Paul Ritter: They Are Watching Us, July 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-28-13 ship data


Happy Anniversary, Jodee!

Before I start my blog today I want to take a minute to say Happy Anniversary to my wife Jodee.  We have been married 18 wonderful years and I love her more today than ever before.  I am sorry that we can be together because  the team and I are chasing reef fish in the Atlantic Ocean.  Actually, now that I think about it this is the first time that we have not been together on our Anniversary.  That being said, there are some surprises that are being delivered to the house and I hope you like them.  I Love You,  Dear.

Science and Technology Log
Date: Monday July 29, 2013

I woke up around 5:30 this morning and it was a calm and beautiful day.  The water was as smooth as glass.  I never thought the water could be so still in the ocean.  After grabbing a cup of java, I ventured out to see the sunrise.  There sure is something about seeing a sunrise when there’s no land in sight.  It was breathtaking.

As I got ready to set out the day’s traps with my team, I went in to the dry lab to ask Zeb, our Chief Scientist, what our drop sites looked like on the bottom.  There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for our team to be able to set traps every day.  The acoustics lab / night team, consisting of  Warren Mitchell, Chief Investigator and a NOAA fisheries biologist, David Berrane a NOAA fisheries biologist, Matt Wilson a NOAA hydrographer, Dawn Glasgow a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and Neah Baechler a college student studying Geology at the College of Charleston, SC, started around 5:00 the day before.   This team is amazing.  They stay up all night mapping the ocean floor utilizing a technology that we refer to as the ME70.  The Simrad ME 70 is basically a very high resolution scientific multibeam sonar system that is utilized for data collection from the water column and the ocean floor.

What is very cool is that the system is capable of very high resolution mapping allowing the night team to predict where it is that we will have the best chances to find reef fish habitat the following day.  This team is the best at finding natural hard bottom habitat that is the quintessential reef-a-palooza.  How does the ME 70 work?  The ship sends out a cone of sound (ping) to the ocean floor and it bounces off of the ocean floor and back to the ship.  From there the ship’s computer knows the total distance that sound traveled traveled.  The data is then interpreted into a map of the ocean floor.  This explanation is overly simplified but it works.  Each morning the team takes the raw data from the ME 70 and it is corrected for tides, sound speed, and vessel offset (brings data to the waterline).  The raw sounding data is then processed into a bathymetric model that represents the sea floor and is the map that Zeb then uses to pick our trap locations.  It is magic.

Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean...

Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean…

Personal Log

Date: Monday  July 29, 2013


Paul Ritter with a “stowaway”

Have you ever thought that animals were watching you?  I think about this all of the time.  I will be doing something and it is like my dogs are always trying to find out what I am up to.  The cats are constantly checking to see if I am going to put food in their bowl.

I do not have any animal paranoia but I do think they are watching us.   Our expedition has made me a believer.  Today we started setting our traps and we noticed that at some point in night the NOAA Ship Pisces gained two stowaways, a little House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), and a little yellow Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum).  These two little guys were keeping very close tabs on what our team was doing while we were setting our first traps of the day.  Gradually, this little dynamic duo gradually became more brave as we put our set of six traps into the water.  As I looked at the little birds, I was thinking to myself, “I have seen my cats watch me like this.”

I quickly looked for something to feed them.  While the NOAA Ship Pisces does carry just about everything you can think of, there is no bird food to be found.  Jenny, one of the fisheries biologist on my team, quickly came up with the idea to give the hungry little buggers some flax seed.  No go.  They were not interested.  They were however interested in the water she had set out.  Eventually, they both became brave enough to jump onto my hand in hopes of finding something there.  Again no go.  It was as we were setting out our next set of traps that the birds both did something very cool.  They were picking up the leftover bits and pieces of the Menhaden that had fallen on the ground.  Man they could eat.  There was no way they were going to leave their new found buffet.


