Karah Nazor: Sorting Protocol and the Ubiquitous Tunicates of the Central CA Coast: Salps and Pyrosomes, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 30, 2019

Last night I fell asleep, twice, at the lab bench in between trawls, since I am still adjusting to being on the night shift.  We worked from 9:00 P.M. to 6:30 A.M. After the shift I had a nice hot shower and slept a solid 9 hours from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Hopefully, I will be less drowsy tonight!

Upon waking, I went to the galley and grabbed some Raisin Bran and coffee and took it up to the flying bridge to hang out with Ornithologist Brian Hoover.  Our current location is in the middle of the Channel Islands, an area I know something about because my friend Evan Morrison, mentioned in my first blog, helps with the Channel Islands Swimming Association, and I would like to swim between these islands one day.  Lauren Valentino, Flora Cordoleani, Ily Iglesias and I congregated on the flying bridge and decided we should exercise. We joined Flora in her squat challenge (80 squats on this particular day), followed by 5 minutes of planking and a bit of erging.  Half of female members of the fish sorting team are avid rock climbers. They did lots of pull-ups using the rock ring climbing training holds that are installed there.

It felt nice and warm when the ship stopped for deployment of the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette, and it got chilly again as the wind picked up when the ship started moving again. We saw a few whale spouts in the distance and at 5:30 P.M. we went down to the galley for a delicious meal of steak and mashed potatoes.  I am beginning to really appreciate how nice this whole experience has been in terms of amenities. The NOAA Reuben Lasker first set launch in 2014 and is a state of the art fisheries vessel with a sophisticated acoustics lab, fish lab, dynamic positioning system, CTD, etc., but is ALSO equipped with creature comforts including a movie lounge, an ice cream cooler loaded with ice cream sandwiches, snickers, fruit pops, you name it, and my personal favorite – a coffee bar where all coffee is freshly ground, an espresso machine, and all varieties of milk and creamers, including Reese’s cup whipped cream. The mattress in my stateroom bunk is quite comfortable and the shower gets hot within seconds! I doubt it can get much better than this for a research experience at sea?

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Point Sal line with five 15 minute hauls.

I am familiar with the sorting protocol now. The catch is dropped from the net into the bucket by members of the deck crew and survey tech, with the oversight of Keith Sakuma, Chief Scientist and NOAA Operations Officer Keith Hanson.  The bucket is immediately placed in the fish lab and this is when the fish sorting team starts our work.

Cobb Trawl net
Dropping the catch from the Cobb Trawl net into the bucket.
fish on a sorting tray
A volume of fish just placed on a sorting tray. This catch has a lot of anchovies, krill, and California smoothtongues.
Separating the krill
Separating the krill from the myctophids, Northern anchovies, and California smoothtongues.
Sorting fish group photo
Team Red Hats sorting fish. NOAA’s Keith Hanson in the rear left side.


SORTING AND COUNTING METHOD

We start by carefully picking through a 2000 mL or 5000 mL volume of the harvest, depending on Keith Sakuma’s initial assessment of the species density and volume in the bucket.  The first volume of catch to be sorted is evenly dispersed onto four white sorting trays arrayed on the main lab bench. Once you have a pile of the catch on your tray, you start to separate them into piles of different types of organisms, such as Northern anchovies, ctenophores, krill, salps, pyrosomes, Californian smoothtongues, squid, rockfish, myctophids, and young of year (YOY) fish.  I prefer to use my hands for sorting while others use forceps. Once sorted, we count the number of individuals for each species. If we have difficulty identifying an animal that we have not yet seen, we ask Keith Sakuma or a more experienced team member to help with identification. YOY fish, some in larval form, are particularly difficult for me.

Once sorted and counted, we verbally call out the common name and number of organisms to Keith Sakuma who manually records the data in a 3-ring binder for the lab hard-copy.   For smaller organisms, such as krill or salps, or in hauls with a high number of any particular species, it would be quite tedious to pick out and count each individual in the total haul.  This is why we start with a small subsample volume or 0.5, 2 or 5L, count the individuals in that small volume, establish the ratio for the number of individuals in that volume, and then extrapolate and calculate by the total volume of the haul.  For example, if we counted 97 pyrosomes in the initial 5L sort, and we collected a total of 1000L, then we can say that there are 19,400 pyrosomes in the haul.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma
Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma recording the data from a haul during sorting.

Once 20 individuals of each species have been called out, we no longer have to count that species since the ratio for this catch has already been established and to expedite sorting the rest of the volume.  Following sorting, the length of the twenty representatives of each species is measured using electronic calipers and the values populate on an Excel spreadsheet. After measuring, specimens requested by various research institutes including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Moss Landing, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are collected, labelled and frozen.

