Mark Van Arsdale: Flexibility, September 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 27, 2018

Mission: Long-Term Ecological Research in the North Gulf of Alaska, aka The Seward Line Transects

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 5, 2018

Latitude: 61.3293° N
Longitude: 149.5680° W
Air Temperature: 60° F
Sky: Clear

Logistics Log

When I read the instructions for my application to NOAA Teacher at Sea, they emphasized the necessity for flexibility.  Alaskans, in my mind, epitomize flexibility.  The climate demands it.   When the weather changes, you have to adjust to it.  Not doing so can put you or others at risk.

My original cruise should have departed this weekend into the Bering Sea, but NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson developed problems with its propulsion system. Rather than sailing this research cruise, she will be in Kodiak under repair. I was pretty bummed when I got the news, but I really feel for all of those PhD students whose thesis projects needed the data from that trip.

RV Tiglax

RV Tiglax

The wonderful folks at NOAA told me that they were working on a new assignment, most likely in Southeastern US.  I tried to wait patiently, but I was thinking about how much I wanted to teach Alaskan kids about the ocean just a few miles from them.  Meanwhile, I had to cancel my substitute teacher.  My sub has done some biological fieldwork, and when I talked to him he was very understanding.  The funny thing was I got an email from his wife the next day, saying that she might have a berth for me.  It turns out she works for the North Pacific Research Board and was familiar with most of the fisheries and ecological research going on in coastal Alaska.  The berth was on the R/V Tiglax  (TEKH-lah – Aleut for eagle).  The Tiglax is not a NOAA vessel.  It is owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and operated jointly by the National Science Foundation.  NOAA Teacher at Sea does occasionally partner with other organizations.  After a few days of waiting, I was told that this cruise met the NOAA Teacher at Sea criteria.

Bringing an end to my long logistical story, I leave Monday on a trip into the Gulf of Alaska for seventeen days aboard the Tiglax.

Science Log

The science behind my new project is pretty exciting.  The Seward Line Transects have been run every summer since 1997 – every May and every September.  Weather permitting, we will repeat the Seward Line Transect (seen below in black) along with four other transects.  Each transect begins at a near shore location and makes it past the edge of the continental shelf into the deep waters of the Pacific.  At each transect station, water is collected using a CTD to test the physical and chemical properties of the water at that location.  A variety of plankton collection nets will be also be deployed.   One of these sampling stations (GAK-1) has been sampled continuously for plankton and water chemistry for forty-eight years, representing an incredible wealth of long term ecological data.

Here is Caitlin Smoot (who will be on board with me) talking about how Zooplankton is collected aboard the R/V Sikuliaq, another vessel that operates in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

Personal Log

The transect lines that make the North Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research Project

The transect lines that make the North Gulf of Alaska Long Term Ecological Research Project

My job will be working the night shift, helping to collect plankton.  I go out of my way in all of my classes to look at plankton.  I even wrote a lab using diatoms to investigate a suspicious drowning death for my forensic science class. I’ve been collecting and examining freshwater plankton around my home in Eagle River, Alaska with my science classes for years, but rarely have I gotten to look at marine plankton.  I’m excited to learning how plankton is collected at sea and how those collections are used to calculate relative abundance of plankton in the Gulf of Alaska from these samples.

In my classroom, I am always on the look out for how to better connect students to the science I am teaching.  I’ve taught Oceanography for fifteen years but never been on an oceanographic cruise.  I am hopeful this trip gives me a depth of experience that my students will benefit from.

As I get closer, I am not without some anxieties.  I’m the very definition of a morning person, so working the night shift is going to be an adjustment.  Just being aboard the Tiglax is going to be an adjustment.  At a length of 120 feet, the Tiglax is a small research vessel with pretty limited facilities and no Internet connection.  I’ve been in a lot of boats, but I don’t recall ever being beyond the sight of land.  Those transect lines go way out into the ocean, and I wonder what it will feel like to be 150 miles from shore.

Did You Know?

The average depth of the ocean approaches 3,700 meters (12,000 feet.) The Seward Line transect begins in water only 100 meters deep and moves into water greater than 4000 meters in depth.

Mark Van Arsdale, How Big is Alaska Anyway? August 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 3–14, 2018

Mission: Bering Sea Juvenile Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Date: August 13, 2018

Latitude: 61.3293° N
Longitude: 149.5680° W
Air Temperature: 56° F
Sky: Rain (typical weather for August in AK)

Cascade Glacier

Me standing in front of the rapidly melting Cascade Glacier, Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound.

Personal Introduction

My name is Mark Van Arsdale.  I am a high school teacher in Eagle River, Alaska.  Eagle River is a bedroom community just outside of Anchorage.  At ERHS, I teach AP Biology, Forensic Science, Oceanography, and Marine Biology.  I will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a participant in the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

It’s raining right now, and I am sitting in my kitchen contemplating the start of the new school year next week and the start of a new adventure next month.   In three weeks I will fly from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to join the scientists and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Even though I will never leave the state, I will fly 796 miles, the same distance as flying from New York to Chicago.  Alaska is an incredibly large state, almost 600,000 square miles of land and 34,000 miles of coastline.  My adventure will take me into the Bering Sea.  Although I have never been there, I have a connection to the Bering Sea.  Like many other Alaskans’, much of the salmon and other seafood my family eats spends all or part of its lifecycle traveling through the rich waters of the Bering Sea.

Alaska map

At 591,000 square miles, Alaska is as wide as the lower 48 states and larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. Copyright Alaska Sea Adventures.

Alaska and Alaskans are highly dependent on the oceans. Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea produces more groundfish (pollock, cod, rockfish, sablefish, and flatfish) than any other place in the country, close to 2 million metric tons per year. In 2013 that was valued at over $2 billion.  Fishing is consistently Alaska’s top non-government employer and after oil, seafood represents our largest export.  Thousands of residents participate every year in subsistence fishing, and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Alaska each year, many with the hopes of catching a wild salmon or halibut (facts from the Alaska Sea Grant).

My classroom is less than five miles from the ocean (Cook Inlet Estuary), yet many of the students I teach have never seen the ocean.  They may not know the importance of the ocean to our state.  When I teach Oceanography and Marine Biology, I work very hard to connect my students to both the science and industry of the oceans.  Not just so that my students can understand what kind of work that scientist and fishermen do, but also so that they will understand the value of the work do.

I have been in the classroom for twenty years, and in the last few years I have seen more and more students entering my classroom who see no value in science.  Science matters!  The oceans and our relationship to the oceans matter!  I am hopeful that working on board the Oscar Dyson with a team of scientists is going to help me make those connections better.

Have I mentioned yet that I love fish?  I love to study fish, teach about fish, catch fish, cook fish, eat fish, watch fish.  So I am pretty excited about spending two weeks on a research cruise dedicated to fish research, and working with some of the Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

IMG_8559

A Quillback rockfish caught in Prince William Sound.