Kimberly Gogan: Night Crew Oceanography! More than just a Bongo! April 29, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
 April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 29, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 15.5  Degrees Celsius
ind Speed: 7 – 12 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8  Degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 10 Meters

Science and Technology Log

As I mentioned in my previous blogs, there are many layers of science that are happening simultaneously that support the AMAPPS project (see April 9th blog). One of these layers is monitoring the ecosystem with oceanography. In the April 9th blog I explained all about the Bongo Nets, and in April 15th blog I explained about the VPR and it’s plankton picture data. While the rest of the ship slept, the night time oceanography team – Betsy Broughton (scientist from NEFSC in Woods Hole), John Rosendale (lab technician from NOAA Fisheries Howard Labratory in Sandy Hook) and Brian Dennis (volunteer) were busy conducting Benthic science with the Beam Trawl and Van Veen Grab Sampler.

Although  this equipment was not used every night, I was lucky enough to have stayed up some of the night to see these two in action. The Benthic Zone, in a body of water, like the ocean refers to the very bottom of that aquatic ecosystem. The night time science team use a Beam Trawl or a bottom fishing net that is towed along the bottom of the ocean to take a sample of the organisms that live there. The Beam Trawl is attached to a winch that is on the stern of the boat, that one is much larger than the winch that is used to lower the Bongo Nets. The trawl is lowered down until it touches the bottom and then towed along the bottom picking up whatever is in its path. The trawl is then brought to the surface and the sample is sorted in the wet lab and preserved in formaldehyde just like the other samples. The Van Veen Grab Sampler is lowered into the water by the same smaller winch that is used for the Bongo Nets along the port side of the ship. The grab is rigged so that when it touches the bottom of the ocean, two arms open up and grab a large sample of the sediment at the bottom of the ocean. To me it looked just like the suffer muck I know as “clam flats.” Once the Van Veen Grab is brought up to the surface, the arms of the grab are released and the sediment is dropped into a bucket. From there the soil is washed over and over using several sized sieves until all of the muck is washed away and just the organisms, shells and assorted bottom treasures are left. This sample, once cleaned, is also brought back to the chemistry lab for processing in formaldehyde.  The scientists worked at a much faster pace to get all the sediment removed and the  samples processed. It was fun to be able to watch and help out.

Betsy teaching me how to run the computer software for the CTD.

Betsy teaching me how to run the computer software for the CTD.

Personal Log:

For most of the trip, my “assigned” task has been to work with Jerry Prezioso as the day Oceanography team. Jerry and I are in charge of the mid-day Bongo Nets (see April 9th blog). Sometimes we are up early and timing is such that our morning Bongo Net overlapped with night crew’s scheduled time. Sometimes they would start the morning Bongo and Jerry and I would take over and finish the work, or we would just all work together to get it done twice as fast.  Since there were more people to help in the morning, Betsy Broughton (see April 15th blog) was available to help teach me how to run the computer software that was attached to the Bongo called a CTD Sensor.

The graph on the computer software of the  Conductivity, Temperature and density data the CTD collects as the Bongo drops to it's lowest depth.

The graph on the computer software of the Conductivity, Temperature and density data the CTD collects as the Bongo drops to its lowest depth.

CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth and it sits above the Bongo Net collecting this data that it sends back to the computers. Generally one scientist is in charge of running the software that turns on the CTD and gets it to start collecting data as it is dropped down into the deep water. The person on the computer is in charge of knowing how deep the Bongo Net should go and telling the winch operator when to pull the Bongo Net back up to the surface. They are also responsible for letting the NOAA Corps officer on the Bridge know when the equipment is ready and telling the winch operator the speed at which the Bongo should be dropped. If this information is not relayed correctly the Bongo Net could go crashing into the bottom of the ocean. It took a couple of days of Betsy overseeing what I was doing, but in no time at all, Jerry felt confident enough in me to leave me at the helm and let me run the software on my own. From net washer to computer software operator, I was moving up!

