Shelley Gordon: The Serengeti of the Sea, July 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-26, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 26, 2019

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience wrapped up yesterday with our 7th, and final, day of the cruise.  Our last day was another observation-only day where we travelled along two transects (lines 5 and 7) and recorded what could be seen from above the water.  I want to wrap up my experience by sharing some information about this observation technique and what I’ve learned about some of the living things we were able to observe on this trip. 

The Serengeti ecosystem in Eastern Africa is well known for its diversity of life and massive annual migrations.  On the wall of R/V Fulmar there is a large map of the three National Marine Sanctuaries (Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay) off the coast of central California with the words “the Serengeti of the Sea” written at the bottom.  Like the Serengeti, the marine ecosystem in this area of the world supports a high diversity of life and intricate food webs.  Many of the species that thrive in these waters migrate from great distances, far greater than the well documented wildebeest migrations in Africa. 

A map of the protected areas off the central California coast.
Image from farallones.noaa.gov

The three National Marine Sanctuaries and adjacent state and federal parks protect a total of 10,676 square miles of habitat, helping to create a thriving ecosystem.  One thing that became clear to me on this cruise is that this is a massive amount of space!  To collect observation data, scientists sit on the flying bridge (or upper deck) and systematically record what they can see as the boat moves at a constant speed of ~10 knots along the transect.  Depending on the weather (we had days that were pretty foggy and other days that were overcast, but pretty clear), you can see several kilometers in any direction.  To complete an offshore observation line, it takes about 2.5 hours.  So, it is a full day to complete 2 observation lines, especially when you include the travel time to and from each line.  During that time, there are times when you can see very little other than wind-blown whitecaps on the surface of the water.  There are other times when there is a frenzy of activity.

(From left to right) Dani Lipski, Dru Delvin, Rachel Pound, Jaime Jahncke, Kirsten Lindquist, and Jan Roletto recording observation data from the flying bridge.

There are four roles is the observation data collection.  Sitting on the starboard side of the boat, Kirsten Lindquist’s job is to identify and describe all of the birds she observes within 200 meters of the side of the boat.  Some examples of “calls” she made include: “Common Murre, 3, zone 2, water” or “Western Gull, 1, zone 1, flying, 270°.”  To explain, she calls out the name of the bird, the number that she sees in the group, the relative distance they are from the boat (zone 1 or zone 2), and what they are doing (sitting on the water, flying, feeding, etc…).  This data is all recorded in the computer by Jaime Jahncke.  Dru Devlin and Jan Roletto (one on each side of the boat) are responsible for observing other things on the surface, including animals, boats, fishing gear, trash, kelp, etc…  An example of a call they relay to Jaime to record is:  “First cue blow, by eye, bearing 270°, reticle 5, observer 9, side 1, traveling, humpback whale, 2, 3, 2.”  There is a lot going on in this data, but it basically explains the observer has seen a group of humpback whales in the distance off the front of the boat (bearing 0°).  The group is swimming along the surface and the size of the group is between 2-3 individuals.  The observers use reticle markings, fine lines in the eyepiece of binoculars, to estimate how far the object is from the boat (reticle 14 is at the boat, reticle 0 is on the horizon).  Using the bearing and reticle numbers, the computer then can use the GPS location of the boat to estimate where that animal was at the time of the recorded observation.  Using all of this data collected over the course of time, scientists are able to put together a picture of where animals, birds, and other objects are frequently seen within the sanctuaries.  This can also help them identify changes in animal numbers or behavior, and/or the need for a change in management strategies.

An example of a map showing humpback whale observation data on ACCESS in 2018.
Image: Point Blue/ONMS/ACCESS

One of the seabird species we saw relatively frequently were Sooty Shearwaters.  These birds are interesting to me because the migrate to the sanctuaries from their breeding grounds in New Zealand, an amazing 6500 miles away!  What’s even more impressive is that their migration is not just from New Zealand to California; they actually complete a circular migration route, first traveling up the western Pacific toward Japan and the Artic, and then they drop down to the pacific coast of North America before returning to their breeding grounds in New Zealand.  We also observed Pink-Footed Shearwaters, which nest off the coast of Chile. 

Sooty Shearwaters taking off from the surface of the water.  Photo:  Dru Devlin

When we were out on the offshore transects beyond the continental shelf break, we were frequently able to observe Black-Footed Albatrosses.  These large seabirds are well known for their long migrations as well.  The population we observed in the sanctuaries nest in the Hawaiian Islands and visit the California coast to feed.  From dissecting Albatross boluses (regurgitated food) with students at Roosevelt, I had previously learned that their diet consists of a lot of squid.  Since squid are actively feeding at night, albatross also do a lot of their hunting at night.  I was curious how they could find their prey and I learned that they have an incredible sense of smell that they can use to detect food.  They are known to follow ships and feed on refuse in the wake, and this seemed to be apparent because when we were collecting samples at stations beyond the shelf break we were often joined by multiple albatrosses.  At one station, I counted 19 Black-Footed Albatrosses floating in a group near the boat.

Two Black-Footed Albatrosses near the boat. Photo: Dru Devlin
A Black-Footed Albatross in flight.
Photo: Dru Devlin

I was also very interested to learn about the way that albatrosses and other large seabirds (including shearwaters) conserve energy during their long flights.  Dynamic soaring allows them to gain energy from the wind above the ocean waves without flapping their wings.  We often observed these birds flapping their wings a few times and then soaring very close to the surface of the water before flapping again.  Apparently, in favorable wind conditions, these birds can us this method to fly great distances without flapping their wings at all, thus conserving energy.

Three humpback whales surfacing. Photo: Dru Devlin

Another animal that I was on the constant lookout for were whales.  These gigantic mammals have always captured my imagination.  On this cruise we were lucky enough to see quite a few humpback whales.  These large baleen whales are known for their acrobatic displays, occasionally launching their body out of the water in an action called breaching.  I was able to observe a few whales breaching, and also several instances of whales rolling on the surface of the water slapping their long flippers or tail at the surface.  One of the highlights was seeing humpbacks lunge feeding at the surface.  Lunge feeding is when the whale opens its mouth widely, engulfing a large amount to water and prey.  The whale then pushes the water out of its throat pouch, leaving the prey behind to consume.  One of the favorite foods of humpback whales is krill.  Using the Tucker trawl net at very deep depths, we were able to collect some large krill samples that will be analyzed back at the lab. 

There are several other species of whales that can be present in the sanctuaries at different times throughout the year, including blue whales, gray whales, fin whales, and minke whales, but we did not positively identify any of those species on this trip.  The scientists on board were specifically surprised that we did not see any blue whales, as they usually observe a few on cruises at this time of year.

Gallery

Here are a few other images of animals that we saw and were able to capture in the camera lens.

Did You Know?

Scientists can use robots to explore the undersea environment?  From October 3rd-11th, scientists from the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries will be partnering with the Ocean Exploration Trust to learn more about life beneath the waves.  Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilius, the team will use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore deep-sea coral reef and sponge habitats.  And, we will be able to follow along live

Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 23, 2019

Weather Data: Wind – NW 19-23 knots, gust ~30 knots, wind wave ~7′, swell SSW 1′ at 16 seconds; Partly sunny, with patchy fog early

R/V Fulmar
R/V Fulmar refueling at Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay.

During this week, I am living aboard R/V Fulmar.  The “research vessel” is a 67-foot catamaran (meaning it has two parallel hulls) with an aluminum hull.  This boat was specifically designed to support research projects in the three National Marine Sanctuaries along the central and northern California coast, and was first put in the water in 2007.  Normally, the Fulmar is based out of Monterey Bay harbor in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  However, this week she is being put to work on an ACCESS cruise in the two sanctuaries a little farther to the north, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones.  

Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina
Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina.

Each evening, after a full day of collecting samples, the Fulmar motors back into the harbor for the night.  We are working out of two harbors on this cruise, Sausalito and Bodega Bay.  The vibe in each harbor is quite different.  Sausalito is full of private pleasure yachts, small sailboats, and live aboard boats/houseboats.  Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay is much more of a working marina.  The majority of the boats are large fishing trawlers.  It is currently salmon fishing season, and the boats that are working bring back their daily catch to the marina so that it can be transported to market.

The Fulmar is operated by two crew members on this cruise.  Clyde Terrell is the captain and Rayon Carruthers is the first mate.  In addition to the crew there have been 6-7 scientists on board, and myself.  Jan Roletto is a scientist from Greater Farallones, Kirsten Lindquist and Dru Devlin work at the Greater Farallones Association, and from Cordell Bank we have Dani Lipski and Rachel Pound.  Jaime Jahncke is lead Principal Investigator on ACCESS and works at Point Blue Conservation Scientist.  Kate Davis, currently a post-doc at the University of South Carolina, also joined the first half of the trip.

The boat has 5 main areas.  The “bridge” contains the digital and physical equipment that the crew uses to steer the ship.  There are several computers that display radar signals and a GPS map.  In the main cabin there are bunks for sleeping, a marine head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a lab/work area.  The back deck is where most of the equipment for sample collecting is stored and put to use when samples are being collected.  On the top deck there are life rafts and safety equipment, as well as an additional steering wheel.  This is also where the team sits to make observations as we move along the transects.  Finally, there are two engine rooms underneath the main cabin.

Shelley in immersion suit
Me, putting on the immersion suit. Photo: Jan Roletto

Safety on the boat is obviously very important.  Before we went the first day, I received a full safety briefing and I got to practice donning an immersion suit, which we would need to wear in the case of an emergency where we might need to evacuate the ship and be exposed to cold water for a prolonged period of time.  The immersion suit is like a full-footed, full-fingered, and hooded wetsuit.  The goal is to be able to get into the immersion suit in less than two minutes, which was actually a little more difficult than I expected given that once you have the full-fingered gloves on it is difficult to effectively use your hands to finish zipping up the suit.  Anyone working on the back deck collecting samples is required to wear a life jacket or float coat and a hard hat. 

The daily activities on the boat vary depending on your role.  In general, we have been leaving the marina between 6:30-7:00am and there has typically been a 1-2 hour transit to the first data collection station.  During that time the team is generally relaxing, preparing for the day, or employing their personal strategy to combat seasickness (napping, lying down, or sitting in the fresh air on the top deck).  I’ve been fortunate to feel pretty good on this trip and haven’t struggled with seasickness.  Once data collection begins, my role on the back deck has been a series of action and waiting.  Since we are using heavy tools to collect data at significant depths, we use a crane and cable to hoist the equipment in and out of the water.  The winch that unwinds and winds the cable can lower or lift the equipment at a rate of ~20 m/min.  For the most part while the equipment is away from the boat we are waiting, and at times we have lowered data collection tools beyond 200m, which means a travel time of ~20 minutes, down and back.

Jaime and Kirsten
Jaime Jahncke and Kirsten Lindquist recording observations along ACCESS transect 3N.

However, today we actually did observation-only lines, so I had a lot of time to relax and observe.  The weather also turned a little bit today.  We had pretty dense fog in the morning, and more wind and rougher seas than on previous days.  But, near the end of the day, as we reached Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, the fog suddenly cleared and Point Reyes provided some protection from the wind.  The marine life seemed to appreciate the sun and wind protection as well as there was a large group of feeding seabirds and humpback whales right off the point.  We ended the day on a pleasant, sunny ride along the coast and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, docking for the night in Sausalito.


Did You Know?

Humpback whales are migratory.  The population we are able to see here migrate annually from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  They come each summer to enjoy the nutrient rich waters of the California coast.  Humpback whales thrive here due to upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean, which helps supports their favorite food – krill!  Humpback whales feed all summer on krill, copepods, and small fish so that they can store up energy to migrate back down to the warmer tropical waters for the winter breeding season.  I hope they get their fill while they’re here since they won’t eat much until they return, next summer.

humpback whale tail.
A humpback whale tail. Photo: Dru Devlin

Shelley Gordon: A Day on the Back Deck, July 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 20, 2019

Weather data: Wind – variable 5 knots or less, wind wave ~1’, Swell – NW 7’@ 10sec / S 1’ @ 11sec, Patchy fog


Science Log

7:39am – We are about to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading west toward the Farallon Islands.  Several small fishing boats race out in a line off our port side, hulls bouncing against the waves and fishing nets flying in the wind.  I am aboard R/V Fulmar in transit toward data collection point 4E, the eastern most point along ACCESS Transect 4.  The TTG (“time to go,” or the time we expect to arrive at 4E) is estimated at 1h53’ (1 hour, 53 minutes), a figure that fluctuates as the boat changes course, speeds up, or slows down.  

This is my second day on an ACCESS research cruise.  Yesterday I got my boots wet in the data collection methods used on the back deck.  The ACCESS research project collects various types of data at specific points along transects (invisible horizontal lines in the ocean). Today we will be collecting samples at 6 different points along Transect 4.  With one day under my belt and a little better idea of what to expect, today I will aim to capture some of the action on the back deck of the boat throughout the day. 

9:41am – Almost to Station 4E. “5 minutes to station.”  This is the call across the radio from First Mate Rayon Carruthers, and also my signal to come down from the top deck and get ready for action.  I put on my rain pants, rubber boots, a float jacket, and a hard hat.  Once I have my gear on, I am ready to step onto the back deck just as the boat slows down for sample collection to commence.  At this first station, 4E, we will collect multiple samples and data.  Most of the sampling methods will be repeated multiple times through the course of the day at different locations and depths (most are described below). 

deploying hoop net
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the hoop net. Photo: Rachel Pound

10:53am – Station 4EX. We finished cleaning the hoop net after collecting a sample at a maximum depth of 33m.  The hoop net is a tool used to collect a sample of small living things in deep water.  This apparatus consists of an ~1m diameter metal ring that has multiple weights attached along the outside.  A 3m, tapered fine mesh net with a cod end (small plastic container with mesh vents) hangs from the hoop.  Attached to the net there is also a flow meter (to measure the amount of water that flowed through the net during the sample collection) and a depth sensor (to measure the depth profile of the tow).  To deploy the net, we used a crane and winch to hoist the hoop out over the surface of the water and drop the net down into the water. Once the net was let out 100m using the winch, we brought it back in and pulled it back up onto the boat deck.  Using a hose, we sprayed down the final 1m of the net, pushing anything clinging to the side toward the cod end.  The organisms caught in the container were collected and stored for analysis back at a lab.  On this haul the net caught a bunch of copepods (plankton) and ctenophores (jellyfish).

Kate Davis preps samples
Kate Davis fills a small bottle with deep water collected by the Niskin bottle.

11:10am – Station 4ME. Dani Lipski just deployed the messenger, a small bronze-colored weight, sending it down the metal cable to the Niskin sampling bottle.  This messenger will travel down the cable until it makes contact with a trigger, causing the two caps on the end of the Niskin bottle to close and capturing a few liters of deep water that we can then retrieve back up at the surface.  Once the water arrives on the back deck, Kate Davis will fill three small vials to take back to the lab for a project that is looking at ocean acidification.  The Niskin bottle is attached to the cable just above the CTD, a device that measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of the water.  In this case, we sent the Niskin bottle and CTD down to a depth of 95m. 

deploying the CTD
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the CTD. Photo: Rachel Pound

12:16pm – Station 4M. Rachel Pound just threw a small plastic bucket tied to a rope over the side of the boat.  Using the rope, she hauls the bucket in toward the ship and up over the railing, and then dumps it out.  This process is repeated three times, and on the third throw the water that is hauled up is collected as a sample.  Some of the surface water is collected for monitoring nutrients at the ocean surface, while another sample is collected for the ocean acidification project.

surface water sample
Rachel Pound throws a plastic bucket over the side railing to collect a surface water sample.

1:36pm – Station 4W. Using a small hoop net attached to a rope, Rachel Pound collected a small sample of the phytoplankton near the surface.  She dropped the net down 30ft off the side of the boat and then towed it back up toward the boat.  She repeated this procedure 3 times and then collected the sample from the cod end.  This sample will be sent to the California Department of Public Health to be used to monitor the presence of harmful algal blooms that produce domoic acid, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Tucker trawl net
Shelley Gordon, Dru Devlin, Jamie Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist prepare the Tucker trawl net. Photo: Kate Davis

2:54pm – The final sample collection of the day is underway.  Jaime Jahncke just deployed the first messenger on the Tucker trawl net.  This apparatus consists of three different nets.  These nets are similar to the hoop net, with fine mesh and cod ends to collect small organisms in the water.  The first net was open to collect a sample while the net descended toward ocean floor.  The messenger was sent down to trigger the device to close the first net and open a second net.  The second net was towed at a depth between 175-225m for ~10 minutes.  After the deep tow, a second messenger will be sent down the cable to close the second net and open a third net, which will collect a sample from the water as the net is hauled back to the boat.  The Tucker trawl aims to collect a sample of krill that live near the edge of the continental shelf and the deep ocean.

3:46pm – After a full day of action, the boat is turning back toward shore and heading toward the Bodega Bay Marina. 

5:42pm – The boat is pulling in to the marina at Bodega Bay.  Once the crew secures the boat along a dock, our day will be “done.”  We will eat aboard the boat this evening, and then likely hit the bunks pretty early so that we can rise bright and early again tomorrow morning, ready to do it all again along a different transect line!


Did You Know?

The word copepod means “oar-legged.” The name comes from the Greek word cope meaning oar or paddle, and pod meaning leg. Copepods are found in fresh and salt water all over the world and are an important part of aquatic food chains. They eat algae, bacteria, and other dead matter, and are food for fish, birds, and other animals. There are over 10,000 identified species of copepods on Earth, making them the most numerous animal on the planet.

Jenny Hartigan: Whales and Friends! July 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

 Back home from the NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 30, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, plankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 30

Weather Data from the Bridge (my kitchen!):

Latitude: 37º 76.52’ N

Longitude: 122º 24.16’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: partly cloudy

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 0-5 knots

Barometric pressure: 1017 hPA

Air temperature: 56º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

The graduate students and interns on the Fulmar:

2017-07-25 10.47.06
Carina Fish. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

2017-07-25 11.18.32
Hannah Palmer Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

I really enjoyed getting to know all the students, interns and young scientists on board the Fulmar. It was inspiring to learn about what they are studying in their programs at San Francisco State University, University of California at Davis (Bodega Marine Lab), and Sonoma State University. Carina Fish studies geochemistry and paleooceanography as she pursues a PhD in Geology at UC Davis. She is involved in Carbon 14 dating of deep sea corals at the edge of the Cordell Bank. Hannah Palmer (Bodega Marine Lab) is a PhD student at UC Davis studying ocean change in the past, present and future. Kaytlin Ingman studies ecology and marine biology in her graduate program at San Francisco State. Kate Hewett (BML) got her BA and MA in mechanical engineering, and now is working on a PhD in marine science at UC Davis. Sarayu Ramnath and Liz Max conduct experiments on krill at Point Blue Conservation Science and demonstrate their craft at the Exploratorium once a month. Emily Sperou studies marine science at Sonoma State. All these people brought great energy to the mission on board the Fulmar. It’s clear that the senior scientists really enjoyed teaching and mentoring them.

The other day I posed some questions about whale and porpoise behavior:

humpbackwhale_noaa_large
Photo credit: fisheries.noaa.gov

Why do whales breach? Some hypotheses include that whales breach to shed parasites, slough skin, communicate within their species, exhibit reproductive behavior or just for fun. The consensus within the scientific community is that whales breach to communicate with other whales.

2017-07-26 08.43.35
Dall’s porpoise off the bow Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

It’s pretty obvious that the CA sea lion we saw leaping and twisting as he swam behind the boat was enjoying himself surfing the stern wave, but what about porpoises swimming in front of the boat? The ship’s wake also pushes them forward so they can easily surf the water. They like to surf the bow wave – fun, fun, fun!

 

Surfing the bow – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Other Creatures Seen on the Cruise:

Ocean sunfish (mola mola) This giant fish lives on a diet that consists mainly of jellyfish.

IMG_8285
No, it’s not an ocean creature! We found these balloons about 40 km out to sea. Marine mammals can mistake this for food and ingest it, resulting in harm or even death. How can we keep balloons from getting out here? Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Did you know?

When exploring the coast, you should keep a 100 meter distance from marine mammals. If the animal appears stressed you are too close.

Personal Log:

Well, it’s true. I’ve been home now for 3 days and it still feels like I’m bobbing on the ocean! Kirsten called this “dock rock” and I can see why.

As we arrived in port on the final day of the cruise, someone asked me, “What were some highlights of the week?” Well, here we go…

  1. I came into this hoping I would see whales, and I did! I was thrilled to see humpback and blue whales, whale flukes, and CA sea lions and Dall’s porpoises surfing the boat’s wake!
  2. I gained a much deeper understanding of the ecosystem monitoring being done and how it’s important for the management and preservation of species.
  3. I appreciate the professionalism and collegiality among the scientists. It inspires me to build coalitions among the school system, scientists and community partners to advance ocean literacy.
  4. I am so impressed by the impressive mentoring of the graduate students (and me!)
  5. And finally, I have great respect for the hard work involved in being on the ocean.

