Kathy Schroeder: My Journey Ends, but will Never Be Forgotten, November 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 11/2/19

Weather Data from Naples, FL

Latitude: 26.17
Longitude: 81.34
Temperature: 89° F
Wind Speeds: ESE 11 mph

Personal Log

Our last day on Oregon II together was filled with lots of hugs and new Facebook friends.  I left Pascagoula, MS and arrived back in Naples, FL around midnight.  It was nice to be back in my big bed but I really missed the rocking of the ship to put me to sleep. 

The next morning I was greeted at my classroom door at 7 am by my students who had a lot of questions.  They all had been following along on my blog and have seen a few pictures that were posted.  I made a PowerPoint of pictures from the ship so they could see what my living and working arrangements were like.  The funniest part was when I showed them my sleeping arrangements.  They thought it was great that I was on the top bunk, but surprised at how small the room was and how I didn’t have a TV.  (I think some thought it was more like a hotel room – boy were they wrong.)  The part they were shocked the most was the size of the shower and the toilet area.  I was able to organize my pictures into folders of the same species.  I was then able to show them all of the wonderful pictures that the crew, scientists, volunteers and I had taken during our excursion. 

The following week a reporter from the Naples Daily News and her photographer came to my classroom to interview me about my trip as well as what the students were learning in AICE Marine.  

I was able to bring back with me the one of the 12 foot monofilament line and hook that is attached to the longline.  I was able to explain to them how the lines are attached and the process for leaving the longline in the water for exactly an hour.  We also started a lesson on random sampling.  I discussed how the location for the longline deployment is chosen and why scientist make sure they are randomly chosen. 

My biggest surprise was a package I received from my Uncle Tom a few days after I returned home.  He is a fantastic artist that paints his own Christmas cards every year.  In the package I received he painted the sunset picture I had taken of Oregon II when we were docked in Galveston.  It is now hanging in my classroom.

NOAA Ship Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II, September 16, 2019. Photo by Kathy Schroeder.
Kathy's uncle's painting
Painting by my Uncle Tom Eckert from the picture I took

In December I will be presenting about my experiences with NOAA.  Students, their families, and people from the Naples community will all be welcome to attend.  I will be working with fellow colleagues from other high schools in Naples that also teach marine to spread the word to their students.  My goal is to get as many students who are interested in a marine career to attend the presentation so that going forward I will be able to work with them in a small group setting to help with college preferences and contacts for marine careers. 

I can’t thank NOAA enough for choosing me to participate as the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumnus.  The experiences I have received and the information I will be able to pass along to my students is priceless!


Science and Technology Log

My students have been able to see and touch some of the items I was able to bring home from Oregon II that I discussed.  I was able to answer so many questions and show them a lot of the pictures I took. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a sharp-nosed shark that is being sent to us from the lab in Pascagoula, MS.  For students that are interested I will be conducting a dissection after school to show the anatomy of the shark as well as let them touch and feel the shark. (An additional blog will be posted once the dissection is competed)

Linda Kurtz: Reflections from Fairweather, September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 9/7/2019

Weather Data from Marietta, GA:

Latitude: 33.963900
Longitude:  -84.492260
Sky Conditions:  Clear
Present Weather:  Hot
Visibility: 9 miles
Windspeed: Less than 1 knot
Temperature:  Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit

It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.

As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:

Question 1: Where did you sleep?

I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!


Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?

Some days (and nights) so foggy that they had to use the fog horn for safety!


Question 3: What animals did you see?

I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lion found in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!

See the video below:

California Sea Lions


Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?

This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.

From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”

From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”

underwater ridge
Bathymetry map showing ridge

So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.


Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?

YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.

Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.

Kathy Schroeder: Retrieving the Longline, September 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/30/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.47408
Longitude: 85.34274
Temperature: 85°F
Wind Speeds: E 5 mph


Science and Technology Log

Retrieving the Longline

One hour after the last highflyer is entered into the water it is time to retrieve the longline.  The ship pulls alongside the first highflyer and brings it on board.  Two people carry the highflyer to the stern of the ship.  The longline is then re-attached to a large reel so that the mainline can be spooled back onto the ship.  As the line comes back on board one scientist takes the gangion removes the tag and coils it back into the barrel.  The bait condition and/or catch are added into the computer system by a second scientist.  If there is a fish on the hook then it is determined if the fish can be brought on board by hand or if the cradle needs to be lowered into the water to bring up the species. 

Retrieving the high flyer
Retrieving the high flyer on the well deck

Protective eye wear must be worn at all times, but if a shark is being brought up in the cradle we must all also put on hard hats due to the crane being used to move the cradle.   Once a fish is on board two scientists are responsible for weighing and taking three measurements:  pre-caudal, fork, and total length in mm.  Often, a small fin clip is taken for genetics and if it is a shark, depending on the size, a dart or rototag is inserted into the shark either at the base of the dorsal fin or on the fin itself.   The shark tag is recorded and the species is then put back into the ocean.  Once all 100 gangions, weights and highflyers are brought on board it is time to cleanup and properly store the samples. 

sandbar shark
Taking the measurements on a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) Measurements: 1080 precaudal, 1200 fork, 1486 total (4’10”)l, 20.2 kg (44.5 lbs)
tagging smoothhound
Placing a rototag in a Gulf smooth-hound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)
Tiger shark on cradle
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) on the cradle getting ready for a dart tag
data station
Data station for recording measurements, weight, sex, and tag numbers

Fish Data: Some species of snapper, grouper and tile fish that are brought on board will have their otoliths removed for ageing, a gonad sample taken for reproduction studies and a muscle sample for feeding studies and genetics.  These are stored and sent back to the lab for further processing. 

red snapper samples
red snapper (Lutganidae campechanus) samples: gonad (top), muscle (middle), otoliths (bottom)


Personal Log

It has been a busy last few days.  We have caught some really cool species like king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), gulper sharks (Centrophorus granulosus), yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) and golden tile fish (Lopholaatilus chamaeleontiiceps).  There have been thousands of moon jelly fish (Aurelia aurita) the size of dinner plates and larger all around the boat when we are setting and retrieving the longline.  They look so peaceful and gentle just floating along with the current.  When we were by the Florida-Alabama line there were so many oil rigs out in the distant.  It was very interesting learning about them and seeing their lights glowing.  One of them actually had a real fire to burn off the gases.  There were also a couple sharks that swam by in our ship lights last night.  One of the best things we got to witness was a huge leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) that came up for a breath of air about 50 feet from the ship. 

yellow-edge grouper
yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) 891 mm (2′ 11″), 9.2 kg (20.3 pounds)
king snake eel
king snake eel (Ophichthus rex)
king snake eel close-up
king snake eel (Ophichthus rex)

Cara Nelson: The Ocean Moved Me, September 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 26, 2019

Weather Data from Anchorage, AK:

Time: 14:18
Latitude: 61º13.257′ N
Longitude: 149º51.473’ W
Wind: North 1 knot
Air Temperature: 5.6ºC (42ºF)
Air Pressure: 1026 millibars
Sunny

Personal Log

As I drove home from Seward yesterday I was overwhelmed by the snow-capped mountains and vibrant fall colors that were such a stunning contrast to the ocean views of the past two weeks.  One no less beautiful than the other.  I had almost three hours to reflect on my experience out at sea and I can say that the ocean had a powerful impact on me. 

mountains
Termination dust settles over the mountains on the drive home from Seward.

Before I summarize my reflections from this trip, I want to rewind to where I left off on my last blog and give an update of the last leg of our journey.  On Monday afternoon, the forecast had not improved enough for travel and the decision was made to spend another night in Kodiak harbor.  This was a difficult call but it seemed like the weather was just getting the better of us.  Many were getting restless with the extended stay in Kodiak, the lack of ability to collect the necessary data for research projects and the overall feeling of being trapped (we were docked a about a mile from town with not much is open on Sundays and Mondays in Kodiak in late September).  On Tuesday morning, the seas were still forecast to be quite high, but Russ made the call to attempt to head out to sample the end of the Kodiak line with the day crew.  It was a difficult call, as it would put us far out to sea if the conditions were bad, but he also risked missing a key opportunity to get much needed data considering the gaps we had from the rest of the trip. 

We immediately began to encounter large swells leftover from the previous gale.  The ten footers rocked the boat side to side as we sat in the mess during the transit.  By the time we reached the first station, all of us were a bit pensive.  The winds were beginning to pick up and we were encountering larger swells as we hit the more open waters of the gulf.  After a tenuous CTD tow and CalVet, Captain John shut down the sampling due to a growing safety risk and Dan pointed the ship to Seward to begin our 20-hour final journey home. 

By sunset the winds had picked up even further to about 30 knots and the seas were getting to 14 feet.  It became difficult to move around the ship, but I made my way very carefully to the bridge.  Holding on tight with one hand, I was able to video the ship as she moved through the waves.  Remember this is 120-foot vessel. Shortly after this the waves made it all the way over the top of the bridge!

R/V Tiglax in High Seas

By 11pm, no one was able to do anything but try and sit still and hold on.  The winds had picked up to 40 knots and the sea state to 16 foot swells across our port side.  One particular wave really did a number and the galley and mess took quite the hit.  The food processor, mixer and dishes went flying, amongst other things, and the ship had to come to a stop for cleanup.  I had a hard time not rolling out of bed was unable to sleep until we were closer to sheltered waters at around 3am.  When I awoke the next day, Russ shared that in all his years as an oceanographic researcher he has never had a cruise that encountered such bad weather and rough seas.  I am actually glad I got to experience it, as I feel like this is the true colors of the Northern Gulf of Alaska in late September. 

Today as I sit back on my couch in Anchorage writing my final blog, I sway back and forth as the ocean swells still exert their power over my inner ear. Below are some my reflections from my experience:

  • Science is hard on the oceans! The LTER program has a team of scientists attempting to collect important data over a 6-week window from the spring to fall.  The problem is that despite the best logistical planning and preparation, mother nature still controls the show.  There isn’t a second chance or a next week for data collection for these researchers so they must constantly reevaluate their trip and work closely with the crew to come up with the best plan on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.  For some on the cruise, this data is needed to complete a master’s degree thesis this year, for others it is used to publish research based on grant funding requirements.  The money cannot be reimbursed due to weather delays or broken equipment.  Science in the field is hard and I have the utmost respect for the scientists aboard who did not waver in the face of the stressful cruise conditions and who maintain integrity and quality in their data collection throughout. 
cruise plan
Our cruise plan hanging in the lab. The only line we were able to complete on this trip was the Middleton line on the far right.
  • A good team is important.  Night work is hard work physically and mentally, so I was fortunate to work on the team that I did aboard R/V Tiglax.  Jenn was an amazing leader and friend to me during the cruise.  I felt comfortable with her from the minute we met and we shared many laughs together.  She was able to lead and educate our team, while making it comfortable and fun at the same time.  Heidi was the sweetest and kindest person around.  Her love of her work was infectious and I found myself very excited to see and help sample the jellyfish that were collected in each Methot. I have no doubt that she will continue to do great work in this field while bringing joy to those around her.  Emily is a superstar prospective graduate student at UAF.  Her energy and positivity were a welcome addition to our long nights on sampling.  Whatever needed done, Emily was ready and willing to jump in.  Overall, we settled in quickly as an efficient and productive team.  One that I was proud to be part of and one that I will never forget.
night shift group photo
Myself, Heidi, Emily and Jenn.
  • Life at sea is challenging and rewarding. The crew of R/V Tiglax spends months away from home working to serve the scientific research community.  Their jobs are hard, with only a few days off each season.  Their shifts are long, with 12 hour shifts each day, seven days a week.  Yet at the same time, each crew member clearly loves being out on the ocean and working in this field.  They welcomed us as I am sure they welcome each new team of researchers and made us feel at home aboard their ship.  They kept us safe, made us laugh, fed us well and worked their hardest to assure we collected the data that we could.  I am not sure I could do their job, but at the same time I am in envy of what they get to experience and see each season out on the ocean.  A special thank you to John, Dan, Dave, Jen, Andy and Margo for an experience of a lifetime aboard R/V Tiglax!
Dan and Jen
First mate Dan and deck hand Jen, they kept us smiling all night every night.
  • The oceans are warm.  As we worked far off on the Seward and Middleton lines, just past the continental shelf, we noticed something strange, the seawater coming out of our hose was oddly warm on our hands.  Whispers of a return of “The Blob” are circulating in the news as we return to port and we worry we were experiencing it firsthand.  “The Blob” was an unusual ocean warming event that occurred in the North Pacific and NGA in 2014-2016.  It created a nutrient poor environment that had ripple effects through the ecosystem, and is blamed for massive bird deaths, declines in salmon fisheries and shifts in marine mammal behaviors.  It will take time for the CTD data from this cruise to be analyzed to draw conclusions, but this type of event is exactly why the LTER study is so important.  We need to know as much as we can about this ecosystem so we can better understand its response and resiliency to major stressors such as a warming ocean.
sea surface temperature
Sea surface temperatures in 2014 compared to 2019 in the North Pacific and Northern Gulf of Alaska. The red color indicates the temperature shift above normal. Photo credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch.
  • Ecosystems are infinitely complex. I had no idea the depth and breadth and interconnectivity of the oceanographic research I would experience during my time out at sea.  The LTER program is an amazing study that truly attempts to piece together a whole-systems view of the NGA by examining detailed aspects of the chemical, physical and biological ocean environment.  Aboard our ship alone we had trace metals investigations, phytoplankton productivity and abundance studies, temperature and salinity modeling and analysis, seabird and marine mammal observations, zooplankton morphological and molecular analysis, and jellyfish abundance and biomass evaluation. Individually this data is valuable for baseline information, but the true importance lies in understanding the interplay between all of these aspects in the ecosystem.  I feel we are just beginning to scrape the surface in terms of our understanding of our ocean environment, let alone how we are impacting it.  I feel it is imperative that this research continues and that I as a teacher help educate about its importance.
Crab larvae and krill
Crab larvae and krill peer back at me from one of our samples of the thriving ecosystem just below the surface.

Prior to my departure, my biggest hope for my trip was that I was able to see a sperm whale.  I return satisfied, not because I saw a sperm whale, but rather because I saw so much more. I am enthralled by the vastness of the of ocean and the fortitude of life that survives upon and within.  I am in awe of how little we see and experience by sailing across its surface or even dropping in an occasional net. I hope in my lifetime I am able to witness more of the ocean’s incredible secrets revealed, without being at the expense of the sea and its inhabitants. 

I am anxious to return to my students to tomorrow as I have missed them. I am eager to answer their questions and share my pictures.  Additionally, I am so excited to share my story with other teachers across my district and state to encourage them to apply to this amazing program.  It was a true honor to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and it truly was a birthday gift to remember. 

Cara Nelson: Little Creatures that Rule the World, September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor again

Date: September 23, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 13:30
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Northwest 8 knots
Air Temperature: 11ºC (51ºF)
Air Pressure: 993 millibars
Overcast, light rain


Science and Technology Log

As we near the end of our trip, I want to focus on a topic that it is the heart of the LTER study: zooplankton.  Zooplankton are probably the most underappreciated part of the ocean, always taking second stage to the conspicuous vertebrates that capture people’s attention.  I would argue however, that these animals deserve our highest recognition. These small ocean drifters many of which take part in the world’s largest animal migration each day. This migration is a vertical migration from the ocean depths, where they spend their days in the darkness avoiding predators, to the surface at night, where they feed on phytoplankton (plant plankton). Among the zooplankton, the humble copepod, the “oar-footed,” “insect of the sea,” makes up 80% of the animal mass in the water column.  These copepods act as a conduit of energy in the food chain, from primary producers all the way up to the seabirds and marine mammals.

copepod
A copepod. Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft.

Aboard the R/V Tiglax, zooplankton and copepods are collected in a variety of manners.  During the day, a CalVet plankton net is used to collect plankton in the top 100 meters of the water column.  

CalVet
Russ prepares the CalVet for deployment.

On the night shift, we alternated between a Bongo net and a Multinet depending on our sampling location.  The Bongo net is lowered to 200 meters of depth (or 5 meters above the bottom depending on depth) and is towed back to the surface at a constant rate.  This allows us to capture the vertical migrators during the night.  How do we know where it is in the water column and its flow rate you may ask?  Each net is attached to the winch via a smart cable.  This cable communicates with the onboard computer and allows the scientists to monitor the tow in real time from the lab. 

bongo net
The Bongo net coming back aboard. Note the smart cable attached to the winch that communicates with the computer. Grabbing the Bongo can be tricky in high seas as we learned on this trip!

The Multinet is a much higher tech piece of equipment.  It contains five different nets each with a cod end.  It too is dropped to the same depth as the Bongo, however each net is fired open and closed from the computer at specific depths to allow for a snapshot of the community at different vertical depths.

multinet
The Multinet about to be deployed during our night shift.

Copepod research is the focus of the two chief scientists, Russ Hopcroft and Jennifer Questel aboard R/V Tiglax.  Much of the research must occur back in the laboratories of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  For example, Jenn’s research focuses on analyzing the biodiversity of copepods in the NGA at the molecular level, using DNA barcoding to identify species and assess population genetics.  A DNA barcode is analogous to a barcode you would find on merchandise like a box of cereal.  The DNA barcode can be read and this gives a species level identification of the zooplankton.  This methodology provides a better resolution of the diversity of planktonic communities because there are many cryptic species (morphologically identical) and early life stages that lack characteristics for positive identification.  Her samples collected onboard are carefully stored in ethanol and frozen for transport back to her lab.  Her winter will involve countless hours of DNA extraction, sequencing and analysis of the data.

One aspect of the LTER study that Russ is exploring is how successful certain copepod species are at finding and storing food.  Neocalanus copepods, a dominate species in our collections, are arthropods that have a life cycle similar to insects.  They have two major life forms, they start as a nauplius, or larval stage, and then metamorphisize into the copepodite form, in which they take on the more familiar arthropod appearance as they transition to adulthood.  Neocalanus then spends the spring and summer in the NGA feasting on the rich phytoplankton blooms. They accumulate fat stores, similar to our Alaska grizzlies.   In June, these lipid-rich animals will settle down into the deep dark depths of the ocean, presumably where there is less turbulence and predation.  The males die shortly after mating, but the females will overwinter in a state called diapause, similar to hibernation.  The females do not feed during this period of diapause and thus must have stock-piled enough lipids to not only survive the next six months, but also for the critical next step of egg production.  Egg production begins in December to January and after egg release, these females – like salmon – will die as the cycle begins again. 

Part of Russ’s assessment of the Neocalanus is to photograph them in the lab aboard the ship as they are collected.  The size of the lipid sac is measured relative to their body size and recorded.  If females do not store enough lipids, then the population could be dramatically altered the following season. These organisms that are live sorted on the ship will then be further studied back in the laboratory using another type of molecular analysis to look at their gene expression to understand if they are food-stressed as they come out of diapause.

Russ Hopcroft at microscope
I watch in awe as Russ is able to manipulate and photograph copepods under a microscope amid the rocking ship.
Neocalanus
Two Neocalanus with their lipid sacs visible down the center of the body. Note the difference in the size of the lipid storage between the two.

Back in the UAF laboratory, countless hours must be spent on a microscope by technicians and students analyzing the samples collected onboard.  To give an idea of the scope of this work, it takes approximately 4 hours to process one sample.  A typical cruise generates 250 samples for morphological analysis to community description, which includes abundance, biomass, life stage, gender, size and body weight information.  There are three cruises in a season, and thus the work extends well into the spring. To save time, computers are also used to analyze a subset of the samples which are then checked by a technician.  However, at this stage, the computer output does not yet meet the accuracy of a human technician. All of these approaches serve to better understand the health of the zooplankton community in the NGA. Knowing how much zooplankton there is, who is there and how fatty they are, will tell us both the quantity and quality of food available to the fish, seabirds and marine mammals that prey upon them.  Significant changes both inter-annually and long-term of zooplankton community composition and abundance could have transformative effects through the food chain.  This research provides critical baseline data as stressors, such as a changing climate, continue to impact the NGA ecosystem.


Personal Log

After sheltering in Kodiak harbor overnight Friday, we once again were able to head back out during a break in the weather.  We departed Kodiak in blue skies and brisk winds on Saturday. 

sunset
Sunset over Marmot Island at the start of the Kodiak line on what would end up being our last night of sampling.

We made it to the start of the Kodiak line by sundown and began our night of sampling with the goal of getting through six stations.  The swells left over from the last gale were quite challenging, with safety a top priority this evening.  Waves were crashing over the top rale as we worked and the boat pitched side to side.  Walking the corridor from the stern to the bow required precise timing, lest you get soaked by a breaking wave, as poor Heidi did at least three times.

Despite having to pull the Methot early on one station and skip it all together on another due to the rough seas, we had an amazingly efficient and successful evening.  Our team was amazing to work with and Dan captured one last photo of us as we wrapped up our shift at 6am.

night shift group photo
The night shift “A Team”: Emily, Jenn, Jen, Cara and Heidi.

The day crew worked fast and furious on the return to station one as once again, another gale was forecast.  This gale was the worst yet, dipping down to 956 millibars in pressure with the word STORM written across the forecast screen for the entire Gulf of Alaska.  Luckily we were able to make it back into Kodiak harbor by Sunday evening just as winds and waves began to build.  After riding out the storm overnight we are still waiting for the 4pm forecast to reassess our final days two days.  The crew grows weary of sitting idle as the precious window for sampling closes.  Stay tuned for a follow up blog as I return to solid ground on Wednesday! 


Did You Know?

Copepods are the most biologically diverse zooplankton and even outnumber the biodiversity of terrestrial insects!

Kathy Schroeder: The Great Hammerhead / Setting the Longline, September 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.15258
Longitude: 93.02012
Temperature: 87°F
Wind Speeds: E 10 mph


Science and Technology Log

My last blog left off with a late night longline going in the water around 9:00pm on 9/23/19.  We were able to successfully tag a great hammerhead, a scalloped hammerhead, and a tiger shark.  We also caught a blacknose shark, three gafftopsail catfish (Bagre marinus), and three red snappers. 

female great hammerhead
Female great hammerhead caught on 9/23/19 aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
male scalloped hammerhead
Male scalloped hammerhead caught on 9/23/19 aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II


Deploying the Longline

Today I’m going to explain to you the five jobs that we rotate through when we are deploying the longline.  When there are about 15-20 minutes before deployment we grab our sunglasses, personal floatation device (pfd) and rubber boats and head to the stern of the ship.  All scientists are responsible for helping to cut and bait all 100 gangions (hooks and line).  The hooks are 15/0mm circle hooks and the gangion length is 3.7m long.  The bait used for this is Atlantic mackerel cut into chunks to fit the hooks.  We are all responsible for cleaning the deck and the table and cutting boards that were used. 

baiting hooks
Kristin cutting bait and Taniya and Ryan baiting the 100 hooks

The first job on the deployment is setting up the laptop computer.  The scientist on computer is responsible for entering information when the high flyer, the three weights (entered after first high flyer, after gangion 50 and before final high flyer), and the 100 baited gangions entered into the water.  This gives the time and the latitude and longitude of each to keep track of for comparison data. 

The second job is the person actually putting the high flyer and buoy in the water.  Once the ship is in position and we receive the ok from the bridge it is released into the water.  The high flyer is 14ft from the weight at the bottom to the flashing light at the top. (see picture) 

high flyer
Kristin and Kathy getting ready to put the first high flyer in the water

The third job is the “slinger”.  The slinger takes each hook, one by one, off of the barrel, lowers the baited hook into the water,  and then holds the end clamp so that the fourth scientist can put a tag number on each one (1-100).  It is then handed to the deckhand who clamps it onto the mainline where it is lowered into the water off the stern. 

numbers on gangion
Placing the numbers on the gangion before being put on the mainline

The final job is the barrel cleaner.  Once all the lines are in the water the barrel cleaner takes a large brush with soap and scrubs down the inside and outside of the barrel.  The barrels are then taken to the well deck to get ready for the haul in.  The last weight and high flyer are put into the water to complete the longline set, which will remain in the water for one hour.  Everyone now helps out cleaning the stern deck and bringing any supplies to the dry lab.  At this time the CTD unit is put in the water (this will be described at a later time).   


Personal Log

Last night was so exciting, catching the three large sharks.  During this station I was responsible for the data so I was able to take a few pictures once I recorded the precaudal, fork, and total length measurements as well as take a very small fin sample and place it in a vial, and record the tagging numbers. 

