Emina Mesanovic, Acoustic Lab: Let’s Make Some Maps, July 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emina Mesanovic

Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

July 20 – August 2, 2014

 Mission: Southeast Fishery- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 28, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 27.5 C

Relative Humidity: 86%

Wind Speed: 15.03 knots

 Science and Technology Log

There is a lot of work that goes into allowing the fishery team to be able to set traps every day. The acoustics lab/ night shift is responsible for creating the maps of the seafloor that will be used the following day. The team consists of David Berrane a NOAA fisheries biologist, Erik Ebert a NOAA research technician, Dawn Glasgow from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a Ph.D student at the University of South Carolina, as well as Mary a college student studying Geology at the College of Charleston and Chrissy a masters student at the University of South Carolina. This team is amazing! Starting at around 5:00 pm the day before they stay up all night mapping the ocean floor.

The night shift working together

The night shift collecting data

Every night Zeb Schobernd lets the night shift know which boxes they will work on. These boxes are created in the offseason by the research scientists, they base their selection on information from fishermen, the proximity to already mapped areas, weather and previous experiences. The first step in creating a bathymetric map is to create a line plan, which lets the ship know which area will be covered. The average line takes about half an hour to complete but they can take up to several hours. The ship drives along these lines all night long while the team uses the information that is gathered to create their maps.

So how do they get this information? The ship uses sonar to collect data on the water column and the ocean floor. The Pisces has a 26 multi-beams sonar system, which allows the research team to create a better picture, compared to using single beam sonar. The beams width is about 3 times the depth of water column. This means that depending on how deep the water is in any given location, it will determine how many lines need to be run to cover the area.

Multibeam sonar

Multi-beam sonar (picture from NOAA)

The picture below is one of the computer screens that the scientists look at throughout the night. It provides the sonar information that will then be used to map the floor. Sonar works by putting a known amount of sound into the water and measuring the intensity of the return. A rock bottom will yield a stronger return while a sand bottom will absorb the sound and yield a less intense return. In the image red means that there is a more intense return while blue and yellow signifies a less intense return. You will notice in the center screen there is a strong red return at the top of the beam this is because the ship is sending out the sound and it takes about four meters until you start recording information from the sea floor.

SIMRAD70 (multi-beam sonar)

SIMRAD (multi-beam sonar)

Finally before the maps can be created the team has to launch an XBT (expendable bathy thermograph) two times per box or every four hours. The XBT measures the temperature and conductivity of the water, this is important because sound travels at different rates in cold versus warm water. This information is then used when the scientists calculate the sound velocity, which is used to estimate the absorption coefficient of sound traveling through the water column.


Once the data is collected the team begins the editing process. First they have to remove random erroneous soundings in order to get an accurate map; they fondly call this process dot killing (this basically means getting rid of outliers). They do this by drawing a box around the points of data they want to remove and deleting the point. Next they apply tide data to account for the deviations in the tides, this information is obtained from NOAA and is based on the predicted tides for the area. Finally they apply the sound absorption coefficient.

Editing the data (killing dots)

Editing the data (killing dots)

The final product is put into GIS (Geographic Information Systems), which the chief scientists will use to determine where the traps should be set the following morning. On the map below blue indicates the deepest areas while red shows the shallowest. The scientists want to place the traps in areas where there is a large change in depths because this is usually where you will find hard bottoms and good fish habitats.

Finished map (red shallow, blue deep)

Finished map

Personal Log

I have spent the past three nights in the Acoustics/Computer Lab with the night shift mapping the ocean floor. While the ship sails along the plotted course, I have had the opportunity to see the sunrise and sunset on the Pisces as well as a lightning storm from the top deck.


Lighting on the ocean (picture from sciencedaily)

On Thursday night a little after midnight after launching the XBT we see decided to go onto the top deck of the Pisces to get a better look at the lighting storm in the distance. Even at night it was still humid and hot and as we climbed up to the top deck it was dark all around us until suddenly there would be a flash of color in the clouds and you could see everything, until it went dark again. We tried to take a picture but the lightening was just too fast for our cameras. This is the closest picture I could find to what it was like that night except the water was not calm.



