Linda Kurtz: Reflections from Fairweather, September 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 9/7/2019

Weather Data from Marietta, GA:

Latitude: 33.963900
Longitude:  -84.492260
Sky Conditions:  Clear
Present Weather:  Hot
Visibility: 9 miles
Windspeed: Less than 1 knot
Temperature:  Record high 97 degrees Fahrenheit

It’s been weeks since I disembarked in Newport, Oregon and left Fairweather behind. I still feel like I’m a part of the crew since I was welcomed so seamlessly into any job I tried to learn while Teacher at Sea. However, the crew is still working away as I continue to share my experiences with my students in Marietta, Georgia.

As I have been working on lessons for my classroom, I keep finding fun facts and information about ship life that I didn’t share in my previous posts. So, here is my final post and some of my most frequent questions by students answered:

Question 1: Where did you sleep?

I slept in a berth, I had a comfortable bed, drawers, a locker, and a sink. There was a TV too, which I never watched since a) I like to read more than watch TV and b) the ship would rock me to sleep so fast I could never stay up too long at bedtime!


Question 2: What was the weather like when you were at sea?

Some days (and nights) so foggy that they had to use the fog horn for safety!


Question 3: What animals did you see?

I highlighted animals in all of my posts and linked sites to learn more, go check it out! There is one animal I didn’t include in my posts that I would like to share with you! The first is the California Sea Lion found in the Newport harbor. You could hear them from across the harbor so I had to go check them out!

See the video below:

California Sea Lions


Question 4: What happens next with the hydrographic survey work?

This is one of my favorite questions from students! It shows how much you have learned about this very important scientific work and are thinking about what is next. The hydrographic survey maps are now in post processing, where the survey technicians, Sam, Bekah, Joe, and Michelle are working hard to make sure the data is correct. I shared in a previous hydrographic survey blog an example of Fairweather’s hydrographic survey maps, I also checked in with the USGS scientists James Conrad and Peter Dartnell to see what they were doing with their research and they shared some information that will help answer this question.

From Peter Dartnell, USGS research scientist: “Here are a few maps of the bathymetry data we just collected including the area off Coos Bay, off Eureka, and a close-up view of the mud volcano. The map off Eureka includes data we collected last year. I thought it would be best to show the entire Trinidad Canyon.”

From James Conrad USGS research geologist: “Here is an image of a ridge that we mapped on the cruise. The yellow dots are locations of methane bubble plumes that mark seafloor seeps. In the next few weeks, another NOAA ship, the Lasker, is planning to lower a Remotely Operated Vehicle to the seafloor here to see what kinds of critters live around these seeps. Methane seeps are known to have unique and unusual biologic communities associated with them. For scale, the ridge is about 8 miles long.”

underwater ridge
Bathymetry map showing ridge

So, even though the research cruise is over, the research and follow up missions resulting from the research are ongoing and evolving every day.


Question 5: Would you go back if you could be a Teacher at Sea again?

YES! There is still so much to learn. I want to continue my own learning, but most importantly, lead my students to get excited about the important scientific research while keeping the mission of the NOAA close to their hearts: “To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Dedicated to the understanding and stewardship of the environment.

Fair winds and following seas Fairweather, I will treasure this experience always.

Linda Kurtz: Bathymetry – Who Knew? August 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Linda Kurtz

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 12-23, 2019


Mission: Cascadia Mapping Project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Northwest (Off the coast of California)

Date: 8/20/2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 41°04 N
Longitude:  124° 37 W
Sky Conditions:  Scattered Clouds
Present Weather:  Foggy
Visibility: 3 Nautical Miles
Windspeed: 2 knots
Sea Wave Height:  0
Swell Height: 2 feet
Temperature:  60° Fahrenheit


Bathymetry

What is Bathymetry and why is it important?  Bathymetry is the foundation of the science of hydrography, which measures the physical features of a water body. 

We covered Hydrography in the last blog post so we know it includes not only bathymetry, but also the shape and features of the shoreline and more.

Bathymetry is defined as “the study of the “beds” or “floors” of water bodies, including the ocean, rivers, streams, and lakes.” 

The term “bathymetry” originally referred to the ocean’s depth relative to sea level, although it has come to mean “submarine topography,” or the depths and shapes of underwater terrain.  In the same way that topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features of land, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies underwater.  Variations in sea-floor relief may be depicted by color and contour lines called depth contours or isobaths.  (Click here for source credit and more information from NOAA)

A bathymetric map looks like this (thanks Sam!):

bathymetric map
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered undersea canyon?
(Southern coverage)
bathymetric map - north
Latest bathymetric maps! Can you see the newly discovered mud volcano?
(Northern Coverage)

Above are the first views of this part of the seafloor with a bathymetric map!  (Color coded for depth – see the chart on the left)


Science and Technology Log:

Among the NOAA officers Navigating the ship, Hydrographic Technicians, and wage mariners aboard Fairweather, and the Teacher at Sea, there are also two guest USGS scientists:  James Conrad, a research Geologist and Perter Dartnell, a physical scientist.  USGS stands for United States Geographical Survey.  The USGS was created by an act of Congress in 1879 and is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior. 

As a Teacher at Sea, I had time to talk with these USGS scientists and learn more about Bathymetry and why it is important not only to scientists, but also how this information can be used to keep us safe. 

