David Knight: All about the Fish! July 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 21, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29° 11.4
Longitude: 80
° 25.3
Sea wave height: 2-4 ft
Wind speed: 14 kts
Wind direction: 241
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 26.0
°C
Barometric pressure: 1011.8 mb
Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

IMG_6847

SEFIS Leg 2 Science Crew (left to right): Julia Reynolds, Rob Cheshire, Dave Hoke, Brad Teer, John Brusher, Nate Bacheler, Anne Markwith, Christina Schobernd, Zach Gillium, and David Knight (photo taken by Todd Walsh)

As I have only a couple more days aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, I have begun to reflect on what I have learned and experienced, and am grateful for the chance to further develop as a scientist and educator. From my first day on board, the scientists have been willing to mentor and teach me about the role they play in the conservation of marine fisheries, and have patiently answered my many questions and taught me techniques I did not previously know. The science crew includes NOAA scientists from labs in Beaufort, the Outer Banks and Panama City, as well as scientists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).  Although these men and woman have a common interest in studying fish and their population dynamics, the routes that they have taken to get to their present job are diverse and examples of determination and drive, being at the right place and the right time, and most importantly, pursuing something that you are truly passionate about.

IMG_6781

Anne M. of North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries (photo by David Knight)

The scientists attribute their choice of careers to a lifetime of enjoying the natural world, fishing and hunting as a youth, and an interest in conservation. Anne M. of the NCDMF recalls attending a marine science summer camp during middle school that piqued her interest in aquatic life, Dave H. of NOAA spent a lot of time outdoors growing up in Texas and set up aquariums as a kid, John B. of NOAA followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a marine biologist, and Julia R. of the SCDNR vacationed on and around the ocean most of her life so working in fisheries seemed like a natural fit.  All of the scientists on board have advanced degrees in Marine Biology or Biology with an emphasis in fisheries and more than one has served our country by being in the armed services. Each person has a story to tell about the many paths and detours that eventually led them to a career in fisheries. No one moved from college directly to NOAA; each scientist attributes their current position to being open to new opportunities and forming genuine, professional relationships with coworkers. The road to NOAA has been long in some cases and is paved with unique experiences, each offering new skills and a chance to learn. Zach G. scraped barnacles from acoustic sensors and buoys, Rob C. scrubbed tanks used to raise brine shrimp, Brad T. worked in marsh restoration in Delaware Bay, Christina S. trudged through mud to study shrimp, John B. tagged sharks and has helped map Oculina coral reefs, and Dave H. trapped snakes and turtles in Louisiana.  Each person would tell you that no matter how difficult these jobs may have been, they played an important part in their journey.  Through it all, each continually pursued their passion and were willing to be adaptable.

John B. and Dave H. are port agents, sampling fish that are brought in by commercial fisherman in Florida and North Carolina. Over the years they have formed relationships with the fisherman in their region and are responsible for collecting data as fish come off the boats into a fish house, measuring specific species and removing otoliths. Each collect fishery dependent data that, when taken together with the fishery independent data like that being gathered today on NOAA Ship Pisces, is used to create population models of fish such as king mackerel, grouper, and snapper species.  Todd W. uses his skills as a hydrographer to create detailed images of the seafloor and operates the CTD to gather valuable physical chemistry data on a site so that the physical and biological data can be amalgamated. Christina S. loves good data. As a member of the SEFIS group in Beaufort, Christina is responsible for taking all of the data that are collected throughout the various surveys and making sure it is useful for modeling. Her field experience in a number of agencies throughout the country has given her the ability to understand how best to gather, process and store data to make it useful. Once data have been collected, Rob C. works hard to make sure that the best science available is used for modeling.  His innovative and informative statistics serve as a resource to researchers and fisheries commissions that ultimately create state and federal policies and programs.  As state fisheries scientists in North and South Carolina one would assume that Anne M. and Julia R. have similar jobs, however, they both have very different roles in their respective agencies.  Anne M. is primarily involved in independent sampling; gathering data from gill netting, trawls, and seines that then play a role in stock assessments for certain species in North Carolina waters.  Julia R. collects gonad samples, looking for cellular clues to help determine the gender of certain species (remember, some transition from female to male) and the sex ratio of a particular population. Both play a role in helping the public understand state and federal regulations and for conducting research to help create state fisheries management plans. The point of all of this is to demonstrate to you, my students and readers, that a degree in biology can be just the beginning of an interesting and rewarding career in science.