Thank you for teaching me how to assist in conducting the research, and including me in the group. It was fun getting to know you and I look forward to staying in touch as I bring this experience back to the classroom. I am doing a lot of thinking about bringing marine science careers back to the classroom.

IMG_7683
To all the crew on the Fulmar – thanks for an amazing experience! and… safety first ! Photo credit: B. Yannutz/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

 

I loved hearing from you. Thanks for posting your comments!

Jenny Hartigan: Organisms from the Deep! July 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 27, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, plankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.820’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.402’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Wind Direction: NW

Wind Speed: 15-25 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-5’

NW Swell 5-7 feet at 8 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1028 hPA

Air temperature: 63º F

Wind Chill: 51º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

 

Scientific Log:

As I described in another blog, the ACCESS cruise records data about top-level predators, plankton, and environmental conditions as indicators of ecosystem health. Today I’ll explain sampling of plankton and environmental conditions.

 

IMG_7858
Krill from the Tucker Trawl Photo credit: J. Jahncke/ NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

IMG_8048
a single krill. Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

a small squid – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

There are two methods of collecting plankton. The Tucker Trawl, a large net with 3 levels is used to sample organisms that live in deep water (200 meters or more) just beyond the continental shelf. The collected krill and plankton are sent to a lab for identification and counting.

IMG_7993
Scientist Dani Lipski (left) and myself with the hoop net. Photo credit: C.Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Another method of sampling producers and organisms is the hoop net, deployed to within 50 meters of the surface.

 

2017-07-27 09.15.22
Here I am with my daily job of cleaning the CTD. I also prepare labels for the samples, assist with the CTD, Niskin and hoop net, and Tucker Trawl if needed. Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Deploying the CTD and hoop net – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Environmental conditions are sampled using the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device. It measures conductivity (salinity) of the water, temperature and depth. The CTD is deployed multiple times along one transect line. Nutrients and phytoplankton are also sampled using a net at the surface of the water. I interviewed several scientists and crew who help make this happen.

An Interview with a Scientist:

Danielle Lipski, Research Coordinator, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

IMG_7985 2
Dani and myself deploying the CTD Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Why is your work important?

The many aspects of the ocean we sample give a good picture of ecosystem health. It affects our management of National Marine Sanctuaries in events such as ship strikes, harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I like the variety of the work. I get to collaborate with other scientists, and see the whole project from start to finish.

Where do you do most of your work?

I spend 4 – 5 weeks at sea each year. The rest of the time I’m in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary office.

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

In high school I was fascinated with understanding why biological things are the way they are in the world. There are some amazing life forms and adaptations.

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

I want to make a difference in the world by applying science.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Jaime Jahncke, Ph.D., California Current Director, Point Blue Conservation Science

FullSizeRender
Jaime checks the echo sounder for the location of krill. Photo credit: NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Why is your work important?

We protect wildlife and ecosystems through science and outreach partnerships.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

-being outside in nature and working with people who appreciate what I do.

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

I always wanted a career in marine science.

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

I thought whale study would not be a possibility, and I love whale study. (I started my career studying dolphin carcasses!)

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Story of the Essex – the history behind Moby Dick

An Interview with a NOAA Corpsman:

Brian Yannutz, Ensign, NOAA Corps

                   

2017-07-26 13.40.44
Brian on the bridge Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

    

2017-07-26 13.19.44 2
Brian retrieving party balloons from the ocean so they won’t harm wildlife. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is a uniformed service of the United States which provides professionals trained in sciences and engineering. Brian has been working for the NOAA Corps for 3 years. He is responsible for the ship while on watch, and other duties such as safety officer.

 

Why is your work important?

Among other duties, I drive the ship and operate the winch to deploy the trawl and CTD.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I enjoy meeting new people.

Where do you do most of your work?

I’m based out of Monterey, and spend 60 – 90 days per year at sea. I spend 40 hours / week maintaining the boat.

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

-the Vessel Inventory Management System, which is a maintenance program.

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

In the summer of eighth grade I went to visit relatives in Germany. It was my first time in the ocean. I also spent 15 days in the San Juan Islands.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

-the movie “The Life Aquatic”

 

Let’s Talk about Safety:

Brian is responsible for safety aboard ship and it is a high priority. Before sailing I had to do an immersion suit drill where I put on a heavy neoprene suit in 3 minutes. When on deck everyone wears wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), which could be a “float coat” or a “work vest”. A “float coat” looks like a giant orange parka with flotation built in. A “work vest” is a life vest. If you are working on the back deck when the winch line is under tension, you must wear a hard hat. Most people wear waterproof pants and boots to stay dry when hosing down nets.

 

FullSizeRender 2 2
That’s me, wearing the “gumby” immersion suit! Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Bird and Mammals Seen Today in the Bodega Bay Wetlands:

35 Egrets, 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Snowy Egret, many Brandt’s Cormorants, many Western Gulls

Did you know?

A blue whale spout has the general shape of a fire hydrant, and a humpback whale spout looks more like a fan.

Personal Log:

I suppose you are wondering what I do in my free time. Between my tasks on board, eating, and blogging, I am pretty busy. Getting extra rest is a big deal, because it’s hard work just to keep your balance on a ship. Some evenings, I feel like I have been skiing all day long! I spend a lot of my time on the flying bridge watching wildlife through my binoculars, or chatting with the scientists and crew. It is fabulous to be out here on the ocean.

Highlight of Today:

Watching several Dall’s Porpoises surfing the wake in front of the bow!

Questions of the Day:

Why do porpoises swim in front of the boat?

Why do whales breach? (Breaching is a behavior that looks like jumping out of the ocean on their side.)

 

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

Jenny Hartigan: How to Record Whales and Birds… July 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 25, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 25

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.834’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.399’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 5-15 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3 feet becoming 2 feet or less

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 10 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1026 hPA

Air temperature: 65º F

Wind Chill: 48º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

One aspect of the ACCESS project is to collect data about top-level predators in the marine ecosystem. The scientists do this by recording observations of marine mammals and seabirds from the flying bridge (top deck) of the ship. I am going to tell you about the standardized method they have for recording observations so they can be quantified and compared year to year. Some of the categories include:

First Cue (The first thing you saw – either splash, spout, or body) .

Method (How did you see it? – by eye, binoculars, etc.) .

Bearing (relative to the bow of the boat: 0 – 360º)

Reticule (a scale that tells you how far it is away from the horizon)

Observer Code (Each scientist has a number).

Observer Side (port, starboard)

Behavior of the animal (traveling, milling, feeding, etc.)

Age (if you can tell)

Sex (if you can tell)

Species (humpback, blue whale, CA sea lion, etc.)

Counts (best, high, low)

2017-07-22 13.08.11 2.jpg
The flying bridge of the R/V Fulmar.       Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Marine mammal and seabird scientists are trained observers for this task that requires complete concentration. I interviewed them to find out more about their jobs.

An Interview with a Scientist:

Jan Roletto, Research Coordinator, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

 

IMG_2520.jpg
Jan assisting with the Tucker Trawl.Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

This long-term monitoring of the ecosystem helps shape, define and enforce the regulations for the National Marine Sanctuaries.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I have the (long-term ecosystem) data when I assess damage and define restoration from oil pollution or boat grounding (incidents).

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

Funding long-term data studies is a challenge, so I would like a marketing tool such as a fun TV program to market the excitement and drama of marine science.

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

I enjoyed studying marine mammal behavior, and did a Master’s in anatomy and physiology.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing? – fundraising!

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

The only way to keep the project sustainable was to communicate in lay terms.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Doc Ford stories by Randy Wayne White are about a marine biologist ex-CIA agent.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run (True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide) by Peter Allison.The stories are based on a Botswana saying “only food runs!”

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Ryan Berger, M.Sc., Farallon Program Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science

2017-07-25 10.57.50.jpg
Ryan waiting on the back deck while the Tucker Trawl collects krill. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

We establish a baseline to more fully understand the effects of climate change on marine animals and thereby protect species.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

My work feels meaningful, I like its diversity, and I enjoy mentoring the next generation of conservation scientists.

Where do you do most of your work?

-on the Farallones Islands, on the ocean and in the office.

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

-a Leatherman, walkie-talkies and a write-in-the-rain notebook while I’m on the Farallones Islands.

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

-a tool to see the eggs under the adult birds without disturbing them. You have to have a lot of patience as you wait for the bird to move so you can see if it’s sitting on an egg.

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

I did not expect to be an emergency responder for freeing entangled whales.

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

I found a field I’m passionate about and want to communicate an important message about being stewards of the environment for the next generation to enjoy.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Education of Little Tree is about Native Americans, taking care of the environment.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking and outdoor activities.

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Kirsten Lindquist, Ecosystem Monitoring Manager, Greater Farallones Association

DSC_0933-e1407310373908
Kirsten spotting seabirds from the flying bridge. Photo credit: NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

Our Beach Watch and ACCESS program data informs NOAA about the effects of conditions such as oil spills on wildlife. Beach Watch is a citizen science program that extends along the California coast from Año Nuevo to Point Arena.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I like being in the field and teaching and communicating why it’s important.

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

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

When I was a young child I watched “Never Cry Wolf”, a movie about a science researcher named Farley Mowat. I was so taken by it that I told my mom, “I want to do that!”

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

I teach 150 volunteers through the Beach Watch program. 

Do you have an outside hobby?

I like cooking and outdoor activities. Some of the field sites I’ve been are in Antarctica studying penguins, and Guadalupe Island, Mexico, and Chile.

 

Personal Log:

I am enjoying getting to know the scientists and crew on board. Since I am curious to find out more about what they do, I spend a lot of my free time asking questions. They are interested to know what middle school students learn in science.

DSCN4862
                                                                          the fog bank                                                                                   Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Every day I’m fascinated by life at sea. The fog off the California Coast is so dramatic. The other day we emerged from a huge fog bank into sunny skies where it was 15º F warmer!

I mentioned the galley the other day. It still fascinates me how compact everything is here on the boat. Everyone here has a sense of humor too. Check out the shark silverware we use!

2017-07-26 13.39.28
the galley Photo Credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

2017-07-26 11.36.53
Shark silverware! Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Animals Seen Today:                              

IMG_2537
Purple-striped Jelly – This small one was in the hoop net today, and we saw a larger one off the stern of the boat. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small organisms in the hoop net – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Question of the Day:

How do you tell the difference between the blow (spout) of a blue whale and a humpback whale?

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

 

Melissa Barker: Data, Samples and Research, Oh My, June 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 11.93 N

Longitude: 92 40.31 W

Air temp: 28.6 C

Water temp: 28 C

Wind direction: 180 degrees

Wind speed: 13 knots

Wave height: 1 meter

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

We had a slight lull in the sampling yesterday due to storms and lightning risk, but today has been full speed ahead with the trawling. In this blog I’ll talk more about taking data and how the data and samples are used.

We use the FSCS system, designed by NOAA, to record our data for each trawl. The program walks us through all the data need for each species. The pattern goes something like this: select species, measure length with the Limnoterra magnetic measuring board, then mass the individual, and finally try to determine the sex of the organism. Without this technology I can image that the whole sampling process would take a lot longer.

 

 

Determining sex can be tricky at times and there are some species that we cannot sex such as squid, scallops and very small fish. We cut the fish open and look for male and female gonads. If possible we also mark the maturity state of the individual.

Female gonads

Male gonads

When recording shrimp, we measure length, weight and sex for each individual up to 200. This can take a while, but working in pairs we get pretty efficient. Female shrimp have a circular breast plate, called a thelycus, under the head or just above their first set of legs. Males have a petasma, the male sex organ, between their two front legs.

Female shrimp on the left, male shrimp on the right. The knife is indicating the petasma, the male sex organ.

David (left) and Tyler work together to measure, weigh and sex the shrimp efficiently

You might be wondering what happens to all this data that we are collecting?

The data we collect is sent to SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and is made publicly available. Scientists can use this data for their research. The SEAMAP Groundfish survey happens twice per year and has been ongoing for 42 years, allowing for identification of long term trends in the data.

SEAMAP gives the shrimp data to the different state agencies who make the data available to fishermen, who will use it to determine if shrimp are of marketable size and thus worth heading out to shrimp.

Bagged lizard fish headed to the freezer

In addition to the data we are collecting, we also collect and freeze samples. Any scientists can make requests for a study species to be saved from our trawls. These requests are entered into the computer system, which prompts us to bag, label and freeze the species to be taken off the ship at the end of the cruise.

Samples stored in the freezer. There are many more in additional freezers.

For example, we save all Red Snapper and send them to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, for an age and growth study. Red Snapper is the top commercial fish in Gulf of Mexico, so this is critical data for fisherman and sustaining a healthy fish stock.

 

Several of the students who are part of the science team are collecting samples for their research.

Tagged Blue Crabs (photo credit: Helen Olmi)

Helen, who is part of the night shift, attends University of Southern Mississippi and is part of the Gulf Coast Research Lab. She is part of a team that is looking at migration patterns and reproductive behavior of female Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus). She tags female crabs and if fishermen find them they call in to report the location. Female Blue Crabs mate after their terminal molt and collect sperm in sac-like receptacles to use later to fertilize their eggs. When ready to spawn, the females move lower in the estuary into saltier waters. Blue Crabs are the most common edible crab so it is important to continue to monitor the health of the population in the Gulf.

Sharpnose Shark ready to be measured

David is an undergrad at University of Miami, who has earned a scholarship through NOAA Office of Education school scholarship program. As part of this program, he is funded to do summer research. He is working as part of larger study looking at the distribution and diet of the sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), one of the most common species of shark in the Gulf. Sharpnose sharks are generalists and the research study is looking to see if they are also potentially opportunistic eaters. He is also comparing diets from East and West Gulf sharks and may also be able to compare diets of sharks in low vs high oxygen areas. David’s data collection involves sorting through partially digested stomach remains to try to figure out what the shark ate; he gets to play detective in the lab.

Tyler holding a Croker

Tyler is a graduate student at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and works with Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). He researches whether exposure to low oxygen affects what Croaker eat. Croaker are widely abundant in the Gulf–they often make up more than half of our trawl samples–thus they make a good study species. Croaker often feed at the bottom, in the benthic zone. Tyler is trying to determine if Croaker are changing their feeding patterns in hypoxic areas by feeding higher up in the water column in the pelagic zone to find more food. He uses Croaker tissue samples to examine diet using isotopes. The general idea with isotopes is that what you eat or process will become part of you. Different prey species will have different isotope signatures and looking at Croaker tissue can determine what organisms the fish have been eating.

As you can see the data and samples from this survey support a lot of science and sustainable fisheries management. Check out some of the interesting organisms we have found in our trawls in the last few days.

 

 

Personal Log

 As we crank through trawl after trawl of species, I have to stop and remind myself of where I am. As a land lover, it can be a little disconcerting that there is no land anywhere in sight. This fact is helping me appreciate the vastness of the ocean. It is said that we have only explored five percent of the ocean. Before I was on the Oregon II, this was hard to believe, but now I am starting to comprehend just how large the ocean really is.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Andre and the Cobia

We had some rough seas due to a storm cell a couple days ago which got the boat rocking and rolling again. The movement made it hard to sleep or move around. Luckily, we are through that area and back to our normal motion. With each trawl, I anticipate the possibility of interesting new species that might come up in our net. We caught an 18.8 kg Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) in our net yesterday, which is a fish I had never heard of, but is apparently prized as a food and game fish. Andre filleted it up and we ate it for lunch. It was so of the best fish I’ve ever tasted. Living in Colorado, I don’t eat much seafood, but I’ve decided to try what we catch out here and I’m glad I have. We’ve also had fresh caught shrimp and snapper that were delicious thanks to Valerie and Arlene, the stewards who are keeping us well fed.

I’m enjoying getting to know some of the folks who work on the ship. Many of these people have worked on the Oregon II for several years. When you live and work with each other in a confined space for 24 hours a day, you become close pretty quickly. The family feel among the crew and officers is evident.

I am getting more efficient with my measuring and weighing techniques and even remembering a few scientific names. During each twelve-hour shift, the time spent on our feet depends on the number of stations we cover. Some days we are back to back, just finishing up one sample while they are already trawling for the next. A monitor screen tells us the distance to the next station, so we can anticipate what is coming next. We are getting closer to the Mississippi delta where we are anticipating a decrease in oxygen at some of our stations.

Did You Know?

The Natural Marine Sanctuary System is a network of underwater parks that protects more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for the parks and brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to promote responsible and sustainable ocean use and protect the health of our most valuable ocean resources. Healthy oceans can provide recreation and tourism opportunities for coastal communities. (Source: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

Marine Sanctuary map copy
(Photo credit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a marine sanctuary called Flower Garden Banks which includes three different areas, East Flower Banks, West Flower Banks and Stetson Bank, which are all salt dome formations where coral reef communities have formed. You can learn more about our National Marine Sanctuary System here.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Why do you need to take the temperature and amount of salt in the water? (Bella)

Temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence measurements give us more information about the water where we are sampling. Salinity helps tell us if we are in a freshwater, estuary or fully marine environment. The salinity will decrease as we near the Mississippi river delta. Salinity and temperature affect fish physiology or body functions. Each species has normal tolerance levels that it can live within. Organisms that find themselves outside of their salinity and temperature limits might not be able to survive.

The image of the CTD data below gives you an idea of typical values for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence and how they change as depth increases.

CTD key: pink=fluorescence, green=oxygen. blue=temperature, red=salinity

Does the temperature of the ocean get colder as it gets deeper? (Allison)

Generally temperature does decrease with depth, but in our shallow sampling locations there can be less than a 2 degree C temperature change. As you can see on the CTD data above, the temperature changed 6 degrees C at this sampling location.

How deep is it where you have sample? (David, Shane, Alix)

We sample at depths of 5-60 fathoms. One fathom equals 6 feet.

 

 

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck
Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross
Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola
Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales
Humpback whales; one has just spouted

whale back
The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes
Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon
Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship
Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre
Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick
Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: Introduction to El Niño, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Bodega Bay, California
Date: July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 15-25 knots, wind waves 3’-5’, northwest swell 4’ – 6’ at eight seconds, overcast.

Science and Technology Log

UC Davis graduate student and Point Blue Conservation Science intern Kate Davis took some plankton we collected to the Bodega Marine lab in Bodega Bay. She said she is seeing “tropical” species of plankton. A fellow graduate student who is from Brazil peeked into the microscope and said the plankton looked like what she sees at home in Brazil. The flying fish we saw is also anomalous, as is the number of molas (ocean sunfish) we are seeing. Plankton can’t swim, so some of our water must have come from a warm place south or west of us.

Farallones
The Farallon Islands are warmer this year

The surface water is several degrees warmer than it normally is this time of year. NOAA maintains a weather buoy near Bodega Bay, California that shows this really dramatically. Click on this link – it shows the average temperature in blue, one standard deviation in gray (that represents a “normal” variation in temperatures) and the actual daily temperature in red.

NOAA buoy data
Surface seawater temperatures from a NOAA buoy near Bodega Bay, California

http://bml.ucdavis.edu/boon/climatology.html

As you can see, the daily temperatures were warm last winter and basically normal in the spring. Then in late June they shot up several degrees, in a few days and have stayed there throughout this month. El Niño? Climate change? The scientists I am with say it’s complicated, but at least part of what is going on is due to El Niño.

Ryan at flying bridge
San Francisco State University student and Point Blue intern Ryan Hartnett watches El Nino

So what exactly is El Niño?

My students from last year know that the trade winds normally push the surface waters of the world’s tropical oceans downwind. In the Pacific, that means towards Asia. Water wells up from the depths to take its place on the west coasts of the continents, which means that places like Peru have cold water, lots of fog, and good fishing. The fishing is good because that deep water has lots of nutrients for phytoplankton growth like nitrate and phosphate (fertilizer, basically) and when it hits the sunlight lots of plankton grow. Zooplankton eat the phytoplankton; fish eat the zooplankton, big fish eat little fish and so on.

During an El Niño event, the trade winds off the coast of Peru start to weaken and that surface water bounces back towards South America. This is called a Kelvin wave. Instead of flowing towards Asia, the surface water in the ocean sits there in the sunlight and it gets warmer. There must be some sort of feedback mechanism that keeps the trade winds weak, but the truth is that nobody really understands how El Niño gets started. We just know the signs, which are (1) trade winds in the South Pacific get weak (2) surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical pacific rise, (3) the eastern Pacific Ocean and its associated lands get wet and rainy, (4) the western Pacific and places like Australia, Indonesia, and the Indian Ocean get sunny and dry.

This happens every two to seven years, but most of the time the effect is weak. The last time we had a really strong El Niño was 1997-1998, which is when our current cohort of high school seniors was born. That year it rained 100 inches in my yard, and averaged over an inch a day in February! So, even though California is not in the tropics we feel its effects too.

Sausalito sunset
Sunset from the waterfront in Sausalito, California

We are in an El Niño event now and NOAA is currently forecasting an excellent chance of a very strong El Niño this winter.

