Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)
Date: September 7, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 15.09 N Longitude: 157 55.74 W Sea wave height: 8 ft Wind Speed: 1.9 knots Wind Direction: 179 degrees Visibility: 10 nautical miles Air Temperature: 12.8 C Barometric Pressure: 1010.45 mBar Sky: Clear
Science and Technology Log:
One of the more technologically interesting pieces of equipment we are using is the Bongo net. One of the main aspects of this cruise is the zooplankton survey. As I have stated before, this survey is important to studying the prey for the juvenile pollock and is done at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock so that scientists looking at the data can compare the ecology of the pollock with the ecology of their prey. The Bongo net is used to collect the zooplankton. This contraption is a series of two large and two smaller nets attached to metal rings. It gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.
The diagram on the left shows a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center). The picture on the right shows the Bongo we are currently using on the Oscar Dyson with two 60 cm nets and two 20 cm nets.
The bongo net design we are using includes two large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets and two small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets. The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton. The diagram above has just two nets, but our Bongo has 4 total nets. At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat. This records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the temperature, salinity, and conductivity of the water.
This whole process involves a lot of working together and communication among the scientists and crew. It usually involves three scientists, one survey tech, a winch operator, and the officer on the bridge. All members involved remain in radio contact to ensure that the operations run smoothly. Two scientists and the survey tech work on the “hero deck”. They oversee getting the nets overboard safely and back on the deck at the end of the evolution. The unit is picked up and lowered over the side of the ship by a large hydraulic wench attached to the side A-frame. Another scientist works in the data room at a computer monitoring the depth and angle of the Bongo as it is lowered into the water. As the Bongo net is lowered, the ship moves forward at approximately 2 knots (2.3 mph). This is done to keep the cable holding the Bongo at a 45-degree angle. A 45-degree angle of the wire that tows the Bongo is important to make sure that water flows directly into the mouth opening of the net. One of the scientists on the hero deck will constantly monitor the wire angle using a device called an inclinometer or clinometer and report it to the officer on the bridge. The bridge officer will then adjust the speed if necessary, to maintain the proper wire angle.
The depth the Bongo is sent down depends on how deep the water is in that area (you wouldn’t want an expensive piece of equipment dragging on the ocean floor). The Bongo is deployed to a depth of up to 200 meters or to a depth of no less than 10 meters from the bottom. When the Bongo is at the designated depth, the survey tech will radio the winch operator to bring the Bongo back up slowly. It is brought back up slowly at 20 meters per minute and the 45-degree angle needs to continue to be maintained all the way back up. When the Bongo reaches the surface and is lifted back into the air, the survey tech and two scientists grab it and guide it back onto the deck. This operation can be difficult when the conditions are windy, and the seas are rough.
Once the Bongo has been returned to the deck, the scientist that was in the data room will record the time of the net deployment, how long it took to go down and back up, how much wire was let out, and the total depth of the station. They will also come back out to read the flowmeters in order to see how much water has flowed through the net during the deployment. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted on the data sheet.
Next the nets are washed down with sea water, rinsing all material inside the net towards the codend. The codend is the little container at the end of the net where all the plankton and sometimes other organisms are collected. The codends can then be removed and taken into the Wet Lab to be processed with all the collected material placed in glass jars and preserved with formalin for future study.
These samples are then shipped to Seattle and then on to Poland where they are sorted, the zooplankton identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area. This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of the plankton in the water column and can provide good information on the overall health of the ocean as they indicate health of the bottom of the food chain. After all, a high density of pollock prey means there is a good feeding spot for juvenile walleye pollock, which in turn means more Filet-O-Fish sandwiches down the line.
Species caught during the last Shift:
Common NameScientific Name
Capelin M. villosus
Northern Smoothtongue L. schmidti
Walleye Pollock G. chalcogrammus
Eulachon or Candlefish T. pacificus
Arrowtooth Flounder A. stomas
Rockfish S. aurora
Smooth lumpsucker A. ventricosus
Prowfish Z. silenus
Sunrise Jellyfish C. melanaster
Lion’s Main Jellyfish C. capillata
Moon Jellyfish A. labiata
Bubble Jellyfish Aequorea sp.
Fried Egg Jellyfish P. camtschatica
As I have said, I am working with some interesting people with some very interesting stories. I am going to start sharing a little of their stories here.
How long have you been working with NOAA? What did you do before joining NOAA?
Laura has been a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps for almost seven years. Before joining NOAA, Laura attended James Madison University, earning her degree in International Business. She went to Bali, working as a dive instructor before moving on to Australia to do the same. While in Australia, she decided she wanted to study Marine Biology and came back to the states to study at George Mason University.
Where do you do most of your work?
Most of the time, she can be found on the bridge navigating the ship.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Laura said the most fun thing about the job is driving a 209-foot ship.
Why is your work important?
She gets to safely navigate the ship safely while working with scientists to help them get their work done.
How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?
Laura had the opportunity to be the second NOAA officer who completed a cross-agency assignment with the Navy. While there, she said she was able to show the Navy personnel that they were using NOAA products such as navigational charts and weather data. Most of them did not realize that these products were made by NOAA.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?
Laura said that while she was in Australia, she was working with another diver who was going out counting fish species for his PhD. She said that experience made her realize her father was right all along and she should have studied science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
Driving ships. She also stated that she never expected to be part of a Navy Command and shooting small arms weapons.
What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?
A lot of your regular classes, but definitely any conservation classes.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?
“Unnatural History of the Sea” – about overfishing throughout history
“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
Laura said she would probably be going back to school to work on her Masters in Marine Biology, particularly coral conservation, or going to Fiji to be a dive instructor.
Do you have any outside hobbies?
Diving, reading, working on puzzles, and just being outside exploring (I also understand that she is a pretty good water polo player.)
Did You Know?
For each minute of the day, 1 billion tons of rain falls on the Earth.
Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.
Question of the Day:
The fastest speed of a falling raindrop is __________.
Life aboard this research vessel is fast-paced and absorbing. I feel like I am a child in a toy shop, eager to learn and blog about so many of the happenings around me! I spend much of my time high above in the flying bridge (above the bridge) with a panoramic 360 degree view of the horizon, documenting seabirds and mammals with colleagues—more on this later. We suspend our surveying when the ship reaches a sampling station. We have about 150 random sampling stations out in the ocean, ranging from close to coast (depth about 15 m) to right at the edge of the continental shelf (up to 500 m so far). Cruising about 9 knots (about 10 mph), the ship zigzags along a predetermined track, stopping anywhere between 15-30 minutes at each sampling station.
each station, an array of measurements are taken or specimens sampled.
In my previous blog, I described a state-of-the-art device called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB). But plankton are also sampled using more traditional methods. We deploy Bongo Nets for plankton sampling. Can you guess why they are called Bongos? See the photo below.
Note that there is a pair of bigger bongos and a pair of “baby” bongos. These nets are lowered by a j-frame (arm that can be extended off the side of the ship) and winch, at various depths into the water and towed for particular distances through the water. The time spent inside the water (5 minutes minimum) and the depth traversed (up to 200 meters) varies with station depth, but there is a Flowmeter at the mouth of each net that counts volume of water sampled. So all measurements are standardized by volume. The mesh size is 333 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter; 1 meter = 3.3 feet), meaning anything over 333 microns will be trapped. (To put that in perspective, most cells in your body are about 100 microns).
When they are pulled out, research personnel swing into action. Most of them are undergraduate volunteers from various universities eager to get their hands wet (literally and figuratively) doing marine science. The bigger bongo nets are hosed to flush all organisms to the bottom. Then the bottom is opened and contents flushed into a sieve. These samples are then preserved in formalin for future examination in labs on the mainland.
What happens to the contents of the pair of smaller bongos? Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh freezes the sample from one of them into small ziplock bags for a Florida lab which will conduct Stable Isotope Analyses. The other one’s contents are preserved in ethanol for genetic testing (Ethanol is far easier on DNA than formalin) to determine such aspects as taxonomy and phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships and use in larval fish age and growth studies.
what are Stable Isotope Analyses? If you are a beginning college student, you
may be unaware of this sophisticated and widely-used technique. (My ecology students should be well aware of
this!). Basically, the ratio of isotopes
of a chemical element in a given sample is used to yield insights into aspects
such as food preferences of the organism or to reconstruct its past
environmental conditions. It can also be
used to determine where the plankton originated and thus get insights into
ocean circulation. The analyses are done
with a device called mass spectrometer.
spoke with our Chief Scientist Harvey
Walsh about his career, research, and his advice for students.
Q. Harvey, tell us how a man from land-locked Minnesota ended up as a top marine biologist.
A. When I graduated from college I looked for a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but they were very competitive. So I applied for several NOAA positions from North Carolina down to the gulf coast. I got a job offer in NC. This was after my B.S. in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.
Q. You did an M.S. while working with NOAA?
A. Yes, I went back to school part-time and got my Masters. I then went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute [WHOI]
From WHOI you came back to NOAA?
Has ocean acidity changed since NOAA started EcoMon?
It is hard to say because of seasonal variability. We need more long-term data.
Is ocean acidity world-wide increasing?
That’s what I see in the scientific literature.
How about temperature?
A. Yes, the Northeast has seen an increase in water temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where it has increased about 0.9°C in about 4 decades.
Has EcoMon helped document declines in sharks or whales?
Again, we need long-term data for that.
Q. Can you name one recommendation from EcoMon that has benefited sea life?
We get larval fish data. Recently we
started calculating Atlantic Mackerel Egg Index in collaboration with Division
of Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the data indicated that there is a decline in
the adult population. This aided in the
determination to lower catch limits for that species.
Has the politics of climate change influenced your work?
A. No. I have not had anyone try to change my research or findings in any way. We have within NOAA good scientific integrity rules. We feel we have the ability to publish sound science research without any interference.
You are highly published. One of your
papers on larval fish otoliths was with my former student Michael Berumen. How are larval otoliths helpful in research?
A. One of the projects we have is trying to use larval hakes to examine stock structure (fish stock is a group of fish of the same species that live in the same geographic area and mix enough to breed with each other when mature) and estimate spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish). We have interns in the lab who remove otoliths and get daily growth increments. That allows us to estimate age of the larva and spawning seasonality.
Can you tell based on this where they hatched?
That’s where we are headed. Once we get
information on when they were born and where they were collected, we hope to
use oceanographic conditions to see if we can back-calculate where they may
have come from and thus plot spawning locations to aid in stock structure
One of the findings of past warming episodes is shrinking of foraminiferans and
other small shelled organisms. Is NOAA
monitoring size of plankton?
A. We are. That’s one of the projects we have just started: estimating size of Calanusfinmarchicus, or Cal fin [see photo below]. This is a copepod crustacean and an important food for the endangered Right Whales. We have a 40-yr time series and have seen evidence of declining size of late-stage and adult Cal fin. We are trying to see if this has resulted in a decline in their energetic value. They are a lipid-rich zooplankton. If their size is related to their lipid storage they may be less nutritious for their predators.
One of your papers indicated that about a third of fish and plankton species
assessed in the northeast are vulnerable to climate change. Is that trend continuing?
A. Yes, as we monitor we continue to see shifts
in fisheries, plankton, seabirds, and mammals.
Q. What is your advice to early college
undergraduates interested in marine science?
Be flexible. When I first started I
thought I’d stay in Minnesota and work on adult fish stocks. I ended up working
on larval fish and zooplankton. Not
focusing on one skill set and being able to adapt and look at various aspects
will help you in the long run.
At the end of the interview, Harvey gave me this card and encouraged students to contact him for volunteer opportunities with NOAA.
One of the best aspects of this voyage is the daily spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets. I spend a lot of time high up on the fly bridge assisting in sea bird, sea mammal, and sea turtle surveys. It’s also a treat to look around 360 degrees and see nothing but the horizon, nothing man-made except this big old ship gently bobbing up and down in the center, leaving a wide frothy wake behind. Yet, in the vastness of the ocean, we are but a mere speck. It really is humbling to experience this vista.
The ship crew are very serious about safety. We have periodic Fire and Emergency, Abandon Ship, and Man Overboard drills. A billet posted on my door advises where to report in each of these scenarios. We have “muster” points, meaning, where to meet, for each. I was trained to get into my Anti Exposure Suit in less than two minutes. That was easier said than done!
The food continues to be sumptuous and delicious, cooked by two expert stewards Margaret and Bronley. Never did I dream I will enjoy eggplant curry and coconut jasmine rice on a NOAA Ship far out into the sea.
Did You Know?
Hakes (see photo above) are lean whitefish belonging to the Cod family. They are known as Gadoids (Order Gadiformes) and are grouped with cods, haddocks, whiting, and pollocks. They are much sought-after for their delicate texture and mild flavor. We get some hake larvae in our plankton tows. Hake larvae are used by scientists for all kinds of studies. For example, their otoliths (tiny ear bones) can enable identification of species and even help determine where they were hatched (by Stable Isotope Analysis—see above). This information, combined with data on ocean currents and circulation, can help determine hotspots for hake reproduction to enable conservation and sustainable fisheries.
