Catherine Fuller: Into the Copper River Plume, July 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 28 – July 18, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 59° 40.065 N
Longitude: 146° 04.523 W
Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Wind Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind Direction: 254 degrees
Visibility:  100 m
Air Temperature: 12.0 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1015.4 mb
Sky: Overcast, foggy


Science and Technology Log

Usually LTER cruises are more focused on monitoring the ecosystem, but in our case, the cruise will also focus on a process study of the Copper River plume.

Copper River plume
This is a satellite photo of the plume with an overlay of the salinity of the water along our course. The darker colors represent the lowest salinity.

This seasonal plume brings iron and fresh water into the marine ecosystem, where they are dispersed by weather and currents. Because our winds have been very light, the plume is retaining its coiled shape remarkably well.  Our sampling on the Middleton Line (prior to the plume study) will add information about how both the Copper River fresh water and iron are spread along the shelf and throughout the food web.  

Clay Mazur
Clay checking the fluorescence of a sample.

Clay Mazur has a particular interest in the iron-rich waters of the plume.  He is a graduate student from Western Washington University who is working under Dr. Suzanne Strom (also onboard). He is one of a few on board who are working on their own experiments as opposed to assisting others.  The overall goal of his work is to study how iron in phytoplankton is limited and how the sporadic addition of it can stimulate growth.  He has a gigantic on-deck incubation experiment in which he will take an iron-limited plankton community from offshore in the Gulf and introduce iron-rich water from the Copper River plume to see what happens.  Clay will measure chlorophyll – an indication of biomass – by which he can estimate the plankton population.  He will also be checking the physiology of plankton in different size classes, and taking samples to see the pigments that every cell produces and if they change over time with the addition of water from the Copper River plume. His hypothesis is that everything should change: phytoplankton species composition, cell size, photosynthetic ‘health’, and chlorophyll production. When phytoplankton are iron-limited, they cannot produce healthy photosynthetic structures. 

Clay measured the same indicators on every station of the MID (Middleton Island) line and will also measure the same on GAK line.  These samples will use the metrics described above to show environmental heterogeneity along the cross-shelf sampling lines. Samples from the MID and GAK line will also allow his iron experiment to be seen in context.  Does the iron-rich community that develops during the experiment match anything that we see on the shelf? How realistic is experiment within the Gulf of Alaska? Clay would also expect a diatom bloom with the introduction of iron into his sample population, but he says there are not a lot of cells greater than 20 microns out here and 5 days may not be enough for diatoms to grow up from this small seed population.

The Acrobat

One specialized instrument being deployed to gather information about the Copper River plume is the Acrobat.  Where the CTD is critical to give a site-specific profile of various indicators in the water column, the Acrobat can provide much of the same information along the path of the research ship, such as through the plume or across the shelf from deep regions to shallow.

CTD Screen
This is an example of the readout that comes from the CTD when it is deployed.

Lead scientist Dr. Seth Danielson from UAF, and Pete Shipton, a mooring technician from UAF’s Seward Marine Center are using the Acrobat to record a number of parameters as it moves through the water column.  The Acrobat is lowered off the stern of the ship and towed behind us.

Acrobat on deck
Bern, the Marine Tech, and Paul, the Bosun, with the Acrobat on deck prior to launch

As it is towed, it dives and climbs in a repeated vertical zigzag pattern to sample the water column vertically along the length of our course, creating a “cross-section” of the ocean along our line.  The Acrobat measures water temperature, salinity, density, chlorophyll, particle concentrations and CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter). The CDOM indicator allows the Acrobat to distinguish between different water colorations.

The path of the Acrobat can be constrained by distance from the surface or seafloor, in which case it receives depth sounder readings from the ship itself to inform its “flight” behavior.  It can also be set to run a path of a set distance vertically, for example, within a 20m variation in depth.  When set to a maximum depth of 40 m, it can be towed at 7-8 kts, but someone must always be monitoring the “flight” of the Acrobat in relation to ship speed to ensure the best possible results. The operator provides a watchful eye for shallow regions and keeps an eye on the incoming data feed.  The Acrobat also has two sets of wings.  The larger set will allow the Acrobat to reach a maximum depth of 100m or carry a larger sensor payload.  The profile being created as we tow through strands of the plume indicates that there is a pronounced layer of fresh water at the surface.  A concentration of phytoplankton, indicated by high chlorophyll a fluorescence levels, lies just beneath the fresh water layer and as we exit the plume, we observe a subtle shift towards the surface.  The fresh water also contains a good deal of sediment from the river that settles to the bottom as the plume spreads out. As we cross through the plume, we see the sediment levels at the surface drop, while the temperature, salinity and density remain fairly constant, showing a continued flow of fresh water at the surface. 

The readout from the Acrobat appears as a series of bar graphs that record in real time and provide a clear picture of what’s happening in the water column as we move.

Acrobat screen
This is what the Acrobat readout looked like as we went through a portion of the plume.

Once the data from the Acrobat is gathered, Dr. Danielson is able to create three-dimensional representations of the water column along our path according to the individual indicators. One that is particularly interesting and important for the Gulf of Alaska is salinity, which exerts strong control on water column stratification and therefore the supply of nutrients into the ecosystem.

Acrobat salinity graph
Here is a 3-D representation of the salinity along our plume route.

The low-salinity waters of the Gulf of Alaska are influenced by the fresh water precipitation, snow melt and glacier melt in the coastal Alaska watershed, including the big rivers like the Copper River and the thousands of un-gauged small streams.  Some of the fresh water runoff eventually flows into the Bering Sea, the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean, playing its role in the global hydrological cycle and the conveyor belt that circulates water through the world’s oceans.  Oceanographic monitoring has shown that the Gulf of Alaska water column is warming throughout and getting fresher at the surface, a consequence in part of glaciers melting along the rim of the Gulf of Alaska.


Personal Log

Finding my way around onboard was initially somewhat confusing.  I would exit the main lab and turn the wrong way to locate the stairway back up to my room, and it took a few days to figure it out.  Here’s an idea of the path I take in the mornings to get from my room to the lab:

Here’s what our stateroom looks like…yes, it’s kind of messy!

One rule when you open a door, because the hallways are narrow and the doors are heavy, is to open slowly and check for people.

The stairs are steep with narrow treads and necessitate careful and constant use of the handrails.

From the main hall, I usually go into the wet lab.

From the wet lab I can either go into the main lab…

Main lab
Main lab

… or into the Baltic Room.

Baltic Room
Baltic Room

There are six levels to the ship.  At the bottom are supply rooms, equipment, the engine room, workrooms and the gym.  On the main floor are the labs, workrooms, laundry areas and computer center.  On the first floor are science team quarters, a control room for the main deck winches, the mess hall and a lounge.  On the second floor are crew quarters.  The third floor has officer quarters, and the fourth level is the bridge.  There are also observation decks at the stern and bow on the third level.

I have a bit of a reprieve during the plume study, since Steffi’s project does not focus on these waters.  It’s been a great opportunity to shadow other teams and learn about what they’re doing, as well as to explore more of the ship. Now that the first phase of the plume study is over, we are extending it farther out in the gulf to be able to examine a fresh water eddy that is showing up on satellite imagery.  After that, we will have about a 12-hour transit to the next line of stations, called the GAK (Seward) line, where Steffi (and I) will resume her testing. 


Did You Know?

It’s still foggy and the sea state is very calm compared to what everyone expected.  It’s great for the experiments, but doesn’t help with wildlife sightings.  We’re under the influence of a high pressure system currently, which is expected to keep things quiet at least through Wednesday.  At some point next week, we may have a low-pressure system pass through, which would increase wind speed and wave height. 


What Do You Want Kids to Learn from Your Research?

**Note: I’m asking the various scientists on board the same question.  Clay took five days to formulate this and it really captures the essence of his passion for his research and the effects of climate change.  It’s worth the read!

Clay: Recently, I was asked by Cat, our Teacher at Sea for this cruise, what I want members of the general public to take away from my work studying iron limitation of phytoplankton. Though I can provide her a superficial answer to my research question immediately, the motivations for my work go much deeper than answering “How does a micronutrient affect phytoplankton growth?”

There are two main levels at which I want to answer Cat’s question:

1. Proximal: Though phytoplankton are microscopic, they have macroscopic impacts.

2. Philosophical: Why bother in the quest for such knowledge?

Level 1: The Macroscopic Impacts of a Microscopic Organism 

Both human societies and phytoplankton communities are impacted by global climate change. Globally, humans are realizing the need to combat carbon emissions and mediate the effects of increasing global temperatures. Consequences of global climate change for us include mass emigration as sea levels rise and increased frequency of extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, wildfires). As a result, humans are racing to bridge political divides between countries, develop sustainable energy, and manage natural disaster response.

Phytoplankton, too, must respond to global climate change. As sea surface temperatures rise, phytoplankton will have to adapt. CO2 that is dissolved in seawater removes the precious materials some diatoms use to make their “shells” and takes away their protection. Dissolved CO2 can also alter the ability of micrograzers to swim and find food!

Melting glaciers are a double-edged sword. Glacial flour in freshwater runoff brings in vital nutrients (including iron) through the Copper River Plume and phytoplankton love their iron! But freshwater also works to trap phytoplankton in the surface layers. When all the nutrients are used up and you’re a phytoplankton baking in the heat of the sun, being trapped at the surface is super stressful!

As global climate change accelerates in the polar regions, phytoplankton in the Northern Gulf of Alaska are in an evolutionary race against time to develop traits that make them resilient to their ever-changing environment. Phytoplankton crossing the finish line of this race is imperative for us humans, since phytoplankton help to mediate climate change by soaking up atmospheric CO2 during photosynthesis to produce ~ 50 % of the oxygen we breathe!

Phytoplankton also form the base of a complex oceanic food web. The fresh salmon in the fish markets of Pike’s Place (Seattle, WA), the gigantic gulp of a humpback whale in Prince William Sound (AK) and even entire colonies of kittiwakes on Middleton Island (AK) are dependent on large numbers of phytoplankton. When phytoplankton are iron limited, they cannot grow or multiply (via mitosis). In a process called bottom up regulation, the absence of phytoplankton reduces the growth of animals who eat phytoplankton, the animals who eat those animals, and so on up the entire food chain.

Let us consider “The Blob”, an area of elevated sea surface temperature in 2015 to illustrate this point. “The Blob” limited phytoplankton growth and that of herbivorous fishes. As a result, the population of kittiwakes on Middleton Island crashed as the birds could not find enough fish to provide them the nutrients and energy to reproduce successfully. In this way, the kittiwake deaths were directly attributed to a lack of phytoplankton production.

Not only are phytoplankton ecologically important, they are commercially important. For consumers who love to fish (and for the huge commercial fisheries in the Northern Gulf of Alaska), the base of the food web should be of particular interest, as it is the harbinger of change. Fisheries managers currently use models of phytoplankton growth to monitor fish stocks and establish fisheries quotas. If sporadic input of iron from dust storms, glacial runoff, or upwelling stimulate phytoplankton to grow, fish stocks may also increase with the newfound food source. Because phytoplankton are inextricably linked to fish, whales, and seabirds, in years where nutrients are plentiful, you may well see more fish on kitchen tables across the U.S. and Native Alaskans may be able to harvest more seabird eggs.  

Level 2: The Nature of Science

As a supporter of place-based and experiential learning, I view myself as a student with a duel scientist-educator role. To succeed in these roles, I have to be able to combine reasoning with communication and explore questions like “How does science relate to society?” and “How do we foster scientific literacy?” What better way to think about these questions than embarking on a three-week cruise to the Pacific Subarctic?! Not only am I working with amazing Principal Investigators in an immersive research experience, I am able to collect data and think of creative ways to communicate my findings. These data can be used to build educational curricula (e.g. Project Eddy modules, R shiny apps, etc.) in an effort to merge the classroom with the Baltic room (where the CTD is deployed). But what’s the point of collecting data and sharing it?

Science is “a collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations” (Bill Nye) and is “the best tool ever devised for understanding how our world works” (Richard Dawkins). The goal of communicating my results in a way that touches the lives of students is two-fold. One aim is to allow them to appreciate the philosophy of science – that it is iterative, self-correcting, and built upon measurable phenomena. It is the best way that we “know” something.

The other aim is to allow students to engage in scientific discourse and build quantitative reasoning skills. As the renowned astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said, “When you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you and that understanding empowers you.” Using phytoplankton to model the scientific process allows students to enter into the scientific enterprise in low-stakes experiments, to question how human actions influence ecosystems, and to realize the role science plays in society. Ultimately, I want students to use my data to learn the scientific process and build confidence to face the claims espoused by the U.S. government and seen on Facebook with a healthy amount of skepticism and an innate curiosity to search for the truth.

Katie Gavenus: Don’t Forget the Phytoplankton! May 5, 2019

niskin bottles on the rosette

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Katie Gavenus

Aboard R/V Tiglax

April 26 – May 9, 2019

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently in transit from ‘Seward Line’ to ‘Kodiak Line’

Date: May 5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2305
Latitude: 57o 34.6915’
Longitude: 150o 06.9789’
Wind: 18 knots, South
Seas: 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 46oF (8oC)
Air pressure: 1004 millibars
Cloudy, light rain

Science and Technology Log

Phytoplankton!  These organisms are amazing.  Like terrestrial plants, they utilize energy from the sun to photosynthesize, transforming water and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen.  Transforming this UV energy into sugars allows photosynthetic organisms to grow and reproduce, then as they are consumed, the energy is transferred through the food web.  With a few fascinating exceptions (like chemotrophs that synthesize sugars from chemicals!), photosynthetic organisms form the basis of all food webs. The ecosystems we are most familiar with, and depend upon culturally, socially, and economically, would not exist without photosynthetic organisms.

Indeed, productivity and health of species like fish, birds, and marine mammals are highly dependent upon the productivity and distribution of phytoplankton in the Gulf of Alaska. Phytoplankton also play an important role in carbon fixation and the cycling of nutrients in the Gulf of Alaska.  For the LTER, developing a better understanding of what drives patterns of phytoplankton productivity is important to understanding how the ecosystem might change in the future.  Understanding the basis of the food web can also can inform management decisions, such as regulation of fisheries.

niskin bottles on the rosette
Seawater captured at different depths by niskin bottles on the rosette transferred to bottles by different scientists for analysis.

To better understand these patterns, researchers aboard R/V Tiglax use the rosette on the CTD to collect water at different depths.  The plankton living in this water is processed in a multitude of ways.  First, in the lab on the ship, some of the water is passed through two filters to catch phytoplankton of differing sizes.  These filters are chemically extracted for 24 hours before being analyzed using a fluorometer, which measures the fluorescence of the pigment Chlorophyll-a.  This provides a quantitative measurement of Chlorophyll-a biomass. It also allows researchers to determine whether the phytoplankton community at a given time and place is dominated by ‘large’ phytoplankton (greater than 20 microns, predominantly large diatoms) or ‘small’ phytoplankton (less than 20 microns, predominantly dinoflagellates, flagellates, cryptophyte algae, and cyanobacteria).

