Oktay Ince: How Much You can Get From Bottom Sampling in Water Surfaces, June 24, 2022

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Oktay Ince

Aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

June 20- July 1, 2022

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Lake Erie

Date: Friday, June 24, 2022

Latitude: 41° 31′ 52 N

Longitude: 82° 12′ 00 W

Altitude: 138 m

Weather Data from Bridge

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Surface Water Temperature: 23.9 °C

Air Temperature (Dry Bulb Temperature): 22.4 °C

Wet Bulb Temperature: 16.9 °C

Relative Humidity: 62 %

Barometric Pressure: 1018 mb

Science and Technology Log

I believe you have a pretty good idea what we are doing on the ship. We are mapping Lake Erie. We are all familiar with general maps, right? The ones we see in schools, maybe having a nice globe on our writing desk, or even every day on TV when meteorologists forecast what the weather looks like. Maps are everywhere.  Those maps are simple visual representations of any information we are interested in, such as cities, countries, mountains, rivers, oceans, roads etc. 

Similarly, we also have a map for oceans, seas and lakes so that whoever wants to use Lake Erie “road” will use this map to navigate themselves safely. In the science of hydrography, these maps are called nautical charts. During my past two blogs, I have kind of explained how scientists map the waters. They use multibeam sonar to get the depth of the water and side scan sonar to take images of the bottom. I also described the condition of water such as salinity and temperature.

Lowering Down CTD instrument manually

Now, you may wonder what other data hydrographers collect that goes on the chart. The field units collect data on what material is at the bottom. The easiest way to do it is bottom sampling. They simply send a clamp-like instrument with a rope attached over the side of the boat, and when it hits the bottom it automatically closes itself and catches whatever it is at the bottom. And then, you pull up the rope and examine what type of materials are at the bottom.  This information is so crucial for many reasons. For example, ships need to know where to anchor near the shore. Thomas Jefferson prefers sandy places so that the sand holds the anchor very strong. They stay away from rocky, boulder places to prevent the anchor from getting snagged. So, when a ship comes closer to Cleveland, not only do they know how to navigate the ship safely but also where to anchor. If it can’t anchor it poses a great risk not only for the ship but also for the public at the coastal region. You get the idea! The bottom sampling information is important. It seems simple to do, correct? Yes it is! But the information it provides is extremely important for government and public stakeholders. 

Bottom sampling can be used for other purposes such as what kind of organisms live there, what is the chemical and mineral composition, or even to know what life was like in the past. You can time travel by just looking at the sediment sampling of the sea/lake floor. However, the mission of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson is to find what material is at the bottom and navigationally significant, and ships use this information to use where to anchor. 

Let’s go back and discuss more about the importance of studying seafloor composition. The more I research this topic the more I find it fascinating to get how much information we can obtain. I came across an article titled “ THE FUTURE BURIED in the DEEP ” by Jeremy Schwab, and it has very interesting information about why bottom sampling information is used. It is even used by NASA scientists who are studying conditions on other planets and moons that might support life. What mind-blowing research to do. I guess now I am interested in studying bottom sampling!

Personal Log

Speaking of bottom sampling, yah yah yah! You are tired of me repeating that. You may say “We got it Oktay, it is important. Tell me something else.” Well, I am going to share how one experience I had in the past came in handy, and how it led to something I never thought of.

When you do bottom sampling, sometimes you get mud, but if you are lucky you also get benthic organisms which live at the bottom of the lake/sea. In the case of Lake Erie, all we got is mud. Nothing else. Of course, it raises the question, why? I will leave you with that. 

You may argue that even though there is no visible biology, there are tons of microorganisms potentially living in that mud. Yes, you are right. However, since we are not doing microbiological studies, and I don’t have my microscopes to see what is in there, I can’t see those microorganisms. So it looked boring to me, and I went straight back inside of the ship. Plus, I was tired of bugs that were eating me all over. I swear I think they were “Superbugs”, resistant to bug spray. I put bug spray all over me including my clothes, and they still bit me! Who knows, they might be mutated by all the industrial chemicals around Lake Erie, and compared to the chemical composition of bug spray, they were like “Is that all you got, Oktay!” 

a white wall of the ship covered in small dark specks (bugs)
Swarm of bugs all over the ship