Name: Erik Ebert                  Title: Research Technician

Erik editing data collected on Sunday July 26th.

Erik editing data collected on Sunday July 26th.

Education: Cape Fear Tech (Wilmington, NC)

How long have you worked for NOAA/NOS: 6th field season, 5th year

Job Summary: I work on ecosystem assessments throughout the Gulf of Mexico South Atlantic & Caribbean

– Team oriented production of ocean floor maps

– System setup & keeping the acoustic systems operating correctly

How long have you participated in this survey: Since 2010

What do you like about your job: That the data we collect, and the maps we create can be used again for different studies. The types of data we collect includes bathymetric data, information on the water column, & fish that populate the water column.

How many days are you at sea: 60 days (April-November)

What do you do when you are not on the boat: Process & produce fish density maps from the data collected during the cruises. I also work for National Ocean Services (provide data to policy & decision makers to the state of the ecosystem)

Most challenging about research on a ship: Being away from home is the biggest challenge.

What would be your ideal research cruise: My ideal research cruise would be a cruise similar to what we just completed in Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a 3-year assessment of the reef ecosystem using ROV, Diving and Acoustics to study how the ecosystem changed over time.

Favorite fish: Trigger Fish “cool swimming behavior”

More information about See Floor Mapping   http://www.noaa.gov/features/monitoring_1008/seafloormapping.html


Crab with three sea anemones attached to its shell

Crab with three sea anemones attached to its shell

Gregory Cook, The Marinovich Trawl, July 29, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 29, 2014

Science and Technology Log

It’s 4 in the morning. I make my way into the cave. The cave is the computer lab. On one wall the size of my classroom whiteboard, there are nine computer monitors, each one regularly updating with information about the fish under the boat. We’ll talk more about the tech on another day. Today is my first trawl. A trawl is when we drop a net and haul up whatever we can catch.

Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave

Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave

I’m still getting my head around a cup of coffee when Alyssa comes in wearing a hard hat and life vest.
“In about 20 minutes, I’m going to need another hand on deck wearing this.” She points to her gear.
I nod. “Where do I find that?”

Alyssa politely tells me where the gear is. I remember that I’m not supposed to go out on deck when they’re hauling up the net… at least not yet. “Who do you want me to tell?” I say.

“Nate would be great! Nate or Darin!” she says, referring to a pair of scientists… one of whom is going off duty (and probably going to sleep) and another who is coming on (and likely just waking up). She grabs some large tool that I can’t name and heads off. Alyssa, like a lot of the crew, is friendly and upbeat in the mess hall (the cafeteria), but is completely focused and efficient on the job, with an eye towards safety and getting the job done.

This is goopy!

Your teacher with a Jellyfish bigger than his head.

Our first trawl is the Marinovich Net. It’s a smaller net, but still takes several fishermen and a winch to bring up. It’s a fairly fine net, with holes about the size of a ping pong ball. In our first trawl of the trip, we mostly catch jellyfish. These aren’t your typical, East Coast jellies, though. Some of them are the size of basketballs, and you can see the fish THEY’VE caught through their see-through membrane (their skin!).

We ended up hauling in over 500 pounds of Jellyfish!

Glorp glorp Yummmmm!

Buckets and Buckets of Jellyfish I got to sort with my very own hands!

It’s not a bad first catch, but NOAA scientists aren’t content with that. Hanging on the side of the Marinovich are smaller “pocket” nets. This is where we find out what the Marinovich missed. Nate explains to me that, while we are mainly studying Pollock, there’s other valuable data that can be gleaned (collected) in the process. Other scientists studying Krill populations will be grateful for the data.