Shout Out:    Today’s shout out goes to my wonderful 161 students, all my former students, fellow teachers, especially those in my hallway, my guest teachers and all the staff and administration at Palmetto Ridge High School.  I would also like to thank Mr. Bremseth and Michelle Joyce for my letters of recommendations! 

I couldn’t have been able to do this without all of your help and support.  I have sooo much to tell you about when I get back.  Go Bears!!

Kathy Schroeder: Sharks, Sharks, and More Sharks! September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/23/19

Weather Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)

Latitude: 28.07
Longitude: 93.27.45
Temperature: 84°F
Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph
large swells


Science and Technology Log

9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived.  After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm).  We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel.   Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes.  My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard.   When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status:  fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait.  Our first night was a huge success.  We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.                                                                                                                                       

Kathy and red snapper
NOAA TAS Kathy Schroeder with a red snapper caught on the Oregon II

We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus).  There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride. 

sandbar shark
Sandbar shark – no tag. Oregon II

I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle.  It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin.  He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length.  What a great way to start our first day of fishing.  After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am.  The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets.  I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.

9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day.  They were able to complete two stations last night.  They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight.  The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us.  We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs).  We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark.  Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship. 

We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm.  My job this time was in charge of data recording.  When a “fish  is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments.  We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark.  The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born.  The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm.  There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status.  We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing.  Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags.  (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).

measuring a shark
Taking the three measurements
king snake eel
King snake eel caught on a longline.


Personal Log

I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab.  I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station.  I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline.  So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am.  It finally stopped around 6:30.  They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing.  Guess I’m hearing things 🙂 

Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy

Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

airport meal

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019


Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Conclusion

Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

Cara Nelson: A Harbor in a Tempest, September 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor

Date: September 21, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 12:20
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Southwest 20 knots
Air Temperature: 12.8ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 990 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

As we sit in the shelter of Kodiak harbor, I thought I would dedicate this blog to the R/V Tiglax and her crew.  Careers in oceanographic research would not be possible without the support of research vessels and their crew.  R/V Tiglax is a 121-foot long U.S. Fish and Wildlife vessel that was commissioned in 1987.  Her primary mission is to support scientific research in the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutian chain and she was designed and built to accommodate this mission. 

R/V Tiglax layout
The layout of R/V Tiglax. Image credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

R/V Tiglax has an amazing fuel capacity of 40,000 gallons which allows it be away at sea for long periods each summer without refueling.  Additionally, it has a water desalination system that can produce approximately 500 gallons of fresh water daily. The ship seems to have at least two of everything: 2 engines, 2 generators, 2 cranes, 2 zodiac skiffs, 2 freezers, 2 washing machines, 2 stationary bikes, 2 televisions, and at least 2 fresh baked goods every day! 

Below is brief photo tour of the interior of R/V Tiglax.

Tiglax hallway
Looking down the hallway from the main deck aft.
Tiglax mess
The mess, where we eat all our meals and spend our down time.
Tiglax galley
The galley, where our amazing meals are prepared, even during 12-foot seas!
laundry
Down in the hold, there are several staterooms, storage rooms, and the very important laundry and boot dryers.
stateroom
My stateroom. There are 4 beds total and a small desk, and I have the top bunk.
Tiglax hold
The hold, where the science crew stores a lot of gear during the trip.
Tiglax science lab
One of the two science labs onboard. Active research is done throughout the day here as samples come aboard.

Much of the summer, R/V Tiglax can be found transporting scientists to remote field camps in the Western Aleutians and then up into the Bering Sea to the island of St. Matthews.  The science the ship supports is diverse and includes seabird and marine mammal monitoring, volcanic research, invasive species management and archeological studies.  Although the crew does not participate in this research directly, they are a critical piece to its success. They are responsible not just for the transport but also for the logistics of getting the scientists from ship to shore at each of the remote sites and assisting with the setup of equipment.

Since 2005, R/V Tiglax has been supporting the oceanographic research on the Seward line and for the past two years the ship has been contracted by the LTER project for $11,376 per day to complete the spring and fall cruises.  Again, the crew plays an integral part in this ocean research.  All of cranes and winches aboard the ship that are used for the water sampling gear and nets are operated by the crew.  Additionally, the captain and first mate navigate the ship to and from sampling sites and manage the vessel amid the changing seas during sampling sessions.  Their knowledge of the ship, currents, weather and tides is imperative in making decisions with the chief scientists as to travel, scheduling, and sampling.

Captain John
Captain John navigating the ship from the wheelhouse.

R/V Tiglax has a crew of six: a captain, first mate, two deckhands, an engineer and a cook.  For some, being a crew member is a long-time career choice. For others, it is a job to gain skills and experience and serves as more of a stepping stone to the future. 

John Farris began his career aboard R/V Tiglax nineteen years ago as a deckhand and has moved his way up to captain, a position he has held for the past four years. He works closely with Russ Hopcroft, the chief scientist, to assure the success of the mission.  John is warm and welcoming to the science crew and genuinely concerned about each member’s well-being during the cruise.  Safety is his number one priority and John closely monitors not only the ship but also the science work each day.

crew meeting
Captain John meets with the science team prior to deploying the CTD rosette.

Dan Puterbaugh is the first mate who has been a member of the crew for the past two years.  Dan has thirty-years’ experience working on ships in a variety of capacities and has a wealth of knowledge of the oceans. He pilots the ship from 10 pm – 6 am and helps oversee the science team on the night shift.  Dan greets each day with a smile and his passion for being out at sea and supporting the science research that goes on is truly evident. 

Dan Puterbaugh, first mate
Dan keeping watch in the wheel house.

The two deckhands aboard the ship are Dave and Jen.  Dave works the day shift with John and has been a crew member for the past 6 years.  He shares the challenges of working the night shift versus the day shift on the ship and is happy to have worked his way up to his current position on the crew.  Dave describes the sheer beauty of the Aleutians and the seabirds and marine mammals that inhabit them and how appreciative he is to experience this during his work.

Jen works on the night shift and joined the crew just this season.  She is one of the most interesting and eclectic individuals I have ever met.  Although she is new to the ship, she is not green and can maneuver a crane or a winch with precision and style.  Jen’s spirit and energy helped get us through the long hours of the night shift.  She enjoys combining her passion for science with her love of the ocean and will spend her winter crewing aboard a tall ship for the Woods Hole Semester at Sea program.  Whatever Jen’s future holds, it is assured to be tied to the sea. 

Jen, deckhand
Jen getting time at the wheel.

Andy, the ship’s engineer, began with his time aboard R/V Tiglax eleven years ago.  He, like others before him, started out as a deckhand and worked his way up in the ranks.  He spent time in the Navy doing propulsion work, so this experience serves him well in maintaining the mechanics of the Tiglax.  Although Andy is a bit more elusive, he is always right there when things needed repair.  He helped us get through several winch issues, a broken hydraulic line on the crane and a downed freezer and refrigerator in the galley. 

Last, but most importantly, is Morgan, the chef aboard R/V Tiglax.  Morgan has been with the ship for six years, and continues to wow the crew and scientists alike with her amazing meals.  Morgan attended culinary school in Denver before joining the ship as a relief cook her first summer.  When asked about how she manages to cook during high seas she says it took some getting used to at first but she quickly learned to manage.  Morgan’s talents are apparent in her daily fresh sourdough breads and home-made desserts.  Despite being out to sea for long periods of time, she maintains variety in each meal and does her best to infuse fresh ingredients wherever possible.  Morgan will spend her winter furthering her culinary training in Portland before returning for another season with the ship.

Morgan's puff pastries
Morgan’s puff pastries with homemade raspberry rhubarb sauce. They disappear so fast I couldn’t even photograph a full pan.


Personal Log

As is the theme for this September cruise, we once again were chased ashore by our fourth gale. On Thursday night, just after starting our night shift we were shut down by the building wind and waves and made a 16-hour harrowing transit from the Seward line to shelter in Kodiak harbor and reevaluate as the weather.   Although we were not happy to be missing more sampling, everyone was appreciative for the time to get cell reception and step foot on solid land.

We arrived in Kodiak harbor at 5pm on Friday night and had the fortune of docking at the state ferry dock.  After eating dinner aboard, we all ventured off into town. My dock rock continued as all of Kodiak seemed to be moving up and down and side to side.  All the crew and scientists ended up in same spot and enjoyed socializing together on our down time.  We returned to the ship and all appreciated a night of sleep that didn’t involve almost rolling out of the bed with each swell. 

Cara on ladder
Climbing off the ship can be challenging when the tides are low.

This morning we awoke to blue skies and strong winds.  Unfortunately, the night crew caved in at 3am and slept for a few hours.  Having a day off from work makes it easy to slip back to the normal schedule and working tonight might be difficult.  We await the afternoon forecast to see if we can head out to sample the Kodiak line before another gale blows in on Monday.  One thing that I have learned this trip is that successful oceanographic research requires a delicate dance with Mother Nature.

Did You Know?

R/V Tiglax often travels up to 20,000 nautical miles in one season!  A nautical mile is equal to 1.15 land measured miles and is based on the circumference of the earth.  One nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is useful for charting and navigating.

Cara Nelson: Chemistry on the High Seas, September 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling along the Seward line.

Date: September 19, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 18:30
Latitude: 59º53.587’ N
Longitude: 149º33.398’ E
Wind: South 15 knots
Air Temperature: 15.5ºC (60ºF)
Air Pressure: 998 millibars
Partly cloudy skies


Science and Technology Log

A major component of the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project is the collection and analysis of physical parameters in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and how these abiotic (non-living) factors interact with and impact the biological community.  A variety of physical oceanographic research is occurring during the day shift on R/V Tiglax, one of which includes looking at metals in the ocean water. 

Mette Kaufmann is the onboard research professional working on the collection of trace metals from the surface water.  Specifically, Mette is working to sample and process iron species for Dr. Ana Aguilar-Islas who is the principal investigator for iron biogeochemistry on the LTER study.  One might ask, why is there such a focus or interest in iron in the surface ocean water?  In the past few decades it has become evident through research that iron is major player in the productivity of the ocean ecosystem.  Prior to this, nitrogen was assumed to be the most important nutrient and limiting factor in phytoplankton growth and production.  It is now known that iron influx from surface and atmospheric sources is the major limiting factor in our coastal and offshore ecosystems. 

Glacier runoff from the Kenai peninsula and the Copper River plume carry this iron into the ocean and allow for a rich spring bloom of phytoplankton over the continental shelf.  Sampling the iron levels at different locations helps paint a picture as to the overall availability, transport and use of iron in the NGA.  For example, one question the researchers are examining is, do fall storms bring up iron to the surface from deeper water?  Additionally, copper samples are being collected for analysis on this cruise, as a factor that can potentially suppress photosynthesis at higher levels.  

As I mentioned in my second blog, there is a tool for every job and for iron sampling, it is the “iron fish.”  The iron fish looks a bit like a rusty torpedo being dragged next to the boat with a simple plastic hose attached to it.  However, looks can be deceiving, as this piece of equipment is quite high tech.

iron fish
The iron fish weight resting on the zodiac.

The actual sampling piece of the iron fish is the white tubing that can be seen in the picture below.  The tip of the tubing has a red cap and is attached to the weight.  This tubing is treated with acid and has an inner lining of Teflon to assure for a “clean” catch of metals.

iron fish tubing coil
The iron fish tubing coiled up with the red-capped collection tip attached to the weight.

As we transit between stations the iron fish is towed at 1-3 meters of depth off the starboard side of the boat.  The pump, which runs off of the boats air supply, send the water through the tubing and into the “van” on the mid deck.  This van is a small connex that is used for trace metal processing.  Inside the van, the water samples are processed through a 0.4-micron filter to remove any particulates and then stored in acid for analysis back in the metals laboratory at UAF. 

The iron fish being towed while underway and sending samples into the van on the deck.
Annie Kandell
Annie Kandell, a graduate student under Dr. Aguilar-Islas, works to process the water samples in the van clean room to avoid contamination.


Personal Log

As we started our shift on Tuesday evening heading into Wednesday morning, we knew a gale was approaching.  We wanted to squeeze in as many sampling stations as we could before the weather chased us away.  It was challenging to manage both the Methot and Multinet in the high seas and building wind, but also a lot of fun.  We were handling the waves crashing over the back deck and rushing across us as we sampled and measured and getting really good at pouring off the cod-ends with the rise and fall of the boat in the swell.  Unfortunately, by our third station of five, the wind and waves were putting such a strain on the winch that the Multinet couldn’t get an accurate reading or sample.  The winch began to not respond and the decision was made to call it for the night, even though it was only 2:30am.  We strapped things down and proceeded to make a run for shelter back in Resurrection Bay. 

I awoke on Wednesday at around 11am expecting it to be raining sideways and blowing still, but was surprised again by partly cloudy skies and a much calmer sea state.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we were going to take the afternoon for an excursion to Bear Glacier.  We all donned our mustang coats and took three groups in the zodiac to head to shore.  We were diverted due to rough breakers to a separate beach away from the glacier but all of us were happy to be ashore. 

group photo
The night shift and part of the day shift preparing to go ashore.

We had about 4 hours to hike around and explore the shoreline.  One of the drawbacks of the beauty of the amazing rocky shoreline along the Gulf of Alaska is that it is littered with human trash.  The trash entering from around the Pacific circulates through the ocean driven by the currents.  Some of the water gets caught up in the counterclockwise gyre of the Gulf of Alaska current and then gets deposited on land by the storms.  Just a few steps onto the shore and plastic water bottles are visible everywhere. What is less visible is the plastics that are broken up into small pieces or micro-plastics that then invade the entire water column.  These plastics get ingested by marine organisms, such as seabirds, and can cause death from starvation, as their stomachs are clogged with debris.  It makes you appreciate our impact on the oceans and the dire need for a shift in our plastic use and disposal.

plastic on beach
Can you spot the 6 plastic bottles just in this one picture?

Aside from the trash, the beach held other treasures and the walk in the fresh air and sunshine was greatly appreciated.

Mermaid's purse
An empty egg case for a Skate, also known as a Mermaid’s Purse.
algae on shore
Beautiful colors of red, green and brown algae decorate the rocky shore.

I did have an interesting case of what the seasoned crew calls “dock rock.”  This is when you are used to the motion of the sea and everything on land seems to be moving like the ocean.  It didn’t make me land sick but it did throw me off a bit.  I wonder how long I will sway when I return!

R/V Tiglax
A view of our current home, R/V Tiglax from the shore.

We boarded the ship in time for another fabulous dinner and prepared to head back out to the Seward line for another night of sampling.


Did You Know?

Dr. Thomas C. Royer is a physical oceanographer who was the first to begin water sampling along the GAK (Seward) line almost 40 years ago.  His research led to the discovery of significant coast currents in the Northern Gulf of Alaska that are driven by freshwater input.  It was this knowledge of coastal currents that assisted with the prediction of oil spill trajectories during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  His groundbreaking work was the start of the Long Term Ecological Research study that I am assisting with today!

Kathy Schroeder: Meet the NOAA OREGON II

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Title: Kathy Schroeder:   Meet the NOAA  Oregon II, Sept 20, 2019

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NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/20/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.3088855

Longitude: -94.7948546

Temperature: 87°F

Wind Speeds: SSW 17 mph

Science and Technology Log

Today I decided to share with you some information about the Oregon II that I found on her website and show you around the ship.  I have attached pictures so you can see where I have been living and working for the last 5 days.  (unfortunately each picture is taking forever to upload-so I hope to add more this week)

NOAA Ship Oregon II, photo credit: NOAA

“NOAA Ship Oregon II conducts a variety of fisheries, plankton and marine mammal surveys in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

The 170-ft. ship’s mission includes supporting the National Marine Fisheries Service’s annual bottom longline red snapper/shark survey, during which researchers catch, measure, tag and release the fish to acquire the data used in stock assessment for many of the coastal species of sharks, as well as commercial snapper and grouper species. Using gear modeled after commercial shark fisheries, the survey has been running continuously since 1995.

During survey missions, observers stationed on the ship’s flying bridge watch for marine mammals or floating debris using high-powered “big eye” binoculars. When pods are encountered, the ship breaks from planned operations and investigates each sighting.

Oregon II is patterned after North Atlantic distant-water trawlers, designed for extended cruising range, versatility of operations, habitability and seaworthiness.

The ship uses trawls and benthic longlines to collect fish and crustacean specimens. The ship’s longline gear consists of one nautical mile of mainline with 100 hooks, which soak for a total of 1 hour. The ship uses plankton nets and surface and midwater larval nets to collect plankton.

Oregon II was originally built for the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Department of the Interior, as a replacement for the fishery research vessel Oregon, a converted 100-foot tuna clipper that carried out most of the federal fishery research work in the Gulf and southwest Atlantic beginning in 1952. The ship was commissioned in the NOAA fleet in 1975. Oregon II is homeported at NOAA’s Gulf Marine Support Facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi.”

If you are interested in more information about Oregon II, please visit her website: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/oregon-ii/about

Personal Log

Update:  So we are still here in Galveston, TX.   The engineers have been working so hard to get the parts in and fixed.  We are ready to go, but need to wait on a part to arrive to have with us out in the Gulf. Hopefully we get out on the water today!  The Tropical Storm Imelda brought lots of rain.  About 14” of rain here.  Some areas around us got 34”+. That means lots of flooding.   Almost every restaurant and store here is closed.  We made our way out last night to one place that was open and enjoyed some pizza.   I’ll keep you posted as I know more!

Oregon II The Bridge
Oregon II View from the Bridge

Shout Out:    Today’s shout out goes to my beautiful little Payton Clawson and her wonderful parents Andrea and Tyler.  Miss you!!

Phil Moorhouse: Look What the Net Dragged In! September 12, 2019

Pavlof Volcano

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57 35.35 N
Longitude: 153 57.71 W
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: 208 degrees
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar
Sky:  Overcast


Science and Technology Log

Well, we only have a few days left on this trip and it looks like mother nature is going to force us to head for Dutch Harbor a little early.  I thought this might be a good time to spend some time sharing some information on some of the species we have been pulling out of the ocean.  This is far from a complete list, but just the ones that made “the cut”.

At the top of the list has to be the Pollock.  After all, this is the primary objective of this study.  On the left is an adult three-year-old pollock and on the right is an age-0 pollock.  The sampling of age-0 pollocks is a good indicator of the abundance of the future population.

There were several species of salmon caught on our trawls.  On the left is a Coho Salmon and on the right is a Pink Salmon.  These fish are very similar, but are classified as separately Coho Salmon are larger and have larger scales.  Coho also has a richer, fuller flavor with darker red meat while the Pink Salmon has a milder flavor and a softer texture.

zooplankton
Another important part of this survey is the collection and measurement of zooplankton as this is a primary food source and the amount and health of the zooplankton will have a lasting impact on the ecology of the fish population in the area.
capelin
Capelin is another common fish caught in our trawls. This fish eats krill and other crustaceans and in turn is preyed upon by whales, seals, cod, squid, and seabirds.
Pacific Saury
The Pacific Saury was a fish that wasn’t expected to be found in our trawls. Also called the knifefish, this species always seemed to be found in substantial quantities when they were collected – as if the trawl net came across a school of them. They are found in the top one meter of the water column.
Prowfish
The Prowfish was another interesting find. This fish is very malleable and slimy. Adults tend to stay close to the ocean floor while young prowfish can be found higher up in the water column where they feed on jellyfish. As with the saury, the prowfish was not kept for future study. It was weighed, recorded, and returned to the water.

Jellyfish were abundant on our hauls.  Here are the five most common species that we found. 

bubble jellyfish
The Bubble Jellyfish, Aequorea sp., is clear with a rim around it. This jellyfish is fragile and most of them are broken into pieces by the time we get them from the trawl net and onto the sorting table.
moon jellyfish
The Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia labiata, is translucent and when the sun or moon shines on them, they look like the moon all lit up.
white cross jellyfish
The White Cross Jellyfish, Staurophora mertensi, was another mostly clear jelly that was very fragile. Very few made it to the sorting table in one piece. You have to look close it is so clear, but they can be identified by their clear bell with a distinctive X across the top of the bell.
Lion's mane jellyfish
The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, are the largest known species of jellyfish. These guys can become giants. They are typically a crimson red but could appear faded to a light brown.
sunrise jellyfish
The Sunrise Jellyfish, Chrysaora melanaster, was the most common jelly that we found. It is also arguably the least fragile. Almost all made it to the sorting table intact where they were counted, weighed, recorded, and returned to the water. It lives at depths of up to 100 meters, where it feeds on copepods, larvaceans, small fish, zooplankton, and other jellyfish.
arrowtooth flounder
Arrowtooth flounder are a relatively large, brownish colored flatfish with a large mouth. Just one look at its mouth and you can tell how it got its name. Their eyes migrate so that they are both on the right side and lie on the ocean floor on their left side.
Eulachon
Eulachons, sometimes called candlefish, were another common find on the sorting table. Throughout recent history, eulachons have been harvested for their rich oil. Their name, candlefish, was derived from it being so fat during spawning that if caught, dried, and strung on a wick, it can be burned as a candle. They are also an important food source for many ocean and shore predators.
vermilion rockfish
The Vermilion Rockfish – This guy was the only non-larval rockfish that we caught. Most can be found between the Bering Sea and Washington State.

While the Smooth Lumpsucker is significantly larger than the Spiny Lumpsucker, both have unique faces.  The Smooth Lumpsucker is also found in deeper water than the smaller Spiny Lumpsucker.

Most of the squid caught and recorded were larval.  Here are a couple of the larger ones caught in a trawl.

There were a variety of seabirds following us around looking for an easy meal.  The Black-footed Albatross on the right was one of several that joined the group one day.

Pavlof Volcano
And of course, I couldn’t leave out the great view we got of Pavlof Volcano! Standing snow capped above the clouds at 8,251 feet above sea level, it is flanked on the right by Pavlof’s Sister. Pavlof last erupted in March of 2016 and remains with a threat of future eruptions considered high. Pavlof’s Sister last erupted in 1786. This picture was taken from 50 miles away.


Personal Log

In keeping with the admiration I have for the scientists and crew I am working with, I will continue here with my interview with Rob Suryan. 

Robert Suryan is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Scientist. He is currently a Research Ecologist and Auke Bay Laboratories, Science Coordinator, working on the Gulf Watch Alaska Long-term Ecosystem Monitoring Program.

How long have you been working with NOAA?  What did you do before joining NOAA?

One and a half years.  Prior to that, I was a professor at Oregon State University

Where do you do most of your work?

In the Gulf of Alaska

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy giving presentations to the general public, where we have to describe why we are conducting studies and results to an audience with a non-science background. It teaches you a lot about messaging! I also like working with writers, reporters, and journalists in conducting press releases for our scientific publications. I also use Twitter for science communication.

Why is your work important?

Having detailed knowledge about our surroundings, especially the natural environment and the ocean. Finding patterns in what sometimes seems like chaos in natural systems. Being able to provide answers to questions about the marine environment.

How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?

I provide information and expertise to make well informed resource management decisions, I inform the general public about how our changing climate if affecting marine life, and I train (and hopefully inspire) future generations of marine scientists

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?

During middle school

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Computer! So much of our instrumentation and sampling equipment are controlled by software interfaces. Also, much of my research involves data assimilation, analysis, creating graphs, and writing scientific papers. Although, at the very beginning of my career, most of our data collection was hand written, as were our scientific papers before typing the final version with a typewriter. So glad those days are gone!

If you could invent one tool to make your work easier, what would it be?

For in the office: a computer program that would scan all of my emails, extract the important info that I need to know and respond to, and populate my calendar with meetings/events. For the field: a nano-power source that provided unlimited continuous power for instruments AND global cell phone or wireless connectivity.

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

I joined NOAA later in my career and had collaborated with NOAA scientists for many years, so everything was what I expected for the most part.

What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?

Biology, math, chemistry, and physics are good foundation courses. If you have an opportunity to take a class in marine biology at your school or during a summer program, that would be ideal. But keep in mind that almost any field of study can be involved in marine science; including engineering, economics, computer science, business, geology, microbiology, genetics, literature, etc.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?

I originally studied wildlife biology before marine science and one of my favorite books initially was A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. For marine biology, I would recommend The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck.

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

I would probably work at a university again – I was a professor at Oregon State University before working for NOAA.

Do you have any outside hobbies?

Pretty much any type of outdoor adventure, most frequently kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and beachcombing with my family and our dogs.

Cara Nelson: Report from the Flying Bridge, September 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling along the Seward line.

