Kate DeLussey: TowCam Anyone? July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everyone works at sea. Here I am helping with the pre-deployment checklist.   (See how wet Lowell is!  He has been to the ocean floor many times.)

Location:
Latitude:  39.8493°
Longitude: -69.5506 °

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 19.30° C
Wind Speed: 20.74 knots  5  on the Beaufort  wind scale
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,020.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 21.39° C

Science and Technology Log

High winds, moderately rough seas, and difficulties with the ship’s positioning system all contributed to the delay of the first scheduled launch of TowCam on our midnight shift.  Even though the necessary decision meant a loss of precious underwater time, it is better to delay than risk losing  expensive equipment.

When the seas calmed down we were able to launch TowCam, but first we had to go through the pre-launch checklist.  I helped Lizet as she prepared TowCam.

Did you guess that Batteries power the components of TowCam?          Lizet must test the batteries  before and after each launch.

The batteries are under very high pressure when TowCam goes to the ocean floor so we have to push out the air before each trip.   I help by tightening the battery caps.  Every time I am on deck I must put safety first.  I always wear a hard hat and the life vest.

One of my jobs is to help with TowCam.

When everything has been checked and double checked, the operator gives the signal, and the deck crew of the Bigelow use the winch and tag lines to launch TowCam on its next mission.

The winch swings TowCam off the deck and lowers it into the ocean.

Look at the picture carefully.  The deck crew always wear their safety equipment too!  They hook themselves to the ship by their belts, and they wear safety vests and hardhats.  The deck crew on Bigelow also make sure everyone follows the safety rules.

As soon at TowCam is in the water, everyone wants to view the images sent by the camera, but the TowCam operator must keep an eye on the monitors.

These are six of the monitors used to control and guide TowCam.

TowCam operators watch eight different computer monitors to control TowCam’s movements.  With the help of mathematic modelers and previously collected data about the structure of the ocean floor, the scientists choose  locations where they think they will find corals. These locations are called “stations.”

This map from the NOAA web site shows the track of the Bigelow. The places where the lines cross over one another are some of the stations where the scientists looked for coral

The ship must make very small movements to get the camera in the correct place on station. The operator will say something like, “Lab to Bridge- move 10 m to the North please.”… Then they watch the camera and the monitors to see if TowCam moves to the correct position.   Sometimes TowCam floats right past the spot scientists want to see, and then the operators have to try to get it back into position to take the pictures.  Not every station has the corals the scientists hope to find.  But even knowing where corals are not is important information.  After several hours of picture taking, we move on the next station.

I sit next to the TowCam operator and keep the logs.

Even in calm seas controlling TowCam is a challenging process.  Remember, TowCam hovers over the ocean floor  attached to the ship by a wire.   Fully loaded it weighs over 800 pounds in the air.  Since the ship moves TowCam by pulling it, it is not easy to follow the scientists’ plan.

However, when the perfect coral images appear on the screen, no one thinks about how hard they were to find.  We all crowd around the monitors and watch in amazement.  The scientists try to figure out  types of corals in the picture, and then they wait for the next picture to see if there are even more!  We have found corals at lots of stations!

Think about a time you tried to pull something tied to the back of  a rope.  Was it easy to steer?  Did it get stuck?  

Personal Log

We have talked a bit about how scientists find and try to study corals using the underwater camera and other sensors on TowCam.  On other missions scientists  sometimes use remote control underwater vehicles ROVs.   Unlike TowCam which is dragged behind the ship, these vehicles are more versatile because they are driven and controlled remotely using a joy stick similar to the ones you use for computer games.    Sometimes scientists even go to the ocean floor and drive themselves around using submersibles.  One thing is certain,  you have to get under the water to study corals.

Scientists go to all this trouble because corals are important to our Earth’s oceans. They are very old, and they provide habitat for other animals. 

As you grow, it will be your job to find ways to study and protect corals and all other living things in the oceans. 

Who knows how corals could help us in the future!

Polyps are extended from deep-sea coral colony.
Photo from NOAA Undersea Research Program.

Kate DeLussey: Lowell Searches Beneath the Ocean, July 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Sunday, July 8, 2012


Location:
Latitude:  38.9580 °
Longitude: -72.4577 °

Liz thought we needed our school mascot on the mission. When she went to the store, she brought back Lowell the Lion.

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 24.60° C
Wind Speed: 4.5 knots
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,010.30 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 24.49° C

 

Science and Technology Log

Look who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  No you silly students…not me!  TowCam is exploring the deep ocean between the twilight zone and the midnight zone, and it is not possible for people to travel in deep water without very special equipment.

Our mascot Lowell Lion accompanied TowCam as it was deployed for Tow 2.