Interesting animals seen
Spotted Dolphins (riding the bow!)
In addition, several land birds on their south-bound autumn migration rested briefly on the ship. I was not expecting to see Prairie Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds on a pelagic (=ocean) cruise!
Latitude: 57° 01.32 N Longitude: 155 ° 01.21 W Wind Speed: 14.56 knots Wind Direction: 334° Air Temperature: 15.5°C Sea Temperature: 15°C Barometric Pressure: 1017 mbar
Science and Technology Log
Today marks our sixth day at sea. We are headed north into the Shelikof Strait between the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island. We are continuing along our survey stations with bongo nets and midwater trawls. A bongo net consists of two plankton nets mounted next to each other. These plankton nets are ring nets with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. Both nets are enclosed by a cod-end that is used for collecting plankton. The bongo net is pulled horizontally through the water column by a research vessel.
We are using a combination of four total bongo nets simultaneously to sample plankton. Two of our nets are 60 cm in diameter and the other two are 20 cm in diameter respectively. Depending on the depth at each station, the nets are lowered until they reach a depth of ten meters above the sea floor. Scientists and NOAA crew on the scientific deck must constantly communicate with the bridge via radio during this survey to maintain consistent wire angles. Ideally, the goal is to maintain the winch wire angle at 45° so that the water flow into the nets is parallel to the ocean floor.
Plankton are plants and animals that float along in the oceans’ tides and currents. Their name comes from the Greek meaning “drifter” or “wanderer.” There are two types of plankton: tiny plants called phytoplankton, and weak-swimming animals called zooplankton. Oceanic plankton constitute the largest reservoir of biomass in the world’s oceans. They play a significant role in the transfer of energy within the oceanic ecosystems. Ongoing plankton monitoring data is essential for evaluating ecosystem health and for detecting changes in these ecosystems.
Once the nets are brought back onto the deck, we immediately rinse the nets so that all of the plankton collects in the cod-end (the plastic tube attachment at the bottom). We carefully remove the cod-end tubes and bring them into the wet lab for processing. Using sieve pans, we filter the cod-end sample (plankton) into glass jars. We add formaldehyde and sodium borate to each jar to preserve the plankton for future analysis and study. NOAA Chief Scientist Matt Wilson informed me that all of the sample jars we collect on this expedition will actually be sent to the Plankton Sorting and Identification Center in Szczecin, Poland. Check out their website for more info: https://mir.gdynia.pl/o-instytucie/zaklad-sortowania-i-oznaczania-planktonu/?lang=en .
At even numbered stations, NOAA scientists on board will conduct a RZA (rapid zooplankton assessment) of samples collected using a microscope. This rapid assessment of plankton yields current data that allows scientists to quickly evaluate present-day ecosystem health and changes while they await more in-depth sample results and analysis from Poland.
Everything is still going great on day six at sea. Seas are remaining relatively calm, which I am very thankful for. I am actually sleeping more than I do at home. I am averaging about nine to ten hours sleep at night which is amazing! Most mornings, I get up and head down to the gym to run on the treadmill for some much needed exercise. As I said in my second blog, our meals have been delicious. Chief Steward Judy leaves us out some late night treats to help us get through our long shifts. I thoroughly enjoyed some late night ice cream to help me power through the last trawl of the night. I really like lunch and dinner time on the ship because it brings everyone together for a few minutes to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Most of the scientists and NOAA crew and officers have traveled all over the world on scientific vessels. It is fascinating to hear about all of their stories and adventures. I have already decided to add the ‘PolarTREC’ (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating in Antarctica and/or the Artic) Program to my bucket list for a few years down the road. My most favorite organism that we have caught in the trawl so far was this Smooth Lumpsucker.
Me and my buddy Mister Lumpsucker – Photos by Lauren Rogers
Did You Know?
The answers to day three blog’s temperature readings were 62.6°F for air temperature and 59°F for sea temperature.
All jellyfish are such weak swimmers that they too are considered plankton. There is also some scientific debate as to whether or not the Ocean Sun Fish (aka Mola mola) is considered a type of plankton. The sun fish is a passive planktonic creature which can only move vertically in the water column since it lacks a back fin. They have a long dorsal and anal fin that help them maneuver clumsily up and down in the water column.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeastern Coast of U.S.
Date: June 1, 2018
Weather From Bridge
Latitude: 41° 25.4′ N Longitude: 068° 16.3′ W Sea Wave Height: 1-2 ft Wind Speed: 16 kts Wind Direction: SE Visibility: Hz Air Temperature: 12.5°C Sky: OVC
Science and Technology Log
After completing a southern route past Long Island, New Jersey and Delaware, the HenryB. Bigelow headed north to the Gulf of Maine (GOM). The first sampling stations in GOM were located on the continental shelf close to the slope. After sampling in the Northeast Channel of the GOM, stations will be dispersed throughout the Gulf of Maine. Phytoplankton is continuously imaged through the Imaging Flow Cyto Bot and collection is going well. Below is a recent image taken. Can you find Thallasonemia or Ceratium?
At various stations instead of towing bongo nets with a CTD attached, a CTD, Rosette, is deployed with niskin bottles. CTD contain sensors that measure Conductivity (salinity), Temperature and Depth. The data gathered provides profiles of chemical and physical parameters of the ocean.
The great feature of the rosette is its ability to collect water using Niskin bottles as hydrographic instruments. Opened bottles are lowered into the ocean and at the desired depth a bottle is closed and brought to the surface without mixing with other water so pure samples can be taken at different depths. Back on board, water is taken from the Niskin bottles and nutrient, chlorophyll and carbon dioxide tests are run on the samples.
Georges Bank is in the southern part of the Gulf of Maine. The bank separates the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean. It is a huge shoal that is 100 meters higher than the surrounding ocean floor and is a very productive area of the continental shelf. The mingling of the Labrador current from the north and the Gulf stream on the eastern edge plus sunlight in shallow waters, creates an ideal environment for phytoplankton and zooplankton. Once a bountiful fishery, it is presently recovering from over fishing. Federal Fishery regulations aim to ensure recovery of the area and future sustainability. The data samples collected will give a good idea of the recovery of this area. The pink line below shows the route taken by our ship in the southern Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
When we were near the Northeast Channel in the Gulf of Maine, Latitude 41° 53.2′ N and Longitude 65°47.0′ W, I deployed a satellite-tracked Drifter Buoy decorated with our school name May River Sharks. The drifter buoy will send GPS and temperature data to a NOAA website and students will be able to track its path. This area was chosen to deploy because the Labrador current from the north meets with the Gulf Stream and hopefully the buoy will get caught up in one of the currents. It will be fun for students to track the buoy path in the fall. Wonder where it will go???
So far this trip the weather has been great. Seas have been calm and temperatures good. I have fallen into a nice routine each day. My shift concludes at midnight; I go to bed till 9:00AM; work out; shower and get ready for next 12 hour shift. I eat lunch and dinner each day and a midnight snack. The days are long but never boring. The crew aboard the Henry B Bigelow is awesome. Internet is sporadic but I was able to face-time with my daughter. Technology is a big part of this whole operation. All the programs collecting temperature, salinity and phytoplankton rely on computer programs to run. Second to the chef, the IT person is invaluable. They are trouble shooting problems all day to make sure the collection of data is working. During the longer steams from station to station, I have the opportunity to talk to crew and other scientists. Each person is excited about science. I have never been involved in real science research and I find each day to be fascinating. There is so much time and effort put into collecting the samples. This cruise will collect samples from over 100 stations that will be analyzed and supply much data to give a good picture of the state of our Northeast coastline waters and fisheries.
Today was the last day of school for the year for May River High School. Graduation is Tuesday and my thoughts will be with everyone. Congratulations to all my students, especially the seniors.
At Day 5, I am getting acclimated to life on the sea. Days are filled with data collection at randomly selected stations. One of the collections is of plankton, phytoplankton, zooplankton and ichthyoplankton. Plankton sampling has occurred since the early 19th century with simple collecting devices. In early ocean sampling, it was believed that plankton were evenly distributed throughout the ocean, so a sample taken anywhere would be a good representation for a large area. This idea is no longer supported. The belief is that there are large scale spatial variations in concentrations of plankton populations, which has lead to random sampling methods using bongo nets. Widely used since the 1970’s, bongo nets are named from their side by side configuration which makes them look like a set of bongo drums.
There are two sets of bongo nets the ship is using: a regular bongo with a diameter of 61 cm and 333 micron mesh and two different sets of baby bongos, 22 cm in diameter, and one set with 333 micron mesh and the other with 165 micron mesh for smaller organisms. As the station to sample is approached, the bridge announces “Ten minutes to Bongo!” and all scientists and crew get prepared to deploy bongos. They are lowered into the water with a crane and winch system and towed for 8 to 25 minutes, depending on the depth, at a speed of 1-2 knots There is an important communication between the bridge and the scientists during bongo deployment. The ship gets to the correct GPS and slows down for the tow. See video for deployment procedure:
A video of bongo deployment (no dialogue)
When nets are retrieved, the bongos are rinsed to collect all the samples to the cod-end of the net. The baby bongo samples are preserved in ethyl alcohol to be sent to the Narraganset Lab to look for fish eggs and larvae and to the University of Connecticut to get a census of marine zooplankton. The large bongo samples are preserved in formaldehyde to be sent to a lab in Poland to identify species and count numbers.
After nets are washed they are prepared for next station. The cod-ends are tied with the “Taylor” knot shown below. After many attempts and a very patient teacher, I finally learned how to tie this knot.
The questions scientists are trying to answer with the data from these samples are:
What living plankton organisms does the sea contain at a given time?
How does this material vary from season to season and year to year?
As scientist Chris Taylor reminded me, no sample is a bad sample. Each sample contributes to the conclusions made in the end. After samples are examined by the labs, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey.
I am enjoying every second of this cruise. We did hit rough seas but I had no effect due to wearing the patch. Hopefully, we will have calm seas as we head to the Gulf of Maine. The food is great. Chef Dennis prepares awesome meals. I am eating a lot!! Even had an ice cream bar set up last night. Life is very comfortable on the ship.
Chef Dennis prepare another great meal
INTERVIEW: Andrew Harrison and Maddie Armstrong
I choose to interview ship members Andrew Harrison and Maddie Anderson because they are in the process of earning their mariner licenses. Also, the perspective from a female in a male dominated career is of interest. I often get questions from students about opportunities in the marine science field. The marine science field has many paths to take. One path is research and another is earning a Merchant Mariner license. There are several ways to obtain a Merchant Mariners USCG license. The two most common paths are the hawsepiper and Maritime academy. The hawsepiper path begins with accumulating sea hours, taking training courses, completing board assessment and passing the USCG exam. This path can take up to 14 years to complete. In the Maritime college route, requirements for Merchant Mariner license can be complete in 4 years and earn a college diploma. The interviews below give some direction to pursuing a career on a ship.
Interviewees role on ship:
Andrew Harrison- assignment on ship- Crew Able Body
Maddie Armstrong –assignment on ship- student and science party volunteer
The connecting link between Maddie and Andrew is they both are affiliated with Maine Maritime Academy. Andrew graduated in 2015 and Maddie is presently a student. What interested me the most is that a Maritime degree could be granted through college studies. I had no idea this was an option for students interested in maritime careers. There are 7 Maritime academies across the US. https://www.edumaritime.net/usa/top-maritime-programs, each with their unique specialty. All programs are USCG approved and students earn license upon graduation through the US Coast Guard. From talking to Andrew and Maddie I feel attending college to earn a merchant mariners license prepares one better for life at sea.
What degree do you hold?
Andrew: I have a BA Vessel Operations and Technology and a 500 Ton license.
Maddie: I will graduate with double major BA in Marine Science / Vessel Operations and Technology. Presently I have a 200 ton license but the plan is to graduate with a 500 Ton and 3rd Mate license.
Where did your interest in marine science stem from?
Andrew: Since I was 14, I have been sailing and love the ocean
Maddie: Growing up in the middle of Maine, it was difficult to experience the ocean often. My parents would take me to the ocean as a reward or holiday gift.
What experiences do students at Maine Maritime Academy get to prepare for maritime license?
Maddie: The academy has a ship, The State of Maine, which is a moving classroom. Students practice navigation on the ship. There is also the Pentagoet Tug to practice barge pulling. Smaller vessels are available to practice to practice navigation on. At the academy you can practice on real ships.
Andrew: The Academy gives students a faster way to obtain license than a non collegiate Hawsepiper route. Through a maritime college you also earn a college degree and graduate with a license. The academy route is faster but also more expensive. To obtain a similar license without going to an academy would take up to 15 years. Plus the academy has connections to job opportunities after graduation.
What other ships have you worked on over the years?
Andrew: I was a deck hand on Spirit of South Carolina; worked on yachts out of Charleston; Space X barge AD- collected rocket after launch
Maddie: I have had some experience on a lot of different vessels through the academy. I started working on the Schooner Bowdoin and Brig Niagara for a summer. Then moved on to charter boats and small cruise ships.
