Yaara Crane: Ready for Summer Adventure, June 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Yaara Crane
(Not Quite Yet) Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
June 22, 2013 – July 3, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise: Mid-Atlantic
Date: June 12, 2013 

Personal Log


My adopted black lab puppy, Riley

Hi everyone! My name is Yaara Crane, and I live in Falls Church, Virginia with my husband and 5-month old puppy, Riley. I am in the last week of my 7th year teaching for Fairfax County Public Schools. I applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for multiple reasons, including expanding my knowledge of chemistry into new applications that can be relevant to my students. One of the exciting things about going on a Mid-Atlantic cruise will be that I am studying our “backyard” ocean; how much more relevant can it get?  I read that part of this year’s mission is to investigate the effect of Hurricane Sandy, which certainly affected us here in Virginia. We lost school days to the hurricane, so it will be very educational to learn what happened to our coastline due to the hurricane.

When I was picking my major at the University of Maryland, I immediately chose chemistry and stuck with it all four years. I have always been enthralled by science and thought I would spend my life doing research. However; I found that when I added my second major in education, I couldn’t imagine the idea of being alone in a lab when I could be surrounded by people all day instead! This experience lets me have the best of both worlds for a couple of weeks. Hopefully my time spent at sea will help me teach my students to expand their horizons and really think outside the box about what life could look like after high school or college.

This past school year, I taught General Chemistry and IB Chemistry to a very diverse group of students at Annandale High School. The coolest part of being a chemistry teacher at Annandale? Our mascot is the Atom! We are located inside the Washington, D.C. capital beltway and have had our diversity recognized by a visit from Michelle Obama and the first lady of South Korea last year. I love having students from all parts of the world who bring fresh and unique perspectives to my classroom each and every day. Also, teaching IB Chemistry requires my students to work on an interdisciplinary collaborative project. This past year, we studied the sustainability of our local Lake Accotink. Maybe next year, we can use the resources that I will learn while at sea to expand our horizons from the lake to the bay or the ocean.

Andy in Belize

My husband, Andy, is too tall for the Mayan arch he is standing near. Also, notice the Maya didn’t use curved shapes for their arches.

Travelling is one of my greatest passions. From an early age, I was instilled  with the desire to travel because my family lives all over the world. I have cousins in countries that include South Africa, Israel, Australia, and Brazil. For my honeymoon in 2010, my husband and I decided we needed to explore a new culture and have physical activity inherent in every day so we booked a trip to Belize. On our trip to Belize, we climbed ancient Mayan ruins, canoed into a several miles-long cave with only a guide and one headlight, went ziplining, biked, and snorkeled. My favorite day was when we hiked through the Maya mountains to have a picnic and swim in a secluded waterfall. We also got a small taste of ecotourism and learned how to identify howler monkeys, allspice, St. John’s wort, and the give-and-take tree. This honeymoon inspired me to lead a group of 12 students to Costa Rica the next spring break where we participated in several similar activities, and added the ecotourism element of searching for native fauna and climbing to the Poás volcano. I think my favorite part of the volcano was seeing the cause and effects of natural acid rain so clearly, as opposed to the anthropogenic sources that surround me in a metropolitan area.

I hope to learn lots of new skills, both personal and scientific, when aboard the Thomas Jefferson. This experience will be a wonderful combination of science, teaching, and travelling. I am getting excited and a little stir-crazy as my students prepare for their final exams, and I prepare for my summer adventure!

Yaara in Belize

I am the perfect size for the Maya civilization based on their arch. My 5’0 height should be comfortable in the tight quarters at sea!



Lesley Urasky: Get that fish outta here! The invasive lionfish, June 24, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 24, 2012

Latitude: 19.8584
Longitude: -66.4717

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   16 knots (18 mph), Beaufort scale:  4
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure:   1,015.3 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Lionfish in its native habitat. ( Source: National Geographic; Photograph by Wolcott Henry)

Science and Technology Log

One of the species the scientists are continually scanning for in their videos is the appearance of the Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles); this is one fish they’re hoping not to see.  It is not native to these waters and is what is known as an invasive or exotic  species.

