Chris Imhof, November 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 19, 2009

Science Log

After 3 days and many hours in front of computer screens and monitors I almost forgot I was on a boat. Tonight is my last night on the Pisces, and although at times it has been rough, I have started to get used to the rocking of the ship and know every crew member by name. I ran about the ship when I have had a second, to take in things knowing I will have chance tomorrow . I will miss looking across the open sea and having opportunities to catch a glimpse of a shark fin near the side of the ship and a huge sea turtle making its way across the waves. I will miss talking to the crew and the scientists, and working with Jeannine Foucault the other Teacher at Sea. I’ll probably write another log tomorrow to sum up the experience, but its hard

to rally up for a science log when you are tired and many of have to pack to disembark at Jacksonville tomorrow morning. As for the Pisces and her crew, they will make their way back to Pascagoula for the Holidays.

Chris Imhof, November 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 18, 2009

Science Log

NOAA’s mission is to “protect, restore and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources.” The way NOAA does this is through science – a voyage like this may seem like moving from point to point and placing a really cool piece of technology in the water to see what’s on the bottom – but these are all tools that are being used to be able to carry out the tenets of protect, restore and manage.

We have visited half our sites now and have surveyed different environments in and out of Marine Protected Areas. Different environments, yet with commonalities – all the sites are near exposed “hard-bottom” or exposed limestone on the shelf bottom. There may be miles of sand waves and algae – but theses exposed, complex and bio-encrusted features are “oasis’s” for all sorts of ocean life – especially fish. As the ROV maneuvers across the sandy waves, it is usually the glint of a school of fish or reflection of a fish eye that provides a beacon to a feature. If these features are “oasis” habitats then they should be protected. Granted, these limestone blocks can do more damage to fishing line and gear, evident in the amount of line found in the high relief areas – but in the case of some of the North Florida MPA, we encountered the fragile deep water Occulina Coral which is vulnerable especially when nets are being dragged across these areas.

Another commonality noticed is the growing presence of the beautiful Lion Fish (Pterois volitans) – this native of Pacific waters was released intentionally or unintentionally in the early 1990’s around Florida and have since spread to areas above North Carolina and south to the Caribbean, especially along reefs and rocky outcrops. They join an infamous ranks of other invasive species including the European Green Crab, Asian Eel and Zebra Mussel. The Lion-Fish, besides having an array of venomous spines. has a keen strategy of “corralling” prey with their fins and eating them in one gulp. This will impact the small fish and crustaceans in these habitats as well as the added competition with indigenous or native predators such as snappers and grouper fish – which are currently commercially fished. This is where “manage” comes in – here is a “new” invasive species in that is growing in population and spreading geographically, impacting the habitat by out-competing, in some cases, the established predators – how can it be managed.

Especially when the Lion-fish has few natural enemies. The Lion Fish is a tricky one – as an invasive species, missions like this one help to understand the long-term impact the Lion-Fish is having on these habitats. Using technology like multi-beam mapping and ROV technology can provide data for scientists and in turn give councils, commissions and government the knowledge to manage these areas through smart-solution-based policy.

References:

coastalscience.noaa.gov/documents/factsheet_lionfish.pdf

http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag135.htm

Chris Imhof, November 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 17, 2009

Science Log

We sailed last night to our first “station” – The North Florida Marine Protected Area – and by 7:00 am this morning the ROV pilots Lance Brown and Glenn Taylor were going through the “pre-flight” checklist on the ROV; Lance working the controls in the lab, Glenn outside taking care of the deployment and extraction of the vehicle on the starboard weather deck. Soon they were meeting with the Lead NOAA scientist Andy David to talk through the operations of the deployment and extraction and more specifically the methodology of what they were trying to accomplish at this site.

