Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida
Date: August 9, 2018
Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 11 knots, Air Temp: 30c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 3 ft.
Science and Technology Log
Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.
snout of Tiger shark
snout of sharpnose shark
Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.
Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.
Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.
Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.
Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.
Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Sandbar Shark teeth
Great Hammerhead Shark teeth
While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.
TAS Stephen Kade with a sharpnose shark
TAS Stephen Kade removes the hook from a sharpnose shark
Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark
Geographic Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain, Just past Mokumanamana (Necker Island)
Date: July 20, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Science and Technology Log:
As promised in Blog Post #3, I mentioned that “Thing number four we deliberately throw overboard” would have a dedicated blog post because it was so involved. Well, grab some popcorn, because the time has arrived!
Thing number 4 we deliberately throw over the side of a ship does not get thrown overboard very often, but when it does, it causes much hubbub and hullaballoo on the ship. I had the unique opportunity to witness one of only ten ocean noise sensors that are deployed in US waters come aboard the ship and get redeployed. These sensors are found all over US waters – from Alaska to the Atlantic. One is located in the Catalina Marine Sanctuary, and still others are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are going to be sailing right past one! To see more about the Ocean Noise Sensors, visit the HICEAS website “other projects” tab, or just click here. To see where the Ocean Noise Recorders are, click here.
The Ocean Noise Sensor system is a group of 10 microphones placed in the “SOFAR” channel all over US waters. Once deployed, they collect data for two years in order to track the level of ocean noise over time. It’s no secret that our oceans are getting louder. Shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and even natural sources of noise like earthquakes all contribute to the underwater noise that our cetacean friends must chatter through. Imagine sitting at far ends of the table at a dinner party with a friend you have not caught up with in a while. While other guests chat away, you and the friend must raise your voices slightly to remain in contact. As the night progresses on, plates start clanging, glasses are clinking, servers are asking questions, and music is playing in the background. The frustration of trying to communicate over the din is tolerable, but not insurmountable. Now imagine the host turning on the Super Bowl at full volume for entertainment. Now the noise in the room is incorrigible, and you and your friend have lost all hope of even hearing a simple greeting, let alone have a conversation. In fact, you can hardly get anyone’s attention to get them to pass you the potatoes. This is similar to the noise levels in our world’s ocean. As time goes on, more noise is being added to the system. This could potentially interfere with multiple species and their communications abilities. Calling out to find a mate, forage for food, or simply find a group to associate with must now be done in the equivalent din of a ticker-tape parade, complete with bands, floats, and fire engines blaring their horns. This is what the Ocean Noise Sensor is hoping to get a handle on. By placing sensors in the ocean to passively collect ambient noise, we can answer two important questions: How have the noise levels changed over time? To what extent are these changes in noise levels impacting marine life?
Many smaller isolated studies have been done on ocean noise levels in the past, but a few years ago, scientists from Cornell partnered with NOAA and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab to streamline this study in order to get a unified, global data source of ocean noise levels. The Pacific Marine Environmental Lab built a unified sound recording system for all groups involved in the study, and undertook the deployments of the hydrophones. They also took on the task of processing the data once it is recovered. The HICEAS team is in a timely and geographical position to assist in recovery of the data box and redeploying the hydrophone. This was how we spent the day.
The recovery and re-deployment of the buoy started just before dawn, and ended just before dinner.
Our standard effort of marine mammal observation was put on hold so that we could recover and re-deploy the hydrophone. It was an exciting day for a few reasons – one, it was definitely a novel way to spend the day. There was much to do on the part of the crew, and much to watch on the part of those who didn’t have the know-how to assist. (This was the category I fell in to.)
At dawn, an underwater acoustic command was sent to the depths to release a buoy held underwater attached to the hydrophone. While the hydrophone is only 1000m below the surface seated nice and squarely in the SOFAR channel, the entire system is anchored to the ocean floor at a depth of 4000m. Once the buoy was released, crew members stationed themselves around the ship on the Big Eyes and with binoculars to watch for the buoy to surface. It took approximately 45 minutes before the buoy was spotted just off our port side. The sighting award goes to CDR Stephanie Koes, our fearless CO. A crewmember pointed out the advancement in our technologies in the following way: “We can use GPS to find a buried hydrophone in the middle of the ocean…and then send a signal…down 4000m…to a buoy anchored to the ocean floor…cut the buoy loose remotely, and then actually have the buoy come up to the surface near enough to the ship where we can find it.” Pretty impressive if you think about it.
The buoy was tied to the line that is attached to the hydrophone, so once the buoy surfaced, “all” we had to do was send a fast rescue boat out to retrieve it, bring the buoy and line back to the ship, bring the crew safely back aboard the ship, hook the line up through a pulley overhead and back to a deck wench, pull the line through, take off the hydrophone, pull the rest of the line up, unspool the line on the wench to re-set the line, re-spool the winch, and then reverse the whole process.
Watching the crew work on this process was impressive at least, and a fully orchestrated symphony at best. There were many tyings of knots and transfers of lines, and all crew members worked like the well-seasoned deck crew that they are. Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana is no stranger to hauling in and maintaining buoys, so his deck crew were well prepared to take on this monumental task.
Much of the day went exactly according to plan. The buoy was safely retrieved, the hydrophone brought on board, the lines pulled in, re-spooled, and all sent back out again. But I am here to tell you that 4000m of line to haul in and pay back out takes. A Long. Time. We worked through a rainstorm spooling the line off the winch to reset it, through the glare of the tropical sun and the gentle and steadfast breeze of the trade winds. By dinner time, all was back in place, the buoy safely submerged deep in the ocean waters, waiting to be released again in another two years to repeat the process all over again. With any luck, the noise levels in the ocean will have improved. Many commercial vessels have committed to adopting “quiet ship” technology to assist in the reduction of noise levels. If this continues to improve, our cetacean friends just might be able to hear one another again at dinner.
So, I guess it’s pretty fair to say that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher. I could not fully escape my August to May duties onboard, despite my best efforts. This week, I found myself on the bridge, doing a science experiment with the Wardroom (These are what all of the officers onboard as a group are called). How is this even happening, you ask? (Trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I was in the middle of it, running around to different “lab groups” just like in class.) Our CO, CDR Koes, is committed to ensuring that her crew is always learning on the ship.
If her staff do not know the answer to a question, she will guide them through the process of seeking out the correct answer so that all officers learn as much as they can when it comes to being underway – steering the ship, preparing for emergencies, and working with engineers, scientists, and crew. For example, I found out that while I was off “small-boating” near Pilot Whales, the Wardroom was busy working on maneuvering the ship in practice of man overboard scenarios. She is committed to ensuring that all of her staff knows all parts of this moving city, or at a minimum know how to find the answers to any questions they may have. It’s become clear just how much the crew and the entire ship have a deep respect and admiration for CDR Koes. I knew she was going to be great when we were at training and word got out that she would be the CO of this Leg on Sette and everyone had a range of positive emotions from elated to relieved to ecstatic.
As part of this training, she gives regular “quizzes” to her staff each day – many of them in good fun with questions for scientists, crew, engineers, and I. Some questions are nautical “things” that the Wardroom should know or are nice to know (for example, knowing the locations of Material Safety Data Sheets or calculating dew point temperatures), some questions are about the scientific work done onboard, while others are questions about personal lives of onboard members.
It has been a lot of fun watching the Wardroom and Crew seek out others and ask them where they live while showing them their “whale dance” to encourage sightings. It has exponentially increased the interactions between everyone onboard in a positive and productive way.
The other teaching element that CDR Koes has implemented is a daily lesson each day from Monday to Friday just after lunch. All NOAA Officers meet on the bridge, while one officer takes the lead to teach a quick, fifteen minute lesson on any topic of their choosing. It could be to refresh scientific knowledge, general ship operations, nautical concepts, or anything else that would be considered “good to know.”
This sharing of knowledge builds trust among the Wardroom because it honors each officer’s strong suits and reminds us that we all have something to contribute while onboard.
I started attending these lunchtime sessions and volunteered to take on a lesson. So, this past Tuesday, I rounded up some supplies and did what I know best – we all participated in the Cloud in a Bottle Lesson!
The Wardroom had fun (I think?) making bottle clouds, talking about the three conditions for cloud formation, and refreshing their memories on adiabatic heating and cooling. It was a little nerve wracking for me as a teacher because two of the officers are meteorologists by trade, but I think I passed the bar. (I hope I did!)
It was fun to slide back into the role of teacher, if only for a brief while, and served as a reminder that I’m on my way back to work in a few weeks! Thanks to the Wardroom for calling on me to dust up my teacher skills for the upcoming first weeks of school!
Facebook Asks, DeSchryver Answers
I polled all of my Facebook friends, fishing (ha ha, see what I did there?) for questions about the ship, and here are some of the questions and my answers!
Q: LC asks, “What has been your most exciting moment on the ship?”
It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll tell you the times I was held at a little tear: a) Any sighting of a new species is a solid winner, especially the rare ones b) The first time I heard Sperm Whales on the acoustic detector c) The first time we took the small boat out for UAS operations….annnndddd d) The first time I was on Independent Observation and we had a sighting!
Q: JK asks, “What are your thoughts on the breakoff of Larsen C? And have there been any effects from the Alaskan quake and tsunami?”
We’re actually pretty isolated on board! Limited internet makes it hard to hear of all the current events. I had only briefly heard about Larsen C, and just that it broke, not anything else. I had no clue there was a quake and tsunami! But! I will tell a cool sort of related story. On Ford Island, right where Sette is docked, the parking lot is holding three pretty banged up boats. If you look closely, they all have Japanese markings on them. Turns out they washed up on Oahu after the Japan Tsunami. They tracked down the owners, and they came out to confirm those boats were theirs, but left them with NOAA as a donation. So? There’s tsunami debris on Oahu and I saw it.
Q: NG asks, “Any aha moments when it comes to being on the ocean? And anything to bring back to Earth Science class?”
So many aha moments, but one in particular that comes to mind is just how difficult it is to spot cetaceans and how talented the marine mammal observers are! They can quite literally spot animals from miles away! There are a lot of measures put in place to help the marine mammal observers, but at the end of the day, there are some species that are just tougher than nails to spot, or to spot and keep an eye on since their behaviors are all so different. And as far as anything to bring back to our class? Tons. I got a cool trick to make a range finder using a pencil. I think we should use it!
Q: MJB asks, “Have you had some peaceful moments to process and just take it all in?”
Yes. At night between the sonobuoy launches, I get two miles of transit time out on the back deck to just absorb the day and be thankful for the opportunities. The area of Hawai’i we are in right now is considered sacred ground, so it’s very powerful to just be here and be here.
Q: SC asks, “What souvenir are you bringing me?”
Well, we saw a glass fishing float, and we tried to catch it for you, but it got away.
Q: LC asks, “What’s the most disgusting ocean creature?”
Boy that’s a loaded question because I guarantee if I name a creature, someone out there studies it for a living. But! I will tell you the most delicious ocean creature. That would be Ono. In sashimi form. Also, there is a bird called a Great Frigate bird – it feeds via something called Klepto-parasitism, which is exactly how it sounds. It basically finds other birds, harasses them until they give up whatever they just caught or in some cases until it pukes, and then it steals their food. So, yeah. I’d say that’s pretty gross. But everyone’s gotta eat, right?
Q: KI asks, “Have you eaten all that ginger?”
I’m about two weeks in and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten about a pound. I’m still working on it!
Q: HC asks, ”Have you seen or heard any species outside of their normal ocean territory?”
Sort of. Yesterday we saw Orca! They are tropical Orca, so they are found in this area, but they aren’t very common. The scientific team was thinking we’d maybe see one or two out of the entire seven legs of the trip, and we saw some yesterday! (I can’t say how many, and you’ll find out why in an upcoming post.) We have also seen a little bird that wasn’t really technically out of his territory, but the poor fella sure was a little far from home.
Q: JPK asks, “What kinds of data have you accumulated to use in a cross-curricular experience for math?”
We can do abundance estimates with a reasonably simplified equation. It’s pretty neat how we can take everything that we see from this study, and use those numbers to extrapolate how many of each species is estimated to be “out there.”
Q: AP asks, “What has surprised you about this trip?”
Many, many things, but I’ll mention a couple fun ones. The ship has an enormous movie collection – even of movies that aren’t out on DVD yet because they get them ahead of time! Also? The food on the ship is amazing. We’re halfway through the trip and the lettuce is still green. I have to find out the chef’s secret! And the desserts are to die for. It’s a wonder I haven’t put on twenty pounds. The crew does a lot of little things to celebrate and keep morale up, like birthday parties, and music at dinner, and shave ice once a week. Lots of people take turns barbecuing and cooking traditional foods and desserts special to them from home and they share with everyone. They are always in really high spirits and don’t let morale drop to begin with, so it’s always fun.
Q: TS asks, “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”
I’ve done lots of exciting things, but the one thing that comes to mind is launching on the small boat to go take photos of the pilot whales. Such a cool experience, and I hope we get good enough weather to do it again while we’re out here! Everything about ship life is brand new to me, so I like to help out as much as I can. Any time someone says, “Will you help with this?” I get excited, because I know I’m about to learn something new and also lend a hand.
Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.
It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.
Science and Technology Log
I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.
We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.
I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.
I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!
There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:
Preparing students to be productive citizens.
Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.
I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.
My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.
Did You Know?
NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.
Day 3 weather was Hazardous with gusts up to 20 knots. Travel in the small C.E Stillwell not advisable.
Day 4 was beautiful and started out with light to variable winds with 0-1 ft seas and ended with 5-10 knots winds with 2-3 ft seas.
Science and Technology Log
Day 3 we attempted our usual 6:00 a.m. departure but after entering the bay it was obvious the working conditions attempting to tag sharks in our small boat would be almost impossible. We monitored the weather for a possible late morning departure but the weather only increased. We set ourselves to remarking the intervals on the mainlines as the markings were very faint and difficult at times to see where to set the gangion.