The pocket nets are labeled, and each net is placed in a labeled bucket. Then I grab a pair of tweezers and start sorting. It’s mostly krill… skinny shrimp-like organisms with beady black eyes. These tiny invertebrates, altogether, make up millions of metric tons of biomass, according to Misha, our resident Russian scientist on board. Biomass is the amount, by weight, of living things in an ecosystem.

Nate asks me to count out 100 krill with my tweezers, which is kind of like counting out 100 tiny pieces of wet spaghetti. Nate places the 100 on a scale and comes up with a mass of 5 grams. He then measures the rest of the krill, and uses the mass of the original 100 as a way to gauge the total number of krill caught in the pocket net.

Counting Krill

Counting Krill: That tiny pile near my nose? Exactly 100 krill, thank you very much!

What stands out to me about this whole process is the attention to detail. That each pocket is carefully sorted, measured, and entered into a computer base. There’s no “-ish” here. I’m not asked to sort “about a hundred.” Not only are the contents of each pocket net measured, but we make sure to note which pocket had exactly how much.
Some of the catch isn’t Krill, however. Sandi calls me over to see how she measures a tiny rock fish. Sandi is a marine biologist who studies reproduction in Pollock. With a gleam in her eyes she explains what’s so great about getting different size young in the net.

“What it means is that it’s possible that some of these fish might be from further away… and we don’t know how they got here, when they got here, or where they came from. And that’s exciting! We weren’t expecting that and it gives us a whole new set of questions!”

I get asked by a lot of kids “how do scientists know that?” My long answer is exactly this. That good scientists DO sweat the small stuff, they make sure that every little variable is accounted for, and collect massive amounts of data. They look for any possible error that might throw off their results or call their conclusions into question. They do the hard work of truly understanding.

So when I hear folks say they don’t believe something simply because it’s inconvenient for them… maybe it challenges a belief that they’ve clung to for no better reason than not wanting to be wrong… I just want to say “Did you do the work? Because I know some people who did.”
And this holds true for all the scientists I’ve been lucky enough to know. Whether they were counting krill, measuring background radiation, or looking for Dark Matter.

By the way, my short answer on “How do scientists know that?” They did their homework.;)

Personal Log

It’s the morning of our third day at sea. It’s taken some getting used to… the first piece is the motion of the boat. Any 8th graders that went on “Untamed!” with me at Canobie Lake Park know that I’ve got some limits as to how I handle a lot of “movement.” The first 8 hours onboard the Oscar Dyson were rough. I thought I might get sick at any moment! But over time, the body figures it out… It’s like your body just says “Oh, this is just what we’re doing now…” and gets OK with it. Now going to bed is like being rocked to sleep by mother earth. 🙂

Land of the Midnight

Alaska…Land of the Midnight Sunset!

The next, very different thing about life on the Bering Sea is time. My schedule is from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m… which in some ways is good. 4 a.m. in Alaska is 8 a.m. Eastern Time (Boston Time). So coming home won’t be that tough. The weird thing is going to sleep. This is the view out my window at 11:00 at night.

This is, of course, because the earth has that big old tilt of 23.4 degrees. This is why Alaska is known as “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” Well, we’re a little more than a month past the summer solstice, and we’re not currently above the Arctic Circle. So the sun DOES eventually go down… around Midnight! That means that I need to go to sleep during the daylight. Sometimes as early as 8 p.m.! And that means I need a lot of shades… Shades for my window, shades for my bed, even shades for my head!

Time has become an abstraction.

Shades for my window, shades for my bed. Every now and then I wear shades for my head!

We live in an amazing time, where we can travel about the planet, see the extremes that are possible under the physics of this world, and communicate that experience in the same day. Tune in next time when I tell you how to tell the gender of a Pollock. Hint: You can’t just lift their tail!

