Jessica Cobley: An Introduction, July 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 17 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Aleutian Islands)

Date: Monday, July 15th, 2019

Weather Data from Juneau, AK: 8:50am Lat: 58.35° N Lon: 134.58° W 

Personal Log

Hello everyone. In just a few days I will be swapping out halibut fishing in Juneau, AK for surveying walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA)…and I can’t wait! Our cruise on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will depart from Kodiak Island and sail out along the Aleutian Islands, a place I have yet to see or experience since moving to Alaska. 

Jessica halibut fishing
Fishing for Halibut near Holkham Bay. This photo was taken just after the fillet had slipped out of my hands and onto the boat deck…guess I’ll benefit from fish handling practice on the cruise! Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi

Three years ago, I left a curriculum consulting job in Portland, OR to begin teaching in Juneau. Prior to Oregon, I was living overseas in Australia, where I completed my Masters in Education and spent time with the Australian side of my family. I am incredibly excited to now call Juneau my home and be in the classroom as both an educator and a learner. Alaska is such a unique and special place – sometimes I still can’t believe I live here! 

Currently, I work as a 7th grade Life Science teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Not only is middle school my favorite age of kids to teach (yes, you heard that right), but I also love the curriculum we get to share with them. One main focus during the school year is to teach about ecosystems. Two years ago I developed a unit, along with NOAA Scientist Elizabeth Siddon, that focuses on how commercial fisheries quotas are set in Alaska. The lessons range from data collection and stakeholder input to presenting recommendations to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Alaska takes several different aspects of the ecosystem into consideration when setting quotas and I think it is a great way for students to see how the science they learn in school can be applied to real life careers. 

7th grade students
Students in my 7th grade life science class presenting ecosystem risk table recommendations to a panel of scientists for sablefish quotas in the Gulf of Alaska.

I myself have never had the chance to work as a scientist. That is why I am so excited for the opportunity to participate in data collection and analysis alongside a research team right here in Alaska. It will be fantastic to bring what I learn back to my students and be able to give them an even better understanding what being a scientist can entail. 

Lastly, outside of teaching, I try to enjoy all of the outdoor activities Juneau has to offer. With the recent streak of unusually warm and sunny weather, my friends and I have been boating, swimming, and hiking as much as possible. While it will be hard to leave those things behind, I am looking forward to this next adventure! 

Jessica hiking
Midway through a hike from Granite Creek Basin to Mount Juneau. Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi


Science and Technology Log

The research team on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is conducting an acoustic-trawl (AT) survey to collect data, primarily on walleye pollock, to be used in stock assessment models for determining commercial fisheries quotas. When collecting data, scientists will work in 12 hour shifts and be looking to determine things such as species composition, age, length distribution etc. 

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: NOAA

Trawl fishing, for those of you unfamiliar, is a method of fishing when a net of particular size is pulled through the water behind a boat. Oscar Dyson is a 64 meter stern trawler that contains acoustic and oceanographic instruments to collect the necessary data. After researching online, I learned that the main instrument used is a Simrad EK60 split-beam echosounder system. Look for more information about what this instrument is (and others) in future blog posts! 

Did You Know?

Alaska pollock is one of the largest commercial fisheries in the world! 

Thank you for reading and I am looking forward to sharing more about life out at sea! 

Anne Krauss: Farewell and Adieu, November 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: November 11, 2018

Weather Data from home

Conditions at 1615

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar

Air Temperature: 3° C

Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h

Humidity: 74%

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear. The sun is shining in the background.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin is preparing to retrieve the longline gear. A grapnel and his hand are visible against the water.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin preparing to retrieve the longline gear with a grapnel

Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud ofa sense of adventureopportunity to see new places and give backcombining adventure and sciencewanted to protect the resources we have

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.

Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department are hanging on hooks.
Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department

Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway standing on deck.
The ship had a small library of books, and several crew members mentioned reading as a favorite way to pass the time at sea. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway shared several inspiring and philosophical websites that he enjoyed reading.

 

Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:

In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.

Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”

A pre-dive safety briefing takes place on the ship's bridge.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive operation safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.

Chris’ recommendations:

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  • Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford

The sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:

Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.

Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin. Photo courtesy of Chuck Godwin.

In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”

 

 

Personal Log

Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.

A high flyer and buoy float on the surface of the water.
A high flyer and buoy mark one end of the longline.

My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:

If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…

If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…

If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…

If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.

And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.

The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.

A spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
At the base of the spiral-shaped shell, the occupant had cemented other shells at regular intervals.

The spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
The underside of the shell.

Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:

Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…

Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…

Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…

Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…

Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…

Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…

And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.

 

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss looks out at the ocean.
Participating in Teacher at Sea provided a closer view of some of my favorite things: sharks, ships, the sea, and marine science.

The Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Statue
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial Statue

In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss visiting a New England dock as a young child.
I was drawn to the sea at a young age.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss in Gloucester
This statue inspired an interest in fishing and all things maritime. After experiencing longline fishing for myself, I revisited the statue to pay my respects.

A commercial longline fisherman's hand holds on to a chain, framed against the water.
A New England commercial longline fisherman’s hand

Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!

A collage of images from the ship. The shapes of the images spell out "Oregon II."
Thank you to NOAA Ship Oregon II and Teacher at Sea!

The sun shines on the water.
The sun shines on NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Did You Know?

Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.

Recommended Reading

Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Cover of Under Earth
Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cover of Under Water
Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.

Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Smallwood: Rough Seas Asea, September 13, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 13, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Longitude:158 39.5W
Winds: 20 S
Temperature: 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)

Up. Down. Up. Down. Left. Right….no I’m not in an aerobics class. High winds and seas cause my chair to slide across the floor as I type.

weather

Thus far we’ve been working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Today we’re sitting about twirling our thumbs as 12 feet seas toss us about. It’s not too bad actually, but it is bad enough to make operations unsafe for both crew and equipment. I’ve been impressed with the safety first culture on-board the Oscar Dyson. Hopefully, it’ll calm down soon, and we can start operations again.

Science and Technology Log

Ship support systems for power, water, sewage treatment, and heating/cooling are all several levels below the main deck, which makes ship engineers a bit like vessel moles. These hard working guys ensure important life support systems work smoothly. Highlights from my time with them include a lesson on the evaporator and engines.

The evaporator, which for some reason I keep calling the vaporizer, produces the fresh water drinking supply. The evaporator works by drawing in cold seawater and then uses excess engine heat to evaporate, or separate, the freshwater from the seawater. The remaining salt is discarded as waste. On average, the evaporator produces approximately 1,400 gallons of water per day.
*Side note: the chief engineer decided vaporizer sounds a lot more interesting than evaporator. Personally, I feel like vaporizer is what Star Trek-y people would have called the system on their ships.

IMG_20170909_145438
The evaporator in action.

The Oscar Dyson has 4 generators on board, two large, and two small. The generators are coupled with the engines. Combined they produce the electricity for the ship’s motors and onboard electrical needs, such as lights, computers, scientific equipment, etc.

IMG_20170909_145326

IMG_20170909_145132
I even got to see the prop shaft.

Personal Log

This week I also spent time in the Galley with Ava and Adam. (For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise that I befriended those in charge of food.) Read on for a summary of Ava’s life at sea story.

Me: How did you get your start as a galley cook?

Ava: When I was about 30 years old, a friend talked me into applying to be a deck hand.

Me: Wait. A deck hand?

Ava: That’s right. I was hired on to a ship and was about to set out for the first time when both the chief steward and 2nd cook on a different ship quit. My CO asked if I cook to which I replied “for my kids,” which was good enough for him. They immediately flew me out to the other ship where I became the 2nd cook. 12 years later I’m now a Chief Steward.

Me: Wow! Going from cooking for your kids to cooking for about forty crew members must have been a huge change. How did that go?

Ava: To be honest, I made a lot phone calls to my mom that first year. She helped me out a lot by giving me recipes and helping me figure out how to increase the serving sizes. Over the years I’ve paid attention to other galley cooks so I now have a lot of recipes that are my own and also borrowed.

Me: What exactly does a Chief Steward do?

Ava: The Chief Steward oversees the running of the galley, orders food and supplies, plans menus, and supervises the 2nd Cook. I’m a little different in that I also get in there to cook, clean, and wash dishes alongside my 2nd Cook. I feel like I can’t ask him to do something that I’m not willing to do too.

Me: So you didn’t actually go to school to be a chef. Did you have to get any certifications along the way?

Ava: When I first started out, certifications weren’t required. Now they are, and I have certifications in food safety and handling.

There are schools for vessel cooking though. My daughter just recently graduated from seafarers school. The school is totally free, except for the cost of your certification at the very end. For people interested in cooking as a career, it’s a great alternative to other, more expensive college/culinary school options. Now she’s traveling the world, doing a job she loves, and putting a lot of money into her savings.

Me: Talking with crew members on this ship, the one thing they all say is how hard it is to be away from family for long stretches of time. A lot of them are on the ship for ten months out of the year, and they do that for years and years. It’s interesting that your daughter decided to follow in your footsteps after experiencing that separation firsthand.

Ava: I was surprised too. Being away from friends and family is very hard on ship crew. Luckily for me, my husband is also part of the NOAA crew system so we get to work and travel together. Nowadays I’m part of the augment program so I get to set my own schedule. It gives me more flexibility to stay home and be a grandma!

Did You Know?

Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the earth and is 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statue miles.

Jenny Smallwood: Can I borrow a cup of sugar? September 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Smallwood
Aboard Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 8, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 20.5 N
Longitude: 156 57.7 W
Clear skies
Winds: 12 knots NNW
Temperature: 11.0 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)

Can I borrow a cup of sugar? Just what does a ship do if it starts running low on critical supplies? In our case, the Oscar Dyson met up with the Fairweather on a super foggy morning to swap some medical supplies and other goods that will be needed on the next leg.

Science and Technology Log
You might remember from my first blog post that Alaskan Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world and the largest by volume in the U.S. Because of this, Walleye Pollock is heavily researched and managed. The research cruise I’m on right now is collecting just a small portion of the data that feeds into its management. Being a plankton nerd, I’m interested in the relationship between year 0 Pollock and its zooplankton prey. Year 0 Pollock are the young of the year; fish hatched in Spring 2017.

IMG_20170908_194023 - Edited (1)
Year 0 Walleye Pollock

Year 0 Pollock feed on a variety of zooplankton some of which have greater nutritional value than others. Certain zooplankton, such as Calanus spp and euphausiids, are preferred prey items due to high lipid content, which yield fatter year 0 Pollock.
Other less lipid rich zooplankton prey, such as small copepod species, yield skinny fish. The fat, happy Pollock are more likely to survive the winter, and the scrawny, skinny fish aren’t likely to survive the winter. So why is this important to know? Well, surviving its first winter is one of the biggest hurdles in the Pollock’s life. If it can survive that first winter, it’s likely to grow large enough to be incorporated in the Pollock fishery. So you just want to make sure there are lots of Calanus spp in the water right? Wrong….

Knowing Calanus spp and euphausiids possess higher lipid content is just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that in colder years they have higher lipid content, and in warmer years they have lower lipid content. So it’s not enough to just know how many Calanus spp and euphausiids are out there. You also need to know what their lipid levels are, which is related to water temperatures. Clearly a lot goes into Pollock management, and this is only a small portion of it.

Personal Log
I have a theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. For example, yesterday I was in the bridge getting the scoop on Fairweather meet-up when I met one of the fishermen, Derek. Turns out Derek and I both attended UNC-Wilmington, both graduated in 2003, and both majored in environmental studies. For a while growing up, we lived just a couple of towns over from each other too. What. In. The. World. What are the odds that I run into someone like that? It’s such a small world….or is it?

This is where I get back to the theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. There are those people in your life that seem to orbit in the same sphere as you. Maybe it’s shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences, but these are the people that totally “get you.” I feel lucky to have so many of them, from my co-workers at the Virginia Aquarium to the Teacher at Sea folks, in my life right now.

Did You Know?
Did you know Alaska has beautiful sunsets?IMG_20170908_210337

 

Jenny Hartigan: Whales and Friends! July 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

 Back home from the NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 30, 2017

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

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 30

Weather Data from the Bridge (my kitchen!):

Latitude: 37º 76.52’ N

Longitude: 122º 24.16’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: partly cloudy

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 0-5 knots

Barometric pressure: 1017 hPA

Air temperature: 56º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

The graduate students and interns on the Fulmar:

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

 

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Hannah Palmer Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

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

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

humpbackwhale_noaa_large
Photo credit: fisheries.noaa.gov

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

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

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

 

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

Other Creatures Seen on the Cruise:

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

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

 

Did you know?

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

Personal Log:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 27, 2017

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

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.820’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.402’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Wind Direction: NW

Wind Speed: 15-25 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-5’

NW Swell 5-7 feet at 8 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1028 hPA

Air temperature: 63º F

Wind Chill: 51º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

 

Scientific Log:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

An Interview with a Scientist:

Danielle Lipski, Research Coordinator, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

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

 

Why is your work important?

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

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

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

Where do you do most of your work?

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

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

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

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

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

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

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

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

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

 

Why is your work important?

We protect wildlife and ecosystems through science and outreach partnerships.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

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

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

I always wanted a career in marine science.

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

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

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

The Story of the Essex – the history behind Moby Dick

An Interview with a NOAA Corpsman:

Brian Yannutz, Ensign, NOAA Corps

                   

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Brian on the bridge Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

    

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

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

 

Why is your work important?

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

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I enjoy meeting new people.

Where do you do most of your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

-the movie “The Life Aquatic”

 

Let’s Talk about Safety:

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

 

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

 

Bird and Mammals Seen Today in the Bodega Bay Wetlands:

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

Did you know?

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

Personal Log:

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

Highlight of Today:

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

Questions of the Day:

Why do porpoises swim in front of the boat?

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

 

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 25, 2017

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

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 25

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.834’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.399’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 5-15 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3 feet becoming 2 feet or less

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 10 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1026 hPA

Air temperature: 65º F

Wind Chill: 48º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

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

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

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

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

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

Observer Code (Each scientist has a number).

Observer Side (port, starboard)

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

Age (if you can tell)

Sex (if you can tell)

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

Counts (best, high, low)

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The flying bridge of the R/V Fulmar.       Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

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

An Interview with a Scientist:

Jan Roletto, Research Coordinator, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

 

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

Why is your work important?

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

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

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

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

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

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

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

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

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Ryan waiting on the back deck while the Tucker Trawl collects krill. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

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

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

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

Where do you do most of your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

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

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

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

Do you have an outside hobby?

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking and outdoor activities.

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Kirsten Lindquist, Ecosystem Monitoring Manager, Greater Farallones Association

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

Why is your work important?

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

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

I teach 150 volunteers through the Beach Watch program. 

Do you have an outside hobby?

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

 

Personal Log:

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

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

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

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

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the galley Photo Credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

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Shark silverware! Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Animals Seen Today:                              

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Question of the Day:

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

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

 

Samantha Adams: Day 4 – D(eployment) Day, July 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 8, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Thursday, 27 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22.38oN, 158.01oW. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.7oC Sea temperature: 27.1oC. Humidity: 75%.Wind speed: 12.9 knots. Wind direction: 59.7 degrees. Sky cover: Scattered.

Science and Technology Log:

It’s deployment day! After months of preparation and days of practice, this buoy is finally going in the water!

The sheer volume of stuff that’s involved is mind boggling. There’s the buoy itself, which is nearly 3 meters (approximately 9 feet) tall; one meter of that sits below the surface. There’s 16 MicroCats (which are instruments measuring temperature, salinity and depth of the water) attached to over 350 meters of chain and wire. Then there’s another 1,800 meters of wire and 3,600 meters of two different types of line (rope) — heavy nylon and polypropylene. Then there’s 68 glass balls, for flotation. After that, there’s another 35 meters of chain and nylon line. Attached to that is an acoustic release, which does exactly what it sounds like it does — if it “hears” a special signal, it detaches from whatever is holding it down. In this case, that’s a 9,300 pound anchor. (The acoustic release and the glass balls make sure that all the instruments on the mooring line can be recovered.) All in all, nearly 6,000 meters — three and a half miles — of equipment and instrumentation is going over the stern of the Hi’ialakai. The length of the mooring line is actually longer (approximately one and a quarter times longer) than the ocean is deep where the buoy is being deployed. This is done so that if (or when) the buoy is pulled by strong winds or currents, there is extra “space” available to keep the buoy from getting pulled under water.

