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

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!