Geographic Location: Kodiak and Anchorage Airports and back home
Date: September 8, 2017
The last three and a half days of the experience were the transit back to Kodiak. This gave me a lot of time up on the bridge and in the surveyors’ work areas.
So many things impressed me about the crew on this trip. I think most of all, seeing that a group of young scientists between 22 and 38 (I believe) were ultimately responsible for all of the ship operations and were doing a phenomenal job! Fairweather has the largest number of junior officers on board and the atmosphere is of constant training. I kept thinking about the ages of most of the junior officers and how my own students could be in this position in a few years. The opportunity to grow as a member of a uniformed service and receive all of the training while still being able to pursue the sciences is incredible to me and I intend to make sure that my students know about the opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I had just known this existed when I graduated college…”
CO CDR Van Waes giving direction
ENS Siegenthaler charting the course
Ops Officer LT Manda taking photos of the Oscar Dyson – another ship in the NOAA fleet
ENS Lawler checking the course
The weather information center on the bridge
ENS Douglas doing the constant course check
On the long trip back, we were traveling through dense fog, narrow rocky passes in the middle of the night, and areas of high and sometimes unpredictable currents. We even managed a rendezvous with another NOAA vessel in order to pass of some medical supplies. Throughout all of it, I watched the NOAA Commissioned Corps officers handle everything with tremendous grace under pressure. But on Fairweather, I found out their work does not stop with the ship operations. Each of the officers are also directly involved with the hydrographic science, and have responsibility for a specific survey area.
The Survey team are also responsible for specific survey areas.
For each area owner, this culminates in a final report (called a Division Report, or DR) giving details of the survey and talking through all anomalies. Survey work does not stop. These folks are working 7 days a week and often 14+ hour days when they are out at sea.
In some cases the owner of a survey area will have very intimate knowledge of a survey area because they had the opportunity to be out on the survey boats. But in many cases, this will not be true. Ultimately their responsibility is making absolutely certain that every piece of necessary information has been gathered and that the data is clean. I was told that in most cases, writing the final report will take a couple months.
These reports will eventually become mapped data that is accessible to anyone through the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). But it will also be sent in various forms to be housed for shipping navigation and other industries.
With all of the work they do at sea, ports can become very welcome places. The Fairweather crew had gone into port at Nome, Alaska several time through July and August and were excited to pull into Kodiak. Even on our transit south, I watched the crew get more excited as they left the desolation of the tundra and we began to see cliffs and trees again.
I am so glad that I saw the tundra finally, and that I will now be able to explain it more fully to my students, but I can also completely understand how the sheer vastness of the northern parts of Alaska could make you long for more varied terrain.
I only got to spend one day in Kodiak, but it is a breathtaking place. I didn’t get to do any serious hiking, but I did see the salmon running and ended up on an old nature trail. And the best part was that I got to see a bunch of amazing people relax and enjoy their time away from work.
Would I do this again if I had the opportunity? Unequivocally YES!! I would jump at the chance!
Would I recommend this to other teachers? Absolutely! It is an amazing experience. Granted, I think I had the best ship with the best crew…
Well, I’m back on dry land, with lots of great memories of sharks, big and small, and all the interesting people who I spent two weeks with on the Oregon II. And let’s not forget the red snappers either.
On our last day, we fished at a couple of sites right off the coast of Alabama and caught lots of sharks, plus a new species of grouper for the trip. The scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) is apparently not frequently found on the longlines along the coast of Texas but becomes more common along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama and up the Eastern Atlantic coast as well.
The groupers are mostly protogynous, meaning that when they become sexually mature, they are always females. Only later in life, when they have grown bigger (and have the right environmental influences), do they transition to males. This species can live for more than 30 years, but that’s actually relatively short for a lot of the grouper species, some of which can live to 60 years or more. Scamp grouper come together in groups to reproduce, so this makes them vulnerable to overfishing. The management councils take this into consideration when making a management plan and will close off areas known to be spawning grounds during the reproductive season. These are also great areas to target as Marine Protected Areas.
All of this knowledge about the scamp grouper (and other species we encountered on this survey) was gained through careful scientific research. As mentioned before, the long line survey was started in 1995 and has been conducted using the same methods every year since then. These data are used by fisheries managers to set catch limits and detect changes that might indicate problems for the species living in these areas. In other words, the science forms the basis for decision making and planning.
This is true for the various surveys that NOAA conducts in the Gulf each year. The Groundfish Survey, for example, provides vital information about the extent of the Dead Zone off the coast of Louisiana, by measuring dissolved oxygen levels on the sea floor as part of the survey. This data tells us that we need to continue to work on controlling nutrient inputs into the Mississippi River from agriculture lands and cities that span much of the eastern United States. Scientific research also tells us that we need to be planning for and mitigating the effects of the looming problem of climate change.
Climate change will certainly bring about significant change to the Gulf. As ocean temperatures rise, water becomes less dense and therefore takes up more space. Along with continued melting of land-supported ice in the polar regions, this is contributing to a cumulative increase in sea level of 3.2 mm per year (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html). In the Gulf, this increase will particularly impact estuarine ecosystems that are rich nurseries for many fish species and are extremely productive habitats.
One of the predictions of many climate models is that increased global temperatures are likely to bring about more frequent and more intense hurricanes. This 2017 hurricane season is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts that hurricanes can have, even when we have the scientific tools to predict approximately where and when the storm will make landfall.
Finally, the increase in global temperatures will make the regions surrounding the Gulf less pleasant places for people to live. The summers are already very hot and humid, and a degree or two hotter will make a lot of difference in the livability of the region.
We know all of this through careful scientific research, and there is a consensus amongst scientists that this is happening. To prepare for the effects of climate change and to know how to best minimize those effects, we must continue to collect data and do science. After all, what is the point of scientific research if we don’t use the results to make better choices and to address the problems that are facing us?
Personal Log: I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this research survey and for the Teacher at Sea program as a whole. I strongly encourage any teacher thinking of applying to the program to do so. Thanks to NOAA and everyone at the TAS office for all your help and support.
So, as my time on the Oregon II is winding down, I thought I’d share a bit about what it is like to do science on a boat. First of all, there is a tremendous amount of planning that must go into a successful survey in the weeks and months beforehand. In addition to all the logistics of going to sea for two weeks, there is the challenge of putting together a crew of scientists that can be away from their day to day jobs and lives, and agree to work 12 hour days, for weeks on end. Lisa Jones is the Field Party Chief for this survey and must figure out those logistics plus organize the science part as well. This survey has been going since 1995, and one of the keys to longitudinal data sets is that they keep standard methods throughout, or else the data aren’t comparable.
This can be challenging in all sorts of unforeseen ways. For example, a few years ago, it became difficult to find the mackerel used as bait on the longlines. During an experimental survey in the spring, they tried out squid as an alternative and caught a totally different composition of species. Fortunately, the mackerel became more available again, and the problem is no longer an issue, for now.
Lisa is also the one responsible for working with the captain and his crew to determine sampling locations and a plan for getting to those locations. There’s a plan at the beginning, but, of course, that changes frequently, due to weather, the locations of other ships and a myriad of other unforeseen circumstances. The goal is to reach 200 sites per year, with 50% between 5-30 fathoms (1 fathom=6 feet), 40% between 30-100 fathoms, and 10% between 100-200 fathoms. These percentages reflect the depths of the continental shelf area throughout the sampling region. Below is a sampling map for the 2015 longline survey.
During a longline set, the line is deployed for one hour before retrieval, with 100 baited hooks. As the line comes in, each fish is given three to four measurements (depending on the species) and is weighed. Many of the sharks are tagged, as this provides the possibility of someone finding the tagged shark in the future. With a tag retrieval, we can learn about how far the organism has traveled and how much and how quickly it has grown.
As I mentioned in my post about the red snappers, the snappers, groupers and tilefish are dissected for their otoliths and gonads. They can’t be successfully released in most circumstances anyway, due to barotrauma from pulling them quickly to the surface from depth.
Sharks are less affected by barotrauma because they don’t have swim bladders to maintain their buoyancy like the bony fishes we’ve been catching.
Here are a couple examples of our data sheets. As you can see, some sets have more fish than others (in fact the full one, was only one of three pages). Once all the data are collected, they have to be entered in the computer for later summary and analysis. Some days it can be a big challenge to get all the data entered before it’s time to start all over again. Other days, like today, include lots of travel time.
For me, it has been truly wonderful to get to work as a scientist again, if just for a couple of weeks, especially with such an amazing group of scientists. I’ve learned so much from my fellow day crew members (Lisa, Christian, Nick and Jason). They have patiently answered all my questions, even when it was keeping them from getting to dinner. Lisa Jones has gone above and beyond in her support of me, even though she has had many other responsibilities on her plate. I also appreciate being made to feel welcome lurking around the night crew’s catches. Thanks especially to Christophe, Vaden, and Eric for allowing me to hang out in the measuring pit. I love my job as a teacher, but part of me definitely misses working as a field biologist. I am grateful for the opportunity and especially thankful for my wonderful family. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support and love.
As described in the last blog post, fisheries are regulated by different management councils that represent particular regions of the country. Of all the different regions, the Gulf of Mexico arguably has the most distinct boundaries of the eight different management councils. If you look at the Google satellite image below, there are likely a couple of things that jump out at you. First is that the gulf is almost completely surrounded by land. It’s less than 100 miles from Florida to Cuba and only about 120 miles at the closest point between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula. This means that there is a lot of potential for the land surrounding the gulf to impact the neighboring waters.
This and the fact that there are some major rivers flowing into the gulf contribute to the formation of what is known as the dead zone. The dead zone extends along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, and is caused by extreme nutrient levels in the waters of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi contains vast quantities of nutrients from agricultural and urban runoff and so contributes abnormally high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to the coastal waters. These nutrients lead to massive algal blooms that create decaying biomass that then deplete the oxygen in the waters where the blooms occur. The map below was created by data collected on the Oregon II and shows the extent of the dead zone in 2011, so called because many organisms cannot survive in such low oxygen conditions. The orange and red areas are regions where shrimp and fish cannot live on the sea floor.
The other noticeable feature of the Gulf as a whole is that there is a lot of shallow water, with the continental shelf extending up to around 200 miles offshore in some areas. It is especially thick along the coasts of Florida and the Yucatan. These shallow areas, help to create warm water temperatures, and this helps to provide the energy for hurricanes. The relatively shallow waters have been a factor in the development of offshore oil drilling, and we’ve passed scores of them along the way.
The NOAA map below gives a better idea of how abundant the rigs really are. The construction of these rigs creates significant risk, as evidenced by the Deep Water Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill. The explosion happened in April 2010 and the spill continued for nearly three months. NOAA was involved in documenting the impacts of the spill from the earliest days and will be able to use this information to improve containment and cleanup after future spills.
Except where nutrient levels are excessively high because of human influence, the nutrient rich waters of the Gulf support abundant life, and we’ve been experiencing that for sure. I’m realizing that we’re only seeing a small snapshot of the diversity of habitats that are found in the Gulf. There are deep water methane seeps, estuaries, coral reefs, and other reef systems that support different organisms and abundant life. The Gulf is a vital resource that provides healthy fisheries, but it’s also a thriving ecosystem in its own right. By coming out on a yearly basis, the scientists conducting these surveys can get an idea of how these ecosystems are faring…kind of like a report card, I guess.
I have just been loving the sunsets! I make a point to get outside around 7, if I can, so I can check out the latest one. Here are just a couple examples.
This is a shark and red snapper longline survey, and the sharks tend to steal the stage. They are bigger (for the most part), more diverse and definitely have more of a reputation. I have been surprised, however, by how much I’ve been drawn to the snappers. They are a beautiful color, and tend to come up in groups that are pretty similar in size.
The Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is commonly fished in the Gulf of Mexico, both recreationally and commercially. It turns out that the commercial fishers get 51% of the catch quota and the recreational fishers get 49%. The methods for dividing up those two basically equal pieces of the pie is different between the commercial and recreational fishers. In addition, the commercial fishing catch is monitored very closely, while the recreational fishing catch numbers are largely unknown. Plus, the states have their own waters that extend out to different distances, depending on the state, and the federal waters extend from the state water boundary to 200 nautical miles offshore. So, in other words, managing the fishery is quite complicated.
So, how do all these fishing rules and regulations get established and modified over time? A law was passed in 1976, called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and one of the key parts of the act established eight regional management councils for regulating fishing in federal waters (more information on the act here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/msa/). It also established the 200 nautical mile extension of federal waters from land. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) is responsible for creating Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for fisheries within the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from southern Texas, along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and down the west coast of Florida. This graphic shows the catch limits for red snapper and other species for 2017 set by the GMFMC. For red snapper, the catch limit is close to 14 million pounds.
The data that we are collecting helps scientists and policy makers to determine what the annual catch limit for a particular season should be. For each fish that we bring on board, we measure the fish length and weight, as well as the weight of the gonads. In addition, we collect their otoliths (ear bones) and samples of the ovaries of females. These both help managers to estimate the age and size of the population, and future populations as well.
Otoliths are calcium carbonate hardened structures and are present in the part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance. Humans and other vertebrates have them too, and they can be used to tell the age of the fish. The otoliths of Lutjanus campechanus are quite large. There seems to be an overall relationship between the habitat of the fish species and the size of the otolith. Species like Lutjanus campechanus that live along reefs and rocky structures have much larger otoliths than species like tuna that swim up in the water column. Flying fish, which we’ve seen a lot of, also have large otoliths, given their body size, probably aiding them in knowing where they are as they glide through the air.
Well, we have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of days to help inform these policies in the future! Each line we’ve pulled in lately has had a dozen or more snappers on it, and they are a lot of extra work as compared with the sharks, due to all the samples we have to collect once we’re done. A couple times, we’ve barely finished before it was time to start baiting lines again.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve really come to love the red snappers. Their eyes are the same color as their skin and I’m just awed by their size. I am used to snappers that I’ve watched on coral reefs, and even the largest species I’ve seen on reefs are nothing compared with these guys.
I’ve also adjusted to the shift in my day, as evidenced by the fact that I’m finishing this up at 1 a.m. It has been a long time since I’ve been on this kind of late night schedule. I’m enjoying it, especially because I know when I return to California, I’ll be getting up at 5:30 a.m. again.
Did You Know?
That snappers eat a wide variety of different foods, including fish and various types of crustaceans? Here are a couple of items we’ve found in the ones we’ve caught. Can anyone identify them? I studied the second group for my Ph.D. dissertation!
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 21, 2017
Weather Data from Virginia Beach, Virginia
Latitude: 36⁰ 49’13.7 N
Longitude: 75⁰ 59’01.2 W
Temperature: 19⁰ Celsius (67⁰ Fahrenheit)
Winds: 1 mph SSW
In just a matter of days, my world has gone from this
(we often had a crazy amount of jellyfish to sort through to find the year 0 Pollock)
(my super worms are warming up their races at the scout overnight tomorrow)
It’s also given me a few days to reflect on the incredible experience I had at sea.
Science and Technology Log
Science is a collaborative. Many people do not realize the amount of teamwork that goes into the scientific process. For instance, several of the scientists on board my cruise don’t actually study Pollock. One of the guys studies Salmon, but he was still on the cruise helping out. I think that’s what really struck me. The folks from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center pull together as a team to make sure that everyone gets the data they need. They all jump on board ships to participate in research cruises even if it’s not their specific study area, and it’s quite likely someone else is in another location doing the same thing for them. At the end of the day, it’s the data that matters and not whose project it is.
Since returning home, the most frequent question I have received is “what was your favorite part?” At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. To have such an incredible experience crammed into two weeks, makes it difficult to narrow it down. After a few days of reflection, I finally have an answer.
The onboard relationships were my favorite part of my Teacher at Sea cruise. I appreciated that the entire crew took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, and made 12 hour shifts sorting through jellyfish for Pollock fun! This is the only place where I could have the opportunity to work and live with scientists in such close proximity. I was fascinated by each scientist’s story: how they got into their specialty, what their background is, why they feel what they’re doing is important, etc. I learned that 10 pm became the silly hour when the second cup of coffee kicked in along with the dance music. I learned that beyond Pollock research these folks were also rescuers taking in tired birds that fell onto the ship, warming them up, and then releasing them.
