Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping

(EX2403, EX2404, EX2407)

Lia Kim’s Daily Reflection Log Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

Lia Kim

Lia Kim is the 2024 science communication Explorer-in-Training for the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. Join her throughout her adventure!


Friday, June 28, 2024

Day Eight

Okeanos Explorer is filled with lots of welcoming faces, contributing to its positive atmosphere. It would be difficult to not grow close with those you see everyday and whom you are living alongside on a ship that loses its vastness the longer you live on it. Today, I noticed all the places on the boat that foster community.

Mealtimes are a place of socialization with those in different departments/roles on the boat. The largest long table in the mess hall, where we eat, was almost filled today at dinner with lots of chit chat and curiosity for each other's lives outside of the boat. I decided to take my dinner up to the table on the boat deck to enjoy the sunny weather and was welcomed by junior officer Julie and ship engineer Chris cooking their dinner on a small grill that they put on top of the boat deck table. After dinner, a few of us gathered to play some Super Smash Bros. in the forward lounge. More and more people joined the game as they passed by the lounge until we were maxed out on controllers!

Today’s sunset attracted lots of watchers and I noticed several people outside sitting on the ship’s blue mats that had a perfect view of the sun descending over the horizon. While filming for “Hawaiian Word of the Day”, we had lots of people eager to participate in the videos for the second week.

Image of cultural liaison Makoa, explorer in training Anabel, and sample data manager Jennifer out on the blue mats. This is the best place to watch the sunset as the ship has been heading east for the past several days. This prime sunset spot overlooks the fantail of the boat.
Image of cultural liaison Makoa, explorer-in-training Anabel, and sample data manager Jennifer out on the blue mats on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer’s fantail during the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. This is the best place to watch the sunset as the ship has been heading east for the past several days. This prime sunset spot overlooks the fantail of the boat. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 262 KB).

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Day Seven

After dinner, some of us non-mapping interns gathered in the dry lab to start our mapping training. Excluding expedition coordinator Thomas, all of us in the room were beginners to deepwater mapping. We began by discussing the different reasons for mapping. One key reason is safety: ocean navigators need to know their course to avoid unexpected seamounts and other potential obstructions on the seafloor. Another reason is exploration. We map because we don’t know what exists in these unmapped and unexplored areas—there may be more than just topography. As Thomas put it, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Cultural liaison Malia added a third reason: historical continuity. The ocean floor is a vast treasure ground that can tell stories going back millions of years. Exploring the ocean floor and learning about our ocean’s history is crucial for how we proceed with future ocean exploration.

While Google maps show some topography of the ocean floor, these maps are only estimates and the data used to create them comes from satellites measuring the bulges in the water caused by the features of the ocean floor. Indigenous voyagers knew what these bulges in the water meant as well, which helped their navigation of the sea. Although satellites are able to collect measurements and create an estimate of seafloor topography, the multibeam sonar ocean mapping, like what is taking place on this expedition, provides much more accuracy.

Image of one of the working stations in the mission control room. There are three working stations with two monitors for each station. On the left screen, you can see some of the colorful mapped data along the ship’s mapping route. The ship moves like a lawnmower to map the large area and you can see that pattern with the white lines with arrows. On the right screen, you can see what the data looks like for the watch standers who are responsible for monitoring the technology and cleaning the data. The machine right under the two screens is the radio which is used to communicate with the bridge, the area of the ship in charge of steering.
Image of one of the working stations in the mission control room on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. There are three working stations, each with two monitors. On the left screen, you can see some of the colorful mapped data along the ship’s mapping route. The ship moves like a lawnmower to map the large area and you can see that pattern with the white lines with arrows. On the right screen, you can see what the data looks like for the watch standers who are responsible for monitoring the technology and cleaning the data. The machine right under the two screens is the radio which is used to communicate with the bridge, the area of the ship where steering and navigation take place. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.31 MB).

Eventually, we headed into the control room where the mapping data is collected and “cleaned” or removing extraneous data points. We learned how to use the radio in the control room and how to call the bridge. Okeanos Explorer operates 24/7 just like how the mapping is happening 24/7. There are watch standers monitoring the data and technology to make sure that the deepwater mapping mission is operating smoothly. The mission team and ship operations team work together to make the expedition possible, which is why the bridge and survey (control room) are in constant communication.


Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Day Six

I finally visited the bridge at night! The bridge is the area where the ship is controlled and navigated by members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. It is often referred to as the “nerve center” of the ship as most operations happen here, including the steering of the vessel. Junior officers Aidan and Julie were on watch until midnight with each watch shift being four hours. Aidan and Julie showed us a lot of the technology they use, but only scratched the surface of all operations that happen in the bridge.