Flora Cordoleani
Flora Cordoleani keeping track of which specimens are to be preserved for various research groups.
Keith Sakuma bagging specimens to send to collaborators.

Creature(s) feature: Salps and Pyrosomes. 

Salps What are these strange gelatinous organisms in our catch that look like little puddles of clear jelly with a red, green, yellow, and brown digestive organ in the center?  They are goopy, small and slippery making them difficult to pick up by hand. They float on the sea surface and are ubiquitous in our hauls BUT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.

These creatures are called salps and belong to the subphylum Tunicata. Tunicates have a notochord in their early stage of life which makes them members of the phylum Chordata, to which humans also belong. Having a transparent body is a way escape being preyed upon.

A group of salps. This species is dime to quarter sized and this number of salps occupies a volume of ~10-15 ml once placed in a beaker.
Salp digestive organs.

Salps are planktonic tunicates  That can be found as individual salps or in long chains called blastozooids.   The salps shown in the photo below were individuals and were notable in most of our hauls. Individual salps in this pile are dime to quarter sized and occupy a volume of ~10-15 ml. We measured the volume of salps in every haul.

While on the topic of salps, I will tell you about a cool 1 inch long salp parasite I found on my sorting tray (see image below). Keith Sakuma explained that it was a deep sea amphipod called Phronima which is a parasitoid that takes up residence inside of a salp’s body, eats the salp’s organs, and then lays its eggs inside of the salp. The King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, (which we are also catching) uses its protrusible jaw to get inside of the salp just to eat this amphipod!

Phronima amphipod
Phronima amphipod – lives and reproduced in salp after eating the salp’s organs. King-of-the-salmon fish use their protrusible jaws to eat the amphipod.
King-of-the-salmon
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis
King-of-the-salmon jaw protruded
King-of-the-salmon, Trachipterus altivelis, who preys upon phronima living inside of salp, with jaw protruded.
A large haul full of salps.

Another type of salp we keep catching is Thetys vagina, a large solitary species of nektonic salp that feeds on plankton, such as diatoms, and is an important carbon sink in the ocean. Thetys has an external surface, or test, that is covered with bumps and ridges, as seen in the photo below.

Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
Thetys vagina, the twin-sailed salp.
internal filtering organ
The internal filtering organ of Thetys vagina.
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys
Kristin Saksa examining a larger Thetys vagina, or the twin-sailed salp. The dark colored tentacles are downward facing. This is the siphon where water enters the sac-filled body.

Pyrosomes Pyrosoma atlanticum are another type of planktonic tunicate which are very numerous in most of our hauls. Pyrosomes look like bumpy pink hollow tubes with openings on both ends. They are rigid in structure and easy to pick up by hand, whereas salps are goopy and difficult to pick up by hand.  We have collected some pyrosomes that are 13 inches long, while most are in the 4-6 inch range. The small pyrosomes look like clear Tic Tacs, but they do not taste as such.

Pyrosoma atlanticum
Pyrosoma atlanticum, with an ~6 inch specimen on the left and small pyrosomes on the right.

How can pyrosomes be so ubiquitous just 20 miles or so off of the Central California Coast, but I have never seen one that has floated up on the beach or while swimming?

Pyrosoma atlanticum are also planktonic tunicates, but are colonial organisms made up of many zooids held together by a gelatinous structure called the tunic. One end of the tube is wide open and filters the water for zooplankton and phytoplankton, while the other end is tighter and resembles a diaphragm or sphincter. The pyrosomes we harvested appeared in diverse array of pinks and purples.  Pyrosomes are believed to harbor intracellular bioluminescent bacteria. Pyrosomes are drifting organisms that swim by beating cilia lining the branchial basket to propel the animals through the water and create a current for filter feeding. 

Pyrosome rainbow
Pyrosoma atlanticum assorted by color.
Kristin Saksa
Moss Landing Graduate Student Kristin Saksa excited about the large haul of Pyrosoma atlanticum.
high-five
Pyrosoma atlanticum high-five.

