June Teisan, Tuna: From Plankton to Plate (and a side of STEM careers), May 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
June Teisan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 1 – 15, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Plankton Study
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, May 15, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

tuna

Tuna (photo from NOAA Fisheries)

Bluefin tuna are incredible creatures. Remarkably fast predators, they can swim at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and dive deeper than 3000 feet. They hunt smaller fish and invertebrates, and grow to between 6 to 8 feet long and weigh in at 500 pounds on average. Bluefin tuna are prized for their meat in the US and in other countries. Because bluefin tuna are relatively slow-growing, they are more vulnerable to overfishing than species that are faster growing or more productive. Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn in the western Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico. Since the early 1980s, NOAA has worked to conserve and manage the stock of bluefin tuna by monitoring stock in the Gulf of Mexico.

The data collected on plankton cruises provides one piece of the complex puzzle of the regulation of commercial and recreational fishing. Ichthyoplankton data is added to findings from trawl teams catching juvenile sizes of certain species, analysis of gonads and spawn from adult fish caught on other cruises, and other stock assessment information. Data analysis and modeling examine these information streams, and serve as the basis of stock assessment recommendations brought to policy makers.

Below is how we collect the plankton:

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Hosing down the Neuston net to collect plankton in the codend.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Plankton from codend is transferred to sieve.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Sieve is tilted and plankton is transferred to sample jars.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Transferring plankton to sample jar.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Sample jar is topped off with preservative solution.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Jars are labeled and boxed for analysis in the lab.

Spring ichthyoplankton surveys have been conducted for over 30 years, and my Teacher at Sea time has been an amazing glimpse behind the scenes of NOAA’s critical work maintaining the health of our fisheries.

SEAMAP Full Cruise (3)

SEAMAP Cruise Track May 1 – 15, 2015

Personal Log:

I expanded my career queries beyond the NOAA science team to interview a few of the ship’s crew members aboard the Oregon II and heard some terrific stories about pathways to STEM careers.

Laura

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

 

ENS Laura Dwyer – Navigation Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Laura’s career path began with a bachelor’s degree in International Business. After college she spent time as caretaker for her aging grandmother, then moved to Bali and certified as a scuba instructor. When she returned to the states, Laura investigated the NOAA Corps, and took more university courses for the science credits she needed to apply. In doing so she earned her Master’s in Marine Biology. Laura began her Basic Officer Training in NOAA Corps in January 2013, graduated, and now serves her country as Ensign on the Oregon II.

Best Part of Her Job: Laura knows she has a ‘cool’ job: she gets to pilot a 170 foot vessel.

Favorite Teacher: Mrs. Coppock. Laura’s 3rd grade teacher…She was in her late 60s or early 70s but every year Mrs. Coppock would start the school year by doing a head stand in front of the class. The inspirational lesson behind this gymnastic move was two-fold: Women can do anything they set their mind to, and age is just a number.

Larry

LTJG Larry Thomas – Operations Officer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Larry earned a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology.  He worked as a fisheries observer out of NOAA’s Galveston, Texas lab, and volunteered as a guest biologist on NOAA vessels Gordon Gunter and Oregon II. Larry was raised in a military family with both parents serving in the Army, but had not known about the NOAA Corps until he met Corps officers during his time on NOAA vessels. Larry graduated with BOTC 116 in June 2010 and serves as Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG)on the Oregon II.

Best Part of His Job: Larry appreciates that his work allows him to do and see things most people don’t experience, like being up close with 8-10 foot tiger sharks brought in on long line survey cruises or a rare encounter with sea turtles that have been tagged and released.

Favorite Teachers: Frank Ramano and George Cline, both college professors who were passionate about their work and helpful with any questions, offering guidance when Larry needed it.

Olay

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Olay Akinsanya – Junior Engineer, Oregon II

Path to a STEM Career: Olay chose a career in the military because it was a great combination of hands on work and potential for training and further education. He served 8 years in the Navy, earning a GSM certification (Gas turbine Systems Mechanic). After his military service, he took exams with the Coast Guard to certify to be able to stand engine watch, which means qualified to be responsible for entire engine room. Olay then found out about NOAA through a friend and now works as a junior engineer on the Oregon II. He enjoys the work and finds it a good fit for his schedule; the shorter trips allow him to visit on shore with his daughter regularly.

Best Part of His Job: The opportunity to continue to build his skills and experience, to advance his career. And the food is good!