Date: September 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 16:10
Latitude: 59º36.465’
Longitude: 149º14.346’
Wind: North 12 knots
Air Temperature: 16ºC (61ºF)
Air Pressure: 1001 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) study focuses on ecosystem dynamics in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and how the complex processes of abiotic factors, such as ocean salinity, temperature, currents, and trace metals influence primary productivity of phytoplankton.  The project examines how efficiently this energy is transferred, in turn, to higher trophic levels, from zooplankton to vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals. 

Over the past twenty years, seabird and marine mammal observations have been an important component of the LTER study. Approximately 50 species of birds inhabit the NGA either year-round or seasonally, with a variety of foraging behaviors and diets. Through the LTER, we can learn about how physical and biological oceanographic processes influence the distribution and abundance of higher trophic levels, such as seabirds.

Dr. Kathy Kuletz with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead scientist for the seabird part of the research program. Dan Cushing is the seabird and marine mammal observer aboard R/V Tiglax.  He holds a master’s degree in wildlife science and has a wealth of experience in birding both on and offshore.  This fall cruise marks Dan’s eleventh cruise observing in the NGA.  Whenever the R/V Tiglax is underway, Dan can be found on the flying bridge collecting data. 

flying bridge
The flying bridge (named for its bird’s eye view) is an open viewing area atop the wheel-house of R/V Tiglax accessed by a ladder.

Observations are made using a protocol established through the USFWS.  Dan records survey data using a computer on the flying bridge that records both time and GPS coordinates of each bird or mammal sighting. 

Dan on flying bridge
Dan actively observing on the flying bridge.
estimating distance
A chopstick with markings on it helps Dan estimate bird distance. Dan made this simple distance measuring tool using high-school trigonometry. When the top of the stick is placed on the horizon, the markings along the stick correspond to distances from the boat.
observing laptop
Dan is able to quickly document the species seen, abundance and any special notes using the computer program.

It is immediately clear that bird sightings along the LTER follow a pattern.  Inshore, diving bird species are common, such as common murres, puffins and cormorants.  Pelagic bird species inhabiting deeper waters are mostly surface-feeders, and rely on processes such as fronts and upwellings at the shelf break to concentrate prey at the surface where feeding occurs.  Albatross, shearwaters and storm-petrels are abundant as we head further out on our sampling lines.  

birds on the dock
Pelagic cormorants and black-legged kittiwakes sit on the dock in Seward prior to our departure.
black-footed albatross
A black-footed albatross. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

Dan’s experience on the LTER study is helpful in that he can comment on both changes he sees from the spring, summer and fall cruises but also over the past several years.  For example, in winter 2015-16, a large die-off event of common murres was observed in Alaska following an extreme warming event called “the blob” in the North Pacific.  The murre die off was due to starvation from lack of forage fish availability.  A question of the LTER study is how is the ocean chemistry, primary production, and zooplankton abundance tied to events such as this. Today, the murre numbers have not completely rebounded in the NGA and other species, such as the short-tailed shearwater are beginning to experience die-offs in the Bristol Bay area.   In addition to shifts in bird populations, fish that frequent warmer waters, have been observed in the NGA, such as the ocean sunfish.  Dan spotted one on this trip along our Middleton line swimming at the surface near a flock of albatross. 

The fall survey is occurring when birds are preparing for harsh winter conditions or long migrations.  We have spotted a few birds already changing to a winter plumage, which can make identification that much more challenging.  As the strong September storms hit us, it is amazing to watch the birds handle the strong winds and driving rain.  Last night as we worked on our nightly plankton tow a gale blew up around us.  The winds picked up to 30 knots and the seas began to build to 10 feet, and the aptly named storm-petrels kept us entertained.  At one point, we turned around and one had accidently gotten to close and seemingly stunned itself by hitting the back deck.  We watched as it shook off the confusion and again took flight into the storm. 

fork-tailed storm petrel
A fork-tailed storm petrel. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

One of the exciting things about Dan’s job and my time observing with him was the sightings of rare and endangered species.  Just off of Cape Cleare, as I sat on the flying bridge with Dan, I heard him exclaim, “no way!” as he grabbed his camera for some shots.  After a few quiet moments, he shared that he had officially has his first sighting a Manx shearwater.  The Manx shearwater has a primary range in the Atlantic Ocean, with rare but regular (1-2 per year) sightings in the NGA.  There currently are no confirmed breeding locations identified in the Pacific Ocean. Every new sighting adds to our limited understanding of this small and mysterious population. Another exciting observation, although more frequent for Dan, was the short-tailed albatross.  This beautiful bird, with its bubble-gum pink bill, is currently critically endangered, with a global population of only about 4000.  The good news is that the population is currently rebounding from extremely low numbers. 

short-tailed albatross
A short-tailed albatross. Picture credit: Dan Cushing

Dan has not only done an amazing job as an observer but also as a teacher.  He has helped me identify the birds as we see them and given me tips on how to hone in on particular species.  In addition to this, he has supplied me with amazing facts about so many of the species, I am in awe of his knowledge, patience and his skill as a seabird and mammal observer.

Cara observing
I am getting better at identifying northern fulmars on a beautiful evening on the flying bridge.


Personal Log

One of the biggest questions I had (as well as my students) prior to my trip, was how would I handle sea sickness.  I must say for a person who used to get sea sick snorkeling, I am thrilled to announce that I am sea sickness free.  After riding through three strong gales with 12+ seas and 35-40 knot winds without any major problems, I think I’m in the clear.  I owe a lot of it to consistent Bonine consumption!

Additionally, I would say I officially have my sea legs on. I have gotten really good at working, walking, eating, typing, and my brushing my teeth in high seas as the boat tosses about.  One of my favorite phrases is when Captain John says, “the seas are going to get a bit snappy.” I asked him what he meant by this and he explained that snappy means the waves are sharp and about 8-12 feet in height in contrast to the swells.  They hit the ship with a snap that causes it to vibrate, rather than just allowing it to slowly roll over them. 

A last thing that has surprised me on this trip so far is the warm weather.  I am typically always cold and was worried about how I would manage working outside on the nightshift in the elements.  The weather, despite intermittent storms has remained surprisingly warm and with our mustang suits and rain gear, we have remained mostly dry.  Almost daily we have had the pleasure of a beautiful ocean sunset, a full moon rising and stars over our heads.  Now we are just crossing our fingers for some northern lights to grace our presence.

sunset
Another sunset over the Northern Gulf of Alaska!


Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge

Mammals:

Fin whale
Humpback whale
Dall’s porpoise
Harbor porpoise
Stellar sea lion
Harbor seal
Sea otter

Birds:

Greater scaup
White-winged scoter
Sandhill crane
Red-necked phalarope
Red phalarope
South polar skua
Pomarine jaeger
Parasitic jaeger
Commone murre
Thick-billed murre
Pigeon guillemot
Marbled murrelet
Ancient murrelet
Parakeet auklet
Horned puffin
Tufted puffin
Black-legged kittiwake
Mew gull
Herring gull
Glaucous-winged gull
Arctic tern
Pacific loon
Common loon
Laysan albatross
Black-footed albatross
Short-tailed albatross
Fork-tailed storm-petrel
Northern fulmar
Buller’s shearwater
Short-tailed shearwater
Sooty shearwater
Flesh-footed shearwater
Manx shearwater
Red-footed booby
Double-crested cormorant
Red-faced cormorant
Pelagic cormorant
Great blue heron
Northern harrier
Bald eagle
Merlin

Kathy Schroeder: Maintenance During Tropical Storm Imelda, September 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/18/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.3088855
Longitude: -94.7948546
Temperature: 78°F
Wind Speeds: SSW 17 mph

NOAA Ship Oregon II
NOAA Ship Oregon II September 16, 2019


Science and Technology Log

While we are waiting to get started with our research survey that collects fisheries-independent data about sharks, I’ll tell you a little about how other NOAA scientists collect information directly from the commercial shark fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Southeast Shark Bottom Longline Observer Program

Southeast Program

The Shark Bottom Longline Observer Program works to gather reliable data on catch, bycatch, and discards in the Shark Bottom Longline Fishery, as well as document interactions with protected species. Administered by the Southeast Fishery Science Center’s Panama City Laboratory, the data collected by observers helps inform management decisions.  NOAA hires one to six observer personnel under contractual agreements to be placed on commercial fishing vessels targeting shark species. Program coordinators maintain data storage and retrieval, quality control, observer support services (training, observer gear, documents, debriefing, data entry), and administrative support. 

Fishery

This shark bottom longline fishery targets large coastal sharks (e.g., blacktip shark) and small coastal sharks (e.g., Atlantic sharpnose). Groupers, snappers, and tilefish are also taken. The shark bottom longline fishery is active on the southeast coast of the United States and throughout the  Gulf of Mexico. Vessels in this fishery average 50 feet long, with longline gear consisting of 5 to 15 miles of mainline and 500 to 1500 hooks being set. Each trip has a catch limit ranging from 3 to 45 large coastal sharks, depending on the time of year and the region (Gulf of Mexico or south Atlantic). Shark directed trips can range from 3-5 days at sea.

In 2007, NOAA Fisheries created a shark research fishery to continue collection of life history data and catch data from sandbar sharks for future stock assessment. This was created as sandbar sharks are protected due to lower population numbers that allowed for some very limited commercial take of the animals and allows for collection of scientific data on life history etc. A limited number of commercial shark vessels are selected annually and may land sandbar sharks, which are otherwise prohibited. Observer coverage is mandatory within this research fishery (compared to coverage level of 4 percent to 6 percent for the regular shark bottom longline fishery). 

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/fisheries-observers/southeast-shark-bottom-longline-observer-program


Personal Log

Well, I guess you were hoping to hear from me sooner than this.  I arrived in Galveston, TX on September 15th.  I boarded NOAA Ship Oregon II and got settled in my room.  The 170 foot ship was tugged into port early due to a broken part.  Today is Wednesday September 18th , and we are still waiting to leave.  Fingers crossed it will be tomorrow morning.  During this time I was able to meet with the crew members and scientists and familiarize myself with the ship.  I was able to walk around Galveston and learn about its history.  We were able to go out to dinner where I have had amazing oysters and a new dish “Snapper Wings” at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant.   It was delicious and so tender. I would definitely recommend it!      

During our time in port we were also hit with Tropical Storm Imelda. We have had lots of rain and flooding in the area. 

snapper wings
Snapper Wings at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant, Galveston, TX
oysters
Fresh Oysters at the Fisherman’s Wharf, Galveston, TX

Shout Out:  Today’s shout out goes to my nephews Eastwood and Austin and my sister Karen and her husband Casey in Dallas, TX.  I also want to say Hi to all of my marine students at PRHS.  Hope I didn’t leave you all too much work to do 🙂 Keep up with your blog ws!

Cara Nelson: Methot Madness, September 14, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 14, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 16:10
Latitude: 59º19.670’
Longitude: 146º07.196’
Wind: East 5 knots
Air Temperature: 14.5ºC (58ºF)
Air Pressure: 1010 millibars
Clear skies

Science and Technology Log

A Methot net is not your typical plankton net.  This large net hooks to a stainless-steel frame and has a mesh size of 3mm.  Its purpose: large jellyfish collection!  The Methot is unique not only for its size but also in its method of deployment.  The net must be craned off the starboard (right side) of the ship and submerged just under the water.  It is then towed for 20 minutes at the surface. Similar to the smaller plankton nets, there is a “cod-end” bucket that helps collect the jellies as the water filters out of the net. 

Methot net setup
Heidi working to tighten the shackles on one setup for the Methot net.
Methot net setup
Emily helps place the flow meter on the net prior to deployment to measure water flow for quantifying the abundance of organisms caught.

The setup of the Methot is tricky.  The frame that we are using was fabricated locally for these nets so there isn’t a manual for setup and a lot if trial and error is involved in the setup process.  This entails a lot of wrenching on shackles to connect the net to the frame, trying out a setup and then trying again once it is in place and we can watch the positioning and motion of the net in the water.  Fortunately, we have an amazingly positive team so we were able to meet each challenge and come up with a solution.  Our fourth time in resetting the net seems to be the charm.

lowering Methot net
The Methot being craned into the water.
Methot fully extended
The Methot looks like a giant wind sock when it is fully extended in tow next to the ship.

Heidi Islas is our onboard jellyfish guru.  I have never met anyone who loves jellyfish more than Heidi, and this passion and enthusiasm translates directly toward her commitment to her research.  She is currently working on her master’s degree at UAF with Russ Hopcroft as her advisor.  Her specific research thesis is, “the abundance and distribution of gelatinous zooplankton in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).”  Currently there is no baseline data on the type and biomass of the large jellies in the NGA so Heidi’s work is so important in helping identify not only what is present but how these jellies may be playing a role in this ecosystem particularly as predators on small fish. 

Heidi and codend
Heidi is about to open the cod-end where the jellies are trapped at the end of the net. A few of our samples were so full the jellies were up into the net and we needed the assistance of the crane to lift it back onboard.
jelly collection
One of our first collections had only a few but a nice variety of jellies: 2 Lion’s Mane, 1 albino Lion’s Mane, 1 Sea Nettle and 1 Crystal jelly.

Our typical sampling includes running either a Bongo net or Multinet off the stern (back) of the boat to collect zooplankton, and then immediately following we lower the Methot net for its 20-minute tow.  One of the deckhands, either Dave or Jen, run the crane for us, while the four of us help move and position the net into and out of the water.  At the end of the tow, we hose down the net and then open the cod-end to see what we have collected.  Our first few tows had only a few jellies but a little more variety.  Last night however, as we moved into deeper water south of Middleton island, we had a large number of jellies to process.  We assist Heidi in measuring the diameter of bells of the jellies, as well as collecting volume and mass measurements.  We then preserve any zooplankton and fish we collect for analysis by fisheries scientists back in the lab. 

measuring jellies
Emily assists Heidi in measuring and massing the jellies.
Heidi and Cara and jelly
Even though it is 3am, Heidi and I are pretty excited about our sample of Crystal jellies.

Many people might ask, why should we care about the jellyfish?  It all comes back to the food web connectivity.  For example, it is known that jellies will feed on smaller zooplankton, such as copepods and euphausiids (krill), but also on fish larvae, such as pollock.  The commercial pollock fishery is very interested in identifying any factor that may impact the adult pollock numbers.  Additionally, very little is known about what else the jellies are eating, or in what quantity.  So many questions arise about how these jellies might be impacted food availability for other species as well as serving as a food source themselves. 

Russ and worm
Russ examines a polychaete worm that was part of our sample.

Another very interesting piece of research for Heidi apart from her thesis focus is how are jellies responding to climate change.  A current hypothesis was that jellies increase in number during warming events, suggesting that they may become more abundant as our climate changes with even greater impact other species.  In her research on this topic, Heidi came across a paper published in 2013 that challenges this hypothesis.  It demonstrated that jellyfish actually follow a natural cycle of growth and decline with a peak in abundance every 19 years.  Heidi decided to analyze data that NOAA Fisheries had collected over a 38-year period from bottom trawls in the NGA.  She too saw the same cycle emerge.  Although this is exciting data, it leads to many more questions for her to explore. Such as what is driving this cyclic pattern?

giant sea nettle jelly
Emily holds a giant Sea Nettle that actually got trapped in our Bongo net. We measured it before sending it back to sea.

In both the scientific and non-scientific world it is easy to see a correlation of cause and effect and jump to a conclusion.  What I am realizing from the research going on aboard R/V Tiglax is that numerous variables must be considered before true causes can be determined from the data.  This is why collaboration in research is so important.   Physical, chemical and biological oceanographers along with fisheries biologists must work together to gain more holistic view of this NGA ecosystem to help unravel its secrets. 


Personal Log

Fortitude is my word for the past few days.  I have learned so much on this trip so far, including two important pieces of information about myself.  One is that my body does not like to work nights.  The days are blurring together for me as I adjust to my shift work.  I can say that it is definitely not an easy transition because the transition requires more than just adjusting sleep times, but also eating patterns as well.  On Friday night, due to the nature of our stations, we were not able to start our shift work until 1am.  By 5:30 in the morning as we began our last sample, I literally fell asleep on the rales of the ship waiting for our Bongo net to surface.  I think in another day or two, I will have it figured out.

A second piece of information I learned about myself, I am allergic to the scopolamine patch!  Early on Friday, I realized I was developing a rash, which soon spread.  The itching was becoming a problem and so I immediately discontinued an antibiotic I was taking thinking it was the culprit.  After the rash worsened, I then realized it was likely the patch.  After speaking with Captain John, he confirmed that this is a nasty side effect for some people.  I removed the patch Saturday and transitioned back to my usual medicine for motion sickness prevention: Bonine. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, the rash and itching persists.  Russ and John joke that they will be taping my fingers soon, so I better behave. 

After the first storm passed we were lucky enough to have several days of beautiful and surprisingly warm weather as we started along the Middleton line.  I was able to spend time on the fly bridge with Dan birding and mammal monitoring.  I will definitely highlight more on this in a later blog.  From Friday to Saturday I was fortunate enough to watch both amazing sunsets and sunrises as well as enjoy the beauty of the full moon. 

sunset
Sunset over the Northern Gulf of Alaska!

Another storm is forecast to be upon us by late Sunday evening, so our plan is to finish the Middleton line tonight and be in transit to GAK1 (just outside of Resurrection Bay) overnight.  Currently it is calling for East 40 knot winds and 11-13 foot seas.  It should be a fun ride.


Did You Know?

The jellies we are sampling all started out in the benthic (bottom) habitat in what is known as a polyp stage of their life cycle.  These polyps are attached to the bottom and will asexually bud off into the water column.  At this point, the jellies are only approximately a half of a centimeter in size.  It is estimated that it takes approximately a year for the jellies to grow to the full adult medusa stage.  The medusa is the bell-shaped, free floating stage that everyone recognizes as a jellyfish.  This amount of growth requires a lot of energy input, and thus these jellies must feed continuously to reach the adult sizes.  It is not known for sure, but it is estimated that the jellies will spend approximately a year in this phase in which they sexually reproduce.  The larva will then settle back to the benthic environment and start the cycle all over again.

Cara Nelson, The Gales of September, September 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound

Date: September 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 0830
Latitude: 60º16.073’ N
Longitude: 147º59.608’W
Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30
Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 1003 millibars
Cloudy, light drizzle

Science and Technology Log

There is a tool for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA).  As we sorted, shuffled and assembled equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other equipment needed for the different science research being performed as part of the LTER program. 

There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal.  Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use.  Logistics is an important part of any research mission.

Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function.  The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).

v
The deck full of boxes being unpacked and stored away, as well as the winch pulled apart for rewiring

One of the most complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the computers in the lab for real-time data communication.  A CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the salinity and water temperature at different depths.  The CTD is actually only a small portion of the device shown below.

CTD prep
The CTD is being put together and wired before departure.
CTD output
Temperature (blue line) salinity (red line) and fluorescence (chlorophyll) are transmitted and graphed on the computer as the CTD is lowered and raised.


The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth.  These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients.  As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode.  Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!

One bottle shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring bottle.

On the bottom of the CTD, there are several important sensors.  One is for nitrates and another for dissolved oxygen.  Additionally, there is a laser that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton.  Much of this data is being fed to the computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the end of the cruise. 

A big decision had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th.  A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with 30+ knot winds and high seas.  After several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the storm. 

After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay.  This station is used to test the CTD before heading out.  Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches.  For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly.  Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.


Personal Log

There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders.  Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day.  I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.

Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment.  The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay.  Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions.  I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way.  I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.

Orientation and safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship.  Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax along with a tour of the ship.  We ended on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case of a ship evacuation. 

survival suit practice
The new crew practices with their survival suits: Emily, Jake, Kira and Cara
Cara in survival suit
Although it has been a few years, I was able to don my survival suit pretty quickly.

Adjusting to a night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges.  Usually we work the first night but we had a break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime sampling until Thursday night.  Everyone on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock.  My plan was to stay up as late as possible and then rise early.  Last night however, between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well.  Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can wake refreshed for our first night shift. 

When I awoke this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of collection.  I was able to watch the first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway.  I will share details of these experiences in the coming days.

For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.


Did You Know:

There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton.  To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets.  As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.

Kathy Schroeder: Twice in a Lifetime Experience, September 12, 2019

shark tag

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/12/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Current Location:  Naples, Florida

Latitude: 26° 17’ 45”
Longitude: 81° 34’ 40”
Temperature: 91° F
Wind Speeds: NNE 7 mph


Personal Log

Before I leave on my “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” I thought I’d let you know a little more about me.

In May of 2010, I participated in the NOAA TAS program.  The hardest part was leaving my 1 ½ year old son Jonah while I was gone for three weeks.  At the time I was teaching science at Key Biscayne K-8 School, which was located on an island off of Miami, Florida.  I wanted to have my students experience something new so I chose to go to Alaska aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  The ship left out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska where the Deadliest Catch is filmed.  We spent the days and night doing neuston and bongo tows to study the walleye pollock (imitation crab meat).  I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and crew!  For more information you can look up my blog in the past season 2010.  I applied for the NOAA TAS Alumni position and now I’m happy to say I will be having a “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” with NOAA!  This time I will be on NOAA Ship Oregon II where we will be tagging and monitoring sharks and red snappers in the Gulf of Mexico.

I grew up in Louisville, KY where I spent most of my summers boating and skiing on the Ohio River.  When I was 10 years old my parents, sister and I got scuba certified.   I guess you could say this is when my love for the ocean began!  Our first trip was to Grand Cayman and we experienced things underwater that were even more beautiful than books and videos could ever show.  I have been back numerous times, but when I went back this past June you can obviously see the changes that are occurring in the ocean and the beaches.  I currently volunteer with Rookery Bay Estuarine Reserve and help with turtle patrol, shark tagging, and trawls.  The amount of garbage we collect is getting out of control.  Teaching the importance of this to my students is one of my top priorities. 

I currently teach AICE Marine and Marine Regular at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples, Florida.  For the past 5 years I have grown the program into a class that is not just “inside” the classroom.  What better way to learn about marine species and water quality than taking care of your own aquarium?  Throughout the school there are 24 aquariums.  The tanks include saltwater, fresh water, and brackish water.  My students are taught how to properly maintain a tank, checking the water quality and salinity, as well as feeding and caring for their organisms.  In addition to the aquariums they have a quarterly enrichment grade that has them getting outside in our environment and learning about the canals, lakes, and ocean that are just miles from us.  We work with Keeping Collier Beautiful to do canal cleanups twice a year and they also visit Rookery Bay and the Conservancy for educational lessons.  Thanks to the science department at Collier County Public Schools we are also given the opportunity to go out into the estuaries.  Rookery Bay and FGCU Vester lab work with us to get the students out on the water to experience the ecology around them.  Even though we are only miles from the Gulf of Mexico some students have never been out on a boat.  This day trip gives them a hands on learning experience where we complete a trawl and water sampling.

As I leave this weekend I know my students will be in good hands and will be following my blog throughout my journey.  The value of what I am going to be sharing with them far outweighs my short time away.  My goal is to show them you are never too old to try something new and hopefully my experience will get more students into a career in marine sciences. 

Shout outs:  First one goes to my son Jonah (11), my parents Bud and Diane for taking care of him while I’m off having the time of my life, my boyfriend Michael who is currently deployed with the Air Force SFS, and his two kids Andrew (17) and Mackenna (10).  Thanks for your support. Love and miss you all!  <(((><

shark tag
Rookery Bay Shark Tagging in the estuaries
Gulf of Mexico alumni workshop
NOAA Gulf of Mexico TAS Alumni workshop
Jonah and lobster
My son Jonah’s first mini-lobster season
Keep Collier Beautiful
PRHS Keeping Collier Beautiful Canal Cleanup
Kathy and baby turtle
Rookery Bay Sea Turtle Patrol – rescued and released

Phil Moorhouse: It’s Bongo Time! September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 56 15.09 N
Longitude: 157 55.74 W
Sea wave height: 8 ft
Wind Speed: 1.9 knots
Wind Direction: 179 degrees
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 12.8 C
Barometric Pressure: 1010.45 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Science and Technology Log:

One of the more technologically interesting pieces of equipment we are using is the Bongo net.  One of the main aspects of this cruise is the zooplankton survey. As I have stated before, this survey is important to studying the prey for the juvenile pollock and is done at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock so that scientists looking at the data can compare the ecology of the pollock with the ecology of their prey.  The Bongo net is used to collect the zooplankton. This contraption is a series of two large and two smaller nets attached to metal rings. It gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.  

