Thomas Ward, September 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 19, 2010

Coming to a close

My adventure aboard the Miller Freeman is coming to a close and we are heading back to port.  The collecting of samples is over and the journey back to port is underway, about 24 hours.  This opportunity has been a once in a life time experience.  Many people told me that before I left and now I truly understand what they were trying to convey.  To be on one of our government’s research vessels has truly been a privilege and an honor.  To work along scientists who talk, live and breath science has been invigorating

Scientists

Scientists

This experience will leave a life long impression upon me.  The vastness and enormity of the ocean’s life hit home for me.  We did 7-10 minute trawls with a trawl net that had a square opening of 3 meters.  The variety of organisms that we pulled up was huge.  You can see a picture of it in a previous blog and the picture does not do it justice.  When one considers the path we fished compared to the size of the Bering Sea and then the size of other oceans it becomes quite overwhelming.  This does not mean that the human can do whatever it wants to it though because of this vastness.  I believe we are the stewards, protectors of this planet and after this trip even more so.  It is nice to know that we have a government agency (NOAA of course) and groups of scientists that have a sense of stewardship towards the planet and all biotic and abiotic factors here on our blue marble.

Looking through a trawl

Looking through a trawl

Another aspect that made an impression on me is how the members on board had a genuine curiosity of what we were pulling out of the ocean.  It was not unusual to have someone looking over our shoulders to see what we brought up in the trawl.  Questions were often asked, and as stated earlier, happily answered by the scientists.  Everyone seems to have a care for life and the creatures that come from the ocean.

I think I have an understanding of the fondness that someone may have for a ship.  I truly understand why they have names too.  This may sound corny but the ship almost becomes an organic entity.  I do not know if it is because we are land dwelling creatures and the ship gives us a comfort and feeling of security or what.  I know the ship is only a piece of equipment and it is truly the crew who keeps it alive and able to protect the people on board.

Ha, the food.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the food (again).  From the fresh made donuts, to the great selection of meals, I will miss the galley.  There is every opportunity on board the Miller Freeman to eat healthy and well.

Seeing that we are coming to a close I would like to give you my email address because I may not always check the comments on this blog and would like to answer any questions you might have regarding my experience in the Eastern Bering Sea aboard The Miller Freeman.
tward@twcny.rr.com
What an adventure, go NOAA.

Thomas Ward, September 18, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 18, 2010

More Questions, Cool

NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

In this blog I will make an attempt to answer more of the questions I have been receiving.

The Ship, The Miller Freeman.  She was commissioned in 1967, is 215 feet long and was built to be a scientific research vessel. http://www.moc.noaa.gov/mf/

Once we catch the fish, which is only done using the beam trawl, the winch pulls them on board.  Because of the size of the net and the limited time that we are pulling it, the catch is not too large.  The catch can then be lifted by hand into the  kiddie pool and sorted.  If the catch happens to be a little heavy, one of the cranes picks it up and dumps it onto the sorting table for all of us to gather around and do our thing.  The juveniles that are of importance to this study are bagged and labeled, then frozen.  They will be studied back at the lab in Seattle, at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, AFSC.

Each of the three methods used have a different purpose and the only method that actually catches fish is the beam trawl.

The different species are sorted, measured and weighed.  The juveniles are kept and the larger ones are weighed, counted, and returned to the sea.  Last night we caught over 100 yellowfin sole in one haul.

The gantry, used to haul the trawl and the sled onto the stern.

The research study that I am part of, the FOCI study, is a very active group.  There is currently a group in the Arctic and another cruise just ended before we started.

There are 24 crew members on board and 10 scientists.

For me the down time has been mainly in front of the computer, doing this blog and other school work.  There is a lounge with a TV. movies and TV series box sets available for people to watch.  The catalog of movies that they have is extensive.  There is also a small exercise room and a small library.  Of course there are computers around the ship which have access to the internet.

We have not found any “new or different kind of species”  There is occasion though when sorting through the beam trawl haul an usual critter gets spotted, the scientist get very excited.  For that matter, everyone else does too. It is similar to saying that laughter is contagious, so is the excitement of finding something that is rare.