WHOTS-14 mooring diagram.
Diagram of the WHOTS station. Notice how many instruments are on the mooring line, below the surface! Photo courtesy of the University of Hawai’i.

Take a look at the diagram of the WHOTS-14 buoy. It’s easy to assume that the everything goes into the water in the exact same order as is shown on the diagram — but the reality of deployment is actually very different.

First, the MicroCats that are attached to the first 30 meters of chain (6 of them) go over the side. Approximately the first five meters of chain stay on board, which is then is attached to the buoy. After that, the buoy is hooked up to the crane, and gently lifted off the deck, over the side, and into the water. Then, the remaining ten MicroCats are attached, one by one, to the 325 meters of wire and, one by one, lowered into the water. Then the additional 3,400 meters of wire and nylon line are slowly eased off the ship and into the ocean. After that, the glass balls (two-foot diameter spheres made of heavy glass and covered by bright yellow plastic “hats”) are attached and join the rest of the mooring line in the ocean. Finally, after hours of hard work, the end of the mooring line is attached to the anchor. Then, with a little help from the ship’s crane, the anchor slides off the stern of the ship, thunks into the water, and slowly starts making its way to the bottom.

 

 

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4:18PM HAST: Splashdown! The anchor is dropped. 

 

From the morning-of preparations to the anchor sliding off the Hi’ialakai’s stern, deploying the WHOTS buoy took 9 hours and 41 minutes.

Personal Log:

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My laptop, secured for sea!

Another item to file under Things You Never Think About: Velcro is awesome. Ships — all ships, even one the size of the Hi’ialakai — frequently move in unexpected, jarring ways. (If you’ve never been on a ship at sea, it’s a bit like walking through the “Fun House” at a carnival — one of the ones with the moving floors. You try to put your foot down, the floor drops a few inches underneath you, and you’re suddenly trying to walk on air.) For this reason, it’s important to keep everything as secured as possible. Rope and straps are good for tying down things that can stay in one place, but something like a laptop, which needs to be mobile? Velcro!

Did You Know?

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Getting ready to attach the glass balls to the mooring line. The light blue Colmega is in the upper right hand corner of the picture, trailing out behind the ship. The buoy, at the end of over three miles of mooring line, is no longer visible.

Not all line is created equal. Aside from obvious differences in the size and color, different lines have different purposes. The heavy nylon line (which is white; see the picture in slideshow of the line being deployed) is actually able to stretch, which is another safety precaution, ensuring that the buoy will not be pulled under water. The light blue polypropylene line, called Colmega, floats. In the picture to the left, you can see a light blue line floating in the water, stretching off into the distance. It’s not floating because it’s attached to the ship — it’s floating all by itself!

 

Melissa Barker: Reflections from Land, July 20, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge: I am now back in Longmont, Colorado

Latitude: 40 08.07 N

Longitude: 105 08.56 W

Air temp: 31.1 C

 

Science and Technology Log

One of the major questions I had before my Teacher at Sea voyage was how the level of oxygen in the water will affect the species we collect. Typically, in the summer, a dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico spreading out from the mouth of the Mississippi river. You can see an image of the dead zone from 2011 below.

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Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2011

Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae, are the base of the marine food web. There are two main classes, diatoms and dinoflagellates, which are both photosynthetic and typically live towards the top of the water column. We did not sample plankton on our leg of the cruise, but if you want to learn more you can check out this site: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html. In the summer, phytoplankton and algae can build up due to excess nutrients in the water that are running off from urban areas, agriculture and industry. Much of our sampling was near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is a significant source of excess nutrients. The extra nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff cause the excess growth of photosynthetic organisms which leads to a buildup of zooplankton (heterotrophic plankton). Once the phytoplankton and zooplankton die and sink to the bottom they are decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria which deplete the oxygen in the water column. According to NOAA, hypoxia in aquatic systems refers to an area where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. At this point, most organisms become physiologically stressed and cannot survive.

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How The Dead Zone Forms: Infographic by Dan Swenson, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune

Tropical Storm Cindy, which kicked up just as I was arriving in Galveston, brought significant freshwater into the gulf and mixed that water around so we did not see as many low oxygen readings as expected. While I was talking with Andre about hypoxia when we were on the ship, he used the analogy of stirring a bowl of soup. There is a cool layer on top, but as you stir the top layer and mix it with the lower layers, the whole bowl cools. Similarly, the oxygen rich freshwater from the storm is mixed around with the existing water, reducing the areas of low oxygen. You can see in the map below that we had fewer hypoxic areas than in 2011.

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Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2017

We used the CTD to obtain oxygen readings in the water column at each station. In the visuals below you can see a CTD indicating high oxygen levels and a CTD indicating lower, hypoxic, oxygen levels. The low oxygen CTD was from leg one of the survey. It corresponds with the red area in the hypoxia map above.

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CTD for a non-hypoxic station

Hypoxic Station copy
CTD of a hypoxic station

 Personal Log and Reflections

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Final sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

When I arrived back on land I still felt the rocking of the Oregon II. It took two to three days before I felt stable again. As friends and family ask about my experience, I find it hard to put into words. I am so grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me this incredible experience and especially thankful to Science Field Party Chief Andre Debose and my day shift science team members, Tyler, David and Sarah, for teaching me so much, being patient and making my experience one that I will never forget.

The ocean is so vast and we have explored so little of it, but now, I have a strong understanding of how a large scale marine survey is conducted. Being an active participant in fisheries research was definitely out of my comfort zone. The experience helped stretch me and my learning and has giving me great insight to bring back to share with my students and school community. The map below shows our journey over the two weeks I was on the ship traveling along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida coasts.

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The blue line maps our route on the Oregon II

My experience on Oregon II has also re-engaged me with the ocean. As a child, I spent time each summer on an island off the coast of Maine and even got to go fishing with my Dad and his lobsterman buddies. But for the last 20 years or so, my exposure to the ocean has been limited to just a few visits. My curiosity for the marine world has been reignited; I look forward to bringing more fisheries science and insight into my classroom.

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Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) on the left Pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) on the right

I mentioned in a previous blog that our shrimp data was sent daily to SEAMAP and made available to fisheries managers and shrimpers to allow them to make the best decisions about when to re-open the shrimp season. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the commercial shrimp season for both the state and federal waters re-opened just after sunset on July 15, 2017. TPWD said, “The opening date is based on an evaluation of the biological, social and economic impact to maximize the benefits to the industry and the public.” It is satisfying to know that I was part of the “biological evaluation” to which they refer.

 

Finally, I took some video while out at sea and now with more bandwidth and time, I’ve been able to process some of that video to shed additional light on how fisheries research is conducted. I’ve added two videos. The first one shows the process of conducting a bottom trawl and the second one show the fish sorting and measuring process. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

You can use the following sites to help you make smart sustainable seafood choices:

FishWatch (http://www.fishwatch.gov)

Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.seafoodwatch.org). There is also a free app you can put on your phone so you can do a quick look up when you are at a restaurant, the grocery or a fish market.

 

The largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone recorded was in 2002, encompassing 8,497 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone from 2010-2015 was about 5,500 square miles, nearly three times the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Hypoxia Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

(source: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Thank you to the Dawson sixth graders (now seventh graders!) for your great questions. I look forward to speaking with you all when school starts in a few weeks.

What is at the bottom of the low oxygen part of the ocean? (Allison)

There is a lot of accumulated dead organic matter that is decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria.

What do you find in the dead zone? Do less animals live there? (Leeham, Mae, Shane, Alfie, Bennett)

Typically, trawls are smaller and the diversity of organisms decreases in the low oxygen areas. Often you will find resilient organisms like croaker. There is a lot of research looking at which organisms can live in dead zones and how these organisms compensate for the low levels of oxygen.

Is there any way to fix the dead zone? What can we do about the dead zone? (Isaac, Owen, Ava)

It is estimated that seventy percent of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off into the Gulf of Mexico comes from industrial agriculture. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used to grow our food would help decrease the extent of the dead zone area. Perhaps one of you will come up with a way to feed our communities in a more sustainable way or a technology that can remove these excess nutrients before the water reaches the Gulf.

Thanks for reading my blog!

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Safety first on the Oregon II.

 

Staci DeSchryver: Things We Deliberately Throw Overboard Part Deux: The Ocean Noise Sensor July 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – Aug 2

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

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.

 

Personal Log

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.

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The Chief Medical Officer, “Doc” gives a lesson on water quality testing.

 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.”

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The Chief Engineer gives a rundown on the various ship emergency alarms.

 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!

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Here I am learning to use a sextant for navigation.

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!)

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Teaching about adiabatic cooling with the the Cloud in a Bottle Demo with the Wardroom!

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!

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ENS Holland and ENS Frederick working hard making clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

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A group of Melon-Headed Whales, or PEPs, cruise along with the ship.

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.

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These sunsets will give Colorado sunsets a run for their money.  No green flash in Colorado = point awarded to Hawai’i.

 

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.

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Celebrating Engineer Jerry’s Birthday.

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. 

 

Kimberly Scantlebury: Getting Ready to Ship Out. April 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 26, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

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At home in New England, where you can enjoy the mountains and the sea all in a day.

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.

Personal Log

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!

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Science teachers benefit from quality professional development to stay informed in their content areas.

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.

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I am grateful for the support at home for helping me participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.

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.

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As a science teacher, it is funny that I really do have guinea pigs. Here is our rescue pig Montana, who is 7-8 years old.

Lynn Kurth: Time and Tide Wait For No Man, June 28, 2016

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20-July 1, 2016

Mission: Hydrographic Survey

Geographical area of cruise:  Latitude:  57˚57.486 N   Longitude:  152˚55.539 W  (Whale Pass)

Date:  June 28, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sky:  Overcast
Visibility: 15 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 164
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft. (no swell)
Sea Water Temperature: 8.3° C (46.94° F)
Dry Temperature: 12.° C (53.6° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1019.6 mb


Science and Technology Log

The ocean supports many ecosystems which contain a diversity of living things ranging in size from tiny microbes to whales as long as 95 feet.  Despite the fact that I am working on a hydrographic ship, when out on a skiff or while in port, I have had the opportunity to view some of these ecosystems and a number of the species found in them.

While the Rainier was in port in Homer, I spent some time at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which, like other estuaries, is among the most productive ecosystems in the world.  An estuary, with accompanying wetlands, is where the freshwater from a river meets and mixes with the salt water of the sea.  However, there are some estuaries that are made entirely from freshwater.  These estuaries are special places along the Great Lakes where freshwater from a river, with very different chemical and physical characteristics compared to the water from the lake, mixes with the lake water.

Because estuaries, like the Kachemak Bay Estuary, are extremely fragile ecosystems with so many plants and animals that rely on them, in 1972 Congress created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than one million estuarine acres.

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Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

All estuaries, including the freshwater estuaries found on the Great Lakes, are affected by the changing tides.  Tides play an important part in the health of an estuary because they mix the water and are therefore are one of several factors that influence the properties (temperature, salinity, turbidity) of the water

Prior to my experience in Alaska, I had never realized what a vital role tides play in the life of living things, in a oceanic region.  Just as tides play an important role in the health and function of estuaries, they play a major role in the plants and animals I have seen and the hydrographic work being completed by the Rainier.  For example, the tides determine when and where the skiffs and multi beam launch boats will be deployed.  Between mean low tide and high tide the water depth can vary by as much as 12 feet and therefore low tide is the perfect time to send the skiffs out in to document the features (rocks, reefs, foul areas) of a specific area.

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Rock feature in Uganik Bay (actually “the foot” mentioned in previous blog) Notice tidal line, anything below the top of that line would be underwater at high tide!

In addition to being the perfect time to take note of near shore features, low tide also provides the perfect opportunity to see some amazing sea life!  I have seen a variety of species while working aboard the Rainier, including eagles, deer, starfish, dolphins, whales, seals, cormorants, sea gulls, sea otters and puffins.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to capture quality photos of many of these species, but I have included some of my better photos of marine life in the area and information that the scientists aboard the Rainier have shared with me:

Tufted Puffins:  Tufted Puffins are some of the most common sea birds in Alaska.  They have wings that propel them under water and a large bill which sheds its outer layer in late summer.

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Double Crested Cormorants:  Dark colored birds that dive for and eat fish, crabs, shrimp, aquatic plants, and other marine life.  The birds nest in colonies and can be found in many inland areas in the United States.  The cormorants range extends throughout the Great Lakes and they are frequently considered to be a nuisance because they gorge themselves on fish, possibly decimating local fish populations.

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Cormorant colony with gulls

Pisaster Starfish:  The tidal areas are some of the favorite areas starfish like to inhabit because they have an abundance of clams, which the starfish love to feed on.  To do so, the starfish uses powerful little suction cups to pull open the clam’s shell.

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Teacher at Sea Kurth with a starfish that was found during a shore lunch break while working on a skiff.

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Starfish found in tidal zone

Glaucous-winged Gull:  The gulls are found along the coasts of Alaska and Washington State.  The average lifespan of Glaucous-winged Gull is approximately 15 years.

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Glaucous-winged Gull watching the multi beam sonar boat

The hydrographic work in Uganik Bay continues even though there are moments to view the wildlife in the area.  I was part of the crew on board a boat equipped with multi beam sonar which returned to scan the “foot feature” meticulously mapped by the skiff.  During this process, the multi beam sonar is driven back and forth around the feature as close as the boat can safely get.  The multi beam does extend out to the sides of the boat which enables the sonar to produce an image to the left and right of the boat.  The sonar beam can reach out four times the depth of the water that the boat is working in.  For example, if we are working in six feet of water the multi beam will reach out a total of 24 feet across. Think of the sonar as if it was a beam coming from a flashlight, if you shine the light on the floor and hold the flashlight close to the floor, the beam will be small and intense.  On the other hand, if you hold the flashlight further from the floor the beam of light will cover a wider area but will not be as intense. The sonar’s coverage is similar, part of why working close to the shore is long and tedious work: in shallow water the multi beam does not cover a very wide area.

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“The foot” feature (as discussed in previous blog) being scanned by multi beam sonar

 

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Image of “the foot” after processing in lab. The rocks are the black areas that were not scanned by the multi beam sonar.


All Aboard!

I met Angelica on one of the first days aboard the Rainier and later spent some time with her, asking questions as she worked .  Angelica is very friendly, cheerful and a pleasure to talk with!  She graciously sat down with me for an interview when we were off shore of Kodiak, AK before returning to Uganik Bay.

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Assistant Survey Technician Angelica Patyten works on processing data from the multi beam sonar

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m Angelica Patyten originally from Sacramento, CA and happy to be a part of NOAA’s scientific mission!  I have always been very interested in marine science, especially marine biology, oceanography and somewhat interested in fisheries.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins.  My cousin said that when I was really young I was always drawing whales on paper and I’d always be going to the library to check out books on marine life.  I remember one of the defining moments was when I was in grade school, we took a trip to see the dolphins and orca whales and I thought they were amazing creatures.

As far as hobbies, I love anything that has to do with water sports, like diving and kayaking.  I also want to learn how to surf or try paddle boarding as well.

How did you discover NOAA?:

I just kind of “stumbled upon” NOAA right after I had graduated from college and knew that I wanted to work in marine science.  I was googling different agencies and saw that NOAA allows you to volunteer on some of their vessels.  So, I ended up volunteering for two weeks aboard the NOAA ship Rueben Lasker and absolutely loved it.  When I returned home, I applied online for employment with NOAA and it was about six months before I heard from back from them.  It was at that point that they asked me if I wanted to work for them on one of their research vessels.  It really was all good timing!

