Janelle Harrier-Wilson: T-8 Days and Counting – It’s Almost Time to Set Sail! September 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
(Soon to Be) 
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3, 2014 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 15, 2014

Personal Log

Janelle Harrier-Wilson with husband, Neil, and golden retriever, Devon, as a puppy.

With my husband, Neil Wilson, and my dog, Devon. He was a puppy at the time and graduating from training classes.

Hello and welcome! I am so excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. I currently teach chemistry, engineering, and technology at Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA (outside of Atlanta). I am part of an awesome project based learning (PBL) program called CDAT (Center for Design and Technology), which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Lanier High School opened in 2010, so this is our fifth year as a school; however, this is my first year teaching here. Before transferring to Lanier High School, I taught sixth grade Earth science at Lanier Middle School for eight years. Now, I have the awesome privilege of teaching many of my students a second time. It’s really fun to see how much they have grown up and matured since they were sixth graders.

I am looking forward to sharing what I learn with my students as I think my engineering students will gain insight into shipboard careers they may have never considered, especially as it relates to engineering. I think my technology students will get a chance to see how scientists collect and organize data using technology tools.

Although I teach chemistry and this research cruise is focusing on fisheries, I know my students will gain a new understanding of our oceans. Sampling the health, age, and quantity of different fish species with the NOAA scientists help us to measure the health of the oceans. Some of the big issues with the health of our oceans concern overfishing, human pollution, and ocean acidification. Ocean acidification refers to how the oceans take some of the extra carbon dioxide from the air and dissolve it into the water. This lowers the pH of the water making it more acidic, which can affect the health of the ocean’s inhabitants.

I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea so I could learn more about our oceans in order to share this knowledge with my students. I have always been a hugely passionate about space and space exploration. I’ve had so many cool space opportunities like seeing shuttles and rocket launches, going to Space Camp, floating in microgravity, and most recently, helping our students talk to Reid Wiseman on the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Space is awesome and amazing, but we have an equally amazing frontier right here on own planet, our oceans. I want to be able to share with my students about the oceans with as much confidence and enthusiasm as I do about space, so I am extremely happy to be a Teacher at Sea so I can begin to glimpse all the science our oceans entail. I was also inspired to apply after hearing the stories from two Teacher at Sea Alumni Jennifer Goldner and Kaci Heins, who I met at Advanced Space Camp and now call dear friends.

Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA

Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA

Janelle Harr-er-Wilson on the water in Florida as a child

Me as a child in Florida

I grew up on the west coast of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico. Just two miles from my house was a tiny commercial fishing village, Cortez. My childhood best friend lived in Cortez, so I spent many days running up and down the docks and sampling the fresh caught seafood. (Fresh smoked mullet was my absolute favorite!) This gave me a unique look at the importance of fishing to a community. I even had a chance to go out on a small boat with a commercial fisherman and a few of my friends one night and catch fish via nets. So even though space has always been my passion, I feel a connection to the ocean as well.

Teacher at Sea goodies

Teacher at Sea goodies

My cruise is on the Henry B. Bigelow, a NOAA ship outfitted for fisheries research. You can take a virtual tour of the Henry B. Bigelow including the science labs, and track the ship here.

I am part of Leg II of the Autumn Bottom Trawl. We will be taking samples of fish and other species of marine animals from the Mid-Atlantic to Southern New England to measure the abundance, health, and age of certain fish species. As part of the science team, I will work a twelve hour shift everyday – either from noon to midnight (day shift) or from midnight to noon (nigh shift). I will find out my assigned shift when I arrive to the ship.

Right now I am working on getting everything I need ready and thinking about packing. Since space on the ship is very valuable, I am trying to pack as lightly as possible. Some of the things I plan to bring with me are earplugs (I hear the engines are loud so it’s good to have these while sleeping), anti-nausea aids so I don’t get seasick, and cameras to document my trip. A couple of weeks ago, I received this cool package of items from the Teacher at Sea program. I’ll definitely be bringing the water bottle, shirt, and hat with me. The good thing is there are laundry facilities on board, so I don’t have to pack too many outfits. I also plan to bring a companion along with me. At my school, we are the Lanier Longhorns, so I will be bringing one of the plush longhorns along with me for this adventure. My question for you is which one? Toro or Tyson? You get to decide!

Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?

Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?


At Lanier, our motto is Learn.Lead.Succeed. I cannot wait to learn new things on this trip and share them all with you! What things to you hope I will learn and share with you? Please leave your ideas in the comments. Until next time!

Christina Peters: Update on Our Plankton Survey, July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Weather and Location:
Time: 21:24 Greenwich Mean Time (5:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  29.1970
Longitude:  -85.9904
Speed (knots):  3.00
Water temperature:  28.10 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 34.07
Air temperature:  29.00 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  68%
Wind Speed (knots):  17.15
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1018.96
Depth (m) = 187.2

As you can see if you have been following the Ship Tracker website, we have been making our way back towards Pascagoula.  We still have some stations to work, and won’t be reaching the dock until Friday morning, but we will continue to head in that direction.  The weather has gotten a bit windier, with much larger swells over the last couple of days.  This has made collecting the plankton even more interesting.  With the wind frequently above twenty knots, handling the equipment becomes much more dangerous.  Some procedures need to be changed a bit for the sake of safety.  Luckily, the deck crew, Tim, James, and Chuck, are on top of things.  They are pretty funny to work with, too!

Our deck crew

Our deck crew – James, Tim (chief boatswain), and Chuck

Science and Technology Log

Water Titrations to Check Cissolved Oxygen Levels

The plankton stations have continued, with the biggest changes being how much sargassum (seaweed) we have needed to rinse out and go through, and the different kinds of tiny animal life we have observed.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that the scientists must periodically do water titrations to verify that the readings taken from the CTD are correct and nothing is malfunctioning.  I had an opportunity to perform some real chemistry as Kim Johnson, the chief scientist, walked me through the water titration steps.

First we had to collect the water samples from the CTD.  Remember, we are testing the oxygen levels, so it is important to collect the water samples without allowing bubbles to form, which might add oxygen to the sample.  You would be surprised at how hard this is!  A flexible tube is attached to one of the three Niskin Bottles on the CTD tank, and before any water is put into the jars, all of the air bubbles in the tube must be squeezed out.  This is an art!  Then the water can be transferred to the jars through the tube, holding the end of the tube against the side of the beaker to avoid making bubbles.  The stoppers are then gently put into the glass jars, again to avoid the addition of oxygen to the samples.  It is important to keep the water samples from getting too hot if you are not going to do the titrations right away.  Can you think of why heat might create a problem when doing a titration?  Also, we test three samples.  Why do you think testing three beakers is important?

Now we are ready to start the mad chemist part!  The chemicals used, and their amounts, are very specific, and the directions are posted in the lab so that you can always check your memory.  First, two milliliters of manganous sulfate is added to each sample.  The stopper is replaced after adding each substance, and the jars are turned upside down and back several times to mix the solution. The second substance added is two milliliters of azide-iodide solution.  After the solution is gently mixed, the jars need to stand for ten to twenty minutes.  When you come back after twenty minutes, you will see that there is a cloudy substance in each jar.  This first part of the process causes the chemical bond between the hydrogen and the oxygen to break, and the oxygen forms new bonds with the added chemicals.

Adding chemicals

Using the pipettes to add the chemicals to the water

After initial chemicals are added

A cloudy substance forms after the manganous sulfate and azide-iodide are added and mixed.

At this point, the oxygen is fixed and we don’t need to worry about introducing more oxygen to the samples.  Next, we added two milliliters of sulfuric acid to each jar.  This must be done very carefully because sulfuric acid is very harmful.  However, once it is added, the sulfuric acid is neutralized and the solution in the sample jars is not harmful.  (Remember the acid/neutral/base tests we did in class with lemon juice, vinegar, and Alka Seltzer, using a pH scale?)