Day 4 We were on the water and had our first line (set) in the water before 7:00 a.m. The conditions were great and we started right outside of Lewes, DE. In the morning we did 3-50 hook sets and 1-25 hook set in what is called deep hole which is on the Delaware side of the main shipping channel that runs through Delaware Bay.
As you can see by the picture numerous large ships enter the mouth of the bay and head up.
While we were pulling the line on the deep hole set this large Sand Tiger came to the surface after a lot of hard work by Matt.
At the end of the day we were able to complete a total of 8 sets. After finishing deep hole we spent the afternoon on the New Jersey side of the bay just off Cape May. As can be seen by the July 2015 stations Day 4 was spent at the mouth of the bay. On the Delaware side we did JY10, JY27, JY28 and Deep Hole. All JY sets are 50 hook sets while all others are the larger hooks with 25 per main line.
During the afternoon we did JY26, JY18, EX06 followed by JY19. The order may seem odd looking at the map but sets are planned to ensure that they are retrieved in the correct time frame. JY18 was just off Sunset Beach in Cape May New Jersey.
Day 1 sets: JY24, JY20, JY22, BG02, SB01, SB02
Day 2 sets: JY07, JY01, JY11, JY13, EX04, ST05, EX07
Day 4 sets: JY10, JY28, JY27, Deep Hole, JY26, Jy19, JY18, EX06
The following video is from day 1 but gives an idea of how hard it can be to tail rope the sharks.
Once a shark is tail roped and the gangion is cleated to the front of the boat we can collect the biological data and tag the shark.
The following video is long but if you watch to the end you will see what happens when a hook comes out while a shark is still tail roped.
We also had the opportunity to encounter a few rays. The following video is of a large Spiny Butterfly Ray we caught
The shark tagging experience was extremely physically taxing but very rewarding. I had the opportunity to gain hands on experience in an exciting research project that will allow me to bring knowledge and excitement back to my classroom. My time working on this survey brought me a memorable experience that I will never forget.
I would personally like to thank the other scientists on the survey Nathan Keith, Ben Church and the Chief Scientist on the cruise Matt Pezzulo for sharing their expertise and knowledge on shark morphology and identification. These individuals were always willing to explain any part of the process or answer any questions I had. They took the time to teach me every part of the process early on so that I could become a contributing member from the start. This type of analysis on sharks takes grit and hard work and I appreciate the opportunity I was given through the Teacher at Sea Program.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Emily Whalen Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow April 27 – May 10, 2015
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine Date: May 5, 2015
Weather Data: Air Temperature: 8.4°C
Water Temperature: 5.1ºC
Wind: 15 knots NW
Seas: 1-2 feet
Science and Technology Log:
Not everything that comes up in the net is a fish. One of the things that we have caught many of on this trip is Homarus americanus, commonly known as the lobster. Lobsters are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a backbone or an internal skeleton. Instead, they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton to give their body structure and protect their inner organs. Because their exoskeleton cannot expand as the lobster grows, a lobster must molt, or shed its shell periodically as it gets bigger. In the first few years of their lives, lobsters need to molt frequently because they are growing quickly. More mature lobsters only molt yearly or even every few years.
Another interesting fact about lobsters can regenerate lost body parts. After a claw or leg is lost, the cells near the damaged area will start to divide to form a new appendage. The developing structure is delicate and essentially useless while it is growing, but after a few molts, it will be fully functional.
When we catch lobsters, we measure and record the distance from their eye cavity to the posterior end of the carapace. Many of the lobsters we have caught are similar in size to those you would find at the grocery store, which typically weigh about a little more than pound. Commercial fishermen can only keep male lobsters that are over 101 millimeters. Can you guess why? We have seen some smaller lobsters that measure about 50 millimeters, and also some much larger lobsters that measure as much as 150 millimeters!
One of the members of my watch is Dr. Joe Kunkel, who is doing something called ‘landmark analysis’ on some of the lobsters that we have caught. This process involves recording the exact location of 12 specific points on the carapace or shell of each lobster. Then he compares the relative geometry different lobsters to look for trends and patterns. In order to do this, he uses a machine called a digitizer. The machine has a small stylus and a button. When you push the button, it records the x, y and z position of the stylus. Once the x,y and z position of all 12 points has been recorded, they are imported into a graphing program that creates an individual profile for each lobster.
So far, it appears that lobsters that are caught inshore have different geometry than lobsters that are caught further offshore. Typically, an organism’s shape is determined by its genes. Physical variations between organisms can be the result of different genes, environmental factors or physiological factors like diet or activity. Dr. Kunkel doesn’t have a certain explanation for the differences between these two groups of lobsters, but it may suggest that lobsters have different activity levels or diet depending on whether they live near the shore our out in deeper waters. In recent years, a shell disease has decimated lobster populations south of Cape Cod. This study may give us clues about the cause of this disease, which could someday affect the lobster fishery.
In order to move from station to station as we complete our survey, the Bigelow has a powerful propulsion system different from most other types of ships. Typically, a ship has an engine that burns diesel fuel in order to turn a shaft. To make the ship move forward (ahead) or backward (astern), the clutch is engaged, which causes the shaft to spin the propeller. The throttle can then be used to make the shaft spin faster or slower, which speeds up or slows down the boat. Throttling up and down like this affects the amount of fuel burned. For those of you who are new drivers, this is similar to how your car gets better or worse gas mileage depending on what type of driving you are doing.
Like this class of ship, the Bigelow has a giant propeller at the stern which is 14 feet across and has 5 blades. However, the unlike most ships, the propeller on the Bigelow is powered by electricity instead of a combustion engine. There are four electricity-producing generators on the ship, two large and two small. The generators burn diesel fuel and convert the stored energy into electricity. The electricity powers two electric motors, which turn the propeller. While the electricity produced powers the propeller, it is also used for lights, computers, pumps, freezers, radar and everything else on the ship. There are several benefits to this type of system. One is that the generators can run independently of each other. Running two or three generators at a time means the ship makes only as much electricity as it needs based on what is happening at the time, so fuel isn’t wasted. Since the ship can speed up or slow down without revving the engine up or down, the generators can always run at their maximum efficiency.
Also, there is much finer control of the ship’s speed with this system. In fact, the ship’s speed can be controlled to one tenth of a knot, which would be similar to being able to drive your car at exactly 30.6 or 30.7 mph. Finally, an added benefit is that the whole system runs quietly, which is an advantage when you are scouting for marine mammals or other living things that are sensitive to sound.
I have seen a lot of fish on this trip, but it would be a lie to say that I don’t have some favorites. Here are a few of them. Which one do you think is the coolest?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Emily Whalen Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow April 27 – May 10, 2015
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine Date: May 1, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Winds: Light and variable
Air Temperature: 6.2○ C
Water Temperature: 5.8○ C
Science and Technology Log:
Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelowand explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board. However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul! For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab. At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.
Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.
The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship. To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment. After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .
Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean. This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor. The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles. Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide. Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.
The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points. It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature. The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one. This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one. Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!
The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip. Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains. The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets. In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there. As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.
My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelowwas scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381. Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water. By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be. As it turns out, the catch was huge! Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything. This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock. You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!
At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets. Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock. As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming! Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish! One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species. When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different. But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots. But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!
Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught. I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours. Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.
Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:
Red deepsea crab
I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do. If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea. However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others. Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen. Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.
It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow. I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge. One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington. Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug! I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship. It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
March 16-April 3rd
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: April 2, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.
Science and Technology Log:
What are the mappers up to?
After we completed our two priority areas of the cruise, the mappers have been using Knudson subbottom sonar to profile the bottom of the trench. Meme Lobecker, the expedition coordinator sends that data directly to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for processing. They returned some interesting findings.
The subbottom sonar sends a loud “chirp” to the bottom. It penetrates the ocean floor. Different sediment layers reflect the sound differently so the variation and thickness of the layers can be observed. The chirp penetration depth varies with the sediments. Soft sediments can be penetrated more easily. In the picture below, provided by USGS, you can see hard intrusions with layers of sediments filling in spaces between.
How does the bathymetry look?
In the last two days, I have been really enjoying the incredible details in the bathymetry data the multibeam sonar has gathered. We mapped over 15,000 square miles on our voyage! Using computer software we can now look at the ocean floor beneath us. I tried my hand at using Fledermaus software to make fly-over movies of the area we surveyed (or should I say swim-over movies). Check them out:
I also examined some of the backscatter data. In backscatter images soft surfaces are darker, meaning the signal return is weaker, and the hard surfaces are whiter due to stronger returns. One of the interns, Chelsea Wegner, studied the bathymetry and backscatter data for possible habitats for corals. She looked for steep slopes in the bathymetry and hard surfaces with the backscatter, since corals prefer those conditions.
On the next leg, the robotic vehicle on the ship will be used to examine some of the areas we were with high-definition cameras. You can watch the live stream here. You can also see some of the images and footage from past explorations here.
This is a short video from the 2012 expedition to the Gulf of Mexico to tempt you into tuning in for more.
The people on this vessel have been blessed with adventurous spirits and exciting careers. Throughout the cruise, I heard about and then came to fully understand the difficulty of being away from family when they need us.
I would like to dedicate this last blog to my father, Tom Wichman. He passed away this morning at 80 years of age after battling more than his share of medical issues. As I rode the ship in today I felt him beside me. Together we watched the pelicans and the boobies fly by. I am very glad I was able to take him on a “virtual” adventure to the Caribbean. He loved the pictures and the blog. I thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for helping me make him proud one last time.
“To know how to wonder is the first step of the mind toward discovery” – L. Pasteur. These words decorate my classroom wall but are epitomized by the work that the NOAA Okeanos Explorer and the Office of Exploration and Research (OER) do each day.
Thank you to the Meme, the CO, XO, the science team, and the entire crew aboard the Okeanos for teaching me as much as you did and for helping me get home when I needed to be with family. I wish you all the best as you continue to explore our vast oceans! My students and I will be watching and learning from you!
I would also like to thank all of the people who followed this blog. Your support and interest proves that you too are curious by nature. Life is much more interesting if you hold on to that sense of wonder, isn’t it?
Answers to My Previous Questions of the Day Polls:
1. Bathymetry is the study of ocean depths and submarine topography.
2. The deepest zone in the ocean is called the hadal zone, after Hades the Greek God of the underworld.
3. It takes the vessel 19 hours and 10 minutes to make enough water for 46 people each using 50 gallons per day if each of the two distillers makes 1 gallon per minute.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16-April 3rd
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: April 1, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 3-6ft.
Science and Technology Log:
Dr. Wilford (Bill) Schmidt has demonstrated the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” throughout this entire cruise. He knew this voyage would put his new free vehicle design to the test and he came prepared to modify this, tweak that, collaborate with the crew, confer with his university team, test, and repeat. He is an engineer and that is the name of the game.
1. The first deployment looked great. The vehicle reached 1000m. The magnetometer and 3-axis accelerometer worked great. All systems were a go. A water sampling device was used as a dummy payload.
Crossing fingers for more success.
2. The next step was to attach a CTD (a probe that measures Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). The deployment and retrieval process again went smoothly, this time to 2126m, but there was a problem retrieving the log file from the bottom sphere and one of the anchor burn wires did not burn.
Collaboration required with folks on shore and the electronics technicians on this ship. Tweak this, fix that.
Bill opened the spheres to change the batteries for the satellite transponder.
All systems were a go again.
3. The crew deployed the free vehicle with the CTD to 4679 m. It took a little longer to find and retrieve the vehicle.
The data files indicated that the galvanic releases released the anchor prematurely, at about 100 meters from the bottom. Both spheres worked during the mission. Data files were retrieved from each. During inspection water was found in the bottom sphere. Spalling of the glass (flaking) was seen on the inside. The leak is assumed to have taken place as the surface under low pressure conditions, otherwise the damage would have been worse. The electronics were in good shape but the bottom sphere had to be retired.
Oh no! Is that the end? Not when you have great minds on board!
This is where engineering in the ocean environment gets tricky. Bill can’t just head back to the university and make the necessary repairs. Instead he needs to make use of the very valuable ship time by pinch-hitting. Bill recalculated the buoyant force on the vehicle with only one sphere. It might just work!
Tweak this, lighten that, new attachments there. Ready for a float test!
Will the single sphere allow it to ascend from the bottom fast enough for us to deploy and retrieve it during our mission? That question required further testing. So the crew planned to lower it into the water a short distance with the winch and allow it to float back up. The weather would not allow it. The seas were too rough to allow the ship to stay in one place during the vehicle test without dragging the free vehicle thereby negating the results of the test.
Plan B? The operations team hatched a plan to tie the free vehicle to buoys on a long rope. That allowed the vehicle to sink and be recovered easily if it rose too slowly. First a buoyancy test had to be done to make sure the buoys wouldn’t sink with the vehicle.
The vehicle rose in less than 10 minutes so the team was back on track! With a few extras like flags for better visibility, the vehicle was ready to dive!
4. The deployment into the trench went smoothly. The crew had that routine down pat. After 10 hours it was time for the retrieval. Everyone gathered at the bridge to try to spot it.
It successfully collected data down to the bottom at 8379m, a possible record for a free vehicle!
The CTD data was processed and looked great during the descent.
Inspection of the data log showed that while the vehicle was ascending from the bottom, something was triggering a mission cancel order – 28 times! This bug required more testing and mission simulating before another deployment in the trench. Just after 8pm, Bill announced his equipment was ready to go for a 6 am deployment the next day.
5. The next day, the retrieval took a bit longer due to choppier sea conditions.
Again the vehicle logs showed “cancel mission” messages during the ascent. It is confounding Bill and his team back home, because during mission simulations the mission goes to completion without a problem.
In all the voyage has been very constructive for Bill’s engineering team. They successfully deployed the vehicle to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench known to be the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. That is something to celebrate! They have learned a great deal about what types of modifications they should make to improve the retrieval process.
