NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011
Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2011
|Wind Speed||4.55 kts|
|Wind Dir.||150.72 º|
|Surf. Water Temp.||28.30 ºC|
|Surf. Water Sal.||24.88 PSU|
|Air Temperature||29.20 ºC|
|Relative Humidity||78.00 %|
|Barometric Pres.||1012.27 mb|
|Water Depth||115.20 m|
Science and Technology Log
After two days of travel we are on site and beginning to work and I believe the entire crew is eager to get their hands busy, myself included. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is difficult if not impossible to separate the abiotic factors from the biotic factors, and as a result it is important to monitor the abiotic factors prior to every trawl event. The main piece of equipment involved in monitoring the water quality (an abiotic factor) is the C-T-D (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) device. This device uses sophisticated sensors to determine the conductivity of the water, which in turn, can be used to measure salinity (differing salinities will conduct electricity at different rates). Salinity influences the density of the water: the saltier the water the more dense the water is. Density measures the amount of mass in a specific volume, so if you dissolve salt in a glass of water you are adding more mass without much volume. And since Density=Mass/Volume, the more salt you add, the denser the water will get. Less dense objects tend to float higher in the water column than more dense objects, so as a result the ocean often has layers of differing salinities (less salty water on top of more salty water). Often you encounter a boundary between the two layers known as a halocline (see the graph below for evidence of a halocline).
Temperature varies with depth in the ocean, however, because warm water is less dense than cold water. When liquids are cold, more molecules can fit into a space than when they are war; therefore there is more mass in that volume. The warm water tends to remain towards the surface, while the cooler water remains at depth. You may have experienced this if you swim in a local lake or river. You dive down and all of a sudden the water goes from nice and warm to cool. This is known as a thermocline and is the result of the warm, less dense water sitting on top of the cool more dense water.
Temperature also influences the amount of oxygen that water can hold. The cooler the temperature of the water the more oxygen can dissolve in it. This is yet another reason why the hypoxic zones discussed in my last blog are more common in summer months than winter months: the warm water simply does not hold as much oxygen as it does in the winter.
The CTD is also capable of measuring chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a molecule that photosynthetic organisms use to capture light energy and then use to build complex organic molecules that they can in turn be used as energy to grow, reproduce etc. The more chlorophyll in the water, the more photosynthetic phytoplankton there is in the water column. This can be a good thing, since photosynthetic organisms are the foundation of the food chain, but as I mentioned in my earlier blog, too much phytoplankton can also lead to hypoxic zones.
Finally the CTD sensor is capable of measuring the water’s turbidity. This measures how clear the water is. Think of water around a coral reef — that water has a very low turbidity, so you can see quite a ways into the water (which is good for coral since they need access to sunlight to survive). Water in estuaries or near shore is often quite turbid because of all of the run off coming from land.
So, that is how we measure the abiotic factors, now let’s concentrate on how we measure the biotic! After using the CTD (and it takes less time to use it than it does to describe it here) we are ready to pull our trawls. There are three different trawls that the scientists rely on and they each focus on different “groups” of organisms.
The neuston net (named for the neuston zone, which is where the surface of the water interacts with the atmosphere) is pulled along the side of the ship and skims the surface of the water. At the end of the net is a small “catch bottle” that will capture anything bigger than .947 microns. The bongo nets are nets that are targeting organisms of a similar size, but instead of remaining at the surface these nets are lowered from the surface to the seafloor and back again, capturing a representative sample of organisms throughout the water column. The neuston net is towed for approximately ten minutes, while the bongo nets tow times are dependent on depth. Once the nets are brought in, the scientists, myself included, take the catch and preserve it for the scientists back in the lab to study.
The biggest and baddest nets on the boat are the actual trawl nets launched from the stern (back) of the boat. These are the nets the scientists are relying on to target the bottom fish. This trawl net is often referred to as an otter trawl because of the giant heavy doors used to pull the mouth of the net open once it reaches the bottom. As the boat moves forward, a “tickler” chain spooks any of the organisms that might be lounging around on the bottom and the net follows behind to scoop them up. This net is towed for thirty minutes, and then retrieved and we spend the next hour or so sorting, counting and measuring the catch.