Cara Nelson: The Ocean Moved Me, September 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 26, 2019

Weather Data from Anchorage, AK:

Time: 14:18
Latitude: 61º13.257′ N
Longitude: 149º51.473’ W
Wind: North 1 knot
Air Temperature: 5.6ºC (42ºF)
Air Pressure: 1026 millibars
Sunny

Personal Log

As I drove home from Seward yesterday I was overwhelmed by the snow-capped mountains and vibrant fall colors that were such a stunning contrast to the ocean views of the past two weeks.  One no less beautiful than the other.  I had almost three hours to reflect on my experience out at sea and I can say that the ocean had a powerful impact on me. 

mountains
Termination dust settles over the mountains on the drive home from Seward.

Before I summarize my reflections from this trip, I want to rewind to where I left off on my last blog and give an update of the last leg of our journey.  On Monday afternoon, the forecast had not improved enough for travel and the decision was made to spend another night in Kodiak harbor.  This was a difficult call but it seemed like the weather was just getting the better of us.  Many were getting restless with the extended stay in Kodiak, the lack of ability to collect the necessary data for research projects and the overall feeling of being trapped (we were docked a about a mile from town with not much is open on Sundays and Mondays in Kodiak in late September).  On Tuesday morning, the seas were still forecast to be quite high, but Russ made the call to attempt to head out to sample the end of the Kodiak line with the day crew.  It was a difficult call, as it would put us far out to sea if the conditions were bad, but he also risked missing a key opportunity to get much needed data considering the gaps we had from the rest of the trip. 

We immediately began to encounter large swells leftover from the previous gale.  The ten footers rocked the boat side to side as we sat in the mess during the transit.  By the time we reached the first station, all of us were a bit pensive.  The winds were beginning to pick up and we were encountering larger swells as we hit the more open waters of the gulf.  After a tenuous CTD tow and CalVet, Captain John shut down the sampling due to a growing safety risk and Dan pointed the ship to Seward to begin our 20-hour final journey home. 

By sunset the winds had picked up even further to about 30 knots and the seas were getting to 14 feet.  It became difficult to move around the ship, but I made my way very carefully to the bridge.  Holding on tight with one hand, I was able to video the ship as she moved through the waves.  Remember this is 120-foot vessel. Shortly after this the waves made it all the way over the top of the bridge!

R/V Tiglax in High Seas

By 11pm, no one was able to do anything but try and sit still and hold on.  The winds had picked up to 40 knots and the sea state to 16 foot swells across our port side.  One particular wave really did a number and the galley and mess took quite the hit.  The food processor, mixer and dishes went flying, amongst other things, and the ship had to come to a stop for cleanup.  I had a hard time not rolling out of bed was unable to sleep until we were closer to sheltered waters at around 3am.  When I awoke the next day, Russ shared that in all his years as an oceanographic researcher he has never had a cruise that encountered such bad weather and rough seas.  I am actually glad I got to experience it, as I feel like this is the true colors of the Northern Gulf of Alaska in late September. 

Today as I sit back on my couch in Anchorage writing my final blog, I sway back and forth as the ocean swells still exert their power over my inner ear. Below are some my reflections from my experience:

  • Science is hard on the oceans! The LTER program has a team of scientists attempting to collect important data over a 6-week window from the spring to fall.  The problem is that despite the best logistical planning and preparation, mother nature still controls the show.  There isn’t a second chance or a next week for data collection for these researchers so they must constantly reevaluate their trip and work closely with the crew to come up with the best plan on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.  For some on the cruise, this data is needed to complete a master’s degree thesis this year, for others it is used to publish research based on grant funding requirements.  The money cannot be reimbursed due to weather delays or broken equipment.  Science in the field is hard and I have the utmost respect for the scientists aboard who did not waver in the face of the stressful cruise conditions and who maintain integrity and quality in their data collection throughout. 
cruise plan
Our cruise plan hanging in the lab. The only line we were able to complete on this trip was the Middleton line on the far right.
  • A good team is important.  Night work is hard work physically and mentally, so I was fortunate to work on the team that I did aboard R/V Tiglax.  Jenn was an amazing leader and friend to me during the cruise.  I felt comfortable with her from the minute we met and we shared many laughs together.  She was able to lead and educate our team, while making it comfortable and fun at the same time.  Heidi was the sweetest and kindest person around.  Her love of her work was infectious and I found myself very excited to see and help sample the jellyfish that were collected in each Methot. I have no doubt that she will continue to do great work in this field while bringing joy to those around her.  Emily is a superstar prospective graduate student at UAF.  Her energy and positivity were a welcome addition to our long nights on sampling.  Whatever needed done, Emily was ready and willing to jump in.  Overall, we settled in quickly as an efficient and productive team.  One that I was proud to be part of and one that I will never forget.
night shift group photo
Myself, Heidi, Emily and Jenn.
  • Life at sea is challenging and rewarding. The crew of R/V Tiglax spends months away from home working to serve the scientific research community.  Their jobs are hard, with only a few days off each season.  Their shifts are long, with 12 hour shifts each day, seven days a week.  Yet at the same time, each crew member clearly loves being out on the ocean and working in this field.  They welcomed us as I am sure they welcome each new team of researchers and made us feel at home aboard their ship.  They kept us safe, made us laugh, fed us well and worked their hardest to assure we collected the data that we could.  I am not sure I could do their job, but at the same time I am in envy of what they get to experience and see each season out on the ocean.  A special thank you to John, Dan, Dave, Jen, Andy and Margo for an experience of a lifetime aboard R/V Tiglax!
Dan and Jen
First mate Dan and deck hand Jen, they kept us smiling all night every night.
  • The oceans are warm.  As we worked far off on the Seward and Middleton lines, just past the continental shelf, we noticed something strange, the seawater coming out of our hose was oddly warm on our hands.  Whispers of a return of “The Blob” are circulating in the news as we return to port and we worry we were experiencing it firsthand.  “The Blob” was an unusual ocean warming event that occurred in the North Pacific and NGA in 2014-2016.  It created a nutrient poor environment that had ripple effects through the ecosystem, and is blamed for massive bird deaths, declines in salmon fisheries and shifts in marine mammal behaviors.  It will take time for the CTD data from this cruise to be analyzed to draw conclusions, but this type of event is exactly why the LTER study is so important.  We need to know as much as we can about this ecosystem so we can better understand its response and resiliency to major stressors such as a warming ocean.
sea surface temperature
Sea surface temperatures in 2014 compared to 2019 in the North Pacific and Northern Gulf of Alaska. The red color indicates the temperature shift above normal. Photo credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch.
  • Ecosystems are infinitely complex. I had no idea the depth and breadth and interconnectivity of the oceanographic research I would experience during my time out at sea.  The LTER program is an amazing study that truly attempts to piece together a whole-systems view of the NGA by examining detailed aspects of the chemical, physical and biological ocean environment.  Aboard our ship alone we had trace metals investigations, phytoplankton productivity and abundance studies, temperature and salinity modeling and analysis, seabird and marine mammal observations, zooplankton morphological and molecular analysis, and jellyfish abundance and biomass evaluation. Individually this data is valuable for baseline information, but the true importance lies in understanding the interplay between all of these aspects in the ecosystem.  I feel we are just beginning to scrape the surface in terms of our understanding of our ocean environment, let alone how we are impacting it.  I feel it is imperative that this research continues and that I as a teacher help educate about its importance.
Crab larvae and krill
Crab larvae and krill peer back at me from one of our samples of the thriving ecosystem just below the surface.

Prior to my departure, my biggest hope for my trip was that I was able to see a sperm whale.  I return satisfied, not because I saw a sperm whale, but rather because I saw so much more. I am enthralled by the vastness of the of ocean and the fortitude of life that survives upon and within.  I am in awe of how little we see and experience by sailing across its surface or even dropping in an occasional net. I hope in my lifetime I am able to witness more of the ocean’s incredible secrets revealed, without being at the expense of the sea and its inhabitants. 

I am anxious to return to my students to tomorrow as I have missed them. I am eager to answer their questions and share my pictures.  Additionally, I am so excited to share my story with other teachers across my district and state to encourage them to apply to this amazing program.  It was a true honor to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and it truly was a birthday gift to remember. 

Cara Nelson: Little Creatures that Rule the World, September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor again

Date: September 23, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 13:30
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Northwest 8 knots
Air Temperature: 11ºC (51ºF)
Air Pressure: 993 millibars
Overcast, light rain


Science and Technology Log

As we near the end of our trip, I want to focus on a topic that it is the heart of the LTER study: zooplankton.  Zooplankton are probably the most underappreciated part of the ocean, always taking second stage to the conspicuous vertebrates that capture people’s attention.  I would argue however, that these animals deserve our highest recognition. These small ocean drifters many of which take part in the world’s largest animal migration each day. This migration is a vertical migration from the ocean depths, where they spend their days in the darkness avoiding predators, to the surface at night, where they feed on phytoplankton (plant plankton). Among the zooplankton, the humble copepod, the “oar-footed,” “insect of the sea,” makes up 80% of the animal mass in the water column.  These copepods act as a conduit of energy in the food chain, from primary producers all the way up to the seabirds and marine mammals.

copepod
A copepod. Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft.

Aboard the R/V Tiglax, zooplankton and copepods are collected in a variety of manners.  During the day, a CalVet plankton net is used to collect plankton in the top 100 meters of the water column.  

CalVet
Russ prepares the CalVet for deployment.

On the night shift, we alternated between a Bongo net and a Multinet depending on our sampling location.  The Bongo net is lowered to 200 meters of depth (or 5 meters above the bottom depending on depth) and is towed back to the surface at a constant rate.  This allows us to capture the vertical migrators during the night.  How do we know where it is in the water column and its flow rate you may ask?  Each net is attached to the winch via a smart cable.  This cable communicates with the onboard computer and allows the scientists to monitor the tow in real time from the lab. 

bongo net
The Bongo net coming back aboard. Note the smart cable attached to the winch that communicates with the computer. Grabbing the Bongo can be tricky in high seas as we learned on this trip!

The Multinet is a much higher tech piece of equipment.  It contains five different nets each with a cod end.  It too is dropped to the same depth as the Bongo, however each net is fired open and closed from the computer at specific depths to allow for a snapshot of the community at different vertical depths.

multinet
The Multinet about to be deployed during our night shift.

Copepod research is the focus of the two chief scientists, Russ Hopcroft and Jennifer Questel aboard R/V Tiglax.  Much of the research must occur back in the laboratories of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  For example, Jenn’s research focuses on analyzing the biodiversity of copepods in the NGA at the molecular level, using DNA barcoding to identify species and assess population genetics.  A DNA barcode is analogous to a barcode you would find on merchandise like a box of cereal.  The DNA barcode can be read and this gives a species level identification of the zooplankton.  This methodology provides a better resolution of the diversity of planktonic communities because there are many cryptic species (morphologically identical) and early life stages that lack characteristics for positive identification.  Her samples collected onboard are carefully stored in ethanol and frozen for transport back to her lab.  Her winter will involve countless hours of DNA extraction, sequencing and analysis of the data.