Sulfuric acid

The sulfuric acid changes the color, and after mixing, causes the cloudiness to disappear.

Now we have a yellowish liquid and I will be adding phenylarsine oxide, drop by drop. This is the titration part. When the color turns clear, we can look at how much phenylarsine oxide was needed and that will tell us how much dissolved oxygen was present in the sample. This new chemical will bond with the oxygen molecules and cause a color change. However, because the change from yellow is hard to see, I added one milliliter of a starch solution for the only purpose of turning the sample blue.  This way the color change back to clear is easier to see.

Starch is added

Notice the color change after the starch is added (the blue beaker).

The sample is poured into a wide-mouthed beaker and a magnetic stirrer is added to the beaker.  This is a small, magnetic bar that spins when it is on the metal stand.  Drops of the phenylarsine oxide are allowed to slowly drip from a burette into the sample.  A burette is a very tall, thin, glass pipe-like container that allows easy adjustment of the flow of liquid, and allows for easy reading of very small amounts.

Titration 1

The burette is allowing the phenylarsine oxide to mix with the water solution, one drop at a time.

Once the sample starts to lose its color, you know you are close. One or two more drops and you will shut the valve on the burette and read the amount that was mixed into the sample.

Titration 2

Notice the color change towards the end of the titration.

Titration complete

Once the color change is complete, the titration is finished, and the burette is read for the dissolved oxygen content.

My samples showed dissolved oxygen amounts of 6.4, 6.5, and 6.5 milligrams per liter.  The CTD showed dissolved oxygen of 6.4 mg/l.  Since our results were very close, we are confident that the CTD is working well.

Remember, levels below 2% are considered hypoxic.  6.4% is a very healthy dissolved oxygen reading. This is what we expect as we move further from developed land, but it is still reassuring to see the healthy levels.

Later I tried another titration without supervision and found consistent readings of 4.9 mg/ mg/l oxygen.  However the CTD reading was 4.35 mg/l.  I guess I need more practice! 

Buoy Rescue Mission

 Yesterday we had the opportunity to participate in a buoy rescue mission.  Another organization had deployed a wave buoy, or a wave runner, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico that had been damaged, and was no longer able to give correct readings on things like current and wave height.  We were in the area, and agreed to retrieve the buoy.  As we got closer to the GPS signal, we spotted a large orange ball with an eight foot (about) antenna sticking out of it.  Oregon II’s small motor boat was launched and we set about collecting the buoy.

As we reached it, the deck crew and the CO noticed some things about the buoy that were inconsistent with the description.

Wrong buoy

Wrong buoy!

After making a telephone call, the CO told the crew to come back to the ship.  We had come across the wrong buoy!  Off we went in search of the correct one, which we found about half a mile away.  This one looked more like a surfboard and was fairly easy to get aboard the ship, using the crane.  That mission was accomplished, but we all marveled at the odds of finding two wave buoys within half a mile of each other in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!

Weather buoy rescue

Using the crane to lift the wave runner onto the deck.

Chuck Godwin and Officer Matt , who helped rescue the wave runner

Chuck Godwin and LTJG Matthew Griffin, who helped rescue the wave runner

Both parts of the wave runner

The part of the wave runner that looks like a surfboard sits on top of the water and has solar panels. It is attached to the slatted part that acts as a glider, and uses wave energy as it rises and falls to propel the board through the water.

Personal Log

 A Week at Sea

While I am still enjoying the cruise and the work, I have had a few days of queasiness.  Taking the seasick medicine helps a lot, so I am sticking with that for a few days.  Nights have been fine, and the rocking of the ship really is like being rocked in a cradle.  I hope I’ll be able to sleep when I am in a stationary bed back home!