Paul Ritter and an octopus

During the collection of our second series of traps we noticed that again we had a stowaway.  A Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) had climbed aboard our trap and rode it all the way to the surface.  Upon arrival to the ship, this orange speckled cephalopod decided to abandon the trap and hit the deck.  Holy cow, it’s hard to pick up an octopus.  Their tentacles go everywhere and their suction cups hold on to everything they come in contact with, including my arm.  Once it grabbed my arm, our eyes made contact.  This little guy was watching me.  Maybe he was trying to figure out what exactly I was, or trying to figure out if I was going to eat him.  Nonetheless, he was not letting go.   Eventually, a number of us were able to hold him before he decided he was tired of the game and fell over the side of the ship, back to the depths below.  Ironically, our third set of traps also netted an octopus.  I suggested that we rename our expedition the cephalopod survey.  The team did not think that was funny.

Once on board, the second octopus also had its eyes keenly focused on everyone and everything that was going on.   It stared everyone down.  I always thought octopuses were very cool, but now after my encounters I think they are amazing.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Normally, our third series of traps on board would mean the end of the day; however due to our amazing results from the previous trappings Zeb decided we could set three more individual traps on a short run.  As we set the traps, we noticed that our ship was being followed.  A pod 4 of Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) were playing on the waves around the ship and soon there would be more.   One by one, more dolphins showed up.  While we were bringing in the traps, the dolphins waited by the buoys to see what was going on.  We brought in the traps, emptied our catch of Black Sea Bass into our counting bins and Zach and I would roll the chevron traps back to the aft deck to be stored.  While we were walking back, I felt as if we were being followed.  Sure enough we looked down and there they were, following us to the back of the ship.  They truly were amazing to watch.  After the second trap was aboard, the bridge of the ship put the ship into reverse to get a better angle at the third and last trap.  I never thought a 209 foot ship could travel the same speed backward as forward.  It was exciting.  What was even more exhilarating was the fact that the dolphins were all on the back of the ship riding the wave as the ship pushed itself through the water.  I think my camera snapped fifty pictures before they disappeared under the Pisces.

This experience has been a life changing dream come true for me.  To be able to work, side by side, some of the most brilliant fisheries biologist, hydrographers, and geologist the planet has to offer has been humbling.  I am truly thankful to be able to be apart of  this crew and it is exciting to know that while we are exploring the different habitat and animals around us, they are watching us too.

Did You Know?

Did you know the word cephalopod means “head-footed”?

Did you know that octopuses can change their color using chromatophores?

The name octopus came from the Greek language which means eight footed.

Want to know more about the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin?

Paul Ritter: Trap-Tastic – A Great Day in the Sun, July 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: Southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-18-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log


Paul Ritter onboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Life at sea is crazy and amazing.  It is kind of like Forrest Gump would say “ you never know what you’re gonna get”.  Today we set out our first two sets of traps.  Six individual traps are baited up with a fish called Menhaden—Brevoortia tyrannus.

Menhaden are about 15 to 35 cm long and they very stinky.  They might stink more than any fish I have ever smelled.  Menhaden are high in oil and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, which make them delicious to other fish and keeps them from having heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  It must work.  Think about it, I have never heard of a fish having a heart attack let alone Alzheimer’s.  Back to the traps….

Each trap gets four bait lines of Menhaden and then we cut up and throw in eight more just for good measure, kind of like they did in Jaws.  Once the bait is in, the trap door is shut, and cameras are put on tops of each trap.  One camera facing forward and one camera facing backwards completes the setup for the reef survey chevron trap.  The cool thing about the cameras on the traps is the front ones are Go Pro video cameras which are most often used in extreme sports.  I actually own two of them.  No. I am not really in to extreme sports.  We use them as helmet cams when we ride our four wheelers on trails.

The traps, which are individually numbered, are laid out on the aft deck (back) of the ship to prepare for sending them to the ocean floor.   An amazing feature of the ship is the ramp deck.  The moment Zeb “the chief scientist” gives the shout on the radio, Ryan “the skilled fisherman” (his actual title) pulls the lever and the back of the ship, or ramp deck, slides down.  It is at this point when the traps, cameras, and Menhaden are pushed off the back and all fly to the reef below.   It takes a little over a minute for the trap to reach the bottom which is around 70 meters or 223 feet deep.  Ninety minutes later we recover the traps one by one and inspect the catch.