Christopher Tait: Where am I? April 1, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Tait

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

March 21 – April 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from San Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA

Date: April 1, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 8:51 PDT,

Current Location: South West of Santa Rosa Island, Latitude 33.37N Longitude -120.7 W

Air Temperature 13.4 oC  (56.1 oF)

Water Temperature 13.1 oC  (55.5 oF)

Wind Speed 12 kts

Barometric pressure 1013.98 hPa

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Science and Technology Log

Oceans cover 71% of the surface of Earth and 99% of the livable space (Figure 1).  The Coastal Pelagic Survey is taking several approaches to map the distribution of anchovy, sardine, and other target species within the epipelagic zone.  This zone is the thin surface layer extending to the depths light penetrates the ocean, which is approximately 200 meters near California.  The epipelagic zone in some coastal areas is very productive due to the upwelling of nutrient rich water causing an abundance of primary production by phytoplankton.  Besides the net trawling and acoustic transects, the researchers are using samples of fish eggs and ichthyoplankton (ichthyo = fish, plankton = drifting) to determine locations of spawning. This voyage is mostly surveying over the continental shelf and I am amazed at the diversity of organisms we have found thus far.  In this modern era of exploration of the vastly unknown deeper regions, I can only imagine the species still to be discovered!

 

Figure 1: Ocean Layers

Ocean Layers.png

(c) Knight, J.D., 1998, Sea and Sky, http://www.seasky.org/deep-sea/ocean-layers.html

CUFES:

A CUFES (Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler) system is used to determine the location of fish eggs as we travel transects on a continuous daily basis (Figure 2).  Water from 3 meters below the surface is pulled into the boat at 640 L/min. and poured through a filter to collect fish eggs and other plankton.  The collected samples are analyzed every 30 minutes to determine a density of eggs and which species are spawning.  The collected samples are further analyzed at NOAA’s SWFSC (Southwest Fisheries Science Center) in La Jolla, CA.

Figure 2: CUFES Schematic

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CUFES schematic.

 

Figure 3: Preliminary Results of CUFES Survey

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Preliminary results of the CUFES survey. The CUFES data is overlaid on sea surface temperatures measured by satellite.

The CUFES data is overlaid on sea surface temperatures measured by satellite.

PairoVET Tow & Bongo Tow

A PairoVET (paired vertical egg tow) sample is collected using a pair of small, fine mesh nets dropped to 70 meters deep and vertically towed to the surface to collect fish eggs and zooplankton in the water column at predetermined locations along our transects every 20 nautical miles. This is generally the depths that sardine release their eggs. The Bongo net gets its name because the nets are the size of bongo drums (Figure 4 & 5).  This is a plankton tow that is pulled alongside the ship and occurs every 40 nautical miles.  The net is dropped to a depth of 210 meters and pulled up at a 45 degree angle to get a more complete sample of the ichthyoplankton and zooplankton throughout the water column at location.

 Figure 4: Bongo net in center of image and PairoVET on the right.

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Bongo net in center of image and PairoVET on the right.

Figure 5: Bongo going overboard.

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Bongo going overboard.

Figure 6: Preserving the Bongo Sample for later analysis.

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TAS Chris Tait preserves the Bongo Sample for later analysis

CTD: Conductivity, Temperature and Depth Probe

The scientists use a CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) probe to measure the physical properties of the seawater throughout the water column that biologic samples are being taken (Figure 7). Conductivity is used to calculate the salinity of the water. These physical properties are very important in determining the types of organisms that are present at varying locations.

 Figure 7: CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Analysis

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CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) analysis

Personal Log

One of the great mysteries of waking up is answering the question of “where am I?”  After a long evening of trawling for fish and keeping an eye on where you are, you go to bed.  Exhausted, the boat rocks you to sleep.  When I wake up the first thing I do is, jump out of bed and run out onto the front deck.  Some days, there is ocean for as far as the eye can see, some days a mysterious island (Figure 8) in the distance and sometimes there is the mainland (Figure 9)!  I run to grab my phone when mainland is in sight to get a couple of phone calls out to family.

 Figure 8: The mysterious island turns out to be Anacapa Island, which is part of the Channel Islands National Park.  The waters surrounding the park are part of a national marine sanctuary.

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Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands

 

Figure 9: Sunrise over Santa Barbara.  Time for me to make a call home!

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Sunrise over Santa Barbara

In the Dry Lab there is a computer with a map showing where we are currently located, a red track line showing where we have been and transect lines displaying where we will soon be (Figure 10).  On our acoustic transects, we follow the parallel lines to mow the lawn and find the location of the CPS (coastal pelagic species) from their echoes.  When we trawl, we break transect and go to places that showed promise in the acoustic backscatter.  

 Figure 10: Without tracking our location on the computer I would feel totally lost! The blue lines are where we plan to go, and the red lines show where we’ve actually gone.

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Blue lines show where we plan to go, and the red lines show where we’ve actually gone.

Catch of the Day

As I get ready for my night shift, I feel this anticipation to discover what species we are going to find!  Every day brings a new catch of the day!