Favorite Teacher: Adrian Batchelor, a teacher at Mid-Atlantic Maritime School. “Mr. Batchelor is retired military, holds a GSM, and spent a lot of time with me, explained the job, encouraged me to reach out at any time. He’s been a great mentor.”

Classroom Fish ID Activity:

Correctly identify the “by catch” fish we brought up in our plankton nets. (Hint: we netted Flying Fish, Mahi Mahi, Half Beak, Little Tunny, File Fish, Sargassum Trigger Fish, Chub, Burr Fish, and Sargassum Fish). Enter your answers as a comment to this post!

B

Specimen A

C

Specimen B

A

Specimen C

G

Specimen D

E

Specimen E

F

Specimen F

 

D

Specimen G

Shout out to the students in Ms. Meredith Chicklas’ classes at  in Troy, Michigan, and in Ms. Kelly Herberholz’s classes at Dakota High School in Macomb, Michigan! 

A BIG thank you to the NOAA Fisheries Staff in Pascagoula, Mississippi, to the officers and crew of the Oregon II, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program Staff for this incredible adventure.

Dave Murk: Three 2’s From the Okeanos Explorer, May 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping
Geographical Area of Cruise: Off the Coast of Florida and Georgia – Western portion of the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa)
Date: May 10, 2014

Weather data from Bridge:
Temperature 25 degrees celsius (can you convert to Fahrenheit?)
WInd – From 160 degrees at 14 knots (remember north is 0 degrees)
Latitude : 28 degrees  – Longitude: 79 degrees.

 

Science and Technolgy Log:

Two of the goals for this expedition. (There are a lot more)

Expedition coordinator Derek Sowers said his best case scenario for this mission is to meet all the cruise objectives. The main one- an aggressive 24/7 campaign to map as much seafloor as possible within top priority mapping areas offshore of the Southeast United States and along the canyons at the edge of the Atlantic continental shelf.

L – R – Chief Scientist Derek Sowers, Vanessa Self-Miller, Kalina Grabb

In addition to that mapping goal, he wants the visiting fisheries scientist on board to get good water samples for the Ocean Acidification Program and good samples from the plankton tows. Last but not least, he “wants the mission team to have a great learning experience.”

The ship has three different sonars, each of which is good for different things. One sonar sends out a single beam of sound that lets you see fish and other creatures in the water column. Another sonar sends powerful sounds that bounce back off the bottom and gives you information about the geology (rocks and sediment) of the seafloor. Perhaps the most impressive sonar onboard is the multi-beam sonar. You know how your garden hose has a setting for jet spray when you want to aim it at your brother who is 10 feet away? The water comes out in a straight narrow line. But there’s also another setting called ‘shower” or wide spray. The multibeam sonar is like combining the best of both of these sprays into one and sends out a fan of sound that allows the scientists to map a broad section of the seafloor. By measuring how long it takes this sound to reach a patch of seafloor and return to the ship, it is possible to estimate the distance and that is how the shape of the seafloor can be mapped. Using this technology enables NOAA to map the seascape in order to better protect marine habitat and reduce harm from human activities. Mapping the marine protected areas off the east coast of Florida and Georgia is important because there are deep sea corals in this area and it is important fisheries habitat.

Chris Taylor – NOAA Fisheries

This cruise features a visiting scientist from NOAA Fisheries, named Chris Taylor. Chris’s part of the expedition includes collecting water samples and towing a net that can collect very small creatures called plankton. Chris is specifically examining the plankton he catches to see if bluefin tuna use this part of the ocean to lay eggs and raise young tuna. Samples from the net will go back to a lab to be analyzed to make sure they are bluefin and not yellowfin tuna.

Chris spent most of this windy but warm night tying a rope to the net that he’ll use for HOPEFULLY – catching some baby Bluefin Tunas. Like insects, Bluefin tuna go through an egg stage THEN a larva stage. When they are very small they drift with the currents with the rest of the ocean community. Once a larva is over 7 millimeters, they can avoid the net. But If we find some Bluefin tuna – it may mean that we have found a new spawning ground for Bluefin tuna in the southern North Atlantic.

Personal Log:

Lt. Emily Rose instructs AB Tepper-Rasmussen in radar navigation techniques.

Two people who make this ship run so well:The operations officer – Lieutenant Emily Rose. Officer Rose can usually be found on the bridge of the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer. Today she was teaching a course on small craft navigation before I caught up with her. The thing she really loves about this position is that there are new set of challenges each day. She is always learning (and I’ll add that she is almost always sharing that knowledge with others) but the ship is her first responsibility. The most difficult thing is getting up every morning before 3:00 a.m. and being away from everyone back home.

