Spencer Cody: 1,000 Miles or 70 Million Years, Whichever Is Closer – May 16, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Soon To Be Onboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

May 29 – June 17, 2016


Mission:  Hydrographic Survey

Geographical Area of the Cruise:  Southeast Alaska Survey

Date: May 13, 2016

Personal Log:


Dillion packing for his trip to Alaska with his family.  Credit Suzi Vail for the photo.

Dear Mr. Cody,

I am looking forward to relaxing and having a good time.  Also, I have been on a ship two years ago which was on the Carnival Sunshine.  I’m excited to explore new things on the ship.  I’m looking forward to seeing the glaciers and seeing new things and learning new things!  (Dillion is one of my science students who went on an Alaska cruise with his family in May and will be corresponding with me about his experiences as I blog about my experiences on the Fairweather.)

Dear Dillion,

I hope you enjoy your trip to Alaska with your family. Your cruise sounds very exciting.  We missed you on the geology trip to the Black Hills, but Mrs. Kaiser was able to find a creative way to bring you with us.  I look forward to hearing more about your trip when you get back and your continued correspondence concerning your trip.  I am sure we will have a number of things in common with our trips to Alaska.  Take care.

As I look forward to another mission with the NOAA Teacher at Sea program aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather and the prospect of again being embedded among NOAA’s ocean research, I cannot help but to think back to our recent geology trip earlier this month and the implications of geology on geography on my next NOAA mission.  The NOAA Ship Fairweather promises to be a very different experience than my experience aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces.


While Dillion was on his Alaska trip with his family, Mrs. Kaiser found a clever way to bring him with us.  Look closely for Dillion on our tour through the Needles of the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

The Pisces was a survey ship that usually focused on fisheries missions similar to the Reef Fish Study that I worked on in 2014 while the Fairweather represents another key component of the NOAA fleet, the hydrographic ship.  Yes, this is where geology meets mapping, and when these two come together in the ocean, it is NOAA’s task to ensure that the data needed to manage and safely navigate coastal waters is up to date and accurate.

It can be a challenge to ponder upon an obvious connection to the ocean in a state like South Dakota.  During our geology field trip this May, there were times when we were no more than a few miles from the very center of North America’s landlocked isolation.  It may be quite fitting that North America’s pole of inaccessibility, the point at which one is the farthest from every ocean shore is in the Badlands of South Dakota where 100 miles to each horizon one can look in such a place and easily be led to the conclusion that this is, indeed, an ocean-less planet that stretches endlessly into beautiful desolation.

Badlands II

If you squint you can just make out the sea shore in the distance…just kidding.  The Badlands of South Dakota are as far as one can get from all shores in North America, more than 1,000 miles in every direction.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

But, that is the illusion of South Dakota. The reality is that we live on an ocean planet that is dominated ecologically and cyclically and in every conceivable way by a giant reservoir of water far bigger than the vastness of the great North American interior.  The reality is that ocean deposits built much of what South Dakota is today through hundreds of millions of years of deposition.  The reality is that South Dakotans are tied to the ocean in a multitude of ways, yet it slips the grasp of our awareness and often our understanding.  Imagine the challenge with our students in South Dakota who have few, if any, personal experiences to draw upon when science teachers cover oceanography and other ocean sciences in classes throughout the state.  Thankfully, programs such as NOAA’s Teacher at Sea are tremendously helpful in confronting this challenge through this valuable education and research program.

I have two primary goals during my mission:  connecting NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric work to the classroom and connecting students to the education and vocational pathways that could potentially lead to NOAA careers.  Basically, I am to learn and document as much as I can on my mission and use this experience to enhance the education of my students and to provide access to possible careers in oceanic and atmospheric work through NOAA.  I am greatly thankful and humbled to receive such an opportunity, yet again, through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  This is truly another great opportunity for learning for both me and my school.


There was once an ocean here…70 million years ago.  The great North American interior is largely comprised of ocean deposits of varying composition.  Hundreds of vertical feet of this ancient marine mud, Pierre Shale, is exposed through much of West River South Dakota serving as a constant reminder of our ancient watery origins.  Credit Laurel Kaiser for the photo.

As with me I will be starting my eleventh year of teaching in Hoven this August.  I teach 7-12 science:  Earth, Life, Physical, Biology, Biology II, Chemistry, and Physics.  I am also the testing coordinator and student adviser for our school district.  Like most staff members in a small school, one must get accustomed to wearing many hats with many roles.  I enjoy teaching all of the varied sciences.  It keeps my brain entertained and occupied!  Hoven is a very nice town to live and teach in.  It reminds me a lot of growing up in Veblen, another small, rural South Dakota town.  I have always been an advocate for rural education and strongly believe that small schools like Hoven offer an exceptional learning experience for students.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave my wife, Jill, and my daughters, Teagan and Temperance, behind for a few weeks.  I will miss them and did get a little home sick the last time with their absence.

I am counting down the days until I fly out on May 29 to Juneau, Alaska, where the Fairweather will be leaving.  I am to report a week early in order to work with the crew of the Fairweather on tidal gauges.  After my work with gauges, I will embark with the Fairweather on its mission and disembark in Ketchikan, Alaska.  I am very excited about the research involved in my upcoming mission.  I look forward to learning more about the various technological aspects of the mission and will report more on the subject once I am underway.  For more information about the Fairweather, visit the Fairweather homepage.


My family and I and Einstein.

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