Grey Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus): This small coastal shark feeds on small invertebrates and fish.

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Gray Smoothhound Shark (Mustelus californicus)

Needle Fish (Family Belonidae):  This large needle fish is coastal piscivorous fish, meaning they specialize at eating other fish. They have a mouth full of tiny needle like teeth to prevent a slippery fish from getting away.

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Needle Fish (Family Belonidae)

Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax): This is one of our target species on this survey.  Anchovy have the potential to form massive schools and have a tremendous impact of the ecology of the California Current Ecosystem.  They feed on zooplankton, provide food for other fish, sea birds, and marine mammals.  They are also an important fishery which have the potential to be over fished if not properly managed.

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Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)

Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax, top specimen) and Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicas, bottom two specimens): These two species are also part of the Coastal Pelagic Species community, which this survey are targeting.  The sardine is another very important fish due to their ability to form tremendous schools, impacting plankton through feeding, providing food for larger predators, and they are a valuable fishery.  Sardine populations have the ability to boom and crash, and the cause is still not fully understood.  The Pacific mackerel is a species that has been populous at times of lower sardine and anchovy abundance.

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Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax), top, and Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus), bottom two

Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax) and Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus)

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Close-up of Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Pacific Mackeral (Scomber japonicus)

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Pacific Mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) and Larval Rockfish (Sebastes sp.): Jack Mackerel is another target species of the Coastal Pelagic Survey.

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Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) and a larval rockfish (Sebastes sp.)

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 4, March 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 16, 2015

Day 4: Monday 3/16/15

The visiting sonar technician left this afternoon on NOAA’s Shark Cat boat after working diligently to fix the ship’s sonar system throughout the past few days.  As of now, the ME 70 sonar is up and running.  This equals exciting news for the sonar team that has been waiting patiently to begin their projects.  The Shimada actually has two sonar machines; one works with a single beam, while the other, the ME 70 has multiple beams that can cover a much greater amount of territory in the same amount of time.

Shark Cat boat
The Shark Cat alongside the Shimada

How does sonar work?

Sonar technology is a way for us to create images of what is below the surface of the ocean.  The sonar system, which is attached to the bottom of the ship, sends out an acoustic signal towards the ocean floor and then measures how long it takes for the sound to bounce back to the boat. By measuring this, the sonar creates a picture of the depth of the ocean floor in that area.  

Mike and Will
Mike and Will look at data generated from the sonar system

A secondary measurement that is also occurring when the sonar machine is running is called backscatter.  Backscatter measures the intensity, or loudness, of the sound as it echoes back to the ship.  The softer the sound when it reflected back means the softer the type of surface it is bouncing off of, such as sand.  The louder and more severe the sound is equates to a harder surface floor, such as rocky ledges.  As Andy explained to me, think about bouncing a ping-pong ball on a carpet vs. hardwood floor.  The ping-pong ball will have a much stronger bounce off of a hard surface v. a softer one.  Will also explained that based on the backscatter sound we can determine fine details such as whether the sand is fine or coarse.

Simrad ME70
Simrad ME70, Scientific multibeam echo sounder

Both of these sonar features create an image of what the ocean floor looks like, its physical features, habitat types and any potential hazards that may exist below the surface.  This is critical for creating nautical charts and it is also important for the navigation of the ROV, so it doesn’t stumble upon any unexpected obstacles while traveling underwater. 

Shimada seamount
An example of an image created by the sonar system

Another feature that sonar is used for on this ship is to measure fish abundance.  The sound waves travel down and bounce off of the fishes’ swim bladders.  Swim bladders are gas filled bladders found in many fish that helps them stay buoyant.  Using this method, scientists could use sonar to gauge fish populations, instead of catching fish to see what is out there.

An example of an image created by the sonar system
Scientists looking at sonar screens

So far in the trip, Laura Kracker and her team (Mike Annis, Will Sautter and Erin Weller) have been using the working sonar to map fish populations in the area.  Tonight, however, they will use the ME 70 for a test run to map out areas of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary that have never been mapped before!  This data could be used to create brand new nautical maps, to help scientists have a better idea of what the hidden part of our sanctuary looks like and to determine which regions might be best habitats for fish or coral.   Tomorrow, the ROV team will send the ROV to the sites that were mapped the previous night to check out features that were discovered on the seafloor and to explore the newly mapped regions. 

sonar team
The sonar team hard at work (from left Mike, Will, Laura, Erin)

Life at Sea

When setting out on this journey, students asked me what life would be like living on a ship.  I spoke with several of the crew members on the ship about what it is like to be out at sea for days at a time.   So here is an image of what it has been like so far, from the perspective of some of the crew and from my own experiences:

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
The Bell M. Shimada by the Channel Islands

The Bell M. Shimada is an enormous ship, over 200 feet in length.  I have been here for four days now and still have not explored the entire place!  The ship is approx. six stories tall, though on the ship they refer to the different levels as decks, not stories.  The Shimada is run from a platform on the third deck, known as the bridge.  The steering of the ship takes place from the bridge and there is always an assigned lookout person, whose job is to look out the windows to see what is going on around the ship.  The bridge is also equipped with radars that can detect boat traffic or other obstacles.  