Thomas Ward, September 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date:  September 17, 2010

Getting into the Swing of Things

Deploying the grab

A routine has finally set in here for me and the cruise is almost over.  I have never been on a “cruise” before, Carnival, Princess, Disney, nothing like that for me.  Now I can proudly say that I went on a cruise with NOAA.  The day starts out for me with getting out of my bunk around 8am.  That is when breakfast formally ends but the galley always has cereal set out, bread for toast, and almost all the amenities you might find in your own kitchen.  So, if I do not get something from the cooks I throw something together myself.  I then go into an office like room that is called the data plot room.  It has a couple of computers for our use and a ton of equipment.  There are a few monitors that keep track of some of the ships vital statistics that are interesting to look at.  I work on my blog for usually around 3-4 hours here and by that time I am pretty close to my shift which starts at noon.  I eat lunch and go to the science lab to start my shift.  If we are moving to our next sampling station we prepare sample jars and such to get ready.  There is sometimes down time between stations to get other things done.  If I do step out of the lab for something it is kind of cool because I know when to report because you can feel the ship slowing down for the next sampling station.  We then assemble, put on our rain gear, float coats and hard hats and perform the three sampling stations that I mentioned in earlier blogs.  The bridge and the deck crew work together communicating over walkie talkies.  The bridge positions the ship directly over the sampling station and notifies the deck crew.  Then the deck crew deploys the gear while the bridge maintains the correct speed and bearing for the specific type of gear that is being used.  It is truly a coordinated effort between everyone.  Two stations are at the stern of the ship and the other is on the port side.

The benthic sled samples get washed down through a sieve and put into a jar and preserved.  The jars are the size of peanut butter jars and we have approximately  200, we are at station number 53. So that means we have stopped and sampled 53 times thus far.  Remember the sled is designed to capture plankton (he was reported to be stealing the secret formula) which are very small organisms.  The benthic grab collects substrate which is also sieved and one part frozen in gallon freezer bags and the other part in jars with preservative.  The beam trawl is your classic fishing net that gets dragged behind the boat.   This catch is dumped into a small kiddie pool and sorted.  This activity draws other people besides the scientists, everyone pitches in and asks a ton of question which are happily answered.  Remember this is a juvenile flat fish survey so we are mainly interested in fish that 1-3 inches long.

How many different organisms can you spot?

This process goes on and off for the duration of the shift, it is like clockwork.  Everyone on board knows the general mission and each individual has a task to complete that helps meet the mission.  As far as this on looker can tell, the mission is being very successfully accomplished.

Stay tuned, even though it is the weekend, I have been accumulating questions and will answer them soon.

sunset

Sunset

Thomas Ward, September 16, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 16, 2010

Question and Answer for the Teacher at Sea (NOAA)

Let’s jump right in, and not into the Bering Sea, it is too cold.

We have not seen any NOAA buoys, or at least I have not.  NOAA does maintain numerous buoys but our mission aboard the Miller Freeman is strictly biological, juvenile flat fish to be specific.  The types of little fish that we have caught and persevered for further study (remember the freezer) are; Yellowfin Sole, Pacific Halibut, Northern Rock Sole, Flathead Sole, Alaska Plaice, Arrowtooth Flounder, Kamchatka Flounder Greenland Turbot, and larvae of Long Head Dab.  These fish that are being saved are relatively small, about 1-3 inches long, they are juveniles. The scientists are trying to determine the mechanism that controls the development of these juveniles into adults. I was also happy to learn that the scientists that are doing the sampling are also the same scientists that are going to be doing the work back in the lab. The identification of these youngsters seems to be effortless by the group of scientists I am working with, they really know their stuff.  I have not seen too many ships here while we are out to sea.  Last night I did see a light in the distance and assumed it was another ship but did not confirm it with the bridge. We do not fish to catch food for us on board.  In fact there are so many regulations regarding fishing that we just focus on the mission and let the cooks in the galley do what they do, and let me tell you it is good.  We often do get a glimpse of land, the pictures of the volcanoes on previous blogs are taken from our ship.

This video shows me measuring flat fish on the magnetic measuring board that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  After imputing the species and other pertinent data, on a touch screen monitor, the fish is laid on the board and a device is touched to the board where the tail is.  The length of the fish is recorded electronically.  The fish that you see in the video are adults of the juveniles related to this FOCI Research Project and we still gather quantitative data on them.  After we catalog them they are returned to the ocean where they have a very good chance of surviving.  Keep those questions coming.

