by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
It’s 7 a.m. Christiane Reiser rolls out of bed. After a shower, she says good morning to friends, eats a quick breakfast and grabs a sack lunch to go.
At 8 a.m., Reiser and three of her crewmates board a small “launch” boat and motor out into the ocean. For the next eight hours—or more if the seas are cooperating—the group “mows the lawn.” This means they drive the launch back and forth while sending out “sound pings” to measure the depth of the water.
Reiser is creating a map of the Pacific Ocean floor off the coast of Alaska.
Falling Down the Science Hole
Before her internship, Reiser had worked in geographic information systems (GIS) mapping—but she knew nothing about oceanic research. Now, she uses terms like “davit” and “acoustic theory” and measures distances in knots.
“I fell down the science hole and got stuck,” she said, “and I don’t want to get out.”
Reiser’s mother works for NOAA, which sparked her interest in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. She searched online for internships aboard a NOAA Ship and couldn’t find any, but she did find the phone number for the Ship Rainier. So, she called it.
“I thought they wouldn’t let me on the ship, but the worst that could happen is that they could tell me no,” she said. Instead, they said to her, “You sound perfect. Come on down.”
Reiser got the required medical tests and arranged for her travel to the ship port in Newport, Ore. The staff in the Experiential Learning Center
(ELC) helped her organize her schedule and course credit.
The initial agreement was for Reiser to serve on the ship for eight weeks. After the first four weeks, she asked her captain if she could extend her stay—and his answer was a delighted “Yes.”
“They recognized my enthusiasm,” said the native of Estes Park who grew up off and on in Germany. She contacted her faculty advisor and the ELC staff, who encouraged her to stay and learn as much as she could.
She ended up serving 28 weeks on the Rainier and earning 12 academic credits.
Reiser lived on the Rainier with 50 shipmates and shared a tiny bunk room with two of them. She remembers stumbling around the ship the first few weeks before she got her sea legs and drinking ginger beer to prevent seasickness. One day, while her group was out in the launch, 10- to 12-foot waves drove them back to the ship.
The ship went out on 3-week “legs” between stops at various Alaskan ports. Port stops were the only time crew members could receive mail. During each leg, crew members worked seven days a week.
“It’s not a cruise ship—you’re working very hard every day,” she said. “Ship life is hard, but it’s rewarding.”
Reiser’s rewards included:
- Seeing sea lions, otters and whales in the wild.
- Sitting around bonfires with her shipmates at beach parties.
- Visiting the uninhabited (except for feral cows) Chirikof Island.
- Watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean at 11:30 p.m.
An Ocean of Options
Reiser loved her time aboard the Rainier. She’d like to do another internship with NOAA, on the Rainier or, perhaps, another ship. Her work and dedication impressed her captain and shipmates so much that they’ve already promised her glowing recommendations wherever she goes.
“I’m dying to go to Antarctica,” she said. “There’s ground-breaking research and interesting people there.”
She plans to finish her bachelor’s degree at CU Denver in fall 2013 and, eventually, earn her PhD to become a traveling physical scientist.
“I have so many options,” she said.