When the next person asks “what was your favorite part?” I will be ready with an answer along with a big smile as I remember all the goofy night shifts, the incredible inside look at sea based research, and the wonderful people I met. Oh, and the views.
Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.
Science and Technology Log:
Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy! We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening. The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel. When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line. Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.
Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”. This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer. I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining. Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks. In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.
After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer. Then the line is set loose and we wait. It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.
Why are we collecting this data?
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth. A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year. Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself. In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going. Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks. The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ve put out three long lines so far. Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one. It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps. As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!
This afternoon, things got really hectic. Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks. As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half! Another had a bite taken out of it. And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark. This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.
And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers. I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.
I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat. All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful. Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly. I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect. Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long. I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line. Next time, we’ll talk snapper.
Sea wave height: NA
Wind Speed: 7 Mph
Wind Direction: W
Air Temperature: 20 degrees C (68 degrees Fahrenheit)
Barometric Pressure: 29.81″ Steady
Sky: scattered clouds
And just like that, it’s over. I am back in Flagstaff and have finally stopped feeling the boat rocking while on solid ground. Students have been working on a shark project in my absence and we are finishing it up this week. My first day back was a day of show and tell. The students were excited and full of questions about my trip. As I presented to my students, I realized how much I learned and how much more I still want to know! Here are some pictures from Monday.
jaws of a blacktip shark
checking out the longline and gangions
blacknose jaws and sharpnose jaws
barb from a southern stingray
barb from southern stingray
red snapper otolith
As I reflect back on my adventure, I have many thoughts and wonder how the fourth and final leg is going. I think back to last year when I first learned I was selected to be on this adventure and how impossible it was to imagine that I was actually going to work with sharks. Then, as the date loomed closer, trying to best prepare for something that was a big unknown to me. And then I was at the dock looking at the Oregon II tied up for the weekend. I recall when I first reached the dock in the evening looking at the ship and thinking wow, pinch me, this is really happening. I remember being awed and out of my element those first few days just learning to navigate the ship. And then the first haul in! Now that was a rush as we pulled in not only small sharpnose sharks but larger sandbar sharks that needed to be cradled. It was unbelievable watching as the team worked and I was thrust into being a viable team member. After a week, it was a game I had to see if I could bait the hooks as fast as the veteran scientists. I automatically logged the fin clips and helped enter the data we had collected. Working on the ship became the new normal — knowing what to to do at each station’s deployment of the line and the haul back. I was feeling competent in my role. Even pulling in some sharks became routine…routine! Wow, had I come a long way. And then, just like that, I was on my last haul back and heading back into port.
Here are some of my favorite videos and photos from the adventure.
Below a time lapse of what a haul back at night looks like
Measuring a sandshark
And a video of my favorite shark- the great hammerhead being released out of the cradle.
And a baby hammy
So here I am, back in Flagstaff, reflecting back on my adventure. Did it really happen? I have pictures to prove it and stories I am sharing but it does seem like a lifetime ago that I was touching a shark and looking into the doe eyes of a ten foot hammerhead shark. The more I talk about what I have done, the more I realize how much I learned and how much more I still don’t know. The two weeks flew by but I am grateful for it. So for those of you out there reading this blog, make time for adventures, get out there and do it, follow your passion and immerse yourself. You might be surprised at what you can do!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Latitude: 42.2917° N (Back home again!)
Longitude: 85.5872° W
Wind Speed: 6 mph
Air Temperature: 65 F
Weather Observations: Rainy
Here I am, three weeks deep in a new school year, and it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was spotting whales while on marine mammal watch and laughing at dolphins that were jumping in our wake. I feel like telling my students, “I had a really weird dream this summer where I was a marine biologist and did all kinds of crazy science stuff.”
If it was a dream, it certainly was a good one! Well, except for the part when I was seasick. That was a bit more of a nightmare, but let’s not talk about that again. It all turned out okay, right?
I didn’t know what to expect when signing on with the Teacher at Sea program, and I’m amazed at how much I learned in such a short period of time. First of all, I learned a lot about marine science. I learned how to differentiate between different types of jellyfish, I learned what a pyrosome is and why they’re so intriguing, I learned that phytoplankton are way cooler than I thought they were, and I can now spot a hake in any mess of fish (and dissect them faster than almost anyone reading this).
I also learned a lot about ship life. I learned how to ride an exercise bike while also rocking side to side. I learned that Joao makes the best salsa known to mankind. I learned that everything – everything – needs to be secured or it’s going to roll around at night and annoy you to pieces. I even learned how to walk down a hallway in rocky seas without bumping into walls like a pinball.
Well, okay. I never really mastered that one. But I learned the other things!
Beyond the science and life aboard a ship, I met some of the coolest people. Julia, our chief scientist, was a great example of what good leadership looks like. She challenged us, looked out for each of us, and always cheered us on. I’m excited to take what I learned from her back to the classroom. Tracie, our Harmful Algal Bloom specialist, taught me that even the most “boring” things are fascinating when someone is truly passionate about them (“boring” is in quotes because I can’t call phytoplankton boring anymore. And zooplankton? Whoa. That stuff is crazy).
Lance taught me that people are always surprising – his innovative ways for dissecting fish were far from what I expected. Also, Tim owns alpacas. I didn’t see that one coming. It’s the surprising parts of people that make them so fun, and it’s probably why our team worked so well together on this voyage.
I can’t wait to bring all of this back to my classroom, specifically to my math class. My students have already been asking me lots of questions about my life at sea, and I’m excited to take them on my “virtual voyage.” This is going to be a unit in my eighth and ninth grade math classes where I show them different ways math was used aboard the ship. I’ll have pictures and accompanying story problems for the students to figure out. They’ll try to get the same calculations that the professionals did, and then we’ll compare data. For example, did you know that the NOAA Corps officers still use an old-fashioned compass and protractor to track our locations while at sea? They obviously have computerized methods as well, but the paper-and-pencil methods serve as a backup in case one was ever needed. My students will have fun using these on maps of my locations.
They’ll also get a chance to use some of the data the scientists took, and they’ll see if they draw the same conclusions the NOAA scientists did. A few of our team were measuring pyrosomes, so I’ll have my students look at some pyrosome data and see if they get the correct average size of the pyrosome sample we collected. We’ll discuss the implications of what would happen if scientists got their math wrong while processing data.
I am so excited to bring lots of real-life examples to my math classroom. As I always tell my students, “Math and science are married.” I hope that these math units will not only strengthen my students’ math skills, but will spark an interest in science as well.
This was an amazing opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so thankful to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing this for me and for teachers around the country. My students will certainly benefit, and I have already benefited personally in multiple ways. To any teachers reading this who are considering applying for this program – DO IT. You won’t regret it.
I arrived in Pascagoula, Mississippi in the late afternoon on Saturday after a long day of travel. Things were so quiet on the ship that evening as most of the crew had gone home during the break between legs of the survey. It was great to be met and shown around by a friendly face, the Officer on Duty (OOD) David Reymore. I definitely was feeling a bit like a fish out of water, even though we hadn’t even left the dock yet. As people start to arrive back on the ship, they all know their role and are busy getting ready for our departure later on today. It’s a good experience to feel like you’re out of your element every now and again and I guess a small part of why I decided to apply for a Teacher at Sea position in the first place.
As I was preparing to depart on this adventure and was explaining that I was going to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I had a number of people ask me what NOAA stood for, so I thought I’d provide a bit of information about what they are and what they do. First, NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the name definitely suggests the broad mission that the agency has. Their mission involves striving to understand the oceans, atmosphere, climate, coastlines and weather and making predictions about how the interactions between these different entities might change over time.
That is a tall order, and the agency is divided up into different offices that focus on different aspects of their mission. The National Weather Service, for example, is focused on forecasting the weather and makes predictions about things like where hurricanes will travel and how intense they will be when they get there. The National Marine Fisheries Service is tasked with studying the ocean resources and habitats in U.S. waters and to use that understanding to create sustainable fisheries.
So far, I’ve met many people that I’ll be sharing the boat with over the next two weeks. They have all taken time to introduce themselves and talk for a bit, even though I know that they’ve got tons to do before we sail.
Well, we’re underway towards our first sampling sites off the coast of Brownsville, Texas. The seas are really calm, and I’m sitting up on the deck enjoying the light breeze and digesting the delicious dinner of jambalaya, vegetables and blackberry cobbler. On our way out from Pascagoula, we saw a few dolphins, beautiful white sand barrier islands and mile after mile of moon jellies, but now we’re no longer in sight of land.
We’ve passed an occasional oil rig off in the distance but haven’t seen much else. The sun just set behind just enough clouds to make the colors spectacular and then as I was climbing down the stairs, I saw a handful of dolphins playing in the boat’s wake.
Monday, September 18
Today will be a full day of travel to reach our fishing grounds. Assuming we continue to make steady progress, we should arrive in the late afternoon or early evening on Tuesday to begin fishing. We will be baiting 100 hooks that, once deployed, will remain in the water for an hour before we pull them back in. We’ll be fishing in a variety of depths while working our way back towards Pascagoula. We practiced some drills this afternoon, including a “man overboard” simulation, using a couple of orange buoys. They deployed a rescue boat and had retrieved the buoys in a matter of minutes. I have to admit that watching them get out there with such speed and skill put me at ease.
Welcome to my Teacher at Sea blog! My name is Kate Schafer, and I am a teacher at the Upper School at the Harker School in San Jose, California, right in the middle of Silicon Valley. I teach biology, marine biology and food science to mostly juniors and seniors. This may seem like an odd mix of courses, but I am so fortunate to be able to teach students about all my favorite topics. I have heard that the food is delicious on the Oregon II, and I’m interested in learning more about the challenges of keeping a crew fed when you can’t pop down to the corner grocery store when you realize that you forgot to order that crucial ingredient. I have spent many hours on the ocean, and spent six years studying coral reefs in Belize, Central America, but I’ve never been to sea on a research vessel. I’m thrilled to have that opportunity and to share it with my students.
The weather has been a big topic of conversation of late here in San Jose. Two weekends ago set all-time record high temperatures throughout the Bay Area, even along the coast. Living in close proximity to the ocean, we expect relief from that rare hot day to come rather quickly, but the heat lingered for days. We’re back to normal fall weather as I head off, though. This morning is cool and seasonable. I know from growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, that I’m heading to warm and humid conditions on the other end of my travels.
Science and Technology Log
On this research cruise, we will be conducting long line surveys, looking at shark and red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico. I will report more on where we are going and what we’re studying once the leg of the survey begins. There are multiple legs to the survey, and I’ll be joining in for the fourth and final leg. It has been a tumultuous time in the Gulf over the past few weeks, and it will be interesting to learn about how this has impacted the coastal waters in the area we will be surveying.
I am sitting in the airport in San Jose, ready to board my flight to Dallas, en route to Gulfport and my final destination of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Wow! It’s been a frantic week of getting all sorts of last minute pieces put together to allow things to, hopefully, run smoothly in my absence. It’s early morning, so I’m still in a bit of a groggy cloud, making the fact that I’m actually heading off on this adventure all the more unreal.
Even the grogginess cannot stifle my excitement, though, as I head off for two weeks of working with scientists and collecting data. As I was packing last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the previous trips I packed for more than 15 years ago to conduct field research on coral reefs in Belize. I was studying a type of crustacean called the stomatopod and learning about the role that they play in coral reef ecosystems, how they interact with other species like pygmy octopus and crabs, their main source of prey.
I am thrilled to be heading out on this research trip and feel so fortunate for the opportunity. I look forward to questions from you about what we are doing and learning on our voyage. Check in frequently for updated blog posts once the trip commences.
Did You Know?
That the Oregon II has been part of the NOAA fleet since 1977?
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 13, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Winds: 20 S
Temperature: 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
Up. Down. Up. Down. Left. Right….no I’m not in an aerobics class. High winds and seas cause my chair to slide across the floor as I type.
Thus far we’ve been working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Today we’re sitting about twirling our thumbs as 12 feet seas toss us about. It’s not too bad actually, but it is bad enough to make operations unsafe for both crew and equipment. I’ve been impressed with the safety first culture on-board the Oscar Dyson. Hopefully, it’ll calm down soon, and we can start operations again.
Science and Technology Log
Ship support systems for power, water, sewage treatment, and heating/cooling are all several levels below the main deck, which makes ship engineers a bit like vessel moles. These hard working guys ensure important life support systems work smoothly. Highlights from my time with them include a lesson on the evaporator and engines.
The evaporator, which for some reason I keep calling the vaporizer, produces the fresh water drinking supply. The evaporator works by drawing in cold seawater and then uses excess engine heat to evaporate, or separate, the freshwater from the seawater. The remaining salt is discarded as waste. On average, the evaporator produces approximately 1,400 gallons of water per day.
*Side note: the chief engineer decided vaporizer sounds a lot more interesting than evaporator. Personally, I feel like vaporizer is what Star Trek-y people would have called the system on their ships.
The Oscar Dyson has 4 generators on board, two large, and two small. The generators are coupled with the engines. Combined they produce the electricity for the ship’s motors and onboard electrical needs, such as lights, computers, scientific equipment, etc.
This week I also spent time in the Galley with Ava and Adam. (For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise that I befriended those in charge of food.) Read on for a summary of Ava’s life at sea story.
Me: How did you get your start as a galley cook?
Ava: When I was about 30 years old, a friend talked me into applying to be a deck hand.
Me: Wait. A deck hand?
Ava: That’s right. I was hired on to a ship and was about to set out for the first time when both the chief steward and 2nd cook on a different ship quit. My CO asked if I cook to which I replied “for my kids,” which was good enough for him. They immediately flew me out to the other ship where I became the 2nd cook. 12 years later I’m now a Chief Steward.
Me: Wow! Going from cooking for your kids to cooking for about forty crew members must have been a huge change. How did that go?
Ava: To be honest, I made a lot phone calls to my mom that first year. She helped me out a lot by giving me recipes and helping me figure out how to increase the serving sizes. Over the years I’ve paid attention to other galley cooks so I now have a lot of recipes that are my own and also borrowed.
Me: What exactly does a Chief Steward do?
Ava: The Chief Steward oversees the running of the galley, orders food and supplies, plans menus, and supervises the 2nd Cook. I’m a little different in that I also get in there to cook, clean, and wash dishes alongside my 2nd Cook. I feel like I can’t ask him to do something that I’m not willing to do too.
Me: So you didn’t actually go to school to be a chef. Did you have to get any certifications along the way?
Ava: When I first started out, certifications weren’t required. Now they are, and I have certifications in food safety and handling.
There are schools for vessel cooking though. My daughter just recently graduated from seafarers school. The school is totally free, except for the cost of your certification at the very end. For people interested in cooking as a career, it’s a great alternative to other, more expensive college/culinary school options. Now she’s traveling the world, doing a job she loves, and putting a lot of money into her savings.
Me: Talking with crew members on this ship, the one thing they all say is how hard it is to be away from family for long stretches of time. A lot of them are on the ship for ten months out of the year, and they do that for years and years. It’s interesting that your daughter decided to follow in your footsteps after experiencing that separation firsthand.
Ava: I was surprised too. Being away from friends and family is very hard on ship crew. Luckily for me, my husband is also part of the NOAA crew system so we get to work and travel together. Nowadays I’m part of the augment program so I get to set my own schedule. It gives me more flexibility to stay home and be a grandma!
Did You Know?
Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the earth and is 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statue miles.
We have been sampling along the coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas at varying depths – “A” stations ( 5- 30 fathoms), “B” stations (30 -100 fathoms) and “C” stations (100 – 200 fathoms). A fathom is six feet or approximately 2 meters. The longlines are baited the same – mackerel on 100 hooks spread out across one nautical mile and then set on the bottom of the ocean. As we reel in the long line, the click and whine of the line as it’s being spooled, we wait in anticipation of what it may bring. Each station yields something different and you never know what you are going to get. Below is a list of some of the animals we have encountered.
Other animals: southern ray, cownose ray, roughtail stingray, red snapper, black drum, sharksuckers, catfish, red drum, yellowedge grouper, king snake eels and even some blue crabs.