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Zach G. of NOAA holding a Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio)   (photo by David Knight)

Being outside in the field or on the sea, studying wildlife and seeing new fish or animals drives most of them, and is the reason they enjoy what they do.  While the fish may be the same, the behavior or the habitats they study are different. Additionally, being able to travel and meeting lots of interesting, diverse people with a similar interest is rewarding.  Like any career, there are drawbacks. Being in a field that is driven by state or federal politics does create challenges. While a team my sample and analyze vast amounts of data and generate scientifically sound conclusions, sometimes stakeholders determine that the sciences does not reflect their interests, therefore, they want to reject or ignore the findings. Furthermore, sufficient funding is a constant issue. Being away from your family, tedious paperwork like filling out government timecards, and typical “office politics” are never fun no matter where you work, although Zach G.’s dislike of splicing lines may be unique to his choice of career!


Chief Scientist. Dr. Nate Bacheler

As coordinator of SEFIS (SouthEast Fishery Independent Survey), Dr. Nate Bacheler wears many hats. As a research scientist, Nate is interested in how best to survey fish using traps and cameras in order to improve the data that are used to make stock assessments. Like others, his transit (to use a nautical term) to NOAA was indirect and includes stops in Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin.  Having always enjoyed the outdoors and biology, he was fortunate to work with professors and advisors that gave him a firm foundation in conservation biology and helped him to know the right questions to ask and cultivated in him an inquisitive nature and strong desire to learn. Nate has studied nesting behavior in largemouth bass, conducted research into the diet and reproduction of freshwater fish in Puerto Rico, and implanted transmitters in fish. Like the other scientists I have been fortunate to work with as a Teacher at Sea, Nate is passionate about what he does and cannot see himself doing anything but studying marine fish. For Dr. Bacheler and all of the scientists I have gotten to know and work with the past two weeks, It’s All About the Fish.

 

Taylor Planz: What’s It Like to Be a…, July 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Taylor Planz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 19, 2018 at 10:53am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 65° 15.541′ N
Longitude: 168° 50.424′ W
Wind:  10 knots NW, gusts up to 20 knots
Barometer:  13.60 mmHg
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Temperature: 7.4° C
Sea Surface 7.2° C
Weather: Overcast, light drizzle

Interview Issue!

NOAA hires employees with many different career specialties. So many in fact that I cannot cover them all in one blog post. In an effort to give you a glimpse into some of the day to day happenings of the ship, I chose three different people with widely varying careers to interview today. The first is Oiler Kyle Mosier, who works in the engineering department. Next is Erin Billings, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service visiting NOAA for this leg of the mission. Finally, ENS Jeffrey Calderon who works for the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps as the Medical Person In Charge.

Oiler Kyle Mosier

Oiler Kyle Mosier

Oiler Kyle Mosier


What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
“I am an oiler in the engineering department, and my job is to do maintenance work and watches when we are underway. During my work day, I complete a list of maintenance items called a SAMMS list. On a given day, I might clean strainers, air supply, or air filters. We have 5 fan rooms; fan rooms 1 and 3 go to our staterooms, so I make sure those are always clean.”

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
“An adjustable wrench. We use wrenches just about every day, so if I only had one wrench (and one tool) it would be the one that can adjust to many sizes.”

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working on a NOAA ship?
“My dream job is to be a successful writer. I got started in high school just writing for fun, and I got better as I went through college. I also took an art class in college, and the teacher let me work on my own project ideas. I made my first book cover in that class, for a book called “Natalie and the Gift of Life”. I brought back my original character Natalie years later because I loved that first book so much, and I’m a much better writer now versus back then. My most recent book is “Natalie and the Search for Atlantis”.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“Some people only get certified to be an Oiler, but I went to the Maritime Academy and got my QMED certification (Qualified Member of the Engine Department). I recommend this pathway because it qualifies you to be an electrician, oiler, junior unlicensed engineer, and work in refrigeration. You’re not stuck with one job; instead, you have many different choices for what kind of job you do.”

Erin Billings

Meteorologist Erin Billings

Meteorologist Erin Billings

Tell me about what you do for a living.
“I am general forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, Alaska. I produce forecasts for northern Alaska and the adjacent waters. As an organization, we forecast for approximately 350,000 square miles of land area.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?
“It’s like putting all the pieces of a puzzle together. Forecasting is a lot about pattern recognition. People also rely a lot on forecasts, so I feel like my job is important for people as they plan their day, their weekend, and even their vacations.”

