NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
August 15-30, 2019
Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 18, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Water temperature: 26.3°C
Wind Speed: 4.92 knots
Wind Direction: 122 degrees
Air temperature: 27.1°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1015 millibars
Sky: Partly cloudy
Science and Technology Log
In my previous blog posting, I explained the importance of plankton as base of the ecological pyramid upon which much of marine life in this ecosystem depends. The past few days, I have witnessed and experienced in-person how scientists aboard this sophisticated research vessel collect and analyze sea water samples for plankton.
Yesterday I spent some time with Kyle Turner, a guest researcher from the University of Rhode Island doing his M.S. in Oceanography. He operates a highly sophisticated device called the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB). I was fascinated to learn how it works. It is basically a microscope and camera hooked up to the ship’s water intake system. As the waters pass through the system, laser beams capture images of tiny particles, mostly phytoplankton (tiny photosynthetic drifters). As particles do, they scatter the light or even fluoresce (meaning, they emit their own light). Based on this, the computer “zooms in” on the plankton automatically and activates the camera into taking photographs of each of them! I was amazed at the precision and quality of the images, taken continuously as it pipes in the water from below. Kyle says this helps them monitor quality and quantity of plankton on a continual basis.
Hello, students (especially bio majors). In this corner of my blogs, I will interview some key research personnel on the ship to highlight careers. Please learn and be inspired from these folks.
Here is my interview with Kyle Turner.
Q. Tell us something about your graduate program.
A. My research focuses on phytoplankton using bio-optical methods. Basically, how changes in light can tell us about phytoplankton in the water.
Q. How does this IFCB device help you?
A. It gives me real time information on the different types of phytoplankton in the location where we are. We can monitor changes in their composition, like the dominant species, etc.
Q. Why are phytoplankton so important?
A. They are like trees on land. They produce about half the oxygen in the atmosphere, so they’re super important to all life on earth. They are also the base of the marine food web. The larger zooplankton eat them, and they in turn are eaten by fish, and so on all the way to the big whales. They all rely on each other in this big ocean ecosystem.
Q. How are phytoplankton changing?
A. The oceans are warming, so we’re observing shifts in their composition.
Q. What brought you into marine science?
A. I grew up on the coast. I’ve always liked the ocean. I love science. So I combined my passions.
Q. What is your advice to my students exploring a career in marine science?
A. Looking for outside research opportunities is important. There are so many opportunities from organizations like NASA, NSF, and NOAA. I did two summer research internships as an undergrad. First was with NASA when I was a junior. I applied through their website. That was a big stepping stone for me. A couple of years later, I did another summer project with a researcher who is now my advisor in graduate school. That’s how I met her.
Q. What are your future plans?
A. I’d love to get into satellite oceanography to observe plankton and work for NASA or NOAA.
I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this ship is. I was expecting something more Spartan. I have my own spacious room with ample work and storage space, a comfortable bed, TV (which I don’t have time for!), and even a small fridge and my own sink. Being gently rocked to sleep by the ship is an added perk!
The food is awesome. We have two expert cooks on board, Margaret and Bronley.
Did You Know?
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter played a big role in recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Some interesting animals seen so far
- Flying fish (they get spooked by the ship, take off and fly several yards low across the water!)
- Cow-nosed Rays (see photo and caption below)
- Leather-backed Sea-turtle (I’m used to seeing them on the beach in Trinidad—see my previous blog. It was a treat to see one swimming close by. I was even able to see the pink translucent spot on the head).
- Bottle-nosed Dolphins
- Seabirds (lots of them…. four lifers already—more on this later!)