Eric Velarde: Beginning Seafloor Dredge Tows, June 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Velarde
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Wednesday, June 13, 2013 – Monday, June 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Cape May – Cape Hatteras
Date: June 17, 2013

Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 40.07°N
Longitude: 73.05°W
Atmospheric Pressure: 1025 mb
Wind Speed: 4.6 knots
Humidity: 85%
Air Temperature: 18.33°C
Surface Seawater Temperature: 18.46°C

Science & Technology Log

Suspending flight of the HabCam V4 & beginning the first of the seafloor dredge tows was the focus of work on June 17, 2013. In order for seafloor dredge tows to occur, the HabCam V4 is withdrawn from the sea to eliminate risk of accidental collision or entanglement.  After the science team raises the HabCam V4 to a safe depth, the engineering team assumes responsibility of HabCam V4 retrieval through winch operation on the loading deck. When not in operation, the HabCam V4 rests on the loading deck for cleaning & maintenance until seafloor dredge towing is complete. While being a delicate scientific recording instrument, the HabCam V4 also possesses the engineered fortitude to withstand the demands of oceanic scientific research.

HabCam V4 Withdrawal

HabCam V4 Withdrawal

Dredges aboard scientific vessels are 8’ wide, New Bedford style commercial scallop dredge frames, fitted with a ring bag and sweep on the bottom.  The ring bag is built from 2” interconnected metal facets.  Additionally, a 1.5” polypropylene liner is installed inside the ring to capture all sizes of Sea Scallops. In contrast, commercial vessels have two 15’ wide dredges with 4” rings so that younger, smaller scallops pass through the net. Once the dredge is lowered to the seafloor, it is dragged behind the vessel for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots before being lifted onto the vessel for sorting, categorization, and measurement. The engineering team assumes responsibility of lowering & raising the dredge while the science team dons foul weather gear for the messy, but detailed analysis of the catch.

Engineering Team Raising Dredge Tow

Engineering Team Raising Dredge Tow

Once the dredge tow catch is aboard, collaboration between the science and engineering teams occurs so that the catch can be quickly, but accurately sorted into species. All dredge tows are focused on analyzing Atlantic Sea Scallop populations at predetermined points on the ships trajectory. In addition, fish, and sometimes sea stars and crabs require subsampling to assess their population as well. Sea Scallops must be weighed and measured en masse before being returned to their seafloor habitat. In addition, subsamples of Scallops are dissected so that the sex, gonad weight, and meat weight can be recorded.

Measuring Scallops with FSCS

Measuring Scallops with FSCS

All scientific analysis of captured specimens occurs in the scientific lab, which houses FSCS (NOAA Fisheries Scientific Computer system) which is a combination of touch-screen computer monitors, electronic measuring boards, and digital weight scales. The scientific lab is portable, loaded with scientific sampling equipment in Lewes, DE by the scientific team before being carefully loaded onto the vessel prior to departure. Working & cleaning in the scientific lab is nearly effortless due to its engineered design, allowing for streamlined operation.

Scientific Laboratory

Scientific Laboratory

Personal Log

One of my favorite aspects of the seafloor dredge tows is the dissection of the scallops. I enjoy dissection because it is slower than the rest of the operations that occur after the catch has been sorted, giving me time to observe and record the internal anatomy of the scallops. I also enjoy dissection as it grants me time to work in systematic symmetry with the luminous La’Shaun Willis, a Bennett College ’98 Alumnus. Her warming energy is radiant, making me feel as if I am back in Greensboro, teaching & learning alongside my students at The Early/Middle College at Bennett. Listening to her speak about her life journey causes me daydream about the scientific possibilities that await my students when I return to Greensboro, North Carolina with this newfound experience to fuel their continued character, leadership, and academic development. I am constantly filled with inspiration as she shares priceless nuggets of wisdom with me.

Scallop Subsampling

Scallop Subsampling

Following each seafloor dredge tow, the science and engineering teams work to shuck the largest of the scallops for closer analysis of meat weights when the science team returns to the lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Admittedly, I am not very adept at shucking, but I am learning quickly from some of the most talented shuckers I have come into contact with. They transform shucking into a scientific art of speed, precision, and accuracy.