 

 

Electronics Technicians Conway and Okeson

Chief Electronics Technician Richard Conway and Electronics Technician Will Okeson are the Tech guys and they are always busy. Since Okeanos Explorer is America’s premier ocean exploration ship, there are a lot of computers, miles of cable and lots of video equipment to maintain. Richard and Will’s favorite part of the job is when all the parts work together and the public can see their product and when they can trouble shoot and help the science team reach their objectives. The most difficult thing it so be away from families when there is a crisis or joyous moment.

Two things about my personal experiences so far on EX-14-03 (our mission)

Using photometer to monitor aerosol properties. (photo taken by Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb

Using photometer to monitor aerosol properties. (photo taken by Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb

First – – “SCIENCE RULES” to quote Bill Nye. Every Okeanos Explorer crew member and scientific crew member are all about the science of the mission. When one of the science crew is going to launch something called an XBT over the side, they call and get an OK from the bridge (where the captain or second in command and the crew that are on “watch” are located). No one hesitates to ask questions of each other. Why is this? What is that? Where is the nearest ship? What’s for lunch? (just kidding ! Chief Steward Randy posts a menu every day and it beats out Golden Corral any day of the week for tastiness and diversity). But the important thing of the mission is the science and every single person on the ship works to make the mission a success.

Second – RESPECT – There is so much respect shown on the Okeanos Explorer. It’s respect for other people, for the ship, for the environment, for rules and for commons spaces.  Yesterday while on the bridge, Ensign Nick Pawlenko was taking over from Commander Ramos and they both showed such respect for rules and for each other by going over all the observations of the ship’s speed, the weather conditions and whether there were any other ships in the area.  When breakfast was over – I saw Operations Officer Rose stick her head in the galley (kitchen) and thank Chief Cook Ray and Chief Steward Randy for a great meal. No one slams doors since it might wake the crew and scientists who are on night duty. Everyone cleans up after themselves. If you ever have a question and if the crew or scientists can answer it, they will. There is respect for the environment when we separate our garbage each meal.   If only the whole world was like the Okeanos.

 

MYSTERY PICTURE – Here are two photos – what’s different about them? And WHY?? That’s the million dollar question (or an even better prize –bluefin tuna larva in our trawl nets )

IN the mess (dining area)

(see anything different?)

(see anything different?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emilisa Saunders: Finding the rhythm aboard the Oregon II, May18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emilisa Saunders

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

May 14, 2013 – May 30 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 18, 2013

Weather Data: Wind Speed: 13.94 knots; Surface water temperature: 25.4;  Air temperature: 26.4; Relative humidity: 87%; Barometric pressure: 1,015.33 mb

IMG_1991

Science and Technology Log:

For the scientists on board the Oregon II, each shift follows roughly the same routine.   When we start our shift, we check in at the dry lab to see how much time we have until the next sampling station.  These stations are points on the map of the Gulf of Mexico; they were chosen to provide the best coverage of the Gulf waters.  Our ETA, or estimated time of arrival, is determined by how fast the ship is moving, which is influenced by wind and currents, which you can see in the map below.  A monitor mounted in the dry lab shows us a feed of the route mapping system that is used by the crew on the Bridge to drive the ship.  This system allows us to see where we are, where we are headed, and what our ETA is for the next station.  We also get warnings from the Bridge at one hour, at thirty minutes, and at ten minutes before arrival.

Gulf Currents

The currents in the Gulf of Mexico, plus our planned route.  Image courtesy of NOAA.

At the 10-minute mark, we put on our protective gear – more on that later in this post – and bring the cod ends up to the bow of the boat, where we attach them to the ends of the appropriate nets.  Then, we drop the Bongo nets, the regular Neuston net, the Sub-surface Neuston net, and the CTD into the water, in that order.  These all go down one at a time, and each one is pulled out and the samples collected before the next net goes in.

Neuston

Towing the Neuston net on the night shift

The idea of dropping a net into the water probably sounds pretty simple, but it is actually a multiple-step process that requires excellent teamwork and communication amongst several of the ship’s teams.  The scientists ready the nets by attaching cod ends and making note of the data that tracks the flow of water through the net.  Because the nets are large and heavy, and because of the strong pressure of the water flowing through the nets, they are lifted into the water using winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The crew members operate the machinery, and guide the nets over the side of the ship.  While this is happening, the crew members communicate by radio with the Bridge, providing them with information about the angle of the cable that is attached to the net, so that the Bridge can maintain the a speed that will keep the net at the correct angle. At the same time, a scientist in the dry lab monitors how deep the net is and communicates with the deck crew about when to raise and lower the nets.  This communication takes place mostly over walkie-talkies, which means that clear and precise instructions and feedback are very important.