Menhaden bait fish dangling from stringers

Personal Log

Thursday July 18, 2013

Well, the great big exciting news for this expedition….  I don’t get sea sick.  Woo Hoo.  You might not think this is such an amazing thing but you have no idea how happy I am to be able to say this.  We had at least one person who got sick already and I am thankful not to have gone through it.

I woke up around 5:30 A.M. this morning to get ready for our first day of work.  Breakfast consisted of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and juice.   I am here to tell you that the Chief Steward (Moises) aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces might be one of the best things to happen to her.   While I have only been on board for 48 hours, it is readily apparent that the crew has been well taken care of when it comes to eating.  Delicious.

After breakfast our team made our way to set up our video/chevron live trap on the aft (back)deck to prepare for the day’s work.  At around 7:45, we got the call from Zeb (the chief scientist) in the dry lab to start dropping traps.  First set of six traps made it into the water with no trouble.   Ninety minutes later we hauled them all back in one by one.  We emptied the live fish from the traps into tubs and placed them into the wet lab.  Zack Gillum, a graduate assistant from East Carolina University and my roommate for this expedition, and I carried the traps back to the aft deck and prepared them for re-baiting.  With the ship in full gear it only took about a half hour for us to reach our second drop zone or sampling area.

After our ninety minute bottom time, the traps came up, the traps were cleaned out and we were done sampling for the day.  The main reason we were done is that it was going to take us quite awhile to travel to our next sample site.    During this time of cleaning up, we emptied the traps, which were very smelly, and filled with half eaten Menhaden.  Wow they even stink after they have been underwater for ninety minutes.  which included swabbing the deck.  The only thing I could think of when we were scrubbing away is a song I learned during my childhood… It goes something like this….

Maybe you've heard the expression, "Swab the Deck?" It just means "Mop the Floor."

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Swab the Deck?” It just means “Mop the Floor.”

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, then your face will surely show it (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish).

Trust me if you sing it once it will stick in your head the rest of your life, it has mine for the last 35 plus years.

Somewhere in the middle of about the 50th verse of the song, we had an emergency fire drill.  It was relatively easy.  We simply had to quickly make our way to our prearranged staging area.  No big deal.  Shortly after that the Captain of the Pisces called an emergency evacuation drill.  This drill was not quite as easy. We had to run to our stateroom, grab long sleeve t-shirts, long pants, a hat, and our survival suit.  Once on deck we had to don all of our gear in about sixty seconds.  Man that thing was hot and sweat was pouring off of me like water going over Niagara Falls.  What is worse, I looked like a giant red Gumby Doll.  After the drill we finished cleaning up our messes, and filleted all of our fish and whatever we do not need to keep for research, will get donated to the local food pantries.  NOAA is amazing and so are her people.


Paul Ritter, in his ‘Gumby Suit’


Did You Know? 

Ships use different terms to describe direction on a ship.  They are easy to remember.

Port = left side

Starboard = Right side

Aft = Back

Paul Ritter: Getting Ready to Sail with the Pisces and Her Crew! July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Almost on board NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16 – August 1, 2013

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise:southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 16, 2013

Personal Log

My name is Paul Ritter and I am Biology and Earth Science teacher at Pontiac Township High School, in Pontiac, Illinois.  I have an amazing wife by the name of Jodee and am the proud papa to my two girls, Baylee and Taylor.  Even though I have only been gone for one day, I miss them already.  Pontiac is located 130 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 55.  Our community, where my wife, children, and I were born and raised,  is the epitome of Corn Town USA.  With that being said, our community does have several distinctions that set us apart from being a typical agricultural town.  Pontiac is home to the National Pontiac Automobile Museum, the Wall Dogs Museum for international artists, the National Route 66 museum, and a museum call the War Museum that showcases our service men and women who were in all of the major wars of the USA.  Our town is the number two tourism town in Illinois behind Chicago.  The number two largest landfill in the USA calls Pontiac home.  We have a maximum security prison that houses around 1,200 inmates.  Caterpillar, among other industry, is a valued company that hangs its hat in Pontiac. It hardly seems possible but this is my 20th year of being a teacher. You know, for me teaching is just as exciting today as it was that first year in the classroom.

