Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%

 

Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.

 

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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. Kevin Rademacher, a scientist, explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot

I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains

This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.

My own shark cradle

Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.

As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt

It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water

Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship

I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun

In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing

Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)

 

Roy Moffitt: Viewing Sea Ice on an Icebreaker, August 17-18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 17-18, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening of August 17 – North East of Point Barrow, Alaska

Air temp 27F, sea depth  60m , surface sea water temp 30.6F

 

Viewing Sea Ice on an Icebreaker

 

breaking the ice

USCGC Healy breaking through sea ice

The USCGS Healy was designed to break through ice and it has had that opportunity to do so on this trip.  Breaking into the ice is a first time experience for myself and for many of the science crew and USCG crew who are pictured above.  It’s an amazing experience.

We are now entering the edge of the polar ice cap in the Beaufort Sea.  The polar ice cap is an area of the world around the North Pole where the sea surface stays mostly frozen year round.  The sun angle here is low in the summer with endless nights in the winter.  This spring and summer, the ice off the shore of Barrow, Alaska was thicker than normal.  Thicker ice is multi-year ice where the freezing has exceeded the melting over successive years causing the ice to progressively thicken.  This thicker ice was not formed here; it drifted from farther north where it broke off the pack ice and traveled south to where we are now.

Drift Ice

Drift Ice

Pack ice is primarily a continuous piece of ice with little open water.  Pictured here and above with the Healy is drift ice.  The drift ice is broken up into large pieces due to warming seasonal temperatures and rough seas.  The drift ice in the second image has reconnected with a thin clear layer of ice made possible by the calm seas and cold temperatures that we experienced on August 17th.

Ridge Ice

Ridge Ice

The ice is not normally flat. Wind and internal forces cause the ice to collide and create ridges both above and below the water line. In the winter, the snow that falls can also drift into piles.  The image below shows where two pieces of ice once collided on a small scale.  When pack ice builds over time these processes create a variable landscape with protruding ice ridges.  When ice breaks off from the pack ice the thickest ice will take the longest to melt and will eventually float alone.  These pieces of ice are called “growlers”.

These have been amazing to observe popping up along the seascape.  The first one I saw had birds flying overhead in the distance. The birds were using the using the growler as a place to land. To me it looked like a big white whale.  Another piece looked like a sea dragon.  See these growlers in the images below.

 

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

 

Bearded Seal

Bearded Seal

Above is an image of a bearded seal seen on the morning of August 17. The water was very calm and the seal popped up right in the front of the bow of the ship.  Later in the evening I saw one sitting on a piece of drift ice.  Bearded seals like to eat clams and fish and are a favorite prey of the polar bear. Polar bears also live in the area we are sailing through now.  Both walrus and seals use ice for resting places.  In the spring, the bearded seal will use drift ice as a place to give birth to their young (called pups). Polar bears will then hunt on the ice for its prey.

 

Now and Looking forward

As Healy sails in this area with a daily satellite image showing ice coverage, it’s easy to forget what a dangerous place the Arctic can be for ships. When ice first appeared during this trip, we were north of Wainwright, Alaska–a location not far from a historic whaling disaster in 1871.  During August of 1871, the wind changed direction and blew pack ice towards the shore trapping 33 whaling ships.  All of the ships had to be abandoned and most were eventually crushed by the ice.   On the morning of August 17, 2018, we were also sailing between ice and land. There was an eerie calm sea with both fog and some larger pieces of ice.  At times the sun, ice, and fog created an illusion that appeared as if we could sail off the end of the world.  Below are some pictures that I thought captured the eerie calm Arctic of August 17th.

Picture below: Clouds on a calm sea off Healy‘s bow as we travel north. I call this picture “going off the edge of the world”.

the Edge of the World

“Going off the Edge of the World”

Picture below: Glaucous gull on the edge of a fog bow. A rainbow formed from a thin fog layer of suspended water droplets at the surface.  The calm Arctic Ocean feels like a mystical place.

