Betsy Petrick: Shipwreck! June 29, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019

Mission: Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29 , 2019

Science Log

I sat with the marine archaeologists and chief scientist and the operators of the ROV in a control room bolted to the back deck of the Point Sur.  Inside were at least 12 video monitors showing views from the ROV in color and infra-red, a sonar scanner, various mapping tools to track the location of the ROV and the ship, and controls for all the equipment on the ROV including cameras, lights, the sampling tray and robotic arms.  For a while we stared at the silty sea floor seeing nothing more than a few shrimp and rockfish and sea cucumbers. Every once in a while the ROV would kick up a cloud of silt and we would watch it swirl across the screen looking much like images of the cosmos.  

sonar of shipwreck
A sonar image shows the shape of the shipwreck on the seafloor. The sonar helps guide the ROV over the ship at a safe operating distance.

Suddenly a ghostly vertical shape appeared ahead, covered in part by a white lacey growth.  The closer we moved the more clear it became – this was the bow of the shipwreck we were looking for!  It stood out on the seafloor like a lone bedraggled sentinel in a watery desert. The ROV hovered around it.  We could see white branching coral called Lophilia, anemones, a long-legged Arrow crab and other species of marine life.  The ROV moved along what we thought was the length of the shipwreck. An anchor lay on its side with one hooked arm lifted and around it we began to see other things: white ceramic plates, a ceramic whiskey jug, some metal rods with a loop on one end that most likely came from the rigging.  

Bow of the Ship
This is the bow of the ship. All that is left is a large beam sticking up off the seafloor. It is covered in life.

The ROV passed over and around the artifacts, trying to see them closely, but at the same time we could not pick up or even move the silt away to see what else lay buried there.  With each new pass over the wreck more things were seen: a copper bell, some ceramic cups with blue decoration. We were not treasure seekers out to plunder. A good archaeologist doesn’t take artifacts out of context without good reason and permission.  Melanie Damour, the marine archaeologist for the expedition likens a shipwreck to a crime scene. Each clue tells the investigator a part of the story of what happened. If a clue is taken away, it becomes harder to piece the story together. Our expedition is to map and photograph the wreck, so we won’t disturb anything we see.  

Fish in and around artifacts
Fish make their home around the anchor of the shipwreck and other artifacts

Finally, the controlled mapping of the shipwreck began.  This is called photogrammetry. The plan was to do three passes lengthwise ten meters apart, and then repeated transects across the whole ship.  From these combined overlapping images, the archaeologists will make a 3-D map of the wreck. Hours later, mapping complete, the ROV returned to the ship.

Personal Log

By evening, a squall had found us, rain fell for a short while, the wind whipped the waves up, the ship pitched and rolled in an uncomfortable way, and to say the least, I lost my newfound sea legs and my cookies.  You don’t want to know the rest. 

waterspout
Every day there are amazing things to see. Here a waterspout has formed between a storm cloud and the sea.


Meg Stewart: Getting Ready for an Adventure in Alaska

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 25, 2019

Introduction

I am so excited about my upcoming experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will be on the NOAA Ship Fairweather from July 8 to 19 and will be participating on a hydrographic research cruise, one that is mapping the sea-floor in detail; more about that soon. We will embark from and return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which is part of the Aleutian Islands. If you are my current or former student, or you are a friend or colleague of mine, or you are an admirer of the Teacher at Sea program, I hope you will follow along on this ocean adventure as I post about my experiences while at sea.

Meg on catamaran
This is me on a catamaran off the coast of Barbados.

A little about me

I am originally from California. I went to the beach often to body surf and splash around, maybe sunbathe (I don’t do THAT anymore).   It was in California where I got interested in geology. I was pretty young when I experienced the 1971 San Fernando 6.5M earthquake and after that, earthquakes were a regular occurrence for me. When I moved to Hayward, California, in early 1989 to complete my bachelor’s degree in geology at California State University East Bay, I was living off-campus and had the “pleasure” of rocking and rolling through one of the longest earthquakes I every felt when the 6.9M Loma Prieta earthquake hit.  I moved on from there to the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, to earn my Master’s in Structural Geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I didn’t feel any earthquakes in Nevada, but I did do my research on an active fault in southwestern Utah. I like to think of myself as a “boots-on-the-ground” kind of scientist-educator.

Meg teaching
Teaching graduate students about digital mapping.

My work and life experiences are such that for five years after grad school, I was a staff geologist at a large environmental consulting company. I loved that job and it took me all around the U.S.  One of the assignments I had was to manage a mapping project involving data from New York and New Jersey harbor area. From that experience I became interested in digital mapping (known as Geographic Information Systems or GIS) and switched careers. I went to work at a small liberal arts college as the GIS support person within the instructional technology group. In addition to helping teach professors and college students how to work with the GIS software, I helped teach about use of social media in teaching, use a mobile devices for data collection, integrating alternative assessments like using of audio and video, and I maintained two computer labs. While I was involved in those two different careers, I gained some adjunct teaching experiences at several different colleges and grad schools, teaching geology, environmental science and GIS.

Meg at University of the West Indies
At the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies

Another professional experience that I’ve had that I am most proud of is I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010 to Barbados. My family and I lived in Barbados for a year while I was worked with the University of the West Indies, Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) I taught GIS to graduate students, I worked with some of the students on research projects, I traveled to Belize as a field assistant on a field studies trip with faculty members and CERMES students, and I had the privilege of working on a marine-based, community-driven mapping research project with a then PhD student (who has since earned her degree). My part of the project was to take the spatial data, organize it and create a user-friendly Google Earth KML file. She and I got to travel around St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, teaching community members about the work, the available data, and how to access the Google Earth project file. 

New York state fossil
Behind the scenes at the American Museum of Natural History, checking out the official state fossil of New York, Eurypterus Remipes.

In 2015, I re-tooled yet again and was accepted into a challenging yet rewarding education program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In 15 months, I learned how to teach with artifacts, took graduate courses in all manner or earth and space subjects, of course, had classes in pedagogical approaches, had two in-residence teaching experiences at area schools, all the while in the amazing AMNH, home of Night at the Museum. 

Meg and students at AMNH
These are two of my ninth graders checking out a piece of kimberlite with a diamond sticking out. We’re at AMNH in the Hall of Planet Earth.

Now as a public high school educator, teaching Earth Science to 9-12 graders in the Bronx, I have a strong foundation in the solid earth topics like plate tectonics, rocks and minerals, and geologic time. But Regents Earth Science class in New York also involves oceanography, meteorology, climate science and astronomy. 

Meg snorkeling
Yes, this is me, actually in the sea at Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island in the Grenadines.

What compelled me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is what motivates me throughout my other life decisions: I wanted to push against my boundaries and my limitations. I have always had a healthy respect for the sea, which was mixed in with a little fear. I saw the movie Jaws when I was young and impressionable, so I never really wanted to venture too far into the water beyond the waves. I didn’t even want to swim in lakes for fear of what might be traversing through the murky unknown. As I’ve aged, I’ve certainly grown less fearful of the water. I’ve traveled on sailboats and catamarans, I’ve snorkeled in the Caribbean, I’ve jumped into waters with nurse sharks and stingrays! But as a teacher who feels like she’s missing some key knowledge of her curriculum – oceanography – I want to challenge myself to learn-while-doing as I have the privilege of being selected to be a Teacher at Sea. I cannot wait!

Karah Nazor: The Glowing Dolphins of the Channel Islands and Interview with UCSC Graduate Student Ilysa “Ily” Iglesias, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 31, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Channel Islands San Nicolas Line

I am up on the flying bridge and I just saw two humpback whales spouting, an albatross soaring and a large Mola Mola on the sea surface.  In this blog I will write about an amazing once in a lifetime experience that from last night- May 31, 2019. The first haul was called off due to an abundance of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, (as reported by the inside marine mammal watch prior to net deployment), so we motored on ahead to the second station, but dolphins chased the ship all the way there, too.  One strategy to encourage marine mammals to leave is for the ship to stop moving with the hope that the dolphins become disinterested and vacate the area. This pod was intent on having a party at the ship so Keith Sakuma encouraged everyone to just go outside to observe and enjoy the dolphins! 

Fishing on this survey takes place at nighttime (so the fish do not see the net) and Scripps graduate student Kaila Pearson and I stepped outside on the side deck into the darkest of dark nights. Kaila and I carefully placed one foot in front of the other because we couldn’t see our feet and where to step next. I was afraid I would trip. When I asked Keith Hanson if we should use a flashlight to safely make our way up to the top deck, he suggested that we stay in place for a few minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Within 5 minutes or so objects around us started to present themselves to us within the black void.  We could eventually see our feet, each others faces, the dolphins, and even the finer features of the sea surface.

Within a few minutes Ily Iglesias reported seeing bioluminescence, a type of chemiluminescence that occurs in living things, such as the familiar green glow of lightening bugs in the Summer in the South.   This glow results from oxidation of the protein luciferin (present in photophore cells/organs) by the enzyme luciferase.  It its excited state, lucifern emits light.  This reaction is known to occur in some marine bacteria, dinoflagellates (single celled photosynthetic organisms), squid, deep sea fish, pyrosomes and jellyfish, and I am fortunate to have observed many of these creatures already on this research cruise (see photos below).  Some animals have photophore organs and generate their own luciferin, while others are hosts to bioluminescent bacteria.

deepsea longfin dragonfish
The large photo organ is a large green circle under the eye of the deepsea longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus.
California lanternfish
California lanternfish, Symbolophorus californiensis, with photophores under the lateral line and the ventral surface.
California lanternfish photophores
California lanternfish photophores
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tarletonbeania crenularis, collected from a bongo net at 265 meters. Photophores line the ventral surface of the body.
Cranchia scabra
Cranchia scabra “baseball squid” with large photophores lining the eyes.
Chiroteuthis veranii squid
Chiroteuthis veranii squid

When dinoflagellates floating on the sea surface are agitated, they glow.  At first when I was trying really hard to see this, I noticed a couple of tiny flashes of green light, sort of like lightening bugs, but it wasn’t anything super obvious. In time, I noticed clouds of faint light, sort of like a glowing mist floating the water’s surface, that moved up and down with the swell.  I hypothesized that dinoflagellates on the sea surface were being agitated by the passage of waves through them and Ily suggested that it was caused by schools of anchovies.

Since the dolphins were intent on staying, we decided to head to the next station.  I knew that as the ship began to move that the bow would be breaking through surface water that had previously been undisturbed, and I predicted the bioluminescence would be much more intense.

As we took off, the dolphins began to bow surf and, as I predicted, the dinoflagellates were activated and this time their glow was a bright white.  As the dolphins surfaced to breath, their skin became coated with the glowing algal cells, creating an effect as if they were swimming in an X-ray machine.  The dolphins were literally glowing white swimming in a black sea! We were so entranced and excited by the beauty, we screamed in delight. I am sure the dolphins heard us cheering for them. They too, seemed excited and could see each other glowing as well.

Next we saw the faint cloud of dinoflagellates caused by Northern anchovies (Ily was right) up ahead of us. As the ship encountered the school of small (~ 3-6 inch) fish, they also started to glow really bright and it was easy to see all of the individual fish in the school. The dolphins could also see the glowing fish and split off in different directions to hunt them.  There were hundreds of fish that dispersed as they were being chased creating a pattern of short white glowing lines somewhat like the yellow lane markers on the highway.

The display was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It was like the Aurora Borealis of the sea.  Despite our best efforts, our cell phone cameras were unable to pick up the bioluminescent signal, however, we do not need photos because the patterns of light will be forever embedded in our minds. The dolphins eventually tired from the surf and chase and departed. Ily said the experience was “an explosion of light that overwhelmed the senses” while Flora said it was “better than fireworks.”

With no marine mammal sightings at the third station, we completed a five minute haul in the deep channel and collected a huge white bin of anchovies (see photo of Keith Hanson with this catch below). In this catch we found a few Mexican lampfish, 3 king of the salmon, a lot of of large smooth tongues, a lot of salps, a few pyrosomes and one purple striped jellyfish.  The purple-striped jelly (Chrysaora colorata) is is primarily preyed upon by Leatherback turtles. Haul 2 was conducted over shallower water near San Nicolas Island and we only found salps and four small rockfish in the catch.  After these two hauls, we called it a night and wrapped up at 4:15 a.m.

Scientist Spotlight: Ilysa Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)

Ilysa “Ily” is a doctoral student who works in John Field’s Lab at UCSC.  She is studying the fish we are collecting on this cruise as part of her research. She is very knowledgeable about all of the survey research objectives. She is also one of the most positive and gregarious people I have every met. Ily grew up in Santa Cruz, CA, and enjoys surfing, hiking, gardening and raising chickens.   Ily is a fan of early marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, who often wore a red beanie/toboggan and a blue shirt. Ily came prepared and brought six red hats (that she knit herself) for each of the members of the sorting team. Ily’s favorite fish is the hatchetfish. She was thrilled when we found on in the catch!

Ilysa with hatchetfish
Ilysa Iglesias with deepsea marine hatchetfish
deepsea marine hatchetfish
A deepsea marine hatchetfish caught in the bongo which was deployed to depth of 265 meters.

Ily obtained a Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in integrated biology and a Masters Degree from the University of Hawaii in Zoology with a specialization in marine biology.  Her thesis was on the function of intertidal pools as a nursery habitat for near-shore reef fish. She compared otoliths (fish bone ears) of fish reared inside and outside of tide pools and compared their growth rates.  Otoliths can be used to the age of the fish much like counting rings on a tree and stable isotope analysis reveals information about where the fish were reared.

Ily, Flora and Kristin have all used otoliths in their research and taught me how to locate and collect the sagittal otolith from anchovies and myctophids. It is a tiny ear bone (one of three) that is positioned near the hindbrain of fish.  See photos below of the otoliths we collected. This is a technique that I will definitely take back to my classroom and teach my McCallie students.

Otoliths
Otoliths we collected and observed under the dissecting microscope.
Photomicrograph of otoliths
Photomicrograph of otoliths we collected from blue lanternfish (top) and Northern Anchovy (bottom) and observed under the dissecting microscope.

After obtaining her masters degree, Ily was Conservation Fellow for the Nature Conservancy in HI and worked in octopus fisheries before returning home to join NOAA’s salmon team and then the rockfish team as a Research Associate.  Ily has just completed the first year of her doctoral work in the Field Lab and expects to complete the program within 5 years.

On this cruise, Ily is collecting small fish called Myctophids for her research. These are small bioluminescent fish that live at depths of 300 and 1,500 m in the bathypelagic zone. In this survey, we encounter these deep sea dwellers during their nightly vertical migration up to the edge of the photic zone at depths we are targeting.  They are likely chasing their prey (krill) on this upward journey. It is amazing to me they are able to withstand the pressure change. Mcytophids are also known as lanternfishes and have bioluminescent photophores dispersed on their bodies. The fish sorting team analyzes the position of these organs to help distinguish between the different species. There are 243 known species of myctophids, making these little fishes one of the most diverse vertebrates on Earth.  They are so abundant in the sea that they make up 65% of the ocean’s biomass, but most people have never heard of them!

In 2014- 2015 there was an anonymously high sea surface temperatures off of the Pacific Coast known as The Blob.  Marine scientists are still elucidating the effect of the hot water had on fish populations and ecosystems. Ily explains that “atmospheric forcing caused changes in oxygen and temperature resulting in variability in the California current.”  The water was less nutrient dense and caused a reduction in phytoplankton. This disruption of primary production propagated up the trophic cascade resulting in die offs of zooplankton, fish, marine mammals and birds.  