This was a great first test of the free vehicle design. The next time out at sea will come soon enough and Bill’s team will be ready!
As the voyage comes to an end and we travel nearer to shore, I am filled with mixed emotions. I will miss the ocean, the feeling of being a part of an exploration expedition, and these people. I am also very happy to be going home to my family and my students. I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned. I will be looking for partnerships to help get students involved in reseach on our inland sea, Lake Superior. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below!
Exciting moments? Seeing these creatures!
Other great moments include driving the ship and making video fly-bys of the ocean floor with the bathymetry and backscatter data. Very awesome! The videos will be coming soon so stay tuned!
Did you know?
Do you remember the flying fish I wondered about a few blogs ago? I have never seen them before. At first I thought I was seeing things. I thought I saw a very large dragonfly dive into the water. Then I saw more. – schools of them jumping away from the boat all at once. In a blink of an eye they were gone.
According to Wikipedia, there are 64 species of flying fish! They fly out of the water to evade predators. That’s a pretty cool adaptation! You can learn more here.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16-April 3rd
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 29, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26.7˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 2-4ft.
Science and Technology Log:
We launched and recovered a CTD earlier this week.
A CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe) is used to study the characteristics of ocean water masses, as well as to insure data quality and accuracy from XBTs (Expendible Bathythermograph). In a previous blog, I discussed how the XBT is used to measure the temperature of the water to a depth of about 760 meters. That coupled with the conductivity sensors on the vessel are used to calculate salinity and pressure to derive a measure of the velocity of sound through water, an important factor when collecting sonar data.
An XBT can be launched while the vessel is underway without pausing the sonar, but it doesn’t collect data all the way to the bottom of the water column.
A CTD can go all the way to the bottom, depending on the depth of the ocean, the length of the tether cable, and the pressure rating of the frame and equipment making up the CTD. The titanium frame and equipment making up the CTD currently aboard the Okeanos can be lowered to 6500 meters. It is very large and requires the vessel to stay put during the entire process since it is tethered to the ship.
Since a CTD collects all three factors involved in the computation of speed of sound in water (salinity, temperature, and depth) and is therefore more accurate than an XBT which only collects temperature, it is used at least annually to provide comparison data for the XBT measurements. This is the reason our scientists used it on this cruise. Additionally, scientists on board a vessel may want to deploy a CTD more often if water masses are expected to change, or if they are interested in studying other features of the water column such as particulates, gaseous seeps, dissolved oxygen or oxygen reduction potential, or if they want to collect water samples at different depths.
In the above photo the small red arrow is pointing to the water sample tubes, the large blue arrow to the CTD, and the large red arrow to the altimeter which senses when the probe is within 200 meters from the bottom allowing winch operators to slow the descent to avoid damaging equipment. Scott Allen is the Survey Tech on board. His job is to maintain and calibrate the CTD. He helps launch and recover the CTD and then operates the software to collect and process the data.
The CTD software plots the temperature (green), sound velocity (pink), conductivity (yellow), and the salinity (blue) on the x-axes against depth on the y-axis. You can see locations on the graph where the values for temperature and salinity shift in a significant way with changes in depth. These shifts can indicate a boundary between different water masses. The upward spikes in the data are likely caused by some error in the equipment connections.
Let’s conduct an experiment!
Have you ever wondered what would happen to a styrofoam cup if you lowered into the water 2100 meters? The folks here tell me you get some pretty interesting results, so we had to give it a try.
Problem: Determine the effect of extreme pressure on a styrofoam cups.
Background: Styrofoam, properly called expanded polystyrene foam, is made by infusing air into polystyrene (a synthetic polymer) using blowing agents. Learn more here.
Hypothesis: What is your hypothesis? What do you think will happen to the air pockets if we send the cups to the depths of the ocean?
1. Decorate your cups, leaving one as a control for comparison after submersion.
2. Place the cups in a mesh dive bag and attach to a CTD.
3. Lower the CTD to 2100 meters
4. Raise the CTD and examine the cups.
So how much pressure was exerted on the cups at 2100 meters? We can use this formula to calculate it:
P = pgh
Pressure in a fluid = (density of water) x (acceleration due to gravity) x (height of the fluid above the object).
If the density of seawater is 1027 kg/cubic meter, the acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s/s and the depth is 2100 meters, what is the pressure?
You should get 21 million Pascals (Newtons/square meters) or 21,000 kPa. If 1 kPa = 0.145 psi, how many pounds of pressure per square inch are exerted on each cup? About 3000 pounds per square inch. That’s about the weight of a compact car over each square inch! For comparison, at sea level the atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi.
So what happened to our cups under all that pressure? Check it out!
Was your hypothesis supported or refuted? What happened to the air trapped in the styrofoam?
Air extraction is the reason that Dr. Wilford Schmidt uses iron rebar rather than cement to provide the anchor for his free vehicles. The cement crumbles as the air pockets give way and air is squeezed out. Cement is not as flexible as the polystyrene.
What other materials might change under pressure? If you don’t have access to the deep ocean or a CTD, you could always try a pressure cooker – but be safe!
I am inspired by all the people working on this vessel. They are so adventurous and have seen so much. I wondered what inspired them to do what they do. Here are some of their answers:
Mapping Intern, Kristin Mello: Took a class in scuba diving and realized she loved it and wanted to learn more. Her dive instructor encouraged her to do an internship as a research diver and she has been studying the ocean ever since.
Free Vehicle Tech, Zamara Fuentes: Built a model of a volcano in school became very interested in geology. Now she studies tsunami impacts on the Caribbean islands.
NOAA Corps Officer, Nick Pawlenko: Had never really spent much time on boats as a kid, but was inspired by Clive Cussler novels to explore the ocean.
Expedition Coordinator, Meme Lobecker: Her love of the oceans made her want to put her geography skills and interest in data collection to work in the ocean environment.
Engineer, Chris Taylor: Wanted to put his love of engineering to work for good pay. “There is never a dull moment,” he says.
Mapping Watch Lead, Melody Ovard: Just likes being near the ocean. “It’s a proximity thing. I am curious about what goes on in it,” she says.
Free Vehicle Scientist, Bill Schmidt: Loved surfing and was interested to learn what caused the changes in the surfing conditions day-to-day. Then he read Willard Bascom’s book, Waves and Beaches, and was hooked.
NOAA Corps Officer, Bryan Pestone: Swimming competitively and lifeguarding on the beach led him to a degree in marine biology.
Mapping Intern, Jossue Millan: An astrobiology poster caught his eye in his physics class, which peaked his interest in life in extreme environments. He enjoys the interdisciplinary sciences.
Teacher at Sea, Theresa Paulsen: I am inspired by the wonder in a kid’s eye or on a proud parent’s face and by the beauty that surrounds us from the depths of the oceans to the expanses of space. Life is amazing – and far too short to waste, so we have to make the most of it while we can.
What inspires you? Post a comment and let me know!
Did You Know?
For every 10 meters you go below the surface, pressure increases by one atmosphere (14.7 psi). Scuba instructors typically don’t recommend diving deeper than 40m to decrease the risk of decompression sickness, known as “the bends,” or equipment failures that could lead to drowning.
Question of the Day:
The deepest successful dive in the Guiness Book of World Records is currently 332.35 meters (1090ft)! Yikes! Read about it here.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16 – April 3, 2015
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 28, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 26˚C, Wind speed 13-18 knots, Wave height 5-7ft
Science and Technology Log
Mapping of our first priority area is now compete and we have moved to the priority two area on the north side of the Puerto Rico Trench. We are more than 100 miles from shore at this point. Land is nowhere in sight. Able-Bodied Seaman Ryan Loftus tells me that even from the bridge the horizon is only 6.4 nautical miles away due to the curvature of the earth. At this point with no frame of reference other than celestial bodies, navigation equipment becomes essential.
The ship uses Global Positioning Systems, GPS units:
On the radar display, we are in the center of the circle. Our heading is the blue line. Since this photo was taken near shore, the yellow patches on the bottom indicate the land mass, Puerto Rico. The two triangles with what look like vector lines to the left of us are approaching vessels. On the right, the Automated Identification System displays information about those vessels, including their name, type, heading and speed. The radar uses two radio beams, an S-Band at 3050 MHz and an X-band at 9410 MHz, to determine the location of the vessel relative to other vessels and landmarks within a 1% margin of error.
A standard compass points to the magnetic north pole rather than true north, therefore mariners prefer to use gyrocompasses for navigation. Before departing, a gyrocompass is pointed to true north. Using an electric current, the gyroscope in the device is spun very fast so that it will continually maintain that direction during the voyage. Slight errors build up over time and must be corrected. The watch standers post the necessary correction on the bridge. Since the device is electronic, it can feed data into the system allowing for automated navigation and dynamic positioning systems to work well.
On the Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS) screen, watchstanders can view the course planned by the Expedition Coordinator in charge of the science conducted on the voyage (in red), see the bearing they have set (thin black line), and see the actual course we are on (the black, dashed, arrowhead line).
The dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to remain in one spot in very delicate situations, such as when they lower a tethered device like the robotic vehicle they will be using on the next cruise or a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth probe). It is also helpful for docking.
The electronics are able to control the ship due to the ingenious way the engine system is designed. The diesel engine powers generators that convert the mechanical energy into electrical energy. This way electrical energy can be used to control main hydraulic propellers at the stern as well as electric bow and side thrusting propellers.
What happens if the power goes out and the electronic navigation devices fail? There are back ups – no worries, students and family!!
The vessel can sail onward. It is equipped with a magnetic compass and the watchstanders are well versed in reading charts, using a sextant, and plotting courses by hand – they often do that just to check the radar and GPS for accuracy.
They also have a well-used copy of the “bible of navigation,” The American Practical Navigator written in 1802 by Nathaniel Bowditch.
They even let me take it for a spin – okay it was about a 90˚ turn – but hey, it feels pretty cool to be at the helm of a 224ft vessel!
So where are we right now?
As I said we have begun mapping in our second priority zone, more than 100 miles north of Puerto Rico. We are near the boundary of the Sargasso Sea. It is not bordered by land, like other seas. Instead it is bordered by ocean currents that keep the surface water in one area.
Remember the seaweed I wondered about in an earlier post? It is called Sargassum. It grows in rafts in the Sargasso Sea. This is actually where the Sargasso sea got its name. According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, these rafts provide habitat for certain fish and marine life. Turtles use them as nurseries for their hatchlings. In recent years large blooms of Sargassum have been washing up on nearby coastlines causing problem along the shore. (Oct 1, 2014, USA Today) More research needed! There are always more questions. Is this caused by warming oceans, by oil spills, or by a combination? Nothing lives in isolation. All life forms are connected to each other and to our environment. Changes in the ocean impact us all, everywhere on the globe.
Want to explore yourself? Check out NOAA Corps to become ship officer!
Acting Executive Officer (XO) Lieutenant Fionna Matheson is augmenting on this leg of the trip, meaning she is filling in for the XO currently on leave. Otherwise, in her current “land job” she works at NOAA headquarters for the NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, reports to the Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker. Working on the headquarters team, LT Matheson learns a great deal about the breadth and importance of NOAA’s mission.
To become a member of the NOAA Corps you must have a Bachelor’s degree in Science or Math. It is a competitive process, so some sort of experience with boating is advantageous, but not required. NOAA Corps officers are trained not only to drive and manage ships, but also to handle emergencies including fire-fighting, and follow maritime law. They act as the glue between the scientists and the crew (wage mariners), making sure the scientific mission is accomplished and the safety of the crew and the vessel are secure. Fionna has been part of the corps for 11 years. She explains that NOAA Corps officers are stationed for about 2 years at sea (with some shore leave) followed by 3 years on land throughout their careers. During her NOAA career, Fionna has sailed in the tropical Pacific maintaining deep-ocean buoys, fished in the North Atlantic, collected oceanographic samples in the Gulf of Mexico, and now mapped part of the Caribbean. She has also worked as part of an aerial survey team in San Diego, studying whales and dolphins.
Fionna’s advice to high school students is this, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is action. Take the initial risk.”
What do we do for fun in our free time?
We play games like chess, although I am not very good. I try, and that is what is important, right?
We watch movies – even watched Star Trek on the fantail one evening. Very fitting since we are boldly going where no one has gone before with our high-resolution sonar.
And we watch the sun go down on the ocean.
Mostly, I like watching the water when I have time. I would have made a great lookout – I should look into it after I retire from teaching. I have been trying to use my Aquaman powers to summon the whales and dolphins, but so far – no luck. Maybe on the way back in to shore we’ll catch another glimpse.
What do I miss?
My family and friends. Hi Bryan, Ben, Laura, Dad, Mom, and the rest of the gang.
And my students and coworkers. Go Ashland Oredockers!
I am fortunate to have such supportive people behind me! Thanks, guys!
I do not miss snow and cold weather, so if you all could warm it up outside in northern Wisconsin over the next week, I’d appreciate it. I’ll see what kind of strings I can pull with these NOAA folks! ¡No me gusta la nieve o el frío en la primavera!
Did you know?
Sky conditions on the bridge are determined by oktas. An okta is 1/8th of the sky. If all oktas are free of clouds the sky is clear. If 1-2 oktas contain clouds, the bridge reports few clouds, 3-4 filled oktas equal scattered clouds, 5-7 equal broken clouds, and 8 filled oktas means the sky is overcast.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16 – April 3, 2015
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 24, 2015
Weather from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 26.6˚C, Wind 10kts from 100˚, Waves 1-2ft, swells 2-3ft
Science and Technology Log
Now that the interns have been trained in data collection and processing, it was my turn to learn.
Mapping Intern Chelsea Wegner taught me how to launch an XBT and how to process the data gathered by the multibeam sonar. It is a fairly simple procedure that requires diligent record keeping in logs. I processed four “lines.” A line is about one hour of data collection, or shorter. Two of my lines were shorter because the sonar had to be turned off due to a whale sighting! This is bad for data collecting, but AWESOME for me! Again, I missed it with the camera, though.