Operating the winches

Crewmember Reggie operating the winch, while crewmember Chris measures the angle of the cable

When each net is pulled back out of the water after roughly 5-10 minutes, we use a hose to spray any little creatures who might be clinging to the net, down into the cod end.  At stations where we run the MOCNESS, we head to the stern of the ship, where the huge MOCNESS unit rests on a frame.  Lowering the MOCNESS takes a strong team effort, since it is so large.  After we retrieve each net, we detach the cod ends and bring them to the stern, where a station is set up for us to preserve the specimens.  I’ll go into more detail about the process of preserving plankton samples in a later post.

Hosing down the nets

Alonzo, hosing down the Bongo nets before bringing them aboard.

We’ve had a couple of nights of collecting now, and so far it has been completely fascinating.  I’m in awe of the variety of organisms that we’ve come across.  The scientists on my shift, Glenn and Alonzo, are super knowledgeable and have been very helpful in explaining to me what we are finding in the nets.  Although this is a Bluefin Tuna study, we collect and preserve any plankton that ends up in the nets, which can include copepods, myctophids, jellies, filefish larvae and eel larvae, to name a few.  When we get the samples back to shore, they will be sent to a lab in Poland, where the species will be sorted and counted; then, the tuna larvae will be sent back to labs in Mississippi or Florida for further study and sometimes genetic testing.

My favorite creature find so far has been the pyrosome.  While a pyrosome looks like a single, strange creature, it is actually a colony of tiny creatures called zooids that live together in a tube-shaped structure called a tunic.  The tunic feels similar to cartilage, like the upper part of your ear.  Pyrosomes are filter feeders, which means they draw in water from one opening, eat the phytoplankton that passes through, and push out the clean water from the other end.  So far on the night shift, we’ve found two pyrosomes about four inches in length and one that was about a foot long; the day crew found one that filled two five-gallon buckets!

Me holding a pyrosome.  So neat!

Me holding a pyrosome. So neat!

Alonzo and the pyrosome

Alonzo holding the pyrosome

Challenge Yourself:

Hello, Nature Exchange Traders!  Pick one of the of the zooplankton listed in bold above, and research some facts about it: Where does it live?  What does it eat?  What eats it?  Write down what you find out and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them Emmi sent you!

Gumby Suit

In the Gumby suit, practicing the Abandon Ship drill. Photo by Glenn Zapfe

Personal Log:

Safety is the top priority on board the Oregon II.  We wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of our scientific goals if people got hurt and equipment got damaged.  We started our first day at sea with three safety drills: the Man Overboard drill, the Abandon Ship drill and the Escape Hatch drill.  For Man Overboard, everyone on board gathered, or mustered, at specific locations; for the Science team, our location was at the stern, or back of the ship.  Aft is another word for the back.  From there, we all scanned the water for the imaginary person while members of the crew lowered a rescue boat into the water and circled the Oregon II to practice the rescue.

For the Abandon Ship drill, we all grabbed our floatation devices and survival suits from our staterooms and mustered toward the bow, or front of the ship.  I got to practice putting on the survival suit, which is affectionately called a Gumby suit.  In the unlikely event that we would ever have to abandon ship, the suit would help us float and stay relatively warm and dry; it also includes a whistle and a strobe light so that aircraft overhead can see us in the water.

For the Escape Hatch drill, we all gathered below deck where our staterooms are, and climbed a ladder, where crew members helped pull us up onto the weather deck (the area of the ship exposed to weather) on the bow of the ship.  This is meant to show us how to escape dangers such as fire or flood below deck.

Safety gear

Safety gear on; ready for station!  Photo by Glenn Zapfe

But safety isn’t just practiced during drills; it’s pretty much a way of life on the ship.  Whenever winches or other machinery are in operation, we all have to wear hard hats and life jackets; that means that we wear them every time we reach a station and drop the nets.  We are also all required to wear closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes at all times, unless we’re sleeping or showering.  Another small safety trick that is helpful is the idea of, “keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship.”  That means we carry gear in one hand and leave one free to hold onto the swaying ship.  This has been really useful for me as I get used to the ship’s movements.