One aspect of the LTER study that Russ is exploring is how successful certain copepod species are at finding and storing food.  Neocalanus copepods, a dominate species in our collections, are arthropods that have a life cycle similar to insects.  They have two major life forms, they start as a nauplius, or larval stage, and then metamorphisize into the copepodite form, in which they take on the more familiar arthropod appearance as they transition to adulthood.  Neocalanus then spends the spring and summer in the NGA feasting on the rich phytoplankton blooms. They accumulate fat stores, similar to our Alaska grizzlies.   In June, these lipid-rich animals will settle down into the deep dark depths of the ocean, presumably where there is less turbulence and predation.  The males die shortly after mating, but the females will overwinter in a state called diapause, similar to hibernation.  The females do not feed during this period of diapause and thus must have stock-piled enough lipids to not only survive the next six months, but also for the critical next step of egg production.  Egg production begins in December to January and after egg release, these females – like salmon – will die as the cycle begins again. 

Part of Russ’s assessment of the Neocalanus is to photograph them in the lab aboard the ship as they are collected.  The size of the lipid sac is measured relative to their body size and recorded.  If females do not store enough lipids, then the population could be dramatically altered the following season. These organisms that are live sorted on the ship will then be further studied back in the laboratory using another type of molecular analysis to look at their gene expression to understand if they are food-stressed as they come out of diapause.

Russ Hopcroft at microscope
I watch in awe as Russ is able to manipulate and photograph copepods under a microscope amid the rocking ship.
Neocalanus
Two Neocalanus with their lipid sacs visible down the center of the body. Note the difference in the size of the lipid storage between the two.

Back in the UAF laboratory, countless hours must be spent on a microscope by technicians and students analyzing the samples collected onboard.  To give an idea of the scope of this work, it takes approximately 4 hours to process one sample.  A typical cruise generates 250 samples for morphological analysis to community description, which includes abundance, biomass, life stage, gender, size and body weight information.  There are three cruises in a season, and thus the work extends well into the spring. To save time, computers are also used to analyze a subset of the samples which are then checked by a technician.  However, at this stage, the computer output does not yet meet the accuracy of a human technician. All of these approaches serve to better understand the health of the zooplankton community in the NGA. Knowing how much zooplankton there is, who is there and how fatty they are, will tell us both the quantity and quality of food available to the fish, seabirds and marine mammals that prey upon them.  Significant changes both inter-annually and long-term of zooplankton community composition and abundance could have transformative effects through the food chain.  This research provides critical baseline data as stressors, such as a changing climate, continue to impact the NGA ecosystem.


Personal Log

After sheltering in Kodiak harbor overnight Friday, we once again were able to head back out during a break in the weather.  We departed Kodiak in blue skies and brisk winds on Saturday. 

sunset
Sunset over Marmot Island at the start of the Kodiak line on what would end up being our last night of sampling.

We made it to the start of the Kodiak line by sundown and began our night of sampling with the goal of getting through six stations.  The swells left over from the last gale were quite challenging, with safety a top priority this evening.  Waves were crashing over the top rale as we worked and the boat pitched side to side.  Walking the corridor from the stern to the bow required precise timing, lest you get soaked by a breaking wave, as poor Heidi did at least three times.

Despite having to pull the Methot early on one station and skip it all together on another due to the rough seas, we had an amazingly efficient and successful evening.  Our team was amazing to work with and Dan captured one last photo of us as we wrapped up our shift at 6am.

night shift group photo
The night shift “A Team”: Emily, Jenn, Jen, Cara and Heidi.

The day crew worked fast and furious on the return to station one as once again, another gale was forecast.  This gale was the worst yet, dipping down to 956 millibars in pressure with the word STORM written across the forecast screen for the entire Gulf of Alaska.  Luckily we were able to make it back into Kodiak harbor by Sunday evening just as winds and waves began to build.  After riding out the storm overnight we are still waiting for the 4pm forecast to reassess our final days two days.  The crew grows weary of sitting idle as the precious window for sampling closes.  Stay tuned for a follow up blog as I return to solid ground on Wednesday! 


Did You Know?

Copepods are the most biologically diverse zooplankton and even outnumber the biodiversity of terrestrial insects!

Kathy Schroeder: The Great Hammerhead / Setting the Longline, September 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.15258
Longitude: 93.02012
Temperature: 87°F
Wind Speeds: E 10 mph


Science and Technology Log

My last blog left off with a late night longline going in the water around 9:00pm on 9/23/19.  We were able to successfully tag a great hammerhead, a scalloped hammerhead, and a tiger shark.  We also caught a blacknose shark, three gafftopsail catfish (Bagre marinus), and three red snappers. 

female great hammerhead
Female great hammerhead caught on 9/23/19 aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
male scalloped hammerhead
Male scalloped hammerhead caught on 9/23/19 aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II


Deploying the Longline

Today I’m going to explain to you the five jobs that we rotate through when we are deploying the longline.  When there are about 15-20 minutes before deployment we grab our sunglasses, personal floatation device (pfd) and rubber boats and head to the stern of the ship.  All scientists are responsible for helping to cut and bait all 100 gangions (hooks and line).  The hooks are 15/0mm circle hooks and the gangion length is 3.7m long.  The bait used for this is Atlantic mackerel cut into chunks to fit the hooks.  We are all responsible for cleaning the deck and the table and cutting boards that were used. 

baiting hooks
Kristin cutting bait and Taniya and Ryan baiting the 100 hooks

The first job on the deployment is setting up the laptop computer.  The scientist on computer is responsible for entering information when the high flyer, the three weights (entered after first high flyer, after gangion 50 and before final high flyer), and the 100 baited gangions entered into the water.  This gives the time and the latitude and longitude of each to keep track of for comparison data. 

The second job is the person actually putting the high flyer and buoy in the water.  Once the ship is in position and we receive the ok from the bridge it is released into the water.  The high flyer is 14ft from the weight at the bottom to the flashing light at the top. (see picture) 

high flyer
Kristin and Kathy getting ready to put the first high flyer in the water

The third job is the “slinger”.  The slinger takes each hook, one by one, off of the barrel, lowers the baited hook into the water,  and then holds the end clamp so that the fourth scientist can put a tag number on each one (1-100).  It is then handed to the deckhand who clamps it onto the mainline where it is lowered into the water off the stern. 

numbers on gangion
Placing the numbers on the gangion before being put on the mainline

The final job is the barrel cleaner.  Once all the lines are in the water the barrel cleaner takes a large brush with soap and scrubs down the inside and outside of the barrel.  The barrels are then taken to the well deck to get ready for the haul in.  The last weight and high flyer are put into the water to complete the longline set, which will remain in the water for one hour.  Everyone now helps out cleaning the stern deck and bringing any supplies to the dry lab.  At this time the CTD unit is put in the water (this will be described at a later time).   


Personal Log

Last night was so exciting, catching the three large sharks.  During this station I was responsible for the data so I was able to take a few pictures once I recorded the precaudal, fork, and total length measurements as well as take a very small fin sample and place it in a vial, and record the tagging numbers. 

Shout Out:    Today’s shout out goes to my wonderful 161 students, all my former students, fellow teachers, especially those in my hallway, my guest teachers and all the staff and administration at Palmetto Ridge High School.  I would also like to thank Mr. Bremseth and Michelle Joyce for my letters of recommendations! 

I couldn’t have been able to do this without all of your help and support.  I have sooo much to tell you about when I get back.  Go Bears!!

Kathy Schroeder: Sharks, Sharks, and More Sharks! September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/23/19

Weather Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)

Latitude: 28.07
Longitude: 93.27.45
Temperature: 84°F
Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph
large swells


Science and Technology Log

9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived.  After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm).  We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel.   Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes.  My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard.   When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status:  fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait.  Our first night was a huge success.  We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.                                                                                                                                       

Kathy and red snapper
NOAA TAS Kathy Schroeder with a red snapper caught on the Oregon II

We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus).  There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride. 

sandbar shark
Sandbar shark – no tag. Oregon II

I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle.  It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin.  He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length.  What a great way to start our first day of fishing.  After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am.  The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets.  I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.

9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day.  They were able to complete two stations last night.  They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight.  The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us.  We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs).  We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark.  Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship. 

We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm.  My job this time was in charge of data recording.  When a “fish  is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments.  We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark.  The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born.  The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm.  There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status.  We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing.  Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags.  (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).

measuring a shark
Taking the three measurements
king snake eel
King snake eel caught on a longline.


Personal Log

I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab.  I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station.  I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline.  So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am.  It finally stopped around 6:30.  They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing.  Guess I’m hearing things 🙂 

Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy

Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

airport meal

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019


Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Conclusion

Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

Cara Nelson: A Harbor in a Tempest, September 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor

Date: September 21, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 12:20
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Southwest 20 knots
Air Temperature: 12.8ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 990 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

As we sit in the shelter of Kodiak harbor, I thought I would dedicate this blog to the R/V Tiglax and her crew.  Careers in oceanographic research would not be possible without the support of research vessels and their crew.  R/V Tiglax is a 121-foot long U.S. Fish and Wildlife vessel that was commissioned in 1987.  Her primary mission is to support scientific research in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutian chain and she was designed and built to accommodate this mission. 

R/V Tiglax layout
The layout of R/V Tiglax. Image credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

R/V Tiglax has an amazing fuel capacity of 40,000 gallons which allows it be away at sea for long periods each summer without refueling.  Additionally, it has a water desalination system that can produce approximately 500 gallons of fresh water daily. The ship seems to have at least two of everything: 2 engines, 2 generators, 2 cranes, 2 zodiac skiffs, 2 freezers, 2 washing machines, 2 stationary bikes, 2 televisions, and at least 2 fresh baked goods every day! 

Below is brief photo tour of the interior of R/V Tiglax.

Tiglax hallway
Looking down the hallway from the main deck aft.
Tiglax mess
The mess, where we eat all our meals and spend our down time.
Tiglax galley
The galley, where our amazing meals are prepared, even during 12-foot seas!
laundry
Down in the hold, there are several staterooms, storage rooms, and the very important laundry and boot dryers.
stateroom
My stateroom. There are 4 beds total and a small desk, and I have the top bunk.
Tiglax hold
The hold, where the science crew stores a lot of gear during the trip.
Tiglax science lab
One of the two science labs onboard. Active research is done throughout the day here as samples come aboard.

Much of the summer, R/V Tiglax can be found transporting scientists to remote field camps in the Western Aleutians and then up into the Bering Sea to the island of St. Matthews.  The science the ship supports is diverse and includes seabird and marine mammal monitoring, volcanic research, invasive species management and archeological studies.  Although the crew does not participate in this research directly, they are a critical piece to its success. They are responsible not just for the transport but also for the logistics of getting the scientists from ship to shore at each of the remote sites and assisting with the setup of equipment.

