NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 26, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1012.23mb
Sea Temperature: 28.4˚C
Air Temperature: 29.6˚C
Wind speed: 6.43knots
Science and Technology Log:
This morning I went up to the bridge to learn about how the NOAA Corps Officers and the Captain navigate and maneuver the Oregon II. Ensign Rachel Pryor, my roommate,and Captain Dave Nelson gave me a great tour of the bridge!
The Oregon II is 172 feet long and has a maximum speed of 11 knots. It was built in 1967. It has two engines although usually only one engine is used. The second engine is used when transiting in and out of channels or to give the ship more power when in fairways, the areas of high traffic in the Gulf. The Oregon II has a draft of 15 feet which means the hull extends 15 feet underneath the water line. My stateroom is below the water line! Typically the ship will not go into water shallower than 30 feet.
The bridge has a large number of monitors that provide a range of information to assist with navigation. There are two radar screens, one typically set to a range of 12 miles and one typically set to a range of 8 miles. These screens enable the officer navigating the ship to see obstructions, other ships and buoys. When the radar picks up another vessel, it lists a wealth of information on the vessel including its current rate of speed and its destination. The radar is also useful in displaying squalls, fast moving storms, as they develop.
Weather is constantly being displayed on another monitor to help the officer determine what to expect throughout the day.
The Nobeltec is a computerized version of navigation charts that illustrates where the ship is and gives information on the distance until our next station, similar to a GPS in your car. ENS Pryor compares the Nobeltec to hard copies of the chart every 30 minutes. Using the hard copies of the charts provides insurance in case the Nobeltec is not working.
When we arrive at a station, the speed and direction of the wind are carefully considered by the Officer of the Deck (OOD) as they are crucial in successfully setting and hauling back the line. It is important that the ship is being pushed off of the line so the line doesn’t get tangled up in the propeller of the ship. While we are setting the line, the OODis able to stop the engines and even back the ship up to maintain slack in the main line as needed. Cameras on the stern enable the OOD to see the line being set out and make adjustments in the direction of the ship if needed. The same considerations are taken when we are hauling back. The ship typically does not go over 2 knots when the line is being brought back in. The speed can be reduced as needed during the haul back. The OOD carefully monitors the haul back from a small window on the side of the bridge. A lot of work goes into navigating the Oregon II safely!
I was amazed to see all the monitors up on the bridge! Keeping everything straight requires a lot of focus. Being up on the bridge gave me a new perspective of all that goes into each station. We wouldn’t be able to see all of these sharks without the careful driving from the OOD.
The water has been very calm the past few days. It is like being on a lake. We’ve had nice weather too! A good breeze has kept us from getting too hot when we are setting the line or hauling back.
Did you Know?
The stations where we sample are placed into categories depending on their depth. There are A, B and C stations. A stations are the most shallow, 5-30 fathoms. B stations are between 30 and 100 fathoms. C stations are the deepest, 100-200 fathoms. One fathom is equal to 6 feet. A fathometer is used to measure the depth.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow September 23 – October 4, 2013
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: October 1, 2013
Science and Technology Log
A few hours into our shift midnight we get the word we have been expecting for several days – government shutdown. Our mission will be cut a few days short. That reality means the Bigelow has 24 hours to return to its homeport of Newport, R.I. It takes us 10 hours and we dock around 1 in the afternoon. With our fisheries operations suddenly declared over comes clean-up time, and we spend the next 6 hours of our shift cleaning up the on‐board fish lab. It is a time consuming but important process. The lab needs to be spotless and “fish scent” free before we can call our work finished on this cruise. The lab is literally solid stainless steel and every surface gets washed and suds downed so there is no residue remaining.
Our work is inspected by a member of the crew. If it were the military, the officer would have had white gloves on I believe, just like in the old movies, rolling his finger over a remote spot looking for the dust we missed. But this is a shining stainless steel fish lab so there are two simultaneous inspections going on at once – the one with the eyes and the one with the nose. It takes us twice to pass the visual inspection as small collections of fish scales are spotted in a few out-of‐the way areas. It takes us one more pass to clear the smell inspection. Up and down the line we walk, we can all smell the faint lingering perfume of “eau de fishes,” but we are having trouble finding it. We keep following our noses and there it is. Hiding under a black rubber flap at the end of the fish sorting line we find a small collection of fish scales revealed when the flap is removed for inspection. With that little section cleaned up and sprayed down the lab is declared done! There is a smile of satisfaction from the team. It is that attention to detail that explains why the lab never smelled of fish when I first boarded the ship 10 days ago nor has it smelled of fish at any time during our voyage. There is a personal pride in leaving the lab in the same shape we found it. Super clean, all gear and samples stowed, and ready for the next crew to come on board – whenever that turns out to be.
The abrupt and unexpected end to the cruise leaves me scrambling to change my travel plans. Like the ship, I have a limited amount of time to make it home on my government travel orders. The NOAA Teacher at Sea team goes above and beyond to rebook my flights and find me a room for the night.
On the serendipitous side, the change in plans gives me a little time to see Newport, a town famous for its mansions and the Tennis Hall of Fame. My first stop is the Tennis Hall of Fame. My father was a first class tennis player who invested many hours attempting to
teach his son the game. Despite the passion in our home for the great sport we never made it to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. Today I get the chance to fulfill that bucket list goal. I still remember being court side as a young boy at The Philadelphia Indoor Championships watching the likes of Charlie Pasarell, Arthur Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. There was even a picture of the grass court lawn of the Germantown Cricket Club from its days a USTA championship venue before the move to Forest Hill, NY. I grew up playing on those tennis courts as my father belonged to that club. Good memories.
There was also a “court tennis” court, the game believed to be the precursor to outdoor tennis. Court tennis derived from playing a tennis type game inside a walled‐in court yard. Using the roof and the wall and the open side windows to beat your opponent is all part of the game. I played court tennis as a young teen. It’s a very unique game that is only played in a few spots now. There are only 38 court tennis courts in the world and Newport has two of them. If you like tennis, give court tennis a go if you ever get the chance.
Thoughts of a leisurely stroll evolve into a brisk walk as I head toward the ultimate and most famous Newport mansion: The Breakers, the 100,000 plus square foot summer home of the Vanderbilt family. This house has to be toured to understand the conspicuous consumption as a pastime of the then super rich. My 2000 square foot home would fit entirely inside the grand hall of the Breakers. In fact you could stack my home three high and they would still be below the Breaker’s ceiling. A ceiling inspired by Paris, a billiard room with walls of solid marble overlooking the ocean, a floor of thousands of mosaic floor tiles all put down by hand one by one, a stair case from Gone With the Wind, and 20 bathrooms to choose from all speak to the wealth and pursuit of elegance enjoyed by the Vanderbilt clan. It is a lifestyle of a bye–gone era often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” It is an apt description.
After sightseeing, it’s off to the bus stop for my shuttle to the Newport Airport where I take off at dawn the next morning to head for home. I’m leaving so early that the complementary coffee isn’t out yet! After an uneventful flight comes the end to an amazing adventure. Nothing left now except laundry and memories. And lots of great ideas for lesson plans to work into my classes. Thank you NOAA Teacher at Sea Program for offering me the learning experience of a lifetime. I cannot wait to get back and share the experiences with my students.
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: September 27, 2013
Science and Technology Log
It’s going to be a busy night trawling and processing our catch. Yippee. I like being busy as the time passes more quickly and I learn about more fish. A large number of trawling areas are all clustered together for our shift. For the most part that means the time needed to collect data on one trawl is close to the amount of time needed for the ship to reach the next trawling area. The first trawl was a highlight for me as we collected, for the first time, a few puffer fish and one managed to stay inflated so I had a picture taken with that one.
However, on this night there was more than just puffer fish to be photographed with. On this night we caught the big one that didn’t get away. One trawl brings in an amazing catch of 6 very large striped bass and among them is a new record: The largest striped bass ever hauled in by NOAA Fisheries! The crew let me hold it up. It was very heavy and I kept hoping it would not start flopping around. I could just see myself letting go and watching it slip off the deck and back into the sea. Fortunately, our newly caught prize reacted passively to my photo op. I felt very lucky that the big fish was processed at the station I was working at. When Jakub put the big fish on the scale it was like a game show – special sounds were emitted from our speakers and out came the printed label confirming our prize – “FREEZ – biggest fish ever “-‐-‐the largest Morone Saxatilis (striped bass) ever caught by a NOAA Fisheries research ship. It was four feet long. I kept waiting for the balloons to come down from the ceiling.
Every member of the science team sorts fish but at the data collection tables my role in the fish lab is one of “recorder”. I’m teamed with another scientist who serves as the “cutter”, in this case Jakub. That person collects the information I enter into the computer. The amount of data collected depends on the quantity and type of fish caught in the net. I help record data on length, weight, sex, sexual development, diet, and scales. Sometimes fish specimens or parts of a fish, like the backbone of a goose fish, are preserved. On other occasions, fish, often the small ones are frozen for further study. Not every scientist can make it on to the Bigelow to be directly part of the trip so species data and samples are collected in accordance with their requests.
Collecting data from a fish as large as our striped bass is not easy. It is as big as the processing sink at our data collection station and it takes Jakub’s skill with a hacksaw-‐-‐yes I said hacksaw-‐-‐to open up the back of the head of the striped bass and retrieve the otolith, the two small bones found behind the head that are studied to determine age. When we were done, the fish was bagged and placed in the deep freeze for further study upon our return. On the good side we only froze one of the six striped bass that we caught so we got to enjoy some great seafood for dinner. The team filleted over 18 pounds of striped bass for the chef to cook up.
More Going On:
Processing the trawl is not the only data collection activity taking place on the Bigelow. Before most trawls begin the command comes down to “deploy the bongos”. They are actually a pair of closed end nets similar to nets used to catch butterflies only much longer. The name bongo comes from the deployment apparatus that holds the pair of nets. The top resembles a set of bongo drums with one net attached to each one. Their purpose, once deployed, is to collect plankton samples for further study. Many fish live off plankton until they are themselves eaten by a predator farther up the food chain so the health of plankton is critical to the success of the ecological food chain in the oceans.
Before some other trawls, comes the command to deploy the CTD device. When submerged to a target depth and running in the water as the ship steams forward, this long fire extinguisher sized device measures conductivity and temperature at specified depths of the ocean. It is another tool for measuring the health of the ocean and how current water conditions can impact the health of the marine life and also the food chain in the area.
On a personal note, I filleted a fish for the first time today – a flounder. Tanya, one of the science crew taught me how to do it. I was so excited about the outcome that I did another one!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 25, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1008.6mb
Sea Temperature: 28.3˚C
Air Temperature: 26.3˚C
Wind speed: 8.73knots
Science and Technology Log:
After we set the line, the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) is deployed at each station.
This instrument provides information a complete profile of the physical characteristics of the water column, including salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. The CTD is deployed from the bow of the boat using a winch.
When it is first lowered in the water it calibrates at the surface for three minutes. After it is calibrated it is lowered into the water until it reaches the bottom. The CTD records data very quickly and provides valuable information about the station. Conductivity is used to measure the salinity, the amount of salt dissolved in the water. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water. Dissolved oxygen is an important reading as it reveals how much oxygen is available in that area. The amount of oxygen available in the water indicates the amount of life this station could be capable of supporting. Dissolved oxygen is affected by the temperature and salinity in an area. Higher salinity and temperature result in lower dissolved oxygen levels. Areas of very low dissolved oxygen, called hypoxia, result in dead zones. NOAA monitors hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico using data from CTDs.
The otoliths and gonads are taken from all of the commercially and recreationally important fish like Snapper, Grouper and Tilefish. Otoliths are used to age fish. Aging fish provides information on the population dynamics for those species. The otoliths are “ear bones” of the fish and are located in their heads. It takes careful work with a knife and tweezers to remove the otoliths.
Once the otoliths are removed, they are placed in small envelopes to be examined in the lab in Pascagoula, MS. Otoliths have rings similar to growth rings in trees that have to be carefully counted under a microscope to determine the age of the fish.
The gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and the reproductive stage of the fish is determined. The weights of the gonads are also recorded. Small samples of the gonads are taken in order for the histology to be examined in the lab. Examining the gonads closely will confirm the reproductive stage of the fish. Gathering information about the reproductive stage of the fish also helps with understanding the population dynamics of a species and aids in management decisions.
Taking the otoliths out of the fish was harder than I anticipated, especially on the larger fish. It takes some muscle to get through the bone!
We have had a few very busy haul backs today. One haul back had over 50 sharks! My favorite shark today was a Bull Shark. We caught two today but were only able to get one into the cradle long enough to get measurements on it. We tagged it and then watched her swim away! I can’t believe we are halfway through my second week. Time is flying by! I can’t wait to see what is on the line tomorrow!
Did you Know?
Yellowedge Grouper are protogynous hermaphrodites. They start their lives as females and transform into males as they age. Yellowedge Grouper are the only species of grouper we have caught.