Preparing filters
Preparing filters to separate large and small phytoplankton from the seawater samples.

For example, waters in Prince William Sound earlier in the week had a lot of large phytoplankton, while waters more offshore on the Seward Line were dominated by smaller phytoplankton.  This has important ramifications for trophic interactions, since many different consumers prefer to eat the larger phytoplankton.  Larger phytoplankton also tends to sink faster than small plankton when it dies, which can increase the amount of food reaching benthic organisms and increase the amount of carbon that is sequestered in ocean sediments.

The Chlorophyll-a biomass measurements from the fluorometer are a helpful first step to understanding the biomass of phytoplankton at stations in the Gulf of Alaska.  However, research here and elsewhere has shown that the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton can vary independently of the Chlorophyll-a biomass.  For example, data from 2018 in the Gulf of Alaska show similar primary productivity (the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton per day) in the spring, summer, and fall seasons even though the Chlorophyll-a biomass is much higher in the spring.  This is likely because of at least two overlapping factors.  Vertical mixing in the winter and spring, driven primarily by storms, brings more nutrients and iron into the upper water column. This higher nutrient and iron availability in the spring allow for the growth of larger phytoplankton that can hold more chlorophyll.  This vertical mixing also means that phytoplankton tend to get mixed to greater depths in the water column, where less light is available.  To make up for this light limitation, the phytoplankton produce more chlorophyll in the spring so they can more effectively utilize the light that is available.  This variation in chlorophyll over the seasons probably helps to make the phytoplankton community overall more productive, but it makes it problematic to use Chlorophyll-a biomass (which is relatively easy to measure) as a proxy for primary productivity (which is much more challenging to measure).

Phytoplankton sample in the flourometer
A sample of filtered, extracted phytoplankton is placed into the fluorometer.

To address the question of primary productivity more directly, researchers are running an experiment on the ship.  Seawater containing phytoplankton from different depths is incubated for 24 hours.  The container for each depth is screened to let in sunlight equivalent to what the plankton would be exposed to at the depth they were collected from.  Inorganic carbon rich in C13 isotope is added to each container as it incubates. After 24 hours, they filter the water and measure the amount of C13 the phytoplankton have taken up.  Because C13 is rare in ecosystems, this serves as a measurement of the carbon fixation rate – which can then be converted into primary productivity.

Phytoplankton samples from the rosette are also preserved for later analysis in various labs onshore.  Some of the samples will be processed using High Performance Light Chromotography, which produces a pigment profile.  These pigments are not limited to Chlorophyll-a, but also include other types of Chlorophyll, Fucoxanthin (a brownish pigment found commonly in diatoms as well as other phytoplankton), Peridinin (only found in photosynthetic dinoflagellates), and Diadinoxanthin (a photoprotective pigment that absorbs sunlight and dissipates it as heat to protect the phytoplankton from excessive exposure to sunlight).  The pigment profiles recorded by HPLC can be used to determine which species of plankton are present, as well as a rough estimate of their relative abundance.

A different lab will also analyze the samples using molecular analysis of ribosomal RNA.  There are ID sequences that can be used to identify which species of phytoplankton are present in the sample, and also get a rough relative abundance.  Other phytoplankton samples are preserved for microscopy work to identify the species present.  Microscopy with blue light can also be used to investigate which species are mixotrophic – a fascinating adaptation I’ll discuss in my next blog post!

It is a lot of work, but all of these various facets of the phytoplankton research come together with analysis of nutrients, iron, oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, temperature, and salinity to answer the question “What regulates the patterns of primary productivity in the Gulf of Alaska?”

There are already many answers to this question.  There is an obvious seasonal cycle due to light availability.  The broad pattern is driven by the amount of daylight, but on shorter time-scales it is also affected by cloud cover.  As already mentioned, vigorous vertical mixing also limits the practical light availability for phytoplankton that get mixed to greater depths.  There is also an overall, declining gradient in primary productivity moving from the coast to the deep ocean. This gradient is probably driven most by iron limitation.  Phytoplankton need iron to produce chlorophyll, and iron is much less common as you move into offshore waters.  There are also finer-scale spatial variations and patchiness, which are partly driven by interacting currents and bathymetry (ocean-bottom geography). As currents interact with each other and features of the bathymetry, upwelling and eddies can occur, affecting such things as nutrient availability, salinity, water temperature, and intensity of mixing in the water column.

View of horizon from station GAK
The early-morning view from station GAK on the ‘Seward Line.’ Patterns of primary productivity are driven both by amount of cloud cover and amount of daylight. During our two weeks at sea, we actually sampled at GAK1 3 separate times. The amount of daylight (time between sunrise and sunset each day) at this location increased by nearly 60 minutes over the two week cruise!

The current work seeks to clarify which of these factors are the most dominant drivers of the patterns in the Gulf of Alaska and how these factors interact with each other. The research also helps to determine relationships between things that can be more easily measured, such as remote-sensing of chlorophyll, and the types of data that are particularly important to the LTER in a changing climate but are difficult to measure across broad spatial scales and time scales, such as primary productivity or phytoplankton size community. Phytoplankton are often invisible to the naked eye.  It would be easy to overlook them, but in many ways, phytoplankton are responsible for making the Gulf of Alaska what it is today, and what it will be in the future.  Understanding their dynamics is key to deeper understanding of the Gulf.

Personal Log

The schedule along the Seward Line and as we head to the Kodiak Line had to be adjusted due to rough seas and heavy winds.  This means we have been working variable and often long hours on the night shift. It is usually wet and cold and dark, and when it is windy the seawater we use to hose down the zooplankton nets seems to always spray into our faces and make its way into gloves and up sleeves.  But we still manage to have plenty of fun on the night shift and share lots of laughs.  There are also moments where I look up from the task at hand and am immersed in beauty, wonder, and fascination. I get to watch jellies undulate gracefully off the stern (all the while, crossing my fingers that they don’t end up in our nets  — that is bad for both them and us) and peer more closely at the zooplankton we’ve caught.  I am mesmerized by the color and motion of the breaking waves on a cloudy dawn and delighted by the sun cascading orange-pink towards the water at sunset.  I am reminded of my love, both emotional and intellectual, for the ocean!

Float coats
We experienced a lot of wind, rain, waves, and spray from the high-pressure hose (especially when I was wielding the hose), but bulky float coats kept us mostly warm and dry.

Did You Know?

Iron is the limiting nutrient in many offshore ecosystems.  Where there is more iron, there is generally more primary productivity and overall productive ecosystems.  Where there is little iron, very little can grow.  This is different than terrestrial and even coastal ecosystems, where iron is plentiful and other nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous) tend to be the limiting factors.  Because people worked from what they knew in terrestrial ecosystems, until about 30 years ago, nitrogen and phosphorous were understood to be the important nutrients to study.  It was groundbreaking when it was discovered that iron may be a crucial piece of the puzzle in many open ocean ecosystems.

Question of the Day:

Regarding sustainability and scalability of intensive ocean resource harvesting: If humans started eating plankton directly, what could happen? And a follow-up: Can we use algae from harmful bloom areas?

Question from Leah Lily, biologist, educator, and qualitative researcher, Bellingham, WA

I first shared this question with the zooplankton night crew.  The consensus was that it was not a good idea to harvest zooplankton directly for large-scale human consumption.  Some krill and other zooplankton are already harvested for ‘fish oil’ supplements; as demand increases, the sustainability of this practice has become more dubious.  The zooplankton night crew were concerned that if broader-scale zooplankton harvest were encouraged, the resource would quickly be overharvested, and that the depletion of zooplankton stocks would have even more deleterious consequences for overall ecosystem function than the depletion of specific stocks of fish. They also brought up the question of how much of each zooplankton would actually be digestible to humans.  Many of these organisms have a chitinous exoskeleton, which we wouldn’t be able to get much nutrition from.  So it seems like intensive ocean harvesting of zooplankton is likely not advisable.

However, when I talked with the lead phytoplankton researcher on board, she thought there might be slightly more promise in harvesting phytoplankton.  It is more unlikely, she thinks, that it would get rapidly depleted since there is so much phytoplankton out there dispersed across a very wide geographic scale.  Generally, harvesting lower on the food chain is more energy efficient. At every trophic level, when one organism eats another, only a fraction of the energy is utilized to build body mass. So the higher up the food web we harvest from, the more energy has been ‘lost’ to respiration and other organism functions.  Harvesting phytoplankton would minimize the amount of energy that has been lost in trophic transfer.  Unlike most zooplankton, most phytoplankton is easily digestible to people and is very rich in lipids and proteins.  It could be a good, healthy food source.  However, as she also pointed out, harvesting phytoplankton in the wild would likely require a lot of time, energy, and money because it is generally so sparse.  It likely would not be economically feasible to filter the plankton in the ocean out from the water, and, with current technologies, not particularly environmentally friendly.  Culturing, or ‘farming,’ phytoplankton might help to address these problems, and in fact blue-green algae/Spirulina is already grown commercially and available as a nutritional supplement.  And there may be some coastal places where ‘wild’ harvest would be practical.  There are a number of spots where excess nutrients, often from fertilizers applied on land that runoff into streams and rivers, can cause giant blooms of phytoplankton.  These are often considered harmful algal blooms because as the phytoplankton die, bacteria utilize oxygen to decompose them and the waters become hypoxic or anoxic.  Harvesting phytoplankton from these types of harmful algal blooms would likely be a good idea, mitigating the impacts of the HABs and providing a relatively easy food source for people.  However, it would be important to make sure that toxin-producing plankton, such as Alexandrium spp. (which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning) were not involved in the HAB.

Frank Hubacz: Unimak Pass, May 4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Frank Hubacz
Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
April 29 – May 10, 2013

 

Mission: Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Mooring Deployment and Recovery

Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea

Date: May 5, 2013

 Weather Data from the Bridge (0300):

Partly cloudy, S Winds, variable, currently 3.71 knots
Air Temperature 2.8C

Relative Humidity 73%

Barometer 1025.1 mb

Surface Water Temperature 0.10 C

Surface Water Salinity 31.66 PSU

Seas up to 5 ft

Science and Technology Log

Once we completed our mooring work from Gore Point through to Pavlof Bay, we sailed on to Unimak Pass, nearly 400 miles away, and then entered into the Bering Sea.  Unimak Pass is a strait (wide gap) between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska.  Upon arrival at our first station, we started the process of deploying our CTD sampling unit at predetermined points as well as MARMap Bongo casts(discussed in my next blog) when specified, within a region forming a rectangular “box” north of the pass.  If you have been following my voyage using NOAA ship tracker, hopefully you now understand why we appeared to have been “boxed in” (I can hear the groans from my students even out here in the Bering Sea). It is important to understand the ocean waters of this region given that it is a major egress between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.  Therefore it serves as an important pathway between these two water bodies for commercially important fish stock as well as serving as a major commercial shipping route.

Unimak Pass
Unimak Pass

 A CTD (an acronym for conductivity, temperature, and depth) is an instrument used by oceanographers to measure essential physical properties of sea water.  It provides a very comprehensive profile of the ocean water to help better understand the habitat of important marine species as well as charting the distribution and variation of water temperature, salinity, and density.  This information also helps scientist to understand how variations in physical ocean properties change over time.  The  CTD is made up of a set of small probes attached to a large stainless steel wheel housing. The sensors that measure CTD are surrounded by a rosette of water sampling bottles (niskin bottles) that individually close shut by an electronic fired trigger mechanism initiated from the control room on-board the ship.  The rosette is then lowered on a cable down to a depth just above the seafloor.  The science team is able to observe many different water properties in real time via a conducting cable connecting the CTD to a computer on the ship. A remotely operated device allows the attached water sampling bottles to be closed (sample collected) at selective depths as the instrument ascends back to the surface.

 

CTD Unit
CTD Unit

Here I am in my hot rain pants helping to deploy the CTD
Here I am in my hot colored rain pants helping to deploy the CTD.  Notice the niskin bottles?

Monitoring the drop with Peter
Monitoring the drop with Peter

Monitoring the CTD deployment
Data screens in the lab

On this cruise, our CTD was equipped to collect real-time water column measurements of conductivity, temperature, density, dissolved oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll levels, and light as the unit traveled down through to a set point just above the ocean floor.  Additionally, water samples for determining concentrations of nutrients (nitrate (NO3-1), nitrite (NO2-1), ammonium (NH4+), phosphate (PO4-3), and silicates (SiO4-4), dissolved oxygen, dissolve inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll were measured at specified depths within the water column as the unit was raised back to the surface.  Replicate measurements of some chemical constituents measured on the ascent are completed to help support the reliability of  the dynamic measurements of these same species made on the drop.  All of the nutrient samples are then frozen to -80C and brought back to the lab on shore for analysis.  Dissolved oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon, and chlorophyll samples are also treated according to unique methods for later detailed analysis.

The sampling begins!
The sampling begins from a niskin bottle!

Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis
Filling the sampling vials to be stored for later analysis

Peter placing samples in the freezer
Peter placing samples in the freezer

Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples
Scott preparing the chlorophyll samples

Our first CTD cast from the “Unimak Box” began with my shift, a bit after midnight, on May 3rd and ended 32 hours later on May 4th.  The science crew worked nonstop as they completed 17 different CTD casts. Again, it was impressive to see the cooperation among the scientists as each group helped one another complete CTD casts, launch and retrieve Bongo nets, and then collect the many different samples of water for testing as well as the samples of zooplankton caught in the bongo nets.  My task was to collect nutrient water samples from each CTD cast.  As the water depth increased so did the number of samples that were collected.  During our sampling water depths ranged from approximately 50 meters (5 samples) up to 580 meters (11 samples).  On our last cast the air temperature was -2.3o C with water temperature reading 2.90 C. Seas were relatively calm and we were able to see many different islands in the Aleutian chain.

Personal Log

It was rewarding to be able to help the team collect water samples for nutrient testing, especially given that we are able to sample many of these same nutrient species in our chemistry lab at Franklin Pierce.  I want my students to know that I practiced “GLT” when collecting nutrient samples making certain to rinse each sample bottle and sampling syringe at least three times before each collection.  Want to know what “GLT” references…ask one of my students!

My most “interesting” time on board ship happened during our first night of CTD testing along one of the lines of the Unimak Box.  At 2:45 am Peter, Douglas, and I were recording flow meter values from the previous bongo net tow on the side quarter-deck.  I was writing values down on a clip board as Peter read the values off to me.  I happened to glance over the deck towards the sea when I noticed an unusually large wave about 2 meters out from the boat traveling towards us.  Suddenly it crashed on top of us knocking us to the deck floor.  Water flooded all around us and through the doors of our labs.  I immediately grabbed onto one of the ship’s piping units and held on tight as the water poured back off the deck.  In an instant the sea was calm again after the “rogue” wave released its energy on our ship.  Because Peter and I fell onto the deck our clothes became completely soaked with icy cold seawater.  Upon standing, we checked on each other and then immediately began retrieving empty sampling bottles and other lab paraphernalia as they floated by in the water emptying off the deck.  Douglas was able to hold-on to the CTD and remained standing and dry under his rain suit.  This is the first, and I hope the last, “rogue” wave that I ever experience.  Fortunately, no one was lost or injured and we were able to retrieve all of our equipment with one exception…the clip board of data log entries that I was holding!

