John Bilotta, More Colors than a box of Crayola Crayons: Coral, Fish, Sunsets, and the Color of my TAS Experience.  My final blog. Days 10 &11, June 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 27, 2014

 

Weather: Hazy sun.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Florida MPA.        LAT 30°45’N, LON 80.4.9’W

These have been my finals days aboard the Nancy Foster.  We have explored so much, seen so much, yet we didn’t even scratch the surface (or should I say the bottom) of the vastness of the MPAs, the Atlantic, or any of the oceans.  It has been said that the entire science community has explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans.  I can relate much better to this fact after my TAS experience.  In all, we completed 29 separate dives with the ROV.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

The ROV on the deck of the Nancy Foster shortly before launch.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

John and the little ROV that could, that would, and did explore 29 dives with us.

After our last dive, we were gathered in lab and someone said “I call it a success if the number of launches matches the number of recoveries.”  While that certainly is a good measure, my measure of success is the amount of new knowledge I have acquired, the re-kindling of science knowledge I once used more readily, and the many ideas I have acquired to incorporate and advance the earth and water science classes and workshops I design and teach.

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  Let there be color

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.  If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better

I won’t begin to identify everything in these pictures in part because I can’t without the expertise of the researchers and marine biologists I had the honor to be with.  So they are here for their sheer beauty and awesomeness.  Here are two good websites to checkout for more information:  The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has a good EcoSpecies database to explore and www.marinespecies.org

 

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives.  Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Photo from one of the 2014 South Atlantic MPA Survey ROV dives. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part II.  The ocean floor changes and the habitat moves

Our last three dives with the ROV were in the North Florida MPA – about 100 miles east of Jacksonville.  Stacey and the team had explored these reefs and habitats a year ago.  We returned to the same areas using the MB maps where they expected to find good to excellent grouper habitat with high rugosity they observed the year before.  During the first portions of the ROV dive we just could not find that habitat; it was in fact buried in sand in many places.  The Gulf Stream and currents are strong here and they move the sand on the ocean floor.  In addition, hurricanes and tropical storm activity probably also lead to shifts in sand and sediment on the ocean floor, exposing and covering areas all the time. This seemingly paled in comparison to erosion and sedimentation I am more familiar with in Minnesota and in places in the Midwest.  Another example of how the Earth is always changing the way it appears.  In 5-8th grade Earth Adventure programs we often discuss processes that form and shape the planet; plate tectonics, erosion, and weathering are the highlights.  Now with my new knowledge, we will add the ideas of the oceans and currents that shape the planet.

Science Part III.  What will the scientists do with all the research and information we have collected?  

Over the next year, Stacey Harter, Andy David, Heather Moe, John Reed, and Stephanie Farrington will examine the hundreds of digital pictures, hours of HD video, and study the fish, invertebrate, and habitat logs we wrote during each ROV dive.  A summary report about the fisheries and health of the MPAs will be written that will help the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council with management decisions for both commercial and recreational fishing in the areas.

The Nancy Foster – a NOAA ship on the seas – what makes her go?

Most of my blog has been devoted to the science of the mission, but to make that happen, the Nancy Foster has to make its way through the ocean.  Here is a little about the people and the technology that make that happen.

The crew of the NF and a career with NOAA:  The NF has a compliment of 22 crew members including the Commanding Officer (CO), the Executive Officer (XO), and three Junior Officers (JO’s).  How does one get the privilege and honor to pilot a 187 foot ship?  One career entry point is the NOAA Corps. Here is a great video link about the NOAA Corps.  I had a chance to visit with all the officers and spent time with them on the bridge and can’t say enough good things about them. Wish I could include a picture of me with all of them.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

John and Junior Officer Felicia Drummond on the bridge of the Nancy Foster for a morning of navigation.

Ship Technology and Engineering:  There is a team of ~15 engineers, technicians, and crew that make this virtual self-sustaining ship the ability to sail the ocean for up to 14 days at a time without going into port.  While at sea, each has their unique and important role.  During my last full day onboard, I spent ½ of it up on the bridge and ½ down in the engine room.  Here are a few technology tidbits:

  • Electronics and computers have a significant role to make the Nancy Foster plow through the ocean’s waters, in addition to its skilled captains and large propellers.  I cannot begin to list and describe all the computers and the high technology aboard the NF and all it does.  I would consider myself to have a high level of computer literacy, but this was daunting.
  • D.P. – Dynamic Positioning.  A computer system calculates and performs many of the navigational moves the NF makes.  The DP also uses wind and motion sensors to predict how the propulsion systems should respond in order to hold position or make precise movements. The DP can literally put the ship within meters of where the science team requests her to go (of course under the direction of the crew).  Simply amazing!
  • The D.P. drives the main engine, two Z-drives off the stern that turn 360 degrees and a bow thruster.
  • Multiple engines and generators churn away in the depths of her not only providing propulsion, but electricity, compressed air, air conditioning, etc.
  • The NF can make 1700 of fresh water daily either through an evaporative process connected to the main engine or through a reverse osmosis system.