Kacey Shaffer: Here We Go! July 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: July 27, 2014


Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 9º C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 350º

Weather Conditions: Overcast

Latitude: 56º 29.3 N

Longitude: 170º 35.0 W


Science and Technology Log:

Before we get into detail about the mission, let’s think about the Oscar Dyson’s geographical location. It is important for us to understand this background knowledge so that we may appreciate the scientific research conducted by NOAA. Most of you have gathered that I am aboard the Dyson somewhere off the coast of Alaska. Our survey began and will end at port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Where is Dutch Harbor? Let’s take a look at a map…

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

Dutch Harbor is on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands.  We will take a scientific look at the Aleutian Islands before we learn about the Bering Sea. The Aleutian Islands separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. How did this chain of islands come to be? Continental drift and volcanoes! The Pacific Plate moves northward and has been pushing against the North American Plate, which moves southward, for millions of years. The North American Plate is much less dense than the Pacific Plate and has been riding up onto the Pacific Plate. Here is an image that shows this action.

The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.

The Pacific Plate is shown on the left and the North American Plate is shown on the right. The volcanoes and mountains represent the Aleutian Islands.

As you can see in the diagram, the Aleutian Islands are formed by volcanic eruptions along the area where these two plates collide. As I read in the book The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: Region of Wonders, “During an eruption, lava, cinders, and ash burst through the earth’s surface at points of weakness in the globe’s mantle, caused by the collision of the plates, and each volcano leaves a telltale conical peak. Many of those eruptions have occurred below the surface of the sea, and only the tops of the mountains poke out of the water, making up many of the Aleutian Islands.” This is how the island of Unalaska came to be, thus Dutch Harbor was established!

Now we need to investigate the Bering Sea. What are some words we use to describe the Bering Sea? Cold, stormy, bleak, productive. If you have ever watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s The Deadliest Catch, you’ve been given a peek at the “cold, stormy and bleak” aspect of the Bering Sea.

What about the “productive” side of this great sea? Three facts: 1. Alaska supplies about half of the total U.S. fishery. 2. The majority of this contribution comes from the Bering Sea. 3. The nation’s largest fishery is the Pollock fishery. NOAA has estimated that the 2012 Pollock catch value is more than $343 billion. Are you beginning to understand how valuable the Bering Sea is to our world?

In order to maintain or increase the value of the sea, management practices must be in place. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council provides advice to NOAA Fisheries. Also, NOAA conducts research cruises in the Bering Sea perform biological and physical surveys to ensure sustainable fisheries and healthy marine habitats. This is the ultimate purpose of the survey I’m joining. We are performing the third leg of the biannual Walleye Pollock Survey in the Bering Sea. In my upcoming blogs, we’ll dive into the technical aspects of the survey. Are you ready to see some sea life? I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on some critters! Prepare for sea selfies!

Personal Log:

As I type my blog, I’m sitting on the deck at a picnic table with the cool, crisp air blowing by. We are in transit to our first survey location. We got underway yesterday afternoon and I won’t see land again for many, many days. That is both exciting and scary at the same time! How do you think you’d feel knowing you are miles away from land? Would you worry about your safety? I am fully confident in the crew of the Oscar Dyson. They have been a great group of people to get to know and I’m sure they will take great care of everyone on board the cruise.

Backing up a couple of days, I want to share with you about my journey across North America and my first two days with the Dyson. After taking off from Columbus I made stops in Minneapolis and Anchorage before landing at the airport in Dutch Harbor. All three flights were smooth and I was thankful for a very calm landing in Dutch. The airport there is a real treat! Our pilot had everything under control though. From the airport we came straight to the ship. I was shown to my room and then we took off for supper at The Grand Aleutian Inn’s dining room. I was able to see a few bald eagles that night and we also took a scenic cruise around the two towns, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska. The next morning the other Teacher at Sea, Greg, and I hitched a ride to the Museum of the Aleutians. It was a great place to learn about the history of the Aleutian Islands. We also made stops at Alaska Ship Supply and Safeway. We had to make sure we were stocked up with the essentials (soda and some candy) to get us through the next three weeks!

Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians

Exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians

Our departure from Dutch Harbor was a beautiful one. Many of the crew members commented on what a beautiful day we were having and how extraordinarily warm it was. The deck crew allowed me to stand on one of the front decks to watch the process of undocking and cruising out of the harbor. They wasted no time as we had our first three drills right away. I’m going to save myself some embarrassment and not share the photo of me donning the survival suit. Let’s just say I’m a little too short for it! Later on that evening we received a call in the lounge that the bridge crew was spotting some whales just west of the ship. I was able to reach the bridge just in time to see a few humpback whales breeching and a few dolphins playing in front of us. That short experience made me really look forward to sorting our first catch. What is one critter from the sea you would like to see in person?


Did you know?

There are nearly 40 active volcanoes that mark the line where the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet.

Lynn Kurth: Eagerly Waiting to Tag Sharks, July 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 28, 2014

Lat:  24 17.334 N
Lon:  082 30.265

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 7.52 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1017.85 mb
Temperature: 31.1 Degrees C

Science and Technology Log: 

We have been traveling across the Gulf over the past two days and will continue traveling until Monday night when we will reach our first testing station.  Wondering exactly where we are?  You can see the ship’s location live at:  NOAA Shiptracker

Our official survey has not begun but Dr. Jim Nienow, an instructor from Valdosta University, is aboard for the cruise and has been doing some basic plankton sampling while we are on the move.  Dr. Nienow participated in his first shark longline survey back in 2008 and this is his sixth cruise aboard the Oregon II.  He enjoys being part of the shark longline survey because it provides him with the opportunity to collect the samples that he analyzes with his students when he returns to the university.  In the first few years that Dr. Neinow began collecting plankton samples he was interested in the overall biodiversity he found in the samples.

But over the past few years his work has evolved and he is currently focused on the distribution of diatoms.  Diatoms are microscopic single celled photosynthesizing algae and are the most common type of phytoplankton found.  Diatoms represent approximately half of the ocean’s production.  In other words, these little buggers are important because they serve as the base of the food chain for the ocean.  By studying diatoms scientists are able to study the overall health of the particular environment that they were collected from.


Dr. Jim Nienow

Dr. Jim Nienow

We have spent some time preparing the gear for the survey by getting the fishing lines ready.   Circle hooks are used for the shark long line survey vs. J hooks so that the sharks are rarely hooked deep which makes the hook easier to remove and reduces the potential of harming the shark.

J hook vs. Circle hook

J hook vs. Circle hook

Preparing the gear

Preparing the gear

50 hooks prepared to receive bait

50 hooks prepared to receive bait


Did you Know?

Diatoms are used for the following:

  • as mild abrasives found in cleaning products and sometimes toothpaste
  • as filter material when making alcoholic/non alcoholic drinks, syrup and medicines
  • as insulation in sound proof or fire proof doors
Diatoms as seen through Dr. Nienow's scanning electron microscope Photo Credit:  Dr. Jim Nienow

Diatoms as seen through Dr. Nienow’s scanning electron microscope
Photo Credit: Dr. Jim Nienow and The Deep C Consortium

Diatoms as seen through Dr. Nienow's scanning electron microscope Photo Credit:  Dr. Jim Nienow

Diatoms as seen through Dr. Nienow’s scanning electron microscope
Photo Credit: Dr. Jim Nienow and the Deep C Consortium

Personal Log: 

During our time traveling we had an abandon ship drill.  If we were to abandon the ship we would put on a full neoprene survival suit before entering the water.  The water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is around 87 degrees Fahrenheit so the suit protects folks from hypothermia that would occur over time.