What parts of your job can be challenging?
“When you have a lot going on and the weather is frequently changing, it can be hard to choose what area gets looked at first as well as managing the time it takes to do that. I work rotating shifts as well, so my work hours are always changing and sometimes I work 7 days in a week. I love what I do though, so there’s a trade off.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“In order to get in to a meteorological position, you should find a way to set yourself apart from other people. Get a good foundation of science and math, but focus on something else you can bring to the table. Examples could be learning a foreign language, learning computer programming, or completing an internship or relevant volunteer position. Setting yourself apart will make you more competitive than everyone else who is applying for the same job and has the same degree as you.”

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

Ensign Jeffrey Calderon

What is your job on NOAA Ship Fairweather?
“I am a Junior Officer with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. My job is administration of the ship, which is broken down into collateral duties. Each duty needs to be completed to keep the ship operating smoothly. I am the Medical Person in Charge, so I keep track of all the medicines, make sure they haven’t expired, order medical supplies, and inspect medical equipment. I can also perform CPR and first aid. I can follow a doctor’s order to administer medication, including IVs. I am also in charge of all of the keys on the ship; there are about 300. I have to get them back from people when they leave and make copies when needed. I am the auxiliary data manager on the ship. I collect weather data, inspect the sensors (anemometer, barometer, etc), and upload the data to an online system. I also drive and navigate the ship and the small launch boat.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?
“I like being on a ship because I get to travel and see things that I will remember all my life. On the Fairweather, I get to see the aurora borealis, mountains, fjords, whales… things that not everyone gets to see. It also forces me to face new challenges; there’s always something I have to master and learn. I may have to fight a fire on the ship or go out on a launch and rescue somebody on the water.”

What do you miss the most when you are at sea?
“I miss having a real bed. I miss the privacy too. My stateroom is a 2-person stateroom.”

What advice would you give to students who may be interested in a job like yours?
“Pick a science-related path. It will be challenging, but it will be worth it in the long run. Science degrees will better prepare you for challenging careers, and it will prove to future employers that you can persevere through challenges. NOAA is also looking for people with good moral character, so stay out of trouble.”

Question of the Day
What are the eligibility requirements to be in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps?

Answer to Last Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?

The coldest temperature on record in Nome, Alaska is -54° Fahrenheit! Brrrr!

Taylor Planz: Surveying 101, July 18, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Taylor Planz
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
July 9 – 20, 2018

 Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, Alaska and vicinity
Date: July 18, 2018 at 10:15am

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 66° 24.440′ N
Longitude: 163° 22.281′ W
Wind: 17 knots SW, gusts up to 38 knots
Barometer: 13.5 mmHg
Visibility: 5 nautical miles
Temperature: 12.2° C
Sea Surface 9.6° C
Weather: Overcast, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

NOAA Ship Fairweather has a variety of assignments in different parts of the west coast each year, mostly in Alaska. They also work with many different organizations. In April of 2018, the US Geological Survey, or USGS, hired the ship to complete the last part of the survey of a fault line, the Queen Charlotte Fault, which lies west of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. This was a joint venture between the US and Canada because it is the source of frequent and sometimes hazardous earthquakes. The Queen Charlotte Fault lies between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. The North American Plate is made of continental crust, and the Pacific Plate is made of oceanic crust. The two plates slide past one another, so the plate boundary is known as a transform, or strike slip, fault.

Queen Charlotte fault area

This image is from the USGS, who have been surveying the Queen Charlotte Fault area for many years. Photo Source: https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/

The image to the right came from the USGS. Notice the two black arrows showing the directions of the North American and Pacific plates. Strike slip faults, such as this one, have the potential to produce damaging earthquakes. The San Andreas Fault in California is another example of a strike slip fault. The Queen Charlotte Fault moves relatively fast, with an average rate of 50 mm/year as shown in the photo. The USGS explains the Queen Charlotte fault beautifully in this article.

The image below was created after hydrographers on NOAA Ship Fairweather processed the data from their survey in April. The colors show relative depth across the fault, with red being the shoalest areas and blue being the deepest areas. In the top right section, you can see Noyes Canyon. There are many finger-shaped projections, which are result from sediment runoff. Notice that the color scheme in this area does not have much orange or yellow; it basically goes from red to green. If you were to look at this map in 3-D, you would see in those areas that the sea floor dramatically drops hundreds of meters in a very short distance.

Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon

Queen Charlotte Fault and Noyes Canyon. Photo Courtesty of HST Ali Johnson

It is also worth noting what can be found in the remainder of this image. When NOAA finishes their survey, two different products are formed. The first is the colored map, which you see to the far left of the image. This is useful for anyone interested in the scientific components of the area. Mariners need the information as well, but a colored schematic is less useful for marine navigation, so nautical charts are produced (or updated) for their use. A nautical chart looks just like the remainder of this image. Small numbers scattered all over the white part of the map (ie – the water) show the depth in that area. The depth can be given in fathoms, meters, or feet, so it is important to find the map’s key. The purpose of the charts is to communicate to mariners the most navigable areas and the places or obstacles that should be avoided. The nautical charts usually have contour lines as well, which give a better picture of the slope of the sea floor and group areas of similar depth together.

Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson

Lower half of Queen Charlotte Fault, photo courtesy of HST Ali Johnson

The photo above is a closer view of the Queen Charlotte Fault. Can you see the fault? If you cannot see it, look at the line that begins in the bottom center of the photo and reaches up and to the left. Do you see it now? On the left side of the fault lies the Pacific Plate, and on the right side lies the North American Plate. If you look even closer, you might find evidence of the plates sliding past each other. The areas that resemble rivers are actually places where sediment runoff imprinted the sea floor. If you observe closely, you can see that some of these runoff areas are shifted at the location of the fault. Scientists can measure the distance between each segment to determine that average rate of movement at this fault line.

I also wanted to briefly mention another small side project we took on during this leg. A tide buoy was installed near Cape Lisburne, which is north of Point Hope. The buoys are equipped with technology to read and communicate the tidal wave heights. This helps hydrographers accurately determine the distance from the sea surface to the sea floor. The buoy will remain at its station until the end of the survey season, at which time it will be returned to the ship.

 

 

Personal Log

Northwest Alaska may not be a breathtaking as Southeast Alaska, but it has sure been an interesting trip! It amazes me that small communities of people inhabit towns such as Nome, Point Hope, and Barrow (which is about as far north as one can travel in Alaska) and endure bone-chilling winter temperatures, overpriced groceries, and little to no ground transportation to other cities. Groceries and restaurant meals are expensive because of the efforts that take place to transport the food. During my first day in Nome, I went to a restaurant called the Polar Cafe and paid $16 for an omelette! Although the omelette was delicious, I will not be eating another during my last day in Nome on Friday. It is simply too expensive to justify paying that much money. I also ventured to the local grocery store in hopes of buying some Ginger Ale for the trip. Consuming ginger in almost any form can help soothe stomach aches and relieve seasickness. Unfortunately ginger ale was only available in a 12-pack that happened to be on sale for $11.99. I decided to leave it on the shelf. Luckily the ship store has ginger ale available for purchase! The ship store is also a great place to go when your sweet tooth is calling!

The Ship Store

The Ship Store opens most nights for personnel to buy soda, candy, or even t-shirts!

 

Did You Know?
The Queen Charlotte fault was the source of Canada’s largest recorded earthquake! The earthquake occurred in 1949 and had a magnitude of 8.1!

Question of the Day
As mentioned above, northern Alaska reaches temperatures colder than most people can even imagine! Nome’s record low temperature occurred on January 27, 1989. Without using the internet, how cold do you think Nome got on that day?

Answer to Last Question of the Day:
How does a personal flotation device (PFD) keep a person from sinking?

When something is less dense than water it floats, and when it is more dense than water it sinks. Something with the same density as water will sit at the surface so that it lies about equal to the water line (picture yourself laying flat on the surface of a lake). Your body is over 50% water, so the density of your body is very close to the density of water and you naturally “half float”. A PFD, on the other hand, is made up of materials which have a lower density than water and they always float completely above water. When you wear a PFD, your body’s total density is a combination of your density and the PFD’s density. Therefore, the total density becomes less than the density of water, and you float!

Sources:
Danny, et al. (2016). Investigating the Offshore Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System in Southeastern Alaska and its Potential to Produce Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Submarine Landslides. USGS Soundwaves Monthly Newsletter. https://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2016/01/.

Torresan, L (2018). Earthquake Hazards in Southeast Alaska. USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/geohazards/sealaska.html.

 

Jeff Peterson: The Work in the Western Gulf, July 15, 2018

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 15, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/18

Time: 16:05:45

Latitude: 30 05.44 N

Longitude: 085 52.76 W

Speed over ground: 05.3 knots

Barometric pressure: 1015.62 mbar

Relative humidity: 81%

Air temp: 27.6 C

 

Science and Technology Log

At the time of writing, we’ve completed the “stations” (i.e., the appointed stops where we trawl to collect specimens) in the western Gulf of Mexico, and are headed to the Florida coast, where we’ll conclude the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey. Sometime tonight we’ll arrive and resume work, trawling and identifying fish. What follows is my attempt to furnish a detailed description of where we are and what we’re doing.