Being on a cruise on a small ship brings me back to my days of living in a college dormitory.  You are living in very close quarters, eating every meal together, spending large amounts of time together, and really getting to know the people who are on your watch.  I have had a great group to work with – people with a lot of knowledge, and great senses of humor!  Victoria, a college intern, has been a newbie with me.  We have learned a lot from the other scientists, Andre and Joey, on our watch, as well as from our chief scientist, Kimberley Johnson.  Tim, James, and Chuck are the deckhands on our watch, and they do most of the heavy work, like lifting the equipment and running the J frame, winches and cranes.  Sometimes we are working with the equipment for forty-five minutes at a time.  The deckhands, while very serious about safety, keep us laughing the entire time.  As I am finishing this entry, we are heading towards home.  It will be nice to be on land again, but I will also miss the many different personalities I was lucky enough to get to know. 

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico covers an area that is about 615,000 square miles.

An area named “Sigsbee Deep” is located in the southwestern part of the Gulf.  It is more than 300 miles long and more than 14,383 feet deep at its deepest point.  It is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon under the sea”.

Sigsbee Deep

The Sigsbee Deep is the darker blue area in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo credit to http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/gulfofmexico.htm

The Gulf’s coastal wetlands cover over five million acres, which is an area equal to about one-half of the area of the U.S.  It is the home to twenty-four endangered and threatened species and critical habitats.

It is estimated that 50% of the Gulf’s inland and coastal wetlands have been lost and that up to 80% of the Gulf’s sea grasses have been lost in some areas.  The continual loss of wetlands (about a football field a year) around the Mississippi Delta, a large land area near where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, changes how hurricanes impact the coast of the Gulf.  With fewer wetlands to absorb the impact of the hurricane, the hurricanes hit the populated areas with much greater force.

For more facts about the Gulf of Mexico, visit http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120516_okeanusexplorer.html or


Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will check back in a few days for an update!

Andrea Schmuttermair: A Lesson in Chemistry, July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2957.02N
Longitude: 8618.29W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth:  57.54 m

Science and Technology Log

water from CTD

Here I’m filling up the BOD jar with our salt water samples from the CTD cast.

Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.

With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.

orion meter

Using the Orion dissolved oxygen meter to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in our sample.

When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.

Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.

adding manganese sulfate

Adding the manganese sulfate to our sample.

This is after I’ve added the manganese sulfate and iodide. Now we have to wait for it to settle.

We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.

after settling 1

Here is our sample after it has settled.

After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!

adding to beaker

Our sample solution being poured into the beaker, ready for the titration. Inside the beaker is a magnetic stirrer.

finished titration

Now you can see the solution is clear in color, meaning our titration is finished. We are ready to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen.

Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample  until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.

This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.


One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence.  Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.


Bioluminescence in our bongo tow.

Personal Log

One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.


Our watch leader, Alonzo, waiting to weigh our next catch.

I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.


Alex with a sharksucker

Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.


Lindsey and Alex, getting ready to work.

Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum  samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.

deck crew

Our night shift deck crew- Tim, Chuck and Reggie

Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.

William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.

reverse osmosis

Our reverse osmosis systems.

I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s  home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.

Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:

scorpion fish

The mouth of a scorpion fish. We’ve caught a bunch of these since we hit the eastern Gulf.

sea horse

A baby seahorse we pulled out of our Neuston tow. He was hiding in the Sargassum.

red snapper

One of our biggest red snappers.

box crab

This is another type of bashful crab, also known as the flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea).


This octopus sure liked my hard hat!

Amanda Peretich: Get to Know Me, June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amanda Peretich
(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 29 – July 17, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: eastern Bering Sea
Date: June 20, 2012

That's me and one of my loves: the periodic table!

That’s me and one of my loves: the periodic table!

My first post is supposed to be an introduction to me and what I’ll be doing for three weeks in the middle of the Bering Sea so here goes nothing! My name is Amanda Peretich, and I have been teaching biology, chemistry, and criminal science investigations (get it? CSI) at Karns High School in Knoxville, TN for the past four years. My route to teaching high school was probably not really traditional, but it’s provided me with plenty of adventures along the way, and if you know me, you know I love a good adventure!