The Ritter Family

The Ritter Family

Being from the Midwest, people from my region associate NOAA with our planet’s weather.  In reality, NOAA is so much more.  NOAA plays a major role in Environmental Satellite Data, Marine Fisheries, Oceans, Weather, and Atmospheric Research.  NOAA is so vitally important to the sustainability of our world.   It is for this exact reason that I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  It is my goal to find real ways to integrate the amazing work of NOAA into our classes. My specific mission is aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces with the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS) group which is a fishery-independent monitoring and research program targeting reef fish in southeast U.S. continental shelf waters.  Initiated in 2010, SEFIS works cooperatively with the long-term and ongoing Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction (MARMAP) sampling program to:

  • provide fishery-independent data to support reef fish stock assessments
  • perform reef fish ecology research, including, but not limited to
    • assessment of spatiotemporal distribution
    • habitat affiliation patterns
NOAA Ship Pisces was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Moss Point, Mississippi on December 19th, 2007, christened by Dr. Annette Nevin Shelby, wife of Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Commissioned on November 6, 2009, Pisces is the third of four new Fisheries Survey Vessels to be built by NOAA. The ship was named Pisces by a team of five seventh grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven, Mississippi.

NOAA Ship Pisces was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Moss Point, Mississippi on December 19th, 2007, christened by Dr. Annette Nevin Shelby, wife of Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Commissioned on November 6, 2009, Pisces is the third of four new Fisheries Survey Vessels to be built by NOAA. The ship was named Pisces by a team of five seventh grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven, Mississippi.

Monday July 15, 2013

I woke up extra early for some reason around 5:00 A.M even though the night before was a late night with the final night of my daughter Baylee’s play, the Little Mermaid.  Excited and anxious about leaving on my great expedition, I knew I needed to get out of the house or I was going to wake everyone else.  I headed to town and filled up the car with fuel.  Wanting to waste some time, I headed to some of our local stores to get some last minutes for the trip.  Around 8:30, Jodee and the girls drove me to the airport in Bloomington, Illinois.  It was exciting and sad at the same time.   I was very much looking forward to my expedition, but I wished I could take the family to be a part of the adventure.  We have had so many adventures together and I know they would have had a great time.  Maybe next time.  I flew from Bloomington to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and then finally landing in Jacksonville, Florida.  The ride from Bloomington to Chicago was quick and easy but the same could not be said for the next leg of the flight to Florida.

Our plane to Jacksonville was around 30 minutes late to land in Chicago and then when finally aboard we taxied around the runway for about 25 minutes.  It felt like we were on a behind the scenes tour of O’Hare.  I was waiting for the pilot to come over the announcements and say “Ladies and gentlemen if you look to your right you can see Lake Michigan”.  Finally in the air, somewhere over Georgia we hit the turbulence.  Man it was bumpy.  While this was going on, I took the opportunity to get to know the guy who was next to me in seat 11B.  Ironically, we went to the same college at the same time and lived in the same dormitory.  Small world.  We finally arrived in Jacksonville and off to the hotel I went.  You know it is funny,  I have been so fortunate to be able to travel to some amazing places, but I have never been on a ship in the ocean for pleasure or otherwise.  I am not really sure if I will get sea sick or not.  I’m thinking not, but I am guessing I will find out very quickly.

Tuesday July 16, 2013

Dr. Zeb Schobernd and the rest of the scientists are making their way down to meet me in Jacksonville to pick me up at the hotel.  Here is another very cool part of this trip….  Zeb’s hometown, which is Bloomington, Illinois, is only 35 miles from where my family I live.   From there we are headed to the Pisces which is in port to spend our first night on board.  I look forward to getting to know my new shipmates.

