NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard R/V Norseman II
March 18-30, 2016
Mission: Deepwater Ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park
Geographical Area of Cruise: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Date: Saturday, March 19, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1013 millibars
Speed: 0.2 knots
Location: N59° 01.607’, W136° 10.159’
Weather Conditions: Intermittent light rain
Before the Norseman II left port, the Boatswain conducted all the required ship safety drills with us: fire drill, man overboard, and abandon ship. This is where we learned to don the emergency flotation suit, gathered at the Muster Station for roll call, and went over procedures in case of an emergency. These drills are taken very seriously.
We left the port of Auke Bay just north of Juneau at around 10 pm Friday night and steamed into Glacier Bay to arrive at Bartlett Cove this morning at 9 am. We disembarked to attend a required safety orientation for Glacier Bay National Park. Ranger Greg informed us that he had recently seen 4 humpback whales headed into the Bay! Also, that orca live in the Bay year round. Many of the channels are ice-free now because it is warmer than usual for this time of year.
After the brief stop at Bartlett Cove, we steamed into the East Arm of Glacier Bay toward White Thunder Ridge. Many of us were on deck with binoculars looking for wildlife and enjoying the scenic snow-capped mountains. We saw birds, otters, moose and mountain goats!
While en route, Chief Scientist Dr. Rhian Waller conducted a science meeting reviewing the purpose and plans for the cruise, which is to explore, collect samples and data on the presence and emergence of Primnoa pacifica in Glacier Bay. Primnoa pacifica is commonly called Red Tree Coral. NOAA’s Dr. Bob Stone, who first pursued collecting data on the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay back in 2004, is working on this expedition. Other than Bob’s documentation, the Primnoa pacifica of Glacier Bay, Alaska is a mystery.
Two dives were conducted below the steep incline of White Thunder Ridge. The divers got into their dry suits, reviewed their plans on how to communicate and collect samples underwater, and then boarded the little boat called a RHIB (rigid-hull inflatable boat). They returned to Bob’s old spot and dove about 72 feet down for sample collection. The dive took about 30 minutes and when they returned with samples, we began processing each one.
The Primnoa samples will be assessed for three different things: genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. The genetic fingerprints will be useful in determining the generational spreading pattern of the Red Tree Coral in Glacier Bay. The isotopes will aid in understanding what they eat and their place in the food web. The reproduction assessments will identify sex and level of maturity. An interesting observation is that Primnoa pacifica is one of the first corals to seed newly exposed rock faces when glaciers recede. Bob estimates that the tallest of these coral are about 40 years old because that is when the glacier receded past this point. Using that fact, he also calculates their growth rate to be about 2 centimeters per year.
Tonight, the ROV Kraken 2 will be deployed in order to explore deep depths for the presence of the Red Tree Coral. ROV means remotely operated vehicle. More on that tomorrow!
I must say it is a pleasure to be aboard the Norseman II with such enthusiastic scientists and crew. The atmosphere on the ship is one of anticipation and this is how I imagine the early explorers of Glacier Bay must have felt. Rhian, our Chief Scientist, described this expedition as exploratory in nature. I’ve always dreamed of being an explorer and now I get to watch some real explorers in action! These guys and gals have done so many cool things like study life in Antarctica, map uncharted territory, design and build new equipment, and travel to the deep ocean in the Alvin submersible. I am so thankful that they are excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and share with our students in Scammon Bay and beyond. I’ve enjoyed listening as they brainstorm ways to use our eagle mascot, Qanuk, to engage young people in real science and exploration.
So, as I call it a day, I’d like to congratulate our Scammon Bay Lady Eagles who become the Class 1A Alaska State Champions today! Go Eagles! I’m so proud of both our boys and girls teams and their coaches. They’ve worked hard, played smart and represented our community with dignity and respect.