Sunset

Sunset

Thomas Ward, September 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 15, 2010

At Sea

King Crab

The science is going forward with rigor here on the Miller Freeman.  If you get a chance you should go back to this link http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/default.aspx   so that you can see the area that we have covered. I also made an error in reporting that the seas that made me sick were 9 foot seas when they were actually 12 foot seas.  The forecast calls for flat seas, 2 feet, through Friday. I have received a few questions through the blog and I will try to address them here.

The first one is about the marine mammals  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_mammal that we have encountered while out at sea.  On board with us is a bird observer and his secondary function is to identify and count any marine mammals.  He reported to me the following list; Killer Whale, Humpback Whale, Harbor Porpoise, Dall’s Porpoise, Fin Whale, Minke Whale, Northern Fur Seal and Steller Sea Lion.  I was lucky enough to see the Humpbacks and even saw one breech, jump out of the water and land on its side. An interesting fact about the fur seal is that they will stay at sea for up to 8 months and only come to land to breed.

Another question that I received is regarding a picture that I have posted on my blog.  It was a picture of a volcanic mountain, Mount Shishaldin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Shishaldin   A description of this volcano is sufficient in understanding the characteristics of it but its majesty is truly appreciated viewing it in person.

Someone asked if the jellyfish could be petted?  We do handle them with gloves on.  They are not significant in our study at all.  We pull them out of our catch and throw them overboard.  They are relatively difficult to pick up and their tentacles are very stringy.  They are surprisingly heavy and of course jelly like.  While we have gear down and we are moving very slowly, 1-3 knots, at certain locations you can look down and see them swim by, pretty cool. E

We have been blessed here with good weather.  The website for the agency that operated my program can be found by going to this linkhttp://www.noaa.gov/  If you were to look around this site you may notice a function of NOAA is to forecast the weather.  I believe it is one of the most important factors in people’s lives.  When you have a dependable agency predicting weather people can make better plans for what they may want to do.  The site that I personally frequent is with in this link http://radar.weather.gov/ridge/Conus/index_lite.php

To find Central New York’s radar, which shows precipitation, click on the link and mouse over Central New York and click.  The Montague radar should come up.  Montague New York, the town that received 8 feet of snow in one storm a few years ago.  It is no surprise though seeing that it is in the Tug Hill Plateau and orographic lifting http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/cld/dvlp/org.rxml happens to air masses coming off Lake Ontario here.  We call it lake effect snow. When on this site in the upper left corner is a grid with adjacent radars.  Most weather moves across our country with the southwest prevailing winds.  So if you click on the grid to the left, Buffalo radar for example you can see what is coming your way.

Thomas Ward, September 14, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 14, 2010

After the Catch

This segment is devoted to what happens to the organic material we acquire once we get it on board.  The benthic sled has a very fine mesh net, plankton net, attached to it and has a container at the end of it, a cod end.  This is where the epibenthic invertebrates end up.  Once the gear is on board the crew washes down the net with sea water to get any invertebrates to wash down into the cod end.  It took getting used to that the garden hoses around deck have salt water in them.  Growing up all your life using hoses outside with fresh water in them and then being on board here and getting an occasional spray to the face and it is salt water is a reminder of where I am really at.  Any how, the sample in the cod end is put into a jar and preserved in a buffered Formaldehyde solution.

The beam trawl is used to study settlement and nursery areas for age-0 flatfishes.  This is probably what most people would associate with net fishing.  When the haul comes up there is an assortment of organisms in it.  The catch is dumped in to a kiddie pool and we gather around it and start to sort, flopping flat fish and all.

Sorting

These pictures are a good example of what we are doing.  Remember that we are primarily studying juvenile species and what is the primary mechanism in nature that helps these little ones become adults.
The fascinating thing is the differences in the catches per location.  Once the fish that are the focus of this study have been sorted, they are measured, weighted, bagged and frozen.  They are carefully labeled and frozen at a temperature of -80 degrees Celsius in the rough lab.  After 24 hours they can be moved to a “warmer” freezer, -20 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in the slime lab.

Keepers

The catch comes on board at the stern of the ship, which is the open rear of the ship where the majority of the heavy equipment is, like cranes and such.  After the catch is sorted it is brought into the wet lab for measuring, weighing and bagging.  The measuring board that we have in this lab is very cool.  There are touch screen monitors that are set up where the species that we are concerned with is selected.  The correct species is chosen and the fish are individually placed on this electronic board.  The scientist then puts the individual fish nose at one end and takes a hand held device and places it near the tail.  The machine makes a funky sound and the length of the fish is recorded electronically.  Very cool, quick and convenient.  With a good team working this station, a fish can be measured about one every second, pretty efficient.