The diagram on the left shows a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center).  The picture on the right shows the Bongo we are currently using on the Oscar Dyson with two 60 cm nets and two 20 cm nets.

lowered bongo
The Bongo has just been lowered into the water and following its descent.

The bongo net design we are using includes two large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets and two small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets.  The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton.  The diagram above has just two nets, but our Bongo has 4 total nets.  At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat.  This records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the temperature, salinity, and conductivity of the water.

This whole process involves a lot of working together and communication among the scientists and crew.  It usually involves three scientists, one survey tech, a winch operator, and the officer on the bridge. All members involved remain in radio contact to ensure that the operations run smoothly.  Two scientists and the survey tech work on the “hero deck”.  They oversee getting the nets overboard safely and back on the deck at the end of the evolution.  The unit is picked up and lowered over the side of the ship by a large hydraulic wench attached to the side A-frame.  Another scientist works in the data room at a computer monitoring the depth and angle of the Bongo as it is lowered into the water.  As the Bongo net is lowered, the ship moves forward at approximately 2 knots (2.3 mph).  This is done to keep the cable holding the Bongo at a 45-degree angle. A 45-degree angle of the wire that tows the Bongo is important to make sure that water flows directly into the mouth opening of the net.  One of the scientists on the hero deck will constantly monitor the wire angle using a device called an inclinometer or clinometer and report it to the officer on the bridge.  The bridge officer will then adjust the speed if necessary, to maintain the proper wire angle.
 

monitoring the bongo tow
Here, I am monitoring the angle of the Bongo wire using the inclinometer.
inclinometer
The flat side of the inclinometer gets lined up with the wire and an arrow dangles down on the plate and marks the angle.

The depth the Bongo is sent down depends on how deep the water is in that area (you wouldn’t want an expensive piece of equipment dragging on the ocean floor).  The Bongo is deployed to a depth of up to 200 meters or to a depth of no less than 10 meters from the bottom. When the Bongo is at the designated depth, the survey tech will radio the winch operator to bring the Bongo back up slowly.  It is brought back up slowly at 20 meters per minute and the 45-degree angle needs to continue to be maintained all the way back up. When the Bongo reaches the surface and is lifted back into the air, the survey tech and two scientists grab it and guide it back onto the deck.  This operation can be difficult when the conditions are windy, and the seas are rough.  

Once the Bongo has been returned to the deck, the scientist that was in the data room will record the time of the net deployment, how long it took to go down and back up, how much wire was let out, and the total depth of the station.  They will also come back out to read the flowmeters in order to see how much water has flowed through the net during the deployment. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted on the data sheet.

Next the nets are washed down with sea water, rinsing all material inside the net towards the codend.  The codend is the little container at the end of the net where all the plankton and sometimes other organisms are collected.  The codends can then be removed and taken into the Wet Lab to be processed with all the collected material placed in glass jars and preserved with formalin for future study.  

These samples are then shipped to Seattle and then on to Poland where they are sorted, the zooplankton identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area.  This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of the plankton in the water column and can provide good information on the overall health of the ocean as they indicate health of the bottom of the food chain.  After all, a high density of pollock prey means there is a good feeding spot for juvenile walleye pollock, which in turn means more Filet-O-Fish sandwiches down the line.

Species caught during the last Shift:

        Common Name            Scientific Name

  • Capelin                                          M. villosus
  • Northern Smoothtongue                      L. schmidti
  • Walleye Pollock                                      G. chalcogrammus
  • Eulachon or Candlefish                        T. pacificus
  • Arrowtooth Flounder            A. stomas
  • Rockfish                S. aurora
  • Smooth lumpsucker            A. ventricosus
  • Prowfish                Z. silenus
  • Sunrise Jellyfish            C. melanaster
  • Lion’s Main Jellyfish            C. capillata
  • Moon Jellyfish            A. labiata
  • Bubble Jellyfish            Aequorea sp.
  • Fried Egg Jellyfish            P. camtschatica
  • Shrimp
  • Isopods


Personal Log:

As I have said, I am working with some interesting people with some very interesting stories.  I am going to start sharing a little of their stories here.

LT Laura Dwyer
LT Laura Dwyer is the Field Operations Officer on the Oscar Dyson.

How long have you been working with NOAA?  What did you do before joining NOAA?

Laura has been a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps for almost seven years.  Before joining NOAA, Laura attended James Madison University, earning her degree in International Business.  She went to Bali, working as a dive instructor before moving on to Australia to do the same. While in Australia, she decided she wanted to study Marine Biology and came back to the states to study at George Mason University.  

Where do you do most of your work?

Most of the time, she can be found on the bridge navigating the ship.

What do you enjoy about your work? 

Laura said the most fun thing about the job is driving a 209-foot ship.  

Why is your work important?

She gets to safely navigate the ship safely while working with scientists to help them get their work done.

How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?

Laura had the opportunity to be the second NOAA officer who completed a cross-agency assignment with the Navy.  While there, she said she was able to show the Navy personnel that they were using NOAA products such as navigational charts and weather data.  Most of them did not realize that these products were made by NOAA.  
 

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?

Laura said that while she was in Australia, she was working with another diver who was going out counting fish species for his PhD.  She said that experience made her realize her father was right all along and she should have studied science.

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Radar

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

Driving ships.  She also stated that she never expected to be part of a Navy Command and shooting small arms weapons.

What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?

A lot of your regular classes, but definitely any conservation classes.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?

  • “Unnatural History of the Sea” – about overfishing throughout history
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

Laura said she would probably be going back to school to work on her Masters in Marine Biology, particularly coral conservation, or going to Fiji to be a dive instructor.

Do you have any outside hobbies?

Diving, reading, working on puzzles, and just being outside exploring (I also understand that she is a pretty good water polo player.)

Did You Know?

For each minute of the day, 1 billion tons of rain falls on the Earth.

Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.

Question of the Day:

The fastest speed of a falling raindrop is __________.

a. 10 mph

b. 18 mph

c. 32 mph

d. 55 mph

Answer: b

Ragupathy Kannan: Back on Terra Firma, September 9, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: September 6, 2019

I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.

ocean ecosystem diagram
The various threads in the fabric of the ocean ecosystem
Northwest Atlantic Food Web
We’re all in it together! We have no choice but to coexist in harmony. (Slide courtesy Harvey Walsh)

I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.

The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.

And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.

Post script

In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.

voluntary speed restriction zone
Voluntary speed restriction zone (yellow block) around Nantucket following a sighting of Right Whales on August 30, 2019

Cara Nelson: A Birthday Gift to Remember, September 5, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – September 26, 2019


MissionNorthern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska (Port: Seward)

Date: September 5, 2019

Weather Data from Bartlett High School Student Meteorologist Jack Pellerin

Time: 0730
Latitude: 61.2320° N
Longitude: 149.7334° W
Wind: Northwest, 2 mph
Air Temperature: 11oC (52oF)
Air pressure: 30.14 in
Partly cloudy, no precipitation


Personal Introduction

On September 10th, I enter my 46th year on this amazing planet, and on the 11th, I depart on a trip that will be a birthday gift to remember. I will be departing Seward on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s R/V Tiglax to assist in the Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research study. To understand why I am so excited about this trip, I have to rewind about 30 years.

On March 24th, 1989, I watched in shock, along with the world, as the oil from Exxon Valdez swept across Prince William Sound. I was a 15-year old budding scientist learning about the importance of baseline data for ecosystems.  I didn’t know how, but I envisioned myself someday assisting in science research for this beautiful ecosystem. I dreamt of the day I would end up in Alaska and experience the Pacific Ocean.

In 2006, I was fortunate to be offered a teaching position in Cordova, Alaska on Prince William Sound where I became an oceanography and marine biology teacher.  I was in awe of the ocean and what it had to teach myself and my students. Having the ocean at our front door made hands on learning in the field possible each and every week.  We were also fortunate enough to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Sycamore for a marine science field trip each year along with scientists from the Prince William Sound Science Center and U.S. Forest Service. 

zooplankton sample
Showing zooplankton to a U.S. Coast Guard crew member after a plankton tow. Photo Credit: Allen Marquette

Since 2017, I have been teaching at Bartlett High School (BHS) in Anchorage School District.  I again have the opportunity to teach oceanography and marine biology and I am thrilled.  Although we live only a few miles away, many of my students have not yet seen the ocean.  It is so important for me to make learning relevant to their lives and their locality. As much as we can incorporate Alaska and their cultures into the lessons the better.

Here are just a few snapshots from our classroom:

BHS marine biology students
Students in my BHS marine biology class learn to make sushi during a lesson on seaweed uses.
BHS marine biology students
BHS marine biology students examine zooplankton during the Kenai Fjords Marine Science Explorers program in Resurrection Bay.
BHS marine biology students
Students in my BHS marine biology class operating mini-ROVs they built to complete an underwater rescue mission.

In a few days, I will begin my two-week mission to assist in important science research in Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and I feel like my 30-year old dream has come true. I will be participating in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) study, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

This cruise will be the third survey for the 2019 season for this area and the 23rd consecutive season for sampling along the Seward Line.  The goal of the NGA-LTER program is to evaluate the ecosystem in terms of its productivity and its resiliency in the face of extreme seasonal variations and long term climate change.  The mission entails doing a variety of water and plankton sampling at different stations along four transect lines in the NGA, as well as a circuit within Prince William Sound.  

sampling station map
The NGA-LTER sampling stations. Image Credit: Russ Hopcroft

I will be sailing aboard R/V Tiglax (pictured below) which is the Aleut word for eagle and is pronounced TEKL-lah.  My primary mission is to assist on the night shift with the collection of zooplankton at each station.  In addition to this, I look forward to learning as much as I can about the other work being done, including water chemistry, nutrient sampling, phytoplankton collection and analysis, and seabird and mammal surveys.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I am tasked with creating lesson plans that connect this science research to my classroom.  My goal is to develop lessons that will help my students understand the importance of whole systems monitoring, as well as the important connections between ocean water properties, microfauna and megafauna. 

R/V Tiglax
R/V Tiglax. Photo Credit: Robin Corcoran USFWS

When I am not in my classroom, I like to be outside as much as possible.  I enjoy hiking, backpacking and spending time with my family on our remote property in Bristol Bay. 

Crow Pass Trail
My husband and I getting ready to backpack Crow Pass Trail , part of the historic Iditarod Trail.

My husband and I also like to travel outside of Alaska whenever possible during the winter months and see the world.  One of our favorite trips was completing a full transit of the Panama Canal.  This winter break we will be headed to the barrier reef in Belize to experience the beautiful tropical ocean. 

Panama Canal
Transiting the Panama Canal on Christmas Day on our honeymoon.

I tell my students we have researched and explored more of space than we have of our own ocean.

Cara at Space Camp
Participating in Space Camp Academy during my tenure as 2012 Alaska Teacher of the Year.

I am so excited to be working to help change that statistic!

Teacher at Sea Cara Nelson
I am honored to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.


Did You Know?

This summer has broken many records in Alaska for warm dry weather and Southcentral has been in an official drought.  How will this impact ocean temperatures out in the NGA and will we see evidence in the plankton or other organisms we examine? 

Stay tuned to my blog and I will let you know the answer to this as well as so much more!

Phil Moorhouse: We’re At Sea! September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 2, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57 35.35 N
Longitude: 153 57.71 W
Sea wave height: 1 ft
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: 208 degrees
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 15.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar
SkyOvercast

After a series of unfortunate events, we finally got underway!  It turns out arriving several days before the ship departure ended up being very helpful.  My checked bag did not arrive with me and the morning of departure it still had not arrived.  I had given up on seeing it before we pulled out and gone shopping for replacement “essentials”.  Then, an hour before our scheduled departure I got a call from my airline hero saying that my bag had finally made it to Kodiak.  A quick trip to the airport and back to the ship and I was ready to go. That’s when the waiting game really started. Repairs to the Bongo apparatus caused a several hour delay as we waited on repairs, then after moving out into open water to test it, we found that it still wasn’t working properly.  The ship crew worked to make adjustments and finally, we were off!  


Science and Technology Log

We departed for the stations where the previous group had left off.  The first couple of stations were methodical as everyone was becoming accustomed to what to expect. I have been asked by multiple people what kinds of things are going on during these expeditions and what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship.  There are several projects going on. The primary focus is on assessing the walleye pollock population, but there is also data being collected simultaneously for scientists working on other projects.

Each station starts with a bongo tow in which the bongo nets are lowered over the side and pulled along collecting plankton.  Once the bongo is pulled back onto the ship, the flowmeters are read to record the amount of water that went through the net, and the nets are then carefully washed down to concentrate the plankton sample into the cod end.  This end piece can then be removed and taken into the lab area to prepare the sample for shipping back to the NOAA labs. As this process is being completed, our ship’s crew is already working to bring the ship back around to complete a trawling operation in the same area. 

Trawling operations
Trawling operations off the ship’s stern. During an average trawl, the net will extend up to 540 meters behind the boat and up to 200 meters deep.
at work on the bridge
A good example of scientists and crew working together during a trolling operation. Ensign Lexee Andonian is manning the helm and watching the trawling operations on the monitor while scientist, Annette Dougherty is recording data off the monitors.

It is preferable to complete both operations from the same location since the plankton are the primary food source and a comparison can then be made between the amount of producers and consumers. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  During one of the trials yesterday, a pod of humpback whales decided they wanted to hang out just where we wanted to trawl.  Because of this, it was decided to attempt to move away from the whales before starting the trawl.  When all goes well, the trawling nets should bring in a nice variety of species and in our case, a large number of pollock!  For the first two trials, we found mostly jellyfish with only a few other fish samples.  Later trials, though, have been much more successful in finding a better mix of species.  Below is a list of species caught during the last Station.

As the catch is spread onto the table, all other sea life is separated from the jellyfish and sorted for measurement and recorded.  The jellyfish are weighed as a mixed sample, then re-sorted by species and weighed again.  The fish are all measured, recorded, and bagged and frozen for future use by scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects.

Species caught during the last Station:

Common NameScientific Name
Sockeye SalmonO. nerka
Northern SmoothtongueL. schmidti
Walleye PollockG. chalcogrammus
unidentified juvenile GunnelsPholidae family
Eulachon, or CandlefishT. pacificus
Isopods
Shrimp
Sunrise JellyfishC. melanaster
Lion’s Mane JellyfishC. capillata
Moon JellyfishA. labiata
Bubble JellyfishAequorea sp.


Personal Log

Drills were the word of the day the first day as we went through fire drills and abandon ship drills.  It is always nice to know where to go if something goes wrong while out at sea.  I now know where the lifeboats are, how to get into my immersion suit, and what to do in case of a fire on the ship.

*** Of course, just when we really start to get into the swing of things, a weather front comes through that forces us to find a place to “hide” until the waves calm down.

On another note, I have seriously been geeking out enjoying talking to the NOAA scientists about their research and experiences. There is a wealth of information in the minds of the scientists and crew on this ship.  I have initially focused on getting to know the scientists I am working with and slowly branching out to get to know the crew.  Hopefully I will be able to translate some of my admiration here in the coming posts.

Did You Know?

Did you know, there are approximately 1800 thunderstorm events going on in Earth’s atmosphere at any one time?

Question of the Day:

What type of fish can be found in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Arby’s Classic Fish Sandwich, Long John Silver’s Baja Fish Taco, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, and Birds Eye’s Fish Fingers in Crispy Batter?


Answer: Pollock

Callie Harris: Back to Land Life, September 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 9/3/19

Weather Data from Key West, FL

Latitude: 24.551°N
Longitude: 81.7800 °W
Wind Speed: 15 MPH
Air Temperature: 32°C
Sea Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1009 mbar


Personal Log

I can’t believe I’ve been back on land for one week already. My 14 days on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson flew by. Everyone has asked me how my trip was and I simply state, “epic.” It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure. I hope I inspire my daughters, students, and colleagues to never stop daring, dreaming, and discovering. The trip itself exceeded my highest expectations. I realized how lucky I was to have such warm weather and calm seas. The scientists agreed it was one of calmest expeditions they have ever had in terms of sea conditions. One of the coolest experiences of being a Teacher at Sea was the ability to see every aspect of the vessel. The NOAA Corps officers, the deck crew, and the scientists were so welcoming and friendly. I truly felt at home on board wherever I ventured. By the end of our cruise, our science watch was seamless while conducting the fish surveys. I got the biggest compliment on the last day of our trip when two of the deck crew said they thought I was one of the NOAA scientists the whole time. They both had no idea I was actually a teacher at sea until I mentioned that I was headed back home to teach in Key West.

Callie in front of plane
Callie prepares to head home. Photo Credit: Ali Deary

Just when I thought my adventure was over, I had one of my most memorable moments of the trip. The science team and I had some down time while waiting to board our flight out of Kodiak to Anchorage. We were so thrilled to be back on land that we decided to go on a walk-about around the airport area. We stumbled upon a freshwater river where Pink Salmon were spawning (aka a salmon run). The salmon run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. We stood on the river bank in awe watching hundreds of them wiggle upstream. We also came across fresh bear scat (poop) that was still steaming. It was pretty crazy! Our walk-about was such a random fun ending to an epic adventure.

Pink salmon run
Pink salmon run
at the river
Callie and friends from NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: Matt Wilson
Fresh bear scat!
Fresh bear scat!

I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I will be sharing it with my students for years to come. I am looking forward to attending future NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni gatherings to meet fellow TAS participants and continuing this amazing experience.

Jessica Cobley: A Busy Return to Home, September 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 9/2/2019

Weather Data from Juneau, Alaska:  

Lat: 58.3019° N, Long: 134.4197° W 
Air Temp:  12º C

Personal Log

Phew…finally a day to sit back and take a breath! A few days after getting back from sea, I attended our school district’s inservice and am now 2 weeks into the new school year. It is hard to believe how quickly the summer break goes by!

Back in Juneau, the sunny, warm weather has continued, which has also meant no shortage of adventures. Since getting home, friends and I have hiked the Juneau Ridge, fished in Lynn Canal, and hunted on Admiralty Island. It has been a warm welcome home! A group of us are also training for the upcoming Klondike Running Relay from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, YT. Needless to day, I was VERY happy to have a treadmill and workout equipment on the boat to keep active while at sea.

Jess' dogs
Our pups at the end of a trail run to the Herbert Glacier in Juneau.
Admiralty Island
Spotting deer at sunset on Admiralty Island.
Jess and fish
Fishing after a night camping on a nearby island. Photo by Max Stanley

On the school side of things, I felt lucky to have some time to spend curriculum planning while at sea. It has helped me have a smooth start to the year and give the new 7th graders a great start. I am definitely looking forward to sharing my Teacher at Sea experience with all my new kiddos.

With the return to school, my relaxing days at sea have been replaced with nonstop action in and out of the classroom. Not only does the school year bring teaching science classes, but also an Artful Teaching continuing education course, coaching our middle school cross country team, and planning events for SouthEast Exchange (SEE). SEE is an organization I am a part of that works to connect local professionals, like those I met at sea, with local teachers. Our goal is to bring more real-world and place-based experiences into our classrooms. Through my involvement with SEE, I met and worked with NOAA scientist Ebett Siddon. Along with collaborating together on a unit about Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management for my 7th graders, she also told me about Teachers at Sea!

With that, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all of the staff at NOAA who help make this program possible. It was a once in a lifetime experience that has helped me better understand the field I am teaching about. I look forward to using what I have learned about studying fish populations and the unique career opportunities at sea with my students. I know they will appreciate my new expertise and see that there always opportunities to keep learning!

Kodiak Island mural
Last photo taken in Kodiak! Photo by Ruth Drinkwater

Thank you again and please consider applying for this program if you are a teacher reading this. 🙂

Ragupathy Kannan: Petrels to Pilot Whales, August 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 30, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.72218
Longitude: -69.45301
Water temperature: 19.8 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 5.25 knots
Wind Direction: 87.06 degrees
Air temperature: 23.2 degrees Celsius
Atmospheric pressure: 1006.85 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We’ve had a flurry of whale sightings as we passed over the famous Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  It’s a small underwater plateau in Massachusetts Bay flanked by steep drop offs.  Nutrients from the depths rise up by upwelling along the sides, feeding phytoplankton in the shallow light-abundant waters, and this creates perfect feeding habitat for whales.

Much of my time aboard this ship has been on the flying bridge (the highest point of access for us on the ship) scanning the seas for marine vertebrates.  I have basically been an extra pair of eyes to assist my colleagues Chris Vogel and Allison Black, the seabird observers on board.  From nearly 50 feet high above the water, the flying bridge gives nearly unimpeded 360° views of the horizon all around.  I call out any vertebrate animal seen—fish, birds, reptiles, or mammals.  Chris and Allison enter all of our data in a specific format in a software program called SeaScribe. 

To calculate densities of each species, we need an estimate of how far the animal is from the ship for each sighting.  For that we use a rather low tech but effective piece of equipment.  The pencil! 

Pencil as observation tool
Pencil as observation tool

This is how it works. The observer holds the pencil (photo above) upright with arm outstretched, aligning the eyes and tip of the eraser to the horizon (see photo below), and simply reads the distance band (Beyond 300m, 300-200, 200-100, or 100-50m) in which the animal is seen.  Thanks to some fancy trigonometry, scientists found a way to estimate distance by using the height of the observer’s eyes from the water surface, the distance from the observer’s eyes to the eraser tip of the pencil when it’s held upright with arm outstretched, and the distance to the horizon from the height of observer’s eyes above water.  I’ll spare you the trigonometric details but those curious to learn more can find the paper that introduced the technique here.

Kannan and range finder
Here I am using the range finder

Seabirds are a challenge for a rain forest biologist like me.  They move fast and vanish by the time you focus the binoculars! And the fact that the deck heaves up and down unexpectedly adds to the challenge.  But slowly I got the hang of it, at least the very basics.  I’ve recorded hundreds of shearwaters, storm-petrels, boobies, gannets, jaegers, and skuas.  Whales (sea mammals) seen include Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Pilots.  I am hoping to see a Right Whale but I know that the odds are against me.  Time is running out, both for our voyage, and for them.  Unfortunately, only a few 100 are left and the ocean is huge—the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh tells me that this year so far, 8 Right Whales have died due to accidental collisions or net entanglements.  Sadly, the future looks bleak for this magnificent animal.  (More on Right Whales at the end of this blog).

Great Shearwater ebird
Great Shearwater is one of the most common seabirds we have recorded. This bird nests only in a few islands in the South Atlantic Ocean and wanders widely. Photo by Derek Rogers, from ebird.org

I note that marine vertebrate biologists are good at extrapolating what little they can see.  Much of their subjects are underwater and out of sight.  So they have become good at identifying species based on bits and pieces they see above water.  All they need often is a mere fleeting glimpse.  Sharks are told by the size, shape, and distance between the fins that stick out, sea turtles by the shape and pattern on their carapace (top shell–see photos below); whales based on their silhouette and shape of back; and Molas based simply on the fact that they lazily wave one large fin in and out of the water as they drift by.  (I thought it was the pectoral fin they waved, but it’s actually the massive dorsal fin.  I’ve noted that the pectoral is rather small and kept folded close to the body). 

leatherback sea turtle A. Black
A fleeting glimpse is all that is needed to identify a Leatherback Sea Turtle, thanks to its diagnostic longitudinal ridges (Photo by Allison Black).
shark fins
We’ve had several shark sightings such as this. The size, shape, and the relative locations of the fins indicate that this could be a whale shark (Photo by Allison Black)

Scientists can identify individual humpbacks based solely on the indentations and color patterns on their tail flukes.  In effect, each individual animal’s tail fluke is its unique fingerprint. Since the tail fluke is often seen when the animal dives from the surface, scientists have a huge photographic database of humpback tail flukes (see photo below).  And they track individuals based on this.  My ecology students should know that scientists also estimate populations based on a modification of the capture-recapture method because each time an individual’s fluke is photographed, it is in effect, “tagged”.  We do a nice lab exercise of this method by using marked lima beans masquerading as whales in my ecology lab.

humpback tail flukes
Researchers use variation on humpback whale flukes to identify and track whales (from Wildwhales.org)
Finback whale
Finback Whales are easily identified by the fin on the back (From aboutanimals.com)


Career Corner

I spoke with Allison Black, one of our seabird observers on board.

Q. Tell us something about yourself

A. I really love seabirds.  I’m fortunate to have been able to do my Master’s work on them and observe them in their natural habitat.  I have an undergrad degree in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio. 