Fogbow

Glaucous gull on the edge of a fog bow.

 

Stephen Kade: What is Long Line Fishing? August 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 35’ 34’’ N, 80 56’ 48’’ W, 20 miles off the coast of Jessup, Georgia

Date: August 2, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 14 knots, Air Temp: 27c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Longline fishing is a technique that consists of one main fishing line with many baited hooks that come of that line on shorter lines, (like branches off a tree) attached at various distances. Long lines are used in both coastal areas and the open ocean and are often placed to target specific species. If the long line is suspended in the top or mid depth water, it is called pelagic longline fishing. If it is on or near the ocean floor by weighting it down to the sea floor, it is called bottom longline fishing. A high-flyer buoy is placed at either end to mark the position of the line in the water so boats can see it while submerged, and so it can be found when it needs to be retrieved. Weights are placed on each end and the middle of the line to hold the line down to a specified depth.

Longline_KadeTAS2018

Long line fishing infographic created by NOAA Teacher at Sea 2018 Stephen Kade

On board NOAA Ship Oregon II, the mission is a red snapper/shark longline fishing survey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic coast. I was on the first of four legs of the survey that left Pascagoula, Mississippi, rounded the bottom of Florida and stopped for 44 stations between West Palm Beach FL, up to Cape Hatteras, NC, and back down to Port Canaveral, FL. NOAA’s mission is to research current shark and snapper populations in specific areas as determined by NOAA shark scientists and related state Fishery Departments.

The Oregon II has a large spool of 3mm monofilament fishing line on deck. For our survey, we used a line that was one mile long, and had 100 baited hooks approximately 50 feet apart. The hooks are attached to the line by gangions. Gangions are 12 foot long monofilament lines with a hook on one end and a manual fastener at the other end that can be taken on and off each time the line is deployed. All 100 hooks on the gangions are baited with Atlantic mackerel.

numbering gangions

The team attaches the gangion numbers and hands over for deployment

To deploy the line into the water, it takes a team of 6 people. The first person strings the line from the spool and through various pulleys along the length of the ship moving toward the back of the boat before tying it to the high flyer buoy and returning to the spool control to deploy the mile long line into the water. A team of two works to attach a specific number tag onto each gangion, and then to retrieve the 12 foot long gangion from a barrel. The numbered, baited, gangions are handed one by one to the next team member who attaches the gangion of the main long line every 60 feet as the line descends into the water. This crewman also places three weights on the line to hold it onto the ocean floor, one at each end, and one in the middle. When all hooks are deployed, the line is cut from the spool and the high-flyer buoy is attached to mark the end of the line in the water.

deploying high-flyer

Deploying the high-flyer buoy after all 100 gangions and weights are attached.

The last member of the science team is at a computer station on deck and they are in charge of inputting data into the computer. Each time a buoy, weight, or gangion goes into the water, a specific button is pushed to mark the items place in the water. This is done so when a shark comes up on a numbered hook, NOAA scientists know exactly the latitude, longitude and depth of where that specific shark was caught. Scientists upload this important data immediately to NOAA servers for later use so they can assess average populations in specific areas, among many other data points.

Input

Each time a gangion, weight, or high-flyer buoy is deployed, its location is input in the computer.

The bait stays down on the ocean floor for about an hour before the boat returns to retrieve it. The retrieval process is similar to deploying the line except that it takes longer to bring it in, as there are now some fish and sharks attached to the hooks. If the hooks are empty, the number is taken off the line, and the gangion is placed back in the barrel until the next station. If there is a shark or fish on the line, it is pulled onto the deck and data is collected before the shark is safely placed back into the water. The first step is unhooking the fish, before it is measured. The shark is measured from the tip of the nose to various parts of the body to determine the size in those areas. The gender of the shark is also determined, as well as the maturity. Finally, the shark is weighed on a scale and most are tagged before being photographed and released. The process only takes about two minutes to safely ensure the shark survives. The data is recorded on a data log, and after the retrieval, the data is input into a database.