Discussion with James Conrad research Geologist who is utilizing the science of Bathymetry among others to map the Cascadia Region of the Pacific seafloor. The USGS scientists’ focus is mapping the Cascadia Subduction Zone where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is “diving” below the North American tectonic plate. Areas of particular interest to these scientists are finding new faults, faults that are known but we have little information about, mud volcanoes and subsequent “seeps,” and the overall goal is to understand the behavior of the mega thrusts in the Cascadia Region. 

map of tectonic plates
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

About the visiting scientists:

James Conrad has a bachelor’s degree from U.C. Berkley and a master’s degree from San Jose State and has been at the USGS for 38 years.

A conversation with Research Geologist James Conrad:

What do you want students to know about Geology?

Geology is a field where there is still so much to discover, especially if you are doing hazards research work-like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, coastal change, and climate change issues

Were you always interested in geology?

Not as a child, but I became a geology major because I had taken an introductory course – and was guided to geology by the university.

I met you on a ship-where do most of your work?

Office is in Santa Cruz, but we go out in the field 1-4 times a year for a week up to 3 weeks. 

Geology is a very young science, the fact that continents move wasn’t proven until 1963.  There is very little known about the earth, and there is so much more to discover.

Peter Dartnell:

Peter Dartnell has Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from Humboldt State University and a Masters of Geography from San Francisco State and has been with the USGS for 28 years.

A conversation with Physical Scientist Peter Dartnell:

What does a physical scientist study?

Physical Science is a combination of the studies earth and computer sciences using computers & technology to study earth.

Physical Science allows you to do everything along the scientific “study train” from data collection, interpretation, to publications.

What are your publications used for? 

Scientific publications from the USGS (which is the science agency of the government) are used widely to inform about potential geohazards and changes in the earth.  We don’t make policy, but the information we provide may be used drive policies, especially safety.

Anything you want an aspiring physical scientist to know? 

Even though you are studying earth sciences in school, you’ll truly enjoy once you get out and start applying what you’ve learned in the field with hands on science. 

We’ve met on a ship, where is it you do most of your work?

I spend 75% of my time in the office and 25% in meetings or traveling to study

What is your favorite part of being a Physical Scientist?

Seeing part of the ocean that nobody has ever seen for the first time. We are the first ones to see these recently mapped parts of the sea floor. 

What types of technology you use in physical science?

We use specialized software to acquire data and analyze the data we collect.

We also use Multibeam sonar software – bathymetry and acoustic backscatter

GIS geographic information systems

Overlay/Compare and Contrast data

What do you think are some misconceptions about physical science?

Because we are working off shore and water covers 71% of the earth, marine geology is in its infancy — we really need to have a complete map of the sea floor which is vitally important to understand the geology of the earth. When we don’t have all of these details, we are essentially operating blind.  That’s why the work that NOAA is doing is so important and the research partnerships with USGS are so valuable.

Much of the geography of the seafloor is driven by the oil industry which is required to release their acquired data every 25 years.  A lot of the deep penetration data is all from oil surveys.  Sea floor mapping is limited for pure research purposes due to limited resources.

Interested in learning more from the USGS? 

Check out these resources for students and teachers:

Escape the POD challenge for grades 6-12

K-2 Resources

3-5 Resources

More about bathymetry and the NOAA and USGS mission:

I was lucky enough to attend a “Science Talk” by these USGS scientists which was titled the Subduction Zone Coastal & Marine Geohazards Project. The USGS scientists are guests aboard Fairweather like me. 

The focus of the USGS research is along the 700-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone:                                                                                                                                  

study area
Map of Study Area. Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This area is where the Juan de Fuca plate dives below the North American Plate at an approximate rate of 1.6 inches per year.

Subduction Zone
Subduction Zone Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

Why is this subduction zone so important and why is NOAA Ship Fairweather out surveying the ocean floor in this area?  That’s because the world’s largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along subduction zones.  If we know the potential hazards, we can prepare people and potentially save lives.

To properly prepare, we need the following details:

slide preparing for earthquakes
What We Need to Prepare for Future Earthquakes
Image Credit: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad

This is why the bathymetric maps of the sea floor are important, they can help predict the area and amount of shaking that may occur during an earthquake and predict the tsunami danger zones.  Then we can make decisions for building codes, infrastructure (like strength of bridges), and escape routes for Tsunamis.  I took the pictures below when I arrived in Newport, little did I know how the research the Fairweather is conducting and the science of hydrography and bathymetric maps play a part in warnings like these! (See below)

Through the hydrographic surveying being conducted aboard Fairweather, the NOAA crew and USGS scientists are creating bathymetric maps which have reveled exciting new finds, such as: new seafloor faults, mapping known faults in greater detail, discovering mud volcanoes and submarine landslides, and using the water column data to discover the “seeps” which are most likely releasing methane gas.  See below.

(Image Credits: USGS scientists Peter Dartnell and James Conrad)

When I first heard the term BATHYMETRY I had no idea how these detailed maps of the seafloor could hold so much critical information!  It’s fascinating to watch this science happen right here and see the discoveries in real time. 


Personal Log

This post begins the last week aboard Fairweather.  I’m surprised about how quickly the ship has begun to feel “normal” to me.  I know my way around backwards (aft) and forwards (bow) and enjoyed getting to know everyone better.  Sean the IT specialist makes an amazing pot of French press coffee around 10:00 am and is kind enough to share with all.  Bekah, Sam, Joe, and Michelle in Hydrography patiently answer dozens of questions and allow me to participate when possible.  And the officers on the bridge answer all the questions and are very welcoming and generous with sharing information and their amazing views!  Carrie and the kitchen crew make 3 amazing meals a day, and I’ve made some new workout buddies to try to stay healthy with all this wonderful food!  The visiting scientists have been very nice about answering all my questions about bathymetry and geology.  It’s great when you are writing and studying about geology to be able to turn around and ask a geologist a question!  