I must admit that I am disappointed at the limited internet access while on board ship.  I find it somewhat disheartening that I have not been able to write the consistent blogs promised to you telling of my adventures.  Hopefully this will improve as we change course and you will continue to follow along.

IMG_7099
View as I traveled to work!

Islands of the Aleutians.
Islands of the Aleutians.

IMG_7055
Island hopping!

IMG_7029
Not all islands are completely snow covered.

 

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Gina Henderson: Samples Aplenty, August 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Weather conditions: calm conditions overnight leading to widespread radiation fog immediately following sunset. Ship had to make use of foghorn for a couple of hours overnight. Today, cloudy with possible rain showers. Winds SW from 10-15 kts, with gust up to 20 in rain showers. Seas from the SW at 3-5 ft.

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update:

This morning we reached the 3-day mark for sampling at station 1, which was in the high chlorophyll concentration off of Georges Bank. During these 3 days, we have been continuously sampling aerosols using both the Sea Sweep and the Bubble Generator (see last post for descriptions of each of these methods).

Some issues that have cropped up throughout this time are linked to our extremely calm and settled weather. Although the calm winds have made for minimal seas, ideal conditions for the Sea Sweep, those scientists sampling ambient air have been picking up ship exhaust in their measurements, despite the bridge keeping our bow head-to-wind. However, during our transit this complication should not be an issue and ambient sampling can take place continuously.

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth:

CTD rosette
Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) rosette after deployment. Niskin bottles can be tripped at different depths for seawater sampling at various levels.

We also took a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) profile using the CTD rosette on the 21st, collecting water near the bottom at 55m and other levels on the way to the surface.  These water samples were utilized by numerous scientists on board for experiments such as, testing for surface tension, biological testing and chlorophyll measurement.

The science plan for today involved one final CTD cast while at station 1, with all Niskin bottles being tripped at 5m. This large volume is necessary for a Bubble Generator experiment that will be run with this CTD water during the transit to station 2.

After the CTD cast was completed, the Sea Sweep was recovered and other necessary preparations for the transition to our new station. While underway for approximately 24 hours, intake hoses were switched to enable sampling of ambient aerosols along the way.

How to sample aerosols?

One of the tasks that I have been helping out with is the changing of aerosol impactors that are used to collect aerosol samples. These impactors consist of metal cylinders with various “stages” or levels (upper left photo below). Each level has different sizes of small holes, over which a filter is laid. During sampling, these impactors are hooked up to intake hoses where airflow is pumped through them and as the air is forced through the different “stages” or levels, the aerosols are “impacted” on the filters.

Filters being changed inside aerosol impactors (upper left). Picture of me unhooking impactors from inlet hoses for filter switching (upper right). Kristen just finished changing filters in a clean box (bottom).

This all seems simple enough…. However can be a little more cumbersome as the impactors are heavy, climbing up ship ladders with heavy things can be tricky depending on current sea state, and 2 of our impactor changes happen routinely in the dark, making things a little interesting at times!

Seawater sampling for chlorophyll:

Megan filtering raw seawater for chlorophyll extraction and measurement.

Another type of sampling I have helped out with involves the filtration of raw seawater to extract chlorophyll. This is done in the seawater van where we have a continuous flow of in situ water that is taken in at the bow at a depth of approximately 5m. This is done with two different types of filters, a couple of times a day. The photo below shows Megan running a sample through one type of filter, which will later be prepared with an acetone solution and after a resting period, be measured for chlorophyll concentration using a fluorometer.

Lots of sightings during transit:

As we headed south during our transit to station 2, we had an afternoon full of sightings! An announcement from the bridge informing us that we were now in “shark infested waters” sent an air of excitement around the ship as we all raced to the bridge for better viewing. Some loggerhead turtles were also spotted. Our final sighting of the day was a huge pod of porpoises riding the wake from our bow.

Pod of porpoises riding the bow wave during our transit south to station 2.

Everyone races to the bridge after an announcement about “shark infested waters!”

Gina Henderson: 30 Days of Science in 9 Days… August 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Prof. Gina Henderson
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
August 19 – 27, 2012

Mission: Western Atlantic Climate Study (WACS)
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Weather Data: Winds light and variable less than 10 kts. Combined seas from the SW 3-5 ft, lowering to 2-4 ft overnight. Into Wednesday 22nd, winds continue to be light and variable, becoming NE overnight less than 10 kts. 

Science and Technology Log

WACS Field Campaign Update

Greetings from Georges Bank off the coast of New England! This is our first of 2 sampling stations during the Western Atlantic Climate Survey (WACS) field campaign, over the next 9 days. Our current location was chosen due to its high chlorophyll values, indicating productive waters. Shortly after our arrival here approximately 0700 on the 20th, the Sea Sweep instrument was deployed, and aerosol collection began (see picture below). However, for many of the scientists onboard, data collection began almost immediately after disembarking Boston, on the 19th.

The Sea Sweep
Photographs showing the Sea Sweep (top left), deployment of the Sea Sweep (bottom left), and Sea Sweep underway with bubble generation and aerosol collection taking place (right).

Upon my arrival to the ship in Boston, I quickly learned that this field campaign is a little unusual due to the sheer volume of equipment being utilized, and the short nature of the cruise itself. As we disembarked the Coast Guard pier in Boston, a running joke being echoed around the ship was, “30 days of science in 9 days…. ready, set, and GO!”

Science vans on deck
Looking from the bow towards the bridge, not visible in this photograph due to the mobile lab vans that have been installed on the deck for this cruise.

Over 9 mobile research vans were loaded onto the Ron Brown in preparation for this campaign making for a “low-riding ship”, joked our captain at our welcome meeting on the 19th. Each van contains multiple instruments, computers, ancillary equipment and supplies, and they also serve as research labs for the science teams to work in.

During the past two days, I have been making the rounds to each of these lab vans to hear more about the science taking place in each. With the help of the Chief Bosun, Bruce Cowden, I have also been able to shoot some video of these visits. With the assistance of Bruce, I am learning how to stitch these clips together into some fun short video pieces, so stay tuned for more to come!

A Little about the Sea Sweep

The Sea Sweep instrument consists of floating pontoons that hold a metal hood. The hood is mounted on a frame that protrudes below the water line when deployed, with two “frizzles” or “bubble maker” nozzles that air is pumped through to produce freshly emitted sea spray particles. These particles are then collected through two intake pipes attached to the hood, and are piped into the AeroPhys van. From there, samples are collected and also the intake is drawn into other vans for additional measurements.

Comparison of Sea Sweep Data with “the Bubbler”

Aerosol generator
Scientist Bill Keene from University of Virginia talking to me about “the bubbler”.

Sea spray particles are also being produced and collected via another method onboard, allowing for comparison with the Sea Sweep data. The picture below shows bubbles being generated in seawater that is fed into a large glass tower. This is an aerosol generator (a.k.a. “the bubbler”) brought on board by the University of Virginia. Through sampling with both the Sea Sweep and the bubbler, a greater size range and variety of aerosols can be sampled throughout the cruise.

Personal Log

After waiting a day or so for things to settle down and instruments to get up and running, I was eager to dive right in and be put to work on board. After an announcement made by the chief scientist, Trish Quinn, during our first evening meeting I was quickly solicited by a few different people to help with a range of tasks. So far these have included helping change impactor filters necessary for aerosol sampling 3 times a day (1 of these switches has been happening at 0500, making for some early mornings but pretty sunrises), getting raw sea water samples every 2 hours from different sampling points on board, preparing sea water samples for different analysis such as surface tension, and measuring samples for chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon.

Amongst all the sampling taking place however, it has been nice to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the extremely calm and settled weather we are having. A very memorable moment yesterday occurred when an announcement over the ship’s intercom alerted all aboard to a pod of whales off the port bow. It was nice to see the excitement spread, with both crew and science team members racing to the bow in unison with cameras in tow!

fun pics aboard
Early morning sky after an impactor filter change (left). All hands rush to the bow after whale sighting is announced (right).

Bhavna Rawal: Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) and Water Testing, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bhavna Rawal
Aboard the R/V Walton Smith
August 6 – 10, 2012

Mission: Bimonthly Regional Survey, South Florida
Geographic area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 7, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Station: 6.5
Time: 21.36 GMT
Longitude: 080 17’ 184
Latitude: 250 3’ 088
Water temp: 29.930 oC
Wind direction: East
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 3 ft

Science and Technology log:

Hello students! We know how to do water testing in our lab class using the testing kit. Today, I am going to explain to you the way ocean water is sampled and tested in the South Florida coastline.

Our 5 day cruise consists of over 80 stations along the Atlantic and Gulf coast of Florida.  At each station we take water samples, and at about 20 of the stations we tow nets to catch fish, seaweed or plankton and sometimes scuba dive to recover the instruments mounted on the seafloor.

Our journey begins at station #2 at Dixie shoal, which is near Miami; you can see this on the South Florida bimonthly Hydrographic survey map below (see fig).

South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map
South Florida Bimothly Hydrographic Survey map

At each station we performed CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) operations. The CTD is a special instrument to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll and the depth of water in the ocean. It is an electronic instrument mounted on a large metal cage that also contains bottles to collect samples.  These bottles are called niskin bottles and every oceanographer uses them.  They are made of PVC and are specially designed to close instantaneously by activation from the computer inside the ship. Collecting water samples at various depths of the ocean is important in order to verify in the lab that the instruments are working properly. Each bottle has an opening valve at the bottom and top to take in the seawater. The top and bottom covers are operated by a control system. Once a certain depth is reached, the person sitting at the control system triggers and it closes the bottles. You can control each bottles through this system to get a pure water sample from different depths. For example, when the ocean floor is 100 meters deep, water is sampled from the surface, at 50 meters deep, the very bottom.

Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD
Hard hat and life vest on and ready for CTD

The CTD instrument is very large, and is operated by a hydraulic system to raise it, to place it and lower down into the ocean. Rachel (another fellow member) and I were the chemistry team; we wore hard hats and life vests while we guided the CTD in and out of the water. This is always a job for at least two people.

Guiding CTD in and out of water
Guiding CTD in and out of water

The team usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean, in the middle layer and surface of the ocean. We closed the bottles in the middle layer because the characteristics of the water are different from at the bottom and the surface.  Remember, the ocean water is not all the same throughout, at different depths and locations it has different chemical characteristics. We closed two bottles per layer, just in case something happened with one bottle (it is not opened properly, for example) then the other bottle can be used.

Taking water sample out of CTD bottles
Taking water sample out of CTD bottles

Rachel and I took water samples from the CTD bottles and used them in the lab to conduct experiments. Before I explain the analysis, I want to explain to you the importance of it, and how a “dead zone” can happen. Remember phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients to live and survive. The more nutrients, the more phytoplankton can live in water. As you all know, phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain. They convert the sun’s energy into food. Too many nutrients mean too much phytoplankton.

  1. If certain species of phytoplankton increase, it increases the chance of a harmful algal bloom. Too much of one kind of plankton called the dinoflagellates can release toxins into the water which harms the fish and other ocean life and it can even cause people to feel like they have a cold if they swim in the water that has those plankton.
  2. Large amounts of plankton die and fall to the sea floor, where bacteria decompose the phytoplankton. Bacteria use available oxygen in water. The lack of oxygen causes fishes and other animals die. The zone becomes ‘the dead zone’.
    We prepare the sample for nutrient analysis to measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite, phosphate, ammonium and silicate in the water.
    We also prepare the sample for chlorophyll analysis. In the lab, we filter the phytoplankton out of the water. Phytoplankton contains special cells that photosynthesize (chloroplasts) which are made of chlorophyll. If we know the amount of chlorophyll, we can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in a given area of the ocean.

filtering the phytoplankton out of the water
Filtering the phytoplankton out of the water

Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis
Preparing the sample for nutrient analysis

Phytoplankton needs carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it provides an estimate of total carbon dioxide in the ocean.  It is also important in understanding the effects of climate change on the ocean.  If you increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (like when you drive cars), it enters into the ocean.  If you think about a can of soda it has a lot of CO2 dissolved into it to make it fizzy, and it also tastes kind of acidic.  This is similar to when CO2 dissolves into seawater.  When the ocean becomes more acidic, the shells of animals become weaker or the animals cannot produce the shells at all.

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) analysis informs us where this water comes from.  The dissolved organic matter comes from decomposing plants, and some of these dead plants entered the water through rivers.  You can tell for example that water came from the Mississippi River because of the CDOM signal.  You can then follow its circulation through the ocean all the way to the Atlantic.

From the CTD instrument, we measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it on a computer (see figure) to analyze it.

Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it
Measured temperature, light, salinity, oxygen etc. and graphed it

Generally, I see that ocean surface water has high temperature but low salinity, low chlorophyll, and low oxygen. As we go deeper into the sea (middle layer), temperatures decrease, dissolved oxygen increases, chlorophyll and salinity increases. At the bottom layer, chlorophyll, oxygen, temp and salinity decrease.

Personal Log:

I arrived on the ship Sunday evening and met with other people on the team, tried to find out what we are going to do, how to set up, etc. Asked so many questions… I explored my room, the kitchen, the laundry, the science lab, the equipment, etc. Nelson (the chief scientist) gave me a really informative tour about the ship, its instruments and operations. He showed the CTD m/c, the drifter, the wet lab etc. He also gave me a tour of a very important instrument called the “flow-through station” which is attached to the bottom of the ship. This instrument measures temp, salinity, chlorophyll, CDOM, when the boat drives straight through a station without stopping. I was really stunned by how precise, the measurements taken by this instrument are.

flow-through station
Flow-through station

The next morning, Nelson explained that if we have enough tide the ship would leave. We had to wait a bit. As soon as we got the perfect tide and weather, R/V Walton Smith took off and I said ‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown.

‘bye bye’ to Miami downtown
‘Bye bye’ to Miami downtown

I learn so much every day in this scientific expedition. I saw not only real life science going on, but efficient communication among crew members. There are many types of crew members on the ship: navigation, technology, engineering, and scientific. Chief scientists make plans on each station and the types of testing. This plan is very well communicated with the navigation crew who is responsible for driving the ship and taking it to that station safely. The technology crew is responsible for efficient inner working of each scientific instrument. 10 minutes before we arrive on a station, the ship captain (from navigation crew) announces and informs the scientific team and technology team in the middle level via radio. So, the scientific team prepares and gets their instruments ready when the station arrives. I saw efficient communication and collaboration between all teams. Without this, this expedition would not be completed successfully.
I have also seen that safety is the first priority on this oceanic ship. When any crew member works in a middle deck such as CTD, Net Tow etc, they have to wear a hard hat and life jacket. People are always in closed toe shoes. It is required for any first timer on the boat to watch a safety video outlining safe science and emergency protocol. People in this ship are very friendly. They are very understanding about my first time at sea, as I was seasick during my first day. I am very fortunate to be a part of this team.