What are your primary responsibilities when working on the ship? 

My responsibilities right now include the processing of the data that comes in from the multi beam sonar.  I basically take the data and use a computer program to apply different settings to produce the best image that I can with the sonar data that I’m given.

What do you love about your work with NOAA?

I love the scenery here in Alaska and the people I work with are awesome!  We become like a family because we spend a lot of time together.  Honestly, working aboard the Rainier is a perfect fit for me because I love to travel, the scenery is amazing and the people I work with are great!


Personal Log:

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer’s words are so fitting for my time aboard the Rainier which is going so quickly and continues to revolve around the tides.

Lynn Kurth: Solstice at Sea!, June 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Assigned to:  NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20th-July 1st, 2016

Personal Log: 

My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work aboard NOAA Ship Rainier as a Teacher at Sea during the summer solstice.  Over the past twenty years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard research vessels on Lake Superior and the Atlantic, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad.  The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is.

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Me aboard the Oregon II for a Long Line Shark and Red Snapper Survey in 2014

Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom:  Most recently I worked with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students to improve local water quality by installing a school rain garden.  During the project students learned about the importance of diverting rain water out of the storm sewer when possible and how to do it in an effective and attractive way.  Other projects included the restoration of our riverbank last year and using a Hydrolab to monitor the water quality of the Prairie River, which runs adjacent to our school.  So, sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier to learn more about hydrography (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) seems like a most natural and logical way to move forward.

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Eighth grade science students jumping for joy during the fall testing of the Prairie River with the Hydrolab. Notice the fellow in waders holding the Hydrolab with great care!

I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from Homer, Alaska, on June 20th.  Until then I have a school year to wrap up, a new puppy to train, a project with Wisconsin Sea Grant to work on and packing to get done.  There are days I’m a bit nervous about getting everything done but when NOAA Ship Rainier casts off from the pier in Homer I will be 100 percent focused on gathering the knowledge and skills that will enhance my role as an educator of students who are part of the next generation charged with the stewardship of this planet.

IMG_1564Newest addition to our family: Paavo a Finnish Lapphund Photo Credit: Lynn Drumm, Yutori Finnish Lapphunds

 

Jeff Miller: Sharks and Dead Zones, September 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 12, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Speed:  8.8 knots
Air Temp: 27,7°C
Sea Temp: 30.2°C
Seas: 1-2 meters
Sea Depth:  457 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  27 47.142 N
Long:  094 04.264 W

Science and Technology Log
On September 8 – 9, we surveyed a number of stations along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that were in shallow water between 10-30 meters (approximately 30-100 feet).  Interestingly, the number of sharks we caught at each station varied dramatically.  For example, we pulled up 65 sharks at station 136 and 53 sharks at station 137, whereas we caught only 5 sharks at station 138 and 2 sharks at station 139.  What could account for this large variance in the number of sharks caught at these locations?

Weighing a bonnethead shark
Weighing a bonnethead shark caught off the coast of Texas.

One key factor that is likely influencing shark distribution is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.  Oxygen is required by living organisms to produce the energy needed to fuel all their activities.  In water, dissolved oxygen levels above 5 mg/liter are needed for most marine organisms to thrive. Water with less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed hypoxic, meaning dissolved oxygen is below levels needed by most organisms to thrive and survive.  Water with less than 0.2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed anoxic (no oxygen) and results in  “dead zones” where little, if any, marine life can survive.

As part of several missions, including the ground fish and longline shark surveys, NOAA ships sample the levels of dissolved oxygen at survey stations in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Measurements of dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature are collected by a device called the CTD.   At each survey station, the CTD is deployed and it collects real-time measurements as it descends to the bottom and returns to the surface.

CTD
Standing with the CTD, which is used to measure dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature.

Data collected by the CTD is used to produce maps showing the relative levels of dissolved oxygen in coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico.    For more environmental data go to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

2015 Gulf Hypoxia Map
Map showing dissolved oxygen levels in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Red marks anoxic/hypoxic areas with low dissolved oxygen levels.  Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Environmental surveys demonstrate that large anoxic/hypoxic zones often exist along the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf.  Because low dissolved oxygen levels are harmful to marine organisms, the anoxic/hypoxic zones in the northern Gulf of Mexico could greatly impact commercially and ecologically important marine species.  Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that excess organic matter, especially nitrogen, from the Mississippi River drainage basin drives the development of anoxic/hypoxic waters.  Although natural sources contribute to the runoff, inputs from agricultural runoff, the burning of fossil fuels, and waste water treatment discharges have increased inputs to many times natural levels.

Runoff in the Mississippi basin
Map showing sources of nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River drainage basin. Source NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi River feeds large phytoplankton algae blooms at the surface.  Over time, excess algae and other organic materials sink to the bottom.  On the bottom, decomposition of this organic material by bacteria and other organisms consumes oxygen and leads to formation of anoxic/hypoxic zones.  These anoxic/hypoxic zones persist because waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico become stratified, which means the water is separated into horizontal layers with cold and/or saltier water at the bottom and warmer and/or fresher water at the surface. This layering separates bottom waters from the atmosphere and prevents re-supply of oxygen from the surface.

Since levels of dissolved oxygen can  greatly influence the distribution of marine life, we reasoned that the high variation in the number of sharks caught along the Louisiana/Texas coast could be the result of differences in dissolved oxygen.  To test this idea, we analyzed environmental data and shark numbers at survey stations along the Louisiana/Texas coast.  The graphs below show raw data collected by the CTD at stations 137 and 138.

CTD 137
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 137 (green line; raw data). At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.0 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 1.5 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

 

CTD 138
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 138 (green line; raw data).  At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.5 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 0 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

Putting together shark survey numbers with environmental data from the CTD we found that we caught very high numbers of sharks in hypoxic water and we caught very few sharks in anoxic water.  Similar results were observed at station 136 (hypoxic waters; 65 sharks caught) and station 139 (anoxic waters; 2 sharks caught).

Data table
Relationship between dissolved oxygen levels and numbers of sharks caught at stations 137 and 138.

What can explain this data?  One possible answer is that sharks will be found where there is food for them to eat.  Thus, many sharks may be moving in and out of hypoxic waters to catch prey that may be stressed or less active due to low oxygen levels.  In other words, sharks may be taking advantage of low oxygen conditions that make fish easier to catch.  In contrast, anoxic waters cannot support marine life so there will be very little food for sharks to eat and, therefore, few sharks will be present.  While this idea provides an explanation for our observations, more research, like the work being done aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, is needed to understand the distribution and movement of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Personal Log
My time aboard the Oregon II is drawing to a close as we move into the last weekend of the cruise.  We have now turned away from the Louisiana coast into deeper waters as we travel west to Galveston, Texas.  The weather has changed as well.  It has been sunny and hot for much of our trip, but clouds, rain, and wind have moved in.  Despite this change in weather, we continue to set longlines at survey stations along our route to Galveston.  The rain makes our job more challenging but our catch has been relatively light since we moved away from the coast into deeper waters.  Hopefully our fishing luck will change as we move closer to Galveston.  I would like to wrestle a few more sharks before my time on the Oregon II comes to an end.

Jeff Miller: Wrestling Sharks for Science, September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 29 25.103
Long:  W 092.36.483

Science and Technology Log
The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples.  The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.

Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage.  Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays.  There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.

Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world.  The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape.  A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier.  In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.

Blacktip shark
Measuring a blacktip shark on deck. The blacktip shark shows the typical body shape and fin placement of sharks. These physical characteristics decrease drag and help sharks move more efficiently through water.

When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark.  The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass).  Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water.  This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction.  The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.

Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck.  Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person.  To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits.  This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark.  If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.

Holding a sharpnose shark
Smaller sharks, like this sharpnose shark, can be held by firmly grabbing the shark just behind the head.

Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely.  When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time.  One person holds the head while the other holds the tail.  When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first.  Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler.  While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.

Holding a blacktip shark
Teamwork is required to handle larger sharks like this blacktip shark, which was caught because it preyed on a small sharpnose shark that was already on the hook.

 

Measuring a blacktip shark
Collecting measurements from a large blacktip shark.

 

Holding a blacktip shark
Holding a blacktip shark before determining its weight.

When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged.  We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark.  When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water.  Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.

Tiger shark in the cradle
Large sharks, like this tiger shark, are hoisted up on a cradle in order to be measured and tagged.

Personal Log
We are now in full work mode on the ship.  My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast.  After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch).  This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon.  I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day.  I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon.  My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations.  At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes.  We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads).  Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station.  The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart.  Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph).  At midnight, we switch roles with the night team.  Working with fish in temperatures reaching  the low 90°s will make you dirty.  Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed.  I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again.  It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun.  I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks.  This is one experience I will always remember.

Jeff Miller: Fishing for Sharks and Fishes, September 6, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 6, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Wind Speed: 5.6 knots
Air Temp: 30.9°C
Sea Temp: 31.1°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 52 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 28 06.236
Long:  W 095 15.023

Science and Technology Log
Our first couple days of fishing have been a great learning experience for me despite the fact that the fish count has been relatively low (the last three sets we averaged less than 5 fish per 100 hooks).  There are a number of jobs to do at each survey station and I will rotate through each of them during my cruise. These jobs include baiting the hooks, numbering and setting the hooks on the main line, hauling in the hooks, measuring and weighing the sharks/fish, and processing the shark/fish for biological samples.

Numbering the baited hooks
Each gangion (the baited hook and its associate line) is tagged with a number before being attached to the main line.

 

Number clips
A number clip is attached to each gangion (baited hook and its associated line) to catalog each fish that is caught.

After the line is deployed for one hour, we haul in the catch.  As the gangions come in, one of us will collect empty hooks and place them back in the barrel to be ready for the next station.  Other members of the team will process the fish we catch.  The number of fish caught at each station can vary widely.  Our team (the daytime team) had two stations in a row where we caught fewer than five fish while the night team caught 57 fish at a single station.

Collecting empty hooks
Empty hooks are collected, left over bait is removed, and the gangion is placed back in the bucket to be ready for the next station.

So far we have caught a variety of fishes including golden tilefish, red snapper, sharpnose sharks, blacknose sharks, a scalloped hammerhead, black tip sharks, a spinner shark, and smooth dogfish.  The first set of hooks we deployed was at a deep water station (sea depth was approx. 300 meters or 985 feet) and we hooked 11 golden tilefish, including one that weighed 13 kg (28.6 pounds).

Golden tilefish
On our first set of hooks in deep water, we caught a number of golden tilefish including this fish that weighed nearly 30 pounds.

We collect a number of samples from fishes such as red snapper and golden tilefish.  First we collect otoliths, which are hard calcified structures of the inner ear that are located just behind the brain.  Scientists can read the rings of the otolith to determine the approximate age and growth rate of the fish.

Otolith
Otoliths can be read like tree rings to approximate the age and growth rate of bony fishes.  Photo credit: NOAA Marine Fisheries.

The answer to the poll is at the end of this post.

You can try to age fish like NOAA scientists do by using the Age Reading Demonstration created by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  Click here to visit the site.

When sharks are caught, we collect information about their size, gender, and sexual maturity.  You may be wondering, “how can you determine the sex of a shark?”  It ends up that the answer is actually quite simple.  Male sharks have two claspers along the inner margin of the pelvic fins that are used to insert sperm into the cloaca of a female.  Female sharks lack claspers.

Male female shark
Male and female sharks can be distinguished by the presence of claspers on male sharks.

Personal Log
After arriving at our first survey station on Thursday afternoon (Sep. 3), everyone on the ship is in full work mode.  We work around the clock in two groups: one team, which I belong to, works from noon to midnight, and the other team works from midnight to noon.  The crew and science teams work very well together – everyone has a specific job as we set out hooks, haul the catch, and process the fishes.  It’s a well oiled machine and I am grateful to the crew and my fellow science team members for helping me learn and take an active role the process.  I am not here as a passive observer.  I am truly part of the scientific team.

I have also learned a lot about the fishes we are catching.  For example, I have learned how to handle them on deck, how to process them for samples, and how to filet them for dinner.  I never fished much my life, so pretty much everything I am doing is new to me.

I have also adjusted well to life on the ship.  Before the cruise, I was concerned that I may get seasick since I am prone to motion sickness.  However, so far I have felt great even though we have been in relatively choppy seas (averaging about 1-2 meters or 3 to 6 feet) and the ship rocks constantly.  I have been using a scopolamine patch, an anticholinergic drug that decreases nausea and dizziness, and this likely is playing a role. Whether it’s just me or the medicine, I feel good, I’m sleeping well, and I am eating well.  The cooks are great and the food has been outstanding.  All in all, I am having an amazing experience.

Poll answer:  This fish is approximately nine years old (as determined by members of my science team aboard the Oregon II).

Jeff Miller: Cruising to the Survey Stations, September 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 2, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Air Temp:  24.7°C
Sea Temp:  29.6°C
Seas:  3-4 ft.
Sea Depth: 589 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat: 28 01.364 N
Long: 091 29.104 W

Cruising Map
Map showing our current location and the site of our first survey station

Science and Technology Log
After a one day delay in port at Pascagoula, MS we are currently motoring southwest towards our first survey station in the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, TX. Our survey area will include random stations roughly between Brownsville and Galveston, TX.

Survey stations are randomly selected from a predetermined grid of sites.  Possible stations fall into three categories: (A) stations in depths 9-55 meters (5-30 fathoms), (B) stations in depths between 55-183 meters (30-100 fathoms), and (C) stations in depths between 183-366 meters (100-200 fathoms).  On the current shark longline surveys, 50% of the sites we survey will be category A sites, 40% will be category B sites, and 10% will be category C sites.  Environmental data is also collected at each station including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Several questions you may have are why do a shark survey, how do you catch the sharks, and what do you do with the sharks once they are caught?  These are great questions and below I will describe the materials and methods we will use to catch and analyze sharks aboard the Oregon II. 

Why does NOAA perform shark surveys?
Shark surveys are done to gather information about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and to collect morphological measurements (length, weight) and biological samples for research.

How are shark surveys performed?
At each collection station, a one mile line of 100 hooks baited with Atlantic Mackerel is used to catch sharks. The line is first attached to a radar reflective highflyer (a type of buoy that can be detected by the ship’s radar).  A weight is then attached to the line to make it sink to the bottom.  After the weight is added, about 50 gangions with baited hooks are attached to the line.  At the half mile point of the line, another weight is attached then the second 50 hooks.  After the last hook, a third weight is added then the second highflyer.  The line is left in the water for one hour (time between last highflyer deployed and first highflyer retrieved) and then is pulled back on to the boat to assess what has been caught.  Small sharks and fishes are brought on deck while larger sharks are lifted into a cradle for processing.

Longline equipment
Sampling gear used includes two highflyers, weights, and 100 hooks

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used for the shark survey

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used in the shark survey

 

Shark cradle
Shark cradle used to collect information about large sharks

 

What data is collected from the sharks?
Researchers collect a variety of samples and information from the caught sharks.  First, the survey provides a snapshot of the different shark species and their relative abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.  Second, researchers collect data from individual sharks including length, weight and whether the shark is reproductively mature.  Some sharks are tagged to gather data about their migration patterns.  Each tag has an identification number for the shark and contact information to report information about where the same shark was re-caught.  Third, biological samples are collected from sharks for more detailed analyses.  Tissues collected include fin clips (for DNA and molecular studies), muscle tissue (for toxicology studies), blood (for hormonal studies), reproductive organs (including embryos if present), and vertebrae (for age and growth studies).