What advice would you give a student who is interested in pursuing a Merchant Mariners license?
Andrew: Volunteer on ships as much as you can. Experience on a Schooner is invaluable. Be prepared to put in the time.
Maddie: You have to be self driven and want to be on the water. You also have to be self confident and willing to give it your all at a moments notice.
How much time can a merchant mariner expect to spend at sea each year?
Andrew: It varies with the vessel and cruise. It can be 9 months at sea and 3 months off; 60 days at sea; and 69 days off; 5-7 weeks on and 3-5 off. The bottom line is to be prepared to be away from home for long periods of time.
What are your interests and hobbies when you are on shore?
Andrew: Fishing, sailing, scuba, reading and video games.
Maddie: I like to read, hike and learn to play instruments. Now I am learning to play a didgeridoo- a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians.
Where do you see yourself working in 10 years?
Maddie: Working on a research vessel with ROV exploration.
Andrew: In 10 years, I plan to be a 1600 Ton Master Captain working for NOAA or another cruise company.
At each sampling site, we take two types of samples. First, we dip what are called bongo nets into the water off of the side of the boat. These nets are designed to collect plankton. Plankton are tiny organisms that float in the water. Then, we release long nets off of the back of the boat to take a fish sample. There is a variety of fish that get collected. However, the study targets five species, one of which is juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. These fish are one of the most commercially fished species in this area. I will go into more detail about how the fish samples are collected in a future post. For now, I am going to focus on how plankton samples are collected and why they are important to this survey.
As you can see in the photos below, the bongo nets get their name because the rings that hold the nets in place resemble a set of bongo drums. The width of the nets tapers from the ring opening to the other end. This shape helps funnel plankton down the nets and into the collection pieces found at the end of the nets. These collection devices are called cod ends.
This study uses two different size bongo nets. The larger ones are attached to rings that are 60 centimeters in diameter. These nets have a larger mesh size at 500 micrometers. The smaller ones are attached to rings that are 20 centimeters in diameter and have a smaller mesh size at 150 micrometers. The different size nets help us take samples of plankton of different sizes. While the bongo nets will capture some phytoplankton (plant-like plankton) they are designed to mainly capture zooplankton (animal-like plankton). Juvenile pollock eat zooplankton. In order to get a better understanding of juvenile pollock populations, it is important to also study their food sources.
Once the bongo nets have been brought back on board, there are two different techniques used to assess which species of zooplankton are present. The plankton in nets #1 of both the small and large bongo are placed in labeled jars with preservatives. These samples will be shipped to a lab in Poland once the boat is docked. Here, a team will work to identify all the zooplankton in each jar. We will probably make it to at least sixty sampling sites on the first leg of this survey. That’s a lot of zooplankton!
The other method takes place right on the ship and is called rapid zooplankton assessment (RZA). In this method, a scientist will take a small sample of what was collected in nets #2 of both the small and large bongos. The samples are viewed under a microscope and the scientist keeps a tally of which species are present. This number gives the scientific team some immediate feedback and helps them get a general idea about which species of zooplankton are present. Many of the zooplankton collected are krill, or euphausiids, and copepods. One of the most interesting zooplankton we have sampled are naked pteropods, or sea angels. This creature has structures that look very much like a bird’s wings! We also saw bioluminescent zooplankton flash a bright blue as we process the samples. Even though phytoplankton is not a part of this study, we also noticed the many different geometric shapes of phytoplankton called diatoms.
Both the scientific crew and the ship crew work one of two shifts. Everyone works either midnight to noon or noon to midnight. I have been lucky enough to work from 6am – 6pm. This means I get the chance to work with everyone on board at different times of the day. It has been really interesting to learn more about the different ship crew roles necessary for a survey like this to run smoothly. One of the more fascinating roles is that of the survey crew. Survey crew members act as the main point of communication between the science team and the ship crew. They keep everyone informed about important information throughout the day as well as helping out the science team when we are working on a sample. They are responsible for radioing my favorite catchphrase to the bridge and crew, “bongos in the water.”
Did You know?
You brush your teeth with diatoms! The next time you brush your teeth, take a look at the ingredients on your tube of toothpaste. You will see “diatomaceous earth” listed. Diatomaceous earth is a substance that contains the silica from ancient diatoms. Silica gives diatoms their rigid outer casings, allowing them to have such interesting geometric shapes. This same silica also helps you scrub plaque off of your teeth!
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 3, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 12 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 270°W
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 Feet
Swell Wave: 1-3 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1009.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 10.2°C
Air Temperature: 11°C
Science and Technology Log
You may have begun to notice that there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each technique is used several times a day at the sampling stations. The baby bongo nets collect the same type plankton as the large bongos. The primary difference is that the samples from the baby bongos are preserved in ethanol, rather than formalin. Chief Scientist, David Richardson explained that ethanol is being used more and more as a preservative because the solution allows scientists to test specimens’ genetics. Studying the genetics of plankton samples gives researchers a greater understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity. Genetics seeks to understand the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring, including the molecular structure and function of genes, gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism, gene distribution, and variation and change in populations.
The big bongos use formalin to preserve plankton samples. Formalin has been used by scientists for decades, mainly because the preservative makes it easier for labs to study the samples. Today’s scientists continue to use formalin because it lets them compare their most recent sampling data to that from years ago. This presents a clearer picture of how marine environments have or have not changed.
Every so often, we use smaller mesh nets for the baby bongos which can catch the smallest of zooplanktons. The specimens from these special bongo nets are sent to CMarZ which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. CMarZ are scientists and students interested in zooplankton from around the world who are working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. CMarZ samples are also preserved in ethanol. The goal of this organization is to produce a global assessment of marine zooplankton biodiversity, including accurate and complete information on species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, and genetic diversity. [Source — Census of Marine Zooplankton]. Their website is incredible! They have images galleries of living plankton and new species that have been discovered by CMarZ scientists.
Another interesting project that Chief Scientist, David Richardson shared with me is the Census of Marine Life. The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted on this scale. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists found and formally described more than 1,200 new marine species. [Source —Census of Marine Life] The census has a webpage devoted to resources for educators and the public. Contents include: videos and images galleries, maps and visualizations, a global marine life database, and links to many other resources.
It is incredibly important that we have institutes like CMarZ, the Census of Marin Life, and the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where samples from our EcoMon Survey are sent. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. At the lab in Poland, scientists remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens are sent back to U.S. where the data is entered into models. The information is used to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. The organization provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. [Source —NOAA Fisheries]
Vertical CTD Cast
In addition to collecting plankton samples, we periodically conduct vertical CTD casts. This is a standard oceanographic sampling technique that tells scientists about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and other biological and chemical parameters.
The instrument is a cluster of sensors which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure. Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal or resin housing, the material used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
Here’s how a vertical CTD cast works. First, the scientists select a location of interest (one of the stations for the leg of the survey). The ship travels to that position and stays as close to the same spot as possible depending on the weather as the CTD rosette is lowered through the water, usually to within a few meters of the bottom, then raised back to the ship. By lowering the CTD close to the bottom, then moving the ship while cycling the package up and down only through the bottom few hundred meters, a far greater density of data can be obtained. This technique was dubbed a CTD cast and has proven to be an efficient and effective method for mapping and sampling hydrothermal plumes. [Source —NOAA]
During the vertical CTD cast, I am in charge of collecting water samples from specified Niskin bottles on the rosette. The Niskin bottles collected water at different levels: surface water, maximum depth, and the chlorophyll maximum where the greatest amount of plankton are usually found. I take the collected seawater to the lab where a mechanism filters the water, leaving only the remainder plankton. The plankton from the water contains chlorophyll which a lab back on land tests to determine the amount of chlorophyll at different water depths. This gives researchers insight about the marine environment in certain geographic locations at certain times of the year.
Meet the Science Party
Meet Chief Scientist, David Richardson!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Chief Scientist for this 10 day cruise. A large part of the Chief Scientist’s role is to prioritize the research that will happen on a cruise within the designated time period. Adverse weather, mechanical difficulties, and many other factors can alter the original plans for a cruise requiring that decisions be made about what can be accomplished and what is a lower priority. One part of doing this effectively is to ensure that there is good communication among the different people working on the ship.
What is your educational/working background?I went to college at Cornell University with a major in Natural Resources. After that I had a number of different jobs before enrolling in Graduate School at the University of Miami. For my graduate research I focused on the spawning environment of sailfish and marlin in the Straits of Florida. I then came up to Rhode Island in 2008, and for the last 10 years have been working as a Fisheries Biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
What is the general purpose of the EcoMon Survey? The goal of the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) surveys is to collect oceanographic measurements and information on the distribution and abundance of lower trophic level species including zooplankton. The collections also include fish eggs and larvae which can be used to evaluate where and when fish are spawning. Over the years additional measurements and collections have been included on the EcoMon surveys to more fully utilize ship time. Seabirds and Marine Mammals are being identified and counted on our ship transits, phytoplankton is also being imaged during the cruise. Finally, the EcoMon cruises serve as a means to monitor ocean acidification off the northeast United States.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy pursuing scientific studies in which I can integrate field work, lab work and analytical work. As I have progressed in my career the balance of the work I do has shifted much more towards computer driven analysis and writing. These days, I really enjoy time spent in the lab or the field.
What is most challenging about your job?I imagine the challenge I face is the similar to what many scientists face. There are many possible scientific studies we can do in our region that affect the scientific advise used to manage fisheries. The challenge is prioritizing and making time for those studies that are most important, while deprioritizing some personally interesting work that may be less critical.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?By the end of high school I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in science. Early in college I settled on the idea of pursuing marine science and ecology, but it was not until the end of college that I decided I wanted to focus my work on issues related to fish and fisheries.
What is your favorite marine animal? Sailfish, which I did much of my graduate work on, remains one of my favorite marine animals. I have worked on them at all life stages from capturing the early life stages smaller than an inch to tagging the adults. They are really fascinating and beautiful animals to see. However, now that I live in Rhode Island I have little opportunity to work on sailfish which tend to occupy more southern waters.
In terms of local animals, one of my favorites is sand lance which can be found very near to shore throughout New England. These small fish are a critical part of the food web, and also have a really unique behavior of burying in the sand when disturbed, or even for extended periods over the course of the year. In many respects sand lance have received far less scientific attention than they deserve in our region.
Meet CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? CTD Specialist which means I install, maintain, and operate the CTD. The CTD is an electronic oceanographic instrument. We have two versions of the CTD on board the ship. We have larger instrument with a lot more sensors on it. It has water bottles called Niskin water samplers, and they collect water samples that we use on the ship to run tests.
How long have you been working at sea? I worked for six months at sea when I was in college for NOAA Fisheries on the Georges Bank. That was 30 years ago.
What is your educational background? I have a Marine Science degree with a concentration in Biology.
What is your favorite part about your work? I definitely love going out to sea and being on the ship with my co-workers. I also get to meet a lot of new people with what I do.
What is most challenging about your work? My instruments are electronic, and we are always near the sea which can cause corrosion and malfunctions. When things go wrong you have to troubleshoot. Sometimes it is an easy fix and sometimes you have to call the Electronic Technician for support.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite animal is when we bring up the plankton nets and we catch sea angels or sea butterflies. They are tiny, swimming sea slugs that look gummy and glow fluorescent orange.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am on the science team. I am an avian and marine mammal observer.
What is your educational/working background? I have a bachelor’s in science. I have spent much of my 20-year career doing field work with birds and marine mammals all around the world.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes. I have put in about 8,000 hours at sea. Going out to sea is a real adventure, but you are always on duty or on call. It’s exciting, but at the same time there are responsibilities. Spending time at sea is really special work.
What is most challenging about your work? Keeping your focus at times. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle as an animal observer. You have to provide as much data to the project as you can.
Where do you do most of your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?I am going to be up on the bridge level where the crew who pilots the vessel resides or above that which is called the flying bridge. On Gordon Gunter that is 13.7 meters above sea level which is a good vantage point to see birds and marine mammals.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? My binoculars. It is always around my neck. It is an eight power magnification and it helps me identify the birds and sea life that I see from the flying bridge. I also have to record my information in the computer immediately after I see them, so the software knows the exact place and time I saw each animal.
What is your favorite bird? Albatrosses are my favorite birds. The largest albatross is called a Wandering/Snowy Albatross. The Snowy Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird and its the longest lived bird. This bird mates for life and raises one chick every 3-5 years which they care for much like people care for their own babies.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? Primary seabird/marine mammal observer.
What is your educational background?I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Biology from the University of New England in Maine.
What has been your best working experience? That’s a tough one because I have had so many different experiences where I have learned a lot over the years. I have been doing field work for the past 11 years. Each has taught me something that has led me to the next position. The job I cherish the most is the trip I took down to Antarctica on a research cruise for six weeks. That was an amazing experience and something I would advocate for people to see for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being a bird/marine mammal observer? The excitement of never knowing what you are going to see next. Things can pop up anywhere. You get to ask the questions of, “how did this animal get here,” “why is this animal here,” and correlate that to different environmental conditions.