At this location, TowCam reached a depth of over 1900 meters below the surface of the ocean.  That is more than one mile-straight down!  It was a good mission.  The camera was sending some very interesting images back to the ship.  As I was doing my job logging, I was watching these first images.  I was able to see hard bottom- the best habitat for corals.  I also saw fish and sea stars, and then I saw the corals! They looked like little fuzzies on the rocks. The scientists had the ship hold position right over of the corals so they could take lots of pictures.  The TowCam operator used controls on the ship to raise and lower TowCam to get close to the corals without touching the cliffs where the corals were living.

Students:   Can you imagine using remote controls to move the TowCam?  I bet you would be good at it.  Perhaps the video games you play will help prepare you to fly TowCam when you finish college. 

Doesn’t Lowell look proud?  He survived his first dive and brought some interesting friends back with him.

Well, when TowCam came back on the ship, Lowell was very wet, but he handled the cold, dark high pressure very well.   Thanks to Greg and Lizet, Lowell stayed on the TowCam Sled!

Once TowCam was secured on the deck. We went out to take care of TowCam.   What a big surprise to find other creatures hitchhiking on TowCam.   Lowell the Lion must have made some friends.

This sea star was hidden on TowCam

The first deep sea visitor was a spiny orange sea star.

The orange sea star was found on TowCam deployment #2.

Isn’t it beautiful?  We all rushed to see it.  Dr. Nizinski carefully examined and measured the sea star.   She used her tweezers to pick up a tiny sample the sea star leg, and she put the sample into a little bottle with a label.  She will use the sample to test the DNA to help classify the sea star.  She will find the sea star’s “family.”

It was exciting to find the sea star, but when we looked further one of the scientists saw a piece of coral tucked in a hiding place on TowCam.   Dr. Martha took care of the coral also.  The coral will become a permanent record that reminds us that this type of coral lives here.

   These corals were hidden in the batteries after Tow 2. July 8, 2012

 

Do you see how carefully the sample is documented?  Some of the things we do in school like labeling and dating our illustrations and our work prepare you to be a scientist.  

Many years from now someone can look at the coral in this picture and see that the sample was collected on the Bigelow TowCam #2, on July 8th.  The ruler in the picture helps everyone know the approximate size.

One of the components on TowCam we have not talked about yet is the slurp.  

 

TowCam slurp

Try to find the Slurp on TowCam.              

The “slurp” is really an underwater vacuum cleaner that sucks up water, sediment, and sometimes small creatures.  When TowCam is in deep water, the scientists watch the images to decide when it is a good time to trigger the slurp.   They have to choose carefully because the slurp can be done only once on each trip to the bottom.

The scientists used the slurp on Tow #2.  The collection container looked like it just had “mud” and water.   It was emptied through a sieve to separate the “mud” and other things from water.  The scientists carefully examined what looked like regular mud but tiny organisms like bivalves, gastropods, and small brittle stars were found in the sieve.  These animals were also handled very carefully.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment slurped from the ocean bottom.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment that was slurped from the ocean bottom.

Can you find any other living things in this picture?

 

You never know what is hiding in the mud.  I bet we could do this kind of exploring right in our school’s courtyard.  What do you think we could find if we examined our mud?

 

Kate DeLussey on the Bigelow July 12


Personal Log

I think we should talk about the ocean today.  Many of us have had some experience with the ocean.  Maybe you have been to the beach, and maybe you have even seen some of the cool creatures that can be found on the beach.  I have seen crabs, horseshoe crabs, clams, and plenty of jellyfish, but the scientists on Bigelow are working in a very different part of the ocean.

If you visit the beach, you are only swimming in a teeny tiny part of the ocean.  Maybe you are allowed in the ocean up to your knees to a depth of 20 inches (about 1/2 a meter), or maybe you are brave and are able to go in the ocean with an adult up to your waist to a depth of 30 inches (about 3/4 a meter).  Even if you have been crabbing or fishing in the Delaware Bay where the average depth is 50 feet (15.24 meters) you have been in only the most shallow part of the ocean.  TowCam has been down as far as 1.2 miles (2000 meters).  That is not even the deepest ocean!  The ocean is divided into zones according to depth and sunlight penetration.  I learned about the top three zones.

  • The sunlight zone– the upper 200 meters of the ocean are also called the euphotic zone.  Many fish, marine mammals like dolphins and whales, and sea turtles live in this band of the ocean.  At these depths there is light, plants, and food for creatures to survive.  Not much light penetrates past this zone.
  • The twilight zone– this middle zone is between 200 meters and 1000 meters and is called the disphotic zone.  Because of the lack of light, plants cannot live in this zone.  Many animals like bioluminescent creatures with twinkling lights do live in this zone.  Some examples of other creatures living in this zone includes: crabs, gastropods, octopus, urchins, and sand dollars.
  • The midnight zone– this zone is below 1000 meters and is also called the aphoticzone has no sunlight and is absolutely dark.  At these depths the water pressure is extreme, and the temperature is near freezing.  90% of the ocean is in the midnight zone.So you can see that when you are at the beach, you are never in the “Deep Ocean.”  You are still in a great place to find many amazing creatures.  Keep your eyes open!  Be curious! Make sure you do some exploring the next time you visit this important habitat.  Then write and tell me about the things you find. Try to draw and label the three zones of the ocean.  Be sure to draw the living things in the correct zone.
  • Next time:  Someone will be working on deck getting TowCam ready for deployment.  Hint:   It will not be Lowell. : )

Kate DeLussey: Underway and Under the Sea, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date:  Monday, July 7 , 2012

Location:

Here I am on the bridge of Henry B. Bigelow.  ENS. Zygas put me to work looking up changes for navigational charts.