Personal Log
One of the desired traits for participants in the Teacher at Sea program is flexibility – cruising schedules and even ports can change.  I have now experienced this first-hand as we were delayed in port in Pascagoula, MS for an extra day.  Though waiting an extra day really isn’t a big deal, it is hard to wait since myself and the rest of the scientific crew are all anxious to begin the shark survey.  Since we also have two days of cruising to reach our first survey site, this means we all have to find ways to pass the time.  I have used some of my time trying to learn about the operation of the ship as well as the methods we will be using to perform the longline survey.  I also watched a couple movies with other members of the science team.  The ship has an amazing library of DVDs.

The Oregon II
Getting ready to leave Pascagoula aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Safety is very important aboard the Oregon II so today we performed several drills including an abandon ship drill.  This drill requires you to wear a survival suit.  Getting mine on was a tight squeeze but I got the suit on in the required time.

Safety suit
In my safety suit during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Can you name the other six uniformed services?  Think about this and check the answer at the bottom of this post.

NOAA Corps Officers perform many duties that include commanding NOAA’s research and survey vessels, flying NOAA’s hurricane and environmental monitoring planes, and managing scientific and engineering work needed to make wise decisions about our natural resources and environment.

Answer: The seven uniformed services of the United States are: (1) Army, (2) Navy, (3) Air Force, (4) Marine Corps, (5) Coast Guard, (6) NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and (7) Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Jeff Miller: Getting Ready to Sail, August 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 19, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona.  My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ.  EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year.  I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years.  I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.

Jeff Miller
A photo of me at Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park

EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students.  EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.  Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ

Great Horned Owl
A Great Horned Owl perches on a log in the desert near Tucson, AZ

Saguaro
A saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, AZ

White Mountains
Arizona is home to the largest unbroken Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. My wife (Weiru), daughter (Julia), and dog (Maya) in the White Mountains of Arizona

I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school.  However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is  limited.  Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.

To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey.  The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast.  Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data.  Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon II Facebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises.  Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.

Longline Shark Survey Map
Map showing the region of the Gulf of Mexico where I will participate in the longline shark survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise.  I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person.  All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II.  I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.

The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.

Chris Sanborn: Last Day Shark Tagging, July 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christopher Sanborn
Aboard SRV C.E Stillwell
July 13 – 17, 2015

Mission: Cooperative Atlantic States Shark Pupping and Nursery (COASTSPAN) survey
Geographical area of cruise: Delaware Bay
Date: July 17, 2015

Weather

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.

Ben Church and Matt Pezzullo remarking the thousands of feet of line.
Ben Church and Matt Pezzullo remarking the thousands of feet of line.

 

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.

One of the numerous large ships heading up Delaware Bay
One of the numerous large ships heading up 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.

 

Same shark we pulled out of deep hole.
Same shark we pulled out of deep hole.

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.

 

 

July 2015 Stations.  Delaware Bay
July 2015 Stations. Delaware Bay

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

Map of Delaware Bay
Map of Delaware Bay

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.

IMG_0361[1]

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

Personal Log:

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.

Alex Miller, Riding by the River, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

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Pyrotechnics training

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Monday, June 8th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 12.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 20 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 46°29’98”, 124°59’93”

Yesterday, I spoke with two of the NOAA Corps officers, Ensign Nikki Norton and Commander Brian Parker. Ensign Norton is in her first post as a NOAA Corps officer and Commander Parker has been in the Corps for 21 years. The NOAA Corps’ main responsibility is to oversee all operations of NOAA research vessels and aircraft. In addition to positioning the ship for deployment and hauling back of the various nets and instruments, they help chart the course to make sure that we visit all the transect stations. In fact, we missed an operation at one of the stations, so they are going to do a slight reroute so that we can make up for that lost data point!

Ensign Nikki Norton wore many hats and had many responsibilities during our time at sea. Including serving as the OOD, Officer on Deck, essentially an extension of the CO while on watch in the bridge, she oversaw safety operations and was the medical officer. Interestingly, she holds a Bachelor’s in marine biology from Florida State University, which makes her well suited for overseeing the operations of a research vessel.

You can listen to my conversation with Ensign Nikki Norton below.

 

This morning, I visited the bridge and spoke with the Commanding Officer of the Shimada, Commander Brian Parker. Commander Parker has been a NOAA Corps officer for 21 years, working his way up from ensign to XO (Executive Officer) to CO. NOAA Corps officers work alternating sea and land posts for two-years at a time, and at the end of this year, Commander Parker’s sea post will end and his land post as Port Captain of the NOAA facility in Newport will begin.

You can listen to my conversation with Commander Parker below.

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We arrived to our second to last transect, the Columbia River line, on Sunday. The Columbia River acts as an important source of food and habitat for certain marine species that the scientists on board the Shimada are studying and they anticipated interesting changes in the physical and biological data that they would collect at these stations.

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The long blue shelf-like line (labeled CR plume in top graph) shows decrease in salinity.

As I’ve mentioned before, the CTD measures temperature, salinity and chlorophyll (a measure of how much plant material is in the water), which are collectively referred to as physical oceanographic data. Dr. Curtis Roegner tracks the data acquired throughout the day at each station by printing the CTD graphs and taping them onto the cabinets of the Chem Lab, creating a visualization of the measurements. He looks for patterns in the data that may help him to better understand the samples acquired from neuston towing. In the graphs, you can see a dramatic change in salinity in the first 10 – 20 m as the ship passes through the fan of fresher water created by the emptying of the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean. This area, called a plume, is the meeting of two bodies of water so different that you can see a front, a clear border between the salty water of the ocean and the fresh water of the river.

The chem lab, wallpapered with CTD graphs.
The chem lab, wallpapered with CTD graphs.

As a fisheries biologist, Curtis Roegner has several driving questions that guide the work he does on board the Shimada and back at the NOAA Center. Among the work he does, he aims to study how well certain projects in the Columbia River are working to restore salmon populations. Certain species rely on the wetlands of the river to spawn (produce young) and mature in and some of this habitat has been lost to the development of cattle grazing lands. Studying the impact of the Columbia River plume on the Oregon coast may help affect change in environmental policy and agricultural (farming) practices.

I interviewed Curtis about his work and you can hear that talk below.

 

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Rougher weather kicked up a lot of swells, which the mighty Shimada crashed right through, sending spray all over the decks and outer stairways and producing just enough pitching and yawing to make a walk through a hallway interesting. The Shimada’s size helps keep the rocking and rolling to a relative minimum, but when at sea safety always remains a major concern.

With that in mind, today I participated in an optional pyrotechnic training with some officers, crew and members of the science team. Several different types of flares and smoke bombs are used at sea to draw attention to a ship in need.

In order to avoid a “crying-wolf” type of situation, we practiced this during the day and most likely radioed to all nearby vessels that we were in fact training and not in need of rescue. While I probably won’t be applying this skill in the near future, I decided I couldn’t miss an opportunity to try something new. Above you can see photos of different members of the crew and science team using these tools and below, you can see a video of me operating a flare gun.

 

Lucky for me, we weren’t in an actual danger situation. At the end of the clip, I turn to NOAA Corps officer LT Tim Sinquefield for assistance. After some adjustment of the flare shell, you can see me successfully operating the flare gun below.

 

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To top off an even more unlikely morning, members of the night shift and I were watching the sun come up and helping Amanda with the bird and marine mammal observations when a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins came to play off the bow of the ship. They stayed astern (toward the back of the ship) throughout the pyrothechnic training and at times, felt close enough to reach out and touch.

Pacific white-sided dolphins   ride the waves near our port stern, seemingly for the sheer joy of it.
Pacific white-sided dolphins ride the waves near our port stern, seemingly for the sheer joy of it.

Personal Log

As June 10 looms ever closer, I am frantically trying to take everything in. I’m basically operating under the mentality that I can sleep when I’m home. The more I try and experience, the less time I have to document what it is I’m learning on board the ship. But I set out to write eight posts about my time as a Teacher at Sea and I’m going to stay true to that commitment. Stay tuned for the final episode of my cruise aboard the Shimada, coming soon.

Alex Miller, The Sea Around Us, The Seafloor Below Us, June 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Our ship.
Our ship.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 12.4°C
  • Water Temperature: 13.3°C
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 22 kts, N
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°59’62”, 124°33’97”

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The only piece of equipment on the Shimada I haven’t told you about is the box corer. Jason Phillips has been using the box corer to collect, well, box cores. Box cores are samples of the bottom of the ocean or sea floor (also, seabed). The box core is lowered to various depths (400 m, 300 m, 200 m, 100 m and 60 m), then survey technicians, Jaclyn Mazzella or Phil White, open the jaws of the machine and scoop up a mouthful of whatever is on the bottom, including benthic (referring to bottom of the ocean) creatures.

Once surfaced, Jason subsamples the sediment, sand, mud, small pieces of rocks and debris, removing just a small part of it and storing it until our return to land. Subsampling allows scientists to measure a manageable amount and then generalize about the larger remainder; while this is limiting because it assumes uniformity throughout the box core, the alternative is looking through each piece of sediment individually, something that is time and cost prohibitive. However, he does invest the time necessary to pick out all the creatures collected by the box corer.

Back at his lab, Jason will analyze the sediment, and then he or a colleague will identify all the tiny, tiny organisms, living things, found in the core.

Below, you can see Jason processing the core. He has washed down the smaller pieces of sediment like clay and sand through the holes in the mesh sieve. The sieve traps the smaller pieces of rock and even smaller animals, allowing him to pick them out and place them into preservative for processing when he returns to shore.

Jason and Amanda pick out benthic organisms from a core sample.
Jason and Amanda pick out benthic organisms from a core sample.

Through the study of box cores, Jason hopes to learn more about the creatures that live on the bottom of the sea. He told me many scientists who are doing box cores are simply collecting the sediment for study, they are not looking to see what organisms live in it, and therefore, there is a lot we don’t know. He says, “I would not be surprised if we found a new species in these cores.”

Take a look at some of the creatures Jason has unearthed on this cruise:

Because he has been collecting this data for two years, there are some patterns emerging about sediment conditions in different areas of the seabed. This information may help inform the placement and construction of a proposed wind farm off the Oregon coast.

For at least one day of our cruise, Jason also put out hooked long-lines to try and catch albacore, a type of tuna. Unfortunately, the fish weren’t biting. While albacore are unique among most tuna in that they prefer cooler water, Jason says the late-spring waters off the Oregon coast are still a little too cold for them and since they can swim up to 100 miles a day, they can easily find some more comfortable temperatures. The albacore that have been caught on previous cruises as part of this ongoing study are being tested for radioisotopes that may have originated from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011.

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And, of course, there’s always fun to be had on the Shimada. Below you can watch a video of Jason unearthing a pupa utility-worm from one of his box cores; scientific name (Travisia pupa), affectionately known as the “stink worm.” Will decides we need a closer, um, look.

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Tyler Jackson, a Master’s student at Oregon State University has been working on fisheries genetics since he was an undergraduate. His interest in marine science began when he was a wee recreational fisherman’s son growing up on the US-Canada border in Port Huron, MI.

In collecting megalopae, a larval form of Dungeness crab, he is trying to determine how closely related the Dungeness crab of areas off the Oregon coast are. He has studied population genetics among adult Dungeness crabs along the West Coast. He hypothesizes that if adult crabs in an area are closely related, larvae settling in the nearshore would be too. However, he tells me that it is not well understood how crab larvae travel throughout the ocean, and then for some to make it back to nearshore and settle to the bottom, maybe near where they came from. Perhaps these extended families get scattered throughout the seas, perhaps not.

Tyler Jackson, Oregon State University
Tyler Jackson, Oregon State University

At the first few stations, the tows were not bringing back enough individuals to give Tyler a large enough sample size to provide a reliable assessment of whether the crabs in that part of the ocean are related or not. Unfortunately, on this cruise Tyler did not get a sample size large enough to use.

In the following video you can see that, after sieving the neuston, Tyler found two Dungeness megalopae (too small of a sample size to test) but quite a lot of red rock crab megalopae. These little creatures are fascinating and pretty adorable.

I also interviewed Tyler about his work and life at sea. You can hear our talk below.

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Two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep at all, and I was thinking about the fact that my time on the Shimada is quickly coming to a close. I was trying to find a way to get even more information from the scientists on board to you. Taped interviews seemed like the perfect solution. I began conducting them yesterday and, after finishing three, realized I’d spoken to three of the four other women of the science crew. And so, here we are having a conversation about gender equity in the sciences.

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The ladies of the science crew. From left: Samantha Zeman, Amanda Gladics, Emily Boring, Brittney Honisch, Alexandra Miller

Using data from a longitudinal study done by the National Science Foundation, in 1973, 88% of doctorate holders working at the university level in life sciences (includes marine biology) were male, just 12% were female. Hearteningly, women have become much more well represented in the life sciences; in 2010, these numbers were 58% and 42%, respectively‡. You can see this same kind of near gender balance on board the Shimada: of the twelve (counting me) members of the science crew, five are women. Women are also well-represented in this blog post.

You can see the numbers breakdown for all the science and engineering fields here.

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I interviewed the four other women of the science crew about their research and life on board the ship, as well as being a woman in the field of life science. You can hear those interviews below.

If you would like to find the parts of the conversations about gender equality in marine science, you may use the time stamps below.

Table of Contents:

  • Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, OSU Seabird Oceanography Lab (13.55)
  • Samantha Zeman, Graduate Student and Research Assistant, University of Oregon (7.00)
  • Brittney Honisch, Marine Scientist, Hatfield Marine Science Center (8.50)
  • Emily Boring, Sophomore, Yale University (I did not ask Emily as she is still an undergraduate)

‡Compare this to the numbers for the physical sciences, in 1973, 95% of doctorates employed in academia were male, compared to 5% female; in 2010, 79% male to 21% female.

Additional Reading:

“Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” New York Times, 2013

And no less than 4 days later…

“Tim Hunt Resigns After Comments” New York Times, 2015

Twitter Campaign #distractinglysexy

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Question of the Day:

Why are there still so few women in science? What can be done to encourage girls to pursue, and stay, in STEM fields?

Alex Miller: Making Waves, June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.
Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Friday, June 5th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 12.7°C
  • Sky Conditions: Clear
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 21.9 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°00’19”, 124°19’94”

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Before I go into the events of the research and life onboard the Shimada, let me explain the weather data I share at the beginning of posts at sea. Weather can change quickly out at sea so the ship’s Officer(s) of the Deck (OODs) keep a running record of conditions throughout the cruise. On the Shimada, the OODs all happen to be NOAA Corps Officers, but there are civilian mates and masters on other ships.

Another important reason to collect weather conditions and location information is that it’s need to be linked to the data that is collected. The ship collects a lot of weather data, but I’ve chosen to share that which will give you an idea of what it’s like out here.

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The bridge with a view of the captain’s seat.

First, I’ve shared the temperature of both the air and the water. Scientists use the Celsius temperature scale but Americans are used to thinking about temperatures using the Fahrenheit scale. On the Celsius scale, water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C, whereas on the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. I won’t go into how you convert from one scale to another, but to better understand the temperatures listed above, temperatures around 10°C are equal to about 50°F.

Second, the sky conditions give you an idea of whether we are seeing blue or gray skies or I guess at night, stars or no stars. Clear skies have graced us intermittently over the past few days, but we’ve seen everything from light showers to dense fog.

Third, is the wind direction and speed. Knots is a measurement used at sea. It stands for nautical miles per hour. 1 knot = 1.2 miles/hour or 10 knots = 12 mph.  The NOAA Marine Weather Forecast allows us to prepare for what might be coming at future stations. Depending on wind speed, some nets cannot be deployed. If wind speeds reach 25-30 kts, the kite-like neuston will literally fly away. If a weather day ends up keeping scientists from collecting data that can be very disappointing and, unfortunately, there’s no way to make up for lost time.

With the wind speeds picking up, so have the swell sizes, making for a rougher ride. As funny as it can be to watch a colleague swerve off their intended path and careen into the nearest wall, chair or person, we have to remember to, “save one hand for the ship,” meaning, be ready to steady yourself.

