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: Sunday, March 20, 2016
Data from the Bridge
Pressure: 1005 millibars
Speed: 0.3 knots
Location: N 59°02.491’ , W136°11.193’
Weather: Sunny with a few clouds
Happy First Day of Spring!
Last night the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Kraken2 dove and collected many samples of Primnoa pacifica (Red Tree Coral). The science crew excitedly gathered around the monitor to see what Kraken2 was “seeing”-lots of rocks, a few fish, a few shrimp, a few crabs, a couple of sponges, an octopus and lots of beautiful Red Tree Coral attached to the rock faces.
The ROV Kraken2 is run by a crew of engineers from the University of Connecticut and makes nighttime dives to deeper depths between 130 and 170 meters.
Today we busily processed the coral for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction studies to be conducted later by a series of scientists in various labs scattered across several states.
For the genetic samples, polyps (one individual) of coral are smashed onto special paper folders that contain a preservative. For the isotope samples, polyps are put into tiny vials then frozen. For the reproductive samples, an intact piece of coral is placed in a 15-milliliter tube and then submerged into formalin preservative. Later the formalin will be poured out and ethanol will be poured into the tubes. Preparing the reproductive samples is my job!
Three divers went down four different times collecting samples, all near White Thunder Ridge and Riggs Glacier in the eastern arm of Glacier Bay.
Riggs Glacier is showing numerous crevasses, which are usually snow-covered at this time of year. A crevasse is a big crack on the topside of the glacier.
As the evening approached, the ship steamed to the northernmost end of the East Arm where Muir Glacier was waiting to greet us. Muir Glacier is named for Naturalist John Muir who explored in Glacier Bay during the late 1800’s.
Muir Glacier was once a tidewater glacier at the water’s edge but in the last ten years has melted and receded back up into the valley.
The sky was clear and the snow-capped mountains and waterfalls were beautifully reflected in the still waters of the Bay. A gibbous moon rose over the mountain peaks just as the Sun was setting.
Today I learned how to process the samples for genetics, isotopes, and reproduction. My responsibility was to put a small branch of coral into a tube of Formalin. Labeling the tubes with place, depth, and species is important so the scientists as they begin working in the laboratory weeks later will know the source of the coral sample.
As we worked, Chief Scientist Rhian Waller came into the wet lab asking if anyone wanted to ride in the skiff, my heart started beating faster! I didn’t want to be pushy so I kept quiet. Then she said, “Mary would you like to go out on the skiff?” “Yes! I loved to go!” was my reply. I donned the Mustang suit, hardhat, and rubber boots. I grabbed Qanuk and went outside to load into the little RHIB, which had been lowered from the deck on to the water beside the ship’s hull. When everyone was ready, we motored closer to White Thunder Ridge. The diver’s entered the water and explored the region at about 70 feet deep. Meanwhile we waited for them and kept a watch on their bubbles rising to the surface. We used binoculars and viewed five fluffy mountain goats moving along the Ridge! It was cool to see the mountain goats but they were creating a “falling rocks” hazard for those of us down below. Our boat driver decided to move the RHIB away from the Ridge in order to avoid the rocks tumbling down into the water.
Later in the day, when the Norseman II got closer to Muir Glacier, almost everyone was on deck getting that perfect photo of the mountains reflected in the mirror-like waters of Glacier Bay. It was a remarkable scene!
So at the end a good day, I am feeling very thankful to be a witness to the scientific work in an effort to better understand this pristine wilderness.