Latitude:  39.29 °
Longitude: -72.25°

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 23.40° C
Wind Speed: 15 Kts
Relative Humidity:  90.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,011.99 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 23.66° C

Science and Technology Log

At 7:00 pm last night the Henry B. Bigelow left Pier 2 from the Newport Naval Base.  Narragansett Bay was crowded with sailboats, yachts, and even a tall ship, but once we passed under the bridge, we knew we were really on our way.  Now that we are at sea, everyone onboard will begin his or her watch.  I will be working 12 am to 12 pm along with some of the scientists.  Even though I never worked night work before, I was excited to learn about my jobs!

One of our jobs is to keep track of the “TowCam” when it is in the water.  Every ten minutes while the TowCam is deployed (sent underwater) we log the location of the ship using Latitude and Longitude. We also have to keep track of other important data like depth.  The information is logged on the computer in a spreadsheet and then the points are plotted on a map.  A single deployment can last 8 hours.  That is a lot of data logging!  These documents provide back up in case something were to happen to the data that is stored electronically.   I will have other jobs also, and to get ready for those duties, Lizet helped me get to know the TowCam better by explaining each component.

Students:  See if you can find each part Lizet showed me on the picture of the TowCam in my last blog.

 

The camera on TowCam faces down to capture images in the deep ocean

Camera– The camera is the most important part of the TowCam.  You need a very special camera that will work in cold deep water.  When the TowCam is close to the ocean floor this digital camera takes one picture every 10 seconds. The thumbnails or samples of the pictures are sent to computers on the ship by the data link. The camera operator described the thumbnails like the picture you see when you look at the back of your camera. When I look at the thumbnails I don’t usually see much in the picture.  The scientists know what they are looking for, and they can recognize hard bottom on the ocean floor and corals.  They see fish and other sea creatures too, and when they see a picture they like, they will ask the ship navigator to “hold the setting” so they can take more pictures.  Remember, the scientists are trying to find corals, or places where corals might live.  If they have a picture, they have proof that these special animals live in a certain habitat that should be protected.

Strobe light– There are two strobe lights on the TowCam.  The deep ocean does not have

Strobe light illuminates the darkness of the deep ocean

natural lighting because the sunlight does not reach down that far.  The strobe light flashes each time a picture is taken.  If the TowCam did not have these special lights, you would not be able to see any of the pictures from the camera.  These lights are tested every time the TowCam is deployed.

The CTD measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

      CTD- The CTD is an instrument that has sensors to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth in a certain water column.  It is attached to the TowCam and the information from the CTD is sent to the computers through the datalink.  This information gives the scientists a better understanding about the ocean water and the habitat for the creatures they are looking for.  Look for more components on the TowCam.  How do you think the TowCam gets its power?

 

Personal Log

I am getting adjusted to life at sea.  For the first few days, when we were still on the dock I did not have much to do.  ESN Zygas gave me a job and let me find updates for the navigational charts that are stored on the bridge.  The charts are maps of the oceans and waterways that help the NOAA Corps team steer the boat, and these charts get updated when markers like buoys are moved or when the water depths and locations change.  Up-to-date charts keep the ships safe.  I was glad to do a job that helped keep us safe.  Now that we are at sea, I have been working my watch.  The work varies.  We have hours of watching TowCam on the bottom of the sea and charting the positions of the ship. Then we have the excitement when the camera comes on-board with pictures and samples that need to be processed.

One of the best things about this experience is that I am the student just like my students at Lowell.  I am excited to learn all of the new things, but I am frustrated when I don’t understand.  Sometimes I am embarrassed when I have to ask questions.  Yesterday I was working with some of the images and I was looking for fish. All I had to do was write “yes” there is a fish in this photo.  Well, I had to ask Dave (one of the scientists) for help.  I had to ask, “Is this a fish?”  Can you imagine that?  A teacher like me not knowing a fish!  It was like finding the hidden pictures in the Highlight magazine!

So instead of being frustrated, I am open to learning new things.  I keep practicing and try not to make mistakes, but when I do make those mistakes, I just try again. By the time we go through the thousands of pictures I may not be a pro, but I will be better.  I can see that I am improving already.  I can find the red fish without zooming in -the red color probably helps!

Next time:  Wait until you see who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  You won’t believe what they brought back with them.

Until next time:)