Stephen Bunker: Current Drifter, 24 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 24 October 2011

Science and Technology Log

Homemade current drifter

A current drifter we lowered off the RV Walton Smith.

At a couple of stops on the cruise we dropped some current drifters overboard. These current drifters will float at the surface of the water and travel with the gulf current. On top of the drifter there is a transmitter that will send a signal to a satellite. The scientists can then track movement of these drifters and map the ocean currents.

This drifter, I learned, was simply made. The materials, except for the GPS transmitter, can be found at a local hardware store and tackle shop.

Personal Log

Scientists at work

(from left to right) Brian, Maria, Nelson & Kuan at work on the RV Walton Smith.

My cruise with the R/V Walton Smith has been exciting. It has been great to learn how science — in particular oceanography — is done. Scientists are dedicated, focused people. I can tell they love what they do.

The crew of the R/V Walton Smith are incredible. I have a lot of respect for anyone that can parallel park something the size of a house. Talk about teamwork!

To finish off, here are some sunset photos taken on the voyage.

Sunset 9/19/2011

Stephen Bunker: Data Sampling, 23 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 23 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 6:23 PM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 5 m/s
Air Temperature: 25° C (77° F)
Clouds: stratocumulus

Science and Technology Log

Collecting data is what science is all about and scientists can measure many different things from the ocean. They generally take these measurements in two different ways: discrete and ongoing samples.

Cheryl is preparing filter samples made from water collected with the CTD. These samples will be frozen and analyzed later in a laboratory on shore.

Discrete sampling means scientists will take samples at different times. When we take measurements at regular intervals, we can compare the data and look for patterns. On the R/V Walton Smith we take discrete samples each time the CTD is lowered. At approximately every two weeks RV Walton Smith will revisit the same location and collect data again. These bi-monthly data samples will let the scientists compare the data and look for patterns.

Remember when we collected weather data in class? We were also doing discrete sampling. We collected weather data from the morning and afternoon each school day. We would record precipitation, wind velocity and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud types. Remember the pattern we noticed? When the afternoon temperature was cooler than the morning, we would have precipitation the next day.

Pump and valve system used for water sampling

Here is the pipes, valves and instruments used to take ongoing samples of surface water.

Ongoing sampling is also done on the R/V Walton Smith. On the fore, port (the left front) side of the ship, ocean water is continually sucked into some pipes. This surface water is continually pumped through instruments and water chemistry data is collected.

This continual data sampling is recorded on a computer and graphs can be made for  different characteristics of water chemistry. When continual data is graphed, the graphs have a smoother shape than they would with discrete samples.

Initially I thought that we were just collecting data each time we stopped to lower the CTD. Actually we had been collecting data throughout the entire voyage.

Kuan is monitoring his ongoing data collection of dissolved inorganic carbon.

Kuan, one of the scientists on our cruise, was measuring the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean. The process of doing this has typically been a discrete sampling process that involves chemically analyzing water samples, Kuan has developed an instrument that would take ongoing water samples and measure the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon continually.

His instrument would tap into the water pipes above and take ongoing samples throughout the trip. He also wrote a computer program that would record, calculate, and graph the quantity of dissolved inorganic carbon. He even collects GPS data so he can tell where in the ocean his samples were taken. His experiment, I learned, is cutting-edge science or something that hasn’t been tried before.

Personal Log

I hadn’t realized the close connection there is between our earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. I understood how the ocean temperatures and currents  affect our weather systems. But, I didn’t understand how on a micro scale this happens as well. The ocean will exchange (absorb and give off) carbon dioxide and many other molecules with the air.

Why is it important to understand how the ocean and atmosphere interact? We often hear how greenhouse gasses are contributing to climate change. Carbon dioxide, considered a greenhouse gas, is one of the inorganic carbon molecules absorbed and given off by the oceans. When it is absorbed, it can make the ocean slightly more acidic which could harm the micro organisms that are in the ocean food chain

Understanding the interaction between atmosphere and ocean will help us understand why some areas of the earths ocean absorb more carbon dioxide and others don’t.

Stephen Bunker: Sargassum Experiments, 21 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 21 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 11:30 AM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 8 m/s
Air Temperature: 23° C (73° F)
Clouds: cirro cumulus

Science and Technology Log

Net Tow

That's me tending the Neuston net as it's being towed aside the R/V Walton Smith.

One of the many experiments we are doing on board is to learn about a plant that grows in the ocean called Sargassum. This tan plant floats near the surface and along in the current. It grows throughout the world’s topical seas. It can grow into large mats the and can be as large as boats and ships. Sargassum provides an environment for distinctive and plants and animals that are not found other places. These ecosystem rafts harbor many different organisms.

On the third stop of the CTD cycle we drag a Neuston net along side of the boat. For 1/2 hour, night or day, the boat takes a slow turn as we drag the net along the surface as we collect samples.  Almost all of the animals below are what we have found in the Neuston net.