Did You Know?  NOAA does more than just weather? In fact, NOAA is involved in every aspect of our amazing world.  Here are some of their divisions. ·  National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service ·  National Marine Fisheries Service ·  National Ocean Service ·  National Weather Service ·  Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research  

Sue Cullumber: Reflections – From the Atlantic to Arizona, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/26/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf


Our first group for the EcoMon Survey. Kat, Kevin, Holly, Chris, Tom, Sue, Chris, and Cristina.

Personal Log: Well I’m back in my home state of Arizona.  It is really hot, the forecast is for it to be above 110º, and I miss the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.  I am happy to be back in Arizona, but I will miss all the people, the marine creatures and the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.  I will remember  this experience for the rest of my life and look forward to sharing this exciting adventure with my students, friends and family.


Our 2nd group for the EcoMon Survey. Tom, Kris, Cristina, David, Sue, Chris, Kevin and Sarah.

On the last two days onboard we finished up our EcoMon Survey and had time to add 23 more Bongo Stations.  These were completed in two areas with the first just east of Maryland and the second off the coast of North Carolina. As we headed east of North Carolina we went into the Gulf Stream and the water temperature started to increase. At these stations our samples contained more larval fish than previously. We even brought up some deep-sea fish in two of these samples. One was a species of Gonostoma and the second a Hatchet fish. Both were fairly small and black with iridescent colors and had large mouths with many teeth.


A fish, from the species Gonostoma, that was brought up in our Bongo net.


A Hatchet fish in our Bongo net sample.

Our drifter buoy, WMO # 44932,  has been showing some movement since being deployed (to track movement, put GTS buoy for data set and WMO # for platform ID).  Currently it is at latitude/ longitude:  38.73ºN, 73.61ºW.  It does appear to be moving inland, but hopefully it will catch the current and start moving further into the Atlantic.  We will be tracking it at Howard Gray over the next year.


Margaret Coyle, our chief steward, serving Alaskan crab legs.

Last day on the Gordon Gunter, Margaret, the chief steward, prepared a special meal for all of us.  The spread included: Alaskan crab legs, roast duck with plum sauce, NY loin strip Oscar, grilled salmon, asparagus, red potatoes, Italian rolls, cream of potato and bacon soup (which I had at lunch, delicious) and cranberry cheesecake.  I choose the crab, duck, asparagus, potatoes, and cheesecake – heavenly!!!  I probably shouldn’t have had the cheesecake as well,  but it was just delicious!  Margaret always had so many great choices it was really hard to make up your mind.


Bottlenose Dolphin at the bow of the Gordon Gunter.

Our last night on the Gordon Gunter was amazing. We had another unbelievable sunset with fantastic colors.  A friend of mine from Arizona said, “It makes our Arizona sunsets look very bland and I think they are some of the best I’ve seen.”  Then a group of Bottlenose dolphins visited the bow of the ship, so it was truly a remarkable night I will always remember.


Our final sunset on the Gordon Gunter.


Enjoying the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.

Question of the day? :  Why do you think the deep-sea fish have such large mouths?

Sue Cullumber: Drifting Away, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/21/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Time:  21.00 (9 pm)
Latitude/longitude:  3734.171ºN, 7507.538ºW
Temperature: 20.1ºC
Barrometer: 1023.73 mb
Speed: 9.6 knots


Getting ready to launch the buoy – photo by Chris Taylor.


Launching the buoy from the ship’s stern – photo by Chris Taylor.

Science and Technology Log: 

This week we launched a Global Drifter Buoy (GDB) from the stern of the Gordon Gunter.  So what is a GDB? Basically it is a satellite tracked surface drifter buoy.  The drifter consists of a surface buoy, about the size of a beach ball, a drogue, which acts like a sea anchor and is attached underwater to the buoy  by a 15 meter long tether.