 NEW – two short videos of the launch and recovery of the ROV 

 

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

A view off the Nancy Foster as we sail for port on the last day.

What is next for me –what am I am hoping to do with my experience?

The NOAA TAS experience is a privilege that also comes with some requirements that I am excited to fulfill.  Over the course of the next few months I will be developing a classroom lesson plan (K12, grade to be determined) based on my experience.  I have at least seven new ideas to work into existing Earth Adventure programs.  I will also be preparing a presentation to my peers about the TAS, the MPAs, the research, and my involvement.  I will also be highlighting careers in NOAA for young adults.  Some of these materials will be posted to this blog – so don’t delete the link just because I am done sailing!

Personal Log:

Yes, we were able to watch the USA vs Germans play in the FIFA World Cup.  The Nancy Foster does have Direct TV and it so happens we timed our ROV dives to allow us to watch either of the two large screen TV’s aboard the ship.

I finished the The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.  The last quote I will end my blog with

“Water is unpredictable.  Water is fickle.   But that is water’s nature. The fickleness, the variability, is itself predictable.”  (p775)

I watched a number of sunsets (when not playing Mexican Train – a game with Dominos) and I forced myself up a couple of mornings for sunrise, including this one on our last morning sailing back to Mayport.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

One of the many colorful sunsets and sunrises I saw from the Nancy Foster.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • D.P.  dynamic positioning
  • CPA – closest point of approach
  • BCR – Bow crossing range

John Bilotta, Totally Awesome Turtle, An Ocean of Stars, and Fancy Fish – Days 7-9 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 25, 2014

 

Weather: Partly cloudy to sunshine.  27 degree Celsius.  8.0 knot wind from the southwest.

Locations:  North Cape Lookout 3 Proposed MPA, South Cape Lookout Proposed MPA (both off the coast of North Carolina) and the Edisto MPA (off the coast of South Carolina.)

LAT 32°24’N, 79°6’W  LON 32°24’N, 79°6’W

 

Hint:  See the pictures LARGER.

If you click on any of the pictures in any of my blogs, they should open up full screen so you can see the detail better.

 

Science and Technology Log  with more than 20 ROV dives completed, here are five new items to share

Science Part I.  Totally Awesome Turtle!

On Tuesday, June 24th during our first of four dives of the day a Loggerhead sea turtle came for a visit in front of the ROV.  Loggerheads are common for the MidAtlantic and other oceans in the mid-latitude regions. Loggerheads grow up to 250lbs and are named for their relatively large heads.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

This was a dream come true for me.  I have always had this fascination with turtles stemming from catching them on Keller Lake in my early childhood to the snappers that have been visiting and nesting in our gardens the past few years at Goose Lake.  Every turtle is entitled to a name, this one I am calling “TJ.” (Hi Taylor!)   I hope we will see more.

Science Part II.  Discoveries of Dives in the Deep – the fish

Scamp Grouper

Scamp Grouper & Cubbya Dive067054 12 04 27

Scamp Grouper & Cubbyu. This grouper is probably 16-22 inches. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Scamp Grouper. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Speckled Hind

Speckled Hind.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

Speckled Hind. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014

Cornetfish

Cornetfish.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Cornetfish. Can grow to be 2-4 feet in length, 6 feet maximum. Although not possible to fully detect, when we photographed these it appears two males were courting a female. They almost danced together in the water. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  An Ocean of Stars – Echinoderms and other Invertebrates

A brief bit of science, then you can see the pictures.  Echinoderms have three main characteristics:

1.  A body plan with 5-part radial symmetry
2.  A calcite skeleton
3.  A water-vascular system

Here are a few we have found on the ocean floor the past few days with the ROV.  By the way, it’s also a sky of stars at night from the ‘iron beach’ on the top deck aft of the bridge of the Nancy Foster.

Asterporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodiordia photographed during ROV dive.  Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.

Asteroporpa Star wrapped around the backside of a diodogorgia photographed during ROV dive. Look hard past the purple and you can see it. Photo credit to NOAA / UNCW. June 2014.

Seastar photographed during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014

Sea star photographed during ROV dive. Photo by NOAA / UNCW June 2014

Brittlestars photographed  during ROV dive.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW.  June 2014

Brittlestars photographed during ROV dive. I magnified this photo so you could see two close up, but in one of the photos we took with the ROV there were more than five visible. Photo by NOAA / UNCW. June 2014

Longspine Erchin.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

Longspine Urchin. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV. June 2014.