A lot of communication goes back and forth between the scientists in the ROV command room and the bridge.  The bridge must ensure that the ship stays steady and follows the ROV during its dive.  If the ship moves too much it can yank the ROV around or the cables from the ROV could get caught or damaged under the ship.  

The Bridge
The Bridge
Andy and CO
Andy shows our Commanding Officer how to operate the ROV

The areas where we sleep on the ship are called staterooms.  Almost all of them consist of bunk beds and have a toilet and shower area.  I am rooming with Erin, one of the scientists working on the sonar mapping project.  Erin and her team work during the night after the ROV runs, so typically she is going to bed shortly before I wake up for the day.  We have both been working hard to stay quiet enough to let each other catch up on our sleep!

stateroom
One of the staterooms

The Shimada has many features that I was not expecting on a ship, such as an exercise room equipped with treadmills and weights.  We even have Internet access here!  Another unexpected feature is the lounge/ theater room that is across the hall from my stateroom.  It has plush reclining chairs, a huge flat screen TV, and all the DVDs you could ever hope to watch, including the newest movies. 

When talking with the crew about what they love most about their jobs, many of them referred to how being part of a NOAA boat allows them incredible travel opportunities.  One person I spoke with has been to 52 different countries throughout his career with NOAA!  Another benefit of a maritime career such as this is that NOAA pays for part of your education.  It requires special schooling and credentials to be able to be an engineer or commanding officer on a ship, and NOAA helps offset those costs.  One of the biggest challenges of the job, however, is being away from family and friends for such long periods of time.  Some of the crew explained to me that they may be out at sea for 30 days at a time, sometimes even longer.

            One great perk to life aboard is the food.  Two chefs prepare all of the meals on the Shimada for us.  Similar to our lunch time at school, the meals are served at the same time each day in what is called the mess hall.  If you oversleep and miss breakfast, not too worry; there is cereal and other snacks available around the clock.  They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner on the ship, and we have even had the treat of fresh salads and homemade desserts! 

stewards
2C Boyd and CS Phillips preparing delicious meals

The ship stays running smoothly thanks to the help of the engineers and crew members.  They work behind the scenes around the clock to keep the ship afloat.

Chief Engineer
Our Chief Engineer
ET and SF
Our Electronics Tech and SF Alves

My absolute favorite location on the ship is called the flying bridge.  It has 3 tall chairs that look out over the ocean and an almost 360 degree view of the sea.  The chairs have been used on previous excursions for scientists to sit and count marine mammals as part of their survey.  It is a great place to watch the sunset from.

view from flying bridge
The view from the flying bridge
sunset
An epic sunset over the Islands

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 1, March 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: Friday, March 13, 2015

Shimada
One of NOAA’s research ships: the Bell M. Shimada

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, my home away from home for the next six days!  

Science Log

Today marks my first official day aboard the Shimada as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  My name is Sarah Raskin and I am an educator at Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school in Oxnard, California.  For the next week, I have the opportunity to join NOAA scientists from across the United States on a deep-sea science expedition in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. I am hoping to bring back what I learn to the students at Haydock and to paint a picture of what it is like to work on real-life science out in the field.

Scientists group photo
The scientists starting from the left: Peter Etnoyer, Rick Botman, Branwen Williams, Andrew Shuler, Erin Weller, Will Sautter, Steve Holz, Leslie Wickes, Andy Lauermann, Chris Caldow, Dirk Rosen, Mike Annis, Laura Kracker.

The location for our expedition is in the waters off of the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.  The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) covers 1,470 square miles of water surrounding Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands and is home to a large amount of diverse species.  On this expedition, scientists will use an ROV (a remotely operated underwater vehicle) to examine deep-sea coral and the water chemistry around those coral beds.  One of the most surprising facts for me before beginning this journey was to learn that coral grows in cold water deep-sea habitats, having only previously associated coral with warm water environments.  

During this expedition, scientists will also look at how the corals are affected by ocean acidification.  It will be interesting to see what their findings are:  how do our actions on land affect organisms, such as coral, that live in the deep sea?