Removing Gangions

Gangions are taken off the long line, de-baited, de-numbered and put back in barrel.

 

Personal Log

Before coming on the Oregon II, I knew only about the fishing process on a larger scale from what I’d read about, or seen on television. I was slightly intimidated that without experience, I’d likely be slowing down the experienced team of professionals from their difficult job. As we headed out to sea, I found out it would take a few days before we reached our first station and that gave me time to get to know the crew, which was very valuable. There are two crews, each work 12 hours a day, so fishing was happening around the clock. I was able to listen to their advice and explanation of the techniques used in the long line process, and also some fantastic stories about their lives and families. Their patience with me and the other volunteers during those first few stations gave us time to get up to their speed, and from then out it was like clockwork. It was certainly hard to work outside all day, but the passion, skill, and humor of the crew made it quite fun work each day and night. It was impressive and amazing to see how this efficient process is used to help NOAA scientists and fishermen collect data from vast areas of the ocean for two weeks. I am proud to say I helped a great team to get information that can help us understand how to help populations of sharks and fish for long into the future.

Stephen removes shark

TAS 2018 Stephen Kade taking shark off gangion, ready to measure, weigh, and put back in ocean

Ashley Cosme: Medusa and Loggerheads, and Sharks, OH MY! August 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 19th, 2018

Weather: The weather in Crown Point, IN is 80 degrees and sunny!

 

Introduction:

According to Greek mythology, coral first originated in the Red Sea.  The story has been told that after Perseus, a Greek hero, beheaded Medusa, he set her head down on a clump of seaweed to wash his hands.  The blood from Medusa’s head soaked into the seaweed forming what we know today as coral. Ironically, coral polyps contain tentacles reminiscent of the snakes consuming Medusa’s head.  I am lucky enough to have my own piece of Coral.  Three and half years ago my husband and I had our first child and named her Coral.  The only aspect of Coral’s life that is even a slight resemblance of Medusa is her crazy curly hair!   As we know, coral in the ocean is a beautiful animal that houses thousands of marine organisms.  Similarly, my daughter has an enormous heart for living creatures, and her curiosity for the natural world inspires me every day.

We also have a son named Kai.  In Hawaiian, Kai means ‘the sea’, and in Japanese one of its meanings is ‘ocean.’  I love watching Kai grow daily, and learn new ways to survive having Coral as his big sister. Although I will have to say a heartbreaking temporary goodbye to Coral and Kai, I will be embarking on a journey of a lifetime.  My expedition starts in Pascagoula, Mississippi on August 31st aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, where I will participate in a shark/red snapper longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico.

CoCo and Kai

Coral (CoCo) and Kai on the 4th of July 2018

NOAA Vessel

NOAA Ship Oregon II (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

I have always been fascinated by the water.  Growing up near Lake Michigan, family trips consisted of going to the beach and searching for “seashells” along the shore.  My passion for the ocean also began during my childhood, which was sparked by my interest in turtles.  I was a captivated 15 year old when I saw a sea turtle for the first time as I snorkeled on a patch reef near Key Largo.  The speed at which the juvenile loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) glided through the water was astonishing.  I was fortunate to capture a few pictures of the critically threatened animal as it sped by, which was then painted onto a beautiful canvas by a dear friend of mine.