Q. You’re a graduate student now in which university?

A. Central Connecticut State University

Q. What’s your research project?

A. I conducted a diet study of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls on Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, Massachusetts.

Q. You have done these NOAA seabirds surveys before?

A. Yes, this is my third.

Q. What happens next, now that you are close to finishing your Masters?

A. I’m looking for full time employment, and would like to work for a non-profit doing conservation work. But until the right opportunity arises you can find me on a ship, looking for seabirds and marine mammals!

Q. What’s your advice to anyone interested in marine science?

A. I had a major career change after I did my undergrad.  I thought I’d always be a zoo keeper, which I did for about two years until I decided that birds are really my passion, and I needed to explore the career possibilities with them.  To focus on that avenue I decided to return to graduate school.  So I would encourage undergrads to really find what drives them, what they’re really passionate about.  I know it’s hard at the undergraduate level since there are so many fields and avenues under the Biology umbrella.  And it’s OK if you haven’t figured that out for a while.  I had a real change in direction from captive wildlife to ornithology, and I’m here at sea in a very different environment.  I’m so glad I did though because following my passion has opened up some exciting avenues.  I’m lucky to be getting paid to do what I really love right now.  So grab any opportunity that comes by. It’s never too late to evaluate your career path.

Allison Black
Allison Black entering our observations in SeaScribe


Personal Log

My feelings are bitter-sweet as this wonderful 16-day voyage nears its end.  My big thanks to NOAA, the ship’s wonderful command officers and staff, our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh, and my colleagues and student volunteers aboard for making the past 2 weeks immensely absorbing.  Above all, kudos to the ship’s designers, who have clearly gone out of their way to make life aboard as easy as possible.  In addition to the unexpected luxuries covered in my previous blogs, there is even a movie lounge on board with an impressive DVD collection of over 700 movies! Yesterday I saw our student volunteers play bean bag toss on the winch deck. Yes, you can throw darts too.  The ship’s command even organized a fun sea animals-bingo game one evening, with winners getting goodies from the ship store (see below).

movie lounge
The movie lounge on board
The ship’s store
The ship’s store


The engine rooms tour

As part of our grand finale, we were given a tour of the engine rooms (which are usually off bounds for non-crew members) by our genial First Engineer, Kyle Fredricks.

engine room
A glimpse of the intricate innards of the ship. To the right is the massive shaft that ties the two rudders together.
sensors and monitors
Sensors and monitors keep tabs on engine function 24/7
1st E Kyle Fredricks
First Engineer Kyle Fredricks explains the desalination system on board. It works by reverse osmosis. All explanations are done by gestures or written notes because of noise in the background. Note ear plugs on all of us!


Did You Know?

NOAA has strict policies to avoid collision with whales, especially the highly endangered Right Whale.

right whale ship strick reduciton rule
This poster is prominently displayed on board. Vessels have to comply with rules to avoid accidental strikes with Right Whales

Interesting Animals Seen Lately

South Polar Skua

Great Skua

Pomarine Jaeger

Black Tern

Manx Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Leach’s Storm-petrel

Northern Gannet

Brown Booby

Great Black-backed Gull

Humpback Whale

Pilot Whale

Ocean Sunfish

Linda Kurtz: Women in STEM-(at Sea): Meet Allyson Causey, August 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/23/2019

engineer Allyson Causey
Allyson Causey – Engineer aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

Women in STEM – Engineering

Meet Allyson Causey!  Engineer aboard NOAA ship Fairweather

Job Title:

3rd Assistant Engineer

Time in current position:

2 ½ months aboard Fairweather

Education and/or Specialized training:

Texas A & M- Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering Technology

Wage Mariners-civil service federal employee (nonmilitary)

Do you have any plans for future education?

Currently investigating at master’s programs in Nuclear Engineering

Engineering aboard Fairweather

  • Generator
  • Boiler
  • Reverse Osmosis Machine
  • Reverse Osmosis Machine
  • Controller
  • Main engine
  • Air compressor
  • Fire main
  • Marine Sanitation Device

How did you find out about your current position at NOAA?

I met a NOAA recruiter at a job fair at Texas A & M, submitted resume and 3 weeks later I got the call!   After that the lengthy background check and physical for Federal employees, I came to work at NOAA aboard Fairweather.

1) When you were a child, what was your dream career?

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young.   I looked into aeronautical engineering and attended a Federal Service academy – the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  My Dad is an engineer and contractor, so I grew up on job sites and always had the mindset of math and science.  I knew my career would be something in the STEM field

2)  What was your favorite subject in school?

My favorite class was differential equations.  Why I like engineering so much is everything is one big puzzle, and differential equations is like one big puzzle.

3)  Why is what you do important to on the ship?

Engineers on ships are essentially the lifeblood of the ship, we keep the ship moving.  We are the electricians, plumbers, the mechanics, and even the firefighters.  The ship can’t go anywhere without engineers!

4)  What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is important to you?

 I enjoy solving the puzzles.  When something goes wrong, I enjoy finding out why something is not working and then solving the problem.  That is what is so rewarding — figuring out what is wrong and fixing it!

5)  Where do you do most of your work?

In the engine room.  That’s where I spend my 8-hour shifts.  The engineering room is on A & B deck — the 2 bottom-most levels of the ship.  That is where most of the mechanisms that run the ship are located. 

6)  What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

 A crescent wrench!  Mine is handy because it can measure and tell you the exact size of the nut which makes things a lot easier!

7)  If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

I would invent a tool that could reach bolts at odd angles.  Like a magnetic wrench that could adjust to the size bolt head you need and could bend around the odd angles and apply torque when I need it.

8)  What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect?

 I never expected to be in Alaska!

9)  How could teacher help students understand and appreciate NOAA engineering opportunities?

I think it would be valuable to have better understanding of what we engineers do!   It’s a really cool job, with a really good salary, and very few people know there are positions like this available. 

10)  What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?

Every day is a little different, you are never doing the same thing over and over again.  Something is always breaking and needs immediate attention.

11)  What was your favorite book growing up?

My favorite book series when I was growing up was Junie B. Jones!  I come from Florida and loved Jacques Cousteau.   He inspired me to become a scuba diver at 17.

12)  What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

I would be still be working on a boat!

13)  Do you have an outside hobby?

 I love camping and hiking, I’ve hiked 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail and would like to hike the rest!

14)  What is your favorite animal?

Manta Rays!

15)  If you could go back in time and tell your 10 year old self something, what would it be?

Take more math and science classes!  It really helps you get ahead in life! 

Did you know?

All of the electrical power on Fairweather comes from the generators, not the engines. It’s a common misconception!

Want to learn more about careers like and Allyson Causey’s and NOAA resources? See the resource links below:

NOAA ENGINEERING

US MERCHANT MARINES ACADEMY

NOAA Teacher Ready Resources

Linda Kurtz: Women in STEM-(at sea): Meet Bekah Gossett, August 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/22/2019

HSST Beka Gossett
HSST Bekah Gossett

HSST Rebekah Gossett

  1. When you were a child, what was your dream career?

As a child, I always wanted to draw. I was drawing constantly and I wanted to somehow make my love for creating art into a career, whether that meant being a studio artist myself or helping to teach others to make art.

2. What was your favorite (and least favorite) subject in school?

Believe it or not, science! I grew to really enjoy my science classes starting in middle school and through high school, especially participating in the science fairs. My love for science was inversely related to my love for math. I started to dread all my mathematics courses as I went through high school, and really up into my earlier college years which often made my science courses difficult. During my junior year in college I took calculus taught by a great professor and things finally clicked!

3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?

Sometime in between my junior and senior years in college, I realized I wanted to do what is I’m doing now. That’s when I was introduced to hydrography.

4. What do you enjoy the most (and the least) about your work?

I really enjoy working on the ocean and with small boats. It’s a really dynamic platform. The lifestyle that comes with living on a ship can be difficult. It’s a lot of traveling and spending time away from home.

5. Where do you do most of your work?

Most of my work is done on the ship in the Plot Room. It’s a big room on the ship where most of our processing systems live.

6. What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

A computer! Computers are used for data acquisition, processing, and delivery. Everything is done via some sort of processing/work station.

7. What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

I never thought I would be a NOAA Diver. I didn’t even know that NOAA had a dive program. Learning to be a working diver was an awesome experience and opportunity that I don’t think I would have ever had, or even would want to have outside of NOAA.

8. How could teachers help students understand and appreciate NOAA science?

Teachers could help students understand and appreciate NOAA science by sharing some of the awesome work we do that’s applicable to their classroom. NOAA is such a big administration with tons of cool science going on so by picking some interesting topics that are more relatable to their classroom audience might help engage their students.

9. What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?

When acquiring data, my favorite part of the day is the end, when the data is transferred and being processed. It’s not because the day’s over, but because I get to see all of the data we’ve collected throughout the day and remember the work that went into it. It’s also the beginning of the next stage of work for that dataset, the quality control stage.

10. What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure I would be doing anything hydrography related. NOAA has been a great learning platform for me to become the hydrographer I am now. NOAA has really taught me to appreciate ocean science.

11. Do you have an outside hobby?

My outside hobby is painting. It can be hard to find space on the ship to paint, but traveling around Alaska and being on the water always inspires me to be more creative.

12. What is your favorite animal?

Picking one is pretty difficult, but I’m really into jellyfish right now. They seem like they have a low-stress lifestyle.

13. If you could go back in time and tell your 10 year old self something, what would it be?

“Relax, being 10 is way cooler than you think.”

14. Have you traveled anywhere interesting travels while studying Geology?

I traveled to Northern India as my field study in college. We were studying the water quality and management stemming from the Ganges River. Also, most of my geology labs in college were trips to the field which often meant the beach. Traveling and being outside is an added bonus while studying geology.

Interested in learning more about Hydrography and NOAA? Check out the resources below:

HYDROGRAPHY CAREERS NOAA 1

HYDROGRAPHY CAREERS NOAA 2

NOAA EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

SCIENCE ON A SPHERE

OCEAN TODAY-“TRASH TALK”

Ragupathy Kannan: Ocean Salinity to Ocean Sunfish, August 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 26, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41.27688
Longitude: -67.03071
Water temperature: 18.4°C
Wind Speed: 14.8 knots
Wind Direction: 41°
Air temperature: 18.6°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1021 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We entered Canadian waters up north in the Gulf of Maine, and sure enough, the waters are cooler, the sea choppier, and the wind gustier than before.  And the organisms are beginning to show a difference too.  Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh showed me a much longer arrow worm (Chaetognatha) from the plankton samples than we had encountered before (see photo below).  And there are more krill (small planktonic crustaceans) now. 

arrow worm
We got this beautiful arrow worm in our plankton sample as we entered colder waters

So far in my blogs, I have focused on sampling of biological organisms like plankton.  But recall that in an ecosystem monitoring survey like ours, we need to measure the abiotic (non-biological) aspects too because the word Ecosystem covers a community of organisms along with their biotic and abiotic environment. 

In today’s blog, I will highlight the ways various important abiotic components are measured.  You will learn about the interdisciplinary nature of science.  (Feel free to pass this blog on to physics, chemistry, and engineering majors you know—it may open up some career paths they may not have explored!).  I will come back to biotic factors in my next blog (seabirds and marine mammals!).

CTD

The CTD is a device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  We lower a heavy contraption called a Rosette (named due to its shape, see photo below) into the water. It has bottles called Niskin bottles that can be activated from a computer to open at specific depths and collect water samples.  Water samples are collected from various depths.  Electrical conductivity measurements give an idea of salinity in the water, and that in turn with water temperature determines water density.  The density of water has important implications for ocean circulation and therefore global climate.  In addition, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is also measured in labs later to give an idea of acidity across the depths.  The increased CO2 in the air in recent decades has in turn increased the ocean’s acidity to the point that many shelled organisms are not able to make healthy shells anymore.  (CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid).  Addressing the issue of increasing ocean acidity and the resulting mass extinction of shell-building organisms has become a pressing subject of study.  See the photos below of CTD being deployed and the real-time data on salinity and temperature transmitted by the CTD during my voyage.

lowering the CTD
I assist lowering the CTD Rosette into the water. The gray cylinders are Niskin bottles that can be activated to open at various depths.
CTD data
This display shows the real time data from each scan the CTD sends back to the computer. The y-axis is depth in meters, with sea surface at the top. The instrument was sent down to 500 meters deep. The green lines show fluorescence, an estimate of phytoplankton production. Note that the phytoplankton are at the photic (top) zone where more light penetrates. The blue line shows water temperature in degrees Celsius and the red line shows salinity. (Photo courtesy: Harvey Walsh)

EK-80

The ship is equipped with a highly sensitive sonar device called EK-80 that was designed to detect schools of fish in the water. (See photo of it attached to the hull of our ship, below).  It works by sending sound waves into the water.  They bounce off objects and return.  The device detects these echos and generates an image.  It also reflects off the sea bottom, thus giving the depth of the water.  See below an impressive image generated by our EK-80, provided kindly to me by our amicable Electronics Technician, Stephen.

EK-80 display
A remarkable screen shot of the EK-80 display of our ship passing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel as we headed out to sea from Norfolk, Virginia. To the left is a huge mound of dirt/rock, and just to the right of the mound, is a ravine and the tunnel (has a small peak and spikes). To the right (seaward side of the tunnel) you can see dredge material falling from the surface. We observed the sand and silt on the surface as we were passing through it. (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen).

The Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)

Scientists use this instrument to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water column. An ADCP is attached to the bottom of our ship (see photo below) to take constant current measurements as we move.  How does it work? The ADCP measures water currents with sound, using a principle of sound waves called the Doppler effect.  A sound wave has a higher frequency as it approaches you than when it moves away. You hear the Doppler effect in action when a car speeds past with a building of sound that fades when the car passes. The ADCP works by transmitting “pings” of sound at a constant frequency into the water. (The pings are inaudible to humans and marine mammals.) As the sound waves travel, they bounce off particles suspended in the moving water, and reflect back to the instrument. Due to the Doppler effect, sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a slightly lowered frequency when they return. Particles moving toward the instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency between the waves the profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the particle and the water around it are moving. (From whoi.edu)

The University of Hawaii monitors ocean currents data from ADCPs mounted in various NOAA ships to understand global current patterns and their changes. 

hull of NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
The hull (bottom surface) of the ship showing the EK-80 and ADCP systems, among other sensors. Photo taken at the ship yard. (Courtesy: Stephen G. Allen)

Hyperpro

Hyperpro is short for Hyperspectral profiler, a device that ground truths what satellites in outer space are detecting in terms of light reflectivity from the ocean.  What reflects from the water indicates what’s in the water.  Human eyes see blue waters when there isn’t much colloidal (particulate) suspensions, green when there is algae, and brown when there is dirt suspended in the water.  But a hyperpro detects a lot more light wavelengths than the human eye can.  It also compares data from satellites with what’s locally measured while actually in the water, and therefore helps scientists calibrate the satellite data for accuracy and reliability.  After all, satellites process light that has traversed through layers of atmosphere in addition to the ocean, whereas the hyperpro is actually there. 

deploying hyperpro
A Hyperpro being deployed

Career Corner

Three enterprising undergraduate volunteers.

Volunteers get free room and board in the ship in addition to invaluable, potentially career–making experience.

undergraduate volunteers
David Caron (far side), Jessica Lindsay, and Jonathan Maurer having some much-needed down time on the flying bridge

David Bianco-Caron is doing his B.A. in Marine Science from Boston University (BU).  His undergraduate research project at the Finnerty Lab in BU involves a comb-jelly (Ctenophore) native to the West Atlantic but which has become an introduced exotic in the East Atlantic.  David studies a cnidarian parasite of the comb-jelly in an attempt to outline factors that could limit the comb-jelly.  The project has implications in possible biological control. 

Jessica Lindsay finishes a B.S. in Marine Biology later this year and plans to get her Small Vessels operating license next year.  This is her 2nd year volunteering in a NOAA ship.  She received a NOAA Hollings Scholarship which provides up to $9500 for two years (https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship).  It entailed 10 weeks of summer research in a lab.  She studies how ocean acidification affects shelf clams. 

Jonathan Maurer is a University of Maine senior working on a B.S. in Climate Science.  He studies stable isotopes of oxygen in ocean waters to understand ocean circulation.  The project has implications on how oceanic upwelling has been affected by climate change.  He intends to go to graduate school to study glaciers and ocean atmosphere interactions. 

See my previous blog for information on how to become a volunteer aboard a NOAA research ship.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden.  Claire’s smiling face and friendly personality lights up the ship every day. 

XO Claire Surrey-Marsden
Our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden

Claire is a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps:

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is made up of 321 professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. Learn more: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps

Q. Thanks for your time, Claire. You’re the XO of this ship.  What exactly is your role?

A. The Executive Officer is basically the administrator on board.  We help with staffing, we manage all the crew, we have a million dollar budget for this ship every year that we have to manage.  Everything from food to charts to publications, all these get managed by one central budget. I’m kind of the paper work person on board.

Q. What’s your background?

A. I have a marine biology degree from Florida Tech. I’ve done marine mammal work most of my career. I joined NOAA in 2007, before that I was a biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife [FFW].

Q. I heard you have done necropsies of marine mammals?

A. I was a manatee biologist for FFW for 3 years, we also dealt with lots of whales and dolphins that washed up on shore. I’ve also done marine mammal work in my NOAA career.  Worked with Southwest Fisheries Science Center on Grey Whales and dolphins, and worked with Right Whale management with the maritime industry and the coast guard.

Q. About a 100 college students, maybe even more are following my blog now.  What’s your advice to them, for someone interested in marine biology/NOAA Corps, what should they be doing at this stage?

A. Great question. Volunteer! Find all the opportunities you can to volunteer, even if it’s unpaid.  Getting your face out there, letting people see how good a worker you are, how interested and willing you are, sometimes you will be there right when there is a job opening. Even if it seems like a menial task, just volunteer, get that experience. 

Q. NOAA accepts volunteers for ships every summer?

A. Yes, ecomonitoring and other programs takes students out for 2-3 weeks, but there are other opportunities like the local zoo.  Even stuff that isn’t related to what you’re doing. Getting that work experience is crucial.

Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job as an XO in a ship like this?

A. Living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean can be challenging for people working together harmoniously.  Just making sure everyone is happy and content and getting fulfillment for their job.

At the end of the interview, Claire handed me a stack of brochures describing the NOAA Corps and how you can become part of it. Please stop by my office (Math-Science 222) for a copy.

Personal Log

The seas have become decidedly choppier the past few days.  It’s a challenge to stay on your feet!  The decks lurch unexpectedly.  Things get tossed around if not properly anchored.  I have fallen just once (touchwood!) and was lucky to get away with just a scratch.  I’ve had to take photo backups of my precious field notes lest they get blown away.  They came close to that once already.

The ship has a mini library with a decent collection of novels and magazines plus a lounge (with the ubiquitous snacks!).  I found a copy of John Grisham’s The Whistler, and this has become my daily bed time reading book. 

The lounge and library on board
The lounge and library on board

Interesting animals seen lately

I started this blog with a photo of an exceptionally long arrow worm.  The cold waters have brought some other welcome creatures.  I created a virtual stampede yesterday in the flying bridge when I yelled Holy Mola!  Everyone made a mad dash to my side to look over the railings at a spectacular Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) floating by.  The name Mola comes from the Latin word meaning millstone, owing to its resemblance to a large flat and round rock.  I have been looking for this animal for days!  Measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing between 250 and 1000 kg, this is the heaviest bony fish in the world.  The fish we saw was calmly floating flat on the surface, lazily waving a massive fin at us as though saying good bye.  It was obviously basking.  Since it is often infested with parasites like worms, basking helps it attract birds that prey on the worms.

mola mola
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola. We saw this behemoth lying on its side basking, waving its massive dorsal fin as though greeting us. They allow birds and other fish to pick their ectoparasites as they float (from baliscuba.com)

Another animal that almost always creates a stir is the dolphin.  Schools of dolphins (of up to 3 species) never cease to amuse us.  They show up unexpectedly and swim at top speed, arcing in and out of the water, often riding our bow.  Sometimes, flocks of shearwaters circling around a spot alert us to potential dolphin congregations.  Dolphins drive fish to the surface that are then preyed upon by these birds.  My colleague Allison Black captured this wonderful photo of Common Dolphins frolicking by our ship in perfect golden evening light.

common dolphins
Common Dolphins swimming by our ship (Photo by Allison Black)

Did You Know?

Molas (Ocean Sunfish) are among the most prolific vertebrates on earth, with females producing up to 300,000,000 eggs at a time (oceansunfish.org).

Parting shot

NOAA does multiple concurrent missions, some focused on fisheries, some on oceanography, and some hydrography.  It has a ship tracker that tracks all its ships around the world.  Our ET Stephen Allen kindly shared this image of our ship’s location (marked as GU) plus the locations of two other NOAA ships. 

location on shiptracker
Our exact location (GU) on 25 August 2019, captured by NOAA’s ship tracker (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen)

Callie Harris: Life Above and Below Deck, August 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13-26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/24/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 01.84 N
Longitude: 151 ° 35.12 W
Wind Speed: 8.45 knots
Wind Direction: 257.79°
Air Temperature: 15.3°C
Sea Temperature: 14.6°C
Barometric Pressure: 1010 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Chief Scientist Matt Wilson showed me how to collect otolith samples from pollock. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish that keep a record of a fish’s entire life. Similar to tree rings, scientists count the annual growth rings on the otolith to estimate the age of the fish. The size of the ring can also help scientists determine how well the fish grew within that year. To remove the otolith, a cut is made slightly behind the pollock’s eyes. Using forceps, you then remove the otoliths carefully.

Pollock Otoliths
Pollock Otoliths
extracting otoliths
To extract the otoliths, Callie first makes a cut into the top of the pollock’s head. Photo by Lauren Rogers.
extracting otoliths
Next, Callie uses tweezers to extract the otoliths. Photo by Lauren Rogers.

NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon gave me a tour of the engine room yesterday. Before venturing below deck, we had to put on ear protection to protect our ears from the loud roars of engine equipment.

JUE Blair Cahoon
JUE Blair Cahoon
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels

The Oscar Dyson has a total of four engines. The two larger engines are 12 cylinders and the two smaller engines are 8 cylinders. These engines are attached to generators. The motion of the engines gives force motion to the generators, which in turn power the entire ship. On a safety note, NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon also pointed out that the ship has two of every major part just in case a backup is needed.

Oscar Dyson engine
Oscar Dyson engine
Oscar Dyson generator
Oscar Dyson generator

 The engine room also holds the water purification system, which converts seawater into potable water. Each of the two evaporators can distill between 600-900 gallons of water a day. The Oscar Dyson typically uses between 800-1000 gallons of water a day. The engineers shared with me how this system actually works:

1.       Seawater is pumped onto the boat and is boiled using heat from the engine.

2.       Seawater is evaporated and leaves behind brine, which gets pumped off of the ship.

3.       Water vapor moves through cooling lines and condenses into another tank producing fresh water.

4.       This water is then run through a chemical bromide solution to filter out any leftover unwanted particles.

5.       The finely filtered water is stored in potable water holding tanks.

6.       The last step before consumption is for the water to pass through a UV system that kills any remaining bacteria or harmful chemicals in the water.

evaporator
One of two evaporators on board.
down the hatch
Down the ladder we go to the lower engine room

We then got to explore the lower parts of the engine room where I got to see the large rotating shaft which connects directly to the propeller and moves the ship. I have learned from my years of working on boats to be extremely careful in this area near the rotating shaft. You must make sure you do not have any loose clothing, etc. that could get caught or hung up in it.

Rotating shaft
Rotating shaft that connects to propeller.
Rotating shaft
Another view of the rotating shaft


Personal Log

I was unsure of what life would be like for two weeks on a scientific research vessel. We are now steaming towards station number 72 on day twelve at sea. We have done 65 bongo tows and 65 trawls. So yes, there is a lot of repetition day in and day out. However, each day brings its own set of challenges and/or excitement. Weather (wind direction, wave direction, current, etc.) makes each station uniquely challenging for the NOAA Corps Officers on the bridge and the deck crew below. I stand back in awe watching it all come together on our 209 foot ship. I get excited to see what new creature might appear in our latest trawl haul besides the hundreds of kilograms of jellyfish, haha. 


Did You Know?

One of the coolest things I learned on my engine tour is that when large equipment parts need to be replaced (like an engine or generator), engineers actually cut a giant hole in the side of the ship to get the old equipment out and the new parts in rather than take it apart and lug it up through the decks piece by piece. 

