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?
Image of Phytoplankton taken by IFCB
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.
CTD on bottom of instrument with 12 Niskin bottles forming a rosette.
CTD, commonly known as Rosette. Note the rosette shape at top of bottles
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.
Susan taking water samples from niskin bottles to perform chlorophyll tests at 3 different depths.
Chlorophyll extraction set up
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???
Susan decorating Buoy- May River High School Sharks
Buoy splashing into water
Oh where, oh where, will you 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)
Bongos being lowered into the water
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.
Samples collected in cod-end of bongo net
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 “Taylor” cod-end knot
Washing out sieve to capture sample to be put into jar
Sample preserved and ready to be sent to lab to identify species
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.
This map on the bridge helps everyone keep track of where we are and where we are headed next.
Science and Technology Log
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.
Juvenile walleye pollock are fish that are only a few inches long. These fish can grow to much larger sizes as they mature.
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.
Bongo nets being lowered into the water off of the side of the ship.
This is the collection end, or cod end, of the bongo nets.
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.
Here I am, helping to bring the bongo nets back on to the ship.
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!
A jar of preserved zooplankton is ready to be identified.
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.
A naked pteropod, or sea angel, as seen through the microscope.
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.”
A sign of another great day on the Gulf of Alaska.
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
Here I am with a canister of plankton we collected from the bongo nets.
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.
Jars and jars of plankton samples ready to be studied.
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.
Plankton samples are preserved in jars with water and formalin.
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 CTD’s Niskin bottles trap water at different depths in the ocean for a wide-range of data.
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]
Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon helps recover the CTD.
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!
David Richardson planning our cruise with Operations Officer, Libby Mackie.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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)
Members of the Science Party stay busy collecting samples from the bongo nets.
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.
Cod (Gadus morhua)
Flounder (Paralichthys dentatus)
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)
Comb Jellies (Ctenophora)
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)
Pilot Whale (Globicephala)
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?
Phytoplankton samples from the bongo nets.
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
Approximate location of our first oceanography station [Source — Marine Traffic]
The J-Frame is used to deploy equipment into the water.
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.
Here I am in my gear preparing to launch the first bongo nets.
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.
CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth)
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.
The highlighted lines are stations completed in the first leg. The circle indicates the stations for my leg of the survey.
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.
Approximate position of our last station on May 31 in Georges Bank.
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.
Glen and Nicholas on the lookout.
[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].