I am so excited to arrive on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson to participate in walleye pollock research in an acoustic trawl survey in the eastern Bering Sea (similar to this one from last summer) in a little over a week. You’ll hear plenty more about this research in the weeks to come. How am I able to do this? Well, NOAA (which is an acronym for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has a Teacher at Sea program that I had never heard of before last fall when I randomly found it in a Google search for summer teacher-y programs. Ahh, the wonders of the internet and technology! So I applied to the program (really kind of at the last-minute, which also hits on my procrastination problems), wrote some pretty good essays, had some amazing recommendations from people (shout out to Theresa Nixon and Anne Hudnall for what I can only imagine were the best letters ever!), and later found out I’d been selected as one of 25 teachers from across the U.S. for this amazing opportunity!

FUN FACT: Did you know that the Discovery show Deadliest Catch is filmed in the Bering Sea and that the operations base for the fishing fleet is in Dutch Harbor, Alaska where I will be leaving from? However, I think those rough seas on the show are due to filming during the fall and winter seasons, not summer. I’m sure I will update you in a later post about how crazy the waters are during July, but I will have to remember that it could be much more treacherous.

Not that I’ll be able to have so many photos in all of my blogs (being on a ship in the middle of the ocean = sporadic and slow internet access, thus less photos), but this little slideshow will hopefully tell you a little more about myself in picture form:

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Each of my posts (which are limited to about every other day or every 3 days) aboard the ship will include a science & technology log and then a personal log, but we are also able to add additional sections as well. Help me choose which ones to add below! (sidenote: I chose the “sunset” background for the poll because of the birds in it – I hear there are plenty of birds in Alaska – now the palm trees and sun, you’ll want to replace with other trees and clouds)

Did I forget to mention that this experience is also the beginning of a new chapter in my life? My wonderful husband Michael finished his PhD in chemistry at the University of Tennessee and accepted a civilian chemist position in the fuels lab with NAVAIR in Patuxent River, Maryland. I finished out the school year and sold our house in Knoxville while he has been training and traveling to fun places like Pensacola, Florida, but I will officially move up to Maryland the day before I get on a plane for Alaska! Didn’t I say how much I love adventures and the unknown?

Stephen Bunker: Data Sampling, 23 October 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Bunker
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
October 20 — 24, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: 23 October 2011

Weather Data from the bridge

Time: 6:23 PM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 5 m/s
Air Temperature: 25° C (77° F)
Clouds: stratocumulus

Science and Technology Log

Collecting data is what science is all about and scientists can measure many different things from the ocean. They generally take these measurements in two different ways: discrete and ongoing samples.

Cheryl is preparing filter samples made from water collected with the CTD. These samples will be frozen and analyzed later in a laboratory on shore.

Discrete sampling means scientists will take samples at different times. When we take measurements at regular intervals, we can compare the data and look for patterns. On the R/V Walton Smith we take discrete samples each time the CTD is lowered. At approximately every two weeks RV Walton Smith will revisit the same location and collect data again. These bi-monthly data samples will let the scientists compare the data and look for patterns.

Remember when we collected weather data in class? We were also doing discrete sampling. We collected weather data from the morning and afternoon each school day. We would record precipitation, wind velocity and direction, air temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud types. Remember the pattern we noticed? When the afternoon temperature was cooler than the morning, we would have precipitation the next day.

Pump and valve system used for water sampling

Here is the pipes, valves and instruments used to take ongoing samples of surface water.

Ongoing sampling is also done on the R/V Walton Smith. On the fore, port (the left front) side of the ship, ocean water is continually sucked into some pipes. This surface water is continually pumped through instruments and water chemistry data is collected.

This continual data sampling is recorded on a computer and graphs can be made for  different characteristics of water chemistry. When continual data is graphed, the graphs have a smoother shape than they would with discrete samples.

Initially I thought that we were just collecting data each time we stopped to lower the CTD. Actually we had been collecting data throughout the entire voyage.

Kuan is monitoring his ongoing data collection of dissolved inorganic carbon.