The North Florida MPA area has been protected since 2004 – meaning no sailing or fishing occurs in this area. Some of the area has been mapped by multi-beam sonar – so what scientist then do with ROV technology is “Ground-Truthing” in which after examining the multi-beam maps – choose features to explore and check visually how they compare with their maps. Since the ROV sends real time video feed to the lab, the scientist watch and note the features, the animals that are present or not present in the habitat. They also perform a down shot every 2 minutes, or stop the ROV – point the camera down and take a picture – later in the lab they quantify the habitat by gridding the photograph and counting the number of species. Todays North Florida site tested sites inside the Marine Protected Area as well as sites/features outside the MPA for comparison as well as to help make future decisions of extending possible areas into the protective zone or even species.

After the scientists met, the Pisces crew and captain Jeremy Adams met on the weather deck to talk through the operation – sync their communications and what if scenarios. In all, there were 3 ROV dives which went extremely smooth, mainly due to the organization and communication of everyone involved.

The highlights of the dive were the spectacular features of the exposed limestone near the drop offs and the amazing habitats – for all my preparation the diversity of fish was overwhelming – I could identify a few featured fish like the Lionfish, barracudas and Moray Eels – I was unprepared to see a real sea turtle hanging out by some rocks or a Goliath Grouper which came out of nowhere. I learned many new fish which I hope to be able to call out from the monitor tomorrow like the Reef Butterfly, Squirrel Fish, Amberjack, Scamp, Soldier fish, Purple and Yellow Tail Reef Fish. I was helpful in identifying some of the Occulina deep coral species, the sponges (which you couldn’t miss) as well as pick out old fish line, a bottle and and an old anchor jammed into the rocks near the edge.

I’ll let the pictures and video slices tell most of the story. We are cruising all night again to our most northern site Edisto – off South Carolina and then work back from there.

Chris Imhof, November 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 16, 2009

NOAA Ship Pisces in port

NOAA Ship Pisces in port

Science Log

We arrived late last night back in Jacksonville, Florida docking at the Atlantic Marine Docks – taking on 8 scientists who will leading the ROV operations – over the next few days. The next morning was a flurry of activity as the science crew began to unload their equipment and the crew of the Pisces operated the cranes and prepared the the sides of the ship and the winches for deployment of the ROV.

While Jeannine stayed aboard to help running cables and rigging the GPS equipment needed for pinpointing the position of the ROV relative to the ship – I chose to join the scouting party inland; myself, Lieutenant Dunsford, Engineer Tony Assouad and Lead Scientist Andy David made contact with local at the village of “Walmart” and acquired much needed supplies.

AtlantisGear was stowed and the equipment set up, the science party met for their safety briefing, followed by a larger conversation of what we will be accomplishing over the next couple of days. We plan to take the “Deep Ocean ROV” to at 3 sites – testing in and outside the MPA or “Marine Protected Area” about sites a day. We will be running mostly day time operations and transitioning to next station at night as well as doing some multibeam mapping – using the same type of technology I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. When the Pisces arrives in an area it will begin to “mow the lawn” – doing transects back and forth to create a map of the ocean floor below so the scientists can better choose targets or areas to avoid during the daytime ROV operation. For the most part we are assisting the scientists with the launching and retrieval of the ROV as well as monitoring what the ROV sees from a TV in the Dry Lab on the Pisces.

ROV equipment

ROV equipment

Like a lot of science the ROV will be recording a ton of data which will be more carefully evaluated over the next few months after the voyage. Many of the places we document in and out of the MPA will be explored again to see changes – so in a way this study sets a baseline for future missions. I am excited to see how they launch the ROV, which will give me some ideas for when my Innovation Technology Seminar launches their little rovers in a few weeks. The operator/pilot of the rover will be inside the dry lab talking through a headset to another rover scientist outside monitoring the 900 feet of cable – talking to a deck crew member operating a winch. We are hoping not only for calm waters on the surface for deployment-but quiet currents below so ROV has the opportunity to explore, rather than ride the current.