NOAA map
Sea surface temperature anomalies Summer 2015. Expect more red this winter.

What about climate change and global warming? How is that related to El Niño? There is no consensus on that; we’ve always had El Niño events and we’ll continue to have them in a warmer world but it is possible they might be stronger or more frequent.

Personal Log

So, is El Niño a good thing? That’s not a useful question. It’s a part of our climate. It does make life hard for the seabirds and whales because that layer of warm water at the surface separates the nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, which are down deep, from the sunlight. Fewer phytoplankton grow, fewer zooplankton eat them, there’s less krill and fish for the birds and whales to eat. However, it might help us out on land. California’s drought, which has lasted for several years now, may end this winter if the 2015 El Niño is as strong as expected.

Golden Gate Bridge
Rain will come again to California

Did You Know? El Niño means “the boy” in Spanish. It refers to the Christ child; the first signs of El Niño usually become evident in Peru around Christmas, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. The Spanish in colonial times were very fond of naming things after religious holidays. You can see that in our local place names. For instance, Marin County’s Point Reyes is named after the Feast of the Three Kings, an ecclesiastical holy day that coincided with its discovery by the Spanish. There are many other examples, from Año Nuevo on the San Mateo County coast to Easter Island in Chile.

Window selfie
Michael Wing takes a selfie in his reflection in the boat’s window

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar
Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD
Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle
Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net
Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl
Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill
A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state
The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.

Michael Wing: Seabirds to starboard, whales and seals to port, July 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of the Golden Gate Bridge
Date: Saturday, July 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind Southeast, ten knots. Wind waves less than two feet. Swell 4-6 feet ten seconds. Patchy morning fog.

Michael Wing and Fulmar
Michael Wing and the R/V Fulmar

Science and Technology Log

We loaded the boat yesterday at 3:00 PM and I met a lot of people including the three co-principal investigators Jan Roletto of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue Conservation Science. There are others, including volunteers and visitors, and I will try to introduce some of them in future posts.

Today we didn’t collect water or plankton samples. We’ll do that tomorrow.  We sailed west from the Golden Gate Bridge on a track called “Line 5” at ten knots until we passed the edge of the continental shelf and then dropped south and cruised back to our dock in Sausalito on another line called “Line 7.” Plankton and water samples are for the even-numbered lines. Our purpose today was to count seabirds, whales and seals and sea lions. It’s not simple. By 7:30 AM we are assembled on the “flying bridge” (the highest part of the boat) with Jaime and the Greater Farallones Association’s Kirsten Lindquist on the starboard side and volunteers Jason Thompson and Rudy Wallen on the port. Kirsten notes birds, focusing just on the area from dead ahead to the starboard beam and calls out things like “Common murre, zone two, thirteen, flying, bearing 330 degrees.” This means she saw thirteen common murres flying northwest together not too far from the boat. This time is called being “on effort” and she is really focused on it. I don’t talk to her unless spoken to. Jamie enters all this into a database on his laptop.

On bird patol
On bird patrol

The guys on the port side are doing the same thing for marine mammals and saying “Animal, by eye, bearing 320, reticle seven, traveling, immature California sea lion, one-one-one.” These last numbers are estimates of the most probable number of animals in the group, and maximum and minimum estimates. Obviously, in this example just one animal was seen.

I am in awe of their ability to identify species, maturity and other things from just a glimpse. Kirsten can tell the difference between a Western gull and a California gull from hundreds of feet away, even if the gull is flying away from her. They also record floating trash, dead animals, and boats and ships.

So what are we seeing? Common murres, western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls, sooty shearwaters, pink footed shearwaters, storm petrels, black footed albatrosses, red necked phalaropes, tufted puffins, Pacific white sided dolphins, northern fur seals, a bottlenose dolphin, humpback whales, a dead seal, Mola molas (ocean sunfish), one flying fish, mylar balloons (4), a paper cup, a piece of Styrofoam. The flying fish was totally unexpected because they are mostly tropical and everyone talked about it all afternoon.

Port side
The port (left) side is for spotting marine mammals

Some of these birds have come here from Chile, New Zealand, or Hawaii in their “off” (non-breeding) season because there is a world-class food supply here for them. The sooty shearwaters start in New Zealand and fly to Japan, to Alaskan waters, and then down the west coast of North America before returning to New Zealand across the Pacific! However, a lot of these were far away. Visually, the ocean looks pretty empty from the flying bridge.

striped crab
This little crab was clinging to a piece of kelp we caught with a boat hook

Personal Log

The specter of seasickness haunts us on the first day of a cruise. Most of us are snacking on starchy treats like pretzels and Cheez-Its and drinking carbonated drinks. Paradoxically, these foods help prevent nausea. I have not taken any seasickness medicine and I am feeling a little queasy during the morning, but by noon I feel great. Nobody throws up. The Fulmar doesn’t roll from side to side very much but she does lurch when smacked head-on by a wave. It helps that the waves weren’t very big today. Soon we’ll all get our “sea legs.”

Also, you might appreciate these photos of me getting into a “Gumby suit” in under a minute, as part of my safety training. This is a survival suit meant to keep you from freezing to death if the boat sinks. You have to be able to get into it in less than a minute.

survival suit
Getting into the survival suit. I have 1 minute, and the suit is stiff. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

into survival suit
I am into the survival suit. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

Did You Know? Here’s what you need to untangle fishing nets from a frustrated humpback whale: Boathooks, sharp knives, and a GoPro digital camera on the end of a pole. The GoPro helps you study the tangles so you can decide where to make that one cut that causes the whole mess to fall apart and off the whale.

 

life ring
R/V Fulmar’s life ring

Bill Henske, Sharks and Minnows, June 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East to southwest winds 15-20 kts. Decreasing to 10 to 15 kts.  Seas 3 to 5 ft. Isolated showers and thunderstorms.

Science and Technology Log

Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast

One of the best games you can play in the pool is Sharks and Minnows. The premise of this game is that you and your school are small fish that have to travel from one side of the pool to the other without getting caught by the shark. If you are caught you get turned into a shark for the next round.  Eventually the sharks are well distributed, preventing any minnows from getting through.

Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am reminded of this as the fin fish team from FWC sets up a grand game of sharks and minnows for fisheries science.  Over the past week we have been setting up several arrays of acoustic receivers that catch tagged fishes’ signals as they swim through the Florida Keys reef system.  The plan is designed to capture fish moving within and between different parts of the ecosystem.  Any tagged fish coming into Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary should come into contact with one of the receivers, as will any fish traveling out.  The placement of the receivers on the west and east of the sanctuary create and “entrance” and “exit” for tagged fish.

Within the sanctuary there are now several concentrated grids of receivers in places that make for good fish habitat (aka good fishing spots).  The VR2 receivers can record the identification number of the tagged fish as well as the time and date they connected to the receiver and their distance from the receiver.  When the receivers are collected, that data can be downloaded and a picture of fish movement created.  The data from the FWC’s arrays and tagged fish will be incorporated into a more extensive project called ITAG (Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast).   In this project, collaborators share their acoustic tag data and receiver logs with each other, extending the reach of all project.   In the vastness of our marine environments, any one project will produce only a small snapshot of what is happening.  By collaborating between projects, the complexity of fisheries and ecosystems might be more easily untangled.

Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.
Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.

Today we set up individual stations of a new device which uses an acoustic release.  These are for much deeper sites containing “humps” which are relief features rising 100 to 200  feet about the surrounding sea floor.  Because of the relief, humps offer a large variety of habitats in a small amount of space, creating a highly diverse area for aquatic life.  Since these deeper areas are inaccessible to most divers, the receivers we set out can be triggered to return to the surface.  When data is ready to be collected in a few months, a device will be lowered into the water that communicates with the receiver using sound.  This device, called a VR100, can trigger the receivers to jettison themselves to the surface with the help of two small floats.  At that time the receivers can be collected from a small boat.

Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.
Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.

This video below shows our deployment of the acoustic release receiver from the side of the Nancy Foster.

 

Personal Log

City in the Sea

The Nancy Foster has been at sea since February of this year.  While it resupplies every few weeks, most of the vital functions for human habitation are performed on board.  The ship is, for its officers, crew, and science passengers, a small floating city.

View of the engine room control panels.
View of the engine room control panels.

Electricity requirements for a large ship are quite high.  If you factor in air conditioning, navigation systems, lighting, motors and pumps, kitchen, and scientific tools, the energy consumption equals a small hamlet.  Amazingly, this electricity is all created on board with the ship’s generator and a copious amount of marine diesel.

The Nancy Foster has a main engine for thrust but several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.
The Nancy Foster has a main engine and several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.

Food is loaded on at ports but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh and delicious.  Each day Bob and Lito prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all of the scientists and crew.  These delicious multi-course meals keep all the members of this floating city very happy.  Just like the hungry generators, the humans energy levels are kept well stocked.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.

There is no sewage processing on board the ship.  Ship waste is carried in large tanks until it can be released into open ocean, far from land.  Once in the ocean, its nutrients are quickly consumed by hungry phytoplankton and converted into energy for the next level of the food chain.  Food waste is also separated from recycling and “garbage”.  Food waste, after being ground, is composted at sea.

With 40 people on board eating, showering, and using the head, the ship needs to produce water on a continual basis.  The ship keeps a reserve supply and when it goes down, The Nancy Foster has a device that uses excess heat from the engines and generators to distill water from the ocean.

Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.
Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.

Cities need organization and a specialized workforce to get all of these things done.  The NOAA Corps Officers make sure the ship stays on course and its mission objectives are met.  The ships crew ensures the small craft are launched safely, everyone is fed, and the ship keeps humming and running smoothly.  The science staff are visitors, enjoying all of the amenities of the ship while using its resources to complete their scientific missions.  Many of the science staff cruise with the Nancy Foster every year, while for some, it is their first time.

How did you get here?

I asked several of the scientists on board what they wanted to do when they were in middle school and how they became involved in marine science and research.  My middle school students are just starting to think about who they are and who they want to be.  I wanted to get some background information on how some of the scientists here got their start.

J. – A biologist had no clue what he wanted to do when he was in middle school and this trend continued until college! He loved fish and applied for an entry level fisheries job and has been at it ever since.

R. – Thinks she wanted to be a writer in middle school based on a paper she read from back then.  After pursuing her interest in ecology she is now writing about conservation issues for NOAA.

S. – She always loved science and math – After studying geology she had a chance to go to sea.  Loved it more than her geology work and now scans the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  She won’t tell you where the treasure is!

P. – He took a test when he was in middle school that said he was not particularly interested in anything.  What he always liked was fish. After a couple related jobs he has worked in fisheries for many years.

S. – When he was in middle school he wanted to be rich and work in biology.  He now works in biology!

One of the major commonalities among the scientists is that they followed, or in some cases, rediscovered their interest.  As a teacher, I hope I can help my students find what they are passionate about.

By the numbers:

226 scuba dives
5 ROV dives
5 Reef Visual Census (RVC) surveys
20 Drop camera ‘dives’
40 New stands and receivers deployed
4 sea turtles
61 square miles of seafloor mapped
1 Teacher at Sea Hat not lost

Bill Henske, Turns Out You Might Need That Skill, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Monday, June 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds 10-15 kts.  Seas 2-4 ft (1 ft inside reef) Isolated showers and thunderstorms)

Science and Technology Log

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

We were talking on board today about the olden days, you know, when Jaques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins could reliably be found on a majority of American televisions.  Remember Generation X?

Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.
Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.

Yes- we are in our 40s now.  Kids my age had the spirit of scientific adventure to look forward to on Sunday nights.  The same generation of kids grew up with monitors and joysticks, interacting with worlds that were somewhere beyond the “real world” on our Ataris and Commodore computers.  Our 1980s parents might be incredulous to learn that we are now doing these same things to investigate critical habitat, monitor fish populations, and gather geographic data.  I know many futurists predicted it would happen but the grownups I knew were skeptical, to say the least.

NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Mission
NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Miss

The remotely operated vehicle has been a staple of marine research for many years now.  Called an ROV for short, these devices are human operated machines that can do many of the same things humans divers can do but in much more difficult circumstances, for much longer periods of time, and at greater depths.  ROVs are “employed” by resource managers, marine scientists, construction crews, engineering companies, and just about anyone else who has work to do under water.

Loading ROV gear into dive boat.
Loading ROV gear into dive boat.

We have been using an ROV on our current mission on the Nancy Foster to  collect fisheries data.  With the ROV we can investigate different areas identified on hydrographic maps and from previous studies without labor intensive dive operations.  The ROV does not need to stick to a dive schedule and as long as it has power and a willing operator, it can do its job.  The ROV has several components that must all be brought onto our dive boat in order to operate.

The primary need of the ROV is electricity.  Rather than running on combustion or cellular respiration, which both require oxygen, the ROV needs a steady supply of electrical current.  Because many variables can affect the power demands of an ROV such as speed, depth, wind, and current, the FWC team has chosen to operate a small generator to power their ROV.

ROV being set up for deployment.  Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.
ROV being set up for deployment. Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.

The ROV has a specialized cable that carries the electricity from the boat to the motors. This cable, called a tether, also carries the signal from the controller to the motors to tell the ROV where to go.  The video input the ROV gathers is relayed through this cable in order to allow the operator to see through the “eyes” of the ROV, and, of course, record what it sees.

Operating the ROV requires a good deal of coordination.  The craft is controlled much like a slow, unresponsive airplane.  It can move forward, reverse, side to side, up and down, and operate at a tilt.  This dizzying array of motions are necessary to track and study the reef fish as they travel through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey
Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey

Jeff Renchen of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is, among many other things, our ROV operator on this cruise.  He is using the small ROV to collect data on spawning aggregations of several important fish species.  Jeff explained that the ROV allows researchers to explore deeper than divers are able to easily go.  ROV camera operations can follow aggregations of fish and provide insights into the behaviors and conditions of spawning fish, as well as structures and locations that are important for spawning behavior.

With the ROV in the water Jeff takes it for a swim away from the boat. Once the ROV’s line has 50 feet of slack, the tether is attached to a drop line. In strong currents, it is possible for smaller ROVs, like the one here, to get carried off.  The drop line allows us to raise or lower the ROV in the water column faster, increasing our ability to focus in on fish of interest or specific depths.

ROV swimming away.
ROV swimming away.

 


Personal Log

There are some things that seem special no matter how many times you have seem them before.  I remember a long time student of Appalachian ecology saying that he could not remember what he had for lunch but he could describe every time he had seen a bear.   There are some things in our world that have that the ability to mesmerize us, silencing the combating thoughts that often clutter our minds and setting a reset button somewhere in our brain stem.

One of those things that stands out for me, and kindly keep it to yourself if you disagree, is seeing dolphins interact.  We came in from some drop camera operations on Wednesday evening and found this pod of dolphins playing in the wash of the Z-Drive motors of the Nancy Foster.  There would more footage but if you are taking video rather than living in this moment, you are probably doing it wrong.

Watching dolphins play and interact appeals to so many of us.  I think it reminds us of the pleasure of physicality and the joy that can be had as social creatures.

Then there is the thrill of hearing “There’s a shark” from the scientist monitoring the camera you have been steadily lowering below a 17 foot dive boat bobbing in the small but steady waves.

.

The enormities of life at sea give us an awe inspiring sense of scale.  Every day at sea there is at least one endless horizon and yesterday they surrounded us on all sides.  Just past sunset I caught this small cumulonimbus that had previously drizzled on our afternoon drop camera trip.  I thought about the thermal energy required to make such a structure.  I wondered at the amount of fresh water it carried.  And then my brain quieted down and I just watched it.

Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.
Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.

Bill Henske, Mind if We Drop in? June 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Drop camera operations
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Friday, June 19, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East wind 10-15 kts.  Seas 3-4 ft (2 ft inside reef).  Isolated showers and thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Drop Camera Operations

We have so many ways to see our planet using scientific tools.  The Nancy Foster, for example, uses radar to see boats and weather in the direct vicinity.  The ship uses satellite images to prepare for missions and to support surface information. Onboard, the Nancy Foster uses sonar to measure ocean depths and detect the undersea activity of marine organisms, and map the physical characteristics of the seafloor.

The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over  an area of interest.  This is the product.
The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over an area of interest. This is the product.

This technology all relies on our acceptance that a pixel of light with a specific value equals some tangible unit of mass or energy in our ocean.  The equations and processes that help us determine the relationship between the data collected and what is meaningful to us must be worked out through careful analysis and study.  In our case, we are trying to work out the relationship between certain patterns of sonar feedback and what habitat is present on the seafloor.

Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.
Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.

Don Field of NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science calls himself a pixel-pusher.  Deciphering the images and data that show up on a monitor means having an astute understanding of what each bit of data means.  Part of Don’s research involves squeezing more data from the bits collected by looking for associations between these bits of light and the real world.  Identifying the relationship between these sonar profiles and the habitat on the seafloor means matching up pixels from a screen with what exists in the actual environment.  If we can reliably identify seafloor type by sonar, for example, we could begin to quantify habitat for individual species rather than relying on approximations.

Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can't get it to work though. (Scott Donohue, NOAA)
Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can’t get it to work though. (Scott Donahue, NOAA)

Don calls this ground-truthing.  This means a researcher on the ground (or in the ocean in our case) must connect the features from satellite and sonar with images and data collected from onsite.  Our project on this mission involves deploying a drop camera from one of our small vessels and determining what is there.  Several coordinates are chosen from sonar and satellite pictures.  These coordinates are entered into the GPS of the small dive boats allowing us to pinpoint the exact location within just a few meters.

The drop camera is a fairly self descriptive term.  This is a specially designed black and white camera that is deployed from the side of the small vessel.  The camera is mounted within a protective cage with weights attached to facilitate its trip to the bottom.  While the turbidity of the water is very low, light is still limited at deeper depths.  The camera has lights that enable viewing in low light or during nocturnal missions.  The reason we use a black and white camera is that they can operate in much lower light levels than color cameras.  Think about your own color vision and how it diminishes as the sun goes down.

This is our drop camera.  The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.
This is our drop camera. The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.

The camera rig is tethered to the GPS and video recorder with a 300 foot long coaxial cable.   This cable is specially designed for this application with corrosion resistant terminals and kevlar sheathing along the entire length.  We also attached a downrigger to the camera apparatus to reduce the wear and tear on the cable and to speed retrieval of the unit.

On board, we monitor the camera as it is lowered almost to the sea floor at each chosen coordinate.  Our equipment records and geotags the video with the exact location so it can be aligned with mapping data back in the lab.

The controls of the drop camera.
The controls of the drop camera.

On the drop camera, we also utilize a fairly “off the shelf” GoPro camera.  This camera doesn’t feed information back up to the vessel and isn’t connected to GPS but it can provide other useful information about the species encountered along the trip down.  This biological information can be used for other projects and adds to the overall value of the mission.

One of the critical things for all field scientists is to check the functioning of gear before heading out. Don and I set everything up in the drylab and on deck.  There were several bugs to work out of the procedures before heading out to our first coordinates.  Once we addressed the issues we had with the equipment, our dropcam was ready to go.

Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment..
Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment.

We headed out to the locally famous Warsaw Hole.  This spot is known for spawning populations of several important fish.  We wanted to determine if the seafloor with in this structure held any clues to why it was so important to fish.  At over 300 feet deep, this area is not conducive to exploratory dives.  This inaccessibility made it a good candidate for our mission.

After heading out to the coordinates we unpacked the camera, GPS, and computers.  There was a sudden loss of power to the camera.  A little trouble-shooting and we determined it was the fuse.  Saltwater is tough on electronic components!   A blown fuse was not one of the things we prepared for the day before.  We radioed the ship with our fuse requirements and after a short shuttle back to the Nancy Foster, we were back in business.

What could be in the mysterious Warsaw Hole?  At 100 feet deeper than the surrounding seafloor, what was it about this place that encourages aggregations of the Warsaw grouper (Epinephelus nigritus)?  As the camera was lowered deeper, we were able to see everything in the water column as it swam to one side or the other.

We reached our destination depth and discovered that Warsaw Hole is a plain, ordinary sandy bottom.  In the world of science this unexceptional discovery is called “zero data”, but it is valuable information nonetheless, as we try to characterize all of the habitats in the area.

Personal Log

The Dry Tortugas is one of the most out-of-the-way National Parks in the US.  This former Civil War era fort and the surrounding small keys are a paradise of colorful fish and raucous colonies of seabirds.  While the camp site was busy, it was definitely not crowded after the Key West ferry had gone home for the day.  If you decide to spend the day or camp over night, bring water.  It is named for the fact that there is no fresh water!

We were able to snorkel almost entirely around the fort.  The submerged walls of the old fort are encrusted with corals, sea fans, annelids, and sponges of every shape and color.  The remnants of former building materials are almost unrecognizable as human detritus, instead housing a great diversity of interesting reef organisms.

Unfortunately, we did not see the infamous crocodile.  Tick Tock.

Here it is official as I stand in front of the Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.
Here it is official as I stand in front of the Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.

