Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
 
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

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The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

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Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

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Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

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Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
 
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Adam Renick, The DIDSON Pilot, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Friday, June 21, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 75° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 16 knots

Happy Solstice Everybody! Welcome to astronomical summer!

Giacamo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

Giacomo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

What is a Didson?

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

We are well into the second week of our cruise and I want to tell you all about a new pilot project that NOAA is working with through the Marine Mammal Research program at the Univ. of Hawaii that is using a DIDSON sonar. A DIDSON (Dual frequency IDentification SONar) is an advanced type of sonar that has many advantages over a traditional sonar for finding fishes and other marine life.

The first advantage of a DIDSON is that it gives us a very highly detailed image of what types of marine life are present in the water. When our shipboard acoustics team “sees” that there is a layer of creatures in the water column it appears as very small dots on a computer screen.

Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).

Here you can see the DIDSON going down to record the scattering layer (the very thin line near the finger).

This is great because it tells us the depth and location, but it does not tell us what it is. When we see something of interest, we can deploy the DIDSON to give us an actual “picture” of that creature or even a video of its behavior. The reason I am describing the “imaging” properties of this tool in quotes is that it is not a camera and it does not use light to see at all. Rather, it uses high frequency sound waves to produce an image much like a sonogram gives us a picture of a baby in a mother’s uterus.

Comparison of different types of sonar.

Comparison of different types of sonar.

This leads us to another major advantage of the DIDSON over traditional technologies such as beam sonar or videos. This thing can go very deep into the ocean to explore the life that is there. If you recall back to my previous post you will remember that mesopelagic fish hang out much deeper in the water column during the day than at night. Trawling that deep is challenging and requires more effort and resources than using the DIDSON. If we want to see what is down there we can deploy the DIDSON into the scattering layer and get a sense of the marine life in the deeper parts of the ocean. Also, because it uses sound it can give us data about behaviors that are occurring in the dark regions of the ocean.

Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.

Mr. Giorli wishing luck to the DIDSON equipment as it is deployed.

Giacomo Giorli and others that are leading this project on the cruise are still going through the data they’ve collected with the DIDSON.  So far, they have seen a lot of success and have a identified a few squids – but they won’t tell us more than that until they go back to the lab to fully analyze their data.  “We don’t exactly know what is down there right now, but with emerging technology, one day we will,” says Mr. Giorli. See a video clip of the DIDSON data here.

The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.

The ever-useful duct tape makes its debut on this cruise.

Adam Renick, Getting To Know the Ocean – The Kona Ecosystem, June 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Sunday, June 16, 2013

Current Air Temperature: 78° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 79° F
Wind Speed: 20 knots

Personal Log
 

Sunrise in Hawaii

Sunrise in Hawaii

All is well on the Sette! Skies have been clear, waters have been relatively calm and the mood onboard has been positive. With the cooperative work of the scientists, the crew’s expert ship handling and Clem and Jay’s fine cooking it has been a very interesting week for me. For years I have taught about physical oceanography with a focus on what we know, not necessarily how we know it. I had a sense of how things were done in general; using sonar and taking samples, but I never understood the details of how we can target specific locations to study in such a vast ocean to get a picture of it as a whole system. In just a few days aboard this research vessel I have been given a look at how ocean science is conducted and how our knowledge about the expansive oceans is built one piece of thoughtful data at a time. In the last week I have learned how a well-organized research plan is executed and have also learned about some of the difficulties of conducting science at sea as well.

 
Science and Technology Log – Night Trawling
 

The zones of life in the ocean.

The zones of life in the ocean.