Since 2005, R/V Tiglax has been supporting the oceanographic research on the Seward line and for the past two years the ship has been contracted by the LTER project for $11,376 per day to complete the spring and fall cruises.  Again, the crew plays an integral part in this ocean research.  All of cranes and winches aboard the ship that are used for the water sampling gear and nets are operated by the crew.  Additionally, the captain and first mate navigate the ship to and from sampling sites and manage the vessel amid the changing seas during sampling sessions.  Their knowledge of the ship, currents, weather and tides is imperative in making decisions with the chief scientists as to travel, scheduling, and sampling.

Captain John
Captain John navigating the ship from the wheelhouse.

R/V Tiglax has a crew of six: a captain, first mate, two deckhands, an engineer and a cook.  For some, being a crew member is a long-time career choice. For others, it is a job to gain skills and experience and serves as more of a stepping stone to the future. 

John Farris began his career aboard R/V Tiglax nineteen years ago as a deckhand and has moved his way up to captain, a position he has held for the past four years. He works closely with Russ Hopcroft, the chief scientist, to assure the success of the mission.  John is warm and welcoming to the science crew and genuinely concerned about each member’s well-being during the cruise.  Safety is his number one priority and John closely monitors not only the ship but also the science work each day.

crew meeting
Captain John meets with the science team prior to deploying the CTD rosette.

Dan Puterbaugh is the first mate who has been a member of the crew for the past two years.  Dan has thirty-years’ experience working on ships in a variety of capacities and has a wealth of knowledge of the oceans. He pilots the ship from 10 pm – 6 am and helps oversee the science team on the night shift.  Dan greets each day with a smile and his passion for being out at sea and supporting the science research that goes on is truly evident. 

Dan Puterbaugh, first mate
Dan keeping watch in the wheel house.

The two deckhands aboard the ship are Dave and Jen.  Dave works the day shift with John and has been a crew member for the past 6 years.  He shares the challenges of working the night shift versus the day shift on the ship and is happy to have worked his way up to his current position on the crew.  Dave describes the sheer beauty of the Aleutians and the seabirds and marine mammals that inhabit them and how appreciative he is to experience this during his work.

Jen works on the night shift and joined the crew just this season.  She is one of the most interesting and eclectic individuals I have ever met.  Although she is new to the ship, she is not green and can maneuver a crane or a winch with precision and style.  Jen’s spirit and energy helped get us through the long hours of the night shift.  She enjoys combining her passion for science with her love of the ocean and will spend her winter crewing aboard a tall ship for the Woods Hole Semester at Sea program.  Whatever Jen’s future holds, it is assured to be tied to the sea. 

Jen, deckhand
Jen getting time at the wheel.

Andy, the ship’s engineer, began with his time aboard R/V Tiglax eleven years ago.  He, like others before him, started out as a deckhand and worked his way up in the ranks.  He spent time in the Navy doing propulsion work, so this experience serves him well in maintaining the mechanics of the Tiglax.  Although Andy is a bit more elusive, he is always right there when things needed repair.  He helped us get through several winch issues, a broken hydraulic line on the crane and a downed freezer and refrigerator in the galley. 

Last, but most importantly, is Morgan, the chef aboard R/V Tiglax.  Morgan has been with the ship for six years, and continues to wow the crew and scientists alike with her amazing meals.  Morgan attended culinary school in Denver before joining the ship as a relief cook her first summer.  When asked about how she manages to cook during high seas she says it took some getting used to at first but she quickly learned to manage.  Morgan’s talents are apparent in her daily fresh sourdough breads and home-made desserts.  Despite being out to sea for long periods of time, she maintains variety in each meal and does her best to infuse fresh ingredients wherever possible.  Morgan will spend her winter furthering her culinary training in Portland before returning for another season with the ship.

Morgan's puff pastries
Morgan’s puff pastries with homemade raspberry rhubarb sauce. They disappear so fast I couldn’t even photograph a full pan.


Personal Log

As is the theme for this September cruise, we once again were chased ashore by our fourth gale. On Thursday night, just after starting our night shift we were shut down by the building wind and waves and made a 16-hour harrowing transit from the Seward line to shelter in Kodiak harbor and reevaluate as the weather.   Although we were not happy to be missing more sampling, everyone was appreciative for the time to get cell reception and step foot on solid land.

We arrived in Kodiak harbor at 5pm on Friday night and had the fortune of docking at the state ferry dock.  After eating dinner aboard, we all ventured off into town. My dock rock continued as all of Kodiak seemed to be moving up and down and side to side.  All the crew and scientists ended up in same spot and enjoyed socializing together on our down time.  We returned to the ship and all appreciated a night of sleep that didn’t involve almost rolling out of the bed with each swell. 

Cara on ladder
Climbing off the ship can be challenging when the tides are low.

This morning we awoke to blue skies and strong winds.  Unfortunately, the night crew caved in at 3am and slept for a few hours.  Having a day off from work makes it easy to slip back to the normal schedule and working tonight might be difficult.  We await the afternoon forecast to see if we can head out to sample the Kodiak line before another gale blows in on Monday.  One thing that I have learned this trip is that successful oceanographic research requires a delicate dance with Mother Nature.

Did You Know?

R/V Tiglax often travels up to 20,000 nautical miles in one season!  A nautical mile is equal to 1.15 land measured miles and is based on the circumference of the earth.  One nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is useful for charting and navigating.

Cara Nelson: Chemistry on the High Seas, September 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling along the Seward line.

Date: September 19, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 18:30
Latitude: 59º53.587’ N
Longitude: 149º33.398’ E
Wind: South 15 knots
Air Temperature: 15.5ºC (60ºF)
Air Pressure: 998 millibars
Partly cloudy skies


Science and Technology Log

A major component of the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is the collection and analysis of physical parameters in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and how these abiotic (non-living) factors interact with and impact the biological community.  A variety of physical oceanographic research is occurring during the day shift on R/V Tiglax, one of which includes looking at metals in the ocean water. 

Mette Kaufmann is the onboard research professional working on the collection of trace metals from the surface water.  Specifically, Mette is working to sample and process iron species for Dr. Ana Aguilar-Islas who is the principal investigator for iron biogeochemistry on the LTER study.  One might ask, why is there such a focus or interest in iron in the surface ocean water?  In the past few decades it has become evident through research that iron is major player in the productivity of the ocean ecosystem.  Prior to this, nitrogen was assumed to be the most important nutrient and limiting factor in phytoplankton growth and production.  It is now known that iron influx from surface and atmospheric sources is the major limiting factor in our coastal and offshore ecosystems. 

Glacier runoff from the Kenai peninsula and the Copper River plume carry this iron into the ocean and allow for a rich spring bloom of phytoplankton over the continental shelf.  Sampling the iron levels at different locations helps paint a picture as to the overall availability, transport and use of iron in the NGA.  For example, one question the researchers are examining is, do fall storms bring up iron to the surface from deeper water?  Additionally, copper samples are being collected for analysis on this cruise, as a factor that can potentially suppress photosynthesis at higher levels.  

As I mentioned in my second blog, there is a tool for every job and for iron sampling, it is the “iron fish.”  The iron fish looks a bit like a rusty torpedo being dragged next to the boat with a simple plastic hose attached to it.  However, looks can be deceiving, as this piece of equipment is quite high tech.

iron fish
The iron fish weight resting on the zodiac.

The actual sampling piece of the iron fish is the white tubing that can be seen in the picture below.  The tip of the tubing has a red cap and is attached to the weight.  This tubing is treated with acid and has an inner lining of Teflon to assure for a “clean” catch of metals.

iron fish tubing coil
The iron fish tubing coiled up with the red-capped collection tip attached to the weight.

As we transit between stations the iron fish is towed at 1-3 meters of depth off the starboard side of the boat.  The pump, which runs off of the boats air supply, send the water through the tubing and into the “van” on the mid deck.  This van is a small connex that is used for trace metal processing.  Inside the van, the water samples are processed through a 0.4-micron filter to remove any particulates and then stored in acid for analysis back in the metals laboratory at UAF. 

The iron fish being towed while underway and sending samples into the van on the deck.
Annie Kandell
Annie Kandell, a graduate student under Dr. Aguilar-Islas, works to process the water samples in the van clean room to avoid contamination.


Personal Log

As we started our shift on Tuesday evening heading into Wednesday morning, we knew a gale was approaching.  We wanted to squeeze in as many sampling stations as we could before the weather chased us away.  It was challenging to manage both the Methot and Multinet in the high seas and building wind, but also a lot of fun.  We were handling the waves crashing over the back deck and rushing across us as we sampled and measured and getting really good at pouring off the cod-ends with the rise and fall of the boat in the swell.  Unfortunately, by our third station of five, the wind and waves were putting such a strain on the winch that the Multinet couldn’t get an accurate reading or sample.  The winch began to not respond and the decision was made to call it for the night, even though it was only 2:30am.  We strapped things down and proceeded to make a run for shelter back in Resurrection Bay. 

I awoke on Wednesday at around 11am expecting it to be raining sideways and blowing still, but was surprised again by partly cloudy skies and a much calmer sea state.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we were going to take the afternoon for an excursion to Bear Glacier.  We all donned our mustang coats and took three groups in the zodiac to head to shore.  We were diverted due to rough breakers to a separate beach away from the glacier but all of us were happy to be ashore. 

group photo
The night shift and part of the day shift preparing to go ashore.

We had about 4 hours to hike around and explore the shoreline.  One of the drawbacks of the beauty of the amazing rocky shoreline along the Gulf of Alaska is that it is littered with human trash.  The trash entering from around the Pacific circulates through the ocean driven by the currents.  Some of the water gets caught up in the counterclockwise gyre of the Gulf of Alaska current and then gets deposited on land by the storms.  Just a few steps onto the shore and plastic water bottles are visible everywhere. What is less visible is the plastics that are broken up into small pieces or micro-plastics that then invade the entire water column.  These plastics get ingested by marine organisms, such as seabirds, and can cause death from starvation, as their stomachs are clogged with debris.  It makes you appreciate our impact on the oceans and the dire need for a shift in our plastic use and disposal.

plastic on beach
Can you spot the 6 plastic bottles just in this one picture?

Aside from the trash, the beach held other treasures and the walk in the fresh air and sunshine was greatly appreciated.

Mermaid's purse
An empty egg case for a Skate, also known as a Mermaid’s Purse.
algae on shore
Beautiful colors of red, green and brown algae decorate the rocky shore.

I did have an interesting case of what the seasoned crew calls “dock rock.”  This is when you are used to the motion of the sea and everything on land seems to be moving like the ocean.  It didn’t make me land sick but it did throw me off a bit.  I wonder how long I will sway when I return!

R/V Tiglax
A view of our current home, R/V Tiglax from the shore.

We boarded the ship in time for another fabulous dinner and prepared to head back out to the Seward line for another night of sampling.


Did You Know?