Shucking Scallops

Shucking Scallops

One of the benefits of working from Midnight-Noon is that I get to soak in the warmth of the rising sun, which, as expected, is breathtaking. Each new day has been filled with awesome scientific beauty, wonder, and energy. Several days of seafloor dredge tows will succeed today, eventually followed by the return of the HabCam V4 to the sea as the vessel makes its returning voyage to port.

Sea Sunrise

Sea Sunrise

Did You Know?

Atlantic Sea Scallops inhabit the seafloor from Cape Hatteras at their southernmost range, to Newfoundland at their northernmost range.

-Mr. V

Eric Velarde: Rosette C.T.D. Analysis & HabCam V4 Operation, June 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Velarde
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Wednesday, June 13, 2013 – Monday, June 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Cape May – Cape Hatteras
Date: June 15, 2013

Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 38°19.0778 N
Longitude: 74°15.9625 W
Atmospheric Pressure: 30.7in
Wind Speed: 11.5 Knots
Humidity: 70%
Air Temperature: 66.4°F
Surface Seawater Temperature: 66.2°F

Science & Technology Log

Deploying the Rosette to collect the first water sample for C.T.D. analysis & flying the HabCam V4 was the focus of work on June 15, 2013. The Rosette is deployed so that water samples can be collected to analyze the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (C.T.D.) of the seawater, providing data on the physical aspects of the Atlantic Sea Scallop’s (Placopecten magellanicus) habitat. The engineering team assumes responsibility of the Rosette, which is carefully lowered into the ocean through winch operation on the bridge. Once the Rosette has reached near the seafloor, it collects seawater and is then carefully retrieved through winch operation on the bridge. The seawater is then collected into an individual sampling bottle for analysis & calibration of the instrument.

Rosette C.T.D. Apparatus

Rosette C.T.D. Apparatus

Digital image rendering of the C.T.D. analysis allows for graphic visualization of the gathered oceanographic information, as well as calibration of the instrument. Analyzing the information demonstrates the two distinct layers of the ocean, separated by a relatively abrupt dividing boundary, which defines them. Atlantic Sea Scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) inhabit the seafloor in the lower layer of the ocean, whereas Plankton and Sea Scallop larvae can be found in the upper layer. Presentation of the C.T.D. readout gives accurate data of the Voltage (purple), Oxygen (blue), Temperature (red), and Salinity (green) levels.

C.T.D. Readout

C.T.D. Readout

As stated in my previous post, the HabCam V4 takes a tremendous amount of teamwork in order to operate at its maximum capacity. Correspondence with the engineering team is required to launch & retrieve the HabCam V4, the pilot must remain focused on ensuring that the HabCam V4 is close enough to the seafloor for maximum image quality, while at the same time being at a safe distance to prevent accidental collision, and the co-pilot is focused on incoming images & server traffic at a 2-monitor interface. All participating members of the crew must be attentive, communicative, and actively engaged in the contributing activities of other team members at all times.

HabCam V4 Co-Pilot Interface

HabCam V4 Co-Pilot Interface

The best way to describe piloting the HabCam V4 is to compare it to a video game, albeit one that has no “extra lives”. There is a pressure sensitive fiber optic cable feed & retrieval control lever that allows the pilot to either decrease or increase the depth of the HabCam V4. It is vital to maintain a safe distance while being in close enough range of the seafloor so that the incoming images are properly exposed and recognizable for the co-pilot. The optimum range is between 1.7 – 1.9 meters +/- 0.2 meters. Piloting the HabCam V4 during satisfactory weather is nearly effortless once having become acclimated to the 5-monitor interface and the control lever. Piloting the HabCam V4 during foul weather is quite difficult, requiring constant conscious concentration on all variables (seafloor depth, HabCam V4 depth, sonar readout, and fiber optic cable feed & retrieval) in order to prevent an accidental collision with the seafloor.