What is most challenging about your work? You are looking at birds from a distance and you are not always able to get a positive ID. Sometimes you’re just not seeing enough detail or it disappears out of view from your binoculars as it moves behind a wave or dives down into the water. For marine mammals all you see is the blow and that’s it. So, it is a little frustrating not being able to get an ID on everything, but you do the best you can.
What is your favorite bird? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I have a favorite order of bird. It’s the Procellariiformes which are the tube-nosed birds. This includes albatross, shearwater, storm petrels, and the fulmars.
Meet Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a student volunteer. I help deploy the equipment and collect the samples.
Do you have much experience working at sea? This is my second 10-day trip. I did the second leg of the EcoMon Survey last year as well.
What is your educational background? I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maine where I am studying ocean currents and how water moves. I also have my master’s degree in Marine Science, and my undergraduate degree is in Physics.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science? I have always wanted to study the oceans. I think I was at least in first grade when I was telling people I wanted to be a marine scientist.
What do you enjoy most about your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My favorite thing is being at sea, working hard, and enjoying the ocean.
Where will you be doing most of your work? Most of the work is going to be working with the equipment deploying. I will be on the aft end of the ship.
What is your favorite marine animal? Humpback whale, but it is really hard to pick just one.
Meet Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a volunteer. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Marine Science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. My graduate work is in Fisheries Research.
Where will you be doing most of your work on the ship?I will be doing the night shift. That is from midnight to noon every day. I will be doing the nutrients test which helps the scientists figure out what is in the water that might attract different creatures.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes, actually. When I was 19, I spent two weeks on a similar trip off the coast of Oregon. We were looking for Humboldt Squid. I also worked on the university’s research vessel as a crew member on one of their ocean trawl surveys.
What are your hobbies? I love being outside. I enjoy hiking and being on the water sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Humboldt Squid.
Meet Survey Tech, Maira Gomes!
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My position on Gordon Gunter is a volunteer. I got this opportunity from Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) where I have recently just graduated in January 2017 with my associates in Liberal Arts. Professor McNamara (Marianne McNamara) one of my professors at SCCC, forwarded me the email that was sent from Harvey Walsh looking for volunteers to work on Gordon Gunter for the Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. They had Leg 1 which was May 16th May -May 26th and Leg 2 May 29th-June 7th. I never had been out to sea! I got super excited and signed up for both legs!
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the ship I do mostly taking care of the Bongo Nets, CTD, and CTD Rosette. With the Bongo baby and large nets I help the crew to hook them up on a cable to set out to the ocean to retrieve the data from the CTD and all kinds of plankton that get caught in the nets. Once it comes back to the boat we hose the nets down and collect all the plankton and put them in jars filled with chemicals to preserve them so we can send them back to different labs. The Rosette is my favorite! We send out the Rosette with 12 Niskin bottles empty into the water. They come back up filled with water. We use this machine to collect data for nutrients, Chlorophyll, and certain types of Carbon. We run tests in the dry lab and preserve the samples to be shipped out to other labs for more tests.
What is your educational/working background? I just finished my associates in Liberal Arts at SCCC in January. In the Fall 2017 I will be attending University of New Haven as a junior working towards my bachelor degree in their Marine Affairs Program.
Have you had much experience at sea? Nope, zero experience out at sea! Which was one of the reasons why I was kind of nervous after I realized I signed up for both legs of the trip. I am glad I did. I am gaining so much experience on this trip!
What do you enjoy most about your work? It would be the experience I am gaining and the amazing views of the ocean!
What is most challenging about your job? The most challenging part of working on the ship would be the one-hour gap between some of the stations we encounter on our watch. It is not enough time to take a nap but enough time to get some reading in. It can be kind of hard to stay awake.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Tool I could not live without working on the ship would probably be the chart that has all our stations located.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career? Ha! This is a great question! So it all started, as I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. Once I was in fifth grade my teacher inspired me to be a teacher like herself, a Special Education teacher. I felt strongly with wanting to pursue a career in that field. It was not until my second year in college when I had to take a Lab course to fulfill my requirements for the lab credits, that I took a Marine Biology Lab. Once I was influenced and aware of this side of the world more in depth, I had a change of heart. Not only that but my professor, Professor Lynch (Pamala Lynch) also influenced me on changing my major to Marine Biology. I knew from the start I always wanted to be involved with animals but never knew exactly how, but once I took her class I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. With that being said, my goal is to be able to work with sharks someday and help to protect them and teach everyone the real truth behind their way of life and prove you cannot always believe what you see on TV.
What are your hobbies? I really love to line dance! I line dance about at least three times a week! I absolutely love it! I have made so many friends and learned so many really cool dances! I have been doing it about two years and through the experience of getting out of my shell I gain a whole new family from the country scene back at home! I also, love catching UFC fights on TV with my friends!
What is your favorite marine animal? I have multiple favorite marine animals. My top two picks would be sharks and sea turtles!
The Work Continues (Thursday, June 1)
After lunch the fog began to dissipate, letting in rays of sunshine. I could see the horizon once again! You do not realize the benefits of visibility until it is gone. Yet, even with the ability to see all of my surroundings, my eyes were met with same object in every direction—water! Despite the fact that the ocean consists of wave swells, ripples, and beautiful hues of blue, I longed to see something new. Finally, I spotted something on the horizon. In the distance, I could faintly make out the silhouette of two fishing boats. I was relieved to set eyes on these vessels. It might not seem like anything special to most people but when you are more than 100 miles from land, it is a relief to know that you are not alone.
Work during my shift is a distraction from the isolation I sometimes feel out at sea. When it is time for a bongo or CTD station, my mind becomes preoccupied with the process. My brain blocks all worries during those 30 minutes. Nonetheless, as quickly as a station begins, it ends even faster. Then we are left waiting for the next station which sometimes is only 20 minutes and other times is more than two hours away. The waiting is not so bad. In between stations I am able to speak with crew members and the science team on a variety of issues: research, ship operations, and life back on land. Every person on board Gordon Gunter is an expert at what they do. They take their work very seriously, and do it exceptionally well. Still, we like a good laugh every now and then.
TGIF! (Friday, June 2)
At home, Friday means it is practically the weekend! The weekend is when I get to spend time with family, run errands, go shopping, or just hang around the house. For those who work at sea like NOAA Corps and NOAA scientists, the weekend is just like any other day. The crew works diligently day and night, during holidays, and yes, on the weekends. I can tell from first-hand experience that all personnel on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter are dedicated and high-spirited people. Even when the weather is clear and sunny like it was today, they continue their duties work without wavering. NOAA crew are much like the waves of the sea. The waves in the Northeast Atlantic are relentless. They don’t quit—no matter the conditions. Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion [Source —NOAA]. NOAA crew also have an energy passing through them. Whether it be the science, life at sea, adventure, love for their trade, or obligations back home, personnel aboard Gordon Gunter do not stop.
Today, we left Georges Bank and entered the Gulf of Maine where we will stay for the remainder of the cruise. The seabird and marine mammal observers had a productive day spotting a variety of wildlife. There have been sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Ocean Sunfish, and Right Whales to name a few. Even though I did not get photographs of all that was seen, I am optimistic about observing new and exciting marine wildlife in the days to come.
Plankton: the passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water
Phytoplankton: planktonic plant life
Zooplankton: plankton composed of animals
Larval Fish: part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton. Larval fish are themselves eaten by larger animals
Crustacean: any of a large group of mostly water animals (as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps) with a body made of segments, a tough outer shell, two pairs of antennae, and limbs that are jointed
Biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
Genetics: the scientific study of how genes control the characteristics of plants and animals
Did You Know?
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton use sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71% of the Earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic organisms also cycle most of the Earth’s carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. [Source — National Geographic].
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 1, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Patchy Fog
Visibility: 2-5 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 215°SW
Wind Speed: 6 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 Feet
Swell Wave: 2-5 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1012.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 11.2°C
Air Temperature: 11.2°C
Science and Technology Log
En route to our first oceanography station just past Nantucket, Electronics Technician Tony VanCampen and my fellow day watch scientist Leann Conlon gave me an overview on how each sampling is conducted. This is where the pieces of equipment I described in my previous blog post (bongo nets and CTD) come into play.
Science is very much a team effort. I learned that a deck crew will be in charge of maneuvering the winch and the J-frame. Attached to the cable will be the bongo nets and the CTD which are carefully lowered into the ocean.
Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton and other samples from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. At each station the bongo will be sent down to within 5 meters of the bottom or no more than 200 meters. After the bongo has reached its maximum depth for a particular station, the net is methodically brought back to the surface—all the while collecting plankton and sometimes other small organisms like tiny shrimp. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the bongo nets to be cast out and returned on board with the samples.
Once the bongo nets have returned from the water to the aft (back) deck, our work begins. As a part of the Science Party, it is my job to rinse the entire sample into containers, place the plankton into jars, add formalin to jars that came from the big bongos and ethanol to jars that came from the small bongos. These substances help preserve the specimens for further analysis.
At the conclusion of the cruise, our plankton samples will be sent to the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where scientists and lab crew sort and identify the plankton samples which gives NOAA scientist an idea of the marine environment in the areas in which we collected samples.
Our Chief Scientist is David Richardson. Dave has been with NOAA since 2008. He keeps track of the digits on the flowmeter (resembles a small propeller) inside the bongo. The beginning and ending numbers are input into the computer which factors in the ship’s towing speed to give us the total volume of water sampled and the distance the bongo net traveled.
At various oceanography stations we perform a CTD cast which determines the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean. The CTD is attached to the bongo nets or the CTD is mounted within a frame, which also holds several bottles for sampling seawater along with a mechanism that allows scientists on board the ship to control when individual bottles are closed. The CTD is connected to the ship by means of a conducting cable and data are sent electronically through this cable, in real-time, to the scientists on the ship. The scientists closely monitor the data, looking for temperature and particle anomalies that identify hydrothermal plumes. As the CTD is sinking to the desired depth (usually 5-10 meters from the bottom), the device measures the ocean’s density, chlorophyll presence, salinity (the amount of salt in the water), temperature, and several other variables. The CTD’s computer system is able to determine the depth of the water by measuring the atmospheric pressure as the device descends from the surface by a certain number of meters. There is a great deal scientists can learn from launching a CTD in the sea. The data tells us about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and more. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
It is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who operate the ship. For instance, NOAA officers inform the scientists about the expected time of arrival for each station and scientists will often call the bridge to inquire about Gordon Gunter’s current speed and the weather conditions. Even computer programs are connected and shared between NOAA Corps crew and the scientists. There is a navigation chart on the monitor in the bridge which is also displayed in the science lab so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. The bridge must always approve the deployments and recovery of all equipment. There are closed circuit video cameras in various places around the ship that can be viewed on any of the monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. Everyone on Gordon Gunter is very much in sync.
First Day at Sea (Tuesday, May 30)
Today, my shift began at 12 noon. It probably was not the best idea to have awakened at 6:00 a.m., but I am not yet adjusted to my new work schedule and I did not want to miss one of Margaret’s hearty breakfasts.
We cast out from the Naval Station Newport mid-morning. It was a clearer and warmer day compared to the day before—perfect for capturing pictures of the scenic harbor. I spent much of the morning videoing, photographing, and listening to the sounds of waves as they moved around the ship. I like to spend a lot of time on the bow as well as the flying bridge (the area at the top of the ship above the bridge where the captain operates the vessel). Before lunch, I was beginning to feel a little sea sick from the gentle swaying of the ship. I could only hope that I would find my sea legs during my first watch.
Gordon Gunter gracefully made its way alongside Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—two islands off the coast of Cape Cod. Standing on the flying bridge and looking out at the horizon alleviated my sea sickness. At this position I was able to observe and photograph an abundance of wildlife. Seeing the sea birds in their natural habitat is a reminder that I am just a visitor on this vast ocean which so many animals call home. Watching birds fly seamlessly above the waves and rest atop the water gives me a yearning to discover all I can about this unique ecosystem and ways in which we can protect it.
Scroll around the video to see the view from the ship’s bow in all 360-degrees.
The phrase, “to find one’s sea legs” has a meaning much deeper than freedom from seasickness. Finding your sea legs is the ability to adjust to a new situation or difficult conditions. Everything on board Gordon Gunter was new and sometimes difficult for me. Luckily, I have help from the best group of scientists and NOAA Corps crew a Teacher at Sea could ask for.
At 8:00 p.m. I was part of the leg’s first oceanography station operation. I watched closely as the bongo nets were tied tightly at the end then raised into the air by the winch and J-Frame for deployments into the sea. While the bongo nets and CTD were sinking port side, I looked out at the horizon and much to my amazement, saw two humpback whales surfacing to the water. The mist from their blows lingered even after they descended into the water’s depths.
Once the bongo nets where recovered from the ocean, the crew and I worked quickly but with poise. We used a hose to spray the nets so that all the plankton would reach the bottom of the net when we dumped them into a container. I observed fellow scientist Leann pour each bongo’s sample into a jar, which she filled with water and then a small portion of formalin to preserve the samples. It began and was over so quickly that what took about an hour felt like ten minutes.