One of my nightly tasks is to help a team of scientists conduct trawls of the mesopelagic zone to identify the organisms that live there. The mesopelagic zone (pictured) is also known as the twilight zone because it is where there is a small amount of sunlight that penetrates the water, but not enough for photosynthesis to occur. If you recall from my last blog, the Sette has an active acoustics team that is using active sonar to identify layers of organisms at specific depths in the water column. During the daytime this layer is too deep for our nets to catch them. But at nighttime this layer migrates up towards the surface allowing us catch them with in a net in a process called a trawl. We do two trawls each night. Before each trawl the acoustics team tells the trawl team the depth of the target layer. The deck crew then deploys a fairly large net down to that depth and drags it through the water to scoop up the organisms that we have targeted. Blog4 (1)After about an hour of doing this the net is pulled back up to the ship where all the creatures are collected in a bag called a “cod end”. It may sound fairly simple, but this process requires the coordination of many different people as the scientists need to communicate with the deck operations crew, and the deck crew has to work with the captain to ensure that the very long net line hits the target and does not get tangled or damaged in the process. Keep in mind that this is happening at 1:00am with 20 knot winds and 10 foot waves. It is a wonder to see and be a part of this operation.

Krill...

Krill…

Once we have collected all of the organisms we move on to sorting the catch. We separate the contents of the net into five main categories and then measure the number, mass and volume of each of the types. Perhaps the most commonly abundant of the groups that we classify are mesopelagic fish, which are dark in color and contain photophores to provide them camouflage in the night. Cephalopods (squid) are also quite common along with gelatinous creatures such as jellyfish and crustaceans over 4cm in length, such as shrimp. The final category of interest to us is the shore-fish, which are juvenile fish that will eventually move more towards the land or reefs once they are bigger. The shore-fish are typically the most beautiful looking of the catch.

Shore-fish sorting

Shore-fish sorting

Everything that is left over is then lumped into a general category called miscellaneous, which is mainly composed of krill. Some cool stuff we’ve gotten in the bag that don’t really have their own category have been two cookie-cutter sharks, a seahorse and two remoras.

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Examining a Cookie-Cutter Shark

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Close-Up of Shark

So what does this all have to do with cetaceans? I have yet to mention them in my blogs. By studying the composition of the mesopelagic layer we can better understand the food chain and ecosystem that the whales and dolphins depend on. Next week when we begin actively searching for cetaceans we will be able to better understand their behaviors because we have background data on where their food is, what it is composed of and how it behaves. Hope all is well back on land…

 
Best,
Adam Renick
NOAA Teacher at Sea

Adam Renick, Heading Out and The Science Begins, June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: June 13, 2013

The Oscar Elton Sette in port.

The Oscar Elton Sette in port.

Personal Log       

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The ocean brings us life.

 I arrived in beautiful Honolulu, HI, where I prepared myself to sail on the Sette. In what seemed like no time at all I was aboard and operations were underway. Meeting the team of scientists and the crew of the Sette has been a very welcoming experience and I look forward to getting to know them all better. I will interview and write some biographical sketches for them later. Mahalo, thank you.

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Heading out of Pearl Harbor

Heading out to sea on Wednesday was a great way to get our sea legs under us. Leaving beautiful Pearl Harbor past the picturesque Honolulu skyline butted up against Diamond Head could hardly get any better. That is, until our first wildlife sighting – a green sea turtle breached the surface right next to our boat to wish us a safe journey.

Once we left the calm of the harbor the sea started rocking and rolling almost immediately. Without the islands to protect us, the wind picked up and waves started tossing the boat all around. I quickly transitioned from enjoyment of the beauty to holding on to my lunch. The seasickness lasted through the safety drills and well into the night as we sailed southeast to Kona, our research destination.

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Research Site off the Kona Coast

I spent the afternoon trying to identify my sensations as they were occurring. Was I pitching or rolling, or both? Pitch is when the front of the ship, the bow, goes up and down. Roll is when the ship leans left and then right from its center of axis. Once my stomach settled down it actually became quite fun to lie in my bunk as everything around me got thrown into the air. My dreams of being able to fly were coming true. No worries though, by sunrise the seas had calmed and the beautiful Hawaiian sunrise began our first day of scientific operations.