Kimberly Gogan: Science Spot Light: Marine Bird Observer, April 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
 April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 27, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 10.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 15 -20 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8 Degrees Celsius
ater Depth: 10  Meters

Science and Technology Log

One of the other groups of scientist that have not received as much attention so far are our Birders. We have two Sea Bird Observers on this trip; Michael Force and Nick Metheny . The work of the birders supports the AMAPPS project by giving addition information about the health of the ecosystem the Marine Mammals live in. Many people don’t realize that out on the open ocean Sea Birds are the top predators.  They are a good indicator as to the health of the ecosystem because they are closely linked with the sea holding most of the bird’s vital food source. If there is a change in the birds food sources the birds are likely to be affected. Birds are easy to see and can be used as a quick and easy indicator without having to get into the ocean. What they mainly do during the day is rotate watching for birds between the two birders every 2 hours. Once they are up on the Flying Bridge with the Marine Mammal Observers, they will choose one side of the ship and watch for birds in quadrant or  arch that stretches from the bow of the ship to the beam which is 90 degree to the side out 300 meter, they call this a strip transect. They will use this know area to calculate populations of birds in entire area.  The birders are not using the “big eyes” like the Marine Mammal Observers; they spot bird with the naked eye.  The birding team really needs to be able to identify every bird they see, they need to be expert birders. The data they collect will go the scientist at the NEFSC and be linked to the physical oceanography to better understand the birds use of the ocean and quantify their habitat.  In different places in the ocean the birders will find very different species of birds depending on what is underneath. On this trip The Sea Birds Observers had a very exciting bird watching day because they spotted a rare Bermuda Petrel.   This bird was thought to be extinct for over 300 years but because of intensive conservation efforts the Bermuda Petrel is making a comeback.  The sighting was the first for Canada, as we were in Canadian waters and it was the most northerly sighting. The birder team was very, very excited.

This is Michael Force.  Mike is a Contract Sea Bird Observer.

This is Michael Force. Mike is a Contract Sea Bird Observer.

Science Spot Light

Science Spot Light: Meet Michael Force. Michael is a Canadian native. Mike refers to himself as Contract Sea Bird Observers for NOAA, which means he doesn’t work out of a specific office; he is just hired by contract for the duration of the cruise. He has been contracting with NOAA as a Sea Bird Observer on ships for 26 years. He has been one 26 different ships all over the world in places like Antarctica, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and of course the Atlantic. During this trip Michael exceeded 3700 days at sea!!! His hobby is also birding, which means that Michael works his hobbies into his career. He never thought he would be able watch birds and get paid for it!

Personal Log

On this trip we had some pretty rough weather. There were several days were we just had to hunker down and ride it out, or make a run from a storm and secure the boat in a protected place like Cape Cod Bay. This gave the scientist and sometimes the crew extra time on their hands to hang out and make friends, do computer work,  watch movies, or participate in the ships cribbage tournament.  I didn’t make it very far as I have not played seriously in several years, but it was fun to see the tournament continue for the entire trip.  Our resident birder mentioned earlier,  Michael Force, was the one who organized the entire tournament and was the one who really kept the momentum going. Mike was nice enough to play me in a few practice rounds where he taught me a good moto “pegging wins games!”  Mike and his fellow birder Nick were in the top three spots, along with one of the mammal observers and professional photographer Todd Pusser.  It was a very entertaining way to pass the time in bad weather or off duty before bed.

 

Kimberly Gogan: Meet the NOAA Corps: Where Service Meets Science! April 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
 April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 24, 2014

Science and Technology: The NOAA Corps!

While the scientist do their work there is a very important group of folks that take care of getting the ship where it needs to be and ensuring the scientists  have the best opportunity to get their work done.  That group is the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. NOAA has roots as far back as 1807 as the Survey of the Coast under president Thomas Jefferson, and then a branch called the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey during WWI & WWII eras. The current NOAA &  NOAA Corps came into existence in 1970 and has been providing leadership and support necessary for the day to day operations associated with the various NOAA Research Platforms. The NOAA fleet is comprised of 19 ships and 12 aircraft. One of the most important requirements for joining the NOAA Corps is that each officer has to have have a college degree in science, math or engineering. NOAA Officers go through an intense demanding fast paced training that includes formal classroom instruction as well as approximately 5 months of officer candidate school that focuses on officer bearing and leadership development as well as marine and nautical skills training at U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Once they have completed their training, the NOAA Corps Officers will be assigned to a NOAA ship for 2 years of sea duty where they learn how to operate the ship. After the officer’s sea duty they are assigned to a 3 year land assignment where they get to apply their degrees doing more hands on scientific work like working in a fisheries lab, weather service, or doing atmospheric studies.