Drifter tracking: The drifter has a transmitter that sends data to passing satellites which provides the latitude/longitude of the drifter’s location. The location is determined from 16-20 satellite fixes per day.  The surface buoy contains 4 to 5  battery packs that each have 7-9 alkaline D-cell batteries, a transmitter, a thermistor to measure sea surface temperature, and some even have other instruments  to measure barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, salinity, and/or ocean color. It also has a submergence sensor to verify the drogue’s presence. Since the drogue is centered 15 meters underwater it  is able to measure mixed layer currents in the upper ocean. The drifter has a battery life of about 400 days before ending transmission.


Stickers from students at Howard Gray School.


Attaching the stickers to the buoy – photo by Kris Winiarski.

Students at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona designed stickers that were used to decorate the buoy. The stickers have messages about the school, Arizona and NOAA so that if the buoy is ever retrieved this will provide information on who launched it.  In the upcoming year students at Howard Gray will be tracking the buoy from the satellite-based system  Argos that is used to collect and process the drifter data. You can follow our drifter here, by putting in the data set for the GTS buoy with a Platform ID of 44932 and select June 19, 2013 as the initial date of the deployment.

Why are drifter buoys deployed?

In 1982 the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) determined that worldwide drifter buoys (“drifters”) would be extremely important for oceanographic and climate research. Since then drifters have been placed throughout the world’s oceans to obtain information on ocean dynamics, climate variations and meteorological conditions.


The Howard Gray School drifter on its ocean voyage.

NOAA’s Global Drifter Program (GDP) is the main part of the Global Surface Drifting Buoy Array, NOAA’s branch of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).  It has two main objectives:

1. Maintain a 5×5 worldwide degree array (every 5 degrees of the latitude/longitude of world’s oceans) of the 1250 satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys to maintain an accurate and globally set of on-site observations that include:  mixed layer currents, sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds and salinity.

2. Provide a data processing system of this data for scientific use.


Bongo nets going out for the plankton samples.


Plankton from the different mesh sizes. The left is from the smaller mesh and contains much more sample. Photo by Paula Rychtar.

EcoMon survey: We are continuing to take plankton samples and this week we started taking two different Bongo samples at the same station. Bongo mesh size (size of the holes in the net) was changed several years ago to a smaller mesh size of .33 mm. However, they need comparison samples for the previous nets that were used and had a mesh size of about .5 mm.  They had switched to the smaller net size because they felt that they were losing a large part of the plankton sample (basically plankton were able to escape through the larger holes). We are actually able to see this visually in the amount of samples that we obtain from the different sized mesh.


Common Dolphins were frequent visitors to the Gordon Gunter.

Personal Log:

It’s hard to believe that my Teacher at Sea days are coming to a close. I have learned so much about life at sea, the ocean ecosystem, the importance of plankton, data collection, and the science behind it all.  I will miss the people, the ocean and beautiful sunsets and the ship, but I’m ready to get back to Arizona to share my adventure with my students, friends and family. I want to thank all the people that helped me during this trip including: the scientists and NOAA personnel, the NOAA Corps and ship personnel, the bird observers and all others on the trip.

Did you know? Drifters have even been placed in many remote locations that are infrequently visited or difficult to get to through air deployment.  They are invaluable tools in tracking and predicting the intensity of hurricanes, as well.

Question of the day?  What information would you like to see recorded by a Global Drifter Buoy and why?


Another beautiful sunset at sea.

Sue Cullumber: Testing the Water and More, June 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/19/2013
Geographical area of cruise: The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude: 3853.256 N, 7356.669W
Temperature: 18.6ºC
Barometer: 1014.67 mb
Speed: 9.7 knots


CTD reading on the computer. Blue is density, red is salinity, green is temperature and black indicates the depth.

Science and Technology Log:

Even before the plankton samples are brought onboard, scientists start recording many types of data when the equipment is launched. The bongos are fitted with an electronic CTD (conductivity, temperature and density) and as they are lowered into the ocean the temperature, density and salinity (salt content) are recorded on a computer. This helps scientists with habitat modeling and determining the causes for changes in the zooplankton communities. Each bongo net also has a flow-through meter which records how much water is moving through the net during the launch and can is used to estimate the number of plankton found in one cubic meter of water.


Zooplankton (Z) and Icthyoplankton (I) samples.