Dr. Thomas C. Royer is a physical oceanographer who was the first to begin water sampling along the GAK (Seward) line almost 40 years ago.  His research led to the discovery of significant coast currents in the Northern Gulf of Alaska that are driven by freshwater input.  It was this knowledge of coastal currents that assisted with the prediction of oil spill trajectories during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  His groundbreaking work was the start of the Long Term Ecological Research study that I am assisting with today!

Kathy Schroeder: Meet the NOAA OREGON II

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Title: Kathy Schroeder:   Meet the NOAA  Oregon II, Sept 20, 2019

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NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/20/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.3088855

Longitude: -94.7948546

Temperature: 87°F

Wind Speeds: SSW 17 mph

Science and Technology Log

Today I decided to share with you some information about the Oregon II that I found on her website and show you around the ship.  I have attached pictures so you can see where I have been living and working for the last 5 days.  (unfortunately each picture is taking forever to upload-so I hope to add more this week)

NOAA Ship Oregon II, photo credit: NOAA

“NOAA Ship Oregon II conducts a variety of fisheries, plankton and marine mammal surveys in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

The 170-ft. ship’s mission includes supporting the National Marine Fisheries Service’s annual bottom longline red snapper/shark survey, during which researchers catch, measure, tag and release the fish to acquire the data used in stock assessment for many of the coastal species of sharks, as well as commercial snapper and grouper species. Using gear modeled after commercial shark fisheries, the survey has been running continuously since 1995.

During survey missions, observers stationed on the ship’s flying bridge watch for marine mammals or floating debris using high-powered “big eye” binoculars. When pods are encountered, the ship breaks from planned operations and investigates each sighting.

Oregon II is patterned after North Atlantic distant-water trawlers, designed for extended cruising range, versatility of operations, habitability and seaworthiness.

The ship uses trawls and benthic longlines to collect fish and crustacean specimens. The ship’s longline gear consists of one nautical mile of mainline with 100 hooks, which soak for a total of 1 hour. The ship uses plankton nets and surface and midwater larval nets to collect plankton.

Oregon II was originally built for the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Department of the Interior, as a replacement for the fishery research vessel Oregon, a converted 100-foot tuna clipper that carried out most of the federal fishery research work in the Gulf and southwest Atlantic beginning in 1952. The ship was commissioned in the NOAA fleet in 1975. Oregon II is homeported at NOAA’s Gulf Marine Support Facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi.”

If you are interested in more information about Oregon II, please visit her website: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/oregon-ii/about

Personal Log

Update:  So we are still here in Galveston, TX.   The engineers have been working so hard to get the parts in and fixed.  We are ready to go, but need to wait on a part to arrive to have with us out in the Gulf. Hopefully we get out on the water today!  The Tropical Storm Imelda brought lots of rain.  About 14” of rain here.  Some areas around us got 34”+. That means lots of flooding.   Almost every restaurant and store here is closed.  We made our way out last night to one place that was open and enjoyed some pizza.   I’ll keep you posted as I know more!

Oregon II The Bridge
Oregon II View from the Bridge

Shout Out:    Today’s shout out goes to my beautiful little Payton Clawson and her wonderful parents Andrea and Tyler.  Miss you!!

Phil Moorhouse: Look What the Net Dragged In! September 12, 2019

Pavlof Volcano

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57 35.35 N
Longitude: 153 57.71 W
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: 208 degrees
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar
Sky:  Overcast


Science and Technology Log

Well, we only have a few days left on this trip and it looks like mother nature is going to force us to head for Dutch Harbor a little early.  I thought this might be a good time to spend some time sharing some information on some of the species we have been pulling out of the ocean.  This is far from a complete list, but just the ones that made “the cut”.

At the top of the list has to be the Pollock.  After all, this is the primary objective of this study.  On the left is an adult three-year-old pollock and on the right is an age-0 pollock.  The sampling of age-0 pollocks is a good indicator of the abundance of the future population.

There were several species of salmon caught on our trawls.  On the left is a Coho Salmon and on the right is a Pink Salmon.  These fish are very similar, but are classified as separately Coho Salmon are larger and have larger scales.  Coho also has a richer, fuller flavor with darker red meat while the Pink Salmon has a milder flavor and a softer texture.

zooplankton
Another important part of this survey is the collection and measurement of zooplankton as this is a primary food source and the amount and health of the zooplankton will have a lasting impact on the ecology of the fish population in the area.
capelin
Capelin is another common fish caught in our trawls. This fish eats krill and other crustaceans and in turn is preyed upon by whales, seals, cod, squid, and seabirds.
Pacific Saury
The Pacific Saury was a fish that wasn’t expected to be found in our trawls. Also called the knifefish, this species always seemed to be found in substantial quantities when they were collected – as if the trawl net came across a school of them. They are found in the top one meter of the water column.
Prowfish
The Prowfish was another interesting find. This fish is very malleable and slimy. Adults tend to stay close to the ocean floor while young prowfish can be found higher up in the water column where they feed on jellyfish. As with the saury, the prowfish was not kept for future study. It was weighed, recorded, and returned to the water.

Jellyfish were abundant on our hauls.  Here are the five most common species that we found. 

bubble jellyfish
The Bubble Jellyfish, Aequorea sp., is clear with a rim around it. This jellyfish is fragile and most of them are broken into pieces by the time we get them from the trawl net and onto the sorting table.
moon jellyfish
The Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia labiata, is translucent and when the sun or moon shines on them, they look like the moon all lit up.
white cross jellyfish
The White Cross Jellyfish, Staurophora mertensi, was another mostly clear jelly that was very fragile. Very few made it to the sorting table in one piece. You have to look close it is so clear, but they can be identified by their clear bell with a distinctive X across the top of the bell.
Lion's mane jellyfish
The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, are the largest known species of jellyfish. These guys can become giants. They are typically a crimson red but could appear faded to a light brown.
sunrise jellyfish
The Sunrise Jellyfish, Chrysaora melanaster, was the most common jelly that we found. It is also arguably the least fragile. Almost all made it to the sorting table intact where they were counted, weighed, recorded, and returned to the water. It lives at depths of up to 100 meters, where it feeds on copepods, larvaceans, small fish, zooplankton, and other jellyfish.
arrowtooth flounder
Arrowtooth flounder are a relatively large, brownish colored flatfish with a large mouth. Just one look at its mouth and you can tell how it got its name. Their eyes migrate so that they are both on the right side and lie on the ocean floor on their left side.
Eulachon
Eulachons, sometimes called candlefish, were another common find on the sorting table. Throughout recent history, eulachons have been harvested for their rich oil. Their name, candlefish, was derived from it being so fat during spawning that if caught, dried, and strung on a wick, it can be burned as a candle. They are also an important food source for many ocean and shore predators.
vermilion rockfish
The Vermilion Rockfish – This guy was the only non-larval rockfish that we caught. Most can be found between the Bering Sea and Washington State.

While the Smooth Lumpsucker is significantly larger than the Spiny Lumpsucker, both have unique faces.  The Smooth Lumpsucker is also found in deeper water than the smaller Spiny Lumpsucker.

Most of the squid caught and recorded were larval.  Here are a couple of the larger ones caught in a trawl.

There were a variety of seabirds following us around looking for an easy meal.  The Black-footed Albatross on the right was one of several that joined the group one day.

Pavlof Volcano
And of course, I couldn’t leave out the great view we got of Pavlof Volcano! Standing snow capped above the clouds at 8,251 feet above sea level, it is flanked on the right by Pavlof’s Sister. Pavlof last erupted in March of 2016 and remains with a threat of future eruptions considered high. Pavlof’s Sister last erupted in 1786. This picture was taken from 50 miles away.


Personal Log

In keeping with the admiration I have for the scientists and crew I am working with, I will continue here with my interview with Rob Suryan. 

Robert Suryan is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Scientist. He is currently a Research Ecologist and Auke Bay Laboratories, Science Coordinator, working on the Gulf Watch Alaska Long-term Ecosystem Monitoring Program.

How long have you been working with NOAA?  What did you do before joining NOAA?

One and a half years.  Prior to that, I was a professor at Oregon State University

Where do you do most of your work?

In the Gulf of Alaska

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy giving presentations to the general public, where we have to describe why we are conducting studies and results to an audience with a non-science background. It teaches you a lot about messaging! I also like working with writers, reporters, and journalists in conducting press releases for our scientific publications. I also use Twitter for science communication.

Why is your work important?

Having detailed knowledge about our surroundings, especially the natural environment and the ocean. Finding patterns in what sometimes seems like chaos in natural systems. Being able to provide answers to questions about the marine environment.

How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?

I provide information and expertise to make well informed resource management decisions, I inform the general public about how our changing climate if affecting marine life, and I train (and hopefully inspire) future generations of marine scientists

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?

During middle school

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Computer! So much of our instrumentation and sampling equipment are controlled by software interfaces. Also, much of my research involves data assimilation, analysis, creating graphs, and writing scientific papers. Although, at the very beginning of my career, most of our data collection was hand written, as were our scientific papers before typing the final version with a typewriter. So glad those days are gone!

If you could invent one tool to make your work easier, what would it be?

For in the office: a computer program that would scan all of my emails, extract the important info that I need to know and respond to, and populate my calendar with meetings/events. For the field: a nano-power source that provided unlimited continuous power for instruments AND global cell phone or wireless connectivity.

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

I joined NOAA later in my career and had collaborated with NOAA scientists for many years, so everything was what I expected for the most part.

What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?

Biology, math, chemistry, and physics are good foundation courses. If you have an opportunity to take a class in marine biology at your school or during a summer program, that would be ideal. But keep in mind that almost any field of study can be involved in marine science; including engineering, economics, computer science, business, geology, microbiology, genetics, literature, etc.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?

I originally studied wildlife biology before marine science and one of my favorite books initially was A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. For marine biology, I would recommend The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck.

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

I would probably work at a university again – I was a professor at Oregon State University before working for NOAA.

Do you have any outside hobbies?

Pretty much any type of outdoor adventure, most frequently kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and beachcombing with my family and our dogs.

Cara Nelson: Report from the Flying Bridge, September 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling along the Seward line.

Date: September 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 16:10
Latitude: 59º36.465’
Longitude: 149º14.346’
Wind: North 12 knots
Air Temperature: 16ºC (61ºF)
Air Pressure: 1001 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) study focuses on ecosystem dynamics in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and how the complex processes of abiotic factors, such as ocean salinity, temperature, currents, and trace metals influence primary productivity of phytoplankton.  The project examines how efficiently this energy is transferred, in turn, to higher trophic levels, from zooplankton to vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals. 

Over the past twenty years, seabird and marine mammal observations have been an important component of the LTER study. Approximately 50 species of birds inhabit the NGA either year-round or seasonally, with a variety of foraging behaviors and diets. Through the LTER, we can learn about how physical and biological oceanographic processes influence the distribution and abundance of higher trophic levels, such as seabirds.