Meet some of the NOAA Corps Officers that are assigned to NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Ensign (ENS) Roxanne Carter

Ensign (ENS) Roxanne Carter

Meet Ensign, or first officer rank, Roxanne Carter! Roxanne join the NOAA Corps in 2012 because she wanted to learn how to drive a ship, conduct more field work, and legally follow marine mammals. Prior to joining, Roxanne was the director of a small environmental company for 7 years working  in the Marine Endangered Species division. She also worked in fisheries at the NOAA Marine Operations Center – Atlantic or MOC-A as an Operations Manager in Norfolk, VA. where she assisted with all the marine center’s activities.  Roxanne has also done a lot of volunteering with various marine mammal agencies.  She has a Masters Degree in Biology and Marine Ecology. Although Biology was not her favorite subject, she knew that once she got her degree, there would be many cool opportunities in that field. Roxy as she is called on the ship, is in charge of the ship’s store along with her regular ship duties. Just last week Roxy also earned her OOD or Officer of the Deck Qualification Letter, by conducting several practical and oral exercises which she has to successfully pass. Earning her OOD  means her fellow officers feel comfortable with her up on the bridge unsupervised maintaining the operation of the vessel and the safety of the people on board.

Field Opperations Offcier (FOO)  Leiutenant Marc Weekley

Operations Officer (OO) Lieutenant Marc Weekley .

Meet Operations Officer Lieutenant Marc Weekley! Marc join the NOAA Corps in 2006. He has been stationed on the Gordon Gunter for one year. Marc’s job as Operations Officer on the ship is to communicate between the crew and officers and the scientist coming on to the ship. He mainly needs to work out any questions or details before the ship gets under way. He also organizes port logistics which means he makes port arrangements in various locations between the ships cruises.  Before Marc was assigned sea duty on the Gordon Gunter he was vessel operations coordinator for the Manta which is a small boat for one of NOAA’ s sanctuary offices. Although his position was similar to this one he also tracked the overall cost of the vessel, making sure that it met safety requirements.  Prior to joining NOAA Marc worked full time at an Environmental Lab, part time at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and was a Dive Instructor in both the Caribbean and West Coast of Mexico. He decided to join NOAA Corps because he wanted the opportunity to operate research vessels at sea and in the air. He likes the idea that being a NOAA Corps officer incorporates science, math or engineering and ship operations.  Because of his scientific background and training as a ship driver in the NOAA Corps, he is better able to maximize the scientists’ time while on the ship and further facilitate their research efforts.

Meet  Lieutenant Jounior Grade (LTJG)  Reni Rydlewicz

Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Reni Rydlewicz

Meet Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Reni Rydlewicz! After interviewing Reni, I can tell you that Fisheries is her love. Reni Joined the NOAA Corps in 2009. Prior to joining the NOAA Corps, Reni had a variety of jobs working as a seasonal field biologist. She worked with state and federal government programs and contractors including NOAA Fisheries as a Federal Observer, dockside Monitor, Area Coordinator dockside monitor, fisheries observer and coordinator. She also worked with birds deer and fish anywhere from the east Coast, Mid-west to Alaska. Reni became interested in joining the Corps after meeting a retired NOAA captain at the local American Legion who told her “The Corps is perfect for you”. Reni had heard of the Corps years before, but after speaking with the retired captain, she decided to apply as it gave her the flexibility to rotate every few years to new roles but still give a sense of permanency. Since she has been in the Corps, Reni has worked as a Navigation Officer aboard the Miller Freeman and Oscar Dyson. She currently is serving her land tour as Communications and Outreach Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region. In 2015, Reni expects to be Operations Officer on the Oregon II.

Ensign  (ENS) David Wang

Ensign (ENS) David Wang

Meet Ensign (ENS) David Wang! David joined NOAA Corps in 2013. Prior to joining NOAA, Ensign Wang was working  as a real estate agent while looking for career opportunities in the marine science field. Ensign Wang also pursued an opportunity to start a mussel aquaculture company in, RI , as well as worked as a deckhand aboard the lobster fishing vessel. David graduated from Long Island University, Southampton with a undergraduate degree in Marine Science. David completed his Masters in 2010 in Fisheries Biology at California State University, Northridge.  David joined the NOAA Corps after hearing from a friend who joined  about the opportunities to travel all over the world, change jobs every 2-3 years from ship to land, while also still being involved in science. Before David was assigned to the Gordon Gunter, he worked at a NOAA port office in Pascagoula, MI,  at a marine support facility taking care of the needs of 3 ships, the Pisces, Oregon II and Gordon Gunter.

