NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
May 28 – June 7, 2017
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 3, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 12 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 270°W
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 Feet
Swell Wave: 1-3 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1009.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 10.2°C
Air Temperature: 11°C
Science and Technology Log
You may have begun to notice that there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each technique is used several times a day at the sampling stations. The baby bongo nets collect the same type plankton as the large bongos. The primary difference is that the samples from the baby bongos are preserved in ethanol, rather than formalin. Chief Scientist, David Richardson explained that ethanol is being used more and more as a preservative because the solution allows scientists to test specimens’ genetics. Studying the genetics of plankton samples gives researchers a greater understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity. Genetics seeks to understand the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring, including the molecular structure and function of genes, gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism, gene distribution, and variation and change in populations.
The big bongos use formalin to preserve plankton samples. Formalin has been used by scientists for decades, mainly because the preservative makes it easier for labs to study the samples. Today’s scientists continue to use formalin because it lets them compare their most recent sampling data to that from years ago. This presents a clearer picture of how marine environments have or have not changed.
Every so often, we use smaller mesh nets for the baby bongos which can catch the smallest of zooplanktons. The specimens from these special bongo nets are sent to CMarZ which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. CMarZ are scientists and students interested in zooplankton from around the world who are working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. CMarZ samples are also preserved in ethanol. The goal of this organization is to produce a global assessment of marine zooplankton biodiversity, including accurate and complete information on species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, and genetic diversity. [Source — Census of Marine Zooplankton]. Their website is incredible! They have images galleries of living plankton and new species that have been discovered by CMarZ scientists.
Another interesting project that Chief Scientist, David Richardson shared with me is the Census of Marine Life. The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted on this scale. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists found and formally described more than 1,200 new marine species. [Source —Census of Marine Life] The census has a webpage devoted to resources for educators and the public. Contents include: videos and images galleries, maps and visualizations, a global marine life database, and links to many other resources.
It is incredibly important that we have institutes like CMarZ, the Census of Marin Life, and the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where samples from our EcoMon Survey are sent. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. At the lab in Poland, scientists remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens are sent back to U.S. where the data is entered into models. The information is used to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. The organization provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. [Source —NOAA Fisheries]
Vertical CTD Cast
In addition to collecting plankton samples, we periodically conduct vertical CTD casts. This is a standard oceanographic sampling technique that tells scientists about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and other biological and chemical parameters.
The instrument is a cluster of sensors which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure. Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal or resin housing, the material used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
Here’s how a vertical CTD cast works. First, the scientists select a location of interest (one of the stations for the leg of the survey). The ship travels to that position and stays as close to the same spot as possible depending on the weather as the CTD rosette is lowered through the water, usually to within a few meters of the bottom, then raised back to the ship. By lowering the CTD close to the bottom, then moving the ship while cycling the package up and down only through the bottom few hundred meters, a far greater density of data can be obtained. This technique was dubbed a CTD cast and has proven to be an efficient and effective method for mapping and sampling hydrothermal plumes. [Source —NOAA]
During the vertical CTD cast, I am in charge of collecting water samples from specified Niskin bottles on the rosette. The Niskin bottles collected water at different levels: surface water, maximum depth, and the chlorophyll maximum where the greatest amount of plankton are usually found. I take the collected seawater to the lab where a mechanism filters the water, leaving only the remainder plankton. The plankton from the water contains chlorophyll which a lab back on land tests to determine the amount of chlorophyll at different water depths. This gives researchers insight about the marine environment in certain geographic locations at certain times of the year.
Meet the Science Party
Meet Chief Scientist, David Richardson!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Chief Scientist for this 10 day cruise. A large part of the Chief Scientist’s role is to prioritize the research that will happen on a cruise within the designated time period. Adverse weather, mechanical difficulties, and many other factors can alter the original plans for a cruise requiring that decisions be made about what can be accomplished and what is a lower priority. One part of doing this effectively is to ensure that there is good communication among the different people working on the ship.