HabCam V4 Piloting

HabCam V4 Piloting

Co-piloting the HabCam V4 requires attention to the incoming images, as well as server traffic. Incoming images must be screened so that identified individual species can be time-stamped and tagged for analysis. Using software, the co-pilot can either tag observed species using digital identification markers, or manually input text to identify a particularly intriguing image that they wish to highlight for analysis. It is important to ensure that incoming images are being written to the server for digital archiving and future annotation. Digital data management, a scarcely celebrated 21st century character trait, is one of the many strengths of the crew aboard this vessel.

HabCam V4 Co-Piloting

HabCamV4 Co-Piloting

Personal Log

Despite a few bouts of violent seasickness, I have been having the time of my life while aboard the R/V Hugh R Sharp. The crew possesses seemingly infinite amounts of sincerity, honesty, and intelligence. The continued operation of this wonderfully engineered human machine has occurred without error, and will continue to do so while under the watchful eyes of the leadership heads. Thus far my favorite aspect of this research experience has been co-piloting the HabCam V4. Having vast amounts of digital imagery stream before my observation makes me feel as though I am at home, screening digital images that I stumble upon for both scientific beauty & significance.

HabCam V4 Co-Piloting

HabCam V4 Co-Piloting

In addition to the technological aspects of this experience, I have also found solace in the empathetic energy provided by the ship’s captain, Jimmy Warrington. His humor, experience, and leadership create an ideal teaching & learning environment. While many may dread the monotonous nature of a safety briefing, the one provided by the Captain was both engaging and informative. Following safety briefing, newcomers to the R/V Hugh R. Sharp are required to don a safety immersion suit in less than 60 seconds. The safety immersion suit is more commonly referred as a “Gumby Suit”. The suit is quite impressive, being both insulating and buoyant. It possesses a safety whistle, flashlight, interpersonal locking hooks, and even an inflatable pillow. It is reassuring to know that above all else, safety is the primary focus of the leadership on this vessel.

Safety Immersion Suit or "Gumby Suit"

Safety Immersion Suit or “Gumby Suit”

Being on duty from Midnight-Noon causes me to miss the opportunity to observe sunsets at sea on most nights, but I have been able to experience a few and they are simply the most breathtaking sunsets that I have ever seen. Watching the night divide the day is both awe-inspiring and thought provoking. Despite my colorblindness, I feel that I am still capable of absorbing all of the electromagnetic energy that the sun provides during this hour of magic.

Sunset Storm

Sunset Storm

Dredge tows will be the focus of upcoming days, and is something that I am looking forward to. As a biologist, I find all living organisms infinitely beautiful and stimulating. I cannot wait.

-Mr. V

Did You Know?

The Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery is the largest & most valuable scallop fishery on planet Earth, valued at $580,000,000 in 2011.

Eric Velarde: First Day at Sea & HabCam V4 Operating Systems Management, June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Velarde
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Wednesday, June 13, 2013 – Monday, June 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Cape May – Cape Hatteras
Date: June 13, 2013

Weather Data from Bridge
Latitude: 38°47.3002 N
Longitude: 75°09.6813 W
Atmospheric Pressure: 30.5in (1032.84mb)
Wind Speed: 14.5 Knots (16.68mph)
Humidity: 70%
Air Temperature: 19.2°C (66.6°F)
Surface Seawater Temperature: 19°C (66.2°F)

Bridge Weather Data Collection

Bridge Weather Data Collection

Science & Technology Log

Cleaning, stabilizing, and testing the Habitat Mapping Camera System, or HabCam V4 was the focus of work on June 13, 2013. This work was done to ensure that all image collection & processing during the Sea Scallop Survey proceeds without any technical mishaps. Following cleaning, the HabCam V4 fiber optic cable needed to be stabilized to minimize vibrational interference using an ingenious combination of copious amounts of galvanized electrical tape & zip-ties. Once the HabCam V4 fiber optics cable was properly stabilized, the vessel set out to sea to conduct preliminary testing to ensure that all systems were operating properly.

Stabilizing the HabCam V4 Fiber Optic Cable

Stabilizing the HabCam V4 Fiber Optic Cable

What distinguishes the HabCam V4 from other HabCam systems is that the HabCam V4 records Stereo-Optic images (3D images) using 2 cameras in order to give an unprecedented view of the ocean floor organisms and their habitat substrate in the highest image quality available. In addition, the HabCam V4 also possesses a side scan acoustics system, which allows the HabCam V4 Pilot (AKA, “Flyer”) to visualize the sea floor using Sonar technology. Visualizing the sea floor using Sonar allows for more precise HabCam V4 flying so that the HabCam V4 is kept at a safe  distance from the sea floor, which is contoured similarly to Earth’s continents.