 

Personal Log

The beginning of this week was completely amazing! While in Canadian waters we had warm, sunny, calm seas perfect for seeing lot of mammals.  During the stint of nice weather we had multiple days where we saw many sightings. On the top two days we had 97 and 171 sightings of whales and dolphins! That doesn’t even count the cool birds we saw like my favorite the Puffins. The birders were also lucky enough to see a rare bird called a Petrel, the only one of 4 recent sightings in the U.S and the first recent in Canada. I spent most of those days on the fly bridge from breakfast to sunset trying to take in as much as possible.  Although it is difficult to get good pictures with a regular camera there are several folks that have very nice cameras or are professional photographers who   have taken some great shots. Towards the end of the week the weather turned again and found us in a storm that was predicted to be mild getting bigger and stronger. The NOAA Corps Captain and crew navigated our ship to safely, but the storm did damage to one of the generators forcing us back to Cape Cod Bay for some repairs. I actually spent a few days in my cabin feeling a bit sea sick which was very surprising given my Island upbringing.  Now I am feeling better as we are on anchor and patiently waiting for repairs and notification about what we will do next.

Kimberly Gogan: The Sounds of the Sea: Marine Acoustics: April 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
 April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 20th – Easter Sunday!

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 6.2 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 33.5 Knots
Water Temp: 10.1 Degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 2005.4 Meters ( deep!)

Genevieve letting me listen to the sounds of a Pilot Whale and explaining how the acoustics technology works.

Genevieve letting me listen to the sounds of a Pilot Whale and explaining how the acoustics technology works.

Science and Technology Log

As I explained in an earlier blog, all the scientist on the ship are here because of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. A multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” So far I have shared with you some of the Oceanography and Marine Mammal Observing. Today I am going introduce you to our Marine Mammal Passive Acoustics team and some of their cool acoustic science. The two acoustic missions of the team are putting out 10 bottom mounted recorders called MARUs or Marine Autonomous Recording Units  and towing  behind the ship multiple underwater microphones called a Hydrophone Array to listen to the animals that are as much as 5 miles  away from the ship. The two different recording devices target two different main groups of whales. The MARU records low frequency sounds from a group of whales called Mysticetes or baleen whales: for example, Right Whales, and Humpback Whales. Once the the MARU has been programmed and deployed, it will stay out on the bottom of the ocean collecting sounds continuously for up to six months before the scientist will go retrieve the unit and get the data back.  The towed Hydrophone Array is recording higher frequency sounds made by Odontocetes or toothed whales like dolphins and sperm whales. The acoustic team listens to recordings and compares them with the visual teams sighting, with a goal of getting additional information about what kind and how many of the species are close to ship. Even though the acoustic team works while the visual team is working during the day, as long as there is deep enough water, they can also use their equipment in poor weather and at night.

Here are Chris and Genevieve preparing to deploy the MARU.

Here are Chris and Genevieve preparing to deploy the MARU.

Science Spot Light: The two Acoustic team members we have on the Gordon Gunter are Genevieve Davis and Chris Tremblay. Genevieve works at Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC)  doing Passive Acoustic research focusing on Baleen Whales. She has worked there 2 and a half years after spending  10 weeks as a NOAA Hollings Intern. Genevieve graduated from Binghamton University in New York. She is planning on starting her masters project looking at the North Atlantic Right Whale migration paths.  I have been been very lucky to have Genevieve as my roommate here on the ship and have gotten to know her very well. Chris is a freelance Marine Biologist. Chris recently helped develop the Listen for Whales Website and the Right Whale Listening Network. He also worked for Cornell University for 7 years focusing on Marine Bioacoustics. Chris is also the station manger at Mount Desert Rock Marine Research Station run by the College of the Atlantic in Maine. He actually lives on a sail boat he keeps in Belfast, Maine. Chris also intends of attending graduate school looking at Fin Whale behavior and acoustic activity.