Stations: Where We Stop & Why

As I explained in my previous blog post, “Learner at Sea: Day 1,” the survey work being performed on this cruise contributes to a larger collective enterprise called SEAMAP, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. The “sample area” of SEAMAP is considerable, ranging from Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys.

image 1 SEAMAP - coverage

Spatial coverage of SEAMAP Summer and Fall Trawl Surveys in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Fisheries biologist Adam Pollack tells me that the total trawlable area–that is, excluding such features as known reefs, oil rigs, and sanctuaries–consists of 228,943.65 square kilometers or 88,943.65 square miles. That’s a piece of ocean of considerable size: nearly as big as Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

SEAMAP divides the sample area into a series of statistically comparable “zones” (there are two zones within each of the numbered areas in the diagram above), taking into account a key variable (or stratum): depth. It then assigns a proportionate number of randomized locations to every zone, arriving at 360-400 stations for the sample area as a whole. Statisticians call this method a “stratified random design.”

While Louisiana, Mississippi,  Alabama, and Florida participate in the SEAMAP, the lion’s share of stations are surveyed by NOAA.

These are the 49 stations we sampled during the first half of the cruise, off the shore of Louisiana:

leg 3 west

Stations covered in the western Gulf during the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey

The data from the Summer Survey is analyzed in the fall and available the following spring. NOAA’s assessments are then passed along to the regional Fisheries Management Councils who take them into account in setting guidelines.

The Trawl: How we Get Fish Aboard

NOAA Ship Oregon II brings fish aboard using an otter trawl. As described in “Mississippi Trawl Gear Characterization,” “The basic otter trawl is the most common type of trawl used in Mississippi waters to harvest shrimp. The otter trawl is constructed of twine webbing that when fully deployed makes a cone shape. Floats on the head-rope (top line) and chains on the foot rope (bottom line) of are used to open the mouth of the trawl vertically. To spread the mouth of the trawl open as large as possible, each side (wing) is attached to trawl doors” (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/strategy/ms_trawl_gear.pdf). Positioned by chains so that their leading edges flare out, those doors are sizable and heavy, 40 inches high and 8 feet long, and help not only to spread the net open (and ‘herd’ fish in) but also to keep it seated on the ocean floor.

An otter trawl deployed

An otter trawl deployed

To mitigate environmental harm–and, in particular, to help save inadvertently caught sea turtles—trawling time is limited to 30 minutes. The trawl is 40 feet wide and is dragged over 1.5 miles of ocean bottom.

Here are the trawl’s technical specifications:

Trawl schematic

Trawl schematic, courtesy of NOAA fishing gear specialist Nicholas Hopkins

It should not go without saying that deploying and retrieving gear like this is mission critical, and requires physical might, agility, and vigilance. Those tasks (and others) are performed expertly by the Deck Department, manned on the day watch by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Fisherman James Rhue. Fisherman Chris Rawley joins them on the swing shift, coming on deck in the evening.

The process of bringing the trawl aboard looks like this:

doors up

Trawl doors on their way up toward the starboard outrigger

separating

Seizing the “lazy line” with the hook pole

orange section

The “elephant ear” (orange section) secured

cod end at the rail

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin brings a catch over the rail

The bottom of the trawl is secured with a special knot that permits controlled release of the catch.

knot

Among other names, this piece of handiwork is known as the “double daisy chain” or “zipper knot”

 

The catch emptied into baskets

The catch emptied into baskets

CTD

Before every trawl, the CTD is deployed from the well deck (port side) to collect data on, as its acronym suggests: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. According to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website, “A CTD device’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is the concentration of salt and other inorganic compounds in seawater. Salinity is one of the most basic measurements used by ocean scientists. When combined with temperature data, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents” (https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html).

The CTD secured on deck

The CTD secured on deck

 

CTD in the water

The CTD suspended at the surface, awaiting descent

During daylight hours, a scientist assists with the deployment of the CTD, contributing observations on wave height and water color. For the latter, we use a Forel-Ule scale, which furnishes a gradation of chemically simulated water colors.

 

Forel-Ule scale

Forel-Ule scale

 

The Wet Lab: How We Turn Fish into Information

Once in baskets, the catch is weighed and then taken inside the wet lab.

the wet lab

The wet lab: looking forward. Fish are sorted on the conveyor belt (on the right) and identified, measured, weighed, and sexed using the computers (on the left).