 
Animals Seen Today

The overnight science shift found a juvenile Wolf Eel in one of their trawl samples. It is not actually a wolf or an eel. It is in fact, a fish with the face of a ‘wolf’ and the body of an eel. Its appearance has been described as having the eyes of a snake, jaws of a wolf, and the grace of a goldfish. They can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh upwards of ninety pounds. Juveniles have a burnt orange hue and the adults are brown, grey, or green. Check out this website for more info about the super creepy wolf eel: https://www.alaskasealife.org/aslc_resident_species/44

adult wolf eel
Adult wolf eel. Image credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Something to Think About

In one of our trawls, we processed 850 kilograms of jellyfish…. That’s 1,874 pounds of jellyfish!!!

Phil Moorhouse: Science on the High Seas, August 27, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: August 27, 2019


Personal Introduction:

OK, this may be the science geek in me, but I’m feeling a bit like Leonard from Big Bang Theory when he was invited on Stephen Hawking’s expedition to the North Sea.  My excitement has been simmering as I made it through what I thought was going to be an expedition to the Caribbean coral reefs – only to have it cancelled due to ship engine problems. Luckily, I was rescheduled for a different expedition; this time off the coast of Alaska.

There was a silver lining to having the first trip cancelled.  In its place, I was able to join with fellow science teachers and Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff for a week studying the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the effects of global warming and erosion on Tangier Island.  It was interesting getting a taste of the scientific research done while taking samples and measuring water quality of both the James River and the Chesapeake Bay near Tangier Island for comparison.  The environmental challenges facing Tangier Island and the Chesapeake Bay are similar to the challenges facing other places.  Now I am anxious to head the other direction to the seas of Alaska to do some real scientific work aboard the Oscar Dyson

Science teachers to Chesapeake Bay
Science teachers to Chesapeake Bay!!!

Striped Burrfish – a native of the Chesapeake Bay, a bottom-dweller found in the grassbeds eating invertebrates such as hermit crabs and barnacles.

Blue Crab – living in the grass beds of the bay, they are an important economic species of the Chesapeake Bay as well as an important key to the reading the health of the bay. (and very tasty!)

Tangier waterman out checking crab pots. 35% of the blue crabs caught in the United States come from the Chesapeake Bay.

Tangier Island has shrank by 66% since 1850 and could completely disappear by the end of this century.


Science Introduction

The research team on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is conducting an acoustic-trawl (AT) survey to collect data, primarily on walleye pollock, to be used in stock assessment models for determining commercial fisheries quotas. When collecting data, scientists will work in 12 hour shifts and be looking to determine things such as species composition, age, length distribution etc. 

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Growing up as a farm boy in Kansas, I never dreamed I would have a chance to spend two weeks on a research ship in the middle of the ocean exploring a part of our world that we really know little about.  In teaching my students about the importance of learning about the world around us and taking care of this rock we live on, I find it ironic how we know more about space than we do about our oceans.  I myself spent a 20-year career in the Army that took me to numerous parts of the world, but my experience with the oceans has been limited to time at the beach, paddling or snorkeling close to the shore, or researching on land. 

This is one of the reasons I am so excited about being selected for this specific expedition.   I have joined the concerns of many scientists where it comes to the receding of our glaciers and icebergs and what this means to our Earth as a whole.  The health of our oceans is so important to the health of our earth as a whole. and yet we are just now realizing how our species has created such havoc to the ocean ecosystems.  I can’t wait to bring back everything I learn from this trip to share with my students. 

Ragupathy Kannan: Salps to Shearwaters, August 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 22, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.74767
Longitude: -70.41857
Water temperature: 25.3°C
Wind Speed: 7.18 knots
Wind Direction: 229 degrees
Air temperature: 24°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1014 millibars
Sky: Cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Life aboard this research vessel is fast-paced and absorbing.  I feel like I am a child in a toy shop, eager to learn and blog about so many of the happenings around me!  I spend much of my time high above in the flying bridge (above the bridge) with a panoramic 360 degree view of the horizon, documenting seabirds and mammals with colleagues—more on this later.  We suspend our surveying when the ship reaches a sampling station.  We have about 150 random sampling stations out in the ocean, ranging from close to coast (depth about 15 m) to right at the edge of the continental shelf (up to 500 m so far).  Cruising about 9 knots (about 10 mph), the ship zigzags along a predetermined track, stopping anywhere between 15-30 minutes at each sampling station. 

sampling station map
A map of our sampling stations. The black circles indicate plankton sampling sites; Dots show oceanographic stations where conductivity and temperature measurements are taken along with water samples for carbonate chemistry and nutrient analyses

At each station, an array of measurements are taken or specimens sampled.   

In my previous blog, I described a state-of-the-art device called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB).  But plankton are also sampled using more traditional methods.  We deploy Bongo Nets for plankton sampling.  Can you guess why they are called Bongos?  See the photo below. 

bongo nets
Bongo nets being pulled out after sampling. The chief bosun and student volunteers are on watch.

Note that there is a pair of bigger bongos and a pair of “baby” bongos.  These nets are lowered by a j-frame (arm that can be extended off the side of the ship) and winch, at various depths into the water and towed for particular distances through the water.  The time spent inside the water (5 minutes minimum) and the depth traversed (up to 200 meters) varies with station depth, but there is a Flowmeter at the mouth of each net that counts volume of water sampled.  So all measurements are standardized by volume.  The mesh size is 333 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter; 1 meter = 3.3 feet), meaning anything over 333 microns will be trapped.  (To put that in perspective, most cells in your body are about 100 microns).

flowmeter
A flowmeter at the mouth of a bongo net–-note the spinning fins that activate the water volume counting device

When they are pulled out, research personnel swing into action.  Most of them are undergraduate volunteers from various universities eager to get their hands wet (literally and figuratively) doing marine science.  The bigger bongo nets are hosed to flush all organisms to the bottom.  Then the bottom is opened and contents flushed into a sieve.  These samples are then preserved in formalin for future examination in labs on the mainland. 

Jessica rinses bongo nets
Jessica, an undergraduate volunteer, spraying the bigger bongo nets to flush plankton to the bottom
David rinses baby bongos
David (another undergraduate volunteer) sprays the smaller bongos
TAS Kannan rinsing nets
I lend a helping hand spraying the nets
emptying bongo nets
Jessica opens the bottom of the net and empties contents into a sieve
net contents
Much of the contents are Salps: jelly-like planktonic tunicates
salps and larval hake
Closer look at Salps with a larval hake fish (probably a Red Hake) near the center. More on hakes below.
Facts about Salps
The abundant salps are a vital component of the ecosystem. Source: archives.nereusprogram.org
crustacean
We even caught this beautiful planktonic crustacean (amphipod or isopod). It’s related to our rolly-pollies.
arrow worms
We also get some tiny arrow worms in our plankton samples. These torpedo-shaped worms belong to a phylum of predatory marine worms called Chaetognatha (“bristle jaws”). Photo courtesy Zatelmar
plankton jars
Plankton from the bigger bongos are preserved in 5% formalin for future analyses in mainland labs.

What happens to the contents of the pair of smaller bongos?  Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh freezes the sample from one of them into small ziplock bags for a Florida lab which will conduct Stable Isotope Analyses.  The other one’s contents are preserved in ethanol for genetic testing (Ethanol is far easier on DNA than formalin) to determine such aspects as taxonomy and phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships and use in larval fish age and growth studies.

sample bag
Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh bags a sample for freezing
labels
All specimens are carefully labeled and catalogued

So what are Stable Isotope Analyses?  If you are a beginning college student, you may be unaware of this sophisticated and widely-used technique.  (My ecology students should be well aware of this!).  Basically, the ratio of isotopes of a chemical element in a given sample is used to yield insights into aspects such as food preferences of the organism or to reconstruct its past environmental conditions.  It can also be used to determine where the plankton originated and thus get insights into ocean circulation.  The analyses are done with a device called mass spectrometer. 


Career Corner

I spoke with our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh about his career, research, and his advice for students.

Q. Harvey, tell us how a man from land-locked Minnesota ended up as a top marine biologist.

A. When I graduated from college I looked for a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but they were very competitive. So I applied for several NOAA positions from North Carolina down to the gulf coast. I got a job offer in NC.  This was after my B.S. in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.

Q. You did an M.S. while working with NOAA?

A. Yes, I went back to school part-time and got my Masters. I then went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute [WHOI]

Q. From WHOI you came back to NOAA?

A. Yes.

Q. Has ocean acidity changed since NOAA started EcoMon?

A. It is hard to say because of seasonal variability.  We need more long-term data.

Q. Is ocean acidity world-wide increasing?

A. That’s what I see in the scientific literature.

Q. How about temperature?

A. Yes, the Northeast has seen an increase in water temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where it has increased about 0.9°C in about 4 decades.

Q. Has EcoMon helped document declines in sharks or whales?

A. Again, we need long-term data for that.

Q. Can you name one recommendation from EcoMon that has benefited sea life?

A. We get larval fish data.  Recently we started calculating Atlantic Mackerel Egg Index in collaboration with Division of Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the data indicated that there is a decline in the adult population.  This aided in the determination to lower catch limits for that species.

Q. Has the politics of climate change influenced your work?

A. No.  I have not had anyone try to change my research or findings in any way.  We have within NOAA good scientific integrity rules. We feel we have the ability to publish sound science research without any interference.

Q. You are highly published.  One of your papers on larval fish otoliths was with my former student Michael Berumen.  How are larval otoliths helpful in research?

A. One of the projects we have is trying to use larval hakes to examine stock structure (fish stock is a group of fish of the same species that live in the same geographic area and mix enough to breed with each other when mature) and estimate spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish).  We have interns in the lab who remove otoliths and get daily growth increments. That allows us to estimate age of the larva and spawning seasonality. 

Q. Can you tell based on this where they hatched?

A. That’s where we are headed.  Once we get information on when they were born and where they were collected, we hope to use oceanographic conditions to see if we can back-calculate where they may have come from and thus plot spawning locations to aid in stock structure analysis.

Q. One of the findings of past warming episodes is shrinking of foraminiferans and other small shelled organisms.  Is NOAA monitoring size of plankton?

A. We are.  That’s one of the projects we have just started: estimating size of Calanus finmarchicus, or Cal fin [see photo below].  This is a copepod crustacean and an important food for the endangered Right Whales. We have a 40-yr time series and have seen evidence of declining size of late-stage and adult Cal fin. We are trying to see if this has resulted in a decline in their energetic value.  They are a lipid-rich zooplankton.  If their size is related to their lipid storage they may be less nutritious for their predators.

Q. One of your papers indicated that about a third of fish and plankton species assessed in the northeast are vulnerable to climate change.  Is that trend continuing?

A.  Yes, as we monitor we continue to see shifts in fisheries, plankton, seabirds, and mammals.

Q.  What is your advice to early college undergraduates interested in marine science? 

A. Be flexible.  When I first started I thought I’d stay in Minnesota and work on adult fish stocks. I ended up working on larval fish and zooplankton.  Not focusing on one skill set and being able to adapt and look at various aspects will help you in the long run.

At the end of the interview, Harvey gave me this card and encouraged students to contact him for volunteer opportunities with NOAA. 

information card
Information Card from NOAA’s Oceans and Climate Branch
Calfin
Calanus finmarchicus, a subject of Harvey Walsh’s research. From: https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/nauplius/media/copepedia
food web slide
Harvey also kindly shared this slide explaining the locations of Calfin, Baleen Whales, and even you, in the food web. The highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale feeds on plankton like calfins by filtering them through a sieve (baleen) in their mouths (slide: courtesy Harvey Walsh)


Personal Log

One of the best aspects of this voyage is the daily spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets.  I spend a lot of time high up on the fly bridge assisting in sea bird, sea mammal, and sea turtle surveys.  It’s also a treat to look around 360 degrees and see nothing but the horizon, nothing man-made except this big old ship gently bobbing up and down in the center, leaving a wide frothy wake behind.  Yet, in the vastness of the ocean, we are but a mere speck. It really is humbling to experience this vista.

The ship crew are very serious about safety.  We have periodic Fire and Emergency, Abandon Ship, and Man Overboard drills.  A billet posted on my door advises where to report in each of these scenarios.  We have “muster” points, meaning, where to meet, for each.  I was trained to get into my Anti Exposure Suit in less than two minutes.  That was easier said than done!

Kannan in survival suit
Here I am in my Anti Exposure Suit. I felt like an astronaut in it

The food continues to be sumptuous and delicious, cooked by two expert stewards Margaret and Bronley.  Never did I dream I will enjoy eggplant curry and coconut jasmine rice on a NOAA Ship far out into the sea.

Dinner menu
Dinner menu posted in the mess
stewards Margaret and Bronley
Margaret and Bronley are the two great cooks on board. Margaret makes her own Garam Masala, putting her unique fingerprint into her curry dishes (and delighting my Indian-American tongue)!
gym
I even get my daily work out in the ship’s small but well-appointed gym


Did You Know?

Hakes (see photo above) are lean whitefish belonging to the Cod family.  They are known as Gadoids (Order Gadiformes) and are grouped with cods, haddocks, whiting, and pollocks.  They are much sought-after for their delicate texture and mild flavor.  We get some hake larvae in our plankton tows.  Hake larvae are used by scientists for all kinds of studies.  For example, their otoliths (tiny ear bones) can enable identification of species and even help determine where they were hatched (by Stable Isotope Analysis—see above).  This information, combined with data on ocean currents and circulation, can help determine hotspots for hake reproduction to enable conservation and sustainable fisheries. 

Interesting animals seen lately

Fish:

Hammerhead Shark

Whale Shark

Tuna sp.

Mammals:

Pilot Whales

Minke Whales

Common Dolphins

Bottle-nosed Dolphins

Spotted Dolphins (riding the bow!)

Sea Birds:

Great Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Audubon’s Shearwater

Wilson’s Storm-petrel

Band-rumped Storm-petrel

Leach’s Storm-petrel

Black-capped Petrel

Red-necked Phalarope

Northern Gannet

In addition, several land birds on their south-bound autumn migration rested briefly on the ship.  I was not expecting to see Prairie Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds on a pelagic (=ocean) cruise!

Linda Kurtz: Women in STEM-(at sea): Meet Iris Ekmanis, August 21, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/21/2019

JO Iris Ekmanis
Junior Officer Iris Ekmanis on Bridge Watch


Women in STEM: Iris Ekmanis

Iris Ekmanis is currently a Junior Officer with the NOAA Corps

On this Teacher at Sea mission, Officer Ekman is currently on bridge watch, and is a training and small craft officer. 

Current Position:  Junior Deck Officer on Bridge Watch, training officer, small boats officer

3-4 other duties in addition to watch. 

Years/Experience:     

Years at NOAA:  2.5 months after a 4-month basic training

College and/or specialized training:

2017 Bachelors of Marine Science from University of Hawaii

Junior Officer Ekmanis worked as a deckhand on tourism boats, dive boats, whale watching, and worked on a small live-aboard cruise ship.

  1. When you were a child, what was your dream career?

I wanted to be a marine biologist – but then I fell in love with being out on the water and on boats. Surrounded by the science of hydrography, I really like driving small boats and like the navigation part of my job.

2. Do you have any plans to continue your education while working for NOAA?

We get the GI bill since we are uniformed service (after 3 years with NOAA) so I’m considering a master’s in marine biology.

3. What was your favorite subject in school?

My favorite subject was outdoor education. I went to high school in New Zealand so there were outdoor education, whitewater kayaks, rock climbing, caving. My favorite academic subjects were biology & geography.

4. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?

I heard about NOAA in college, so I applied, I completed basic training and have been working for 2 ½ months.

5. What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is most important?

We are out here charting the seafloor to ensure safe navigation for other mariners who are traveling through the Pacific.  All kinds of cruise ships, fisherman, and cargo ships travel through the Pacific and must get there safely.  Also, it is important that we are researching the fault lines to learn more about earthquakes and tsunamis.

We navigate the ship to ensure safety and collaborate with the hydrotechs (hydrographic technicians) to make sure the ship’s travels are resulting in good hydrographic surveys.

6. What is the most enjoyable or exciting part of your work?

 I would say it is constantly learning new skills. Every day, I’m on the bridge learning about navigation, on the launchers learning about hydrography, and the “office view” changes every day.  Every single day is different, and most times wake up in a new place.  I’m learning something new every day!

7. Where do you do most of your work?

Mostly on the bridge 8 hours a day, rest of the time working on computers, or my training workbooks, plotting courses, planning our next route.  A lot of charting.

8. What tool do you use every day that you couldn’t live without?

Definitely the software systems that allow us to navigate, radar, etc.

9. What tool would you bring aboard to make your job easier? 

Multi beam sonar that could see in front of us instead of below us, since we are in uncharted waters that would alleviate the possibility of us running into something.

10. Is there any part of your NOAA job that you didn’t expect? 

The job is hands on right away, and the job is fast paced and very diverse.  You started doing the jobs right away.  I’m looking forward to learning more about hydro.

11.  How could teachers help student understand and appreciate NOAA science?

NOAA science is so broad, we are doing a small part in our survey missions, but the science of NOAA is extensiveCheck out the student opportunities and educational resources.

12. What is the favorite part of your day and why?

My favorite time was in Alaska, in the launches (small boats) and navigating a vessel though the Inside Channel. Navigating through SE Alaska was beautiful!  I also enjoyed seeing humpback whales and occasionally orcas.

13. What was your favorite book when you were growing up?

My favorite book series was Harry Potter when I was growing up.  My idols were Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle .

14. What would you be doing if you weren’t working for NOAA?

If I didn’t work for NOAA I would definitely be doing something in the marine science field or in the maritime industry, I love boats!  I would probably be working on a boat or doing something in the ocean.

15. Do you have an outside hobby?

My outside hobbies include: paddle boarding, surfing, scuba, free diving, outrigger canoes were my passion growing up, hiking, camping, anything outdoors. 

16. What is your favorite animal? 

Hawaiian spinner dolphin and whale sharks.

17. If you could go back in time and tell you 10-year-old self something, what would it be?

Keep pursuing your dreams, don’t take life too seriously, enjoy life and enjoy the ride.

Interested in a career as a NOAA Corps Officer like Junior Officer Ekamanis? Want to learn more? See the resource links below:

-NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

NOAA Marine Operations

NOAA Student Opportunities

Callie Harris: Lots to See While at Sea, August 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13-26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/20/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 58° 27.67 N
Longitude: 152 ° 53.00 W
Wind Speed: 5.96 knots
Wind Direction: 152°
Air Temperature: 12.4°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1008 mbar


Science and Technology Log

I feel the need to start off by stating that the shark did in fact swim away. During our mid-afternoon trawl haul back, Chief Boatswain Ryan Harris called over the radio that we had caught a shark in the trawl net. We quickly put on our boots, hard hats, and life preservers and headed to the back deck. Unfortunately, a 3.2m female Pacific Sleeper Shark had gotten caught in our trawl as bycatch. Thanks to the quick response of our NOAA deck crew, we were able to release the shark back into the water alive.

Unlike most sharks, the Pacific Sleeper Shark is predominantly a scavenger and rarely hunts. They are slow swimmers, but move through the water quite gracefully without much effort of body movement. This lack of movement allows them to catch prey easy since they don’t make much noise/ vibrations in the water. They feed by cutting and suction. The sleeper shark’s large mouth allows it to suck its prey in. Its spear-like teeth help cut prey down into smaller pieces. It then swallows its prey by rolling its head. For more info about this cool shark, visit: https://www.sharksider.com/pacific-sleeper-shark/ .

Bycatch is defined as the unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught (e.g. hooked, entangled or trapped) during commercial fishing for a different species. Bycatch is both an issue ecologically and economically. Bycatch can slow the rebuilding of overfished stocks. Organisms that are discarded sometimes die and cannot reproduce. These mortalities put protected species such as whales and sea turtles even further at risk. Bycatch can change the availability of prey and cause cascading effects at all trophic levels. Bycatch can also occur when fishing gear has been lost, discarded, or is otherwise no longer being used to harvest fish (aka marine debris).

Releasing shark from net
Releasing the shark from our trawl net.

NOAA Fisheries works hand in hand with fishing industries to better understand fishing gear, and to develop, test, and implement alternative fishing gear. For example, NOAA Fisheries and their partners developed turtle excluder devices to reduce sea turtle mortality in the southeastern shrimp trawl fishery. NOAA Fisheries funds the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program that supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch. Laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act also uphold the reduction of current and future bycatch of species.


Personal Log

It’s hard to believe that today is already day eight at sea. To be honest, I don’t even notice that I am on a ship anymore. We have been very lucky weather wise and the seas are still very calm. I have been spending more time on the bridge assisting with the ‘marine mammal watch’. As I said in blog two, we must keep an eye out for any marine mammals in the area before conducting any water surveys. The bridge is amazing because not only do you get the best view, but you also get to observe how the ship operates in terms of headings, maneuverability, and navigation.

Shelikof Strait
Shelikof Strait

The Shelikof Strait is breathtaking. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry pointed out the white ‘cloud’ above one of the snow-capped mountains was actually an active volcano with a smoke plume rising above it. It was incredible to be able to look out and see a glacier and an active volcano in the same panorama.

Map of Kodiak Island
Map of Kodiak Island and Shelikof Strait. Credit: Kodiak archipelago images.

During one of my marine mammal watches on the bridge, I noticed an oddly flat area of land in the middle of the mountain range that ran along the shoreline. NOAA Corps Officer LT Carl Noblitt explained to me this was actually where a glacier had once weathered down part of the mountain range over time. The glacier has since melted so now all that remains today is its glacial trough.

glacial trough
The remains of a glacial trough.


Animals Seen Today

Besides our unexpected visitor today in the trawl, I was thrilled to hear Chief Boatswain Ryan Harris call out from the scientific deck for Orcas on the horizon. Orcas (aka Killer Whales) have always been a dream of mine to see in the wild. They were pretty far away from the boat, but I was able to see the trademark black dorsal fin rising and sinking at the surface for a few minutes. Hoping to get a photo of one of these pods before our expedition ends.

orca dorsal
Orca dorsal fin. Photo Credit: gowhales.com

Another fun organism I got to see in person today was a Lanternfish that was caught in one of our deeper bongo net surveys. Lanternfish are a deep-water fish that gets its name from its ability to produce light. The light is given off by tiny organs known as photophores. A chemical reaction inside the photophore gives off light in a chemical process known as bioluminescence.

lanternfish
Note the photophores (silver dots).
lanternfish v pencil
This laternfish is full grown. Adults measure 5cm to 15cm in length typically.

Linda Kurtz: Bathymetry – Who Knew? August 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 8/20/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 41°04 N
Longitude:  124° 37 W
Sky Conditions:  Scattered Clouds
Present Weather:  Foggy
Visibility: 3 Nautical Miles
Windspeed: 2 knots
Sea Wave Height:  0
Swell Height: 2 feet
Temperature:  60° Fahrenheit


Bathymetry

What is Bathymetry and why is it important?  Bathymetry is the foundation of the science of hydrography, which measures the physical features of a water body. 

We covered Hydrography in the last blog post so we know it includes not only bathymetry, but also the shape and features of the shoreline and more.

Bathymetry is defined as “the study of the “beds” or “floors” of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes.” 

The term “bathymetry” originally referred to the ocean’s depth relative to sea level, although it has come to mean “submarine topography,” or the depths and shapes of underwater terrain.  In the same way that topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features of land, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies underwater.  Variations in sea-floor relief may be depicted by color and contour lines called depth contours or isobaths.  (Click here for source credit and more information from NOAA)

A bathymetric map looks like this (thanks Sam!):

bathymetric map
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered undersea canyon?
(Southern coverage)
bathymetric map - north
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered mud volcano?
(Northern Coverage)

Above are the first views of this part of the seafloor with a bathymetric map!  (Color coded for depth – see the chart on the left)


Science and Technology Log:

Among the NOAA officers Navigating the ship, Hydrographic Technicians, and wage mariners aboard Fairweather, and the Teacher at Sea, there are also two guest USGS scientists:  James Conrad, a research Geologist and Perter Dartnell, a physical scientist.  USGS stands for United States Geographical Survey.  The USGS was created by an act of Congress in 1879 and is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior. 

As a Teacher at Sea, I had time to talk with these USGS scientists and learn more about Bathymetry and why it is important not only to scientists, but also how this information can be used to keep us safe. 