Personal Log

So while most adults were worrying about their taxes on April 15th, I was having fun decorating and deploying Drifter Buoys. Before I left for my trip Jerry Prezioso had sent me an email letting me know that two Drifter Buoys would be available for me to send out to sea during my time on the ship.  Drifter buoys allow scientists to collect observations on earth’s various ocean currents while also collecting data on sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, as well as winds and salinity. The scientists use this to help them with short term climate predictions, as well as climate research and monitoring. He explained that traditionally when teachers deploy the buoys, they will decorate them with items they bring from home and that we would be able to track where they go and the data they collect for 400 days! The day before I left, I had my students and my daughter’s class decorate a box of sticky labels for me to stick all over the two Drifter Buoys. I spent the morning of the 15th making a mess on the lab floor peeling and sticking all of the decorations onto each of the buoys. Around mid-day we were at our most south eastern point, which would be the best place to send the buoys out to sea.  Jerry and I worked together to throw the buoys off the side of the ship, as close together as we could get them. A few days later we heard from some folks at NOAA that the buoys were turned on and floating in the direction we wanted them too.

If you would like to track the buoys I deployed, visit the site below and follow the preceding directions.

<http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/trinanes/xbt.html> for near real time GTS data.

From the site, select “GTS buoys” in the pull-down menu at the top left. Enter the WMO number (please see below) into the “Call Sign” box at the top right. Then, select your desired latitude and longitude values, or use the map below to zoom into the area of interest. You can also select the dates of interest and determine whether you’d like graphics (map) or data at the bottom right. Once you’ve entered these fields, hit the “GO!” button at the bottom. Shortly thereafter, either a map of drifter tracks or data will appear.
ID            WMO#
123286    44558
123287    44559

Kimberly Gogan: The Creatures That Are Always There but We Never See! April 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area of Cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 15, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp:  14.1 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed:32  knots
Water Temp: 5.7 degrees Celsius
Water Depth:  24.5 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

Today’s blog is about a piece of equipment called a Video Plankton Recorder or VPR for short. The VPR is attached to  the bottom of a yellow V-fin that helps it stay under water when it is being towed.  Scientists would want to use a VPR instead of a Bongo Net because the Bongo Net is very rough on the creatures that are captured in it as it is towed through the water, especially the very, very soft and fragile ones. The VPR allows the scientists to capture pictures of the creatures in their natural habitat.  It also allows them to get close-ups of these creatures so they can really see what their body structures look like.  The VPR also allows the scientist to collect data on many creatures are found in a given area in the body of water they are looking at.  The VPR has two arms, one on each side about 2 feet apart. One arm has a camera and the other arm has a strobe or flash. The camera and strobe focus on taking pictures between the arms at a rate of 20 pictures a second. The VPR captures all the images as it goes through the water and stores them on a disk drive that the scientists can then upload to their computers. The VPR is generally towed at a speed of around 2-3 knots , or 3-4 miles per hour.

Science Spot Light

The scientist in charge of running the VPR here on the Gordon Gunter is Betsy Broughton.  Betsy is an Oceanographer who works on the night crew here on our ship. Betsy has been working on ships for 31 years and has been to sea for close to 1300 days on 18 ships including 3 international ships!  When she isn’t on a ship she works at  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Betsy primarily studies baby Cod and Haddock. She is trying to understand  how they survive when they are really little, before they look like a fish, what they eat, where they live and what eats them.  If you want to learn more you can visit the Fish Facts on the NMFS webpage. Betsy also works on designing the sampling gear that will work faster and give scientists more accurate information.  In her spare time, Betsy is an International Challenge Master for Challenge A with Destination Imagination.

Personal Log

We have been on the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter now for 8 days. It’s really hard to believe how much I have learned in a little over a week. It’s been a crash course in a whole bunch of cool science, as well as life on ship.  It’s been a little crazy with the weather, it has not been very cooperative, especially the wind. Even though the weather has forced us to make changes in our original plans, the scientists have been very flexible and have done what they can to get their jobs done. Today we have come back from Georges Banks and we are going to be passing through the Cape Cod Canal and spending some time in Cape Cod Bay. Luckily there are a lot of Right Whales known to be there. It’s been really fun getting to know all the scientists, NOAA Corps folks and the crew.  Everyone is very nice and it’s amazing how quickly I feel like I have known these people for a long time in just over a week. It is nice to be around like-minded folks who also love science. Yesterday was one of the nicest days, it was warm enough that we didn’t have to wear the mustang suits.  I was also able to decorate and deploy a drifter buoy, but more on that later!