I can’t believe how well I sleep on a ship!  The ship is constantly rocking and for this teacher at sea, and for me, that means some seriously deep sleep.  One thing I learned is to make sure all my belongings are secure before I go to bed.  If you leave something unsecured, chances are they will be banging around in the middle of the night or get tossed off a shelf (not the best middle of the night surprise!).  My room is very dark at night and I really don’t hear anything beyond the noise of the engines.  You can barely hear the foghorn from my area towards the back of the ship which is lucky since those sleeping in the front of the ship could hear it all night!  (Those friends look a little weary today.)  I have to set an alarm, or I will just keep sleeping with the constant rocking motion that is so relaxing!  Only 3 more nights of good ship sleep for me!

Linda Kurtz
The fog horn sounds every 2 minutes when the conditions are, you know, foggy!

Following the excellent tutelage of the NOAA officers, hydrographers, and USGS scientists, it’s exciting to look at the screen in the hydrography lab and start a conversation about features of the sea floor that we are seeing (or seeing in detail) for the first time.  On this mission, there have been new faults, mud volcanoes, and underwater canyons discovered.  The science is so fascinating and so little is known about the research being conducted aboard Fairweather.  I honestly had to “Google” the terms I am now so familiar with like Hydrographic survey, multi beam echo sounders, bathymetry, water column data, just to name a few. 

That’s the thing about science that has been reinforced being a Teacher at Sea, no matter how much you think you know about the earth, you learn just how much we don’t know yet, and we’re just beginning to realize the vast amount that is left to discover. 

Did You Know?

-The ocean covers 71% of the earth’s surface, but we actually know more about the surface Mars than the Earth’s ocean floor- (Credit-Peter Dartnell)

-The Juan de Fuca Plate is part of the famous Ring of Fire, a zone responsible for volcanic activity, mountainous regions, and earthquake activity.

Question of the Day:

Do you know how many tectonic plates there are?  Did you know they are all constantly moving? 

Challenge Yourself

Can you name the Earth’s major tectonic plates?  Can you find on a map the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates that we are surveying right now?

Animals Seen Today:

Northern Fur Seal

Meg Stewart: What the Bathymetry Looks Like at Cape Newenham, Alaska: Flat and a Little Wavy, July 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Bering Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska

Date: July 23, 2019

Weather Data from Home
Latitude: 41°42’25.35″N
Longitude: 73°56’17.30″W
Wind: 2 knots NE
Barometer: 1011.5 mb
Visibility: 10 miles
Temperature: 77° F or 25° C
Weather: Cloudy

Science and Technology Log

As you can tell from 1) the date of my research cruise and 2) my latitude and longitude, I am no longer in Alaska and I am now home. For my final NOAA Teacher at Sea post, I am pleased to show you the results of the hydrographic survey during the Cape Newenham project. The bathymetric coverage (remember that bathymetry means the topography underwater or depth to the bottom of oceans, seas and lakes) is not final as there is one more leg, but it is pretty close. Then the hard part of “cleaning up” the data begins and having many layers of NOAA hydrographers review the results before ever being placed on a nautical chart for Cape Newenham and Bristol Bay. But that day will come!

project location
Fig 1. First, here is a reminder of the location area for the project in Alaska, in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay (circled in red).
coverage graphic
Fig 2. Here is the entire coverage of the project area to date. Notice that some of the coverage is complete and some is in spaced line segments. The red areas on the map are shallow and vessels should avoid those. The dark blue to purple zone is the deepest shown on the map and that is where ships should navigate and mariners will know that by looking on the future navigational chart. During the project, the Chief Hydrographer began to notice that the sea bed was nearly flat and gently sloping. The decision was made to use set line spacing for the rest of the project. (Hint: Click on the image to see more detail)
Cape Newenham
Fig 3. Going in a little more closely, I’ll show you the Cape Newenham area, shown in the dashed line region. You may recall that this is the nautical chart from three blog posts ago.
Cape Newenham surveyed
Fig 4. Now, we’ve zoomed in one of the cool parts of the bathymetric map. As I said above in Fig 2, most of the Cape Newenham sea floor surface is gently sloping. There are no obvious obstructions such as large boulders or shipwrecks; if there were, those would show up in the hydrographic survey. I’ll talk more about the red (or shallower) part of the map in the next figure.
sand waves
Fig 5. This is a 3D side view of the upper part of Fig 4. The red that you see is 5 meters or about 16 feet below the ocean surface. The light blue area is about 36 or so meters deep which is about 120 feet deep. What the hydrographers noticed were sand waves, which they found interesting but non-threatening to navigation unless the crests neared the ocean surface. Sand waves can migrate or move around and they can also grow larger and possibly become a navigational hazard in the future. As a geologist, I think the sand waves are excellent. These waves (sometimes they are called ripples) of sediment form as a result of ocean currents and show the direction of flow. See the next figure for a profile view (cross section view) along the light blue line on this map.
profile of sand waves
Fig 6. This is 2D profile view along the surface of the light blue line shown in Fig 5. This is the top of the sand waves. I’ve pointed to a couple of sand wave crests; there are five crests shown in this profile length. Notice that there is a gently sloping face of the wave and a steeper face. The ocean current direction is moving from the gentle face towards the steep face in this location on Cape Newenham which is from north to south. The hydrographers told me that, though the ocean flow may be north to south here now, it is possible that in the winter, the current reverses. There is also a tidal influence on the current here, too.


Part II – Careers at Sea Log, or
Check Out the Engine Room and Meet an Engineer

engineer Klay Strand
Photo 1. Klay Strand, 2AE, showing us around the Fairweather engine room.

