NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster
June 17 – 27, 2014
Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey
Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic
Date: June 23, 2014
Saturday: Sunny, some clouds, 27 degrees Celsius. 6.0 knot wind from the southwest. 1-2m seas.
Sunday: Cloudy with morning rain clearing to mostly sunny in the afternoon. 27 degrees Celsius. 13 knot wind from the west. 2-4m seas.
** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!
Science and Technology Log
Science Part I. The superhighway under the surface: sea currents
Until today, most everything including the weather and sea conditions were in our favor. On the surface it just looks like waves (ok well big waves) but underneath is a superhighway. On Sunday morning the currents throughout the water column were very strong. The result was the ROV and its power and fiber optic umbilical cord never reached a true vertical axis. Even with a 300lbs down-weight and five thrusters the ROV could not get to our desired depth of about 60m. The current grabbed its hold onto the thin cable and stretched it diagonally far under the ship – a dangerous situation with the propellers. The skill of ROV pilots Lance and Jason and the crew on the bridge navigated the challenging situation and we eventually retrieved the ROV back to the deck. I presume if I were back home on Goose Lake in Minnesota, I certainly would have ended up with the anchor rope wrapped around the props in a similar situation. So, where is the current coming from and how do we measure it aboard the Nancy Foster?
Answer: The Gulf Stream is an intense, warm ocean current in the western North Atlantic Ocean and it moves up the coast from Florida to North Carolina where it then heads east. You don’t have to be directly in the Gulf Stream to be affected by its force; eddies spin off of it and at times, water will return in the opposite direction on either side of it. Visit NOAA Education for more on ocean currents.
Answer: Aboard the Nancy Foster, we have a Teledyne ADCP – Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler. The ADCP measures direction, speed, and depths of the currents between the ship and the ocean floor. It’s not just one measurement of each; currents may be moving in different directions, at different depths, at different speeds. This can make a ROV dive challenging.
For example, at 4pm on Sunday near the Snowy Grouper MPA site off the coast of North Carolina, from 0-70 meters in depth the current was coming from the north and at about 2 knots. At 70 meters to the sea floor bottom it was coming from the south at over 2 knots. Almost completely opposite.
Another indication of the strong currents today was the force against the hydrophone. Hydrophones detect acoustic signals in the ocean. We are using a hydrophone mounted on the side of the Nancy Foster to communicate the location of the ROV to the ship. The hydrophone has to be lowered and secured to the ship before each dive. It ended up in my blog today because the current was so strong, three of us could not swing and pull the hydrophone to a vertical position in the water column. It was a good indicator the currents were much stronger than the past few days.
Science Part II. Discoveries of Dives in the Deep
Snowy Grouper – one primary species we are on the hunt for this mission
Snowy Grouper are one of the species requiring management due to low and threatened stock levels within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West. The MPAs help conserve and manage these species. We were excited to have a few visit the camera lens the past two days.
Invertebrates – (with much thanks to my education from Stephanie Farrington)
Science Part III. Rugosity-
Rugosity is sea- bottom roughness. Probably one of the terms and skills I will remember most about this experience. In oceanography, rugosity is determined in addition to the other characteristics I am more accustomed to: slope, composition, and the cover type (plants, animals, invertebrates.) It was a little challenging for me to incorporate this into my observations the first few days so thought I would share two of the stark differences. This compliments my strong knowledge and passion for teaching earth science with Earth Adventure; I cannot wait to use this content in future Earth Balloon & Earth Walk Programs!
Science Part III. Day Shapes
When a ship has restricted ability to move, the ship displays vertically (up to down) from the mast a black ball, diamond, and black ball. This informs other ships and vessels in the area not to approach the Nancy Foster as we can’t move; the ROV is in the water. While radio communication is an option, this is a marine standard that signals others to stay away. If we were deploying the ROV at night, a series of lights communicate the same message. On Sunday morning, we observed three recreational fishing boats probably a 1.5 kilometers from the ship. It seemed one was moving towards us likely interested in what was happening aboard the giant Nancy Foster.
Lance Horn and Jason White are the two ROV pilots on board from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
A week without television. While I brought movies on my iPad and there is a lounge equipped with more than nine leather recliners, a widescreen, and amazing surround sound, I haven’t yet sat down long enough to watch anything. I spend 12 hours a day being a shadow to the researches trying to absorb as much as I can and lending a hand in anything that can help the mission. Most of my evenings have been consumed by researching species we saw during the dives using taxonomy keys and well, just asking a lot of questions. I go through hundreds of digital pictures from the ROV and try to make sense of the many pages of notes I make as the researchers discuss species, habitats, and characteristics during the dives. While I am using a trust book version as well as the multiple poster versions scattered on the walls in the lab, here is a great online key.
Sunday evening, crew members of the Nancy Foster invited me to join them in a game of Mexican Train – a game using Dominos. Thanks Tim for including me! I am going to have to purchase this for cabin weekends up north in Minnesota (when the mosquitoes get so large they will carry you away and we can no longer go out in the evenings).
When the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler wasn’t working, we just called on King Neptune and his kite to help us gauge the wind speed, direction and the currents. Wait, I thought he carried a scepter?
Espresso! I really was worried about the coffee when coming aboard the Nancy Foster for 12+ days. What would I do without my Caribou Coffee or Starbucks? Chief Steward Lito and Second Cook Bob to the rescue with an espresso machine in the mess. John has been very happy – and very awake.
I made it a little more progress reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.
“In 2009, we spent $21 billion on bottled water, more on Poland Spring, FIJI Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent buying iPhones, iPods, and all the music and apps we load on them.” (p337)
Glossary to Enhance Your Mind
Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge. I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.
NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at
- Nautical knot
4 Replies to “John Bilotta, Super Highways of Currents and Super Specimens from the Deep: Days 5 & 6 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 23, 2014”
Hi John. Sounds like a great opportunity! Have you trie dto water ski?? 🙂
Amazing knowledge you are gaining ! I am going to warn Gary Barth and Larry and Jim Engleveson that there is an alligator in Goose, and it hangs around Gary’s! Lost 3 lures to some THING in the water there, and one cut the steel leader on my line!
So sad to see that in the middle of nowhere, you can find man made trash. Remind me to tell you when you get back what I was told what happens in International Waters once Military ships leave our protected waters. ( Stories from the first Gulf war deployment)On an Environmental note, one of my sailboat shipmates is with the Corps of Engineers, and has been pulling long hours with the flooding in Northern Mn and Canada boarder lakes–Rainey Lake Twin Cities has the Minn and Miss rivers above flood stage—-HMMMMM –Storm Water run-off??!! Stillwater brg. closed the only body of water not flooded in the state is White Bear–seriously. Minnetonka Lakes system will be shut down for the 4th due to No Wake restrictions.
So, lets rent that ROV to map out Goose. What- 10-20 dollars a day?
Take it all in Bro! —-you can sleep when you’re dead!
Thanks! Its amazing! More to come. We are now down south, off the FL coast. Tonight, the ship is going to pull a full steam transit back to Mayport Naval base, earlier than expected. ETA to base is 7am.
Was a pleasure meeting you and having you aboard John. Always good to meet a fellow midwesterner! Fair winds and following seas my friend! Tim