“Teach” (my nickname on the ship) in the survival suit

Joan Le, Packing Up and Ready to Go, July 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joanie Le
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
August 5 – 16, 2014

Mission: Deep-Sea Coral Research
Geographic area of the cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 28, 2014

Personal Log

At Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Hello there! I am Earth Science teacher Joanie Le, from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. I couldn’t be more excited to join the Deep-Sea Corals research team in August, and spend two weeks on the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow out in the North Atlantic Ocean. My interest in the ocean started at James Madison University, where we studied the geology left by ancient inland seas. Standing next to giant shale formations, I would imagine how the whole area was once submerged in water and teeming with marine life. But if I’m going to be honest, I truly didn’t appreciate the importance of marine life until very recently. Squeezing in at the last minute from a packed wait-list, I was so fortunate to spend a week on the Chesapeake Bay learning from an exceptional group of educators through one of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation‘s Summer Immersion Courses, “Teachers on the Bay”. After spending days trawling, marsh-mucking, and breathing in the beautiful bay air, I am thrilled to take my studies even deeper into the Atlantic Ocean.

Beautiful morning view from Fox Island in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay.

However, my departure from my home in Washington, DC will be bittersweet, I’m afraid. While email correspondence works well for my husband, my two dogs never gained the knack for it. We’ve spent so much of the summer exploring local rivers and beaches together that it’ll be tough to leave them behind. They will just have to keep each other company, I suppose.

Walter and Reginald.

So that’s it. Next post will be from the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow in the Atlantic Ocean. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any specific questions, or would like me to highlight anything in particular. I’ll look out for your comments below, or through my classroom Twitter account, @TheScienceRoom. See you soon!

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, and my home for two week.

Emina Mesanovic, Wet Lab: Something Fishy Is Going on Here, July 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emina Mesanovic

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 20 – August 2, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fishery- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 23, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 27.4 C

Relative Humidity: 85%

Wind Speed: 13 knots


Science and Technology Log

The goal of the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey (SEFIS) is to assess the location and abundance of different species focusing on snappers and groupers as well as collecting bathymetric data about the ocean floor that can be used in the future. The scientists are divided into day and night shifts, the night shift maps the ocean floor, while the day shift uses these maps to set traps and catch fish.

Traps on the back deck ready to go.

Traps on the back deck ready to go.

Each morning the scientists set up six chevron traps on the back deck of the Pisces, each trap is stocked with 24 menhaden, which serves as the baitfish. The traps contain the same amount of bait, two cameras one on the front and one on the back, and each trap stays underwater for 90 minutes. Chief Scientist Zeb Schobernd works in the dry lab to let the crew know when and where to drop the traps (more on this later).

Trap going down the rap into the water.

Trap going down the ramp into the water

When its time to retrieve the traps the crew of the Pisces works with chief scientist and the Bridge to retrieve the traps.  When you are on the deck waiting for the traps to be lifted on board you have to wear a safety helmet and life preserver. Once the traps on are on the deck the scientists really start to hustle. They remove the cameras from the traps and empty the trap into black bins.


Chevron Trap being lifted onto the deck

Once we are in the wet lab the first step is to sort the fish by species. In the picture on below you will see 3 bins with red porgy, vermilion snapper, and trigger fish these are 3 of the 4 most common commercially important fish we catch the 4th is black sea bass.

Sorting the fish

Sorting the fish

Red Porgy, Vermillion, & Trigger Fish

Red Porgy, Vermilion Snapper, & Trigger Fish

Measuring the total length of the fish

Measuring the total length of the fish

Next we need to weight the sample in kilograms and record the total size of the fish in millimeters. The fish that are not being kept for further study are returned to the ocean. It can get very busy and messy in the wet lab when the traps produce a large catch. The goal is to process one trap before the next trap is brought on deck. The traps are dropped three times daily for a total of 18 traps caught per day; it is the scientist’s goal to completely process the traps before the completion of their 12 hours shift. Certain fish are of special interest to the scientists because they are commercially and recreationally important to the fishing community so these fish are set aside for further study. On Monday July 21st we caught a 10.47 kg Red Grouper, which is one of the fish that is studied in more detail.