One of the mollusks we found. 

Thorny Oysters.  There are three in this picture.  Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.

Thorny Oysters. There are three in this picture; the middle one is slightly open. Photo by NOAA / UNCW ROV 2014.

Science Part IV.  Iceberg Scours dead ahead!

Many of the ridges and valleys Stacey Harter our chief scientist choose for us to investigate with the ROV are actually scours along the Atlantic Ocean seafloor created by icebergs that moved in a southwesternly direction towards the Carolina’s. Yes, I said icebergs!  These scours I learned were probably created during the last deglaciation period, (~29,000-15,000 BP (before people)). I found this great blog post that summarizes some research on these and has a good graphic too.   The scours are revealed through the multibeam mapping (MB) that the science mapping team conducts overnight. The image below is a MB map that shows the ridges and valleys (iceberg scours) and the red dots that form the line our ROV took exploring it on Sunday.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours and ROV dive track.  Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Creek.  June 2014.

Multibeam (MB) Map showing iceberg scours. The red dotted line near the middle of the image is our ROV track from the dive, going east to west. Image courtesy of NOAA and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute . June 2014.

The earth science education I teach with the Earth Balloon and Earth Walk programs cover processes that shape and form the planet and I can’t wait to incorporate iceberg scours and the habitat they now provide into these programs!

A call out to Jennifer Petro and her class at Everitt Middle School in Panama City, Florida. Jennifer participated as a TAS in 2013 on this same research project. Her class sent a collection of decorated styrofoam cups with Andy David from the Panama City NOAA lab for us to bring to the bottom during one of our dives.  This is what happens when Styrofoam is subject to increasing pressure.

Styrofoam cups predive

Styrofoam cups postdive

Science Part V.  I think we placed it here…I think it is here…It is here!

Earlier this spring, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with the Army Corp of Engineers sank two barges to create artificial reef systems and habitat for groupers, tilefish, and countless other species.

Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corp of Engineers.

Artificial reef barge sank spring 2014 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with cooperation from the Corps of Engineers. Its difficult to say for sure, but to give you a sense of scale, typical shipping containers like the green on one on top are are 40-50 feet in length.

During the overnight hours of June 24th & 25th the mapping science team (see below) set out to find these two barges somewhere within a 2 square mile box using the MB aboard the Nancy Foster; that’s a lot of ocean to cover!    I stayed up late with them and at about 10:00pm images began to emerge that resembled the barges.  By 10:30pm, the mapping team had combed through the data and generated 3D maps that were strong evidence they had found them.

MB barge1

3D multibeam image of one of the sunken barges near the Edisto MPA. The barge is the rectangle, however there appears to be a mass of objects off one of its corners – keep reading.

However, a hypothesis emerged; one of the barges may have flipped upside-down during its initial sinking and that some of the cargo containers had actually fallen off and came to rest on the ocean floor separate from the barge.  During this discussion with the mapping team, I had this huge smile and was in awe with what they could do with sound waves!

So on Wednesday afternoon, June 25th the ROV team went to work to explore the sunken barges.  I watched as Lance Horn slowly guided the ROV down below 100 meters.  Eventually we could make out the barge.  Lance had to use his many years of ROV piloting to carefully maneuver.   We could not let the umbilical fiber optic and power cord get caught on any of the metal debris and towers that projected outward.  What did we discover?  Unfortunately I am unable to show you the pictures.  At 90 meters in depth it was so dark, the digital camera could not capture quality images – even with two LED lights.  However, the HD video gave us clear visual and conclusions.  The barge settled upright on the sea floor (it wasn’t upside down).  However, we speculate that it came down with such force that the shipping containers and structures collapsed and broke away.  Indeed four of them are lying on the ocean floor off the northwest corner of the barge. It’s only been a few months so habitat and few fish have yet to call it home, but schools of Amberjack were all around.

 

Career highlight: 

Kayla Johnson and Freidrich Knuth are our mapping scientists we brought on board as part of the science team and Samantha Martin and Nick Mitchell are fulltime NOAA mapping scientists assigned to the Nancy Foster.  All four of them have very interesting stories about how they use their education and expertise to be eyes through the water column deep into the ocean.  Freidrich and Kayla accompanied the science team as graduates from the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at Charleston College.

Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  From left to right:  Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson.  Not pictured - Samantha Martin.

Mapping science crew aboard the Nancy Foster. From left to right: Freidrich Knuth, Nick Mitchell,Kayla Johnson. Not pictured – Samantha Martin.

