Maggie Prevenas, May 4, 2007


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: May 4, 2007

Science Log

I have watched a lot of science happen these past three weeks. I have asked a lot of questions and taken a lot of pictures. See I needed to understand what was happening here in the middle of the Bering Sea. And I need to know it so well that I can go back home and tell my students all about it.

The producers in the Bering Sea ecosystem are diatoms and other phytoplankton. They are productive because there are lots of nutrients in the water.

The producers in the Bering Sea ecosystem are diatoms and other phytoplankton. They are productive because there are lots of nutrients in the water.

I have been trying to synthesize ecosystem science and understand. Gradually, oh so slowly, I can see. And it hasn’t been easy. Scientists often do research with a very specific topic or organism. They work in small teams.  They need to gather accurate data during the mission and/or store samples to continue research back in their labs.

The scientists on-board Healy work in small teams, with one scientist named again and again as contributing essential data to the Bering Sea Ecosystem STudy. This scientist works alone but is a huge team player.  Meet Dr. Calvin Mordy.

Dr. Cal Mordy figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled from the Bering Sea.

Dr. Cal Mordy figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled from the Bering Sea.

Cal figures out what nutrients are in the water samples pulled up from the varying depths in the Bering Sea. These nutrients are like fertilizer for the tiny phytoplankton producers that cling to the bottom of the ice that covers the Bering Sea. Understanding why, how and when these tiny green food factories grow and multiply is another researchers problem. Yet another researcher is cataloging what zooplankton consumers are present and in what quantity. Cal? He’s all about the nutrients in the water of the Bering Sea.
Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water.

Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water.

Remember that the zooplankton (consumers) depend on the phytoplankton (producers) for food. Nutrients are key in this research. Cal tirelessly and exactingly tests hundreds of samples of Bering Sea water, at different depths in the water column, and returns information back to the BEST (Bering Sea Ecosystem Study) scientists so they may integrate that information in their research.  Lots of people depend on him for their data. They make calculations of different solutions from his cue.

Many researchers on the Healy depend on Dr. Mordy for his data.

Many researchers on the Healy depend on Dr. Mordy for his data.

With so many people depending on him for data, does he ever make a mistake? ‘Never,’ he says, and I believe him. Mistakes  advertise themselves, he explains. Any data that is out of sort is flagged. Those samples are run again, to verify the data in question. Often those samples are the result of a leaky bottle or a misfired bottle. That data is pulled. That’s that.

Somehow it is so comforting to know that Cal has such a strong grasp of this key piece of the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study. Deep in the lab onboard the USCG Cutter Healy, there is a scientist at work. Cal systematically finds out what nutrients are in this icy cold water and in what concentration. In the BEST cruise, it all starts here.