By the Numbers

  • Sea Turtles – 1
  • Square miles of seafloor surveyed – 21.02
  • Treadmill Miles – 6.25
  • Drop cam dives – 6
  • Teacher at Sea Hat Recoveries – 2

 

Bill Henske, Tag, You’re It! June 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Acoustic Monitoring
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds near 15 knots, Seas 3 to 5 feet (2-3 inside reef), Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic Tracking Project
The Nancy Foster is a NOAA research vessel that frequently collaborates with multiple parties – universities, state agencies, and federal managers. By working together and pooling resources, a ship like the Nancy Foster, can synergize the work of a number of connected scientists. On the current cruise we have several scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), National Center for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). Their fascinating and important work will help us better understand the way marine populations work.

You may have heard the saying there’s more than one fish in the sea. While certainly this is true, the aphorism does little to describe the condition of the sea. The assumption might be that because there are a large number of fish, the sea is a healthy one. But are the individual types of fish occurring in significant populations? Are the populations equally distributed or are they more likely in certain parts of the ocean? How do they change over time?

Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment(Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

There are many things we don’t yet know about the territory, movement, and reproduction of even our most important fish. With the acoustic tracking project, we hope to find out how species of fish use the diverse habitats in the Florida Keys.

It would be hard to follow a black grouper around 24/7. The logistics would be very difficult to work out, to say the least. Rather than following one fish, the acoustic tracking project tags fishes in the study area with what is called an acoustic tag.

Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.
Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.

Once fish are captured, they receive a small “surgery” during which one of the tags is implanted. This, in and of itself, does nothing. The tags can be customized for the characteristics of different species or needs of the study. For a habitat study, the tag might ping several times a minute while a longer project looking at movement between areas might be set to ping once every few minutes. The longer frequency extends the life of the tag.

If a tag pings in the ocean, does it make a sound? The second part to the acoustic tracking is setting up and maintaining the listening probes called VR2s. Throughout the Keys and the Dry Tortugas, VR2 probes quietly wait for these pings and nonchalantly record the fish’s visit for later analysis. Think about the smartphone app Foursquare (is that a thing anymore?). Each time a fish swims near a VR2 its presence and visit duration is recorded and time stamped.

Every 6 months to a year, the VR2 recorders have to be collected and analyzed. Each VR2 is a record of every tagged fish that came within a certain distance of the probe over the period of time it was collecting data. This is where our mission comes in. On our cruise, we are servicing a number of these probes; picking up the old ones, replacing batteries, downloading data sets, and placing new or rejuvenated VR2s.

The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area.  The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.
The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area. The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.

Dive teams go out from the Nancy Foster, using only the GPS coordinates, to recover the sensors from the unmarked expanses of ocean. This process can be tricky due to variables such as currents, weather, and the inevitable equipment glitches. A clouded over satellite, a misread latitude, or a tipped over stand make this otherwise fun diving job challenging at times.

On day 2 of our cruise we serviced several of these probes. We took a small dive boat out to sets of coordinates where a VR2 had been placed on previous missions. From there our dive teams went down with the new VR2s and came back with the old. Once the used probes are brought to the lab, the data is moved to a computer for analysis. From here we can map the fishes’ activities by tying the location of the VR2s to a geocoded map created by the bathymetric maps generated by the hydrography crew (I’ll write about that later). One additional point of interest is that the unique tag ID that each fish gets is searchable by other marine researchers in similar projects around the world. We can identify fish tagged from other projects that happen to travel, migrate or wander this way and our fish from the Keys can be located by others.

Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

Today we also set out traps in promising

Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

locations. These are specially designed devices that have been approved by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary specifically for this research project. Commercial or recreational trapping of fish has been banned for over 20 years. Remember the tagged fish? With these traps we hope to catch some grouper and snapper, key fish species in the Keys ecosystem. Once caught in these baited traps the fish may receive a transmitter to begin their role in the study. While it is easier for humans to do surgery on the surface, it is easier for the fish if it is done in the water. Amazingly, most of the implantations are done at the trap site, sometimes up to 100 feet deep!


Personal Log

These is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.
This is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.

I have to admit, for someone like me, it is hard to be the green horn. Most of the folks I know can piece together a picture of what working and living at sea would be like. I thought I had a pretty good mental collage going from my bits and pieces and random trivia knowledge. My maritime fantasy world was made of concepts and ideas from many experiences, books, friends and the like. Most of these are small snippets of truths that are sprinkled through all our memories. Drawers opening and closing with the rolling of the waves, portholes, the bustling mess at supper, escape hatches, smoke stacks, life rings. When I heard the “All aboard that’s coming aboard” as we prepared to leave port, the primeval neurons of my childhood sparked. I realized most of my snippets were from Popeye. Ak ak ak ak ak. Passing note, tonight’s wonderful dinner included spinach.

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is the smallest of the 7 uniformed services of the United States with just over 300 service members. It is eclipsed by the second smallest service, the United States Public Health Service, which has over 6000 officers.

The Nancy Foster has a Facebook page!  Like it and follow her amazing adventures.

Bill Henske, Introduction, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – June 26, 2015

Mission: Coral Reef Condition Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping, and Fisheries Acoustics Characterizations
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 8, 2015

Personal Log

This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for a student backpacking trip.
This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for our middle school summer field study class.

As a middle school teacher, I often think about the experiences I had through my education that brought me to where I am now – what led to my passion for science and exploration.  Giving students experiences, experts, and opportunities are essential to promoting a lifelong love of learning.  When I learned about the Teacher at Sea  program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) I eagerly applied.  This is a tremendous opportunity to grow in my capacity as a science teacher, role model, and colleague.  Best of all, it would be an adventure where I would learn lots of new things!

Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June's cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June’s cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am very lucky to teach and learn at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in a small, but diverse school district just outside of St. Louis, Missouri.  We have a wonderful program of expeditionary learning at our public school.  Our classrooms go from the watershed of our neighborhood, to the Mississippi valley, to the Appalachian Mountains,  to the Gulf of Mexico.  Through expeditionary learning, we can give students many similar experiences that led us teachers to enter STEM fields.  Through field experiences and connections to scientists, students have opportunities to explore their interests and ignite passions.

This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.
This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.

One of the important lessons we learn at our school from our study of watersheds during our 7th and 8th grade years is that we are really one giant watershed.  The motto that “We all live downstream” is not just a metaphor for the way that our actions have consequences.  “We all live downstream” is also very literal.  My school community exists in the largest drainage area of North America, the Mississippi River.  Our collective actions, whether they are positive or negative, have quantifiable effects downstream.

The interconnected systems of the hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere also connect all of us humans.  Because these resources are “free”, they have gone a long time through Western history without the respect of economic value.  Students across our country are confronted with the sad statistics of environmental decline.  They are bombarded with figures and facts about the negative trend in marine ecosystems.  What truly drives my and many other teacher’s passion is the opportunity to provide the next generation with the hope of science and research.  These tools will help us define problems and propose solutions that can stop or even reverse the situation.

This June I will be joining the crew of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  We will be cruising the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas region where NOAA scientists will conduct  fish sampling and acoustic tagging in order to determine the connectivity of fish populations between the various geographic entities.  This essential work will help determine the fragmentation or cohesiveness of different populations of marine organisms as habitat is protected but in fragments.  It would be interesting to incorporate this information and the techniques used as we set up our yearly pond study back in Missouri.  Do fish move from one side of the pond to the other?

On this cruise we will also be deploying and installing the Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTag) array network.  This system will help monitor the movement of marine organisms to determine larger scale movement of different populations and species.  I can see this project leading to classroom lessons on population biology, genetics, and even speciation.  The complexity of interactions between hundreds of species and dozens of distinct populations is truly astounding.  Our scientists policy makers are often asked to distill this complexity down to a harvest number or population level. I want to bring back to my students the important role science has in, not only explaining the world around us but, shaping our future and helping develop or maintain the world we want.

Area of June NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster
Area of June 2015 NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster

I am so excited to be a part of the Teacher at Sea program and cannot wait to share my work and experiences with my students and school community.  Every year we take our 8th grade class to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where we study the marine science that others have discovered.  This August, when I go back to the regular classroom, I will be one of the folks who helped make those discoveries!

As I finish this entry, I am thinking about how the coral, sponges, and mollusks of the Gulf will soon be filtering through the water that we floated through last week on the 11 Point River, here in Missouri.  The water flows so easily and generously from the ground that an unfortunate majority here take its presence for granted.  The water carried little bits of all of us, a connection, as it traveled its thousand plus miles to the ocean.  On Saturday, June 14, I cycle myself through the atmosphere and hydrosphere to begin my adventure as a Teacher at Sea.  Check back regularly for updates on our mission aboard the Nancy Foster and a taste of life on a research vessel.

My students and I became part of the watershed this past week, floating towards the sea along Greer Spring Branch in southern Missouri.

My students and I found a great way to cool off last week in Missouri.  How long can you stand the 55º F spring water?

Michael Wing: The Ocean Is Our Front Yard, May 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 26, 2015

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey
Geographical Area: Northern California coast
Date: May 9, 2015

Science and Technology Log

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you’ve seen our “front yard” many times. You have looked west while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, walked on a beach and faced into the wind, maybe even gone on a whale watching trip. How well do we know it? Besides the fog and wind, the whales and waves, what’s out there? After living here for two decades, I’m going to find out.

What's it like out there?
What’s it like out there?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the federal government. They’re the people who run the National Weather Service, among other things. They also do oceanographic research, and through their Teacher at Sea Program they place teachers on oceanographic ships. I am one of those fortunate teachers.

I work at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California. Lots of NOAA Teachers at Sea get on an airplane, fly to a distant city, board a big ship and cruise hundreds of miles out to sea; but my experience will be very local. I will never be more than about fifty miles from my house, as the gull flies. In fact, Sir Francis Drake High School is the closest major school to the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where a lot of my time will be spent. I will also be working the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. A marine sanctuary is sort of like a national park that is underwater.

The cruise I will be on is a routine one; part of a scientific program called the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS). The California Current is a cold, south-running current; part of a global circulation pattern called the North Pacific Gyre. Upwelling of deep ocean water keeps it fertile. There used to be very productive commercial fishing here, before we caught too many fish in the 20th century. There are still lots of plankton, birds, and marine mammals. The ACCESS cruises happen three or four times each year. We sample, count and/or measure seawater temperature and salinity, plankton, krill, birds and whales and other marine mammals. This way we’ll know the ecological health of our front yard.

Our Front Yard
Our Front Yard

The boat I will work on is specially designed for this environment. NOAA has oceanographic vessels hundreds of feet long for offshore studies, but I will be on the R/V Fulmar, an aluminum-hulled catamaran only 67 feet long. She is technically a “small boat” and not a ship at all. She is fast and stable and six people can sleep on board, as I will. “R/V” stands for “Research Vessel.” A fulmar is a seabird that looks like a stocky gull. It spends nearly all of its life at sea. Northern Fulmars fish in the waters of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. A catamaran is a boat with two side-by-side hulls instead of one. My jobs will include standing watches, doing science, housekeeping chores and keeping this log.

Personal Log

What do I hope to get out of this? We do a plankton lab at my school, but it is very basic. I should be more of a plankton expert after this experience. I have been interested in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary ever since Drake High became a NOAA Ocean Guardian School last year. We picked up hundreds of pounds of marine plastic debris on the beaches of the Point Reyes National Seashore and analyzed where it comes from. A lot of it is related to commercial crabbing and fishing and international shipping. Also, I and my students read flipper tags on northern elephant seals for the National Park Service, and our seals swim though these waters. So, I’ll keep an eye out for floating plastic and elephant seals.

Really, though, I can’t yet know what this experience will lead to. Serendipity is a guiding principle for most scientists; the word implies luck, chance, surprise, and the wisdom to respond appropriately to the unexpected. It means spotting opportunities and following up on them. Since I’m so local, maybe there will be a way to get a new collaboration going with NOAA. Maybe just being in a new environment with new people will make me think outside of my daily grind. All of my best ideas have come to me while traveling.

Unlike practically every other teacher in the world, I have the same students two years in a row. So if you are one of my wonderful ninth graders now, you will be one of my wonderful tenth graders when I come back from this experience. So, to my wonderful ninth graders now (and ninth-graders-to-be): Follow this blog in July! Post a comment, question, or idea. We’re going to follow up in the fall.

Did you know that Sir Francis Drake missed discovering the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay when he sailed these waters in 1579? (The “Golden Gate” is the channel of water that the bridge crosses over; there was a Golden Gate long before there was a bridge.) We shouldn’t criticize him too harshly for that because the Spanish sailed past the Golden Gate every year for 250 years without seeing it or discovering the bay! Apparently, it doesn’t look like much from out at sea.

Amy Orchard: Days 9-13 – Conch, NOAA Corps, Seining, & Mission Stats, September 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Conchs Surveys and Fish Seining
Geographical area of cruise: Marquesas Keys Wildlife Management Area
Date: September 22-26, 2014

Weather: September 25, 2014 17:00 hours
Latitude 24° 27 N
Longitude 82° 14 W
Broken clouds, Lightening, Funnel Clouds
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (85.8°Fahrenheit)

MONDAY

Typical Day

Today started as it has every other day – up at 5:15 am, a trip to the gym, 30 minutes of yoga under the stars on the “Steel Beach” on the top deck of the ship, a sunrise and a delicious breakfast by Lito & Bob.

Then science begins at 7:30 am and usually goes till 7:30 pm or later if I am writing, studying fish identification books or asking a million questions of the scientists!

Conch

Today I began with small boat trip to assist the conch scientists Bob and Einat (pronounced A KNOT)  Their surveys will be the same all week (in different locations)  They drop a weight tied to a rope with a bouy and dive flag on top.  They dive down the line and survey four transects, to the north, south, east then west.  Each transect is 30 meters by 1 meter.  They only count the Queen Conch within that defined area.  Then they come back up the line and move to the next site.  They have already made 270 dives this summer alone.  Einat told me they may dive up to 11 times a day!  I’m not sure Einat’s hair ever dries out.

measuring tool
This is the tool used to measure the lip (or the curled up front part of their shell) The largest slot would indicate a sexually mature adult, the middle; a young adult and the skinniest (TL stands for Thin Lip) for the youngest.

Einat on the transect line
Here you can see Einat as she glides along the measuring tape which marks the area of study. In her hand she holds a measuring caliper and her clipboard (which she can write on underwater!)

Einat measuring conch lip
Einat measuring a Queen Conch with her measuring tool.

NOAA Corps

While our coxswain ENS Conor Maginn and I waited for Bob and Einat, I asked lots of questions about the http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/about/about.html  As I have mentioned before, I am impressed with the character, quality and kindness of everyone on board.  I truly hope I am able adequately convey the experiences I have had to my Junior Docents and Earth Campers and perhaps inspire many of you to look into NOAA as a career option.  It’s very possible my career would have taken a different direction if I had known about the NOAA Corps earlier in my life.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  They are not trained for military action, but rather for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft which support scientific research.  Conor told me about his training which included leadership, 1st Aid and CPR, firefighting, navigation, seamanship and radar.   In addition to the 320 officers in the Corps, there are 12,000 civilian employees; some of these positions do not require an advanced college degree.

Seems like a wonderful agency to work for with great benefits such as seeing the world and supporting scientific data collection which leads to making the world a better place.

Stowaway

Stowaway
We had a stowaway today! It seemed really exhausted once it had finally caught up with the ship. Seems that a storm is blowing in, perhaps it got knocked off course. Can you identify what type of bird this is?

 

TUESDAY 

More on Conch

Einat was happy to have me out on the boat with them again.  She claims I am a lucky charm because the only time they have found conch on their surveys has been while I am aboard.  Perhaps I should become a conch whisperer.

really pink conch
I took this photo last week of a Queen Conch at Fort Jefferson. Bob was surprised how pink & purple it was. They get their color from the algae they eat.

Queen Conch have an average life span of 8-11 years, although some in the Bahamas have been aged up to 40 years old.  About the only way to age them is to date the corals which grow on their backs.  They are herbivores which graze mostly on red algae.  They are docile and Bob says “very sweet animals”.  Bob and Einat are surveying to collect more information about their population densities as they will not reproduce unless there are enough numbers in one location.  The Queen Conch is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act.  Harvesting of conch has been illegal in Florida and its adjoining waters since 1986.  This is a big deal because collecting conch for meat, fishing bait and their beautiful shells has been an important part of the Florida Keys since the early 19th century.

When all conditions are just right, a Queen Conch will lay 400,000 eggs at once, called an egg mass.  Only 1 in 8 million of these eggs will survive to adulthood.  Many efforts are being made to help their populations increase including raising for release into the wild.  Bob told me that they have even taught these captive-raised conch how to avoid predation so when they are released they can survive.

conch with egg mass
Bob and Einat were very excited to see Queen Conch laying egg masses. Understandably so since the eggs hatch 5 days after being laid, there is a very short time frame in which to see this in the wild.

I try to be as helpful on the small boats as I can be.  Here is a slide show of me working really hard to pull the weight dive flag back to the boat.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WEDNESDAY 

Receiver Data Retrieval

Today the divers retrieved acoustic receivers from the ocean floor which have been out for a year in order to bring the data top side for analysis.

The work the FWC has been doing in this area has been vital to providing the data necessary to show that these reserves act as connected highways essential to numerous species of fish and to justify the creation of these large ecological reserves which closed 150 square miles to commercial and private fishing.  Their data shows an increase in both the abundance and size of at least 4 species of fish in the protected areas where there was a decrease or no change at all in the non-protected areas in the same region.

It has been fulfilling to give a hand in collecting this critical data.

THURSDAY

Seining

The small boat took us to the Marquesas Islands today for some seine netting.  The fish biologists were not sure what to find since they don’t have opportunities to get this far out.  They were especially pleased to see Lane Snapper since they rarely find them.  We also saw 17 other fish species.  These mangrove islands are crucial habitat for juvenile fish.  Many species will spend the beginning of their lives in the sea grass beds near the islands, seek refuge as they grow within the mangroves and then head out to deep waters to live their lives as large adults.

Best thing to happen today – I finally saw a sea turtle!  They surface only occasionally but then dive back down so quickly that it is really hard to get a photograph of them, therefore no photo to share, but it is certainly a wonderful memory I will keep with me forever.

Dominoes King

The game was on again at the end of the second week.  The science team lost its crown.  The Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup won the championship and thus the crown stays on the Nancy Foster – right where it is meant to be.

Dominoes King
Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup – reigning Mexican Train winner

FRIDAY

We pulled into Key West a day early, giving me plenty of time to finish up my writing and collect some statistics from our 13 day scientific cruise:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel – 10
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Personnel – 7
  • University of North Carolina at Wilmington Remotely Operated Vehicle Operators – 2
  • Nancy Foster Officers – 9
  • Nancy Foster Crew – 14
  • Teacher at Sea – 1
  • Media Reporter at Sea – 1
  • ROV Operations – 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater
  • ROV digital stills – 957
  • ROV longest dive – 4 hours and 10 minutes
  • ROV deepest dive – 128 meters (420 feet)
  • Multibeam seafloor mapping distance – 787.9 linear nautical miles
  • Dives – 167
  • Fish surgeries performed- 8
  • Acoustic Receivers exchanged – 6
  • New Acoustic Receivers Installed – 5
  • Reef Fish Visual Census (or fish counts) – 40 dives on 11 stations
  • Seine Net pulls – 5
  • Number of species of fish counted in seines – 18 species
  • Total fish counted during seining – 290
  • Conch surveys- 14
  • Conch measured – 57
  • Conch females laying eggs – 2
  • Egg masses – 1
  • Facebook Reach on the FKNMS Account with Cruise Posts as of 8:15 on 9/26/2014:  528,584
  • Laughs – lots!
  • Fun had – tons!
  • Days/Nights of sea sickness for Amy – 0
  • Number of accidents- 0

Mission was a success!

Challenge Your Observational Skills

Can you find the fish in this photo?  Hint, it is NOT yellow!

hide and seek
You will have to zoom in to find this itty, bitty fish. Good luck finding it!

NOTE:  Scott Donahue, Chief Scientist for this cruise, actually found TWO fish in this photo!  Can you find them both?  He has a good eye!

BONUS QUESTION:  Can you identify the fish in the photo once you find them?

Answer to the last blog’s question:  Goliath Grouper is no longer being considered for Endangered listing because their populations have recovered due to a fishing ban.

Definition of the word EXTIRPATED:  Completely removed from an area.

 

Sunset at port - Key West
Sunset at port – Key West

The sun has set on my adventure, now it’s back to Arizona.  I leave better educated, but with plenty of questions to still find answers to.  I leave more inspired.  I am a better scientist, educator and a better person because of my Teacher At Sea experience.

A heart-felt “Thank You!” goes out to each and every person who made it possible for me.