HabCam V4 Pilot Interface

HabCam V4 Pilot Interface

Flying the HabCam V4 requires tremendous amounts of teamwork, as there are several operations that must occur simultaneously to ensure seamless HabCam V4 winch operation, data retrieval & image annotation. The Pilot is stationed behind a 5 screen interface where the following information is received: fiber optics cable feed & receival (smaller, upper left screen), loading deck real-time camera feed (upper left screen), Sonar visualization (upper right screen), altimeter/fathometer data (lower left screen), and HabCam V4 real-time image feed (lower right screen). The HabCam V4 is controlled in the Dry Lab by the Pilot who uses the interface to determine how much of the fiber optics cable is needed to be fed or received so that the HabCam V4 remains at a safe distance from the sea floor.  A winch operator is stationed on the loading deck to assist in managing fiber optics cable feed & retrieval. In addition to piloting and winch operation, a co-pilot works at a 2 screen interface to monitor the movement of the HabCam V4 relative to the vessels motion, as well as annotate the incoming images in real time so that observed organisms can be categorized, flagged, and timestamped.

Vic & Amber Piloting/Co-Piloting HabCam V4 in Dry Lab

Vic & Amber Piloting/Co-Piloting HabCamV4 in Dry Lab

Due to incoming severe weather & HabCam V4 data retrieval complications, the vessel had to return to port in Lewes, DE to ensure the safety of all crew members & scientific technology. The vessel is set to return to sea once the seas have calmed down and when the HabCam V4 is at its full operational capacity.

Incoming Severe Weather

Incoming Severe Weather

Personal Log

This experience seems like a living dream. Flying from Raleigh-Durham International Airport into Philadelphia International Airport was a breathtaking flight. The clouds were wispy, full, and complex. My mind was filled with anxious anticipation, and perhaps quixotic wonder & awe. As the plane descended, I was still wandering in the clouds in my mind. Even the drive from Philadelphia to my hotel in Rehoboth, Delaware where I spent the night before boarding the vessel seemed to be filled with restless excitement.

Philadelphia Clouds

Philadelphia Clouds

I’ve been working hard to become well acquainted with everyone and everything on board. This has already become a life changing experience for me. I have never had the opportunity to eat, sleep, and work in such an immersive scientific environment until this experience. Being in such close proximity to other scientific minds is very fulfilling, providing transcendental feelings of scientific curiosity, sincerity, and beauty. My natural tendency to introvert has begun to fade and I cannot stop the feeling of wanting to contribute as much as possible to the successful operation of the vessel and our mission.

R/V Hugh R Sharp Stern View

R/V Hugh R Sharp Stern View

Mindfulness, teamwork ethic, and lightheartedness are shared integral parts of everyones personality and are key features of the personified identity of the R/V Hugh R Sharp. Teamwork is contagious aboard this vessel, and it is simply the most wonderful scientific feeling I have had in a long time. One of the unique relationships that I have made is with La’Shaun Willis, a ’98 graduate of Bennett College. Never had I imagined that I would have the opportunity to work with a Bennett Belle on this cruise. She makes me feel at home. I cannot wait to share this relationship with my students, faculty, and our higher education partner, Bennett College.

La'Shaun Willis, NOAA Museum Specialist

La’Shaun Willis, NOAA Museum Specialist

In addition to interacting with the scientific team while completing dredge tow sorting & HabCam V4 operation, I plan on developing an understanding of the operation of the vessel itself through the engineering team. The engineers operate behind the scenes and provide an invaluable resource, the full functioning of the vessel itself. I am extremely interested in how, specifically, the vessel navigates through the seas, how waste and water are managed, and the logistics that are behind the planning of this tremendous voyage.

Engineering Team & HabCam V4

Engineering Team & HabCam V4

The weather has been improving and I feel that the best has yet to come. I cannot wait.

-Mr. V

Did You Know?