Once inside the wet lab, the catch is emptied onto the conveyor belt

Fish ready for sorting

Fish ready for sorting

Snapper on the belt

A small catch with a big Snapper

Next the catch is sorting into smaller, species-specific baskets:

Emily McMullen sorting fish

Emily McMullen sorting fish

 

batfish face

Say hello to the Bat Fish: Ogecephalus declivirostris

Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus

Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus

 

Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus

At this stage, fish are ready to be represented as data in the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS). This is a two-step process. First, each basket of fish is entered by genus and species name, and its number recorded in the aggregate.

Andre entering data

Andre DeBose entering initial fish data in FSCS

Then, a selection individual specimens from each basket (up to 20, if there are that many) are measured and weighed and sexed.

Andre and Emily measuring

Andre and Emily measuring and sexing fish

Occasionally researchers from particular laboratories have made special requests for species, and so we label them, bag them, and stow them in the bait freezer room.

requests

Special requests for specimens

 

IMG_8214

Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus, for Beverly Barnett

Once every animal in the trawl has been accounted for and its data duly recorded, it’s time to wash everything down and get ready to do it all over again.

porthole

Late afternoon view from the wet lab porthole

 

Personal Log

The key to enjoying work in the wet lab is, as I see it, the enduring promise of novelty: the possibility of surprise at finding something you’ve never seen before! For me, that promise offsets the bracing physical rigors of the work and leavens its repetitiveness. (Breathtaking cloudscapes and gorgeous sunsets do, too, just for the record. Out here on the water, there seem to be incidental beauties in every direction.) Think of the movie Groundhog Day or Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and cross either of them with the joys of beach-combing on an unbelievably bounteous beach, and you’ll have a sense of the absurd excitement of identifying fish at the sorting stage. Life in the wet lab is a lot like Bubba Gump’s box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

At the next stage, data entry, the challenge for the novice is auditory and linguistic. Between the continual growl the engine makes and the prop noise of the wet lab’s constantly whirring fans, you’ve got the soundscape of an industrial workplace. Amid that cascade of sound, you need to discern unfamiliar (scientific) names for unfamiliar creatures, catching genus and species distinctions as they’re called out by your watch-mates. The good news is that the scientists you’re working with are living and breathing field guides, capable of identifying just about any animal you hold up with a quizzical look. It’s a relative rarity that we have to consult printed guides for IDs, but when we do and that task falls to me, the shell-collector kid in me secretly rejoices.

IMG_7825

I found it! Ethusa microphthalma (female)

I’m enjoying the camaraderie of my watch, led by Andre DeBose, and, as my posts suggest, I’ve had some good opportunities to pick Adam Pollack’s brain on fisheries issues. My partner in fish data-entry, Emily McMullen–an aspiring marine scientist who’ll be applying to graduate programs this fall–did this cruise last summer and has been an easy-going co-worker, patient and understanding as I learn the ropes. I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with folks like Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway, First Assistant Engineer Will Osborn, and Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton.

It’s been a busy week, as you’ll have gathered, but I’ve still managed to do some sketching. Here’s a page from my sketchbook on the CTD:

CTD

Sketch of the CTD. The main upright tanks, I learned, are Niskin Bottles

And here’s a page from my journal that pictures three species we saw quite often in the western Gulf:

Longspined Porgy - Butterfish - Brown Shrimp

Longspine Porgy (Stenotomus caprinus), Butterfish (Peprilus burti), and Brown Shrimp (Farfanepenaeus aztectus)

Had I the time, I’d sketch the rest of my “Top 10” species we’ve seen most commonly in the western Gulf. That list would include (in no particular order): the Paper Scallop, Amusium papyraceum; Lookdown, Selene vomer; Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus; Squid, Loligo; Lizardfish, Synodus foetens; Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus; and Red Snapper:

Red Snapper

Presented for your inspection: Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus

Did You Know?

Four of the species visible on the surface of this basket have been identified in the blog post you’ve just read. Can you ID them? And how many of each would you say there are here on the surface?

Basket of fish

Basket of fish

 

 Look for a key in my next blog post.

 

Michelle Greene: Getting Ready for a Big Adventure, July 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Michelle Greene

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

July 19 – August 3, 2018

 

Mission: Cetacean Survey

Geographic Area: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Coast

Date: July 18, 2018

 

Latitude: 34° 18.967′ N

Longitude: 79° 52.047′ W

Temperature: 89° F (32° C)

Tomorrow is the big day!  I am getting ready to board the plane from Florence, SC to Charlotte, NC to Providence, RI.  I have never been to Rhode Island, so this is going to be a bucket list activity to keep adding states to my history.  Rhode Island will make state number 24…almost half way!