I have also been given the task of using a sun photometer to measure direct sunlight over the ocean as part of the Maritime Aerosol Network, a component of AERONET, a NASA project through the Goddard Space Flight Center. Every two hours when the sun is shining and there are no clouds in the way of the sun, I use this tool to measure the amount of sunlight able to penetrate our atmosphere.
I use a GPS to determine our location and transfer that information to the sun photometer. Then I scan the sunlight with the photometer for about 7 seconds and repeat 5 times within two minutes. Keeping the image of the sun in the target location on the photometer while standing on a rocking boat is harder than it may look!
According to the Maritime Network, the photometer readings taken from ground level helps determine the Aerosol Optical Depth, meaning the fraction of the sun’s energy that is scattered or absorbed while it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. The reduction in energy is assumed to be caused by aerosols when the sunlight’s path to earth is free of clouds. Aerosols are solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Sea-salt is a major contributor over the ocean as well as smoke and dust particles from land that are lifted and transported over the oceans. There are many stations over land that collect this data, but using ships is also important because the data is used to provide “ground truth” to satellite measurements over the entire earth, including the oceans. The data is also used in climate change research and aerosol distribution and transport modeling.
It is pretty cool to be part of such an interesting project! The people here are interesting too. I thought I’d highlight some of their stories in my next few blogs.
Career Profile of Intern Chelsea Wegner
Chelsea’s story is a great example for high school students. She graduated from a high school in Virginia that is similar in size to Ashland High School, where I teach. Her family enjoyed spending time near the ocean and had a library of books about ocean adventures. Her grandfather served in the Navy on Nuclear Submarines and liked to build models of ships.
In high school, her career interests began to take shape in her Environmental Science in Oceanography class. She went to college at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia majoring in environmental science with particular interest in geology and river systems. She took advantage of a research opportunity studying sediment transport from rivers to the coast during her undergraduate career. She took sediment core samples and analyzed them to determine human impacts, contamination, and dated the sediment layers. She took more research courses that took her to the US Virgin Islands to conduct a reef survey, identifying and counting fish. She described that as a pivotal experience that led her toward her Masters Degree in Marine Science. Her Masters thesis project was a coastal processes study the potential effects of sea level rise on coral reefs and the corresponding coastline. She used the connections she had in the US Virgin Islands and in her university to fund and/or support her research.
After competing her Masters Chelsea applied for a marine science and policy fellowship, the Knauss Fellowship, which allowed her to work as an assistant to the Assistant Administrator of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) within NOAA, Craig McLean, for one year. Through this fellowship, Chelsea traveled the world to places like Vietnam, the Philippines, New Zealand, and France getting a first-hand look at how science informs marine policy and vice versa.
Chelsea learned early on that experience matters most when trying to make yourself marketable. That is why she is here now serving as a mapping intern. She takes the opportunity to learn every piece of equipment and software available to her. She is a rising star in the world of science. After this voyage, she will begin her new job as a program analyst at OAR headquarters working in the international office handling engagements with other countries such as Indonesia and Japan. And she is only 28!
Did You Know?
At 10 AM this morning there was tsunami drill, LANTEX (Large Atlantic Tsunami Exercise) on the east coast from Canada all the way down to the Caribbean. So students in schools inside Tsunami-threatened areas likely participated in evacuation drills. The test is part of NOAA National Weather service Tsunami Warning Program. It helps governments test and evaluate their emergency protocols to improve preparedness in the event of an actual tsunami.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16 – April 3, 2015
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 24, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Scattered Clouds, 27.0˚C, waves 1-2ft, swells 3-4ft, wind 11kts from 100˚
Science and Technology Log
A ship like the Okeanos Explorer demonstrates the connection between science and engineering to the nth degree. Every room that I visit and every person I talk to can illustrate scientific applications.
Consider the galley I introduced you to in my second blog post. On a three-week cruise with no access to a grocery store, how are the cooks able to serve fresh fruits and vegetables? I assumed that they would have to serve canned or frozen foods as time went on but that is not the case. The Chief Steward, Dave Fare, tells me that he or a member of his crew, goes through the produce each morning to pick out anything that is past its prime so that the any ethylene emitted by the offending overripe items won’t affect the other fruits or vegetables. So far the food has been fabulous so it must be working!
Then of course, you have the clean up where dishes are rinsed, washed, rinsed again, and then sanitized in a high temperature dishwasher to kill off any harmful bacteria. Biology in action. They occasionally add beneficial bacteria treatments to the drains to help break down any organic matter that makes its way into the drain pipes. This reduces the unpleasant smell of decaying matter and makes the water cleaner.
Where does that water go? I took a tour to find out.
The water that goes down the drain or gets flushed goes through an onboard wastewater treatment process similar to one used by a city but in miniature form. It is macerated (ground up), filtered, and then treated with just enough chlorine to kill harmful bacteria before leaving the ship. The ship’s First Assistant Engineer, Ricardo Gabona, told me that the effluent (water leaving the ship) looks as clean as the seawater we are sailing on with less than 15 ppm total dissolved solids.
How do we survive without additional freshwater for drinking? We don’t have to! We are actually drinking seawater – after it has been distilled. It is a pretty cool process. The water used to cool the engines, absorbs enough heat to raise the temperature to about 180˚F. Using a vacuum, the pressure of the water from the engines is reduced so that it boils at temperatures as low as 150˚F. Next the vapor is condensed. There you have it – distilled water! That is great energy conservation in action! The water then has to be cooled, before heading to the faucets with a heat exchanger. No need for a water heater – the engines do the work! The distilled water is also filtered and run through an ultraviolet light tube twice just to be sure to kill off any remaining microbes. The distillers can make water at a rate of about a gallon per minute. There are two of them on the ship. So can you calculate how long it would take them to make enough water for the maximum 46 people on board, each using 50 or more gallons per day?
In order to draw in relatively clean sea water, the ship must be at least 20 miles from shore, according system’s manufacturer, to avoid contamination from erosion and runoff. For us this means we need to transit north periodically to make water, disrupting our planned mapping route. Water conservation is a priority on this cruise to avoid that as much as possible.
Check out our mapping progress! You see, the vertical paths were taken when we needed more water.
What about fuel?
According to Ricardo, the ship was originally built as a submarine hunter during the cold war. It’s mission was to listen for and locate Russian submarines. It carried a crew of 24 sailors for 6-9 months at a time. NOAA took charge of the ship in 2004 and by 2008 had modified it to become the exploration vessel it is today. Some of the fuel tanks now serve other purposes. Currently the ship can hold 149,000 gallons of diesel fuel! The ship now has 26 crew members, but also now hosts teams of up to 20 scientists, which requires more power and energy. Still the fuel can last more than 2 months. The ship will need to be refueled before heading to the Panama canal en route to the Hawaiian Islands.
Why diesel? It is a very safe fuel for ships, since it won’t ignite at standard temperatures and pressures. But diesel can be dirty and can contain water, both can interfere with engine performance. You don’t want to have engine trouble when you are out at sea. So the fuel is cleaned with a fuel purifier and water separator that use a centrifuge to separate the fuel from the contaminants based on density. The fuel entering the engines goes through this process multiple times to ensure the engines are getting very clean diesel fuel. As a result, you don’t see or smell the exhaust from the combustion.
Of course all of this fuel is heavy, as it is used, the ship would get lighter and lighter making it float higher and higher. This would be a problem for stability. As any object’s center of gravity rises higher, the object becomes less stable and more likely to topple. You do not want your ship to topple! So you need to replace the fuel as you use it with ballast water. The fuel and ballast tanks are located all around the ship. As the fuel tanks are emptied and water tanks are filled, the engineers must consider the balance of the vessel, ensuring the mass is distributed properly for optimum performance and stability in the water.
I am loving this adventure. I am mesmerized by the massiveness of the ocean. I love looking out at water as far as I can see with only a ship or two in the distance every now and then. I could watch the water for hours on end. You see interesting things when you are really looking, each one giving you cause to wonder. Consider the interesting birds that fly by. What are they? Where do they call home? Why do they like to fly by the ship? Why do flying fish fly? Are they finding insects that I can’t see, or are they evading predators? Where do all the seaweed patches floating on the water come from? What kind of seaweed is it? Is it edible? Do they grow there at the surface, or are they floating debris carried out to sea, or is it a combination of the two?
Let’s start with the birds. Lieutenant Emily Rose, Operations Officer, told me they are brown boobies. Take a look at these photos taken of the bow of the ship.
Did You Know?
According to Wikipedia, brown boobies nest in large colonies in tropical areas like the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. They very good fliers that can plunge for fish at very high speeds, but they are clumsy at take off and landings as we observed on the bow this morning. One of the birds tried to land on the railing and slipped. Junior Officer Bryan Pestone had to help him up and over. He flew away for a short time and then returned. My guess is they use the vantage point of the ship to watch for small fish and to preen themselves.
I’ll let you know what I find out about the seaweed and flying fish in future blogs. ¡Hasta Luego!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16-April 3rd
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 19, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26.7˚C, waves 1-3ft, swells 2-4ft.
Science and Technology Log:
This morning at breakfast Commanding Officer Mark Wetzler, or CO, explained that we would be deploying instruments today. The first one was a glider for the Navy. The Slocum electric glider is like a tiny, unmanned submarine built like a non-explosive torpedo with small wings. It has the ability to be remote-controlled for weeks to months at sea operating 24 hours a day even in the worst weather. They can be programmed to travel back and forth, dive, and rise periodically to communicate data back to the mainland and accept new missions. These autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) can collect many different types of data such as temperature, conductivity, or audio recordings, depending on the sensors attached. Gliders like this one can help detect tsunamis or other changes in the ocean.
Our vessel also records data 24 hours a day but is limited in its duration at sea by the needs of the people and fuel onboard. Have you wondered how we can stay out at sea for nearly 3 weeks at a time without hitting the grocery store or service station? I’ll explain more about that in a future blog.
The next deployment was a test run of a “free vehicle.” Dr. Wilford “Bill” Schmidt, and his assistants, Rolf-Martin Vieten and Zamara Fuentes from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayguez (UPRM) are testing the design of vehicles that can be deployed from a vessel like the Okeanos Explorer or a smaller ship. These vehicles are inexpensive to make, easy to deploy, and do not need to be tethered to the ship. They can be programmed to dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, or whatever depth desired, in order to take samples or record data. Once the vehicle has completed data collection or sampling, it releases its anchor and rises the surface where it is retrieved. Meanwhile the deployment vessel can continue other operations such as mapping. Time is not wasted on a research vessel! On this cruise they will use the device to sample the conductivity, temperature and depth of the water column. This will help them learn more about the interaction between different water masses in the Puerto Rico Trench.
Water masses in the trench are of particular interest to Bill, a professor of physical oceanography, because they could hold a key to understanding the flow of different ocean currents. He explained that water masses form at the surface at a particular temperature and with a certain salinity corresponding to the surface conditions at the time. Temperature and salinity are conservative properties, meaning they don’t change as the water mass moves. So as a water mass formed in Antarctica sinks and moves toward the deepest parts of the ocean due to its density, its cold temperature and salinity don’t vary significantly. So temperature and salinity can serve as fingerprints of water masses. Therefore as he measures these factors through the entire water column in the trench, we would expect to see the values change as we move from the North Atlantic Deep Water to the Antarctic Bottom Water. The image below shows a generalized representation of the typical flow pattern of large water masses.
Bill’s work is supported by NOAA and the National Science Foundation. The NOAA Office of Exploration and Research recently provided him with an award to produce 5 free vehicles with his university team. The fact that Bill’s vehicles are able to travel untethered into the hadal zone at a very low cost makes them uniquely valuable to researchers. Data from the hadal zone is virtually non-existant because only enormous vessels would be able to support winches that could handle the 10,000+ meters of cable that would be required for the tethered vehicles currently used. Since the average depth of the ocean is only 4000m, there is not a large enough demand to make manufacturing such large winches economically feasible.
Also, Bill’s free vehicles are small and can be deployed on very short notice, allowing them to capture data as major events occur. The vehicles can carry interchangeable payloads that could be used in all scientific disciplines. A biologist could request water or bottom substrate samples to examine life forms in the hadal zone that may not exist elsewhere. A geologist might also like to sample the bottom substrate or might wish to record seismic activity at the bottom of the trench to better understand plate interactions. A chemist interested in oceanography could examine the water for trace elements or compounds that were emitted into the air at one point in time, such as chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) that were once used but are now illegal in the US due to their impact on the ozone layer, or tritium (H-3) remnants from nuclear bombs used in WWII. This could provide us with an estimate of how long ago the water mass was at the surface and help us determine the rate of flow into the trench. The research possibilities are endless.
Initial tests looked good. During our 19 day voyage, Bill’s team and the crew will deploy the vehicle up to 11 more times with up to 6 locations strategically placed in the Puerto Rico Trench.
Are you interested to know what the accommodations are like aboard the Okeanos? They are comfortable enough for a work boat. Take a look for yourself!
I love the curtain around my bottom bunk. It reminds me of the forts my brothers and sisters and I built as kids. I have slept like a baby ever since arriving. The rocking of the boat is very calming.
There are a couple of nice spots to relax and chat, and write in my blog. Here are the library and the lounge.
I am surprised that I really haven’t been seasick. Motion sickness medication really helps. If you really get sick, there is a medical officer on board and sick bay.
I showed you the galley in the last post. We eat in the Mess Hall. The Chief Steward puts tennis balls on the bottom of the chairs to avoid scratching the finish on the floor. Good thinking!
And when I have eaten too much, there is the fitness room! There is a scale in the fitness room, but when you stand on it, the action of the boat rocking causes the scale to oscillate by 30-40 pounds. It is a great demonstration of the difference between mass and weight!
The best place to hang out is outside, of course, where you can possibly see a spouting whale or swimming dolphin. I have seen both on this trip already but I need to be quicker with the camera! Maybe next time!!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16 – April 3, 2015
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Puerto Rico Trench Date: March 17, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Partly Cloudy, 26 C, Wind speed 12 knots, Wave height 1-2ft, Swells 2-4ft.