Ventura County watershed
A Ventura County watershed: from the mountains to the sea.
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island (Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary)

The scientists will collect live samples of the coral to take back to their labs for further ocean acidification testing.  Throughout this trip, scientists will also use sonar to map the ocean floor. The information gathered from the sonar will help provide direction for where to send our ROV.  The new images generated from the sonar could also be used to bring up-to-date sea floor maps of the Sanctuary, many of which have not been updated since they were created in the 1930s!  Another feature of the sonar is to map out locations and quantities of fish populations in the area.  This information is vital to sanctuaries and marine protected areas, as it contributes important information about why these areas are important to protect.

Science in the field is much different than science in a laboratory setting.  There are so many factors to take into account: weather, ocean conditions, the working conditions of the equipment and many more unforeseen circumstances.  The scientists and ship crew must each do their parts and work closely together as a team to make the research possible.  During the first day aboard the researchers have faced quite a few challenges…  Maybe because we set sail on Friday the 13th

The morning began with impromptu safety drills.  Similar to the fire drills that we have at our school, the ship also conducts regular drills.  Today we had both a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.  The abandon ship drill prepares the crew for an emergency event that would require us to leave the ship immediately.  It also involved donning a safety suit, a giant red neoprene wetsuit that is designed to keep you warm if you needed to jump into the ocean.

Fire drill on the ship
Fire drill on the ship
Sarah in survival suit
A picture of me in the survival suit

Later in the afternoon, the team took the ROV out for its first outing of the trip.  Chris Caldow (the expedition lead) and the scientists from Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) chose a spot on the ocean floor that was sandy and flat with few physical features to snag on for its initial run.  The ROV, which is named the Beagle, is an amazing piece of machinery.  It is designed to be able to function in depths of down to 500 meters.  It is also equipped with a high definition video camera that will take footage of what is going on under the sea.  If the scientists see something of interest, the Beagle ROV has a manipulator arm to collect samples.  The arm feature is also used to deploy different types of sensors that will keep track of information, such as temperature, over a longer period of time.

MARE's Beagle ROV
MARE (Marine Applied Research and Exploration) Beagle ROV

The launch of the ROV was exciting.  Most of the crew gathered around to watch its release, and as it made it’s way down to the sea floor, it began streaming video footage to monitors inside of the laboratories on the ship.  It was pretty incredible to be able to see the bottom of the sea floor with such clarity.  So far, we have spotted multiple species of rockfish and an egg case of a skate.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

ROV footage
Watching streaming video footage from the ROV

Back to one of our challenges: the key sonar machine is currently out of order.  When things break on a ship, it can be a bit tricky to fix.  It’s definitely not as simple as running to the nearest hardware store to pick up a new piece of equipment.  When something is not working out here, it can involve scuba diving under the ship to fix something or sailing back to the mainland if there is a real issue.  So tomorrow there will be a boat coming out to meet our ship and bringing with it equipment and a trained sonar technician to hopefully solve our problems.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Update: Science in the Field

The Beagle ROV journeyed into the depth once more last night.  This time the mission was to find deep-sea coral beds, in particular one species called Lophelia pertusa, and bubble gum coral. 

Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa

The MARE team (Dirk Rosen, Andy Lauermann, Steve Holz and Rick Botman) worked with scientists Peter Etnoyer, Leslie Wickes, Andrew Shuler and Branwen Williams to locate a coral bed that they had visited previously in 2010 and 2014.  Using GPS coordinates, the MARE team was able to locate the exact site of the coral bed that Peter and his team had worked with in earlier years.  There were quite a few high-fives and cheers of excitement in the lab when the ROV made its way to the familiar patch of bright red bubble gum coral. 

Branwen and Dirk
Branwen and Dirk scout the sea floor for coral beds

The team dropped a temperature gauge at that location that will take and record a temperature reading every five minutes for the next six months.  After that, Peter and his team will return on a second expedition to retrieve the device.  The temperature gauge is tied to a rope attached to a lead weight and a flotation device covered with bright reflective tape.  Andrew explained that the reflective tape would stand out in the headlights of the ROV, making it much easier to spot when they return for it half a year later.

Andrew temperature sensor
Andrew holds up one of the temperature sensors that will be deployed with the ROV

The Beagle also retrieved its first coral sample of Lophelia pertusa, which it brought to the surface.  Picking up samples from the deep in no easy feat.  Andy and Dirk control the ROV from the deck with controls that look similar to something you would find on a video game consul.  Sitting along side them, scientists Peter, Leslie and Branwen direct them to which coral specimens look the best for their sample.  Then using either the manipulator arm or a shovel like feature on the boat, the ROV controller works quickly to scoop the organism into a basket attached to the front of the machine.