 Science and Technology Log

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Jessica at the Active Acoustics ELab

Science operations began just before sunrise with two very important tasks. The first, called active acoustics, will be ongoing 24hrs/day for our entire two-week cruise. This important task uses the ship’s hull-mounted echo sounder to locate layers of marine animals that cetaceans such as whales and dolphins might like to eat.  These layers of animals are composed of small fish, shrimp, and squid that tend to group together in a layer at specific depths at different parts of the day and night. We use the sonar to track that layer of creatures, which allows us to drop down nets to that specific ocean depth to catch some of them in a process called a trawl. These trawls will be conducted twice each night to sample these layers and to learn more about their composition.

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Me taking care of the CTD after its deployment.

The other ongoing scientific procedure that was begun today is the conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) casts. A CTD is a tool (pictured) that is lowered deep into the ocean and allows us to measure some of the most important physical and chemical characteristics of the water, which are depth, salinity, dissolved oxygen and temperature. Additionally, the CTD has a fluorometer attached to it that tells us the amount of phytoplankton, or chlorophyll, that is in the water. As the CTD is being pulled back up it also collects 10 samples of water in tanks for us to analyze in the lab. We try to determine the size and structure of the phytoplankton and zooplankton community, the amount of nutrients and the amount of chlorophyll in the water at different depths. This data will help the scientists make connections between the physical properties of the water and its biological productivity.

So much more to write about, but that is all for today…

Best,
Adam Renick
NOAA Teacher at Sea

Adam Renick, Getting Ready to Sail, June 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12th – June 26th, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/kona_iea/
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: June 6, 2013

Personal Log

TASPhotoAdamRenick

Me in San Diego

Hello from San Diego, California! My name is Adam Renick and I am an Earth and Planetary Sciences teacher at Health Sciences High and Middle College (HSHMC) in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Health Sciences High is the best school in the universe and specializes, as its name implies, in preparing students for careers in the health sciences field. Students at our school begin weekly internships at local hospitals and college-level health classes during their freshman year of study so that they are equipped with four years of specialized training and career pathway experience by the time they graduate. The staff and students at our school are truly special and it is an honor to represent them during this Teacher At Sea experience.

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Violet and I in Niagara Falls, NY

Here is a picture of my incredible wife Violet and I at Niagara Falls. We both love the outdoors and have nature-related careers. She is a marine ecologist and someday maybe we will get to go on a research cruise together. Until then, she will be back in San Diego studying the effects of environmental pollutants on fish in San Diego.  She will also be playing extensively with our canine best friend, Higgs. With the addition of Higgs to our family I have fallen into third place in our house in the categories of intelligence, cuteness and talent. Higgs and I are currently tied in the messiness category and ability to say “Sorry!”

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Higgs playing ball and warming hearts.

I applied for the NOAA Teacher At Sea program for a variety of reasons. As a teacher of the marine environment I know that this experience will allow me to deepen my knowledge of the content I teach about and to understand the scientific processes that contributes to our knowledge of the oceans.  The ocean plays an integral part of my life. I can smell the salty mist of the Pacific from my house and I am playing at the beach or riding the waves almost every single day (unless I am in the mountains). The first international adventure I ever went on was to explore the reefs off the coast of Belize. I am not sure what mysteries await me in my time at sea but I know I can rely on mother nature to reveal some of her knowledge to me over the next three weeks. It is my goal to share the discoveries of my journey with you.

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Map of the cruise region.

My journey begins in Honolulu, Hawaii where I will be boarding the vessel Oscar Elton Sette with a team of scientists to embark on a 15-day assessment of the marine ecosystem of the west coast of the Big Island near Kona. The primary scientific goal of our trip will be to collect data to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of the oceanography and associated cetacean activity off the leeward coast of Hawaii. Cetaceans are a classification of marine mammals such as dolphin and whales. I will be providing details on how this is done in upcoming posts and am very excited to learn more about the behaviors of such incredible creatures.

You can learn more about our Ship and the Mission here to learn more about where I’ll be! I am very excited to be part of this experience as it will contribute to my understanding of the world and myself. As I gear up and head to the airport next Monday I will be thinking of my family, whom I thank for giving me the world and of my many students who allow me to share my world with them. See you in Hawaii!

Best,

Adam Renick

NOAA Teacher at Sea