Image of the main controls within the bridge. On the far left, you can see one of two radars they have which can detect surrounding things in the water. The radars can be turned up and down to reduce “noise” such as waves. The bridge is kept dark with special lights used, which is why the screen on the top right has a red filter on it.
Image of the main controls within the bridge. On the far left, you can see one of two radars they have which can detect surrounding things in the water. The radars can be turned up and down to reduce “noise” such as waves. The bridge is kept dark with special lights used, which is why the screen on the top right has a red filter on it. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.65 MB).
Image showing one of the screens up on the bridge. This is one of many displays of the ship’s direction. At the time this picture was taken, the ship was heading east. If you think about the north, east, south and west formation of a compass as a circle of 360 degrees, you can figure out which direction the ship is going. Due east would be 90 degrees.
Image showing one of the screens up on the bridge. This is one of many displays of the ship’s direction. At the time this picture was taken, the ship was heading east. If you think about the north, east, south and west formation of a compass as a circle of 360 degrees, you can figure out which direction the ship is going. Due east would be 90 degrees. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.40 MB).

At night, the bridge is completely dark, with the exception of the buttons and screens that show the ship’s course. Aidan and Julie explained that the reason why they keep the inside of the bridge so dark is for better visibility of any light that may be outside. These lights can be buoys floating in the water or other ships. Hitting a fishing buoy in the water can blow a propeller and be detrimental to the ship’s mission and compromise the ship’s safety. Even though they have lots of technology to detect things in the water, spotting things with your eyes is the most effective.

Tonight was a particularly clear night and there were a ton of stars in the sky. Aidan informed us that the best time for stargazing is between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., so some of us stayed up to see the stars at peak brightness.

Image of the stars on a particularly clear night taken outside from the boat deck.
Image of the stars on a particularly clear night taken outside from the boat deck. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 1.81 MB).

Monday, June 24, 2024

Day Four

It was a very different Monday being on the ship. Okeanos Explorer runs all hours of the day and all days of the week, meaning that Mondays work a little differently here! Today I assisted our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, in filming short videos for a “Hawaiian Word of the Day” feature, which you can see on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and X/Twitter. I noticed that more people were outside, exercising on the ship’s bikes that have a great view of the ocean and using the other gym equipment that lives on the deck.

After a delicious Thanksgiving dinner that our amazing stewards made, it was time for oli chant practice in preparation for next Sunday’s sunrise. Many of us gathered in the forward lounge including our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, expedition coordinator, Thomas, and Captain Colin Little to practice the sunrise chant we learned a few days ago at our first Sunday sunrise.

Later, a few of us joined in the forward lounge for some Super Smash Bros. gaming. As we were gaming, the waves started to get really strong and we all decided to head out to stargaze on the boat deck. Since the ship was rocking a lot, we all came up with the best route to get outside which involved choosing the easiest door to work with amidst the “high” seas we were experiencing. It’s always important to have positive control of all the doors at all times for not only safety reasons, but also to ensure that everyone is getting enough sleep for their shifts! At first, it was extremely dark outside because the clouds were covering most of the stars. As soon as one cloud shifted, we started to see a ton of stars and others tried to identify constellations.

Thomas joined us outside and took us to the bow of the ship to try and spot bioluminescence in the water. We all leaned on the edge of the starboard (right) side of the boat and peered over the railing to see the glowing blue of the bioluminescence as the water crashed against the bottom of the boat! At this point, leaning against the edge of the ship felt more like an amusement park ride as we got sprayed multiple times with salty water. Some more people joined us outside to see the bioluminescence before we all headed back inside and checked back in with the bridge to notify them that everyone was back inside and safe!

Explorer-in-training Anabel, sample data manager Jennifer, and cultural liaison Makoa leaning on the starboard side of the ship’s bow searching for bioluminescence in the water!
Explorer-in-training Anabel, sample data manager Jennifer, and cultural liaison Makoa leaning on the starboard side of the ship’s bow searching for bioluminescence in the water! Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 1.81 MB).

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Day Three

At around 5:40 in the morning, some of us gathered on the bow (front) of the ship to learn and perform a Hawaiian sunrise chant titled E Ala E, led by Malia and Makoa. Malia shared that the chant is started right before the sun peeks above the horizon and continued until the sun is fully above the horizon. If you chose the wrong time to start, you would be chanting for a long time! Unfortunately, the clouds were covering most of the sun, so we chanted until the sun started to peak over the clouds. The sunrise chant grounds us in the present and naturally connects us to the Earth, Sun, and water. As we were chanting, I was paying a lot of attention to the clouds and the sun hiding behind them. I was extra fixated on the bright outlining on the cloud bank that was created by the sunshine sneaking out. I was also noticing how my body was moving and swaying with the strong waves (partially so I wouldn’t fall during the chant). Can’t wait for next Sunday’s sunrise chant!