This is Klay Strand who is 2nd Engineer on the Ship Fairweather. He’s been on the ship for about a year and a half and he graciously and enthusiastically showed three of us visiting folk around the engine room towards the end of our leg. It was truly eye-opening. And ear-popping.

Before I get to the tour, a little bit about what Engineering Department does and how one becomes an engineer. There are currently nine engineers on the Ship Fairweather and they basically keep the engines running right. They need to check fluid levels for the engine (like oil, water and fuel) but also keep tabs on the other tanks on the ship, like wastewater and freshwater. The engine is on the lower level of the ship.

Klay Strand’s path to engineering was to go to a two-year trade school in Oregon through the JobCorps program. Strand then worked for the Alaskan highway department on the ferry system and then he started accruing sea days. To become a licensed engineer, one needs 1,080 days on a boat. Strand also needed advanced firefighting training and medical care provider training for his license. There are other pathways to an engineering license like a four-year degree in which you earn a license and a bachelor’s degree. For more information on becoming a ship’s engineer, you can go to the MEBA union, of which Strand is a member. On Strand’s days off the ship, he likes to spend time with his niece and nephews, go skydiving, hike, and go to the gun range.

The following photos are some of the cool things that Klay showed us in the engine room.

ship's engines
Photo 2. There are two engines that power the ship. Ear protection is a must. Standing between the two engines felt like standing inside a running car engine if you were a tiny mouse. I didn’t get a shot of us standing there, so I drew an approximate line for reference.
engine room
Photo 3. The ceiling in the engine room is very low. There are A LOT of moving parts. And wires, cords, pipes, valves, enormous tools, tanks, meters and things I’ve never seen before. This part in the foreground, with the yellow painted on the cylinder, is akin to a car’s driveshaft.
waste water levels
Photo 4. This shows how much black water and gray water the ship currently has in the tanks. Those tanks are located in the engine area and the engineers keep a close eye on that information. Gray water is wastewater from washing dishes, clothes washers, and the showers. Black water is from the toilets, I mean ship’s heads. Black water is treated through a chlorination process. Both wastewaters are released at sea, where permissible.
desalination
Photo 5. Recall in my last “Did You Know?” that I said the ship makes its own freshwater from sea water. This is the reverse osmosis monitor showing how much freshwater is being produced. Yes, the engineers keep an eye on that, too.


Personal Log

Dutch Harbor panorama
Before I boarded the small plane that took off from Dutch Harbor to take me to Anchorage, AK, I looked out over the harbor. It was so lovely in Alaska. There’s so much space and untouched landscape. The green, pointed hill on the right side of the image is called Mount Ballyhoo, which I hear was named by Jack London on a swing through Dutch Harbor in the late 1800s.

Now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time on NOAA Ship Fairweather. When I tell people about the experience, what comes out the most is how warm and open the crew were to me. Every question I had was answered. No one was impatient with my presence. All freely shared their stories, if asked. I learned so much from all of them, the crew of the Fairweather.  They respected me as a teacher and wondered about my path to that position. I wondered, too, about their path to a life at sea.

My first week on the ship, I spent a lot of time looking out at the ocean, scanning for whales and marveling at the seemingly endlessness of the water. Living on the water seemed fun and bold. As time went by, I could tell that I may not be cut out for a life at sea at this stage of my life, but I sure would have considered it in my younger days. Now that I know a little bit more about these careers on ships, I have the opportunity to tell my students about living and working on the ocean. I can also tell my educator colleagues about the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.

Though I loved my time on the Ship Fairweather, I do look forward to seeing my West Bronx Academy students again in September. I am so grateful for all I learned during my time at sea.

Did You Know?

Marine Protected Area map
Using the interactive Marine Protected Area map, I zoomed in on the Cape Newenham area. Though there is a Walrus Protection Area there, we did not see any on our leg.

If you are interested in finding out about areas of the ocean that are protected from certain types of human activity because of concerns based on habitat protection, species conservation and ecosystem-based marine management, here are some links to information about Marine Protected Areas. Marine Protected Areas are defined as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.”  Did you know that there are over 11,000 designated MPAs around the world?

NOAA Marine Protected Areas – this is information about MPAs in the U.S.

Atlas of Marine Protection is an interactive map that shows all the MPAs around the globe. 

National Geographic – Marine Protected Areas – a good teaching resource. Here is a NG lesson looking at MPAs.

Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) – the science of marine reserves.

Quote of the Day

“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy

Jill Bartolotta: ROV, CTD, OMG, June 10, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 10, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°04.9’ N

Longitude: 079°53.2’ W

Wave Height: 1-2 feet

Wind Speed: 11 knots

Wind Direction: 241

Visibility: 10

Air Temperature: 26.7° C

Barometric Pressure: 1017.9

Sky: Clear

Science and Technology Log

As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.

CTD

CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.

Sidney and CTD
General Vessel Assistant Sidney Dunn assisting with CTD launch. Photo Credit: Charlie Wilkins SST Okeanos Explorer

Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.

Deep water canyon-like feature
Deep water canyon-like feature with cold water and high oxygen levels. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

ROV

ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.

Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE
Seirios and D2 getting ready for a dive. Photo Credit: Art Howard, GFOE

Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:

  • Lights to illuminate the dark deep
  • High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
  • An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
  • Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
  • Rock box to hold rock specimens
  • Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
ROV D2 labeled
D2 with some of her specimen collection parts labeled.

My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.

ROV Brain
D2’s “brain” is shown behind the metal bars. The bars are there for extra protection. The panel boxes and tubes are filled with a yellow colored liquid. This liquid is the mineral oil that is used to reduce the pressure the boxes and tubes feel as D2 descends to the ocean floor.