I teach in a very rural high school in Lamar, South Carolina which is approximately 90 miles from Myrtle Beach.  Lamar High School has about 280 students.  This year we had a graduating class of 52 students.  I teach Calculus, Statistics, and Algebra 2 Honors.

Teaching statistics is the main reason I applied to the Teacher at Sea program.  I wanted to give my students some real world experience with statistics.  I try to create my own data for students, but I end up using the same data from the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Major League Baseball, etc.  I had one student a couple of years ago in Algebra 2 Honors who is a weather lover.  His favorite website is NOAA, and he would give me the daily weather or hurricane updates.  Any time we had a baseball game, he would be able to tell me if we were going to be able to play the game.  Being able to provide him and his classmates projects using data from something he loves will help me to reach that one student.  Hopefully, I might even spark interest in other students.

Helping my students to become statisticians is the main reason I applied; however, I also applied to challenge myself.  Throughout my life, I have not been the kind of person who deals well with creepy crawly things.  Being on a ship on the ocean will definitely force me to deal with that.  I want to do my very best to get involved in all kinds of neat activities.  I hope “Cool Beans!” will be my daily saying.

I am really looking forward to working with the scientists on the Gordon Gunter.  Having read as much as I can about the Passive Acoustic Research Group has helped me to understand a little of what we will be doing on our 15-day journey.  I hope that I can help them to further their research to learn the patterns that cetaceans use to communicate with each other!

Meredith Salmon: Xtreme XBTs, July 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

 July 12 – August 4, 2018

 

Mission: Seafloor Mapping in support of Galway Bay Initiative

Geographic Area:  Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda

Date: July 14, 2018

Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 14, 2018

Latitude: 28.58°N

Longitude: 65.48°W

Air Temperature: 27.4°C

Wind Speed:  13.96 knots

Conditions: Rain and clouds

Depth: 5183 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

Temperature and salinity are two main variables when determining the density of water. The density of water or any acoustic medium is a very important factor in determining the speed of sound in water. Therefore, temperature data collected by Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes, as well as historical salinity profiles from the World Ocean Atlas, are used to create sound velocity profiles to use to correct for sound speed changes in the water column.

Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) probes are devices that are used to measure water temperature as a function of depth. Small copper wires transmit the temperature data back to the ship where it is recorded and analyzed. At first, I was surprised to learn that temperature data is such an important component of multibeam mapping operations; however, I learned that scientists need to know how fast the sound waves emitted from the sonar unit travel through seawater. Since these probes are designed to fall at a determined rate, the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water.

On our expedition, we have been deploying XBTs on a schedule as the ship is making its way to the survey area. The XBT Launcher is connected to a deck box, which translates information to computer systems onboard so the data can be logged when the probes are deployed into the water. Aboard the Okeanos Explorer, up to 8 tubes can be loaded at one time and launched by scientists.

XBT closet in the Dry Lab

XBT closet in the Dry Lab

 

 

 

 

 

XBT Data

XBT Data from a launch aboard the Okeanos Explorer. The colors on the graph indicate the XBT number and the data is plotted on a temperature and depth scale.

 

 In addition to launching XBTs and collecting data, we completed a Daily Product so that we can communicate the data we have collected to anyone on shore. The Daily Products are completed not only to ensure that the hydrographic software systems are working correctly but to also inform the public our current location, where we have collected data, and if we are meeting the objectives of the mission. Once onshore, NOAA uses this information to analyze the quality of the data and use it for analysis for dive planning. In order to generate the Daily Field Products, we use hydrographic computer systems such as QPS Qimera for advanced multibeam bathymetry processing, Fledermaus for 4D geo-spatial processing, and Geocap Seafloor for digital terrain modeling. In addition, the Daily Field Products allow us to double check the quality of the data and search for any noise interferences due to the speed of the ship or the type of seafloor bottom (hard vs soft).

 

Personal Log

One of the coolest parts of learning aboard the Okeanos Explorer is the fact that I am a part of scientific exploration and discovery in real time.  Known as “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” the Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the sole purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. This is the first U.S.-led mapping effort in support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation and all of this information is going to be available for public use. Not only do I get the opportunity to be involved with “real-time” research, but I am also responsible for communicating this information to a variety of different parties on shore.