Ily is using the catch records and acoustics data from the rockfish survey to study changes in distribution and abundance of myctophids from before, during and after The Blob (2013-2019).  She aims to understand if and how their trophic position of myctophids was affected by the unusually high sea surface temperatures.   Using elemental analysis isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyze the Carbon and Nitrogen atoms incorporated into fish muscle, Ily can determine what the myctophids were eating each year.

Betsy Petrick: Highs and Lows of Scientific Exploration, June 27, 2019



NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 27, 2019

Science Log

Yesterday was a doozy of a day I think everyone on the ship would agree.  One frustrating setback after another had to be overcome, but one by one each problem was solved and the day ended successfully.  If you would like to read more about this expedition, it is featured on the NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research website.

The first discovery yesterday morning was that the ship’s pole-mounted ultrashort baseline tracking system (USBL) had been zapped with electricity overnight and was unusable.  This piece of equipment is a key piece of a complex system. Without it we would not know precisely where the ROV was, nor could we control the sweeps of the ROV over the shipwrecks for accurate mapping.  The scheduled dive time of 1330 (that’s 1:30PM!) was out of the question. There was even talk of returning to port to get new equipment. Yikes. This would cost the expedition $30,000-$40,000 for a full 24 hours of operation, and no one wanted to do this. 

Max, the team’s underwater systems engineer, worked his magic, and replaced the damaged part.   This required expert knowledge and some tricky maneuvers. Once this was fixed, the next step was to send a positioning beacon down to the seafloor to calibrate the signal from the ship to the ROV so that we would be able to track it precisely.  Calibrating means that the ship and the ROV have to agree on where home is. The beacon is attached to three floats connected together to make a “lander”, and then 2 heavy weights are attached as well. The weights take the beacon down. The lander brings it back to the surface later.  The deployment went without a hitch. However, when the lander floated to the surface, we noticed it was floating in a strange way. When we hauled it aboard, we discovered that one of the glass floats had imploded – probably due to a material defect under the intense pressure at 1200m below sea level – and all we had left of that unit was a shattered mess of yellow plastic. 

imploded float
The glass float inside this yellow “hard hat” imploded. It’s a good thing there are two others to bring the transponder back to the surface.

In spite of that, the calibration was complete and we could send the ROV on its mission.  We loaded the experiments onto the back of the ROV, along with another lander and weights.  This was the exciting moment! The crane lifted the ROV off the ship deck and swung it out over the water.  But in the process, the chain holding the weights broke and, with a mighty groan from all of us watching, both of them sank into the sea.  Back came the ROV for a new set of weights. Luckily nothing was damaged. By 1745 (5:30PM), 5 hours after the scheduled time, the ROV went over the side for a second time successfully.  Once this was done the Chief Scientist was able to crack a smile and relax a bit.

mounting a new lander
The team works to mount a new lander on the ROV.
Launching the ROV
Launching the ROV off the back deck, loaded with experimental equipment and a lander.
mechanical arm
The mechanical arm on the ROV retrieved a microbial experiment left on the sea floor in 2017. We watched it all on the big screen in the lab.

Now we had an hour to wait for the ROV to reach the sea floor again, and begin its mission of deploying and retrieving experiments.  Inside the cabin of the ship, some of us sat mesmerized by the drifting phytoplankton on the big screen, hoping to see the giant squid that had been spotted on the last expedition. Up in the pilothouse the captain was on duty holding the ship in one spot for as long as it took for the ROV to return. Not an easy job!  

Yesterday I saw what scientific exploration is really like.  As someone said, “Two means one, and one means none,” meaning that when you are out at sea, you have to have a second or even a third of every critical piece of equipment because something is inevitably going to break and you will not be able to run to Walmart for a new one.  Failures and setbacks are part of the game. As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I am looking at all that goes on on the ship through the lens of a classroom teacher. Yesterday’s successes were due to clear headed thinking, perseverance, and team work by many. These are precisely the qualities I hope I can foster in my students.  

Allison Irwin: The Journey Begins, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7 – 25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Embarkation Port: Newport, Oregon

Cruise Start Date: 7 July 2019

Days at Sea: 19

Introduction

I’m actually afraid of the sea. The unspeakable power, the dark depths, the mysterious uncharted territory – the sea has always held curious minds captive. I want to be someone who faces the things that scare me. And for 19 days, on a relatively tiny ship, I will be doing just that.

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
Reuben Lasker Pulls Into the Navy Pier on 1 May 2014

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker is “one of the most technologically advanced fisheries vessels in the world” according to the Office of Marine & Aviation Operations.  In addition to studying fish and marine life populations, it is also equipped for acoustic data sampling and the gathering of oceanographic data. It can stay out to sea for up to 40 days at a time without needing to return for food or fuel replenishment. 

And yet, as I’m writing this, I can’t help but think about SS Edmund Fitzgerald and RMS Titanic. They were the most advanced ships of their time too. Of course, I’m just letting my imagination get carried away. People fear the things they don’t understand. And I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can on this cruise in order to understand not just how this incredible vessel operates, but also how the ocean and atmosphere impact my life on a daily basis.

I was lucky last year to stumble across a professional development opportunity funded through the American Meteorological Society. I took two graduate level courses since then – DataStreme Atmosphere and DataStreme Ocean. Upon finishing this program I’ll earn a graduate certificate from the California University of Pennsylvania and be able to apply my new understanding of earth science directly to my classroom instruction. Already I’ve been able to incorporate fascinating information about coral reefs, the Bermuda Triangle, map reading, and weather into lessons and activities this year.

Why does a Reading Specialist need all this professional development, you might ask? In science of all things? Because nobody reads about things they’re not interested in (unless they have to). Students need to have something to connect with, to care about, in order to learn. When was the last time I, as an adult, read something I didn’t care about? Probably years. 

Humans are curious by nature, and by incorporating new topics into our reading lessons over the past year, I’ve noticed that students really like learning about earth science. It’s like the mother who hides cauliflower in the lasagna – students are more motivated to read when they’re reading about something exciting and directly relevant to their lives. Thankfully, the more they read, the better they get at comprehending the nuances of the text. And then the less they need me.

A classroom

One of the most valuable aspects of this trip for me is that I’ll return with a new appreciation for earth science, current events as they relate to our food supply and environment, and marine life. I can use this experience to build exciting lessons for high school students who may use their connection to these lessons as a lifeline. The last ditch effort to find something exciting to learn before graduating with a lackluster memory of the doldrums of the high school classroom.

Teenagers are tough eggs to crack! But I like them. And I’m very grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me, and other teachers, opportunities like this to show our students that there are literally thousands of directions to take after high school in regard to career and quality of life. And that high school is one of the few places where they can build the foundational knowledge necessary to get them there – for free.  I want my students to pursue their passions. To get excited about learning! And the first step to doing that successfully is to expose them to as many post-secondary options and lessons about their world as we can in the short time that we spend with them. Thanks NOAA! I’m excited to start my journey.

Betsy Petrick: All Aboard! Days 1 and 2, June 25, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 24-25, 2019

Science Log

On Monday I was introduced to the R/V Point Sur in Gulfport, Mississippi.  Every nook and cranny of this vessel is packed, and it took the science crew most of the day to pack it even fuller with all the equipment they need.  The largest single item is the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Odysseus which makes a large footprint on the back deck.   Over it hangs an enormous pulley that will be used to lift Odysseus in and out of the water.

R/V Point Sur in port
R/V Point Sur in port
This the ROV Odysseus waiting to be deployed on a shipwreck. It’s as eager as I am to see it operate. It looks like it is ready to jump in!


When I arrived at the port, I met Dr. Leila Hamdan, the Chief Scientist, and some of the crew.  We have two Rachels on board and they are both graduate students studying microbial biomes. Over time a layer of microbes form a “biofilm” on different kinds of wood and metal. This organic layer forms on the surface of a shipwrecks, and this is what the scientists are studying. They want to know how this layer speeds up or slows down the corrosion of shipwrecks and how other organisms use this habitat.

I was able to join in and help put together microbial recruitment experiment towers, or MREs for short. Each tower is a PVC pipe fitted with samples of wood, both oak and pine, and some metal samples.  Each of these pipes fits loosely inside a second pipe, and then each set is roped together and attached to a float. Each tower is rigged in such a way that it will sink to the sea floor vertically, and then the outer pipe will rise to expose the inner tower and the sample plugs.  After four months, the MREs will be retrieved, and the scientists will be studying what kinds of microbes grew on the samples. Their experiments add to our understanding of how shipwrecks act as a habitat for corals and other organisms

Microbial Recruitment Experimental tower
Here we are putting together one of the MREs which will be sent to the ocean floor near one of the shipwrecks.


Finally, at the end of the day we had to quickly load the last of the gear on the ship before a huge container ship of bananas arrived to dock in our space. We set up a “fire line” to hand the last of the gear into the ship as fast as possible. We could see the huge Chiquita banana ship heading our way. The port was already stacked four high with Chiquita banana shipping containers and more bananas were coming! Who is eating so many bananas?!

As the newbie member of the crew, I was allowed to stay on board as the crew moved the ship from the large loading dock to the smaller pier on the other side of the port.  This meant I got a taste of the ocean breezes that are going to help keep us cool once we leave land. I saw pelicans glide low over the water as I stood on the deck and imagined all the new and amazing things I am about to see and do.

Day 2

If you’ve never been to Mississippi in the summer, I can tell you it is HOT and HUMID.  It’s hard to imagine until you try to actually do something in it. If you were an egg, you would definitely fry on the sidewalk.  Despite the heat, all over the ship crew and scientists are working, bolting things together, greasing mechanical parts, putting last minute touches on their experimental equipment, organizing the lab and working at laptops. To mitigate the heat and humidity outside, the air-conditioning runs on high inside the ship. This helps to keep the humidity from damaging the equipment, as well as to keep the crew happy.   So it is actually COLD in here! 

In addition to all this activity, a group of high school students visited the ship. They are participating in The Ocean Science and Technology Camp to learn about marine science careers and they will be tracking our progress from shore. Each of our many talented scientists shared a bit about their research and their roles in the ship. I will share more about that in another blog. We are scheduled to leave tonight at 1930 hrs, that’s 7:30PM for most of us! Stay with me, it’s going to be awesome!

summer camp students
Rachel explains how core samples are taken to summer camp students.

Karah Nazor: Sorting Protocol and the Ubiquitous Tunicates of the Central CA Coast: Salps and Pyrosomes, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 30, 2019

Last night I fell asleep, twice, at the lab bench in between trawls, since I am still adjusting to being on the night shift.  We worked from 9:00 P.M. to 6:30 A.M. After the shift I had a nice hot shower and slept a solid 9 hours from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Hopefully, I will be less drowsy tonight!

Upon waking, I went to the galley and grabbed some Raisin Bran and coffee and took it up to the flying bridge to hang out with Ornithologist Brian Hoover.  Our current location is in the middle of the Channel Islands, an area I know something about because my friend Evan Morrison, mentioned in my first blog, helps with the Channel Islands Swimming Association, and I would like to swim between these islands one day.  Lauren Valentino, Flora Cordoleani, Ily Iglesias and I congregated on the flying bridge and decided we should exercise. We joined Flora in her squat challenge (80 squats on this particular day), followed by 5 minutes of planking and a bit of erging.  Half of female members of the fish sorting team are avid rock climbers. They did lots of pull-ups using the rock ring climbing training holds that are installed there.

It felt nice and warm when the ship stopped for deployment of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette, and it got chilly again as the wind picked up when the ship started moving again. We saw a few whale spouts in the distance and at 5:30 P.M. we went down to the galley for a delicious meal of steak and mashed potatoes.  I am beginning to really appreciate how nice this whole experience has been in terms of amenities. The NOAA Reuben Lasker first set launch in 2014 and is a state of the art fisheries vessel with a sophisticated acoustics lab, fish lab, dynamic positioning system, CTD, etc., but is ALSO equipped with creature comforts including a movie lounge, an ice cream cooler loaded with ice cream sandwiches, snickers, fruit pops, you name it, and my personal favorite – a coffee bar where all coffee is freshly ground, an espresso machine, and all varieties of milk and creamers, including Reese’s cup whipped cream. The mattress in my stateroom bunk is quite comfortable and the shower gets hot within seconds! I doubt it can get much better than this for a research experience at sea?

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Point Sal line with five 15 minute hauls.

I am familiar with the sorting protocol now. The catch is dropped from the net into the bucket by members of the deck crew and survey tech, with the oversight of Keith Sakuma, Chief Scientist and NOAA Operations Officer Keith Hanson.  The bucket is immediately placed in the fish lab and this is when the fish sorting team starts our work.

Cobb Trawl net
Dropping the catch from the Cobb Trawl net into the bucket.
fish on a sorting tray
A volume of fish just placed on a sorting tray. This catch has a lot of anchovies, krill, and California smoothtongues.
Separating the krill
Separating the krill from the myctophids, Northern anchovies, and California smoothtongues.
Sorting fish group photo
Team Red Hats sorting fish. NOAA’s Keith Hanson in the rear left side.


SORTING AND COUNTING METHOD

We start by carefully picking through a 2000 mL or 5000 mL volume of the harvest, depending on Keith Sakuma’s initial assessment of the species density and volume in the bucket.  The first volume of catch to be sorted is evenly dispersed onto four white sorting trays arrayed on the main lab bench. Once you have a pile of the catch on your tray, you start to separate them into piles of different types of organisms, such as Northern anchovies, ctenophores, krill, salps, pyrosomes, Californian smoothtongues, squid, rockfish, myctophids, and young of year (YOY) fish.  I prefer to use my hands for sorting while others use forceps. Once sorted, we count the number of individuals for each species. If we have difficulty identifying an animal that we have not yet seen, we ask Keith Sakuma or a more experienced team member to help with identification. YOY fish, some in larval form, are particularly difficult for me.

Once sorted and counted, we verbally call out the common name and number of organisms to Keith Sakuma who manually records the data in a 3-ring binder for the lab hard-copy.   For smaller organisms, such as krill or salps, or in hauls with a high number of any particular species, it would be quite tedious to pick out and count each individual in the total haul.  This is why we start with a small subsample volume or 0.5, 2 or 5L, count the individuals in that small volume, establish the ratio for the number of individuals in that volume, and then extrapolate and calculate by the total volume of the haul.  For example, if we counted 97 pyrosomes in the initial 5L sort, and we collected a total of 1000L, then we can say that there are 19,400 pyrosomes in the haul.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma
Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma recording the data from a haul during sorting.

Once 20 individuals of each species have been called out, we no longer have to count that species since the ratio for this catch has already been established and to expedite sorting the rest of the volume.  Following sorting, the length of the twenty representatives of each species is measured using electronic calipers and the values populate on an Excel spreadsheet. After measuring, specimens requested by various research institutes including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Moss Landing, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are collected, labelled and frozen.

Flora Cordoleani
Flora Cordoleani keeping track of which specimens are to be preserved for various research groups.
Keith Sakuma bagging specimens to send to collaborators.

Creature(s) feature: Salps and Pyrosomes. 

Salps What are these strange gelatinous organisms in our catch that look like little puddles of clear jelly with a red, green, yellow, and brown digestive organ in the center?  They are goopy, small and slippery making them difficult to pick up by hand. They float on the sea surface and are ubiquitous in our hauls BUT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.

These creatures are called salps and belong to the subphylum Tunicata. Tunicates have a notochord in their early stage of life which makes them members of the phylum Chordata, to which humans also belong. Having a transparent body is a way escape being preyed upon.