Me catching the beautiful sunset before the storm came in.

Me catching the beautiful sunset before the storm came in.

 

Kimberly Gogan: Science Spot Light – Marine Mammal Observing, April 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area of Cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 10.3 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 10.5 knots
Water Temp: 8,2 degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 145.65 meters

 

Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Science and Technology Log

In the last blog I talked about all the different scientists who are working on Gordon Gunter. Today I am going to explain why. First, all of the scientists are here working under a program called the  Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. It is a multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” The scientists are here working under the AMAPPS because of several government acts: the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act require scientists to do periodic checks of the populations of the protected species and the ecosystems they live in to make sure there have been no major human activities that have affected these species.

The National Environmental Policy Act also requires scientists to evaluate human impacts and come up with new plans to help the protected and endangered species. Finally the Migratory Bird Treaty requires that counties work together to monitor and protect migratory birds.  The project has a variety of activities that need to be conducted which is why all the different scientists are needed from the different groups like NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Navy, and NOAA Northeast  and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.  The variety of activities that are being done over multiple years under the AMAPPS include: aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, tag data, acoustic data, ecological and habitat data,  developing population size and distribution estimates, development of technology tools and modes, as well as development of a database that can provide all the collected data to different users. The AMAPPS project is also collecting  in depth data at a couple of areas of  special interest to NOAA & BOEM where there are proposed Offshore Wind Farms  to be built in the ocean.

 

Two of the Observer Team working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the "

Two of the Observer Team members working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the “Big Eyes”

Science Spot Light

Let me introduce the Chief Scientist, Jen Gatzke and the Marine Mammal Observer Team. Chief Scientist Jen works with the Protected Species Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). She primarily studies right whales.

Her main job here on the ship is to coordinate the teams of scientists so that each team is able to accomplish what it needs most efficiently while meeting the goals of the research mission. In this case the goal is to survey a large number of transect lines in a variety of marine habitats, both inshore and offshore.

She started sailing on NOAA ships 24 years ago in Pascagoula, Mississippi! Even thought Jen oversees all the science going on here on the Gordon Gunter, she is also part of the Marine Mammal Observer Team that does a rotating watch for mammals. The observer team starts its day at 7AM and works until 7PM except  for the 1 hour break at lunch when the daytime Oceanography team can conduct some of their sampling.

When they start their day observing it is called “on effort.” This means that the observer team and NOAA Corps are all ready to conduct the shipboard surveys the way they have determined would be best. This means a group of scientists that are all at their stations are ready to go and the NOAA Corps makes sure the ship stays on a particular designated course for a particular amount of time. When the team is “on effort” they have 4 rotating stations. There are two on the very upper deck, called the fly deck that watches with 2 very large (25×150) binoculars they call the “big eyes” on each side, port (left) and starboard (right) of the ship  Then there is another station on the lower starboard (right)  side deck that also use the “big eyes”  to scan for marine mammals as well. The last  station is the recorder who is located on the Bridge, or wheelhouse, where the NOAA Corps man the ship. The recorder is entering valuable data into a computer program designed specifically for this activity. Not only is the recorder keeping track of the different mammals that are spotted on the “big eyes,” they are also keeping track of important information about the weather, glare of the sun, and conditions of the ocean.

I learned the teams use some cool nautical terms during their observations and recordings. The first one is  the Beaufort Scale for sea state, or basically how calm or rough the seas are. Beaufort is measured by a numerical system with 0 being very calm and with no ripples to a 5 which is lots of white caps with foamy spray. Beaufort numbers go higher but it is very difficult to spot any sort of mammal evidence in seas that are rougher than a Beaufort 5. The team also measures the distance of the sighting using another measurement tool called a Reticle. The reticle is a mark on the inside of the “big”eye” binoculars. Its scale goes from 0 -20 and the 0 is always lined up with the horizon and allows the observer to give a quick reference number that can be used in a hurry to provide distance with a simple geometry equation.

The head shot of' "Thorny" the Right a whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.

The head shot of’ “Thorny” the Right Whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.