Scientists watch footage
The scientists watch live video feed from the ROV

Once the ROV safely made it back on board, the scientists worked quickly to get the coral and its little inhabitants, such as deep-sea brittle stars and crabs, into cold water tanks as fast as possible.  While the coral doesn’t seem to mind the pressure difference between the deep-sea and surface, it does not handle the temperature differential as well.

Leslie removes coral for storage in the fresh water tanks
crab on coral
A deep-sea crab that hitched a ride up to the surface on the Lophelia

The team also took water samples from the water near the coral sites, which they will test later for pH.  They are hoping to find out whether coral changes the composition of the water surrounding it.  In order to collect the water samples, Branwen Williams (a scientist and professor from Keck Science Department at Claremont College), Leslie, and Andrew retrieved water samples using a CTD-Niskin rosette.  They took water samples at the depth of the coral beds (approx. 290 meters) and then every 25 meters up from there.   Once they filled bottles with the water, it was important to immediately “fix” the water samples.  This means putting a poison, such as mercuric chloride into the water sample to kill off any living organisms, such as zooplankton or phytoplankton, that might be photosynthesizing or respiring and changing the pH levels of the water samples.  This gives the scientists a snapshot of what the water chemistry is like at a particular place and time.

Scott Dickison, September 30-October 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Dickinson
Onboard Research Vessel Shearwater
September 30 – October 11, 2006

Mission: Quantitative Finfish Abundance
Geographical Area: Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas
Date: September 30 – October 11, 2006

Santa Barbara, seen from the ship
Santa Barbara, seen from the ship

Prologue 

The cruise that I participated on was a multi-part project that spanned several weeks. I came on board for the final, and most interesting part of the project. Those parts you can read about in my log entries, however some background and technical information may be useful to better understand the operation.

The cruise took place onboard the NOAA R/V Shearwater. The project was called a Quantitative Finfish Abundance and Exploration of the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas. A cooperative Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) study with the California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Applied Research and Exploration, and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

When I arrived, the bulk of the work had been completed and it was time for the experimental portions of the project to take place. These experiments were designed to ensure the reliability, precision, and accuracy of the quantitative data collected by ROV survey. The basic operations involved live boating the ROV along predetermined track lines. That is, the RV Shearwater would proceed along a predetermined line on the surface that the ROV was also independently operating on at the ocean floor. The ROV had a range of 50 meters from the stern of the RV Shearwater. The ROV pilot had on-screen-display (OSD) from the video cameras mounted on the ROV, as well as an OSD that displayed the ROV position relative to the mother ship. This display is generated with the use of a sonar beacon mounted on the ROV and a sonar receiver lowered over the side of the mother ship.

On to the logs…

Deploying the ROV
Deploying the ROV

Saturday 9/30

Arrive at the R/V Shearwater. Got the lay of the land.

Sunday 10/1

Head out of the Santa Barbara Harbor in transit to Santa Cruz Island to pick up the research crew. With the team of scientists on board, we head out for our destination of East Point on Santa Rosa Island for the first deployment of the ROV.

The weather turned on us, with the winds blowing and the rain pounding. The seas got rough and the going was slow. This being the first day out, the sea legs had yet to be adjusted. This was the cause for a quick retreat to the head…

Finally made it to our testing location. Weather was dismal as the ROV was launched. Today’s mission was to “paint” fish with lasers mounted along side the ROV camera.  This was a very interesting procedure designed to measure fish length. Essentially capturing a fish on video and “painting” it with two laser dots at the known distance of 11 cm. Total fish length can then be calculated either by determining fish camera fish length and laser dot space, or by using the screen width and the fish length in comparison.

This day I became umbilical tender and hydraulic operator for launching and retrieving the ROV. I also observed the underwater video and fish painting process. This was a very interesting day becoming part of the crew and assisting in the work. Due to a couple of technical issues, we returned to Santa Barbara for the night.

Watching and operating the launch
Watching and operating the launch

Monday 10/2 

While crewmembers were working on correcting the technical issues, I assisted others with setting up lines for the next set of experiments. This required setting up vinyl covered steel cables at a length of 110 meters and marking them with colored flags every 10 meters that would be easy to view through the ROV cameras. These cables were also set up with loops on each end for linking together, or for securing weights. The cables were then spooled for ease of deployment and stowed for later use.

The technical issues as well were repaired and again we set out to sea. This day’s destination was Anacapa Island. With some sonar scanning, a sight was selected for the next sets of experiments, to determine accuracy of transect distance precision across the spatial dimension.