Kuan, one of the scientists on our cruise, was measuring the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean. The process of doing this has typically been a discrete sampling process that involves chemically analyzing water samples, Kuan has developed an instrument that would take ongoing water samples and measure the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon continually.

His instrument would tap into the water pipes above and take ongoing samples throughout the trip. He also wrote a computer program that would record, calculate, and graph the quantity of dissolved inorganic carbon. He even collects GPS data so he can tell where in the ocean his samples were taken. His experiment, I learned, is cutting-edge science or something that hasn’t been tried before.

Personal Log

I hadn’t realized the close connection there is between our earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. I understood how the ocean temperatures and currents  affect our weather systems. But, I didn’t understand how on a micro scale this happens as well. The ocean will exchange (absorb and give off) carbon dioxide and many other molecules with the air.

Why is it important to understand how the ocean and atmosphere interact? We often hear how greenhouse gasses are contributing to climate change. Carbon dioxide, considered a greenhouse gas, is one of the inorganic carbon molecules absorbed and given off by the oceans. When it is absorbed, it can make the ocean slightly more acidic which could harm the micro organisms that are in the ocean food chain

Understanding the interaction between atmosphere and ocean will help us understand why some areas of the earths ocean absorb more carbon dioxide and others don’t.

Caitlin Fine: Chemistry Is All Around Us, August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 6, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed:  7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: clear
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%

Science and Technology Log

As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.

First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.


Lindsey takes a CO2 sample from the CTD

The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!

Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.

We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.

The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.


Sampling dissolved inorganic carbon

That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom.  Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs.  Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton.  Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.

The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.


I am running a chlorophyll analysis of one of the water samples

Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.

Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.

The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.

The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.

This is an image of the conveyor belt movement of ocean currents

The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?

I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.

Personal Log

This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.

It is important to keep organized records

It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.

I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!

Captain Shawn Lake mans the winch

The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!

Did you know?

The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.

Animals seen today…

zooplankton under the dissecting microscope

–       Many jellyfish

–       Two small crabs

–       Lots of plankton

A sampling of zooplankton

–       Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset

–       A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)

Some moon jellyfish that we collected in the tow net

Kevin McMahon, August 1, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin McMahon
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 26 – August 7, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
August 1, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 42 deg 56.49 N
Lon. 70 deg 33.31 W
Heading 235 deg
Speed 8.2 kts
Barometer 1015.4 mb
Rel Humidity 90.2%
Temp. 18.2C

0740 hours. We spent most of the past evening in a stationary position very near the Isle of Shoals. A very beautiful moonlit evening. We now are on a heading almost due east of the Isle of Shoals, again looking for the NYC, Boston plume.

It is a continual quest, not quite like Ahab and his search for the white whale but a quest none the less. The scientists aboard the RONALD H. BROWN have embarked upon a continual search. Someone once said that one of the great joys in life is getting nature to give up one of her secrets. Meaning that the fun and excitement in science is learning how things work. Each in his or her way is really trying to gain an understanding of how the world works.

Today I spoke with Hans Osthoff. He is a young man with an intense desire to learn about the chemistry of our atmosphere. Hans works for NOAA at the Aeronomy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. As a young boy he developed a love for chemistry and stayed with it. He now has advanced degrees in Analytical and Physical Chemistry.

Aboard the ship he runs a piece of equipment which is extremely sophisticated. It is called a Cavity Ringdown Spectrometer. It can measure the diffusion of light as it is passed through a sample of air which is contained in a copper tube. At each end of the copper tube there are parabolic mirrors. As a beam of laser light enters the tube, it bounces back and forth many times before exiting at the other end. The time the beam of light spends in the tube is measured and allows scientists to measure concentrations of:

NO2 NO3 N2O5

Once the concentrations have been found, the scientist can then calculate the reactions rates and the products which will be introduced to our atmosphere.

In the end, we will all gain a better understanding of our atmosphere and hopefully learn how to better maintain our environment.


Can you name the three compounds above?