An invasive species is one that is not indigenous (native) to an ecosystem or area.  Many times these organisms are able to exponentially increase their populations because they may have no natural predators, competition for resources, or they may be able to utilize those resources not used by native organisms.  Most invasions are caused by human actions.  This may involve intentional introduction (many invasive plant species were brought in to create a familiar environment or crop/foraging source), accidentally (rats travelling on ships to distant ports), or unintentionally (people releasing pets that they can no longer take care of). Invasive organisms are problematic because:

  • They can reduce natural biodiversity and native species.
    • Push other species to extinction
    • Interbreed, producing hybrids
  • Degrade or change ecosystem functions
  • Economically:
    • They can be expensive to manage
    • Affect locally produced products causing a decline in revenue (decline of honey bees due to a mite infestation which, in turn, decreases pollination rates)

Within its native habitat, the Indo-Pacific region, the Lionfish  (Pterois volitans/miles) is not a problem because that is where they evolved.  It is in the family Family Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes). They inhabit reef systems between depths of 10 m – 175 m.  During the day, they generally can be found within crevices along the reef; at night they emerge to forage in deeper waters, feeding upon smaller fish and crustaceans.

Native range of the Lionfish

Lionfish are venomous and when a person is “stung” by the spines on the dorsal fin, they experience extreme pain, nausea, and can have breathing difficulties.  However, a sting is rarely fatal.  Despite the hazards of the spines, Lionfish are a popular aquarium species.  The problem arises when pet owners irresponsibly get rid of the fish in their aquariums.  Instead of giving them away to pet shops, schools, organizations, or other fish enthusiasts, or contacting a local veterinarian about how to humanely dispose of them, they release them into a nearby marine body of water.  It’s important to realize that even the smallest, seemingly isolated act can have such large consequences.  Remember, if one person is doing it, chances are, others are too. The responsibility of owning an organism is also knowing how to manage it; we need to realize how to protect our marine habitats.

This is where the problem in the Atlantic began.  The occurrence of Lionfish was first noticed along the southeastern coast of Florida in 1985.  An invasive species is considered established when a breeding population develops.  Since their establishment in the waters off of Florida, they have rapidly spread throughout the Atlantic as far north as Rhode Island/Massachusetts , throughout the Caribbean, and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Animated map depicting the spread of the Lionfish

While on our cruise every sighting of a Lionfish was cause for further examination.  There was one Lionfish that exhibited a behavior that Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist) had never seen before.  The fish was on the bottom and moving himself along instead of freely swimming.  Videos like this are instrumental in helping scientists figure out Lionfish behavior in their “new” environment as well as their interactions with the surrounding organisms and environment.  Hopefully, as this database continues to grow, scientists will develop new understandings of the Lionfish and its effect on the waters of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico.

Divers are encouraged to kill any Lionfish they encounter.  The only safe way to do this is from a distance (remember, their dorsal spines are venomous); usually, this is accomplished by using a spear gun.  The Commander of the Pisces, Peter Fischel,  was doing a final dive off the pier before we left St. Croix.  He saw three Lionfish, speared them, and brought them to the scientific crew for data collection.  These were frozen and placed in a Ziploc back for preservation.  They will be examined back at the lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Three Lionfish caught along the Frederickstad, St. Croix pier. (Notice the 6″ ruler for scale.)

Personal Log

The science portion of the cruise is coming to a close. Today was our last day of sampling.  As with yesterday, no fish were caught by the day crew, so we were able to begin cleaning and packing throughout the day instead of waiting until the end.  A few days after we arrive in Mayport, Florida, the Pisces will be going out on another cruise along the east coast.  On Sunday, July 1st, Joey Salisbury will be arriving in Mayport with a trailer to unload all the scientific equipment and personal gear from this research cruise.

Bandit reel with St. Thomas in the background

In addition to packing, the wet lab and deck have to be cleaned.  This entails scrubbing down the tables, coolers, and rails along the deck where we baited our hooks to remove all the fish “scum” that has accumulated over the past three weeks.  Between the four of us, we were able to make quick work of the job.  There is only one task left for me to do, and that is to take all of our leftover bait, Atlantic Mackerel, and throw it overboard once we are away from the islands.  (The bait has been used over the course of the past two years, and has essentially outlived its freshness.)

Day operations crew on the Pisces Caribbean Reef Fish Survey (left to right: Ariane Frappier, Kevin Rademacher (Chief Scientist), Joey Salisbury, and myself).

I want to thank all the scientists on the day operations crew and the deck hands for making me feel so welcome, being ever so patient as I learned how to bait hook, load the bandit reel, remove otoliths, sex  the fish, and answer every type of question I had.  They’re all amazing people and are passionate about their jobs.  Kevin was not only great at thoroughly answering any and all questions, but anticipated those I might have and brought interesting things to my attention.  Thank you everyone for an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!