A group of salps. This species is dime to quarter sized and this number of salps occupies a volume of ~10-15 ml once placed in a beaker.
Salp digestive organs.

Salps are planktonic tunicates  That can be found as individual salps or in long chains called blastozooids.   The salps shown in the photo below were individuals and were notable in most of our hauls. Individual salps in this pile are dime to quarter sized and occupy a volume of ~10-15 ml. We measured the volume of salps in every haul.

While on the topic of salps, I will tell you about a cool 1 inch long salp parasite I found on my sorting tray (see image below). Keith Sakuma explained that it was a deep sea amphipod called Phronima which is a parasitoid that takes up residence inside of a salp’s body, eats the salp’s organs, and then lays its eggs inside of the salp. The King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, (which we are also catching) uses its protrusible jaw to get inside of the salp just to eat this amphipod!

Phronima amphipod
Phronima amphipod – lives and reproduced in salp after eating the salp’s organs. King-of-the-salmon fish use their protrusible jaws to eat the amphipod.
King-of-the-salmon
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis
King-of-the-salmon jaw protruded
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, who preys upon phronima living inside of salp, with jaw protruded.
A large haul full of salps.

Another type of salp we keep catching is Thetys vagina, a large solitary species of nektonic salp that feeds on plankton, such as diatoms, and is an important carbon sink in the ocean. Thetys has an external surface, or test, that is covered with bumps and ridges, as seen in the photo below.

Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
internal filtering organ
The internal filtering organ of Thetys vagina.
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys vagina, or the twin-sailed salp. The dark colored tentacles are downward facing. This is the siphon where water enters the sac-filled body.

Pyrosomes Pyrosoma atlanticum are another type of planktonic tunicate which are very numerous in most of our hauls. Pyrosomes look like bumpy pink hollow tubes with openings on both ends. They are rigid in structure and easy to pick up by hand, whereas salps are goopy and difficult to pick up by hand.  We have collected some pyrosomes that are 13 inches long, while most are in the 4-6 inch range. The small pyrosomes look like clear Tic Tacs, but they do not taste as such.

Pyrosoma atlanticum
Pyrosoma atlanticum, with an ~6 inch specimen on the left and small pyrosomes on the right.

How can pyrosomes be so ubiquitous just 20 miles or so off of the Central California Coast, but I have never seen one that has floated up on the beach or while swimming?

Pyrosoma atlanticum are also planktonic tunicates, but are colonial organisms made up of many zooids held together by a gelatinous structure called the tunic. One end of the tube is wide open and filters the water for zooplankton and phytoplankton, while the other end is tighter and resembles a diaphragm or sphincter. The pyrosomes we harvested appeared in diverse array of pinks and purples.  Pyrosomes are believed to harbor intracellular bioluminescent bacteria. Pyrosomes are drifting organisms that swim by beating cilia lining the branchial basket to propel the animals through the water and create a current for filter feeding. 

Pyrosome rainbow
Pyrosoma atlanticum assorted by color.
Kristin Saksa
Moss Landing Graduate Student Kristin Saksa excited about the large haul of Pyrosoma atlanticum.
high-five
Pyrosoma atlanticum high-five.

Karah Nazor: Departure from the San Francisco Bay and First Night of Fishing, May 29, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 28-29, 2019


I departed Chattanooga, TN, for San Francisco, CA, on May 28th to participate as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on Leg 2 of NOAA’s Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  My job as a Teacher at Sea will be to share my experience and knowledge acquired over the next 10 days working alongside NOAA scientists with MY AUDIENCE. Who is my audience? You! I hope that you all can be my students!  You, my McCallie students and colleagues, my friends, my swimming community and my family members. My intention here is to explain in layman’s terms what I learned, and especially, what I thought was cool.

After tapas in North Beach with my San Francisco friends Cathy Delneo and Evan Morrison, they dropped me off at Pier 15 to sleep in my stateroom on the NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker. I felt rocking even while docked in the San Francisco Bay, but I slept great and am happy to report that my CVS brand “less drowsy” Dramamine tablets seem to be working as I am prone to motion sickness. This morning Evan and I got to explore the ship and take a bunch of photos of The City from the top deck of the ship, called the Flying Bridge. I imagine I will be spending many hours up here over the next 10 days!

Karah and Evan on the Flying Bridge
Karah and Evan on the Flying Bridge the morning of departure.


Meeting the Science Team

The first science team member I met was Kelly Goodwin, Ph.D., an environmental molecular biologist from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) La Jolla, and NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.  Kelly is here along with Associate Researcher Lauren Valentino to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) from water collected at three depths (5 meters, the chlorophyll maximum, and 100 meters) during deployment of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette.  There will be more about these marine scientists and the cool biotechnology they will be employing to come in a future post!

Next, I met my stateroom bunkmate Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., of NOAA NMFS, SWFSC,Fisheries Ecology Division (FED).   Her research lab at the University of California Davis focuses on the management of the endangered king salmon in the Central California Valley.  I will definitely interview her for a future blog!

Meet the rest of the team: Doctoral student Ilysa (Ily) Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), works in John Field’s Lab.  Ily will be analyzing the myctophids (one of the most abundant mesopelagic fish groups) collected on this survey and elucidating their role in the trophic cascade.  She was on the cruise last year as well and I can already tell is psyched about this opportunity and wants to teach everyone. 

John Field, Ph.D., was on the previous leg of the cruise and is the Principal Investigator for this project while Keith Sakuma, of NMFS SWFSC FED, is the Chief Scientist and has been working on this survey for 30 years as of this cruise!     

Kristin Saksa of NMFS SWFSC FED/ Moss Landing Marine Lab (MLML) and Kaila Pearson, NMFS SWFSC FED, of Scripps, who are both working on master’s degrees in marine science.  

Jarrod Santora, Ph.D., an ecologist from NMFS SWFSC FED/UCSC, will be on the day shift.  Brian Hoover, Ph.D., an ornithologist who works for the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research (FIAER), will be observing birds and marine mammals on the day shift. 

Keith Hanson is a NOAA Corps Officer representing NMFS SWFSC FED and is also a valuable member of the science team.

Night shift fish sorting crew
Night shift fish sorting crew. From left: Karah Nazor, Ph.D., Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., Kristin Saksa, Keith Sakuma, Keith Hanson, Kaila Pearson, and Ilysa Iglesias.

After a welcome aboard orientation and safety briefing given by NOAA Corps Officer David Wang, we enjoyed a delicious reuben sandwich in the galley (cafeteria) of the Reuben Lasker.  Meals are served at 7 AM, 11 AM and 5 PM. Since I will be on night shift I can request to have meals put aside for me to eat whenever I want. Below is a typical menu.  The food is superb! See a menu from one of our last days below.

Menu for my last day.
Menu for my last day.

After a noon departure the engineers spent a couple of hours testing the dynamic positioning system just north of the Bay Bridge.  This system takes inputs from ocean conditions such as the tide, wind, waves and swell and uses the propulsion and thrusting instruments on board to maintain a fixed position on the global positioning system (GPS).   Most of the night shift science crew used this opportunity to nap since we had to stay up all night!

Kaila Pearson woke me up just in time as we exited San Francisco Bay to take in the spectacular view of passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a gorgeous sunny day in San Francisco and I felt super grateful to be a part of this research team, excited to get to know the team of amazing (mostly) female scientists I had just met, and ready to start fishing! It was fun to get to serve as a impromptu San Francisco tour guide as we departed the Bay, since I am quite familiar with this landscape. This body of water was my first open water swimming playground when I used to live in San Francisco during my postdoc at UCSF and was a member of the South End Rowing Club.  

Departing San Francisco Bay
Our departure from the San Francisco Bay. Photo taken on the flying bridge. From Left: Kaila Pearson, Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., Lauren Valentino, and Ilysa Iglesia with Teacher at Sea Karah Nazor, Ph.D., in front.


Night 1 of Cobb Trawl and Fish Sorting

We arrived at our first trawl line, Monterey Bay, around 11:00 P.M.  My job as part of the night crew is to participate in marine mammal watches before and during fishing, and then to sort, count and measure the different species of animals collected, as well as bag and freeze specimens for various research organizations.  The fishing method used on this survey is a modified Cobb midwater trawl.  The net is deployed to fish at 30 meters depth and has a 9.5 mm codend liner (mesh at the end of the net where the fish gather).  Trawl operations commence just after dusk and conclude just before dawn, with the goal of conducting up to 5 trawls per night. The duration of fishing at target depth before “haul back” of the net can be either 5 minutes or 15 minutes.  Five minute trawls are used in areas of high abundance of gelatinous organisms such as jellyfish in order to reduce the size of the catch (e.g., fishing the additional 10 minutes would result in catches large enough to damage the net). 

catch from the first Cobb trawl
From left, Keith Hanson, NOAA Operations Officer, and Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma, help release the catch from the first haul of the survey.
first haul's catch
At first glance, it appeared the catch consisted mostly of Northern anchovies.
Graduate student Ilysa Iglesias
UCSC graduate student Ilysa Iglesias examines the first sort of the first haul, with the organisms arranged by species.

There are two marine mammal watches per trawl: the inside watch and the outside watch.  The inside watch goes to starboard side of the bridge 30 minutes prior to reaching the planned trawl station.  If any marine mammals such as sea lions, seals, dolphins or whales are spotted within one nautical mile of the planned trawl station, then the ship must move.  This protocol is employed for mitigating interaction with protected marine species.

If the inside watch does not see any marine mammals, then trawl operations can begin.  This is when the outside mammal watch takes over and looks for marine mammals during net deployment, trawling, and haul in.  The outside watch is conducted one floor above the fishing deck, and the person must wear foul weather gear, a life vest, and a helmet. This is summer, but it is the Pacific, and it is COLD out there.  If a marine mammal is spotted by the outside watch then the trawl net must immediately be reeled in.

I spotted a school of dolphins in Monterey Bay during haul back and reported the sighting via radio to the bridge officers and recorded my observations in the lab on the provided data sheet in the lab.

The duration of the entire fishing operation from net deployment, dropping the two “doors” (large metal plates weighing 900 pounds each) used to spread the net mouth open, fishing, haul in, properly wrapping the net on the winch, and finally, dispensing the harvested fish into the collection buckets, takes between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on conditions.  

Our first catch consisted primarily of Northern anchovies (Engraulis mordax) and California market squid, Doryteuthis (Loligo) opalescens. Ily was excited by the presence of a few plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, and showed us their beautiful pattern of large photophores located on their ventral surface.  These fish are quite hardy and survive the trawling procedure, so as soon as we saw one in the bucket, we placed it in a bowl of sea water for release after obtaining its length. Photophores are glandular organs that appear on deep sea or mesopelagic fish and are used for attracting prey or for confusing and distracting predators.  

Northern anchovies
Northern anchovies, Engraulis mordax,, are one of the most abundant species we catch.
Photophores
Photophores on ventral surface of Plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus.

Mesopelagic depths start around 200 meters, a depth at where 99% of the sunlight can no longer penetrate, and extend down to 1000 meters below the ocean surface.  Above the mesopelagic zone is the epipelagic zone where sunlight reaches from the ocean surface down to 200 meters and, in California, corresponds to the ocean above the continental shelf.  

In this survey, we will conduct trawls at 30 meters, which is technically the epipelagic zone, so why do we catch deep sea creatures?   Many deep sea creatures participate in a daily vertical migration where they swim up into the upper layer of the ocean at night as that area is relatively rich in phytoplanktonic organisms.  Phytoplankton are the sun-powered primary producers of the food chain, single-celled photosynthetic organisms, which also provide the majority of the oxygen we breath.

After the first night of work I feel confident that I can identify around 10 species of mesopelagic fish and forage organisms, the California Headlight Fish (more to come on these amazing myctophids from my interview with Ily), a juvenile East Pacific red octopus, Octopus rubescens, (alive), and ctenophores!  Thanks to the Tennessee Aquarium’s Sharyl Crossly and Thom Demas, I get to culture ctenophores in my classroom.

Californian Headlightfish
Two large photophores in between the eyes of a Californian Headlightfish, Diaphus theta
Small octopus
Small octopus – Octopus rubescens.
Karah holding ctenophores
Karah Nazor with a handful of ctenophores! These are Hormiphora – Undescribed Species.


Scientist Spotlight: Ornithologist Brian Hoover

Brian Hoover, Ph.D., an ornithologist who works for the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research (FIAER) in Petaluma, CA, observes birds and marine mammals on the day shift of this NOAA research cruise.  

Brian Hoover
Brian Hoover, Ph.D., at his office in the San Francisco Bay
Brain and Jarred watching for birds
Brian Hoover, Ph.D., and Jarred Santora, Ph.D., watching for birds and marine mammals as we went underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Brian is from Colorado and earned his doctorate at UC Davis in 2018.  On this cruise we will be traversing through biological hotspots that occur near islands, underwater canyons, and where there is strong upwelling of the cold and nutrient rich deeper waters of the California Current.  Small fish feed on these nutrient rich waters, and birds feed on these fish. Hotspots on this cruise included the Gulf of the Farallons (just south of the Point Reyes upwelling plume) , the Channel Islands, and Monterey Bay with its submarine canyon. Brian’s hours on the ship are from 7am to 7pm.

Brian can be found perched on the flying bridge during the day shirt with a pair of binoculars in his hand and his laptop off to his right on a table.  Every time a bird or marine mammal is spotted within 300 yards of the ship to the right of the mid centerline of the bow, Brian records the species and numbers of animals observed in his database on his laptop. The objective of Brian’s work aboard the ship is to study how what is present underwater correlates with birds observed above the water.  In other words, he aims to find correlations between the distribution and abundance of seabirds and marine mammals to the species and abundance of prey we collect during our night trawls and data collected from the ship’s acoustic krill surveys which collect data during the day. Brian explains that such information teaches us about what is going on with the bird’s prey base and how well the ecosystem is functioning as a whole. His observations allow him to observe shifts in the system over time and how this affects tertiary and apex predators.  To find trends in these datasets, he used R software, Python, and ArcGIS mapping software to run spatial statistics and linear models.

Since 2010 Brian has been on 12 to 13 cruises and this is his third on the Reuben Lasker.  Brian is excited to perhaps spot the Cooks Petrel, Pterodroma cookii, or the Short-tailed albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, which only lives in a volcano in japan.  His favorite birds are the storm petrels because these birds are small and live in open ocean, only coming onshore to breed once a year.  His dissertation focus was on the reproduction and behavior of the leeches storm petrol. He explains that seabirds have an incredible sense of smell which they utilize to find a mate and food. Brian was able to collect blood samples from burrowing birds for genotyping. He found that the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules located on antigen-presenting cells may play a role in odor detection and mate selection in these birds.  He found that males chose and avoided particular genotypes combinations and that healthier birds had more diverse MHCII complexes.

Brian is a sensory ecologist and studies how seabirds interact with their environment  through observations of their behavior and physiology. When Ily asked Brian how do the seabirds know where the fish are in the open ocean, he explained that birds have a sense of smell that is as good or better than any commercial sensor that detects sulfur.  Why have some seabirds evolved to be so good at sniffing out traces of sulfur in the ocean breeze up to 10 miles away from its source? Brian explained that sulfur is an important part of the photosynthetic pathway for phytoplankton (algal cells) and that when krill eat the algae, the algae releases the chemical dimethyl sulfide (DMS).  Marine plastic debris floating on the sea surface also release DMS and provides an explanation as to why seabirds eat plastic.