Science and Technology Log
Elizabeth “Meme” Lobecker, Physical Scientist Hydrographer with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and our Expedition Coordinator, gave the science team aboard the vessel an overview of our expedition on Sunday after an evening of becoming acquainted with the ship and other members of the science team.
She explained how oceanic exploration research is different from the rest of the scientific community and even other projects within NOAA, because it focuses purely on exploration and discovery that can generate hypotheses. In other areas, a scientist has a hypothesis first and sets out to test it through research and experimentation.
The information gained on our mission could generate hypotheses in all kinds of areas of research such as geology, fisheries, oceanography, marine archeology, and hydrography. It could help us identify areas that need protection, such as spawning grounds for commercial fish populations. Meme and her team will turn the data over to the National Coastal Data Development Center within three weeks. From there, it goes to the National Geophysical Data Center and the National Oceanographic Data Center, where it is freely accessible through public archives within 60-90 days of the end of the cruise. From there, any entity, public or private, can access the data for use in their work. Have you ever wondered how Google Earth and Arc View GIS get the background data for their ocean floor layer? This data contributes to those layers. Now you know! Public data access is through www.ngdc.noaa.gov and www.nodc.noaa.gov.
While we currently have low resolution data from satellites, less than 5% of the oceans have high-resolution images. We have better data now about the features of Mars than we do about our oceans on earth. Why? Because ocean surveying is difficult and time-consuming. High resolution maps cannot be made of the ocean floor with current technology on satellites. The technology is getting better and better, though. The image below shows the progression from a leadsman dropping a 10 pound weight attached to a line in the water to the multibeam sonar being used as I type.
The multibeam sonar aboard the Okeanos Explorer sends out a ping at 30 kHz that bounces off the seafloor and returns to the transducer that is equipped with sensors oriented in 432 different directions receiving up to 864 beams per swath. This method has been tested in depths of up to 8000 meters. It can give us not only bathymetry data, but also water column backscatter and bottom backscatter data. This allows us to know if there are features in the water column like gaseous seeps escaping from the ocean floor. We can also tell something about the surface features, whether they are soft sediments or hard rock, from the bottom back scatter.
Meme has a crew of mappers working with her including Scott Allen, Senior Survey Technician; Melody Ovard and Jason Meyer, Mapping Watch Leads; and several interns. Another important part of the mission is to train a new generation of ocean explorers. These interns, Chelsea Wegner, Kristin Mello, and Josue Millan, come from colleges all over the country. Their main job is to make sure the data is good and to create logs to document data collection. They have to correct the multibeam sonar data by deploying XBTs (Expendable Bathythermographs) that determine the temperature changes within the water column because sound speed increases as water temperature increases. They also use sensors on the ship to measure the conductivity and therefore determine the salinity of the water. Since sound waves penetrate saltier water more easily, the salinity affects the sound intensity measurements. Pressure must also be calculated into the equation because sound speed also increases with increasing pressure.
The vessel’s attitude also has to be factored into the sonar (like teachers need to factor in student attitudes when planning a lesson!) Similar to an airplane, a boat can pivot on its center of gravity in all three-dimensional axes: Pitch, Yaw, and Roll. Think about your own head. Pitch is like nodding your head in agreement, yaw is like shaking your head to say no, and roll would be like putting your ear to your shoulder. Gives new meaning to the phrase “Heads are going to roll,” doesn’t it? Boats also heave, or move up and down as swells pass beneath them.
The screen shot above shows the data as it is being collected by the mappers. In the main window in the upper right is the bathymetry data. Below that is the water column backscatter. In the bottom left is the attitude of the vessel on all axes. The center left gray image shows the bottom backscatter while the number 421 above is the current depth beneath the vessel. Finally, the display on the top left indicates the quality and intensity of each of the 432 beams.
We also have a team of researchers from the University of Puerto Rico that are deploying free vehicles to study water masses within the Puerto Rico Trench. More about them in the next blog!
Safety First! On Monday, we had our first drills as part of our safety training. We practiced the “Abandon Ship” and “Fire” drills. We tested the fire hoses and donned our gumby suits. Mrs. Paulsen is looking pretty good, eh? It is comforting to know I’ll be well-protected by good equipment and a great crew in the event of an emergency.
After mapping all morning, we learned we had to return to port due to a medical issue. I discovered that engineers are vital to the operation. Without them, we don’t sail – and they are hard to come by. All of my students interested in marine engine repair should consider NOAA in the future. The pay is good and the adventure is awesome!
I took the time in port to work in the galley helping to make lunch with the chefs. They are a friendly bunch. We made fajitas of all kinds and swordfish. Delicious! I also learned how to garnish a buffet line and even washed dishes afterward. In my high school and college days I worked in many restaurants, but they never let me work in the back. They said I was too much of a “people person” and so I was always waiting on customers. Today I got to cook on one of those large grills I see on cooking shows. Fun to cook on, but not fun to clean. The Chief Steward, Dave Fare, said he brought 5000 lbs of food on board for our trip! We’ll be eating well! Good thing there is a fitness room on board too!
After training on Sunday I had some time to take in a little of the history and culture of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a lovely place filled with beautifully colored buildings and fun music. The history is fascinating. According the National Park Service, this is where Chrisotopher Columbus landed on his 2nd voyage and laid claim to the land for Spain. Under Juan Ponce de Leon, Spain took control of the island, displacing the Taíno Indians in 1508. An enormous wall of defense was built to keep hold of the island. Trade winds and ocean currents allowed ships to easily sail here from the east. The fortifications on the island took 10 generations to build.
Spain kept control of the island against invaders until the Spanish-American war in 1898 when Puerto Rico became a US Territory. The fortress including the Castillo de Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal are now historical sites managed by the National Park Service. You can learn more here.
After touring the city, I found my way to the sea! I watched children running from the waves. This reminded me of my childhood. My father used to take us to the coast when we lived in California and Oregon. That is where my love of the sea began. Both of my parents have adventurous spirits and strong work ethics. They taught me that anything is possible if you are willing to take the chance and put in the effort. This is a belief I hope I pass on to my students.
Question of the Day
Can you identify this crustacean I found along a beach in San Juan?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Theresa Paulsen Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer March 16 – April 3, 2015
Mission: Caribbean Exploration (Mapping) Geographical Area of Cruise: Caribbean Trenchesand Seamounts Date: March 9, 2015
If you could have any super power imaginable, what would it be? Growing up, my son asked me this question numerous times as we walked our dog. While he pondered the advantages of flight, invisibility, or spontaneous combustion, my answer was always the same. I want Aquaman’s powers (but a better looking outfit). I want to swim underwater without the need for dive gear, seahorses, or gillyweed, to see what few others have seen. I want to communicate with whales and dolphins to find out what their large brains can teach us about our planet. While I may not be able to attain superhero status, I can join some real-world adventurers on an amazing vessel equipped to conduct research that will help realize my dream of seeing the unseen depths of the ocean.
Hello, from Northern Wisconsin! My name is Theresa Paulsen. I am a high school science teacher in Ashland, WI. I have been teaching for 17 years while living along the south shore of Lake Superior with my husband and our two children.
The pristine lake and the rich forests around the region provide the resources that sustain our local communities. As we work to promote local stewardship in the classroom, we must recognize that the health and welfare of the resources we treasure are connected to the greater global environment which is heavily influenced by the processes that occur in our oceans. The geological processes occurring near our research zone are fascinating. The North American plate slides passed the Caribbean plate creating the Puerto Rico trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Maps generated by the vessel’s state-of-the-art multibeam sonar on our mission will help geologists learn more about the tectonic activity and potential seismic hazards in the area. (Let’s hope the only rumblings I feel are those caused by the typical mild sea-sickness!) The maps will also be used by marine biologists and resource managers to investigate and assess unique habitat zones. Learn more the mission goals here.
My students and I have been checking in on the vessels live video feed periodically as the ship sails from Rhode Island to Puerto Rico, mapping along the way. I will join the crew in Puerto Rico on the 14th to begin training before the vessel sets sail for the second leg of the mission on the 16th. Throughout our journey, scientists will use the maps we generate to determine areas that require further investigation with the vessel’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on the third leg of the mission.
My goal is to learn as much as I can on this expedition! There is no better way to motivate students to become life-long learners and scientific thinkers than to show them how exciting real research can be. Through the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, my students and I will have the rare opportunity to learn first-hand about the science and technology oceanographers use to study fascinating places in the ocean. I will return to the classroom in April, equipped with lesson ideas and answers to questions about ocean research and careers! Thank you for following me on my journey. Please post questions or comments. I will do my best to address them in future posts (although communication aboard the vessel can be tenuous, I am told). Here is my first question for you:
“We’ll start the first plankton tow around 1:30 or 2,” said Chris Taylor (NOAA Fisheries scientist). Note to self – make sure I have sunscreen… Then Chris added – “a.m. not p.m.” – new note to self- forget sunscreen, instead buy travel mug at ship store.” Ever since our plankton tow net was damaged in Florida, Chris has been on his computer and conferring w/ his office, the CO and Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator on how to get another net. Thanks to a lot of people’s flexibility, a net was found. So, like taking an early morning run to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, we took a run into Cape Canaveral and met a charter boat with net and frame.
There are many different ways to do plankton tows, each for a different purpose. An underwater sled is hauled behind the boat called a “Continuous Plankton Recorder” that is like a conveyor belt and does what the name implies. Our method was to use a frame about the size of a hockey net (GO BLACKHAWKS!) attached to a fine screen net. The tapered net was about 18 feet (6 meters) long and was towed off the side of the ship. The trick is to have the net rise and fall at the surface and down to 60 feet below the surface. Tyler Sheff (Chief Boatswain) found every available weight to attach to the frame and cable that held the net. After a few trials and adding about 200 pounds to the net it worked like a charm.
By 4 a.m. we were pulling in our first haul. Amongst the Sargassum plants were FISH! Chris and I meticulously washed the net with salt water and then he separated out all the plankton (phytoplankton are the plants and zoo plankton are microscopic animals). He then put each tow’s sample in alcohol for preservation to send to the lab for genetic analysis to see if some of the many fish larvae and eggs were indeed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.
Did you know?
First – find the differences in these two pictures :
We have spent a large amount of time on the Stetson Mesa on the Blake Plateau. Why the name “Blake Plateau”? Short answer is that it is named after a ship that was named after a man. The ships above both were ships designed to explore. The urge to explore and answer questions brought about from those explorations is timeless. NOAA’s origins were during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration. This branch of the country’s uniformed service will continue to evolve. America’s 21st century premier exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer, is following in the footsteps of the 19th century’s premier exploratory ship – the George S. Blake. That ship was named after the man who saved the Constitution. (and you thought it was Nicholas Cage) But that’s a story for another time and can be found at:
And one loose end – speaking of finding the differences in photos- and kudos to TAS Denise Harrington & Kalina’s dad for finding the difference in my second blog’s mystery photo challenge of the fact that because of rough seas, the rails on the tables in the mess can be raised to prevent food from sliding to the floor.
Everyone’s nose has turned toward home. Some of the crew have been out to sea since February and the missing and euphoria for terra firma and the lap of family is thick. The same for me with Mollie, Sophie, Izzie and Owen, I miss them tremendously. I’m so anxious to see the best fifth graders ever and my other friends and family. We really don’t need a quote to send it home but Frank Herbert’s words hit the nail on the head.
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
The Okeanos Explorer will get a facelift in North Kingston and head out in August.
I’ll come back for 3 glorious days with my class, forever changed by the privilege of getting a view into other people’s lives.
Saying thank you for this experience is a must.
I have to thank NOAA for selecting me for this opportunity. So many others more deserving, but I’m glad someone was asleep at the bridge last winter and allowed me to sneak in.
Expedition leader- Derek Sowers for his constant humor and patience at having to rewrite my drafts so as not to incur costly and lengthy litigation and Chris Taylor for not getting mad that I bungled the salinity #’s.
Commander Ramos and his Officers Pralgo, Rose, Begun, and Pawlenko for their tolerance with the interns and me constantly seeking permission to enter the bridge. They also shared with me a wealth of knowledge and career opportunities in NOAA for my students. Gracias to the other crew- TR, Pedro, and James and Head and Second Engineers Vinnie and Nancy, and Chief Boatswain Tyler for their willingess to answer questions and give me time and not complain when i was standing in exactly the wrong spot.
The mapping interns, Danielle, Kalina, and Sam for their appetite for hilarity, work and meals.
To Vanessa and Jackie for always being quick to laugh or answer my questions.
To my mom and sister for taking care of business and Lil’ Sebastian.
To Mrs. Steinman, Mrs. York, Mrs. Helminski, Dr. Scarpino, Char, Diane and my students for allowing me this time away.
And most of all to Mollie, Sophie, Izzie , Owen and Jacqui for going full sail during the windiest month of the year.
Storms and subsequent rainbows with dolphins cavorting in the Okeanos Explorer’s bow wake get you asking the big questions.
Why are we here?
Not in the larger philosophical, sense but why is the Okeanos Explorer at 29⁰N, 79⁰W? With 95% of the ocean unexplored, why did NOAA choose the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) to map? I went to Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator for this cruise, to find out.
Derek is a Physical Scientist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), which is the program that leads the scientific missions on the Okeanos Explorer. In preparation for the ship’s explorations this year, OER staff asked many scientists and ocean managers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic southeastern seacoast for priority areas for ocean exploration.The main purpose for the Okeanos Explorer is to explore largely unknown parts of the ocean and then put the data and discoveries out there for other scientists to use as a foundation for further research and improved stewardship. OER staff boil all these ideas down to a few and talk about the pros and cons of the final exploration focus areas. Once an operation’s area is determined for a cruise, OER then asks scientists what additional science can be done in these areas while the ship is planning to go there.