Dr. Kathy Kuletz with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead scientist for the seabird part of the research program. Dan Cushing is the seabird and marine mammal observer aboard R/V Tiglax.  He holds a master’s degree in wildlife science and has a wealth of experience in birding both on and offshore.  This fall cruise marks Dan’s eleventh cruise observing in the NGA.  Whenever the R/V Tiglax is underway, Dan can be found on the flying bridge collecting data. 

flying bridge
The flying bridge (named for its bird’s eye view) is an open viewing area atop the wheel-house of R/V Tiglax accessed by a ladder.

Observations are made using a protocol established through the USFWS.  Dan records survey data using a computer on the flying bridge that records both time and GPS coordinates of each bird or mammal sighting. 

Dan on flying bridge
Dan actively observing on the flying bridge.
estimating distance
A chopstick with markings on it helps Dan estimate bird distance. Dan made this simple distance measuring tool using high-school trigonometry. When the top of the stick is placed on the horizon, the markings along the stick correspond to distances from the boat.
observing laptop
Dan is able to quickly document the species seen, abundance and any special notes using the computer program.

It is immediately clear that bird sightings along the LTER follow a pattern.  Inshore, diving bird species are common, such as common murres, puffins and cormorants.  Pelagic bird species inhabiting deeper waters are mostly surface-feeders, and rely on processes such as fronts and upwellings at the shelf break to concentrate prey at the surface where feeding occurs.  Albatross, shearwaters and storm-petrels are abundant as we head further out on our sampling lines.  

birds on the dock
Pelagic cormorants and black-legged kittiwakes sit on the dock in Seward prior to our departure.
black-footed albatross
A black-footed albatross. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

Dan’s experience on the LTER study is helpful in that he can comment on both changes he sees from the spring, summer and fall cruises but also over the past several years.  For example, in winter 2015-16, a large die-off event of common murres was observed in Alaska following an extreme warming event called “the blob” in the North Pacific.  The murre die off was due to starvation from lack of forage fish availability.  A question of the LTER study is how is the ocean chemistry, primary production, and zooplankton abundance tied to events such as this. Today, the murre numbers have not completely rebounded in the NGA and other species, such as the short-tailed shearwater are beginning to experience die-offs in the Bristol Bay area.   In addition to shifts in bird populations, fish that frequent warmer waters, have been observed in the NGA, such as the ocean sunfish.  Dan spotted one on this trip along our Middleton line swimming at the surface near a flock of albatross. 

The fall survey is occurring when birds are preparing for harsh winter conditions or long migrations.  We have spotted a few birds already changing to a winter plumage, which can make identification that much more challenging.  As the strong September storms hit us, it is amazing to watch the birds handle the strong winds and driving rain.  Last night as we worked on our nightly plankton tow a gale blew up around us.  The winds picked up to 30 knots and the seas began to build to 10 feet, and the aptly named storm-petrels kept us entertained.  At one point, we turned around and one had accidently gotten to close and seemingly stunned itself by hitting the back deck.  We watched as it shook off the confusion and again took flight into the storm. 

fork-tailed storm petrel
A fork-tailed storm petrel. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

One of the exciting things about Dan’s job and my time observing with him was the sightings of rare and endangered species.  Just off of Cape Cleare, as I sat on the flying bridge with Dan, I heard him exclaim, “no way!” as he grabbed his camera for some shots.  After a few quiet moments, he shared that he had officially has his first sighting a Manx shearwater.  The Manx shearwater has a primary range in the Atlantic Ocean, with rare but regular (1-2 per year) sightings in the NGA.  There currently are no confirmed breeding locations identified in the Pacific Ocean. Every new sighting adds to our limited understanding of this small and mysterious population. Another exciting observation, although more frequent for Dan, was the short-tailed albatross.  This beautiful bird, with its bubble-gum pink bill, is currently critically endangered, with a global population of only about 4000.  The good news is that the population is currently rebounding from extremely low numbers. 

short-tailed albatross
A short-tailed albatross. Picture credit: Dan Cushing

Dan has not only done an amazing job as an observer but also as a teacher.  He has helped me identify the birds as we see them and given me tips on how to hone in on particular species.  In addition to this, he has supplied me with amazing facts about so many of the species, I am in awe of his knowledge, patience and his skill as a seabird and mammal observer.

Cara observing
I am getting better at identifying northern fulmars on a beautiful evening on the flying bridge.


Personal Log

One of the biggest questions I had (as well as my students) prior to my trip, was how would I handle sea sickness.  I must say for a person who used to get sea sick snorkeling, I am thrilled to announce that I am sea sickness free.  After riding through three strong gales with 12+ seas and 35-40 knot winds without any major problems, I think I’m in the clear.  I owe a lot of it to consistent Bonine consumption!

Additionally, I would say I officially have my sea legs on. I have gotten really good at working, walking, eating, typing, and my brushing my teeth in high seas as the boat tosses about.  One of my favorite phrases is when Captain John says, “the seas are going to get a bit snappy.” I asked him what he meant by this and he explained that snappy means the waves are sharp and about 8-12 feet in height in contrast to the swells.  They hit the ship with a snap that causes it to vibrate, rather than just allowing it to slowly roll over them. 

A last thing that has surprised me on this trip so far is the warm weather.  I am typically always cold and was worried about how I would manage working outside on the nightshift in the elements.  The weather, despite intermittent storms has remained surprisingly warm and with our mustang suits and rain gear, we have remained mostly dry.  Almost daily we have had the pleasure of a beautiful ocean sunset, a full moon rising and stars over our heads.  Now we are just crossing our fingers for some northern lights to grace our presence.

sunset
Another sunset over the Northern Gulf of Alaska!


Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge

Mammals:

Fin whale
Humpback whale
Dall’s porpoise
Harbor porpoise
Stellar sea lion
Harbor seal
Sea otter

Birds:

Greater scaup
White-winged scoter
Sandhill crane
Red-necked phalarope
Red phalarope
South polar skua
Pomarine jaeger
Parasitic jaeger
Commone murre
Thick-billed murre
Pigeon guillemot
Marbled murrelet
Ancient murrelet
Parakeet auklet
Horned puffin
Tufted puffin
Black-legged kittiwake
Mew gull
Herring gull
Glaucous-winged gull
Arctic tern
Pacific loon
Common loon
Laysan albatross
Black-footed albatross
Short-tailed albatross
Fork-tailed storm-petrel
Northern fulmar
Buller’s shearwater
Short-tailed shearwater
Sooty shearwater
Flesh-footed shearwater
Manx shearwater
Red-footed booby
Double-crested cormorant
Red-faced cormorant
Pelagic cormorant
Great blue heron
Northern harrier
Bald eagle
Merlin

Kathy Schroeder: Maintenance During Tropical Storm Imelda, September 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/18/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.3088855
Longitude: -94.7948546
Temperature: 78°F
Wind Speeds: SSW 17 mph

NOAA Ship Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II September 16, 2019


Science and Technology Log

While we are waiting to get started with our research survey that collects fisheries-independent data about sharks, I’ll tell you a little about how other NOAA scientists collect information directly from the commercial shark fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Southeast Shark Bottom Longline Observer Program

Southeast Program

The Shark Bottom Longline Observer Program works to gather reliable data on catch, bycatch, and discards in the Shark Bottom Longline Fishery, as well as document interactions with protected species. Administered by the Southeast Fishery Science Center’s Panama City Laboratory, the data collected by observers helps inform management decisions.  NOAA hires one to six observer personnel under contractual agreements to be placed on commercial fishing vessels targeting shark species. Program coordinators maintain data storage and retrieval, quality control, observer support services (training, observer gear, documents, debriefing, data entry), and administrative support. 

Fishery

This shark bottom longline fishery targets large coastal sharks (e.g., blacktip shark) and small coastal sharks (e.g., Atlantic sharpnose). Groupers, snappers, and tilefish are also taken. The shark bottom longline fishery is active on the southeast coast of the United States and throughout the  Gulf of Mexico. Vessels in this fishery average 50 feet long, with longline gear consisting of 5 to 15 miles of mainline and 500 to 1500 hooks being set. Each trip has a catch limit ranging from 3 to 45 large coastal sharks, depending on the time of year and the region (Gulf of Mexico or south Atlantic). Shark directed trips can range from 3-5 days at sea.

In 2007, NOAA Fisheries created a shark research fishery to continue collection of life history data and catch data from sandbar sharks for future stock assessment. This was created as sandbar sharks are protected due to lower population numbers that allowed for some very limited commercial take of the animals and allows for collection of scientific data on life history etc. A limited number of commercial shark vessels are selected annually and may land sandbar sharks, which are otherwise prohibited. Observer coverage is mandatory within this research fishery (compared to coverage level of 4 percent to 6 percent for the regular shark bottom longline fishery). 

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/fisheries-observers/southeast-shark-bottom-longline-observer-program


Personal Log

Well, I guess you were hoping to hear from me sooner than this.  I arrived in Galveston, TX on September 15th.  I boarded NOAA Ship Oregon II and got settled in my room.  The 170 foot ship was tugged into port early due to a broken part.  Today is Wednesday September 18th , and we are still waiting to leave.  Fingers crossed it will be tomorrow morning.  During this time I was able to meet with the crew members and scientists and familiarize myself with the ship.  I was able to walk around Galveston and learn about its history.  We were able to go out to dinner where I have had amazing oysters and a new dish “Snapper Wings” at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant.   It was delicious and so tender. I would definitely recommend it!      

During our time in port we were also hit with Tropical Storm Imelda. We have had lots of rain and flooding in the area. 

snapper wings
Snapper Wings at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant, Galveston, TX
oysters
Fresh Oysters at the Fisherman’s Wharf, Galveston, TX

Shout Out:  Today’s shout out goes to my nephews Eastwood and Austin and my sister Karen and her husband Casey in Dallas, TX.  I also want to say Hi to all of my marine students at PRHS.  Hope I didn’t leave you all too much work to do 🙂 Keep up with your blog ws!

Cara Nelson: Methot Madness, September 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 16:10
Latitude: 59º19.670’
Longitude: 146º07.196’
Wind: East 5 knots
Air Temperature: 14.5ºC (58ºF)
Air Pressure: 1010 millibars
Clear skies

Science and Technology Log

A Methot net is not your typical plankton net.  This large net hooks to a stainless-steel frame and has a mesh size of 3mm.  Its purpose: large jellyfish collection!  The Methot is unique not only for its size but also in its method of deployment.  The net must be craned off the starboard (right side) of the ship and submerged just under the water.  It is then towed for 20 minutes at the surface. Similar to the smaller plankton nets, there is a “cod-end” bucket that helps collect the jellies as the water filters out of the net. 

Methot net setup
Heidi working to tighten the shackles on one setup for the Methot net.
Methot net setup
Emily helps place the flow meter on the net prior to deployment to measure water flow for quantifying the abundance of organisms caught.