What is your educational/working background? I went to college at Cornell University with a major in Natural Resources. After that I had a number of different jobs before enrolling in Graduate School at the University of Miami. For my graduate research I focused on the spawning environment of sailfish and marlin in the Straits of Florida. I then came up to Rhode Island in 2008, and for the last 10 years have been working as a Fisheries Biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
What is the general purpose of the EcoMon Survey? The goal of the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) surveys is to collect oceanographic measurements and information on the distribution and abundance of lower trophic level species including zooplankton. The collections also include fish eggs and larvae which can be used to evaluate where and when fish are spawning. Over the years additional measurements and collections have been included on the EcoMon surveys to more fully utilize ship time. Seabirds and Marine Mammals are being identified and counted on our ship transits, phytoplankton is also being imaged during the cruise. Finally, the EcoMon cruises serve as a means to monitor ocean acidification off the northeast United States.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy pursuing scientific studies in which I can integrate field work, lab work and analytical work. As I have progressed in my career the balance of the work I do has shifted much more towards computer driven analysis and writing. These days, I really enjoy time spent in the lab or the field.
What is most challenging about your job? I imagine the challenge I face is the similar to what many scientists face. There are many possible scientific studies we can do in our region that affect the scientific advise used to manage fisheries. The challenge is prioritizing and making time for those studies that are most important, while deprioritizing some personally interesting work that may be less critical.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science? By the end of high school I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in science. Early in college I settled on the idea of pursuing marine science and ecology, but it was not until the end of college that I decided I wanted to focus my work on issues related to fish and fisheries.
What is your favorite marine animal? Sailfish, which I did much of my graduate work on, remains one of my favorite marine animals. I have worked on them at all life stages from capturing the early life stages smaller than an inch to tagging the adults. They are really fascinating and beautiful animals to see. However, now that I live in Rhode Island I have little opportunity to work on sailfish which tend to occupy more southern waters.
In terms of local animals, one of my favorites is sand lance which can be found very near to shore throughout New England. These small fish are a critical part of the food web, and also have a really unique behavior of burying in the sand when disturbed, or even for extended periods over the course of the year. In many respects sand lance have received far less scientific attention than they deserve in our region.
Meet CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? CTD Specialist which means I install, maintain, and operate the CTD. The CTD is an electronic oceanographic instrument. We have two versions of the CTD on board the ship. We have larger instrument with a lot more sensors on it. It has water bottles called Niskin water samplers, and they collect water samples that we use on the ship to run tests.
How long have you been working at sea? I worked for six months at sea when I was in college for NOAA Fisheries on the Georges Bank. That was 30 years ago.
What is your educational background? I have a Marine Science degree with a concentration in Biology.
What is your favorite part about your work? I definitely love going out to sea and being on the ship with my co-workers. I also get to meet a lot of new people with what I do.
What is most challenging about your work? My instruments are electronic, and we are always near the sea which can cause corrosion and malfunctions. When things go wrong you have to troubleshoot. Sometimes it is an easy fix and sometimes you have to call the Electronic Technician for support.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite animal is when we bring up the plankton nets and we catch sea angels or sea butterflies. They are tiny, swimming sea slugs that look gummy and glow fluorescent orange.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am on the science team. I am an avian and marine mammal observer.
What is your educational/working background? I have a bachelor’s in science. I have spent much of my 20-year career doing field work with birds and marine mammals all around the world.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes. I have put in about 8,000 hours at sea. Going out to sea is a real adventure, but you are always on duty or on call. It’s exciting, but at the same time there are responsibilities. Spending time at sea is really special work.
What is most challenging about your work? Keeping your focus at times. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle as an animal observer. You have to provide as much data to the project as you can.
Where do you do most of your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am going to be up on the bridge level where the crew who pilots the vessel resides or above that which is called the flying bridge. On Gordon Gunter that is 13.7 meters above sea level which is a good vantage point to see birds and marine mammals.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? My binoculars. It is always around my neck. It is an eight power magnification and it helps me identify the birds and sea life that I see from the flying bridge. I also have to record my information in the computer immediately after I see them, so the software knows the exact place and time I saw each animal.
What is your favorite bird? Albatrosses are my favorite birds. The largest albatross is called a Wandering/Snowy Albatross. The Snowy Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird and its the longest lived bird. This bird mates for life and raises one chick every 3-5 years which they care for much like people care for their own babies.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? Primary seabird/marine mammal observer.