Red Grouper caught on Monday July 21, 2014

Red Grouper caught on Monday July 21, 2014

For this fish in addition to recording the weight and total length, scientists also record the fork length and standard length. The scientists also collect the otoliths (ear bones) from the fish which are used to determine the age of the fish just likes rings on a tree are used to determine age. Finally scientists collect DNA and part of the gonads for additional study back at the laboratory.







Personal Log

My first few days on the Pisces have been busy and very exciting there is so much to see and learn. Everyone on board has been very friendly and welcoming. As I look out my window every morning all is see is blue for miles. Even though we are only 10-50 miles off the coast of North Carolina on any given day there is nothing out here but ocean. It’s impressive how vast the ocean is and how little we know about the geography of the ocean or the animals that inhabit the sea floor.

Leaving Morehead

Leaving Morehead City, North Carolina

Looking down from the top deck of the Pisces.

Looking down from the top deck of the Pisces.












We set sail from Morehead City, North Carolina at 10am on Sunday July 20th and I had a great view from the top deck of the Pisces as we left the harbor. After lunch we practiced the abandon ship and fire drills, however I was not able to participate because I was seasick. Did you know that seasickness occurs when our brain receives conflicting information from our body. Onboard the Pisces it doesn’t look like anything is moving so my eyes sent my brain a message that there was no movement, but my inner ear, which is responsible for balance, sensed the motion of the boat and this conflicting information caused my seasickness. By Monday I was feeling much better and I was ready to get to work.

The bunks in our stateroom

The bunks in our stateroom

Life on the Pisces is very comfortable. I am sharing a stateroom with Mary who is a great roommate. We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy as well as lockers for storage. Additionally our bathroom is located in our room, which was a wonderful surprise because I thought that we would all be sharing a single bathroom. There is a lounge across from our room with large comfy chairs and an impressive DVD collection, however I have been too tired from working in the wet lab to enjoy it yet. There is also a gym somewhere on the ship but I don’t think that I will ever have enough balance onboard the ship to use the gym safely. Stay tuned, tonight I’m going to spend the night mapping the ocean floor and I’ll let you know how it goes.


Zeb Schobernd : Chief Scientist

Education: Masters from Earlham College and a Masters from College of Charleston in Marine Biology

How long have you worked with NOAA? Since 2007, started this project in 2010

Chief Scientist Zeb Schonberned in the dry lab

Chief Scientist Zeb Schonberned in the dry lab

How important is collaboration in your research? Being able to share and work together is a large part of the marine biology community. On this cruise for example we are collaborating with scientists from Beaufort as well as with local universities we have 2 volunteers from the College of Charleston sailing with us.

How long have you participated in this survey? Since the start of the SEFIS survey in 2010, currently in its 5th season.

Does your team change every year? The core group of research scientists stays the same, but the volunteers and lab assistants’ changes year to year.

How does the Pisces compare to other ships? The Pisces is larger than other ships I have worked on. It’s more comfortable, there is more space for scientists to spread out and work. Additionally the Pisces has the equipment need to map the floor, which makes determining where to drop traps more efficient.

How many days a year do you go out to sea? I spend about 45 days out at sea. 

What do you do when you are not out at sea? I work on processing the videos that were collected on the cruise; we need to identify the fish species that are on caught on camera. The cameras are often more valuable then the fish that we trap because some fish may never go in the trap so these videos allow us a better picture of the underwater ecosystem.

What is the biggest challenge about doing research at sea? The biggest challenge would be bad weather that impacts sea conditions. Also time away from home can be challenge on long cruises.

What would be your dream research cruise? I would like to be able to use a submersible to record videos of tropical fish for further study.

Any advice you have for students interested in marine biology as a career? Gain hands on experiences in the field by doing internships while in college to determine if this is what you really want to do. What I do on a day to day basis is very similar to what I experienced on a research cruise while I was in grad school.

Coolest catch: 6 Gilled Shark

Favorite fish: Groupers


Shark sucker attached to Kate's arm.

