Carol Schnaiter, Home Again! June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 21, 2014

Mission: I am back home in Amboy, IL, now so my mission is getting back to a “normal” schedule and getting my land legs back!

Weather: Partly sunny, 82 degrees

Date: June 25, 2014

Early morning work
Early morning work!

Science and Technology:

Hypoxia or low oxygen levels in the water is my final topic. The “dead zone” may seem like it does not relate to me being home, but in reality it really does.

This “dead zone” is affected by many things such as the oceanographic conditions, but a major cause is excessive nutrient pollution from agriculture and waste water. Being from a rural agricultural area I wonder how much of what we are doing here in the north affects the ocean waters far away?

So how does this all start? The nitrogen and phosphorus that flows into the water fuels the growth of algae, later when the algae dies and decays, it sinks to the bottom. At the bottom the bacteria will devour the dissolved oxygen from the water. With little or no oxygen the organisms living there must either move, if they can, or they will die.

Where does this nitrogen and phosphorus come from? Most of this can be found in fertilizers from agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, discharges from sewage treatment plants, and even from erosion of soil full of nutrients. Since past spring was very rainy and there were floods near the Mississippi River much of this was taken from the soil into the water. The flood waters then drained back into the river and into the gulf carrying many of these nutrients.

How do we know this is happening and that it is getting worse? On the NOAA Ship Oregon II and other ships there are daily checks of the water oxygen levels. Tests similar to these have been conducted for many years. The results are compared and they show that changes in the oxygen levels are happening and not for the better.

While on the ship the scientist performed these tests using the CTD.  Water taken from the CTD is handled very carefully so no oxygen is added by accident. As chemicals are added, you can see the changes where the oxygen in the water bonds to the chemicals. The results of these tests are compared to the results collected by the computer.  Having both tests generate similar results show more proof of the oxygen levels.

CTD coming up
CTD coming up!

I noticed that when the ship was closer to land, the oxygen levels would be lower and Lead Scientist Kim Johnson said as the ship traveled closer to the mouth of the Mississippi River, the levels would drop even more. (I plan on watching the results as they are posted.)

Can anything be done to stop this? Some scientist say one of the solutions would be to use fewer fertilizers another would be to maybe watch when the chemicals were added, so there would be less runoff.

Of course checking septic systems and sewage treatment plants to be sure they are up to code and working correctly would help. These solutions sound simple, but maybe people do not even realize what happens up north and how it really does affect what is going on at the bottom of the ocean.

Maybe our Amboy Marsh is the beginning, a place where the water can be filtered.

Here is a map showing the levels of oxygen in the water.

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Personal Log:

I have been home now for four days. My land legs are back and I only feel dizzy when closing my eyes while washing my hair in the shower. I want to thank everyone for reading my blogs, I hope you enjoyed my adventure and learned something new.

As I look through my pictures, memories of the sixteen days I spent at sea flood my mind. I look at the safety precautions that were taken to make sure everyone on the ship stayed safe. The drills, the posting of where everyone was to go and what they were suppose to do in case of an emergency, and the sign stating how many days the ship had gone without a problem. I always felt safe, everyone was very careful and followed rules to ensure the safety of everyone….just like we do at school!

Accident free days
525 Days without an accident!
Ship's emergency bullets
Emergency bullets

I also think about how what seemed like a tiny space became my home away from home. Everything you need to survive on a mere 178 ft ship! Two showers for everyone to share, three heads (toilets) and one washing machine and one dryer. I thought it would be impossible, but it just proved my husband’s theory that we have too much in our home!

laundry area
Laundry Area!
Shower room
Two showers to share with everyone!

I want to tell you how thankful I am that NOAA has this wonderful program and allowed me to participate. I know many teachers applied for this and I am honored that I was selected. Thank you to the scientists aboard the ship: Kim, for EVERYTHING, the Night Shift: Taniya, Andre, Lee, Chrissy, and Rebeca for all of their guidance and help.

The deck crew: Chris, Chuck and Mike-thanks for your support and for making the night go by so quickly!  Master Dave Nelson and ALL the members of his crew for their help in explaining everything and the tours on the ship!

This survey opened my eyes to what is happening under the water and how fragile life in the deep blue sea really is. It confirmed my thinking that we (the human race) need to look closely at what we are doing everyday and how it affects others. I plan on following the NOAA Ship Oregon II during the rest of the summer groundfish survey and during the fall groundfish survey. I want to see how the oxygen level changes, how the data collected affects the shrimp season, and follow the members of the ship!

Day One
Our first day together! (Photo by Karen Mitchell)

I cannot wait to share with my students and with anyone that will listen! Would I do this again? YES, I would go back to sea in a minute if I had the chance!

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