The sun is just behind this cloud bank and its light started to stream out as we finished our sunrise chant during the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition.
The sun is just behind this cloud bank and its light started to stream out as we finished our sunrise chant during the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.18 MB).

In the forward lounge, I sat in on a ukulele jam session with Malia and Makoa. They were playing some old Hawaiian songs and some newer ones like “Over the Rainbow” (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s version). Our media specialist, Nate, joined the session with his flamenco fingers and sick guitar skills on the forward lounge’s communal blue guitar.

Later, I joined expedition coordinator, Thomas, to check up on the U.S. Geological Survey bat detector that is mounted on the ship. We checked that everything was working, replaced the SD cards and batteries, and took pictures of each step to make an SOP (standard operating procedure) for those doing future maintenance. I then sat in on my first mapping watch shift with watch lead, Mia, and mapping intern, Anabel. I watched as they cleaned up the data by deleting outliers while they explained some of the basics of how to read the colorful data they were looking at. My sit-in ended with Anabel launching the XBT which is dropped into the water every six hours or so and measures water temperature.

Today was also Sundae Sunday at the mess deck! We celebrated the first Sundae Sunday of the Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition by watching Moana in the forward lounge.


Saturday, June 22, 2024

Day Two

Last night, I battled the seasickness demons which I was not expecting since I had been on smaller and more rocky fishing boats before! But I have been told that everyone deals with seasickness differently and as expedition coordinator Thomas says, there is no person that doesn’t get seasick. Everyone was very understanding and supportive because it is okay to get seasick! After taking some stronger medicine, staying hydrated, and getting lots of rest, I was feeling much better and adjusted to the ship’s swaying. I made sure to spend time outside after each meal and center myself by looking at the horizon.

Today, it was time to engage in some cultural activity fun! In the wet lab, our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, held a lei making session and we were able to make our own lei. The style of lei that we were making was called hilo, where we twist the ti leaves in the same direction and cross them over each other to make a rope-like shape. During the process, we learned that it is important to think positively and to never speak badly about anyone, as negative thoughts and words can affect the quality and energy of your lei. All of us spread out around the wet lab, some on the ground twisting their lei attached to their toes and some standing up with their lei attached to the sinks and railings. There was sticky sap everywhere, but the wet lab smelled amazing! We hung our finished lei to dry in glory before cleaning up the area.


Image of a lei (left) that I made hanging to dry in the wet lab of the ship during the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition.
Image of a lei (left) that I made hanging to dry in the wet lab of the ship during the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.65 MB).
Image of cultural liaison Malia’s lei that she made over a year ago which has been stored in the fridge for preservation. Malia’s lei is made up of three smaller lei which makes it thicker with a fuller appearance.
Image of cultural liaison Malia’s lei that she made over a year ago which has been stored in the fridge for preservation. Malia’s lei is made up of three smaller lei which makes it thicker with a fuller appearance. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 3.40 MB).

Friday, June 21, 2024

Day One

Image of the lei wrapped by our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, around the railing of the bridge for the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. The bridge is the nerve center of the ship where all of the navigating and main ship operations happen.
Image of the lei wrapped by our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, around the railing of the bridge for the Beyond the Blue: Papahānaumokuākea Mapping 1 expedition. The bridge is the nerve center of the ship where all of the navigating and main ship operations happen. Image courtesy of Lia Kim. Download largest version (jpg, 2.60 MB).

As NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer prepares to set sail on its deepwater mapping expedition in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, our cultural liaisons, Malia and Makoa, conducted Hawaiian cultural protocol with an oli pale (protection chant), a pī kai (purifying with salt water and ʻolena), and the placing of a lei lā’i on the bridge railing of the ship. The lei lā’ī are made of ti leaves which are a significant plant in Hawaiian culture and utilized for ceremonial purposes, among many uses. In wrapping the lei on the bridge railing, the ship is now protected and ready to embark on its three-week mapping expedition in the Pacific!

At about 11:45 am, the ship started to depart! It was a much slower process than we newbies (explorers-in-training) expected. As the giant cranes on the ship scooped up the walkway that connected the ship to the dock, it finally sank in that we were about to be out at sea for almost a month! When the ship started to move, we stood on the boat deck and watched as Pearl Harbor became smaller and smaller behind us.


Published June 28, 2024
Last Updated July 9, 2024