Another incredible person that helped make my trip memorable is my roommate, NOAA Operations Officer, Kelly Schill.  She was very welcoming and made me feel immediately at home on the ship.  She gave me a thorough tour and introduced me to the crew.  I interviewed her briefly about her job in the NOAA Corps.

Kelly Schill, Operations Officer aboard the NOAA ship Pisces. (Source: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov)

LU: Kelly, what is your job title and what do you do?

KS: I am a Lieutenant junior grade in the NOAA Corps.  The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 uniformed services and I serve as the Operations Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.

LU: How long have you been working with NOAA?

KS: I have worked for NOAA a total of 4 years; 3 of which were aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces as a NOAA Corps Officer. My first year, I was a physical scientist and developed geospatial visualizations to assist in the generation of navigational warnings and maritime safety information for Dangers to Navigation for the NOAA and contractor surveys.  I assisted NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson in the field with the acquisition, converting and cleaning of multi-beam and side-scan sonar data.

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, my responsibility is to be the liaison between the ship’s crew and scientific party to ensure the mission is carried out smoothly and efficiently.  A big part of my job is to handle the logistics and transportation, such as project planning and setting up dockage at different ports from Texas to the Caribbean up to Massachusetts. Most importantly, to continue to learn the intricacies of the ship, effectively operate, and practice safe navigation at all times.

LU: What background and skills are necessary for your job?

KS:  A Bachelors Degree of sciences.  You must complete a year of chemistry, physics and calculus.  Geographic information System (GIS) is equally important. To be well-rounded, internships or field research experience is highly recommended.

Kelly Schill showing off the otolith she just extracted from a Red Hind.

LU: What type(s) of training have you been through for your job?

KS: Being in the uniform service, I was sent to Basic Officer Training Course (BOTC) to learn military etiquette, terrestrial and celestial navigation, safety aboard ships, search and rescue, fire prevention, hands on experience in driving small boats up to larger vessels, etc.  Once out of BOTC and on an assigned ship, I was able to attend further training:  hazardous material courses, dive school, rescue swimming, and medical. There are many more opportunities that were offered. I have only touched on a few.

LU: Have you worked on other ships not associated with scientific research?  If so, what was your job and what type of ship was it?

KS: No, all my experiences were on ships regarding scientific research:  NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (hydrographic ship) and the NOAA Ship Pisces (fisheries ship).

LU: Does being on a science research ship bring any specific/different expectations than being on another type of merchant ship?

KS: I am unfamiliar with the expectations on a merchant ship.  Generally, the research vessels are used to support studies intended to increase the public’s understanding of the world’s oceans and climate. Research vessels are not set on a point A to point B system. Various operations are conducted from fisheries, bathymetry, oceanographic, to marine mammal data collection.   These various research projects dictate operation area.  Contrary to research vessels, merchant ships usually have a set destination, from point A to point B transporting cargo of one type or another.

LU:  We are in the middle of a huge ocean, and our destination – a specific sampling site – is a pinpoint on a map. What has to be considered to make sure you get to the exact location?

NOAA ship Pisces ECDIS map. This is a nautical map that is updated monthly.

Closeup of navigational maps showing the location of our sampling sites.

KS:  We use a number of tools: ECDIS, Rosepoint, paper charts, GPS, Dynamic Positioning, and of course manual operation. The scientists will provide a location where they want the ship to be for operations to take place. We use all navigational tools to navigate to that position by creating a route, based on a good GPS feed. Navigational tools include: ECDIS (shows an electronic vector chart), Rosepoint (shows an electronic raster chart), and paper charts.  Multiple navigational tools are for redundancy to ensure safe navigation.

All routes are created on the side of safety to avoid collision with shoals, wrecks, land, neighboring ships, platforms, buoys, obstructions, etc. Once, we are close to our sampling station, the ship is set up into the wind or the current (whichever force is stronger), reduce propulsion, turn rudder hard over to one side to assist in the reduction of propulsion and to line up on a heading in favor of wind or current. The bow thruster can assist in turns as well. Depending on how strict the mission is to hold an exact coordinate, the dynamic position is dialed in and activated.  Otherwise, the watch stander will manually control the engine speed, bow thruster, and rudder to maintain position utilizing outside forces, such as wind, swell, wave state, and currents.

The ship’s radar. The yellow objects at the bottom are St. Thomas and its surrounding small islands, while other vessels will appear in green.

LU: Once we reach a site, what do you need to do to maintain that position during the sampling process?

