NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark Van Arsdale
Aboard R/V Tiglax
September 11 – 27, 2018
Mission: Long-Term Ecological Research in the North Gulf of Alaska, aka The Seward Line Transects
Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 5, 2018
Latitude: 61.3293° N
Longitude: 149.5680° W
Air Temperature: 60° F
When I read the instructions for my application to NOAA Teacher at Sea, they emphasized the necessity for flexibility. Alaskans, in my mind, epitomize flexibility. The climate demands it. When the weather changes, you have to adjust to it. Not doing so can put you or others at risk.
My original cruise should have departed this weekend into the Bering Sea, but NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson developed problems with its propulsion system. Rather than sailing this research cruise, she will be in Kodiak under repair. I was pretty bummed when I got the news, but I really feel for all of those PhD students whose thesis projects needed the data from that trip.
The wonderful folks at NOAA told me that they were working on a new assignment, most likely in Southeastern US. I tried to wait patiently, but I was thinking about how much I wanted to teach Alaskan kids about the ocean just a few miles from them. Meanwhile, I had to cancel my substitute teacher. My sub has done some biological fieldwork, and when I talked to him he was very understanding. The funny thing was I got an email from his wife the next day, saying that she might have a berth for me. It turns out she works for the North Pacific Research Board and was familiar with most of the fisheries and ecological research going on in coastal Alaska. The berth was on the R/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle). The Tiglax is not a NOAA vessel. It is owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and operated jointly by the National Science Foundation. NOAA Teacher at Sea does occasionally partner with other organizations. After a few days of waiting, I was told that this cruise met the NOAA Teacher at Sea criteria.
Bringing an end to my long logistical story, I leave Monday on a trip into the Gulf of Alaska for seventeen days aboard the Tiglax.
The science behind my new project is pretty exciting. The Seward Line Transects have been run every summer since 1997 – every May and every September. Weather permitting, we will repeat the Seward Line Transect (seen below in black) along with four other transects. Each transect begins at a near shore location and makes it past the edge of the continental shelf into the deep waters of the Pacific. At each transect station, water is collected using a CTD to test the physical and chemical properties of the water at that location. A variety of plankton collection nets will be also be deployed. One of these sampling stations (GAK-1) has been sampled continuously for plankton and water chemistry for forty-eight years, representing an incredible wealth of long term ecological data.
Here is Caitlin Smoot (who will be on board with me) talking about how Zooplankton is collected aboard the R/V Sikuliaq, another vessel that operates in the Gulf of Alaska.
My job will be working the night shift, helping to collect plankton. I go out of my way in all of my classes to look at plankton. I even wrote a lab using diatoms to investigate a suspicious drowning death for my forensic science class. I’ve been collecting and examining freshwater plankton around my home in Eagle River, Alaska with my science classes for years, but rarely have I gotten to look at marine plankton. I’m excited to learning how plankton is collected at sea and how those collections are used to calculate relative abundance of plankton in the Gulf of Alaska from these samples.
In my classroom, I am always on the look out for how to better connect students to the science I am teaching. I’ve taught Oceanography for fifteen years but never been on an oceanographic cruise. I am hopeful this trip gives me a depth of experience that my students will benefit from.
As I get closer, I am not without some anxieties. I’m the very definition of a morning person, so working the night shift is going to be an adjustment. Just being aboard the Tiglax is going to be an adjustment. At a length of 120 feet, the Tiglax is a small research vessel with pretty limited facilities and no Internet connection. I’ve been in a lot of boats, but I don’t recall ever being beyond the sight of land. Those transect lines go way out into the ocean, and I wonder what it will feel like to be 150 miles from shore.
Did You Know?
The average depth of the ocean approaches 3,700 meters (12,000 feet.) The Seward Line transect begins in water only 100 meters deep and moves into water greater than 4000 meters in depth.