The setup of the Methot is tricky.  The frame that we are using was fabricated locally for these nets so there isn’t a manual for setup and a lot if trial and error is involved in the setup process.  This entails a lot of wrenching on shackles to connect the net to the frame, trying out a setup and then trying again once it is in place and we can watch the positioning and motion of the net in the water.  Fortunately, we have an amazingly positive team so we were able to meet each challenge and come up with a solution.  Our fourth time in resetting the net seems to be the charm.

lowering Methot net
The Methot being craned into the water.
Methot fully extended
The Methot looks like a giant wind sock when it is fully extended in tow next to the ship.

Heidi Islas is our onboard jellyfish guru.  I have never met anyone who loves jellyfish more than Heidi, and this passion and enthusiasm translates directly toward her commitment to her research.  She is currently working on her master’s degree at UAF with Russ Hopcroft as her advisor.  Her specific research thesis is, “the abundance and distribution of gelatinous zooplankton in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).”  Currently there is no baseline data on the type and biomass of the large jellies in the NGA so Heidi’s work is so important in helping identify not only what is present but how these jellies may be playing a role in this ecosystem particularly as predators on small fish. 

Heidi and codend
Heidi is about to open the cod-end where the jellies are trapped at the end of the net. A few of our samples were so full the jellies were up into the net and we needed the assistance of the crane to lift it back onboard.
jelly collection
One of our first collections had only a few but a nice variety of jellies: 2 Lion’s Mane, 1 albino Lion’s Mane, 1 Sea Nettle and 1 Crystal jelly.

Our typical sampling includes running either a Bongo net or Multinet off the stern (back) of the boat to collect zooplankton, and then immediately following we lower the Methot net for its 20-minute tow.  One of the deckhands, either Dave or Jen, run the crane for us, while the four of us help move and position the net into and out of the water.  At the end of the tow, we hose down the net and then open the cod-end to see what we have collected.  Our first few tows had only a few jellies but a little more variety.  Last night however, as we moved into deeper water south of Middleton island, we had a large number of jellies to process.  We assist Heidi in measuring the diameter of bells of the jellies, as well as collecting volume and mass measurements.  We then preserve any zooplankton and fish we collect for analysis by fisheries scientists back in the lab. 

measuring jellies
Emily assists Heidi in measuring and massing the jellies.
Heidi and Cara and jelly
Even though it is 3am, Heidi and I are pretty excited about our sample of Crystal jellies.

Many people might ask, why should we care about the jellyfish?  It all comes back to the food web connectivity.  For example, it is known that jellies will feed on smaller zooplankton, such as copepods and euphausiids (krill), but also on fish larvae, such as pollock.  The commercial pollock fishery is very interested in identifying any factor that may impact the adult pollock numbers.  Additionally, very little is known about what else the jellies are eating, or in what quantity.  So many questions arise about how these jellies might be impacted food availability for other species as well as serving as a food source themselves. 

Russ and worm
Russ examines a polychaete worm that was part of our sample.

Another very interesting piece of research for Heidi apart from her thesis focus is how are jellies responding to climate change.  A current hypothesis was that jellies increase in number during warming events, suggesting that they may become more abundant as our climate changes with even greater impact other species.  In her research on this topic, Heidi came across a paper published in 2013 that challenges this hypothesis.  It demonstrated that jellyfish actually follow a natural cycle of growth and decline with a peak in abundance every 19 years.  Heidi decided to analyze data that NOAA Fisheries had collected over a 38-year period from bottom trawls in the NGA.  She too saw the same cycle emerge.  Although this is exciting data, it leads to many more questions for her to explore. Such as what is driving this cyclic pattern?

giant sea nettle jelly
Emily holds a giant Sea Nettle that actually got trapped in our Bongo net. We measured it before sending it back to sea.

In both the scientific and non-scientific world it is easy to see a correlation of cause and effect and jump to a conclusion.  What I am realizing from the research going on aboard R/V Tiglax is that numerous variables must be considered before true causes can be determined from the data.  This is why collaboration in research is so important.   Physical, chemical and biological oceanographers along with fisheries biologists must work together to gain more holistic view of this NGA ecosystem to help unravel its secrets. 


Personal Log

Fortitude is my word for the past few days.  I have learned so much on this trip so far, including two important pieces of information about myself.  One is that my body does not like to work nights.  The days are blurring together for me as I adjust to my shift work.  I can say that it is definitely not an easy transition because the transition requires more than just adjusting sleep times, but also eating patterns as well.  On Friday night, due to the nature of our stations, we were not able to start our shift work until 1am.  By 5:30 in the morning as we began our last sample, I literally fell asleep on the rales of the ship waiting for our Bongo net to surface.  I think in another day or two, I will have it figured out.

A second piece of information I learned about myself, I am allergic to the scopolamine patch!  Early on Friday, I realized I was developing a rash, which soon spread.  The itching was becoming a problem and so I immediately discontinued an antibiotic I was taking thinking it was the culprit.  After the rash worsened, I then realized it was likely the patch.  After speaking with Captain John, he confirmed that this is a nasty side effect for some people.  I removed the patch Saturday and transitioned back to my usual medicine for motion sickness prevention: Bonine. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, the rash and itching persists.  Russ and John joke that they will be taping my fingers soon, so I better behave. 

After the first storm passed we were lucky enough to have several days of beautiful and surprisingly warm weather as we started along the Middleton line.  I was able to spend time on the fly bridge with Dan birding and mammal monitoring.  I will definitely highlight more on this in a later blog.  From Friday to Saturday I was fortunate enough to watch both amazing sunsets and sunrises as well as enjoy the beauty of the full moon. 

sunset
Sunset over the Northern Gulf of Alaska!

Another storm is forecast to be upon us by late Sunday evening, so our plan is to finish the Middleton line tonight and be in transit to GAK1 (just outside of Resurrection Bay) overnight.  Currently it is calling for East 40 knot winds and 11-13 foot seas.  It should be a fun ride.


Did You Know?

The jellies we are sampling all started out in the benthic (bottom) habitat in what is known as a polyp stage of their life cycle.  These polyps are attached to the bottom and will asexually bud off into the water column.  At this point, the jellies are only approximately a half of a centimeter in size.  It is estimated that it takes approximately a year for the jellies to grow to the full adult medusa stage.  The medusa is the bell-shaped, free floating stage that everyone recognizes as a jellyfish.  This amount of growth requires a lot of energy input, and thus these jellies must feed continuously to reach the adult sizes.  It is not known for sure, but it is estimated that the jellies will spend approximately a year in this phase in which they sexually reproduce.  The larva will then settle back to the benthic environment and start the cycle all over again.

Cara Nelson, The Gales of September, September 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 0830
Latitude: 60º16.073’ N
Longitude: 147º59.608’W
Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30
Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 1003 millibars
Cloudy, light drizzle

Science and Technology Log

There is a tool for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).  As we sorted, shuffled and assembled equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other equipment needed for the different science research being performed as part of the LTER program. 

There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal.  Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use.  Logistics is an important part of any research mission.

Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function.  The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).

v
The deck full of boxes being unpacked and stored away, as well as the winch pulled apart for rewiring

One of the most complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the computers in the lab for real-time data communication.  A CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the salinity and water temperature at different depths.  The CTD is actually only a small portion of the device shown below.

CTD prep
The CTD is being put together and wired before departure.
CTD output
Temperature (blue line) salinity (red line) and fluorescence (chlorophyll) are transmitted and graphed on the computer as the CTD is lowered and raised.


The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth.  These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients.  As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode.  Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!

One bottle shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring bottle.

On the bottom of the CTD, there are several important sensors.  One is for nitrates and another for dissolved oxygen.  Additionally, there is a laser that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton.  Much of this data is being fed to the computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the end of the cruise. 

A big decision had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th.  A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with 30+ knot winds and high seas.  After several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the storm. 

After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay.  This station is used to test the CTD before heading out.  Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches.  For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly.  Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.


Personal Log

There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders.  Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day.  I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.

Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment.  The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay.  Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions.  I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way.  I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.

Orientation and safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship.  Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax along with a tour of the ship.  We ended on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case of a ship evacuation. 

survival suit practice
The new crew practices with their survival suits: Emily, Jake, Kira and Cara
Cara in survival suit
Although it has been a few years, I was able to don my survival suit pretty quickly.

Adjusting to a night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges.  Usually we work the first night but we had a break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime sampling until Thursday night.  Everyone on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock.  My plan was to stay up as late as possible and then rise early.  Last night however, between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well.  Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can wake refreshed for our first night shift. 

When I awoke this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of collection.  I was able to watch the first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway.  I will share details of these experiences in the coming days.

For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.


Did You Know:

There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton.  To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets.  As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.

Kathy Schroeder: Twice in a Lifetime Experience, September 12, 2019

shark tag

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/12/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Current Location:  Naples, Florida

Latitude: 26° 17’ 45”
Longitude: 81° 34’ 40”
Temperature: 91° F
Wind Speeds: NNE 7 mph


Personal Log

Before I leave on my “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” I thought I’d let you know a little more about me.

In May of 2010, I participated in the NOAA TAS program.  The hardest part was leaving my 1 ½ year old son Jonah while I was gone for three weeks.  At the time I was teaching science at Key Biscayne K-8 School, which was located on an island off of Miami, Florida.  I wanted to have my students experience something new so I chose to go to Alaska aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  The ship left out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska where the Deadliest Catch is filmed.  We spent the days and night doing neuston and bongo tows to study the walleye pollock (imitation crab meat).  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and crew!  For more information you can look up my blog in the past season 2010.  I applied for the NOAA TAS Alumni position and now I’m happy to say I will be having a “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” with NOAA!  This time I will be on NOAA Ship Oregon II where we will be tagging and monitoring sharks and red snappers in the Gulf of Mexico.

I grew up in Louisville, KY where I spent most of my summers boating and skiing on the Ohio River.  When I was 10 years old my parents, sister and I got scuba certified.   I guess you could say this is when my love for the ocean began!  Our first trip was to Grand Cayman and we experienced things underwater that were even more beautiful than books and videos could ever show.  I have been back numerous times, but when I went back this past June you can obviously see the changes that are occurring in the ocean and the beaches.  I currently volunteer with Rookery Bay Estuarine Reserve and help with turtle patrol, shark tagging, and trawls.  The amount of garbage we collect is getting out of control.  Teaching the importance of this to my students is one of my top priorities. 

I currently teach AICE Marine and Marine Regular at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples, Florida.  For the past 5 years I have grown the program into a class that is not just “inside” the classroom.  What better way to learn about marine species and water quality than taking care of your own aquarium?  Throughout the school there are 24 aquariums.  The tanks include saltwater, fresh water, and brackish water.  My students are taught how to properly maintain a tank, checking the water quality and salinity, as well as feeding and caring for their organisms.  In addition to the aquariums they have a quarterly enrichment grade that has them getting outside in our environment and learning about the canals, lakes, and ocean that are just miles from us.  We work with Keeping Collier Beautiful to do canal cleanups twice a year and they also visit Rookery Bay and the Conservancy for educational lessons.  Thanks to the science department at Collier County Public Schools we are also given the opportunity to go out into the estuaries.  Rookery Bay and FGCU Vester lab work with us to get the students out on the water to experience the ecology around them.  Even though we are only miles from the Gulf of Mexico some students have never been out on a boat.  This day trip gives them a hands on learning experience where we complete a trawl and water sampling.