Amy Orchard: Day 7 & 8 – ROV, Multibeam, New Scientists, More Dolphins, September 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Deep Habitat Classification
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve and surrounding non-reserve area
Date: September 21 & 22, 2014

Weather: September 22, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 25.90 N Longitude 83° 80.0 W
Few clouds, clear
Wind speed 10 knots
Air Temperature: 28.5° Celsius (83.3° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit)

CLICK ON THE SMALL PHOTOS TO MAKE THEM LARGER

SATURDAY:

The ROV

All week we have had the privilege of using the Remotely Operated Vehicle.  This model is the Mohawk 18.  It has two cameras, one that provides still photographs and the other takes high-definition video.  Both are geo-referenced so we know exactly which latitude and longitude we are working.

It has an amazing maneuverability and gets around, over and under things quite quickly.  The footage is sent back up aboard in real time via a long fiber optic umbilical cord.

This amazing piece of equipment has allowed us to see down to depths that the divers would not have been able to reach.  It has also allowed us lengthy bottom times that the divers would not have been able to sustain.  Most of the divers have been trained to dive with double air supply tanks, which affords them more bottom time, but the ROV can stay down for hours and hours at a time.  The only limitation is the stress it puts on the pilots. Jason and Lance, our pilots, said that a four hour dive is about all they can run at a time without getting extremely crossed-eyed and need a break!  However, they are troopers and we have been doing multiple ROV dives each day, some lasting up to 4 hours.

Here are some fun things we have seen.

The last ROV dive of our day (& this cruise) was to a 56’ shrimp boat wreck which was down 47 meters (154 ft) just along the boundary of the North Reserve.  We saw nine Goliath Groupers (Epinephelus itajara) all at once.  Groups of these fish are often seen on wrecks, but the scientists were a bit surprised about the high density on such a small boat.  Due to over fishing of the Goliath Grouper, about twenty years ago, a moratorium was placed on fishing them and they were being considered for Endangered Status.  After just 10 years, a significant increase in population size was observed.  It’s still illegal to bring them over board but they are not on the Endangered Species list.  Juveniles live in the mangroves but adults live in deeper waters where our scientists were able to observe them with the ROV.

During the last 6 days we spent 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater with the ROV.  The entire time was recorded in SD and the scientists recorded the most significant events in HD.  They also sat at the monitors the entire time snapping still shots as often as they saw things they wanted photos of.  957 digital stills were taken.  The longest dive was 4 hours and 10 minutes.  Our deepest dive was 128 meters (420 feet!)

The screen on the left shows the map of the area the ROV is surveying.

These maps were created by the Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) The ROV depends on the MBES as do the fish scientists.  Without these maps, the ROV would not know where to dive and the fish scientists would not know where to conduct their research.  The MBES gives the fish scientists a wider view of the terrain than they can get on their own by SCUBA diving in smaller areas.

Multibeam Sonar

The Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) uses SOund NAvigation and Ranging (Sonar) to create high-definition maps of the sea floor and it’s contours (as well as other objects such as shipwrecks) by shooting sound waves (from 512 sonic beams) down to the seabed and then listening as they reflect back up to the ship.

cartoon of MBES
On the Nancy Foster, the Multibeam Echo Sounder sends down 512 sonic beams and listens as they return. Image courtesy of NOAA

This is very similar to the way a topographic (topo) map represents the three-dimensional features (mountain and valleys) of the land above water.  Instead of using contour lines to show variations in relief, MBS uses color to depict the bathymetry (submarine topography)  Red shows the shallowest areas, purple the deepest.

Another important element of the MBES for the fish researchers is called backscatter.  This byproduct of the sonar action wasn’t always collected.  Not until advances in technology allowed for an understanding of how to gather useful information from the backscatter did technicians realized how valuable it can be.  Backscatter is the amount of acoustic energy being received by the sonar after it is done interacting with the seafloor.  It is now recognized that the information from backscatter can determine substrate type.  Different types of substrate will “scatter” the sound energy differently. For example, a softer bottom such as mud will return a weaker signal than a harder bottom, like rock.

Layering together the multibeam data (which provides seafloor depth information and is computed by measuring the time that it takes for the signal to return to the sonar) with the backscatter, provides information which is especially helpful to fish researchers as it can assist them in classifying habitat type.  This allows them to know where they might find the species of fish they are looking to study.

Engine Room

Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, toured Camy and I through the engine room.  It was overwhelming how many wires, cranks, moving parts and metal pieces there were.  Tim and the other engineers are brilliant.  I can not fathom what it takes to keep this 187 foot ship going with it’s multiple cranes, winches, engines, thrusters, small boats, air conditioners, toilets, kitchen appliances, etc.

I was most interested in the water systems.  The ship makes all its own drinking water since salt water is non-potable and it would take a lot of storage space to carry fresh water (space its tight on a ship!)  They have two systems.  One is a reverse osmosis system which, using lots of pressure, moves sea water through a membrane to remove the salts.  This system produces 1500 gallons of potable water a day. The second one is a flash distiller.  In this system, seawater is heated by the engine and then pumped into a vacuum chamber where it is “flashes” into water vapor which is condensed and collected.  The distilling system makes 1800 gallons a day aboard the Nancy Foster.  Distillers, in some form, have been used on ships since the 1770s.

The other thing that caught my attention was the sewage treatment system.  Earth Campers, this one is a bit smaller than the one we toured!

 

sewage treatment "plant"
sewage treatment “plant”

Of course, I also took a ride out in one of the small boats to assist the divers.  Sometimes all I do is fill out the dive log and pull the buoys back into the boat but I really enjoy being out in the open ocean, feeling the sea spray in my face and watching the light move across the top of the water.

Amy on boat
I always am happy to get out on the little boats!

Mexican Train

This week Tim has been coming around every now and then wearing his Domino King’s crown and cape, reminding us all to come challenge him to a game of Mexican Train (a fun dominos game).

Mexican Train
Mexican Train is played by building runs on each others dominoes. There has been some fun and some definite sassy times.

 

Tim has won every tournament game on the Nancy Foster in the last three months and has the bling to show for it! Then tonight, to the surprise of all, one of the scientists, Mike, dethroned the king!  This was the first time ever that a member of the science team has won the championship game.

SUNDAY:

Today was a fairly quiet day.  Not too much science was done except setting out a few more fish traps.

The big news was that we steamed back to Key West and made a science crew change.  We said goodbye to Jason, Lance & the ROV as well as Sean, Brett, Linh, Alejandro, Ariel, Ben and Camy.  They will all be missed.  Be sure you see Camy’s Miami Herald news articles–the first: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2113805.html); and second: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2500074.html)

New Scientists

We welcomed aboard NOAA’s Mary Tagilareni, Deputy Superintendent for Operations & Education and Beth Dieveney, Deputy Superintendent for Science & Policy as well as Lonny Anderson, our new dive master.  From the FWC, Bill Sympson, Biological Scientist, as well as our conch biologists Bob Glazer, Associate Research Scientist and Einat Sandbank, Biological Scientist.

Ship Propeller 

Also while in port, a few of the crew dived under the ship to check for any calcium carbonate secreting critters that may be growing on the transducer.  While down there, they found some lobster pot line that had caught on the propeller.

Sam dives under ship
Samantha Martin, Senior Survey Technician, is seen here diving to remove the lobster pot line. Again and again I was incredibly impressed with the NOAA crew. Their skill set was so vast. Sam not only runs the multibeam system but also dives, loads the small boats on & off the ship, drives the small boats and just about anything that needs done. This was the same for all the crew members. Photo taken by Sam’s diving buddy, the Commanding Officer, LCDR Jeff Shoup.

More Dolphins

To end the evening, a pod of dolphins can by again and Ensign Conor Maginn caught this video.

WORD OF THE DAY:  Extirpated

BONUS QUESTION:  Tell me about any Sonoran Desert species which were once being listed as Threatened or Endangered (or were being considered to be listed) and then had their populations recover.

Answer to the quiz from the last blog:  Lion Fish are INVASIVE.

IMG_7087

Amy Orchard: Day 4, 5 & 6 – Tagging, Gumby suit, Lion Fish Dish and Fort Jefferson, September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve North & South sections: Tortugas Bank
Date: September 17, 18, 19, 2014

Weather, September 19, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 35’ 07’’N Longitude 83° 01’ 09’’W
Broken clouds, clear.
Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.2° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

CLICKING ON THE SMALL PHOTOS WILL ENLARGE THEM & REVEAL HIDDEN TEXT.

WEDNESDAY:

Resetting Traps

We did not have great success with the shrimp bait.  Guess these fish prefer their shrimp au naturel where as we gave them cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp.  This morning we set out again in the small boats so the divers could re-bait the traps with squid instead.

Ariel the Scientist
Finally Ariel looks much more like a scientist now that she has a pen in her pocket!

Safety on the ship

Safety always comes first on the Nancy Foster.  We have had briefings on safety, we wear hard hats while the cranes are moving, we wear closed toe shoes (except when in the shower) and we have had fire drills & first aid emergency drills.  Today we had an abandon ship drill.  First we each arrived at our muster stations (our assigned place to meet), then we climbed into our Survival Suits (nicknamed the Gumby suit.)  This is made of very thick neoprene, probably 7-9 millimeters thick, and covers you from head to toe to fingertips.  It is meant to keep you safe from hypothermia if you were overboard for a long period of time.

After wriggling back out, we went to find our assigned life raft.  There are 6 rafts which each hold 25 people.  There is enough bunk space on the ship for 37 people, so there are plenty of life rafts for all.  Three rafts sit on each side of the ship so even if the ship was under water listing to one side, we could still access enough rafts for all.

In addition to the Survival Suit, Nick thought he would be safer being more visible so he wore a few extra items to ensure his safety!

Nick fuzzy hat w/ bow & cool googles
Nick has a horde of awesome hats. Keep your eyes peeled for more.

Dancing with the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Part of each day has been spent looking underwater with the Remotely Operated Vehicle piloted by Lance Horn and Jason White from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another partner in this 14-day collaboration)

ROV pilots
Lance Horn and Jason White are geniuses with the Remotely Operated Vehicle. There are lots of very highly technical parts to this equipment and they do it all – and they do it well.

I will be sharing lots more information about the ROV in an upcoming post.  Today I wanted you to see who else besides scientists are curious about the ROV (the large instrument with the yellow top you see in the video here)

THURSDAY:

Fish Surgery

We checked traps again this morning and had success with the squid.  The dive teams will perform surgery today!  The surgery only takes about 10 minutes, which may seem quick, but since they are underwater at a depth of about 100 feet, they must work quickly so as to not run out of their air supply.  One scientist (usually Paul Barbera, FWC Associate Scientist – who they call the Fish Whisperer) will hold the fish steady while another will make the incision, insert the acoustic transmitter and then stitch up the incision. The stitches will dissolve in about a week or two.  The acoustic transmitter (fish tag) will last 2-5 years.  Life span of the tag is determined by it’s battery life.  The smaller tags (for smaller fish) can last 2 years and the larger tags (for larger fish) will work for about 5 years.  This allows the scientists to gather information on the same fish for multiple years, giving them a really good idea of their seasonality – or the fish’s movements between different areas, both protected an unprotected.

fish tags
Acoustic Transmitters – Fish Tags which will be surgically placed in the fish at a depth of about 100 feet. Here you can see the smaller ones are about 4 cm and the larger 6.5 cm

This footage was not shot during our cruise, but Ben Binder, FWC Biological Scientist, shared this video with me describing the surgery process.  Here you will see two scientists who are aboard the Nancy Foster with me.  Paul is securing the fish and Mike McCallister, FWC Biological Scientist, is performing the surgery.  They are working with a Lion Fish here.

Placing the fish tag is just one part of the process of collecting the data the scientists are hoping to gather.  The second part is to place an instrument which can read the acoustic transmitter as it swims past (within the fish of course!)  Danielle Morley, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, and I worked to prepare some previously used acoustic receivers.  Each of the 90 receivers the FWC have placed in the waters off the Florida Keys costs about $2500.  Therefore, used receivers are reprogrammed, repainted with anti-fouling paint and used again.  Anti-fouling paint makes it very difficult for animals like barnacles to build their calcium carbonate skeletons on the receiver’s exposed top.  The receivers are made up of a hydrophone, a circuit board and a battery.  I replaced the batteries and cleaned up the O rings.  The O rings are extremely important as they ensure the capsule is completely water-proof and can be submerged in ocean water for a year at a time.

After a year, the batteries need replaced and the data needs retrieved.  Today, the divers will retrieve 6 acoustic receivers on Riley’s Hump and replace them with those we reprogrammed.  This is footage of our divers (Jeff, Sean and Colin) making the swap.  Thanks to Cammy Clark, the Miami Herald reporter, who dived down about 100 feet to capture the action.

FRIDAY:

Trap Retrieval

Over the last 5 days, there have been 65 dives and 3 surgeries performed.  The scientists deem this as very successful trip.  Additionally, all divers returned safely to the ship after each dive!  This morning the divers are retrieving the traps, which like the receiver stands are allowed by a special permit from the FKNMS.  Even if conditions did not allow us to get the traps and they needed to stay at the bottom, no fish would be caught for very long.  Each trap is closed with a zinc clip that will dissolve after a week or two.

Zinc Clips
Zinc clips keep the traps closed, but only temporarily. They dissolve after a week or two allowing any fish to escape if a trap has to be abandoned due to weather or other conditions.

The large fish we are trapping can easily stay down in a trap that long.  But today, the weather allowed us to retrieve the traps.

Along with the traps, Ben and Ariel brought five Lion Fish Pterois volitans back up.

 

Lion Fish are not naturally found here.  They are native to the Indo-Pacific.  It has not been determined exactly how they got to the area but they are very popular for home aquariums.  However, since they are voracious predators, after eating all their other aquarium fish, people have been dumping them in the Atlantic Ocean for decades.  It was decided that efforts to eradicate the species would be futile since they are prolific breeders, have no natural predators and have been found in extremely deep waters where it would be unfeasible to reach them.  Instead, there are large efforts to manage their populations in certain areas.

One does need to be extremely careful as they have venomous spines – 13 along the top (dorsal spines) and 3 along the bottom (anal spines)  The pain they inflict & the reaction people can have when stung sounds very similar to the bark scorpion.

 

I found out they are SUPER tasty!  Especially since Bob Burroughs, 2nd Cook and Lito LLena, Chief Steward prepared them as ceviche – my favorite.

 

Fort Jefferson

In the afternoon we got a special treat.  We left the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ferried over to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park for a tour and some snorkeling.  One can only reach the fort by boat or sea plane.  It was built between the years 1846 and 1875 as a way to claim the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.  It never saw battle, mostly because it’s fire power was so massive that no one wanted to go up against it!

 

Even though I have been able to travel out into the open ocean on the small boats each day, it was SO GOOD to actually get into the water and snorkel around.  So many amazing things to see and take photos of.

 

There were many jelly fish (mostly Moon Jellies) and we all got stung a lot, but the underwater scenery was well worth it.

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and tell me how the LION FISH and the GILA MONSTER are similar!

Answer to my last post:  It was a DOLPHIN.  The Common Bottlenose Tursiops truncatus

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

Also, the definition of RECIPROCITY is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

I have been so impressed with the seamless collaboration between the crew & science team as well as the different agencies within the science team.  Everyone gives of themselves so freely for the main goal of the scientific mission.

Amy Orchard: Day 1, 2 and 3 – Cool Scientists, Multibeam, Setting Traps, Cetaceans, September 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Riley’s Hump: Tortugas Ecological Reserve South
Date: September 14, 15, 16, 2014

Weather: September 16, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 30’ 30’’N Longitude 83° 09’ 9’’W
Few clouds, clear.  Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (83° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.4° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

SUNDAY:

Getting to Know the Nancy Foster

Scott Donahue, Science Coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Chief Scientist for this cruise, brought me aboard and gave me a tour of the Nancy Foster early in the day.  Also there was Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, who I had met on the plane from Atlanta to Key West.  I was overwhelmed with the capacity of the ship.  It is huge and fully equipped for a wide variety of scientific endeavors, diving, mapping, surveying, launching large equipment etc.  I feel lucky to be a part of what is going on.

Click on these two photos for more information

Short Jaunt into Key West

After taking some time to see Key West, I headed back to the ship where I met Cammy Clark from the Miami Herald who will be with us for one week reporting on our experience. Cammy and I spent the night on the ship awaiting the science team to arrive early tomorrow morning.  The ship is in dock so I can’t yet be sure if I will suffer from sea sickness.  However, I hear that there is 100% survival rate if it does occur!

Click on these two photos for more information

MONDAY:

Meeting the Scientists

During the two weeks aboard, I will be working with 10 scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 7 NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary scientists and 2 ROV pilots from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  I am excited to be a part this interagency collaboration.  Seems like an efficient way to communicate and share experiences.

Guess which photo shows the scientists I will be working with…

Answer:  PHOTO ON THE RIGHT.  FWC scientists from left to right: Mike McCallister, Jeff Renchen,Danielle Morley, Ariel Tobin (in front), Ben Binder, Paul Barbera.  Not as reserved or stodgy as you might picture a group of scientists, but they are incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to their work.  They are unbelievably cool people!  They have amazing stories to tell, are easy-going and love to have a good time.  I want to be like them when I grow up!

Preparing to Do Science

One of the many things we will do this week is tagging fish.  To do this, we will travel away from the ship on small boats to set fish traps.  Once the right fish are contained, the dive team will surgically insert an acoustic tag which will allow them to monitor the fish’s movements throughout different reaches of the sanctuary.  This information is important to see the effectiveness of protected areas vs. non-protected areas.

The divers perform this surgery underwater (usually at depths of 95-110 feet) in order to reduce stress on the fish and to avoid air bladder expansion.

Today the divers went out to practice their diving skills before the intense work begins.  I got to travel with them in the small boat.  Even though I am certified to SCUBA dive, only American Academy of Underwater Sciences divers and other divers with official reciprocity are allowed to dive off NOAA ships.  (reciprocity is the word of the day – look it up!)  The diving these scientists do is much more technical than the recreational diving I do in Mexico, but they enjoy it just as much.

Best note of the day:  No sea sickness!  (yet)

dive boat being lowered
The 4 small boats sit on the back deck of the ship and are lowered over the side with a large crane. Once the boat is on the water, we climb down a rope ladder (which is swinging ferociously in the waves!)

me on the small dive boat
The Nancy Foster has four small boats. Three for dive operations and one reserved as a rescue boat. It was exciting to have a different perspective and to see the Nancy Foster out at sea from the small boat. Photo by Linh Nugyen

TUESDAY:

Multibeam Sonar

Last night was the first night I slept on the ship while it was out to sea.  I had a really hard time sleeping as I would awaken every half hour feeling as if I were going to roll over and fall out of my top bunk!  This movement was due to the fact that science is being done aboard the Nancy Foster 24 hours a day.  During the night time, Nick Mitchell and Samantha Martin, the Survey Technicians, are running the Multibeam Sonar which determines ocean depth and creates a map of the sea floor contours.  Using 512  sonic beams, sound is emitted, bounces off the sea bed, then returns to the ship.

See these videos for more information:  http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/staff/education_animations.htm

The ship would travel out about 3 miles, then turn 180° to make the next pass.  Cruising at about 1 mile every 10 minutes (walking speed) we were turning about every 30 minutes, explaining my rockn’ night!

More on MSB in upcoming posts.

Click on these two photos for more information

Setting Fish Traps

I joined the divers on the small boat to set out the first two traps.  We used cooked and peeled shrimp as bait.  The traps were still empty late afternoon.  Let’s hope they take the shrimp so the tagging can begin!

modified chevron trap
Here sits the modified chevron trap Ben and I will be deploying from our small boat. Divers on a second small boat will follow us, dive down and be sure the trap sits on the ocean floor upright and will set the bait.

trap over board
I am making sure the rope which attaches the float buoys to the trap doesn’t get caught on the boat as the fish trap is deployed into the water. Photo by Nick Mitchell

Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set.  Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve?
Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set. Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve? Need help? Go to http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

We are focusing on two species during this trip: the Black Grouper and the Cubera Snapper.  These two were selected because they are commercially and recreationally important species.  The FWC’s aim is to monitor the seasonal movement of these species to better understand how the fishes are utilizing the protected areas, as well as those outside of the reserve, so they can make the best management decisions.

I will attach photos of each species that will be taken from the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in my next blog since this one is getting long…

Challenge Your Understanding

Identify this animal.

I took this photo and video on day 1.  We have seen them each day since!

cetaceans jumping
Am I a porpoise, dolphin or vaquita?

The species in my photo/video is part of the Order Cetacea and the suborder Odontoceti (or toothed whales) which includes the porpoises , dolphins, vaquitas, narwhals and killer whales (to name only a few – there are 67 species in this suborder.)

Go to this website to help you find the correct answer

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and share some information you have found about the VAQUITA.

Cool fact – all members of Odontoceti can echolocate.

Junior Docents – add that to your bat interpretations!

The question from my last post about the relationship between Tucson and the Sea of Cortez could be answered with all of the first four answers.  Glad NO ONE chose the last answer!  The sea is an integral part of our lives no matter how far we live from it.