Catherine (Cat) Fuller: An Introduction, June 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

(Not Yet) Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (NGA-LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: 18 June 2019

Weather Data

(From Honolulu, HI)

Latitude: 21.33 N

Longitude: 157.94 W

Wind Speed and Direction: NE 15 G 23

Wind Swell Height and Direction: NE 3-5 ft

Secondary Swell Height and Direction: SSW 2-4 ft

Humidity: 47%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.1 mb

Heat Index: 93 F (34 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: clear and sunny

(From Seward, AK)

Latitude: 60.12 N

Longitude: 149.45 W

Wind Speed and Direction: S 9

Swell Height: 2 ft

Humidity: 77%

Barometric Pressure: 1016.0 mb

Heat Index: 56 F (13 C)

Visibility: 10.00 nm

Weather: Overcast

Personal Log

Aloha kākou! Greetings everyone! In about a week, I will be exchanging currently very warm and sunny Honolulu for the vastly different climate and ecological zone in Seward and the Northern Gulf of Alaska.  I will be embarking on R/V Sikuliaq there to participate in one part of a long-term study of the variability and resiliency of species in the area, but I will get to that in a bit.

In August, I will begin my seventeenth year as a sixth grade social studies teacher at ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school that is academically competitive at a national level.  In sixth grade social studies, our students focus on the development of the modern world from ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  I enjoy challenging my students to broaden their worldviews, especially about the impacts ancient civilizations have had on today’s world. We cover those for three quarters, and in the fourth quarter we examine the choices these civilizations have made and whether or not they contribute to a sustainable society.  I want my students to understand that sustainability is more than just picking up trash and conserving water, but it is also about choices in government, society, culture, behavior and environment. The content of our fourth quarter is predicated on the reality that we live in Hawai’i, an island group that is roughly 2000 miles from any other major point of land.

Living in Hawai’i can be just as idyllic as advertisements make it seem, with daily rainbows, colorful sunsets and blue ocean waves.  However, it also comes with challenges that we all have to face.  Our cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and we face constant struggles between maintaining culture and environment in a place with limited room for population growth.  We have a high homeless population, yet many of us joke that the (construction) crane is our state bird.  We are also braced to be at the forefront of climate change.  With a rise in sea level of 3 feet, most of Waikiki and much of downtown Honolulu is at risk of inundation.  In addition, changes in sea surface temperature affect our coral reefs and fish populations as well as minimizing or eliminating our trade winds through changes in weather patterns.  For these reasons, I hope to plant the awareness in my students that their generation is poised to make some major decisions about the state of the world.

My passion for sustainability and ocean health stems from the amount of time I spend in and on the water.  I have been a competitive outrigger canoe paddler for the last 30 or so years, and in the summers, I paddle five to six days a week.  I go to six-man team practices as well as taking my one-man canoe out with friends.  I also have coached high school paddling at ‘Iolani School for the last sixteen years. Being on the ocean so much makes me much more aware of the wildlife our waters shelter: monk seals, dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales.  It also makes me aware of the trash, especially plastics that are more and more present in the ocean.  I’ve picked up slippers, coolers, bottles, bags and even pieces of cargo net out of the water on various excursions.  Being on the water so often also fuels my interest in meteorology; you need to know what weather and ocean conditions to expect when you go to sea.  One major impact that being on the water has is that it allows you to see your island from offshore and realize that it is an ISLAND, and not a very big one at that!

Cat on Canoe
Me on my one-man canoe off He’eia, O’ahu

Some of the biggest lessons about the ocean that I’ve learned have come from my experiences with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a non-profit organization founded in 1973 to recreate the original settlement of Hawai’i by ocean voyaging canoes, as well as revive the ancient art of non-instrument navigation.  PVS is most well known for the voyaging canoe Hõkūlea, which sailed to Tahiti (and back again) in 1976 to prove the validity of these cultural arts.  I began working with the organization in 1994, helping to build a second voyaging canoe, Hawai’iloa, and have been there ever since.  As a part of this organization, I have sailed throughout the Pacific, to locations such as Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Mangareva, and the Marquesas.  With Te Mana O Te Moana, another voyaging canoe initiative, I sailed to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. I’ve seen many faces of the Pacific Ocean on my travels and I look forward to seeing another. 

Between 2012 and 2017, PVS sent Hõkūle’a on a journey around the world.  The name of the voyage was Mālama Honua (To Protect the Earth) and the goal was to visit with indigenous communities to learn what challenges they face and how they work to preserve their lands and cultures.  One of the founding principles for this voyage is a Hawaiian saying, “he wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a”, which means “the canoe is an island and the island is a canoe”.  The saying refers to the idea that the choices we make about positive behavior, bringing what we need as opposed to what we want, and what we do with our resources and trash while living in the limited space of a voyaging canoe are a reflection of the choices we need to make living on the islands of Hawai’i as well as living on island Earth.  I strive every day to make my students aware of the consequences of their choices.

voyaging canoe
Hõkūle’a en route to Aotearoa, 2014


Science and Technology Log

I’m pretty excited to go to Alaska, first of all, because I’ve never been there!  Secondly, we have species in Hawai’i (birds and whales) that migrate between our shores and Alaska on an annual basis.  Although the two locations are distant from each other, there are connections to be made, as Hawai’i and Alaska share the same ocean. 

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). R/V Sikuliaq is an NSF ship working with the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  LTER encompasses 28 sites nationwide, of which the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) is one.  In this area, three surveys a year are made to monitor the dynamics of the ecosystem and measure its resilience to environmental factors such as variability in light, temperature, freshwater, wind and nutrients.  The origins of the NGA portion of this project have been in place since 1970 and have grown to include the Seward Line system (s series of points running southeast from Seward).

On our trip, we will be looking at microzooplankton and mesozooplankton as well as phytoplankton, the size and concentration of particles in the water, and the availability of nutrients, among other things.  Information gathered from our study will be added to cumulative data sets that paint a picture of the variability and resiliency of the marine ecosystem. I will be a part of the Particle Flux team for this expedition.  I have a general idea of what that entails and the kind of data we’ll be gathering, but I certainly need to learn more!  If you’re curious, more detailed information about ongoing research can be found at https://nga.lternet.edu/about-us/.

I always ask my students, after they complete preliminary research on any project, what they want to learn.  I want to know more about particle flux (as previously mentioned).  I would like to learn more about seasonal weather patterns and how they influence the NGA ecosystem.  I would like to find out if/how this ecosystem connects to the Hawaiian ecosystem, and I REALLY want to see the kinds of life that inhabit the northern ocean! For my own personal information, I am really curious to see how stars move at 60 degrees north and whether or not they can still be used for navigation. 

Mahalo (Thank you)

I’m spending my last week sorting through my collection of fleece and sailing gear to prepare for three weeks of distinctly cooler temperatures.  I’m going to be doing a lot of layering for sure!  My two cats, Fiona and Pippin are beginning to suspect something, but for now are content to sniff through the growing pile on the couch. While packing, I’m keeping in mind that this is just another type of voyage and to pack only what I need, including chocolate.  As departure gets closer, I’d like to thank Russ Hopcroft, Seth Danielson, and Steffi O’Daly for their information and help in getting to and from Seward.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all soon and learning a lot from each of you!  Thanks also to Lisa Seff for her on board life hacks and detailed information…much appreciated!

Erica Marlaine: Introduction

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 24 -July 15, 2019


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: June 14, 2019

Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.

Erica holding a stuffed lamb
Me at the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by. 

little scientist
One of my little scientists
magnifying glasses
Checking the growth of our tadpoles.

Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)

When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship.  I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about.  Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.

When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock.  We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.


Jill Bartolotta: Sea You Later, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019


Mission
:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 13, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°44.7’ N

Longitude: 080°06.7’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 21 knots

Wind Direction: 251

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 26.6° C

Barometric Pressure: 1014.4

Sky: broken

As I sit here on the bow, with the wind blowing in my face, as we travel back to land, I think about the past two weeks. I think about all the wonderful people I have met, the friendships I have made, the lessons I have learned, and how I have grown as a person. The sea is a truly magical place and I will miss her dearly. Although I am excited to trade in some tonnage and saltwater for my paddleboard and Lake Erie, I will really miss Okeanos Explorer and everyone aboard.

My time aboard Okeanos Explorer has been wonderful. I learned so much about operating a ship, the animals we have seen, and about ocean exploration. I have stared into the eyes of dolphins as they surf our bow, watched lightening displays every night, seen Jupiter’s moons through binoculars, watched huge storm clouds roll in, seen how sound can produce visual images of the ocean floor, had epic singing and dancing parties as we loaded the XBT launcher, done a lot of yoga, learned a lot about memes, eaten amazing food, taken 3 minute or less showers, smacked my head countless times on the ceiling above my bed, watched the sunrise every night, done laundry several times because I didn’t bring enough socks, looked at the glittering plankton on the bow at night, and laughed a lot.

Words cannot express it all so below are some of my favorite images to show you how awesome this entire experience has been. I will not say goodbye to the sea and all of you but I will say, “Sea You Later. Until we meet again.”

sunrise
Sunrise one morning.
Jill's Birthday Cake
Blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. Still so touched by the kind gesture. Photo Credit: Lieutenant Commander Kelly Fath, PHS
Jahnelle and ROV
Meeting the ROV, Deep Discoverer. Pictured is Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe.
Looking at dolphins
Looking at the dolphins on the bow.
Jill looks at dolphins
Watching the dolphins surfing the bow waves. Photo Credit: Kitrea Takata-Glushkoff
dark storm cloud
The calm before the storm.
final sunset
The final sunset with some of the amazing people I met at sea. Pictured from left to right: Jill Bartolotta (Teacher at Sea), Kitrea Takata-Glushkoff (Explorer in Training), and Jahnelle Howe (Explorer in Training). Photo Credit: Lieutenant Commander Faith Knighton

Jill Bartolotta: ROV, CTD, OMG, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 10, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°04.9’ N

Longitude: 079°53.2’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Wind Direction: 241

Visibility: 10

Air Temperature: 26.7° C

Barometric Pressure: 1017.9

Sky: Clear

Science and Technology Log

As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.

CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.

Sidney and CTD
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn assisting with CTD launch. Photo Credit: Charlie Wilkins SST Okeanos Explorer

Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.

Deep water canyon-like feature
Deep water canyon-like feature with cold water and high oxygen levels. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

ROV

ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.

Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE
Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE

Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:

  • Lights to illuminate the dark deep
  • High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
  • An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
  • Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
  • Rock box to hold rock specimens
  • Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
ROV D2 labeled
D2 with some of her specimen collection parts labeled.

My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.

ROV Brain
D2’s “brain” is shown behind the metal bars. The bars are there for extra protection. The panel boxes and tubes are filled with a yellow colored liquid. This liquid is the mineral oil that is used to reduce the pressure the boxes and tubes feel as D2 descends to the ocean floor.

D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.

bathymetry features
Multibeam bathymetry collected on this cruise that shows features which are similar to mound building coral that are known to be in the area. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Mound-Building Coral

Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.

mound-building coral (Credit: NOAA OER)
Large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, stony coral, found at the top of the crest of Richardson Ridge during Dive 07 of the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition. Rubble of this species also appeared to form the mounds found in this region.

Personal Log

We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.

Dorsal fin of a pilot whale
Dorsal fin of a pilot whale

There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.

Did You Know?

You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.

ROV competition
High school ROV competition at The Ohio State University.

References

Mound Building Coral: NOAA, 2010, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/10lophelia/background/biology/biology.html

Pilot Whales: American Cetacean Society, 2018, https://www.acsonline.org/pilot-whale

Lona Hall: Land and Sea, June 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 12, 2019

Time:  1541 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1009’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0031’ W

Wind Speed: 9.0 knots

Wind Direction: N (10 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.78° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Lona in immersion suit
All dressed up (in an immersion suit) and no place to go

Science and Technology Log

You may be wondering what role technology plays in a hydrographic survey.  I have already written about how modern survey operations rely on the use of multibeam sonar.  What I have not described, and am still coming to understand myself, is how complex the processing of sonar data is, involving different types of hardware and software.  

For example, when the sonar transducer sends out a pulse, most of the sound leaves and eventually comes back to the boat at an angle.  When sound or light waves move at an angle from one substance into another, or through a substance with varying density, they bend. You have probably observed this before and not realized it.  A plastic drinking straw in a glass of water will appear broken through the glass. That is because the light waves traveling from the straw to your eye bend as they travel.

Refraction in a glass of water
Refraction in a glass of water

The bending of a wave is called refraction. Sound waves refract, too, and this refraction can cause some issues with our survey data. Thanks to technology, there are ways to solve this problem. The sonar itself uses the sound velocity profile from our CTD casts in real time to adjust the data as we collect it. Later on during post processing, some of the data may need to be corrected again, using the CTD cast profiles most appropriate for that area at that general time. Corrections that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand are simplified with the use of technology.

Another interesting project in which I’ve been privileged to participate this week was setting up a base station at Shark Point in Ugak Bay.  You have most likely heard of the Global Positioning System, and you may know that GPS works by identifying your location on Earth’s surface relative to the known locations of satellites in orbit.  (For a great, kid-friendly explanation of GPS, I encourage students to check out this website.)  But what happens if the satellites aren’t quite where we think they are?  That’s where a base station, or ground station, becomes useful. Base stations, like the temporary one that we installed at Shark Point, are designed to improve the precision of positioning data, including the data used in the ship’s daily survey operations.

power source for the base station
Setting up the power source for the base station

Setting up the Base Station involved several steps.  First, a crew of six people were carried on RA-7, the ship’s small skiff, to the safest sandy area near Shark Point. It was a wet and windy trip over on the boat, but that was only the beginning! Then, we carried the gear we needed, including two tripods, two antennae (one FreeWave antenna to connect with the ship and a Trimble GPS antenna), a few flexible solar panels, two car batteries, a computer, and tools, through the brush and brambles and up as close to the benchmark as we could reasonably get.  A benchmark is a physical marker (in this case, a small bronze disk) installed in a location with a known elevation above mean sea level. For more information about the different kinds of survey markers, click here.

Base station installers
Base station installers: damp, but not discouraged

Next we laid out a tarp, set up the antennae on their tripods, and hooked them up to their temporary power source.  After ensuring that both antennae could communicate, one with the ship and the other with the satellites, we met back up with the boat to return to the ship.  The base station that we set up will be retrieved in about a week, once it has served its purpose.


Career Focus – Commanding Officer (CO), NOAA Corps

CO Ben Evans at dinner
CO Ben Evans enjoying dinner with the other NOAA Corps officers

Meet Ben Evans.  As the Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Rainier, he is the leader, responsible for everything that takes place on board the ship as well as on the survey launches. Evans’ first responsibility is to the safety of the ship and its crew, ensuring that people are taking the appropriate steps to reduce the risks associated with working at sea.  He also spends a good deal of his time teaching younger members of the crew, strategizing with the other officers the technical details of the mission, and interpreting survey data for presentation to the regional office.

Evans grew up in upstate New York on Lake Ontario.  He knew that he wanted to work with water, but was unsure of what direction that might take him.  At Williams College he majored in Physics and then continued his education at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, completing their 3-year Engineering Degree Program.  While at WHOI, he learned about the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, and decided to apply.  After four months of training, he received his first assignment as a Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Rude surveying the waters of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.  Nearly two decades later, he is the Commanding Officer of his own ship in the fleet.

When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Evans smiled to himself and took a moment to reply.  He then described the fulfillment that comes with knowing that he is a small piece of an extensive, ongoing project–a hydrographic tradition that began back in 1807 with the United States Survey of the Coast.  He enjoys working with the young crew members of the ship, sharing in their successes and watching them grow so that together they may carry that tradition on into the future.

Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer
Danielle Koushel, NOAA Corps Junior Officer, tracks our location on the chart


Personal Log

For my last post, I would like to talk about some of the amazing marine life that I have seen on this trip.  Seals, sea lions, and sea otters have shown themselves, sometimes in surprising places like the shipyard back in Seward.  Humpback whales escorted us almost daily on the way to and from our small boat survey near Ugak Bay. One day, bald eagles held a meeting on the beach of Ugak Island, four of them standing in a circle on the sand, as two others flew overhead, perhaps flying out for coffee.  Even the kelp, as dull as it might seem to some of my readers, undulated mysteriously at the surface of the water, reminding me of alien trees in a science fiction story.

Shark Point
Looking out over Shark Point from the base station

Stepping up onto dry land beneath Shark Point, we were dreading (yet also hoping for) an encounter with the great Kodiak brown bear. Instead of bears, we saw a surprising number of spring flowers, dotting the slopes in clumps of blue, purple, and pink. I am sensitive to the smells of a new place, and the heady aroma of green things mixed with the salty ocean spray made our cold, wet trek a pleasure for me.  


Word of the Day

Davit – a crane-like device used to move boats and other equipment on a ship


Speaking of Refraction…

Rainbow
Rainbows are caused by the refraction of light through the lower atmosphere

Thank you to NOAA Ship Rainier, the Teacher at Sea Program, and all of the other people who made this adventure possible.  This was an experience that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to share it with my students back in Georgia!

Betsy Petrick: Hurry Up and Shape Up to Ship Out, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 13, 2019

Introduction

In just two weeks I will be shipping out of Gulfport, Mississippi on the University of Southern Mississippi Research Vessel Point Sur.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will actually be a student again, learning all I can about ocean archaeology and deep-sea microbial biomes. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to learn what it is like to live and work at sea! In particular, I am looking forward to seeing how archaeologists work at sea.  My undergraduate degree was in archaeology and I worked in the desert of New Mexico and southern Colorado where we mapped with pencil and paper, and took samples with a shovel. Ocean archaeology will require more sophisticated technology and a different approach!  

Let me give you a little background about myself.  My husband and I live in a tiny town called Husum on the White Salmon River in Washington State. My family enjoys outdoor activities including rafting and kayaking. This year my daughter is working as a raft guide on the White Salmon. I know when the commercial raft trips are passing by because I can hear the tourists scream as their boats go over Husum Falls!   My son is studying Engineering in college and is spending this summer in Spain learning Spanish and surfing. Unfortunately for my husband, summer is the busy time for construction. As a general contractor, he will be working hard.

Petrick family rafting
The whole family rafting the Deschutes River in Oregon, hmmm… quite a few years ago, but we still love it!

During the regular school year, I teach fourth grade math and science at the local intermediate school.  One of our biggest science units each year is to raise salmon in the classroom and learn about the salmon life cycle, adaptations and the importance of protecting salmon habitat.  In addition, this year we tackled a big project around plastic pollution in the oceans and how we can make a difference in our own community through education and action. My students are rightfully indignant about the condition of our oceans, and I have also become an ocean advocate since initiating this project.

Student salmon drawings
Kids made scientific drawings of salmon, and then painted and stuffed them. They swam around the classroom ceiling all year!

Scientists on the Point Sur have several goals. First of all, they will map two shipwrecks that have never been explored.  Both are wooden-hulled historic shipwrecks that were identified during geophysical surveys related to oil and gas exploration.  Archaeologists hope to determine how old the ships are, what their purpose was, and their nationality, to determine if they are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).   A third shipwreck we will visit is a steel-hulled, former luxury steam yacht that sank in 1944. It was previously mapped and some experiments were left there in 2014 which we will recover.

In addition to mapping, we will take samples of the sediments around the ships to see how shipwrecks shape the microbial environment.  The Gulf of Mexico is a perfect place for this work because it is rich in shipwrecks. Shipwrecks create unique reef habitats that are attractive to organisms both large and small. I wonder what kinds of sea life we will discover living around the shipwrecks we visit?

The first question my students asked me was if I was going to scuba dive. While that would be exciting, it’s not allowed for Teachers at Sea! To gather information about the shipwrecks, we will deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Odysseus (Pelagic Research Services, Inc.) . Odysseus will have a camera, a manipulator arm to gather samples, a tray to carry all the sampling gear and SONAR and lights. I think I will be content to watch its progress on the ship’s video screens.

School is almost out, and my fourth graders are chomping at the bit to get out if the classroom and begin their own summer adventures, but I hope they will follow my blog and keep me company while I am on board ship!    Am I feeling a little intimidated? Absolutely! But also very excited to have the opportunity to participate in what is sure to be a great adventure.

Lona Hall: Rockin’ at the NALL on Ugak, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 10, 2019

Time:  1932 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.1359’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0488’ W

Wind Speed: 17.2 knots

Wind Direction: N (353 degrees)

Air Temperature: 12.13° Celsius

Water Temperature: 9.44° Celsius

Lona on a launch vessel
Sitting in the sun on a launch, Rainier in the background


Science and Technology Log

For my second time out on a launch, I was assigned to a shoreline survey at Narrow Cape and around Ugak Island (see chart here).  Survey Tech Audrey Jerauld explained the logistics of the shoreline survey.  First, they try to confirm the presence of charted features (rocks) along the shore. (As you may remember from my last post, a rock is symbolized by an asterisk on the charts.) Then, they use the small boat’s lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to find the height of the rocks. Instead of using sound pulses, as with sonar, lidar uses pulses of laser light.  

Point Cloud
Point Cloud: Each dot represents a lidar “ping”, indicating the presence of features above the waterline

Once a rock was identified, Audrey photographed it and used the laser to find the height of the rock to add to the digital chart.  The launch we used for the shoreline survey was RA-2, a jet boat with a shallow draft that allows better access to the shoreline. We still had to be careful not to get too close to the rocks (or to the breakers crashing into the rocks) at certain points around Ugak Island.  The line parallel to the shore beyond which it is considered unsafe to survey is called the NALL (Navigable Area Limit Line). The NALL is determined by the crew, with many factors taken into account, such as shoreline features, marine organisms, and weather conditions.  An area with many rocks or a dangerously rocky ledge might be designated as “foul” on the charts.

Amanda and Audrey
Amanda and Audrey discussing the locations of rocks along the shoreline

I must pause here to emphasize how seriously everyone’s safety is taken, both on the small boats and the ship itself.  In addition to strict adherence to rules about the use of hard hats and Personal Flotation Devices in and around the launches, I have participated in several drills during my stay on the ship (Man Overboard, Fire and Emergency, and Abandon Ship), during which I was given specific roles and locations.  At the bottom of each printed Plan of the Day there is always a line that states, “NEVER shall the safety of life or property be compromised for data acquisition.” Once more, I appreciate how NOAA prioritizes the wellbeing of the people working here. It reminds me of my school district’s position about ensuring the safety of our students.  No institution can function properly where safety is not a fundamental concern.


Career Focus – Marine Engineer

Johnny Brewer joined the Navy in 1997.  A native of Houston, Texas, many of his family members had served in the military, so it seemed natural for him to choose a similar path after high school.  The Navy trained him as a marine engineer for a boiler ship. Nearly 15 years later he went into the Navy Reserve and transitioned to working for NOAA.

Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer
Johnny Brewer, Marine Engineer

Working as an engineer requires mental and physical strength.  The Engineering Department is responsible for maintaining and updating all of the many working parts of the ship–not just the engine, as you might think! The engineers are in charge of the complex electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling, potable water, sewage, and the launches used for daily survey operations.  They fix everything that needs to be fixed, no matter how large or small the problem may be.

Johnny emphasized how important math is in his job.  Engineers must have a deep understanding of geometry (calculating area, volume, density, etc.) and be able to convert measurements between the metric and American systems, since the ship’s elements are from different parts of the world.  He also described how his job has given him opportunities to visit and even live in new places, such as Hawaii and Japan. Johnny said that when you stay in one place for too long you can become “stuck in a box,” unaware of the world of options waiting for you outside of the box.  As a teacher, I hope that my students take this message to heart.


Personal Log

In my last post I introduced Kimrie Zentmeyer, our Acting Chief Steward. In our conversation, she compared the ship to a house, the walls of which you cannot leave or communicate beyond, except by the ship’s restricted wi-fi, while you are underway.  I would like for my readers (especially my students) to imagine living like this, confined day in and day out to a single space, together with your work colleagues, without family or friends from home.  How would you adjust to this lifestyle? Do you have what it takes to live and work on a ship? Before you answer, consider the views from your back porch!

Ugak Bay
Ugak Bay (Can you spot the whale?)


Word of the Day

bulkhead – a wall dividing the compartments within the hull of a ship

Q & A

Are there other NOAA ships working in Alaska?

Yes!  NOAA Ship Fairweather is Rainier’s sister-ship and is homeported in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Also, the fisheries survey vessel, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is homeported in Kodiak, not far from where we are currently located.

What did you eat for dinner?

This evening I had sauteed scallops, steamed broccoli, and vegetable beef stew. And lemon meringue pie. And a cherry turnover. And ice cream.

(:

Jill Bartolotta: Careers at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019


Mission
:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 8, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 30°30.7’ N

Longitude: 078°11.2’ W

Wave Height: 3 feet

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 150

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 26.6° C

Barometric Pressure: 1015.9

Sky: overcast


Science and Technology Log

Throughout my blogs you have been hearing an awful lot about NOAA. But what is NOAA? NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA informs the public all about environmental happenings from the deepest depths of the ocean floor all the way to the sun.

NOAA was formed in 1970 as a federal agency within the Department of Commerce. It was the result of bringing three previous federal agencies together, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Weather Bureau, and U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Through research, NOAA understands and predicts changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. Through outreach and education, NOAA shares the research with end users and the public with the purpose of conserving and managing coastal and marine ecosystems and resources (NOAA, 2019. https://www.noaa.gov/our-mission-and-vision).

In order to accomplish its mission, NOAA hires a whole slew of people including Commissioned Officers, administrators, career scientists, research technicians, vessel operators, educators, etc. These people may work on land or out at sea. In this blog I will focus on some of the NOAA careers at sea.


NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps)

The NOAA Corps is a descendant of the US Coast and Geodetic survey, the oldest federal scientific agency dedicated to surveying the ocean coast. Today, officers of the NOAA Corps command NOAA’s fleet of survey and research vessels and aircraft.

In order to be eligible to apply for NOAA Corps one must have a four-year degree in a study area related to the scientific or technical mission of NOAA. There are many other eligibility requirements and you can check them out here.  Once you meet the requirements, you apply to the program, and if accepted you will head to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut where you will attend a 19-week basic officer training class. Once officers graduate, they are assigned to sea duty for two years. After sea duty, officers rotate to land duty for three years. And the pattern continues as long as the officers choose to remain in the NOAA Corps.

NOAA officers fill many roles on Okeanos Explorer. Their primary role is to safely navigate the ship. All officers stand two 4-hour watches. During these watches, they are responsible for navigating and driving the ship, taking weather, and handling the ship per the requirements needed for the science mission whether it be for a series of ROV dives, mapping project, or emerging technology cruise. When not on watch, officers are responsible for collateral duties. There are many collateral duties, some of which are described below:

  • Safety officer: responsible for the safety drills and equipment.
  • Navigations officer: maintains charts, loads routes, plots routes on paper charts, updates electronic chart, and creates inbound and outbound routes for ports of call.
  • MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) officer: responsible for fun activities when at sea or in port. These activities have included ice cream socials, movie nights, and baseball games.
  • Public affairs officer: Responsible for giving ship tours to the public, maintain the ships social media presence, and performs public outreach.

There are also many officer ranks (follow the ranks of the US Navy) aboard the ship. The entry level rank is ensign or junior officer and the highest rank is admiral, allowing for 10 ranks in total. In addition to rank classes, there are varying positions. Ensigns or junior officers are recent graduates of basic officer training and on their first sea assignments. They are learning how to navigate and drive the ship, the tasks associated with standing watch, and learning about the other collateral duties. The operations officer is responsible for all mission operations while at sea and in port. They serve as the liaison between the science team and the commanding officer. If project instructions change, the Operations Officer is responsible for managing operations, understanding requests or change and then speaking with the commanding officer to approve the change. They are also responsible for all logistics when in port such as shore power, vehicles, trash, potable water, fuel, and sewer. The next highest position (second in command) is the Executive Officer who also coordinates with many of the port duties, and is supervisor of the varying departments on the ship. They are also responsible for all paperwork and pay. The highest duty on the ship is that of Commanding Officer. They are ultimately responsible for mission execution and for the safety of the ship and people aboard.

NOAA Commissioned Officers
The NOAA Commissioned Officers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: Ensign Brian Caldwell, Lieutenant Steven Solari, Lieutenant Rosemary Abbitt, Ensign Kevin Tarazona, Commander Eric Johnson, Ensign Nico Osborn, Lieutenant Commander Kelly Fath, Lieutenant Commander Faith Knighton, and Commander Nicole Manning.


Professional Mariners

Professional mariners provide technical assistance needed to support operations while at sea. They support the ship in five different expertise areas: deck, engineering, steward, survey, and electronics. More information about the professional mariners and job posting information can be found here. Some have attended maritime school to receive training or licensure to work aboard a ship at sea. Others get their training while at sea, take required training courses, and complete onboard assessments. These mariners that work their way up to leadership positions are known as hawse-pipers (for example, the Chief Boatswain, Jerrod Hozendorf, many years ago was a General Vessel Assistant and has worked up to the Department Head of the Deck Department.)

Deck

Deck hands and able bodied seamen who attend maritime school or training where they learn how to support ship operations, including but not limited to maintenance of the ship’s exterior, maintenance and operation of the ship’s cranes (places ROV (remotely operated vehicle) or CTD (conductivity temperature depth) in the water) and winches (lowers ROV and CTD into the water), and conducts 24/7 watches to ensure the safe operation and navigation of the ship. Augmenters also rotate through the fleet, while others are permanent crew on a ship.

deck crew
The deck crew aboard Okeanos Explorer. Back row from left to right: General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn, Chief Bosun Jerrod Hozendorf, Able Bodied Seaman Angie Ullmann (augmenting), and General Vessel Assistant Deck Eli Pacheco. Front row from left to right: Able Bodied Seaman Peter Brill and Able Bodied Seaman Jay Michelsen (augmenting).

Engineering

The engineers aboard are responsible for the water treatment, air quality systems, and machines needed to make the ship move through the water. The also oversee the hydraulics of the cranes and winches. Engineers receive a four-year engineering degree at either a maritime academy or regular college. Depending on their degree, they will come aboard at different engineer expertise levels. Engineers move into higher level positions based on their days at sea and successful completion of licensing tests.

engineers
The engineers aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron, Engine Utility Will Rougeux, Acting Chief Marine Engineer Ric Gabona, 3rd Assistant Engineer Alice Thompson (augmenting), Junior Utility Engineer Pedro Lebron, and Acting First Assistant Engineer Warren Taylor.

Stewards

The stewards on board are responsible for the preparation and management of the culinary services and the stateroom services such as bed linens. Tasks include meal planning, food purchasing and storage, food preparation, and oversight of the galley and mess.

stewards
The stewards aboard Okeanos Explorer. From left to right: General Vessel Assistant Eli Pacheco (assisting the stewards for this cruise), Chief Cook Ray Capati, and Chief Steward Mike Sapien.