A few porpoises rolled along side the ship enough to enjoy, but too quick to get a good picture. Only the gray pelicans on the dock would stand still to pose. Before we pulled out of Jacksonville we climbed to the top of the Flying Deck to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch in the distance. Even though we didn’t do much today it was still a pretty great day. 🙂

Chris Imhof, November 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 15, 2009

Science Log

Rough winds and big choppy waves coming around the Keys and into the Gulf Stream last night kept many awake and few of us with a taste of sea sickness. We make port in Jacksonville tonight and take on the ROV and more scientists. While making the first leg of this voyage it has been good to get to meet most of the crew and learn what they do and where they work on the Pisces; these include NOAA engineers, electrical and computer technicians, deck crew, stewards, and the NOAA Core officers. Since this is a maiden voyage, many of these people have worked on other NOAA ships – bringing their expertise and skills to get the Pisces up and working smoothly. Many of this crew will stay with the Pisces – operating the ship for NOAA scientists who come aboard to run experiments or do research in the months to come.

When I boarded the Pisces last Wednesday, the mammal scientists Tony Martinez and Lance Garrison were already on board testing equipment for an expedition this coming January – for detecting concentrations of sperm whale prey – from small fish to squid – acoustically and visually. Two pieces of technology they use are the EK60 Echosounder and ME70 Splitbeam:

1) The EK60 Simrad Echo-Sounder: This piece of technology uses a devices called a transducers that are located on the bottom of the Pisces to detect organisms. The Echo-Sounder operates on 4 frequencies – split beams of 200 and 120 khz (kilohertz) for shallow water detection – giving good data on zooplankton and small schools of fish, and the 18 and 38 khz frequencies which can detect fish, mammals and squid much deeper. The transducers issue a ping at each frequency every .5 seconds which bounce back creating a picture or vertical scatter. The scatter shown is a reflective signature – which the scientist use to identify what is below.

2) The ME70:  The ME70 is brand new technology that uses a single high frequency – but based on amplitude reverberates from 80 transducers in a fan or swath -like shining a spot light down the water column. This gives another kind of visual image of what is below – especially the characteristics of the concentrations of zooplankton and nekton or schools of fish.

Tools and technology like this help scientists conduct surveys of marine species in deep and shallow waters, they can improve the way we estimate fish stocks – and the more it is used and tested can be a passive way to identify species in their habitats through their acoustic signatures.

An interesting aspect of this technology is the growing study of “swarm behavior” – understanding why schools of fish glide in precise synchronous movement. This field of study is becoming more important as we learn that self-organizing coordinated systems like schools of fish are extremely resilient and efficient. Mammal studies conducted by Tony and Lance aboard the Pisces may have larger implications in the future when looking at the behavior of crowds, or traffic on a highway, or how people move in a work place.

Chris Imhof, November 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 13, 2009

Science Log

Safety is a priority aboard the Pisces – without a sense of safe operations and knowing what to do in a situation – it would be very hard to run effective science missions – everything from knowing where a safe place to stand, when and where to wear a hard hat and what to do in an event or situation. Within hours of leaving port we assembled with the science team for a briefing and learned where we would muster in case of a drill. A muster station is a place you have been assigned when there is an alarm and/or the ship’s horn is blown to communicate to the crew an emergency, situation or event. Once assembled in the designated area, an assigned person calls the bridge to inform that everyone in that station has been accounted for.

I would go to my muster station in the case of a man-over-board -this is communicated with 3 prolonged blasts of the ship’s horn. If I was on deck and saw a person go overboard- I would yell “man-over-board!” and point over the side until I was relieved by an officer – and at the same time be throwing everything under the sun that could float to leave a trail for the ship to follow as it slowed and turned around.

It wasn’t more than an hour after our meeting, while exploring the ship that a drill was issued. As we made our way up 3 decks to our mustering station, we passed crew skillfully and methodically going through the procedures of extinguishing an imaginary “fire” on the starboard deck.

After a few minutes the captain had everyone assemble on the deck where the drill took place and with the XO led a discussion of how it went. What was impressive was the nature of the discussion in which crew members in different departments brought their knowledge and experience to consider other dimensions of the situation – glass windows, machinery or nearby materials that could cause furthers complications or additional measures etc. This type of collaboration builds the cohesion of a ships’ crew as well as the security and safety aboard the ship.