The HabCam V4 takes up to 10 images per second, which are stitched together to create a mosaic image, allowing for the visualization of a larger area than a single image could offer.

HabCam V4 Mosaic (image Courtesy of Dvora Hart)

HabCam V4 Mosaic (image Courtesy of Dvora Hart)

Eric Velarde: ¡Preparando Para el Viaje! (Preparing for the Trip!) June 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Velarde
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Wednesday, June 13, 2013 – Tuesday, June 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Cape May – Cape Hatteras
Date: June 10, 2013

Personal Log

Mr. Velarde & Rudy (the family poodle)

Mr. Velarde & Rudy (the family poodle)

¡Hola! I am Mr. Eric Velarde, 9th-12th grade Honors Earth/Environmental Science, Honors Biology, and Physical Science teacher at The Early/Middle College at Bennett in Greensboro, NC. I have had the distinct honor of experiencing my first 3 years of teaching at a truly wonderful, unique learning community. The Early/Middle College at Bennett is located on the historic campus of Bennett College and serves as a nurturing learning environment for aspiring, young women. Our students are engaged in their learning through academic scholarship, leadership & character development, and service to others.

I am intensely excited about sharing this research experience with my students, colleagues, and the general public. It is my plan to create several interactive, engaging, and personalized learning modules from the experience that educators can easily access and adapt for their students. These learning modules will focus on utilizing NOAA’s research, 21st century technology, and collaborative learning strategies to leverage the participation of historically underrepresented groups in the atmospheric & ocean science fields in America. In addition, I plan to use my experience with photography to help unveil the details behind ocean science research careers to provide students with an in-depth experience of what it feels like to be a scientist at sea.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp (Image Courtesy of NOAA)

I will be aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp from June 13th-25th to assist the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in a survey of the Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) to determine distribution and abundance in the mid-Atlantic. Biological analysis will occur through ocean-floor dredging, sorting & categorization of specimens, and Hab-Cam photography. Data collected will be used to assess the abundance of the population, health of the population, and the sustainability status of the fishery.

The Grand Canyon in Summer 2009

The Grand Canyon in Summer 2009

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona has instilled in me a deep, sincere love of Geology & Geography which I still hold today. Upon moving to Greensboro, NC I began to shift my interests towards Agriculture through involvement with the National FFA Organization. My undergraduate career consisted of juggling the study of Biology, Women’s Studies, and Photography at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As my 2010 graduation neared, I enrolled in the UNC-Baccalaureate Education in Science & Teaching (UNC-BEST) program to prepare for lateral entry licensure as a high school science teacher. Upon graduation I promptly earned employment with Guilford County Schools with my current school, where I worked for 2 years before earning my licensure with Guilford County Schools Alternative Certification Track (GCS-ACT). I am now a licensed educator and I plan on spending the rest of my life in education.

Sisters in Science & LSAMP Scholar Collaborative Lab

Sisters in Science & LSAMP Scholar Collaborative Lab

Working with our higher-education partner, Bennett College, has afforded me a significant amount of working time and space to facilitate character development within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields with the Sisters in Science (SIS) mentorship program. Select Early/Middle college students who express interest in STEM are paired with a Bennett College Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholar to help foster their interest in STEM. Students perform laboratory experiments, participate in service learning initiatives, travel to scientific conferences, and attend scientific lectures with their mentors. SIS has now expanded to include Brothers & Sisters in Science (BSIS) for Middle School students, and continues to reap the benefits of funding from the Anne L. & George H. Clapp Charitable and Educational Trust Foundation.

Nowadays I find myself constantly reassessing how I’ve facilitated a culture of lifelong learning, college & career readiness, and scientific curiosity in my students. Through professional development with North Carolina New SchoolsNational Youth Leadership Council, and the numerous opportunities provided by my school administrative team I have been able to begin to focus on character development, a growing passion of mine.

It is clear that this will be a significantly enriching experience both for myself and for students. More opportunities like the Teacher at Sea program are needed to help leverage teacher understanding of the size and scope of the field of science if we are to continue to advance our education, technology, and ultimately, our humanity into the far reaches of the Universe.

All the best,

-Mr. V