Amy Orchard: Headed Out to Sea! September 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
(Soon to Be) Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Survey (Cubera Snapper and Black Grouper)
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: September 5, 2014

Pre-Trip Introduction

Greetings from the sunny Sonoran Desert.  My name is Amy Orchard and I live in Tucson, Arizona, USA.  This is a wonderful time of the year to be in the desert.  Although the day-time temperatures can soar into the 100’s (100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C) the monsoon rains are falling and the desert is lush with many hues of green.  Plants that appear to be dead most of the year have sprung alive with a bounty of leaves.  Below is a close up of one of my favorites, the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)  If you look closely you can see that the stem itself has some green on it as well, this is how they photosynthesize when there isn’t enough water to support leaf growth.

Foquieria splendens - Ocotillo
Desert monsoon rains bring to life plants that appear to be dead the rest of the year. Zoom in to see the chlorophyll present in the STEM of the plant which allows it to photosynthesis when it is too dry to support leaf growth.

I am lucky enough to have my dream job!  Actually, I work two jobs, and both are dreamy.  On the side, for fun and for my personal growth, I teach yoga.  Most of my students are Middle School aged, but I teach K-adult as well.  Yoga is a great way to chill out, become strong and learn to be flexible (physically and mentally.)

My full-time job, the one that opened up this wonderful opportunity to be a Teacher At Sea with NOAA, is as an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It is an amazing place that is all at once a museum, a zoo, a botanical garden, an art institute and an aquarium.  We only display plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert Region.  This makes it a very unique place.  I work with live animals such as tarantulas, snakes, hawks, tortoises, toads, porcupines and skunks.

 

Mephitis macroura - Hooded Skunk
Do not worry! He is de-scented.

I also work closely with the wildest of all animals – teenagers!  I run the youth programs at the museum including our Earth Camp summer expeditions and the teen volunteer program – the Junior Docents.  I love working with students in middle school and high school.  They are so curious about the world around them and have a passion to work towards protecting it for the future.  They are eager to learn through my adventures on-board the Nancy Foster.  I will challenge them to increase their understanding of the natural world by providing a “Challenge Your Understanding” section at the end of my posts.  (Prizes for anyone who answers ALL of my questions while on board!)  Feel free to take the challenge questions yourself, even if you aren’t a wild teenager.

Earth Campers at Arches National Park
This rugged group of teens and I traveled the Western United States exploring the issue of water use. We hiked, backpacked, river rafted and drove many, many miles through the beautiful, open lands of Arizona and Utah.

I will miss my family while I am gone.  They are the coolest people on earth… well the Earth Campers and Junior Docents I have worked with over the last 15 years are superbly awesome as well, but my family takes the cake!  I’m not exactly sure that my daughters will miss me very much.  They are busy on their own adventures.  Sonora, my oldest, is in China for 4 months teaching English.  Naomi, a Junior in High School, is attending an Environmental Stewardship boarding school in Northern WI called Conserve School until Christmas.  I hope they will find time to follow my blogs!  And I hope my poor husband will get along without his three ladies to keep him entertained.

Orchard Family
We aren’t always this nicely dressed. We are most often found in biking, hiking or rafting gear.

I am thrilled to have been selected to be a Teacher At Sea.  There were nearly 200 applications this season and only 24 of us were chosen.  It seems like a miracle they picked me.  However it came about, I couldn’t be more honored.  I love learning new things and cannot imagine all the knowledge I will gather aboard my 14-day scientific cruise.  Even though I live in the desert, I am very interested in ocean acidification, sea level rise and melting glaciers.  I understand that the changes happening to our climate affect all of us, no matter how far in-land we live.  I look forward to understanding more about changes in fish populations and coral reef health from my time about the Nancy Foster using ROVs and multi-beam sonar to survey fish populations.  I will be eager to take my new knowledge back to Tucson and enhance the way we share our new aquarium and information about the oceans with the 50,000 visitors to our museum.

You may be wondering why we have an aquarium at a desert museum!  Check out the map below to understand that we have sharks and sea stars in our desert!  It is a part of our landscape, weather systems and culture.  That leads me into the my first Challenge-Your-Understanding question.

Sonoran Desert Region Map
The Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is sandwiched right in the middle of our desert.

Challenge Your Understanding

(mark any that apply)

Bonus Points to anyone who adds a comment and defines the word ENDEMIC!

Daniel Rivera: First Day Meeting the Crew, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard Research Vessel Fulmar

July 16 – 24, 2014

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS)

Geographical Area: Spud Point Marina; Bodega Bay CA.

Date: July 16, 2014

Weather Data from the bridge: N/A (day at port)

 

Science and Technology Log:

This trip is part of an ongoing mission called Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS ) that monitors the ecosystem health of the northern California National Marine Sanctuaries. To determine the health of the ecosystem, scientists collect water samples, perform net tows, and monitor the number and behavior of organisms (birds, mammals, turtles, ships, and marine debris) along predetermined routes, called transects.  A map of the transects we will cover this trip can be found in the picture below.

Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise
Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise
Caption: The red lines are the transects, the path the ACCESS cruise takes in order to collect samples and monitor organisms.

The vessel used on the ACCESS cruise is called the R/V Fulmar, a 67-foot boat that has been used by NOAA for the past 8 years. The boat has enough sleeping room for 6 scientists and 2 crew. Read more about it here http://www.sanctuarysimon.org/regional_sections/fulmar/.

Personal Log:

Where to begin? I guess the most logical place to start is on shore, when I first meet up with Jan Roletto–the cruise leader for our trip–at the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, Crissy Field office in San Francisco. The cruise leader is responsible for the logistics of the trip: who’s on board, emergency contacts, what transects we will monitor, the ports we will visit, and a host of other responsibilities once we actually leave land. What’s interesting about this cruise is that it’s a collaborative monitoring effort between three groups: The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science, all local to the Bay Area. The three groups take turns being the cruise leader; this trip the cruise leader is from the Gulf of the Farallones; the next cruise leader will be from Cordell Bank.

Once we load up our vehicles with the equipment needed for the cruise, we drive the roughly 1.5 hours north to Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, CA. This is where I first catch sight of our vessel, the R/V Fulmar, and this is where mob (or mobilization) happens, which is short for saying loading all the gear onto the boat. (When we come back to shore on the last day, we will demob, or demobilize.)

Once everything is loaded on board I settle in to my cozy bunk below the bridge, the command center of the ship. On either side of the bridge there is a small set of stairs that leads to a bunk room; I’m staying to the left of the bridge, sleeping on the top bunk. Slightly bigger than a bunk bed from childhood, but without the rails, I wonder if I will fall to the floor during the trip. Not only would the fall hurt, but my bunk sits precariously next to an emergency escape hatch, which one must use a metal ladder to access. So, not only would I fall to the floor because of no railing, but I would almost certainly hit the metal ladder on the way down. Note to self: don’t move while sleeping.

Bunk Beds on the R/V Fulmar
Don’t fall off the top bunk unless you want to bang into the emergency escape ladder.

The main deck has a two-room kitchen, a work center for all the computers on board, a dining area that turns into a king-sized bed, three additional bunk beds, and a bathroom that is surprisingly roomy for a boat—I have many friends who would gladly exchange their bathroom for the Fulmar’s. The back of the boat contains a deck and winch for deployment of nets, divers, etc., and the front of the boat there is an observation deck with an anchor hanging in front. On the top deck there is a container with 20 immersion suits (flotation suits that keep you warm in the event of an abandon ship), a host of observation seats, and secondary controls for the movement of the ship. Underneath the main deck is where the twin engines await to propel us out into the deep blue sea.

After many introductions to the rest of the crew, a nice dinner at a local restaurant, and many stories of what to expect, we each head to bed around 10pm to ensure a good night’s rest for the first day at sea. 

Did you know? If you hear 7 short rings of the bell/horn followed by one long ring, you better get a move on to the immersion suit: this is the call for abandon ship!

Question of the Day? The California Current is one of four that makes up the North Pacific Gyre. What other 3 currents complete this gyre?

New Term/Phrase/Word: mob and demob

Something to Think About:  The more you eat while on a cruise, the less seasick you will become, which is counterintuitive.

Challenge Yourself: What kind of clothing do you think you’ll need to comfortably engage in a 9-day monitoring cruise at sea?

Jamie Morris: Diving, Driving, and NOAA Corps, April 28, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Monday, April 28, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 2 feet
Air Temperature: 72.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 71.0ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The water wasn’t as smooth today as it was yesterday, but the divers still were very successful.  One fish survey was completed today.  A few dives were made to check shackles on the anchors of a receiver and to retrieve a railroad tie at one of the receiver sites.  The divers also began the Marine Debris Surveys today.  A total of 6 surveys were conducted.  Five of the six groups were able to find the marking pin.  Those sites had no marine debris.  The sixth site could not find the marking pin and therefore were not able to fully complete the survey.  The divers did find a lot of fishing line at this site, which they removed.

Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location. Photo: Sarah Webb
Divers use the diagrams to locate the Marine Debris Survey location.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Sarah Webb
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Fishing line embedded in invertebrates. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Fishing line embedded in invertebrates.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

The weather is forecasted to start turning tomorrow.  The divers are scheduled to complete morning dives, but most likely will not be able to complete afternoon dives due to poor weather.  In the morning, Lauren and Hampton will complete one fish survey and one marine debris survey.  The second boat will have Katie, Richard, Sarah Webb, and Randy.  This group will conduct two marine debris surveys.  Hopefully they will be able to get the dives in tomorrow, but safety comes first.

Over the past week I have been talking to all the crew members learning about their different jobs.  There are basically several groups on the ship.  There is the scientific party.  This group conducts different research on the ship.  These groups are constantly changing and are the guests of the ship.  The permanent groups are the Commissioned Officers, Engineering Department, Deck Department, Survey Department, and the Stewards.  All the departments are incredibly important and play vital roles in the operation of the ship.  The Commissioned officers are in charge of the movements of the ship.  The Engineering department controls the mechanical aspects of the ship.  The Deck Department operates the cranes and maintains the small boats.  The scientific and electronic equipment is controlled by the Survey Department and the Stewards keep all the crew well nourished.  (For a more detailed description of these roles, please visit the GRNMS website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/log_04242014.html )

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak and Junior Officer ENS Conor Maginn

Today I want to focus on the Commissioned Officers.  The Commissioned Officers are members of the NOAA Corps.  NOAA Corps members can be found on the 19 NOAA Ships and 12 NOAA Aircraft.  They can be found working on projects on the land, in the air, and at sea.  The NOAA Corps was originally established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 with the responsibility of surveying the coasts.  Today the NOAA Corps works in a variety of fields including oceanography, fisheries, engineering, earth sciences, and meteorology.  NOAA Corps provide the leadership and operational support to meet NOAA’s mission of surveying the Earth’s oceans, coasts, and atmosphere to ensure the economic and physical well-being of the Nation.

All NOAA Corps officers hold at least a baccalaureate degree, preferably in science or engineering.  All officers must have completed at least 48 semester hours in science, math, or engineering coursework and must have completed college level calculus and physics.  Other requirements include passing a mental and physical as well as a background check.  You also must be able to complete 20 years of active commissioned service before your 62nd birthday.

Each new NOAA Corps officer must complete an initial training program that lasts about 5 months.  The NOAA Corps now conducts this program with the US Coast Guard.  During this training officers learn about maritime activities such as navigation, ship handling, and emergency and rescue procedures.  The training also teaches the officers about military procedures such as marching, drills, and the military ranks, structures and protocols.  After completing the training, NOAA Corps members continue their training aboard a ship.  This training lasts around 12 to 15 months.  During this time the new officer is trained by the experienced officers.  After the training period, the new officer must pass a test to demonstrate mastery of the necessary skills.  Some ships do this as an oral test format where the officers ask the new officer how to they would handle certain situations.  On the Nancy Foster, a life ring is thrown overboard and the new officer has to retrieve it.  This simulates a Man Overboard.  After the new officer passes the test they earn a permanent position on the ship.  This position will last between 2 to 3 years.  Officers are reassigned positions every 2 to 3 years.  They rotate between ship and land based positions.  Land based positions can include working at NOAA Labs, Marine Sanctuaries, and NOAA Administrative offices.

Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship's path on paper.    ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.
Even though the ship documents all the movements electronically, it is very important to still record the ship’s path on paper. ENS Felicia Drummand records the location.

For more information on the NOAA Corps, please visit: http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/

I honestly did not know that the NOAA Corps existed until this trip.  I really wished I had known about it earlier, not only for myself, but for my students.  I do hope that my former and current (as well as future) students consider looking

into the NOAA Corps.  It is a wonderful way to serve your country while still working with the sciences.

 

Did You Know?

There are seven uniformed services in the United States.  These include the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, NOAA Corps, and the Public Health Service.

 

Personal Log

I had one of the most fun experiences last night.  I went up to the bridge to get the weather data as well as watch the sunset.  Executive Officer LCDR Mark Blankenship and Junior Officer Ensign Conor Maginn were on duty.  The ship was recording acoustics for the Fish Acoustics project.  To do this, the ship makes several short passes over a specific area.  The ship was set on autopilot to complete this task.  ENG Maginn would make small adjustments to keep the ship on the desired path.  As soon as the acoustics survey was complete, XO Blankenship asked if I wanted to drive the ship.  They took the ship off autopilot and I drove for an hour.  I had to steer it into the wind for a while so that the survey technician could fill the dive compressor which is used to fill the SCUBA tanks and then I had to steer around some sailboats. I ended by getting the ship back to the site that they ended the sonar mapping from the previous night.

It was very difficult.  When driving the ship, you cannot rely on simply looking out the window (this is especially true in the dark).  There are many tools and computers that you need to utilize.  There are five different monitors you have to look at plus the rudder position and the compass.  The rudder is controlled by a switch.  It took me a while to learn how to keep the ship in a specific position.  It is not like a car that will keep in a straight line.  You constantly need to be move the rudder.  Luckily, I had ENS Maginn guiding me.  He was an excellent teacher.

The switch used to control the rudder.
The switch used to control the rudder.

This is the monitor used to control the ship's movements.
This is the monitor used to control the ship’s movements.

Driving the ship was the one thing that I told my students I really wanted to do.  When I told them that, I thought that there would be a steering wheel.  I was very shocked not to find one.  Rather, the ship feels like you are controlling a video game.  It is controlled using switches, knobs, and joysticks.  You move the rudder with a switch that rotates almost 180°.

The ship's controls.  No longer do you move a steering wheel.  Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.
The ship’s controls. No longer do you move a steering wheel. Instead there are knobs, buttons, and joysticks.

 

Additional Photos

 

Sunset on the Nancy Foster Photo: ENS Conor Maginn
Sunset on the Nancy Foster
Photo: ENS Conor Maginn

Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Horse Conch slowly crawling across the sand.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

Jackknife Fish trying to hide. Photo: Richard LaPalme
Jackknife Fish trying to hide.
Photo: Richard LaPalme

Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS Photo: Richard LaPalme
Greater Amberjack swimming in GRNMS
Photo: Richard LaPalme

 

Jamie Morris: Successful Dives and a Mystery Visitor, April 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 0-1 feet
Air Temperature: 71.1ºF
Seawater Temperature: 70.2ºF
 

Science and Technology Log

The dive operations on the Nancy Foster have continued to progress.  The Fish Telemetry Project has been very successful.  All the receivers that needed replacing have been replaced and Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman has downloaded the data.  She has run into a small delay in identifying many of the fish because the database with the microchip numbers has not been updated.  Right now we know that there have been several mystery visitors to GRNMS.  Hopefully the identities of these fish will be revealed soon.  It is exciting to see where these fish have traveled from.  The dive team continues to work on this project by servicing the other receivers in the water.  They dive to the receivers and try to clean off any organism growing on receivers as well as make sure that the receivers are still securely attached to their anchors.  There are currently 18 receivers in GRNMS.  The receivers are replaced every 4 to 6 months, depending on the location.

Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver. Photo: Sarah Webb
Jared Halonen and Richard LaPalme replace the receiver.
Photo: Sarah Webb

The Fish Acoustics project is also progressing very well.  Lauren Hessemann is the team’s fish ID expert.  She continues to make about 4 dives a day to six specific sites.  She needs to record each site twice.  The ship than travels to these sites and records the acoustics (fish noises).  Lauren is always accompanied by a second diver who is tasked with filming the fish.  A scientist will use Lauren’s data and the video to compare it to the acoustics that were recorded from these sites.

The divers have reported seeing many interesting animals.  The team has observed seven sea turtles, all floating at the surface.  Many curious black seabass have been seen.  These fish like to investigate and will swim very close to the divers.  The divers have reported that if you look behind you while swimming, many times a small school of black seabass are following.  Some usual sightings have included several guitarfish and many Jackknife fish.  So far there have not been any Lionfish sightings.  It is believed that the cold winter has prevented their migration to GRNMS.

Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water
Sea turtle resting at the surface of the water Photo: Amy Rath

An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole.
An Oyster Toadfish hides in a hole. Photo: Richard LaPalme

I have been able to go out on two different dive boats.  I am not able to get in the water, but I have been able to assist from the surface.  At the surface I help the divers get in and out of the boat, keep the dive and projects logs, as well as assist with the site markers.  Site markers are small anchors attached to a buoy with a long rope.  These markers need to be dropped at precise GPS locations.  They are used by the divers to find the specific location for the assigned tasks.  It is very important to have accurate drops.  Many times divers are looking for specific objects or very precise locations.  The marker is what they use to find these items.

Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.
Lauren Hessemann prepares to drop the dive marker.

An excellent placement of the dive marker. Photo: Hampton Harbin
An excellent placement of the dive marker.
Photo: Hampton Harbin

I have had the opportunity to sail with two different coxswains.  A Coxswain is a person who is in charge or steers a boat.  Yesterday I was with coxswain Jim Pontz.  Jim is an Able Seaman on the Nancy Foster.  Today I was with Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio.  Carmen has been a NOAA Corps member for a year and a half.  Both Jim and Carmen explained the role of the coxswain during dives.  The coxswain will drive the divers out to their dive site, but their role does not end there.  They need to accurately place the dive marker.  They then assist the divers getting into the water.  Once the divers are in the water, the coxswains must be extremely vigilant.  They need to keep a constant eye on the diver marker buoy.  This lets the coxswain know the general area that the divers will be located in.  If it is a calm day with small waves and low currents, this part is easy.  However, most days there is a current or there are waves which cause the dive boat to drift making it difficult to stay in a specific location.  The coxswain needs to also keep constant watch of the divers.  You are able to “see” where the divers are based on the air bubbles that reach the surface.  By tracking the bubbles, you know the path of the divers.  The coxswain needs to make sure the boat is close to the divers, but not on top of the divers.  While the divers are in the water, the coxswain serves the important role of being the diver’s lookout and ultimately their protection at the surface.  They need to stand watch for any hazards such as other boats or dangerous wildlife and they need to be ready to get the divers out of the water in the event of an emergency.

Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen  wraps up the stern line
Coxswain Carmen DeFazio drives to the dive site as Jared Halonen wraps up the stern line

Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive
Coxswain Jim Pontz and Chief Scientist returning to the Nancy Foster after a successful dive

The dives all have gone very well and the team has been progressing.  Tomorrow they will finish the receiver dives and will begin the Marine Debris Surveys.  The purpose of these surveys is to analyze the types of debris in GRNMS as well as the location of the debris.  There are nine sites that have been marked for debris surveys.  The sites have been marked with metal pins.  The survey will occur over a 50 meter distance.  The divers will swim the 50 meters and will look 2 meters to the right and left of the line.  As the divers swim they will be recording the types, amount, and the specific locations of the debris.  The normal types of debris found in GRNMS are fishing line, beer bottles, and cans.  Hopefully the divers will not see a lot of debris.

 

Did You Know?

In order to dive on a NOAA mission, divers must be NOAA Dive Certified.  This is a lengthily process that includes having a minimum of 25 previous open water dives, completing NOAA diving coursework and passing a series of tests.  NOAA has different classes of divers.  There are scientific divers and working divers.  Scientific divers can perform only scientific tasks including making observations and collecting data.  Working divers can complete construction and troubleshooting tasks under the water.

 

Personal Log

Life on the ship is always interesting.  I am constantly learning and am having a great time.  Today was particularly exciting.  At lunch time one of the dive boats was brought to the side of the Nancy Foster and was raised to the hip (the side of the ship, even with the deck, but not onboard).  The boat was being held out of the water by the crane.  Junior Officer ENS Carmen DeFazio NOAA Corps Officer with GRNMS Jared Halonen were in the boat while Sarah Fangman and I were standing on the Nancy Foster.  We were loading the dive boat with our equipment when someone spotted a large dorsal fin right next to the Nancy Foster.  The fin belonged to a shark that we estimate to be 14 feet long.  We are not certain of the species.  You can see the photo below.  It was shot through polarized sunglasses, so there is a bit of a glare.  People on the ship are guessing that it is a Great White or Bull Shark.  Photos have been sent to fish experts and we are waiting for confirmation.