Although there are several other pieces of information the observers are looking for and giving to the recorder, the positive identification of the particular species of mammal is the most important. There are some species like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that is of particular interest to the team because they are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic Ocean. Not only is it exciting for the team and the rest of the ship as well to see sightings of them, their detected presence in particular areas could mean the implementation of tighter rules, like speed limits for ships that might be in the areas these animals are seen frequently. When the teams sights one of these whales, the ship is allowed to go “off effort” and follow the swim direction of the whales in order to get pictures with very large cameras that will allow the scientist to positively identify the particular whale.  Some of the other species seen frequently are humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, pilot whales, striped dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, gray seals, harbor seals, loggerhead sea turtles, sharks and ocean sunfish.

Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.

Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.

Personal Log

So far for the first leg of the trip we have taken one very rough trip offshore and because of the weather we have been doing a string of transect lines that are close to the shore off Martha’s Vineyard, which is one of the areas of special interest to NOAA due to the projected offshore wind farm.

The day before yesterday, at just about dusk, the Chief Scientist Jen was the first to spot one of the North Atlantic Right Whales. I was in the lab at the time that Jen came running through yelling “we have right whales!”

She very quickly came back with a huge case which held the team’s camera used for close-ups of the whales. By the time I was on deck, so were many of the off duty scientists and the ship’s crew. Everyone was very excited and joined the frenzy of following, tracking and getting some good shots of the group of right whales. There ended up being 4 whales in all, which mean that there are enough to trigger a Dynamic Management Area (DMA), a management zone designed to provide two weeks of protection to three or more right whales from ship collisions. Ships larger than 65 ft are requested to proceed through the designated area at no more than 10 knots of speed.

One of the observers, Todd Pusser also had a large camera and was able to get a good head shot of one of the whales to send back to the lab. Allison Henry, another right whale biologist at NEFSC, was able to positively identify the whale as an adult male known as “Thorny”, aka EGNO (Eubalaena glacialis number) 1032, who has been seen only in the northeast since the 1980s! (click on “Thorny” to see the New England Aquarium Right Whale Catalog which houses and handles the identifications for all North Atlantic right whales.) It’s pretty cool that I actually got to see him too. Even thought it’s not the warmest job, it makes it all worth it just to see something as amazing as that!

Genevieve & I  up on the Fly Bridge on the "Big Eyes!"

Genevieve & I up on the Fly Bridge on the “Big Eyes!”

Did you know?

Did you know you can listen to Right Whale sounds and see where Right Whales are on the East Coast? Check out this page!  Click on this link for The Right Whale Listening Network.  NEFSC even has an Apple APP for seeing where the Right Whales are on the east coast and explains how to avoid them 🙂 Go to the app store – its free!

Me all dressed up in the "Mustang' suit helping the team keeping an eye out for whales.

Me all dressed up in the “Mustang” suit helping the team keep an eye out for whales.

Kimberly Gogan: A Ship Full of Science! April 9, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: Wednesday, April 9th

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 5.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 9.0 Knots
Water Temp: 4.6 Degrees Celsius
ater Depth: 41.2 Meters

The Science Teams (Photo Credit to Mark Weekley)

The Science Teams – Photo by Mark Weekly

Science and Technology Log

If Science at Sea is what I wanted, this is the ship for it!  The evening of our departure from Newport, R.I. on Monday, April 7th, the group of scientists met in the staff lounge for a meeting of the minds. I soon found out that there was an array of scientist on the ship all with different goals and science they wanted to conduct. On this ship we have two teams of Oceanographers, a day team and a night team. The Oceanographers are generally taking underwater tests and samples using a variety of equipment. We also have the Marine Mammal Observer Team who are on the look out for any sort of mammals that may poke head out of the water such as whales and dolphins.

There is also a group of Birders collecting data on any bird sightings. And lastly we have our Acoustics, or sound team, that is listening for the sounds of marine mammals. I also learned at that meeting that it would take a lot of teamwork and collaboration on the part of each of the Scientist crews, as well as the NOAA Corps and crew to make it all happen.

