Christine Webb: August 23, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/23/2017

Latitude: 48.19 N

Longitude: 125.29 W

Wind Speed: 7.9 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1021.70 mBars

Air Temperature: 62.1 F

Weather Observations: Partially cloudy

Science and Technology Log

For today’s science and technology log, I interviewed my roommate Tracie. You only have to talk to Tracie for five seconds to learn that she’s passionate about marine chemistry and marine biology and marine physics…all things marine. She’s the HAB (harmful algal bloom) specialist on board, and she’s been squirreled away in the chemistry lab every day collecting lots of great samples as we travel up the coast. Before we left Newport, she taught me a bit about algae by taking me to the beach to see some bioluminescent dinoflagellates. When we stomped in the water, the dinoflagellates would glow! It looked like puddles full of blue lightning bugs, and it was amazing. One of her quotes from that night was, “I imagine this is what unicorn footprints would look like if they were traipsing over rainbows.” Everyone should have the chance to see that at some point in their life. It gave me a taste of why it makes sense to be so passionate about algae. So, without further ado, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about HABs from my friend Tracie!

  1. What is a HAB, and why should we care about them?

HABs are phytoplankton that have negative consequences either for us or the ecosystem. Some can release neurotoxins that can be damaging to mammals (including humans), amongst other things. A harmful algal bloom (HAB) can also create a dead zone by a process called eutrophication. Bacteria eat the phytoplankton once they begin to die, which removes oxygen from the water.

  1. What makes it a bloom?

A “bloom” is when there is so much algae that the ecosystem can’t support it and they start to die off. There aren’t enough nutrients available in the water. Some people call this a “Red Tide.” There are certain species, such as Alexandrium spp., where even one cell per liter would be enough to create a harmful effect.

  1. What made you decide to study HABs?

During a lab in college, we were allowed to go to the beach and sample phytoplankton. When we got back to the lab with our samples, we found a huge amount of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. It releases a neurotoxin that gives mammals amnesiac shellfish poisoning. That year, we couldn’t eat shellfish and crab from our area because of this bloom. There’s no antidote to this toxin, and it affects the brain function of mammals who eat it. Whales died that year because they forgot how to breathe. This made me super interested in studying more about these types of species.

  1. What are you specifically hoping to find in your research aboard this cruise?

We’re trying to find where blooms start, how blooms begin, and follow them within the California Current system. It’s part of an ongoing study of the California Current system and how species are transported. California fisheries have been dramatically affected by HABs.

  1. Have you been finding what you need so far?

It’s been really interesting…we’ve seen quite a few Dinophysis species (which I find to be the cutest), and some really interesting Pseudo-nitzschia spp., but no blooms. Close to the coast, within 15 nm of shore, I see a lot more diversity in my samples. This is mostly due to upwelling.

  1. Has anything in your research so far surprised you?

There are very few species that I haven’t recognized, which is interesting because we’re so far north. We have fjord-like environments up here by Vancouver Island, so I expected there to be a higher abundance of phytoplankton up here than I saw.

  1. What is a common misconception about HABs?

The term “HAB” itself – they’re called harmful because they’re harmful to us as humans and to various industries, however – they provide a huge amount of support to other animals as primary producers and as oxygen producers.

They’re basically plants that can swim, and they’re all food for something. They’re not harmful for most things, so the name is kind of a misnomer. In defense of the HABs, they’re just trying to survive. Phytoplankton are responsible for around 50% of the world’s oxygen, and they’re the primary producer for marine and freshwater ecosystems.

  1. Anything else you want people to know?

There’s still a lot that we need to learn, and I would like everyone at some point in their life to see how beautiful these fragile organisms are and appreciate how much they contribute to our world.

  1. If you weren’t a marine chemist, what would you be?

I would write nonfiction about the beauty of the world around us. Or maybe I’d be an adventure guide.

  1. What are some fun facts about you that not a lot of people know?

My motto for life is “always look down.” There’s so much around us, even the dirt under our toes, that is so full of life and beauty.

My art is on Axial Seamount, 1400 m below sea level, 300 miles off the coast of Oregon! I drew an octopus high-fiving ROPOS the ROV that placed it there!

Also, I’m a high school dropout who is now a straight-A senior in environmental science at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Other people’s perceptions of you don’t control your destiny.

Here are a couple pictures of some of the HABs Tracie has seen during this trip (she took these pictures from her microscope slides):

329 D. fortii

Algae under the microscope: D. fortii. Image by Tracie.

329 hobbit house 2

Algae under microscope. Image by Tracie.

Personal Log:

Since today’s science log was about Tracie, I’ll feature her in the personal log too! She’s my partner in the ship-wide corn hole tournament, and we won our first-round game yesterday. Look at these awesome corn hole boards that were specially made for the Shimada!

IMG_20170822_153718727

Shimada corn hole board!

We mostly credit our fabulous war paint for the win. Today we play against our fellow scientists Lance and Tim. Wish me luck!

corn hole victory

Christine and Tracie celebrate corn hole victory

Another down-time activity that Tracie (and all the scientists) enjoy is decorating Styrofoam cups. The cool marine biologist thing to do is to sink them to very low ocean depths (3000+ meters). Apparently the pressure at that depth compresses the Styrofoam and shrinks it, making the cup tiny and misshapen but still showing all the designs that were put on it. I’m not kidding: this is a thing that all the marine biologists get really excited about. Tracie even decorated a Styrofoam head (the kind that cosmetologists use) in advance of this trip and brought it with her to sink. Look how cool it is – she’s an amazing artist!

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Styrofoam head, decorated by Tracie, for shrinking

There are shrunken heads in the lab already from other people who have done this. Sinking Styrofoam is a legit marine biology hobby. Well, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…” so I worked on a Styrofoam cup today. I’m making a hake tessellation, which takes longer than you might think. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

IMG_20170823_051528993

Styrofoam cup decorated with hake tesselation

We’re having lots of fun at sea on this beautiful day. Someone just came over the radio and said there’s been a marine mammal sighting off the bow…gotta go!

Special Shout-out:

A special shout-out to Mrs. Poustforoush’s class in Las Vegas, Nevada! I just found out you’ve been following this blog, and it’s great to have you aboard. If you have any questions about algae (from this post) or about life on a ship, please feel free to e-mail me. I can hopefully get your questions answered by the right people. Work hard in Mrs. Poustforoush’s class, okay? She’s a great teacher, you lucky kiddos. Learn a lot, and maybe one day you can be a scientist and live on a ship too!

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