The shark who decided to swim along the ship.  We are still trying to identify it.
The shark who decided to swim along the ship. We are still trying to identify it.

Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Sarah Fangman, Jared Halonen, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark
Commanding Officer LCDR Nick Chrobak, Jared Halonen, Sarah Fangman, and Amy Rath use books and the internet to try to identify the shark

Our shark friend decided to stay next to the ship, swimming back and forth hovering many times under the dive boat.  He was at the surface for about 10 minutes when it was decided to move the Nancy Foster so that the dive boat could safely be deployed.  Once we were away from the shark, the dive boat was deployed.  The four of us set off to our dive site.  We made it to the site and dropped the dive marker.  We were leaving that site to drop a second marker when we noticed a dorsal fin heading toward the first marker.  We drove toward the dorsal fin to get a better look at the shark.  It was an 8 foot long hammerhead.  After some discussion the divers, Sarah and Jared, did get into the water.  They had safe dives and did not see any more sharks.  The initial sightings of the two different sharks was exciting.

 

Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.
Sarah and Jared prepare to dive after spotting a hammerhead shark.

Additional Photos

 

Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman Photo: Amy Rath
Jamie Morris, Lauren Heesemann, and Sarah Fangman
Photo: Amy Rath

Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive. Photo: Sarah Webb
Richard LaPalme returns safely to the surface after a successful dive.
Photo: Sarah Webb

Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.
Approaching the Nancy Foster after a dive.

 

Jamie Morris: The Diving Begins, April 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 10 knots
Swell Waves: 2-3 feet
Air Temperature: 71.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 69.1ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.
Members on the Nancy Foster await the arrival of the dive team.

Last night the dive team arrived.  The team consists of Jared Halonen, Hampton Harbin, Lauren Heesemann, Richard LaPalme, Katie Mahaffey, Randy Rudd, Sarah Webb and of course Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman.  The divers quickly settled into the ship.  We then had a science meeting where diving safety and the diving tasks were discussed.  The divers than had to have their gear checked and it was loaded into the dive boats.

The dive operations began this morning.  The beautiful, calm waters from the past 2 days changed into choppy water with up to 3 foot waves.  The divers reported strong currents and a relatively large thermocline as they descend.  A thermocline is where there is a change in the temperature.  The divers reported a noticeable change in the temperature of the water as they descended.  These conditions gave the divers a bit of a challenge.

The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives
The two dive teams set off to complete their morning dives

The divers were very successful today.  They completed 2 fish acoustics surveys.  Lauren and Randy dove to two different sites.  At each site, Lauren had to identify and count all the different species of fish.  Randy had the task of filming the site and capturing images of the different fish, especially any predator-prey relationships.  They were able to see many different species of fish.  The data gathered by Lauren and Randy will be used to compare to the acoustic data that is being recorded from the ship at this location.

The other dive group was tasked with replacing the Telemetry Receivers.  In the morning this group consisted of Sarah Fangman, Randy, and Hampton.  In the afternoon, Hampton and Jared completed this task.  Together, the different dive teams were able to replace 5 receivers.

The receivers were brought on the ship and the data was downloaded to a computer.  Every time a microchipped fish swam past these receivers, the receiver recorded the information.  When the data is downloaded, you are able to see the number of the microchip from those fish and the date and time that they swam by the receiver.  Using a database of microchip numbers generated by a group of scientists along the East Coast of the United States, we are able to identify the fish that have been in the area.  From today’s data, we learned that Gray’s Reef had two visitors, an Atlantic Sturgeon in early March and Sand Tiger Shark in early April.  Both were originally tagged in Delaware.

Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog.
Jamie Morris preparing the receiver and Amy Rath writing the GRNMS blog. Photo: Sarah Webb

While the dive teams were out I kept busy on the Nancy Foster.  In the morning I helped prepare logs for the Acoustics dive team.  I also spent time at the bridge learning about the ship’s systems.  Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colin Kliewer, and Junior Officer, Ensign Conor Maginn showed me the different systems in the bridge and explained how they are able to keep the ship in a precise location using the two thrusters on the ship.

OPS  LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship's movements
OPS LT Colin Kliewer and ENS Conor Maginn controlling the ship’s movements

The Ship's Controls
The Ship’s Controls

In the afternoon I assisted Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman with the receivers that were brought on board.  Using Bluetooth, she was able to download the data from the receivers to her computer.  We then used the Microchip Data table and identified the tagged fish.  We finished the project by cleaning the receiver and preparing them to be placed back into the ocean tomorrow.  We prepared them by wrapping them in electrical tape and then placing them in nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receiver from the organisms that will grow on them.  Please see the “Before” and “After” photos below.

The Reciever Before it is placed in the water.  It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.
The Receiver Before it is placed in the water. It is wrapped with electrical tape and then placed inside nylon stockings.

This receiver was in the water for 4 months.  It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs
This receiver was in the water for 4 months. It is covered in tunicates, tube worms, and small crabs

We finished our day with a science meeting.  We discussed the dives that occurred today.  Issues, tips, and advice were shared.  We also shared the data that was discovered on the receivers as well as the animals that were seen.  Additional tasks for the diving teams were discussed including the sea turtle identification, the removal of the lionfish, and fish surveys.  After the meeting concluded the group prepared for tomorrow’s dives by filing the SCUBA tanks, programming the GPS in the boats, and finishing preparing the receivers and logs.

The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.
The divers prepare for the dives by programming the GPS, checking the gear, and loading the gear into the boat.

Did You Know?

There is a fish called the guitarfish.  This fish is a cartilaginous fish closely related to sharks and rays.  One was spotted today at GRNMS.

NOAA Photo Library Image - fish4420
Atlantic Guitarfish Photo: NOAA Photo Library Image

 

Personal Log

As of 5 pm tonight, I have been a board the Nancy Foster for one week.  I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by.  It feels like it was just yesterday that I boarded in the pouring rain, afraid to move around the ship.  It took me a while to become comfortable walking on the ship.  I am doing pretty well now, but every once in a while we hit a swell and I go flying toward the wall.  Luckily the ship has railings all over allowing you to catch yourself.  There is the rule on the ship to always have one free hand.  I completely understand this rule and use it all the time.  The most difficult places to move are going up or down in the ship.  The stairs are a combination of stairs and a ladder.   They are incredibly steep.  The most difficult part is descending.  I am getting much better at them.  I am having a wonderful experience aboard the Nancy Foster.  I have met many great people and am constantly learning.  I cannot wait to see what this next week brings.

 

Additional Photos

Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.
Lowering the dive boats in the water is a team effort.

he crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.
The crane lifts the boat, 4 members use guide ropes, and the boatswain directs the movement.

The science team meets to review that day's events and to discuss the next day's activitites
The science team meets to review that day’s events and to discuss the next day’s activitites

Jamie Morris: Time to Plan, Prepare, & Revise, April 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 7 knots
Swell Waves: 1.3 feet
Air Temperature: 68.5ºF
Seawater Temperature: 67.6ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Today was our third day at sea.  We again were very fortunate to have had beautiful weather.  We are continuing to “mow the lawn” and are creating the seafloor map.

Lowering the dive boat.  This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.
Lowering the dive boat. This is right before the Hydraulic Fluid leaked.

Since it was a relatively quiet day, the crew decided to practice launching and running two of the dive boats.  As they were lowering the first dive boat into the water one of the guide ropes snapped.  The crew worked quickly to reattach a new rope.  Once the boat was under control, the passengers boarded and they sailed away to practice marking dive locations.  A few minutes later the crew launched a second dive boat.  The boat was lowered into the water with no problems and the passengers boarded.  Right before they unhooked from the crane, the line carrying the hydraulic fluid on the crane popped off.  Hydraulic fluid shot all over. (The hydraulic fluid is biodegradable so it is safe, but a mess to clean up).

The engineers were able to work quickly to repair the crane.  Meanwhile, both dive boats went on their practice missions.  The second boat was the first to return and was reloaded onto the Nancy Foster without any problems.  The first boat, however, did not return on its own.  It ended up having engine problems.  The Nancy Foster had to stop mapping the seafloor and go retrieve the dive boat and its passengers.  What was supposed to be a quiet morning turned into an eventful one, but fortunately no one was injured.  The only causality was a boat.

We are now down to only two dive boats.  This means that a third of the planned worked might not be able to get accomplished.  Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman had to revise the mission’s plans to try to accomplish as much as we can with only two boats.  She first had to prioritize the different projects.  It was determined that the Fish Acoustics and Telemetry projects would be completed first.  The Fish Acoustics study involves two divers going to 6 specific sites.  One diver will identify and record the fish species that are present.  The other diver will be filming the animals seen.  The Telemetry teams will be replacing the receivers that are currently positioned throughout the sanctuary.  These receivers record information from micro chipped fish that swim past.  New receivers will be placed in the water and the old ones will be brought on board and the data will be uploaded onto a computer.  While these projects are being conducted, the divers will also be looking for sea turtles and Lionfish.  Data will be gathered about the sea turtles and photos will be taken.  If Lionfish are located, they will be speared and brought on board the Nancy Foster where information such as length and weight will be gathered.  Lionfish are an invasive species and need to be removed from the ecosystem.  For a detailed description of Lionfish, please visit the Mission’s Website at: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2014_nancy_foster/welcome.html Once these projects are complete, the Marine Debris Survey will begin.

Preparing the recievers.  They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.
Preparing the recievers. They are first wrapped in electrical tape and than placed inside nylon stockings.

Today we did prep for the different missions.  Sarah and I organized all the supplies that will be used.  This included filling a dive bag with the receivers and tools needed to secure the receivers under water as well as tools to remove the current receivers.  Yesterday we had prepped the receivers.  Sarah replaced the batteries and then we wrapped the receivers in electrical tape and then placed them inside nylon stockings.  This is to protect the receivers and to keep them clean.  When they are under the water different organisms will start to grow on them.  When we retrieve the receivers, we can cut away the stockings removing any organisms growing there and then unwrap the tape and the receivers will look brand new.

We also gathered the supplies for the Lionfish removal.  These included dive bags to hold the lionfish, gloves for removing the fish, and placing the spear guns into the dive holsters (designed by a GRNMS member made out of PVC pipes).  We copied all the dive logs onto waterproof paper and organized the paperwork for the dives.  We also prepared all the underwater cameras.  Hopefully we are all set for when the divers arrive tomorrow.

Spear Gun Holster
Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman models the spear gun holster.

First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.
First Assistant Engineer, Sabrina Tarabolletti, fixes the underwater lights for the GO Pro camera.

Today’s lesson was flexibility.  It is so important to be flexible.  On a ship, no plan is going to work out perfectly.  There are many uncontrollable factors such as the weather or mechanical issues.  It is important to always have backup plans and be able to adjust if problems arise.

 

Did You Know?

You can identify sea turtles using the scales on their neck.  This pattern is unique to each individual sea turtle.  Just like how fingerprints can identify humans.

 

Animals Seen Today

Hammerhead Shark – spotted from the bridge; estimated to be 10-12 feet long; it is very uncommon to see one in GRNMS (sorry no picture)

 

Personal Log

Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach.  We were working very hard in the beautiful weather
Amy Rath and I enjoyed writing our blogs on the Steel Beach. We were working very hard in the beautiful weather

I am truly having a wonderful time on this trip.  I am meeting so many amazing people and learning a lot from everyone.  The crew and all the scientific party are really nice people with many interesting stories.

Every day Keith Martin, the Electronics technician, makes Cuban coffee.  I was teasing him today about the cups he uses to pass out the coffee.  Cuban coffee is incredibly strong so you do not drink it like typical coffee.  You drink only a tiny amount.  Keith was using coffee cups to pass out the coffee.  I asked him where are the tiny cups (plastic cups about the size of the paper cups you use at fast food restaurants to get ketchup)?  He said that you can only find them in Miami.  That led to a conversation about Miami.  It turns out that he is a graduate of Miami Palmetto Senior High.  (Ms. Evans taught him Biology, Coach Delgado was his Drivers Ed teacher, Mr. Moser taught him weight training, and he was a member of TVP).  It really is a small world!

I do not know if I will be posting tomorrow, so I want to give an early shout out to my Seniors.  I hope that you have a wonderful time at Grad Bash.  Make sure to ride the Hulk for me (I prefer the 1st row).  Have fun!!

Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni Photo: Amy Rath
Me with Keith Martin the Electronics Technician who is a Miami Palmetto Alumni
Photo: Amy Rath

Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee
Sam Martin enjoying some Cuban Coffee

 

Jamie Morris: “Mowing the Lawn”, April 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Weather: Clear
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 12 knots
Swell Waves: 1-2 feet
Air Temperature: 66.2ºF
Seawater Temperature: 64.8ºF

 

Science and Technology Log

Due to rough seas, we were not able to depart on Sunday. We waited until yesterday when the waves were only 3 feet at times (much better than 8 feet on Sunday).  It took us 5 hours to travel from Savannah to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).  Once we arrived at the sanctuary, machines were calibrated and we began mapping the seafloor.  The mapping will take 3 days running 24 hours a day.  We are currently “mowing the lawn.”  We started at one end of the sanctuary and are traveling in a straight line across to the other side of the sanctuary.  Once we reach the edge of the sanctuary the ship turns around and we return to the other side slightly overlapping the previous path.  The goal is to map the entire Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS).

Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping data
Senior Survey Technician Sam monitors the seafloor mapping

The seafloor is being mapped using a multibeam sonar.  Multibeam sonar involves sending out 512 sound waves at once at different angles.  The sound waves bounce off of the seafloor and are reflected back to receivers on the ship.  There are a series of computer programs that uses the information to calculate the distance the wave traveled (depth of the ocean) and generate an image.

The scientists and technicians need to avoid errors while mapping and therefore need to account for the tides, the differences in the temperature and salinity of the water as well as sound velocity.  There are several tools and computer programs used to avoid errors and adjust any differences.  One of these tools is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Density).  The CTD is deployed off of the back of the ship.  It is sent down a cable to the seafloor.  As it descends it is gathering data and sending the data to a computer in the lab.  The scientists and technicians make adjustments to the computer programs using this data and can compensate for again changes in the water column.

CTD
Senior Survey Technician, Sam Martin, Deploying the CTD

For a detailed description of Multibeam sonar, please visit: http://graysreef.noaa.gov/science/expeditions/2013_nancy_foster/multibeam.html

Several other projects will be conducted on this mission as well, but most will not begin until Thursday when the dive team arrives.  These will include Marine Debris Surveys, Lionfish Removal, Sea Turtle data collection, and Fish Telemetry.  In preparation for these projects, a small dive boat was just deployed off the ship.  Chief Scientist, Sarah Fangman, with a few crew members went in the boat to test the marker drops.  The divers will be looking for very specific sites.  It is important to precisely mark the sites from the surface so that the divers will easily be able to find the spots or objects that they are looking for.

The Nancy Foster carries 3 small dive boats.  The boats need to be lowered into the water using the crane located at the back of the ship.  It is a group effort to deploy these boats.  A member needs to operate the crane and four others use guide ropes to assist in lowering the boat.  Once the boat is in the water, members need to crawl aboard using a rope ladder that is connected to the Nancy Foster.

A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.
A crane is used to lower the boat off of the ship into the water.

I have quickly learned that the most important skill on the ship is teamwork.  One person cannot do it all.  From safety procedures to gathering data to the general functioning of the ship, you need to work together.

 

Did You Know?

When using Sonar, extra sound waves are generated.  This was once thought to be background noise.  Scientists now call this Backscatter and can analyze this data and determine that type of seafloor bottom or the sediment that is present (sandy, rippled, hard bottom).

 

Personal Log

Earth Day Selfie
ENS Conor Magnin, LT Colin Kliewer, Me, and Amy Rath pose for an Earth Day Selfie
Photo: Amy Rath

Happy Earth Day!!! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this beautiful planet than sitting out on the deck enjoying the vast ocean.  Or by submitting a Selfie to NASA to participate in their Global Selfie Project to create an image of the earth using selfies from around the world.

I have been aboard the Nancy Foster for four days now.  I arrived in pouring rain on Friday night so I did not really get to explore the ship that night.  On Saturday, I assisted with an Open House on the Nancy Foster where the public was able to tour the ship.  Members of the GRNMS including Chief Scientist Sarah Fangman, Acting Superintendent George Sedberry, and Communications and Outreach Coordinator Amy Rath led the tours.  Financial and IT Coordinator Debbie Meeks, volunteer Marilyn Sobwick and I signed people up for the tours and discussed GRNMS, NOAA, and the upcoming mission with the public.  It was a wonderful experience being able to meet new people and introduce them to the Nancy Foster and Gray’s Reef.

I was all ready to set sail on Sunday, but the weather had different plans.  We were all boarded on the ship and the crew was making the final preparations when it was decided to postpone the trip.  The waves were 8 feet tall at Gray’s Reef.  The rough water would have made it impossible to create an accurate seafloor map.  Since that was the only task we had, the trip was postponed.

We were able to set sail yesterday.  It was a beautiful day, as it is today.  It is gorgeous outside with warm weather and calm waves.  I have found several wonderful spots to sit outside and enjoy the ocean.

Many of my students had several concerns about life on the ship.  Living on the Nancy Foster is quite comfortable.  I am staying in a four person stateroom.  Right now I am

The bunks in the stateroom
The bunks in the stateroom

sharing it with Amy who is a great roommate.  We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy. The bathroom, or Head as it is called on a ship, is down the hall.  I do feel like I’m back in college sharing a bathroom.  The Galley (or kitchen) and Mess (dining room) is directly across the hall.  As for my students who were very concerned about food – I am eating VERY well.  The Nancy Foster has 2 amazing stewards, Lito Llena and Bob Burroughs, who are wonderful chefs.  Yesterday they made a Ginger Chicken Soup that was honestly the best soup I had ever had.  Many crew members tell me that the Nancy Foster is one of the best fed ships.  I can agree.  As for entertainment, the ship has a gym, tv and games in the galley, and a Movie Room!

Movie Room
The Movie Room

The gym aboard the ship
The gym aboard the ship

Some of my students were very concerned about my safety.  NOAA Ships want to make sure everyone is prepared for any situation.  They are required to conduct weekly drills and all members aboard must participate.  We practiced what to do in a blackout situation or how to find your way if you have chemicals in your eyes.  We did this by being blindfolding and finding your way out of ship or to an eyewash station.  We also practiced an Abandon Ship drill.  We had to put on our survival suits and get to our life rafts.  I am glad we are prepared.

Survival Suit
Me in the Survival Suit.
Photo: LT Colin Kliewer

Abandon Ship Drill
Preparing to get into the survival suits during the Abandon Ship drill

 

 

Additional Photos:

Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah
Nancy Foster at dock in Savannah, GA

Leaving Savannah and heading down the river
Leaving Savannah and heading down the river

Leaving Savannah
Leaving Savannah

Sunset from the ship on April 21st.
Sunset from the ship on April 21st.

Drill
GVA Richard Odom practicing finding his way to an eye wash station without the ability to see. ENS Conor Maginn assists

Blackout Prep
ENS Carmen practicing how to evacuate the ship during a blackout.

 

Jamie Morris: Preparing to Set Sail, April 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jamie Morris
(Soon to be aboard) NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
April 19 – May 1, 2014

Mission:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Southeast Regional Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS)
Date: April 11, 2014

Personal Log

Hello. My name is Jamie Morris. I grew up on a Dairy Farm in Wisconsin. Beyond a love for animals and an appreciation for where our food comes from, I learned many lessons from the farm. I have always had a great love of nature and respect for the environment. Life on the farm has taught me how interconnected we are to all parts of the planet.

Growing up over a thousand miles from the ocean, I was never exposed to marine life. I knew about freshwater from the time I spent on the lake fishing and boating with my grandfather, but I had no idea all the wonders that the ocean has to offer. All that changed when I was in sixth grade. My English and Science teachers assigned us a project to research a marine animal. We were given a list of animals to choose from. I read through the list and being the farm girl that I am, I chose the seacow. I assumed I would like that animal since it had COW in its name. I learned that the seacow was actually the manatee. I fell in love with the manatee and that simple report sparked my interest in the ocean.

Manatee (Trichechus manatus) - The reason I became interested in Marine Science
Manatee (Trichechus manatus) – The reason I became interested in Marine Science

After falling in love with the manatee, I wanted to learn more about the oceans. I researched on my own, read books, and even attended Marine Science camps during the summers. I did not have the opportunity to see the ocean until I was in High School, but as soon as I saw it, I was drawn in. I knew that I had to study Marine Science. After graduating High School, I moved to Miami, Florida to study at the University of Miami. I was very fortunate to have amazing professors who taught me different aspects of the oceans. My professors and the University of Miami provided me with many field experience opportunities including snorkeling trips to conduct reef fish counts, studying sharks at the Shark Lab in Bimini, and conducting climate change assessments around the Straights of Florida. All these experiences further inspired my love of the ocean.