Survey

Survey technicians are responsible for the operation of all survey equipment aboard the ship needed for mapping, CTD deployment, and ROV operations. Equipment includes echo sounders and meteorological and oceanographic sensors. They are also responsible for data quality control and processing, disseminating data to land data centers so it can be shared with the public, and working alongside the science team to assist with other data and equipment needs. A college degree is not required for survey technicians, but many of them have one in the fields of environmental or applied science.

Electronics

Electronic technicians are responsible for all electronics aboard such as the intercoms, radios, ship’s computers and internet access, sonars, telephones, electronic navigation and radar systems, and most importantly satellite TV! Chief Electronic Technicians rotate between land and sea, typically spending 2-3 months at sea.

survey and electronic technicians
Chief Electronic Technician Mike Peperato and Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins pose with the CTD.


Personal Log

We saw dolphins today!!!! It was absolutely amazing. We believe them to be Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. Spotted you say? The one in the picture to the left is not spotted because it is less than one year old. They do not receive their spots until their first birthday. Spotted dolphins are very acrobatic. They enjoy jumping out of the water and surfing on the bow waves created by vessels. To date one of the best moments of the trip so far. Yay dolphins!!!!!

Atlantic spotted dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins surfing the bow of the ship.


Did You Know?

Including all the NOAA officers and professional mariners aboard Okeanos Explorer, 12,000 people work for NOAA worldwide!

Jill Bartolotta: Sounds of the Deep, June 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 5, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°01.5’ N

Longitude: 079°16.0’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 128

Visibility: 10 nm

Air Temperature: 27.7°C

Barometric Pressure: 1021.3

Sky: few

Science and Technology Log

What is sonar?

Sonar is the use of sound to describe the marine environment. Sonar can be compared to satellites that use light to provide information about Earth, but instead of light, sound is used. It is used to develop nautical charts, detect hazards under the water, find shipwrecks, learn about characteristics of the water column such as biomass, and map the ocean floor. There are two types of sonar, active and passive. Active sonar is sonar that sends out its own sound wave. The sonar sends a sound wave (ping) out into the water and then waits for the sound to return. The return sound signal is called an echo. By assessing the time, angle, and strength of the return sound wave or echo one can learn many details about the marine environment. Passive sonar does not actively send out a sound ping, but rather listens for the sound from other objects or organisms in the water. These objects may be other vessels and these organisms may be whales or marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.

Sound waves move through the water at different speeds. These speeds are known as frequencies and the unit of measurement for sound is a hertz (Hz). Lower frequencies (example 18 kHz) are able to go farther down because they move slower and have more power behind them. It is like when a car goes down your street, pumping the bass (always seems to happen when I am trying to sleep) and you can hear it for a long time. That is because it is a low frequency and has longer wave lengths. Higher frequencies (example 200 kHz) move faster, but have less power. The sound waves should reach the bottom, an object, or biomass in the water column, but there may be no return or echo. High frequency sound waves are closer together. High frequencies give you a good image of what is happening near the surface of the water column and low frequencies give you a good idea of what is happening near, on, or under the ocean floor.

Type of Sonar on Okeanos Explorer

There are many types of sonar and other equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer for use during mapping operations. All have different capabilities and purposes. Together they provide a complete sound image of what is happening below us.

Kongsberg EM302 Multibeam Sonar

Multibeam sonar sends sound out into the water in a fan pattern below the hull (bottom) of the ship. It is able to map broad areas of the water column and seafloor from depths of 10 meters to 7,000 meters. Only the deepest trenches are out of its reach. It is the most appropriate sonar system to map seafloor features such as canyons and seamounts. The fan like beam it emits is 3-5.5x the water depth with a max swath range of 8 km. However, when you get to its depths below 5,000 meters the quality of the sound return is poor so scientists keep the swath range narrower to provide a higher quality of data return. The widest swath area scientists can use while maintaining quality is a depth of 3,300-5,000 meters. The user interface uses a color gradient to show you seafloor features (red=shallow and purple=deep).

Swath ranges for the multibeam sona
Swath ranges for the multibeam sonar at various depths. The y-axis shows the water depth in meters and the x-axis shows the swath width in meters. Photo credit: SST Charlie Wilkins, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Multibeam Sonar information
Some of the information that is collected using the multibeam sonar with labels describing their purpose. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Backscatter

Backscatter uses the same pings from the multibeam. People use backscatter to model or predict physical or biological properties and composition of the sea floor. The coloring typically is in grayscale. A stronger echo looks brighter in the image. A weaker echo looks darker in the image. It gives you a birds-eye view of seafloor characteristics such as substrate density and seafloor features.

Backscatter and Bathymetry
Top image is backscatter showing you a birds-eye view of the ocean floor. The bottom image shows you what it looks like when backscatter is overlaid over the bathymetry layer. You are able to see intensity of the sound return, but floor features are more noticeable. Photo credit: NOAA OER

XBT

An Expendable Bathy-Thermograph (XBT) provides you with information on the temperature gradients within the water. When the temperature profile is applied to a salinity profile (taken from World Ocean Atlas) you are able to determine sound velocity or the rate at which the sound waves can travel through the water. When sound moves through water it does not move in a straight line. Its path is affected by density which is determined by water type (freshwater or saltwater) and temperature. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater and cold water is denser than warm water. The XBT information accounts for sound refraction (bending) through various water densities. When near shore XBTs are launched more frequently because the freshwater inputs from land alter density of the water and temperatures in the water column are more varied. XBTs are launched less frequently when farther from shore since freshwater inputs are reduced or nonexistent and the water column temperature is more stable. However, ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream (affecting us on this cruise) can affect density as well. The Gulf Stream brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and along the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, one must also take into account which ocean currents are present in the region when determining the launch schedule of XBTs.

Loading the XBT Launcher
Senior Survey Technician Charlie Wilkins and Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe, loading the XBT launcher. XBTs are launched off the stern of the ship.
XBT Capture
Sound speed or velocity is determined by the density of the water, which is determined by temperature and salinity. Focus on the blue line in each graph. The first graph takes the information from the temperature and salinity graphs to determine sound speed. If we look at the first graph, we see that sound speed slows with depth. Sound speed slows because according to the second graph the temperature is colder making the water denser, thus affecting sound speed. Salinity does not vary much according to the third graph so its effect on density is most likely limited. Photo credit: NOAA OER

Simrad EK60 and EK80 Split-beam Sonar

Split-beam sonar sends out sound in single beam of sound (not a fan like the multibeam). Each transducer sends out its own frequency (example 18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 KHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz). Some frequencies are run at the same time during mapping operations. Mapping operations typically do not use the 38 kHz frequency since it interferes with the multibeam sonar. Data collected with the use of the EK60 or EK80 provides information about the water column such as gaseous seeps, schools of fish, and other types of dense organism communities such as zooplankton. If you remember my “did you know” from the second blog, I discussed how sonar can be used to show the vertical diurnal migration of organisms. Well the EK60 or EK80 is the equipment that allows us to see these biological water column communities and their movements.

Water column information
Water column information collected with the EK60 or EK80 split beam sonar. If you look at the first row you can see, in the image to the left, the blue dots are at the top and in the second image the blue dots are moving back down into the water column as the sun rises. The process of organisms’ movement in the water column at night to feed is known as vertical diurnal migration. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Knudsen 3260 Sub-bottom Profiler

The purpose of using a sub-bottom profiler is to learn more about the layers (up to 80 meters) below the ocean floor. It works in conjunction with the sonar mapping the ocean floor to provide more information about the bottom substrate, such as sediment type and topography features. Sub-bottom data is used by geologists to better understand the top layers of the ocean floor. A very low frequency is used (3.5 kHz) because it needs to penetrate the ocean sediment. It will give you a cross section of the sea floor so floor features can be detected.

Cross section of the ocean seafloor
Cross section of the ocean seafloor shows you substrate characteristics. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Telepresence

Telepresence aboard the ship allows the science team to get mapping products and raw data to land on a daily basis. The science team can also live feed data collection to shore in real time. By allowing a land based shore team to see the data in real time you are adding another system of checks and balances. It is one more set of eyes to make sure the data being collected looks correct and there are no issues. It also allows a more collaborative approach to mapping, since you are able to involve a worldwide audience in the mission. Public viewers can tune in as well.  Support for the technology needed to allow telepresence capabilities comes in partnership with the Global Foundation of Ocean Exploration (GFOE). With GFOE’s help, the protocols, high-speed satellite networks, Internet services, web and social media interfaces, and many other tools are accessible when out to sea. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER) provides the experts needed to develop, maintain, and operate the telepresence systems while at sea, but also at shore through the Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) and the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.

Live interaction
Live interaction with Okeanos Explorer, Inner Space Center at URI/GSO, and a group of high school students. Photo credit: NOAA OER

All in all, the equipment aboard Okeanos Explorer is impressive in its abilities to provide the science team with a high quality and accurate depiction of the ocean floor and water column. The science team aboard is able to interpret the data, clean out unwanted data points, store massive data files on computers, and send it back to land daily, all while rocking away at sea. Very impressive and very cool!

Personal Log

I learned all about memes today. Apparently they are very popular on the ship. So popular, we are even in the middle of a meme contest. For those of you unfamiliar to memes like I was, a meme is a funny picture with a clever caption that makes you laugh or relates to something in your life. After my tutorial in meme making, we had a great time out on the bow of the ship playing corn hole and hanging out. The night was beautiful. The humidity subsided and there was a great breeze. After the sun set, I watched the stars come out and then went inside to learn more about the mapping process. I am starting to get a better understanding of what the science team is doing. You know the how and the why of it all. After I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I made my nightly venture out onto the bow to look from some bioluminescence, the glittering of zooplankton in the night. A magical site. I will leave you wondering how the ocean glitters until one of my future blogs when I describe the process of bioluminescence.

Corn hole
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn (left) and General Vessel Assistant Christian Lebron (right) playing corn hole on the bow at sunset.

Did You Know?

The SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) channel occurs in the world’s oceans between depths of 800 to 1000 meters in the water column. Because of the density and pressure around this channel, sound waves travel for an extended distance. It is thought that fin whales travel to this channel to communicate with other fin whales many kilometers away.

Lona Hall: The Comforts of Life at Sea, June 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 8, 2019

Time:  1630 hours

Location: Saltery Cove, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°29.2124’ N

Longitude: 152°44.0648’ W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: N (354 degrees)

Air Temperature: 9.24° Celsius

Water Temperature: 8.89° Celsius

Science and Technology Log

teacher at sea lona hall On the flying bridge with the "Big Eyes"
On the flying bridge at the “Big Eyes”

Let’s talk charts.  A chart is a map that shows specific details of the shoreline and the seafloor, including depth (usually in fathoms) and notable features.  Click here to view the chart of the area, “Chiniak Bay to Dangerous Cape.”  Can you find Saltery Cove, where we are currently anchored? How about Cape Greville and Sequel Point?  The latter are located at the northern and southern ends of the area that we surveyed with the launch last Wednesday afternoon.

If you look carefully, you will see many symbols along the shoreline.  An asterisk represents a rock awash that may only be visible when the water recedes at low tide.  A series of dots represents sandy shore, while small scallop shapes and circles denote breakers and stones, respectively.  The small, filled in triangles on land show where there are cliffs or steep slopes. The symbol that looks like a stick with small branches represents kelp.  Kelp is considered a possible hazard, since it can get wrapped around the propeller of a boat.

Now move your gaze to the ocean.  The numbers that you see are depth soundings, measured in fathoms.  Recall that one fathom equals 6 feet. This means that where you see a sounding of 9 fathoms, the water is actually 54 feet deep (relative to the mean lower low water datum).  If you are looking at the area near Cape Greville, all of the soundings that you see on the chart were taken between 1900 and 1939, before the invention of multibeam sonar. There was a magnitude 9.2 earthquake on March 27, 1964 that changed the depths and shapes of the landforms.  Finally, you should not discount the effects of weathering and erosion by wave action on this area.  The dynamic nature of it all makes the work that NOAA is doing all the more important for the safety of anyone at sea.

Career Focus – Steward

With so many people and so much work being done every day, how do you ensure good morale among the crew? You make sure that they are well fed!  That’s where the Stewards Department comes in to play. I met with Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward, to learn how she and her staff take care of all of the people on the ship.  

Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward
Kimrie Zentmeyer, Acting Chief Steward

The Stewards Department is like a sweet grandmother, spoiling her grandbabies by providing good food and other comforts to the entire Rainier family.  Stewards plan and prepare the meals, supply appropriate linens and bedding, and maintain a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of a potentially stressful work environment. Stewards work long hours in close quarters and, as Kimrie says, provide the “customer service” of the ship. Kimrie herself has worked on ships for many years.  She started out as a mess person for Chevron Shipping when her daughter left home for college. As part of the NOAA Relief Pool, Kimrie has worked on ten of NOAA’s ships, filling positions on a temporary basis until permanent employees can be found. It is clear that she has a deep understanding of the emotional needs of a ship’s crew, and she enjoys the camaraderie and cooperation that develop in this unique work environment.

Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew
Cold food stores, stocked at port with the help of all of the crew

This evening for dinner, I had baked salmon, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a salad, and an amazing berry pie.  Everything was prepared fresh, and I felt quite satisfied afterwards. Thank you, stewards!

Personal Log

I would like to take some time to write about the ship. Rainier is a hydrographic survey vessel. (For more information about what that means, see my last post!)  Constructed in Jacksonville Florida, and then later commissioned in 1968, Rainier is one of the longest-serving ships in NOAA’s fleet.  It is named after Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain in western Washington state.  Students might remember that this mountain is located near a continent-ocean convergent plate boundary between the North American and Juan de Fuca plates, where subduction has lead to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc. Our ship’s home port is located in Newport, Oregon. Originally, however, the home port was in Seattle, Washington, and so it was christened after the iconic Mount Rainier.

NOAA Ship Rainier is 231 feet long from bow to stern.  There are six different levels, or decks, identified by the letters A-F moving upwards from the bottom of the ship.  Each deck is broken into numbered sections, or rooms.

inboard profile
Diagram of the ship, side view

To communicate a particular location, you might refer to the deck letter and section number.  You might also use the following vocabulary:

Port – the left side of the ship

Starboard – the right side of the ship

Fore – forward of the beam

Aft – behind the beam

Stern – the back end of the ship

Bow – the front end of the ship

D-Deck
Overhead diagram of the “D” Deck

My room is located on the E deck, one level below the bridge.  On the D deck we enjoy delicious, cafeteria-style meals in the mess, and we can work, read, relax, or watch movies in the lounge.  The steering takes place on the Bridge, the command center of the ship. I will highlight the bridge in a future post. Other common areas include the Plotting Room, the Holodeck, the Boat Deck, Flying Deck, and Fantail.  There is also a laundry room and even a gym! Although it can be a bit confusing at first, the ship’s layout makes sense and allows for efficiency without sacrificing the crew’s comfort.

Word of the Day

athwart – at right angles to fore and aft; across the centerline of the ship

Lona Hall: Launchin’ and Lunchin’ Near Kodiak Island, June 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019


Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 6, 2019

Time:  2000 hours

Location: Underway to Isthmus Bay, Kodiak Island

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57°39.2266’ N
Longitude: 152°07.5163’ W
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Direction: NW (300 degrees)
Air Temperature: 11.37° Celsius
Water Temperature: 8.3° Celsius


Science and Technology Log

Lona on launch RA-5
Yours truly, happy on RA-5

Today I went out on a launch for the first time.  The plan was to survey an area offshore and then move nearshore at low tide, with the water at its lowest level on the beach of Kodiak Island.  Survey Techs, Carl Stedman and Christina Brooks, showed me the software applications used to communicate with the coxswain and collect data. To choose the best frequency for our multibeam pulse, we needed to know the approximate depth of the area being surveyed.  If the water is deeper, you must use lower frequency sound waves, since higher frequency waves tend to attenuate, or weaken, as they travel. We chose a frequency of 300 kilohertz for a 60 meter depth. Periodically, the survey techs must cast a probe into the water.  The Sea-bird SeaCAT CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) measures the characteristics of the water, creating a sound velocity profile. This profile can tell us how quickly we should expect sound waves to travel through the water based upon the water’s temperature, salinity, and pressure.

Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Seabird SeaCAT CTD
Carl Stedman deploying the probe
Carl Stedman deploying the probe

Using the sound velocity profile allows the computer’s Seafloor Information System (SIS) to correct for changes in water density as data is being collected.  Once the profile was transmitted to SIS, we were ready to begin logging data.

Imagine that you are mowing your lawn.  To maximize efficiency you most likely will choose to mow back and forth in relatively straight paths, overlapping each new row with the previous row.  This is similar to how the offshore survey is carried out. As the boat travels at a speed of about 7 knots, the Kongsberg EM2040 multibeam sonar transducer sends out and receives pulses, which together create a swath.  The more shallow the water, the wider the base of the swath.

Close up of chart
Close up of chart, showing depth gradient by color

After lunch we changed to a nearshore area closer to Kodiak Island between Sequel Point and Cape Greville. It was important to wait for low tide before approaching the shore to avoid being stuck inshore as the tide is going out.  Even so, our coxswain was very careful to follow the edges of the last swaths logged. Since the swath area extends beyond the port and starboard sides of the boat, we could collect data from previously uncharted areas without driving directly above them.  In this way we found many rocks, invisible to the naked eye, that could have seriously damaged an unlucky fisherman!


Career Focus – Able Seaman

Our coxswain driving the boat today was Allan Quintana.  

Allan, aka "Q", driving the boat
Allan, aka “Q”, driving the boat

As an Able Seaman, Allan is part of the Deck Department, which functions primarily to keep track of the ship, manage the lines and anchoring, and deploy and drive the launches.  Allan started out working for the Navy and later transitioned to NOAA. A Miami native, he told me how he loves working at sea, in spite of the long stretches of time away from his friends and family back home.


Personal Log

If you have never been on a boat before, it is a unique experience. Attempts have been made by poets, explorers, scientists, naturalists, and others throughout history to capture the feeling of being at sea.  Although I’ve read many of their descriptions and tried to imagine myself in their shoes, nothing compares to experiencing it first-hand.

Standing on the bow of the anchored ship, looking out at the water, my body leaning to and fro, rising and falling, I am a sentient fishing bobber, continuously rocking but not really going anywhere.  My head feels somehow both heavy and light, and if I stand there long enough, I just might fall asleep under the spell of kinetic hypnosis. The motion of the launch is different. A smaller boat with far less mass is bullied by the swells. For a new crew member like me, it’s easy to be caught off guard and knocked over, unless you have a good grip. I stand alert, feet apart, one hand clasping a rail, as the more experienced crew move about, casually completing various tasks. I wonder how long it would take to become accustomed to the boat’s rising and falling.  Would my body gradually learn to anticipate the back and forth rocking? Would I eventually not feel any movement at all?

View over the bow
A ship with a view


Word of the Day

draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the hull of a boat, a.k.a. the draught

The draft of NOAA Ship Rainier is 17 feet.

Jill Bartolotta: Future Explorers, June 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 3, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°48.6’

Longitude: 079°26.8’

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 4 knots

Wind Direction: 158

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.9°C

Barometric Pressure: 1014

Sky: scattered

Explorer in Training

A part of this mission is to map previously unmapped area in the southeast Atlantic Ocean but another part is to train the next generation of ocean explorers. There are currently four Explorers in Training (EiTs) and one Knauss Fellow on the Okeanos Explorer who are learning about the process of mapping and processing data at sea.

The Explorer in Training (EiT) Program sponsored trough the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER). Their mission is to train the next generation of ocean explorers. Undergraduate, graduate students, and early career scientists are eligible to apply for the EiT Program. They will gain valuable knowledge and experience in deepwater mapping and exploration. The EiT Program is a partnership between OER and the Cooperative Program for the Advancement of Earth System Science (CPAESS), a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Applicants who are accepted will either be based onshore at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Exploration Command Center (ECC) in Durham, New Hampshire (Yay! my alma mater) or aboard Okeanos Explorer. The EiT Program also partners with the NOAA Educational Partnership Program (EPP) to support traditionally underrepresented minority populations in STEM careers.

The four EiTs aboard are Allisa Dalpe, Jahnelle Howe (EPP), Marcel Peliks, and Kitrea Takata-Glushkoff. All have come from ocean mapping or engineering programs at their universities and are very excited to be a part of this program.

Explorers in Training
EiTs heading to sea! From left to right: Katharine, Allisa, Marcel, Kitrea, and Jahnelle.

Allisa, originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Hampshire in Ocean Engineering. Her studies focus on the use of autonomous marine vehicles such as remotely operated vehicles (ROV). She is most interested in mission planning, decision making, and obstacle avoidance when mapping or collecting data. Allisa is a seasoned sailor as she participated in SEA Semester (Sea Education Association in Woods Hole) as a student and then returned as a deckhand when she sailed from Woods Hole to Cork, Ireland. Way cool! When I asked Allisa how this opportunity will compliment her Ph.D work she said that this mission will her develop algorithms for autonomous vehicles performing sea floor mapping. In layman terms, how to develop the blueprint for what decisions the robot will need to make while on a mission. Fun fact about Allisa, she plays the drums.

Jahnelle, originally from the Island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, is a Master’s student at City College in New York. Her focus of study is Earth and Atmospheric Science. She is interested in coastal resilience with specific focus on how coral bleaching events affect community structure through the use of remote sensing. Jahnelle became interested in her field of study because the country where she grew up had an active volcano. When the volcano erupted it would emit sulfur and carbon dioxide. She was interested in how it affected her community. Because of her childhood she is interested in how we affect the environment and how it affects us. Fun fact about Jahnelle, she is a creative writer of poems and short stories.

Marcel is currently in the process of completing his Master’s degree in Geological Oceanography at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. A native to Poland, he moved to California in his teens and became interested in marine geology because he was fascinated with how much of the ocean is still unexplored. His thesis focuses on the use of multibeam sonar to map Monterey Canyon in California and asses how the canyon impacts sand transport on surrounding beaches. His dream career is to continue combining technology and geology to learn more about our planet. Fun fact about Marcel, he had his first corn dog at the age of 25.

Kitrea recently finished Bowdoin College with majors in Earth and oceanographic science and Russian. She will actually be finishing her credits in Russia come spring of 2020. Congratulations on almost being done! She is now interested in bringing her knowledge of geology and oceanography together by exploring the field of marine geology. When I ask Kitrea what this experience means for her she says that it is the opportunity to test run potential career paths within geoscience. More specifically to experience life at sea and delve deeper into the data collection and management side of mapping. So far she’s loving it all. Fun Fact about Kitrea, she is a ballet and modern dance teacher.

Knauss Fellowship

The Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship, named for John A. Knauss, one of Sea Grant’s founders and past NOAA Administrator, is a fellowship that places highly qualified graduate students in host agencies in the legislative or executive branches of the federal government. Interested students apply through their state Sea Grant program. Sea Grant is a nationwide program consisting of 34 programs in coastal areas (ocean and Great Lakes) focusing on research, outreach, and education. Sea Grant programs are federally supported by NOAA and a state university partner. For example, Ohio Sea Grant’s (my program) state university partner is The Ohio State University. Applicants who are selected for a Knauss Fellowship work for one year with their host organization. Many Knauss Fellows continue to work for their host organization or find similar positions with federal agencies after the fellowship. OER’s 2019 Knauss Fellow, Katharine Egan, who applied through Puerto Rico Sea Grant, is on board.

Katharine studied marine biology as an undergraduate student at the University of Rhode Island and received her Master’s degree from the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine and Environmental Science. A native to Pennsylvania, Katharine started studying marine science because the ocean was vastly different from where she grew up. She is a first generation college student and came from a landlocked area so marine science was tempting because of the adventures and new experiences it would bring. Since her time in school, Katharine has a multitude of experience studying coral reef ecology and geospatial analysis. In her Knauss Fellow role with OER, she is responsible for determining data gaps in OER’s standard operations and making OER data more accessible. Fun fact about Katharine, she read 54 books in 2018. Her favorite book out of the 54 was In the Distance by Herman Diaz. 

To learn even more about the exploration team on board visit the OER website.

learning the intercom system
EiTs and the Knauss Fellow learning how to use the intercom system on the ship. The intercom is used for ship wide communication. From front to back: Kitrea, Katharine, Marcel, and Allisa.

Personal Log

Life at sea is pretty sweet. I am used to the movement of the ship. It is actually starting to put me to sleep so staying awake is challenging. My bed is super comfy and the room is actually pretty big. The food has also been amazing. We are very lucky to have such great cooks on board. There is also 24/7 access to ice cream. My hopes of shedding a few pounds have pretty much gone out the porthole.

top bunk
My bed. I haven’t slept in a bunk bed since freshman year of college. I did my best job of making the bed, but it is pretty hard when you are holding on with one hand, swaying, and trying not to hit your head.

There are times when I forget we are on ship out at sea and then I look outside and remember where I am. It does get hard living in close quarters with so many people. I find that taking time to get outside to read or workout is super helpful. The weather so far has been wonderful. Sunny and warm most days with a nice breeze to keep it from getting too hot. My favorite time of the day is right before the sun sets when I do a yoga session to decompress from the day. After yoga I sit on the deck and watch the stars appear as I read my book. I have officially found my happy place. 

workout spot
My workout spot on the ship. A great view of the ocean makes the workout less challenging.

Did You Know?

Okeanos’ namesake is the Greek Titan god of the ocean. Well, actually, a river. The Ancient Greeks believed the ocean was a vast river circling the world.

Instruments Played by the EiTs

Allisa: Drums

Katharine: Flute

Jahnelle: Violin

Kitrea: Dances

Marcel: Guitar

Jill Bartolotta: Start Your Engines, June 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 13, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 1, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°19.3’ N

Longitude: 079°21.6’

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots   

Wind Direction: 195

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 28°C

Barometric Pressure: 1012.5

Sky: Broken

Making the Engines Run

Engines on this ship are run with marine grade diesel. Before the diesel can be put through the engine it must be cleaned of any impurities. A centrifuge system is used to spin the diesel at a very fast pace in a circle. As the diesel spins any impurities are flung out leaving behind the purified fuel. If the fuel is not purified before it is put through the engines, they will gunk up and not function properly. NOAA Okeanos Explorer has 4 engines. Currently we are running 3 of them and the fourth one is the backup. There is also a fifth generator that can serve as a backup if needed. There are roughly 180,000 gallons of diesel on the ship and roughly 2,200 gallons of fuel are used per day.  In order to make the engine work, air in the engine is compressed causing the air to heat up. Then you spray fuel into the compressed air and the heat of their air causes an explosion leading to the process of combustion. In order to determine if complete combustion is occurring and the engine fuel is clean of impurities you look at the exhaust. If the exhaust is clear it means you are seeing full combustion and the fuel is clean. If the exhaust is not clean, black for example, it means that combustion is not complete or the fuel is dirty.

Fuel purification centrifuge
The fuel purification centrifuge system. If you look closely you can see a pink liquid, purified diesel.
Engine
One of the engines. There are four engines on board. Three are running and the fourth will be used as a backup.

Cooling the Engines

The engines must run at a temperature below 200°F. When these engines run they create heat so to keep them at a temperature under 200°F you need to cool them off using a heat exchanger. A heat exchanger is a series of pipes that run hot substances past cooler substances. These substances do not come into contact with one another, but are piped past one another. The heat transfers to the cooler substance through the series of pipes thus cooling the previously hot substance. On this ship, oil is used to lubricate the pistons on the engine, but it also serves a coolant. The oil is then cooled via freshwater called jacket water and the freshwater is cooled via seawater taken from the ocean. The ocean surface water is 74°F when it enters the ship and leaves the ship at roughly 84°F.

However where does this heat go? The first law of thermodynamics, The Law of Conservation of Energy, tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or converted. So why not convert this heat energy into some of use? Well guess what. The engineers on Okeanos Explorer do just that. Some of the heat goes into the seawater used to cool the jacket water and some of the heat is used in the desalination system.

Remember we left off with desalination in the previous blog.  They use the heat coming off the engines to heat the saltwater, evaporate it, and retrieve the freshwater. However, if you remember these engines must run below 200°F and in order to boil water you must be at a temperature of 212°F. I know many of you are probably thinking salt in water actually lowers the boiling point, but really the opposite is true. Salt actually increases the temperature needed to boil water. However, it is minimal so it won’t affect your pasta too much. Feel free to add that pinch of salt like a true chef.

In order to boil water with 200°F of temperature or less we need to change the pressure of the system. This is done through a vacuum that decreases the pressure in the system allowing water to boil at a lower temperature. It is similar to when you go hiking in the mountains (less pressure than when you are at sea level) and go to boil water. It boils quicker because less heat is needed since the pressure is lower. So by changing the pressure in the system to one that would be seen at a higher altitude, engineers are able to use the heat from the engines to boil the salt water on the ship, allowing us to have access to freshwater for drinking, bathing, and cooking purposes. Pretty ingenious right?

Maintaining Balance

Now hopefully you were paying attention in the first paragraph when I talked about how much fuel is on board and how much is used each day. As fuel is used, the weight on the ship will change affecting stability. A ship with weight is more stable in the water than a ship will little to no weight. Therefore as fuel weight is lost it must be replaced. One gallon of diesel weighs approximately 7 pounds. So if we are using 2200 gallons a day we are losing 15,400 pounds of weight. How do the engineers accomplish the task of adding more weight? What is all around us weighing 8.6 pounds per gallon??? Seawater! Yes! So ballast tanks are filled with seawater to add weight to the ship that is removed when fuel is used.

Ballast water filtration and UV purification system
Ballast water filtration and UV purification system. The parts to the right are the filtration system and the parts to the left are the UV system.

Ballast water is taken in through a filtration system before it even reaches its holding tanks (separate than the fuel tanks). The water first passes through a filter to remove large particles (such as larger pieces of plant material or debris) and then passes through a UV system that will kill any organisms. When the ballast water is released from their holding tanks in order to allow more fuel to come on board, the water must pass through the UV system once more to make sure nothing alive (plants, animals, bacteria, etc.) is getting into the water.

This purification of ballast water occurs to prevent invasive species from entering new areas. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is from somewhere else and is introduced through human actions. When these species establish in a new area and begin to outcompete native species, affect human health, and become costly to remove, they are classified as invasive.

Where I live on Lake Erie several species such as zebra and quagga mussels, round goby, and spiny water flea have all been introduced from ballast water from ships coming from the inland lakes of Eurasia. These ships would need to dump their water when they entered the shallower river ports of the Great Lakes, spurring a silent invasion. All four species are negatively affecting native populations of important species and are costly to manage. Then same is happening along the East Coast with species such as European green crab.

I would like each of you reading this blog to learn more about a species introduced to U.S. waters, whether they be fresh or salt, through ballast water. Feel free to let me know which organism you chose to learn more about in the comments section of the blog.