We’ll haul in the net and remove the contents. We’ll first try to get all of the animals out. The animals usually don’t survive but every once in a while we can save them (see below for some of the animals we captured with the net).

We’ll next sort the plant life that we collect in the net. Of course we are looking for Sargassum, so we will separate out all of the sargassum.

So, how do you measure what you get? We measure it by volume much like our mom’s measure shortening for cookies. We will fill up a graduated cylinder part way with water, put the samples from the net into the cylinder and then measure how much water they displace.

For example, if we put 2500 ml of water in the graduated cylinder, then put Sargassum in the cylinder, the water level now measures 5500 ml . We then know that there are 3000 ml  (5500 ml – 2500 ml = 3000 ml) of Sargassum by volume measure.

Everything we collect from the net, we measure and record.

Personal Log — Animals I’ve seen

  • Flying Fish— Yes, believe it or not, there are fish that fly. Last night as were preparing to lower the CTD, I noticed silvery-blue streaks in the water. One of the scientists with me explained that they are Flying Fish (Exocoetidae) and the lights of our vessel attracts them and many other types of fish to the surface at night. As soon as she explained this, one of them shot out of the water and glided about a meter and ducked back into the water. Read more about Flying Fish here.
  • Rock Fish

    This fish was found as we unloaded the Moch net.

    Rock Fish — Each time we drag the Moch Net for the Sargassum survey, we can expect interesting things. Last night we captured a type of Rock Fish.

  • Spotted Eel — We also found an eel that has white spots. I tried my best to see if I could more specifically identify it. We have saved it in an aquarium on board the R/V Walton Smith.
  • Mystery Fish

    Help identify this mystery fish. Make a comment below if you think you know what it is.

    Mystery Fish — This fish has many of us stumped. It has a long nose but when the fish opens its mouth, you can see that the pointy part is connected to its lower jaw. Put your investigative skills to use and help me identify the fish. Post a comment if you think you know what it is. For an enlarged view, click here.

  • Moon Jellies — Many people call them Jelly Fish but actually they don’t belong to the fish family at all. They don’t even have a backbone. When we carefully picked these animals up, with gloves on of course, it feels like picking up Jello with your hands; it just slips through your fingers. You can find more about Moon Jellies, Aurelia aurita, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can also find general information about Jellyfish at National Geographic Kids.
  • Sharptail eel

    This eel was found when we were collecting Sargassum.

    Sharptail eel — It’s about half a meter in length and squirms all over. The scientist studying the Sargassum, has saved it in an aquarium so we can observe it. Its scientific name is Myrichthys breviceps.

  • Honey Bee — Believe it or not a honey bee joined us. There was no land in view and a honey bee landed on me. The wind must have blown the bee to sea and it was probably very happy to find a place to land that was not wet.
  • Porpoise — We also call these dolphins. Sometimes a pod of porpoises will get curious and  investigate our boat. They will circle us, swim along side and even ride our bow wave.

Stephen Bunker: Science Experiments on the R/V Walton Smith, 20 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 20 October 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 11:39 AM
Wind direction: North-northwest
Wind velocity: 4.5 m/s
Air Temperature: 23 °C (75° F)
Clouds: Alto cumulus

Science and Technology Log

We left port today at about 6:30 AM, before the sun had even come up. We are  headed out to the Florida Keys. The rain has stopped as well as the wind. We left Miami Harbor as the sun was coming up.

Our scientific research will take place along the Florida Keys, a chain of low-lying  Islands that arc around the southern tip of Florida. The R/V Walton Smith will stop at predetermined stops and take measurements.

There are many science experiments happening on board. In each post, I will try to highlight a different experiment. I’ll start off with the CTD  because it is the experiment that drives our schedule throughout our cruise.

The Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth Instrument. Everyone on board calls it the CTD for short. The CTD schedule is our game plan. At about every 3 -5 hours — night and day —  we’ll cycle through a series 3-4 CTD drops.

Lower CDT

These are the instruments on the lower part of the CTD.

On the bottom of the CTD are a number of instruments that give real-time data to a scientist on board the boat. The conductivity part of the instrument measures how much electricity passes through the sea water. Using a mathematical algorithm that takes in account temperature and how much current passes through the water, we can determine the density (salinity) of the water.

Full CDT

The CTD on deck. The grey tubes fill with water.

The top part of the CTD has 12 cylinders that can trap water. Those are the grey tubes you see in the picture to the left. There are lids on the top and bottom of each tube that can be closed with a remote control from inside the boat. In this way the scientists can take water samples from any depth of water.

So, when we arrive at one of these predetermined location we’ll lower the CTD.

Once the CTD is just below the surface of the water and everything checks out, the scientist will radio to the crane operator to lower the CTD to within a meter of the bottom of the ocean. That can be anywhere from 5 meters to over 100 down. As the CTD lowers, the scientist monitors the CTD instrument real-time readouts. Using a graph of the data, he or she will decide at which locations to close the cylinders on its return trip to the surface.