The food on the ship is delicious. Melissa, the chef prepares hot served breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. Her deserts are very delicious, and I think I am going to have to exercise more once I come back to reduce the extra weight gained from eating her delicious creations!

Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together
Watch TV, play cards and have dinner together

My shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I work with Rachel and Grant. After working long hours, we watch TV, play cards and have dinner together. I am learning and enjoying this expedition on the ship Research Vessel Walton Smith.

Question of the Day:

Why we do water testing in different areas of river and ocean?

New word:

Colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM)

Something to think about:

How to prevent dead zone in an ocean?

Animals Seen Today:
Two trigger fishes
Three Moon Jelly fishes
Five Crabs

Did You Know?
In ship, ropes called lines, kitchen called galley, the place where you drive your ship is called bridge or wheel house.

Dave Grant: Horse Latitudes, February 22, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 22, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position:26.30 N – 75.42 W
Windspeed: 0
Wind Direction: Calm
Air Temperature: 29 C
Water Temperature: 24 C
Atm Pressure: 1025
Water Depth: 4,410 meters
Cloud Cover: 0
Cloud Type: Slight haze

Science/Technology Log:

We are becalmed and even the veteran sailors onboard are remarking on how flat the sea has become. At about 30 degrees North and South Latitude, moist, low pressure air that was heated and lifted from the surface at the Equator has cooled and is now plunging back down to Earth, forming a line of light winds in a band across the sea. This dry, high pressure air becomes the Trade winds as it is drawn back towards the Equator along the sea surface in what is called a Hadley Cell (After its discoverer). We seem to be on the edge of this meteorological milepost, which was more than a nuisance in the days of sail. If stranded in its pattern too long, food and especially drinking water became an issue, and the first to suffer would be animals being transported from the Old World to the New. Legend has it that subsequent voyagers would come across their carcasses…hence the name Horse Latitudes.

While observing ships returning to port near his home, sixteen year-old future rock star Jim Morrison (The DOORS)  composed what is perhaps his most eerie ballot – Horse Latitudes.

“When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters
True sailing is dead
Awkward instant
And the first animal is jettisoned
Legs furiously pumping”

However, the stable ship makes deck work easier and I am catching up on samples under the microscope, including some of my own tiny “monsters” that the currents have bred.

It is the astonishing variety of life that makes the sea such a fascinating
hunting ground. Get a tow-net, dredge and simple microscope,
and a new world is yours – a world of endless surprises.”

(Sir Alister Hardy)

The chief survey technician set me up  with his  flow-through seawater system and I can leave a net under it to continuously gather plankton. I have noticed some patterns already.
One: Phytoplankton is scarce compared to temperate waters off of New Jersey, and this helps account for the clarity and
brilliant blue color of the water. The absence of large rivers here adding nutrients to the system, and little coastal
upwelling,  means that there is little to fertilize plantlife.
Two: More accumulates in the nets at night, confirming that Zooplankton rises to the surface at in the dark. This diurnal
pattern of the plankton community has been well documented ever since biologists and fishermen went to sea.
Three: Also, there is much more plankton at the surface than in deeper water. This is no surprise since sunlight is the
key ingredient at the surface of this ocean ecosystem.
Four: Creatures from offshore tend to have a more feathery look about them than inshore species. This added surface
area may use the turbulence to help support them near the surface  and increase their buoyancy.

It is said:  “Turn off the sun, and the oceans will starve to death in a week.”  It is assumed that among other stresses on the Biosphere that accompany disastrous impacts of large asteroids, dust and ash from these rare collisions block out enough sunlight to stifle photosynthesis, causing Phytoplankton (The “Pasture of the Sea”) to waste away, and setting the stage for the collapse of the Food Chain and mass extinction events. Fortunately we have plenty of brilliant sunshine here and no celestial catastrophes on the horizon.

Some of the most interesting Zooplankton are the Pteropods, the Sea Butterflies.

   
Empty shell and live pteropod specimen
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The renowned oceanographer Alister Hardy used them as indicators of different water masses flowing around the British Isles; and New England’s great oceanographer, Alfred Redfield correlated their drifting with the anti-clockwise circulation of water in the Gulf of Maine. Although most are small and less than an inch long, they feed on a variety of creatures and in turn become food for many others. In surface waters they gather phytoplankton, some utilizing cilia and mucus to sweep food to the mouth; but in deeper waters, others are carnivorous.

I am informed by our English colleagues that on Europe’s fishing grounds, they are sometimes fed upon by herring, cod and haddock; which is bad news for British fishermen, whose catch rapidly decays and is not marketable. Such fish are referred to as “black gut” or “stinkers.”

How concentrated are pteropods? Whales and seabirds that we hope to encounter later in the cruise are sustained by them, and in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, at relatively shallow depths and on the tops of submerged peaks at around 2,000 meters, R.S. Wimpenny reports considerable deposits of “pteropod ooze” from their descending shells, covering an estimated 1,500,000 square kilometers of the bottom of the Atlantic (An area the size of the Gulf of Mexico.). Like the Foraminifera, in deeper waters the aragonite in their shells (a more soluble form of calcium carbonate) dissolves, and other sediments like silicates from diatoms accumulate instead. Check out any oceanography text and you are likely to find a picture of this biogenic pteropod mud, as well as other types of deposits.

At least 90% of the animals in the ocean are meroplankton – spending time in this itinerant stage before becoming adults. This phase may vary from a few days to over a year, depending on the creature. (European eels larva are the long distance champions; for over a year, drifting from below us in their Sargasso Sea breeding grounds, all the way to rivers in Britain and France.)

Drifting larvae are cheap insurance for a species, filling the surrounding habitat with individuals of your own kind, settling in new areas and expanding ranges, and particularly, not lingering around their birthplace and competing with the parent stock. However, most individuals simply end up as food for other creatures that are higher on the food chain.

Not surprising, there are copepods, the “cattle of the sea” grazing on smaller organisms.

  
(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Calanus finmarchicus is sometimes called the most abundant animal in the world and is found throughout the oceans, sustaining many types of marinelife; even right whales and basking sharks off the coast of New England.

Other sea soup and children of the sea that author David Bulloch likes to call them, drift by me and swim circuits trapped by surface tension in the water drop under the microscope.

  
Radiolaria are single cell Protozoa that not only ensnare food with mucous, but harbor mutualistic algae
among their spines. (100 x’s)


More live pelagic snails. (Pteropod means winged foot.)

  
An empty shell with  copepod sheltered inside. Other skeletons filled with Paramecia, and a mixed sample of shells
and dust particles.  (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Now that is calm, everyone seems to have their sea legs and are comfortable talking about their bouts of mal de mer.
Here is the worst story about sea sickness I have come across:

 From Dave Grant’s collection of sea stories:
The world’s worst tale of seasickness.
As told by Ulysses S. Grant in his Memoirs

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were lying at anchor in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter who was very liable to seasickness. It almost made him sick to see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading it. Soon after his graduation [from West Point] Slaughter was ordered to California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than while lying at anchor after reaching his place of destination. On landing in California he found orders that had come by way of the Isthmus [Panama], notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived back East he was again ordered to California, this time definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke out, “I wish I had taken my father’s advice; he wanted me to go into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to sea so much.”

Poor Slaughter! It was his last sea voyage. He was killed by Indians in Oregon.

Dave Grant: The Ship Was Cheered, the Harbor Cleared…, February 15, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Crew and scientists are reporting for duty and everyone is to be onboard by sunset for a scheduled departure tomorrow morning. There are many boxes of equipment to unload and sampling devices to assemble, so everyone is busy, even during meal times.

Tall ships had miles of rope and lines for handling enormous amounts of sail.
The Brown is also carrying miles of line and cable too, but not for sailing. This is coiled neatly on reels and will be used to anchor moorings of monitoring equipment that will record water temperatures and salinities for an entire year until they are recovered on the next cruise. These moorings are anchored with ship recycled chain and old railroad wheels and their long lines of sensors rising to the surface from 5,000 meters form the electronic “picket fence” spaced between Florida and Africa across the 26.5 degree North Latitude line we are sailing.

On our last night ashore we went downtown to enjoy dinner at one of the many nice restaurants in the historic district. It was a good time to update each other on different projects and make any last minute purchases. Everyone is anxious to get started. As captains like to say:

 “Ships and sailors rot at port.”
(Horatio Nelson)

Day 3 
We are leaving the dock on schedule and heading down river.

Old sailors’ superstitions say that a small bird or bee landing on the deck of a departing vessel foretells good luck on a voyage, and a tangled anchor line forecasts bad luck. Glancing around, I observe our noisy grackles preparing to depart neighboring ships at dock –  so I hope they qualify as small birds. And huddled out of the wind on deck is a crane-fly – not a bee, but a harmless bug that looks like a giant mosquito. Perhaps no guarantee of good luck, but since all our lines and chain are neatly stowed, I am confident that an old “salt” – seeing how ship-shape the Brown is – would concur that we shouldn’t unnecessarily envision any bad luck on our cruise.

Cranefly

Dolphin "X"

Sailing down river we receive a great treat and are guided to the sea by small groups of dolphins surfing underwater in our bow wave. These are Tursiops – the bottle-nosed, the most common and well-known members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Tursiops is Latin for “dolphin-like.”  Their comradeship is another reassuring sign of good luck to suspicious sailors. It is a remarkable spectacle and entertainment to everyone, even the veteran crew members, who, like the ancient mariners, have reported it many times. Although they seem to be taking turns at the lead, one dolphin that keeps resurfacing has a small cross-shaped scar on the port side (Left) of the blowhole; proving that at least one member of the pod has kept pace with us for the entire time.

Ship mates. (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Curiously, they know to abandon us near the river mouth to join other “bow riders” that have caught the wave of a freighter that is entering the river and heading upstream. Noteworthy is the bulbous bow protruding in front of the freighter. Reminiscent of the bottle nose of a dolphin, the bulb modifies the way the water flows around the ship’s hull, reducing drag – which increases speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability – things dolphins were rewarded with through evolution. And what a show the dolphins make riding the steeper bow wave! Actually launching out of the vertical face of it like surfers.

Bow rider!

Passing historic Ft. Sumter we receive an impromptu lecture by some of the crew on Charleston’s rich history from the days of Blackbeard the pirate, up through the Civil War. There is an interesting mix of people on board, from several countries and with extraordinary backgrounds. There is also a great assortment of vessels using the bay – freighters, tankers, tugs, patrol boats, cranes, sailboats and a huge bright cruise ship. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song for All Seas, All Ships:

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading
As far as the eye can reach,
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing,
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations…

        

     

 I note a transition here from the river to bay ecosystems reflected in the birdlife observed. Grebes and mergansers are replaced by pelicans and gulls.

The bay mouth is protected from wave action by low rip-rap jetties, and outside of them in a more oceanic environment are loons, scoters, and our first real seabirds – northern gannets. Loons spend the summer and nest on pristine northern lakes like those in New Hampshire (Reminding me of the movie On Golden Pond) but migrate out to saltwater to winter in ice-free coastal areas.

Scoters (Melanitta) are stocky, dark sea ducks that winter over hard bottoms like the harbor entrance, where they can dive down and scrape mussels and other invertebrates from the rocks and gravel.

Gannets are cousins of the pelicans but much more streamlined. They too dive for food but from much greater heights, sometimes over 100’. They also plunge below the surface like javelins to snare fishes. They are wide-ranging visitors along the East and Gulf coasts, wintering at sea, and returning to isolated cliff nesting colonies known as a “gannetry”  in Maritime Canada

The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared,
Merrily did we drop,
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

(Coleridge)
 Sullivan Island lighthouse
Latitude: 32.75794
Longitude: -79.84326

The odd triangular shaped tower of Sullivan Island lighthouse originally had installed the second brightest light in the Western Hemisphere. (Said to be so powerful that keepers needed to wear asbestos welding gear when servicing the light)
At 163 feet, its unusual flash pattern is tricky to catch on camera, but it is our last visual link to the mainland, and it will be the only land feature we will see until we are off the lighthouse at Abaco, Bahamas, after ten days at sea. A lighthouse keeper at the lens room, watching us sail away, could calculate at what distance (in miles) we will disappear over the horizon with a simple navigator’s formula:

The square root of 1.5 times your Elevation above se level.
Try it out:  √1.5E’ = _____ Miles 

√1.5 x 163′  = _____ Miles  to the horizon

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)
 

Dave Grant: Going “Blue Water”
, February 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Sailors used to describe their trips as short-haul or coastal,
or “long seas” which also was described as going “Blue Water”


We are off to a great start after passing the harbor lighthouse and breakwater, and the seas are calm and winds gentle. The Low Country and barrier islands of South Carolina disappear quickly over the horizon, and the most striking change for me is the color of the water. As we have transited from the sediment rich waters upriver, to the estuary, and out to the ocean, its color has gone from grayish, to green to blue.

Bay/Estuary water in Charleston

Gulf Stream water

As a rapid indicator of what’s going on within it biologically, oceanographers use the color of the water. To quantify their observations for other scientist to compare results, a white secchi disc is lowered just below the surface and the observer compares the ocean’s color with tinted water in a series of small vials – the Forel-Ule Scale. (Francois Forel was an oceanographer and his end of the scale is the bluest; and Willi Ule was a limnologist and his end of the scale is darker, reflecting the fresh waters he studied.) The 21 colors run the gambit of colors found in natural waters and modified by the plankton community and range from brownish-to-green-to-blue. This gives you a quick measure of productivity of the waters and the types of phytoplankton predominating. For example: Diatom blooms are brownish and Dinoflagellate blooms form the notorious red tides. Clear, less productive waters look blue, and we are sailing into waters that are a deeper blue with every league we sail.

I lack a secchi disk and we can’t stop the ship to lower one anyway, so I am using instead a scupper on the side as a photographic frame to document this well-studied and interesting phenomenon.

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.”
(James Taylor)

Before departing on the trip I came across Richard Pough’s bird map of the Atlantic. On it he divides the ocean into 10-degree quadrants and indicates the average water temperature and number of birds he sighted daily. The good news is we are heading southeast into warmer waters. The bad news is, he does not indicate a very productive hunting ground for bird watching. For example, Cape Hatteras, NC, where the Gulf Stream skirts North Carolina, shows 40 birds. Off the highly productive sub-polar regions like Iceland where there are great breeding colonies of seabirds like gannets, he indicates scores of birds. Regardless, I am hopeful we will find some true seabirds to photograph on our voyage; and perhaps have some migrating songbirds drop in for a rest.

Gulf Stream sunset

Today, as our colleague Wes Struble discusses on his blog, we retrieved our first samples with the CTD rosette. Water is retrieved from predetermined levels between the surface and 4,500 meters sealed in bottles for salinity and dissolved oxygen analysis. These two physical features, along with temperature, are the benchmarks physical oceanographers rely upon to track the ocean circulation.