As I leave this weekend I know my students will be in good hands and will be following my blog throughout my journey.  The value of what I am going to be sharing with them far outweighs my short time away.  My goal is to show them you are never too old to try something new and hopefully my experience will get more students into a career in marine sciences. 

Shout outs:  First one goes to my son Jonah (11), my parents Bud and Diane for taking care of him while I’m off having the time of my life, my boyfriend Michael who is currently deployed with the Air Force SFS, and his two kids Andrew (17) and Mackenna (10).  Thanks for your support. Love and miss you all!  <(((><

shark tag
Rookery Bay Shark Tagging in the estuaries
Gulf of Mexico alumni workshop
NOAA Gulf of Mexico TAS Alumni workshop
Jonah and lobster
My son Jonah’s first mini-lobster season
Keep Collier Beautiful
PRHS Keeping Collier Beautiful Canal Cleanup
Kathy and baby turtle
Rookery Bay Sea Turtle Patrol – rescued and released

Phil Moorhouse: It’s Bongo Time! September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 56 15.09 N
Longitude: 157 55.74 W
Sea wave height: 8 ft
Wind Speed: 1.9 knots
Wind Direction: 179 degrees
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 12.8 C
Barometric Pressure: 1010.45 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Science and Technology Log:

One of the more technologically interesting pieces of equipment we are using is the Bongo net.  One of the main aspects of this cruise is the zooplankton survey. As I have stated before, this survey is important to studying the prey for the juvenile pollock and is done at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock so that scientists looking at the data can compare the ecology of the pollock with the ecology of their prey.  The Bongo net is used to collect the zooplankton. This contraption is a series of two large and two smaller nets attached to metal rings. It gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.  

The diagram on the left shows a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center).  The picture on the right shows the Bongo we are currently using on the Oscar Dyson with two 60 cm nets and two 20 cm nets.

lowered bongo
The Bongo has just been lowered into the water and following its descent.

The bongo net design we are using includes two large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets and two small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets.  The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton.  The diagram above has just two nets, but our Bongo has 4 total nets.  At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat.  This records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the temperature, salinity, and conductivity of the water.

This whole process involves a lot of working together and communication among the scientists and crew.  It usually involves three scientists, one survey tech, a winch operator, and the officer on the bridge. All members involved remain in radio contact to ensure that the operations run smoothly.  Two scientists and the survey tech work on the “hero deck”.  They oversee getting the nets overboard safely and back on the deck at the end of the evolution.  The unit is picked up and lowered over the side of the ship by a large hydraulic wench attached to the side A-frame.  Another scientist works in the data room at a computer monitoring the depth and angle of the Bongo as it is lowered into the water.  As the Bongo net is lowered, the ship moves forward at approximately 2 knots (2.3 mph).  This is done to keep the cable holding the Bongo at a 45-degree angle. A 45-degree angle of the wire that tows the Bongo is important to make sure that water flows directly into the mouth opening of the net.  One of the scientists on the hero deck will constantly monitor the wire angle using a device called an inclinometer or clinometer and report it to the officer on the bridge.  The bridge officer will then adjust the speed if necessary, to maintain the proper wire angle.
 

monitoring the bongo tow
Here, I am monitoring the angle of the Bongo wire using the inclinometer.
inclinometer
The flat side of the inclinometer gets lined up with the wire and an arrow dangles down on the plate and marks the angle.

The depth the Bongo is sent down depends on how deep the water is in that area (you wouldn’t want an expensive piece of equipment dragging on the ocean floor).  The Bongo is deployed to a depth of up to 200 meters or to a depth of no less than 10 meters from the bottom. When the Bongo is at the designated depth, the survey tech will radio the winch operator to bring the Bongo back up slowly.  It is brought back up slowly at 20 meters per minute and the 45-degree angle needs to continue to be maintained all the way back up. When the Bongo reaches the surface and is lifted back into the air, the survey tech and two scientists grab it and guide it back onto the deck.  This operation can be difficult when the conditions are windy, and the seas are rough.  

Once the Bongo has been returned to the deck, the scientist that was in the data room will record the time of the net deployment, how long it took to go down and back up, how much wire was let out, and the total depth of the station.  They will also come back out to read the flowmeters in order to see how much water has flowed through the net during the deployment. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted on the data sheet.

Next the nets are washed down with sea water, rinsing all material inside the net towards the codend.  The codend is the little container at the end of the net where all the plankton and sometimes other organisms are collected.  The codends can then be removed and taken into the Wet Lab to be processed with all the collected material placed in glass jars and preserved with formalin for future study.  

These samples are then shipped to Seattle and then on to Poland where they are sorted, the zooplankton identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area.  This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of the plankton in the water column and can provide good information on the overall health of the ocean as they indicate health of the bottom of the food chain.  After all, a high density of pollock prey means there is a good feeding spot for juvenile walleye pollock, which in turn means more Filet-O-Fish sandwiches down the line.

Species caught during the last Shift:

        Common Name            Scientific Name

  • Capelin                                          M. villosus
  • Northern Smoothtongue                      L. schmidti
  • Walleye Pollock                                      G. chalcogrammus
  • Eulachon or Candlefish                        T. pacificus
  • Arrowtooth Flounder            A. stomas
  • Rockfish                S. aurora
  • Smooth lumpsucker            A. ventricosus
  • Prowfish                Z. silenus
  • Sunrise Jellyfish            C. melanaster
  • Lion’s Main Jellyfish            C. capillata
  • Moon Jellyfish            A. labiata
  • Bubble Jellyfish            Aequorea sp.
  • Fried Egg Jellyfish            P. camtschatica
  • Shrimp
  • Isopods


Personal Log:

As I have said, I am working with some interesting people with some very interesting stories.  I am going to start sharing a little of their stories here.

LT Laura Dwyer
LT Laura Dwyer is the Field Operations Officer on the Oscar Dyson.

How long have you been working with NOAA?  What did you do before joining NOAA?

Laura has been a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps for almost seven years.  Before joining NOAA, Laura attended James Madison University, earning her degree in International Business.  She went to Bali, working as a dive instructor before moving on to Australia to do the same. While in Australia, she decided she wanted to study Marine Biology and came back to the states to study at George Mason University.  

Where do you do most of your work?

Most of the time, she can be found on the bridge navigating the ship.

What do you enjoy about your work? 

Laura said the most fun thing about the job is driving a 209-foot ship.  

Why is your work important?

She gets to safely navigate the ship safely while working with scientists to help them get their work done.

How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?

Laura had the opportunity to be the second NOAA officer who completed a cross-agency assignment with the Navy.  While there, she said she was able to show the Navy personnel that they were using NOAA products such as navigational charts and weather data.  Most of them did not realize that these products were made by NOAA.  
 

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?

Laura said that while she was in Australia, she was working with another diver who was going out counting fish species for his PhD.  She said that experience made her realize her father was right all along and she should have studied science.

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Radar

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

Driving ships.  She also stated that she never expected to be part of a Navy Command and shooting small arms weapons.

What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?

A lot of your regular classes, but definitely any conservation classes.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?

  • “Unnatural History of the Sea” – about overfishing throughout history
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

Laura said she would probably be going back to school to work on her Masters in Marine Biology, particularly coral conservation, or going to Fiji to be a dive instructor.

Do you have any outside hobbies?

Diving, reading, working on puzzles, and just being outside exploring (I also understand that she is a pretty good water polo player.)

Did You Know?

For each minute of the day, 1 billion tons of rain falls on the Earth.

Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.

Question of the Day:

The fastest speed of a falling raindrop is __________.

a. 10 mph

b. 18 mph

c. 32 mph

d. 55 mph

Answer: b

Ragupathy Kannan: Back on Terra Firma, September 9, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: September 6, 2019

I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.

ocean ecosystem diagram
The various threads in the fabric of the ocean ecosystem
Northwest Atlantic Food Web
We’re all in it together! We have no choice but to coexist in harmony. (Slide courtesy Harvey Walsh)

I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.

The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.

And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.

Post script

In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.

voluntary speed restriction zone
Voluntary speed restriction zone (yellow block) around Nantucket following a sighting of Right Whales on August 30, 2019

Cara Nelson: A Birthday Gift to Remember, September 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – September 26, 2019


MissionNorthern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska (Port: Seward)

Date: September 5, 2019

Weather Data from Bartlett High School Student Meteorologist Jack Pellerin

Time: 0730
Latitude: 61.2320° N
Longitude: 149.7334° W
Wind: Northwest, 2 mph
Air Temperature: 11oC (52oF)
Air pressure: 30.14 in
Partly cloudy, no precipitation


Personal Introduction

On September 10th, I enter my 46th year on this amazing planet, and on the 11th, I depart on a trip that will be a birthday gift to remember. I will be departing Seward on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s R/V Tiglax to assist in the Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research study. To understand why I am so excited about this trip, I have to rewind about 30 years.

On March 24th, 1989, I watched in shock, along with the world, as the oil from Exxon Valdez swept across Prince William Sound. I was a 15-year old budding scientist learning about the importance of baseline data for ecosystems.  I didn’t know how, but I envisioned myself someday assisting in science research for this beautiful ecosystem. I dreamt of the day I would end up in Alaska and experience the Pacific Ocean.

In 2006, I was fortunate to be offered a teaching position in Cordova, Alaska on Prince William Sound where I became an oceanography and marine biology teacher.  I was in awe of the ocean and what it had to teach myself and my students. Having the ocean at our front door made hands on learning in the field possible each and every week.  We were also fortunate enough to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Sycamore for a marine science field trip each year along with scientists from the Prince William Sound Science Center and U.S. Forest Service. 

zooplankton sample
Showing zooplankton to a U.S. Coast Guard crew member after a plankton tow. Photo Credit: Allen Marquette

Since 2017, I have been teaching at Bartlett High School (BHS) in Anchorage School District.  I again have the opportunity to teach oceanography and marine biology and I am thrilled.  Although we live only a few miles away, many of my students have not yet seen the ocean.  It is so important for me to make learning relevant to their lives and their locality. As much as we can incorporate Alaska and their cultures into the lessons the better.

Here are just a few snapshots from our classroom:

BHS marine biology students
Students in my BHS marine biology class learn to make sushi during a lesson on seaweed uses.
BHS marine biology students
BHS marine biology students examine zooplankton during the Kenai Fjords Marine Science Explorers program in Resurrection Bay.
BHS marine biology students
Students in my BHS marine biology class operating mini-ROVs they built to complete an underwater rescue mission.