Until next time, everyone – don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Emilisa Saunders: A Desert Dweller Goes to Sea, April 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14 – 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Emilisa, but you can call me Emmi. I’m about to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m so glad you’ve decided to join me.

Annular Eclipse

Standing in the light of an annular eclipse at the Springs Preserve.

For six years now, I’ve worked at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I have the best job: I’m a Naturalist, which means I get to teach kids and their families about nature. Some of you may know me from the Nature Exchange, which is a natural item trading center where kids bring items they’ve collected from nature – rocks, fossils, sea creatures, dead bugs, plant parts, etc. – to learn about those objects and trade them for other natural items from all over the world. This program is so much fun, more than 8000 kids have signed up to trade in the past six years. It’s a ton of fun for me, too. Every day I soak up whatever knowledge I can about the natural world so that I can show kids all that there is to love about nature, science and learning.

Last Fall, I heard about a program that lets teachers explore nature and science in the most amazing way: the teachers help scientists study sea creatures from aboard an actual research ship at sea! This program is called Teacher at Sea, and it is offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. NOAA is in charge of studying the weather, climate, oceans and shores. They share what they learn with all of us, and help to protect our environment and natural resources. Through the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA chooses 25-30 teachers each year to spend several weeks aboard ships, learning about how NOAA scientists study amazing ocean environments, about the jobs that people do at sea, and about how teachers can use science skills to study the natural world.

As soon as I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew I had to apply. What an amazing opportunity! I sent my application and waited very impatiently for a couple of months. I checked my email every day, even when I knew it was far too early to find out. Finally, I got the email I had been waiting for: I had been chosen for the program! On May 14th, I’ll be heading out to sea to study plankton in the Gulf of Mexico on the NOAA ship Oregon II!

NOAA Ship Oregon II

NOAA Ship Oregon II, courtesy of NOAA

The Oregon II is like a floating science lab. It sails out of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is 170 feet long, which is more than half the length of a football field. On the ship, scientists collect samples of living creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean, so that they can study how healthy the oceans are. There are labs right on board the ship, and the scientists bring samples back to be studied in labs on shore, too.

You can actually track the ship while it’s at sea to see where we are in the Gulf! Just click here and select the Oregon II: NOAA Ship Tracker

The Narrows

Hiking the Narrows at Zion National Park with my husband, Doug.

Now, I love adventures that let me spend time in nature. I love to hike and go for long runs, and I’m even learning to SCUBA dive with my husband, Doug. Even so, this is going to be a very new experience for me. I grew up in the tiny state of Vermont, which has lots of mountains and snow, but no oceans. I spent my summers swimming in lakes and ponds and only traveled to the Atlantic Ocean a few times. I spent just a few hours here and there on whale watching boats, and that’s it! Then, nine years ago, I moved even farther away from the ocean to Las Vegas, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where I fell completely in love with the hot, dry land and the tough creatures, large and small, that survive here.  I love to take trips to the ocean as often as possible, but I definitely spend most of my time landlocked!

When I’m on the Oregon II, I’ll be seeing, doing and learning things I never have before. I’ll get to know what it’s like to eat, sleep, work and live on a ship, and I’ll meet all the people who work hard to make the ship run. For the first time, I’ll also get to work with scientists and learn about the skills and tools they use to study creatures in the ocean. I can’t wait to meet all of these people who work at sea!

On this cruise, we’ll be collecting and studying plankton, which are the tiny plants and animals that drift in the ocean currents. Some of them are so small that we can’t see them without a microscope, but the entire ocean depends on them for food, and the whole world depends on them for the oxygen that we breathe. The plankton that we’ll be looking at the most closely are bluefin tuna eggs and larvae; larvae are very young fish. I still have a lot to learn about plankton, but I came across this amazing video; it’s beautiful to watch and is very interesting, too!

But there is one thing that I’ve learned by studying nature and teaching kids about the environment: everything is connected. Even though I’ll be travelling far away and studying ocean life, I’ll be able to come back to Las Vegas and teach families all about how our actions here in the desert affect other habitats all over the world. I am so excited that being a Teacher at Sea will help me show the kids I meet at the Springs Preserve all about how healthy oceans keep our desert healthy, too, and how they can grow up to be the scientists or ship crewmembers who protect our oceans.

I hope you check back on this blog from time to time to learn more about NOAA, plankton, and life at sea! I can’t wait to get started!