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: September 25, 2013
Science and Technology Log
I was told that the first 12 hour night watch shift was the hardest for staving off sleep and those who spoke were right. Tonight’s overnight shift seems to be flying by and I’m certainly awake. Lots of trawling and sorting this evening with four sorts complete by 6am. One was just full of dogfish, the shark looking fish, and they process quickly because other than weight and length there is little request for other data. The dogfish were sorted at the bucket end of the job so determining sex had already been completed by the time the fish get to my workstation. Again I’m under the mentorship of Jakub who can process fish faster than I can print and place labels on the storage envelopes. The placement of the labels is my weakness as I have no fingernails and removing the paper backing from the sticky label is awkward and time consuming. Still tonight I’m showing speed improvement over last night. Well at least I’m getting the labels on straight most of the time.
In addition to the dogfish, we have processed large quantities of skate (the one that looks like a sting ray to me), left eyed flounders, croakers (no relation to the frog), and sea robins of which there are two types, northern and stripe. The sea robins are very colorful with the array of spines just behind the mouth. And yes it hurts when one of the spines goes through your glove. Sadly for me sorting has been less exciting tonight. With the big fish being grabbed off at the front of the line there has been little left for me to sort. I feel like the goal keeper in soccer – just don’t let them get past me. To my great surprise, so far I’ve experienced no real fear of touching the fish. The gloves are very nice to work with.
And let us not overlook the squid. There have been pulled in by the hundreds in the runs today. There are two types of squids, long fin (the lolligo) and short fin (the illex). What they both have in common is the ability to make an incredible mess. They are slimy on the outside and inky on the inside. They remind me of a fishy candy bar with really big eyes. And for all the fish that enjoy their squid treat the species is, of course, (wait for it) just eye candy. The stories about the inking are really true. When upset, they give off ink; lots of ink. And they are very upset by the time they reach the data collection stations. If you could bottle their ink you would never need to refill your pen again. They are also very, very plentiful which might explain why there are no requests to collect additional data beyond how long they are. I guess they are not eye candy to marine scientists. However, there vastness is also their virtue. As a food source for many larger species of marine life, an absence of large quantities of squid in our trawling nets would be a bad sign for the marine ecosystem below us.
When the squid are missing, our friend the Skate (which of the four types does not matter) is glad to pick up the slack on the “messy to work with” front. As this species makes it down the sorting and data collecting line the internal panic button goes off and they exude this thick, slimy substance that covers their bodies and makes them very slippery customers at the weigh stations. It turns out the small spines on the tails were placed there so that fisheries researchers could have a fighting chance to handle them without dropping. Still, a skate sliding onto the floor is a frequent event and provides comic relief for all working at the data collection stations.
There was new species in the nets tonight, the Coronet fish which looks like along drink straw with stripes and a string attached to the back end. It is pencil thick and about a foot long without the string. We only caught it twice during the trip. The rest of the hauls replicate past sorting as dogfish, robins, skates, squid, croakers, and flounder are the bulk of the catch. I’ve been told that the diversity and size of the trawl should be more abundant as we steam along the coastline heading north from the lower coast of New Jersey. Our last trawl of the shift, the nets deployed collect two species new for our voyage, but ones I actually recognized despite my limited knowledge of fish – the Horseshoe Crab and a lobster! I grew up seeing those on the Jersey shore. We only got one lobster and after measuring it we let go back to grow some more. It only weighed in at less than two pounds.
The foul weather suit we wear to work the line does not leave the staging room where they are stored as wearing them around the ship is not allowed. After watching others, I have mastered the art of pushing the wader pants over the rubber boots and thus leaving them set-‐up for quick donning and removal of gear throughout the shift.
While the work is very interesting on board, the highlight of each day is meal time. Even though I work the night shift (which ends at noon) I take a nap right after my shift so I can be up and alert in time for dinner. My favorite has been the T-‐bone steaks with Monterey seasoning and any of the fish cooked up from our trawling like scallops or flounder. The chef, Dennis, and his assistant, Jeremy serve up some really fine cuisine. Not fancy but very tasty. There is a new soup every day at lunch and so far my favorite has been the cream of tomato. I went back for seconds! Of course, breakfast is the meal all of us on the night watch look forward to as there is no meal service between midnight and 7am. After 7 hours of just snacking and coffee, we are ready for some solid food by the time breakfast is served.
Seas continue to be very calm and the weather sunny and pleasant. That’s quite a surprise for the North Atlantic in the fall. And the sunrise today was amazing. The Executive Officer, Chad Cary, shared that the weather we are experiencing should continue for at least four more days. I am grateful for the calm weather – less chance to experience sea sickness. That is something I’m determined to avoid if possible.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 23, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1009.89mb
Sea Temperature: 28˚C
Air Temperature: 28.2˚C
Wind speed: 8.29knots
Science and Technology Log:
The haul back is definitely the most exciting part of each station. Bringing the line back in gives you the chance to see what you caught! Usually there is at least something on the line but my shift has had two totally empty lines which can be pretty disappointing. An empty line is called a water haul since all you are hauling back is water!
After the line has been in the water for one hour, everyone on the shift assembles on the bow to help with the haul back. One crew member operates the large winch used to wind the main line back up so it can be reused.
The crew member operating the winch unhooks each gangion from the main line and hands it to another crew member. That crew member passes it to a member of our shift who unhooks the number from the gangion. The gangions are carefully placed back in the barrels so they are ready for the next station. When something is on the line, the person handling the gangions will say “Fish on”.
Everyone gets ready to work when we hear that call. Every fish that comes on board is measured. Usually fish are measured on their sides as that makes it easy to read the markings on the measuring board.
Each shark is examined to determine its gender.
Male sharks have claspers, modified pelvic fins that are used during reproduction. Female sharks do not have claspers.
Fin clips, small pieces of the fin, are taken from all species of sharks. The fin clips are used to examine the genetics of the sharks for confirmation of identification and population structure, both of which are important for management decisions.
Skin biopsies are taken from any dogfish sharks in order to differentiate between the species. Tags are applied to all sharks. Tags are useful in tracing the movement of sharks. When a shark, or any fish with a tag, is recaptured there is a phone number on the tag to call and report the location where the shark was recaptured.
Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.
Other sharks are large and need to be hauled out of the water using the cradle. The cradle enables the larger sharks to be processed quickly and then returned to the water. A scale on the cradle provides a weight on the shark. Today was the first time my shift caught anything big enough to need the cradle. We used the cradle today for one Sandbar and two Silky Sharks. Everyone on deck has to put a hardhat on when the cradle is used since the cradle is operated using a crane.
I continue to have such a good time on the Oregon II. My shift has had some successful stations which is always exciting. We have had less downtime in between our stations than we did the first few days so we are usually able to do more than one station in our shifts. The weather in the Gulf forced us to make a few small detours and gave us some rain yesterday but otherwise the seas have been calm and the weather has been beautiful. It is hard to believe my first week is already over. I am hopeful that we will continue our good luck with the stations this week! The rocking of the boat makes it very easy for me to sleep at night when my shift is over. I sleep very soundly! The food in the galley is delicious and there are plenty of options at each meal. I feel right at home on the Oregon II!
Did You Know?
Flying fish are active around the boat, especially when the spotlights are on during a haul back at night. Flying fish are able to “fly” using their modified pectoral fins that they spread out. This flying fish flew right onto the boat!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow September 23 – October 4, 2013
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: September 24, 2013
Science and Technology Log
Today is my first full 12 hour shift day. I’m on the night crew working midnight to noon. Since we left port yesterday I’ve been trying to adjust my internal clock for pulling daily “all night”ers. On Monday, after we left port, safety briefs for all hands occurred once we made it out to sea and I got to complete my initiation into the Teacher at Sea alumni program – the donning of the Gumby suit as I call it. It is actually a bright red wet suit that covers your entire body and makes you look like a TV Claymation figure from the old TV show. In actuality it is designed to help you survive if you need to abandon ship. Pictures are of course taken to preserve this rite of passage.
The Henry B. Bigelow is a specially-built NOAA vessel designed to conduct fisheries research at sea. Its purpose is to collect data that will help scientists assess the health of the Northern Coastal Atlantic Ocean and the fish populations that inhabit it. The work is invaluable to the commercial fishing industry.
Yesterday, I learned how we will go about collecting fisheries data. Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Peter Chase, has selected locations for sampling the local fish population and the ship officers have developed a sailing plan that will enable the ship to visit all those locations, weather permitting, during the course of the voyage. To me its sounds like a well-‐planned game of connecting the dots. At each target location, a trawling net will be deployed and dragged near the bottom of the sea for a 20 minute period at a speed of 3 knots. Hence the reason this voyage is identified as a bottom trawl survey mission. To drag the bottom without damaging the nets is not easy and there are five spare nets on board in case something goes wrong. To minimize the chance of damaging the net during a tow, the survey technicians use the wide beam sonar equipment to survey the bottom prior to deployment. Their goal is to identify a smooth path for the net to follow. The fish collected in the net are sorted and studied, based on selected criteria, once on board. A specially designed transport system moves the fish from the net to the sorting and data collection stations inside the wet lab. I’m very excited to see how it actually works during my upcoming shift.
Work is already underway when our night crew checks in. The ship runs 24/7 and the nets have been down and trawling since 7pm. Fish sorting and data collection are already underway. I don my foul weather gear which looks like a set of waders used for British fly fishing. There is also a top jacket but the weather is pleasant tonight and the layer is not needed. I just need to sport some gloves and get to work. I’m involved with processing two trawls of fish right away. I’m assigned to work with an experienced member of the science team, Jakub. We will be collecting information on the species of fish caught on each trawl. Jakub carries out the role as cutter, collecting the physical information or fish parts needed by the scientists. My role is recorder and I enter data about the particular fish being evaluated as well package up and store the parts of the fish being retained for future study.
Data collection on each fish harvest is a very detailed. Fish are sorted by species as they come down the moving sorting line where they arrive after coming up the conveyer belt system from the “dump” tank, so named because that is where the full nets deposit their bounty. Everybody on the line sorts fish. Big fish get pulled off first by the experienced scientists at the start of belt and then volunteers such as I pull off the smaller fish. Each fish is placed into a bucket by type of fish. There are three types of buckets and each bucket has a bar code tag. The big laundry looking baskets hold the big fish, five gallon paint buckets hold the smaller fish, and one gallon buckets (placed above the sorting line) hold the unexpected or small species. On each run there is generally one fish that is not sorted and goes all the way to the end untouched and unceremoniously ends up in the catch-‐all container at the end of the line. The watch leader weighs the buckets and then links the bar code on the bucket to the type of fish in it. From there the buckets are ready for data collection.
After sorting the fish, individual data collection begins “by the bucket” where simultaneously at three different stations the sizing, weighing, and computer requested activities occur. By random sample certain work is performed on that fish. It gets weighed and usually opened up to retrieve something from inside the fish. Today, I’ve observed several types of data collection. Frequently requested are removal of the otolith, two small bones in the head that are used to help determine the age of the fish. For bigger fish with vertebra, such as the goose fish, there are periodic requests to remove a part of the backbone and ship it off for testing. Determining sex is recorded for many computer tagged fish and several are checked stomach contents.
Of the tools used to record data from the fish, the magic magnetized measuring system is the neatest. It’s rapid fire data collecting at its finest. The fish goes flat on the measuring board; head at the zero point, and then a quick touch with a magnetized block at the end of the fish records the length and weight. Sadly, it marks the end of tall tales about the big one that got away and keeps getting bigger as the story is retold. The length of the specimen is accurately recorded for posterity in an instant.
Flying into Providence over the end of Long Island and the New England coast line is breath taking. A jagged, sandy coast line dotted with summer homes just beyond the sand dunes. To line up for final approach we fly right over Newport where the Henry B. Bigelow is berthed at the Navy base there. However, I am not able to spot the NOAA fisheries vessel that will be my home for the next two weeks from the air.
I arrive a day prior to sailing so I have half a day to see the sites of Newport, Rhode Island and I know exactly where I’m headed – the Tennis Hall of Fame. My father was a first class tennis player who invested many hours attempting to teach his son the game. Despite the passion in our home for the great sport we never made it to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. Today I fulfilled that bucket list goal. I still remember being court side as a young boy at The Philadelphia Indoor Championship watching the likes of Charlie Pasarell, Arthur Ashe, and Pancho Gonzales playing on the canvas tennis court that was stretched out over the basketball arena. Also in the museum, to my surprise, was a picture of the grass court lawn of the Germantown Cricket Club from its days as a USTA championship venue. I grew up playing on those grass tennis courts as my father belonged to that club. After seeing that picture, I left the museum knowing my father got as much out of the visit as I did.