Discussion with James Conrad research Geologist who is utilizing the science of Bathymetry among others to map the Cascadia Region of the Pacific seafloor. The USGS scientists’ focus is mapping the Cascadia Subduction Zone where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is “diving” below the North American tectonic plate. Areas of particular interest to these scientists are finding new faults, faults that are known but we have little information about, mud volcanoes and subsequent “seeps,” and the overall goal is to understand the behavior of the mega thrusts in the Cascadia Region. 

map of tectonic plates
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

About the visiting scientists:

James Conrad has a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkley and a master’s degree from San Jose State and has been at the USGS for 38 years.

A conversation with Research Geologist James Conrad:

What do you want students to know about Geology?

Geology is a field where there is still so much to discover, especially if you are doing hazards research work-like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, coastal change, and climate change issues

Were you always interested in geology?

Not as a child, but I became a geology major because I had taken an introductory course – and was guided to geology by the university.

I met you on a ship-where do most of your work?

Office is in Santa Cruz, but we go out in the field 1-4 times a year for a week up to 3 weeks. 

Geology is a very young science, the fact that continents move wasn’t proven until 1963.  There is very little known about the earth, and there is so much more to discover.

Peter Dartnell:

Peter Dartnell has Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from Humboldt State University and a Masters of Geography from San Francisco State and has been with the USGS for 28 years.

A conversation with Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell:

What does a physical scientist study?

Physical Science is a combination of the studies earth and computer sciences using computers & technology to study earth.

Physical Science allows you to do everything along the scientific “study train” from data collection, interpretation, to publications.

What are your publications used for? 

Scientific publications from the USGS (which is the science agency of the government) are used widely to inform about potential geohazards and changes in the earth.  We don’t make policy, but the information we provide may be used drive policies, especially safety.

Anything you want an aspiring physical scientist to know? 

Even though you are studying earth sciences in school, you’ll truly enjoy once you get out and start applying what you’ve learned in the field with hands on science. 

We’ve met on a ship, where is it you do most of your work?

I spend 75% of my time in the office and 25% in meetings or traveling to study

What is your favorite part of being a Physical Scientist?

Seeing part of the ocean that nobody has ever seen for the first time. We are the first ones to see these recently mapped parts of the sea floor. 

What types of technology you use in physical science?

We use specialized software to acquire data and analyze the data we collect.

We also use Multibeam sonar software – bathymetry and acoustic backscatter

GIS geographic information systems

Overlay/Compare and Contrast data

What do you think are some misconceptions about physical science?

Because we are working off shore and water covers 71% of the earth, marine geology is in its infancy — we really need to have a complete map of the sea floor which is vitally important to understand the geology of the earth. When we don’t have all of these details, we are essentially operating blind.  That’s why the work that NOAA is doing is so important and the research partnerships with USGS are so valuable.

Much of the geography of the seafloor is driven by the oil industry which is required to release their acquired data every 25 years.  A lot of the deep penetration data is all from oil surveys.  Sea floor mapping is limited for pure research purposes due to limited resources.

Interested in learning more from the USGS? 

Check out these resources for students and teachers:

Escape the POD challenge for grades 6-12

K-2 Resources

3-5 Resources

More about bathymetry and the NOAA and USGS mission:

I was lucky enough to attend a “Science Talk” by these USGS scientists which was titled the Subduction Zone Coastal & Marine Geohazards Project. The USGS scientists are guests aboard Fairweather like me. 

The focus of the USGS research is along the 700-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone:                                                                                                                                  

study area
Map of Study Area. Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This area is where the Juan de Fuca plate dives below the North American Plate at an approximate rate of 1.6 inches per year.

Subduction Zone
Subduction Zone Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

Why is this subduction zone so important and why is NOAA Ship Fairweather out surveying the ocean floor in this area?  That’s because the world’s largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along subduction zones.  If we know the potential hazards, we can prepare people and potentially save lives.

To properly prepare, we need the following details:

slide preparing for earthquakes
What We Need to Prepare for Future Earthquakes
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This is why the bathymetric maps of the sea floor are important, they can help predict the area and amount of shaking that may occur during an earthquake and predict the tsunami danger zones.  Then we can make decisions for building codes, infrastructure (like strength of bridges), and escape routes for Tsunamis.  I took the pictures below when I arrived in Newport, little did I know how the research the Fairweather is conducting and the science of hydrography and bathymetric maps play a part in warnings like these! (See below)

Through the hydrographic surveying being conducted aboard Fairweather, the NOAA crew and USGS scientists are creating bathymetric maps which have reveled exciting new finds, such as: new seafloor faults, mapping known faults in greater detail, discovering mud volcanoes and submarine landslides, and using the water column data to discover the “seeps” which are most likely releasing methane gas.  See below.

(Image Credits: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad)

When I first heard the term BATHYMETRY I had no idea how these detailed maps of the seafloor could hold so much critical information!  It’s fascinating to watch this science happen right here and see the discoveries in real time. 


Personal Log

This post begins the last week aboard Fairweather.  I’m surprised about how quickly the ship has begun to feel “normal” to me.  I know my way around backwards (aft) and forwards (bow) and enjoyed getting to know everyone better.  Sean the IT specialist makes an amazing pot of French press coffee around 10:00 am and is kind enough to share with all.  Bekah, Sam, Joe, and Michelle in Hydrography patiently answer dozens of questions and allow me to participate when possible.  And the officers on the bridge answer all the questions and are very welcoming and generous with sharing information and their amazing views!  Carrie and the kitchen crew make 3 amazing meals a day, and I’ve made some new workout buddies to try to stay healthy with all this wonderful food!  The visiting scientists have been very nice about answering all my questions about bathymetry and geology.  It’s great when you are writing and studying about geology to be able to turn around and ask a geologist a question!  

I can’t believe how well I sleep on a ship!  The ship is constantly rocking and for this teacher at sea, and for me, that means some seriously deep sleep.  One thing I learned is to make sure all my belongings are secure before I go to bed.  If you leave something unsecured, chances are they will be banging around in the middle of the night or get tossed off a shelf (not the best middle of the night surprise!).  My room is very dark at night and I really don’t hear anything beyond the noise of the engines.  You can barely hear the foghorn from my area towards the back of the ship which is lucky since those sleeping in the front of the ship could hear it all night!  (Those friends look a little weary today.)  I have to set an alarm, or I will just keep sleeping with the constant rocking motion that is so relaxing!  Only 3 more nights of good ship sleep for me!

Linda Kurtz
The fog horn sounds every 2 minutes when the conditions are, you know, foggy!

Following the excellent tutelage of the NOAA officers, hydrographers, and USGS scientists, it’s exciting to look at the screen in the hydrography lab and start a conversation about features of the sea floor that we are seeing (or seeing in detail) for the first time.  On this mission, there have been new faults, mud volcanoes, and underwater canyons discovered.  The science is so fascinating and so little is known about the research being conducted aboard Fairweather.  I honestly had to “Google” the terms I am now so familiar with like Hydrographic survey, multi beam echo sounders, bathymetry, water column data, just to name a few. 

That’s the thing about science that has been reinforced being a Teacher at Sea, no matter how much you think you know about the earth, you learn just how much we don’t know yet, and we’re just beginning to realize the vast amount that is left to discover. 

Did You Know?

-The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface, but we actually know more about the surface Mars than the Earth’s ocean floor- (Credit-Peter Dartnell)

-The Juan de Fuca Plate is part of the famous Ring of Fire, a zone responsible for volcanic activity, mountainous regions, and earthquake activity.

Question of the Day:

Do you know how many tectonic plates there are?  Did you know they are all constantly moving? 

Challenge Yourself

Can you name the Earth’s major tectonic plates?  Can you find on a map the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates that we are surveying right now?

Animals Seen Today:

Northern Fur Seal

Callie Harris: More than Meets the Eye, August 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/18/19

Weather Data from the Bridge:

 Latitude: 57° 01.32 N
Longitude: 155 ° 01.21 W
Wind Speed: 14.56 knots
Wind Direction: 334°
Air Temperature: 15.5°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Today marks our sixth day at sea. We are headed north into the Shelikof Strait between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island. We are continuing along our survey stations with bongo nets and midwater trawls. A bongo net consists of two plankton nets mounted next to each other. These plankton nets are ring nets with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. Both nets are enclosed by a cod-end that is used for collecting plankton. The bongo net is pulled horizontally through the water column by a research vessel. 

bongo net diagram
Bongo Net Diagram. Image credit: Flanders Marine Institute
Bongo nets on deck
Bongo nets on deck

We are using a combination of four total bongo nets simultaneously to sample plankton. Two of our nets are 60 cm in diameter and the other two are 20 cm in diameter respectively. Depending on the depth at each station, the nets are lowered until they reach a depth of ten meters above the sea floor. Scientists and NOAA crew on the scientific deck must constantly communicate with the bridge via radio during this survey to maintain consistent wire angles. Ideally, the goal is to maintain the winch wire angle at 45° so that the water flow into the nets is parallel to the ocean floor.

Callie measuring bongo angle
Me measuring the bongo net wire angle. Photo by Matt Wilson.

Plankton are plants and animals that float along in the oceans’ tides and currents. Their name comes from the Greek meaning “drifter” or “wanderer.” There are two types of plankton: tiny plants called phytoplankton, and weak-swimming animals called zooplankton. Oceanic plankton constitute the largest reservoir of biomass in the world’s oceans. They play a significant role in the transfer of energy within the oceanic ecosystems. Ongoing plankton monitoring data is essential for evaluating ecosystem health and for detecting changes in these ecosystems.

Plankton ID
One of the plankton ID cards we use when identifying samples under the microscope

Once the nets are brought back onto the deck, we immediately rinse the nets so that all of the plankton collects in the cod-end (the plastic tube attachment at the bottom). We carefully remove the cod-end tubes and bring them into the wet lab for processing. Using sieve pans, we filter the cod-end sample (plankton) into glass jars. We add formaldehyde and sodium borate to each jar to preserve the plankton for future analysis and study. NOAA Chief Scientist Matt Wilson informed me that all of the sample jars we collect on this expedition will actually be sent to the Plankton Sorting and Identification Center in Szczecin, Poland. Check out their website for more info: https://mir.gdynia.pl/o-instytucie/zaklad-sortowania-i-oznaczania-planktonu/?lang=en .

At even numbered stations, NOAA scientists on board will conduct a RZA (rapid zooplankton assessment) of samples collected using a microscope. This rapid assessment of plankton yields current data that allows scientists to quickly evaluate present-day ecosystem health and changes while they await more in-depth sample results and analysis from Poland.


Personal Log

Everything is still going great on day six at sea. Seas are remaining relatively calm, which I am very thankful for. I am actually sleeping more than I do at home. I am averaging about nine to ten hours sleep at night which is amazing! Most mornings, I get up and head down to the gym to run on the treadmill for some much needed exercise. As I said in my second blog, our meals have been delicious. Chief Steward Judy leaves us out some late night treats to help us get through our long shifts. I thoroughly enjoyed some late night ice cream to help me power through the last trawl of the night. I really like lunch and dinner time on the ship because it brings everyone together for a few minutes to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Most of the scientists and NOAA crew and officers have traveled all over the world on scientific vessels. It is fascinating to hear about all of their stories and adventures. I have already decided to add the ‘PolarTREC’ (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating in Antarctica and/or the Artic) Program to my bucket list for a few years down the road. My most favorite organism that we have caught in the trawl so far was this Smooth Lumpsucker. 

Smooth lumpsucker
Smooth lumpsucker

Me and my buddy Mister Lumpsucker – Photos by Lauren Rogers


Did You Know?

The answers to day three blog’s temperature readings were 62.6°F for air temperature and 59°F for sea temperature.

All jellyfish are such weak swimmers that they too are considered plankton. There is also some scientific debate as to whether or not the Ocean Sun Fish (aka Mola mola) is considered a type of plankton. The sun fish is a passive planktonic creature which can only move vertically in the water column since it lacks a back fin. They have a long dorsal and anal fin that help them maneuver clumsily up and down in the water column.

David Madden: Waves – Dolphins, Flying Fish, Sea to Sky, August 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019 


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 19, 2019

WAVES: Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces: Dolphins, Flying Fish (video has no dialogue, only music)

This video was captured during my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. During the cruise I spent lots of time outside on the deck gazing into the blue seascape. Here’s some of the footage I collected.

David Madden: Tiger Shark! Fish Trap Footage, August 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 19, 2019

Tiger Shark! NOAA Ship Pisces Underwater Camera Action (video has no dialogue, only music)

This video is a collection of fish trap camera footage recorded during my NOAA Teacher at Sea adventure aboard NOAA Ship Pisces. Very special thanks to the NOAA science team: Zeb Schobernd – chief scientist and especially Mike Bollinger and Brad Teer – camera and gear experts.

Linda Kurtz: Hydrographic Surveys – Not your Mama’s Maps! August 17, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/17/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 17th 2019

Latitude & Longitude: 43◦ 53.055’ N 124◦ 47.003’W
Windspeed: 13 knots
Geographic Area: @10-15 miles off of the Oregon/California coast
Cruise Speed:  12 knots
Sea Temperature 20◦Celsius
Air Temperature 68◦Fahrenheit

Future hydrographer button
Is this you?

Navigation is how Fairweather knows its position and how the crew plans and follows a safe route.  (Remember navigation from the last post?)  But what “drives” where the ship goes is Hydrographic survey mission.  There is a stunning amount of sea floor that remains unmapped, as well as seafloor that has not been mapped following a major geological event like an earthquake of underwater volcano.

Why is Hydrography important?  As we talked about in the previous post, the data is used for nautical safety, creating detailed maps of the ocean floor,  setting aside areas are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines — especially subduction zones which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.

In addition to generating the data needed to update nautical charts, hydrographic surveys support a variety of activities such as port and harbor maintenance (dredging), coastal engineering (beach erosion and replenishment studies), coastal zone management, and offshore resource development. Detailed depth information and seafloor characterization is also useful in determining fisheries habitat and understanding marine geologic processes.

The history of hydrographic surveys dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, who ordered a survey of our young nation’s coast.   This began the practice and accompanying sciences of the coastal surveys.  The practice of surveys birthed the science of Hydrography (which we are actively conducting now) and the accompanying science of Bathymetry (which we will go into on the next post.)  This practice continues of providing nautical charts to the maritime community to ensure safe passage into American ports and safe marine travels along the 95,000 miles of U.S. Coastline. 

Want to learn more about Hydrographic Survey history?  Click on THIS LINK for the full history by the NOAA.

Scientists have tools or equipment that they use to successfully carry out their research.  Let’s take a look at a few of the tools hydrographic survey techs use:

Want to learn more about the science of SONAR? Watch the video below.

ps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ijaPa-9MDs

On board Fairweather (actually underneath it) is the survey tool call a TRANSDUCER which sends out the sonar pulses.

Multibeam sonar illustration
Multibeam sonar illustration

The transducer on Fairweather is an EM 710- multibeam echo sounder which you can learn more about HERE

The Transducer is located on the bottom of the ship and sends out 256 sonar beams at a time to the bottom of the ocean.  The frequency of the 256 beams is determined by the depth from roughly 50 pings per second to 1 ping every 10 seconds.  The active elements of the EM 710 transducers are based upon composite ceramics, a design which has several advantages, which include increased bandwidth and more precise measurements. The transducers are fully watertight units which should give many years of trouble-free operation.  This comes in handy since the device in on the bottom of Fairweather’s hull!

Here is the transducer on one of the launches:

transducer
View of transducer on a survey launch

The 256 sonar beams are sent out by the transducer simultaneously to the ocean floor, and the rate of return is how the depth of the ocean floor is determined.  The rate of pulses and width of the “swath” or sonar beam array is affected by the depth of the water.  The deeper the water, the larger the “swath” or array of sonar beams because they travel a greater distance.  The shallower the water, the “swath” or array of sonar beams becomes narrower due to lesser distance traveled by the sonar beams.

The minimum depth that this transducer can map the sea floor is less than 3 meters and the maximum depth is approximately 2000 meters (which is somewhat dependent upon array size).  Across track coverage (swath width) is up to 5.5 times water depth, to a maximum of more than 2000 meters. This echo sounder is capable of reaching deeper depths because of the lower frequency array of beams. 

The transmission beams from the EM 710 multibeam echo sonar are electronically stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw, while they receive beams are stabilized for movements. (The movement of the ship) What is roll, pitch, and yaw? See below – these are ways the Fairweather is constantly moving!

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw
Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Since the sonar is sent through water, the variable of the water that the sonar beams are sent through must be taken into account in the data. 

Some of the variables of salt water include: conductivity (or salinity) temperature, depth, and density.

Hydrographic scientists must use tools to measure these factors in sea water, other tools are built into the hydrographic survey computer programs. 

One of the tools used by the hydrographic techs is the XBT or Expendable Bathy Thermograph that takes a measurement of temperature and depth.  The salinity of the area being tested is retrieved from the World Ocean Atlas which is data base of world oceanographic data. All of this data is transmitted back to a laptop for the hydrographers.  The XBT is an external device that is launched off of the ship to take immediate readings of the water. 

Launching the XBT:  There is a launcher which has electrodes on it, then you plug the XBT probe to the launcher and then XBT is launched into the ocean off of the back of the ship.  The electrodes transmit data through the probe via the 750-meter copper wire.  The information then passes through the copper wire, through the electrodes, along the black wire, straight to the computer where the data is collected.  This data is then loaded onto a USB then taken and loaded into the Hydrographic data processing software.  Then the data collected by the XBT is used to generate the sound speed profile, which is sent to the sonar to correct for the sound speed changes through the water column that the sonar pulses are sent through.  The water column is all of the water between the surface and seafloor. Hydrographers must understand how the sound moves through the water columns which may have different densities that will bend the sound waves.  By taking the casts, you are getting a cross section “view” of the water column on how sound waves will behave at different densities, the REFRACTION (or bending of the sound waves) effects the data.

See how the XBT is launched and data is collected below!

Videos coming soon!

The other tool is the MVP or moving vessel profiler which takes measurements of conductivity, temperature, and depth.  These are all calculated to determine the density of the water.  This is a constant fixture on the aft deck (the back of the ship) and is towed behind the Fairweather and constantly transmits data to determine the speed of sound through water.  (Since sonar waves are sound waves.)

MVP and launching wench
MVP (left) and the launching wench (right)

The sonar software uses this data to adjust the calculation of the depth, correcting for the speed of sound through water due to the changes in the density of the ocean.  The final product?  A detailed 3d model of the seafloor!

current survey area
Our current survey area! (Thanks Charles for the image!)

All of this data is run through the survey software.  See screen shots below of all the screens the hydrographers utilize in the course of their work with explanations.  (Thanks Sam!)  It’s a lot of information to take in, but hydrographic survey techs get it done 24 hours a day while we are at sea.  Amazing!  See below:

ACQ software screenshot
Hydrographic Survey “Mission Control”
HYPACK Acquisition Software
HYPACK Acquisition Software
Real time coverage map
Real time coverage map

Did You Know?  An interesting fact about sonar:  When the depth is deeper, a lower frequency of sonar is utilized.  In shallower depths, a higher sonar frequency. (Up to 900 meters, then this rule changes.)

Question of the Day:  Interested in becoming a hydrographic survey tech?  See the job description HERE.

Challenge yourself — see if you can learn and apply the new terms and phrases below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!

New Terms/Phrases:

Multibeam sonar

Sound speed

Conductivity

Salinity

Sonar

Sound waves

Refraction

Water column

Roll, Pitch, and Yaw

Animals seen today:

Humpback Whale

Bathymetry and USGS friends coming soon!

Plot room
Hydro-technician Sam Candio (right) collaborating with USGS Research Geologist James Conrad and Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell.

Ragupathy Kannan: Starting with Plankton, August 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 38.2494289
Longitude: -75.0853552
Water temperature: 26.3°C
Wind Speed: 4.92 knots
Wind Direction: 122 degrees
Air temperature: 27.1°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1015 millibars
Sky: Partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

In my previous blog posting, I explained the importance of plankton as base of the ecological pyramid upon which much of marine life in this ecosystem depends.  The past few days, I have witnessed and experienced in-person how scientists aboard this sophisticated research vessel collect and analyze sea water samples for plankton. 

Yesterday I spent some time with Kyle Turner, a guest researcher from the University of Rhode Island doing his M.S. in Oceanography.  He operates a highly sophisticated device called the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB).  I was fascinated to learn how it works.  It is basically a microscope and camera hooked up to the ship’s water intake system.  As the waters pass through the system, laser beams capture images of tiny particles, mostly phytoplankton (tiny photosynthetic drifters).  As particles do, they scatter the light or even fluoresce (meaning, they emit their own light).  Based on this, the computer “zooms in” on the plankton automatically and activates the camera into taking photographs of each of them!  I was amazed at the precision and quality of the images, taken continuously as it pipes in the water from below.  Kyle says this helps them monitor quality and quantity of plankton on a continual basis. 

Kyle Turner and IFCB
Kyle Turner with the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB)
Kannan and IFCB
Here I am examining a filamentous (hair-like) phytoplankton in the IFCB monitor.
IFCB computer screen
The various kinds of phytoplankton are neatly displayed on the IFCB’s computer screen. See my previous blog for a photo of the dazzling and colorful array of plankton out there! Plankton may lack the popularity of the more charismatic sea animals like whales, but much of life in the ocean hinges on their welfare.


Career Corner

Hello, students (especially bio majors).  In this corner of my blogs, I will interview some key research personnel on the ship to highlight careers.  Please learn and be inspired from these folks.

Here is my interview with Kyle Turner.

Q. Tell us something about your graduate program.

A. My research focuses on phytoplankton using bio-optical methods. Basically, how changes in light can tell us about phytoplankton in the water.

Q. How does this IFCB device help you?

A. It gives me real time information on the different types of phytoplankton in the location where we are.  We can monitor changes in their composition, like the dominant species, etc.

Q. Why are phytoplankton so important?

A. They are like trees on land. They produce about half the oxygen in the atmosphere, so they’re super important to all life on earth. They are also the base of the marine food web.  The larger zooplankton eat them, and they in turn are eaten by fish, and so on all the way to the big whales.  They all rely on each other in this big ocean ecosystem.

Q. How are phytoplankton changing?

A. The oceans are warming, so we’re observing shifts in their composition.

Q. What brought you into marine science?

A. I grew up on the coast.  I’ve always liked the ocean. I love science.  So I combined my passions.

Q. What is your advice to my students exploring a career in marine science?

A. Looking for outside research opportunities is important.  There are so many opportunities from organizations like NASA, NSF, and NOAA.  I did two summer research internships as an undergrad.  First was with NASA when I was a junior.  I applied through their website.  That was a big stepping stone for me. A couple of years later, I did another summer project with a researcher who is now my advisor in graduate school.  That’s how I met her.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I’d love to get into satellite oceanography to observe plankton and work for NASA or NOAA.


Personal Log

I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this ship is.  I was expecting something more Spartan.  I have my own spacious room with ample work and storage space, a comfortable bed, TV (which I don’t have time for!), and even a small fridge and my own sink. Being gently rocked to sleep by the ship is an added perk! 

My own cozy stateroom
My own cozy stateroom
Sunrise view
A room with a view—sunrise from my window

The food is awesome.  We have two expert cooks on board, Margaret and Bronley. 

lunch
My first lunch on board
mess
The ship’s mess is a nice place to eat and interact with people. There’s always food available 24/7, even outside of meal hours.


Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter played a big role in recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Barograph
This photo is displayed in the galley. Note the sharp decline in atmospheric pressure as Katrina thundered through.


Some interesting animals seen so far

  • Flying fish (they get spooked by the ship, take off and fly several yards low across the water!)
  • Cow-nosed Rays (see photo and caption below)
  • Leather-backed Sea-turtle (I’m used to seeing them on the beach in Trinidad—see my previous blog.  It was a treat to see one swimming close by.  I was even able to see the pink translucent spot on the head).
  • Bottle-nosed Dolphins
  • Seabirds (lots of them…. four lifers already—more on this later!)
school of cow-nose rays
We saw large schools of Cow-nosed Rays closer to the coast. These animals feed on bivalve mollusks like clams and oysters with their robust jaws adapted for such hard food. They are classified as Near Threatened due to their reliance on oyster beds which are themselves threatened by pollution and over exploitation.