That moment inspired and motivated me to study the ocean, and I went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. During my time at Eckerd College, I had the opportunity to intern for the University of Florida’s Cape San Blas sea turtle surveying program.  It was during this internship that I had my first indirect encounter with a shark.  Well, not really an actual shark, but Yolanda, a nesting loggerhead sea turtle.  I first met Yolanda in the summer of 2004.  She was a healthy adult sea turtle and a regular nester on Cape San Blas, as her tag had been recorded since the 90’s on the exact same beach that I first saw her.  What I have failed to mention is that she had an enormous shark bite through her carapace and plastron just above her right rear flipper.  Remarkably, the shark missed all major organs and the bite had healed completely into a perfect mandible mold.  Besides Yolanda’s shark bite, and small reef sharks that I’ve seen diving, I never thought I would experience an up close meeting with a shark.  For two weeks straight I will be assisting NOAA scientists with catching and tagging a variety of different species of sharks.

leatherback

I stumbled upon on this endangered nesting leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriaceaone) one morning on Juno Beach, FL.

I am most excited for the impact that the Teacher at Sea adventure will have on me personally, and as an educator at Crown Point High School.  I hope to take what I learn while aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II and aide my students in better hypothesis-generation, experimental testing, and presentation skills to cultivate major changes in their approach to scientific research.  Ultimately, I can’t wait to share my experience with the Crown Point community, and continue to create an atmosphere where kids are excited about learning science!

Martha Loizeaux: Sea You Later!, August 18, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22 – August 31, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 18, 2018

 

Welcome

Hello from the Florida Keys!   I am so excited to be embarking on my Teacher at Sea excursion in just 4 days.  I will be joining the crew aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter to participate in a Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey in the Northeast Atlantic, departing from Rhode Island and returning to port in Virginia.  I am looking forward to working side by side with NOAA scientists, sharing knowledge with my students, and having the experience of a lifetime!

My students at Ocean Studies Charter School are prepared to follow me along on my journey via this blog and our online classroom.  They have even practiced their own Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey of the Hardwood Hammock forest surrounding our school!

I hope you’ll join us in this adventure and check back here for more blog posts in a few days!

20517

The view from my kayak as I lead Ocean Studies Charter School students on a seagrass investigation.

 

Weather Data from the NOAA weather station at Molasses Reef in the Florida Keys

Molasses buoy

The NOAA weather station at Molasses Reef off of Key Largo. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

  • Latitude: 25.130 N
  • Longitude: 80.406 W
  • Water Temperature: 85.6◦F
  • Wind Speed: 11 knots
  • Wind Direction: ESE
  • Air Temperature: 84.4◦F
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 30.13 in
  • Sky: Partly Cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

 I am very much looking forward to participating in the Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  At Ocean Studies Charter School, we do projects to monitor the seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecosystems each year while out in the field.  It will be interesting to see how NOAA scientists conduct these surveys; what tools and equipment they use, what animals and plants they will find, and what aspects of water quality they will measure.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The ecosystem we will be monitoring on the mission is called the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES LME).  You can just call it the “Northeast Shelf.”  This ecosystem spans the coast and out to sea from North Carolina up to Maine.  Scientists want to know a lot about this part of the ocean because it is very important for something we love to do here in the Keys:  FISHING.  Fishing is fun, but it’s also the way that many people in our country get their food and make money to live.  Fishing is a major industry along the east coast, so the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem is considered a very important natural resource that we need to protect.

Northeast Shelf Ecosystem

A map of the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem. Image courtesy of NOAA.

How can scientists understand and protect this resource?  It starts with Ecosystem Monitoring.

An ecosystem is a place where living things and non-living things work together like a big machine.  Each part of the machine, both living and non-living, is important for the whole system to work.  For example, in an ocean ecosystem, every type fish is needed for the food web to function.  Clean water and plenty of sunlight is needed for the ocean plants and phytoplankton to be healthy.  The ocean plants are needed for the invertebrates that the fish eat… and the cycle continues!  In order for scientists to understand the fish that are important to us, they need to understand EVERY piece of the ecosystem since it is all connected.  That’s why we will be measuring lots of different things on our mission!

ocean ecosystem

An ocean ecosystem has many important parts and pieces. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Monitoring means “observing and checking something over a period of time”.  NOAA scientists observe, measure, and check on this ecosystem 6-7 times per year.  Monitoring an ecosystem lets people know WHAT is going on within the ecosystem.  Scientists can use this information to research WHY things are happening the way they are.  Then, they can use modeling to find out WHAT might happen in the future.  This helps the government make decisions about our precious resources and make plans for the future to keep our oceans healthy and our fish populations strong.