What is your educational background? I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Biology from the University of New England in Maine.
What has been your best working experience? That’s a tough one because I have had so many different experiences where I have learned a lot over the years. I have been doing field work for the past 11 years. Each has taught me something that has led me to the next position. The job I cherish the most is the trip I took down to Antarctica on a research cruise for six weeks. That was an amazing experience and something I would advocate for people to see for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being a bird/marine mammal observer? The excitement of never knowing what you are going to see next. Things can pop up anywhere. You get to ask the questions of, “how did this animal get here,” “why is this animal here,” and correlate that to different environmental conditions.
What is most challenging about your work? You are looking at birds from a distance and you are not always able to get a positive ID. Sometimes you’re just not seeing enough detail or it disappears out of view from your binoculars as it moves behind a wave or dives down into the water. For marine mammals all you see is the blow and that’s it. So, it is a little frustrating not being able to get an ID on everything, but you do the best you can.
What is your favorite bird? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I have a favorite order of bird. It’s the Procellariiformes which are the tube-nosed birds. This includes albatross, shearwater, storm petrels, and the fulmars.
Meet Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a student volunteer. I help deploy the equipment and collect the samples.
Do you have much experience working at sea? This is my second 10-day trip. I did the second leg of the EcoMon Survey last year as well.
What is your educational background? I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maine where I am studying ocean currents and how water moves. I also have my master’s degree in Marine Science, and my undergraduate degree is in Physics.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science? I have always wanted to study the oceans. I think I was at least in first grade when I was telling people I wanted to be a marine scientist.
What do you enjoy most about your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My favorite thing is being at sea, working hard, and enjoying the ocean.
Where will you be doing most of your work? Most of the work is going to be working with the equipment deploying. I will be on the aft end of the ship.
What is your favorite marine animal? Humpback whale, but it is really hard to pick just one.
Meet Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a volunteer. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Marine Science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. My graduate work is in Fisheries Research.
Where will you be doing most of your work on the ship? I will be doing the night shift. That is from midnight to noon every day. I will be doing the nutrients test which helps the scientists figure out what is in the water that might attract different creatures.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes, actually. When I was 19, I spent two weeks on a similar trip off the coast of Oregon. We were looking for Humboldt Squid. I also worked on the university’s research vessel as a crew member on one of their ocean trawl surveys.
What are your hobbies? I love being outside. I enjoy hiking and being on the water sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Humboldt Squid.
Meet Survey Tech, Maira Gomes!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My position on Gordon Gunter is a volunteer. I got this opportunity from Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) where I have recently just graduated in January 2017 with my associates in Liberal Arts. Professor McNamara (Marianne McNamara) one of my professors at SCCC, forwarded me the email that was sent from Harvey Walsh looking for volunteers to work on Gordon Gunter for the Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. They had Leg 1 which was May 16th May -May 26th and Leg 2 May 29th-June 7th. I never had been out to sea! I got super excited and signed up for both legs!
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the ship I do mostly taking care of the Bongo Nets, CTD, and CTD Rosette. With the Bongo baby and large nets I help the crew to hook them up on a cable to set out to the ocean to retrieve the data from the CTD and all kinds of plankton that get caught in the nets. Once it comes back to the boat we hose the nets down and collect all the plankton and put them in jars filled with chemicals to preserve them so we can send them back to different labs. The Rosette is my favorite! We send out the Rosette with 12 Niskin bottles empty into the water. They come back up filled with water. We use this machine to collect data for nutrients, Chlorophyll, and certain types of Carbon. We run tests in the dry lab and preserve the samples to be shipped out to other labs for more tests.
What is your educational/working background? I just finished my associates in Liberal Arts at SCCC in January. In the Fall 2017 I will be attending University of New Haven as a junior working towards my bachelor degree in their Marine Affairs Program.
Have you had much experience at sea? Nope, zero experience out at sea! Which was one of the reasons why I was kind of nervous after I realized I signed up for both legs of the trip. I am glad I did. I am gaining so much experience on this trip!
What do you enjoy most about your work? It would be the experience I am gaining and the amazing views of the ocean!