The plankton collected from the two bongo nets are separated into two main samples that will be tested for zooplankton and icthyoplankton (fish larvae and eggs). These get stored in a glass jars with either ethanol or formalin to preserve them. The formalin samples are sent to a lab in Poland for counting and identification. Formalin is good for preserving the shape of the organism, makes for easy identification, and is not flammable, so it can be sent abroad.  However, formalin destroys the genetics (DNA) of the organisms, which is why ethanol is used with some of the samples and these are tested at the NOAA lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island.


Holding one of our zooplankton samples – photo by Paula Rychtar.

When the samples are returned from Poland, the icthyoplankton samples are used by scientists to determine changes in the abundance of the different fish species. Whereas, the zooplankton samples are often used in studies on climate change. Scientists have found from current and historic research (over a span of about 40 years) that there are changes in the distribution of different species and increases in temperature of the ocean water.

At the Rosette stations we take nutrient samples from the different water depths. They are testing for nitrates, phosphates and silicates. Nutrient samples are an important indicator of zooplankton productivity. These nutrients get used up quickly near the surface by phytoplankton during the process of photosynthesis (remember phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain and are producers). As the nutrients pass through the food chain (zooplankton eating phytoplankton and then on up the chain) they are returned to the deeper areas by the oxidation of the sinking organic matter. Therefore, as you go deeper into the ocean these nutrients tend to build up.  The Rosettes also have a CTD attached to record conductivity, temperature and density at the different depths.


Scientist, Chris Taylor, completing the dissolved inorganic carbon test.


The dissolved inorganic carbon test uses chemicals to stop any further biological processes and suspend the CO2 in “time”.

Another test that is conducted on the Rosettes is for the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon. This test is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide that the ocean uptakes from outside sources (such as cars, factories or other man-made sources). Scientists want to know how atmospheric carbon is affecting ocean chemistry  and marine ecosystems and changing the PH (acids and bases) of the ocean water. One thing they are interested in is how this may be affecting the formation of calcium in marine organisms such as clams, oysters, and coral.

New word: oxidation – the chemical combination of a substance with oxygen.


Cape Cod canal.

Personal Log:

This week we headed back south and went through the Cape Cod canal outside of Plymouth, Massachusetts. I had to get up a little earlier to see it, but it was well worth it.  The area is beautiful and there were many small boats and people enjoying the great weather.


Small boat bringing in a new group to the Gordon Gunter.

We also did a small boat transfer to bring five new people onboard, while three others left at the same time. It was hard to say goodbye, but it will be nice to get to know all the new faces.


Common Dolphins swimming next to the Gordon Gunter.

So now that we are heading south the weather is warming up. I have been told that we may start seeing Loggerhead turtles as the waters warm up – that would be so cool.  We had a visit by another group of Common Dolphins the other day. They were swimming along the side of the ship and then went up to the bow. They are just so fun to watch and photograph.

We have been seeing a lot of balloons (mylar and rubber) on the ocean surface. These are released into the air by people, often on cruise ships, and then land on the surface. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales and sea birds often mistake these for jelly fish and eat them.  They can choke on the balloons or get tangled in the string, frequently leading to death. Today, we actually saw more balloons than sea birds!!! A good rule is to never release balloons into the air no matter where you live!


A mylar balloon seen in the water by our ship.

Did you know?  A humpback whale will eat about 5000 pounds of krill in a day. While a blue whale eats about 8000 pounds of krill daily.

Question of the day?  If 1000 krill = 2 pounds, then together how many krill does a humpback and blue whale consume on a daily basis.

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus

Sue Cullumber: Navigating for Plankton – It’s a Team Effort! June 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date:  6/15/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude:  4234.645N, 6946.914W
Temperature: 15.4ºC, 60ºF
Barometer: 1011.48 mb
Speed: 9.4 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton is everywhere throughout the ocean, so how are the stations chosen and mapped?