What would you think if you saw someone bundled in warm clothing, sitting in an office chair on a pier with a pair of binoculars, a watch, and a clipboard? Are they counting waves? Counting birds? Keeping track of the clouds or the wind speed? In my case it was ‘none of the above’; I was watching a measuring stick, taking measurements every 6 minutes over a period of 3 hours. Why would anyone want to sit in a chair on a pier and stare at a stick for 3 hours?
The answer, of course, is science! Now, this wasn’t just any sort of stick. This tide staff was attached to an automatic tide gauge that the crew of the Rainier installed during their last visit to Cold Bay in August. That gauge has been recording tidal data that is used during their hydrographic survey work. But, as with any automatic data-gathering device, it is critical to field check its accuracy, both in measuring and reporting the data. The gauge measures the depth of the water column at 6-minute intervals, using the pressure of the water column as a proxy for that depth (deeper water exerts a greater pressure on the subsurface opening of the gauge—for a more in-depth explanation, you can check out my blog from September 13th). My job was to stare at the staff for a period of 1 minute every 6 minutes, and determine both the highest and lowest height of the water lapping at the markings on the stick.
This might sound easy, but it wasn’t quite so simple. The wind was howling and the waves were bouncing—it took a little practice to make what I hoped was an accurate estimate of both the high mark and the low. After each observation period I recorded these numbers on a spreadsheet and then spent the next few minutes watching the birds that were flying and landing on the water. Then—back to the stick! The tide was dropping with each observation and the winds died down enough to make it a little easier to read the high and low points on each successive 6 minute interval. By the 10th observation I had it figured out!
The data I collected was matched against data from the tide gauge for that same time period. I was pleased to see that my observations matched those of the gauge. Apparently, both of ‘us’ are good observers of tidal changes. Now I have one more skill to add to my resume!!
AAARGH, MATEY—HOW’S YOUR NUMBER SENSE? APPLIED MATH ON THE HIGH SEAS
It would be hard to find an aspect of life aboard the Rainier that doesn’t involve number sense or math. This ship’s daily operations run like clockwork; breakfast from 0700-0800, Safety Meeting and deployment of the launches at 0800, lunch from 1130 to 1230, launches return at 1630, dinner from 1700 to 1800, etc. Pretty simple numbers to deal with, but numbers, nonetheless.
That’s just the start of your applied math tour of the high seas. Maybe you have to figure out how much diesel fuel the ship has onboard. Since the Rainier uses 20,000-40,000 gallons for each leg of its cruise, it would be pretty horrible to run out before you reached port. The ship’s tanks can hold around 100,000 gallons of diesel and are usually filled to within 95% of that. Unlike your car, there’s no fuel gauge on this ship. So how do you figure out how much fuel is in the tank? It’s time for some simple, yet essential math. First, you need to know the volume of the fuel tank. Get out your math books and find that formula. Then, you take what is called a ‘sounding’—you bang on the tank to determine the level of fuel. Not too complicated, but certainly a skill that takes some practice. So, now you know the total volume of the tank as well as the actual height of your fuel; if you figure out the volumes for each and do some subtraction, you can find out what percentage of your total fuel is still in the tank.
We might all be better at determining volume and percent if we had images of a fuel tank on the dashboards of our cars instead of a linear gauge reading ‘E’ to ‘F’! What about drinking water? The Rainier uses a distillation system to create fresh water from seawater. There are tanks down in the engine room where seawater is heated to the boiling point. There’s a little more math and science in this process—the pressure in the distillation tank is lowered, to lower the boiling point (if you’ve ever camped at a high elevation you might notice that water boils at a lower temperature—your tea might not be quite as hot when it’s boiling) so the water doesn’t have to be heated quite so much to get it to boil. This steam is captured in the upper portion of the distiller and cooled using cold seawater that flows through pipes. The condensation from cooling is captured, filtered to remove any impurities, and distributed as fresh water to all onboard. The ship uses around 2500 gallons of water each day.
If you’re running the galley it’s essential to calculate how much food you’ll need for each leg of the trip. No one wants to do without their morning eggs if your multiplication is off and you ‘forget’ to buy a few dozen. Taking a recipe that is designed to feed 8 people and ‘upsizing’ it for 48 people takes a bit of mathematical manipulation. Just planning a menu for a three-week journey takes some mathematical thinking as you visualize the weeks, days, meals, and individual ingredients needed for those meals. You have to factor in a few variables; which foods have the longest shelf life, when do you have to switch from fresh to frozen or to canned foods, how much food does the ‘average’ person eat, and what about all those people with food allergies or preferences? While this might not sound quite as earth-shattering as using a detailed computer program to concatenate multiple data files, this is math that counts—especially when you’re feeding a boatload of hungry crew.
So now it’s time to consider the math used to pilot the ship. Think about degrees in a compass bearing and the need to do some rapid mental math as you’re steering a 231-foot ship through some very tight spaces. Quick—take a course of 340o, now look ahead and get ready to change your bearing to 28o. Rainier’s draft (how deep it sits in the water) is around 16’. Will the channel be deep enough? What if you’re traveling in a supertanker, one that might be over 400’ in diameter and have a draft up to 80’ deep? If your ship is that big, you need to scale up on your mental math calculations as you’re searching out appropriate harbors and routes! What about tying up the ship when we’re in harbor? Did you remember to learn something about vectors before you stopped taking math classes?
When we were at port in Cold Bay, the winds were expected to increase in strength and to shift so that they would be coming out of the west. Since the pier was oriented perpendicular to the predicted wind direction, our Chief Bo’ sun, Jim Kruger had to do some mental calculations of the angles needed to secure the ship to the pier and keep it from bouncing too much. He doubled and even tripled some of the lines, taking into account how the winds might move the ship as well as the strength of each line. It takes some stout lines to hold this ship; each 300 ft. line is 1” in diameter and has a tensile (breaking) strength of 164,000 lbs. Vector angles were equally important as we pulled away from the pier in a 50-knot wind. Just pulling up our gangway with a crane required some careful mental calculations of where to place lines to steady it as it rose through the air and was lifted onboard. If your mental math and visualization skills were wrong, you might be rewarded with a wildly swinging piece of metal.
How about all that hydrographic data collection; there’s plenty of opportunity there for some pretty extreme mathematical calculations. You might even wish you had taken a class in calculus—or a few classes! But there are also plenty of times that some basic number sense and arithmetic come in mighty handy. As I sat on the pier watching the tide gauge, one of the tasks I had to do was to calculate the average between high and low water marks on the tide staff. Not such hard math, but it’s a good skill to be able to do averages in your head while your hands are getting cold and the wind is howling. The tide gauge calculations were referenced to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This has been our world standard since 1972, and is referenced to the 0o meridian at Greenwich, England. It is precisely measured using an atomic clock. You might also hear it referred to as Zulu Time. Even airplanes use this time designation. This way, there is no ambiguity about whether you are in daylight savings or standard time, or your time zone. When measuring tides or collecting information about water chemistry using the CTD, or calculating the launch’s daily gyrations, it is important to reference everything to the same time standard. Since the Rainier is on RST (Rainier Standard Time), the calculation gets even more important because we are in the Alaska time zone, but have set our clocks back one more hour to give us more daylight working hours).
Just in case your brain hasn’t been addled by all this talk of mathematics, there’s one more concept that might come in handy here on the high seas—a sine wave. Huh? Sine waves are a mathematical curve describing smooth repetitive oscillations. Like…tides, sonar pulses, sunrise/sunset observations, or the music booming out of your iPod.
I even use math to calculate how long I should run on the elliptical trainer down in the ship’s exercise space. If I set the resistance to 8, and use a cross training setting, it takes around 35 minutes to ‘run’ the equivalent of one slice of cake!
Just in case you haven’t gotten the message—math is good. Number sense is critical—even if you want to run off to sea!
IT’S A FIELD TRIP!!
I love a field trip. There’s nothing like loading up in the bus and taking off in search of the great unknown. While we were parked at the Cold Bay pier, we had a visit from the Cold Bay School. The 8 students, plus their teacher and a classroom aide, came to check out the Rainier. CO Rick Brennan gave them a tour, starting at the bridge, and ending with lunch in the wardroom. Along the way, they learned about ships and ship life, NOAA, and the science of hydrography. Lunch was a real hit, since the kids all bring their own lunches to school. Who wouldn’t like halibut tacos with all the fixings from the galley, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich handmade by Commander Rick Brennan with a fresh cookie for dessert?
I tagged along on the tour to talk with some of the kids and their teacher and to compare notes about schools. While I always think of my school as small, with only 150 students, the school in Cold Bay is really small. There are 8 students and they represent grades 1 through 7. While the school is small, each student uses an iPad to access a wide variety of educational resources. It’s even better when that technology-based learning is supplemented by some hands-on field trip-based learning. This was their second field trip of the week; they had spent a day with a wildlife biologist helping install a motion-sensitive camera in the Izembek Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/izembek/index.htm).
Where I live, in Colorado, we occasionally get snow days, when the roads are too dangerous to transport children to school. Here at sea, we don’t worry too much about snow, but wind can create hazardous working conditions. Yesterday we had what I would call a ‘Wind Day’; none of the survey launches went out. The winds were gusting up to 50 knots, and were fairly steady at 30 knots. That’s windy. The surface of the bay was a froth of water, waves, and whitecaps. Even the Black-legged Kittiwakes were having trouble flying!
Certainly not the sort of day where you want to send out teams of hydrographers in 28 foot long launches. While safety is paramount, data quality also suffers in such ‘bouncy’ seas. As the launch bounces from side to side or from front to back, the sonar sends its pings far afield. It becomes difficult or impossible to drive straight, overlapping lines as you ‘mow the lawn’ through your polygon (Wait, there’s another math term!) , and turning the craft requires timing and skill as you move through the rolling seas. As the Rainier nears the end of its time at sea and in Cold Bay, each day becomes critical to achieve its charting goals—but there’s plenty of work to do on board on a day like this.
GPS coordinates: 55o 12.442’ N 162o 41.735’ W
Wind Speed: 20.3 kts
Visibility: grey skies, foggy
Science and Technology Log
WHERE ARE WE? HOW DO WE KNOW?
As we float about all day collecting gigabytes of data to turn into charts, there’s ample time to reflect on the art and science of cartography, or map making. To me, maps are an elegant means for transforming the 3-dimensional landscape around us into a 2-dimensional story of our world using lines and points, geometric shapes, numbers, and a variety of colors and shadings. It’s science, technology, engineering, math, and, as always, a bit of magic! It’s quite amazing to think about the changes in mapmaking and our expectations for information from the first hand-drawn lines on small pieces of clay or in the dirt to the concatenated gigabytes of today.
Consider some of the earliest maps that have been found. Archaeologists have unearthed clay tablets in Babylonia that date back to 600 BC. These hand-sized clay tablets were simple line representations of local geography. Roman maps from around 350BC were utilized to provide information to conquering armies. Where were they heading; which villages were going to be conquered today?
The earliest maps were, both literally and figuratively, flat; they were a 2 dimensional image of a world that was believed to be flat. That changed in 240 BC when Eratosthenes, who believed the earth to be a sphere, calculated earth’s diameter by comparing the length of noontime shadows at distant sites. No advanced computing power was used for this calculation! Once geographers and cartographers were united in their use of a spherical representation of the earth, the next challenge was how to project that spherical surface onto a flat page. Ptolemy, sometime around 100 AD figured this out. He went a step further, assigning grid coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the maps to use as identifiers. His latitude lines, rather than expressed as degrees from the equator, were categorized by the length of the longest day—not such a bad proxy for degrees north and south and certainly an obvious change as you head north or south. Longitude, instead of referencing the Greenwich Meridian as 0o, was set at 0 at the westernmost point that he knew. Much of his work was not used until it was rediscovered by monks poring through manuscripts in the 1300s. One monk was able to use the coordinates in these manuscripts to create graphic representations (maps!) of Ptolemy’s concepts. These were printed in 1477 as a map collection known as Geographia. It is almost mind-boggling to consider the efforts that went into this volume from its initial intellectual conception, to its rediscovery, to using some of the first printing presses to make multiple copies that were used to plan and guide some of our most amazing voyages of discovery. Ptolemy’s concepts were further refined when Gerardus Mercator invented a cylindrical projection representing globe on a map’s flat surface. Each refinement both changed and enhanced our view of the planet.
THERE MAY BE DRAGONS
Sailors set forth with maps using these concepts for many years, seeking out new lands and new wealth for the countries they represented. As they returned with new discoveries of continents, cultures, and meteorological conditions, they were able to replace some of the ‘dragons’ on maps with real information and add new layers of information on top of the positions of continents and oceans—an early sort of GIS (geographic information systems) process! In 1686, Edmond Halley created a map that incorporated the prevailing winds atop a geographical map of the world. A new layer of information that told a critical story. For a sailor navigating using the wind, the story this map told was incredibly useful. Further layers were placed on the surface geography as Johann Friedrich von Carpenter created the first geological map in 1778. This map included information about what was under the surface, including soils and minerals.