So why survey sharks? Did you know that people are one of only a few species that prey on sharks — killer whales and other sharks are the others– killing over a hundred million per year?* Sharks are apex or top predators in an ocean food web and play a vital role in keeping this food web in balance. With the hunting of sharks as well as over fishing the prey that sharks eat we are disturbing the natural balance. This survey is used determine the number of sharks and other species that are present in the Atlantic Ocean including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. With these numbers, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) regulate how many sharks, swordfish and tuna can be harvested without impacting the total population. In the Pacific Ocean, NOAA fisheries work with fisheries in developing how to best manage sharks.
Apex predators in any ecosystem are vital to the health of that ecosystem. These top predators keep numbers down on the more abundant prey species and keep their numbers in check. Here is a simplified illustration of what happens when we lose apex (top) predators in an ocean ecosystem.
If the number of sharks goes down then the food the sharks eat goes up (forage fish) because they are not being eaten by the sharks. With more of those forage fish around their need for food – the zooplankton – increase. With more forage fish eating the zooplankton there are less zooplankton and their numbers begin to decrease. If there are less zooplankton then the phytoplankton numbers increase because the zooplankton aren’t around the eat them. Removing top predators from any ecosystem can have an impact on the entire food web and this phenomena is called a trophic cascade.
When people think of sharks, they think of the movie Jaws. Unfortunately this has given sharks a bad reputation and has vilified these animals that are essential to the ocean food webs. Sure, there have been shark attacks, but did you know that more people are killed each year by electrocution by Christmas tree lights than by shark attacks? When people imagine sharks, they think of enormous sharks that eat everything in sight. The reality is that sharks come in all sizes and shapes. A mature Atlantic sharpnose shark will only get to be 3.5 feet long with the world’s smallest shark being the dwarf lantern shark that can fit in the palm of your hand. The largest shark is the harmless-to-human whale sharks that feeds primarily on plankton and can grow up to 60 feet!
Did You Know?
Scientists can tell the age of a shark by counting the rings on its vertebrae (similar to how they can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings!)
Question of the day:
What is an example of a terrestrial (land) apex predator that has been over hunted impacting the entire ecosystem?
Now that I am back home, I have some time to think about the variety of animals I saw on the cruise and do a little more research about them. Many of the animals we caught in our net have the ability to light up. This adaptation is known as bioluminescence. Different species use bioluminescence in different ways to help them survive.
Myctophids are a type of fish also known as a lantern fish. These small fish can occupy the same habitat as juvenile pollock, and we caught several of them at our sampling stations. I got a chance to look at them closely and I could see small spots, called photophores, along the sides of their bodies. In dark waters, these spots have bioluminescent properties. Lantern fish can control when to light them up and how bright the spots will glow.
There are many different species of lantern fish. Scientists have learned that each species has a unique pattern of bioluminescent photophores along the sides of their bodies. For this reason, it is believed that lantern fish use their bioluminescent properties to help them find a mate.
Lantern fish also have bioluminescent areas on the underside of their bodies. This adaptation helps them achieve what is known as counter-illumination. In the ocean, a predator can be lurking in the dark waters below its prey. Since many things feed on lantern fish, it is important for them to have a way to camouflage into the environment. When a predator looks up, during the day, a fish that is lit up on the bottom will blend in with the lighter waters above it, making it hard to see.
Lots of animals use this technique to help them hide from predators, including squid. We pulled in many small squid in with our samples that had patterns of photophores on them. Depending on the species, squid also use bioluminescence to attract mates and to confuse predators.
In addition to fish and crustaceans, we also pulled in a variety of jellyfish. Jellyfish also have bioluminescence characteristics. Many jellyfish use light as a way to protect themselves from predators. When a jellyfish is threatened by a predator, it flashes in a rapid pattern. This signals other fish nearby that it is being hunted. This can alert larger predators, who may be hunting the predator of the jellyfish. The larger predator will then swoop in after the jellyfish’s predator, allowing the jellyfish to escape!
I have been home for over a week and I think I finally have my land legs back again. Looking back on the experience, there were so many little surprises that came with living onboard a ship. One thing I noticed is that I got much better at walking around the longer I was there. I learned to always have one hand available to grab a railing or brace myself during any sudden movements. However, I never quite mastered getting a decent workout in on the treadmill! Another surprise is how relaxing the rocking of the ship could be when I laid down. I thought the movement would be distracting, but it actually helped me drift off to sleep!
Did you know?
There are many superstitions surrounding life on a ship. It is considered bad luck to have bananas on board and whistling is discouraged. Whistling onboard a ship is thought to bring on wind and storms!
Weather from the bridge: 48o F, 1-2 knot wind from, Completely overcast,
An Interview with XO (Executive Officer) Michael Gonsalves
How long have you been with NOAA?
I’ve been here for 13 years…I’ve been on the ship for about 6 months.
What brought you into NOAA?
Certainly I’ve always had an interest in the ocean and in the environment. One of my undergraduate degrees was in oceanography. So I think that’s what steered me towards NOAA. My other undergraduate degree was in math, so I liked the idea of being able to apply math in an environmental setting.
As a side note, XO Gonsalves also has a MS in Applied Math and a PhD in Marine Science
What is it that you do – what is the job of an executive officer?
The Executive Officer position is second in command. So if anything should happen to the CO (commanding officer) I would assume command. Though that is a contingency; that is not my actual job… All administrative work goes through me. For example, the budget, payroll, travel, performance, disciplinary actions, scheduling, arranging all port logistics, …getting augmenters to come out to the ship to fill in… I do everything to allow everyone else to do their job. My job is not the mission. My job is keeping the ship safe and logistically ready to execute the mission.
This is typically a step on the path to becoming a CO, is that correct?
Typically, that’s right. Usually the average NOAA Corps officer will have four sea assignments. Basically every five years, give or take, they will be going back to sea. The first will be as a junior officer, an Ensign. The second is as an Operations Officer who will be coordinating the mission [of that ship]. On the hydro ships that means coordinating the hydrographic science. The third sea tour will be as an Executive Officer and the fourth, around year 15, will be as a Commanding Officer.
I know that NOAA Corp officers spend roughly two years at sea and then three at a land billet. So what has your path been thus far?
I lingered in nearly all of my assignments by a little bit. My first assignment was here, on Fairweather, just after she was reactivated. It was a very skeletal crew. I had opportunities to be trained quickly. We only had two launches at the time. There were so few boats, there were so few people trained in doing things, it was in the crew’s best interest to qualify me because very few people were qualified to do anything.
My first land assignment was at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was a double billet. Number one, it was full-time university training. There was also working with an inter-agency group, The Naval Oceanographic Office and the Army Corps of Engineers, both also conduct survey operations. It’s a nice inter-agency group with similar issues and problems and we can share best practices and things like that. Their particular niche is airborne laser bathymetry, so they are working from an airplane.
Back to University of Southern Mississippi, what was the degree you were pursuing?
Initially it was a master’s degree as a one year program. As it happened, there was a project that I could work on of suitable interest to the joint LIDAR center. We all agreed that I could continue to work on it. The university felt that it was dissertation worthy. So I received my Ph.D.
What was your second tour at sea?
My second tour was as an Operations Officer on Fairweather’s sister ship, Ranier. All three of my assignments thus far have been on hydro ships. There is something to be said for that. It’s a little bit tricky to bring someone in from the outside. It’s a steep learning curve.
My second land assignment was working for the NOAA Operations Branch in Washington D.C. This is a part of the Hydrographic Surveys Division. They govern the field units on the large scale. So I was making the big decisions for what the hydro ships would be responsible for during that particular season. We determined what type of coverage would be needed in each area. That is then the information that the Operations Officer on the ship is working from.
What made NOAA so attractive to you?
Giving service to the US government was a big part. I happily pay my taxes. I appreciate having a police force and knowing that my meat is safe. So that was definitely a big part of it. But NOAA also has a unique mission that I found attractive. And the variety is important to me – just knowing that every couple of years the assignment will change.
And what is it that keeps you going while you’re out here at sea? Is there anything you miss or are looking forward to when this sea tour is complete?
People are tricky and a lot of my job involves personnel. The whole job keeps me going, really. I do miss Washington, D.C. – the public transport, the museums and the shows. There are so many things to do and see. There are a lot of jobs in D.C. and I am making clear that is a desire for the next land billet.
A quick one question survey for the junior officers on the ship… Why did you choose a hydrographic survey ship? A collection of the answers I received are below:
To have the opportunity to be much more deeply involved with the science
My background is math or math/mapping
To be in Alaska
This is a route to pursue flying with NOAA Corps
Didn’t want the technical skills developed in prior work to go to waste
Had already worked on fisheries ships with Department of Fish and Wildlife
As with all officers in our uniformed services; NOAA Corps officers have had degrees conferred prior to service. Most of the degrees are math and science. The hydrographic survey ships tend to attract the math, physics, and geological science degrees for obvious reasons. Many then go on to pursue advanced degrees as did LCDR Gonsalves, the focus of my interview.
An interview with Kathy Brandts and Tyrone Baker; Ships Stewards
How long have you been cooking for NOAA Ships and what were you doing prior?
T: I cooked for the Navy for 20 years out of school. When I finished, I went to work for a casino for a while – still cooking. Then NOAA called me up (he had put in an application a while before and forgotten about it) and here I am! That was back in 2005.
K: I started out in the Coast Guard…I wanted to be a bosun [boatswain] mate, which is what everyone wants to do. But it was going to take a long time to make grade, and hardly anyone wants to be a cook because it’s a lot of work. I decided to go through their school, which was two months. That was when it started, in ’94. My first ship assignment was the Polar Star, which was an ice breaker.
Kathy, why did you get out of the Coast Guard and what finally got you to NOAA?
K: All of the land assignments were being contracted out to [private companies]. So I was never going to get a chance to cook on land. So I decided that wasn’t for me. I got out after my four and a half years. I landed in Seattle, and that’s where NOAA was based. I had heard about them when I was in the Coast Guard. I knew they were hiring, talked with somebody, and essentially got hired on the spot. And I was in Alaska! I started out in the augmentation pool, I worked on Discovery and then on Ranier. Then a permanent position came up and I jumped at it. I didn’t really get along with the Chief Steward, though – so I left NOAA and worked for Keystone Ski Resorts in Colorado at their stables. [She spent several years on land at that point.]
The Chief Steward on Ranier tracked me down [in Colorado] and asked me to come back. There was talk of Fairweather coming back online and I wanted the Chief Steward job. I didn’t have the experience at that point, so I took a year off and went to Culinary School. I applied for the Chief Steward job on Fairweather and got it. I was on Fairweather from 2004-2013. [She is now the Chief Steward on Ruben Lasker, another NOAA ship, but is helping out on this leg]
Why be a ship cook?
T: I’ve been so many places and seen so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I’ve really been all around the world. I’ve been in almost every port of the world. How many people can say that? I wouldn’t trade it.
K: I was a restaurant cook for a while. I hated it. You’re either going 9 million miles an hour or there’s nothing. There’s a lot of alcoholism and drug use in that industry and they live a different life. The service industry… (laughs). And people are either sailors or they’re not. I think, much to my chagrin, I found it out after I quit the Coast Guard.
T: Yes, I agree. I’m a sailor. It was why I joined the Navy.
What are the best and most rewarding things about what you do?
T: I just really like it. I enjoy the cooking. I enjoy the work.
K: I like good food and I like when people are appreciative of what I do. And we’re all stuck out here together, why not make it the best that it can be. Meal time is what you look forward to when you’re on a ship.
Crew member of the Day: Electronic Technician (ET) Charlie Goertzen
So today as we pulled into Kodiak, the news came in that the long awaited new televisions were here. Immediately, Charlie was notified. And he will work hours to make sure that each crew member has a working television in their room.
He is the guy that keeps the connectivity going in pretty difficult conditions. He has to spend a lot of time keeping various computer components talking to each other. He has to content with all of the complaints about lack of bandwidth, slowness of applications, slowness of wireless – and he does his best to keep things optimized and clean and efficient all the time. Two of the things he loves the most are the ocean and working with electronic components. He gets both of them all the time!
Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 10, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29 24.526 N
Longitude: 094 22.228W
Sea wave height: 1 meter
Wind Speed: 16 knots
Wind Direction: 30.8 degrees
Air Temperature: 26.1 Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1017.55 mb
View from the wet lab
Measuring a ray
Science and Technology Log
We have been experiencing some rocking and rolling out here due to the hurricanes that are occurring to the east and the west of us as we sit in the relatively calmer waters off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. We have experienced 6 – 8 foot waves so far on our survey and the ship is being maneuvered to try and find the calmest spots so we can continue to do our work.
So what makes a wave a wave?
Check out this link to learn what makes a wave a wave!
Waves are part of the experience. Below is a poem written by the scientists and crew of the Oregon II on an earlier survey. Here are a few vocabulary words that you may not know to help you interpret the poem.
Crest– the highest part of the wave Trough– the lowest part of a wave Muster– to call together Haul back – the process of bringing in the longline Bridge – where one controls the ship
Here is a poem written by some of the scientist and crew of the Oregon II about rough waters on an earlier expedition.
The crew knows he’s on the job, when the Ship starts to bob.
They know he’s at the wheel, ‘cause on the hip she does heel. Trough-Man
On the Deck the haul-back team does muster, while on the Bridge he robs sleep with the bow thruster.
You’ll always wake up in a funk, ‘cause you’ve been rolled out of your bunk. Trough-Man
Sometimes you may wonder if he can find the trough in a mug or a coffee can.
On this Ship you can’t even shave, ‘cause you never know when she’ll hit another wave. Trough-Man
When the boat’s wallowing like a stuck pig, you know he’s on the Bridge doing a jig.
For the rail you will grab, when the boat does its crab. Trough-Man
When you’re eating off your neighbor’s plate, you know he’s your Shipmate.
If you can’t hold your food down and your stomach is off, you know your riding in the trough. Trough-Man
This poem is to all boat drivers, because they are put in the position of going from point A to point B no matter the sea state.
by Scientists & Crew of Oregon II Cruise 1102
We have had calm days where the water is like glass and other days with wind waves of up to 8 feet! I have come to appreciate the numerous handrails available all around the ship as well as learning to make sure my drawers and cabinets are secured. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night with your drawers opening and closing! Also taking a shower in these conditions are quite the adventure in itself. The last few nights have felt like I am sleeping in a swinging hammock. There are also some nice features on the ship to keep items in place.
hole in picnic table
hooks to keep doors open
Here are some photos of the things I appreciate when the boat is rocking and rolling — handrails that are located everywhere, hooks that keep doors open and holes in the picnic table to keep your drink from spilling!
Did You Know?
An oceanographic front is an area where two distinct water masses meet. Here is the one that we encountered on this last station. Why are these fronts important to birds and marine life? Extra credit for this bonus question!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jenny Smallwood Aboard Oscar Dyson September 4 – 17, 2017
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 8, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 20.5 N
Longitude: 156 57.7 W
Winds: 12 knots NNW
Temperature: 11.0 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
Can I borrow a cup of sugar? Just what does a ship do if it starts running low on critical supplies? In our case, the Oscar Dyson met up with the Fairweather on a super foggy morning to swap some medical supplies and other goods that will be needed on the next leg.
The Fairweather’s fast rescue boat heads out towards us. Photo courtesy: Jim McKinney
Photo courtesy: Jim McKinney
Coming in on approach..
Fairweather’s fast rescue boat pulled alongside and was tied up to us.
Science and Technology Log
You might remember from my first blog post that Alaskan Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world and the largest by volume in the U.S. Because of this, Walleye Pollock is heavily researched and managed. The research cruise I’m on right now is collecting just a small portion of the data that feeds into its management. Being a plankton nerd, I’m interested in the relationship between year 0 Pollock and its zooplankton prey. Year 0 Pollock are the young of the year; fish hatched in Spring 2017.
Year 0 Pollock feed on a variety of zooplankton some of which have greater nutritional value than others. Certain zooplankton, such as Calanus spp and euphausiids, are preferred prey items due to high lipid content, which yield fatter year 0 Pollock.