D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.

bathymetry features
Multibeam bathymetry collected on this cruise that shows features which are similar to mound building coral that are known to be in the area. Photo Credit: NOAA OER

Mound-Building Coral

Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.

mound-building coral (Credit: NOAA OER)
Large amounts of Lophelia pertusa, stony coral, found at the top of the crest of Richardson Ridge during Dive 07 of the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition. Rubble of this species also appeared to form the mounds found in this region.

Personal Log

We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.

Dorsal fin of a pilot whale
Dorsal fin of a pilot whale

There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.

Did You Know?

You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.

ROV competition
High school ROV competition at The Ohio State University.

References

Mound Building Coral: NOAA, 2010, https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/10lophelia/background/biology/biology.html

Pilot Whales: American Cetacean Society, 2018, https://www.acsonline.org/pilot-whale

Brandy Hill: What Lies Beneath the Surface, July 1, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brandy Hill

Aboard NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson

June 25, 2018 –  July 6, 2018

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey- Approaches to Houston

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29° 10.1’ N

Longitude: 093° 54.5’ W

Visibility: 10+ NM

Sky Condition: 3/8

Wind: 16 kts

Temperature:

Sea Water: 29.4° C

Air: 27° C

 

Science and Technology Log

At this point I have been able to understand more of the sonar technology taking place during the survey aboard the Thomas Jefferson. The ship uses two types of sonar: multibeam and side scan. Both work together transmitting and receiving sound pulses to and from the ocean floor. This provides a multispectral analysis.

Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.

Julia Wallace, a physical scientist, works at the sonar acquisition station. This requires a large amount of multitasking as she communicates with the bridge (ship steering deck), watches the safety cameras, and makes sure both sonar devices are working correctly.

Multibeam sonar is located underneath the hull of the ship. Multibeam is used to detect bathymetry (the depth of the ocean floor). Multibeam backscatter (reflected wave energy) gives a reading of the surface intensity. For example, a strong signal would mean a harder surface like rock or pipeline. With multibeam sonar, you can also adjust the sound wave frequency. For example, high frequency (primarily used during this survey in the Gulf of Mexico) is used for shallower waters allowing for higher resolution images. Images from multibeam have a color gradient to allow for clear vision of contours and depth differences. One way surveyors aboard the TJ may use backscatter images is to determine areas where bottom sampling might be applicable.

A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)

A NOAA ship using mulitbeam sonar. (Courtesy of NOAA)

Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)

Bathymetry acquired using multibeam echosounder layered over a nautical chart.  Blue and green wave lengths penetrate further in water, so the coloring corresponds to this observation. This poster is from a previous Thomas Jefferson hydrographic survey near Savannah, Georgia. (Prepared by CHST Allison Stone)

3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)

3D bathymetry imagery from the Okeanos Explorer. (NOAA)

A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.

A close-up view of multibeam data. The third window down shows multibeam backscatter.

The side scan sonar is used alongside multibeam to provide black and white scans of images. Like multibeam backscatter, side scan measures the intensity of the sound returning from the sea floor. For example, a side scan return with high intensity could indicate a difference in material like pipeline or a wreck. A low intensity value could mean that the side scan sonar waves have reached a muddy substrate. Julia used the analogy of a tennis ball being bounced against a wall of different materials. For example, the tennis ball hitting a concrete wall would bounce back with higher intensity than one being bounced against a soft wall. Side scan sonar is very effective at detecting features that protrude off the sea floor, and for shallow water surveys, typically can see farther and cover a greater area the sea floor than multibeam echosounders alone.

The side scan sonar sensor is located on a torpedo-shaped “towfish” and pulled behind the boat. When viewing side scan images, surveyors typically look for the acoustic shadow cast by a feature protruding off the sea floor. By measuring the length of the acoustic shadow, hydrographers can determine whether the feature requires additional investigation. For example, the outline of a shipwreck, bicycle, or pipeline. However, it can also detect mammals like dolphins or schools of fish.

Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)

Diagram of side scan sonar. (Courtesy of thunder bay 2001, Institute for Exploration, NOAA-OER)

The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.

The Thomas Jefferson sidescan sonar on deck.

In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the "shadow" of the wreck.

In the early morning, the sidescan sonar picked up the image of an incorrectly charted shipwreck. Height is estimated using the “shadow” of the wreck.

Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.

Sidescan sonar imagery layered on a nautical chart. It is important to remember that sidescan data does not account for depth, it is a measure of differences in sea floor substrate.

Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.

Look closely and you can see arc lines in the sidescan imagery. Lt. Anthony Klemm explains that these arcs are from ships dragging anchor and stirring up the sea floor.

While this is happening, surveyors are also towing a MVP or Moving Vessel Profiler to capture information about the water column. This is important because multiple factors in the water column need to be corrected in order for accurate sonar calculations. For example, the speed of sound in salt water is roughly 1500 m/s but may change while the ship is traveling over different parts of the sea floor or passing through a thermocline (steep temperature gradient) or halocline (steep salinity gradient). The MVP is similar to the CTD used on the launch boat (see previous post), but the MVP allows the ship to continue moving at about 10 knots (average survey speed), while the CTD must be cast when the ship is stationary.

Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.

Information from the Moving Vessel Profiler. From left to right, the MVP tracks sound speed, temperature, and salinity in relation to depth.

For more information on multispectral analysis and sonar, see these resources:

https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09bermuda/background/multibeam/multibeam.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/how_sidescansonar.html

Personal Log

One of my goals in the classroom is to teach students to be comfortable making and learning from mistakes. Making mistakes in math and science is common and welcome because they lead to great discussion and future change. Often, my sixth graders get discouraged or so caught up in failure that they become paralyzed in making further attempts. While aboard the Thomas Jefferson, I have witnessed several aspects not go according to plan. I think these experiences are important to share because they provide real-life examples of professionals coming together, learning from mistakes, and moving forward.