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Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.
Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Considering how well taken care of I’ve been on this cruise, it only seems right to tell you guys all about the heroes of the mess (also galley, basically, it’s the dining area), Larry and Randy. Larry and Randy plan and prepare three meals a day on board the Shimada. There’s always a hot breakfast and our dinners have included steak, mahi-mahi, and I like to think they were catering to the quarter of me that’s Irish when they made corned beef and cabbage last night. This dynamic duo really outdo themselves. Both are trained merchant mariners, meaning they hold their Z-card, and they tell me that working as a chef at sea definitely helps to bring home the bacon.

It feels good knowing that they don’t want us to just have cereal and sandwiches for the two weeks we are at sea.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.
Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

I especially want to shout out Randy, the denizen of the desserts. So far Randy has made from scratch: bread pudding, chocolate white-chocolate cookies, rum cake and date bars. Good thing for me his mother was a chef because he’s been cooking since around the age of 6.

I just finished a Thanksgiving style turkey meal prepared by these two and all this told, I’m thankful there’s an exercise room on board with a stationary bike. Seriously though, these guys are doing a lot to make the ship feel like a home. With the disruption in my sleep cycle, I’ve been sleeping through some meals. Like 50% of meals. They noticed. When I came walking into dinner yesterday, after sleeping through two meals, they were full of concern and questions. Awww.

So, on behalf of all the crew and scientists, I want to say thank you for all that you do!

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Wednesday night, or Thursday morning–days tend to run together when you’re working the night shift–the net picked up an unusual jelly that Ric had to key out using a jelly identification manual. Using photos in the Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates by Wrobel and Mills, Ric identifies this jelly as the Liriope (sp. ?). While Ric is an accomplished biologist, he specializes in fish identification, so the question mark after the scientific name of this jelly represents the need for a jelly expert to confirm the identification as Liriope. But what’s in a name, right? What’s really interesting about this jelly is that it usually inhabits warm water areas between 40S and 40N. We were towing north of the 44th parallel!

Liriope (?)
Liriope (sp. ?)

That wasn’t the only unusual sighting we had. Amanda, who does her surveys exclusively in the Northeast Pacific, meaning relatively close to shore (12 – 200 km) saw, for her first time in the wild, the Hawaiian petrel, a bird whose name alone suggests that Oregon is too far north to be seeing them. Additionally, it’s being more of an offshore bird makes it even more unlikely to see as far east as we are.

All images in this slideshow were taken by Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University. 

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Her initial reaction to the sighting was mild surprise that she saw something she didn’t quite recognize, she decided to grab her camera and photograph the bird so she could take a second look at it. Later, she realized just how rare of a sighting she had made. After consulting with Josh Adams at USGS, it was confirmed that the bird was a Hawaiian petrel.

Though most of the community nests on the big island of Hawaii, smaller colonies are found on Oahu and Kauai, and Adams explained that they tend to loop around areas of high pressure when foraging (searching) for food. It just so happens that such an area is within our transect range. If you look at the image to the right you can see this area as a loop marked with 1024 (mb, millibars, a pressure measurement) just off the coast of Oregon.

Map of pressure systems
Map of pressure systems and precipitation in the Pacific. Note the high pressure system of the coast of Oregon (1024 mb). Photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics.

Amanda has also sent her images to Greg Gillson and Peter Pyle, two experts in the field; Gillson confirms the sighting as a Hawaiian petrel and is notifying the Oregon Birding Association Records Committee. She is still waiting to hear back from Pyle.

Super cool!

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Considering these two events alongside some warmer water temperatures the CTD and ship sensors have picked up in our transect area, the conclusion several of the scientists are reaching is that these unusual sightings are coincident with an El Niño event this year. El Niño events occur in a cycle. They are a disruption of the normal ocean temperatures, leading to anomalously warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This can affect weather and climate and perhaps it can also affect animal behavior. There’s also that warm blob to consider. You yourself can see that the water temperature is warmer here than it was at our earlier transects.

For more information on how NOAA monitors El Niño events, please follow this link.

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Personal Log

In an effort to gain a deep understanding of all the research taking place on board the ship, I’ve started transitioning back to the day shift. After investing five days in training myself to stay up all night, I’m now trying to sleep through the night. My body is utterly confused about when it’s supposed to be asleep, so right now it’s settled on never being asleep. I’ve been able to catch naps here and there but I’m resorting to caffeine to keep me going.

However, there’s always a silver lining. This morning I climbed to the flying bridge for a bit of solitude with the rising sun. Few things can compare to a sunrise on a ship while it’s traveling northeast and to top it all off the swells crashing against the bow were so high that, at times, I could feel the sea spray. So I thought I would make this .gif so you can share this moment too.

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#shiplife

Until next time, scientists!

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Question of the Day:

Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 kts. If the ship travels at 7 knots for 1 hour, how many nautical miles does it cover? Standard miles?

Alex Miller: Working the Night Shift, June 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

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The full moon lights up the night on top of the flying bridge.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: June 3, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 13.3°C
  • Water Temperature: 14.8°C
  • Sky Conditions: Partly Cloudy, I could still see some stars
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts), Direction: 5.5 kts, NNE
  • Latitude and Longitude: 43°29’84”, 124°49’71”

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Later on Monday, once all the night-shifters had risen from their beds and were beginning to get ready for the bongos and mid-water trawls, I took a tour of the engines with marine engineer and NOAA crewmember, Colleen. We started in the control room. With up to four engines operating at any one time, Colleen says it’s a relief that computer systems help to automate the process. As part of her four-year degree program at Seattle Maritime Academy, she learned how to operate the engines manually as well, but I think we can all agree computers make life easier.

Before moving on to the actual engine room, Colleen made sure I grabbed some ear protection. For a one-time visit they’re probably more for my comfort than to protect from any real damage, but because she’s working with the engines every night, it’s important to protect against early-onset hearing loss. Once the plugs were in, we were basically not going to be able to talk so Colleen made sure that I knew everything I was going to see before we proceeded.

Colleen in the control room.
Colleen in the control room.

First, we made our way past the fresh water tanks. I was really curious about how we get fresh water on the ship, since we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Shimada produces freshwater using two processes. Reverse osmosis produces most of the water, using high pressure to push the seawater across a membrane, a barrier that acts like a filter, allowing the water molecules to pass through but not the salt. This is an energy intensive process, but the evaporators use the excess energy produced by the engines to heat the seawater then pass it through a condensing column which cools it, and voilá, freshwater!

Next, we came to the four diesel engines. Four engines. These four engines are rarely all on at one time but never will you find just one doing all the work. That would put too much strain on and probably burn out that engine. While they burn diesel fuel, like a truck, instead of using that energy to turn a piston like the internal combustion engine of that same truck, they convert that energy to electricity. That electricity powers the two motors that ultimately make the ship go.

Panoramic view of the engine room, engines 1 and 3 can be seen in foreground and engines 2 and 4 in the background.
Panoramic view of the engine room, engines 1 and 3 can be seen in foreground and engines 2 and 4 in the background.

A ship the size of the Shimada requires a lot of power to get moving, but Colleen tells me it gets decent mileage. Though the ship’s diesel tank can hold 100,000 gallons, there’s only about 50,000 gallons in the tank right now and the ship only needs to refuel every couple of months.

After a quick pass by the mechanics for the rudder, the fin-shaped piece of equipment attached to the hull that controls the direction the ship is traveling we arrived at our last stop: Shaft Alley. Those two motors I told you about work together to turn a giant crankshaft and that crankshaft is attached to the propeller which pushes water, making the ship move. When I was down there the ship was on station, where it was holding its location in the water, so the crankshaft was only turning at 50 RPM (rotations per minute).

It was a pleasure getting a tour from Colleen!

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Throughout the night, the Shimada revisits the same transect stations that it visited during that day, but uses different nets to collect samples at each station. To the right, you can see a map of the stations; they are the points on the map. Each line of stations is called a transect. Looking at the map it’s easy to see that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of data to collect.

The transects and stations within them that the Shimada will survey at.
The transects and stations within them that the Shimada will survey at.

Why does this have to happen at night? At night, the greatest migration in the animal kingdom takes place. Creatures that spend their days toward the bottom layers of the ocean migrate up, some as far as 750 m (almost 2,500 ft)! Considering they’re tiny, (some need to be placed under the microscope to be reliably identified) this is relatively very far. And they do it every day!

To collect data on these organisms, three types of nets are used, two of which are not used during the day. Along with the surface-skimming neuston (which is used during the day), the bongo net, so named because it has two nets and looks like a set of bongo drums, and the Cobb trawl which is a very large net that needs to be deployed off the stern (back of the boat).

The operation of the bongo net is similar to the neuston, it is lowered off the starboard (when facing the bow, it’s the right side) side of the boat. Dropping down to 100 m below the surface and then coming back up, the bongo is collecting zooplankton, phytoplankton and fish larvae. The samples are poured from the cod-end into a strainer with a very fine mesh and since the water is full of those tiny bits, the straining can take a bit of time and some tambourine-like shaking.

The Cobb trawl on deck, waiting to be deployed.
The Cobb trawl on deck, waiting to be deployed.

These samples are then fixed (preserved) in ethanol and they will be analyzed for diversity (how many different species are present) and abundance (how many individuals of each species is present). The bongo is the net of choice for this survey because once scientists go to process the data, the double net provides a duplicate for each data point. This is important for statistical purposes because it ensures that the area that is sampled by one side of the net is similar enough to the area sampled by the other side of the net.

Below you can see video of the bongo net after it’s been hauled back. Scientists are spraying it down to make sure all organisms collect in the cod-end.

 

 

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Once the bongos are done, comes the real action of the night shift. The mid-water trawls take 15 minutes. I’ve become really great at communicating with the bridge and survey technicians who are operating the nets so that I can record data for the beginning and ending of the trawls. Once the catch is on deck, the survey technicians empty the cod-end into a strainer. The scientists prepare to sort, count and measure the species of interest. If the catch is large or particularly diverse, this can be a significant task that requires all hands on deck.

With four trawls a night, some with 30-50 minutes transit time with nothing to do in between, fatigue can set in and make the work hard to finish. To make it through the night, it takes great senses of humor and playful personalities. A little theme music doesn’t hurt either. The scientists of the night shift, under the direction of Toby Auth, a fisheries biologist with Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission working as a contractor to NOAA and Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur, are Brittney Honisch, a marine scientist with Hatfield Marine Science Center, Paul Chittaro, a biologist with Ocean Associates working as a contractor to NOAA, Tyler Jackson, a fisheries science graduate student, and Will Fennie.


The data collected during these trawls provides a snapshot of the ecosystem. This data will help NOAA Fisheries Service understand the health of the ocean ecosystem as well as how large certain populations of commercially important fish are such as hake and rockfish.

In the meantime, it provides for some late night fun. Over the course of the nights that I’ve spent in the wet lab, we have uncovered some bizarre and fascinating creatures.

But in my opinion the real star of the trawls was the young female dogfish. A dogfish is a type of shark. I know what you’re thinking and no, she did not try to bite us. But dogfish do have two spines, one at the base of each dorsal (back) fin. We all fell in love, but, ultimately, had to say goodbye and return her to the sea.

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Thank you for your patience as I’ve gathered the images and video to make this and future posts as informative as possible. Stay tuned for Episode 5 coming soon!

Personal Log

First off, a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to the first 8th grade class at Village Leadership Academy. I wish I could be there when you walk across that stage on June 4th.

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Little did I know when I started hanging out with the scientists of the night shift that it would become a way of life. Each night I managed to stay up later and later and finally last night I made it through all four catches and almost to 0800, the end of the night’s watch. After dinner (some call it “breakfast”), I slept a full eight hours, and it felt completely normal to be greeted with “Good Morning!” at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Speaking of the night’s watch, I’m really grateful that someone was able to get one of my favorite TV shows last Sunday. And Game 7! The Blackhawks are in the finals! Even though I can’t call anyone back home to discuss my theories or that amazing goal by Seabrook in the third period, I can email and it feels like I’m missing less.

The only person I can’t email is my cat, Otto! I can’t wait to snuggle him until he scratches me.

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Otto the cat. He loves snuggling.

Question of the Day:

Comment with answers to these questions and I’ll shout your name out in the next post!

What is your favorite animal we have seen so far?

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Paul Chittaro for assisting in the use of iMovie for this post!

Emily Whalen: Looking at Lobsters, Moving a 208-foot Boat, and Favorite Creatures, May 5, 2015

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:

Lobsters!

This is a large female lobster.  The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the ripper.  For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!
This is a large female lobster. The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the pincer. For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!

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.

This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it.  What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?
This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it. What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?

This is a lobster  that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.
This is a lobster that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.

This is a lobster with two fully functional claws.  Why do you think each claw has a different shape?
This is a lobster with two fully functional claws. Why do you think each claw has a different shape?

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!

These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.
These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.

This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen.  Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone's best estimate for this one was about 20 years.  I put my hand next to the claw for scale.
This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen. Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone’s best estimate for this one was about 20 years. I put my hand next to the claw so that you could see how big it is!  I wasn’t brave enough to put my hand any closer!

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.

Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell.   So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.
Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell. So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.

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.

This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.
This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.  The single point on the right hand side represents the rostrum, which is analogous to the nose, and the two points furthest to the left represent the place where the carapace or shell meets the tail.

Moving Forward

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.

Personal Log

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?

This is a sea raven.  Most of them are brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow.
This is a sea raven. Most of the ones we have seen are  brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow

Windowpane flounder.  We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these look the coolest.
Windowpane flounder. We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these are the coolest.

Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!
Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!

I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.
I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.

How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?
How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?

This is a particularly colorful four-beard rockling!
This immature cusk eel will lose these colors and eventually grow to be a dull grey color.

These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color.  You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.
These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color. You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.

This lamprey eel has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey.  Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!
This Atlantic hagfish has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey. Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!

You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth.  This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals.  Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!
You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth. This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals. Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!

We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish.  While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.
We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish. While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

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
Seas: 1-2ft
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 Bigelow and 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.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

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.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

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!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

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 Bigelow was 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!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

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.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

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:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • 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.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

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!

Emily Whalen: Trawling in Cape Cod Bay, April 29, 2015

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: April 29, 2015

Weather Data:
GPS location:  4251.770’N, 07043.695’W
Sky condition:  Cloudy
Wind: 10 kts NNW
Wave height: 1-2 feet
Water temperature:  6.2○ C
Air temperature:  8.1○ C

Science and Technology Log:

On board the Henry B. Bigelow we are working to complete the fourth and final leg of the spring bottom trawl survey. Since 1948, NOAA has sent ships along the east coast from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian Shelf to catch, identify, measure and collect the fish and invertebrates from the sea floor. Scientists and fishermen use this data to assess the health of the ocean and make management decisions about fish stocks.

What do you recognize on this chart?  Do you know where Derry, NH is on the map?
This is the area that we will be trawling. Each blue circle represents one of the sites that we will sample. We are covering a LOT of ground! Image courtesy of NOAA.

Today I am going to give you a rundown of the small role that I play in this process. I am on the noon to midnight watch with a crew of six other scientists, which means that we are responsible for processing everything caught in the giant trawl net on board during those hours. During the first three legs of the survey, the Bigelow has sampled over 300 sites. We are working to finish the survey by completing the remaining sites, which are scattered throughout Cape Cod Bay and the Gulf of Maine.  The data collected on this trip will be added to data from similar trips that NOAA has taken each spring for almost 60 years.  These huge sets of data allow scientists to track species that are dwindling, recovering, thriving or shifting habitats.

The CTD ready to deploy.
The CTD ready to deploy.

At each sampling station, the ship first drops a man-sized piece of equipment called a CTD to the sea floor. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth, hence its name.  Using the conductivity measurement, the CTD software also calculates salinity, which is the amount of dissolved salt in the water.  It also has light sensors that are used to measure how much light is penetrating through the water.