To me, perhaps one of the fundamental changes in how we represented the earth came in 1782, when the first topographic map was created. Marcellin du Carla-Boniface added still more layers of information to our ‘flat’ surface, including contour lines that were like slices of the landscape whose spacing indicated the slope of the feature. Suddenly, we were going from a 3-dimensional world, to a 2-dimensional image, and back to a system of symbols to represent that third dimension. More data, more layers, more information on that one sheet held in your hand, and a more detailed ‘story’ of the landscape. Each cartographical and technological advance has enabled us to put more information, with increasing accuracy, upon our maps. Go one step further with this and click on Google Earth. A 3-dimensional view on a 2-dimensional screen of 3-dimensional data. Go one more step as you use your smartphone to display a 2-dimensional image taken from a 3-dimensional Google Earth view, made using layers of information applied to a flat map image. It’s a bit more sophisticated than the original flat clay tablet—but it basically ‘tells’ you how to get from here to there. While the complexity of our world has not actually increased, the stories we are telling about our planet have increased exponentially, as has our ability for combining datum from a variety of sources into one, tidy little package.
With each new technique and layer of information our ability to tell detailed stories with maps has improved. We can add data to our maps using colors—just look at a modern colorful weather map in USA Today if you want to see an example of this. Early cartographers used colors and shading to depict disease outbreaks or population numbers. Here on the Rainier, we use color variations to show relative depth as we survey the ocean floor. The final charts have lines to denote depth changes, just as lines on a land-based topographic map show changes in elevation.
So, you might be asking yourself at this point, ‘How does a history of mapping relate to mapping the coastline in SW Alaska?’ Why are we currently anchored out here near Cold Bay, Alaska? NOAA had its beginnings in 1807 when the first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast, was established. Since then, NOAA’s mission has broadened to include the following “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.” We are here as part of that mission, working through their National Ocean Service. You might not realize it, but almost every imported item you buy spent some part of its life on a ship. While Alaska’s coastline may seem a trifle remote, if you check out a map you might notice that it’s almost a straight shot from some of the ports in Asia to the west coast of the US.
The Alaska Maritime Ferry also passes through these coastal areas on its way to towns and villages. While these areas are, indeed, remote, they are united by a common coastline. The Rainier, in over 40 years of ‘pinging’ its way northward each season from Washington and Oregon, has mapped this coastline. That, to me, is an amazing feat!
Think of where we’ve come in our ability to tell stories about our landscape and how the intersection of all those stories has played a part in creating the world in which we live. I, for one, still delight in the most simple of maps, drawn on a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin, showing someone how to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. Those maps are personal, and include the layers of information that I think are important (turn left at this house, turn right at that hill, go 2 miles, etc) and that tell the story I want to tell. We now have the ability to add endless layers to our mapping stories, concatenating ever more data to tell an amazingly precise version. In spite of this sophistication I hope there’s still a few dragons left out there!
If you want to know more, here’s some of the websites I looked at while researching this information:
For a great cartographic mystery, check out this book:
The Island of Lost Maps; A True Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey
Today’s blog blends the scientific with the personal. Maps are both of these things; a way to categorize and document our planet in a methodical, reasoned, repeatable, and scientific manner, and a way to personalize our planet to tell a story that we want to tell. Cool stuff to think about as we drive back and forth across our little polygon here in Cold Bay. It puts our work into perspective and creates both a sense of its importance and its relevance to describing a piece of our planet. Hmmmm, in my next lifetime maybe I should be a hydrographer……
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 19, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1017.17mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚C
Air Temperature: 27˚C
Wind speed: 18.05 knots
Science and Technology Log:
Those of you following our progress on the NOAA Ship Tracker might have noticed some interesting movements of the ship. We had some rough weather that forced us to skip a station, and the current by the mouth of the Mississippi River also forced us to skip a station. The safety of everyone on board comes first so if the seas are too rough or the weather is bad we will skip a scheduled station and move to the next one. Now we are off the coast of Florida and hope we can get some good fishing done!
This survey is being done using longlines. Longlines are exactly as their name describes, long stretches of line with lots of hooks on them. The line we are using is 6,000 feet long, the length of one nautical mile. From that long line, there are 100 shorter lines called gangions hanging down with hooks on the end. Each gangion is 12 feet long.
When we arrive at a sampling station, everyone on our shift helps to set the line. In order to set the line, we have to bait each one of the hooks with mackerel.
Once the hooks are baited, we wait for the Officer of the Deck (OOD), driving the ship from the bridge, to let us know that we are in position at the station and ready to start setting the line. The first item deployed is a high flyer to announce the position of our line to other boats and to help us keep track of our line.
This is a bottom longline survey so after the high flyer is deployed, the first weight is deployed to help pull the line to the bottom of the ocean just above the seabed. After the first weight is deployed, it is time to put out the first 50 hooks. This is typically a three person job. One person slings the bait by pulling the gangion from the barrel and getting ready to pass it to the crew member. Another person adds a number tag to the gangion so each hook has its own number.
A member of the deck crew attaches each gangion to the main line and sends it over the side into the water. The gangions are placed 60 feet apart. The crew members are able to space them out just by sight! The bridge announces every tenth of a mile over the radio so they are able to double check themselves as they set the line. Another weight is deployed after the first 50 hooks. A final weight is placed after the last hook. The end of the line is marked with another high flyer. Once the line has been set, we scrub the gangion barrels and the deck. The line stays in the water for one hour.
Once the line has soaked for one hour, the fun begins! Haul back is definitely my favorite part! Sometimes it can be disappointing, like last night when there was absolutely nothing on the line. Other times we are kept busy trying to work up everything on the line. When the line is set and brought back in, everything is kept track of on a computer. The computer allows us to record the time and exact location that every part of the line was deployed or retrieved. The touchscreen makes it easy to record the data on the computer.
It is nice to be doing some fishing! There have been some long distances in between our stations so my shift has not gotten the opportunity to set the line as much as we would like. I’m hopeful that the weather holds out for us so we can get a few stations in on our shift today. Being able to see these sharks up close has been amazing. I am enjoying working with the people on my shift and learning from each one of them. Before we haul back the line, I ask everyone what their guess is for number of fish on the line. My number has been 45 the past few haul backs and I’ve been wrong every time! Christine was exactly right on one of our last haul backs when she guessed two. I know I’ll be right one of these stations. It is hard to get pictures of what comes up on the line because we get so busy processing everything. I’m going to try to get more pictures of our next stations.
The views out in the Gulf are gorgeous. I never get tired of them!
Did You Know?
When we arrive at a sampling station, the officer on watch must be aware of other ships and rigs in the area. At times the bridge watchstander will make the decision to adjust the location of our sampling station based on large ships or rigs in the area.
NOAA Teacher at Sea John Clark Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow September 23 – October 4, 2013
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic Date: September 18, 2013
Thank you for reading about my adventures at sea. My name is John Clark and I’m entering my 7th year teaching science at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. Our community is just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Teaching is my second career, after working in the telecommunications field, and I love getting students excited about science. I’ve even earned a few awards for being successful at it. I’m married to the love of my life, Jill, who is also a teacher. In our lives are three grown children and seven grandchildren. With great blessings, I share that they are all healthy, happy, and live close enough for us to see them regularly. At home we have replaced the kids with two cats and a dog.
In a few days, anticipation will be replaced by action as I board a plane headed for my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience I’ve waited for all summer to begin. I’ll be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a ship specially built for NOAA to carry out the type of fisheries research I’ll be taking part in. I’ll be working side by side with experienced scientists who not only are knowledgeable in how to do the research conducted on board but also have the skill to share their knowledge with volunteers like me who have limited background in the science behind the work. It is the experience of a lifetime that I hope will energize my students about studying science as we carry out lesson plans developed from the experience and I share with them the stories of my time at sea. I’m sure a giant boat-eating squid will be in there somewhere.
Officially, I’m taking part in 2013 Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey conducted by the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the NOAA Fisheries Service. That’s a long fancy way of saying that the ship is going to drag a net for a short period of time near the bottom of the ocean and then collect data on the types of fish we catch as well as the environment they live in. Affectionately called a “critter cruise”, I now join a long line of Teacher at Sea alumni who have taken part in the biannual surveys of North Atlantic marine life. And there are a lot of critters to learn to identify as I’m finding out from watching the CD I was sent to be better prepared to support the research team. There are two types of Dogfish which look suspiciously like little sharks, flounders that are left eyed or right eyed depending on which side they decided to leave up, and squid distinguished by the length of a pair of fins down the side of the body. All you do is hold them upright, tentacles hanging toward the ground, and take a look. And don’t forget the large lump fish which is described as have the texture of a dog’s chew toy. Whatever the species, the role of the research volunteer is to sort them out and then collect data for the scientists to study.
What can be overlooked in the preparation is the part about how to handle fish. I do not like to touch fish so I will be facing my fears even while wearing gloves. And I really don’t like it when they flop around. I envision I’ll be the one with the hand in the wrong place when the shark twists around to see who is holding its tail or, at a minimum, squeeze too hard on the species that will poke you with a poison spine if you upset them. Other good advice I’ve learned from the CD is that there is a 100% recovery from seasickness and if the seas get rough, wedge yourself into your bunk with your life vest so you don’t roll around and fall out. My two year old granddaughter, Ireland, was watching the video with me while I studied and all she could say was “Oh my.”
NOAA Teacher at Sea Britta Culbertson Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson September 4-19, 2013
Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 11kts
Air Temperature: 12.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 87%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Latitude: 59 degrees 26.51″ N Longitude: 149 degrees 47.53″ W
Science and Technology Log
Finally, as we near the end of the cruise, I’m ready to write about one of the major parts of the survey we are doing. Until now, I’ve been trying to take it all in and learn about the science behind our surveys and observe the variety of organisms that we have been catching. In my last few entries, I explained the bongo net tow that we do at each station. Immediately after we finish pulling in the bongo nets and preparing the samples, the boat repositions on the station and we begin a tow using an anchovy net. It gets its name from the size of fish it is intended to capture, but it is not limited to catching anchovies and as you will see in the entry below, we catch much more than fish.
Why are we collecting juvenile pollock?
We are interested in measuring the abundance of juvenile pollock off of East Kodiak Island and in the Semidi Bank vicinity. We are not only focusing on the walleye pollock, we are also interested in the community structure and biomass of organisms that live with the pollock. Other species that we are measuring include: capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish. As I described in the bongo entries, we catch zooplankton because those are prey for the juvenile pollock.
The Gulf of Alaska juvenile walleye pollock study used to be conducted every year, using the same survey grid. Now the Gulf of Alaska survey is conducted every other year with the Bering Sea surveyed in alternating years. That way, scientists can understand how abundant the fish are and where they are located within the grid or study area. With the data being collected every year (or every other year), scientists can establish a time series and are able to track changes in the population from year to year. The number of age 0 pollock that survive the winter ( to become age 1) are a good indicator of how many fish will be available for commercial fisheries. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will provide this data to the fisheries industry so that fishermen can predict how many fish will be available in years to come. The abundance of age one pollock is a good estimate of fish that will survive and be available to be caught by fishermen later, when they reach age 3 and beyond, and can be legally fished.
The other part of our study concerns how the community as a whole responds to changes in the ecosystem (from climate, fishing, etc.). That is why we also measure and record the zooplankton, jellyfish, shrimp, squids, and other fish that we catch.
How does it work?
The anchovy net (this particular design is also called a Stauffer trawl) is pretty small compared to those that are used by commercial fishermen. The mesh is 5 millimeters compared to the 500 micrometer mesh that we used for the bongo. The smallest organisms we get in the anchovy net are typically krill.
Typically, we don’t catch large fish in the net, but there have been some exceptions. You might wonder why larger fish do not get caught in the net. It’s because the mesh is smaller and it’s towed through the water very slowly. Fish have a lateral line system where they can feel a change in pressure in the water. The bow wave from the boat creates a large pressure differential that the fish can detect. Larger fish are usually fast enough to avoid the net as it moves through the water, but small fish can’t get out of the way in time. One night we caught several Pacific Ocean Perch, which are larger fish, but very slow moving. They are equipped with large spines on their fins and are better adapted to hunkering down and defending themselves as opposed to other fish that are fast swimmers and great at maneuvering.
When we pull in the trawl net, it is emptied into buckets and then the haul is sorted by species and age class. The catch is then measured, weighed, and recorded on a data sheet. After that, we return most of the fish to the sea and save 25 of the juvenile pollock, capelin, and eulachon to take back to Seattle for further investigation. We also save some of the smaller flatfish and sablefish to send back to Seattle. Check out the gallery below to see the process from beginning to end.
Where are the pollock in the food web?
Eulachon and capelin are zooplanktivores and compete with the juvenile pollock for food. Larger eulachon and capelin are not competitors (those over 150 mm). Arrowtooth flounder and Pacific Cod are predators of the juvenile walleye pollock. Cyanea and Chrysaora jellyfish are also zooplanktivores and could potentially compete with juvenile walleye pollock, so that is why we focus on these particular jellyfish in our study.