Callie Harris: Jellyfish Landslide, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/15/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 16.15 N
Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W
Wind Speed: 6.53 knots
Wind Direction: 182°
Air Temperature: 17.1°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.

transect map of stations
Transect Map of all of our tentative stations to survey (red dots). Image credit: Matt Wilson

Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.

humpback whale spout
Humpback Whale breath spout off of bow.

Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’

A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.

trawl net
Trawl net aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).

Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.

If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).

Jellyfish Landslide
Jellyfish landslide! (I’m desperately trying to stop them from falling over the edge.) Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.
jellyfish landslide thumbs up
Jellyfish landslide, managed. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.

Measuring fork length
Measuring fork length of pollock.

We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.

Callie and salmon
Our first salmon catch in the trawl. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.


Personal Log

This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.

Survival Suit Practice.
Survival Suit Practice. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.


Did You Know?

NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.


Challenge Yourself

Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.

Allison Irwin: The Journey Extends, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7 – 25, 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Embarkation Port: Newport, Oregon

Cruise Start Date: 7 July 2019

Days at Sea: 19

Conclusion

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge Just After Sunrise

On July 25, 2019 NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker and its crew navigated slowly under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay. As the fog smothered entrance to the bay loomed ahead of us, I stood on the bow with the Chief Bosun and a few others listening to, of all things, sea shanties. We passed a couple of whales and a sea lion playing in the water, and we cruised right passed Alcatraz before arriving at our pier to tie up.

San Francisco did not disappoint! I walked a total of 20 miles that day stopping at Pier 39 to watch the sea lions, Ghirardelli Square to get chocolate ice cream, and Boudin Bakery to try their famous sourdough bread. I walked along the San Francisco Bay Trail, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then back to the ship.

  • Sea Lions at Pier 39
  • Ghirardelli Square
  • San Francisco Bay Trail

Later that evening I went out for dinner with three of the science crew and the restaurant had a couple of local items that I hold near and dear to my heart now – sardines and market squid. It felt like everything came full circle when I ordered the fried sardine appetizer and grilled squid salad for dinner after having caught, measured, and weighed so many of them on the ship. I never would have stopped before to think about the important role those little critters play in our food chain.

The first entry for this blog posted almost two months ago framed an introduction to a journey. Even though I’ve been back on land for three weeks now, I couldn’t quite bring myself to title this entry “The Journey Ends.” Instead it feels like the journey has shifted in a new direction.

I spent a lot of time on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker thinking about how to integrate lessons from this project into my classroom and how to share ideas with other teachers in my district and beyond. Most of all this trip inspired me to reach out even more to my colleagues to collaborate and design instructional activities that push the boundaries of the traditional high school paradigm.

Linda Kurtz: Navigating Fair Winds and Following Seas – Fairweather Edition, August 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific

Date: 8/13/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

August 12th
Latitude & Longitude: 43 50.134N, 124◦49.472 W
Windspeed: 19mph
Geographic Area:  Northwest Pacific Ocean
Cruise Speed:  12 knots
Sea Temperature 20◦Celcius
Air Temperature 70◦Fahrenheit


Science and Technology Log

Yesterday, we embarked on this Hydrographic Survey Project, leaving Newport and heading out to the Pacific Ocean.  The 231-foot Fairweather is manned by 35 people and they are all essential to making this research run smoothly, keeping the ship on course, maintaining the ship, and feeding all of us!  Why is this Hydrographic survey mission important?  We’ll take a “deep dive” into hydrographic surveys in an upcoming blog, but there are several overlapping reasons why this research is important.  On previous hydrographic maps of the sea floor, there are “gaps” in data, not giving scientists and mariners a complete picture of this area.  The data is used for nautical safety, setting aside areas where there are likely abundant undersea wildlife as conservation areas, looking at the sea floor to determine if areas are good for wind turbine placement, and most importantly to the residents off the Pacific coast, locating fault lines –especially subduction zones, which can generate the largest earthquakes and cause dangerous tsunamis.  More about this and the science of Hydrography in a later post.  For now, we’ll focus on Navigation.


Science Word of the day:  NAVIGATION

The word NAVIGATION is a noun, defined: the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

synonyms: helmsmanship, steersmanship, seamanship, map-reading, chart-reading, wayfinding. “Cooper learned the skills of navigation.”


Time to leave port: 12:30 pm August 12th

As we were pulling away from the dock and headed out of Newport, someone was navigating this very large ship through narrow spaces, avoiding other boats, crab traps, and other hazards, and I began wondering… who is driving this ship and what tools do they have to help them navigate and keep us safe?  Navigation is the science of “finding your way to a specific destination.”  So, I made way to the bridge to find out. There was so much to learn, and the bridge crew was very patient taking me through who worked on the bridge as well as the various tools and technological resources they used to guide the Fairweather exactly where it needed to be.  First the humans who run the ship, then the tools!

On the bridge you have 3 key members in charge of navigation and steering the boat.  These are not to be confused with the CO or Commanding Officer who always oversees the ship but may always not always be present on the bridge (or deck). The CO is kind of like a principal in a school (if the school were floating and had to avoid other buildings and large mammals of course.) 

 1st in charge of the bridge watch is the OOD or Officer of the Deck.   The OOD is responsible for making all the safety decisions on the deck, giving commands on how to avoid other vessels and wildlife such as whales!  The OOD oversees the deck and reports regularly to the CO as needed. 

2nd in charge of the bridge watch is the JOOD or Junior Officer of the Deck.  The Junior Officer is responsible to the CO and OOD and uses both technology driven location data and plot mapping with paper to locate the position of the ship and use that location to plan the course for the ship.

The 3rd member of the bridge team is the helmsman.  The helmsman is the person who is actually driving the ship while following the commands of the OOD and JOOD.  Tools the helmsman uses include magnetic compasses on deck and electronic heading readouts to adjust course to stay on a particular heading (or direction of travel.)  The helmsman has another duty as lookout.  The lookout watches the ocean in front of the ship for land objects (we saw a lighthouse today), ocean mammals such as whales (we’ve seen 3 so far) or debris in the ocean so Fairweather can navigate around them.

Kevin Tennyson
Officer of the Deck (OOD): Kevin Tennyson
Calderon and Ostermyer
Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) Jeff Calderon and Helmsman Terry Ostermyer


There are so many devices on the bridge, I’ll share a few of them and their functions.  This blog post would take DAYS to read if we went over them all!

Let’s explore: what tools does the crew aboard Fairweather use for NAVIGATION?

Radar is a system that uses waves of energy to sense objects. These waves are in the form of high frequency radio waves which can find a faraway object and tell how fast it is moving. 

Radar is very useful because it can sense objects even at night and through thick clouds.   Radar helps the Fairweather navigate by detecting objects and vessels in the immediate area.  On Fairweather, you can see the objects that are near or could be in the determined path of travel.

RADAR
RADAR showing other watercraft and objects that could come into contact with Fairweather, for safe NAVIGATION.
Close up of RADAR
Close up of RADAR screen showing blue lines (indicative of speed) trailing other detected objects

While the picture above shows where the objects and vessels are, the “blue trail” shows how far they have traveled in 6 minutes.  A longer blue trail means a faster moving vessel and a shorter or no tail means little or no movement.  This tool also helps the Fairweather crew determine the path of travel of the other vessels so they can either navigate around or warn the other vessel of the Fairweather’s heading. 

Fairweather bridge crew also must follow what STEM students call the 4C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity.

To communicate while at sea, the crew must communicate via radio.

radio
Communication is essential for safe navigation.

Notice the abbreviations for the MF/HF or Medium Frequency/High Frequency, which has the longest range and you can communicate via voice or text. VHF or Very High Frequency are voice radios only.  Marine VHF radios work on a line-of-sight basis. That is, they can transmit and receive to and from another antenna as long as that antenna is above the horizon. How far is that? Standing on the bridge of a ship, the distance to the horizon is usually about 10-12 miles.  So, if there is a vessel within that 10-12 mile or so range, the Fairweather crew can communicate with them via the VHF radio.


Weather Tools:

It is crucial to gather weather data and analyze the information from various weather instruments onboard to keep the Fairweather safe. Sopecreek Elementary has a Weather Station too!  As you look through the photos below, see if you can find what weather instruments (and readings) Fairweather uses and compare and contrast with Sopecreek’s WEATHER STEM station!  What type of instruments do you think are the same, and which are different?

Weather Data
Data from the bridge on Day 2
Weather Data Time Series
Weather Data Time Series
weather data updates
Weather data updates – the ship can NAVIGATE to avoid dangerous weather


With all of tools discussed above, the Fairweather is approaching the Cascadia Margin that needs to be surveyed using science of Hydrography and Bathymetry (more about those concepts coming soon!)

The area to be survey has already been identified, now the ship must approach the area (the red polygon in the middle of the screenshot below).  Now the crew must plot a course to cover the area in horizontal “swaths” to aid in accurate mapping.  The bridge and the hydrographic survey team collaborate and communicate about speed, distance between horizontal lines, and timing of turns. 

See the initial area to mapped and the progress made in the first two days in the pictures below!

Cascadia Margin chart
Cascadia Margin: 1st Region the Fairweather is mapping
mapping progress
Progress mapping – navigation the survey area – colored lines indicate where the ship has been


Personal Log

It’s been a great start to this Teacher at Sea adventure!  There is so much to take in and share with my students (I miss you so much!) and my fellow teachers from across the country!  Today, we went from sunny skies and calm 2-4 foot seas, to foggy conditions and 6-8 foot seas!  The ship is definitely moving today!  I keep thinking about STEM activities to secure items and then testing against the varying degree of pitch on the ship!  For safety, the entire crew is tying up any loose items and securing all things on board, we’ll have to think of STEM challenges to simulate this for sure! 


Did You Know?

When steering a ship, an unwritten rule is you don’t want the speed of the ship (in KNOTS) and the degree of the turn of the rudder (in DEGREES) to exceed the number 30! 


Question of the Day: 

How many possible combinations of KNOTS and DEGREES are there? Can you draw or plot out what that would look like?


New Terms/Phrases:

Thermosalinigraph:  Measures the temperature and salinity of the water.

Challenge yourself: see if you can learn and apply the terms below and add new terms from this blog or from your research to the list!

ECDIS:  Electronic chart display information system

Longitude and Latitude

True North

Magnetic North


Animals Seen Today:

Dall’s Porpoise

Humpback Whale

Curious about STEM Careers with NOAA?  All the officers on deck had a background in some type of science but none were the same.  Everyone on board comes from different backgrounds but are united by the OJT (On the Job Training) and the common purpose of the hydrographic survey mission.   Learn more here:  https://www.noaa.gov/education

Callie Harris: Key West to Kodiak, August 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/10/19

Introduction

Hi everyone! I am currently on flight number two of four over the next two days to get me all the way from Key West, Florida to Kodiak, Alaska! Sure beats the 5,516 mile drive it would take me by car! My new home for the next two plus weeks will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. It is an ultra-quiet fisheries survey vessel built to collect data on fish populations, conduct marine mammal and seabird surveys, and study marine ecosystems. The ship operates primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo credit: NOAA.

So what exactly will I be doing these next few weeks at sea? I will be working side by side with world-renowned NOAA scientists during twelve hour shifts (noon to midnight). Our research will focus on collecting data on the Walleye Pollock (also known as Alaskan Pollock) population and other forage fishes in the western Gulf of Alaska. Most of our samples will be collected by midwater trawling (or net fishing). I will be spending many hours in the onboard fish lab working hands-on with scientists to help sort, weigh, measure, sex, and dissect these samples. We will also collect zooplankton and measure environmental variables that potentially affect the ecology of these fishes. We will conduct CTD casts (an instrument used to measure the conductivity, temperature, and pressure of seawater) and take water samples along transects to examine the physical, chemical, and biological oceanography associated with cross-shelf flow.


A Little About Me

How did a little girl who grew up playing in the Georgia woods wind up being a marine science teacher in Key West and now on a plane to Kodiak, Alaska to work as a scientist at sea? I applied for every internship, program, and job I ever dreamed of often times with little to no experience or chance of getting it. I was a wildlife/zoology major at the University of Georgia. However during high school, my parents bought a second home in Key West where I would live during my summers off. I applied and got a job on a snorkel boat at 18 with zero boating experience. After college, I once again applied for a job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that I was not qualified for in the least. I did not get the job, but at least I went for it regardless of the outcome. So I continued to do odds and ends (often non-paying) internships at MOTE, the Turtle Hospital, and Reef Relief while working to get my 100 ton captain’s license at age 21.

Callie at turtle hospital
Callie interning at the Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key

About 6 months after the first FWC interview, the local FWC director called me one day out of the blue and said I now have a job that you are qualified for.

Over the next year at the FWC as a marine biologist, I found that my favorite part of my week was the student outreach program at local schools. I came across a job vacancy for a local elementary science position and thought why not. I had zero teaching experience, a love for science, and the mindset that I can learn to teach as I teach them learn. Eleven years later, I am very proud to be the head of our marine science program at Sugarloaf School. I get the pleasure of teaching my two passions: science and the ocean. I hope to instill a sense of wonder, discovery, and adventure to all my students from kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade.

Last December, I felt the same sense of adventure well up inside of me when I came across the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. I’m a teacher, a mother of young twins, a part time server, a wife of a firefighter with crazy work hours, and someone who enjoys the comfort of their own bed. All rational thoughts lead to the assumption that this program was out of my league, but it didn’t nor will it ever stop me from continuing to dare, dream and discover. I hope my trip will inspire my students to do the same- to never stop exploring, learning, or continuing to grow in life.

Did You Know?

Walleye pollock is one of the type five fish species consumed in the United States. If you have ever eaten frozen fish sticks or had a fish sandwich at fast food restaurant then you have probably eaten pollock.

David Madden: All Hands on Deck, August 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Date: August 8, 2019

All Hands on Deck (video has no dialogue, only music)

I made this video while aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program. I thought it might be cool to capture the different kinds of work the crew, NOAA Officers, and scientists were doing. Pretty much everyone thought I was a little weird when asking to video just their hands. Oh well. I think it turned out kinda cool.

Special thanks to the folks aboard Pisces. Keep in mind – if anyone in this video gets a hand modeling contract, I get 40%. Thank you. The NOAA science team was particularly helpful: Zeb Schobernd – chief scientist, Todd Kennison, Brad Teer, Mike Bollinger, Zach Gillum, Mike Burton, Laura Bacharach, Dave Hoke, and Kevan Gregalis.

Jessica Cobley: Recalibrating, August 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 8/6/2019

Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska:  Lat: 58º 44.3 N  Long: 145º 23.51 W 

Air Temp:  15.9º C

Personal Log

Currently we are sailing back across the Gulf of Alaska to the boat’s home port, Kodiak. I think the last few days have gone by quickly with the change of daily routine as we start to get all the last minute things finished and gear packed away. 

Since my last post, the definite highlight was sailing up to see the Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay (near Yakutat). WOW. The glacier is so wide (~6miles) that we couldn’t see the entire face. In addition to watching the glacier calve, we also saw multiple seals sunbathing on icebergs as we sailed up to about a mile from the glacier. 

We spent a few hours with everyone enjoying the sunshine and perfect view of the mountains behind the glacier, which form the border between the U.S. and Canada. We also had a BBQ lunch! Here are a few photos from our afternoon.

Hubbard Glacier
Sailing through little icebergs. The glacier went further than we could see from the boat.
Group photo of the science crew
Group photo of the science crew! Photo by Danielle Power

Another surprise was showing up for dinner the other night to find King Crab on the menu. What a treat! Most people are now trying to get back on a normal sleeping schedule and so mealtimes are busier than usual.

king crab legs
Our Chief Steward, Judie, sure does spoil us!

Lastly, the engineering department was working on a welding project and invited me down to see how it works. On the first day of the trip I had asked if I could learn how to weld and this was my chance! They let me try it out on a scrap piece of metal after walking me through the safety precautions and letting me watch them demonstrate. It works by connecting a circuit of energy created by the generator/welding machine. When the end you hold (the melting rod) touches the surface that the other end of the conductor is connected to (the table) it completes the circuit.

Jessica welding
Wearing a protective jacket, gloves and helmet while welding are a must. The helmet automatically goes dark when sparks are made so your eyes aren’t damaged from the bright light. Photo by Evan Brooks.


Scientific Log

Before making it to Yakutat we fished a few more times and took our last otolith samples and fish measurements. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish and have rings on them just like a tree. The number and width of the rings help scientists calculate how old the fish is, as well as how well it grew each year based on the thickness of the rings. In the wet lab, we take samples and put them in little individual vials to be taken back to the Seattle lab for processing. Abigail did a great job teaching where to cut in order to find the otoliths, which can be tough since they are so small.

Jessica and pollock otoliths
Our last time taking otolith samples from pollock. Photo by Troy Buckley

Another important piece of the survey is calibrating all of the equipment they use. Calibration occurs at the start and end of each survey to make sure the acoustic equipment is working consistently throughout the survey. The main piece of equipment being calibrated is the echosounder, which sends out sound waves which reflect off of different densities of objects in the water. In order to test the different frequencies, a tungsten carbide and a copper metal ball are individually hung below the boat and centered underneath the transducer (the part that pings out the sound and then listens for the return sound). Scientists know what the readings should be when the sound/energy bounces off of the metal balls. Therefore, the known results are compared with the actual results collected and any deviation is accounted for in the data accumulated on the survey. 

Calibration
Downriggers are set up in three positions on board to center the ball underneath the boat. They can be adjusted remotely from inside the lab.

After calibration, we cleaned the entire wet lab where all of the fish have been processed on the trip. It is important to do a thorough cleaning because a new survey team comes on board once we leave, and any fish bits left behind will quickly begin to rot and smell terrible. Most of the scales, plastic bins, dissection tools, nets, and computers are packed up and sent back to Seattle.

Gear packed
All packed up and ready to go! The rain gear also gets scrubbed inside and out to combat any lingering fish smell.


Did You Know?

Remember when you were a kid counting the time between a lightning strike and thunder? Well, the ship does something similar to estimate the distance of objects from the ship. If it is foggy, the ship can blow its fog horn and count how many seconds it takes for the sound to be heard again (or come back to the boat). Let’s say they counted 10 seconds. Since sound travels at approximately 5 seconds per mile, they could estimate that the ship was 1 mile away from shore. We were using this method to estimate how close Oscar Dyson was from the glacier yesterday. While watching the glacier calve we counted how many seconds between seeing the ice fall and actually hearing it. We ended up being about 1 mile away. 

Cheers, Jess

Linda Kurtz: STEM Teacher AWAY! August 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission:  Cascadia Margin Ocean Mapping Project

Geographic Area: Coastal Oregon and northern California

Date: August 6, 2019


Introduction

I am thrilled to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather

I will be embarking August 12 and sailing through August 23 on a Hydrographic Survey mission from Newport, Oregon. Hydrographic Survey missions focus on mapping the seafloor in detail.  I will be sharing more about that soon!  To all my students (past and present), colleagues, fellow STEM enthusiasts, and friends, I hope you will follow along via these blog posts as I share this teacher adventure at sea and learn with me about the important work of NOAA. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The mission of NOAA is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.” 

Most of my time teaching is spent within the walls of the classroom, trying to prepare students for STEM careers that they (or I) have never seen.  Now, as a Teacher at Sea, the dynamic will be flipped!  I will learn with actual scientists about STEM careers that support NOAA’s mission and bring those experiences back to the classroom myself! I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my own knowledge and for my students who will get a front row seat to STEM careers in action.                                

My “classroom” for the next two weeks:

Classroom for Fairweather
My “classroom” for the next two weeks


About Me:

I was born in New Hampshire and moved around quite a bit growing up.  My “hometown” was Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I grew up in many places including South Africa.  I currently live on a “pocket farm” in Powder Springs, Georgia with my husband, 3 children, 3 dogs, and 2 cats.  My family and I love to travel as well as camp in state and national parks.

Kurtz Family Photo Collage
Kurtz Family Photo Collage

I have always enjoyed a bit of adventure, learning rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, bungee jumping, and skydiving.  My favorite adventure came at the age of 13 when I learned how to scuba dive.  A new underwater world was revealed to me and I developed a deep love and respect for the ocean.  I have tried to teach my children and my students the joys of outdoor adventure and the importance of stewardship.  Powder Springs is about 20 miles away from the Georgia’s capitol of Atlanta.  We love going to NFL Falcons’ games and MLB Braves’ games when we are not out camping!

Family Game Time
Family Game Time

My greatest adventure now is being a STEM teacher.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  I have been a STEM teacher for my entire teaching career and love it!  I see STEM everywhere and believe our students are going to do great things for the world with a strong background in STEM education.  I particularly enjoy teaching Coding and 3D printing to students as well as how to use technology to create solutions to problems instead of being passive users of technology

My undergraduate work was focused in Early Childhood education, and my graduate degree in Integration of Technology into Instruction.  I now teach at Sope Creek Elementary and love my 1,000+ students in our evolving STEM school.  We follow the steps of the EDP or Engineering Design Process every day to solve real world problems.  We especially like to integrate problem solving with technology.  This practice is what drew me to the hydrographic survey projects conducted by NOAA.  I am excited to learn how technology is utilized to create detailed maps of the ocean floor, and learn about the science of Bathymetry, which is the study of the “beds” of “floors” of water bodies including oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. 

Finally, it was the mission of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program is what drew me to apply for this program:  The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving them unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation. The program provides a unique opportunity for kindergarten through college-level teachers to sail aboard NOAA research ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew.   As a life-long learner it is difficult to access professional development. In this program, I will gain real world experience as a scientist as sea while also having an adventure at sea!  I can’t wait to share this experience with all of you!   Now I’m off to get my dose of vitamin sea!  More soon. 


Questions and Resources:

Teachers:  Please reach out with questions from teachers or students and keep an eye out for resources I will be sharing in the comments section of this blog.  Check out these K-12 resources available through NOAA!

Students:  Have a teacher or please post your questions.  Here are the answers from questions so far:

Question 1:  Do you think you will end up like the Titanic

Answer:  No way!  The NOAA Ship Fairweather has been conducting missions since 1967 (the ship is older than ME!).  This is a 231 foot working vessel with a strengthened ice welded hull.  I don’t plan on seeing any icebergs off the coast of Oregon in Pacific Ocean, so don’t worry!  NOAA Ship Fairweather’s crew have some of the best professionals in the world to run their fleet, so I will be safe!

Question 2:  Are you coming back?  And will you have to sleep outside like a pirate?

Answer:  Yes, I will be coming back!  I will be away for 2 weeks and will be back in the STEM-Kurtz lab on August 26th-so you can come see me when I get back.  As for your 2nd question, I will get to sleep inside in a “berth” and will have a bed and everything else I need.  I do not have to sleep outside, but you know when I’m home I like to sleep outside in my hammock! 

Student focus of the week:  Hey 5th Grade students!  You are going to be learning about constructive and destructive processes of the earth over time.  Check out this document about the Subduction Zone Marine Geohazards Project Plans.  My mission will link directly to what you are learning in class!

Erica Marlaine: Last Boat Not Least, July 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 17, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 19, 2019

Weather Data from Woodland Hills, California:

Latitude: 34º 16.54 N
Longitude: 118º 60.90 W
Wind Speed: 5 km/hr
Air Temperature:  33º Celsius
Pool Temperature 29º Celsius


Conclusion

It is hard to believe that my 26 days as a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are already over, and that I am back in California.  I am still rocking slightly, and still VERY AWAKE at 4 a.m. as a result of having the night shift. I met so many wonderful people, from the NOAA officers to the crew to the science team, and learned so much about marine species, the ocean, science, technology, Alaska, and myself.

When I tell people how much I loved being up to my elbows in pollock, jellyfish, and sparkly herring scales; processing a catch several times a day; filleting rockfish; and the utter satisfaction that comes from opening a pollock’s head in just the right spot in order to extract its otoliths, they think I am insane. I guess it’s just something they’ll have to experience for themselves. 

I have cooked both Alaskan cod and salmon since returning home, but nothing tastes like Chief Steward Judy’s cooking. I miss being rocked to sleep by the movement of the water; the anemones, sea stars, and fish we saw each night using the drop camera; the sunsets; the endless waves; and all the laughs. This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned with my students and my school. I will always treasure my time in Alaska and on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and hope to return to both soon.

Some favorite memories:

Erica Marlaine: You Never Know Where a Good Book Will Take You, July 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 15 , 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 0.79 N

Longitude: 152º40.72 W

Air Temperature:  16º Celsius


Interview with the Chief Scientist

When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love.  She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day.  The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”

When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist).  Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.

Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.