It is really inspiring to hear about their experiences in MB mapping in many of the oceans worldwide.  They are experts of combing through data we receive through a number of ship-mounted devices, applying complex GIS software (geographic information systems), and creating 2D & 3D maps that the science team can use to direct the ROV to the next day – which means this team works through the overnight hours and sleeps during the day.

Personal Log:

I have been running on the treadmill which is located in a small fitness center low in the ship.  It’s a very awkward feeling when there are large waves and the treadmill and I are going up and down and swaying side to side.  The way I look at it I am running on water so it has to be easier on my knees.

I have lost track of the number of birthdays we have celebrated while offshore.  From somewhere, seemingly daily, birthday cards and cakes emerge.

And for another quote from The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman that I am reading while aboard the Nancy Foster.

“Water is a pleasure.  It is fun.  Our sense of water, our connection to water, is primal.  Anyone who has ever given a bath to a nine-month-old baby – and received a soaking in return – knows that the sheer exuberance of creating splashing cascades of water is born with us.  We don’t have to be taught to enjoy water.”  (p760)

We are sailing for the Florida MPA overnight tonight (10-12 hours) and will be ready to launch the ROV again tomorrow.

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  In the meantime, some might have links to further information. 

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • Ehinoderms
  • Radial symmetry
  • A ‘clip’
  • Latitude/Longitude
  • Heading
  • Hypothesis
  • GIS
  • TED – turtle exclusion device (Andy and I had a conversation about other work NOAA is doing in the Gulf related to turtles, TEDs and their work on trawlers.   Perhaps another NOAA at sea adventure for me in the future.)

John Bilotta, Super Highways of Currents and Super Specimens from the Deep: Days 5 & 6 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 23, 2014

Weather:

Saturday: Sunny, some clouds,  27 degrees Celsius.  6.0 knot wind from the southwest.  1-2m seas.

Sunday:  Cloudy with morning rain clearing to mostly sunny in the afternoon.  27 degrees Celsius. 13 knot wind from the west. 2-4m seas.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

Science and Technology Log

Science Part I.  The superhighway under the surface: sea currents

Until today, most everything including the weather and sea conditions were in our favor.  On the surface it just looks like waves (ok well big waves) but underneath is a superhighway.  On Sunday morning the currents throughout the water column were very strong.  The result was the ROV and its power and fiber optic umbilical cord never reached a true vertical axis.  Even with a 300lbs down-weight and five thrusters the ROV could not get to our desired depth of about 60m.  The current grabbed its hold onto the thin cable and stretched it diagonally far under the ship – a dangerous situation with the propellers.  The skill of ROV pilots Lance and Jason and the crew on the bridge navigated the challenging situation and we eventually retrieved the ROV back to the deck.  I presume if I were back home on Goose Lake in Minnesota, I certainly would have ended up with the anchor rope wrapped around the props in a similar situation.  So, where is the current coming from and how do we measure it aboard the Nancy Foster?

The Gulf Stream.  Note the direction of the current and consider that on Sunday morning we were due east of North Carolina.

The Gulf Stream. Note the direction of the current and consider that on Sunday morning we were due east of North Carolina.

Answer: The Gulf Stream is an intense, warm ocean current in the western North Atlantic Ocean and it moves up the coast from Florida to North Carolina where it then heads east.  You don’t have to be directly in the Gulf Stream to be affected by its force; eddies spin off of it and at times, water will return in the opposite direction on either side of it.  Visit NOAA Education for more on ocean currents.

Answer: Aboard the Nancy Foster, we have a Teledyne ADCP – Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler.  The ADCP measures direction, speed, and depths of the currents between the ship and the ocean floor.  It’s not just one measurement of each; currents may be moving in different directions, at different depths, at different speeds.  This can make a ROV dive challenging.

For example, at 4pm on Sunday near the Snowy Grouper MPA site off the coast of North Carolina, from 0-70 meters in depth the current was coming from the north and at about 2 knots. At 70 meters to the sea floor bottom it was coming from the south at over 2 knots.  Almost completely opposite.

Hydrphone

Hydrophone

Another indication of the strong currents today was the force against the hydrophone. Hydrophones detect acoustic signals in the ocean.  We are using a hydrophone mounted on the side of the Nancy Foster to communicate the location of the ROV to the ship.  The hydrophone has to be lowered and secured to the ship before each dive.  It ended up in my blog today because the current was so strong, three of us could not swing and pull the hydrophone to a vertical position in the water column.  It was a good indicator the currents were much stronger than the past few days.

 

Science Part II.  Discoveries of Dives in the Deep

Snowy Grouper – one primary species we are on the hunt for this mission

Snowy Grouper are one of the species requiring management due to low and threatened stock levels within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West.  The MPAs help conserve and manage these species.  We were excited to have a few visit the camera lens the past two days.