An hour later we reached our second station, and this time I was ready! Instead of mostly observing as I did during the first time, this time I was an active participant. Yes, I have a lot left to learn, but after my first day at sea and three stations under my belt, I feel like my sea legs are growing stronger.
Scroll around the 360-degree video to see the Science Party retrieve samples from bongo nets.
Becoming a Scientist (Wednesday, May 31)
I am not yet used to working until midnight. After all, the school where I teach dismisses students by 3:30 p.m. when the sun is still shining. Not to worry, I will adjust. It is actually exciting having a new schedule. I get to experience deploying the CTD and bongo nets during day light hours and a night time. The ocean is as mysterious as it is wide no matter the time of day.
You never quite know what the weather is going to be from one day to the next out at sea. Since my arrival at the ship in Newport, Rhode Island I have experiences overcast skies, sunshine, rain, and now dense fog. But that’s not all! The forecast expects a cold front will approach from the northwest Friday. Today’s fog made it difficult for the animal observers to spot many birds of whales in the area. Despite low visibility, there is still a lot to do on the ship. After our first bongo station in the early afternoon, we had a fire and abandon ship drills. Carrying out of these drills make all passengers acquainted with various procedures to be followed during emergency situations.
I thoroughly enjoy doing the work at each station. Our sampling is interesting, meaningful, and keeps my mind off being sea sick. So far, I am doing much better than expected. The excitement generated by the science team is contagious. I now long for the ship to reach each oceanography station so I can help with the research.
So far the animals seen have been mostly birds. I am grateful to the mammal and seabird observers, Glen Davis and Nicholas Metheny. These two are experts in their field and can ID a bird from a kilometer away with long distance viewing binoculars.
[Source — Merriam-Webster Dictionary]
Barometer: an instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere and hence for assisting in forecasting weather and for determining altitude.
Altimeter: an instrument for measuring altitude; especially an aneroid barometer designed to register changes in atmospheric pressure accompanying changes in altitude.
Flowmeter: an instrument for measuring one or more properties (such as velocity or pressure) of a flow (as of a liquid in a pipe).
Salinity: consisting of or containing salt.
Conductivity: the quality or power of conducting or transmitting.
Chlorophyll Maximum: a subsurface maximum in the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean or a lake which is where you usually find an abundance of phytoplankton.
Ethanol: a colorless flammable easily evaporated liquid that is used to dissolve things
Formalin: a clear, water like solution of formaldehyde and methanol used especially as a preservative.
Did You Know?
The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet. The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench. Challenger Deep is approximately 36,200 feet deep. It is named after the HMS Challenger, whose crew first sounded the depths of the trench in 1875. [Source — NOAA Official Website].
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast Date: June 3, 2015
Air Temperature: 13.3°C
Water Temperature: 14.8°C
Sky Conditions: Partly Cloudy, I could still see some stars
Wind Speed (knots/kts), Direction: 5.5 kts, NNE
Latitude and Longitude: 43°29’84”, 124°49’71”
Later on Monday, once all the night-shifters had risen from their beds and were beginning to get ready for the bongos and mid-water trawls, I took a tour of the engines with marine engineer and NOAA crewmember, Colleen. We started in the control room. With up to four engines operating at any one time, Colleen says it’s a relief that computer systems help to automate the process. As part of her four-year degree program at Seattle Maritime Academy, she learned how to operate the engines manually as well, but I think we can all agree computers make life easier.
Before moving on to the actual engine room, Colleen made sure I grabbed some ear protection. For a one-time visit they’re probably more for my comfort than to protect from any real damage, but because she’s working with the engines every night, it’s important to protect against early-onset hearing loss. Once the plugs were in, we were basically not going to be able to talk so Colleen made sure that I knew everything I was going to see before we proceeded.
First, we made our way past the fresh water tanks. I was really curious about how we get fresh water on the ship, since we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Shimada produces freshwater using two processes. Reverse osmosis produces most of the water, using high pressure to push the seawater across a membrane, a barrier that acts like a filter, allowing the water molecules to pass through but not the salt. This is an energy intensive process, but the evaporators use the excess energy produced by the engines to heat the seawater then pass it through a condensing column which cools it, and voilá, freshwater!
Next, we came to the four diesel engines. Four engines. These four engines are rarely all on at one time but never will you find just one doing all the work. That would put too much strain on and probably burn out that engine. While they burn diesel fuel, like a truck, instead of using that energy to turn a piston like the internal combustion engine of that same truck, they convert that energy to electricity. That electricity powers the two motors that ultimately make the ship go.
A ship the size of the Shimada requires a lot of power to get moving, but Colleen tells me it gets decent mileage. Though the ship’s diesel tank can hold 100,000 gallons, there’s only about 50,000 gallons in the tank right now and the ship only needs to refuel every couple of months.
After a quick pass by the mechanics for the rudder, the fin-shaped piece of equipment attached to the hull that controls the direction the ship is traveling we arrived at our last stop: Shaft Alley. Those two motors I told you about work together to turn a giant crankshaft and that crankshaft is attached to the propeller which pushes water, making the ship move. When I was down there the ship was on station, where it was holding its location in the water, so the crankshaft was only turning at 50 RPM (rotations per minute).
It was a pleasure getting a tour from Colleen!
Throughout the night, the Shimada revisits the same transect stations that it visited during that day, but uses different nets to collect samples at each station. To the right, you can see a map of the stations; they are the points on the map. Each line of stations is called a transect. Looking at the map it’s easy to see that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of data to collect.
Why does this have to happen at night? At night, the greatest migration in the animal kingdom takes place. Creatures that spend their days toward the bottom layers of the ocean migrate up, some as far as 750 m (almost 2,500 ft)! Considering they’re tiny, (some need to be placed under the microscope to be reliably identified) this is relatively very far. And they do it every day!
To collect data on these organisms, three types of nets are used, two of which are not used during the day. Along with the surface-skimming neuston (which is used during the day), the bongo net, so named because it has two nets and looks like a set of bongo drums, and the Cobb trawl which is a very large net that needs to be deployed off the stern (back of the boat).
The operation of the bongo net is similar to the neuston, it is lowered off the starboard (when facing the bow, it’s the right side) side of the boat. Dropping down to 100 m below the surface and then coming back up, the bongo is collecting zooplankton, phytoplankton and fish larvae. The samples are poured from the cod-end into a strainer with a very fine mesh and since the water is full of those tiny bits, the straining can take a bit of time and some tambourine-like shaking.
These samples are then fixed (preserved) in ethanol and they will be analyzed for diversity (how many different species are present) and abundance (how many individuals of each species is present). The bongo is the net of choice for this survey because once scientists go to process the data, the double net provides a duplicate for each data point. This is important for statistical purposes because it ensures that the area that is sampled by one side of the net is similar enough to the area sampled by the other side of the net.
Below you can see video of the bongo net after it’s been hauled back. Scientists are spraying it down to make sure all organisms collect in the cod-end.
Once the bongos are done, comes the real action of the night shift. The mid-water trawls take 15 minutes. I’ve become really great at communicating with the bridge and survey technicians who are operating the nets so that I can record data for the beginning and ending of the trawls. Once the catch is on deck, the survey technicians empty the cod-end into a strainer. The scientists prepare to sort, count and measure the species of interest. If the catch is large or particularly diverse, this can be a significant task that requires all hands on deck.
With four trawls a night, some with 30-50 minutes transit time with nothing to do in between, fatigue can set in and make the work hard to finish. To make it through the night, it takes great senses of humor and playful personalities. A little theme music doesn’t hurt either. The scientists of the night shift, under the direction of Toby Auth, a fisheries biologist with Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission working as a contractor to NOAA and Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur, are Brittney Honisch, a marine scientist with Hatfield Marine Science Center, Paul Chittaro, a biologist with Ocean Associates working as a contractor to NOAA, Tyler Jackson, a fisheries science graduate student, and Will Fennie.
The data collected during these trawls provides a snapshot of the ecosystem. This data will help NOAA Fisheries Service understand the health of the ocean ecosystem as well as how large certain populations of commercially important fish are such as hake and rockfish.
In the meantime, it provides for some late night fun. Over the course of the nights that I’ve spent in the wet lab, we have uncovered some bizarre and fascinating creatures.
Will holds a Pacific mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus)
The flat ones are larval Pacific sanddabs (Citharichthys sordidus) and the long skinny ones are larval anchovies (Engraulis mordax).
Krill (Euphausiids) with phytoplankton in their stomachs (green).
A tiny larval octopus (Octopus sp.)! I will call him Squishy and he will be my Squishy.
Moon jelly (Aurelia labiata)
A Medusafish (Centrolophidae sp.)
A Leptocephalus larvae of deep sea eel.
A heteropod (Pterotracheoidea sp.)
Clockwise from right: Mature hake, young lanternfish, King-of-the-Salmon, curlfin turbot, poacher.
Shortbelly (Sebastes jordani) and canary rockfish (Sebastes pinniger), actual rockfish! In juvenile form.
But in my opinion the real star of the trawls was the young female dogfish. A dogfish is a type of shark. I know what you’re thinking and no, she did not try to bite us. But dogfish do have two spines, one at the base of each dorsal (back) fin. We all fell in love, but, ultimately, had to say goodbye and return her to the sea.
Thank you for your patience as I’ve gathered the images and video to make this and future posts as informative as possible. Stay tuned for Episode 5 coming soon!
First off, a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to the first 8th grade class at Village Leadership Academy. I wish I could be there when you walk across that stage on June 4th.
Little did I know when I started hanging out with the scientists of the night shift that it would become a way of life. Each night I managed to stay up later and later and finally last night I made it through all four catches and almost to 0800, the end of the night’s watch. After dinner (some call it “breakfast”), I slept a full eight hours, and it felt completely normal to be greeted with “Good Morning!” at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Speaking of the night’s watch, I’m really grateful that someone was able to get one of my favorite TV shows last Sunday. And Game 7! The Blackhawks are in the finals! Even though I can’t call anyone back home to discuss my theories or that amazing goal by Seabrook in the third period, I can email and it feels like I’m missing less.
The only person I can’t email is my cat, Otto! I can’t wait to snuggle him until he scratches me.
Question of the Day:
Comment with answers to these questions and I’ll shout your name out in the next post!
What is your favorite animal we have seen so far?
Thanks to Paul Chittaro for assisting in the use of iMovie for this post!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow May 19 – June 3, 2015
Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast Date: May 24, 2015, Day 6 of Voyage
Interview with Geoff Shook, Survey Tech
What is your job here on the ship?
What does that mean?
I have two similar but different jobs
Run and monitor the ship’s scientific equipment
I help fix things when they break down
I am the Liaison between the ship and the scientific party (we mean everything). Anything the scientist needs, the survey techs help provide it.
I know the capabilities of equipment.
For example, the fish lab is one of the most high tech fish labs in the world. Incredibly advanced.
We work within the science spaces, so we are always around. Point of contact!
I work with deck department and with their help I deploy a lot of gear
Jack of all trades. We get to be involved with a little bit everything;computer software, electronics, plumbing, carpentry etc. I am also on the bridge for lookout sometimes.
Right now, I am planning for the marine mammal and deep water coral cruise. We are also taking multi-beam data when we pass through certain points on this cruise that helps us prepare for future cruises.
When you are in the dry lab with us (deploying the bongo plankton nets or Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) unit) what do all of the techy things on your computer mean?
Left side of the screen: Winch Data (winch data, line speeds (how fast they are moving), depth, depth of instrument, how much line is out). There is also data from the ship’s meteorological sensors available as well.
Performance of the winches as well as the instrument information.
Weather conditions that relate to the deployment of the instrument.
For example, wind conditions (speed and direction)
Set the wind on the starboard side so that the boat gets pushed away from the instruments and lines.
Right side of the screen: the Vertical profile of theCTD. Watching this to make sure theCTD is functioning correctly. Oceanographers use it differently, for example trying to find the chlorophyll maximum depth and the thermocline, where the temperature changes suddenly with depth.
My job is to make sure that the equipment is functional and collecting accurate, valid data.
Whenever the sensor on the CTD on the bongos is activated by seawater, the numbers show up on Geoff’s screen. He then announces, “We’ve got numbers, lets Bongo!” It’s literally my favorite quote of the trip and makes me laugh every time he says it.
CTD numbers means that it is on, functioning properly, and is ready to be deployed.
Sometimes there is a software/ hardware glitch, or a plug or connection might fail. If this happens, the cast cannot be completed. So observing the CTD output is very important.
Label printing! This has Ot (Other), I (Ichthyoplankton), Z (zooplankton) designations to indicate the type of nets used on the bongo frames.
I will also do post processing, which summarizes everything.
To me its important to make sure we are properly collecting accurate data for the end user, I care about how the data is collected. I need to make sure that the sensors are all working and displaying the accurate data so that scientists can go ahead and use that data in their research.
How do you get trained to be a survey tech?