In a few days, I will begin my two-week mission to assist in important science research in Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and I feel like my 30-year old dream has come true. I will be participating in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) study, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

This cruise will be the third survey for the 2019 season for this area and the 23rd consecutive season for sampling along the Seward Line.  The goal of the NGA-LTER program is to evaluate the ecosystem in terms of its productivity and its resiliency in the face of extreme seasonal variations and long term climate change.  The mission entails doing a variety of water and plankton sampling at different stations along four transect lines in the NGA, as well as a circuit within Prince William Sound.  

sampling station map
The NGA-LTER sampling stations. Image Credit: Russ Hopcroft

I will be sailing aboard R/V Tiglax (pictured below) which is the Aleut word for eagle and is pronounced TEKL-lah.  My primary mission is to assist on the night shift with the collection of zooplankton at each station.  In addition to this, I look forward to learning as much as I can about the other work being done, including water chemistry, nutrient sampling, phytoplankton collection and analysis, and seabird and mammal surveys.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I am tasked with creating lesson plans that connect this science research to my classroom.  My goal is to develop lessons that will help my students understand the importance of whole systems monitoring, as well as the important connections between ocean water properties, microfauna and megafauna. 

R/V Tiglax
R/V Tiglax. Photo Credit: Robin Corcoran USFWS

When I am not in my classroom, I like to be outside as much as possible.  I enjoy hiking, backpacking and spending time with my family on our remote property in Bristol Bay. 

Crow Pass Trail
My husband and I getting ready to backpack Crow Pass Trail , part of the historic Iditarod Trail.

My husband and I also like to travel outside of Alaska whenever possible during the winter months and see the world.  One of our favorite trips was completing a full transit of the Panama Canal.  This winter break we will be headed to the barrier reef in Belize to experience the beautiful tropical ocean. 

Panama Canal
Transiting the Panama Canal on Christmas Day on our honeymoon.

I tell my students we have researched and explored more of space than we have of our own ocean.

Cara at Space Camp
Participating in Space Camp Academy during my tenure as 2012 Alaska Teacher of the Year.

I am so excited to be working to help change that statistic!

Teacher at Sea Cara Nelson
I am honored to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.


Did You Know?

This summer has broken many records in Alaska for warm dry weather and Southcentral has been in an official drought.  How will this impact ocean temperatures out in the NGA and will we see evidence in the plankton or other organisms we examine? 

Stay tuned to my blog and I will let you know the answer to this as well as so much more!

Phil Moorhouse: We’re At Sea! September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 2, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57 35.35 N
Longitude: 153 57.71 W
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: 208 degrees
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar
SkyOvercast

After a series of unfortunate events, we finally got underway!  It turns out arriving several days before the ship departure ended up being very helpful.  My checked bag did not arrive with me and the morning of departure it still had not arrived.  I had given up on seeing it before we pulled out and gone shopping for replacement “essentials”.  Then, an hour before our scheduled departure I got a call from my airline hero saying that my bag had finally made it to Kodiak.  A quick trip to the airport and back to the ship and I was ready to go. That’s when the waiting game really started. Repairs to the Bongo apparatus caused a several hour delay as we waited on repairs, then after moving out into open water to test it, we found that it still wasn’t working properly.  The ship crew worked to make adjustments and finally, we were off!  


Science and Technology Log

We departed for the stations where the previous group had left off.  The first couple of stations were methodical as everyone was becoming accustomed to what to expect. I have been asked by multiple people what kinds of things are going on during these expeditions and what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship.  There are several projects going on. The primary focus is on assessing the walleye pollock population, but there is also data being collected simultaneously for scientists working on other projects.

Each station starts with a bongo tow in which the bongo nets are lowered over the side and pulled along collecting plankton.  Once the bongo is pulled back onto the ship, the flowmeters are read to record the amount of water that went through the net, and the nets are then carefully washed down to concentrate the plankton sample into the cod end.  This end piece can then be removed and taken into the lab area to prepare the sample for shipping back to the NOAA labs. As this process is being completed, our ship’s crew is already working to bring the ship back around to complete a trawling operation in the same area. 

Trawling operations
Trawling operations off the ship’s stern. During an average trawl, the net will extend up to 540 meters behind the boat and up to 200 meters deep.
at work on the bridge
A good example of scientists and crew working together during a trolling operation. Ensign Lexee Andonian is manning the helm and watching the trawling operations on the monitor while scientist, Annette Dougherty is recording data off the monitors.

It is preferable to complete both operations from the same location since the plankton are the primary food source and a comparison can then be made between the amount of producers and consumers. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  During one of the trials yesterday, a pod of humpback whales decided they wanted to hang out just where we wanted to trawl.  Because of this, it was decided to attempt to move away from the whales before starting the trawl.  When all goes well, the trawling nets should bring in a nice variety of species and in our case, a large number of pollock!  For the first two trials, we found mostly jellyfish with only a few other fish samples.  Later trials, though, have been much more successful in finding a better mix of species.  Below is a list of species caught during the last Station.

As the catch is spread onto the table, all other sea life is separated from the jellyfish and sorted for measurement and recorded.  The jellyfish are weighed as a mixed sample, then re-sorted by species and weighed again.  The fish are all measured, recorded, and bagged and frozen for future use by scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects.

Species caught during the last Station:

Common NameScientific Name
Sockeye SalmonO. nerka
Northern SmoothtongueL. schmidti
Walleye PollockG. chalcogrammus
unidentified juvenile GunnelsPholidae family
Eulachon, or CandlefishT. pacificus
Isopods
Shrimp
Sunrise JellyfishC. melanaster
Lion’s Mane JellyfishC. capillata
Moon JellyfishA. labiata
Bubble JellyfishAequorea sp.


Personal Log

Drills were the word of the day the first day as we went through fire drills and abandon ship drills.  It is always nice to know where to go if something goes wrong while out at sea.  I now know where the lifeboats are, how to get into my immersion suit, and what to do in case of a fire on the ship.

*** Of course, just when we really start to get into the swing of things, a weather front comes through that forces us to find a place to “hide” until the waves calm down.

On another note, I have seriously been geeking out enjoying talking to the NOAA scientists about their research and experiences. There is a wealth of information in the minds of the scientists and crew on this ship.  I have initially focused on getting to know the scientists I am working with and slowly branching out to get to know the crew.  Hopefully I will be able to translate some of my admiration here in the coming posts.

Did You Know?

Did you know, there are approximately 1800 thunderstorm events going on in Earth’s atmosphere at any one time?

Question of the Day:

What type of fish can be found in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Arby’s Classic Fish Sandwich, Long John Silver’s Baja Fish Taco, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, and Birds Eye’s Fish Fingers in Crispy Batter?


Answer: Pollock

Callie Harris: Back to Land Life, September 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 9/3/19

Weather Data from Key West, FL

Latitude: 24.551°N
Longitude: 81.7800 °W
Wind Speed: 15 MPH
Air Temperature: 32°C
Sea Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1009 mbar


Personal Log

I can’t believe I’ve been back on land for one week already. My 14 days on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson flew by. Everyone has asked me how my trip was and I simply state, “epic.” It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure. I hope I inspire my daughters, students, and colleagues to never stop daring, dreaming, and discovering. The trip itself exceeded my highest expectations. I realized how lucky I was to have such warm weather and calm seas. The scientists agreed it was one of calmest expeditions they have ever had in terms of sea conditions. One of the coolest experiences of being a Teacher at Sea was the ability to see every aspect of the vessel. The NOAA Corps officers, the deck crew, and the scientists were so welcoming and friendly. I truly felt at home on board wherever I ventured. By the end of our cruise, our science watch was seamless while conducting the fish surveys. I got the biggest compliment on the last day of our trip when two of the deck crew said they thought I was one of the NOAA scientists the whole time. They both had no idea I was actually a teacher at sea until I mentioned that I was headed back home to teach in Key West.

Callie in front of plane
Callie prepares to head home. Photo Credit: Ali Deary

Just when I thought my adventure was over, I had one of my most memorable moments of the trip. The science team and I had some down time while waiting to board our flight out of Kodiak to Anchorage. We were so thrilled to be back on land that we decided to go on a walk-about around the airport area. We stumbled upon a freshwater river where Pink Salmon were spawning (aka a salmon run). The salmon run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. We stood on the river bank in awe watching hundreds of them wiggle upstream. We also came across fresh bear scat (poop) that was still steaming. It was pretty crazy! Our walk-about was such a random fun ending to an epic adventure.

Pink salmon run
Pink salmon run
at the river
Callie and friends from NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: Matt Wilson
Fresh bear scat!
Fresh bear scat!

I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I will be sharing it with my students for years to come. I am looking forward to attending future NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni gatherings to meet fellow TAS participants and continuing this amazing experience.

Jessica Cobley: A Busy Return to Home, September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 9/2/2019

Weather Data from Juneau, Alaska:  

Lat: 58.3019° N, Long: 134.4197° W 
Air Temp:  12º C

Personal Log

Phew…finally a day to sit back and take a breath! A few days after getting back from sea, I attended our school district’s inservice and am now 2 weeks into the new school year. It is hard to believe how quickly the summer break goes by!

Back in Juneau, the sunny, warm weather has continued, which has also meant no shortage of adventures. Since getting home, friends and I have hiked the Juneau Ridge, fished in Lynn Canal, and hunted on Admiralty Island. It has been a warm welcome home! A group of us are also training for the upcoming Klondike Running Relay from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, YT. Needless to day, I was VERY happy to have a treadmill and workout equipment on the boat to keep active while at sea.

Jess' dogs
Our pups at the end of a trail run to the Herbert Glacier in Juneau.
Admiralty Island
Spotting deer at sunset on Admiralty Island.
Jess and fish
Fishing after a night camping on a nearby island. Photo by Max Stanley

On the school side of things, I felt lucky to have some time to spend curriculum planning while at sea. It has helped me have a smooth start to the year and give the new 7th graders a great start. I am definitely looking forward to sharing my Teacher at Sea experience with all my new kiddos.

With the return to school, my relaxing days at sea have been replaced with nonstop action in and out of the classroom. Not only does the school year bring teaching science classes, but also an Artful Teaching continuing education course, coaching our middle school cross country team, and planning events for SouthEast Exchange (SEE). SEE is an organization I am a part of that works to connect local professionals, like those I met at sea, with local teachers. Our goal is to bring more real-world and place-based experiences into our classrooms. Through my involvement with SEE, I met and worked with NOAA scientist Ebett Siddon. Along with collaborating together on a unit about Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management for my 7th graders, she also told me about Teachers at Sea!

With that, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all of the staff at NOAA who help make this program possible. It was a once in a lifetime experience that has helped me better understand the field I am teaching about. I look forward to using what I have learned about studying fish populations and the unique career opportunities at sea with my students. I know they will appreciate my new expertise and see that there always opportunities to keep learning!

Kodiak Island mural
Last photo taken in Kodiak! Photo by Ruth Drinkwater

Thank you again and please consider applying for this program if you are a teacher reading this. 🙂