Pair of Snowy Groupers photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Pair of Snowy Groupers photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Sizes are approximately 30-50cm (12-20″).Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.   Size is approximately 40-50cm (16-20").  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Size is approximately 40-50cm (16-20″). Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper and a Roughtongue Bass photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20.   Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Snowy Grouper and a Roughtongue Bass photographed during one of our dives on Friday, June 20. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 

Scorpianfish (scorpaenidea)

Scorpianfish (scorpaenidea) photographed during one of dives on Saturday, June 21.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Scorpionfish (Scorpaenidea) photographed during one of dives on Saturday, June 21. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Eel

Eel photographed during one of our dives on Saturday, June 21.  Saw many of these peeking out of their homes in crevices.  We  were lucky to capture this one in its entirety. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Eel photographed during one of our dives on Saturday, June 21. Saw many of these peeking out of their homes in crevices. We were lucky to capture this one in its entirety. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Invertebrates – (with much thanks to my education from Stephanie Farrington)

Stichopathes, Diodogordia, & Ircinia Campana.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Stichopathes, Diodogordia, & Ircinia Campana. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Leiodermatium, Nicella, feather duster crinoids, and a Red Porgy in the far background.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Leiodermatium, Nicella, feather duster crinoids, and a Red Porgy in the far background. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  Rugosity- 

Rugosity is sea- bottom roughness.  Probably one of the terms and skills I will remember most about this experience.  In oceanography, rugosity is determined in addition to the other characteristics I am more accustomed to:  slope, composition, and the cover type (plants, animals, invertebrates.)  It was a little challenging for me to incorporate this into my observations the first few days so thought I would share two of the stark differences.   This compliments my strong knowledge and passion for teaching earth science with Earth AdventureI cannot wait to use this content in future Earth Balloon & Earth Walk Programs!

Rugosity Comparison. Low rogosity on the left; high rogosity on the right.  The low has a flat plain where as the high has rocks, deep crevasses, slopes, and texture.  Snowy Grouper desire high rogosity.  Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Rugosity Comparison. Low rugosity on the left; high rugosity on the right. The low has a flat plain where as the high has rocks, deep crevasses, slopes, and texture. Snowy Grouper desire high rugosity. Photo credit: NOAA/UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Science Part III.  Day Shapes

When a ship has restricted ability to move, the ship displays vertically (up to down) from the mast a black ball, diamond, and black ball.  This informs other ships and vessels in the area not to approach the Nancy Foster as we can’t move; the ROV is in the water.  While radio communication is an option, this is a marine standard that signals others to stay away.  If we were deploying the ROV at night, a series of lights communicate the same message.  On Sunday morning, we observed three recreational fishing boats probably a 1.5 kilometers from the ship.  It seemed one was moving towards us likely interested in what was happening aboard the giant Nancy Foster.

Day shapes displayed on the Nancy Foster ship mast;  black ball, diamond, and black ball.  The NF has restricted ability to move; the ROV is in the water.

Day shapes displayed on the Nancy Foster ship mast; black ball, diamond, and black ball. The NF has restricted ability to move; the ROV is in the water.

 

Career highlight:  

Lance Horn and Jason White are the two ROV pilots on board from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

ROV pilots Lance Horn and Jason White.  On the left, Lance surveys the ocean 'shall we launch the ROV or not?' - or perhaps we is just thinking deep thoughts.  On right, Lance and Jason preparing the cable prior to dive.

ROV pilots Lance Horn and Jason White. On the left, Lance surveys the ocean ‘shall we launch the ROV or not?’ – or perhaps he is just thinking deep thoughts. On right, Lance and Jason preparing the cable prior to dive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John & Jason White at the ROV pilot control center.

Personal Log:

A week without television.  While I brought movies on my iPad and there is a lounge equipped with more than nine leather recliners, a widescreen, and amazing surround sound, I haven’t yet sat down long enough to watch anything.  I spend 12 hours a day being a shadow to the researches trying to absorb as much as I can and lending a hand in anything that can help the mission. Most of my evenings have been consumed by researching species we saw during the dives using taxonomy keys and well, just asking a lot of questions.  I go through hundreds of digital pictures from the ROV and try to make sense of the many pages of notes I make as the researchers discuss species, habitats, and characteristics during the dives. While I am using a trust book version as well as the multiple poster versions scattered on the walls in the lab, here is a great online key.

Sunday evening, crew members of the Nancy Foster invited me to join them in a game of Mexican Train – a game using Dominos.  Thanks Tim for including me!  I am going to have to purchase this for cabin weekends up north in Minnesota (when the mosquitoes get so large they will carry you away and we can no longer go out in the evenings).