Even though I truly love the ocean, I realized my passion was for teaching. I enjoy working with students and teaching them how to apply the knowledge that they have and how to think for themselves. It is very important to teach students how to analyze the world around them and to become problem solvers. I strive to inspire my students and to ignite their curiosity in science. I am a Science Teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High School. This is my ninth school year teaching. I am currently teaching Marine Science to 175 wonderful students. I am very lucky to have a job where I can combine my two loves – the ocean and teaching. This course allows me to introduce the students to the wonders of the oceans. I especially enjoy teaching my students about conservation issues. I like to teach my students how our actions here on land can directly impact the oceans. I also like to teach them ways we can help the oceans and I hope to inspire them to make changes to help improve not only the oceans, but all parts of our planet.

My nephew Connor and I practicing our rowing skills. (Photo: Mel Meagher)
My nephew Connor and I practicing our rowing skills.
(Photo: Mel Meagher)

I am completely honored to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I am so excited to embark on this adventure. I know that the experiences I will gain will enhance my lessons and will allow me to inspire my students while providing insight into some of the current research projects in the oceans. I am a strong believer that we should never stop learning. I know that this is going to be the ultimate learning experience and will be an experience of a lifetime. I cannot wait to begin this adventure and be able to share it with my family, all my students, and anyone reading this blog.

I will be sailing on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster and will be assessing the health of the Gray’s Reef Marine Sanctuary. Gray’s Reef Marine Sanctuary is a marine protected area off the coast of Georgia. The research will involve investigating fish and invertebrate abundance and distribution, habitat and human impacts, and invasive species.

As my students were counting down the days until Spring Break and now the days until graduation, I have been counting down the days until I set sail. My excitement and anticipation are sky high. One week! All I have left to do is pack.

My adorable niece Savannah. (Photo: Linda Meagher)
My adorable niece Savannah. I cannot wait to teach her about the ocean. (Photo: Linda Meagher)

My packing assistant.  I think he wants to come too.
My packing assistant. I think he wants to come too.

Kate Trimlett: What a Difference 3 Days at Sea Makes, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate Trimlett
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 23–29, 2013

Mission: ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies) to monitor ecosystem health in the national marine sanctuaries off the central and northern California

Geographical area of cruiseGulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary & Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Date: Friday, July 26, 2013

Weather Data:

  • Wind Speed: 7.8 kts
  • Surface Water Temperature: 58.3 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Air Temperature: 55.4 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Relative Humidity: 90%
  • Barometric Pressure: 30.05 in

Science and Technology Log:

ACCESS is a project that contributes to a regional characterization and monitoring of the physical and biological components of the pelagic ecosystem of Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and northern Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.  During our cruise we are collecting data in these sanctuaries. Over the last three days I have observed and helped the ACCESS scientists collect physical, chemical, and biological properties of the water, plankton, marine mammals, and sea birds. Each of these are measured by a different ACCESS team of researchers in a different area of the research vessel, R/V Fulmar.

Plankton and water are collected and measured on the back deck of the ship.  The water is measured in a few ways.  First, a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) and Niskin are lowered into the water between 35- 200 meters depending on the location on the line and depth of the water. The CTD measures the conductivity to calculate salinity, temperature, and relative depth within the water column.  The Niskin collects a water sample at the same location as the CTD.  These water samples are to tested for pH to measure the acidity of the water.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I are collecting a surface water sample for nutrients and a phytoplankton samples for the California Department of Public Health, as part of an early warning program for harmful algal blooms that can impact the shellfish we eat.

This CTD measure conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.
This CTD measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth.

There are four different plankton collections.  The first collection is with a small hoop net (0.5 meter diameter) used to sample very small plankton, from where foraminifera will be separated later in the lab.  Foraminifera shell morphology and the oxygen isotopes of the shell are examined to investigate past and present climates and impacts of acidity on shell formation.  Next, a larger hoop net (1 meter diameter) collects samples of plankton in the upper 50 m of the water, which will be used to investigate the abundance, species, reproductive patterns, and locations.  When the research vessel was close to the end of the line and the continental shelf, the Tucker Trawl was released to collect three samples of plankton near the bottom.  When we processed these samples the majority of the organisms were krill.  Finally, Dru Devlin and I collected plankton samples 30 feet below the surface to send to the California Department of Health Services because they are interested in the presence and abundance of species that produce toxins.

Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.
Tucker trawl collects krill at depth.

On the top deck, the ACCESS observers watch for marine mammals and sea birds and call them out to the data recorder  to log the sightings into a waterproof computer.  This data will be used to relate the spatial patterns of bird and mammal distribution with oceanographic patterns and to understand the seasonal changes in the pelagic ecosystem.

These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.
These are the ACCESS observers looking for marine mammals and sea birds.

Personal Log:

My favorite sighting so far was the leatherback sea turtle.  Seven years ago and last summer I took a group of Berkeley High School students to Costa Rica to participate in a sea turtle conservation project with Ecology Project International.  On these trips we saw a female leatherback laying her eggs and a hatchling making its way to the ocean.  It was great to see the next stage of development when the leatherback popped its head out of the water several hundred miles from their breeding grounds.

Dru Devlin's amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.
Dru Devlin’s amazing picture of the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Did you know?

Humpback Whales have bad breath?  Yesterday we got to smell it first hand when two humpback whales decided to circle our boat and were close enough for us to smell their breath.  It’s like rotting fish and sour milk mixed together.

Kate Trimlett: Preparing for Teacher at Sea, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate Trimlett
Aboard: R/V Fulmar
July 23–29, 2013

Mission: ACCESS (Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies) to monitor ecosystem health in the national marine sanctuaries off the coast of California
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of the Farallones & Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries
Date: July 23, 2013

Personal Log:

Hi! Welcome to my Teacher at Sea Blog.  Before I begin the adventure I thought I would tell you a little bit about myself.  I am a science teacher in the Green Academy at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, CA.  I have taught Advanced Biology, Chemistry, Introduction to Environmental Science, and AP Environmental Science with an environmental focus for the last 8 years.  Next year I will continue teaching AP Environmental Science and I’m very excited to share my Teacher at Sea experiences with my AP Environmental Science students.

When I received my acceptance for Teacher at Sea I was thrilled!  Living in the Bay Area I spend a lot of the time admiring and teaching about the importance of the Pacific Ocean; however, with Teacher at Sea I will be able to go out an participate in collecting data about the biodiversity along the California Coast in the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries.  Specifically, my time will be spend helping collecting plankton samples on transect lines within the two sanctuaries.  Here is a map of the transect lines from http://www.accessoceans.org/

Proposed Transect Lines
Proposed Transect Lines

Plankton can be large or small, but most of my samples will probably be on the microscopic scale.  Plankton are an essential food sources for many marine organisms, so a measurement of their density is important. The ACCESS data will be used by conservationists, policy makers, and my students.

While it is not a guarantee, it is highly likely that we will be able to see some whales during our cruise.  I will make sure I have my camera close so I can capture them on film.

The RV Fulmar is smaller research vessel, so different people have volunteered to prepare dinner for each night of our cruise.  I love to cook, so I volunteered to prepare one of those dinners.  I’m cooking chile rellenos right now and then I will freeze them tonight so they can be easily reheated for dinner this Saturday.

If you have any comments or questions please feel free to post them I will get back to you shortly.

This picture of the Pacific Ocean was taken from Baker Beach in San Francisco, CA.  Tomorrow I will be making a trip out into these waters and I will be able to take a picture of the opposite, the coast of San Francisco, as we head out to the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Image
Sunset on the Pacific

Susan Kaiser: Blue Planet Connections, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 34 min N
Longitude:  81 deg 48 min W
Wind Speed:   2.5 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 32.1 C
Air Temperature:  29 C
Relative Humidity: 71 %

Science and Technology Log

Sunrise on the last day at sea.
Sunrise on the last day at sea.

It is easy to see why the Earth is nicknamed the Blue Planet. Its dominant physical feature is the sea water which covers approximately 70% of the surface making it appear blue even from space.   People have depended on the oceans for centuries not just for the obvious things such as food, transportation, jobs and recreation but also for the very oxygen we breathe and the fresh water we drink to survive.  Humans need the ocean for all these things and more. We are inextricably interconnected to the ocean; our survival depends on it.

The vastness of the ocean allows us to believe that human actions won’t have a major effect on it. For example, pollution that leaks into the ocean would be diluted by the huge amount of water so that no real harm would be done to the habitat or the organisms living in the ocean. This may have been true for a time when the human population was less than the 7 billion people now living on Earth. However, the fact is human actions do influence the ocean and in ways that matter. Often these impacts are unintended or accidental but they still lead to a change in the marine ecosystem.   Sadly, many times these effects are negative such as  the Deepwater Horizon/BP MC252 oil spill In 2010, an explosion on an oil drilling rig in the Gulf  of Mexico released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean immediately changing the marine habitat and harming the organisms that lived there. Scientists are still determining the long term effects of this spill and helping to restore the area. In the past other spills have occurred such as the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989 that released 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaskan coast.

Not all ocean impacts are large events related to the petroleum industry. Even small individual human decisions can be significant. For example, if a pet owner no longer wants to keep his exotic species pet he might release it into the wild or an environment where that organism isn’t usually found.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.
Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

This is probably how the Lionfish,  scientific name Pterois volitans, has become established in the coastal waters near the Carolinas and Florida, according to Paula Whitfield, a NOAA marine scientist. It may seem like a minor problem that the Lionfish is now living in Gulf Coast ocean water. What do you predict will happen to the number of Lionfish in this area knowing that they have everything they need to flourish: food, water, space but no predators to hunt them?  They will reproduce and increase their numbers quickly. Lionfish will out number native species of fish and beat them out for those resources displacing them in their ecosystem. Lionfish will out compete native species decreasing their numbers and the diversity of organisms. While on our cruise the science team encountered groups of Lionfish living under large rocks at depths of 100 feet. They speared a specimen and brought it aboard to examine it closely. Lionfish are invading this marine habitat taking it over from the native species. Any organism that is introduced into a new ecosystem where it can rapidly increase numbers taking over native habitat is called an invasive species. One solution to this problem is to start catching Lionfish to eat! I am told they are yummy. People just need to be taught how to safely remove their poisonous fins and taste them!

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.
These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

Both animal and plant organisms can be invasive species squeezing out more desirable native organisms. In Nevada, we are on the alert to an invasion of  Quagga Mussels (Dreissena bugensis) that have been detected in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. These fresh water mollusks are transported on boat exteriors or in bilge water to other fresh water lakes across the United States. It is important that boaters carefully inspect and maintain their equipment to halt the progress of this invasive species to other lakes in Nevada and elsewhere.

The Blue Planet is home to us all. Our decisions and actions make a

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.
Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

difference on both a small and large scale. Each of us has a responsibility to make informed choices about these actions. Realizing our reliance on the ocean and other aspects of the environment and working within in these systems really benefits all of us. For example, when architects designed the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environment Complex in Key West, Florida they created a Green Building.  This means they made choices to  “recycle”  a neighboring building saving building materials and using it for a new purpose. Office furniture was re-purposed to fit in the new energy efficient building that is LEED Silver certified. Contributing to the ecosystem, the roof is planted with native species of grasses that provide habitat for insects and birds. The plants are watered by rain. Excess rain water is collected and stored for other uses in the building helping to conserve water. While the Dr. Nancy Foster Complex building design is indirectly related to ocean preservation it represents a human action that benefits our Blue Planet. As with the release of a hand full of Lionfish, so can many small actions together can create a big impact. Choose to be connected to our  ocean in a positive way. Through a small act you do each day we can preserve and even improve our environment and oceans. The Blue Planet is a great place to call home.  Let’s help keep it that way.

Personal Log

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.
Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

As I finish writing this last blog from my home in Reno Nevada, I am reflecting on the many people I have met and the experiences I have had as a  NOAA Teacher at Sea. It is through NOAA’s interest in connecting scientists, mariners and educators that I was able to participate in this amazing experience but also because I took a chance and applied.  I might not have been chosen but I didn’t let that stop me from taking the risk. If I had not made the time to apply and prepared my essays and sample lessons look what I would have missed. The chief scientist, Scott Donahue, also took a chance on me and accepted me as an active participant on his research cruise. He and the science team went out of their way to make sure that I stayed safe and got an outstanding experience as an observer of their research. Everyone took  time to answer my questions and describe their research to reach a larger audience, YOU!

On the last day we sailed into port at Key West, few people aboard knew that

Ensign Richard De Triquet  (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.
Ensign Richard De Triquet (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard de Triquet was given the task of bringing the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster into dock.  It was his first time to manage this procedure! Commanding Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski knew he had the skill and took a risk  assigning Ensign De Triquet to maneuver the ship into port. Working as a team, the other officers on the bridge used binoculars to spot potential obstacles in the channel. They discussed the best course for the ship and provided input to Ensign De Triquet who announced the orders.  By the way, the docking was was smoothly accomplished and I got to observe the entire process including the debriefing. Congratulations Ensign De Triquet, nice work!

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience is one that I will never forget! It was a pleasure to be a part of this science research cruise and to

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.
Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

meet such a wonderful group of people. My blog would not be complete without acknowledging several individuals in the group who were especially helpful.  Danielle Morley who cheerfully provided me with an overview of the VR2 research including a power point presentation and got me involved in the data collection. Hatsue Bailey who acted as my photographer whenever needed.  Sarah Fangman who provided ground transportation. Alejandro Acosta, PhD who took me snorkeling after a tour of  Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He also was the underwater photographer of the organisms we saw that day. Thank you, everyone!

Just as people are interconnected to the ocean they are also interconnected to each other. All of the people I met on this adventure worked together toward a common purpose. Each one of them making their own contribution to reaching that goal. They did it by doing their best work and trusting that each member of the group would in turn do their part to their best ability. Effort and communication were key to their success. From what I witnessed it worked out perfectly.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the "Redwoods of the Reef." Photo by Hatsue Bailey.
These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the “Redwoods of the Reef.” Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Summer is quickly coming to an end and with it the excitement of a new school grows. My students and I  have the opportunity to make connections, to each other, to the Blue Planet and the organisms that live here. This year, if you are faced with a challenge, be brave and take it on. Assess an opportunity and take the risk to try something unfamiliar. Extend kindness to someone outside your existing circle of friends.  Put your toe in the water and get comfortable listening, observing, thinking and asking questions. You will be amazed what you will learn and the things you will experience. Take a chance. Reflect, communicate and work together.  Scientists and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew showed how well this works to get the job done. Let’s follow their example so that your 7th grade year in science a memorable one too.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey
A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.
Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Susan Kaiser: Technology, Tool of the Marine Scientist, August 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 1, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 29 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 07 min W
Wind Speed:   1.4 kts
Surface Water Temperature:  28.38 C
Air Temperature:  29.3 C
Relative Humidity: 76%

Science and Technology Log

Cycles are patterns that repeat over and over again and science is full of examples of them: rock cycle, carbon cycle and life cycle just for starters. I am sure you can probably even name a few more. Tonight will be the last night of a full moon, another cycle, and with it Mutton Snapper  spawning will end for the time. When the Mutton Snapper, scientific name  (Lutjanus analis), gather in a large group marine scientists call an aggregation.

Mutton Snapper aggregation
Mutton Snapper aggregation

This means that the male and female fish swim to a particular location in the ocean increasing their numbers and the chance that many more eggs will be fertilized to produce the next generation of fish. The trick for the scientists is finding where on the ocean floor these aggregations will occur. Using the Remotely Controlled Vehicle (ROV), diver sightings of good habitat and even knowledge of where fishermen have made great catches, scientists can zero in on where to observe an aggregation.

However, there is one more technology tool that can help locate fish AND map the ocean floor at the same time. This is multibeam charting technology create the colorful maps of the hidden world below the water.

Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe
Bathymetry image showing depth of Lake Tahoe made using multibeam charting technology.

You may have seen one of these beautiful images which use different colors to indicate changes in depth. I have always wondered how these charts were made. In fact, NOAA Ship Nancy Foster has crew members charting the ocean floor 24 hours a day while we are underway even when we are sleeping! Multiple sonar signals are directed from the ship toward  the ocean floor  when they bounce back the ship receives the signal on the computers. This signal shows on the computer screen as a small dot. When enough dots are arranged together at the depth they represent a picture of the ocean floor begins to emerge.  The trained eyes of the survey technicians are needed to create an accurate two dimensional image of what lies beneath the water. The charts they create allow ships to remain safe and avoid running aground. When ships and boats stay in the proper depth of water they do not harm fragile coral reef areas which are easily damaged by these destructive collisions. In addition to recording safe passageways and creating depth charts that mariners use as they navigate, this technology can also spot fish within the water column locating the fish aggregations the marine scientists are studying. Many NOAA ships are equipped with this same technology and explore other parts of the ocean gathering similar data.

Technology helps the research team compensate for changing conditions such as visibility, currents, and ocean depth. Each tool has strength and weakness. For example, this morning our boat deployed a Seaviewer drop camera which is tethered by the cord and carried down by a weight. We were at a location called Riley’s Hump where the current is fast!

ROV  technology would not work in this situation because it would be too difficult to maneuver in this current. It takes teamwork to handle the positioning of the boat while one scientist observes the computer screen for video and another pair manage the descent of the camera and weighted rope. However, the drop camera can only “look” one direction so once the fish swim past, the camera cannot follow them unlike the ROV in calm water. When used together, these technology tools allow scientists to develop an understanding of the habitat and the organisms that live on the ocean floor but they also have limitations.

Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley's Hump location.
Ben Binder deploys the Seaviewer drop camera over Riley’s Hump location.

The marine scientists plan their data gathering with these variables in mind. On this trip they returned to the VR2 sites where they have been collecting data since 2008 but they are always looking for other areas of the habitat to study. While they dive to retrieve VR2s or use the ROV and drop camera they are identifying future research sites wondering which fish might prefer that spot.

Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site.
Computer screen image as we pass over an aggregation site. The baseline shows the ocean floor in profile. The mass of dots represent fish!

Their path is determined by questions: Do the Mutton Snapper live near their aggregation site or do they swim to this location from elsewhere? Do different groups of Mutton Snapper aggregate each full moon or is it the same group returning to Riley’s Hump? How often do these aggregations happen? All the technology available cannot answer these questions so when the time is right the scientists dive to make a direct observation of what organisms are living in the study area. On this cruise we learned that some areas did not have many fish on the day we visited yet other sites were rich with organisms.

The VR2 data will tell more of the story.  The scientists will revise their plan and add more data in the fall. In time they will learn the answer to these questions and then perhaps identify related or new questions to pursue. This is a cycle of research. You may have heard it called scientific method. It is a process of asking questions and trying to answer them through investigation and observations. It is a process I watched unfold for this marine science team. It was unforgettable!

Personal Log:

Every discipline has its own specialized vocabulary. Tackling new science words with my students breaking down their meaning to understand and remember them is something I do regularly. Living aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster for the last week has put me in role of learner again. My teachers are the marine scientists and mariners.  I am learning the names of organisms that we encounter and details about their behaviors. Some of this information I remember from my college classes but much of it is new. The mariners even have their own vocabulary! In fact, the Executive Officer, Donn Pratt, provided me with a list of seafarer vocabulary. I thought it was interesting and that you might enjoy reading it too:

Safety sign marking the spot to report or "muster"
Safety sign marking the spot to report or “muster”

Seafarers Nomenclature!!
Showers and toilets referred to on ships as “heads!”
Hallways are called “passageways.”
Windows are called “portholes.”
Bunk is called a “rack.”
Floors are called “decks.”
Ceilings are “overheads.”
Lastly…to report to a designated location is to “muster!”

More of a challenge for me is living at sea. I am still adjusting to the rocking motion of the ship. Thank goodness the water has been calm and my plan to prevent seasickness is effective. Today tested this hypothesis by performing a little science experiment. I skipped the seasickness medicine and took off the wrist bands. Within two hours my stomach was  feeling queasy so I popped the wrist bands back on and now feel fine. One of the scientists pointed out that it is effective because you believe it will work. That may be the case but I got the result I hoped for so I am a believer in sea bands.

Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon.
Mrs. Kaiser on the bridge deck at the last full moon

My former students know that I love the dictionary and we refer to it often in my classroom.  As I see it, the dictionary is a critical tool to both understand another person’s thinking as well as to communicate our meaning clearly. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a dictionary and early in the cruise it became clear I needed one. I had worn out “Cool!” “Amazing” and  “Interesting” to comment on what I was seeing and living each day on this adventure.  I looked up the definition of “superlative” when our course pointed away from the “Dead Zone” but the list of synonyms didn’t help much. Perhaps the best way to describe my experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is just this: I am in AWE!

Superlative: adjective. 1) of the highest quality or degree. 2) expressing the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely).

Awe:noun. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV.
Marine science team with Mrs. Kaiser after deploying the ROV

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.
NOAA Ship Nancy Foster compass.

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.
Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.
Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.
Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen
Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.
Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your fa