Every day the representatives from each team have to get together to coordinate the timing of each of the events that will happen throughout the day. The Mammal and Birding Observer teams are on the same schedule and can collect sighting data throughout the day from 7 AM to 7 PM, only stopping for lunch, as they need daylight to conduct their work. The daytime Oceanographers plan their work of collecting samples around the observer teams, sending off their collection equipment before 7AM, at lunch, and then again at 7PM when the observers teams are done. The nighttime Oceanographers are not working during the same time as other scientists so this gives them the opportunity to to do as many test and collections as they can without interrupting anyone else’s work. The Acoustic team can work anytime of day or during any kind of weather without conflicting with anyone as long as the water is deep enough to drop their equipment. It sounds like an easy schedule but there are many things, like weather, technology and location, that could disrupt this carefully orchestrated schedule of science. When that happens, and it has, everyone must be flexible and work together to make sure everyone can conduct the science they need.

Me helping to bring the Bongo net back onto the ship for cleaning. (Photo credit Chris)

Me helping to bring the Bongo net back onto the ship for cleaning. – Photo by Chris Tremblay

Jerry Prezioso tying the bottom of the Bongo nets getting them really to be put in the water.

Scientist Jerry Prezioso tying the bottom of the Bong nets getting them really to be put in the water.

Science Spotlight

Since there is so much science happening on the ship that I am doing every day, I am going to have to share just one thing at a time or I would be writing for hours! Today’s science spotlight is about scientist Jerry Prezioso and the Bongo nets. Jerry is an Oceanographer who works at the NOAA Lab in Narragansett, R.I. Jerry primarily studies plankton distribution. He has been on many trips on NOAA ships since he was 18!

Today Jerry taught me how to do a Bongo net sample that is used to collect plankton from the various water columns. At the top of the net there is a piece of equipment called a CTD (Conductivity Temperature & Depth Unit) that communicates with the computers in the lab on the ship. The scientists in the lab use that piece of equipment to detect how far down the net is going and when it is close to the bottom, as well as collect data on the water temperature and salinity.

Once the CTD is set and turned on, the Bongo net can be lowered into the water. The nets have weights on them to sink them close to the bottom. Once the nets are close a scientist at the computer has the cable operator pull the nets up and out of the water. Once they are on deck they have to be washed down so all the organisms that were caught in the netting go to the cod end of the nets. The cod ends of the nets are opened up and the organisms are rinsed into a sieve where they will carefully be transferred into glass bottles, treated with formaldehyde and sent to a lab for sorting. There were lots of organisms that were caught in the net. Some that we saw today were: CopepodsComb Jellies or Ctenophora, Herring Larva, aquatic Arrow Worms or Chaetognaths and tons of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton. The Bongo nets are towed several times a day and night to collect samples of plankton.

Jerry Prezioso and I washing down the Bongo Nets.

Jerry Prezioso and I washing down the Bongo Nets. – Photo by Chris Tremblay.

A shot of some of the creatures we caught being filtered into sampling jars for processing.

A shot of some of the creatures we caught being filtered into sampling jars for processing.

Personal Log

The start to the trip has been a little rough. It feels like this is the first day we have been able to do anything. Monday we had to sit in port and wait for a scientist to calibrate some equipment before we left so we didn’t get underway until bed time. When we awoke, the weather was bad and the seas were very rough. Several people were very sick and some still are. We were only able to drop one piece of acoustic equipment all day (more on that in another blog).  We also had to change the plans on where we were going and move closer to shore due to the weather.

On a ship you need to be very flexible as things are changing all the time! Today was the the first day we were able to do any real science for a sustained amount of time and there were definitely lots of bugs and kinks that needed to be worked out. On top of dropping the BONGO nets with Jerry, I was also able to spend some time and fill in some shifts on the the decks with the Marine Mammal team watching for whales and dolphins. We had a few cool sighting of Humpbacks, Minke, and a Right Whales! (More on them and what they do in another blog too.) On another note, the state rooms are huge and I am sharing a room with one of the acoustic scientists, Genevieve. She is very nice and helpful. The food on the ship is spectacular! I am very surprised how good it is and how many choices there are every meal. All and all things are off to a good start and there is so much more I have to share with everyone about what all these scientist do and it is only our first “real” day!

Did You Know? 

Did you know that North Atlantic Right Whales have a V- shaped blow. Their blow holes (two) are separated which gives them the characteristic blow shape.

Check out this link  to the website at Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Protected Species Branch (NEFSC PSB) Right Whale Team and the work we do there. There is an interactive Google map site and wonderful links.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in Newport, R.I.

Boarding the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in Newport, R.I.