Much of this “extra” science benefits other parts of NOAA – such as the scientists that study fisheries and marine habitat. To manage this extra scientific work, the ship often hosts visiting scientists. On the current cruise, Chris Taylor from NOAA Fisheries Oceanography Branch joined the cruise to lead the plankton tow and oceanographic measurement work to search for Bluefin Tuna larvae in this part of the ocean and to understand the ocean chemistry here. It is important to NOAA to multi task and utilize the ship 24/7 to accomplish numerous scientific objectives. During March and April, lots of details were nailed down and by the middle of April Derek knew that the expedition could include time to do the plankton tows and extra water sampling.
Now, just like a family vacation, things happen along the way that require everyone to make changes. A road could be closed, someone could get sick, the car could break down. These expeditions are no different. So, how do decisions happen at sea?
The crew of the Okeanos Explorer are responsible for safe operation of the ship and for supporting the visiting scientists in accomplishing their objectives for the cruise. The visiting scientists, as led by the Expedition Coordinator, must make decisions about how, where, and what needs to get done to accomplish the science objectives of the cruise. The Expedition Coordinator discusses these plans with the ship’s Operations Officer and she consults with the head of the various department on the ship (Deck, Engineering, Medical, etc.) and the Commanding Officer to most effectively support safely achieving the science team’s goals. There is a daily Operations Meeting for all of these leaders to meet and ensure coordination throughout the day so that things run smoothly on the ship. The Commanding Officer is responsible for making sure the crew implements their duties, while the Expedition Coordinator (often called the Chief Scientist) is responsible for making sure the scientists implement their duties.
For complex decisions, like our present decision whether or not to go inshore to get a replacement plankton net, lots of factors are weighed and the final call is with the Expedition Coordinator and the CO. The Expedition Coordinator weighs trading off seafloor mapping time with getting more plankton data and decides if it is worth it to go get the net. Commander Ramos must decide if it is safe and reasonable to do so and makes the final decision of where and what the ship does.
For seafloor mapping work that happens 24 hours a day, there are three teams of two people who “stand watch” on 8 hour work shifts (called a “watch”). Each watch has a watch leader that works at the direction of the Expedition Coordinator. The Watch Leader ensures the quality of the mapping work accomplished during their 8 hour watch. The ship’s Survey Technician, Jacklyn James, works closely with the visiting mapping scientists to run all of the complex computer systems under standard operating procedures.
Here is an example of how routine small decisions are made. Let’s say that Vanessa Self-Miller (see personal log) is on duty as the Watch Leader and wants to have the ship move over 500 meters to get better sonar coverage of the seafloor below.
Vanessa uses the intercom to call the deck officer on the bridge and tells the officer she would like the ship to move over 500 meters. The officer checks the AIS (see last blog) and sea conditions to see if this would be a safe maneuver for the ship. The reasons for not approving the mapping team’s request would almost always be safety based. Most of the time, the officer says “Sure Thing. Roger That.” and in the space of a few minutes the ship has changed course as requested.
The answer to “why are we here?” is a complex, time-consuming endeavor, but when it works, like on this expedition, it is magic to watch unfold.
Personal log –
Wish you were here.
The storm was not one of those Illinois summer thunderstorms that come racing in from Iowa – gathering energy like a 5th grade class the last few weeks of school. Nope. No simultaneous lightning thunder howitzers that you feel in your spine; just some lightning and wind gusts to 50 knots, but I sure wanted to see how things looked from the bridge once I heard the foghorn. The bridge on the Okeanos Explorer is one of my favorite places on this ship. I always ask permission for entry and if the circumstances allow, the officer on duty will grant it.
Operations Officer Lt.Rose’s IPod was playing Pink Floyd while she divided her attention between the myriad of dials and screens and talking navigation with mapping intern Kalina Grabb. AB Tepper-Rasmussen and NOAA Corps Officer LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Bryan Begun peered into the foggy soup and monitored the AIS.
The irony of the moment struck me because while the crew unconsciously played percussion on the brass rail overhead or mumbled lyrics and David Gilmour and Roger Waters sang about not needing an education, there was so much education and proof of education going on in this little room. That is the defining image I’ll always have of this space on the Okeanos Explorer. It is a place where the acquisition and exhibition of knowledge are so evident and invigorating. You can’t spend more than 4 minutes in this space without learning something or being amazed at how smart these people are and how devoted they are to use that knowledge to carry out the science of this mission. On this particular night, the skies lifted and we had hopes of seeing a launch at Canaveral, 40 miles to the west. Lt. Rose announced to the whole ship that a double rainbow could be seen portside and even the dolphins responded to her call to educate the right side of our brains.
What else have I been doing?
In addition to spending time on the bridge- I have been helping with the XBT launches, using the photometer to add data to the NOAA’s Aerosol Project – with the ever faithful Muffin from good ol’ Hampshire Elementary and preparing for a night launch of CTD and plankton tows – more on that nextblog.
DID YOU KNOW?
Like all women, Vanessa Self-Miller’s mom was great at multi-tasking. While she got things rolling for the evening in the household, Vanessa was her mom’s guinea pig for the next day’s science lessons for her 6th grade students at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Louisiana. She also instilled a love of the scientific method in her daughter.
Her father was a math guy and found out early that Vanessa was going to be the 3rd wheel with her brother on typical father son activities that involved mechanics or being out in nature. That nurturing and her work ethic prompted Vanessa to get a degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She went on to work for the U.S. Navy as a hydrographer doing a lot of mapping harbors and near the shore. She received her masters degree in Hyrdrographic Science from University of Southern Mississippi.
Now she is thrilled to be a physical scientist/hyrdrographer for NOAA. While it is a challenge to coordinate job related travel with her husband and two children, she loves working for NOAA. NOAA respects a work-life balance and that allows her to pursue her passions in life. She wants to encourage all students but especially the young girls to start early in their path to a career in science. She feels that how parents nurture their girls is important in their seeking employment in the fields of science.
On a personal note, any time a question came up from this naive teacher or any of the mapping interns, Vanessa was able to answer it completely and without pause. She encourages all the 5th graders out there, male or female, to pursue their scientific oceanographic dreams. NOAA will need today’s fifth graders to investigate sea level rise and all the Ocean Engineering energy products that our country will need twenty years from now. There will always be a need for scientists who love to explore and want to work for NOAA.
“During a watch change, the XO checked the AIS then handed control over to the CO. When contacted by the mapping room regarding the XBT launch and CTD termination check, the CO said,“Roger that”.
After reading this- you’ll have a better idea what some of these acronyms mean and how we use them on the Okeanos Explorer. In other words, you’ll be able to say- “roger that” to show you understand and agree.
Let’s start with the XO and CO – They are easy and make sense.
CO – The Commanding Officer – He or she is responsible for everything on the ship. (see Personal Log for more information on Commander Ramos of the Okeanos Explorer)
XO – The Executive Officer – Reports to the Commanding Officer and is second in command.
AIS –What is it and why do we need it?
Automatic Identification System. The Okeanos Explorer has an electronic chart display that includes a symbol for every ship within radio range. Each ship “symbol” tells Commander Ramos the name of the ship, the actual size of the ship, where that ship is going, how fast it’s going, when or if it will cross our path, and a lot of other information just by “clicking” on a ship symbol! Here is a link to get more information on AIS. I also took a picture of the Okeanos Explorer AIS screen and below that there’s the actual picture of our closest neighbor, the ship named “Joanna”(look closely on the horizon) . If the CO feels like the ship is going to need to change course, he will inform the scientists in the mapping room right away. Safety and science RULE!
Every two or three hours the mapping team calls the bridge (the driver seat of the ship) and asks permission to launch an XBT – which is short for an eXpendable BathyThermograph. That’s a heavy weighted probe that is dropped from a ship and allows us to measure the temperature as it falls through the water. WHY do we need to measure the temperature of the water if we are using sonar? Sound waves travel at different speeds in different temperature water, just like they travel at different speeds in cold air than warm air. So they need to know the temperature of the water to help calculate how fast the sound or ping that the ship’s sonar sends out so they can map the bottom of the ocean. A very thin wire sends the temperature data to the ship where the mapping team records it. There is more information about XBT’s here:
Many oceanographic missions use CTD’s. The Okeanos Explorer is no exception. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth, and refers to the electronic instruments that measure these properties. The grey cylinders are water sampling bottles and the big white frame protects everything. WHY do scientists need CTD’s? Scientists use a CTD to measure the chemistry of the Ocean from surface to bottom. The CTD can go down to near the bottom and the cylinders close when the scientist on board ship pushes a key on the computer and close so that a water sample is captured at that depth. It’s a lot easier than swimming down there and opening up a jar and closing it.
WHY do they want to know about conductivity? Why do they care how much electricity can go through the water? If the water can conduct more electricity, then it has a higher salinity, i.e. more salt. That helps the scientists know the density of the water at that depth and can help inform them of the biology and ocean currents of that area.
As I mentioned in last blog, everyone plays a part on the Okeanos Explorer. The CO plays a big part in making sure the scientists achieve their goals. The man in charge- Commander Ricardo Ramos answered a few of my questions last night in his office in the forward part of the ship.
When I say Oregon Trail, fifth graders usually think of covered wagons. I doubt that they think of a family of immigrants from Mexico deciding to leave family and friends in sunny Los Angeles and hit the trail north to rainy Oregon. But the devastating riots in Watts in the 1960s caused Commander Ricardo Ramos’s parents to do exactly that. There were some adjustments to be made to life in tiny Klamath Falls, Oregon but his parents, 3 brothers and sister were up to the challenge of no family support and a new community. The family worked for Weyerhaeuser and Commander Ramos knew he did not want to work in the plant the rest of his life. It was never IF he’d go to college, but “WHERE”. He was the second of the five children to attend college, earning 2 Associates degrees and a degree in Electrical Engineering. After entering NOAA and gaining his masters from Averett University, he spent time on various NOAA ships and in other capacities. He is also a graduate of Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program.
He had a couple words of advice for elementary school students. First, take advantage of all learning opportunities, for you will never know when you might need the knowledge you will gain. Second, that communication, both written and oral, is probably the most important part of his job. He is not afraid of getting input and editing of his writing for the job. His greatest reward is realizing that he is charge of a tremendous asset of the United States that provides a platform for scientist to explore our vast oceans.
Did You Know?
Displacement – When you think displacement, you probably think of a quick definition like “moved aside” that we learned when we made aluminum foil boats. When you get in a kiddie pool, bathtub or any body of water, you move aside water. If you measure the weight or amount of water that you move aside, that is your displacement. The Okeanos Explorer moves aside a lot of water – more than 2,500 TONS of water. That’s about 700,000- gallons of water that gets displaced. The ship is 224 feet long and 43 feet wide in its widest part. Now, I don’t know about you – but I start thinking about the really big ships and tankers that we see passing by the Okeanos Explorer on the radar (their ‘deets’ are given to us by the AIS system – See the Section on ABC’s for an explanation of AIS) Well, there was a ship called “The Knock Nevis” and it was 1500 feet long! Did it displace water? You bet!. 650,000 tons of water when fully loaded! (use a ton of water = gallon converter on google to figure out how many gallons that is). Let’s just say that it’s a lot more than our little MUFFIN – the winner of the Coon Creek Boat Race.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dave Murk Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer May 7 – 22, 2014
Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping Geographical Area of Cruise: Off the Coast of Florida and Georgia – Western portion of the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) Date: May 10, 2014
Weather data from Bridge:
Temperature 25 degrees celsius (can you convert to Fahrenheit?)
WInd – From 160 degrees at 14 knots (remember north is 0 degrees)
Latitude : 28 degrees – Longitude: 79 degrees.
Science and Technolgy Log:
Two of the goals for this expedition. (There are a lot more)
Expedition coordinator Derek Sowers said his best case scenario for this mission is to meet all the cruise objectives. The main one- an aggressive 24/7 campaign to map as much seafloor as possible within top priority mapping areas offshore of the Southeast United States and along the canyons at the edge of the Atlantic continental shelf.
In addition to that mapping goal, he wants the visiting fisheries scientist on board to get good water samples for the Ocean Acidification Program and good samples from the plankton tows. Last but not least, he “wants the mission team to have a great learning experience.”
The ship has three different sonars, each of which is good for different things. One sonar sends out a single beam of sound that lets you see fish and other creatures in the water column. Another sonar sends powerful sounds that bounce back off the bottom and gives you information about the geology (rocks and sediment) of the seafloor. Perhaps the most impressive sonar onboard is the multi-beam sonar. You know how your garden hose has a setting for jet spray when you want to aim it at your brother who is 10 feet away? The water comes out in a straight narrow line. But there’s also another setting called ‘shower” or wide spray. The multibeam sonar is like combining the best of both of these sprays into one and sends out a fan of sound that allows the scientists to map a broad section of the seafloor. By measuring how long it takes this sound to reach a patch of seafloor and return to the ship, it is possible to estimate the distance and that is how the shape of the seafloor can be mapped. Using this technology enables NOAA to map the seascape in order to better protect marine habitat and reduce harm from human activities. Mapping the marine protected areas off the east coast of Florida and Georgia is important because there are deep sea corals in this area and it is important fisheries habitat.
This cruise features a visiting scientist from NOAA Fisheries, named Chris Taylor. Chris’s part of the expedition includes collecting water samples and towing a net that can collect very small creatures called plankton. Chris is specifically examining the plankton he catches to see if bluefin tuna use this part of the ocean to lay eggs and raise young tuna. Samples from the net will go back to a lab to be analyzed to make sure they are bluefin and not yellowfin tuna.
Chris spent most of this windy but warm night tying a rope to the net that he’ll use for HOPEFULLY – catching some baby Bluefin Tunas. Like insects, Bluefin tuna go through an egg stage THEN a larva stage. When they are very small they drift with the currents with the rest of the ocean community. Once a larva is over 7 millimeters, they can avoid the net. But If we find some Bluefin tuna – it may mean that we have found a new spawning ground for Bluefin tuna in the southern North Atlantic.