Following the briefing the crew was dismissed and within a short amount of time the ship’s horn blared 6 short blasts and a single long blast – indicating an abandon ship – in this situation/drill we mustered on a side of the ship – bringing with us a life vest, hat and immersion suit. The Pisces is equipped with self-inflatable life rafts on each side of the ship – each sides’ rafts hold more than 60 crew – this is in case one side of the ship cannot be reached or rafts are unable to be used-all ships have this in place today largely due to the Titanic disaster. Following this we learned how to quickly and efficiently put on our immersion suits. This tight fitting, insulated survival suit protects you not only from the elements but the brightness alone increases your chance of rescue. The suit fits snug leaving very little of your skin exposed, it is equipped with an additional flotation device behind your neck and a whistle.

Safety is science – it is also such an important part of how the Pisces runs – how the officers, crew and scientist work, and how the ship is built, runs and operates – as a Teacher at Sea who is staying just a brief time, it has heightened my sense to be more aware of everything around me not just the sea and the science but also how things aboard the ship operate and how each person works and fits into the big picture.

Chris Imhof, November 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 12, 2009

Science Log

After playing tourist in Jacksonville for a day I jumped at the chance to fly to Gulf Port Mississippi and join the Crew, Marine Mammal Scientists, and a fellow Teacher at Sea on the 3-day shakedown maiden voyage of the NOAA ship Pisces into the Gulf of Mexico up the Florida Strait back to Jacksonville. When I arrived Wednesday, most of the crew were gone enjoying the holiday before we would ship out. I stowed my gear in my stateroom and began to explore the ship. Fortunately, I ran into Christopher Flint, a Port Engineer who oversees the design, construction and refit of much of the NOAA fleet. Mr. Flint took me through the galley, weather deck, bridge, flying deck the winch and engine room, fish labs and even the ships’ sanitation area called the “Domestic Equipment Room” on a whirlwind tour that pretty much did me in for the night.

The Pisces is the 3rd of 4 new Fisheries Survey ships built for the NOAA Fleet – It is a beautiful state-of-the-art ship 208 feet long and 49.2 feet wide or breadth – it can travel a steady 14 knots. Each of the class of NOAA ships is built for different scientific purposes but all the ships of the fleet carry out a mission “to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem management.”

When I woke early this morning, the crew were moving about in a well-practiced sequence of procedures to get the Pisces underway. I met more members of the crew on my aimless search through up/down ladders to the Main Deck where I knew contained the galley and thus coffee. The fact many of the crew have come on this maiden cruise from other NOAA ships and work efficiently and seamless was amazing.

The Pisces can carry a crew of 6 commissioned NOAA officers, 4 engineers, 11 crew and 15 scientists. Of the crew I talk to, many have spent over 10 to 20 years with NOAA and have served on many ships; many have fondness for a certain ship or area, all carry a sense of pride for what they contribute to the overall mission. Although I have spent little more than a day on the ship, the more I watch and talk to people aboard the Pisces – the crew, the officers, and the scientists- everyone knows that they need to depend, respect and trust each other to do a good job.

Making my way to smell of breakfast and coffee in the galley I finally meet Jeanine Foucault, another Teacher at Sea. Jeannine was accepted to the Teacher at Sea Program a few years ago – after she and her Seventh-grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven Mississippi were selected to name the newest NOAA ship the Pisces. Over the past couple of years Jeanine and her students have seen the keel laying ceremony and the launch of the Pisces. Her team of students are now juniors in different high schools, but still follow the progress of the Pisces – one student even attended the commissioning ceremony a week ago. Many cruises and types of work are offered to Teachers at Sea – from working in the Bering Sea to Hawaii or the Caribbean – Jeanine is just as excited as I am to be here and share this experience with her students – out of all the different adventures she could of have gone on – she has waited a long time to be just on the Pisces!