Other less lipid rich zooplankton prey, such as small copepod species, yield skinny fish. The fat, happy Pollock are more likely to survive the winter, and the scrawny, skinny fish aren’t likely to survive the winter. So why is this important to know? Well, surviving its first winter is one of the biggest hurdles in the Pollock’s life. If it can survive that first winter, it’s likely to grow large enough to be incorporated in the Pollock fishery. So you just want to make sure there are lots of Calanus spp in the water right? Wrong….
Knowing Calanus spp and euphausiids possess higher lipid content is just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that in colder years they have higher lipid content, and in warmer years they have lower lipid content. So it’s not enough to just know how many Calanus spp and euphausiids are out there. You also need to know what their lipid levels are, which is related to water temperatures. Clearly a lot goes into Pollock management, and this is only a small portion of it.
I have a theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. For example, yesterday I was in the bridge getting the scoop on Fairweather meet-up when I met one of the fishermen, Derek. Turns out Derek and I both attended UNC-Wilmington, both graduated in 2003, and both majored in environmental studies. For a while growing up, we lived just a couple of towns over from each other too. What. In. The. World. What are the odds that I run into someone like that? It’s such a small world….or is it?
This is where I get back to the theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. There are those people in your life that seem to orbit in the same sphere as you. Maybe it’s shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences, but these are the people that totally “get you.” I feel lucky to have so many of them, from my co-workers at the Virginia Aquarium to the Teacher at Sea folks, in my life right now.
Did You Know?
Did you know Alaska has beautiful sunsets?
Sea wave height: 1.2 m
Wind Speed: 20.3kt
Wind Direction: 50 degrees
Visibility: (how far you can see)
Air Temperature: 025.6 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1018.36 mb
Science and Technology Log
The weather has been a big topic of conversation on this survey and for good reason. The original plan was to fish off the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Galveston. Due to Hurricane Harvey and possible debris in those waters, the survey changed course to sample off the coast of Florida. As we motored east, Irma was building up to a category 5 hurricane.
Captain Dave has been keeping a keen eye on the weather and after a few days of fishing off the coast of Florida, we headed back toward Pascagoula, Mississippi to pick up a crew member and let another off to tend to his family in Florida which is in the current path of Irma. We have been looking at the various computer modeling showing where Irma will land and this determining our path. Fortunately, a cold front to the west of us is pushing Irma east which will allows to stay out instead of docking and ending the survey early. This cold front is unusual for this time of year according to the Captain. Earlier models showed Hurricane Irma hitting the west side of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico where we are which would end our survey. Now, with the updated weather, we may get to stay out as planned but staying close to Mississippi and then heading West to work off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.
This ship is part of the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). This program enlists ships to collect weather data that is sent to the National Weather Service (a line office of NOAA) every hour. This is the data that supplies information to weather forecasters! Information that is gathered includes wind speed and direction, barometer reading, trend in pressure over the past few hours, as well as wind, wave and swell information. Have you every noticed on TV that the weather reports have a notification that states the data is coming from NOAA? Weather forecasters get weather information from ships out in the ocean like the one I am on.
This morning I headed up to the bridge to chat with Captain Dave. Here are some of the questions I asked.
Q: How long have you been a captain?
CD: 9 years
Q: What got you interested in this type of work?
CD:I grew up in Mississippi where you hunt and fish so when I got out of high school I always wanted to work on the water due to my upbringing. We were always taking out the boat to hunt or fish growing up. It’s in my blood.
Q: What is your schooling? What advice would you give someone that is interested in this as a career?
CD: I graduated high school in 1980 and made my living on the water commercial fishing and working on the oil rigs until January 4, 1993. I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Commanding Officer (CO). I’ve been on the Oregon II 25 years. The hardest thing was taking the test to be a Master.
Captain Dave is a civilian Master which is rare – there are only two in the NOAA fleet. Most NOAA ships are run by NOAA Corps Officers.
Q: What is the biggest storm you have seen?
CD: East of Miami, Florida in the gulf stream we were seeing 12-15 foot seas. The engine room calls the bridge regarding a busted intake valve. The boat was sinking. The engineers were in knee deep water and were able to find the broken valve and stop the flooding. In another 7 minutes the generator would have been under water and we would have lost power and would be forced to abandon ship in 12-15 foot waves.
Q: Is this weather unusual for this area this time of year?
CD: We never get a NE wind bringing in cooler weather which is probably what is turning Hurricane Irma. Normally it’s blazing hot here with southwest winds at 10 miles. This cold front is the reason we are not going in.
Check out this cool animated site for wind patterns. You can see how the hurricanes impact the flow of air.
So far the seas have been calm and I keep expecting things to pick up because of all the weather happening around us. Sleeping pretty good with slow rocking of the ship and we will see how I do with some bigger swells. The crew has been super helpful in doling out advice from how keep from getting seasick ranging from eating, drinking and even how best to walk! I’m listening to all this advice and so far so good. I do wonder how much of Hurricane Irma we will feel now that we are heading west a few hundred miles.
We have caught a few sharks and I am excited to catch some more. Other critters we have caught were a bunch of eels and a suckerfish. On yesterday’s shift I learned how to tag one of the big sandbar sharks. She was about 6’ long. The night crew caught a 10’ tiger shark! Maybe we will get lucky on today’s shift as I would love to see more sharks and handle some of the smaller ones.
Update: Last night our shift brought in 16 sharpnose sharks so things were busy. These sharks don’t get much bigger than 3 ½ feet. All of the ones we pulled in last night were female. The oceans have gotten a bit rougher with swells 4-5 feet! I have gained a new appreciation for all the rails available along the corridors of the ship and have learned to make sure my door is clicked shut as well as all the cabinets and drawers. Nothing like waking up to drawers slamming open and shut in the middle of the night!
Did You Know?
A Captain of the ship can be ranked as a Captain or a Commander within the NOAA Corps but a civilian does not hold a commissioned rank because they are not in the NOAA Corps and is called a Captain since he holds a Master license gained by taking extensive coursework and an intensive exam through the United States Coast Guard.
Question of the day:
What is the difference between a category 5 hurricane and lesser hurricanes? (hint: check out the link below)
Location: 56o20.5N 166o07.1W (We are currently ~ 170 miles due east of the Alaskan Peninsular National Wildlife Refuge!)
Weather from the bridge: 51o F, Wind 8-10 knots from 285o, high thin clouds, seas 2-3 ft (1 hour after I wrote this we were socked in with fog, which is fairly common for this part of Alaska during this time of year.)
Science and Technology Log:
Fairweather was commissioned in 1968 and has 2 engines. The engines are pretty ridiculously big. They are diesel combustion engines and run similarly to a diesel tractor engine.
She was built with Controllable Pitch Propellers. This technology is fascinating!! It allows for very fine control of the ship’s motion.
The CPP technology works by turning each of the propeller blades on its individual axis. In this way, the propellers never have to change the direction of spin, but instead the spin continues the same direction but the ship can come to a stop and then reverse direction. This differs from the fixed propeller system that is on the small launches. The Fairweather’s propeller blades are about 3 feet each in size for a total propeller diameter of 7 feet.
She also has a bow thruster which can be used in certain circumstances. The bow thruster enables the bow to move from side to side while the stern of the ship is static. It is essentially a propeller mounted into a tunnel/hole in the bow giving thrust perpendicular to the typical direction of travel. For a large ship like Fairweather, this is especially helpful when moving in and out of docking locations.
The next two technologies are of particular interest for my environmental science classes. Because the ship is often at sea for extended periods, it is necessary to make fresh water from the salt water. Typically Fairweather will take on ~16,000 gallons of water in port, but evaporators will be used to generate supplemental freshwater when it is needed.
The evaporators on Fairweather are flash (plate) evaporators and they can generate around 160 gallons of water per hour when operating optimally. The evaporators are running a distillation process by evaporating the water using heat from the boilers at a low pressure and then separating the freshwater from the brine (highly saline water). Because of the constant removal of salt from the water, the evaporators need to be cleaned often for best use.
The brine is then discharged and the freshwater is added to the supply tanks. When leaving the tanks, it is pumped to higher pressure and further treated through filters and with UV light to kill off any bacteria that may have made it through. That water is stored in a hydropneumatic tank at high pressure so that water can be delivered to all parts of the ship without the need for continuously running pumps.
People eat and drink and then they pee and poop. They also like to shower and brush their teeth and wash their hands. They also need water to drink and cook with and to make coffee and tea. Obviously there is also a lot of gray water (sinks and showers) and black water (toilets) that is produced on a ship of this size carrying ~40 people. So what is done with all of it? Well, blackwater goes through the MSD (marine sanitation device) before it is discharged outside of 3 nautical miles from land. MSDs are standard on all ships and work similarly to land based sewage treatment on a much smaller scale. Gray water can be acceptably discharged as is in most places, but must be stored within NDZs or No Discharge Zones.
Other necessary technologies on the ship are the refrigeration system, the boilers and the generators. But I won’t go into all of those processes. It’s just amazing to me that there are so many things that must be accounted for on a ship if it will be at sea for multiple days!
Crew of the Day! Engineering
The Engineering crew on this ship is a highly eclectic bunch! They are also a REALLY difficult group to get together for pictures. They have about a 40 year span in age and include folks from all over the world with a great diversity of backgrounds. There are several levels within the engineering crew. The entry level position is termed a wiper, next is an oiler, and then engineering utility, and junior engineer. These positions are unlicensed, analogous to enlisted positions in the military. The licensed positions are 3rd Engineer, 2nd Engineer, 1st Engineer and Chief Engineer. There are five licensed engineers on board right now and another six in the department who are oilers and junior engineers.
Anything that is mechanized, motorized, has an electric cable going to it, or needs to be oiled or lubed, those things all fall under the watchful eye of the Engineering crew. One of the young 3rd Engineers, Connor (nicknamed Titan because he really is giant) also describes them overseeing “Hotel Services” – plumbing, lighting, heating & cooling. The crew keeps a 24 hour watch whenever the ship is underway, and can take over aft steering if something were to fail with the bridge steering. They are also on watch whenever the small launches are being deployed or replaced to their cradles. If the bow thruster is being used, a crew member will also watch to see that it engages properly for use.
The well-being of the ship is in the hands of the Engineers and therefore the Chief Engineer reports directly to the Commanding Officer (where all other department heads report to the Executive Officer). The CO and the Chief Engineer really share the task of running the ship, but ultimate responsibility lies with the CO.
The food! OH MY GOODNESS!!! The food on Fairweather has been terrific. There are two amazing cooks here currently. Tyrone, who is the Chief Cook, has been with Fairweather for 5 years. Prior to that, he cooked for the Navy. Kathy is the Chief Steward (which means she is in charge of the kitchen and develops the daily menus) and has been with NOAA ships cooking in some capacity for almost 20 years! You’ll learn more about her in my next blog… The Interview Issue!
So, here’s a sampling of what’s been on the menu since I’ve been here: Prime Rib, Lobster, Argentinian flap steak with Chimichurri, Halibut with some crazy good pesto type sauce… I am going to leave the ship about 10 pounds heavier than when I got here. So, this is not what you always get on NOAA ships, but this particular pairing of Kathy and Tyrone makes some serious magic!!
After spending a few days observing what happens in the Acoustics lab and listening to our Chief Scientist Rebecca (RT) Thomas and acoustician Julia Clemons brainstorm aloud, I had one overriding question…”How do you decide when to fish?”
I asked RT this question and it is a multi-factored decision for sure, but seems like the decision could be broken down into 3 parts: what we see, what we know and what is currently happening.
What they see when deciding to fish or not is an echogram created by three acoustic sounders on the ship that send out 3 different frequency wavelengths. The image shows a relatively low frequency 18 kHz, 38 kHz, and a longer wavelength of 120 kHz. Keep in mind that sound travels faster in water than on land so this is a great way to gather information while being minimally invasive to the marine environment.
The backscatter, sound that scatters off of an object or its echo, on the echogram is what they look at to determine what marine life is on the transect we are scouting. As the sound wave bounces off of material in the ocean be it rock, flora or fauna it will create a spot or colored pixel on the echogram. Hake has a particular “look” of backscatter. When the echogram shows this particular hake sign we move in the direction of fishing.
Of course they only know what “hake sign” is because of gathering evidence throughout the course of this multi-year survey. During this survey they have created a huge reference database of hake sign and sign of other integral species to the hake’s environment, for example Euphausiid sp., one of the hake’s favorite food. RT and Julia have both interpreted many echograms and fished to confirm the identity the organisms that created the sign. They are able to rule out images on the echogram until they find the backscatter that most resembles what they have historically experienced as hake.
The third part of this decision making process is the most variable…what is currently happening. As the boat travels and the sounders are sending out the trio of wavelengths an image of the ocean shelf is created. The scientists are able to see topography and measure the depths of the shelf’s different contours. The Shimada is a 209 foot long boat weighing over 2,400 tons. When deciding to trawl for hake that we suspect are present because of backscatter sign in the echogram the scientists and Commanding Officer always consider the depth to bottom, contours, wind and the maneuverability of the ship. Deploying the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net to catch hake is a task that involves cooperation and communication between the deck crew, Boatswain, bridge officers and the Chief Scientist. When RT sees a sign on the echogram that she wants to fish, she and Commanding Officer Kunicki quickly discuss the approach, wind direction and depth to get an idea on how the net will be affected and how close the ship can get to the exact sign that she wants to sample.
This is my bare bones description of the process that goes into deciding when to fish on Leg 5 of the Pacific Hake Survey. Stay tuned to see what we learn from comparing the echogram of sign to the actual yield from the AWT fishing net.
This ship is filled with kind, creative and industrious people. I am reminded of this constantly and appreciate this often. To me it is astounding to consider all the work and thought that is involved in a fifteen-day research survey at sea. This is a science survey so there are specific tools, computer programs and labs that must run well. To me, coming in with a science focus, this is most obvious. What I am blown away by are all of the additional layers that work together to make science even possible on this successful voyage. There are several teams at play: engineering, technology, deck, science and the bridge officers. Engineers are constantly maintaining engines, generators (this ship has 4), plumbing, ventilation and so much more. I had a tour today with Engineering Chief Sabrina Taraboletti that I am still trying to process through.
Technology is handled by one person on this ship. He maintains and trouble shoots computers in the acoustics lab, the bridge, the chemical lab and even found time to help maximize signal for the Fantasy Football draft. The deck crew is as versatile as anyone on this ship. We have two types of nets that we fish with. The deck crew is responsible for getting the nets out to fish and back in with the catch. Way easier said than done when we are talking about over a ton of weight with net, camera, chain, and doors. On top of all their other responsibilities many of the men in the deck crew have been helping out in the galley (kitchen) on this leg of the hake survey. Larry is the chief steward (chef) on board this leg and he typically has someone working with him but not on this leg of the Survey. So in addition to working their 12 hour shift, many of the deck crew have been working with Larry to prep food, clean up the mess (dining area), do dishes or even create their own personal specialties for dinner. We have been spoiled by Matt’s rockfish, Joao’s fresh salsa and soups and our Operations Officer Doug’s amazing BBQ. Liz and I even got to help out and make some donuts with Larry. Eating is great on the Shimada!
The Shimada team is rounded out with the bridge crew made up of 4 officers. The officers on a NOAA ship have a foundation of science knowledge and extensive nautical training. Before we go fishing I get to participate in the marine mammal watch up in the bridge. As I look for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals near the boat I can listen to the Captain and officers working their magic. We have had an incredibly smooth trip thus far which I credit to our Officers and of course Mother Nature.
Did You Know?
Crazy cool catch of the day…can you figure out what type of fish this is?
Here is a clue…they have specially adapted cells called photocytes that create light producing organs called photophores. The photophores run along the sides of the fish and help them to lure prey and attract mates.
This is a Viperfish.
Viperfish live in the deep ocean and migrate vertically as the day goes on in order to catch prey. They typically live around 1,500m (4,921 ft) and in the night will end up around 600m (1,969 ft) at night. This particular fish appears to have photophores along its mouth but it is difficult to be 100% sure from this specimen.