KS: Every ship has its perks and not all are the same in maintaining a position during the sampling process. Our ship has dynamic positioning (DPS) which uses the rudder, propulsion, and a bow thruster simultaneously to hold position. However, just like any software system, it only works as well as the operator.  The parameters have to be just right to accomplish this goal.  Parameters are set up based on wind speed, swells, sea state, and currents.  All must jive for a positive outcome. Our ship works more efficiently facing into the wind or current; whichever force is the strongest. If both are strong, we split the difference. Should either the bow thruster, main engine, or steering fail, the dynamic position will not properly compensate.

Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) screen. This instrument helps hold the ship at a precise location.

Kelly, thanks for the interview as well as being a great role model for women!  Remember, girls, if you want it, go get it!

Paige Teamey: November 6, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 1, 2011

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, between Montauk, L.I. and Block Island
Date: November 6, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Clouds: Clear
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind: SE 9 knots
Temperature 14.3 ° Celsius
Dry Bulb: 11.5 ° Celsius
Wet Bulb: 8.9 ° Celsius
Barometer: 1030.0 millibars
Latitude: 41°10’59″ ° North
Longitude: 072°05’63″ ° West

Current Celestial View of NYC:

Current Moon Phase:

Current Seasonal Position (make sure to click on “show earth profile):

http://www.astroviewer.com/ http://www.die.net/moon/ http://esminfo.prenhall.com



Science and Technology Log

Sunset on either Thursday, Saturday, or....two months ago :).

Frank said an interesting thing today that resonated with a feeling that I have been unable to define. He said that when you are working at sea, every day is a Monday. This specific survey trip is 12 days long, which translates to 11 Monday’s and one Friday. That means there are no weekends, time is not longitudinal, rotational, or accompanied by changing scenery (going from home to the subway to school…all different backdrops). One day drips into the next, sparked by small things that you note as change and reference with a new day. We even had to vote on whether to observe daylight savings this weekend, or pretend it did not exist until we landed in New London on Friday.

Time at Sea.

I awoke yesterday and had the same breakfast I have had for the past week (still tasty, thanks Ace!!); however, there was nothing to punctuate why this day was indeed Saturday and not Friday. Mike the E.T. sat at the same table he had the day before and piled one condiment after the next onto his breakfast until perfection was reached, just as he has done each prior day. I smiled and laughed and told jokes with each of the crew members just as I have each day since I arrived.

Mike: Perfection in every bite.

The mess hall is like an accordion. It acts as a center piece that brings all of us together. After each meal the crew disappears back to the their stations. In this 208ft ship 36 members find their space and focus moving back to our stations to perform our individual duties. When meals begin anew we are pulled back together to resonate until we move away yet again. This center piece is essential otherwise we would continue with our duties whether it be Tuesday evening or Sunday morning. I enjoyed thinking about Frank’s sentence. This idea spoke of time not in hours or minutes, but as a continuum. Time on the TJ is marked with very simplistic relatively small changes that many of us would not pay attention to in our regular New York lives. A small conversation that sparks ideas, or subtle nuances that you begin to discover in an individual especially while sharing silence together, or a new smell that is adrift in the air that allows you to remember Tuesday from Friday (remember Tuesday when we smelled…). A series of simplistic small moments allows you to mark one day from the next.

Brilliant Tom prepping 3102 for a secure departure from the TJ.

There is a lovely gentleman named Tom who has been on numerous ships for over 30 years. He told me his line of work suits him best because he likes being able to keep to himself and if he was unable to work on ships he would be a hermit high on a hill (just a little joke). He has marked time by haircuts or noticing his shirt is slowly falling apart, or having to shave. He does not speak in days, just marked events. His longest time at sea without seeing land was 167 days…

Rock dove...can you find him?

Yesterday, Saturday…I mean Sunday, was marked by a small rock dove staring at me from the deck while I was standing on the bridge as I normally do with Joe and Tony during the 4-8 shift. The dove landed on the steal guard rail and then nestled in an incredibly small nook located in the bow next to the front mast and remained with the ship for the next two hours. It puffed its feathers to a measurable extension and settled in with the rest of the TJ crew. This dove punctuated my day and allowed me to differentiate time from Saturday.

"It's the people that make you happy--that is why I continue. Without people it is like having one shoe," says Tom.