For this experiment, the 110 meter cables were laid across the bottom with high relief profiles.  This distance of cable would provide a length of 100 meters to run with the ROV. Divers also swam the line and took depth readings along the cable. The cable ran up and down over rocks and various substrates that are considered fish habitat. The concept being that there were more lineal feet of fish habitat in this relief than straight line distance.  The ROV recorded this distance, but this was a means to determine if those recordings were an accurate measurement.

The sight we were working was spectacular. We were on the southern tip of Anacapa Island. The shoreline of the island was shear rocky cliffs. The cliffs are a major nesting and roosting sight for the endangered California Brown Pelicans, they were everywhere both on the cliffs and circling in the sky. The area was also populated with sea lions. They were very amusing swimming around the boat and with their barks echoing off the cliffs of the island.  After the work here was done, we headed north for a protected cove to drop anchor for the night.

Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs
Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs

Tuesday 10/3

This day we headed back toward Anacapa to continue the track line experiments. Another shallow depth sight was selected toward the North end of the island. The same procedures were used here laying out the cable lengths that were then checked by divers and then run with the ROV.

The water was thick with small baitfish that was being fed on by schools of Bonita. This was a sight to see, and was particularly amusing to see the pelicans dive-bombing into the water also feeding on the baitfish.  This went on for most of the day.  Operations went well today and when complete the gear was collected and stowed. We headed off to another protected cove for the nights anchorage.

Wednesday 10/4 

We continued the track line experiments today. Work was going well so we started preparations for the next upcoming experiment. The preparations consisted of setting up fish models of various sizes and securing weights to then to enable deployment of them floating various heights off the bottom.  The fish models were constructed of a flat piece of neoprene with color copied pictures of the local significant fish species laminated and attached to the sides.

The sight of the day was a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water and splashing around in some sort of frenzy. We assumed the must have been feeding, but were not really close enough to tell exactly what was going on. Today’s tasks went well and I went out on the Avon to retrieve the cables and the divers. With all back onboard, we headed off to the nights anchorage.

On the zodiak
On the zodiac

Thursday 10/5 

Today we set out for a deep water site to continue the track line experiment. The previous sites had been in the 10 to 20 meter depth zones. Today we would run the track line experiment in a 50 meter depth zone.  This posed a different set of circumstances.  The tracking cable was spooled into a basket for deployment. It was then deployed skillfully and precisely by the well experienced deck officer. With the cable in place, the ROV was launched to run the line. This depth was to deep to send divers down, so the ROV did all the work.  Tracking went well and the ROV was brought back on board.

Recovery of the gear was a bit more difficult.  We had to haul back the cable and weights with a power winch as opposed to winding it back by hand in shallow water. After we got about half of the length back, it got jammed and snapped so fast my head spun. At least the experiment was completed.

After gathering and comparing the ROV data with the diver collected data it was apparent that the ROV collected nearly identical data to the diver collected data. This experiment seemed to be a success. ROV use and procedures seemed to be a reliable means to determine transect distance across the spatial dimension by my observations. Naturally the collected data would be reviewed later by the scientists on board to accurately determine the results.

Full moon rising
Full moon rising

During the day we continued to prepare the fish models for deployment tonight. With the track line experiments complete, we headed for a location suitable for the fish model experiment. This experiment was conducted in the evening to simulate the light conditions in the typical habitat depth of 50 meters.  The point of the experiment was to determine the accuracy of fish length as determined by ROV survey. The ROV survey used both paired lasers and distance sonar to determine fish length. When these procedures are utilized on fish models of known length, the scientists could determine if the process could be accurate when video capturing wild fish in the test zone.

As we arrived at the experiment location, the sun was setting and a most beautiful full moon was rising over a distant horizon. Divers were used to strategically deploy the models to simulate populations of wild fish.  The ROV was deployed and ran the line of fish models while video capturing the images. Tonight I had an opportunity to pilot the ROV. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and spent some time observing some flat fish scurrying about the bottom as I waited for the divers to collect the fish models. Soon all was complete, the divers came back on board, and we recovered the ROV safely.  We remained at this location for the night, it was quite beautiful.

Friday 10/6…the final day.  

Today was a public relations day. We returned to Anacapa and met up with the California Dept. of Fish and Game boat, the R/V Garibaldi. They had brought some local writers and reporters out to cover the project. We still went on with the normal operations of surveying fish populations. It was another great day on board the NOAA  R/V Shearwater as a participant in the Teacher at Sea Program! Back to Santa Barbara we cruised.

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