Geographic Location: Transit from Port Clarence to Yukon River Delta with Ship Surveying on the west side of Norton Sound
Latitude: 62o 32.5 N Longitude: 165o 48.7 W
Date: September 3, 2017
Weather on the Bridge:
48 degrees F, Winds 6-8 knots from NNE, Seas 2-3 ft increasing, 50% cloud cover
Science and Technology Log
So this isn’t ship science, and it certainly isn’t technology that is made or operated by anyone on the ship, but the aurora is great science and of all the things I’ve experienced out here, has one of the best ties to Chemistry. Why Chemistry? Well, because it’s dealing with electrons. As my chemistry students will learn in a month or so, energy at certain frequencies has the ability to affect the electrons in an atom by causing them to jump up one or more energy levels. That electron does not want to stay in that higher energy position (orbital) so it will shortly drop back down. When it does so, it releases the absorbed energy as a photon of light which is what our eyes see as the brilliant colors. Neon lights follow this principle.
The aurora occurs in an oval shape around the magnetic poles of the earth – both north and south. The reason for this is that the magnetic field of the earth dips closer to earth at the North and South Pole. It is in these regions that highly charged electrons and protons from the solar wind move close enough to the earth that they will interact with the electrons in elements in our lower atmosphere; nitrogen, oxygen, argon and the trace gases.
Because each element has a different emission spectrum, the color given off will vary with the elements being charged. The green that is so often associated with auroras is from atmospheric oxygen. Oxygen in the lower atmosphere is the element that is most commonly affected by the solar wind particles. When higher altitude oxygen is affected, reds will actually be present. Nitrogen will also be charged this way, but less frequently than oxygen. Nitrogen’s color scheme is blues and purples. A strong aurora, which we had the opportunity to see, will have a mix of greens, pinks, purples, whites and blues.
ANEMOMETERS:Weather is one of the more important factors in determining ship navigation. High winds bring heavy seas; heavy moisture in the air may bring low clouds or fog reducing visibility. These factors must be figured into a navigational plan. Weather on the ship is compiled both through analog and digital means. The first wind information given to a seaman standing watch during daylight hours is the wind vane on the bow of the ship. It will tell which direction the wind is from and will give that seaman a sense of how the ship may drift off course while underway.
The ship also has two anemometers. Both are on the mast. One is above the other physically as you somewhat see in the image. They are able to pick up exact wind speed and direction and keep record of maxima. One of the two will be chosen as dominant because the wind is less influenced by obstacles as it (the wind) travels across the ship’s surface. The anemometer chosen will feed into the ship’s digital data stream.The watch also takes data on air temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and seas. Air temperature is taken from wet and dry bulb mercury thermometers. The difference between the wet and dry bulb temperatures will give a reading of relative humidity, also, when assessed using a psychrometric chart. A standard barometer is also on the bridge. Swell height and direction are determined by the watch crew visually, as are cloud cover and type. All of these data are recorded hourly. Digital sensors on board also take many of these readings and feed them into the navigation system and the ship’s ECDIS system. The redundancy of these processes, using both digital and analog means, underscore the importance of weather to the ship.
All NOAA ships, UNOLS (university ships) and some merchant vessels also serve as weather stations for the National Weather Service. The digital data is automatically sent on the hour. Visual data on swell direction and height and the condition of the seas is shared through another program, keeping the NWS and other weather agencies more informed of local weather activity.
When placing the anchor, the ship will initially overshoot the anchor location and then reverse back over it. This is primarily to keep the anchor and chain from ever being underneath the ship. The anchor and chain are extremely heavy and could do serious damage to the scientific equipment underneath, the propellers and even scratch up the hull. Once the ship has reversed slowly to the location, the anchor is dropped along with 5-7 times the amount of chain as the depth of water the ship is in. As the chain is dropping, the ship will continue to slowly back up laying the chain along the seafloor. The chain will then be locked, and as the anchor finally drags back, it will catch and hold. When the anchor catches, the ship will buck slightly, pulling the chain completely taut, and then because the ship will rebound, the chain will slacken. This is done twice (or more, if necessary) to ensure the anchor has really caught. The bosun and deck hands are watching over the side of the ship communicating with the bridge when the anchor is taut and slack as well. For complete safety, fixed points of land are marked on the radar and distances to each are calculated. The bridge will take measurements from these points every 10 minutes for the first half hour confirming that the anchor is set and then every half hour while at anchor.
Heaving the anchor involves “reeling” it in (similar to sport fishing) by getting the ship closer to the anchor as it is being drawn up. The goal is keeping the chain at a 90o angle to the surface of the water. Again, this keeps the anchor and chain from being able to do damage to the ship. During this process, the bridge will continually check the location of the bow relative to the anchor to insure that the hull will never cross over the chain. Once the ship is directly over the anchor, it should pull free. Finally, during the time the anchor chain is being pulled up, it must be cleaned of all the mud and debris.
ADULT EXPOSURE SUITS:
Each week, the entire crew of the ship has an emergency drill. Because there are no outside emergency personnel available for the ship (e.g. fire department) all crew must be well trained in how to handle fires, a sinking ship, and a person falling overboard. There are many crewmembers who pursued their MPIC (Medical Person in Charge), and others who are trained in Rescue Swimming, and there are also members of the Engineering crew who are trained firefighters. But regardless of training, the entire crew needs to be clear as to their responsibilities in an emergency situation and how to communicate with one another throughout the ordeal. So once a week, an unannounced drill will be run to sharpen some of these skills.
I had the chance to be involved with “man overboard” drill today. The drill consisted of me screaming as a dummy (Oscar) with a life vest was dumped over the side. After that, a man overboard was called and the ship’s alarm system was initiated. There are differing signals for each type of emergency. As all ship personnel mustered, communication began. The Commanding Officer, Mark Van Waes, was actually the first to spot the MOB (man overboard) and fixed the location for the bridge who subsequently relayed it through ship communications. At that point, two different options were available; bringing the ship to a position next to the victim and rescuing from the ship or deploying the Fast Rescue Boat mentioned in my last post to do a rescue. Although the ship was brought around, the rescue from the ship proved too difficult. The Fast Rescue boat was deployed with a coxswain, rescue diver (outfitted in an exposure suit) and a third. The MOB was found, placed on a back board, brought back to the ship, and rescue breathing was started along with warming up of the body.
It was fantastic watching all of the different pieces of the puzzle come together to be successful.
Department of the Day: The Deck Crew!
Every department is important on Fairweather, but the deck crew does a lot of difficult tasks that are often overlooked. They are the ones who keep the ship clean and stocked with supplies. They do the heavy lifting and the fixing of anything non-mechanical. They are responsible for driving the small launches – and are indispensable to the surveys since they need to drive the lines and make the call if it gets too shallow or dangerous. They are also on bridge watch and typically have the helm, meaning they are driving the big ship, too!
Deck crew launches the small boats from Fairweather and they head up the line handling to keep everyone safe. Members of the deck crew are also on watch 24 hours a day and do constant security checks throughout the entire ship every hour. They operate all of the cranes onboard. They are responsible for the flow of materials – what will be incinerated or placed in hazmat containers or stored for later disposal – and then take care of it. Finally, they also do the physical work of anchoring and heaving the anchors. The ship certainly would not run without the deck department.
Getting to know the different groups of people that work here has been amazing. I’ve had opportunities to work closely with the Survey team, the NOAA Corps officers, the stewards and the deck department. I’ve had a chance to see a bit of what the engineering group does, too. I’ve learned so much about the work they do and even about the lives they led before and lead now. I’ve also learned that ship life has some big ups and downs. The work is fascinating and most of the time there are new and interesting things to do. The CO, XO and Ops Officer work hard to ensure that daily duties change often and that there is a constant atmosphere of training.
But it’s difficult to be out at sea for long periods of time, and Fairweather in particular does not have a true “home port” – so it’s virtually impossible to have a place to call home. Several of the folks on this ship have family around the area of where Hurricane Irma is about to hit (Florida, the Carolinas…) and so one of the crewmembers is on his way to Florida to make sure everything is going to be okay. On the flip side, you really do get to see amazing places and events – like the aurora at the top of my post, or Russia…
Did You Know?
…that exposure (immersion) suits really do extend your life? In March 2008, up here in the Bering Sea, a fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, went down with 47 people on it. All 47 put exposure suits on prior to abandoning ship – some of them were not properly fitted, one ended up with a gash in it – but at least they all put them on. While lifeboat deploys were attempted, at least two of the lifeboats ended up floating away with no one in them. Only 2 were properly deployed and one of those took on water immediately. So exposure suits were the primary survival tool! Although 5 members of the crew did not make it, 42 were saved through the actions of the US Coast Guard and others in the 1-7 hour window after hitting the water. Some of the crew members were floating in the water in their suits for 3 hours before they were rescued! The necessity of proper training, like the weekly drills on NOAA ships, cannot be overstated. But in these worst case scenarios, even an ill-fitting exposure suit is going to give you more time.
Latitude: 29 51.066 N
Longitude: 088 38.983W
Sea wave height: .3 m
Wind Speed: 11.6
Wind Direction: 5.3 degrees starboard
Visibility: (ask bridge)
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1014.88 mb
Science and Technology Log
Lisa Jones is a fisheries biologist and the field party chief responsible for planning and logistics, manning the survey and the day to day operations. She is in charge of the science team. The Captain, Captain Dave Nelson, is charge of the ship. These two work together on the Oregon II making decisions on where we go.
Lisa has been doing this for 20 years and has been to locations including the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, California, the western north Atlantic, and Mexico. The research has varied from a focus on shark/snapper like the one we are on to marine mammals, plankton, aeriel surveys, and harbor seals. Here are some of the questions I asked.
Q: What is the most interesting thing you have brought up from the ocean?
L: As far as sharks are concerned, one year off the Florida panhandle, we caught a sixgill shark so big we couldn’t even tag it.
Q: How big do you estimate the size of that shark?
L: Approximately fifteen feet
Q: What got you interested in sharks?
L: When I was working for the Cal Fish and Game, radio tagging and doing aerial surveys for harbor seals, we would see shark bitten seals as well as sharks during the aerial surveys. One of the coolest things we ever saw off the Channel Islands was a blue whale.
Q: Those are big, right? How big do you think it was?
L: I don’t know but it looked liked a small building in the water.
Q: What is your training?
L: My undergraduate degree is in geology. I took a lot of oceanography classes during that time. Later, in my 30s, I went back to graduate school for a degree in biology in Tennessee. It’s a long story but I knew I wanted to study sharks. Land locked in Tennessee, I attended a national conference that included many shark specialists. I introduced myself to get connected – basically anyone who would talk to me.
Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 1:
Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 2:
What questions do you have for Lisa? Post them in the comment section. She is happy to answer them!
I am adjusting to life on the ship and the 12-hour shifts. It’s been fun learning all the different jobs we have as we rotate through different stations. I have now baited hooks, recorded data on the computer as we deploy baited hooks and retrieve the longline to record what we catch, a slinger where I get the baited line ready to be attached to the longline, the high flyer pushing the buoy out that marks the start and end of the longline, and even tagged a large sandbar shark.
Check out this video of me slinging the bait:
There have been several questions regarding our route. The survey area has changed due to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The next post will be all about weather so you can see how this has impacted our trip. I am wondering how much these hurricanes have impacted what and how much we catch.
Did You Know?
Salinity and dissolved oxygen in the water impacts what we catch.
Question of the day:
What advice did Lisa give for anyone interested in doing the kind of work she does? (hint: watch the video embedded in this post)
The Oregon II has two sets of crew – the ship’s crew headed by Captain Dave Nelson and the science crew headed by Lisa Jones. Captain Dave and Lisa work closely together making decisions that impact the survey. The ship’s crew keeps us afloat, fed and ultimately determines where we go based on weather. The science crew, well you guessed it, is focused on the science and collected data at predetermined sampling sites.
This post will look at some of the science happening on board. On board are four NOAA scientists as well as other volunteers and researchers that are helping with this survey. NOAA’s focus on this survey is all about sharks and snapper. We are collecting data on what we haul up from the longlines as well as abiotic factors including temperature, depth of line, dissolved oxygen, and salinity of the water. The data is entered into a computer and becomes part of a larger data set.
Two researchers on board working as volunteers are Brett Warren and Carlos Ruiz. They are parasitologists meaning they study parasites that sharks and other organisms carry. A parasite is an organism that lives off other organisms (a host) in order to survive. They are finding all sorts of worms and copepods embedded in the nose, gills and hearts of fish and sharks. These two spend much of their time using microscopes to look at tissue samples collected.
In speaking with Brett, the life cycle of parasite can be simple or complex. The simple direct life cycle is when the parasite spends its entire life on the host organism. A complex indirect life cycle for a parasite is when the parasite reproduce, the young hatch and swim to an intermediary host, usually a snail, mollusk or polychaete. This is where it gets really cool, according to Brett. It’s the intermediate host where the parasites asexually reproduce by cloning themselves. Next, the parasite leaves the intermediate host and swim to their final host and the process starts all over again. From a parasite perspective, you can see how difficult it would be for an indirect life cycle to be completed, because all the conditions need to be right. Brett is studying flatworms that have complex lifecycles and Carlos is studying copepods that have direct life cycles.
Their main focus on this survey is to discover new species of parasites and understand the host- parasite relationship.
The past few days have been slow with only a few stations a shift. We have hauled up some sharks, eels and even a sharksucker fish. One station had nothing on the 100 hooks set! Talk about getting skunked. As we move west I am hoping we get to see more sharks as well as more variety. Other wildlife spotted include dolphins, jellyfish and birds.
Did You Know?
Just because it’s a parasite doesn’t mean it harms the host. Some just live off of another organism without harming it.
Question of the day:
What are the two types of life cycles a parasite can have? (hint: read the blog)
Late afternoon: full cloud cover, rain squalls, 10-14 knot winds, 41 degrees
Science and Technology Log
Thursday’s science was a bit different. Two boats went out to do some final surveying and follow up in Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor. Because the area of Grantley harbor to be surveyed was in less than 4 meters of water, an Ambar jet boat was used with a single beam sonar mounted aft on the port side. The second boat that went out was one of the small launches for use as a dive boat for NOAA trained divers (https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/diving-program). The goal of the dive boat was to dive on a particular location in Port Clarence that was giving a strange image that must have been coming from a man-made structure. The sonar showed a grid pattern roughly 100m x 60m with lines 7-8m apart on the long axis and 5-6m apart on the short axis. The team felt strongly that they needed to understand what was there in order to determine if it was safe for anchoring. I’ll follow up more on this later…
I went out with the team on the Ambar. As is the case with all the small launches, the Ambar is brought down from the boat deck to the breezeway deck for loading before the actual release.
All gear, materials, food (long days out there!!) and people embark prior to the final drop to the water and the actual launch. This takes a team of a dozen or so people working in coordination. Prior to the start of launch, a safety officer is required on deck to oversee the process. This might be the CO (Commanding Officer), XO (Executive Officer) or Operations Officer. Most of the other personnel involved are a part of the deck crew, including the coxswain (who drives the small launches). A davit operator handles the control of the boat via cable(s) all the way down. The bosun (boatswain) on the breezeway deck is directing commands to the operator using hand signals. Several hands are securing the craft with ropes against the side of the ship. All of these moves have to happen in perfect coordination for the safety of everyone and the protection of the Ambar and Fairweather. Personal protective equipment is worn by all parties throughout. This includes a flotation vest or jacket and a hard hat which you can see on those on the boat in the image to the left.
Five of the other six small launches on the Fairweather undergo a similar process. Each is housed in a davit cradle and each has one or more cables to control the craft during its descent toward the waterline. The davits all shift their cradling position while the cables lift to assist in the release of the craft. Once the craft is entirely free of the cradle, it is slowly lowered down the side of the vessel to the breezeway deck for loading as described above. One boat, though, has a really cool option. This is the FRB or Fast Rescue Boat. This craft can actually be launched by the driver, which is a requirement of any FRB.
The final craft is a workboat which is housed on the fantail. It is not used for surveying, but will often be employed as passenger transport. It is also used for pick up and drop off of material that may be used on land, such as the HorCon station discussed in my previous post. This craft is not seated in a davit cradle and is instead launched through the use of a very large crane (see image below). The crane is attached to the launch at a center point connected with three lines.