What is most challenging about your job? The most challenging part of working on the ship would be the one-hour gap between some of the stations we encounter on our watch. It is not enough time to take a nap but enough time to get some reading in. It can be kind of hard to stay awake.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Tool I could not live without working on the ship would probably be the chart that has all our stations located.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career? Ha! This is a great question! So it all started, as I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. Once I was in fifth grade my teacher inspired me to be a teacher like herself, a Special Education teacher. I felt strongly with wanting to pursue a career in that field. It was not until my second year in college when I had to take a Lab course to fulfill my requirements for the lab credits, that I took a Marine Biology Lab. Once I was influenced and aware of this side of the world more in depth, I had a change of heart. Not only that but my professor, Professor Lynch (Pamala Lynch) also influenced me on changing my major to Marine Biology. I knew from the start I always wanted to be involved with animals but never knew exactly how, but once I took her class I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. With that being said, my goal is to be able to work with sharks someday and help to protect them and teach everyone the real truth behind their way of life and prove you cannot always believe what you see on TV.
What are your hobbies? I really love to line dance! I line dance about at least three times a week! I absolutely love it! I have made so many friends and learned so many really cool dances! I have been doing it about two years and through the experience of getting out of my shell I gain a whole new family from the country scene back at home! I also, love catching UFC fights on TV with my friends!
What is your favorite marine animal? I have multiple favorite marine animals. My top two picks would be sharks and sea turtles!
The Work Continues (Thursday, June 1)
After lunch the fog began to dissipate, letting in rays of sunshine. I could see the horizon once again! You do not realize the benefits of visibility until it is gone. Yet, even with the ability to see all of my surroundings, my eyes were met with same object in every direction—water! Despite the fact that the ocean consists of wave swells, ripples, and beautiful hues of blue, I longed to see something new. Finally, I spotted something on the horizon. In the distance, I could faintly make out the silhouette of two fishing boats. I was relieved to set eyes on these vessels. It might not seem like anything special to most people but when you are more than 100 miles from land, it is a relief to know that you are not alone.
Work during my shift is a distraction from the isolation I sometimes feel out at sea. When it is time for a bongo or CTD station, my mind becomes preoccupied with the process. My brain blocks all worries during those 30 minutes. Nonetheless, as quickly as a station begins, it ends even faster. Then we are left waiting for the next station which sometimes is only 20 minutes and other times is more than two hours away. The waiting is not so bad. In between stations I am able to speak with crew members and the science team on a variety of issues: research, ship operations, and life back on land. Every person on board Gordon Gunter is an expert at what they do. They take their work very seriously, and do it exceptionally well. Still, we like a good laugh every now and then.
TGIF! (Friday, June 2)
At home, Friday means it is practically the weekend! The weekend is when I get to spend time with family, run errands, go shopping, or just hang around the house. For those who work at sea like NOAA Corps and NOAA scientists, the weekend is just like any other day. The crew works diligently day and night, during holidays, and yes, on the weekends. I can tell from first-hand experience that all personnel on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter are dedicated and high-spirited people. Even when the weather is clear and sunny like it was today, they continue their duties work without wavering. NOAA crew are much like the waves of the sea. The waves in the Northeast Atlantic are relentless. They don’t quit—no matter the conditions. Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion [Source —NOAA]. NOAA crew also have an energy passing through them. Whether it be the science, life at sea, adventure, love for their trade, or obligations back home, personnel aboard Gordon Gunter do not stop.
Today, we left Georges Bank and entered the Gulf of Maine where we will stay for the remainder of the cruise. The seabird and marine mammal observers had a productive day spotting a variety of wildlife. There have been sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Ocean Sunfish, and Right Whales to name a few. Even though I did not get photographs of all that was seen, I am optimistic about observing new and exciting marine wildlife in the days to come.
- Plankton: the passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water
- Phytoplankton: planktonic plant life
- Zooplankton: plankton composed of animals
- Larval Fish: part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton. Larval fish are themselves eaten by larger animals
- Crustacean: any of a large group of mostly water animals (as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps) with a body made of segments, a tough outer shell, two pairs of antennae, and limbs that are jointed
- Biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
- Genetics: the scientific study of how genes control the characteristics of plants and animals
Did You Know?
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton use sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71% of the Earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic organisms also cycle most of the Earth’s carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. [Source — National Geographic].