Two people who make this ship run so well:The operations officer – Lieutenant Emily Rose. Officer Rose can usually be found on the bridge of the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer. Today she was teaching a course on small craft navigation before I caught up with her. The thing she really loves about this position is that there are new set of challenges each day. She is always learning (and I’ll add that she is almost always sharing that knowledge with others) but the ship is her first responsibility. The most difficult thing is getting up every morning before 3:00 a.m. and being away from everyone back home.
Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Electronics Technician Will Okeson are the Tech guys and they are always busy. Since Okeanos Explorer is America’s premier ocean exploration ship, there are a lot of computers, miles of cable and lots of video equipment to maintain. Richard and Will’s favorite part of the job is when all the parts work together and the public can see their product and when they can trouble shoot and help the science team reach their objectives. The most difficult thing it so be away from families when there is a crisis or joyous moment.
Two things about my personal experiences so far on EX-14-03 (our mission)
First – – “SCIENCE RULES” to quote Bill Nye. Every Okeanos Explorer crew member and scientific crew member are all about the science of the mission. When one of the science crew is going to launch something called an XBT over the side, they call and get an OK from the bridge (where the captain or second in command and the crew that are on “watch” are located). No one hesitates to ask questions of each other. Why is this? What is that? Where is the nearest ship? What’s for lunch? (just kidding ! Chief Steward Randy posts a menu every day and it beats out Golden Corral any day of the week for tastiness and diversity). But the important thing of the mission is the science and every single person on the ship works to make the mission a success.
Second – RESPECT – There is so much respect shown on the Okeanos Explorer. It’s respect for other people, for the ship, for the environment, for rules and for commons spaces. Yesterday while on the bridge, Ensign Nick Pawlenko was taking over from Commander Ramos and they both showed such respect for rules and for each other by going over all the observations of the ship’s speed, the weather conditions and whether there were any other ships in the area. When breakfast was over – I saw Operations Officer Rose stick her head in the galley (kitchen) and thank Chief Cook Ray and Chief Steward Randy for a great meal. No one slams doors since it might wake the crew and scientists who are on night duty. Everyone cleans up after themselves. If you ever have a question and if the crew or scientists can answer it, they will. There is respect for the environment when we separate our garbage each meal. If only the whole world was like the Okeanos.
MYSTERY PICTURE – Here are two photos – what’s different about them? And WHY?? That’s the million dollar question (or an even better prize –bluefin tuna larva in our trawl nets )
The duty of the right eye is to plunge into the telescope, whereas the left eye interrogates the microscope” ― Leonora Carrington
WHERE I’LL BE:
Have you seen the video from the ship Okeanos? The Okeanos Live Feed is astounding and will draw you in, so give yourself a little time to absorb the privilege of ‘swimming’ 6000 feet below the ocean’s surface. You will hear in real time, biology/geology experts on the ship and scattered around the globe, sharing their opinions regarding the HD footage from miles below the surface. We live in such an amazing world that can be put under the microscope, telescope, replayed, enlarged and viewed ad infinitum. We have instant access to ultrasounds from our unborn babies, the slow motion HD replay of that Stanley Cup winning goal, the frivilous youtube video, the Hubble, and swipes through a loved one’s phone pictures. The fact that we can sit in our landlocked cubicles and watch as the Okeanos scientists discuss and decipher the unexplored underwater canyons is mesmerizing. There are so many times in our lives that the promises of technological advances are useless and unfulfilled, but the wealth of knowledge aboard the Okeanos and the instantaneous sharing of the science via the ship’s telepresence is a dream realized. I will be aboard the Okeanos Explorer during most of the month of May. Our mission will include using the ship’s multi-beam deep water sonar capabilities to map some exciting Atlantic Canyons off the coast of Florida, making a long transit all the way up the East Coast, and working with scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service on potentially discovering new spawning grounds for the threatened bluefin tuna.
WHAT I’LL MISS:
The desire to explore is deeply woven into the fabric of all people, especially children. It is a privilege to spend my days teaching and exploring with 30 of the best ten and eleven year olds to ever walk the face of the earth. They work hard and are kinder than necessary. I am fortunate to teach with a phenomenal staff in the wonderful supportive community of Hampshire Elementary School. Hampshire, Illinois is a small town (population 5600) surrounded by an ocean of corn and bean fields. After a 30 minute drive east on a clear day you can just make out the top of the John Hancock Building and the rest of the skyline of downtown Chicago.
There is a combination of old and new at Hampshire Elementary. Many of the students’ parents attended this school and that lends an attitude of trust and support between faculty and parents. We as teachers appreciate that and there isn’t any desire to transfer to other schools in the district. On these warm spring days, the bike racks outside the school fill up and parents may let their children walk up town to Chicken Dip for a cone. While there are many “old school” attributes to our school, we also keep up with the new technologies. All of our classrooms have interactive white boards and teachers have personal laptops. The students have nearly constant access to two computer labs and a high percentage have internet access in their homes. I teach fifth graders; actually, we teach each other and I try to facilitate that. I have taught for a few years now. . . . since 1980! My favorite thing about a classroom is watching the students solve problems. One of the problems that I hope to help them solve is how our actions in the Midwest affect our planet’s oceans. I want them to see firsthand how things we put in our streams and atmosphere in Illinois can eventually affect the reefs and spawning grounds of organisms thousands of miles away. It is my hope too that one of these Hampshire Whippurs might someday be one of the NOAA scientists who make a key discovery that allows economic development without destroying fragile habitats.
I will also miss my four children during the busy month of May. I will miss Mollie moving out of her dorm and arriving home from Hope College, Sophie’s role in Prairie Ridge High School’s performance of “Sixteen and More”, Izzie’s performances in Spoghtlight Theater’performance of “Willy Wonka”, and (hopefully) a lot of Chicago Blackhawk’s playoff games with my son, Owen.
WHERE I’VE BEEN:
Living a thousand miles from the ocean is not where I thought I’d live when I was a boy. I loved the sea and always thought I’d live on the shore. When I was young, my family traveled back to my birthplace in Ireland by ship. I was quite happy to stand at the stern for hours and watch the wake disappear into the horizon. During the summers, when we’d go camping in Florida or Cape Cod, it was always the ocean that drew my interest. When teaching in Coventry, England on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange, I went to the coast in Eastbourne or Wales as often as I could afford. Now, camping with my own children along the shores of Lake Michigan at Pentwater and Warren Dunes has to suffice for a “seaside experience” though there is something so much more intoxicating about the salt water breezes. It is a lifelong goal to spend an extended time out at sea. To combine that with teaching is an incredible privilege. Thank you to NOAA, my family, and my WONDERful students and friends.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier July 29 – August 15, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic Survey Geographical Area of the Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska Date: Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: GPS location: 54°52.288’N, 159°55.055’W
Sky condition: Overcast (OVC) with Fog (FG)
Visibility: Less than 2 nautical miles (nm)
Wind: 120 degrees true, 13 knots (kt)
Sea level pressure: 1009.7 millibar (mb)
Sea wave height: 1 foot (ft)
Swell waves: 180 degrees true, 3 ft
Water temperature: 9.4°C
Air temperature: 12.2°C
Science and Technology Log
From the moment I stepped on to the NOAA Ship Rainier in port at the Coast Guard Base in Kodiak three days ago, it was apparent to me that this ship functions in order to acquire information. Hours upon hours of teamwork, dedication, money, and precise planning go in to making sure this ship gets to the right spot, functions properly, and has the correct instrumentation to collect the data. My goal for this post is to share with you all of the science that goes into making sure that this ship is able to perform the overall mission of doing hydrographic surveys.
First perhaps I should give a brief background of what a hydrographic survey is and why they are done. The NOAA Ship Rainier uses sonar in order to collect information about the ocean floor. Each time the ship, or any of the survey launches (smaller boats), use this sonar, they are surveying the area for hydrographic information.
This information is then processed and used to create nautical charts which NOAA produces for navigational purposes. These nautical charts contain information on ocean floor depth, but they also give detailed information on areas that may be hazardous to those navigating the waters in that area. I will stop there for now on the hydrographic surveys because the surveys have only just begun today on the ship. The ship has been in transit the past two days, meaning that we have been moving from port to our survey area. Little did I know how much science it takes to even get the ship to the survey area where the hydrographic surveys can begin.
If you are one of my students reading this blog, you may know how I say that science is everywhere. One of my students even asked me this past year, “Mrs. Sard, are you like ALWAYS thinking about science?” Well it turns out that science IS everywhere on this ship. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with several different crew members in my first few days, and they’ve been eager to explain the many functions of the ship and the crew. What is important to understand is that there are several departments that all must work together in order to allow the ship to function properly. Here is a brief breakdown of each department and what their main tasks are:
Wardroom – These are mostly members of the NOAA Corps which is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Besides managing and operating the ship, these dedicated workers also function as scientists and engineers.
Survey – These are the scientists that are mostly in charge of the hydrographic data. They collect, process, and manage the information that is collected during the surveys.
Engineers – These people have the important task of keeping the ship in functioning order. They do things like maintain the engine room and respond to any mechanical type issues.
Electronics Technician (ET) – This crew is in charge of the technology on board the ship. They ensure that things like the computers, internet, and phones are all up in working condition.
Steward – This department is tasked with the job of feeding the crew members. (They do a great job, and I think I might actually gain weight while out a sea because I cannot say no to the delicious food they prepare!)
Deck – The deck crew members are responsible for things like driving the small launches, maintaining the ship’s equipment, and so on.
Visitors – These would be people, like me, who are only on board the ship temporarily. They have a specific purpose that usually falls within one of the other departments.
Navigating the Ship
Now that you are aware of the overall goal of the ship, and you are familiar with the departments, let me discuss the science that is needed to get the ship where we need to go. It was an overwhelming and exciting feeling to be on the bridge of the ship while we were getting underway. The Officer On Deck (OOD) was giving orders to both the helmsman, who marked his orders down on a marker board, and the “lee helm” or engine controls operated by ENS Poremba. The third mate was acting as the navigator and had precisely mapped out the route for safely and efficiently departing the Coast Guard base.
The Commanding Officer (CO) was overseeing all that was happening, along with several other officers. I was in awe of how smoothly everything came together, and how efficiently the people worked together as a team. LT Gonsalves eloquently said that the ship is like a “floating city” and that all of the pieces must come together in order for it to function.
As I awoke yesterday, after our first night out at sea, I could hear the fog horn coming from the bridge. I decided to go and observe again to see how things were functioning out at open sea. ENS Wall showed me how to do a GPS fix to make sure that we are following the plans laid out for navigation.
These are taken about every fifteen minutes. He used the current chart that was laid out as well as electronic GPS measurements and plotted them on the chart with a compass. He then marked the latitude and longitude with the time to show that we were on course at that moment.
The OOD, John Kidd, went on to explain a bit more about the navigation of the ship including the gyroscope. Simply put, a gyroscope is an instrument used for measuring and maintaining orientation while out at sea, but it’s not as simple as it looks. I noticed a sign that read “Gyro Error” and so I asked. John went on to tell me that the gyro error is the difference between true north and what the gyro thinks is north. The difference between true north and magnetic north is the combination of “variation” which is a function of local magnetic fields, and “deviation” which is the effect the magnetic fields aboard the boat have on the compass. The steel ship itself and all of the electricity on board have some crazy magnetic fields that interfere.
Finally, I went up to the bridge this morning to quickly get the weather data that I needed for my blog. What I thought would be a quick visit turned into a 30 minute conversation with the crew. It was remarkable to see all of the data that is collected each hour dealing with the weather. The conning officer is required to take the data once each hour and enter it into the computer. They don’t simply look out and take a rough estimate of the weather. It is a detailed process that takes a variety of instrumentation in order to get the quantified weather data that is needed. All of the weather data is then sent off to NOAA’s National Weather Service and is used to refine the local at-sea weather forecasts.
I couldn’t help but smile at all of the science and math that was taking place in order to have safe navigation through the sea. So much science goes in to making sure that the officers have accurate data in order to navigate the ship. This is one of my goals as a TAS: I want to show my students how many different opportunities they have, and the possible fields of science that NOAA has to offer.
When I arrived in Kodiak on Saturday, Avery Marvin, the previous Teacher at Sea (TAS) was still on board for one night. She took me on a tour of the ship, and gave me the low down on how everything functions. Avery and I decided that before departing on Monday, we would take the day on Sunday to explore the island of Kodiak. I couldn’t believe all of the wildlife I saw including the various creatures of the tide pools, bald eagles, sea otters, salmon, and so much more.
I have been so impressed by the functionality of the ship. Every inch of space is used, and the people on board truly understand what it means to work as a team. Yesterday we had our safety drills including Fire/Emergency and Abandon Ship. When the different alarms sounded, I was required to quickly get to my muster station where I was checked in and accounted for to the CO. I also was asked to try on my immersion suit. In all of the excitement, I wasn’t able to get a picture, but it was an experience to practice these drills.
I believe my body is starting to get accustomed to the constant movement of the ship. While sleeping in my rack (bed) at night, I can feel it as the ship sways back and forth. At times the waves are large, but for the most part it feels as though I’m being rocked to sleep.
Please post comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or information that you would like me to blog about. I’m looking forward to sharing more information on my experience with you next time!
Did You Know…
Each ship has it’s own call sign. These signs are displayed on the ship by flags that each represent one letter in the alphabet, and they are international symbols that are used. The call sign for the NOAA Ship Rainier is WTEF.
To ensure clearness when reading off these letters, the military alphabet is used. For example, if you were reading the call sign for the Rainier it would read Whiskey Tango Echo Foxtrot instead of just WTEF.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012
Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS) Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012 Weather conditions: calm conditions overnight leading to widespread radiation fog immediately following sunset. Ship had to make use of foghorn for a couple of hours overnight. Today, cloudy with possible rain showers. Winds SW from 10-15 kts, with gust up to 20 in rain showers. Seas from the SW at 3-5 ft.