The craft is moved from the position on the fantail to either the port or starboard side level with the deck and lowered to the water before loading. For this reason, it is much more difficult to keep it completely horizontal and not hitting the deck and doing damage to the Fairweather.
So back to the Ambar and what we were actually doing in Grantley Harbor. Much of the harbor is quite shallow and when a team had been in there previously, they felt that there may be some irregularity to the otherwise uniform seafloor. They had been getting some interference and scattering on the side scan. They wanted to understand why and also to get a complete picture of the harbor seafloor. With the Ambar and the single beam sonar, there is little to no danger of doing damage in extreme shallows since the equipment is not on the underside of the boat and the Ambar itself can be beached as there are no propellers.
We took the boat into the shallows with the single beam sonar to take measurements along lines to as shallow as 2m. While surveying in the shallows, we found that there were sea grasses growing and according to the Operations Officer who was on board, that may have been the reason for the interference. Regardless, we continued to survey a regular pattern in order to have good data for future charts. During this time, I was given the opportunity to drive the Ambar… which showed me how much more difficult staying a straight line course is than the coxswains make it look.
Upon return to the Fairweather, the Ambar is reattached to the cable and brought back up to the breezeway deck. Ropes are again used in coordination to keep the boat steady as it is lifted, much the reverse of what was described above. At that point all materials are unloaded and all the people disembark. The Ambar is then hoisted back up into the davit cradle.
When I’m back in an area with lots of bandwidth, I’ll create a video post to show just how cool the launches of small boats really is…
Shipboard life on a NOAA vessel is quite different from life on land. First, because the ship is a twenty four hour operation, people are needed at all hours. Many of the positions on NOAA vessels run on a 4 hours on, 8 hours off cycle. Some positions have recently shifted to 4 on, 4 off, 4 on, 12 off to afford greater lengths of time for sleep. When you are on the lower decks, it is also easy to lose track of time – and of course when you’re in Alaska during summer, it’s still light out at 10 o’clock. There are auroras to potentially be seen in the wee hours and multibeam surveying that happens through the night. There are always people up and about doing things – so the ship is a busy place at all times.
And with this in mind, I have to admit I have not been doing a great job getting to sleep. But I do sleep well on the ship, the rocking is the best cure for insomnia I’ve ever experienced. And I have been eating incredibly well – and I mean INCREDIBLY well. Mealtimes are the same each day, so that’s a great help. I will talk more about the food and the kitchen in a future post. Fortunately, with all that good eating, there’s a gym on board, so I’ve been able to work some of it off. There’s also laundry on board and a lounge with lots of movies. I like it. And waking up to the ocean and a lovely sunrise each morning makes the tiredness not really matter much.
As a part of NOAA’s mission, we had the opportunity to go ashore at a small town at Port Clarence called Brevig Mission. It is a town of almost 400, most of whom are native to Alaska. While ashore, we were able to spend time talking with the people, purchasing some of their handcrafts and fish, and even visiting the school. The people live simple lives. They still hunt walrus, seal and whale and those foods are the staple of their diet through the frozen winter months. I found it fascinating that they use all of the parts of the animals – the items that I purchased were from seal and walrus.
The CO (Commanding Officer) also arranged for ship tours for people from the town. The folks were taken in the Ambar out to the Fairweather in small groups and shown around. It was fun speaking afterward with those who went – there was a lot of excitement! I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to go to the town. They have a crazy history (see the “Did you know?” section below.)
Did You Know?
Brevig Mission was hit hard by the 1918 Spanish Flu, perhaps in percentage mortality, the hardest hit place in the world. Of the 80 residents of Brevig Mission, 72 succumbed to the flu and died in a 5 day period. It was absolutely devastating. One of the current residents shared with me that reaching 400 is encouraging to the town and everyone there believes that the town is continuing to grow.
In 1997, the lungs of a well-preserved victim in the mass grave were shipped to a molecular pathology lab in Washington, D.C. and the flu virus was reconstructed. The evidence showed that it was a bird flu (similar to the avian flus which plague our world today) but incredibly virulent as it passed from birds to humans. You can read more about the findings here. (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/alaska-science-forum/villager-s-remains-lead-1918-flu-breakthrough)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jenny Smallwood Aboard Oscar Dyson September 2 – 17, 2017
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 5, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 38.8 N
Longitude: 155 34.8
Wind speed 10 mph NNE
Air temp 11.5 degrees Celsius (52.7 degrees Fahrenheit)
Science and Technology Log
Today I got smacked in the face by a jellyfish. It practically flew into my mouth. Don’t worry I’m perfectly fine. I’ll admit to a lot of silent shrieking when it happened. Perhaps even some gagging….How did this happen you might be asking yourself? Read on my friend, read on..
After a couple of days at the dock in Kodiak, Alaska, we are finally underway! My first shift was spent hanging out and watching the scenery as we cruised to the first station.
We went through the aptly named Whale Passage where we saw orcas, whales, sea otters, and puffins! It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in two days. To be honest, that was more exciting than seeing whales.
It took about twelve hours for us to reach the first station site. The established routine is bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and…well you get the point.
When the Stauffer trawl net is hauled in, the science team and survey tech sort through everything in the net. Juvenile pollock (less than a year old) go into one bin, capelin into another bin, so on and so forth.
Now what makes this really interesting is that we’re basically digging these fish out of one massive, gelatinous pile of jellyfish goop. Once all the fish are sorted, the jellies get sorted too, which is where the jellyfish face smack comes in. Picture a smallish conveyor belt with 5 people standing around throwing fish, squid, isopods, and jellyfish into appropriate bins. It turns out that when you throw jellyfish into a bin, it sometimes explodes on impact causing jellyfish goop to go flying, and sometimes it flies onto my face. *smh*
When the crew and science team aren’t working jellyfish laden Stauffer trawls, they’re busy with the bongo nets. These are my favorite because they pull up lots of plankton.
Most people would totally freak out if they knew how much stuff was swimming around in the water with them, including pteropods, which look a bit like slugs with wings. Pteropods are a type of zooplankton also know as sea butterflies for the small “wings” attached to their bodies. The ones we got today were big enough to be slugs. My goal over the next couple of weeks is to get a decent video of them swimming.
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Even though I’ve never gotten seasick, I succumbed to peer pressure and took some meclizine before leaving the dock. I really didn’t want my memories of the Oscar Dyson to include yakking over the side of the ship. In this case, positive peer pressure was a good thing. I’ve been feeling just fine even when confined in small, fishy smelling rooms. Eau de poisson anybody?
The biggest adjustment has been the time change and 12 hour work shift from noon to midnight. I like to describe myself as the oldest, young person alive. We’re talking early bird specials, going to bed early, and waking up at the crack of dawn. So while the day shift I’m on is clearly a perk, it’s still taken me a few days to get used to it, especially since it’s 4 pm to 4 am east coast time. Judging by the 9.5 hours of sleep I got last night, it’ll be smooth sailing from here.
I can also report that the food on board is delicious. Ava and Adam crank out tasty options at every meal, and somehow meet the needs of about 35 people some of whom are vegetarian, vegan, low acid, etc. Since Kodiak was a washout, I tagged along on the shopping trip prior to our departure. Five shopping carts later we were ready to eat our way across the Gulf of Alaska!
Did You Know?
NOAA scientists on board the ship rotate through different at sea research cruises throughout the year. They even participate on cruises that have nothing to do with their actual research. It’s like a big group effort to get the data NOAA needs for its various research projects.
Today was my first shift. We are using mackerel to bait the 100 hooks that will be places into the water at a specific station. Each hook is numbered so that we can collect data on which hook brought in a fish and entered into the database. There are several jobs out here from baiting the hooks, placing the buoys, flinging the baited hooks out, and recording data in the computer. My job today is the computer.
The longline is set and left to sit in the ocean for approximately one hour before we start bringing up the line to see if we have a fish on. Out of the 100 hooks we got one fish, a baby tiger shark and a larger juvenile tiger shark coming in at six feet or so. This tiger shark had several hooks in its mouth as well as a tag so when she was brought up on board, all the hooks were removed and the tag replaced with a new one.
The tag that was on the tiger shark was opened up to reveal a small scroll of paper with a unique number so that this shark can be tracked from where it was first picked up to when it ended up with us for the brief visit. Below is a short video of us bringing up the shark in the cradle! [no dialogue or narration.]
We will be setting another line tonight at our second station as we continue to motor southeast following the coast of Florida.
Beside recording data on the sharks, a CTD is deployed to collect data on conductivity, temperature and depth. We will use this data in the classroom to look for trends between the abiotic factors that may influence where we are finding certain shark species and the number of overall sharks at any given station.
There are many different scientists on board researching different things. I am sharing a stateroom with Dani who is on the night shift. She is looking into how different sharks handle stress. I see very little of her since we are on opposite shifts so we get a quick visit at noon when there is a changing of the guards so of say. Brett and Carlos, as mentioned in an earlier post, are looking into parasites that inhabit the various animals we are bringing up. I will do a separate blog on those two and their research later this week to share what they are finding.
Today we had a few drills to practice in case of an emergency. One was a fire drill and the other was an abandon ship drill where I had to don a large neoprene suit in less than two minutes. Here I am in that suit! It was quite cumbersome to put on.
Learning new words as I get acclimated to the ship. Here are a few for you:
The head = bathroom
Stateroom = room where I sleep
Muster = to assemble
Bow = the front of the ship
Stern = the back of the ship
Did You Know?
Military time is used on board this ship. See the photo of the clock below.
I’m currently sitting on the Oregon II docked in Pascagoula, Mississippi after a long travel day. It’s eerily quiet as the ship disembarks tomorrow at 14:00 and the majority of the crew will arrive tomorrow. I am enjoying the slow introduction to this ship and finding my way around. The OOD (Officer Of the Deck) gave me a tour of the ship that I will be working on for the next two weeks. The majority of crew is on shore for the Labor Day weekend but will return tomorrow as we disembark and head towards Florida. Our plans have changed due to Hurricane Harvey and debris that may be in the waters making the travel in those waters unsafe.
Science and Technology Log
Due to Hurricane Harvey, the area being surveyed has changed so that we are heading East instead of West to pick up the third leg of this survey that ended off the coast of Florida last week. I have been assigned the day shift from noon to midnight and will be assisting the science crew. The mission of this survey is to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally aboard are two scientist that are on board are studying parasites that these animals carry. Carlos and Brett, the two parasitologists, were on the second leg right before I joined. Their leg started on the tip of Florida and ended where we will start.
Seasick? Felt a little queasy after my first night in dock! Decided the best course of action was to take some medicine, eat a big meal and hydrate to help get my sea legs. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming as we get started. The night crew starts tonight at midnight till noon and the day crew, where I am been placed, will start at noon. Hoping for a good night’s sleep!
Did You Know?
Sharks have been around since the dinosaurs approximately 450 million years ago.
Question of the day
What is NOAA’s mission statement? (Hint: Google NOAA and select “About Our Agency” at the bottom)
In addition to NOAA’s juvenile walleye pollock survey, this leg of voyage is also hosting a seabird survey. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) sent a scientist aboard Oscar Dyson to identify and record bird species as the boat travels from one sampling station to the next. To do this, a bird observation station has been set up on the port side (left hand side) of the bridge. This is a good spot to get a clear view of the water and sky ahead of the boat and to the port side.
Not every bird that is seen from the bridge is included. There are some guidelines that must be followed in order to collect data that has scientific validity. One of the major guidelines is that the ship should be moving at a consistent speed for each of the observation periods. If a scientist were to observe birds at a slower speed, he or she might end up recording more species because there is more time to look for and identify then. If a scientist were to observe birds at a faster speed, he or she might end up recording fewer species because there is less time to look for them and identify them.
It is difficult to correctly identify birds at a distance further than 300 meters away. It is also much more likely that a bird will be identified correctly if it closer than if it is further away. In order to account for differences in how accurately a bird can be identified, scientists have set up a system to put the data collected into different categories. First of all, only birds that are 300 meters away or closer are counted and identified. Birds that are seen between 0 – 50 meters away are considered in “Bin 1” and can be identified with the most accuracy. Bin 2 is 50 – 100 meters away, Bin 3 is 100 – 200 meters away, and Bin 4 is 200 -300 meters away. The further away a bird is, the greater the chance that it will not be identified correctly or missed altogether.
Some of the common birds seen on this survey in the Gulf of Alaska include northern fulmars, auklets, shearwaters, black-footed albatross, tufted and horned puffins, storm petrels, kittiwakes, and common murres. Some of these birds, like the fulmars and albatross like to hang around the boat and look for an easy meal from the fishing net. This can make it difficult to avoid counting the same bird more than once. Adjustments are made by the scientist to prevent an overestimation in the number of birds recorded.
We have also seen some very unexpected bird species. There was a trio of peregrine falcons that landed on the ship and traveled with us for a day. Some of the crew on the bridge saw one of them catch a smaller bird and fly off with it! There was also a masked booby that spent a few hours cruising along with us. Masked boobies are native to the waters much further south and have never been seen in the Gulf of Alaska!
Other data about the weather conditions are automatically recorded with the help of a computer. Air temperature, water temperature, wind speed, and wind direction are recorded at the start of each observation session. A GPS device also records the latitude and longitude of the ship every few seconds. All this information helps scientists get a better understanding of which birds were present at different times of year and how weather conditions may affect where they go.
This is the last day of the survey and it is finally sunny! It has been an interesting two weeks for me. It was full of observing new animals and gaining a new understanding of how marine science is conducted. It has also been a great opportunity to meet some very interesting people passionate about their work.
Did you know?
Flatfish have one eye that migrates, or moves, from one side of their head to the other! This happens within the first few months after they hatch. The result is that both of their eyes end up on the same side of their head. This allows flatfish to swim along the bottom of the ocean floor while keeping both eyes facing upward to look for food and to spot predators.
We have not started fishing yet because we are heading to our first transect off the western coast of the Haida Gwaii archipelago. I thought this would be a perfect time to introduce another research project that is gathering data on the Shimada. One of my roommates, Lynne Scamman, is on-board researching Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs).
What are Hazardous Algal Blooms?
They are large numbers of phytoplankton, either diatoms or dinoflagellates, who produce toxins. Phytoplankton are essential to the ecosystem because they produce half of the global oxygen. However under certain circumstances these organisms reproduce rapidly, skyrocketing the population, this is a bloom. Some of these phytoplankton produce toxins. When the populations are low the toxins aren’t a big deal. However, when a bloom of phytoplankton that produce toxins occurs there can be health concerns for organisms exposed to the toxins. We have to consider the marine food chain and something called bioaccumulation. Phytoplankton along with zooplankton create the base of the marine food web. Organisms who eat toxin producing phytoplankton retain the toxin in their body. Then any organism who eats them will also hold that toxin. You can see how the toxin would accumulate along the food chain and potentially hold serious side effects for organisms with high levels of toxin.
Why is research being done on HABs?
HABs are becoming a problem for humans along the coasts and in the Great Lakes. Basically all of the factors that contribute to the increase in HABs are a product of human impact. Global climate change, increased nutrient pollution and global sea trade are all factors contributing to the rise in Hazardous Algal Blooms. We want to monitor so that eventually we will be able to predict when, where and why the HABs will occur.
Why are YOU studying HABs?
One day I walked into my college biology lab and met a guest instructor who specializes in all things phytoplankton related. I was blown away by the complexity that some of these single celled organisms held. The professor shared a few species names and I started investigating. The species that grabbed my attention is called Nematadinium armatum. This organism has a rudimentary eye called a melanosome and nematocysts for hunting, again this is pretty impressive for an organism made of one cell. Once I learned about the variety in this microscopic world and how influential they were to the health of the entire ocean, I knew that I wanted to learn more.
I am still figuratively pinching myself every few hours at just how amazing this experience is to participate in first hand. Yesterday we left the dock of Port Angeles at 10am and the boat hasn’t slowed down since. We did drills to ensure that all aboard knew where to go in case of fire and if we needed to abandon ship. Part of the abandon ship drill is to make sure that everyone has and can get into their Immersion Suit aka “Gumby Suit.” This suit is amazing! This portion of the Pacific is quite cold and the Immersion suit would keep you warm and buoyant until a rescue can occur.