Sitting at a desk in the survey room, there was a call asking “Is the Teacher at Sea around? Could you please tell him to come down to the deck? We found an interesting bottom sample we think he should see ”. The officer responded, “Yes he is here and coming over”. I rushed to the deck and checked out what it was. The sample they took consists completely of mussels. Immediately, I took several pictures of them and wondered about what kinds of species they were. Then, it clicked! I can use my “Seek app” to identify them and put them into the “iNatural” database. Now, here is the good part. I learned about these two apps from naturalists and scientists who studied biodiversity in Acadia National Park, Maine last summer when I was an Earthwatch teacher fellow. You may know that the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world and scientists are studying the effects of climate change in this place.  I guess there is homework for you in there. Read about how climate change affects biodiversity in Acadia National Park and the Gulf of Maine, and what it means to the rest of the U.S. and the world. 

Anyway, I took my phone and identified the species by using the Seek app. They were all zebra mussels. Then, I added my observation into the iNatural database. Since there were millions of bugs there, I decided why not identify these creatures as well!  I found out that almost all of them are Giant Mayflies. Quite a few of them belong to the Genus called Chironomus, but the Seek app could not identify its species name. Of course, I put those observations into the iNaturalist database, too. At the end, I had a sense of relief because at least I knew what they were. By the way, zebra mussels are an invasive species and based on my research it was first seen back in the 90s in Lake Erie. Zebra mussels are filtering Lake Erie for sure, which is a good thing, but I wonder what environmental changes it created here since they are an invasive species.

Shortly after I logged my observations in iNaturalist, there was an email starting with a title  “A new update in the last 24 hours from iNaturalist”. Usually I receive any emails relating to activity in my iNaturalist – whether somebody comments on what I posted or giving species identification, etc. I opened up my email and it said that “Lower Lake Erie Region CSI” curators added some of your observations.” That means, the observations I made ended up in their project as well. The aim of the Lower Lake Erie Region Citizen Science Initiative is to identify the various species living (biodiversity) in the southern Lake Erie region. Having a feeling of contributing something to science made me feel accomplished against these voracious bugs! At least for now. 

Why am I talking about all of this! I wanted to make sure you know that if I hadn’t participated in the study back in Maine, I wouldn’t have known about these apps, and I wouldn’t have made my observations while doing something else on the ship that could help some other scientists! 

I guess this experience also made me realize how important it is to have been exposed to different environments and learning different things as a human being. You never know when, where, and how you will use what you know. I strongly believe that the more you know and experience different things, the more you make informed decisions. In other words, when you are at a point where you need to make a choice (life is all about choices), your decision would be closer to the truth than someone who has not experienced what you experienced. 

Hahaha! Sorry for my philosophical thoughts. These are the emotions I have while typing this blog post, while comfortably sitting on my table in my “office” (remember it is located in the mess deck where food is eaten), with a cup of hot bergamot oil flavored early gray black tea on my right side. 

You may ask the same question as some of my colleagues ask me. What on earth are you doing on a research vessel for twelve days, learning all these sciences, technologies, skills, and tools that you may never use in your classroom or teaching career? Or I was once asked, why are you spending your summer with these programs? Why don’t you enjoy your much needed summer break? They may even say, why are you thinking about school work? I am not sure what they mean about “school work”? Clearly, there is a different interpretation of school work among educators. 

My answer is always this – “I love to learn, and I love to experience new things.” For me, learning is everywhere at any time. Whether it is in school, home, holidays, summer breaks… it doesn’t matter. If a learning opportunity comes up, I get excited and try to experience it – that’s it. When you have that mindset, it doesn’t matter whether you are teaching in school, playing at home with your kids, or sailing on a ship exploring the water!

As a concluding remark, I suggest you do the same thing. No matter what profession you have, always be curious, be a life-long learner, and be out of your comfort zone. 

Hope to see you in my next post. 

Did you know?

  • Lake Erie is the warmest of all of the Great Lakes (southernmost positioned of all the other lakes), but it also freezes over more than other lakes (because it is the shallowest of all). 
  • The water in Lake Erie was so polluted that it created “dead zones” due to algae blooms by the 1960s, and in 1969, the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire.

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