(He laughs.) Truthfully, it’s a lot of On the Job Training (OJT). I read manuals and study our various equipment, and so I have a full understanding of how all of our equipment works and how to fix something when it breaks.
*As a side note from the XO: You need a degree in science and some motivation to be a survey tech, and its a great job for recent college graduates because survey techs make pretty good money, ball-parking approximately $60,000 annually, and sometimes even more depending on the sailing schedule.*
While these next trainings are not directly part of my job as survey tech, the two trainings below are a part of being a well-rounded ship crew member.
Ship SCUBA divers- NOAA Dive School. This allows us to check on the ship’s echo-sounders, seawater intakes, propeller and rudder.
Medpic training – one of the ship’s medics. I do anything from minor first aid to assessing an injury to responding to medical emergencies. I am qualified to administer medicine but not prescribe it.
My background is actually in fisheries. I worked in a fisheries lab as a fisheries scientist, which is why I was originally brought onto the Henry B. Bigelow in the first place. I then realized I was more interested in the vessel operations, so I made the switch over to the survey department.
I was hired to do a lot of Bottom Trawl Surveys and would only go on cruises when they pertained to that particular survey. While I wasn’t on board a research vessel, I was a sailing instructor and a substitute teacher. I taught 8th grade social studies for a year as a long-term sub and what I’ve learned is that it’s most important to teach students how to learn. It’s something that I use to explain new boat protocols and equipment to new crew.
I think that working and going to sea is a very unique experience, and even though the romantic idea of being on a research vessel is very different from the reality, it’s still an interesting life and I love it. I love going to sea. I’ve spent about a decade of half year ship time on vessels. My wife keeps asking me, “When are you done going to sea?” My reply would be that I don’t know if I can ever be done. The ocean’s siren call always seems to call me back.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC Date: September 18, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge Lat 39°10.4’N Lon 0714°18.7W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 153° 5kts
Sea Level Pressure 1015.1
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22.3°C
Science and Technology Log
Flags are just one way the ship communicates. There is equipment which ships use to communicate information to other ships. Ships in the area appear on the Bigelow’s radar. The NOAA Corps can even find out their name and what type of ship it is. It’s almost like an email address which lets you know who is sending you the message. We have had naval vessels, sailboats, yachts, container ships, research vessels, cruise ships, etc. appear on radar.
Castle Rock Lighthouse and Sailboat
Empty Container Ship
Columbia University’s Research Vessel
The Bigelow has a protocol (rule) which says if another ship comes within one mile of our perimeter (the radar even shows the big circle like a halo around its position), the officer on duty must make radio contact and ask them to change course. This is especially important if we are trawling or dropping the bongo (plankton net) or CTD. All this information gets logged into the Deck Log which is an official document. It is critical for the officers to keep accurate information and observations during their watch so others know what has been happening and for future reference should the ship have an emergency.
Last night on the fly bridge I noticed that the green and white lights were on. I knew from talking to Ensign Estela that this was the signal at night for “we are trawling”.
Flags, lights, radar, radio, Facebook , web pages and email. These are all methods the Bigelow has used to communicate while I’ve been aboard.
We were sharing stories on our watch and Dave told of when he sailed in the Pacific for a Sea Semester, sailing as mariners of old did. He had to navigate using the stars. We were able to do that on the flying bridge last night. The Big Dipper was visible and it was clear we were traveling NW. Soon, the ship changed course (direction) and headed right toward Polaris (the North Star) so we knew we were traveling north.
This is our last day of trawling. Tomorrow we steam back to Newport and get in late. People are excited to see their families again. I have to wait until Saturday to return home since my plane leaves early that day. We weren’t sure what time we would get in on Friday and there were no later flights for me. I am looking forward to seeing my family, but sad to be leaving the sea. Fortunately, we only had a couple of “rockin’ an a rollin’ ” days which made me feel a little “off”. When that happened, everyone was so kind. Many people asked if I was feeling better when they saw me after the waves died down. Crackers were a big help.
Currently (no pun intended) we are off the Jersey shore and can see Atlantic City. My mother used to live near the shore when she was a little girl and her father had a boat. She loved the ocean. No doubt the shore has changed quite a bit in 75 years. The ocean is a change agent. Man is, too. Our land, climate, and weather often change as a result of the sea–currents, tides, storms all contribute. We help change the ocean, too. Hopefully, we are getting better about it by not dumping pollutants in as much as we once did. Part of NOAA’s mission is to check for pollutants to help keep the marine environment healthy. Yes, the ocean is vast, but man’s lack of understanding of the ocean causes us to do things which are harmful to the ocean environment. I worry about all the plastics wrapping the fresh foods in the supermarkets now. We used to just pick the items we wanted in the meat and produce sections. Now most things are pre-wrapped and much is processed. We need convenience due to our busy lives, but at what cost to our environment and our health? Perhaps we need to visit the farmer’s market more and ask for meat to be in more biodegradable wrappers.
As I sit here enjoying the sun glistening off the ripples caused by a gentle breeze, I realize how much I love the ocean. Its storms and the wildness of it have my respect, but there is a draw to its vastness, the incredible diversity within it, its changeability, and variety of colors. I am so grateful for this opportunity to discover and learn by sailing with NOAA. So far, I know of at least one of my students who is in college for marine biology. I wonder what influence these NOAA experiences will have on my current and future students.
The ship has a system similar to your car’s odometer. It measures short trips as well as total miles covered. According to the MX420 GPS on the ship on the bridge, the Bigelow has traveled 54,254 nm.
Getting ready for processing fish is similar to how fire fighters dress. Jump in the boots, pull up the pants, and you’re ready. We head out to the conveyor belt and sort the fish. Many hands make the work load light. Here we are sorting croakers and weakfish. If one person on the line misses a fish, the next one gets it. Then we consolidate similar species into one container.
After removing a fish’s otolith, they are stored in envelopes and put into this sorting system. The samples are taken back to the lab to determine the age of the fish.
It’s a Win-Win situation. Skilled Fisherman, Steve, catches up on light reading about sharks in the Dry Lab. He then goes out and helps deploy the CTD and Bongo nets. He also taught me to mop floors on the bridge. A skilled fisherman is multi-talented and, as I learned, can do many things very well.
Engineers, such as Kevin Van Lohuizen, who is on temporary assignment from the Reuben Lasker, works often in 107° heat. They are responsible for fixing anything mechanical broken on the ship from the washing machine to toilets to generators. They can “do it all”. Thank goodness for the engineers. Kevin earned his Bachelor’s of Marine Engineering Technology from the California Maritime Academy. By the way, Kevin says you should always have a flashlight with you on a ship in case the lights fail.
The rudder is double-actuated which means it can add a little bit of turning ability . The Bigelow‘s rudder, which turns the ship, has a small turning radius similar to a sports car (turns on a dime) rather than the normal rudder’s radius which is more like a truck (turns take forever and need a lot of space). There are two pumps for the rudder, which are switched daily.
What happens to Styrofoam cups when submerged in a bag to 300 m and are brought back up? My students colored Styrofoam cups with Sharpees and we submerged them. I had it in the dry lab and was asked to open the bag in the wet lab. Why do you think that would be? This bag was totally full when submerged. Look at it afterwards.
Remember that a clean ship is a happy ship? At the end of the last watch, everyone starts cleaning, from the Chief Scientist to the lowly Teacher at Sea. We were all handed scrub brushes and a pail of soapy water. The deck hands cleaned the net and the deck. The other watch scrubbed all the buckets (I found them on the fantail at 1:30 am doing this).
Did You Know?
There are over 26,000 species of bony fish, making fish the most speciose vertebrate animal (by number of species).
Question of the Day
What are plankton and why are they important? Plankton are plants and animals which cannot move on their own and rely on currents and wind to move them. Phytoplankton make about 80% of our oxygen and are the basis of the marine food chain. What do you think?
Planktos in Greek means “wanderer”. Plankton is derived from this.
Something to Think About
Nicole was explaining that the protocols are set up by scientists looking for certain data about catch. She always seems to know when the jaguar will scream, meaning we need a special measurement or to preserve a sample. She had me pull down a monitor and pull up the fish we were processing at the time and had me pull up a bar graph for that species. She showed how for every 1 cm of length of the fish, the protocol was to ask for information. When I measured and it was longer or shorter than the average, we had more processing to do. Once we hit our quota for that protocol, the rest were just measured and added in. So, if my fish ranged from 19-21 cm, I would have to do special measurements or get samples for just three fish within that range. If the range was 15-25, it could be a lot more, depending on the lengths of the fish caught. The more fish sampled the more it falls into a bell curve, similar to our heights. You’ll notice some students are tall, others are short, most fall in between. They don’t need to repeat getting the information on every fish–it would probably be pretty close to the same data.
Carry cloth bags to the grocery store rather than using their plastic or paper bags. In many areas stores charge for each plastic bag. Recycle as much as possible and encourage others to do the same. Yes, it takes a little effort, but if more people did this we would reduce our trash going to landfills or into the ocean.
Animals Seen Today
We saw a lot of the same species all day. We collected Sea Robins, rays, skates, and Croakers by the hundreds, even thousands. I was able to measure a 40 pound ray and several large skates. Earlier this week we had rays which were so big, we had to call out all the deckhands from the watch and several scientists to weigh and measure them using the crane. One was 240 pounds and the other just 192 pounds.
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temp: 15.5 Degrees Celsius
ind Speed: 7 – 12 Knots
Water Temp: 8.8 Degrees Celsius Water Depth: 10 Meters
Science and Technology Log
As I mentioned in my previous blogs, there are many layers of science that are happening simultaneously that support the AMAPPS project (see April 9th blog). One of these layers is monitoring the ecosystem with oceanography. In the April 9th blog I explained all about the Bongo Nets, and in April 15th blog I explained about the VPR and it’s plankton picture data. While the rest of the ship slept, the night time oceanography team – Betsy Broughton (scientist from NEFSC in Woods Hole), John Rosendale (lab technician from NOAA Fisheries Howard Labratory in Sandy Hook) and Brian Dennis (volunteer) were busy conducting Benthic science with the Beam Trawl and Van Veen Grab Sampler.
Although this equipment was not used every night, I was lucky enough to have stayed up some of the night to see these two in action. The Benthic Zone, in a body of water, like the ocean refers to the very bottom of that aquatic ecosystem. The night time science team use a Beam Trawl or a bottom fishing net that is towed along the bottom of the ocean to take a sample of the organisms that live there. The Beam Trawl is attached to a winch that is on the stern of the boat, that one is much larger than the winch that is used to lower the Bongo Nets. The trawl is lowered down until it touches the bottom and then towed along the bottom picking up whatever is in its path. The trawl is then brought to the surface and the sample is sorted in the wet lab and preserved in formaldehyde just like the other samples. The Van Veen Grab Sampler is lowered into the water by the same smaller winch that is used for the Bongo Nets along the port side of the ship. The grab is rigged so that when it touches the bottom of the ocean, two arms open up and grab a large sample of the sediment at the bottom of the ocean. To me it looked just like the suffer muck I know as “clam flats.” Once the Van Veen Grab is brought up to the surface, the arms of the grab are released and the sediment is dropped into a bucket. From there the soil is washed over and over using several sized sieves until all of the muck is washed away and just the organisms, shells and assorted bottom treasures are left. This sample, once cleaned, is also brought back to the chemistry lab for processing in formaldehyde. The scientists worked at a much faster pace to get all the sediment removed and the samples processed. It was fun to be able to watch and help out.
For most of the trip, my “assigned” task has been to work with Jerry Prezioso as the day Oceanography team. Jerry and I are in charge of the mid-day Bongo Nets (see April 9th blog). Sometimes we are up early and timing is such that our morning Bongo Net overlapped with night crew’s scheduled time. Sometimes they would start the morning Bongo and Jerry and I would take over and finish the work, or we would just all work together to get it done twice as fast. Since there were more people to help in the morning, Betsy Broughton (see April 15th blog) was available to help teach me how to run the computer software that was attached to the Bongo called a CTD Sensor.
CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth and it sits above the Bongo Net collecting this data that it sends back to the computers. Generally one scientist is in charge of running the software that turns on the CTD and gets it to start collecting data as it is dropped down into the deep water. The person on the computer is in charge of knowing how deep the Bongo Net should go and telling the winch operator when to pull the Bongo Net back up to the surface. They are also responsible for letting the NOAA Corps officer on the Bridge know when the equipment is ready and telling the winch operator the speed at which the Bongo should be dropped. If this information is not relayed correctly the Bongo Net could go crashing into the bottom of the ocean. It took a couple of days of Betsy overseeing what I was doing, but in no time at all, Jerry felt confident enough in me to leave me at the helm and let me run the software on my own. From net washer to computer software operator, I was moving up!