This Cyanea jelly weighed 11.6 kilograms!
One of the most common jellies that we see, Cyanea or Lion’s Mane Jelly.
What’s in that net?
When we pull in the trawl, we sort it into piles of different species and different age classes. If we get a lot of juvenile pollock (age 0), we measure and weigh 100 and freeze 25 to take back to the lab so their stomach contents can be examined. We do the same procedure for young capelin, eulachon, and flatfish. Other organisms like jellyfish are counted and weighed and put back in the ocean.
Below is a list of different organisms we have found in the anchovy net during this cruise:
Every once in a while we find Pacific Cod juveniles, which look very similar to juvenile pollock.
A pink salmon that made its way into our net.
Sometimes all we catch in the net are jellies!
The top two arrowhead flounders are facing up and the bottom one is upside down. Notice the color variation. In flounders, both of the eyes have migrated to the top of the head.
A small pile of krill that was in our anchovy net.
Sometimes we net jellies and sometimes we net kelp, but we are really looking for pollock!
These are the larval stage of a fish belonging to the family Osmeridae. They are likely Capelin or Eulachon.
Small flatfish larvae.
Sand fish found in the trawl. Note the upward pointing mouth. (Photo credit: John Eiler)
A teeny tiny octopus! (Photo credit: John Eiler)
Herring (Photo credit: John Eiler)
Here I am holding a large arrowtooth flounder that was in our trawl.
The sharp teeth of an arrowtooth flounder.
The top fish is a Eulachon, the next is a Capelin, followed by a larval osmerid (could be a Capelin) and lastly, an age zero pollock.
As we wind down the cruise, I’m feeling a little sad that it’s ending. I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my husband and our dog, but I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the ship and I’ll certainly miss collecting data. Even though it can be quite repetitive after awhile, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do this work than the Gulf of Alaska. The last few days we have had a couple of stations near the coastline around Seward, Alaska and we have ventured into both Harris Bay and Resurrection Bay. There we caught sight of some amazing glaciers and small islands. There was even an island that had bunkers from WWII on it. Yesterday, 3 Dall’s Porpoises played in our bow wake as I stood on the bridge and watched. It’s moments like this that all of the discomforts of being at sea fall away and I can reflect on what an incredible experience this has been!
Did You Know?
Spiny lumpsuckers are tiny, cute, almost spherical fish that have a suction disk on their ventral (bottom) side. The suction disk is actually a modified pelvic fin. They use the suction disk to stick to kelp or rocks on the bottom of the ocean.
Their family name is Cyclopteridae (like the word Cyclops!). It is Greek in origin. “Kyklos” in Greek mean circle and “pteryx” means wing or fin. This name is in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins that are possessed by fish in this family.
These lumpsuckers are well camouflaged from their predators and their suction disk helps them overcome their lack of an air bladder (this helps fish move up and down in the water). Because lumpsuckers don’t have an air bladder, they are not great swimmers.
Spiny lumpsuckers are on average about 3 cm in length, but there are larger lumpsuckers that we have found, like the toad lumpsucker that you can see in the photo below.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 16, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1014.01mb
Sea Temperature: 28.8˚Celsius
Air Temperature: 29.9˚C
Wind speed: 19.22 knots
Science and Technology Log:
We left Galveston a little before 2pm on Sunday, September 15. We were in transit to our first sampling location and should arrive there around 8pm tonight. Depending on the conditions we might actually be able to do some fishing tonight!
Today we went through our abandon ship drill. The ship’s alarm is used to alert everyone on board in the event of an emergency. Abandon ship is indicated by 7 short rings followed by one long ring of the alarm. When the alarm sounds with the abandon ship signal, we must carry our survival suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), long pants, a hat and a long-sleeved shirt to the well deck, at the bow (front) of the ship. My survival suit and personal flotation device (PFD) are kept in cabinets in my room. The survival suit is tricky to get on and it gets very, very warm when you are wearing it!
During this initial transit, there hasn’t been much for me to do. I spent a lot of time sleeping on Sunday. The way the waves rock the ship back and forth makes me very sleepy! I have taken a few short naps today in order to be ready in case we do any fishing on the later part of my shift tonight. I am on the day shift which means I will work noon to midnight. I think it will take me some time to get used to staying up that late but I think these naps will help! As we start fishing the days will be much busier for me so staying awake will be easy I hope. The views off of the ship are amazing. I was surprised to see how blue the water gets.
My stateroom is very comfortable and I have plenty of space in drawers and cabinets for everything I brought with me. I am getting used to latching doors and drawers behind me so they do not slam back and forth as the ship rocks. On the ship there is always someone sleeping so everyone works hard to be courteous and stay quiet.
My roommate is an officer on the ship so we are usually in the room at different times. Officers on NOAA ships are part of the NOAA Corps. Roommates are usually assigned based on the shifts people are working so each person has some time alone in the room. As we start fishing more I will bring my computer and other items I might want throughout the day into one of the labs on the ship so I won’t have to go in and out of the room when my roommate might be sleeping. The curtains are helpful in blocking out any light that might prevent you from sleeping. The showers are right next to my room which is convenient and the common head (bathroom) is just around the corner.
There are plenty of food choices in the galley on the ship and everything has been delicious. In the mornings you can even get eggs made to order! I certainly don’t think I will be going hungry!
Did You Know?
Even in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, hypothermia is risk due to the difference in water temperature and our body temperatures. The survival suit helps to protect our bodies from the difference in temperature.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Susy Ellison Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier September 9-26, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands Date: September 13, 2013
Weather: current conditions from the bridge
You can also go to NOAA’s Shiptracker (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/) to see where we are and what weather conditions we are experiencing
GPS Reading: 55o 15.037’ N 162o 38.025’ W
Wind Speed: 9.8 kts
Barometer: 1021.21 mb
Visibility: foggy on shore
Science and Technology Log
Since leaving Kodiak 5 days ago, I have been immersed in a hydrographic wonderland. Here’s what I’ve learned, summed up in two words (three, if you count the contraction); it’s complicated. Think about it. If I asked you to make a map of the surface of your desk you could, with a little bit of work and a meter stick, make a reasonably accurate representational diagram or map of that surface that would include the flat surface, as well as outlines of each item on the surface and their heights relative to that surface, as well as their location relative to each other on a horizontal plane. You might want to get fancy and add notes about the type of surface (is it wood, metal, or some sort of plastic), any small irregularities in that surface (are there some holes or deep scratches—how big and how deep?), and information about the types of objects on the desk top (are they soft and squishy, do they change location?). Now, visualize making this same map if your desktop was underwater and you were unable to actually see it. Not only that, the depth of the water over your desktop can change 2 times each day. If that isn’t complicated enough, visualize that the top of the water column over your desk is in constant motion. OK, not only all those variables, but pretend you are transformed into a very teeny person in a small, floating object on that uncertain water over the top of your desk trying to figure out how to ‘see’ that desktop that you can’t actually see with your own eyes? Welcome to the world of the hydrographer; the challenge of mapping the seafloor without actually touching it. It is, indeed, a complex meld of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in educational parlance), as well as a bit of magic (in my mind).
Challenge number one—how do you measure something you can’t see or touch with your own hands? Long ago, sailors solved that obstacle by using a lead line; literally, a line with a lead weight attached to the end. They would drop the weighted line over the side of their ship to measure the depth. These soundings would be repeated to get enough data to provide a view of the bottom. This information was added to their maps along with estimates of the horizontal aspects (shoreline features and distance from the shoreline) to create reasonably good charts that kept them off most of the underwater obstacles. A simple solution to a complex problem. No electricity required, no advanced degrees in computer science needed, no calculus-based physics necessary. Fast- forward to 2013 and the world of complex calculations made possible by a variety of computer-based algorithmic calculations (i.e. some darn fancy computing power that does the math for you). The NOAA Ship Rainier’s hydrographers use sound as their lead line, traveling in small boats known as launches that are equipped with multibeam sonar that send a series of sound ‘pings’ to the ocean floor and measures the time between sending and receiving the ping back after its trip to the bottom. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If it were all that simple I wouldn’t be typing this in a room on the Rainier filled with 20 computer monitors, 10 hard drives, and all sorts of other humming and whirring electronic devices. Not only that, each launch is equipped with its own impressive array of computer hardware.
So far on our survey days 2 launches have been sent out to cover identified transects. Their onboard crew includes a coxswain (boat driver), as well as 2-3 survey technicians and assistants. Each launch is assigned a polygon to survey for the day.
EVERY PING YOU TAKE…
Once they arrive at their assigned area, it’s time to ‘mow the lawn’—traverse back and forth systematically collecting data from one edge of your assigned polygon to the other until the entire area has been surveyed. Just in case you haven’t realized it yet, although that sounds pretty straightforward, it isn’t. Is the area shallow or deep? Depth affects how much area each traverse can cover; the sonar spreads out as it goes downward sending it’s little pings scampering to the ocean floor. Visualize an inverted ‘V’ of pings racing away from the sonar towards the sea floor. If it’s deep, the pings travel further before being bounced back upwards. This means that the width of each row the sonar cuts as it “mows the lawn” is wider in deeper water, and narrower in shallow. Shallower areas require more passes with the launch, since each pass covers a more limited area than it might if the water were deeper. As the launch motors back and forth ‘mowing the lawn’, the sonar signature is recorded and displayed on monitors in the cabin area and in front of the driver. Ideally, each lap overlaps the previous one by 25-50%, so that good coverage is ensured. This requires a steady hand and expert driving skills as you motor along either over or parallel to ocean swells. All you video gamers out there, take note–add boat driving to the repertoire of skills you might need if you want to find a job that incorporates video gaming with science!
Here’s a small list of some of the variables that need to be considered when using sonar to calculate depth; the chemistry of the water column through which you are measuring, the variability of the water column’s depth at specific times of day, the general depth (is it shallow or deep), and the movement of the measuring device itself. So many variables!!
HOW FAST DOES SOUND TRAVEL?
When you’re basing your charts on how sound travels through the water column, you need to look at the specific characteristics of that water. In a ‘perfect world’, sound travels at 1500m/second through water. In our real world, that speed is affected by salinity (the concentration of salts), temperature, and depth (water pressure). The survey crew uses a CTD meter to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD meter is deployed multiple times during the day to obtain data on these parameters. It is attached to a line on the rear of the launch, dropped into the water just below the surface for 2 minutes, and then lowered to near the ocean floor to collect data. After retrieval, it’s hooked to the computer on the launch to download the data that was collected. That data is stored in its own file to use when the data is reviewed in the evening back on board the Rainier. This is one of the variables that will be applied to the sonar data file—how fast was the sound moving through the water? Without this information to provide a baseline the sonar data would not be accurate.
ROCKING AND ROLLING…
When you’re out on the ocean in a boat, the most obvious variable is the instability of the surface, itself. This is called ‘attitude’. Attitude includes changes to the boat’s orientation fore and aft (pitch), side-to-side (roll), and up and down (heave) as it is gently, and not-so-gently rocked by ocean swells and waves. This means that the sonar is not always where you think it is in relation to the seafloor. This is like trying to accurately measure the height of something while you, the measurer, are on a surface that is constantly moving in 3 different directions. Good luck. Luckily for this crew of hydrographers, each boat is equipped with a little yellow box whose technical name is the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that I call the heave-o-meter, as we bob up and down on this might ocean. This little box contains 3 gyroscopic sensors that record all those forward and backward pitches, sideways rolls, as well as the bobbing up and down motions that the boat does while the sonar is pinging away. This information is recorded in the launch’s computer system and is applied to the sonar data during analysis back at the Rainier.
TIME AND TIDE…
Now that you’ve gotten your launch to the correct polygon (using GPS data to pinpoint your location), taken CTD readings to create a sound transmission profile for your transect area, and started up the heave-o-meter to account for rocking and rolling on the high seas, it’s time to start collecting data. Wait—there’s still another variable to think about, one that changes twice daily and affects the height of the water column. You also have to factor in changes in the depth of the water due to tidal changes. (for an in-depth look at how tides work, check out this link: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/tides/tides01_intro.html). At high tide, there’s a greater likelihood that subsurface obstacles will be covered sufficiently. At low tide, however, it’s pretty important to know where the shallow spots and rocks might lurk. NOAA’s hydrographers are charting ocean depths referenced to mean lower low water, so that mariners can avoid those low-water dangers.
You might be asking yourself, who keeps track of all that tide data and, not only that, how do we know what the tide highs and lows will be in an area where there are no other tide gauges? NOAA has tide gauges along many coastal areas. You can go online to http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/and find out predicted tide heights and times for any of these locations. While we are working here in Cold Bay, we are using a tide gauge in nearby King Cove, as well as a tide gauge that the Rainier’s crew installed earlier this summer. More data is better.