Around 4:00 am, the towfish side scan sonar became entangled with the MVP. This was a horrendous disaster. The crew spent about 16 hours contemplating the issue and collecting data using the multibeam only, which is less than ideal.  One of XO LCDR McGovern’s many roles aboard the ship is to serve as the investigator. She reviewed tapes of the early morning, talked with the crew, and later held a debrief with all involved. When something like this happens, the ship must write a clear incident report to send to shore. There were many questions about why and how this happened as well how to best proceed. In the end, the towfish and MVP were untangled with no damage present to the sensor. Within the same day, both were cast out and back in use.

I find this to be an astounding example of perseverance and teamwork. Despite being disappointed and upset that a critical tool for collecting accurate data was in dire shape, the crew came up with a plan of action and executed. Part of the engineering and scientific processes include evaluation and redesign. Elements of the sea and a center drift of the side scan lead to a documented new plan and refiguring the process so that this is unlikely to happen again.

Lt. Charles Wisotzsky's sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.

Lt. Charles Wisotzsky’s sketch of the complications with launching both the sidescan sonar (which tends to centerline) and MVP towfish with a current coming from port side.

This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.

This camera image captures the entanglement of the sidescan sonar and MVP.

Peaks

+Saw a tuna eat a flying fish

Flying Fish. (www.ocean.si.edu)

Flying Fish. (www.ocean.si.edu)

+There is a large sense of purpose on the ship. Despite complex sleep schedules to enable 24 hour operations with a smaller crew, people are generally happy and working hard.

+ There seems to be an unlimited supply of ice cream in the ice cream freezer. Junior Officer, ENS Garrison Grant introduced me to a new desert- vanilla ice cream, a scoop of crunchy peanut butter, and chocolate syrup. I also found the rainbow sprinkles.

Trevor Hance: Water, Water Everywhere… Time for a Bath(ology), June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 17, 2015

Science and Technology Log

We’re now at the half-way point of this journey and things continue to run well, although the weather has picked up a bit.  I mentioned to one of my fellow crew members that the cloud cover and cool weather reminded me of “football and gumbo” and he said, “Yeah… around here, we just call it ‘June’.” Touché, my friend.

“June,” huh…. Hey, this guy got jokes!

I am continually impressed by both the ship’s crew and the science party’s ability to identify work that needs to be done and set a course towards continued, uninterrupted success of the mission.  The depth and breadth of knowledge required to navigate (all puns intended!) extended scientific expeditions requires professional dedication matched with a healthy sense of humor, and it is truly an honor to be invited to participate in this unique opportunity for teachers. I am learning volumes each day and will forever treasure this wonderful adventure.  Thanks again, NOAA!

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs.  Gigantic lobsters?  Well…

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs. Gigantic lobsters? Well…

Science and Math

My instructional path is rooted in constructivist learning theory, and I work diligently to secure resources for my students to have authentic, project-based learning experiences where they determine budgets, necessary tools and physically build things that we use on our campus.

Most recently, my math class designed and built some raised mobile garden beds that will be used by the youngest students on our campus as well as those with unique mobility challenges.  Through these hands-on learning experiences, I expect my students to develop a solid working-level of mathematic and scientific literacy, and I’m proud of the fact that when I present a new concept, my students never ask “When am I going to have to use this in real life?”

My students doing math.  More doing, more learning...

My students doing math. More doing, more learning…

I believe fifth grade students can understand any science concept, and I am seeing additional opportunities to test that idea using what I learn out here, so thought I’d share a few examples of some of the things I’ve learned as they will be presented in my G5 classroom starting this fall.

With a basic understanding of the objective for this survey presented in the last blog, I’ll explore some of the geographic and hydrodynamic concepts associated with this part of the world in this post.  In the next blog, I’ll dive deeper into a specific study of scallops and lobsters, and in the fourth post I’ll talk more about the effects of current marine/fisheries management practices, with particular focus on those relating to closed areas (somewhat akin to the Balcones Preserve behind our campus.)

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

Georges Bank…water, water everywhere, time for a bath(ology)

We all know that water is central to our survival, and “playing” with water provides a strong anchoring point (am I pushing the puns too far?) for understanding systems relationships as students progress through their educational path.  For the past couple of years, I have been accepted to participate in a “Scientist in Residence” program offered through the University of Texas’ Environmental Science Institute, which pairs local teachers with a graduate level scientist for an entire school year.  In my first year, I was paired with (recently graduated) Dr. Kevin Befus, whose work focuses on hydrology.  Through my work with Kevin (note to students:  I can call him Kevin, you call him Dr. – he’s earned it!), I learned much about water and the importance of “flow,” and when you understand some of the “flow” relating the world’s most productive fishery, Georges Bank, I think you’ll agree with me.

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Georges Bank is an oval shaped shoal, which is essentially a submerged island that lies about 60 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and covers nearly 150 square miles.  “The Bank,” or “Georges,” as many people aboard the vessel refer to it, is only recently submerged (i.e. – within the last 100,000 years).  As recently as ten years ago scientists found mastodon tusks on the Bank, and legend holds that in the early 1900s, fishing vessels would stop on an island in Georges Bank (now submerged to about 10m) and play baseball (note:  I have yet to find a bat and ball aboard the Sharp, but hope remains!)