For an understanding of this process and an overview of the project, I met with Molly Baringer in her office – a large bench that the ship’s carpenter built on deck. It seats three and is similar to a lifeguard stand, so it can give a view of the water and fit over the [dis]array of equipment constantly being shifted around the fantail by various scientists and deck hands. With the calm seas and sunny weather, it is the perfect spot on the ship to sit with a laptop to outline daily assignments for all of us, review the mass of data streaming in, and relax to watch the sunset.

“When I am playful,
I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!”

Mark Twain

Scientists and crew prepare to retrieve a mooring before the next big wave!

Chief scientist Dr. Baringer is a physical oceanographer and so is interested less in the creatures moving around in the ocean and more about the water currents that are moving them around, and particularly the vast amount of heat that is transferred from the Equator to the Polar Regions by “rivers in the sea” like the Gulf Stream.

 Currents and storms in our atmosphere produce our daily weather patterns, which of course change seasonally too. Ocean currents work on a much longer time scale and the text book example of the turnover time of warm water moving Pole-ward, cooling and returning to the Tropics as “centuries.” This timeframe infers that dramatic fluctuations in climate do not occur.

However, by analyzing ice cores from Greenland, scientists recently have detected evidence of abrupt changes in climate – particularly a significant cooling event 8,200 years ago – that could be associated with vacillations in the Gulf Stream. Although lacking a blackboard at her impromptu lecture hall on deck, a patient Dr. Baringer was artful in walking me through a semester of climatology and modeling to highlight the implications of an oscillating Gulf Stream and its deepwater return waters – the Deep Western Boundary Current.

Surface water is driven from the southern latitudes towards the Poles along the western side of the Atlantic, constantly deflected in a clockwise pattern by the Earth’s rotation. Bathing Iceland with warm and saltier water and keeping it unusually mild for its sub-polar latitude, the Gulf Stream divides here with some water flowing into the Arctic Sea and the rest swirling down the Eastern Atlantic moderating the climate in Great Britain, France and Portugal. (This explains the presence of a rugged little palm tree that I once saw growing in a Scottish garden.)

Perturbations in the northward flow of heat by meanderings of the Gulf Stream or the smothering of it of it by lighter fresh waters from melting ice in Greenland and Canada appears play a significant role in occasionally upsetting Europe’s relatively mild and stable climate – which is bad enough. What is more alarming is new evidence that these changes don’t necessarily occur gradually over centuries as once assumed, but can take place rapidly, perhaps over decades.

There is more bad news. The surface of the sea is dynamic and even without wind and waves, there are gentle hills and valleys between areas. I remember my surprise when our physical oceanography teacher, Richard Hires, pointed out that because of warmer water and displacement by the Earth’s rotation, Gulf Stream waters are about a meter higher than the surrounding ocean…that to sail East into it from New Jersey, we are actually going uphill. If these giant boundary currents are suppressed in their movements, it will exasperate an ongoing coastal problem as those hills and valleys of water flatten, resulting in rising sea levels and erosion along northern coastlines.

This explains why we are “line sailing” at 26.5 North, sampling water and monitoring sensors arrayed on the parallel of latitude between Africa and the Bahamas. To measure change, it is necessary to have baseline data, and the stretch of the Atlantic is the best place to collect it.

Snap shots of the water column are taken using the CTD apparatus as we sail an East-West transect, but at $30-50,000. Per day for vessel time, this is not practical or affordable. Here is where moorings, data recorders and long-life Lithium batteries come into play. By anchoring a line of sensors in strategic locations and at critical depths to take hourly readings, year-long data sets can be recorded and retrieved periodically. Not only does this save time and money, it is the only way to generate the ocean of data for researchers to analyze and create a model of what is happening over such a vast region – and what may occur in the future.

For more specific details, check out the project overview.

Deep Western Boundary Current Transport Time Series to study:
-the dynamics and variability of ocean currents;
-the redistribution of heat, salt and momentum through the oceans;
-the interactions between oceans, climate, and coastal environments; and
-the influence of climate changes and of the ocean on extreme weather events.
Information at:  http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/wbts/ies/index.php

We hear that “The package is on deck” and it is time to collect water samples from the 24 different depths the Niskin bottles were fired (Remotely closed). As any aquarist will assure you, as soon as seawater is contained it begins to change, so we always start with the bottom water and work around to the top water since dissolved oxygen levels can drop with rising temperatures and biological activity from planktonic creatures trapped along with the water samples.

Although as oceanography students we read that most ocean water is quite cold (~3.5C)  because only the top 100 meters soaks up the warmth from sunlight, it is still an awakening for me to fill the sample bottles with even colder bottom water. After a half hour of rinsing and filling bottles, my hands are reminded of the times I worked in an ice cream parlor restocking containers from the freezer and filling soft-serve cones. It is a delight to get to the last several bottles of warm (25C) surface water.

Once the DO and salinity bottles are filled, they are removed to the chemistry lab and the Niskins are all mine. By holding a small plankton net under them as they drain excess water, I try my luck at catching whatever has almost settled to the bottom. There is an extra bonus too. A patch of floating Sargassum weed that tangled in the rosette was retrieved by the technician and set aside for me to inspect.

Windrows of Sargassum weed drift past the Ron Brown

Here is what I found under the microscope so far:

From depth:

The bottom water is absolutely clear with no obvious life forms swimming around. However a magnification of 50x’s and the extra zoom of my handy digital camera set-up reveals a number of things of interest I am sorting into AB&C’s:
Abiotic: Specks of clear mineral crystals. Are these minute sediments washed from the mainland or nearby Caribbean islands? Or is it possible they are quartz grains carried from much greater distances, like the Saharan dust that satellite images have proven are swept up by desert winds and carried all the way across the Atlantic?

Biotic: Although I can not find anything living, the silica dioxide skeletons (frustules) of at least two species of diatoms are present. These fragile fragments of glass accumulate in deep sediments below highly productive zones in the sea and different species are useful to paleontologists for determining the age of those deposits. On land, fossil diatom deposits are mined for diatomaceous earth – used as an abrasive and cleaner, pool filter material, and even in nanotechnologyresearch applications. There is other detrital material in the samples, but nothing identifiable.

Celestial(?): One tiny round particle caught my attention under the microscope. It looks like the images I’ve seen of microtektites – glassy and metallic meteor particles that have been molded by the heat of entry into the atmosphere. The Draxler brothers, two science students in Massachusetts, collect them and I hope they will confirm my identification when I see them again.

Dust particle (Right) and foraminifera (Center)

From the surface:

The warm, sunlit surface water here is covered with Sargassum weed, a curious algae that sustains an entire ecosystem in the waters mariners named the Sargasso Sea. On board the Brown it is simply called “weed” in part because it can be a minor nuisance when entangled with equipment. The Sargassum’s air bladders that support it at the surface reminded Portuguese sailors of their sargazagrapes and they named the gulfweed after them.

Can you spot the two Sargassum shrimp next to the air bladder?

Floating Sargassum weed harbors a great variety of other creatures including baby sea turtles, crustaceans and especially bryozoan colonies. The film of life encrusting the weed is sometimes called aufwuchs by scientists and is a combined garden and zoo.

A quick rinse in a plastic bag revealed two species of bryozoan and numerous tiny crustaceans. The Phylum Bryozoa is the “moss animals” a puzzling colonial creature to early biologists. Bryozoans are an ancient group with a long fossil record and are used by paleontologists as an “index” species to date sediments.

Byozoan colony

To my delight there were also some foraminifera in the samples. “Forams” as they are called by researchers, are single celled protozoa with calcium carbonate skeletons. They are abundant and widespread in the sea; having had 330 million years to adjust to different habitats – drifting on the surface in the plankton community and on benthic habitats on the bottom.

It is not necessary for you to go to sea with a microscope to find them. I have seen their skeletons imbedded in the exterior walls of government buildings in Washington, DC; and our own lab building at Sandy Hook, NJ has window sills cut from Indiana limestone – formed at the bottom of the warm Mesozoic seas that once covered the Midwest. In the stone, a magnifying glass reveals pin-head sized forams cemented among a sea of Bryozoan fragments. Some living forams from tropical lagoons are large enough to be seen without a magnifier, and  are among the largest single-celled creatures on the planet. With a drop of acid (The acid test!) our Geology students confirm that our window sills are indeed made of limestone as the drops fizzing reaction releases carbon dioxide sequestered when the animal shell formed.

Living foraminifera eat algae, bacteria and detritus and are fed upon by fishes, crustaceans and mollusks. Dead forams make contributions to us by carrying the carbon in their skeletons to the bottom where it is sequestered for long geological periods.

Geologists also use different species of forams as “index” species to fix the date of strata in sediment cores and rocks. The appearance and demise of their different fossil assemblages leave a systematic record of stability and change in the environment; and paleoclimatologists use the ratios of Carbon and Oxygen isotopes in their skeletons document past temperature ranges.

Our first plankton samples extracted from the deepest samples retrieved from the Niskin bottles at 4,000 meters (2.5C) did not produce any forams. This may be because in deep, cold water, calcium carbonate is more soluble and the skeletons dissolve. Presumably why we identified only the glassy tests of diatoms.

Foraminifera shell at 100x’s

Tiny Paramecia swarm over the detritus in my slide and taking a closer look at that and the growth associated with the weed I am reminded of Jonathon Swifts jingle:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
And little fleas have lesser fleas

And so, ad infinitum 


Sunset over the Sargassum Sea

The Chief Scientist:

A day in the life of our chief scientist involves: checking with her staff to evaluate the previous day’s collections, consulting with visiting scientists on their needs and any problems that might arise, checking with the deck hands and technicians about equipment needs and repairs, advising the ship’s officers of any issues, and making certain we are on course and schedule for the next station.

And then rest? Hardly!

Even when off duty there are inquiries to field from staff, scientists and crew; equipment repairs to be made; and software that needs to be tweaked to keep the data flowing.

How does one prepare for a career like this?
Physically: the capacity to function on little sleep so you can work 12-hour shifts and be on-call the other twelve. (And there is little escape at mealtimes either, where the conversation never stays far from the progress of the cruise.)Mentally: the capability to multi-task with a variety of very different chores.
Emotionally: the flexibility to accommodate people with many different personalities and  needs, while staying focused on your own work.
Also, excellent organizational skills, since months of planning and preparation are crucial.
And perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!

 

 “Lock-and-Load!
Midnight shift.
Chief Scientist Dr. Molly Baringer prepares to fire the XBT
off the stern for an 800 meter profile of temperature and pressure.

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 5, December 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:15pm
Air Temperature: 23.6 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 56%

Science and Technology Log

Liz takes a water sample
Here I am taking a water sample from the CTD.

Let’s talk about the flurometer!  The flurometer is  a piece of equipment attached to the CTD which is being used on this cruise to measure the amount of chlorophyll (specifically chlorophyll_a) in the water being sampled.  It works by emitting different wavelengths of light into a water sample.  The phytoplankton in the sample absorb some of this light and reemit some of it.  The flurometer measures the fluorescence (or light that is emitted by the phytoplankton) and the computer attached to the CTD records the voltage of the fluorescence.

The flurometer can be used to measure other characteristics of water, but for this research cruise, we are measuring chlorophyll.  As you know, chlorophyll is an indicator of how much phytoplankton is in the water.  Phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food web and it is an important indicator of the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time that our cruise is collecting this information, satellites are also examining these components of water quality.  The measurements taken by the scientific party can be compared to the measurements being taken by the satellite.  By making this comparison, the scientists can check their work.  They can also calibrate the satellite, constantly improving the data they receive.

Combined with all the other research I’ve written about in previous blogs, the scientists can make a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem with the flurometer.  They can ask: Is the water quality improving?  Degrading?  Are the organisms that live in this area thriving?  Suffering?

Nelson records data from the CTD
Nelson records data from the CTD.

Collecting data can help us make decisions about how better to protect our environment.  For example, this particular scientific party, led by Nelson Melo, was able to inform the government of Florida to allow more freshwater to flow into Florida Bay.  Nelson and his team observed extremely high salinity in Florida Bay, and they used the data they collected to inform policy makers.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the Walton Smith.  The week went by so fast!  I had an amazing time and I want to say thank you to the crew and scientific party on board.  They welcomed me and taught me so much in such a short time!

Thank you also to everyone who read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse of science in action!

Answers to Poll Questions:

1)      In order to apply to the Teacher at Sea program, you must be currently employed, full-time, and employed in the same or similar capacity next year as

a. a K-12 teacher or administrator

b. a community college, college, or university teacher

c. a museum or aquarium educator

d. an adult education teacher

2)      The R/V Walton Smith holds 10,000 gallons of fuel.  By the way, the ship also holds 3,000 gallons of water (although the ship desalinates an additional 20-40 gallons of water an hour).

Lindsay Knippenberg: Oceanography Day! September 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58.00 N
Longitude: -166.91 W
Wind Speed: 23.91 kts with gusts over 30 kts
Wave Height: 10 – 13ft with some bigger swells rolling through
Surface Water Temperature: 6.3 C
Air Temperature: 8.0 C

Science and Technology Log

On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.
On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.

Today Jeanette and Florence took me under their wing to teach me about the oceanographic research they are conducting onboard the Dyson. At every station there is a specific order to how we sample. First the transducer, then the CTD, then numerous types of plankton nets, and then we end with the fishing trawl. The majority of the oceanographic data that they collect comes from the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). The CTD is lowered over the side of the ship and as it slowly descends to about 100 meters it takes conductivity, temperature, and depth readings. Those readings go to a computer inside the dry lab where Jeanette is watching to record where the pycnocline is located.

The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?
The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?

The pycnocline is a sharp boundary layer where the density of the water rapidly changes. The density changes because cold water is more dense than warm water and water with a higher salinity is more dense than water that is lower in salinity. So as the CTD travels down towards the bottom it  measures warmer, less salty water near the surface, a dramatic change of temperature and salinity at the pycnocline, and then colder, saltier water below the pycnocline. Once Jeanette knows where the pycnocline is, she tells the CTD to collect water at depths below, above, and at the pycnocline boundary. The water is collected in niskin bottles and when the CTD is back on deck Florence and Jeanette take samples of the water to examine in the wet lab.

Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.
Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.

Back in the lab, Jeanette and Florence run several tests on the water that they collected. The first test that I watched them do was for chlorophyll. They used a vacuum to draw the water through two filters that filtered out the chlorophyll from the water. As the water from the CTD passed through the filters, the different sizes of chlorophyll would get stuck on the filter paper. Jeanette and Florence then collected the filter paper, placed them in labeled tubes, and stored them in a cold, dark freezer where the chlorophyll would not degrade. In the next couple of days the chlorophyll samples that they collected will be ran through a fluorometer which will quantify how much chlorophyll is actually in their samples.

Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.
Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.

Besides chlorophyll, Jeanette and Florence also tested the water for dissolved oxygen and nutrients like nitrates and phosphates. All of these tests will give the scientists a snapshot of the physical and biological characteristics of the Eastern Bering Sea at this time of year. This is very important to the fisheries research because it can help to determine the health of the ecosystem and return of the fish in the following year.