Looking over the map of our strata – photo by Cristina Bascuñán

Scientists first decide on a specific region or strata that they want to sample.  Then within this strata a specific number of stations is determined for sampling.  NOAA has developed a computer program that then randomly selects stations in the strata.  After these stations are generated, scientists play “connect the dots” to find the best route to get to all the stations. Once the route is generated adjustments are made based on time, weather and the team’s needs. These are plotted on a map and sent to the ship to see if further adjustments will need to be made.


Map of our area of strata. We are currently following the red line. Many of the original stations to the east were dropped from the survey.

When the ship receives the map from the science party, they plot all the stations and make a track line to determine the shortest navigable route that they can take. Frequently the map that is originally provided has to be adjusted due to weather, navigation issues (if there is a shoal, or low area, the route may have to be changed), or ship problems. Once they come up with a plan, this has to be re-evaluated on a daily basis. For example during our survey we left four days later than planned, so many of the stations had to be taken out. Furthermore a large storm was coming in, so the route was changed again to avoid this weather. The Operation’s Officer onboard (Marc Weekley on the Gordon Gunter) speaks with the science party on a daily basis to keep the plan up to date and maintain a safe route throughout the survey.


The Gyro Compass on the Gordon Gunter.


The Sperry Marine – shows the location of vessels near the Gordon Gunter.


Commanding Officer, Jeff Taylor, at the bridge with Ops Officer, Marc Weekley at the watch.

Ship Technology: The Gordon Gunter and all other NOAA vessels use many types of equipment to navigate the ship.  They have an electronic Gyro Compass which is constantly spinning to point to True North (not magnetic north).  This is accurate to a 10th of a degree and allows for other navigation systems on the ship to know with great accuracy what direction the ship is pointing. It also is used to steer the ship in auto pilot. When needed they can switch to manual control and hand steer the ship. They also have a magnetic compass onboard, if all electronics were to go out on the ship.  Also on the bridge are two radars, which provides position of all boats in the area and is used for collision avoidance. Underway, the Captain requires the ship to stay at least 1 nautical mile from other vessels unless he gives commands otherwise.

Once a station is reached the ship has to position itself so it will not go over the wire that is attached to the survey equipment.  Taking into consideration all of  the elements, which includes the wind speed, current weather conditions and the speed of the current, they usually try to position the boat so that the wind is on its port side.  In this way the wind is on the same side as the gear and it will not hit the propellors or the hull. The ship’s sonars determine the depth of the ocean floor and the scientists use this information to lower their equipment to a distance just above this depth.


Cathleen Turner and Kevin Ryan take water samples from the Rosette.


Bow – front of the ship

Stern – back of the ship

Port – left of bow

Starboard – right of bow

Personal Log: 

Brrr… it’s cold!  To avoid the big storm we headed north to the Bay of Fundy that is located between Maine and Nova Scotia.  Seas were fairly calm, but was it cold at 9º C (48ºF), but with the wind chill it was probably closer to 5.5ºC (42ºF)!  We are now heading south so it is starting to warm up, but luckily it won’t be as hot as Arizona!

Loggerheadshark - tom

Loggerhead turtle being tracked by a Blue Shark – photo by Tom Johnson


Shearwater trying to take off.








Trying to take photos of animals in the ocean is very difficult.  You have to be in the right place, at the right time, and be ready. Today we saw several sightings of whales, but they were in the distance and only lasted a second.  During this trip, there was also a sighting of a shark attacking a Loggerhead turtle, but by the time I got to the bridge we had passed it by.  Lately we have seen a great variety of sea birds including:  shearwaters, puffins, sea gulls, and about twenty fiver other types. Even though it can be a little frustrating at times, it is still very calming to look out over the ocean and the sunsets are always amazing!


Sailing into a beautiful sunset

I can’t believe that there is only one week left for the survey.  Time has gone so fast and I have learned so much.  Tomorrow we are doing a boat exchange and some people are leaving while others will come onboard.  I will miss those people that are leaving the ship, but look forward to meeting new people that will join our team.

Did you know?  The ratio of different salts (ions) in the ocean water are the about same in all of the world’s oceans.


One of the pufffins we saw up by Maine.