What do you do if you’re surveying in an area that doesn’t have existing tide gauges? In that case, you have to make your own gauge that is referenced to a non-moving point of known elevation (like a rock). For a detailed description of how these gauges are set, check out NOAA TAS blogs from some of the teachers who preceded me on the Rainier. On Wednesday, I helped dismantle a tide gauge on Bird Island in the Shumagin Islands that had been set up earlier this season (check out TAS Avery Martin’s July 12th posting), but had ceased to report reliable data. Our mission on Wednesday was to find out if the station had merely stopped reporting data or if it had stopped collecting data entirely.
When we arrived at Bird Island we found out exactly why the gauge had stopped sending data—its battery bank had fallen from one rocky ledge to another, ripping apart the connections and breaking one of the plastic battery boxes in the process. That took a lot of force—perhaps a wave or some crazy gust of wind tore the 3 batteries from their mooring. Since each battery weighs over 25lbs, that means that something moved over 75lbs of batteries. Ideally, the station uses solar panels to keep the batteries charged. The batteries power up the station so that data can be sent to a satellite. Data is also stored on site in a data logger, but without power that data logger won’t work.
We retrieved all the equipment and will be able to download whatever data had been recorded before the system broke. The automated tide gauge is, basically, a narrow diameter air-filled tube that is underwater and set at a fixed depth with a narrow opening pointed downward to the seafloor. The pressure required to balance the air in the tube is equal to the pressure of the water column directly above the opening. The tide gauge measures this pressure and converts it to depth. Pressure/depth changes are recorded every six minutes—or ten times each hour. As it turns out, the damaged battery bank was only one of the problems with this station. Problem number two was discovered by the dive team that retrieved the underwater portion of the gauge; the hose had been severed in two locations. In this case, something had caused the tube to break, so it was no longer connected to the data logger. That must have been some storm!
While there, we set to work checking on benchmarks that had been set earlier in the season. We used a transit and survey rods (oversized rulers) to measure the relative heights of a series of benchmarks to ensure accuracy. There are 5 benchmarks along the beach. Each one was surveyed as a reference to the primary benchmark nearest the gauging station. Multiple measurements help ensure greater accuracy.
We also were tasked with checking the primary benchmark’s horizontal location. While this had been carefully measured when it was set back in July, it’s important to make sure that it hasn’t moved. It might seem a crazy concept to think that a benchmark cemented into a seemingly immovable piece of rock could move, but we are in a region that experiences seismic events on an almost daily basis. (You can check out seismic activity at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/) NOAA Corps Officer ENS Bill Carrier set up a GPS station at the benchmark to collect 4 hour’s data on its position, a process called HORCON (horizontal control). Unfortunately, the winds were in charge of how much data we were able to collect that day, and blew down the station after only 3 hours! [image of station down] Sometimes the best laid plans …..
DATA, DATA, and MORE DATA
While data collection is important, it’s what you do with the data that really gets complicated. Data management is essential when working with so many files and so many variables. Before each launch returns to the Rainier, the day’s data is saved onto a portable hard drive. Immediately after being hauled back up onto the ship, the data is handed off to the ‘Night Processing Team’ and hustled off to the Plotting Room (computer HQ) to be uploaded into a computer. This is where the magic happens and an advanced degree in computer science or GIS (geographic information systems) can come in handy. I have neither of those qualifications, but I know how to read a screen, click a mouse, and follow directions. So, on Friday evening I was ushered into the ranks of ‘night processor’.
First, data is downloaded into the main computer. Each launch’s files are called raw data files and are recorded in the launch’s acquisition logs. Once the data is on the computer, it is important to set up what I call a ‘file tree’; the series of files that increase in specificity. This is analogous to having an accurate list of what files live within each drawer and section of your file cabinet. These files are color-coded according to the operations manual protocols to minimize the chance of misfiling or the data. They are definitely more organized than the files on my laptop—I might change my lackadaisical filing ways after this trip!
Once the data are placed in their folders, the fun begins. Remember, you have files for multiple variables; sonar, CTD casts, the IMU Heave-o-meter, and tide data. Not only that, you have, with any luck, performed multiple casts of your CTD meter to obtain accurate data about the conditions affecting sound wave transmission within your polygon. Now you get to do something I have never done before (and use a vocabulary word I never knew existed and one that I might try to spell in a future Scrabble game); you concatenate your CTD data. Basically, you put the data from all your CTD casts together into one, neat little file. Luckily, the computer program that is used does this for you. Next, you direct the program to add all the variables to your sonar files; the concatenated CTD data, tide data, and IMU data.
Assuming all goes well and you have merged all your files, it’s time to ‘clean’ your data and review it to make sure there are no obvious holes or holidays in the data that was collected. Holidays can occur if the launch was bouncing too much from side to side during data collection and show up as a blank spot in the data because the sonar was out of the water and not pinging off the bottom. You can identify these holidays during the data collection process [holiday signature], but sometimes there are smaller holidays that show up once the data is merged and on your computer screen. There can also be miscellaneous errant pings caused by debris in the water column. Cleaning involves systematically searching each line of your surveyed polygon to identify and delete those ‘bad’ pings. Kind of like photoshopping away the parts of a digital image that you don’t want in the final image. You work methodically in a grid pattern from left to right and top to bottom to ensure that you are covering the whole file. It sounds easy, but to a non-PC person such as myself all that right click, left click, center click stuff was a bit boggling. The program is amazingly complex and, rumor has it, a little bit ‘buggy’ at times.
After all this, guess what?! You still don’t have a chart. It takes almost 2 years to go from data collection to chart publication. There’s endless amounts of data compilation, reports to be written, and quality control analysis to be completed before the final report and charts are issued.
So far I have spent two nights on the ship ‘in transit’, moving between ports. The other nights have been spent anchored offshore. While the first night at sea was a little bouncy, the second was, in my opinion, the wildest roller coaster ride I have ever taken. Imagine being pulled to the top of a high roller coaster, and released to fly down to the bottom while you are lying flat in your bed. That’s what it felt like as we motored from the Shumagin Islands to an anchorage in Cold Bay. An endless series of up, up, ups, followed by a wild ride down, down, down. Luckily all the drawers and doors have latches that keep them from flying open—although I had a jacket hanging on a hook that seemed to hit the latch on one closet door and actually knock it open—after this happened a couple of times I gave up and put the coat on the floor and firmly shut the door. My bathroom trash can ended up in the shower stall. At one point I heard a loud thump in the dark—and realized my survival suit in its orange bag had fallen from the top bunk to the floor—glad I wasn’t in its way! It was time to just hang on and try not to roll out of bed.
We finally stopped rocking and rolling around 3 in the morning. I thought maybe I was just a bit sensitive to the rocking motion, but was comforted to find out the everyone agreed that it had been a wild night. In fact, one of the potential ‘hazards’ for our work on Thursday was ‘lack of sleep’.
After almost a week aboard the Rainier I have been impressed with the teamwork, precision, and overall efficiency which overlays all operations. This crew can get a launch loaded, lowered, and underway in less time than it sometimes takes me to record my morning attendance at school! This is no simple feat (the boat, not the attendance!). It reminds me of a buzzing beehive filled with activity and focused on a single task; data collection. Each day begins on the fantail (the rear of the boat) at 0800 with the FOO (Field Operations Officer) reviewing the POD (Plan of the Day) and a summary of the day’s goals, work assignments, weather, and potential hazards, prior to sending out the survey crews.
The Boatswain (bo’sun) directs the next part of this tightly choreographed activity, as the launches are lowered by their davits (small cranes), while lines and hooks are handled with an eye to safety and efficiency. Within 5 minutes the two launches have been lowered, loaded with crew and supplies, and are on the water, buzzing away from the hive like bees to perform their daily waggle dance as they move back and forth collecting hydrographic data.
At 1630 they return to the hive, filled with the sweet nectar of hydrographic data. Launches are lifted back onto the ship and the data is whisked off to the computer room for downloading. 5 Minutes later a survey team debrief is held to review work accomplished that day and any problems that may have come up so that plans can be made for the next day’s work. This crew is organized!!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Britta Culbertson Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson September 4-19, 2013
Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, September 12th, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 12th, 2013 at 9:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 23.05 kts
Air Temperature: 11.10 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 93%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.30 mb
Latitude: 58.73 N Longitude: 151.13 W
Science and Technology Log
We have been seeing a lot of humpback whales lately on the cruise. Humpback whales can weigh anywhere from 25-40 tons, are up to 60 feet in length, and consume tiny crustaceans, plankton, and small fish. They can consume up to 3,000 pounds of these tiny creatures per day (Source: NOAA Fisheries). Humpback whales are filter feeders and they filter these small organisms through baleen. Baleen is made out of hard, flexible material and is rooted in the whale’s upper jaw. The baleen is like a comb and allows the whale to filter plankton and small fish out of the water.
I’ve always wondered how whales can eat that much plankton! Three thousand pounds is a lot of plankton. I guess I felt that way because I had never seen plankton in real-life and I didn’t have a concept of how abundant plankton is in the ocean. Now that I’m exposed to zooplankton every day, I’m beginning to get a sense of the diversity and abundance of zooplantkon.
In my last blog entry I explained how we use the bongo nets to capture zooplankton. In this entry, I’ll describe some of the species that we find when clean out the codends of the net. As you will see, there are a wide variety of zooplankton and though the actual abundance of zooplankton will not be measured until later, it is interesting to see how much we capture with nets that have 20 cm and 60 cm mouths and are towed for only 5-10 minutes at each location. Whales have much larger mouths and feed for much longer than 10 minutes a day!
Cleaning the codends is fairly simple; we spray them down with a saltwater hose in the wet lab and dump the contents through a sieve with the same mesh size as the bongo net where the codend was attached. The only time that this proves challenging is if there is a lot of algae, which clogs up the mesh and makes it hard to rinse the sample. Also, the crab larvae that we find tend to hook their little legs into the sieve and resist being washed out. Below are two images of 500 micrometer sieves with zooplankton in them.
Some of the species of zooplankton we are finding include different types of:
Megalopae (crab larvae)
Pteropods (shelled: Limasina and shell-less: Clione)
Copepods (Calanus spp., Neocalanus spp., and Metridea spp.)
The other day we had a sieve full of ctenophores, which are sometimes known as comb jellies because they possess rows of cilia down their sides. The cilia are used to propel the ctenophores through the water. Some ctenophores are bioluminescent. Ctenophores are voracious predators, but lack stinging cells like jellyfish and corals. Instead they possess sticky cells that they use to trap predators (Source: UC Berkeley). Below is a picture of our 500 micrometer sieve full of ctenophores and below that is a close-up photo of a ctenophore.
It’s fun to compare what we find in the bongo nets to the type of organisms we find in the trawl at the same station. We were curious about what some of the fish we were eating, so we dissected two of the Silver Salmon that we had found and in one of them, the stomach contents were entirely crab larvae! In another salmon that we dissected from a later haul, the stomach contents included a whole capelin fish.
Juvenile pollock are indiscriminate zooplanktivores. That means that they will eat anything, but they prefer copepods and euphausiids, which have a high lipid (fat) content. Once the pollock get to be about 100 mm or greater in size, they switch from being zooplanktivores to being piscivorous. Piscivorous means “fish eater.” I was surprised to hear that pollock sometimes eat each other. Older pollock still eat zooplankton, but they are cannibalistic as well. Age one pollock will eat age zero pollock (those that haven’t had a first birthday yet), but the bigger threat to age zero pollock is the 2 year old and older cohorts of pollock. Age zeros will eat small pollock larvae if they can find them. Age zero pollock are also food for adult Pacific Cod and adult Arrowtooth Flounder. Older pollock, Pacific Cod, and Arrowtooth Flounder are the most voracious predators of age 0 pollock. Recently, in the Gulf of Alaska, Arrowtooth Flounder have increased in biomass (amount of biological material) and this has put a lot of pressure on the pollock population. Scientists are not yet sure why the biomass of Arrowtooth Flounder is increasing. (Source: Janet Duffy-Anderson – Chief Scientist aboard the Dyson and Alaska Fisheries Science Center).
The magnified images below, which I found online, are the same or similar to some of the species of zooplankton we have been catching in our bongo nets. Click on the images for more details.
A chaetognath found in the Bering Sea. (Photo credit: Dave Forcucci, NOAA)
A type of euphausiid called Thysanoessa raschii. (Photo credit: WoRMS Database)
A type of naked or shell-less pteropod called an “ice snail”. (Photo credit: Kevin Raskoff, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration)
A type of copepod called Calanus. (Photocredit: Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Limacina helicina, a type of shelled pteropod. (Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Neocalanus critatus – a type of copepod found in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photocredit: Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
A type of amphipod found in the cold waters around Alaska. (Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration)
Metridia pacifica – a type of copepod found the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Personal Log (morning of September 14, 2013)
I’m thankful that last night we had calm seas and I was able to get a full eight hours of sleep without feeling like I was going to be thrown from my bed. This morning we are headed toward the Kenai Peninsula, so I’m excited that we might get to see some amazing views of the Alaskan landscape. The weather looks like it will improve and the winds have died down to about 14 knots this morning. Last night’s shift caught an octopus in their trawl net; so hopefully, we will find something more interesting than just kelp and jellyfish in our trawls today.