The benthic grab is specifically used to sample subtidal soft-bottom benthic macroinvertebrates.  This is done to determine what is in the substrate.  This is the layer just below the surface.  This is what the juvenile flat fish feed on.  When determining what causes a population’s numbers to fluctuate it is important to study what it eats

Jellyfish

The jellyfish above are very cool but not of much interest to this study.  The sole above is one of the larger flat fish that we have caught.  We do catalog them but we do not save them for future study.  The interesting thing that I want to point out about the picture of the sole is the location of their eyes.  Both eyes are on the same side of their body.  These fish lay on the bottom and wait for prey to swim by.  It is and was a huge evolutionary advantage for them to have both  eyes on one side of their body.

Yellowfin Sole

Life on board ship is a very different experience.  Yesterday was proof of that for me when the seas turned to 7-9 feet and my body could not handle it.  The crew amazed me because word of my illness spread around and many pepole have been asking me how I have been feeling today.  It is what I would call a concerened, caring, working family.  At first coming aboard, getting around the ship was very confusing.  There are numerous stairways that lead to different decks and there is a very similar look to things on the ship.  I am getting used to it and to stepping through a bulkhead to walk through the ship.  These bulkhead doors are water tight doors that are closed to protect parts of the ship in case of an accident.  The sleeping quarters are sufficent.  I am in a 4 man room with 3 other guys, with a bathroom attached to it.  I have my own personal locker which contains my personal effects and my life jacket and survival suit.  On the door the crew placed a billet which is a document that is specifally designed for the individual.  Among other things it gives my lifeboat station which we would have to muster to if an emergency occurred.  We have practiced this drill and hope that it does not become real any time soon.  I am in a lower bunk.  The noise and the motion of the ship is the hardest thing to get used to.  I occasionally sleep with ear plugs but that does not seem to help much.  A solid, uninterupted 8 hours of sleep will be very much appreciated when I return.  But, as any one that knows me knows that I can definately catch up on sleep by napping, and just about anywhere.

Remember that if you have any questions you can ask through this blog.  I believe you have to sign up for a Google account but it seems to do anything on the web these days you either have to register or sign on in some manner.  Just click the commnets icon towards the bottom of the blog and follow the prompts, it is not too cumbersome.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this and I am almost done describing the science so I hope the questions start rolling in.  Hope for flat seas for me.

Thomas Ward, September 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher At Sea: Thomas Ward
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: September 13, 2010

The Procedure

The way that we collect data is done by three methods. They are the beam trawl, the benthic sled and the benthic grab. The beam trawl is a metal beam supported by a cable on the ship. Hanging from the beam is a net that when dragged behind the ship opens up. The trawl is pulled behind the ship for a specific amount of time.

The benthic sled is a piece of equipment that looks like it would be right at home on the snowy slopes of Central New York. It is a sled that gets dragged on the bottom and collects plankton (look out Eugene). The net is a finer mesh than the one used on the beam trawl. At the end of the net is a container that collects the plankton, we call it a cod end.  At the opening of the net is a device called the flow meter which looks like a little hand held fan. This performs the function of measuring the amount of water or flow that is going through the net. The meter has a counter on it and needs to be read and reset at each sampling station. This instrument gives the scientists a sense of the volume of water flowing into the net.

Flow Meter

Benthic Sled

The last device we are using is the benthic grab.  This device and the wet bulb on the bridge are instruments closest to my curriculum, Earth Science.  In fact, while on the bridge one officer asked another for the wet bulb temperature, very cool, I almost pulled out my sling psychrometer and compared data.  Any how, the grab is opened up and set and then lowered into the water.  When the grab hits the bottom, the weight and the downward force of the grab forces it shut, and into the bottom, scooping up sediment as it closes.  Of course because of the nature of this scientific expedition we are more concerned with organic matter than sediment.  I will have to say the scientist that I am working with have a natural curiosity toward all of Earth’s wonders.

These devices are deployed one at a time.  After each piece returns to the surface the crew maneuvers the ship so that subsequent samplings are performed at the same area.

I was going to write about life on board but the seas have gotten rougher and I am sea sick.