While the CTD is in the water,  the deck crew prepares the trawl net and streams it from the back of the ship.  The net is towed by a set of hydraulic winches that are controlled by a sophisticated autotrawl system.  The system senses the tension on each trawl warp and will pay out or reel in cable to ensure that the net is fishing properly.

Once deployed, the net sinks to the bottom and the ship tows it for twenty minutes, which is a little more than one nautical mile. The mouth of the net is rectangular so that it can open up wide and catch the most fish.  The bottom edge of the mouth has something called a rockhopper sweep on it, which is made of a series of heavy disks that roll along the rocky bottom instead of getting hung up or tangled.  The top edge of the net has floats along it to hold it wide open.   There are sensors positioned throughout the net that send data back to the ship about the shape of the net’s mouth, the water temperature on the bottom, the amount of contact with the bottom, the speed of water through the net and the direction that the water is flowing through the net.  It is important that each tow is standardized like this so that the fish populations in the sample areas aren’t misrepresented by the catch.   For example, if the net was twisted or didn’t open properly, the catch might be very small, even in an area that is teaming with fish.

Do you think this is what trawl nets looked like in 1948?
This is what the net looks like when it is coming back on board. The deck hands are guiding the trawl warps onto the big black spools. The whole process is powered by two hydraulic winches.

After twenty minutes, the net is hauled back onto the boat using heavy-duty winches.  The science crew changes into brightly colored foul weather gear and heads to the wet lab, where we wait to see what we’ve caught in the net. The watch chief turns the music up and everyone goes to their station along a conveyor belt the transports the fish from outside on the deck to inside the lab. We sort the catch by species into baskets and buckets, working at a slow, comfortable pace when the catch is small, or at a rapid fire, breakneck speed when the catch is large.

If you guessed 'sponges', then you are correct!
This is the conveyor belt that transports the catch from the deck into the wetlab. The crew works to sort things into buckets. Do you know what these chunky yellow blobs that we caught this time are?

After that, the species and weight of each container is recorded into the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS), which is an amazing software system that allows our team of seven people to collect an enormous amount of data very quickly. Then we work in teams of two to process each fish at work stations using a barcode scanner, magnetic lengthing board, digital scale, fillet knives, tweezers, two touch screen monitors, a freshwater hose, scannable stickers, envelopes, baggies, jars and finally a conveyor belt that leads to a chute that returns the catch back to the ocean.  To picture what this looks like, imagine a grocery store checkout line crossed with an arcade crossed with a water park crossed with an operating room.  Add in some music playing from an ipod and it’s a pretty raucous scene!

The data that we collect for each fish varies.  At a bare minimum, we will measure the length of the fish, which is electronically transmitted into FSCS.  For some fish, we also record the weight, sex and stage of maturity.  This also often includes taking tissue samples and packaging them up so that they can be studied back at the lab.  Fortunately, for each fish, the FSCS screen automatically prompts us about which measurements need to be taken and samples need to be kept.  For some fish, we cut out and label a small piece of gonad or some scales.  We collect the otoliths, or ear bones from many fish.

It does not look this neat and tidy when we are working!
These are the work stations in the wet lab. The cutters stand on the left processing the fish, and the recorders stand on the right.These bones can be used to determine the age of each fish because they are made of rings of calcium carbonate that accumulate over time.

Most of the samples will got back to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center where they will be processed by NOAA scientists.  Some of them will go to other scientists from universities and other labs who have requested special sampling from the Bigelow.  It’s like we are working on a dozen different research projects all at once!

 

 

 

Something to Think About:

Below are two pictures that I took from the flying bridge as we departed from the Coast Guard Station in Boston. They were taken just moments apart from each other. Why do you think that the area in the first picture has been built up with beautiful skyscrapers while the area in the second picture is filled with shipping containers and industry? Which area do you think is more important to the city? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.

Rows of shipping containers. What do you think is inside them?

Downtown Boston.  Just a mile from the shipping containers.  Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?
Downtown Boston. Just a mile from the shipping containers. Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Believe it or not, I actually feel very relaxed on board the Bigelow!  The food is excellent, my stateroom is comfortable and all I have to do is follow the instructions of the crew and the FSCS.  The internet is fast enough to occasionally check my email, but not fast enough to stream music or obsessively read articles I find on Twitter.  The gentle rocking of the boat is relaxing, and there is a constant supply of coffee and yogurt.  I have already read one whole book (Paper Towns by John Greene) and later tonight I will go to the onboard library and choose another.  That said, I do miss my family and my dog and I’m sure that in a few days I will start to miss my students too!

If the description above doesn’t make you want to consider volunteering on a NOAA cruise, maybe the radical outfits will.  On the left, you can see me trying on my Mustang Suit, which is designed to keep me safe in the unlikely event that the ship sinks.  On the right, you can see me in my stylish yellow foul weather pants.  They look even better when they are covered in sparkling fish scales!

Seriously, they keep me totally dry!
Banana Yellow Pants: SO 2015! Photo taken by fellow volunteer Megan Plourde.

Seriously, do I look awesome, or what?
This is a Mustang Suit. If you owned one of these, where would you most like to wear it? Photo taken by IT Specialist Heidi Marotta.

That’s it for now!  What topics would you like to hear more about?  If you post your questions in the comment section below, I will try to answer them in my next blog post.

Julie Karre: A Day of No Fishing is Not a Day of Rest, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic
Date: July 27

Weather Data from the Bridge
W TO NW WINDS 5 TO 10 KNOTS
SEAS 1 TO 2 FT.

We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)

Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.
Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.

Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.

Mike recording data as Lead Scientist Kristen Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.
Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.
All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.

Personal Log

While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.

I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.

Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)

CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.

It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It's not easy.
The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.
A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.
The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

Did You Know?

Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.

Animals Seen

Flying Fish

Pilot Whales

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

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

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

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

Date: Friday, July 26, 2013

Weather Data:

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

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

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

Did you know?

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

Katie Sard: Introductory Post, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Katie Sard
25 days until I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier
July 29 – August 15, 2013


Misson: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of the cruise:  Alaska Peninsula
Date:  July 3, 2013

 

Personal Log

Hello from Newport, Oregon!  I cannot begin to explain how excited I am for my upcoming Teacher at Sea (TAS) experience on the NOAA Ship Rainier. I have the privilege of working in a coastal community at Isaac Newton Magnet School (INMS) here in Newport.

Yaquina Bay Bridge
Although I don’t typically get to walk across the bridge each day on my commute, this is me as I made my way over the Yaquina Bay Bridge for the first time by foot!

I teach Integrated Science to blended classes of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  My daily drive to work consists of looking out across the Pacific Ocean and passing over the Yaquina Bay Bridge.  My students are one of a kind, and their budding interests in science motivate me to continue my own scientific education.

I moved to Oregon in June of 2011 with my husband so that he could pursue a PhD position at Hatfield Marine Science Center through Oregon State University.  We moved here from Chautauqua County in Western New York State.  Although I grew up on the “East Coast”, it wasn’t until moving to Oregon that I really began to appreciate our Ocean and what it means to be a member of a coastal community.  Ever since our move I’ve been on a mission to discover all that I can about the Ocean in order to help my students appreciate what an amazing resource it truly is.  While I was attending a teacher workshop recently, I read the following quote by David Sobel that said, “Give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”  The demands of the upcoming generations are enormous, and I am dedicated to making sure that my students grow to be scientifically literate citizens of our world.  I know that my TAS experience will help me to help my students love their planet!

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program is giving me the opportunity to continue my scientific education, and to bring my knowledge back to my students, colleagues, and community members.  The ship’s mission will be to do hydrographic surveys out around the Shumagin Islands, and in and around Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula.

NOAA Survey Plans
Here is a map that I found to help me understand where exactly I will be visiting.

I’m nervous, excited, and eager for my journey to start as I’ve never been on a ship of this size, and I’ve never been out on the ocean for this duration of time.  Be sure to check out the link to the Ship to get more information on the NOAA Ship Rainier.

In the upcoming month before my cruise I will be traveling back to my home town in New York with my husband Nick and my dog Luna.

Lost Creek State Park
My husband Nick, my dog Luna, and myself at Lost Creek State Park near our house in Newport.

We will spend several weeks there before heading back cross-country on the 40+ hour road trip.  The next time you hear from me will be when I am aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier!  I hope that you help to shape my experience by interacting with my via this blog while I am aboard the ship!

Did You Know?

  • The NOAA Ship Rainier is named for Mount Rainier which is the tallest peak in the state of Washington.  It is the fourth tallest peak in the United States.

Here are a few interesting fishermen’s superstitions that I will keep in mind as I begin my journey:

  • It is bad luck to look back once your ship has left port.
  • It is said that disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your left foot first.

Adam Renick, The DIDSON Pilot, June 21, 2013

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

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

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

Happy Solstice Everybody! Welcome to astronomical summer!

Giacamo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.
Giacomo Giorli explains the DIDSON deployment process to the team.

What is a Didson?

The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.
The DIDSON sonar in a protective case.

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

Images of fish on a DIDSON . http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=sonar.didson
Images of fish on a DIDSON . http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=sonar.didson

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

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

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

Comparison of different types of sonar.
Comparison of different types of sonar.

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

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

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

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

Kaitlin Baird: Did You Know? September 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Back in port! Newport Rhode Island
Date: September 21st
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 41’53.04
Longitude: 71’31.77

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 13.8 (approx.57°F)
Wind Speed: 10.01 kts
Wind Direction:  North
Surface Water Temperature: 19.51 °C (approx. 67°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:
I thought I would end my trip on the Henry B. Bigelow with some fun facts!
.
Did you know?
The Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) is able to prompt the data recorders with all actions needing to be performed for a particular species. It is coded with unique barcodes for every sample taken. Back in the laboratory all scientists receiving samples can receive all the information taken about the given organism by scanning this unique barcode!
.

barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis
Barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis

Did you know?
Science crew operating on the back deck are required to wear an Overboard Recovery Communications Apparatus (ORCA). This system if it is activated sends a signal by way of radio frequency to a receiver on the ship’s bridge. This system responds immediately to the ship receiver and has a direction finder to help locate the man overboard.

Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my positioning system around my neck
Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my ORCA around my neck

Personal Log:
It would take me hours to go through all of the amazing creatures we caught and surveyed on this trip, so I thought I would write some fast facts about some of my favorites! Enjoy!
.
Did you know?
The male spoon arm octopus has a modified arm that passes spermatophores into the oviducts of the female. Pretty neat stuff!

spoonarrm octopus
Spoon arm octopus

Did you know?
Stargazers, like this one, have an electric organ and are one of few marine bony fish species that are able to produce electricity.  This is known as Bioelectrogenesis. They also hide beneath the sand with just their eyes sticking out and ambush their prey!

Stargazer
Stargazer

Did you know?
This fish, the Atlantic midshipman, has bioluminescent bacteria that inhabit these jewel–like photophores that emit light! It also interestingly enough uses this function in fairly shallow waters!

midshipman photophores
Midshipman photophores

Did you know?
Sea spiders like this one have no respiratory organs. Since they are so small gasses diffuse in and out of their bodies, how cool is that!

sea spider
Sea spider

Did you know?
The flaming box crab, Calappa flammea, uses its scissor-like claws that act as a can opener. It has a special modified appendage to open hermit crabs like a can opener!

flaming box crab
Flaming box crab

Did you know?
A female Atlantic angel shark like this one can have up to 13 pups!

angel shark
Angel shark

Did you know?
Seahorses suck up their food through their long snout, and like the flounders I talked about at the beginning of the cruise, their eyes also move independently of each other!!

seahorse
Seahorse

Did you know?
Horseshoe crabs, like this one, have blue blood. Unlike the blood of mammals, they don’t have hemoglobin to carry oxygen, instead they have henocyanin. Because the henocyanin has copper in it, their blood is blue!

horseshoe crab
Horseshoe crab

Last but NOT least, Did you know?
According to the Guiness Book of World Records the American Lobster has been known to reach lengths over 3 ft (0.91 m) and weigh as much as 44 lb (20 kg) or more. This makes it the heaviest marine crustacean in the world! This one was pretty large!!

American Lobster
American Lobster

A big farewell to everyone on the Henry B. Bigelow! Thanks so much, i had a great time and learned a lot! Thanks for reading!

Allan Phipps: From Unalaska to Un-Alaska, September 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

The bow of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson!

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 1, 2012
.

Location Data 
Latitude: N 26° 03.476′
Longitude: W 080° 20.920′

Weather Data from home
Wind Speed:   7.8 knots (9 mph)
Wind Direction: East
Wave Height:    2 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.9°C (84°F)
Air Temperature: 30°C (86 °F)
Barometric Pressure:    1016 millibars ( 1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:  

Below are the numbers that Johanna (my fellow Teacher at Sea) put together at the end of our mission.

We completed 44 hauls in our leg of the survey and caught approximately 118,474 pollock.  All of those pollock weighed a collective 24,979.92 kg (= 25 tons)!  Last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was 1.17 million tons!

So, we only caught 25 tons/ 1,170,000 tons = 0.00002 = 0.002% of the yearly catch in our study.

The estimated population of pollock in the Bering Sea  is 10 million tons (10,000,000 T).  This means we caught only 0.00025% of the entire pollock population!

So, as you can see, in the big picture, our sampling for scientific analysis is quite TINY!

Continuing with more cool pollock data…

  • We identified 7,276 males and 7,145 females (and 2,219 were left unsexed)
  • We measured 16,640 pollock lengths on the Ichthystick!
  • Pollock lengths ranged from 9cm to 74cm
  • We measured 260 lengths of non-pollock species (mostly jellyfish, pacific herring, and pacific cod)
  • We collected 1,029 otoliths for analysis

Personal Log:

After two full days of travel including a long red-eye flight across country, I am back in Ft Lauderdale, Florida.  I had the most incredible experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on the Oscar Dyson!  The trip was absolutely amazing!  Here are some parting shots taken on my last day in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The scientists onboard the Oscar Dyson on this leg of the Alaska Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey. From left to right we see fellow Teacher at Sea Johanna, chief scientist Taina, scientists Rick and Kresimir, myself, then scientist Darin.

The bottom-trawl net all wrapped up and ready to off-load. Note the label says “used and abused.” This is to remind workers in the net yard to check and mend the net.  It reminds me that we worked hard and worked the equipment harder.  Sign me up again for another NOAA Teacher at Sea experience!!!

In closing, I would like to thank a few people.  The NOAA Corps officers and deck crew are wonderful and do a great job running a tight ship.  I would like to thank them all for keeping me safe, warm, dry, and well fed while out at sea.  They all made me feel right at home.

The NOAA scientists Taina, Kresimir, Rick and Darin did a fabulous job patiently explaining the science occurring onboard and I appreciate them letting me become a part of the team!  I loved immersing myself back in the practice of real scientific inquiry and research!

I would like to thank the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for allowing me to take part in this incredible research experience for teachers!  Teachers and students in my district are very excited to hear about my experiences and I look forward to continuing to share with them about NOAA Teacher at Sea!  Sign me up, and I’d be happy to “set sail” with NOAA again.

Finally, I would like to thank my readers.  I truly enjoyed sharing my experiences with you and hope that, through my blog, you were able to experience a bit of the Bering Sea with me.

Kaitlin Baird: Women in a H2O World: Girl Power in Science, September 19, 2012

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Long Island
Date: September 19th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 40’54.90
Longitude: 73’30.18

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 18.4 (approx.65°F)
Wind Speed: 10.64 kts
Wind Direction:  Northwest
Surface Water Temperature: 20.08 °C (approx. 68°F)
Weather conditions: sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log:

Ocean acidification have been the buzz words in the shellfish and coral reef world for the last few decades, but how will changes in our ocean’s pH affect our coastal fisheries resources? The Henry B. Bigelow is host to another project to help monitor this very question. The ship has an automated system that draws in surface seawater through an uncontaminated line and feeds it to a spray head equilibrator (seen in photo). Here, this instrument measures the partial pressure of carbon dioxide through an infrared analyzer. Standards are used to automatically calibrate the instrument periodically so it can take data while the fish are being counted and measured. How great is that!