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temp: 5.5 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 9.0 Knots
Water Temp: 4.6 Degrees Celsius ater Depth: 41.2 Meters
Science and Technology Log
If Science at Sea is what I wanted, this is the ship for it! The evening of our departure from Newport, R.I. on Monday, April 7th, the group of scientists met in the staff lounge for a meeting of the minds. I soon found out that there was an array of scientist on the ship all with different goals and science they wanted to conduct. On this ship we have two teams of Oceanographers, a day team and a night team. The Oceanographers are generally taking underwater tests and samples using a variety of equipment. We also have the Marine Mammal Observer Team who are on the look out for any sort of mammals that may poke head out of the water such as whales and dolphins.
There is also a group of Birders collecting data on any bird sightings. And lastly we have our Acoustics, or sound team, that is listening for the sounds of marine mammals. I also learned at that meeting that it would take a lot of teamwork and collaboration on the part of each of the Scientist crews, as well as the NOAA Corps and crew to make it all happen.
Every day the representatives from each team have to get together to coordinate the timing of each of the events that will happen throughout the day. The Mammal and Birding Observer teams are on the same schedule and can collect sighting data throughout the day from 7 AM to 7 PM, only stopping for lunch, as they need daylight to conduct their work. The daytime Oceanographers plan their work of collecting samples around the observer teams, sending off their collection equipment before 7AM, at lunch, and then again at 7PM when the observers teams are done. The nighttime Oceanographers are not working during the same time as other scientists so this gives them the opportunity to to do as many test and collections as they can without interrupting anyone else’s work. The Acoustic team can work anytime of day or during any kind of weather without conflicting with anyone as long as the water is deep enough to drop their equipment. It sounds like an easy schedule but there are many things, like weather, technology and location, that could disrupt this carefully orchestrated schedule of science. When that happens, and it has, everyone must be flexible and work together to make sure everyone can conduct the science they need.
Since there is so much science happening on the ship that I am doing every day, I am going to have to share just one thing at a time or I would be writing for hours! Today’s science spotlight is about scientist Jerry Prezioso and the Bongo nets. Jerry is an Oceanographer who works at the NOAA Lab in Narragansett, R.I. Jerry primarily studies plankton distribution. He has been on many trips on NOAA ships since he was 18!
Today Jerry taught me how to do a Bongo net sample that is used to collect plankton from the various water columns. At the top of the net there is a piece of equipment called a CTD (Conductivity Temperature & Depth Unit) that communicates with the computers in the lab on the ship. The scientists in the lab use that piece of equipment to detect how far down the net is going and when it is close to the bottom, as well as collect data on the water temperature and salinity.
Once the CTD is set and turned on, the Bongo net can be lowered into the water. The nets have weights on them to sink them close to the bottom. Once the nets are close a scientist at the computer has the cable operator pull the nets up and out of the water. Once they are on deck they have to be washed down so all the organisms that were caught in the netting go to the cod end of the nets. The cod ends of the nets are opened up and the organisms are rinsed into a sieve where they will carefully be transferred into glass bottles, treated with formaldehyde and sent to a lab for sorting. There were lots of organisms that were caught in the net. Some that we saw today were: Copepods, Comb Jellies or Ctenophora, Herring Larva, aquatic Arrow Worms or Chaetognaths and tons of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton. The Bongo nets are towed several times a day and night to collect samples of plankton.
The start to the trip has been a little rough. It feels like this is the first day we have been able to do anything. Monday we had to sit in port and wait for a scientist to calibrate some equipment before we left so we didn’t get underway until bed time. When we awoke, the weather was bad and the seas were very rough. Several people were very sick and some still are. We were only able to drop one piece of acoustic equipment all day (more on that in another blog). We also had to change the plans on where we were going and move closer to shore due to the weather.
On a ship you need to be very flexible as things are changing all the time! Today was the the first day we were able to do any real science for a sustained amount of time and there were definitely lots of bugs and kinks that needed to be worked out. On top of dropping the BONGO nets with Jerry, I was also able to spend some time and fill in some shifts on the the decks with the Marine Mammal team watching for whales and dolphins. We had a few cool sighting of Humpbacks, Minke, and a Right Whales! (More on them and what they do in another blog too.) On another note, the state rooms are huge and I am sharing a room with one of the acoustic scientists, Genevieve. She is very nice and helpful. The food on the ship is spectacular! I am very surprised how good it is and how many choices there are every meal. All and all things are off to a good start and there is so much more I have to share with everyone about what all these scientist do and it is only our first “real” day!
Did You Know?
Did you know that North Atlantic Right Whales have a V- shaped blow. Their blow holes (two) are separated which gives them the characteristic blow shape.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Sarah Boehm Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 23 – July 7, 2013
Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 6, 2013
Weather at 21:21 Air temperature: 27°C (81°F)
Barometer: 1016 mb
Humidity: 82 %
Wind speed: 5 knots
Water temp: 26°C
Latitude: 30.13° N
Longitude: 87.96° W
Science and Technology Log
We are steaming our way to port now after 14 days at sea. We will pull in to Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. Research has finished and our last task today was to clean up the wet lab. Even though we haven’t had fish in the wet lab in days, a slight fishy smell lingers there and on the stern deck where the nets are stored. My nose must be fairly used to it by this point though, because it was far more noticeable the first days on the boat. A few students asked if the boat was smelly – I think at this point my shoes are the smelliest things on board, despite my efforts to wash off the fish slime and salty crust.
We finished all our trawling stations a few days ago and switched to plankton stations. So instead of pulling up big fish, we used smaller nets to pull up the tiny organisms that float about on ocean currents. We sample with two types of nets: the Neuston net skims the surface of the water and the bongo nets have a weight that pulls them down into deep water.
A lot of plankton is microscopic algae and protists that are the base of the ocean food web. This study is more interested in ichthyoplankton – baby fish. Most fish and marine invertebrates actually start life as plankton, floating about until they are big and strong enough to swim against the current. We collect plankton in the nets, transfer them over to glass jars and preserve them in alcohol. Back in the lab scientists will use microscopes to identify and study the little guys.
Sometimes the Neuston goes through sargassum, a free floating seaweed. The sargassum sometimes floats as small clumps, and sometimes vast mats cover the water. I watched a few pieces float by with fish seeking protection by carefully positioning themselves directly underneath the seaweed. The sargassum is great refuge for little critters and we have to pick through it carefully to pull out all the plankton, many of which are well camouflaged in the tangle of orange.
The folks on board the Oregon II are knowledgeable, professional, and a whole lot of fun. I’d love to introduce you to everyone – but I’m out of time, so let’s go with the day watch science team.
Andre, our watch leader, is a biologist with the groundfish survey at the NOAA Pascagoula lab. He can identify and give the scientific names for an impressive amount of fish and invertebrates we pull up in the nets. Joey is also a biologist at the labs and while he works mainly with reef fish, he also knows a lot about everything from plankton to sharks. Andre and Joey are also good teachers who helped us learn those scientific names through lots of jokes and nicknames (Celine Dion, Tom Hanks, and Burt from Sesame Street each are now associated with a specific species of fish in my mind, and Mel Gibson is a lovely crab with purple legs).
Also on our watch are two interns. Caitlin graduates at the end of the summer from University of Texas at Corpus Christi and is on the groundfish survey as part of her summer internship with the Center for Coastal Studies. As part of her internship she dissected a few larger fish to examine their stomach contents, determining if that partially digested thing was a squid, crab, fish, etc. The other member of our team is Mara Castro, from Puerto Rico where she is a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan working on her Environmental Health Masters degree. She is doing an internship at the Pascagoula labs this summer and came out for this leg of the groundfish survey. Her favorite part of being on the boat is working with the fish, especially trying to identify them. She also loves the unusual fish we pull up, from transparent plankton to large shark suckers.
I have loved being out at sea for two weeks, but sometimes I felt a little trapped in such a small space. Then I would go up to the top deck, the flying bridge, and enjoy the view and the wind. It is a great place to watch the water and clouds and look for dolphins and birds. On a regular day on land I would move my body a lot more through normal activities like walking around the grocery store or climbing the stairs to the 3rd floor office at school. When I found myself with pent up energy I’d drag out the rowing machine or yoga mat that are stored up on the flying bridge to get some exercise. I have mixed feelings about reaching port tomorrow. I am ready to be on land again, but will miss all the people I have gotten to know and the beauty of the sea.
CDCPS Science Students –
Where do you think the bongo nets got their name?
What does ” ichthyo” mean? Two words that use this root are ichthyoplankton and ichthyologist.
Partly cloudy, Winds 10 – 15 knots
Air temperature: 4.0 C
Water temperature: 5.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.14 mB
Science and Technology Log
The primary mission of this cruise is to deploy and recover moorings in several locations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. These moorings collect data for a group of scientist under the auspices of the Ecosystems & Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI) which is a joint venture between the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), and the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC). Participating institutions on this cruise include NOAA-PMEL, AFSC, Penn State, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), and the University of Alaska (UAF). This interdisciplinary study helps scientist better understand the overall marine environment of the North Pacific. This understanding will lead to a better management of the fishery resources of the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.
To ensure that time at sea is maximized for data collection, a day or so before leaving Seward, Alaska, the science crew begins assembling their various monitoring instruments under the directions of Chief Scientist for this project, William (Bill) Floering, PMEL.
Some of the equipment that will be deployed includes an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), which measure speed and direction of ocean current at various depths. This data helps physical oceanographers determine how organisms, nutrients and other biological and chemical constituents are transported throughout the ocean. Argos Drogue drifters will also be deployed to help map ocean currents. Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) measurements will be conducted at multiple sites providing information on temperature and salinity data. Additionally, “Bongo” tows will also be made at multiple locations which will allow for the collection of zooplankton. The results of this sampling will be used to characterize the netted zooplankton and help to monitor changes from previous sampling events. In future blogs I will describe these instruments in greater detail.
The furthest extent of our mission into the Bering Sea is very much weather and ice dependent with much variation this time of the year in the North Pacific Ocean. Current ice map conditions can be found at http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/ice.php.
As I rode in the shuttle bus from Anchorage to Seward, Alaska on Friday, April 27, and then onto the pier where the Oscar Dyson was docked, I was immediately impressed by its size and overall complexity.
Upon arrival I was met by Bill Floering, Chief Scientist on the cruise. He gave me a tour of the overall ship and then I settled into my room, a double. Just like being back in college myself, and being the first to the room, I had my choice of bunks and therefore selected the lower bunk (I did not want to fall out of the top bunk if the seas turned “rough”). Arriving early provided me time to become oriented on the vessel given that I have never been aboard such a large ship before. I also had the opportunity to walk into Seward, AK, with a member of the science team, for a dinner downtown with extraordinary views of the surrounding mountains.
On Saturday, April 27, the rest of the science crew arrived and my roommate, Matthew Wilson, moved in. Matt is from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) based in Seattle, Washington. That evening we traveled into town again for another great dining experience…halibut salad with views of Resurrection Bay.
Sunday, April 28, was a busy day of sorting and setting up various instruments for deployment. Winds were very strong, with snow blowing over the peaks of the mountains, glistening in the brilliant sunshine.
View of Seward Harbor.
Monday, April 29, our day began with a safety meeting followed by our science meeting. At that time we were assigned to our work shift. I will be working from 12 midnight to 12 noon each day during the cruise. Once the ship sets sail, the science crew is working 24 hours per day!
The Neuston net is the first net to be deployed at sampling stations. This net has a wide rectangular opening that skims the surface of the water to collect surface dwelling organisms. Before the net is deployed, a cylindrical cod end is attached to the bottom of the net. The cod end has many holes that are covered by a screen. The screen allows water to flow through, but the organisms to get caught. We usually deploy the neuston net for 10 minutes, but sometimes we only deploy it for 5 minutes, depending on the amount of sargassum that is collected inside the net.
Sargassum is a type of seaweed that floats at the surface of the water, almost like little islands. Sargassum provides an important habitat for many marine animals in the open ocean. We frequently find small filefish, jacks, and flying fish, as well as juvenile puffer fish, crabs, and shrimp. Young sea turtles also use the sargassum as a hiding place from larger predators, though we have not found any during this trip.
When sargassum makes its way into our Neuston net, we collect all of it into large buckets. We have to rinse all of the sargassum off into large buckets to make sure that we collect all of the creatures living inside of it. We do this because we want to get the most accurate sampling of the population of living organisms in the sampling area. Depending on how much sargassum is collected in the Neuston net, the collection process can anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour!
Once the sample has been rinsed into buckets, the buckets are poured into sieves. The sieves have screens that allow the water to flow through, but not the organisms we want to save. Once the buckets have been poured into the sieves, rinsed, and poured out again (to make sure nothing stuck to the inside of the bucket), we use alcohol to rinse the sieves into funnels that channel the sample into quart-sized jars. Once the entire sample has been rinsed into a jar, we fill the jar with alcohol, place a label inside the jar to record the location the sample came from, stick a similar label on the lid, and place the jar in a box back in our chem lab. The samples are analyzed later at a lab once the survey is over.
The Bongo Nets
Bongo nets are similar to the neuston net, but there are some differences. The bongo nets have cod ends like the neuston, but they have two cod ends because there are two separate nets, where the neuston has only one. The holes of the bongo cod ends are covered by screens that have smaller openings than the neuston cod ends so that they can collect smaller organisms. The main purpose of the bongo nets is to collect plankton samples. We cannot collect plankton easily using the neuston net because the openings in the screen on the cod end are larger.