Personal Log

One of the high points for me so far on the cruise has been seeing and learning about all the new fish that we catch in the net. We have caught lots of salmon, pollock, and capelin. The capelin are funny because they smell exactly like cucumbers. When we get a big catch of capelin the entire fish lab smells like cucumbers…it’s so weird. We have also caught wolffish, yellow fin sole, herring, and a lot of different types of jellyfish. The jellies are fun because they come in all different shapes and sizes. We had a catch today that had some hug ones and everyone was taking their pictures with them.

Now that is a big jelly fish.
Now that is a big jelly fish.

Today we also caught three large Chinook or king salmon. Ellen taught me how to fillet a fish and I practiced on a smaller fish and then filleted the salmon for the cook. What is even cooler was that at dinner we had salmon and it was the fish that we had caught and I had filleted. Fresh salmon is so good and I think the crew was happy to get to enjoy our catch.

The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.
The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.

Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.
Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.


What else did we catch?

Walleye Pollock
Walleye Pollock

A juvenile Wolffish
A juvenile Wolffish

Yellow Fin Sole
Yellowfin Sole

 A squid
A squid

Herring
Herring

Lots of little Capelin
Lots of little Capelin

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.

CTD
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.

Carbon
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.

chlorophyll
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

Caitlin Fine: Mississippi River Chasers! August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Onboard 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 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 10:18pm
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Visibility: good/unlimited
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Barometer: 1011.0mb
Relative Humidity: 72%

Science and Technology Log

The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.

Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).

Bryan and Maria
Brian and Maria take optic measurements with the SPECTRIX and GER 1500

The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.

PUV
Brian lowers PRR into the water

The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.

Personal Log

These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.

On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.

CTD
I am helping lower the CTD into the water

Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.

Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!

Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.

The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.

Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.

For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!

In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.

Key West
Sunset over Key West - a beautiful way to end the day

She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.

We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.

Did you know?

On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”

One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!

Animals seen today…

  • Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
  • Baby flying fish
  • Two juvenile Triggerfish

    Triggerfish
    We caught a young triggerfish in our tow net

Becky Moylan: Preliminary Results, July 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 13, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 791.50 Meters

Science and Technology Log

Results of Research

Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton
Crustaceans

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean
Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Beginning on July 1st, the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment project (IEA) in the Kona region has performed scientific Oceanography operations at eight stations.  These stations form two transects (areas) with one being offshore and one being close to shore. As of July 5th, there have been 9 CTD (temperature, depth and salinity) readings, 7 mid-water trawls (fish catches), over 15 acoustics (sound waves) recordings, and 30 hours of marine mammal (dolphins and whales) observations.

The University of Hawaii Ocean Sea Glider has been recording its data also.The acoustics data matches the trawl data to tell us there was more mass (fish) in the close to shore area than the offshore area. And more mass in the northern area than the south. This is evidence that the acoustics system is accurate because what it showed on the computer matched what was actually caught in the net. The fish were separated by hand into categories: Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton.

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl
Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

The CTD data also shows that there are changes as you go north and closer to shore. One of the CTD water sample tests being done tells us the amount of phytoplankton (plant) in different areas. Phytoplankton creates energy by making chlorophyll and this chlorophyll is the base of the food chain. It is measured by looking at its fluorescence level. Myctophids eat phytoplankton, therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.

The data showed us more Chlorophyll levels in the closer to shore northern areas . Phytoplankton creates energy using photosynthesis (Photo = light, synthesis  = put together) and is the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll-a is an important pigment in photosynthesis and is common to all phytoplankton. If we can measure the amount of chlorophyll-a in the water we can understand how much phytoplankton is there. We measure chlorophyll-a by using fluorescence, which sends out light of one “color” to phytoplankton, which then send back light of a different color to our fluorometer (sensor used to measure fluorescence). Myctophids eat zooplankton, which in turn eat phytoplankton. Therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.   The data showed us more chlorophyll-a levels in the closer to shore northern areas.

Bringing in the catch

The Sea Glider SG513 has transmitted data for 27 dives so far, and will continue to take samples until October when it will be picked up and returned to UH.

Overall the mammal observations spotted 3 Striped dolphins, 1 Bottlenose dolphin, and 3 Pigmy killer whales.  Two biopsy “skin” samples were collected from the Bottlenose dolphins. A main part of their research, however, is done with photos. They have so far collected over 900 pictures.

Looking at all the results so far, we see that there is an area close to shore in the northern region of Kona that has a higher concentration of marine life.  The question now is why?

We are now heading south to evaluate another region so that we can get a picture of the whole Eastern coastline.

Personal Log

In the driver's seat
In the driver's seat

Krill
Krill

And on deck the next morning we found all kinds of krill, a type of crustacean. Krill are an important part of the food chain that feed directly on phytoplankton. Larger marine animals feed on krill including whales. It was a fun process finding new types of fish and trying to identify them.Last night I found a beautiful orange and white trumpet fish. We also saw many transparent (see-through) fish with some having bright silver and gold sections. There were transparent crabs, all sizes of squid, and small clear eels. One fish I saw looked like it had a zipper along the bottom of it, so I called it a “zipperfish”. A live Pigmy shark was in the net, so they put it in a bucket of water for everyone to see. These types don’t ever get very big, less than a foot long.

I have really enjoyed living on this ship, and it will be sad to leave. Everyone treated me like I was part of the group. I have learned so much about NOAA and the ecosystem of the Kona coastline which will make my lessons more interesting this year. Maybe the students won’t be bored!

Sunrise over Kona Region

Sunrise
Sunrise

Heather Haberman: Science and Life at Sea, July 16, 2011 (post #5)

  • NOAA Teacher at Sea
    Heather Haberman

    Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
    July 5 — 17, 2011

Mission:  Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location:  Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weather Data from  NOAA Ship Tracker
Air Temperature: 28.5 C   (83 F)
Water Temperature: 27.2 C  (81 F)
Relative Humidity: 82%
Wind Speed: 9.58 knots

Preface:  Scroll down the page if you would like to read my blog in chronological order.  If you have any questions leave them for me at the end of the post.

Science and Technology Log

Question of the day:  When I view your travels aboard the Oregon II on NOAA’s Ship Tracker website it looks as though you go as far as the continental shelf and then turn back towards the shore again.  Why don’t you go into the deep water?

Our groundfish survey course.

Answer:  If you were studying animals in the rainforest you would want to make sure to stay in that specific area.  You wouldn’t want to include Arctic animals in your report which are from a completely different biome.  The same goes for ocean life.  As depth, temperature, and amount of light change in the ocean so do the habitats and the animals that live in them.  On this groundfish survey we are focusing on offshore species that live in “shallow” waters up to 60 fathoms (361 feet).  If we were to go out into the deep water then our reports wouldn’t be as accurate.

Topic of the Day:  Science

What is science?  Can you come up with a good definition?  Difficult isn’t it.  There are many definitions that refer to science as the study of the natural world, systematic knowledge, etc. but something that’s often left out of the definition is that it can be used to make predictions.

We have all been conducting scientific experiments since we were old enough to formulate questions about our environment: “Will this ball bounce?”,  “Can I get it to bounce higher?”,  “Will ball #1 bounce higher than ball #2?”  The knowledge we have collected from these experiments allow us to make accurate predictions.  “I think ball #2 would be better for playing tennis than ball #1.”  Now keep in mind, the more we know about a subject, the better our predictions will be.

The more information we have the better our predictions become. Image: http://www.exploratorium.edu/baseball/bouncing_balls.html

Did you know that the ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface but more than 95% of it remains unexplored.  This means we have a lot to learn if we want to accurately predict the relationships between the ocean, the atmosphere and the living things on our planet. To address these gaps in our knowledge, thousands of people working for the government, universities and private industries, are trying to collect the information we need to make the most accurate predictions possible.  Perhaps by expanding our knowledge we will be better equipped to formulate some solutions to the problems we have created in the seas such as  pollution (particularly plastics), climate change and overfishing.  These issues are drastically changing oceanic ecosystems which in turn affect the life on our planet.

The beautiful Pacific Ocean. Image: Universe Today

A new venture into deep ocean exploration. Image: ZD Net

One thing that sets science apart from other arenas is that is it based on verifiable evidence.  We are not talking about video footage of bigfoot or pictures of UFO’s here, we are talking about evidence that is easily confirmed by further examination or research.  I don’t think many people consider all of the expertise that goes into collecting this kind of scientific data–it’s not just scientists.

Not all evidence is verifiable.

Onboard the Oregon II there are engineers that make sure the ship and all its parts are functional, skilled fishermen that operate the cranes and trawling equipment, officers from the NOAA Corps that navigate and assist the captain in commanding the ship, cooks that feed a hungry crew and the scientists.  Conducting scientific research is a team effort that requires a variety of skilled personnel.

NOAA Corps member Ensign Brian Adornado with a nautical chart that's used for navigating our ships course.

Too often people underestimate the amount of time and labor that actually goes into collecting the information we have about our planet and its inhabitants.  In fact, many people dismiss scientific evidence as unimportant and trivial when in actuality it is based on the most technologically advanced methods that are available.  Scientific data, and conclusions derived from the data, are peer-reviewed (looked at by others in the field) before it is published or presented to the general public.

This is why it is so important to take heed to the reports about the changes taking place in the ocean’s waters. Without the data from NASA’s satellites in the sky,  NOAA’s ships on the sea and other sources too numerous to mention, we wouldn’t know the extent of the damage that’s being done to the ocean.

Chlorophyll concentrations in the ocean. Image: NASA satellite SeaWIFS

NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program has clearly demonstrated how good science is done.  I experienced first hand the importance of random sampling, scientific classification of organisms, repeating trials to ensure the accuracy of results, team work, safety, publishing data for the public to review and always having backup equipment.  I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences with my students.  Thank you NOAA!

Personal log:

My time aboard the Oregon II is coming to an end.  We have finished up our last stations and cleaned up the workrooms.  Now its back to Pascagoula, Mississippi.  It has been a wonderful experience!  For those of you that are wondering what I did each day on the ship it was pretty routine.

9:00 AM : Go to the galley for some juice and coffee.  Hot breakfast ends at 8:00 AM but they always have cereal and fresh fruit to eat.  In the galley there are two tables that each seat six people.  At the end of each table is a small TV so we can watch the news, our anything else that happens to be on DirectTV.

This is a picture of my room. I have the bottom bunk and my roommate sleeps on the top. The curtains are very nice for privacy since we work different shifts.

There is a bathroom (head) that my roommate and I share with our two neighbors. Each room has its own entry door to the bathroom.

This is the galley where all of our meals are served. It's also stocked with lots of yummy snacks and drinks!

9:30 AM:  After some coffee, juice and conversation I head upstairs to the lounge so I can check my e-mail and work on my blog.  The lounge has some comfortable seats, a big TV, lots of 8mm movies, two computers for the fishermen, and an internet cord for laptops.  Usually David, the ornithologist (bird scientist), is here working when I arrive so we usually chat for a while.

This is the lounge.

11:00 AM:  Lunch time!  everyday the chefs make amazing food for us to eat.  They’ve served bbq ribs, prime rib, turkey, quail, crab cakes, shrimp, mahi-mahi, ham, crab legs, pork loin, steaks and lots of other amazing side dishes and desserts.  Both chefs are retired from the Navy where they were also cooks.

12:00 noon: Head to the dry lab to start my shift.  At the start of every shift Brittany, our team leader, writes down all of the stations we will be going to as well as how many miles it takes to get there.

This is the "dry lab" where we spend our time waiting for the next trawl or plankton station. In this room there are computers dedicated to navigation, depth imagery and fisheries data.

5:00 PM:  Supper time!  Back to the galley for some more excellent food!

12:00 midnight:  Night crew comes in to relieve us from our 12 hour shift.  I quietly enter my room so I don’t wake up my roommate and hit the shower.  Then it’s to the rack (my bunk bed) with some ear plugs to block out the sounds of the engine.  The slow rocking of the waves makes a person fall asleep quickly after a long day at work.

Kathleen Harrison: Shumagin Islands, July 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True wind direction:  59.9°, True wind speed:  11.44 knots
Sea Temperature:  9°C
Air Temperature:  8.9°C
Air pressure:  1009.74 mb
Foggy with 1 mile visibility
Ship heading:  88°, ship speed:  11 knots

Science and Technology Log

The Shumagin Islands are a group of about 20 islands in the Gulf of Alaska, southwest of Kodiak Island.  They were named for Nikita Shumagin, a sailor on Vitus Bering’s Arctic voyage in 1741.  They are volcanic in origin, composed mostly of basalt.

Shumagin Islands
Bold and mountainous, the Shumagin Islands rise from the sea in the Gulf of Alaska.

Several islands even exhibit hexagonal basaltic columns.  There are about 1000 people who reside in the islands, mostly in the town of Sand Point, on Popof Island.  According to the United States Coast Pilot (a book published by NOAA with extensive descriptions about coastlines for ship navigation), the islands extend out 60 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula.  They are bold and mountainous.

hexagonal basalt
When this island formed, volcanic lava cooled into basalt hexagonal columns.

The shores are broken in many places by inlets that afford good anchorages.  The shores are rockbound close to.  Fishing stations and camps are scattered throughout the group, and good fishing banks are off the islands.  Fox and cattle raising are carried on to some extent.

long range view of SI, Alaskan Peninsula
Shumigan Islands to the left, snow covered peaks of Alaskan Peninsula in background. An amazing sight on a rare sunny day in the Gulf of Alaska.

Sea water quality is very important to the scientists on the Oscar Dyson.  So important, that it is monitored 24 hours a day.  This is called the Underway System.  The sea water comes through an intake valve on the keel of the bow, and is pumped up and aft to the chem lab.  There, it goes through 4 instruments:  the fluorometer, the dissolved Oxygen unit, the Thermosalinograph (TSG), and the ISUS (nitrate concentration).

The fluorometer measures the amount of chlorophyll and turbidity in the sea water once every second.  A light is passed through the water, and a sensor measures how much fluorescence (reflected light) the water has. The amount of chlorophyll is then calculated.  The measurement was 6.97 µg/L when I observed the instrument.  The amount of  phytoplankton in the water can be interpreted from the amount of chlorophyll.  Another sensor measures how much light passes through the water, which gives an indication of turbidity.  Twice a day, a sample of water is filtered, and the chlorophyll is removed.  The filter with the chlorophyll is preserved and sent to one of the NOAA labs on land for examination.

chem lab
Here are all of the water quality instruments, they are mounted to the wall in the chem lab. Each one has a separate line of sea water.

The next instrument that the water passes through will measure the amount of dissolved oxygen every 20 seconds.  Oxygen is important, because aquatic organisms take in oxygen for cellular respiration.  From plankton to white sharks, the method of underwater “breathing” varies, but the result is the same – oxygen into the body.  The oxygen in the water is produced by aquatic plants and phytoplankton as they do photosynthesis, and the amount directly affects how much aquatic life can be supported.