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic

It has already been shown and well documented that our oceans are getting more acidic. Something to remember is that our ocean and atmosphere are always in equilibrium in terms of carbon dioxide. Therefore, if we emit more carbon dioxide some of that will be absorbed by the ocean. The rapid changes in development since the industrial revolution have led to more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and therefore, over time, more diffusing into the ocean. The amount of carbon dioxide our ocean is absorbing has changed its chemistry. Increasing partial pressure of carbon dioxide (through several chemical reactions) makes the carbonate ion less available in the ocean (especially the upper layers where much aquatic life abounds).

This does not mean the ion isn’t there, it just means it is less available. Now why is this important to fisheries? Well, many organisms are dependent on this carbonate ion to make their tests, shells, and skeletons. They combine it with the calcium ion to make calcium carbonate (calcite, aragonite and other forms). If they can’t properly calcify this affects a large range of functions. In terms of commercial fisheries, scientists want to know more how acidification will affect commercial species that make their own shells, but also the fish who call them dinner. Ocean acidification has also been shown to affect other food sources for fish and reproductive patterns of the fish themselves. The fish research at NOAA will concentrate on the early life history stages of fish, as this is their most vulnerable phase. The research priority is analyzing responses in important calcifying shellfish and other highly productive calcareous phytoplankton (base of the food chain). To learn more in detail from NOAA please read this. By monitoring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide at fisheries stations over time, scientists can compare this data with the health, location, and fitness of much of the marine life they survey.

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system

Personal Log:
As my time on the Bigelow is drawing to a close, I wanted to highlight some of the amazing women in science on board the ship who play key roles in the research and upkeep of the ship. I have asked them all a few questions about their job and for some advice for young women who would like to take on these various roles in the future! Since we have so many talented women on the ship, please stay tuned for another addition!

Amanda Tong

Amanda Tong
Amanda Tong — Fisheries Data Auditor, Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Auditor with the Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda is responsible for working with the Fisheries Data Editor to be the collator of information received from the Fisheries Observers and more specifically the Fisheries data editors. She is looking for any errors in data reporting from the Fisheries Observer Program and working with the editors who are in direct contact with them.

If you remember in my last blog, I talked about the otolith and length information going to the Population Dynamics group who make models of fisheries stocks. The data from the Fisheries Biology program is also given to this end user. This way the models take into account actual catches as well as bycatch. Other end users of the data are graduate students, institutions and other researchers.

Amanda’s favorite aspect of her job:
Amanda likes being the middle person between the fishing industry while also working for the government. She likes seeing how the data change over the years with changes in regulation and gear types. She finds it interesting to see how the fisheries change over time and the locations of the fish change over time. She also loves hearing the amazing stories of being at sea.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:  Amanda received a degree in marine biology, which she thinks set her up perfectly. She suggests however that the major doesn’t have to be so specific as long as it has components of biology. The most important aspect she feels was volunteering and learning how to do field work with natural resource management, even if on land. Learning how to properly sample in the field was really important. Amanda is a former Fisheries Observer so she also knows the ins and outs of the program that collects the data she is auditing. This helps her look for easily recognizable errors in the data sets from all different gear types. By gear types I mean trawls vs. gill nets vs. long lines etc.

Robin Frede

Robin- Fisheries Data Editor
Robin — Fisheries Data Editor

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Editor
Branch: Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Robin deals directly with the Fisheries Observers. Fisheries observers are assigned to different boats and gear types up and down the eastern seaboard to record catches and bycatch as well as run sampling protocols. After each trip Robin checks in with the observer for a debrief and they send on their data to her. It is her responsibility to take a good look at the data for any recognizable errors in measurement or sampling error. Since she was a fisheries observer herself, she can coach the observers and help mentor them in sampling protocol and general life at sea. Once she reviews the data set it gets collated and sent off for review by the Fisheries Data Auditor.

Favorite part of her job:
Robin’s favorite part of her job is being a mentor. Having done the program herself previous to her current job she has a full understanding of the logistical difficulties that observers face at sea. She also is well versed in all of the aspects of sampling with different gear types. Since she is no longer at sea on a regular basis one of her favorite aspects is getting to go to sea on a shadow trip to help out new observers. She also participates in one research trip (currently on the Bigelow now), and one special training trip each year.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Robin suggests a Biology basis for this type of job and lots of experience volunteering with field work. Understanding the methodology and practicing are very important to accurate data collection. Accuracy and practice make her job as an editor a lot easier. If you think you might be interested in this type of career Robin suggests the Fisheries Observer Internship. You can find out if you like spending a lot of time at sea, and this line of work, plus get exposure to many sampling protocols.

Amanda Andrews

Amanda Andrews-Survey Technician
Amanda Andrews — Survey Technician

Job Title:
Survey Technician
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda wears many hats and goes wherever the Henry B. Bigelow goes. She is in charge of supervising data collection and analysis. She is the liaison between the ship’s crew and the scientific crew.  She is in charge of the scientific equipment function and maintenance. Amanda is the go-to person on each survey during sampling. She also is responsible for helping crew on the back deck.

 Favorite Part of her Job:
Amanda’s favorite part of her job is that the ocean is her office. She lives aboard the Bigelow and where it goes, she goes.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Amanda started out working on the back deck of NOAA ships and progressed to become a survey technician. She suggests having a good background in marine biology and biology in school, but more importantly always be willing to learn.

Nicole  Charriere

Nicole Charriere- Sea-going Biological Technician
Nicole Charriere — Sea-going Biological Technician

Job Title:
Aboard the ship currently: Day Watch Chief
Official title: Sea-Going Biological Technician
Branch: Ecosystem Survey Branch
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Nicole’s job entails being at sea between 120 and 130 days a year! She specifically goes out on Ecosystem Survey cruises that she can do some choosing with.  She goes out on bottom trawling, scallop, and clam survey trips. Her job is to help the scientific party either as a watch chief or chief scientist. She has to handle all sampling as well as fully understand all of the survey techniques. She is well versed in the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) and needs to know her fish and critter ID. She is the one responsible for sending down all the species already pre-tagged with their ID.  On top of all that she is also responsible for monitoring the censors on the net and regularly replacing them.

Favorite part of her job:
Nicole’s favorite part of her job is not being in an office and being at sea. Her work environment is always changing, as the scientific crew is always changing and so are the species she works with. She enjoys working and meeting new people each cruise.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Nicole says to get to where she is you have to work hard. You might not be the one with the most experience, but if you work hard, it doesn’t go unnoticed. She also suggests networking as much as possible. Get to know what people do and learn from them. She says studying biology was helpful, but not an absolute necessity. Above all, make sure you love what you do and make sure you are excited to go to work.
.

Caitlin Craig

Caitlin Craig- Department of Conservation (NY)
Caitlin Craig — Department of Environmental Conservation (NY)

Job Title
Diadromous Fish Department Intern
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
State of New York

What she does:
Caitlin participates in field surveys twice a week that target striped bass. The data are used to look at their migration patterns in Long Island waters.  While at DEC she was also looking at the juvenile fish species in the bays and estuaries of Long Island sounds. Her job entails collecting data in the field, entering it and collating data for the various projects.

Her favorite aspect of the job:
She really enjoys that her job is a mix of office and field work where she can put some of the research and management skills she learned at Stonybrook University into practice. She also really enjoys seeing the many species that call Long Island Sound home.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Caitlin suggests trying to make as many connections as possible, and not to be afraid to ask questions. Programs are always looking for volunteers and interns. If you are interested in working at the governmental level she suggests a postgraduate work in Marine Conservation and Policy (she attended Stonybrook University).

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my final blog with lots of critters from the cruise!

Kaitlin Baird: The Importance of Sound, September 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Maryland
Date: September 16th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 37’72.10
Longitude: 75′ 17.02

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction:  West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:

It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them.  The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.

You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor.  Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm.  A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!

bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow

Bigelow multibeam sonar (NOAA)

echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Personal Log:

The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.

If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.

I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!

The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment.  The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data,  help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.

otoliths (fish ear bones) that i removed from a Butterfish
Otoliths (fish ear bones) that I removed from a Butterfish

You can see here is an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will Jan 1st of the next year.
You can see here an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will be Jan 1st of the next year.

I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

Me and a Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland
Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland

Thanks for reading!

Kaitlin Baird: Some Essential Tools! September 14, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Date: September 14th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 35′ 10.67
Longitude:  75’33.60     

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.40 (approx.74 °F)
Wind Speed: 2.17 kts
Wind Direction:  Southwest
Surface Water Temperature:2 7.61 °C (approx. 82°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

One of the things I was curious about was the deployment of these large instruments and the technology that supports it. One of the keys to the deployment of things like the BONGO nets, Continuous Depth Recorders (CTD’s) and the trawl net itself are winches. A winch spools the wire cable that is hooked to all of the instruments and allows them to move up, down and out into the water column. With some of the instruments, like the BONGO’S and CTD casts, a retractable A-Frame is used to lower the cable from the winch. You can see the A-Frame on the right and the winch on the left in the photo below. This winch in particular controls the deployment of the net and connects to two winches on the stern that roll out the net to open up the mouth. The wire is constantly monitored from the bridge on the screen below and is automatically adjusted to maintain equal tension on both sides.

Winch for fishing nets, Tension monitor on winches from the bridge and A-frame
Winch for fishing nets, Tension screen for winches from the bridge and retractable A-frame

Once the net is run out with the aid of the winches, it is constantly monitored for its shape during the tow with a number of different censors attached to the net. There is an autotrawl system that sets the depth of the trawl and the tension of the wires. A Global Positioning System (GPS) plots the position of the net for each trawl so that it can be associated with all organisms caught in the tow. At the end of the tow the winches reel back the cable and a crane brings the net with the catch over to the “checker” where the net is unloaded!

Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water
Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water

Personal Log:

The fun part begins when the net opens and all the animals enter the checker. When all of the catch goes into the checker the scientists take a look at the catch, and remove anything too large to go up the conveyor belt. If a fish dominates the catch it will “run”. This means, as it goes down the conveyor belt it won’t be taken off and it will be weighed by the basketful and then a subsample will be taken for further analysis.

The fish are all divided up by species and electronically coded in the FSCS system to be measured. After they are measured, the system will prompt for further analysis for that particular species. If extra sampling of the fish is required,  it is labeled with a printed sticker for the species with a unique barcode that can be scanned to retrieve its record in the database.

tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it
Tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it

I thought I’d share some photos with you of some of the unique things we have seen so far fishing today. We are off the coast of Carolina and finishing up our Southern stations today into early morning!

Fish caught off of North Carolina
Fish caught off of North Carolina

Catch of the day! Thanks for reading!

Shark caught off of Carolina coast
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark caught off of Carolina coast

Kaitlin Baird: Let the Fishing Begin! September 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 8th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 38° 44.58’   N
Longitude: 73 ° 39.30’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.2°C (approx. 74°F)
Wind Speed: 5.05 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 25.29 °C (approx. 78°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log
Other than testing out the FSCS today and learning the ropes, I also learned about another type of tow we are doing on this cruise. When looking at fish stock assessment it is also important to look at the base of the food chain, you guessed it, plankton. Today we were specifically targeting zooplankton, microscopic animal drifters in the ocean that are an important food source for many of the fish and other invertebrates that we are surveying.

When I saw the nets go in, they looked a bit different than those on the R/V HSBC Atlantic Explorer, and I learned a new term, BONGO net. This is the tandem net which we are using  to tow for zooplankton at set locations while we are en route. Unlike the trawl net we tow these on the side of the ship verses the back so there is no interference by the wake made by the ship as it moves through the water. If you imagine a giant windsock with a plastic catchment at the end, this is what these nets look like. The pressure of the water moving through the net forces anything heavy to the “cod end” of the net and sieves the water out of the mesh that makes up the net.

The depth of the net tow is dependent upon bottom depth and protocol at each site, but they normally try to tow pretty close to the bottom (=/- 10 m). A separate, Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) recorder is also deployed with the nets to understand more about the ocean chemistry at set locations.  There is such a variability when towing for plankton (as it can be quite patchy) that having the two nets gives you more opportunity to capture the diversity of life that is out there. The nets are also two different mesh sizes so that they can catch zooplankton in different size classes.

Bongo Nets
Bongo Nets being deployed to 60 feet

Personal Log
It was great to get fishing today off of the coast of Maryland. We were all ready to sort anything that came down the conveyer belt. The species get sorted and then brought to the FSCS stations. Here they are measured along with anything else that needs to be done to them. I helped to get otoliths prepared and input data on gut contents, condition and sex.

Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder
Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder

One of the things I noticed were a lot of flounders, both left eye and right eye. That’s right folks, flounder usually start with one eye on each side of their heads and then eventually (species dependent) it migrates as they mature so that they sit on the bottom with both eyes on top of their heads. Depending on which way they migrate they are designated as “left eye” or “right eye” as you can see in the photos below. Did you know? These eyes can move independently of each other, pretty cool stuff!

Right Eye Flounder (Top) Left Eye Flounder (bottom)
Right Eye Flounder (Top) Witch Flounder
Left Eye Flounder (bottom) Four spot Flounder

Stay tuned for more critters! Here is just a shortlist of some that we saw today!

Rosette Skate
Little Skate
Tilefish
Goosefish
Chain dogfish
Fawn cusk-eel
Gulf stream flounder
Four spot flounder
Silver hake
Armored sea robin
LOTS of Squid

Bye for now!

Kaitlin Baird: All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore, September 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 6, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 41 ° 18.70’   N
Longitude: 71 ° 42.11’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 20.5°C (approx. 69°F)
Wind Speed: 4.97 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 22.2 °C (approx. 72°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of our mission aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is the 1st leg of groundfish surveys from Cape May all the way down to Cape Hatteras with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The scientists aboard the ship are interested in both the size and  frequency of fish at different targeted geographic locations. We will be sampling using a trawl net at about 130 different stations along the way, some inshore and some offshore. We will be using a piece of technology called the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). This system will allow us to accurately take baskets of different species of fish and code them for their lengths into a large database. This will give us a snapshot of fisheries stocks in the Northeast Atlantic by taking a subsample. The computer system also allows us to see if any other things need to be done with the fish once they are measured. Tasks like otolith (I’ll tell you about these later!) and gonad removal, fin clips or whole organisms sampling may also be done. The computer system will allow us to label each of these requests and assign it a code for scientists requesting samples from this cruise. Additionally, there are scales along with the system for recording necessary weights. We will be sorting fish first by species, and then running them all through the coded FSCS which you can see in the photo below.

Measuring board for fish
Board for magnetically measuring fish

We are currently on full steam to get our first tow in early tomorrow morning. You can track our ship using NOAA’s ship tracker system. Here we are positioned currently passing Block Island.

Ship Tracker with Current Location
NOAA Ship Tracker

Can’t wait to tell you more about the FSCS system when we start using it tomorrow!!

Personal Log

We have just pushed off the dock at 0900 and are headed South to start our first  trawl tomorrow morning. Everyone is getting used to the ship and some swells with a few storms in the Atlantic. I am really excited to get to see what comes up in our first tow. I have been assigned to the day watch which means that my shift runs from Noon-Midnight. The two other ladies that share our room will be on the night watch, so there will be a changing of the guard and some fresh legs and recorders.

Darcy and Caitlin
Darcy and Caitlin two other volunteers learning the ropes

All ready to go
Helly Hansen gear to keep us all dry.

I am looking forward to bringing you some cool fish photos soon! Hello to everyone back  in Bermuda! Stay safe..

Bye for now!!

Deb Novak: Chugging to Pascagoula, August 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Long-line Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2012

Science and Technology Log:

All  of our data has been collected and entered and we have cleaned the Oregon II Science lab equipment and spaces to leave it sparkling for Shark Long line survey Leg 3.  I will be watching for the final report and also checking out where the tagged sharks wander via web.  Like all things in science the conclusions will lead to new questions to refine or expand the search for knowledge.