After our drills several of the science crew went up to the Flying Bridge to look for marine mammals. We were cruising between Cape Flattery, Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia with high hopes of seeing activity. WOW, we lucked out. We spotted 17 Humpback whales, 2 Harbor porpoise and 2 Dall’s porpoise. We are also seeing several types of sea birds but I am still brushing up with the Sibley to id birds from this area.
Did You Know?
The island cluster that we are heading to had a name change at the end of 2009. What was formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands is now called Haida Gwaii. This name change came as part of a historic reconciliation between British Columbia and Haida nation. Haida Gwaii translated means “island of the people.”
Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 Location: Port Clarence: 65o14.034N 166o43.072W
Weather on the bridge:
30+ knot winds, 42o F, 4ft seas, heavy stratocumulus clouds (9/10 coverage)
Science & Technology Log
Over the past two days I have been introduced to tremendous amounts of the science of hydrography. In this blog post I will focus on the hardware used and the process of surveying. There are two types of sonar that are being employed. The first is side scan sonar and the second is multibeam sonar.
Side scan is shorter range and performs better in shallower water. Side scan is used in conjunction with multibeam, however, as side scan does not give true depth values. The function of side scan is to show features evident on the ocean floor. For this reason, multibeam is run in conjunction with side scan in order to keep an accurate record of depths.
Multibeam shows an exact depth. Due to the fact that it is an angular spreading band from the center of the underside of the launch, at shallow depths it will only show a very narrow strip of ocean floor.
Stop and imagine…a lit flashlight shining on a wall from only a few centimeters away. What happens to the image on the wall as you pull the flashlight back? The area of coverage of the image will become larger. The concept is similar for the multibeam in shallow versus deeper water.
Using multibeam in shallow water then would create a need for more passes closer together in order to cover an area. There are instances where using this technology even in shallow water would make sense, but for a full coverage survey, this would not be the case.
The third piece of hardware used for the standard small boat launch hydrographic surveys is the CTD device. The CTD will measure conductivity of the water and also give both a temperature and density profile. The CTD is deployed multiple times during a survey as a tool to calibrate the data that is coming in via the sonar. Conductivity of the water gives an estimate of the total dissolved solids in the water. This information, along with the temperature and density will give an estimate of sound speed through the water column.
Stop and try this one for better understanding… knock on a door normally with your head roughly arm’s distance from the point where you are knocking. Now repeat the process of knocking, but with your ear pressed against the door approximately an arm’s length away from the knock. What is different? You should have noticed that a more precise (and typically louder) sound reached your ear. If you pay close attention, you will also notice that the sound reaches your ear more quickly. This is roughly analogous to how changes in the water column will affect sound speed.
The final piece of equipment used regularly for surveys is a HorCon (horizontal control) station. This is a land-based station that will help to define accurate position in the water. It allows for greater precision with global positioning data. The signals of satellites responsible for global position are affected daily by changing atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the precise positions of the satellites themselves are actually not well known in advance. This may result in a GPS location moving a few centimeters in one direction or another. While this is not going to heavily impact your ability to find a Starbucks in a strip mall, it can have a definite impact on the accuracy of charts for navigation. The HorCon station always remains in the same place on land, and can therefore be used to calibrate the measurements being read in the survey waters nearby and that information can be used along with corrected satellite positions since it is coming after the fact.
Today we worked in Port Clarence, Alaska, both outside and inside of Grantley Harbor. Most of the depths being surveyed are in the 4-6 meter range. The particular area being surveyed had been previously surveyed in the 1950s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likely using a single beam sonar system. The current survey is intended to note changes that have occurred since that prior survey and to accurately update all of the charts. The area of western Alaska is expected to increase in boat traffic over the coming years due to the opening of the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic. This route is significantly shorter for most shipping traffic than the route through the Panama Canal. Because of this expected increase in traffic, there is a need to identify areas for sheltering during heavy seas. Port Clarence is a natural inlet that offers some protection and holds potential for this purpose.
The process of surveying:
Two launches were deployed. I was on launch 2808, the second described here. The first was equipped with only multibeam sonar and the second had both multibeam and side scan. The plans for the two launches were different. The launch with only multibeam was working in an area of Grantley Harbor and covering an area that had previously been mapped to insure that the values were acceptably accurate. This focus existed primarily because of extra time available up in this area. The launch running the side scan was completing some unfinished work in Port Clarence and then did further work inside of Grantley Harbor. These areas, or “sheets” are described below. As a side note, small boat deployment is a fascinating and involved activity that I will discuss in a later blog.
Survey areas are broken up into sections known as “sheets” – each sheet has a manager. This person will be from either the NOAA Corps or a civilian member of the scientific survey team. The sheet manager will be responsible for setting up the plan for survey and doing all of the final checks after data has been gathered, cleaned and examined to determine if there are areas that should be rechecked or run again before it is completed and undergoes final processing.
A sheet manager will need to consider several questions prior to setting up the initial parameters for the survey. What is the depth being surveyed? What type of bottom is it? What type of coverage is needed? All of these factors will come into play when determining how the lines will be run – how long, how far apart, which sonar type, etc.
Once the plan is determined, it will be the job of the Operations Officer, LT Damian Manda, to parse out the duties and create a daily work plan to cover all of the areas. Each day, multiple launches will be sent out to gather data as described above. As the fieldwork finishes for the day, data will be transferred to a drive and then brought into the ship’s mapping room where night processers will begin the lengthy work of checking and cleaning the data so that it can all be ready for the final processing step prior to being sent to the client.
How good are those data?
There are several checks built into the data collection process. First, the survey team members on the launches are watching in real time. With three screens to work from, they are able to see what the sonars are seeing and can also set certain limits for the data that will alarm when something appears to be contrary to what’s expected. Night processors look for anomalies in the data like sudden inexplicable drops in depth in an otherwise flat surface or an extremely “noisy” area with little good data. Any area with a former survey will also be compared to the previous values with large differences signaling possible issues. Many trained eyes look at the data before it is accepted for charting and there will commonly be at least one return to an area to check and recheck prior to completion. One area in the current survey has continued to show odd results, so trained NOAA divers will dive the area to find out what is really going on.
So far this has been an amazing experience. I fully enjoy being among the crew of the Fairweather and living on the ship. It’s hard to say what my favorite part has been so far because I have honestly enjoyed all of it! Since we didn’t get underway until Monday, I had the opportunity on Sunday to roam around Nome with a couple of the other folks that are just here for two weeks, LT Joe Phillips and LCDR Ryan Toliver. I learned a lot more about both the NOAA Corps and the Public Health Service of which they are respectively a part. (These are two of the seven uniformed services – can you name the other five?) NOAA Corps officers are in command on all of the active NOAA commissioned ships and aircraft and you will learn a lot more about them in future posts. The PHS is an organization made up primarily of medical professionals. These folks serve in various medical and medical research positions around the nation. There are many who will work for the National Institutes of Health in research, or the Bureau of Prisons or commissioned vessels like Fairweather as practitioners. Unlike NOAA Corps, PHS is not on a billet cycle where every two to three years you will be moved to a new position in a different office or location. Similar to all of the other uniformed services, though, promotion through the ranks is both encouraged and desired.
We also saw the marker for the end of the Iditarod race. I was able to see the historic beginning in Seward, Alaska back in 2010, so seeing the end in Nome was an unexpected treat. Nome also has Cold War-era missile early warning system arrays at the top of a mountain nearby. We had a chance to hike around them and see some of the interesting geologic features of the area. There’s so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll stop here and save shipboard life for my next post.
Did You Know…
… that the Iditarod has its historic beginnings with the Public Health Service? There were many children in interior and western Alaska dying of diphtheria in the early 1920s. When it reached epidemic proportions, the only doctor in Nome reached out to the PHS in the lower 48 to ask for help. Vials of serum were found and sent north to Seward, but then because of heavy ice and storming, dog sled teams were used to get the vials to the interior towns and to Nome. The original race along the Iditarod Trail was run as a memorial to the “Serum Run” and eventually evolved into the highly competitive race it is today.
The main focus of this survey is to gather information about juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. Juvenile pollock less than 1 year of age are called young-of-the-year, or age-0 juveniles. Age-0 walleye pollock are ecologically important. Many species of birds, mammals and other fish rely on them as a food source. Adult pollock have a high economic value. Pollock is commercially fished and commonly used in fish sticks and fish and chips. This study is interested in learning more about the size of current juvenile pollock populations, where they occur, and how healthy they are.
In order to collect a sample, a trawl net is lowered into the water off of the back of the ship. The deck crew and bridge crew work together to release the right amount of wire and to drive the ship at the right speed in order to lower the net to the desired depth. The net is shaped like a sock, with the opening facing into the water current. In order to keep the mouth of the net from closing as it is pulled through the water, each side is connected to a large metal panel called a “door”. As the doors move through the water, they pull on the sides of the trawl net, keeping it open. When the doors are ready to be put in the water, the fishing officer will instruct the winch operator to “shoot the doors”!
Sensors help monitor the depth of the upper and lower sides of the net and relay a signal to computers on the bridge, where the data can be monitored.
Once the net is reeled in with a large winch, the catch is placed on a sorting table, in a room just off of the back deck called the fish lab. Here, the science team works to sort the different species of fish, jellyfish, and other kinds of marine animals that were caught.
Juvenile pollock are sorted into their own bin. If it is a small catch, we weigh, count, and measure the length of each one. However, if it is a large catch, we take a smaller sample, called a subsample, from the whole catch. We use the weight, lengths, and count of animals in the subsample to provide an estimate count and average size of the rest of the fish caught at that station, which are only weighed. This information is compiled on a computer system right in the fish lab.
The focus of this study is juvenile pollock, but we do catch several other species in the trawl net. The presence of other species can provide information about the habitats where juvenile pollock live. Therefore, data from all species collected are also recorded.
A small sample of juvenile pollock are frozen and saved for further study, once back on land. These fish will be analyzed to determine their lipid, or fat, content and calorie content. This data reveals information about how healthy these fish are and if they are getting enough food to survive through the cold Alaskan winters.
Other agencies within NOAA also conduct scientific surveys in this area. These studies might focus on different species or abiotic (non-living) properties of the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem. The data collected by each agency is shared across the larger NOAA organization to help scientists get a comprehensive look at how healthy marine ecosystems are in this area.
As we move from one station to the next, I have been spending time up on the bridge. This gives me a chance to scan the water for sea birds and marine mammals, or to just take in the scenery. Other members of the crew also like to come up to do this same thing. I have really enjoyed having this time every day to share in this activity (one of my favorite past-times) with other people and to learn from them how to identify different species.
Did You Know?
You can find the exact age of many fish species by looking at a bone in their ears! Fish have a special ear bone, called an otolith. Every year, a new layer will grow around the outside of this bone. As the fish ages, the otolith gets larger and larger. Scientists can find the exact age of the fish by cutting a cross section of this bone and counting the rings made from new layers being added each year.
Currently Virginia Beach is experiencing Potential Tropical Cyclone 10. The temperature is topped out at 75°F. The winds are out of the NE at about 13 mph right now. That’s expected to increase to 25-35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph this afternoon. Forecasts predict mild flash flooding and some tidal flooding around the 2 pm high tide.
Introduction – Personal Log
My name is Jenny Smallwood, and I’m a school and youth programs educator at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I’m in my 11th year as an educator, which included 8 years as a high school science teacher. These days I get to hang out with and educate scouts, school groups, and other visitors to the Aquarium. One of the coolest things I’ve experienced working here is watching as a student sees the ocean for the very first time! It was that experience that helped me realize how important it is to share the oceans and oceanic research with people who can’t experience it themselves. I want to bring my Teacher at Sea experience to those individuals who don’t have the Chesapeake Bay or an ocean in their backyard. I want to help them experience the life of a marine researcher.
Outside of my role as an educator, I love to go on all the adventures. My husband, Lee, and I enjoy traveling and have nicknamed ourselves “adventure nerds.” We even have a theme song. Like I said, we’re nerds. I’m super excited about this latest adventure with Teacher at Sea. I’m still amazed that I was one of the few chosen for this year’s research cruises.
Science and Technology Log
The Oscar Dyson is a NOAA research vessel used for fisheries surveys important to fisheries management. Commissioned in 2005, this 208.6 feet long ultra-quiet survey ship is considered one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world. That’s right. This ship is super stealthy so we can sneak up on the fish. It also has numerous labs onboard, including a wet, dry, bio, and hydro lab.
On this trip, the Oscar Dyson will pull out of Kodiak, Alaska and make its way southwest through the Gulf of Alaska to take up position for Leg 2 of the EMA-EcoFOCI Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey.
What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that scientists will collect Walleye Pollock data to get an idea of what the population looks like. They’ll also take zooplankton samples, smaller prey fish samples, and collect environmental data to see how these factors might be affecting Pollock. Basically scientists and policy makers need information in order to properly manage this fishery, and this is where NOAA comes in. I can’t wait to learn more about the application of this research as scientists learn even more about the ecology of Pollock.
To collect these samples, scientists will be using a variety of tools. Bongo nets will be used to collect zooplankton samples. From what I’ve learned so far, it sounds like specially mounted equipment collects water data along with the plankton. A Stauffer trawl net will be used to sample fish species. A CTD rosette (CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and density) will be used along the way to corroborate that the other water data equipment is indeed working correctly. Scientists, like mathematicians, do love to double check their work.
Did You Know?
Did you know that NOAA is part of our daily lives? Both the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center are part of this organization. To learn more about the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Harvey, or Potential Tropical Cyclone 10, visit their website: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/
As part of this survey, the scientists onboard collect data from what is known as “Line 8”. This is a line of seven sampling stations, positioned only a few miles apart, near the southern opening of Shelikof Straight between Kodiak Island and the Alaskan Peninsula. Water samples are taken at different depths at each sampling station to measure several different properties of the water. This study is focused on profiling water temperature and salinity, and measuring the quantities of nutrients and phytoplankton in the water.
To collect this data, a conductivity and temperature at depth (CTD) instrument is lowered into the water. This instrument can take water samples at different depths, by using its eleven canisters, or Niskin bottles. The water collected in the Niskin bottles will be used to determine the nutrient quantities at each station. The rosette of Niskin bottles also has sensors on it that measure phytoplankton quantities, depth, temperature, and how conductive the water is. Scientists can use the readings from conductivity and temperature meters to determine the salinity of the water.
Each Niskin bottle has a stopper at the top and the bottom. The CTD goes into the water with both ends of each Niskin bottle in the open position. The CTD is then lowered to a determined depth, depending on how deep the water is at each station. There is a depth meter on the CTD that relays its position to computers on board the ship. The survey team communicates its position to the deck crew who operate the winch to raise and lower it.
When the CTD is raised to the first sampling depth, the survey crew clicks a button on a monitor, which closes the stoppers on both ends of Niskin bottle #1, capturing a water sample inside. The CTD is then raised to the next sampling depth where Niskin bottle #2 is closed. This process continues until all the samples have been collected. A computer on board records the depth, conductivity and temperature of the water as the CTD changes position. A line appears across the graph of this data to show where each sample was taken. After the Niskin bottles on the CTD are filled, it is brought back onto the deck of the ship.
Water is collected through a valve near the bottom of each Niskin bottle. A sample of water from each depth is placed in a labeled jar. This study is interested in measuring the quantity of nutrients in the water samples. To do this it is important to have samples without phytoplankton in them. Special syringes with filters are used to screen out any phytoplankton in the samples.
The “Line 8” stations have been sampled for nutrient, plankton, and physical water properties for many years. The data from the samples we collected will be added to the larger data set maintained by the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (Eco-FOCI), Seattle, Washington. This NOAA Program has data on how the marine ecosystem in this area has changed over the last few decades. When data spans a long time frame, like this study does, scientists can identify trends that might be related to the seasons and to inter-annual variation in ocean conditions. The samples continue to be collected because proper nutrient levels are important to maintaining healthy phytoplankton populations, which are the basis of most marine food webs.