The TSG will measure temperature, and conductivity (how much electricity passes through) every second, and from these 2 measurements, salinity (how much salt is in the water) can be calculated.  The day that I observed the TSG temperature was 8.0°  C, and the salinity was 31.85 psu (practical salinity units).  Average sea water salinity is 35.  The intense study of melting sea ice and glaciers involves sea water temperature measurements all over the world.  A global data set can be accumulated and examined in order to understand changing temperature patterns.

instrument to measure
This instrument measures the amount of nitrate in the sea water. It is called the ISUS.

The last instrument measures nitrate concentration in the sea water every couple of minutes.  It is called ISUS, which stands for In Situ Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer.  Nitrate comes from organic waste material, and tends to be low at the surface, since the wastes normally sink to the bottom.  The normal value is .05 mg/L, at the surface, at 8°C.  Values within the range of 0.00 to 25 mg/L are acceptable, although anything above 5 is reason for concern.

All of the data from these instruments is fed into a ship’s computer, and displayed as a graph on a monitor.  The Survey Technician monitors the data, and the instruments, to make sure everything is working properly.

New Species Seen today:

Whale (unknown, but probably grey or humpback)

Horned Puffin

Dall’s Porpoise

Krill

Chum Salmon

Eulachon

monitor shows current data
The current water quality data is shown on this computer screen beside the instruments.

Personal Log

Living on a ship is quite different from living at home.  For one thing, every item on the ship is bolted, strapped, taped, or hooked to the bulkhead (wall), or deck (floor).  Most hatches (doors) have a hook behind them to keep them open(this reminds me of when I put hooks behind my doors at home to keep little children from slamming them and crushing fingers).  Some hatches (around ladderways (stairwells)) are magnetically controlled, and stay open most of the time.  They close automatically when there is a fire or abandon ship situation or drill.  Every drawer and cabinet door clicks shut and requires moving a latch or lever to open it.  For some cabinet doors that you want to stay open while you are working in the cabinet, there is a hook from the bulkhead to keep it open.

bracket holds copier
The copier machine is held in place by a 4 post bracket that is bolted to the floor.

On every desk is a cup holder, wider on the bottom than the top, designed to hold a regular glass or a cup of coffee.  If one of those is not handy, a roll of duct tape works well for a regular glass.  All shelves and counters have a lip on the front, and book shelves have an extra bar to hold the books in.  Trash cans and boxes are lashed to the bulkhead with an adjustable strap, and even the new copier machine has a special brace that is bolted to the deck to hold it in one place (I heard that the old copier fell over one time when there was a particularly huge wave).  There are lots of great pictures on the bulkheads of the Oscar Dyson, and each one is fastened to the bulkhead with at least 4 screws, or velcro.  There are hand rails everywhere – on the bulkhead in the passageway (hallway) (reminds me of Mom’s nursing home), and on the consoles of the bridge.

hallway hand rails
This view down the hall shows the hand rail. It comes in handy during rough weather.

Desk chairs can be secured by a bungee cord, and the chairs in the mess (dining room)  can be hooked to the deck.

Another thing that is different from home is the fact that the Oscar Dyson operates 24-7 (well, in my home, there could easily be someone awake any hour of the night, but the only thing they might operate is the TV). The lights in the passageways and mess are always on.  The acoustics and water quality equipment are always collecting data.  Different people work different shifts, so during any one hour, there is usually someone asleep.  Most staterooms have 2 people, and they will probably be on opposite shifts.  One might work 4 am to 4 pm, and the other would work 4 pm to 4 am.  That way, only one person is in the room at a time (there is not really room for more than one).  There is always someone on the bridge – at least the Officer of the Deck (OOD) – to monitor and steer the ship.  During the day, there is usually a look out as well.

binoculars on the bridge
These binoculars are used by the look out to scan the surrounding area for anything in the water - whales, boats, islands, kelp, or anything else in proximity to the ship.

His job is to, well, look out – look for floating items in the water, whales, rocks, and other ships (called contacts or targets).  This helps the OOD, because he or she can’t always keep their eyes on the horizon.

I have thoroughly enjoyed living on the Oscar Dyson (we have had calm seas so far), and talking with the NOAA staff and crew.  They are ordinary people, who have chosen an extraordinary life – aboard a ship.  It has challenges, but also great rewards – seeing the land from a different perspective, being up close to sea life, and forging close relationships with shipmates, as well as participating in the science that helps us understand the world’s oceans.

Steven Wilkie: July 3, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico Date: July 3, 2011 Ship Data

Latitude 29.27
Longitude -94.39
Speed 9.30 kts
Course 298.00
Wind Speed 6.70 kts
Wind Dir. 281.88 º
Surf. Water Temp. 29.90 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.30 ºC
Relative Humidity 75.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1015.75 mb
Water Depth 15.70 m

Science and Technology Log

One of the first expeditions devoted to the study of the world’s oceans was that of the H.M.S. Challenger.  This voyage covered a distance of more than 68,000 nautical miles.   Although other expeditions prior to the Challenger expedition would periodically collect data about the ocean environment, none were devoted solely to the exploration of the chemical, biological and physical attributes of the oceans.

The Voyage of the HMS Challenger
The HMS Challenger’s voyage spanned 4 years and covered close to 70,000 nautical miles.

A sounding device used by the Challenger expedition. This weighted line would be lowered over the side of the ship and the amount of line let out would indicate depth.

If you have read my previous posts, you know how important monitoring the abiotic factors are.  This was no different aboard the Challenger expedition.

And remember it took 23 years to process and publish all of the data, well with the help of computers and the internet, the Oregon II’s data is available in hours.

Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!
Michael Hendon (lead scientist) performs a winkler titration to determine dissolved oxygen content. See wet chemistry skills are still important!

Although technology plays a pivotal role in collecting and analyzing the data, computers still need to be cross referenced against tried and true scientific processes.  In order to ensure that all of the CTD equipment is accurate, random water samples are pulled using the CTD’s sample bottles.  A chemical titration, known as the Winkler titration is used to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water samples.

The method for sampling the living organisms along the bottom of the seafloor has not changed much since the Challenger expedition.  Trawl nets are still the name of the game, although the way they are deployed might vary a bit!

Mike and Cliff bring the Oregon II's trawl aboard complete with catch.

Once the catch is on board, the process begins to collect data (remember that is why NOAA is out here) to better understand how populations are changing in order to set catch limits and analyze human impact.  In the day’s of the Challenger expedition, the work of analyzing samples and collecting their would have been done in a lab aboard ship, and we rely on similar if not more automated facilities onboard the Oregon II.  Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the Challenger’s “Wet lab”. The wetlab onboard the Oregon II is where I spend the majority of my 12 hour watch.   It is here that the catch is brought after we bring it on deck, we sort the catch, count and measure a subsample of what is brought on board.  If we had to measure everything that came up with the net we would never get finished.  By taking a subsample we can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and count a smaller sample of the catch.  This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch.  This saves time and effort on our part and still provides an accurate representation of what was in the net.  A few species are selected to be counted in their entirety, that includes all commercially important shrimp (brown shrimp, pink shrimp and white shrimp) and all red snapper.  We will also pull organisms into our subsample that are unique to the catch such as sharks, rays, skates etc.

Now I am not quite sure how the Challenger expedition determined where it would sample and when, perhaps if they saw something interesting they would simply drop their nets in the water, but with the Oregon II, the sampling sites are predetermined and the method to set up those sites is quite sophisticated.  In order to ensure that the cruise covers the majority of the Gulf of Mexico NOAA uses a method known as independent random sampling.  This method uses a computer program to randomly select stations based on depth data, and spatial area.  By choosing random samples independently, the scientists can rest assured that they haven’t purposefully singled out an area with “good fishing” or “bad fishing” and that the data they collect will represent a more accurate count of the actual fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Steven Wilkie: June 26, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
STEVEN WILKIE
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II
JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 26, 2011

Ship Data:

Latitude 26.56
Longitude -96.41
Speed 10.00 kts
Course 6.00
Wind Speed 4.55 kts
Wind Dir. 150.72 º
Surf. Water Temp. 28.30 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 24.88 PSU
Air Temperature 29.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1012.27 mb
Water Depth 115.20 m

Before getting down to work, it is important to learn all precautionary measures. Here I am suited up in a survival suit during an abandon ship drill.

Science and Technology Log

After two days of travel we are on site and beginning to work and I believe the entire crew is eager to get their hands busy, myself included.   As I mentioned in my previous post, it is difficult if not impossible to separate the abiotic factors from the biotic factors, and as a result it is important to monitor the abiotic factors prior to every trawl event.  The main piece of equipment involved in monitoring the water quality (an abiotic factor) is the C-T-D (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) device.  This device uses sophisticated sensors to determine the conductivity of the water, which in turn, can be used to measure salinity (differing salinities will conduct electricity at different rates).   Salinity influences the density of the water: the saltier the water the more dense the water is.  Density measures the amount of mass in a specific volume, so if you dissolve salt in a glass of water you are adding more mass without much volume.  And since Density=Mass/Volume, the more salt you add, the denser the water will get.   Less dense objects tend to float higher in the water column than more dense objects, so as a result the ocean often has layers of differing salinities (less salty water on top of more salty water).  Often you encounter a boundary between the two layers known as a halocline (see the graph below for evidence of a halocline).

Temperature varies with depth in the ocean, however, because warm water is less dense than cold water. When liquids are cold, more molecules can fit into a space than when they are war; therefore there is more mass in that volume.   The warm water tends to remain towards the surface, while the cooler water remains at depth.  You may have experienced this if you swim in a local lake or river.  You dive down and all of a sudden the water goes from nice and warm to cool. This is known as a thermocline and is the result of the warm, less dense water sitting on top of the cool more dense water.

Here is the fancy piece of technology that makes measuring water quality so easy: the CTD.

Temperature also influences the amount of oxygen that water can hold. The cooler the temperature of the water the more oxygen can dissolve in it.  This is yet another reason why the hypoxic zones discussed in my last blog are more common in summer months than winter months: the warm water simply does not hold as much oxygen as it does in the winter.

The CTD is also capable of measuring chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is a molecule that photosynthetic organisms use to capture light energy and then use to build complex organic molecules that they can in turn be used as energy to grow, reproduce etc.  The more chlorophyll in the water, the more photosynthetic phytoplankton there is in the water column.  This can be a good thing, since photosynthetic organisms are the foundation of the food chain, but as I mentioned in my earlier blog, too much phytoplankton can also lead to hypoxic zones.

Finally the CTD sensor is capable of measuring the water’s turbidity.  This measures how clear the water is.  Think of water around a coral reef — that water has a very low turbidity, so you can see quite a ways into the water (which is good for coral since they need access to sunlight to survive).  Water in estuaries or near shore is often quite turbid because of all of the run off coming from land.

This is a CTD data sample taken on June 26th at a depth of 94 meters. The pink line represents chlorophyll concentration, the green represents oxygen concentration, the blue is temperature and the red is salinity.

So, that is how we measure the abiotic factors, now let’s concentrate on how we measure the biotic!  After using the CTD (and it takes less time to use it than it does to describe it here) we are ready to pull our trawls.  There are three different trawls that the scientists rely on and they each focus on different “groups” of organisms.

The neuston net captures organisms living just at the water's surface.

The neuston net (named for the neuston zone, which is where the surface of the water interacts with the atmosphere) is pulled along the side of the ship and skims the surface of the water.  At the end of the net is a small “catch bottle” that will capture anything bigger than .947 microns.  The bongo nets are nets that are targeting organisms of a similar size, but instead of remaining at the surface these nets are lowered from the surface to the seafloor and back again, capturing a representative sample of organisms throughout the water column.   The neuston net is towed for approximately ten minutes, while the bongo nets tow times are dependent on depth.   Once the nets are brought in, the scientists, myself included, take the catch and preserve it for the scientists back in the lab to study.

The bongo nets will capture organisms from the surface all the way down to bottom.

The biggest and baddest nets on the boat are the actual trawl nets launched from the stern (back) of the boat.  These are the nets the scientists are relying on to target the bottom fish.  This trawl net is often referred to as an otter trawl because of the giant heavy doors used to pull the mouth of the net open once it reaches the bottom.  As the boat moves forward, a “tickler” chain spooks any of the organisms that might be lounging around on the bottom and the net follows behind to scoop them up.  This net is towed for thirty minutes, and then retrieved and we spend the next hour or so sorting, counting and measuring the catch.

Here you can see the otter trawl net extending off the starboard side of the Oregon II. When lowered into the water the doors will spread the mouth of the net.

Personal Log
I thought that adjusting to a 12 hour work schedule would be tough, but with a 5-month old son at home I feel I am more prepared than most might be for an extended day.  I might go as far as to say that I have more down time now than I did at home!  Although the ship’s crew actually manages the deployment of the majority of the nets and C-T-D, the science team is always involved and keeping busy allows the hours to tick away without much thought.  Before you know it you are on the stern deck of the ship staring at a gorgeous Gulf of Mexico sunset.

As we steam back East, the sun sets in our stern every day, and we have been treated to peaceful ones thus far on this trip.

The sun has long since set.  As I write this it is well after midnight and my bunk is calling.

Kathy Schroeder, May 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 12, 2010

5/12 Mooring Buoy

Launching a mooring buoy
Launching a mooring buoy

Today we launched another type of buoy. It is called a Mooring Buoy. Its height is 5 meters above the surface (pictured on left) and 72 meters below the surface, which ends with a concrete dome that weighs 4110 (pictured on right). You can see the mooring being towed by the ship to get it into the right position. It has a barometer (measures atmospheric pressure), an anemometer (measures wind speed) and a thermometer on the top. There are sensors at different depths that measure salinity, chlorophyll, temperature, pressure, and nitrates.The information is transmitted to satellite Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (NOAA) that monitors the surface and subsurface of the Bering Sea. This piece of equipment costs $250,000. There are two other moorings already in this location. One measures ocean currents the other measures acoustic plankton. On one it has an underwater rain gauge. Can you figure out what that means? Headed to the Pribilof Islands today. On the way some crew saw sea ice. I’ll be looking! I love reading everyone’s comments. Keep them coming!

Kathy Schroeder, May 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathy Schroeder
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 5 – May 18, 2010

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 8, 2010

CTD Water Samples 5/8

Today I was able to see a different type of equipment deployed. It is called a CTD (conductivity temperature depth). The CTD went down 150 meters. On the metal frame that holds the CTD are 12 water bottles with caps at each end. The frame is lowered with both end caps open.

Once at its depth the end caps are closed to take a water sample. This is then repeated at 5 different depths on its return to the surface. The water is then put into plastic containers of known volume, which are then taken to a filter (about the size of a quarter) that separates the microscopic plants called phytoplankton from the seawater. The filters with the phytoplankton are then frozen in small plastic vials to be sent to a lab in Seattle where they determine how much chlorophyll was on each filter. The amount of chlorophyll tells us how much phytoplankton was in the water at each depth. Another water sample taken from the CTD is to verify the salinity values measured by the CTD. We haven’t found much pollock the last few hauls. We are now finding Pacific cod, and of course krill and arthropods such as copepods, amphipods, barnacle nauplii. Amber spotted a Minke whale this morning. I hope to see one soon!

