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Two UD alums, Olivia Hauser (right) and Michael Fulton worked over the summer in Alaska on one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) survey ships, the Rainier. Hauser serves as the commanding officer for the ship and Fulton serves as a junior officer on board the ship.
Two UD alums, Olivia Hauser (right) and Michael Fulton worked over the summer in Alaska on one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) survey ships, the Rainier. Hauser serves as the commanding officer for the ship and Fulton serves as a junior officer on board the ship.

Guiding navigation

Photos courtesy of Bailey Schrader/NOAA

UD alumna and ship captain Olivia Hauser and fellow Blue Hen Michael Fulton serve on a NOAA vessel

As one of eight uniformed services in the United States government, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) plays a vital role in supporting marine navigation by updating navigational charts across the United States. 

This is made possible by four hydrographic survey vessels, all of which are equipped with echo sounding technology to measure water depth and identify submerged hazards to navigation. They also each have small boats that are lowered into the water for surveying in shallow areas. 

One of those survey ships, the 231-foot Rainier, is home to two University of Delaware alumni, as Olivia Hauser serves as the commanding officer for the ship and Michael Fulton serves as a junior officer on board the ship.

Both received their master’s degrees from UD, Hauser in 2002 and Fulton in 2018.

Hauser and Fulton spent the summer in the waters near Glacier Bay National Park and Kodiak Island, Alaska, to gather data that will support navigation by updating navigational charts.
Hauser, Fulton and other crew members on the Rainier, spent the summer in the waters near Glacier Bay National Park and Kodiak Island, Alaska, to gather data that will support navigation by updating navigational charts.

Hauser was named commanding officer of the ship in April 2021 and spent the summer leading a hydrographic survey in various parts of Alaska — including Glacier Bay National Park and Kodiak Island.  

Hauser said that they measure the depth of the ocean floor to ensure that ships can safely navigate the waters by updating the navigational charts that NOAA is responsible for creating for all U.S. waters. They accomplish this goal by having research vessels work with land-based officers who are updating, developing and publishing charts using the data collected by vessels like the Rainier. 

“We were in Glacier Bay National Park to update the chart in some specific areas because the glaciers have receded, and since the glaciers have receded, there are new areas that ships are going that have not been charted,” said Hauser. “We have to get information on places, such as the marine terminal, to update the chart there so that when the tour boats or whoever goes over there, they know where it’s safe to travel.”

The 231-foot Rainier was built in Jacksonville, Florida. The ship was commissioned on Oct. 2 1968, and its homeport is in Newport, Oregon. Rainier is a hydrographic survey ship that maps the ocean to aid maritime commerce, improves coastal resilience, and studies the marine environment. The ship primarily operates in the waters off Alaska and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.
The 231-foot Rainier was built in Jacksonville, Florida. The ship was commissioned on Oct. 2 1968, and its homeport is in Newport, Oregon. Rainier is a hydrographic survey ship that maps the ocean to aid maritime commerce, improves coastal resilience, and studies the marine environment. The ship primarily operates in the waters off Alaska and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Once they finished gathering data of Glacier Bay National Park, the Rainier went to Kodiak Island to gather data. On the island, there are a lot of fishing communities and people who make their livelihood on the water, so it’s critical to keep the charts as up-to-date as possible. In addition to supporting marine navigation, data acquired by hydrographic survey ships support marine ecosystem studies and fisheries habitat mapping.

Fulton, who received his Master of Geological Sciences degree from UD, said his role aboard the ship is to go out on the ship’s small boats, collect data and help with surveying.

Hauser and Fulton are pictured in front of the Rainier.
Hauser and Fulton are pictured in front of the Rainier.

“This is real data that gets put onto real charts, used by real people,” said Fulton. “I am learning to drive small boats in some of the most beautiful places in the world — currently in Alaska and next year we'll be working in Hawaii and the South Pacific. I am also scheduled to attend NOAA Dive School in the fall, and will learn the skills necessary for scientific and ship maintenance dives. There are constant opportunities to do things that I've wanted to do for my entire life.”

Fulton said his time at UD helped him to take academic information that he learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world scenarios, which is very similar to his work in the NOAA Corps.

“There is so much work that happens before the ship gets underway, and even more that needs to be done once data is collected,” said Fulton. “At UD, I got to appreciate the reason for this process and how important good planning is.”

Hauser agreed, saying that her time at UD helped her to think critically and in a scientific way, which has helped move her forward in her career. She started at the NOAA Corps in 2004, beginning as a junior officer — much like Fulton is now — and rose steadily through the ranks until she was named captain earlier this year.

Like the other ships in the NOAA Officer Corps’ fleet, the Rainier has smaller boats that are deployed into the water for surveying in shallow areas.
Like the other ships in the NOAA Officer Corps’ fleet, the Rainier has smaller boats that are deployed into the water for surveying in shallow areas.

As to what she enjoys most about being a captain and working with the NOAA Corps, Hauser said it allows her to blend her intelligence and her practical sense of judgment — all the while, not being stuck behind a desk. 

“It’s almost field work in a way, but you have a warm bed and someone feeds you,” said Hauser. “I like the mix of operations and science, and you get to travel to different, beautiful places. I have met some of the most amazing and fantastic people that I work with, and that is what has kept me going. It’s just an incredible, dedicated group of people.”

Fulton said that it has been a great experience working with a fellow Blue Hen in Hauser.

“Having that connection with someone who has had so much success in her career path is really cool and special,” said Fulton. “CDR Hauser is really passionate and excited about her work, and that's something I've noticed is common amongst UD alumni — I also attended our NOAA Corps training with another fellow Blue Hen, Emily Ruhl. It showed that UD really does have a very significant presence in the world of earth, ocean, and environmental science.”

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