As we travel from one station to the next, I have some time to talk with other members of the science team and the crew. I have really enjoyed learning about places all over the world by listening to people’s stories. Most people aboard this ship travel many times a year for their work or have lived in remote places to conduct their scientific studies. Their stories inspire me to keep exploring the planet and to always search for new things to learn!
Did you know?
Niskin bottles must be lowered into the water with both ends open to avoid getting an air bubble trapped inside of them. Pressure increases as depth under water increases. Niskin bottles are often lowered down below 150 meters, where the pressure can be intense. If an air bubble were to get trapped inside, the pressure at these depths would cause air bubble to expand so much that it might damage the Niskin bottle!
At each sampling site, we take two types of samples. First, we dip what are called bongo nets into the water off of the side of the boat. These nets are designed to collect plankton. Plankton are tiny organisms that float in the water. Then, we release long nets off of the back of the boat to take a fish sample. There is a variety of fish that get collected. However, the study targets five species, one of which is juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. These fish are one of the most commercially fished species in this area. I will go into more detail about how the fish samples are collected in a future post. For now, I am going to focus on how plankton samples are collected and why they are important to this survey.
As you can see in the photos below, the bongo nets get their name because the rings that hold the nets in place resemble a set of bongo drums. The width of the nets tapers from the ring opening to the other end. This shape helps funnel plankton down the nets and into the collection pieces found at the end of the nets. These collection devices are called cod ends.
This study uses two different size bongo nets. The larger ones are attached to rings that are 60 centimeters in diameter. These nets have a larger mesh size at 500 micrometers. The smaller ones are attached to rings that are 20 centimeters in diameter and have a smaller mesh size at 150 micrometers. The different size nets help us take samples of plankton of different sizes. While the bongo nets will capture some phytoplankton (plant-like plankton) they are designed to mainly capture zooplankton (animal-like plankton). Juvenile pollock eat zooplankton. In order to get a better understanding of juvenile pollock populations, it is important to also study their food sources.
Once the bongo nets have been brought back on board, there are two different techniques used to assess which species of zooplankton are present. The plankton in nets #1 of both the small and large bongo are placed in labeled jars with preservatives. These samples will be shipped to a lab in Poland once the boat is docked. Here, a team will work to identify all the zooplankton in each jar. We will probably make it to at least sixty sampling sites on the first leg of this survey. That’s a lot of zooplankton!
The other method takes place right on the ship and is called rapid zooplankton assessment (RZA). In this method, a scientist will take a small sample of what was collected in nets #2 of both the small and large bongos. The samples are viewed under a microscope and the scientist keeps a tally of which species are present. This number gives the scientific team some immediate feedback and helps them get a general idea about which species of zooplankton are present. Many of the zooplankton collected are krill, or euphausiids, and copepods. One of the most interesting zooplankton we have sampled are naked pteropods, or sea angels. This creature has structures that look very much like a bird’s wings! We also saw bioluminescent zooplankton flash a bright blue as we process the samples. Even though phytoplankton is not a part of this study, we also noticed the many different geometric shapes of phytoplankton called diatoms.
Both the scientific crew and the ship crew work one of two shifts. Everyone works either midnight to noon or noon to midnight. I have been lucky enough to work from 6am – 6pm. This means I get the chance to work with everyone on board at different times of the day. It has been really interesting to learn more about the different ship crew roles necessary for a survey like this to run smoothly. One of the more fascinating roles is that of the survey crew. Survey crew members act as the main point of communication between the science team and the ship crew. They keep everyone informed about important information throughout the day as well as helping out the science team when we are working on a sample. They are responsible for radioing my favorite catchphrase to the bridge and crew, “bongos in the water.”
Did You know?
You brush your teeth with diatoms! The next time you brush your teeth, take a look at the ingredients on your tube of toothpaste. You will see “diatomaceous earth” listed. Diatomaceous earth is a substance that contains the silica from ancient diatoms. Silica gives diatoms their rigid outer casings, allowing them to have such interesting geometric shapes. This same silica also helps you scrub plaque off of your teeth!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Washington
Date: August 26, 2017
Weather from the Bridge…or Backyard
At home in Decatur, GA we are celebrating a weekend break in the humidity. The sun is shining and the sky is filling with a variety of imagination provoking Cumulus clouds.
Wind Speed: 6mph
Wind Direction: E
On Monday I will travel 2,759 miles to Port Angeles, WA where I will board the Bell M. Shimada. I look forward to cooler temperatures and the invigorating salty air.
Science and Technology Log:
I have yet to meet the scientists and crew of the Shimada so I have no first hand info to share. However this is a great opportunity to introduce the main focus of this survey… Merluccius productus, Pacific Hake.
Pacific Hake is an important species to both humans and many species in the marine ecosystem off of the Pacific Northwest coast of both the United States and Canada. There is a cooperative effort to manage these fish that involves the governments of both the U.S. and Canada, fisheries scientists and fisherman. Such a collaboration and intentional effort amongst so many groups is a great model and example for other issues at large. Here is some background reading related to the Pacific Hake Survey.
I have taught middle school science at Renfroe Middle School (RMS) in the City Schools of Decatur for 10 years. Renfroe is full of wonderfully intelligent, thoughtful and supportive people – students and staff. Currently, I work with 7th grade students as we explore ecology, evolution, genetics, cells and anatomy. I am thrilled to have this adventure at sea to share with my students and friends. I look forward to bringing back real-world research and developing curriculum that we can ALL benefit from.
As an inquisitive and adrenaline hungry person I love the combination of adventure and challenging work, so I am thinking that my time on the Bell M. Shimada may be about as ideal of a learning opportunity as I could imagine. In addition to being a classroom teacher at RMS, I also work as a Mentor in The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. LEAF provides an opportunity for Mentors and Interns to spend an intensive month focused on all aspects of conservation. This program encourages all involved towards hands-on environmental stewardship experiences and to broaden the boundaries of our comfort zone. For both my RMS students and LEAF mentees I take this Teacher At Sea opportunity to put into action the message that I often share with them…learning is a life long goal and risk-taking is a way to enhance the connection that you feel with the world.
I want to thank my colleagues and students for a heart warming send-off and I promise all plenty of awesome photos and updates to come.
Did you know?
According to Atlas Obscura, in 1914 the town of Port Angeles had such an issue with sewage flooding that they opted to raise one of the town’s main streets by 10-14 feet. This engineering challenge was accomplished by moving soil from a neighboring hill completely by hand…no mechanical interventions. To this day you can tour the underground areas and see store fronts frozen in time. This lovely seaside town is where I will embark on my voyage.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Latitude: 48.19 N
Longitude: 125.29 W
Wind Speed: 7.9 knots
Barometric Pressure: 1021.70 mBars
Air Temperature: 62.1 F
Weather Observations: Partially cloudy
Science and Technology Log
For today’s science and technology log, I interviewed my roommate Tracie. You only have to talk to Tracie for five seconds to learn that she’s passionate about marine chemistry and marine biology and marine physics…all things marine. She’s the HAB (harmful algal bloom) specialist on board, and she’s been squirreled away in the chemistry lab every day collecting lots of great samples as we travel up the coast. Before we left Newport, she taught me a bit about algae by taking me to the beach to see some bioluminescent dinoflagellates. When we stomped in the water, the dinoflagellates would glow! It looked like puddles full of blue lightning bugs, and it was amazing. One of her quotes from that night was, “I imagine this is what unicorn footprints would look like if they were traipsing over rainbows.” Everyone should have the chance to see that at some point in their life. It gave me a taste of why it makes sense to be so passionate about algae. So, without further ado, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about HABs from my friend Tracie!
What is a HAB, and why should we care about them?
HABs are phytoplankton that have negative consequences either for us or the ecosystem. Some can release neurotoxins that can be damaging to mammals (including humans), amongst other things. A harmful algal bloom (HAB) can also create a dead zone by a process called eutrophication. Bacteria eat the phytoplankton once they begin to die, which removes oxygen from the water.
What makes it a bloom?
A “bloom” is when there is so much algae that the ecosystem can’t support it and they start to die off. There aren’t enough nutrients available in the water. Some people call this a “Red Tide.” There are certain species, such as Alexandrium spp., where even one cell per liter would be enough to create a harmful effect.
What made you decide to study HABs?
During a lab in college, we were allowed to go to the beach and sample phytoplankton. When we got back to the lab with our samples, we found a huge amount of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. It releases a neurotoxin that gives mammals amnesiac shellfish poisoning. That year, we couldn’t eat shellfish and crab from our area because of this bloom. There’s no antidote to this toxin, and it affects the brain function of mammals who eat it. Whales died that year because they forgot how to breathe. This made me super interested in studying more about these types of species.
What are you specifically hoping to find in your research aboard this cruise?
We’re trying to find where blooms start, how blooms begin, and follow them within the California Current system. It’s part of an ongoing study of the California Current system and how species are transported. California fisheries have been dramatically affected by HABs.
Have you been finding what you need so far?
It’s been really interesting…we’ve seen quite a few Dinophysis species (which I find to be the cutest), and some really interesting Pseudo-nitzschia spp., but no blooms. Close to the coast, within 15 nm of shore, I see a lot more diversity in my samples. This is mostly due to upwelling.
Has anything in your research so far surprised you?
There are very few species that I haven’t recognized, which is interesting because we’re so far north. We have fjord-like environments up here by Vancouver Island, so I expected there to be a higher abundance of phytoplankton up here than I saw.
What is a common misconception about HABs?
The term “HAB” itself – they’re called harmful because they’re harmful to us as humans and to various industries, however – they provide a huge amount of support to other animals as primary producers and as oxygen producers.
They’re basically plants that can swim, and they’re all food for something. They’re not harmful for most things, so the name is kind of a misnomer. In defense of the HABs, they’re just trying to survive. Phytoplankton are responsible for around 50% of the world’s oxygen, and they’re the primary producer for marine and freshwater ecosystems.
Anything else you want people to know?
There’s still a lot that we need to learn, and I would like everyone at some point in their life to see how beautiful these fragile organisms are and appreciate how much they contribute to our world.
If you weren’t a marine chemist, what would you be?
I would write nonfiction about the beauty of the world around us. Or maybe I’d be an adventure guide.
What are some fun facts about you that not a lot of people know?
My motto for life is “always look down.” There’s so much around us, even the dirt under our toes, that is so full of life and beauty.
My art is on Axial Seamount, 1400 m below sea level, 300 miles off the coast of Oregon! I drew an octopus high-fiving ROPOS the ROV that placed it there!
Also, I’m a high school dropout who is now a straight-A senior in environmental science at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Other people’s perceptions of you don’t control your destiny.
Here are a couple pictures of some of the HABs Tracie has seen during this trip (she took these pictures from her microscope slides):
Since today’s science log was about Tracie, I’ll feature her in the personal log too! She’s my partner in the ship-wide corn hole tournament, and we won our first-round game yesterday. Look at these awesome corn hole boards that were specially made for the Shimada!
We mostly credit our fabulous war paint for the win. Today we play against our fellow scientists Lance and Tim. Wish me luck!
Another down-time activity that Tracie (and all the scientists) enjoy is decorating Styrofoam cups. The cool marine biologist thing to do is to sink them to very low ocean depths (3000+ meters). Apparently the pressure at that depth compresses the Styrofoam and shrinks it, making the cup tiny and misshapen but still showing all the designs that were put on it. I’m not kidding: this is a thing that all the marine biologists get really excited about. Tracie even decorated a Styrofoam head (the kind that cosmetologists use) in advance of this trip and brought it with her to sink. Look how cool it is – she’s an amazing artist!
There are shrunken heads in the lab already from other people who have done this. Sinking Styrofoam is a legit marine biology hobby. Well, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…” so I worked on a Styrofoam cup today. I’m making a hake tessellation, which takes longer than you might think. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
We’re having lots of fun at sea on this beautiful day. Someone just came over the radio and said there’s been a marine mammal sighting off the bow…gotta go!
A special shout-out to Mrs. Poustforoush’s class in Las Vegas, Nevada! I just found out you’ve been following this blog, and it’s great to have you aboard. If you have any questions about algae (from this post) or about life on a ship, please feel free to e-mail me. I can hopefully get your questions answered by the right people. Work hard in Mrs. Poustforoush’s class, okay? She’s a great teacher, you lucky kiddos. Learn a lot, and maybe one day you can be a scientist and live on a ship too!
I’m currently at home in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a typical, monsoon season morning coming in at 11.6 degrees C (53 degrees F) at 7:12 am with humidity at 92%. I’m about 1,700 miles away from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where I will be joining the team on our ship, NOAA Ship Oregon II, in just a few days!
Sea wave height: NA
Wind Speed: 2 Mph
Wind Direction: NW
Air Temperature: 11. 6 degrees C
Barometric Pressure: 29.84” falling Rapdily
Sky: scattered clouds
Science and Technology Log
Once on board, I will be assisting the science crew with the third leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey and will be fishing from Brownsville, TX to Galveston, TX. The mission of this survey is to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
My understanding is that we will be working a 12-hour shift using longline gear to capture specimens and measure the length, weight and sex of the animal. The longline is baited with Atlantic Mackerel and will sit in the water for one hour. Here is what longline gear looks like:
The larger animals will require landing slings! I can’t even imagine. The science crew will also be tagging the animals as well as retaining a few for research. Finclips, like taking a nail clipping, will be gathered for DNA analysis. I am most excited to get up and close with these wonderful creatures tagging them to monitor their movement and health.
As part of the survey we will be gathering CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) data that provides a surface to bottom profile of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, turbidity and depth. As a class, we will be learning about these in depth in the classroom when we reach our unit on water quality in relation to our local watershed.
I am getting excited for this adventure and happy to have you along for the journey. I look forward to your questions and can’t wait to learn about these beautiful creatures while working with scientists. Please makes sure to check out the “Question of the Day” and other activities that will be posted on this blog. Your current research on sharks will come in handy while I am out here and will be crucial to learning about ocean food webs and current threats. Remember to check in daily for new posts while you are working on your projects.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Latitude: 49.48 N
Longitude: 128.07 W
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Weather Observations: Sunny
Science and Technology Log
Today was our first chance to use the Methot net, and it was a lot of fun! The Methot net is smaller than the net that we usually use, and it is used to catch smaller organisms. Today we were targeting euphausiids. We thought we saw a pretty good aggregation of them on the 120 kHz acoustics data, where they appear the strongest of the three frequencies we monitor. We needed to validate that data by trawling the area to find the source of the backscatter and make sure they really were what we thought they were. There are many scientists who use data on euphausiids, so this was a good opportunity to provide them with some additional data. Because we’ve been working mostly on larger organisms, I was excited for the chance to see what a Methot net would pull up.
It was very exciting that when the net came up, we had TONS of euphausiids! (“Tons” here is not used in a literal sense…we did not have thousands of pounds of euphausiids. That would have been crazy). Although we did not have thousands of pounds of them, we did have thousands of specimens. I’m sure thankful that we only had to take data on a subsample of thirty! I got to measure the lengths and widths of them, and using the magnifying lenses made me look very scientific.
Along with euphausiids, we also found other species as well. We found tiny squids, jellies, and even a baby octopus! It was adorable. I’ve never considered that an octopus could be cute, but it was.
We also measured volumes and weights on samples of the other specimens we found, and I used graduated cylinders for the first time since college. We would put in a few milliliters of water, add our specimens, and then calculate the difference. Voila! Volume. Good thing I remembered to call the measurement at the bottom of the liquid’s meniscus… I could have messed up all the data! Just kidding… I’m sure my measurements weren’t that important. But still – good thing I paid attention in lab skills. It was definitely a successful first day with the Methot net.
The big buzz around the ship today was the solar eclipse! I was even getting excited at breakfast while I ate my pancakes and made them eclipse each other. We got lucky with weather – I was nervous when I heard the foghorn go off early in the morning. Fortunately, the fog lifted and we had a pretty good view. We all sported our cheesy eclipse shades, and the science team wore gray and black to dress in “eclipse theme.” Even though we couldn’t see the totality here, we got to see about 85%. We’re pretty far north, off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada. The mountains are beautiful! Seeing land is always a special treat.