Did You Know?
I mentioned that we had found some different types of pteropods in our bongo nets. Pteropods are a main food source for North Pacific juvenile salmon and are eaten by many marine organisms from krill to whales. There are two main varieties of pteropods; there are those with shells and those without. Pteropods are sometimes called sea butterflies.
Unfortunately, shelled pteropods are very susceptible to ocean acidification. Scientists conducted an experiment in which they placed shelled pteropods in seawater with pH and carbonate levels that are projected for the year 2100. In the image below, you can see that the shell dissolved slowly after 45 days. If pteropods are at the bottom of the food chain, think of the implications of the loss of pteropods for the organisms that eat them!
In my last blog entry on the bongo, I talked about using the “frying pan” or clinometer to measure wire angle. If you’re interested in other applications of clinometers, there are instructions for making homemade clinometers here and there’s also a lesson plan from National Ocean Services Education about geographic positioning and the use of clinometers this website.
If you are interested in having your students learn more about ocean acidification, there is a great ocean acidification module developed for the NOAA Ocean Data Education Project on the Data in the Classroom website.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Britta Culbertson Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson September 4-19, 2013
Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 11th, 2013 at 10:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 4.54 kts
Air Temperature: 10.50 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 83%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.60 mb
Latitude: 58.01 N Longitude: 151.18 W
Science and Technology Log
What is a bongo net and why do we use it?
As I mentioned in a previous entry, one of the aspects of this cruise is a zooplankton survey, which happens at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock. The zooplankton are prey for the juvenile pollock. There are many types of zooplankton including those that just float in the water, those that can swim a little bit on their own, and those that are actually the larval or young stage of much larger organisms like crab and shrimp. We are interested in collecting the zooplankton at each station because because we are interested in several aspects of juvenile pollock ecology, including feeding ecology. In order to catch zooplankton, we use a device called a bongo net. The net gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.
The bongo net design we are using includes 2 small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets attached to them and 2 large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets. The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton. In the picture above, there are just two nets, but our device has 4 total nets. At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat, which records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the salinity, conductivity, and temperature of the water.
What happens during a bongo net tow?
The process of collecting zooplankton involves many people with a variety of roles. It usually takes three scientists, one survey tech, and a winch operator who will lower the bongo net into the water. In addition, the officers on the bridge need to control the speed and direction of the boat. All crew members are in radio contact with each other to assure that the operation runs smoothly. Two scientists and a survey tech stand on the “hero deck” and work on getting the nets overboard safely. Another scientist works in a data room at a computer which monitors the depth and angle of the bongo as it is lowered into the water. It is important to maintain a 45 degree angle on the wire that tows the bongo to make sure that water is flowing directly into the mouth opening of the net. One of the scientists on the hero deck will use a device that we lovingly call the “frying pan,” but more accurately it is called a clinometer or inclinometer. The flat side of the device gets lined up with the wire and an arrow dangles down on the plate and marks the angle. The scientist calls out the angle every few seconds so that the bridge knows whether or not to increase or decrease the speed of the ship in order to maintain the 45 degree angle necessary.
Meanwhile, back at the computer, we monitor how close the bongo gets to the bottom of the ocean. We already know how deep the ocean is at our location because of the ship’s sonar. The bongo operation involves a bit of simple triangle geometry. We know the depth and we know the angles, so we just have to calculate the hypotenuse of the triangle that will be created when the bongo is pulled through the water to figure out how much wire to let out. The survey tech uses a chart that helps him determine this quickly so he knows what to tell the winch operator in terms of wire to let out. In the images below, you can see what we are watching as the bongo completes its tow. The black line indicates the depth of the bongo, and the red, purple, and blue lines indicate temperature, conductivity, and salinity.
When the bongo is within in 10 meters of the bottom, the survey tech radios the winch operator to start bringing the bongo back up. It usually takes longer for it to come up as it does for it to go out, nevertheless, the 45 degree wire angle needs to be maintained. When the survey tech sees the bongo at the surface of the water, the two scientists on the hero deck get ready to grab it. This operation can be quite difficult when it’s windy and the seas are rough. If you look at the sequence of the photos below, pay attention to the horizon line where the water meets the sky and you can get a sense of the size of the swells that day.
When the bongo is safely back on deck, the person in the data room records the time of the net deployment, how long it takes to go down and up, how much wire gets let out, and the total depth at the station. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted in the data sheet.
As the bongo reaches the surface, the scientists grab the net keep it from banging into the side of the ship. When the net is on board, the next step is to read the flowmeters on the nets that indicate how much water has flowed through them. Then we rinse the nets and wash all of the material down the nets and into the “codends” at the very end of the net. These are little containers that can be detached and emptied to collect the samples.
Vince, the survey tech, and Peter the scientist prepare to read the flowmeters on the bongo.
Britta and Peter washing the bongo nets.
Once the codends are detached, they are taken to the wet lab and rinsed. Each of the four parts of the net has a codend where the zooplankton are caught. The zooplankton are rinsed out of the codends into a sieve and then collected in a jar and preserved with formalin. The purpose of having two of each of the 20 cm and 60 cm bongo nets is to ensure that if one sample is bad or accidentally dumped, there is always a backup. I have had to use the backup once or twice when there was a big jellyfish in the codend that kept me from getting all of the zooplankton out of the sample.
After we collect the zooplankton the samples are shipped to Seattle when we return to port. Back in the labs, the samples are sorted, the zooplankton are identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area. This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of plankton in the water. A high density of the right types of food means a good feeding spot for the juvenile walleye pollock! This sorting process can take approximately one year. I think it’s pretty amazing how much work goes into collecting the small samples we get at each station. Just to think of all of the person hours and ship hours involved makes me realize how costly it is to study the ocean.
It is hard to believe that I’ve been on the ship a week now. It feels strange that just 7 days ago I had never heard of a bongo net or an anchovy net. Now I see them every day and I know how to identify several types of fish, jellyfish, and zooplankton. I love working with the scientists and learning about the surveys we are doing. Nearly every trawl reveals a special, new organism, like the Spiny Lumpsucker – go look that one up, I dare you! We don’t have much down time and I’m trying to blog in between stations, but sometimes the time between stations after we finish our work can be 45 minutes and sometimes just 15 minutes. So we are pretty much on the go for the whole 12-hour shift. That’s where the fortitude part of Teacher at Sea comes in. You definitely need to have fortitude to endure the long hours, occasional seasickness (I like to think of it as “sea discomfort”), and periodic bad weather.
By now though, it all seems routine and I’d like to think I’ve gotten used to being thrown around in my sleep a little now and again when we hit some rough seas. This experience has been so worthwhile and even though I look forward to the comforts of home, I don’t really want it to end. When I graduated from college, I worked with a herpetologist studying lizards in the desert south of Carlsbad, New Mexico. I have fond memories of living in a tent for four months and collecting lizards all day to bring back to camp to measure and check for parasites. I often miss doing scientific work, so Teacher at Sea has given me the opportunity to be a scientist again and to learn about a whole new world in the ocean. What a treat! One of the reasons I chose to be a teacher was to be able to share my excitement about science with students and I feel so lucky that I get to share this experience too.
Did you know?
There are two species of Metridia, a type of copepod (zooplankton), that are found in the Gulf of Alaska/Bering Sea. One of them is called Metridia lucens and the other one is Metridia oketensis. These copepods are bioluminescent, which means that they glow when they are disturbed. They sometimes glow when they are in the wake of the ship or on the crest of a wave. Tonight when I was draining a codend into a sieve, my sieve looked like it had blue sparkles in it, but just for a second! I asked our resident zooplankton expert, Colleen Harpold what they might be and she thought that my blue sparkles likely belonged to the genus Metridia.
Thanks for reading! Please leave me some comments or ask questions about any of the blog posts and feel free to ask other questions about the work we are doing or what it’s like at sea! I would love to be able to answer real-time while I am at sea.
You never know what you might see first thing in the morning! When I awoke and looked out my porthole I saw this in the distance.
We cast off yesterday morning at 1000 hrs, RST—Rainier Ship Time. Although we are still in the Alaska Daylight Savings time zone, our time on the ship has been adjusted backwards 1 hour to give us more daylight during ‘working hours’. Since the ship is its own floating universe, time that is referenced to a specific time zone is not as important as time that is referenced to our day and the work that needs to be completed. Einstein would be pleased to see that time is, indeed, relative here aboard the Rainier!
There is science involved just to leave port and set forth on this cruise. There’s data to be collected, such as a weather forecast—and decisions to be made based on that data. Today’s weather report called for rain and high winds. That data input resulted in a travel plan including taking a more protected route north of Kodiak Island instead of heading out to more open water right away. We didn’t reach the wide-open spaces until evening, and I was lulled to sleep by the endless rocking and rolling of the boat.
Science can also include the protocols needed to keep everyone on board safe and healthy during a cruise. With that in mind, I spent part of the day learning about the ship and the safety routines we need to follow. Ensign Wall gave me my survival suit, aka Gumby Suit and showed me how to don that lifesaving apparel. The suit is a foam-filled drysuit, providing insulation and floatation in one handy, non-form-fitting package. They are, apparently, one size fits none, but when it’s a matter of survival, I doubt that style counts for too many points!
Each person aboard is assigned stations to report to in case of fire or in case it becomes necessary to abandon ship. I found out that I go to the Boat Shop near the stern in case of fire, and that I head to Station 1 near the bridge. We had a fire drill in the afternoon, followed by an abandon ship drill. Much like fire drills at school, it’s a good time to practice and figure out the best way to get to where you need to go. Since I’m still learning my way around the ship, it was especially important to figure out where I needed to go and how to get there.
Then there’s the ‘real’ science—the science of hydrography and the point of this entire venture. The NOAA Ship Rainier has been tasked with charting (creating maps) of the Shumagin Islands and Cold Bay areas. It’s amazing to think that there are still some parts of our coastline that haven’t been charted. I spent much of this afternoon talking with the scientists who are making these maps and came away with the overwhelming sense that this is, indeed, a complicated and multi-faceted process. I’ll be writing separate journals on all the science that goes into creating these detailed maps of the ocean floor. If you just can’t wait and need to know more right now, check out the blogs from previous TAS teachers on the Ship Rainier.
Much of my first day at sea was spent getting used to being aboard a large floating object on a rather bumpy sea. Our day was spent in transit, from Kodiak to the Shumagin Islands, around 28 hours away.
There’s a lot to learn about life on board the Rainier. Most important has been orienting myself and figuring out where everything is located. Decks are labeled from ‘A’, the lowest, to ‘G’, the uppermost deck area. My quarters are on the ‘E’ deck. The Galley, where food is prepared and served, is on the ‘D’ deck below me, and the Bridge (steering and control of the ship) is above me on the ‘F’ deck.
I have my own room—kind of luxurious living! There’s a bunk, the head (bathroom), a couple of closets, drawers, and even a small fold-down desk area so that I can write my journals. Every drawer latches tightly to minimize the chance of unidentified flying objects if we hit some rough weather.
I took a short tour of some of the more esoteric parts of the ship, including a visit to the cofferdam, whose access was through a hatch and down a ladder hidden in one of the heads (bathrooms). This is sort of like accessing the crawl space under your house through a small tunnel in your bathroom. While we speculated on just what purpose this area served (storage, poor planning in designing the hull and layout, a random skinny place to hang out?), it turns out that it is a watertight compartment that separates the contact between liquids that might be in the bow area and those in the stern area of the ship.
There was also an escape hatch that was incredibly heavy to lift—but I am sure you could lift it if your life depended on it! I don’t plan on having to test this thing out!!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 9, 2013
Welcome to my NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog!
I am thrilled that in just a few days I will be aboard NOAA ShipOregon IIas a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I have been eagerly waiting for this week to arrive and now it is almost here! On Friday, September 13, I will fly from New Orleans to Houston and then drive to Galveston. I will be aboard the Oregon II from Galveston, Texas until we dock in Pascagoula, Mississippi on September 29.
I am the Education Coordinator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana. I manage our education animal collection, those animals that are used in programs at the aquarium and in our outreach programs, and I coordinate the AquaKid program. Our animal collection includes a range of animals from saltwater invertebrates like horseshoe crabs to large reptiles like a red tail boa. Caring for these animals is one of the best parts of my job. I love interacting with them each day and ensuring they receive quality care. Our program animals are an important part of our mission to connect our audiences to nature. Inviting our guests to interact with these animal ambassadors helps demonstrate just how awesome animals can be! The AquaKids are youth volunteers who enter our program when they are in 7th-9thgrades. AquaKids go through a training session during the month of July that covers basic marine biology and prepares them to serve as educators at the Aquarium for the next school year. Some of my favorite parts of the summer training session with the AquaKids are the field trips we take every week and the dissection of spiny dogfish that we do in the last week of training. I am ecstatic to be aboard the Oregon II and to be able to bring back new research and information to share with the AquaKids during our summer training.