Just like good soil helps support plant life, good water helps support marine life, and the key to the abundant life along Georges Bank lies in the nutrient rich water that is pushed towards the surface as it approaches Georges from the north and south.  On three sides of Georges Bank, the sea floor drops dramatically.  To the north sits the Gulf of Maine, which drops to approximately 1000m deep, and to the east and south, the Atlantic Ocean quickly reaches depths of over 2500m.

NASA photo

NASA photo

Almost all water enters Georges Bank from the north via the Gulf of Maine. The Gulf of Maine is fed via natural river discharges (including those from the Damariscotta and Merrimack Rivers) and the Labrador Currents that hug the coastline south around Nova Scotia before turning west into the Gulf of Maine.  Water also enters the Gulf of Maine through The North Channel on the east side of Maine from the Gulf Stream and that very salty, warm water is important, particularly when it comes to the biology of Georges Bank (as we’ll look at more in the next blog entry.)

Much of the water exiting the Gulf of Maine enters The Great South Channel, which is something like a “river in the ocean” that runs between Cape Cod and Georges Bank.  Deep within the Channel is a “sill,” which is a type of landform barrier, similar to a fence that doesn’t reach up to the surface.  The sill rises quickly from the sea floor and extends across the Great South Channel, effectively blocking the deepest, densest water, resulting in strong, deep, cold currents that are pushed east around the outer edge of Georges Bank before returning towards the United States’ east coast in a clockwise path, resembling “from 11 until 7” on a clock’s face.  Yes students, I do mean an analog clock!

After the deep currents make their way back to southern Massachusetts, they head south on the Longshore Coastal Current, which is like a “jet” of water that sprints southbound right along the eastern United States coastline (note:  those of us from the Gulf Coast frequently hear friends wonder why the Atlantic Ocean is so cold when they visit Florida, and this is partly why!)

At this point, I’m going to take a moment and speak directly to my students:   Just as the water flows into and mixes at Georges Bank from different directions, I’m hopeful that your thoughts are starting to swirl as you recognize the connection to concepts we have studied relating to energy, weather and climate, mixtures and solutions, salinity (and conductivity/resisitivity) and density (and buoyancy) – they are all evident and part of this story! And YES — this WILL be on the test!

b3g - 4 shells

I pulled these four scallops from one of our dredges to show the unique, beautiful patterns we find while sorting

While the deep-water currents that circle around Georges Bank’s edges exist year-round, in the winter there isn’t tremendous difference in the three primary water measurements (“Conductivity, Temperature and Density,” or “CTD”) between the water in The Great South Channel versus that sitting atop Georges Bank.  As you might recognize, in normal conditions, there shouldn’t be much cause for warm or fresh water to be added to the area during the cold winter months, as our part of the world seems to slow down and a goodly amount of water freezes.  In the spring, however, the northern hemisphere warms and ice melts, adding lots of warmer-and-fresh water to the Labrador Current and river discharges I mentioned above, ultimately sending that water south towards Georges Bank.  At this point, things get really interesting…

The new, warmer water is less dense than the deeper water. The warm and cold water ultimately completely decouple and become fully stratified (i.e. – there are two distinct layers of water sitting one on top of the other.)  The stratified layers move in separate currents:  the deeper, colder, more-dense layer continues its clockwise, circular path along the outer edge of the Bank before heading south; and the top, “lighter” layer gets “trapped” in a clockwise “gyre,” which is the formal word for a swirling “racetrack” of a current that sits on the Bank. This gyre goes full-circle atop Georges Bank approximately 2.5 to 3 times per summer season.

Bigelow and Bumpus:  Going with the Flow

The stratified/gyre relationship was confirmed almost 90 years ago by Henry Bigelow (note: those familiar with NOAA will no doubt recognize his name for several reasons, including the fact that a ship in the NOAA fleet is named after him).  Essentially, Bigelow used a type of “weighted-kite-and-floating-buoy” system to observe and confirm the two layers.  Bigelow’s “floating-buoy” was tied to the “weighted-kite” (actually called a drogue) and set at various depths, with each depth tested as an independent variable.  Once set, Bigelow drogued the water, chasing after the floats-and-kites, ultimately confirming that the stratified currents did in fact exist.  When you look at our dry lab here on the Sharp, complete with dozens of computers constantly monitoring hundreds of variables, Bigelow’s paper-and-pencil study aboard a 3-masted schooner is pretty awesome, and makes me feel a little lazy!

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

In a different study conducted later in the 1900s that perhaps might evoke romantic images of the sea, physical oceanographer Dean Bumpus performed a study similar to Bigelow’s, but in a slightly different fashion. Over the course of a few years, Bumpus put notes in over 3,000,000 test-tubes and set them adrift from Georges Bank.  The notes provided instructions on how to contact Bumpus if found, and he used the returned notes to determine things like current speed and direction.  While I’m not sure if Bumpus also used this methodology to find true love, the experiment did reinforce the idea of the currents that exist around Georges Bank!

b3i - Bumpus

Yep, it’s pretty cool to hear stories of those old-school scientists getting their names in the history books by just going with the flow.

Gulf Coast Style Kicking It Up North

One other unique hydrologic influence on Georges Bank relates to “meanderings” by the Gulf Stream.  Normally, as the Longshore Coastal Current sprints southbound along the east coast faster than a recent retiree snowbirding to Florida, a little further offshore, the Gulf Stream is heading north, bringing with it warm water.  As the water moves towards Georges Bank, the bank does its thing, acting as a berm (my BMX students might better identify with that term), and pushes that water off towards the east.  The warm water ultimately reaches England, and when mixed with the cool air there, causes the cloudy conditions and fog we frequently associate with life in the U.K.

Shark!

Shark!