Science and Technology Log
WACS Field Campaign Update:
This morning we reached the 3-day mark for sampling at station 1, which was in the high chlorophyll concentration off of Georges Bank. During these 3 days, we have been continuously sampling aerosols using both the Sea Sweep and the Bubble Generator (see last post for descriptions of each of these methods).
Some issues that have cropped up throughout this time are linked to our extremely calm and settled weather. Although the calm winds have made for minimal seas, ideal conditions for the Sea Sweep, those scientists sampling ambient air have been picking up ship exhaust in their measurements, despite the bridge keeping our bow head-to-wind. However, during our transit this complication should not be an issue and ambient sampling can take place continuously.
Conductivity, Temperature and Depth:
We also took a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) profile using the CTD rosette on the 21st, collecting water near the bottom at 55m and other levels on the way to the surface. These water samples were utilized by numerous scientists on board for experiments such as, testing for surface tension, biological testing and chlorophyll measurement.
The science plan for today involved one final CTD cast while at station 1, with all Niskin bottles being tripped at 5m. This large volume is necessary for a Bubble Generator experiment that will be run with this CTD water during the transit to station 2.
After the CTD cast was completed, the Sea Sweep was recovered and other necessary preparations for the transition to our new station. While underway for approximately 24 hours, intake hoses were switched to enable sampling of ambient aerosols along the way.
How to sample aerosols?
One of the tasks that I have been helping out with is the changing of aerosol impactors that are used to collect aerosol samples. These impactors consist of metal cylinders with various “stages” or levels (upper left photo below). Each level has different sizes of small holes, over which a filter is laid. During sampling, these impactors are hooked up to intake hoses where airflow is pumped through them and as the air is forced through the different “stages” or levels, the aerosols are “impacted” on the filters.
This all seems simple enough…. However can be a little more cumbersome as the impactors are heavy, climbing up ship ladders with heavy things can be tricky depending on current sea state, and 2 of our impactor changes happen routinely in the dark, making things a little interesting at times!
Seawater sampling for chlorophyll:
Another type of sampling I have helped out with involves the filtration of raw seawater to extract chlorophyll. This is done in the seawater van where we have a continuous flow of in situ water that is taken in at the bow at a depth of approximately 5m. This is done with two different types of filters, a couple of times a day. The photo below shows Megan running a sample through one type of filter, which will later be prepared with an acetone solution and after a resting period, be measured for chlorophyll concentration using a fluorometer.
Lots of sightings during transit:
As we headed south during our transit to station 2, we had an afternoon full of sightings! An announcement from the bridge informing us that we were now in “shark infested waters” sent an air of excitement around the ship as we all raced to the bridge for better viewing. Some loggerhead turtles were also spotted. Our final sighting of the day was a huge pod of porpoises riding the wake from our bow.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012
Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS) Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Weather Data:Winds light and variable less than 10 kts. Combined seas from the SW 3-5 ft, lowering to 2-4 ft overnight. Into Wednesday 22nd, winds continue to be light and variable, becoming NE overnight less than 10 kts.
Science and Technology Log
WACS Field Campaign Update
Greetings from Georges Bank off the coast of New England! This is our first of 2 sampling stations during the Western Atlantic Climate Survey (WACS) field campaign, over the next 9 days. Our current location was chosen due to its high chlorophyll values, indicating productive waters. Shortly after our arrival here approximately 0700 on the 20th, the Sea Sweep instrument was deployed, and aerosol collection began (see picture below). However, for many of the scientists onboard, data collection began almost immediately after disembarking Boston, on the 19th.
Upon my arrival to the ship in Boston, I quickly learned that this field campaign is a little unusual due to the sheer volume of equipment being utilized, and the short nature of the cruise itself. As we disembarked the Coast Guard pier in Boston, a running joke being echoed around the ship was, “30 days of science in 9 days…. ready, set, and GO!”
Over 9 mobile research vans were loaded onto the Ron Brown in preparation for this campaign making for a “low-riding ship”, joked our captain at our welcome meeting on the 19th. Each van contains multiple instruments, computers, ancillary equipment and supplies, and they also serve as research labs for the science teams to work in.
During the past two days, I have been making the rounds to each of these lab vans to hear more about the science taking place in each. With the help of the Chief Bosun, Bruce Cowden, I have also been able to shoot some video of these visits. With the assistance of Bruce, I am learning how to stitch these clips together into some fun short video pieces, so stay tuned for more to come!
A Little about the Sea Sweep
The Sea Sweep instrument consists of floating pontoons that hold a metal hood. The hood is mounted on a frame that protrudes below the water line when deployed, with two “frizzles” or “bubble maker” nozzles that air is pumped through to produce freshly emitted sea spray particles. These particles are then collected through two intake pipes attached to the hood, and are piped into the AeroPhys van. From there, samples are collected and also the intake is drawn into other vans for additional measurements.
Comparison of Sea Sweep Data with “the Bubbler”
Sea spray particles are also being produced and collected via another method onboard, allowing for comparison with the Sea Sweep data. The picture below shows bubbles being generated in seawater that is fed into a large glass tower. This is an aerosol generator (a.k.a. “the bubbler”) brought on board by the University of Virginia. Through sampling with both the Sea Sweep and the bubbler, a greater size range and variety of aerosols can be sampled throughout the cruise.
After waiting a day or so for things to settle down and instruments to get up and running, I was eager to dive right in and be put to work on board. After an announcement made by the chief scientist, Trish Quinn, during our first evening meeting I was quickly solicited by a few different people to help with a range of tasks. So far these have included helping change impactor filters necessary for aerosol sampling 3 times a day (1 of these switches has been happening at 0500, making for some early mornings but pretty sunrises), getting raw sea water samples every 2 hours from different sampling points on board, preparing sea water samples for different analysis such as surface tension, and measuring samples for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon.
Amongst all the sampling taking place however, it has been nice to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the extremely calm and settled weather we are having. A very memorable moment yesterday occurred when an announcement over the ship’s intercom alerted all aboard to a pod of whales off the port bow. It was nice to see the excitement spread, with both crew and science team members racing to the bow in unison with cameras in tow!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012
Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS) Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean Date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Introduction: Purpose of the Cruise
Hello from Annapolis, MD! My name is Gina Henderson and I am very excited about my imminent departure to Boston this coming Saturday as part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. In Boston I will rendezvous with the Ronald H. Brown NOAA ship and join the science team to conduct experiments aimed at collecting in situ measurements of ocean-derived aerosols. The purpose of this experiment is to characterize the cloud-nucleating abilities of these aerosols. We also aim to sample atmospheric particles, gases, and surface sea water to assess the impact of ocean emissions on atmospheric composition.
A Little about Me
I am an Assistant Professor in the Oceanography Department at the United States Naval Academy. Here, I teach courses in climate science, physical geography and weather. My research to date has focused on land-atmosphere interactions using computer climate models, understanding the role of snow cover in the hydrologic and global climate system, and the influence of such elements on atmospheric circulation and climate change.
Growing up on the east coast of Ireland, my interest in climatology was awakened from an early age having been exposed to the elements through outdoor pursuits including sailing, travel, and hiking. I have found that sharing my enthusiasm and passion for these sciences, focusing on the application of how they relate to our day-to-day lives and the environment in which we live, is an excellent platform to foster student interest and participation.
Having worked as a sail racing coach in Ireland, and captaining boats in the Caribbean during my undergraduate summers, I was eager to get back to the sport after relocating to Annapolis. Since my arrival at the Academy, I have also been volunteering as a coach for the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team which has been a great experience so far and helped me learn more about my students outside of the classroom.
Going into my second year teaching at the Naval Academy, I am excited to get this opportunity to participate in this NOAA field work campaign. Having spent the last few weeks as the science officer for a Yard Patrol cruise, where we took a group of 17 midshipmen and introduced them to various oceanographic and meteorologic instrumentation on board the Oceanography Department’s dedicated Yard Patrol training vessel, I hope to acquire new fieldwork skills and experiences while aboard the Ron Brown and to use such experiences back in Annapolis.
The timing of this research cruise coincides with the start of the semester back at the Naval Academy. This semester, I am teaching two sections of the upper level major elective course, Global Climate Change. While it will be challenging to be absent from the classroom for the first two weeks of class, I plan on engaging with my students virtually and as close to real-time as communications allow through this blog.
With this in mind, after a colleague introduces the course policy statement and syllabus next Monday 20 August, I am asking all students to take 10-20 minutes to google the underlined terms in the “Introduction: purpose of this cruise” section above, beginning with the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Students should write a brief summary (2-3 sentences) of what they find, focusing on the program goal(s). Students should then research the other underlined terms and write a brief summary (1-2 sentences) of what they should know about these terms from their previous course, SO244: Basic Atmospheric Processes. This assignment will be submitted via email to Prof. Henderson before the beginning of class on Tuesday August 21.
NOAA Teacher at sea Bhavna Rawal On Board the R/V Walton Smith Aug 6 – 10, 2012
Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico Date: August 8, 2012
. Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time: 1.43 GMT
Longitude: 21 23 933
Latitude: 24 29 057
Wind direction: East of South east
Wind speed: 18 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3 ft
Science and Technology Log:
Yesterday, I learned about the CTD and the vast ocean life. Today I learned about a new testing called net tow, and how it is necessary to do, and how it is done.
What is Net Tow? The scientist team in the ship uses a net to collect sargassum (a type of sea weed) which is towed alongside the ship at the surface of the predetermined station.
How did we perform the task? We dropped the net which is made of nylon mess, 335 microns which collects zooplanktons in the ocean. We left this net in the ocean for 30 minutes to float on the surface of the ocean and collects samples. During this time the ship drives in large circles. After 30 minutes, we (the science team) took the net out of the ocean. We separated sargassum species, sea weeds and other animals from the net. We washed them with water, then classified and measured the volume of it by water displacement. Once we measure the volume, we threw them back into the ocean.
Types of Sargassum and Plankton: There are two types of sargassum; ones that float, and the other ones that attach themselves to the bottom of the ocean. There are two types of floating sargassum and many types attached to bottom of the ocean.
Also there are two types of plankton; Zooplankton and phytoplankton. As you all know phytoplankton are single celled organisms, or plants that make their own food (photosynthesis). They are the main pillar of the food chain. It can be collected in a coastal area where there is shallow and cloudy water along the coastal side. The phytoplankton net is small compared to the zooplankton and is about 64 microns (small mess).
Zooplanktons are more complex than phytoplankton, one level higher in their food chain. They are larva, fish, crabs etc. they eat the phytoplankton. The net that is made to catch zooplankton, is about 335 microns. Today, we used the net to collect zooplankton.
Why Net Tow is necessary: Net tow provides information about habitats because tons of animals live in the sargassum. It is a free floating ecosystem. Scientists are interested in the abundance of sargassum and the different kinds of animals, such as larva, fishes, crabs, etc. Many scientists are interested in the zooplankton community structures too.
Dive, Buoy and other data collection equipments: Two science team members prepared for diving; which means that they wore scuba masks, oxygen tanks and other equipment. They took a little boat out from the ship and went to the buoy station. They took the whole buoyancy and other data collection instruments with them. The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, and the ADCP measures currents of the ocean. Both instruments collect many data over the period. The reason for bringing them back, is to recover data in a Miami lab and the maintenance of the buoy.
My first day on the ship was very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. I had to take medicine to prevent me from being seasick. This medicine made me drowsy, which helped me to go to sleep throughout the night. The small bunk bed and the noise from the moving ship did not matter to me. I woke up in the morning, and got ready with my favorite ‘I love science’ t-shirt on. I took breakfast and immediately went to meet with my science team to help them out for the CTD and net tow stations. Today, I felt like a pro compared to yesterday. It was a bit confusing during the first day, but it was very easy today.
I started helping lowering the CTD in the ocean. Now I know when to use the lines for the CTD, water sampling for different kinds of testing, how to net tow and do the sargassum classification. I even know how to record the data.
When we have a station call from the bridge, then we work as a team and perform our daily CTD, water testing or net tow. But during the free time, we play card games and talk. Today was fun and definitely action packed. Two science team members dove into the ocean and brought the buoy back. I also saw a fire drill.
Nelson (the chief scientist) took me to see TGF or called the flow through station which is attached inside the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc. Nelson explained the importance of this machine. I was very surprised by the precise measurements of this machine. Several hours later, I went to the captain’s chamber, also called the bridge. I learned how to steer the boat, and I was very excited and more than happy to sit on the captain’s chair and steer.
We have also seen groups of dolphins chasing our ship and making a show for us. We also saw flying fishes. In the evening, around 8 o’clock after dinner, I saw the beautiful colorful sunset from the ship. I took many videos and pictures and I can’t wait to process it and see my pictures.
Around 10 o’clock in the night, it was net tow time again. We caught about 65 moon jelly fishes in the net and measured their volumes. Nelson also deployed a drifter in the ocean.
Today was very fun and a great learning opportunity for me, and don’t forget the dolphins, they really made my day too!
Question of the Day:
How do you measure volume of solid (sea grass)?
Something to Think About:
Why scientists use different instruments such as CTD as well as TFG to measuretemperature, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM etc?
Why abundance of sargassum, types of animals and data collection is important in ocean?
Did you Know?
The two instruments were the Acoustic Doppler (ADCP) and the micro cat which was attached to the buoy. The micro cat measures salinity and temperature on profile of currents, which means it measures at surface of the ocean, middle of the ocean and bottom layer of the ocean too.
Animals Seen Today:
Five groups of dolphins
Seven flying fishes
Sixty five big moon jelly fishes
Two big crabs
NOAA Teacher at Sea Bhavna Rawal Aboard the R/V Walton Smith August 6 – 10, 2012
Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico Date: Aug 7, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft
Science and Technology log:
Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.
Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida. At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.
Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).
At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples. These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them. They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.
The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.
The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface. Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.
Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.
If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.
Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean. It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean. If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean. If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic. This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater. When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.
Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from. The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers. You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal. You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.
From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.
Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.
I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.
The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.
I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.
The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!