy and deploying and retrieving them takes a lot of skill, so I stayed out of the way while that was going on. However, there were things I was able to do, and the three scientists walked me through them.
The first thing I got to do was to throw the grappling hook to retrieve the buoys for a BotCam. Captain Al of the Huki Pono skillfully brought the boat up next to the buoys at a good angle and I was able to snag the buoy line with my first throw every time. Then I got out of the way so the hundreds of meters of line that attached the buoys to the BotCam was pulled on board. Once the BotCam was pulled to the surface, a cable from the winch on the back of the ship was attached to it and the BotCam was pulled to the back work area and pulled on board. The video was retrieved, the bait renewed, and the BotCam was ready for deployment again. On this day, the crew was working with two BotCams, but they had a third one on board that they also use, depending on the requirements of the day. (The Bluejay is my school mascot and came along for the ride.)
Once re-baited, and with new video plugs, the BotCam was ready to be dropped at a pre-determined spot. The dropsites have already been entered into a GPS unit so the captain navigates from one site to the next using a handheld GPS. The depth of the new location determined how much line would be attached. When the captain said it was time, the scientists triple-checked everything, including each other’s work, and swung the BotCam off the deck and into the water. The line that attaches the BotCam to the buoy is quickly fed out after the weighted BotCam and then the buoys are tossed out last, which are the other two jobs I was able to do. Then it’s time to go the next location and either retrieve or deploy another BotCam. This went on all day long, without any breaks. Lunch was eaten while traveling from one BotCam location to another.
While I was onboard the Huki Pono, the Sette deployed the AUV for a lengthy mission. I was able to see some of the video footage when I returned to the Sette and the clarity was amazing! The AUV’s path was blocked by a large outcropping for a while and it was really interesting to watch the video while the AUV worked its way free of the rock.
The AUV was deployed again yesterday, and it is just as exciting to watch now as it was for the first mission. I know that it has a few failsafe procedures built into it, such as dropping the weights that help keep it down and aborting the mission, but it is still thrilling to watch the last line removed that tethers it to the ship and see it descend on its own power. The bright yellow skin makes it visible for many meters under the surface, but eventually it goes so deep that it cannot be seen any longer. The scientists monitoring the acoustics can “see” where the AUV is in relation to the position of the ship. They have named the AUV “Popoki” which is Hawaiian for cat.
The Chief Scientist, Dr. Don Kobayashi, arranged a tour of the engineering department of the ship. Chief Engineer Harry Crane met us in the forward mess and explained what we would be seeing. After handing out earplugs to protect our hearing from the 115 decibel environment, we were off. We were able to see the 600 amp 600 volt motor for the bow thruster used to maneuver in tight quarters or to make minor adjustments of the ship’s position. Then we were shown the sewage system next to the laundry room. The waste is collected and then cleaned by running electrical current through it before it is discharged. It holds about 6,000 gallons of waste, which is roughly what a tractor-trailer tanker holds. The giant Caterpillar diesel engines spin generators to provide electric power to run the propulsion motors, making the Sette a hybrid of diesel electric power. The water that is used to cool the engines is the same water that is used, as waste energy, to help run the evaporators that create the ‘fresh’ water needed for the ship. We also saw the halon and CO2 fire suppressant system, the main control room, and the shafts the turn the propellers (or screws), and the hydraulic system used to turn the rudder. One of the things that struck me the most about the whole tour was how very clean all of the areas were. Anyone who works around machinery knows it can be a messy environment with leaks and spills, but the Oscar Elton Sette was clean as a whistle.
This ship is like a large, extended family in many ways. The mess and the kitchen are central to the community with 3 wonderful meals served every day. But just like home, the kitchen is always open for anyone to make a snack. The other evening, one of the stewards, Allen Smith, stayed late to help me find the ingredients I needed to make a cake as a thank you to everyone on board. It was served as desert the next evening and the medical officer, “Doc” Tran, who really enjoys cooking, asked for my recipe and said that anytime they serve it from now on, they will call it the Rita Cake. Like I said before, everyone on this ship is very nice and they go out of their way to make me comfortable.
Did You Know?
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A GPS device is an electronic unit that determines a location within a few feet, displaying coordinates in latitude and longitude. The handheld GPS receives signals from geosynchronous satellites. It only needs signals from 3 satellites to calculate a location, but a signal from a fourth satellite can fix the altitude of the location and the exact time. The more signals that are received from satellites, the more accurate the reading.
One of my duties has been to find out information about everyone on board for blog entry. The Chief Sci and I talked about it and decided to borrow an ice-breaker that we use at my school from time to time called “Two Truths and a Lie.” It has been interesting, to say the least, to start to gather the statements from different people on board. I cannot wait until I have enough data to publish it, but the best thing has been getting to know people even better.
I finally saw a humpback whale breaching while I was on the Huki Pono! It was about a quarter of a mile away, so I didn’t get any good pictures, but it was still exciting.
I also was able to see some kawakawa (False Albacore) off the bow of the ship. They are quite lovely fish, with a brilliant blue hue and a streamlined appearance. There were about a dozen of them and they would race in one direction and then change course, often breaking through the surface of the water to appear as if they were flying. I was disappointed when they finally wandered off.
One thing I have wondered about is the lack of seagulls around here. I just assumed that anywhere there was salt water, there would be seagulls. Jamie Barlow said they simply are not part of the ecosystem here. There might be an occasional one that shows up on its way somewhere else, but they don’t stick around. That surprises me, especially when you consider the Taape, or Bluelined Snapper. They are an introduced species that was introduced in the mid-1950s because Hawaii did not have a shallow water snapper. The species has flourished in these Hawaiian waters so why doesn’t the seagull show up and start competing in a niche?