CDT Control Center

Nelson monitors the CTD data as it is collected.

Water sample processing

Cheryl is processing water samples from the CTD.

Once it surfaces, we’ll  assist in placing the CTD back on the deck and securing it. We’ll then take water samples from the grey tubes. Those water samples will be analyzed in one of the laboratories on the boat. The water samples will show us chemical properties of the water.

Personal Log

Teamwork works! It takes a lot of teamwork to make things happen on board. Guiding the boat to the precise locations is the easy part for the crew. They have a GPS to help them do it. After they get there they have to maintain the location. That’s hard when currents, wind and waves, move the boat which is the size of a house. Then they delicately raise and lower the CTD.

Dave Diving

Crew member Dave preparing to dive in order to remove ropes caught in the ship propeller.

If something happens, they also need to fix it. They can’t drive it to a repair shop. They have to fix things on the spot. During the night, some ropes from lobster traps got tangled into one of the propellers. One of the crew put on scuba gear, got in the water, and removed the ropes.

The group of scientists have been organized into a day shift from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM and the other half is on the night shift for 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM. This can be uncomfortable to have to stay awake all night, but it also means they have to sleep during the day. The day shift will also have a heavier work load because there are additional experiments that have to be done during the sunshine.

The bridge of the SV Walton Smith

Crew member Bill at the helm of the R/V Walton Smith

Stephen Bunker: Weather Delay, 17 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 17 October 2011

Weather Data

For this blog entry I’ll give a brief report for weather. I’m still learning my way around the ship and and how to find where weather data is recorded.

It’s overcast with light rain.

Science and Technology Log

When I arrived at the RV Walton Smith I learned that our cruise would be delayed a couple of days because of weather. So I’m not out on the Ocean yet. In the Gulf of Mexico between Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula a combination of cold fronts and moist air are creating rain, rough seas, and wind that would make data gathering dangerous in the Florida Keys. Safety first is the motto.

AOML Photo

NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)

Coincidentally, just across the street from where the RV Walton Smith is docked is the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). At the AOML this day meteorologists, scientists that study how the atmosphere and how it affects the earth and life on the earth, were interested in getting as much information as they can about this storm system. When the rest of us are taking cover from a storm, these scientists are out gathering data so they can better predict when and how storms act.

Both the meteorologists from AOML and our team of scientist were interested in this storm system for different reasons. They wanted to study the storm and we wanted to know if we could safely leave to do our scientific research. Our lead scientist for the cruise, Nelson Melo, invited me to attend a map discussion where the weather conditions were discussed. A map discussion is a meeting where scientists view, discuss, and decide what they can learn from a storm.

Map discussion at AOML

Map discussion at AOML

It was great to see that their satellite images of the storms were on the web were everyone can see them. Here is a sample of what they showed in the meeting.

Storm system over Gulf of Mexico

Animation of storm system over the Gulf of Mexico

NOAA 42

NOAA 42 Aircraft

This storm is headed toward Florida and has the possibility of growing into a tropical storm. In any case, we can plan for more rain, wind, and rough seas until it passes. The AOML scientists decided to request one of NOAA’s aircraft to observe the storm and we are going to stay put until the storm passes.

Personal Log

The soonest we could leave would be Thursday. The crew of the RV Walton keeps busy maintaining and keeping the vessel in top shape for when we do leave. I don’t feel much rocking while the boat is in dock.

Stephen Bunker: Introduction, 11 October 2011

Photo of Stephen Bunker

NOAA Teacher at Sea Stephen Bunker

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

The time is quickly approaching for me to start on my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. Before I head off I should tell a little about myself. I’m a 3rd grade teacher at Northridge Elementary in Orem, Utah. In my previous 18 years of teaching, I’ve taught students ranging from kindergarten through 6th grade. Of all the subjects I teach, I think science is the most fun.

I’ve participated in many professional development opportunities, but I think this will be the most unique. Living at sea on a NOAA ship doing research with scientists and then sharing what I experience and learn with others will be  loads of fun.

In addition, I’ll be at sea when my students are in school. So, “Hello class!” I’m hoping they follow this blog. If you have a question for me, please post a comment below. I’ll make sure to respond either from ship or when I return.

RV Walton Smith

This will be my home for 5 days.

I’ll be aboard the R/V Walton Smith for a week. The RV Walton Smith is based in Miami, Florida and we will be doing a Hydrographic Survey. That’s science speak for measuring and collecting data about ocean features such as temperature, water clarity, microscopic plant and animal life and currents and tides. The scientists are interested in learning how the Deepwater Horizon oil platform accident is affecting the plant and animal life in the Florida Keys.

It takes a lot of planning to get ready for this type of voyage. Our lead scientist has made a map of the area where we will be.

A map showing where we will do our research.

Check back, because the next time you’ll hear from me will be from the Florida Keys.