Shark sucker attached to Kate’s arm.

Gregory Cook, Introduction, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 23, 2014

Welcome to the Seablog! This is where I’ll be posting about my adventures aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, as we study the fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

First allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gregory Cook, and I am, as far as I can tell, in the running for Luckiest Guy on the Planet! I teach middle school science and math at the East Somerville Community School to some of the coolest kids I know, and work with some of the best teachers in the country. Go Phoenix!

Me and my buzzing buddy

Me and a Humming Bird in Costa Rica

On top of that, I received acceptance this year with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program! NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, and does research on everything from fish and whale populations to climate change to mapping the ocean floor and coastline!

In their Teacher at Sea program, I get to work with world class scientists, be a part of real-world research, learn about amazing careers, and share that knowledge with my students. In a small way, I get to share with you the exploration and study of this great planet. What else do you want out of life? A pony? I think not, good sir!


oscar dyson

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson  (Photo from http://www.moc.noaa.gov/od/)


The Oscar Dyson is a ship built by the U.S. Government (Your tax dollars doing great work!) to study the Earth’s oceans. It’s over two-thirds of a football field long and almost fifty feet wide. It can deploy (or send out) over five kilometers (more than three miles!) of cable, It has two massive winches for launching scientific study packages. It can use something akin to Doppler Radar to tell you about what’s in the water beneath us and what the sea floor beneath THAT looks like.

Wanna see how they built it? Of course you do!

See Video Credits for Source Material


The first thing you need to know about Alaska is its name. It comes from the Aleutian word Alakshak, which means Great Lands or Peninsula… the entire state, in the end, seems to be named after the great Alaskan Peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.


Alaska gets its name from the Alaskan Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific and then trails off and becomes the Aleutian Islands. (http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/coastal/s_alaska.html)

If you’re one of my students, you’re probably asking “How…?”

Well, The Alaskan Peninsula forms in a Subduction Zone. That means that the Pacific Plate is diving underneath the North American Plate. This creates some beautiful upthrusts that you and I know as mountains… or, in the case of the Aleutians,… Islands! Geologists think The Aleutians are about 37 Million Years Old, formed by volcanic activity.

As a matter of fact, the Island I’ll be sailing from, Unalaska, was created this very way. You might remember (from 6th grade if you’re a Somerville kid!) Oceanic crustal plates are more dense than crustal plates, so they dive under them, pushing the mountains and islands up.

When I first heard I was sailing out of Unalaska, I wondered what was so “Unalaska” about it… like… were they Yankees fans or something?

It turns out that in the Aleutian language (the language of the Aleuts… the native people of the area) placing “Un-” in front of a word means “near.” So Unalaska means “Near the Peninsula.” You could say that I live “Undunkindonuts.” (Though, yeah, I’m a Starbucks guy).

OK, back to Geology…

So it turns out that a great deal of the Bering Sea is over the continental shelf of North America. What that means is that the sea is more shallow than the Pacific.

Much of the Eastern Bering Sea is shallow. This helps create a thriving ecosystem!


What THAT means is that all the good nutrients that run off of the land… from the rains and rivers… can support a huge amount of sea life. The Bering sea is one of the most productive fisheries in the world… It is teeming with life!

Which brings us to this guy…


Walleye Pollock… Fishy-fishy!!!


If you’ve ever had Fish Sticks or McDonald’s Fillet o’ Fish, you’ve probably had some form of Pollock. They grow quickly, they die young, and have a lot of offspring. They also represent almost 2/3 of all the groundfish (fish that live near the bottom of the sea) caught in Alaska 2012.

So to say Pollock are important is kind of like saying bread is important… They have a huge impact on our lives here in the United States. So it’s important we look in on them every now and then, and make sure they’re doing ok… So we can eat them. 😀

That’s what I’ll be doing up there in Alaska. Exploring the Bering Sea, and looking in on our good friend, Mr. Pollock. I hope you can come along for the ride. 😀