Science and Technology Log
I will be aboard the Oregon II participating in the fourth and final leg of a shark and red snapper longline survey. These longline surveys are crucial in assessing the populations of sharks and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. You will be able to track the progress of the Oregon II as we move through the Gulf of Mexicousing NOAA’s ship tracker. I will be participating as a member of the science crew working a 12 hour shift each day. I cannot wait to see what we catch during this leg of the survey! This will be an amazing opportunity for me to see population research in action and to share that research with my blog readers and visitors to the Audubon Aquarium when I return from this experience.
I have had a great summer with trips to the barrier islands of Georgia for vacation and New York for my sister’s wedding. This time aboard the Oregon II will be an exciting end to my summer. I hope you will continue reading as I post about my experience and ask any questions you might have in the comments section!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Susy Ellison Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier September 9-26, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographic Area: South Alaska Peninsula and Shumagin Islands Date: September 7, 2013
Weather: Partly cloudy at the Anchorage Airport
Lat 61.217 N, Lon 149.900 W
Although Mapquest says ‘you can’t get there from here’, when queried about routes from Carbondale, CO to Kodiak, AK, I am sitting in the Anchorage Airport and well on my way to meeting up with the NOAA Ship Rainier. While it’s easy to make a list of exactly how I’m getting to Kodiak (drive to Vail, CO, shuttle van to Denver, fly from Denver to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Kodiak), it’s a little more complicated to actually describe my journey to Kodiak and the Rainier.
I’m not sure that the journey only started when I packed my large, orange duffel bag and threw it in the car. That bag, currently either in the underbelly of a plane or sitting in a stack somewhere in the bowels of the airport, is filled with the clothing and personal supplies I’ll need for the next 3 weeks. Topping the list of clothing is a pair of Xtratuffs–rubber boots to keep my feet dry on the ship and when we’re on shore. Speaking of dry, I have 2 sets of raingear; a gore-tex parka and pants for those mostly wet days, and pvc-coated nylon parka and pants for the truly wet days. Rumor has it that it could be a bit rainy in the Shumagin Island area. I have long underwear to keep me warm, a wool hat to keep my head toasty, and the usual assortment of jeans and t-shirts for time ‘indoors’ on the ship.
Sometimes I think this journey started while planning 3 weeks of lesson plans for my students. My mind was already on the ship as I was creating those plans and trying to link my students’ activities with some of what I will be learning during my cruise. I created an independent study plan for students who wanted to earn science credit by following along with my blogs and reading the blogs of other teachers. All that planning gave me ample time to think about the journey that lay ahead, and to, perhaps, already start the journey while I was sitting at my desk.
This journey to Kodiak and the Shumagin Islands certainly has some foundation in my endless perusal of the Teacher at Sea blogs this summer. I was an avid reader of blogs from teachers aboard the Rainier, but also took time to read journals from teachers in other oceans and locations. Since I’ve never been on a ship this was a great way to start my trip a little bit ‘early’.
Did this journey begin way back when I applied for the Teacher at Sea program? After all, part of the application process involved envisioning how I would use this experience in my classroom. I had been following other teacher’s cruises for many years, so it was great to have to visualize myself on a ship and what I could learn from such an experience.
But, when I really think about this journey, it might actually have started long ago, when I was a child. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that was, to put it mildly, firmly rooted in science and looking at the world as one giant science experiment. I was taught to ‘think like a scientist’, observing the world around me and asking questions (and searching for answers) about our planet.
It comes down to a question of scale. Is it really just a journey of 3000+ miles from Carbondale to Kodiak, or is it the sum total of days, months, or even years? Either way, I can’t wait for this part of the journey to end and my life on the ship to begin!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Britta Culbertson Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson September 4-19, 2013
Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 6th at 5:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 42.65 knots
Air Temperature: 11.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 81%
Barometric Pressure: 987.4 mb
Latitude:57.67 N Longitude: 153.87 W
Science and Technology Log
As you can see from my weather data section, the wind speed this morning was up to 42.65 knots. We had waves near 18 feet and thus the Oscar Dyson ran for cover and tucked itself in an inlet on the North side of Kodiak Island called Spiridon Bay. The Oscar Dyson’s location can be viewed in near real-time using NOAA’s Shiptracker website. The screenshot above was taken from the Shiptracker website when we were hiding from the weather. The weather forecast from NOAA’s Alaska Region Headquarters shows that the winds should diminish over the next few days. I’m thankful to hear that!
…GALE WARNING TONIGHT….TONIGHT…S WIND 45 KT DIMINISHING TO 35 KT TOWARDS MORNING. SEAS 23FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT…SW WIND 30 KT DIMINISHING TO 20 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. SEAS15 FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT NIGHT…W WIND 15 TO 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT. RAIN..SUN…SW WIND 20 KT. SEAS 8 FT..SUN NIGHT…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT..MON…SE WIND 25 KT. SEAS 13 FT..TUE…S WIND 30 KT. SEAS 11 FT..WED…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 9 FT.
Since the Dyson has been in safe harbor in Spiridon Bay for the last few hours, I have had some time to catch up on some blogging! Let’s backtrack a few days to Wednesday, September 4th, when the Dyson left Kodiak to begin its journey in the Gulf of Alaska. We headed out after 1PM to pick up where the last cruise left off in the research grid. We reached our first station later in the afternoon and began work. A station is a pre-determined location where we complete two of our surveys (see map below). The circles on the map represent a station location in the survey grid. The solid circles are from leg 1 of the cruise that took place in August and the hollow circles represent leg 2 of the cruise, which is the leg on which I am sailing.
The first step once we reach a station is to deploy a Bongo net to collect marine zooplankton and the second step is to begin trawling with an anchovy net to capture small, pelagic juvenile pollock and forage fishes that are part of the main study for this cruise. Pelagic fish live near the surface of the water or in the water column, but not near the bottom or close to the shore. Zooplankton are “animal plankton”. The generic definition of plankton is: small, floating or somewhat motile (able to move on their own) organisms that live in a body of water. Some zooplankton are the larval (beginning) stages of crabs, worms, or shellfish. Other types of zooplankton stay in the planktonic stage for the entirety of their lives. In other words, they don’t “grow up” to become something like a shrimp or crab.
Before we reached the first station, we conducted a few safety drills. The first was a fire drill and the second was an abandon ship drill. The purpose of these drills is to make sure we understand where to go (muster) in case of an emergency. For the abandon ship drill, we had to grab our survival suits and life preservers and muster on the back deck. The life rafts are stored one deck above and would be lowered to the fantail (rear deck of the ship) in the event of an actual emergency. After the drill I had to test out my survival suit to make sure I knew how to put it on correctly.
On the way to our first station, we traveled through Whale Pass next to Whale Island, which lies off of the northern end of Kodiak Island. While passing through this area, we saw a total of 4 whales spouting and so many sea otters, I lost track after I counted 20. Unfortunately, none of my pictures really captured the moment. The boat was moving too fast to get the sea otters before they flipped over or were out of sight.
A lot of people have emailed to ask me if I have been getting seasick. So far, things haven’t been that bad, but I figured out that I feel pretty fine when I’m working and moving about the ship. However, when I sit and type at a computer and focus my attention on the screen that seems to be when the seasickness hits. For the most part, getting some fresh air and eating dried ginger has saved me from getting sick and fortunately, I knew about the threat of high winds last night, so I made sure to take some seasickness medication before going to bed. After what we experienced this morning, I am sure glad I took some medication.
Everyone on board seems very friendly and always asks how I am doing. It has been a real pleasure to meet the engineers, fisherman, NOAA Corps officers, scientists, and all others aboard the ship. Since we have to work with the crew to get our research done, it’s wonderful to have a positive relationship with the various crew members. Plus, I’m learning a lot about what kinds of careers one can have aboard a ship, in addition to being a scientist.
So far, I’ve worked two 12-hour shifts and even though I’m pretty tired after my long travel day and the adjustment from the Eastern Time Zone to the Alaskan Time Zone (a four hour difference), I’m having a great time! I really enjoy getting my hands dirty (or fishy) and processing the fish that we bring in from the trawl net. Processing the haul involves identifying, sorting, counting, measuring the length, and freezing some of the catch. The catch is mainly composed of different types of fish like pollock and eulachon, but sometimes there are squid, shrimp, and jellyfish as well.
One of the hardest parts of the trip so far is getting used to starting work at noon and working until midnight. We have predetermined lunch and dinner times, 11:30 AM and 5:00 PM respectively, so I basically eat lunch for breakfast and dinner for lunch and then I snack a little before I go to bed after my shift ends at midnight. As the days go by, I’m sure I’ll get more used to the schedule.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Britta Culbertson Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson September 4-19, 2013
Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 4th at 8:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 5.11 kts
Air Temperature: 12.6 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure: 1003.2 mb
Latitude: 57.78 N Longitude: 152.43 W
My trip to Kodiak from Washington, DC was a long one. I left DC early in the morning on September 2nd and I nearly missed my connection in Seattle after our flight left late from Reagan National Airport. I tried to dash off the plane, lugging my suitcase and backpack, with only 10 minutes to get to my connecting flight before it was supposed to take off. Fortunately, I know my way around SEA-TAC airport and with all of my escalator running experience from a year of DC living, I was able to get to my gate with 2 minutes to spare. On the plane, I was reunited with the scientists for my cruise and off we flew to Anchorage. Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Anchorage and from there it was just a one-hour flight to Kodiak Island where the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson was in port.
While the ship was in port, we slept on board and I got used to the subtle rolls of the ship, which of course is nothing like when the ship is in motion. After a long day of travel on Monday, we ate dinner in town and went straight to bed afterwards. I spent the first day on the ship getting acquainted with the twists and turns of the hallways and the multiple staircases leading to different parts of the ship. Interestingly, you can’t walk from bow to aft on the same level on the Dyson, which makes it kind of difficult to get a nice deck side stroll.
There are 8 people, including myself, on the science team and a total of 33 people aboard the ship. I’m sharing a cabin with one of the scientists and we each have our own bunk with a small lamp and a curtain so we can close ourselves in and get some shut-eye. Each stateroom (cabin) has a shower and toilet, which is pretty luxurious! Once we get underway and get started working, I will work the noon to midnight shift and my roommate will work the midnight to noon shift. That way we will each have time alone in the cabin when the other is working.
Science and Technology Log
Tuesday was our first full day in Kodiak and we started the day aboard the Dyson with a briefing about the scientific work that we would be doing during the cruise. It was a bit overwhelming at first, because every term is completely new to me. But because of the repetitive nature of the work we will be doing, everyone has assured me that once we get going, I will totally get the hang of it. In short, one of the things we will be looking at is the year 0 pollock (those fish which haven’t had a first birthday yet). The fish we collect during the survey will be analyzed back in Seattle to see how healthy they are. From there, projections can be made about how many pollock will make it through the winter and survive until their first birthday. Fish become vulnerable to the fishing when they reach year 3, so it’s important to understand the health of the young pollock now to set the numbers that can be caught by the fishing boats down the road.
Research boats are not like cruise ships. There are few comfortable places to sit outside of the lounge and people are working around the clock on various shifts, so you have to be really quiet when walking through the hallways. On board, there are automatically closing doors that slam shut during drills and emergencies, very steep staircases, and slippery floors. The Oscar Dysonhas several labs below deck. I will spend most of my time working in the wet lab processing the pollock that we collect. There are computers on board and we also have internet, though the ship has to be going the right direction for us to be able to use it because otherwise the incoming signal gets blocked by the exhaust stack when the ship is at certain headings.
On Tuesday morning, we also had a short briefing about by Operations Officer Mark Frydrych, one of the NOAA Corps officers aboard the Dyson. He described the general rules and regulations on board the ship. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head out to sea in the afternoon after the ship gets fueled. We will have to travel for a few hours to get to our first station where the work begins. I’m really looking forward to getting out to sea and starting to work on the project!
Did You Know?
“NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson R-224 supports NOAA’s mission to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management. Its primary objective is as a support platform to study and monitor Alaskan pollock and other fisheries, as well as oceanography in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The ship also observes weather, sea state, and other environmental conditions, conducts habitat assessments, and surveys marine mammal and marine bird populations.
Oscar Dyson, was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on October 17, 2003, and was commissioned May 28, 2005 in Kodiak, Alaska. Oscar Dyson is the first of four new fisheries survey ships to be built by NOAA. The ship, one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world, was christened Oscar Dyson by Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, wife of the late Alaskan fisherman and fisheries industry leader, Oscar Dyson. The ship is homeported in Mr. Dyson’s home town of Kodiak, Alaska.”