When the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler wasn’t working, we just called on King Neptune and his kite to help us gauge the wind speed, direction and the currents.  Wait, I thought he carried a scepter?

King Neptune collage

Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer – 11 years on the Nancy Foster and 30 years as Chief Engineer.

Espresso!  I really was worried about the coffee when coming aboard the Nancy Foster for 12+ days.  What would I do without my Caribou Coffee or Starbucks?  Chief Steward Lito and Second Cook Bob to the rescue with an espresso machine in the mess.  John has been very happy – and very awake.

I made it a little more progress reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.

In 2009, we spent $21 billion on bottled water, more on Poland Spring, FIJI Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent buying iPhones, iPods, and all the  music and apps we load on them.”  (p337)

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions at

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/education/workshop/docs/workbook_definitions.pdf

  • Hydrophone
  • ADCP
  • Rugosity
  • Nautical knot

John Bilotta: A World of Wonder under the Waves, Days 1-4 in the South Atlantic MPAs, June 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

June 17 – 27, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: June 20, 2014

Weather: Sunny with clouds.  26.6 Celsius.  Wind 13 knots from 251 degrees (west).  1-2m seas from the north.

 ** Note: Upon request, note that if you click on any picture it should open full screen so you can the detail much better!

 

Science and Technology Log

Research mission objectives – what am I doing out here?

Gathering data on habitat and fish assemblages of seven species of grouper and tilefish in the South Atlantic MPAs . These species are considered to be at risk due to current stock levels and life history characteristics which make them vulnerable to overfishing.   Information gathered will help assess the health of the MPAs, the impact management is having, and the effectiveness of ROV exploratoration to make these health assessments.

Science Part I:  Multibeam sea floor mapping  Multibeam sonar sensors — sometimes called multibeam acoustic sensors echo-sounders (MB for short)  are a type of sound transmitting and receiving system that couple with GPS to produce high-resolution maps of the sea floor bottom. See how it works by checking out this cool NOAA animation. MB mapping is occurring all night long on the Nancy Foster by a team of expert mappers including Kayla Johnson, Freidrich Knuth, Samantha Martin, and Nick Mitchell (more on them and their work and NOAA careers in a future blog).  Our Chief Scientist Stacey Harter has identified areas to map.

OK, so we aren't exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist in one of my first pictures.

OK, so we aren’t exactly MB mapping in this photo but I wanted to introduce everyone to my host Chief Scientist Stacey Harter in one of my first pictures.

By morning, after the mappers have worked their magic on the data, Stacey is able to see a visual representation of the sea floor.  She is looking for specific characteristics including a hard sea floor bottom, relief, and ridge lines – important characteristics for the groupers, tilefish, hinds, and other fish species under protection and management.   Stacey uses these maps to determine transects for ROV exploration.  Those transect lines are used by both the scientists driving the ROV and the navigation crew aboard the Nancy Foster.  Once down on the ocean floor, the ROV pilot follows this transect and so must the ship high above it in the waves driven by the crew.  Although 3 floors apart – it’s amazing to hear the necessary communication between them.  (Watch for one of my future posts that will highlight a MB map and a sample transect line.)

Science Part II:  ROV exploration – Completion of 8 dives

By the time this posts, we will have made 8 dives with the SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 ROV from University of North Carolina. (perhaps we will have made more dives because internet via satellites is slow and I am uncertain when this will really get posted.)

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

JB and ROVs first date aboard the aft deck on the Nancy Foster

The ROV joined the mission with its two pilots, Lance Horn and Jason White.  Pilots extraordinaire but I otherwise see them as the ROV’s parents guiding and caring for its every move.  The technology aboard the ROV is incredible including a full spectrum video camera, a digital camera, sensors to measure depth and temperature, and 4 horizontal thrusters and one vertical thruster with twin propellers.   The ROV has donned a pair of lasers which when projected on the sea floor allow the scientists to measure items.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

JB attaching the CTD probe to the ROV with instructions from Steve Matthews.

John receiving launch instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

John receiving ROV deployment instructions from Andy David; including about how the cable attaches to the ROV and the fiber optic line.

 

ROV deployment

ROV deployment

 

The ROV control station is daunting!  As one may imagine, it does include three joysticks accompanied by multiple switches, buttons, lights and alarms – all just a fingertip away from the ROV pilot.   Five monitors surround the pilot – some of them are touch screen activated adding more to the selection of options at their fingertips.  Is a Play Station a part of your daily routine?  Perhaps you should consider a career at NOAA as a ROV pilot!

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital pictures, 6.  Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7.  Multiple DVD recorders.