The data station in action.

Personal Log:

We did stop fishing early in order to dock and give NOAA time to prepare the Oregon II and all the crew time to prepare their houses well in advance of Isaac.  As we headed toward the Pascagoula River I saw many of the oil rigs and oil tankers located in the Gulf of Mexico.  I know that they are also getting ready for the possibility of a Hurricane.

Off in the distance a drilling platform.

I will miss the people and the boat and most of all the water…

From my favorite spot on the top deck.

A placid sunrise.

     

We docked at the NOAA Pascagoula Lab. I learned a new term “Dock Rocks”.  Now that I am on dry land I still get nauseous and motion sick due to my inner ear compensating for the expected motion of the boat…This should go away in a few days.  What will remain are the wonderful memories and lessons learned while on the Oregon II.  I can’t wait to share my pictures, stories and new science activities with Manzano Day School teachers and students, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and anyone else who will listen to me.

A great big Thank You to NOAA, the Teacher at Sea Program and everyone on board the Oregon II for the 2012 Shark Long-line survey Leg 2.

Gina Henderson: Samples Aplenty, August 23, 2012

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:

CTD rosette
Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette after deployment. Niskin bottles can be tripped at different depths for seawater sampling at various levels.

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.

Filters being changed inside aerosol impactors (upper left). Picture of me unhooking impactors from inlet hoses for filter switching (upper right). Kristen just finished changing filters in a clean box (bottom).

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:

Megan filtering raw seawater for chlorophyll extraction and measurement.

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.

Pod of porpoises riding the bow wave during our transit south to station 2.

Everyone races to the bridge after an announcement about “shark infested waters!”

Gina Henderson: 30 Days of Science in 9 Days… August 21, 2012

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.

The Sea Sweep
Photographs showing the Sea Sweep (top left), deployment of the Sea Sweep (bottom left), and Sea Sweep underway with bubble generation and aerosol collection taking place (right).

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!”

Science vans on deck
Looking from the bow towards the bridge, not visible in this photograph due to the mobile lab vans that have been installed on the deck for this cruise.

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”

Aerosol generator
Scientist Bill Keene from University of Virginia talking to me about “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.

Personal Log

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!

fun pics aboard
Early morning sky after an impactor filter change (left). All hands rush to the bow after whale sighting is announced (right).

Kaitlin Baird: From the Sargasso Sea to the Northeast Atlantic, August 19th, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May to Cape Hatteras
Date: August 19, 2012

Pre-cruise Personal Log

In a little over two weeks I am set to board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow at the Newport Rhode Island dock on a NOAA Fisheries survey cruise as a part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program.  My name is Kaitlin Baird, and I am a science educator at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. At this U.S. based not-for-profit, I get to teach students from 2nd grade all the way up to my Road Scholar program. Many of my students come to visit the Institute from all over the world to learn more about the ocean around Bermuda. I have just finished up with 24 interns for the summer as a part of BIOS’ Ocean Academy and I am set for the next adventure!

I am originally from New Jersey where I grew up finding critters along the beaches of the Jersey shore. My mom always used to laugh when I tried to keep critters alive in the outdoor shower. I was one of those kids that was always in the water. Probably no big surprise that I went on to study and teach marine biology!  I am looking forward to my critter cruise and even more so looking forward to learning new species of the Northern Atlantic.

Sargasso Sea Map
The Sargasso Sea is the only sea without a land boundary and entirely in the Atlantic!
Have a look at this NOAA map above.

Being in the Sargasso Sea in Bermuda, we are subtropical. We get a whole suite of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove species. You can see some photos of some critters I’ve spotted this summer!

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I have a few goals for the cruise:

  1. Learn as much as possible from the scientists on the cruise
  2. Participate in taking and understanding data collected on the cruise
  3. Posting and taking photos of some of our critters surveyed on the cruise
  4. Explaining to my students what we are doing and why it’s important!

If there is anything you would like to learn more about as I travel, let me know in the “comments” section below!

Wish me luck, I’m headed North!

Gina Henderson: Introduction, August 15, 2012

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

Gina Henderson, NOAA Teacher at Sea 2012

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.

Midshipman measuring sea surface temperature with a bucket thermometer.

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.

Prof. Henderson giving some history about sea surface temperature measurement throughout the past 200 years.

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.

Midshipmen visit the Fleet Weather Center in Norfolk with Prof. Henderson during summer Yard Patrol cruise 2012.

Allan Phipps: Looking Ahead: The Future of NOAA Fish Surveys? August 10, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Allan Phipps
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 11, 2012

The Oscar Dyson at anchor in Captains Bay during calibration procedures.

Mission: Alaskan Pollock Mid-water Acoustic Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 10, 2012
.

Location Data
Latitude: 53°54’41” N
Longitude: 166°30’61” E
Ship speed:  0 knots (0 mph) In Captains Bay at Dutch Harbor during calibration.

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed:  17 knots (19.5 mph)
Wind Direction: 184°
Wave Height:   1-2 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 10.2°C (50.4°F)
Air Temperature: 12.5°C (54.5°F)
Barometric Pressure:   1005.9 millibars (0.99 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

Imagine a time when fish surveys could be done through remote sensing, thus eliminating the need to catch fish via trawling to verify fish school composition, length, weight, and age data.  During our “Leg 3” of the Alaska Pollock Acoustic Midwater Trawl Survey, we caught, sorted, sexed, and measured 25 tons of pollock!  While this amounts to only 0.002% of the entire pollock quota and 0.00025% of the pollock population, wouldn’t it be nice if we could determine the pollock population without killing as many fish?

Cam-Trawl sitting on deck after several successful trawls.

Introducing the “Cam-Trawl,” a camera-in-net technology that NOAA scientists Kresimir and Rick are developing to eventually reduce, if not eliminate, the need to collect biological specimens to verify acoustic data.  Cam-Trawl consists of a pair of calibrated cameras slightly offset so the result is a stereo-camera.

The importance of setting up a stereo-camera is so you can use the slightly different pictures taken at the same time from each camera to calculate length of the fish in the pictures.  Eventually, a computer system might use complex algorithms to count and measure length of the fish that pass by the camera.  If the kinks are worked out, the trawl net would be deployed with the codend open, allowing fish to enter the net and flow past the camera to have their picture taken before swimming out of the open end of the net.  Some trawls would still require keeping the codend closed to determine gender ratios and weights for extrapolation calculations; however, the use of Cam-Trawl would significantly reduce the amount of pollock that see the fish lab of the Oscar Dyson.  On this leg of the survey, the NOAA scientists installed the Cam-Trawl in a couple of different locations along the trawl net to determine where it might work best.

Installing Cam-Trawl into the side of the AWT trawl net so the NOAA scientists may capture image data during trawls.

Below are some photos taken by Cam-Trawl of fish inside the AWT trawl net.  Remember, there are two cameras installed as a stereo-camera that create two images that are taken at slightly different angles.  In the photos below, I only picked one of the two images to show.  In the video that follows, you can see how scientists use BOTH photos to calculate the lengths of the fish captured on camera.

Pollock (Theregra chalcogramma) as seen by Cam-Trawl.

A Sea Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster)  jellyfish at top right, Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta ) at bottom right, and Pacific Herring (Clupea harengus) on the left as seen by Cam-Trawl installed in the AWT trawl net.

Another NOAA innovation using stereo cameras is called “Trigger-Cam.” Trigger-Cam is installed into a crab pot to allow it to sit on the ocean floor.  For this type of camera deployment, the NOAA scientists removed the crab pot net so they would not catch anything except pictures.

Trigger-Cam back on the deck of the Oscar Dyson after a successful test run.

The real innovation in the Trigger-Cam is the ability to only take pictures when fish are present.  Deep-water fish, in general, do not see red light.  The Trigger-Cam leverages this by using a red LED to check for the presence of fish.  If the fish come close enough, white LEDs are used as the flash to capture the image by the cameras.

Skilled Fisherman Jim lowering down the “heart” of Trigger-Cam for a trial run. On this dip, Trigger-Cam went down to 100 meters. Several of these tests were done before installing Trigger-Cam into a crab pot.

The beauty of this system is that it uses existing fishing gear that crab fishermen are familiar with, so it will be easily deployable.  Another stroke of brilliance is that the entire device will cost less than $3,000.   This includes the two cameras, lights, onboard computer, nickel-metal hydride batteries, and a pressure housing capable of withstanding pressures of up to 50 atmospheres (500 meters) as tested on the Oscar Dyson!  Here is a short animated PowerPoint that explains how Trigger-Cam works.  Enjoy!

Here are a couple of picture captured by the Trigger-Cam during trials!

Two pictures taken from Trigger-Cam during testing.

While these pictures were captured during tests in Dutch Harbor, they do provide proof-of-concept in this design.  With a cheap, easily deployable and retrievable stereo-camera system that utilized fishing gear familiar to most deck hands, Trigger-Cams might contribute to NOAA’s future technology to passively survey fish populations.

NOAA scientists Kresimir Williams (in center), Rick Towler (on right), and me, after assembling and testing another stereo-camera system for a NOAA scientist working on the next cruise. Kresimir and Rick designed and built Trigger-Cam!

Personal Log:

A little fun at sea!  We needed to do one last CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth), and decided to lower the CTD over deep water down to 500 meters (1,640.42 ft)!  Pressures increases 1 atmosphere for every 10 meters in depth. At 500 meters, the pressure is at 50 atmospheres!!!  We wondered what would happen if… we took styrofoam cups down to that depth.  We all decorated our cups and put them in a net mesh bag before they took the plunge.  Here is a picture showing what 50 atmospheres of pressure will do to a styrofoam cup!

Three styrofoam cups that went 500 meters deep in the Bering Sea! These cups were originally the size of the undecorated white styrofoam cup in the background.

We missed the Summer Olympics while out on the Bering Sea.  T-T  We did get in the Olympic spirit and had a race or two.  Here is a little video in the spirit of the Olympics…

All for now… We are back in Captains Bay, Dutch Harbor, but are calibrating the hydroacoustic equipment at anchor.  Calibration involves suspending a solid copper sphere below the ship while the NOAA scientists check and fine-tune the different transducers.  This process will take about 7 hours!  We have been out at sea for 3 weeks, are currently surrounded by land, but must wait patiently to finish this last and very important scientific task.  If the calibration is off, it could skew the data and result in an inaccurate population estimation and quotas that may not be sustainable!  This Landlubber can’t wait to have his feet back on terra firma.  The thought of swimming crossed my mind, but I think I’ll wait.  Then we will see if I get Land Sickness from being out at sea for so long…

Johanna Mendillo: Time to Bid Alaska, the Bering Sea, and the Oscar Dyson Adieu… August 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10

Mission: Pollock research cruise
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Thursday, August 9, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57 28 ’ N
Longitude: 173 54’W
Ship speed: 11.2 knots ( 12.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air temperature: 8.0 C (46.4 ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.3 C (46.9ºF)
Wind speed: 7.4 knots ( 8.5 mph)
Wind direction: 130T
Barometric pressure: 1015  millibar (1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

We have now completed 44 hauls in our survey and are on our way back to Dutch Harbor!  You can see a great map of our sampling area in the Bering Sea– click below.

Map showing sampling transects for Leg 3 of Summer 2012 NOAA Pollock Cruise

From those hauls, let me fill you in on some of the cool statistics:

  • We caught approximately 118,474 pollock and they weighed 24,979.92 kg (= 25 tons)!

COMPARE THAT TO:

  • Last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was 1.17 million tons!

So, we only caught 25 tons/ 1,170,000 tons = 0.00002 = 0.002% of the yearly catch in our study.

COMPARE THAT to:

  • The estimated population of pollock in the Bering Sea  is 10 million tons (10,000,000 T)!
  • This means we caught only 0.00025% of the entire pollock population!

So, as you can see, students, in the big picture, our sampling for scientific analysis is quite TINY!

Continuing with more cool pollock data…

  • We identified 7,276 males and 7,145 females (and 2,219 were left unsexed)
  • We measured 16,640 pollock lengths on the Ichthystick!
  • Pollock lengths ranged from 9cm to 74cm
  • We measured 260 lengths of non-pollock species (mostly jellyfish, pacific herring, and pacific cod)
  • We collected 1,029 otoliths for analysis

You will hear more about our results this fall— as well as the management decisions that will be made with this valuable data…

We have also had some exciting specimens on our bottom trawls.  Remember, students, this simply means we drag the 83-112 net along the ocean floor.  By sampling the bottom, we collect many non-pollock species that we would never see in the mid-water column.

Preparing what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl...
Preparing to open what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl…

Here are some of my favorites:

This was a large Pacific Cod...
This was a large Pacific Cod…

Our close-up!
Our close-up!

Next up, a very different sort: the Opilio Tanner Crab and the Bairdi Tanner Crab- both are known in the market as Snow Crabs!

Snow crabs, big and small
Snow crabs, big and small

Perhaps my favorite…

The one and only... spiny lumpsucker!
The one and only… Siberian lumpsucker!  Yes, this specimen is full grown and no, we did not eat her, don’t worry!

Followed by a slightly different type of lumpsucker!

Contrast that with the regular lumpsucker!
Contrast that with a full grown adult smooth lumpsucker!  So ugly it is cute…

These types of nets require a lot of hands to help sort the species as they come down the conveyor belt!

Hurry up and sort!
Hurry up and sort!

Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!
Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!

Onto… sea urchins!

Sea Urchins!
Beautiful sea urchins!

Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a grouper...
Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a … sculpin!

And lastly, to those specimens you may have been waiting for if you are a fan of the “Deadliest Catch” TV show…

It wouldn't be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?

Interested in playing some online games from NOAA, students?  Then visit the AFSC Activities Page here— I recommend “Age a Fish” and “Fish IQ Quiz” to get your started!

Lastly, students, as one final challenge, I would like you to take a look at the picture below and write back to me telling me a) what instrument/tool he is using and b) what it is used for:

Here is Rick... hard at work!
Here is Rick… hard at work!

Personal Log:

Well, my time at sea has just about come to an end.  This has been a wonderful experience, and I am very grateful to the NOAA science team (Taina, Darin, Kresimir, Rick, Anatoli, Kathy, and Dennis) for teaching me so much over these last three weeks.  They have wonderful enthusiasm for their work and great dedication to doing great science!  Not only do they work oh-so-very-hard, they are a really fun and personable group to be around!  Many, many thanks to you all.

Thanks also go to my Teacher at Sea partner, Allan Phipps, for taking photos of me, brainstorming blog topics, helping out processing pollock during my shift, and other general good times.  It was great to have another teacher on board to bounce ideas off of, and I learned a great deal about teaching in Southern Florida when we discussed our respective districts and schools.

I would also like to thank the NOAA officers and crew aboard the Oscar Dyson.  I have really enjoyed learning about your roles on the ship over meals and snacks, as well as many chats on the bridge, deck, fish lab, lounge, and more.  You are a very impressive and efficient group, with many fascinating stories to tell!  I will look forward to monitoring the Dyson’s travels from Boston online, along with my students.

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!
Goodbye Oscar Dyson! (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In the upcoming school year, students, you will learn how you can have a career working for NOAA,  but you can start by reading about it here:

  • NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • NOAA Corps (the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps)
  • Alaskan Fisheries Science Center (the research branch of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service dedicated to studying the North Pacific Ocean and East Bering Sea)
  • MACE (the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering program- the NOAA group of scientists I worked with- based in Seattle)

Special thanks to our Commanding Officer (CO) Mark Boland and Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto for supporting the Teacher at Sea program.  I know I speak on behalf of many teachers when I say there are many, many ways I will be bringing your work into the classroom, and I hope, helping recruit some of the next generation of NOAA officers and scientists!

There are many pictures I could leave you with, but I decided to only choose two- one of a lovely afternoon on deck in the Bering Sea, and the other, of course, one more of me with a pollock head!