The unique aspect of this relationship occurs when, from time to time, the Gulf Stream misses the turn and a “slice” of the Gulf Stream breaks away.  When this happen, the split portion spins in a counter clockwise fashion and breaks into Georges Bank, bringing with it warm water — and all the chemistry and biology that comes with it.  More on that later…

Water Summary 

So, in a nutshell, that’s the system.  The coldest water at the headwaters of rivers in Maine and that in the arctic freezes and becomes ice.  Deep water doesn’t have access to the warm sunlight, so it stays colder than the warm, less dense water at the surface that is hoping for the chance to boil over and soar up into the skies as water vapor.  Newton tells us that things like to stay still, but will stay in motion once they get started.  Things like sills and submerged islands get in the way of flowing water (yeah, more Newton here), resulting in mixtures and unique current patterns.

From a biological standpoint, the traditional currents associated with Georges Bank bring the deep, nutrient rich waters to the surface. As that water is pushed to the surface, algae and phytoplankton grow in great numbers.  Phytoplankton attracts zooplankton, fish larvae eat the zooplankton, and eventually, “circle gets a square,” the trophic pyramid is complete, and nature finds its equilibrium.

If only it was that easy, right?

Unfortunately, the frequency of warmer weather over the past century has had an impact on the ecology of Georges Bank.  Scientists have noticed more warm water from the north as ice continues to melt and increased frequency of the Gulf Stream meandering from the south. I’m told that 20 years ago, Red Hake were rare here, but I’ve noticed very few of our dredges where Red Hake weren’t at least the plurality, if not majority, of fish we caught.  As Mr. Dylan says, “the times, they are a changin’.”

Okay.  That’s it!  Congratulations students! You have passed Oceanography: Hydrodynamics Short Course 101 and it is time to move on to Oceanography:  Shellfish Biology 101, which we will cover in the next blog.

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

Lagniappe:  Dr. Scott Gallager

My students and friends know that I am continually working to learn new things.  I am surrounded by experts on this cruise and I need to go ahead and admit it:  I feel sorry for these folks because they are trapped and can’t escape the questions I’ll wind up asking them about their incredibly interesting work!

As I mentioned earlier, depth of knowledge is important to success of these missions, but, breadth is equally important.  Addressing challenges and solving problems from different perspectives is essential, and it sure would be nice to have a Boy Scout out here.  Oh wait, we actually have a long time Scout Master among us, Dr. Scott Gallagher.  There, I feel better already…

Scott is a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (“WHOI”), where his work focuses on biological and physical interactions in oceanography, which can perhaps be a little better explained as “working to understand the physical properties and processes of the ocean that impact biological abundance and populations (aka – distributions).”  In other words, “where are the scallops, how many are there, and why are they there and at that number?”

From a scientific perspective, there are three primary controls to analyze when studying shellfish populations:  the total amount of larvae spawned; the transportation, or “delivery”, of the larvae through the water column to the place where they settle; and, post-settlement predatory relationships (aka – the sea stars, crabs, and humans all out to feast on these delicious creatures)… Seems like an easy-peasy career, right? (I kid. I kid.)

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

Scott cut his teeth as an undergrad at Cornell, starting off in electrical engineering, and ultimately earning degrees in both pre-med and environmental science (see, I told you he could see things from a variety of perspectives!).  In his environmental science courses, Scott studied the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and after graduating from Alfred University/Cornell University, moved on and earned a master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Long Island.  Over the next several years, he worked at Woods Hole as a research assistant, first working in bivalve (shellfish) ecology, and quickly moving up through the ranks to research specialist.  After a couple of years at WHOI, the magnitude and awesome wonder of the life in our oceans presented Scott with more questions than answers, and he realized it was time to return to school and obtain his PhD so he could start answering some of the questions swimming around in his head (okay, no more puns, I promise).

In our discussion, Scott described the challenge of decoupling the biological processes of the ocean as a fascinating mystery novel that never ends, and never allows you to put the book down or stop turning the pages to see what comes next.  After only a week out here with these good folks, it is evident that passion and curiosity exists in each of them, and it is really cool to feel their continued excitement about their work.

Our live aquarium

Our live aquarium

Aboard the ship, I’ve been fortunate to spend some time working with Scott in the wet-lab, where he helps conduct a more intensive study of a sample of 5-7 scallops from each dredge, according to survey protocol: taking photos, measuring the scallop size and weight, and recording whether it is male or female.

While the survey work is the mission of this cruise, it was the development and operational support for the HabCam that really got Scott working aboard these cruises, and members of his team are aboard each of the three legs every summer to participate in the survey work and provide technical assistance for the HabCam.  I think of my time driving the HabCam of what it must be like to explore Mars with Curiosity.

In addition to his mission-specific field-work, Scott has set up an onboard live aquarium in one part of the deck, using nothing more than an air hose, fresh sea water, and a tote.  The aquarium is a temporary home for many of the unique species we’ve caught on our dredge.  Most species are only kept long enough for me to nerd-out and take some photos, and it has been very interesting to see the interaction of the animals in the confined habitat that would normally only be seen on the sea floor.

Photoblog:

The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

Sea urchins.  We catch many of these.  Zoom in on the one on the right.  Yeah, that’s its mouth.  Life’s at sea is tough!

Sea urchins. We catch many of these. Zoom in on the one on the right. Yeah, that’s its mouth. Life’s at sea is tough!

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve. 

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

Stars on the water

Stars on the water

Don't be a skater-hater

Don’t be a skater-hater

Dredge playlist:  Metallica, Dierks Bentley, Spoon, The National

Special thanks to Dr. Gallager for his help with this one.

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed…

Mr. Hance

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!