ROV operations station. 1. Power supply, 2. Joystick controllers, 3. Multiple switches, 4. Four monitors for the ROV pilot alone, 5. Two monitors for the video and digital picture technician, 6. Laptop controlling digital pictures, and 7. Multiple DVD recorders.

 

While the ROV drives and explores a set transect line, six additional scientists and assistants identify and record habitat, fish species, invertebrates, and other items that come into vision on any one of the monitors scattered around the lab located inside the ship.  Two scientists are recording fish species and a scientist accompanied by me the past two days are identifying habitat and invertebrates.

JB Invertebrate Logging

John assisting Stephanie Farrington (not pictured) with habitat and invertebrate identification and logging.

Of course, the ROV is on the move constantly, so fish and items of interest are flying by – you don’t have time to type or write so the scientists use short cut keyboards pre-coded with species and habitat descriptors.   Meanwhile another scientist is narrating the entire dive as everything is being recorded and yet another is controlling DVD video recording and centering and zooming the digital camera capturing hundreds of pictures during a dive.  You would be surprised by the number of computers running for this operation!  What is amazing is that everything will be linked together through a georeferrenced database using latitude and longitude coordinates.

Science Part III.  What have we seen and discovered?

On June 19th & 20th we completed 8 dives.  Some of the first species we saw included the shortbigeye, triggerfish, reef butterflyfish, and hogfish (Here is a good link of fish species on the reefs located here.)   We also observed a few stingrays and speckled hind.  For invertebrates, we saw a lot of Stichopathes (tagged as dominate during the dives) and fields of Pennatulacea (long white feathers).  We also saw echinoderms and solitary cap coral (a singular, white tube coral) and discovered a Demospongiae that Stephanie, one of the Research Biologists (see below) hadn’t seen yet; we called it a bubble-wrap sponge in my hand-written notes.

Dive053089 15 52 18

Dive053061 15 28 29 Cubya Dive052019 12 23 13 ???????????????????????????????

 

Things that we saw today that we wished we hadn’t seen: 

Pollution  So with much of my teaching centered around clean water and pollution prevention and mitigation, I was saddened to discover the following items on the ocean floor during the first five dives: Plastic bags, cans, a barrel, a clearly visible rubber surgical glove, and an artillery shell. Interesting – from the ROV you can easily spot what the scientists call ‘human debris’ as it often has straight lines and corners, distinctly human crafted shapes – not like mother nature engineers.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters.

Plastic balloon found during dive #2 at about 60 meters. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters.  NOAA UNCW. Mowak ROV June 2014.

Black plastic garbage bag found at about 60 meters. NOAA UNCW. Mohawk ROV June 2014.

 Invasive species – Lionfish are everywhere!  Why are Lionfish undesirablehttp://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish.html 

Lionfish - multiple sitings today.  Photo credit:  NOAA UNCW

Lionfish – multiple sitings today. Photo credit: NOAA UNCW Mohawk ROV. June 2014.

 

Career highlight:  Stephanie Farrington, Biological Research Specialist

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution at Florida Atlantic University

Masters of Science in Marine Biology.  Bachelors of Science in Marine Science and Biology.

Stephanie’s expertise is in collecting, classifying, and mapping marine biology with emphasis in habitats and invertebrates.  She is also proficient in ArcGIS for mapping and maintaining a database of everything she sees, discovers, and observes.  During this research trip, she is the scientist charged with identifying the habitat with an emphasis on the invertebrate species that speckle the sea floor.  For the past two days I have shadowed her side – watching the video feed from the ROV and logging.  She is a wealth of information and I really appreciate sitting next to her the past two days.  She is a master in biology and a master in buttons – and a fun spirit too.

 

Personal Log

Day 2 was spent almost entirely in transit – getting north from Mayport to Georgia, almost 9 hours.  Part of that time was spent getting to know the research team and participating in safety drills.  Sorry everyone; I did not get a picture of me in my red gumby suit (aka the life saving immersion suit).  Upon recommendation from a colleague (you know who you are) I also spent two hours on a bench on the bow reading The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman

“If Earth were the size of a Honda Odyssey minivan, the amount of water on the planet would be in a single half-liter bottle of Poland Spring in one of the van’s thirteen cup holders.” 

Although I have been out on the ocean before as well as the Great Lakes, on this day I simply felt tiny in a vast sea of blue.

For those who know me during my off-work hours, I also hit the ship’s gym -yes, that’s right, I am keeping up my routine with one exception.  My Paleo diet is now nearly broken – too much great food here from the ship’s chef’s, including ice cream.