Before the bongo nets are deployed, we have to report the numbers on the flow meters from the left bongo net and the right bongo net. The numbers on the flow meters are used to determine the amount of water that passed through the nets during deployment. Depending on how deep the water is determines how much water passes through the nets. After the nets are deployed, a sensor sends a message back to the lab to determine their depth. The person back in the lab monitors the depth and makes sure that the nets go as far down as possible, but do not make contact with the ocean floor. If the nets were to make contact with the ocean floor there is a good possibility that they could be damaged, which is why it’s so important to closely monitor the depth of the bongo nets. After the nets are brought back up on deck, the numbers are reported back to the lab where they subtract the first number of each flow meter (left bongo net and right bongo net) from the final number from each bongo. The difference is then divided by the length of time the net was deployed in the water.
Day 8 – July 12th
Today was a VERY slow day. We only had four sampling stations, and of those only one was a trawl station. I was able to work a bit more on my blogs today, and start working on some cool lesson plans to bring back to school with me this fall. We also managed to watch a couple movies and raid the ice cream freezer during our down time. The seas were exceptionally calm tonight, almost as smooth as glass. It was very calming and serene, almost surreal! I made sure to take several pictures before the sun had set. The waters were smooth for the rest of the night which made for easy sleeping..
Day 9 – July 13th
Trawling was the focus of today. We had 4 trawls plus a couple neuston and bongo net sampling stations, so it was quite the busy day! We saw quite a number of new species that we hadn’t seen in previous trawls so I made sure to photograph those to share with my students later. At one of our sampling stations, we collected almost 6 5-gallon buckets worth of sargassum in our neuston net. It took us quite a bit of time to rinse it all down and collect the samples into preservation jars. It took three, quart-sized jars to hold all of the sample we collected!
Day 10 – July 14th
I found out this was our last day of sampling before we make our way back to Pascagoula. We mostly had trawls today, so we got to examine lots of critters. We had lots of down time because one of our runs to a sampling station was almost four and a half hours long! I spent that time working on my blog, and taking a much needed nap to catch up on my sleep! We had a really pretty sunset right before a thunderstorm that delayed one of our trawls. We worked right up until the next team came onto their shift and took over cleaning up from our trawl.
Day 11 – July 15th
All of our sampling was completed over the night, but I was able to work on the last neuston/bongo sampling when I went onto my shift. After all of the sampling was done, it was time to start scrubbing everything down to get it back into ship shape! The wet lab, dry lab, neuston net, bongo nets, and the stern were all hosed down, power-washed, scrubbed, bleached, and Windex-ed until everything smelled clean again. It took us most of the afternoon, but when it was done, we were done! The rest of our time on the Oregon II was left for unwinding and relaxing. After a lunch of king crab legs and a Thanksgiving-like dinner, my stomach was happy and satisfied (but not until after an ice cream sandwich of course!) Movies filled the remainder of the afternoon and evening, until I was ready for bed.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012
Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday June 20, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge: Sea temperature 28 degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius.
Science and Technology Log:
Well we have come to the end of the cruise so now it is time to tie it all the pieces together. The Gulf of Mexico contains a large ecosystem which is made up of both biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors. We studied the abiotic factors using the CTD which records water chemistry data and by recording information on the water depth, water color, water temperature, and weather conditions. We studied the living portions of the ecosystem by collecting plankton in the bongo and neuston nets. The health of the plankton depends on the abiotic factors such as water temperature and water clarity so if the abiotic factors are affected by some human input then the plankton will be unhealthy. The trawl net allowed us to collect some larger organisms which occupy the upper part of the food web. Some of these organisms eat the plankton while others eat bigger creatures which are also found in the trawl net. Despite what they eat all of these creatures depend on the health of the levels below them either because those levels are directly their food or because those levels are the food of their food.
The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico has taken a couple of large hits in the recent past, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with the Deepwater horizon oil spill. When an ecosystem has undergone such major events it is important to monitor the species in order to determine if there is an effect from the disasters. Hurricane Katrina left its mark on the people of the Gulf coast but did minimal damage to the biotic parts of the ecosystem. The effects of the deepwater horizon oil spill are still unknown due to the scope of the spill.
Today’s portion of the ship is the engine room. I was recently taken on a tour of the engine room by William. The ship is powered by two diesel engines which use approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel per day. The ship obviously uses the engines to move from location to location but it also uses the energy to power generators which supply electrical energy, to air condition the ship and to make fresh water out of sea water.
There are two vital positions on the Oregon II that I have not discussed, deck worker and engineer. We could never have collected the samples that we did without the immense help of the deck workers. They operated the winches and cranes that allowed us to deploy and bring back the nets which captured our samples. The engineers kept the ship’s engines running, the electricity on, and the rooms cool. Some of these men started out their careers as merchant marines. A merchant marine is a person who works on a civilian-owned merchant vessel such as a deep-sea merchant ship, tug boat, ferry or dredge. There are a variety of jobs on these ships so if you are interested in this line of work I’m sure you could find something to do as a career. A few merchant marines work as captains of those civilian ships, guiding the ship and commanding the crew in order the get the job done. More of them serve as mates, which are assistants to the captains. These people are in training to one day become a captain of their own ship. Just like on the Oregon II there are also engineers and deck workers in the merchant marines. Engineers are expected to keep the machinery running while the deck workers do the heavy lifting on the deck and keep the ship in good condition by performing general maintenance.
During this cruise I have met a lot of people who have different jobs all of which are related to collecting scientific data. The bridge is wonderfully staffed by members of the NOAA Corps. These men and women train hard to be able to sail research ships around the world. To find out more about a profession with the NOAA Corps go visit the Corps’ webpage. There are a large number of scientists on board. These scientists all specialize in the marine environment and there are many wonderful universities which offer degrees for this field of study. Go here to get some more information on this scientific pursuit. The engineers and deck crew keep the ship running. To learn about these professions go to The United States Merchant Marines Academy. The stewards are instrumental in keeping the crew going on a daily basis by providing good healthy meals. To learn more about working as a steward read about the Navy culinary school. The ship could not continue to operate without each of these workers. Nobody is more or less important than the next–they survive as a group and if they cannot work together the ship stops operating.
Well my journey has come to an end and it is bitter-sweet. While I’m happy to be back on land, I’m sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people on the Oregon II. When I was starting this adventure I thought two weeks was going to be a long time to be at sea, yet it went by so fast. Although I’m tired, my sleep and eating schedule are all messed up, and I have some wicked bruises, I would do it again. I had a great time and in a couple of years I have a feeling I will be once again applying for the Teacher at Sea Program.
It should be no surprise to those that know me best that I love animals which is why I volunteer at the zoo and travel to distant locations to see animals in the wild. So my favorite part of the trip was seeing all the animals, both those that came out of the sea and those that flew to our deck. So I’m going to end with a slide show of some amazing animals.
On Saturday, my watch began at 10:00 AM. Two of the scientists, Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey have watch from 4 AM until 4 PM. The other two scientists, Tiffany Vance and Steve Porter, have watch from 4 PM until 4 AM. I guess being the teacher they took pity on me and gave me half and half. Before getting to one of the stations, the scientists make sure that everything is ready. They lay out the bongo nets on the deck where they will be used. The bongo nets are two nets that from the top look like bongo drums. (See picture) There is an instrument attached to the bongo nets called a SEACAT that takes conductivity, temperature and salinity measurements during the tow. Inside the lab, buckets, bowls and tweezers are all laid out ready to be used.
As we approach each station, the bridge informs the scientists and survey technicians. The bongo nets have already been readied and are set to be deployed (put into the ocean) from the hero platform. When the OK is given, the nets are lifted by the hydrowinch to a point where they can be maneuvered over the rail and then they are lowered into the water. The nets are lowered until they are at 100 meters or 10 meters off the bottom. As they are lowered, the pilot of the boat keeps the wire at a 45° angle by moving the boat slowly forward. Once the nets reach their maximum depth, they are slowly brought back up again. ( I tried to upload a video showing the deployment and retrieval of the bongo, but it won’t work so I’ll show you the video when I get back.
When the nets clear the water, they are hosed down to get any organisms into the bottle on the end of the net (called the cod end.) The cod end is then removed and the contents of one net are poured into a bucket for sorting. The contents of the other net are preserved and sent to a lab in Poland where they use instruments to get a very accurate count of the Pollock.
Inside the chem lab, the contents of the bucket are scooped out and poured little by little into a mixing bowl. We then perform a rough count by removing the very small Pollock larvae and any other fish larvae and put them into a petri dish with cold water (the petri dish is placed on top of ice.) They are only a few mm long (averaging between 6-10mm.) Once we have gone through the entire contents, the Pollock larvae are counted, photographed and the length measured. They are then placed into a labeled vial with 95% ethanol. The other fish larvae are placed in a separate vial in 100% ethanol. They are kept in case another scientific team needs the data. The Pollock larvae will be sent to the scientists’ lab back in Seattle where they will perform further analysis on them. I’ll tell you more about that in the next blog.
Answers to your questions:
Annalise – The ship travels at 12 knots when we are going between stations.
Matt T– The ship is very safe. Drills are conducted every week. My first day on the ship, we had a fire drill and abandon ship drill. (See photo of me in my survival suit.)
Dan – The Oscar Dyson observes and records a number of environmental conditions. The bridge takes weather readings every hour and keeps them in a weather log. These include wind direction, wind speed, seawater temperature, air temperature, air pressure, cloud cover, sea swell height and direction. Conditions in the water are also constantly monitored such as temperature, conductivity, salinity, and amount of oxygen.
Olivia – The bongo tow is one way to get fish eggs. The mesh used on the bongo nets is very fine). It is able to filter out these very small larval fish and fish eggs, too.
Brittany – There is no specific number of fish that need to be caught for this experiment. Part of the experiment is to see how many larval fish there are. For our rough count, the scientists measure 20 larvae to get an estimate of their size. They will then look at the otoliths (small inner ear bones) to estimate their age.
Amy – Aside from the Pollock larvae in the nets, we have caught cod larvae, larval squid, fish eggs, amphipods, terapods, jellies, Euphausids or krill, copepods and the larvae of other fish. The nets are small enough that we don’t catch any large fish or other animals.
Josh W. and Jon – Joel Kellogg has the night shift, so I haven’t met him yet. Stephen Macri is not on this cruise so I can’t ask him your questions.
Questions for today
In your answers to the last blog, many of you researched the large animals that live here in the Gulf of Alaska. The most abundant organisms, however, are much smaller. Two organisms that are very important to the survival of the large animals here are copepods and Euphausids. The larval Pollock feed on the larval copepods that are called copepodites.
Find out what other animals feed on copepods and euphausids. Then, describe at least one food chain that includes copepods and one that includes krill. In your food chain start with a producer or autotroph Ex. Algae) and end with the highest level of consumer or predator (Ex. blue Whale)
Again, Please be sure to include the link to the website where you got your information. Answer the questions in your own words writing complete sentences with as much detail as you can.
Here are two pictures of the Bongo Nets. I am holding the canister that collects the samples, which is then removed to sort through or store the samples. The other picture shows the two different sizes as it is about to be lowered into the cold water.
We left Dutch Harbor at 9pm on May 5th. I went to the bridge (where the Captain pilots the ship), which is 4 decks higher than where I sleep, and watched us depart. On our way out through the pass we passed a volcano. A scientist, Brian, works on the bridge watching birds. He has great binoculars and let me borrow them. I got to see my first Puffin! The sunset at 1030pm was gorgeous! Woke up 7 hours later to get to work. My shift will change, but for now it will be 7a-7p or 9a-9m. Began the day with a fire drill! Got to put on my survival suit! Now it was time to get back to work. I put on my orange suit (called a float coat) and went on the starboard side of the ship to help with releasing the tows. The first is the Neuston tow. It looks like a rectangular metal box with a net attached and a cylinder tube at the end. It collects plankton from the surface of the ocean. The tow stays at a 45 degree angle for 10 minutes and then is pulled onboard. We take the collection and put it in a quart size glass jar. On average, it is not very full. We then add sea water and formalin to preserve the specimens. Then we release the Bongo nets. They look just like two pairs of bongo drums, one large and one small.There are four circles (two different sizes) attached to nets and then connected to the collection containers (cups at the bottom of the net). They go down 300 meters or 10 feet off the bottom, and are then pulled back up. This takes over 30 minutes. (During this time a Laysan Albatross came along side the ship, and just wanted to hang out with us!) Once the nets are pulled in, three containers are preserved. We take the last container and sift through it using tweezers to pull out any larval fish (mostly pollock) and put them in a glass petri dish on ice. They are then taken to the microscopes and looked at closely for classification. Some are flash frozen on slides, others are individually preserved in alcohol. My best find last night was a squid the size of a tic-tac! After 14 hours of work it was time for me to go to bed. It was great waking up to so many messages and emails. Keep them coming. And for the questions-NO! I have not been sick 🙂