Being immersed in the “hands-on” science, learning from the survey techs and watch leads, and observing all of the work that is being done to collect, process, and analyze the data is a really exciting experience. I am definitely out of my element when it comes to the content since I do not have any prior experience with seafloor mapping, sonars, etc., but I am really enjoying playing the role as the “student” in this situation. There is definitely a lot to learn and I am trying to soak it all in!

 

Did You Know?

XBTs contain approximately 1,500 meters of copper wire that is as thin as a strand of hair!

Meredith Salmon: Setting Sail! July 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – August 4, 2018

 

Mission: Seafloor Mapping in support of Galway Bay Initiative

Geographic Area:  Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda

Date: July 12, 2018

Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge – July 12, 2018

Latitude: 32.094°N

Longitude: 69.591°W

Air Temperature: 26.2°C

Wind Speed:  10.7 knots

Conditions: Sunny

Depth: 693 meters

Survey Area

Map showing the planned operations area for the expedition outlined in yellow. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Science and Technology Log

According to the Oceanic Institute, the oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface. This is calculated to be 335,258,000 square kilometers! Recently, the Okeanos Explorer mapped over 1,000,000 square kilometers of the seafloor using high- resolution multibeam sonar. Although this may not seem like much, that region is larger than the areas of Arizona and Texas combined!

So why is it so important for the Okeanos Explorer to map the seafloor? The ocean’s terrain plays a very important role in ecosystems since underwater valleys determine currents and weather patterns, sea topography influences fishery management, and seamounts serve as protection against unpredictable storms. Therefore, high-resolution maps allow scientists to categorize marine habitats, provide information vital to protecting and tracking marine life, and enable us to make smart decisions for solid, sustainable conservation measures.

In order to successfully map the ocean floor, multibeam sonar is used. The Okeanos Explorer uses an EM 302 multibeam system that is designed to map a large portion of the ocean floor with exceptional resolution and accuracy. The EM 302 transducers pointing at different angles on both sides of the ship to create a swath of signals. Transducers are underwater speakers that are responsible for sending an acoustic pulse (known as a ping) into the water. If the seafloor or object is in the path of the ping, then sound bounces off the object and returns an echo to the transducer. The EM 302 has the ability to produce up to 864 depth soundings in a single ping. The time interval between the actual signal transmission and arrival of the return echo (two way travel time) are combined with a sound velocity profile to estimate depth over the area of the swath. In addition, the intensity of the return echo can be used to infer bottom characteristics that can be utilized for habitat mapping. Since the EM 302 creates high density, high-resolution data as well as water column features, this sonar system is ideal for exploring the seabed for geographic features.

The image below shows data being collected by the multibeam sonar on the Okeanos Explorer. The colors are used to indicate swath depth (warm colors indicate shallow waters while cool colors indicate deeper waters).

Multibeam sonar data

Multibeam sonar data including backscatter (lower left), depth (upper center) and water column data (lower center) from 7/12/2018 the Okeanos Explorer

 

As this data is being collected, it must be “cleaned” to eliminate any erroneous points.  Data is collected and cleaned in both the Dry Lab and Mission Control Room.

Dry Lab

Dry Lab, equipped with 12 computer monitors, used to process data onboard the Okeanos Explorer

Mission Control

Mission Control Room aboard the Okeanos Explorer

 

Since we have not reached the survey area yet, we have been monitoring the depth of our path thus far. We are collecting transit data which is considered to still be valuable data for unmapped seafloor area, but it may not be as high quality as focused mapping data. We will continue to collect transit data until we reach the survey area near Bermuda.

Personal Log

Life onboard the Okeanos Explorer has been a very interesting and fun learning experience! The ship runs on a 24/7 operation schedule and people are working diligently at all hours of the day. Everyone on the ship has been really welcoming and willing to share their stories and insights about their careers at sea. I am really looking forward to speaking with more people to learn about their experiences!

We set sail out of Norfolk today and began our 3.5 day/4 day transit to the survey area near Bermuda. This morning, we found out that we will need to schedule an emergency dry dock towards the end of our mission to solve an issue with a stern thruster necessary for ROV cruises. As a result, we will not be ending up in port in St. George, but we will still be able to map the area 200 nautical miles off the coast of Bermuda, so that is great!

 

Did You Know?

Sonar is short for Sound Navigation and Ranging.

Check out this video for a visual representation of the process sonar uses to generate data! https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/caribbean-mapping/mapping-video.html

 

Resources:

https://www.oceanicinstitute.org/aboutoceans/aquafacts.html

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/one-million/welcome.html