Personal Log

Today was a really special day at sea. It was my 30th birthday. I could not have imagined a more amazing place to turn 30. I spent the day learning all about the engine systems on board, out on the bow enjoying the breeze and sunshine while looking for ocean critters, and was treated to the sweetest cake ever. It was so kind of the chefs on board to make me a cake for my birthday. It was a red velvet cake (my favorite) with chocolate frosting and decorated with chocolate pieces and white icing. We had it with some chocolate raspberry swirl ice cream. Truly a wonderful celebration with my new friends.

Jill with birthday cake!
My delicious birthday cake. Thank you everyone for a great birthday!

I spent the hour before sunset enjoying a nice yoga and meditation session before the most amazing sunset we have seen at sea yet. The clouds and sun put on the most spectacular display of color. Afterwards I learned more about the happenings of the mission control room (basically the mapping hub for the ship). I learned how we launch equipment to collect water column data and how we clean the data removing noise. I will be writing a blog on the mapping mission soon.

After our shift ended, my roommate and I ventured to the bridge to learn about piloting a vessel at night. We learned what equipment they rely on and how they manage their night vision. And then the most spectacular part of the whole night! The stars! Wow! It looks like someone through glitter (plastic free glitter preferably) into the sky. I have never seen so many stars in my life. We saw the Milky Way, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, North Star, Jupiter and so many other constellations. It was a wonderful end to a great birthday day.

Did You Know?

Even numbered locations (such as muster stations or staterooms) on ships are located on the port (left) side of the ship and odd numbered locations are located on the (starboard) right side of the ship.

Sea Measurements

Different ways to measure are used at sea. You can see some measurement conversions below.

1 nautical mile = 1.151 statute mile

1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.151 statute mile per hour

1° Celsius = 33.8 °F

Animals Seen Today

Flying fish

Northern gannet

Jill Bartolotta: The Ins and Outs of Going, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 13, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 31, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 28°29.0’ N

Longitude: 079°34.1’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Wind Direction: 155

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 27.6 °C

Barometric Pressure: 1013.7

Sky: Few

Science and Technology Log

Today and tomorrow I am learning all about the who and how of making the ship go. Ric Gabona, the Acting Chief Marine Engineer, has been teaching me all about the mechanics of powering the ship, managing waste, and providing clean drinking water. Today I will focus on two aspects of making it possible to live on a ship for weeks on end. First, I will teach you about waste management. Second, I will explain how freshwater is made to support cooking, drinking, cleaning, and bathing needs. In conjunction, all of these systems contribute to our comfort on board but also our safety.

Wastewater Management

Waste on board has many forms and it all must be handled in some way or it can lead to some pretty stinky situations. The main forms of waste I will focus on include human waste and the waste that goes down the drains. The waste is broken down into two categories. Black water and gray water. Gray water is any water that goes down the drain as a result of us washing dishes, our hands, or ourselves. Gray water is allowed to be discharged once we are 3 miles from shore. The water does not need to be treated and can be let off the ship through the discharge valve. Black water is water that is contaminated with our sewage. It can be discharged when we are 12 miles from shore. Black water goes into a machine through a macerator pump and it gets hit with electricity breaking the solid materials into smaller particles that can be discharged into the ocean.

Discharge of gray or black water has its limitations. These discharge locations follow strict rules set in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The CFR are set by the federal government and the regulations tell you where (how far from shore) you are allowed to discharge both gray and black water. However, sometimes Okeanos Explorer is in areas where black water cannot be discharged so the black water must be turned into gray water. At this point, once the black water has been mashed it will pass through a chlorine filter that will treat any contamination and then the waste can be discharged. However, there are places where nothing can be discharged such as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i. When in these no discharge areas the ship will store the gray and black water and then discharge when regulated to do so.

It is important to follow these regulations because as Ric says, “We are ocean stewards.” It is important that ships such as Okeanos Explorer be able to explore the ocean while making the smallest environmental impact as possible. The engineers and other ship and science mission personnel are dedicated to reducing our impact as much as possible when out at sea.

Making Water

Water makes up 60% of the human body and is vital for life. However, 71% of the water on earth is saltwater, not able to be taken up by humans, making it challenging to access freshwater unless you live near an inland freshwater system like where I come from up in Ohio along the Great Lakes. While out at sea, we have no access to freshwater and we cannot store freshwater from land on the ship so we must make it. On Okeanos Explorer freshwater is made using two types of systems, reverse osmosis and desalination. Reverse osmosis is used by seabirds to turn saltwater into freshwater. Saltwater passes through a semipermeable membrane allowing the smaller water particles to pass through while leaving the larger salt particles and other impurities behind. If you are seabird, you excrete this salt by spitting it out the salt glands at the top part of your bill or if you are a ship out through a separate pipe as brine, a yellow colored super salty liquid. The other method on the ship used to make water is desalination. Desalination is the process of boiling salt water, trapping the water that evaporates (freshwater), and then discharging the salty water left behind. The engineers could use a separate boiling system to heat the salt water however they have a much more inventive and practical way of heating the water. But before I can let you know of their ingenious solution we must learn how the engines run. Oops! Sorry, I need to go. Need to switch my laundry. So sorry. We will explore ship movement and the engines in the next blog. Stay tuned…

Reverse osmosis system
Reverse osmosis system on the ship.
flow meters for potable water and brine
Can you see the yellow colored brine and the clear colored potable water?
Filtered water station
Filtered water station on the ship. Look familiar? You may have one like this in your school.

 

Personal Log

I really enjoyed learning all about the mechanics of operating the ship. It takes lots of very skilled people to make the equipment work and I love the ingenuity of the machines and those who run them. Space is limited on a ship and I am just fascinated by how they deal with the challenges of managing waste and making freshwater 50 plus nautical miles from coast for up to 49 people. Today was a great learning day for me. I do not know much about engines, wastewater treatment, and water purification systems so I really learned a lot today. I now have one more puzzle piece of ship operations under my belt with many more to go.

Aside from my lesson in thermodynamics, combustion, chemistry, physics, and other sciences that I have not touched since college, I learned about the safety operations on the vessel. Today we practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. We learned where we need to go on the ship should one of these events ever occur and which safety gear is needed. I donned my immersion suit and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) to make sure they fit and all the pieces/parts work. Being in the ocean would be a bad time to realize something isn’t right. Donning the safety suit was a funny situation for all movement is super restricted and you feel like a beached whale trying to perform Swan Lake on point shoes.

Jill in immersion suit
Me in my immersion suit, fondly known as the gumby suit.

However, with some help from my friends we were all able to get suited up in case an emergency should arise.

Tonight I look forward to another sunset at sea, some yoga on the deck, and seeing a spectacular star display.  

view of deck with sunset
My yoga spot

Did You Know?

Eating an apple a day while at sea can keep seasickness at bay.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Galley: Kitchen

Mess Deck: Space that crew eat aboard ship

Fantail: Rear deck of a ship

Pipe: Announcement on the ship via a PA system

Muster: Process of accounting for a group of people. Used in safety drills on a ship such as a fire or abandon ship drills.

Stateroom: Sleeping quarters on the ship

Abeam: On the beam, a relative bearing at right angles to the ship’s keel

Bearing: The horizontal direction of a line of sight between two objects

Animals Seen Today

1 flying fish

Whales (Too far away to tell what they were but we saw their spouts!)

Lona Hall: Meeting, Greeting, and Settling In, June 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lona Hall

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 3 – 14, 2019

 

Mission: Kodiak Island Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 3, 2019

Local Time: 1100 hours

Location: Alongside, JAG Shipyard, Seward, AK

Weather from the Bridge:

Latitude: 60°05.1022’ N
Longitude: 149°21.2954’ W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE (114 degrees)
Air Temperature: 12.12° Celsius

Lona Hall on NOAA Ship Rainier
Enjoying the fresh air

Science and Technology Log

While at port in Seward, it has already been my pleasure to meet some of the people that make up the team of NOAA Ship Rainier.  My mission so far has been to learn about the different capacities in which individuals serve on board the ship and how each person’s distinct responsibilities combine together to create a single, well-oiled machine.  

The five main departments represented are the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the Hydrographic Survey Technician team, the Engineering team, the Deck department, and the Stewards.  There are also a few visitors (like me) who are here to observe, ask questions, and participate in daily operations, as possible.

Career Focus – Hydrographic Survey Technician

Today I spent some time with Survey Technician, Amanda Finn.  Amanda is one of nine Survey Techs aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician
Amanda Finn, Hydrographic Survey Technician

What is hydrography?

According to the NOAA website, hydrography is the “science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.” Essentially, hydrographers create and improve maps of the ocean floor, both deep at sea and along the shoreline.  The maps, or charts, allow for safer navigation and travel at sea and are therefore very important.

(Click here to see the chart for Resurrection Bay, where the ship is currently docked.)

 

What does a Hydrographic Survey Technician do?

Technicians like Amanda are in charge of preparing systems for collecting hydrographic data, actually collecting and processing the data, monitoring it for quality, and then writing reports about their findings.  They work part of the time on the ship as well as on the smaller launch boats.

 

What kind of data do Survey Techs use?

Both the main ship and the small launches are equipped with multibeam sonar systems.  SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging. This fascinating technology uses sound waves to “see” whatever exists below the water.  Instead of sending out one sound wave at a time, the multibeam sonar sends out a fan-shaped collection, or swath, of sound waves below and to the sides of the boat’s hull. When the sound waves hit something solid, like a rock, a sunken ship, or simply the sea floor, they bounce back.  The speed and strength at which the sound waves return tell the technicians the depth and hardness of what lies beneath the ocean surface at a given location.

small vessel in the water
Small launch for near shore survey

Personal Log

It is possible to be overwhelmed in a good way.  That has been my experience so far traveling from my home in Georgia to Alaska.  The ship is currently docked at the Seward shipyard in Resurrection Bay. When you hear the word “shipyard”, you might not expect much in the way of scenery, but in this case you would be absolutely wrong!  All around us we can see the bright white peaks of the Kenai Mountains. Yesterday I stood in one place for a while watching a sea otter to my left and a bald eagle to my right. Local fishermen were not as enchanted as I was, but rather were focused on the task at hand: pulling in their bounties of enormous fish!

View near Seward shipyard
Out for a walk near the shipyard

I am similarly impressed with the order and organization aboard the ship. With over fifty people who need to sleep, eat, and get things done each and every day, it might seem like an impossible task to organize it all.  By regular coordination between the departments, as well as the oversight and planning of the ship’s Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, everything flows smoothly.

I think that it is worth noting here how the level of organization that it takes to run a ship like NOAA Ship Rainier should not be taken for granted.  Every individual must do their part in order to ensure the productivity, efficiency, and safety of everyone else.  As a teacher, we often discuss how teamwork is one of life’s most important skills. What a terrific real-world example this has turned out to be!

NOAA Ship Rainier
NOAA Ship Rainier

Did you know?

Seward is located on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska.  The name Kenai (key-nye) comes from the English word (Kenaitze) for the Kahtnuht’ana Dena’ina tribe.  The name of this tribe translates to “people along the Kahtnu river.” Click here for more information about the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Word of the Day

fathom: a unit of length equal to 6 feet, commonly used to measure the depth of water

Jill Bartolotta: All Aboard, Shipping Out, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

 

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 30, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 24° 47.7 ‘N
Longitude: 080° 20.2’W
Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 114
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 28.2°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Sky: Few clouds

 

Science Log

Today we depart Key West. The days in port have been spent readying equipment, training mission crew, and exploring the beauty that is Key West. We say our final goodbyes to terra firma and head out to sea.

Ship sign board showing departure date
Departure time!
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Home for the next two weeks.

The ship we are aboard, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, is managed by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps commands and operates the ship in combination with wage mariners. Equipment on board is managed by NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research (OER) in collaboration with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration.

If you visit OER’s website, you will see in their mission that they are the “only federal organization dedicated to ocean exploration. By using unique capabilities in terms of personnel, technology, infrastructure, and exploration missions, OER is reducing unknowns in deep-ocean areas and providing high-value environmental intelligence needed by NOAA and the nation to address both current and emerging science and management needs.” The purpose of OER is to explore the ocean, collect data, and make this data publicly available for research, education, ocean management, resource management, and decision-making purposes.

One of OER’s priorities is to map the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at depths of 200 meters or greater. This is some deep stuff. The EEZ distance from shore is dependent on a variety of factors such as proximity to territorial waters of other countries and the continental shelf. If you want to learn more about how EEZs are established visit the United Nations Oceans and the Law of the Sea Website https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/oceans-and-law-sea/. Within the EEZ a country has exclusive rights to various activities such as fishing, drilling, ocean exploration, conservation, and resource management.

Map of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the United States. We are mapping in the Southeast Region (lime green). Photo Credit: NOAA

We are currently en route to our mapping area so we can map previously unmapped areas. The mapping that will occur on this mission will be used to help inform dive locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) mission that will take place after our mission. Mapping allows us to understand sea floor characteristics and learn more about deep sea ecosystems that can be later explored with an ROV. An ecosystem of interest for this mapping mission is deep sea coral habitat. The area where we will be mapping is thought to be the largest deep sea coral habitat in US waters and it is largely unmapped. As data is collected, it is cleaned (more on this at a later time) of noise (unwanted data points). Products such as multi-beam geospatial layers are made available to end users on land roughly 24 hours after data is collected. End users could include other researchers, educators, ocean policy and management decision-makers, and more specifically those who will be joining the ROV mission happening in two weeks.

If you want to follow Okeanos Explorer and her crew on our mission, see the live feed available through this link https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/livestreams/welcome.html.

Personal Log

We have just left port. The dolphins are jumping, the sea is the most perfect turquoise blue, and the wind blows on our sun-kissed faces. I have left port many times on my various trips, but today was magical. I think what makes this departure from port so magical is the journey that lies ahead. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. It is slowly settling in that I am able to participate in this once in a lifetime experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be aboard an ocean exploration vessel. Wow! Just Wow!

View of Key West from shore
Fondest farewell Key West.

So far everything is good. Dabbled pretty hard in the seasickness world today. I tried to get on my computer too early and it went down swell from there. However, some wind on my face, ginger soup, and bubbly water made everything better. Many people have told me it is important to embark on a task to get my mind off feeling unwell. I have taken this to heart and have been meeting all the wonderful people on the ship, learning more about them and their role on the ship. In the coming two weeks, I plan on learning about every facet that it takes to operate an exploration mission. From what makes the ship move forward to the detailed intricacies of mapping the sea floor to those who make it all possible.

I hope I will be able to share my experience with you so it feels like you are with me on the ship. Using words and pictures I will try to make you feel as if you are aboard with all of us. I will do my best to show you the blue hues we encountered today and explain what it is like to be out to sea with land many miles away. But I still encourage you all to try it for yourself. Words and images will only give you half the story. You need to feel the rest firsthand.

Blue water out of Key West
Bluest of blues. Words and images fail me here. The blue hues we saw today are the most spectacular colors I have ever seen.

Sunset is upon the horizon so I leave you for now. Stay tuned for more about our grand adventure.

Sun sets over the ocean
First sunset at sea

Did You Know?

You can use sonar to learn more about the organisms living in the water column. For example, sonar has the ability to show you the migration of zooplankton and their predators to the surface at night and back down when the sun rises. This phenomenon is called vertical diurnal migration.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Port: Left side of ship

Starboard: Right side of ship

Bow: Front of ship

Stern: Back of ship

Mess Deck: Where we eat

Head: Restroom

Scuttlebutt: Water fountain (and gossip)

Bulkhead: Walls

Overhead: Ceilings

Deck: Floor

Rack: Bed

Aft: Towards the back of the ship

Forward: Towards the front of the ship

Animals Seen Today

One dolphin

Hundreds of flying fish

Dozens of various seabirds