Last night, at the end of Day 3 (Thursday) I spent the evening on the beach!  Well actually, what they call steal beach – a platform aft (behind) the ship’s bridge equipped with lounge recliners to watch the sunsets.  I sat up for seemingly hours trying to write all my excitements and discoveries in a log I am keeping.  Don’t worry though, I won’t make you read it all; my blog readers will only see a small snapshot of all I have been seeing and discovering!

 

Glossary to Enhance Your Mind

Each of my logs is going to have a list of new vocabulary to enhance your knowledge.  I am not going to post the definitions; that might be a future student assignment.  NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch has a great site of definitions HERE.  

  • Immersion suit
  • Transect
  • MPA
  • Invertebrates
  • Rugosity
  • Multibeam mapping
  • Bathymetry
  • Dominate species
  • Habitat
  • Echinoderms
  • CTD probe

John Bilotta, Preparing to set sail for the South Atlantic aboard the Nancy Foster, June 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

John Bilotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

18 June – 29 June, 2014

 

Mission: South Atlantic Marine Protected Area Survey

Geographical area of cruise: South Atlantic

Date: Monday, June 9

About me – an introduction

Hello from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and more than 69,200 miles of streams and rivers that all eventually lead to Earth’s oceans where I am headed next as we prepare to depart from Mayport, Florida aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  My name is John Bilotta (“JB” as many people call me) and I am an educator in water resources and earth sciences for a variety of K12 student, classroom, and adult-citizen leader programs.  I have been teaching now for over 20 years. I am honored to be a part of NOAA’s TAS program for 2014.   I am very excited to join a group of oceanic researchers and experts for an extended period of time and make a stronger connection to the multiple concepts I teach about Earth’s oceans and landforms.  One of my teaching philosophies is to see, touch, smell and be out on the water for effective, interdisplinary education.  I spend so much time talking and teaching about the oceans that I am just excited to apply that philosophy to my own learning.

About my teaching

I am the Education Director and an Instructor with Earth Adventure, a nonprofit that provides K12-adult education programs across the country

John teaching inside the Earth Balloon.

John teaching inside the Earth Balloon.

in earth science, geography, water, and environmental sciences. The Earth Balloon brings the entire Earth into a classroom and is an exciting and effective platform (that thrills students and adults alike) to learn about the Earth, its oceans, continents and the forces at work.

I am also an Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant and Land Grant Extension programs where I concentrate on developing and teaching watershed management programs with a strong focus on stormwater and general pollution prevention strategies.

John teaching the Watershed Game as part of a NEMO workshop-on-the-water delivered though Minnesota Sea Grant and Extension.

John teaching the Watershed Game as part of a NEMO workshop-on-the-water delivered though Minnesota Sea Grant and Extension.

It’s up on the land where we as humans often have the greatest impact that ultimately impact oceans, lakes, and rivers.  The aspiration of my teaching is that we can minimize those impacts through increased knowledge and awareness.

About my NOAA Adventure – the work I will do

The SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 from the University of North Carolina that we will be using.

The SubAtlantic Mohawk 18 from the University of North Carolina that we will be using.

I am joining a team of scientists and crew that will conduct ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside five marine protected areas (MPAs) in the south Atlantic to assess the usefulness of this management tool to protect and help manage fisheries on the continental shelf edge. The work will include conducting ROV transect surveys of habitat and fish assemblages, conducting total water column profiles, and conducting multibeam sonar mapping.   I am excited to make connections to how we use bathymetry here in Minnesota to assess lakes, how they function, and our impacts to them.

Did you know?

Ocean Facts – some topics I teach with the Earth Balloon

The ocean covers more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms including us as humans.  Yet 95 percent of this vastness remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.  I am looking forward to exploring just a little bit of it for myself.  Have some fun and test your knowledge…Play the Ocean Challenge Puzzle

 A Great Sea in Minnesota – Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume.  Lake Superior is one of Minnesota’s conduits to the open ocean.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal.  From here its just a travel through five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean.

Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal. From here its just a short travel through five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean. I took this picture as I returned from a excursion out on Lake Superior.

The Mighty Mississippi –it begins here!  Minnesota is the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River and is our conduit to the Gulf of Mexico.  Oh and by the way, I live not far off this majestic river in Minneapolis and I have to say, there is hardly a day that passes that I don’t get to see it and appreciate it.

The Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis; I have almost a daily encounter with this majestic river.

The Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis; I have almost a daily encounter with this majestic river.

And so my adventure and learning begins! I am nearly packed and ready to go, I am just trying to figure out how to get Lucille, my bulldog, into my duffle bag and past the ship’s XO (Executive Officer) as I board the ship.  I will miss her much while out at sea.

Lucille, the simply just too amazing bulldog.

Lucille, the simply just too amazing bulldog.