There is constant conversation involved with seeing family, returning home, having creature comforts in hand’s reach, and kissing a wife, husband, or missed child. However many of the crew have also spoken of how even though time away from the ship is welcomed, after a while, they miss these days. Working with and on the ocean takes a certain kind of someone. These individuals tend to have patience, perseverance, and motivation to live on a ship and continue with focus each Monday. Each crew member on the TJ seems very much at ease and almost in a Zen-like state. From what I have observed there is no bitterness or disgruntled workers roaming the ship. Everyone here has served on multiple ships and is self-contained. Silence marks most of the day and conversations occur naturally when the tides are right.

For the last three days I have spoken with every surveyor on the ship at length to understand each stage of the nautical chart making process. I want to know the history, the importance, and most importantly the science. There are many stages and processes that go into the eventual updated chart (this process can take upwards of 1.5 years depending on the layout, and how well the data was accurately retrieved). I have been learning about this information and shooting videos bit by bit in order to make an introduction to hydrographic surveying for those that are following (thanks mom). November 3-5 have been my devoted days to understanding these new ideas. I will hopefully finish with the editing and have the video published soon.

Until then, smooth sails with no gales.

Personal Log


Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with cheese and two pancakes (coffee of course!)

Lunch: Grey noodles…no seriously

Dinner: Spicy noodles with green beans (YUM)

Paige Teamey: Introduction and Excitement about Approaching Voyage, October 31, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paige Teamey
Aboard NOAA Thomas Jefferson
October 31, 2011 – November 11, 2011

Sailing on the Hudson River Estuary next to Liberty Island.

Greetings, my name is Paige Teamey and I will be sailing on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson  as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  I am a graduate of Wheaton College with a double major inPhysics and Environmental Science.  I am a native Oregonian, but have called Brooklyn, NY home for the last eight years.  I love the outdoors and have had many opportunities to explore upstate New York and observe a side of the east coast that is raw and beautiful.  I have a great love for being outside and spending as much time as I can with my family.

I have lived and taught high school earth science, anatomy and physiology, forensics, experimental design, and material science for the past seven years at Brooklyn Academy High School.  I deeply enjoyed the students I taught as well as the faculty and community that existed at  the school and in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy.

Iridescent Family Science

I departed from Brooklyn Academy this year to follow a passion and help provide students at a younger age access to science and engineering with  Iridescent.   Iridescent is a non-profit science and engineering educational organization located in Hunts Point, NY  where our vision is to use science, technology and engineering to develop persistent curiosity and to show that knowledge is empowering.  Iridescent is a community-based educational outreach organization that supports student growth through lifelong mentorships and community sharing, development, and learning.

Hunts Point is located on a peninsula and is home to the largest food distribution site in the world as well as the largest fish market in the world outside of Japan.  Hunts Point receives enough food annually by ship to feed 30 million people in and around New York City.  Hunts Point is a tidal strait located between the Bronx River and the East River.  Each ship that Hunts Point residential and food distribution port (notice the Bronx River and East River) travels from their homeland bringing products to NYC relies on nautical charts in order to steer around shallow areas, especially at low tides (check out the current moon phase today).  On my voyage with NOAA, I will learn how to conduct seafloor mapping (hydrographic surveying) of Block Island in order to update and generate nautical maps.

95% of our oceans have yet to be explored!!!  Humans have only researched, taken data, and “observed” 5% of our Earth’s watery shores.  Gene Feldman an oceanographer and earth explorer stated it best by describing the ocean as a really a hard place to work in the following statement,

70% of our world contains OCEANS.
70% of our world contains OCEANS.

“In many ways, it’s easier to send a person to space than to the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is dark and cold. In space, you can see forever. Deep in the ocean, you can’t see much. Your light can’t shine very far.”

Life exist in a very small slice on land when compared to the enormous depths of our oceans.

Life on land occurs in a very thin layer from just below the ground to the tops of our tallest trees  (about 1 mile or 20 blocks) .  In the ocean life occurs in every layer where some areas are more than seven miles deep (140 blocks).  NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is an amazing organization that has hundreds of scientists and engineers exploring and learning about our oceans everyday.  NOAA shines new light on our oceans unexplored worlds everyday.

For the students and families following my journey Shine your light!!  Be curious with a passion.  Keep your eyes open to the skies, below your feet, into the wind, with every step to school/work or while sitting in silence… question everything.  I look forward to bringing you answers and videos to any questions or any interests you have about my journey.  Click on the words when they are highlighted purple/blue in order to learn more.

You can follow my journey and adventures in this blog and daily ship position via the NOAA Ship Tracker.  Just click on the hyperlink, enter the ship tracker and select the Thomas Jefferson from the drop down menu on the right side of the screen.

NOAA Thomas Jefferson