Nikki Durkan: Navigating the high seas, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.5
Sea Temp (deg C): 11.1
Air Temp (deg C):  11.4

Meet:  Ensign Nate Gilman NOAA Corps Officer

Qualifications:  Master of Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College, Certificate in Fisheries Management from Oregon State University, Bachelors in Environmental Studies from Evergreen State College

Hails from:  Olympia, Washington

Photo Credit:  NOAA

Ensign Nate Gilman, Photo Credit: NOAA

What are your main responsibilities?  Nate is the ship Navigation Officer and Junior Officer On Deck. He not only drives the ship and carries out all the responsibilities that come with this job, but is also responsible for maintaining the charts on board, setting waypoints and plotting our course (manually on the charts and on the computer).  If an adjustment to our course is necessary, Nate must work with the scientific party on board to replot the transects.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Driving the ship, of course!  

Do you eat fish? **This is roughly how my conversation with Nate went on the subject of fish consumption: I don’t eat bugs. (He is referring to shrimp and lobster) – I thought I loved shrimp cocktail, now I know that I love cocktail sauce and butter, so celery and bread are just fine.

Aspirations?  Nate hopes to be stationed in Antarctica for his land deployment (NOAA Corps Officers usually spend two years at sea and three on land).  Ultimately, he wants to earn his teaching certificate and would be happy teaching P.E., especially if he can use these scooters, drink good coffee, ski, and surf.

Science and Technology Log

I spend much of my time on the bridge where I can learn more about topics related to geography and specifically navigation. This is also where I have easy access to fresh air, whale, bird, and island viewing, and comedic breaks. A personality quality the NOAA Corps officers all seem to share is a great sense of humor and they are all science nerds at heart!

Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Our sextant on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Our Executive Officer, LT Carl Rhodes, showed me several pieces of equipment used to navigate and communicate at sea – the sextant, azimuth ring, and Morse code signaling lamp. Because the sextant relies on triangulation using the sun, moon, or stars – none of which we have seen often, the sextant is a beautiful, but not currently used piece of equipment for us on this trip. The majority of our navigation relies on GPS triangulation; however, the officers still need to mark on the charts (their lingo is to “drop a fix on”) our position roughly every 30 minutes just in case we lose GPS connection. Morse code is a universal language still taught in the Navy and NATO (they install infrared lights to avoid detection). Alternatively, on the radio English is King, but many of the captains know English only as a second language. Think you get frustrated on customer service phone calls? The NOAA Corps Officers actually go through simulations in order to prepare them for these types of issues. During one instance, the language barrier could have caused some confusion between LT Carl Rhodes and the ship he was hailing (the man had a thick Indian accent) but both were quite polite to each other, the other captain even expressed thanks for accommodating our maneuvers.  All the Officers attend etiquette classes as part of their training in NOAA Corps and I just read in their handbook that they must be courteous over the radio.

Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) - we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans.

Unimak pass with lots of traffic – We are the green ship surrounded by other boats (black triangles) – we happened to want to fish in this area, but had to change plans due to traffic.

Shipping with ships:  80% of our shipping continues to be conducted by sea and many of the ships we encounter here are transporting goods using the great circle routes. These routes are the shortest distance from one point on the earth to another, since the Earth is a spinning sphere, the shortest routes curve north or south toward the poles.  Look at your flight plan the next time you fly and you will understand why a trip from Seattle to Beijing involves a flight near Alaska. Airplanes and ships use great circle routes often and Unimak pass is a heavily trafficked course; however, ships also adjust their plans drastically to avoid foul weather – the risk to the cargo is calculated and often they decide to take alternative paths.

Look at a chart of the Aleutian Islands and you will quickly gain insight into the history of the area. On one chart, you will find islands with names such as Big Koniuji, Paul, Egg, and Chiachi, near Ivanof Bay and Kupreanof Peninsula. The Japanese and Russian influence is quite evident.  NOAA has other ships dedicated to hydrographic (seafloor mapping) surveys. The charts are updated and maintained by NOAA; however, in many cases, the areas in which we are traveling have not been surveyed since the early 1900s. Each chart is divided into sections that indicate when the survey was last completed:

  • A   1990-2009
  • B3 1940 – 1969
  • B4 1900 – 1939

An easy way to remember: When was the area last surveyed? B4 time. I told you they like their puns on the Bridge!

Flathead Sole - How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!

Flathead Sole – How these guys navigate the seafloor is beyond me!

Personal Log

Maintaining fitness while at sea can be a challenge, and I am thankful the ship has a spin bike because trying to do jumping jacks while the boat is rocking all over is quite difficult, I am probably getting a better ab workout from laughing at myself.  Pushups and situps are an unpredictable experience – I either feel like superwoman or a weakling, depending on the tilt of the ship which erratically changes every few seconds.  Ultimately, I am finding creative ways to get my heart pumping – I do my best thinking while exercising!

One of my most valuable take-aways from this experience is my broadened perspective on those who choose to serve our country in the military and the varied personalities they can have.  Most of the individuals on board the ship year round have experience in the military and I have now met individuals from NOAA Corps, Coast Guard, Airforce, Army, Marines, and the U.S. Publice Health Service.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to meet them!

Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.

Vinny (my co-TAS) also served in the military.

Did you know?  Saildrones are likely the next big step for conducting research at sea.  These 19 foot crafts are autonomous and have already proved capable of sailing from California to Hawaii.  Check out this article to learn more:  The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around The World 

One response to “Nikki Durkan: Navigating the high seas, June 24, 2015

  1. Of course you are trying to do push ups and sit ups on the ship. Perhaps you should invent ship fitness instead of land fitness. Pretend you are a fish! I vote for a King Salmon!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s