Rosette deployment

There are many types of tools scientists use to monitor ecosystems. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

On our mission, scientists will collect plankton, invertebrates, and fish with special nets to count and measure them.  They will look and listen for marine mammals and sea birds.  They will take measurements of the water such as temperature, salinity (amount of salt), nutrient levels, and ocean acidification.  These measurements will help them understand the quality of water and changes of the climate in this area.  What other aspects of the ecosystem do you think are important to measure?

Bongo net deployment

Special nets are used to collect and study plankton. Photo courtesy of NOAA

I can’t wait to see how we will take all of these measurements and what we will see out there!

 

Personal Log

I am proud to call myself the Marine Science Teacher at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida Keys.  We are a small public charter elementary school, focused on the surrounding marine environment and place-based learning.  I teach science to all grades (K-5) and lead our weekly field labs.  I even drive the school bus!  We use the term “field labs” instead of “field trips” to highlight that we are not simply visiting a place.  We are using the outdoors as our learning laboratory, working on projects, collecting data, and partnering with local organizations on our excursions.  We study the local habitats of the shallow seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coral reefs that we are so lucky to have in our backyard.

students at beach

Taking students to the beach to study shallow water ecosystems.

Upon my return from my Teacher at Sea mission, we will be hosting the grand opening of our new Marine Discovery Laboratory in the center of our school!  After teaching marine science in an outdoor classroom for the past 7 years, I am excited for the opportunities that our state-of-the-art indoor lab will bring (no more visits from the local iguanas)!

Lionfish

Learning about lionfish in the lab.

My students impress and amaze me every day with their ideas and discoveries.  I have watched them create and present model ecosystems, examine hurricane protection ideas by studying animal survival, and help scientists tag sharks to learn more about their populations.  At the start of this new school year, I cannot wait to see what ideas they will come up with next!

Everglades

Leading students on a tour of Everglades National Park.

Students fishing

Sustainable fishing with students in the field.

It will be hard to be away from my family, especially my two awesome sons, ages 6 and 9.  I hope they enjoy following along with Mom’s blog and that they are inspired by my experience!

I originally hail from New Hampshire but have lived in Florida for all my adult life.  Prior to teaching, I worked on boats as an environmental educator and earned my captain’s license along the way.  I have been a SCUBA instructor, marine aquarist, and guide for summer travel adventure camps.  As a teacher, I have been lucky enough to also participate in “Teacher Under the Sea” through Florida International University.  In this program, I assisted scientists under the ocean at the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory right here in the Florida Keys.  Throughout my life, I have loved the ocean.  One day, I hope to sail out to sea and travel the world on my own boat.

diving

Diving outside the Aquarius Undersea Lab during “Teacher Under the Sea”.

But for now, I’m not sure exactly what to expect in terms of living aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  I look forward to sharing adventures and stories of life at sea!  Stay tuned to this blog and check for my updates in a few days.  Sea you soon!

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter was named after an American marine biologist and fisheries scientist who was considered a pioneer in the field of fisheries ecology.

The ship was originally built in 1989 as the U.S. Naval Ship Relentless and was transferred to NOAA in 1993.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Word of the Day

 Ichthyoplankton – The planktonic (drifting) eggs and larvae of fish.

When scientists tow for plankton, studying the icthyoplankton helps them understand fish populations.

Fish Egg

An example of icthyoplankton. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

 

Tom Savage: What is Life Like aboard the Fairweather? August 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Tom Savage

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 6 – 23, 2018

 

 

Mission: Arctic Access Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska

Date: August 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude  64   42.8 N
Longitude – 171  16.8  W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb   6.2 C
Wet bulb  6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4  millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet

Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm

 

Personal Log

I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather?  So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.

Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog.  The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.

During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills.  Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”

(Fun fact:  at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio].  For example:  the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard.  The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name.  You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).

Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel;  the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship.  Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters.  These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !

 

Flares

Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

What are the working conditions like on board? 

At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet.  Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to.  At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.

NavigatingFog

View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage

 

Where do you sleep? 

Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by.  Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?

Stateroom

My stateroom – photo by Tom

Generally, when sharing a stateroom,  roommates will have different working shifts.

Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents !  When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.

Fairweather's Galley

Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom

 

Are there any activities? 

Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.

ExerciseRoom

The exercise room – photo by Tom

 

There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.

The lounge

The lounge

 

What are the working hours like?

During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office.  One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it.  The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.

 

Buoy Retrieval

Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA

 

The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room.  Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship;  the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires.  Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.

Tom in Engine Room

Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle

 

Until next time,  happy sailing !

~ Tom

Roy Moffitt: Bring in the Bongos, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 16, 2018

 

Current location/conditions:

Evening August 16 – Due west of Barrow, Alaska within sight of the coast

Air temp 35F, sea depth  40m , surface sea water temp 41

 

Bring in the Bongos

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

Bongo Nets ready for deployment

In a previous blog I showed the Methot net that catches very small (1-5cm) fish. However, if we want to catch sea life even smaller, we bring in something called a “bongo net.”  The bongo nets have very small openings–the larger nets are 500 micron (1/2 a millimeter) and the smaller nets are 150 micron.   In the picture below, you will see the back tail fin of the Healy with the bongo nets suspended from the hydraulic A-frame.  The A-frame supports a system of pulleys that are used to deploy and retrieve equipment (such as nets and moorings).

 

 

 

 

bongo canister

Organisms caught in the bongo net are washed down into this canister attached at the end.

The net looks and feels more like a tough nylon fabric, however, the water freely flows through the opening trapping the tiny organisms of the sea.  These organisms are pushed into the canister at the end of the net as shown in the picture on the right. While most of them are pushed into the canisters, many are stuck on the side of the net in a sticky goop.   The gelatin like goop is sprayed off the net with seawater by using a hose.  The process takes just a few minutes. Since I was the net holder and stretcher I got little wet!

 

 

Copepods in a Jar

Copepods in a Jar

The main organisms that we caught today were copepods. They are shown in the jar appearing pink.  Copepods are small crustaceans only 1-2mm in size that drift in the sea and feed on phytoplankton. Copepods are an important bottom of the food chain member of the ecosystem and serve as prey for fish, whales, and seabirds.

 

 

 

Flowmeter

Flowmeter suspended at the top of a bongo net

On the front of each net there is a flow meter as shown in the picture. It looks like a little torpedo with a propeller.  When the net trawls behind the ship, water flows through the net.  The amount of water that passes through the net can be calculated.  Using this calculation and the amount of organisms in the net, scientists can calculate the density of living microorganisms at a certain heights in the water column.  With annual samples scientists will be able to determine any changes over time including changes to the overall health of the regional ecosystem.  Today’s samples will also be sent out to a lab for further analysis.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

Today I had unique experience– listening to wildlife.  This was a highlight.  Marine mammal acoustic scientists, Katherine Berchok and Stephanie Grassia, released an acoustic buoy this afternoon.  On top of the ship they put up an antennae and listened in for whales and walrus.  They were able to hear the constant underwater chatter between walruses.   As I wore the headphones and listened in, I was in awe at the grumbles and the ping sounds the animals were making back and forth underwater.  While we don’t know what the walrus were communicating back and forth to each other, to eavesdrop on these conversations, miles away, in real-time, was a pretty special experience.

 

Now and Looking forward

We did not see any ice today. I am looking forward to getting out of the fog and rain and returning back to the ice in the coming days.