Karen Matsumoto, April 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 19 – May 4, 2010

NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette
Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is.
Date: Friday, April 25, 2010

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Elton Sette is making its way to Wake Island, and we hope to be there by tonight. One of the research operations is to recover a HARP (High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package) that is in place on Wake Island and replace it with a new HARP unit.

This morning, I was on “CTD duty” at 4:30 a.m. A CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) station is deployed prior to the start of the visual survey effort, right at sunrise. The CTD data is collected using the ship’s SeaBird CTD shown below. The CTD is deployed to a depth of 1000 meters (depending on depth where we are) with a descent rate of about 30 meters per minute for the first 100 meters of the cast, then at 60 meters per minute after that. It takes three people, plus a winch driver to deploy the CTD, as well as the expert operation from the bridge to keep the ship steady and in one place during the entire operation!

Checking the CTD unit prior to launch.

Launching the CTD unit.

Background on CTDs

The CTD is a device that can reach 1,000 meters or more in depth, taking up to five water samples at different depths, and making other measurements on a continuous basis during its descent and ascent. Temperature and pressure are measured directly. Salinity is measured indirectly by measuring the conductivity of water to electricity.

Chlorophyll, a green photosynthetic pigment, is measured indirectly by a fluorometer that emits purple light and measures fluorescence in response to that light. These measurements are made continuously, providing a profile of temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll as a function of depth. The CTD unit is torpedo-shaped and is part of a larger metal water sampling array known as a rosette. Multiple water sampling bottles are often attached to the rosette to collect water at different depths. Information is sent back to the ship along a wire while the instrument is lowered to the depth specified by the scientist and then brought back to the surface.

Monitoring the CTD in the ship’s E-lab.

Data gathered from the CTD during its descent.

By analyzing information about the water’s physical parameters, scientists can make inferences about the occurrence of certain biological processes, such as the growth of algae. Knowledge like this can, in turn, lead scientists to a better understanding of such factors as species distribution and abundance in particular areas of the ocean.

I am continuing my acoustic work with the sonobuoys. Today I heard a Minke whale BOING! Below is what a Minke whale boing looks like on the computer. It sounds very much like someone blowing a low tonal whistle or a cell phone vibrating on the desk!

 

To hear an Atlantic minke whale call (which is different from those found here in the North Pacific, but really cool!) go to this website:

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/acoustics/whales/sounds/sounds_atlminke.html

Personal Log

I am making so many great friends among the Sette crew and the science team! I am getting spoiled from all the fantastic meals put together by Randy our cook, and no one ever wants to miss a meal! Our wonderful Doc Tran makes incredible Vietnamese dishes and delicious desserts. Today we had cream puffs for dinnertime dessert! Who would have ever guessed!

Marie Hill, our Chief Scientist and fearless leader was awarded the prestigious NOAA Team Member Award! We surprised her with balloons and decorations in her cabin, and Doc Tran and Lisa made a yummy cake in celebration! Congratulations Marie!!!

Marie Hill, Chief Scientist finding her cabin wildly decorated to congratulate her on her award.

We had a visitor today on the flying bridge-an exhausted juvenile red-footed booby! He sat on the mast, finding a place to rest in the middle of the ocean! It felt great to feel the warm wind hit my face and watch the sapphire blue water crash against the bow of the ship! What a great feeling!

Juvenile red-footed booby on the bridge

Deep blue Pacific ocean water!

Question of the Day: How can you figure out how much food to bring on a 2-week cruise? How do you keep the food fresh? What do you do with leftovers?

This is the situation that the Chief steward has to deal with on every cruise! How would you figure this out? Can you do the math?

New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Beaufort Sea State is an empirical measure for describing wind speed based mainly on observed sea conditions. It is also called the Beaufort Wind Force Scale. We stop conducting our visual observations when wind/sea conditions reach Beaufort 7, as wind and sea conditions are too rough to accurately make observations (and its windy out there!).

Something to Think About:

This part of the North Pacific is often described as an ocean desert. We have not seen any whales, and have had only a couple sightings of dolphins since we left Guam. We have also seen migrating sea birds, but not in huge numbers. What do you think may account for the lack of sea life in this expanse of tropical waters?

Animals Seen Today:

  • Sooty tern
  • Red-footed booby (juvenile)

Did you know?

That the team of whale visual observers never discuss the numbers of animals they see among themselves. Some people consistently count high, others count low, others are spot on! By not discussing how many animals they observed, they don’t influence each others’ observations. Back at the lab, researchers compare each observer’s counts from their written observations, and can tell which observers tend to under or overestimate numbers of animals they see. They can then make adjustments to total numbers based on everyone’s observations! This is similar to calibrating thermometers or other scientific equipment!

Today’s sunset from the Sette.

Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly, September 11, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship David Jordan Starr
September 8-22, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitats (LUTH) Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean –San Francisco to San Diego
Date: September 11, 2008

CTD deployment
CTD deployment

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 3647.6130 W Longitude: 12353.1622 N
Wind Direction: 56 (compass reading) NE
Wind Speed: 25.7 knots
Surface Temperature: 15.295

Science and Technology Log 

One important piece of equipment on many NOAA research ships is the CTD (Conductivity and Temperature with Depth).  This eight chambered water collection device is attached to electronic sensors. When the CTD is deployed below the ocean’s surface, it is dropped carefully to a predetermined depth; today’s was 500 m. All water collection chambers are open for water to flow through. After the oceanographer in charge of deployment examines a computer readout of the CTD after it has been lowered to its’ maximum depth, it is decided at which depths water samples will be collected as the CTD is brought back up.At these intervals, water sample collectors (Niskin bottles) are closed and water collected.  Up to eight samples are collected as it rises to the surface.

CTD reading; salinity, oxygen, pressure, and fluorometer voltage
CTD reading: salinity, oxygen, pressure, and voltage

After the CTD has been secured on deck, each sample is carefully extracted into collection bottles. Each water sample is filtered through a vacuum system in order to extract chlorophyll from that water sample.  The extracted chlorophyll is later run through a fluorometer, which calculates the volume of chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b which indicates the intensity of photosynthetic microorganisms in that layer. Lots of chlorophyll indicates a rich biological region, which may support many types of marine life.  In addition, the CTD collects samples that will be analyzed for the amount of salts they contain in order to confirm the sensors values. Values that change to the left are decreasing. The reading on the top right shows how the temperature, in red, changes very quickly from the surface down to 500 m.  The green indicates some chlorophyll until it drops significantly below 100 m, where light no longer penetrates well. Oxygen levels are in blue, also decreasing with depth.

Questions of the Day 

  1. What is the importance of chlorophyll to marine mammals and amphibians?
  2. Why is an understanding of how pressure and depth below the ocean’s surface are related critical to marine sciences?

Water samples being filtered through a vacuum system to extract chlorophyll.
Water samples being filtered through a vacuum system to extract chlorophyll.

 

Jillian Worssam, July 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Onboard U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Healy
July 1 – 30, 2008

While looking at the collected sediment trap, it is obvious that many unsuspecting pieces of debris were caught within its clutches.
While looking at the collected sediment trap, it is obvious that many unsuspecting pieces of debris were caught within its clutches.

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 24, 2008

One of the pleasures while at sea is the concept of time; which is in a word, timeless. Last night the sun set around three in the morning, and if you had asked me what day it was when I went to bed, I could not have answered. I know the date because I made files prior to this cruise so that I could keep track, in some infinitesimal way, of my journals. Right now I know for sure that I am a day behind in writing, that the cruise will be over in less than a week, I still have a lot more science to learn and this afternoon I am making Apple Crisp for the Morale dinner. These things I know, what I am still learning is the science of a sediment trap.Pat Kelly is from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, and he is here, in part, to collect sediment samples that float in the ocean.

There are many components to the research Pat is working on; one is in collecting particles sinking vertically in the ocean. By using an established brine (denser NaCl) solution in an array of floating tubes Pat is able to catch these falling sediments. The process is to deploy his trap, a series of tubes for the falling sediments held aloft by floats that drift in the ocean, for no more than 24 hours.

After the brine from the sediment trap is filtered and dried the collected sediments will be analyzed.
After the brine from the sediment trap is filtered and dried the collected sediments will be analyzed.

When collected, Pat will remove the sediments from the brine, looking at the thorium and organic carbon, there is a relationship between these two elements and Pat wants to focus particularly on the carbon. Now this is where it gets sticky for me as I am not a chemical oceanographer. Pat is looking at the carbon flux. The team wants to look at the carbon transfer as it changes from atmospheric carbon, to organic carbon in the oceans, thus taking it out of the carbon cycle.

The scientists making sure the trap is ready before being deployed off the back deck of the vessel.
The scientists making sure the trap is ready before being deployed off the back deck of the vessel.

One of the underlying questions in this component of the HEALY research is how the oceans will respond to all the increased carbon due to global climate change. Pat’s group is actually looking at carbon cycling in many different oceans, with their hypothesis: The arctic will respond faster to increases in carbon (changes more apparent, faster), due to decreased ice, and the fact that it is dark for ½ the year. Think of it this way, after a long dark winter with good nutrient build up, a higher yield is to be expected with 24 hours of sunlight. The sinking particles Pat studies are also very important to the benthos species providing nutrients and food as they sink.

The scientists are carefully retrieving the tubes of brine that for the past 24 hours have collected ocean sediments.
The scientists are carefully retrieving the tubes of brine that for the past 24 hours have collected ocean sediments.

Like many of the scientists on board, Pat is doing multiple investigations. The ocean as I talked about before is layered and Pat’s team is looking at productivity in the mixed layer using 02 isotopes. This data will give the scientists the rate that phytoplankton is growing.

The team also uses radium isotopes to estimate advection of deep water to the surface along the shelf break. The information will tie in with the scientists studying iron. There is belief that the iron is up welled from the sediments in the deep water to the surface layers.

I am still learning about the chemistry of ocean science, and do not fully understand all of Pat’s research. I do though see that everything is intimately linked, that all components of this ecosystem are dependent upon each other and if one component is changed then ALL will change as well.

I hope to never be so jaded as to not appreciate the beauty in nature.
I hope to never be so jaded as to not appreciate the beauty in nature.

Quote of the Day: Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. -William Wordsworth

FOR MY STUDENTS: No question for today, go out and enjoy the sunset!

Jillian Worssam, July 23, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Onboard U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Healy
July 1 – 30, 2008

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 23, 2008

Last night I went to bed at four, my wake up call was for seven forty five this morning, needless to say if I have a little difficulty explaining micro-zooplankton there is an excuse.Today I am spending time with Diane Stoeker and Kristen Blattner, both from The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

If she is not at the computer Diane is either at the microscope, the incubators or working on her phytoplankton experiments.
If she is not at the computer Diane is either at the microscope, the incubators or working on her phytoplankton experiments.

Diane and Kristen are studying phytoplankton and micro-zooplankton, and it is amazing how these small components of an oceanic ecosystem are vital for the survival of pretty much the entire environment. Diatoms are small single-celled organisms, called phytoplankton. Diane is studying how fast phytoplankton are eaten by micro zooplankton, and how this “grazing” effects phytoplankton populations.

It is a long process to measure water and extract chlorophyll, Kristen is up for the challenge.
It is a long process to measure water and extract chlorophyll, Kristen is up for the challenge.

Let’s try a visual

Phytoplankton = the microscopic “plants” of the ocean. These organisms photosynthesize and drift with the current. Although some phytoplankton do have locomotive capabilities they cannot swim again the current.

Diatoms are a type of phytoplankton. Zooplankton = small animals who also move with currents and eat phytoplankton as well as micro-zooplankton.

Now enter Diane and Kristen, they look at phytoplankton to find out what is eating them, predominantly micro-zooplankton, and are even looking at their relationship with zooplankton pee and how it might work as a fertilizer for phytoplankton. What these ladies do is collect samples of sea water once a day. They use a mixture of 20% whole sea water and 80% filtered sea water (which removes most of the algae, copepods and protozoa), and a 100% whole sea water sample.

This is part of the larval stage, nauplius of a copepod.
This is part of the larval stage, nauplius of a copepod.

Kristin then strains both types of water pre and post incubation, and will compare the chlorophyll samples. What Kristin is hoping for is that after 24 hours there will be more chlorophyll in the 20/80 sample indicating greater phytoplankton growth, due in part, to the fact that there are fewer predators (micro-zooplankton) in this water. Micro-zooplankton eat nearly 50-60% of the phytoplankton, which they are fertilizing at the same time. This relationship is fundamental to a healthy oceanic ecosystem; you could even say these micro-zooplankton help sustain the growth if phytoplankton in the ocean.

After the 24 hour incubation, samples are taken for further study back at the lab. One specimen they often see is a heterotrophic dinoflagellate. This guy has no chlorophyll and wants to eat phytoplankton; it is in other words a micro-zooplankton.

This little gem does not photosynthesize and locomotors by the little hair like tenacles.
This little gem does not photosynthesize and locomotors by the little hair like tenacles.

As I look at the pictures Diane has taken, I am transported to a word that is so small that to tell the difference between plant is animal is very difficult.

Isn't this a great looking microzooplankton, can you see how it moves?
Isn’t this a great looking microzooplankton, can you see how it moves?

Quote of the Day: The great sea has sent me adrift, it moves me, it moves me, as the weed in a great river. Earth and the great weather move me, have carried me away and moved my inward parts with joy. Uvavnuk Eskimo Song

FOR MY STUDENTS: What other areas of study can we focus on while using microscopes?

Karolyn Braun, October 18, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karolyn Braun
Onboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana
October 4 – 28, 2006

Mission: TAO Buoy Array Maintenance
Geographical Area: Hawaii
Date: October 18, 2006

TAS Braun using the Fluorometer to test CTD water samples.
TAS Braun using the Fluorometer to test CTD water samples.

Plan of the Day 

Transit; TAO buoy painting; Testing CTD samples using the Fluorometer

Woke up at 5am to get a head start on the painting. I’d rather work in the morning before the sun comes up.  I finished painting the white strips before breakfast so the crew could flip the buoys over to paint the red on the bottoms before the end of the day. I spent most of my day in front of the Fluorometer testing the CTD water samples.

Ok Learning time: To calculate chlorophyll you need to use the following equation: Chl (ug 1 ) = F*Ve((Fo-Fa)/S)Vf Where F = fluorometer calibration factor

Fo = total fluorescence

Fa = Fluorescence after acid

Ve = extract volume (acetone extract; 10ml)

Vf = filtration volume (volume of filtered seawater in liters; 0.528L

S = sensitivity To obtain Fo we need to fill the cuvette, a test tube-like glass beaker, and place into the Fluorometer.  Record data. Then add 3 drops of 10% HCL to cuvette while still in the fluorometer.  Re-read the fluorescence at the same sensitivity setting.  Record data. Making sure in between samples the cuvette is cleaned with acetone. In completing the equation, we discovered that out here most of the chlorophyll is deeper than in most places.  Let’s get to the basics. The ocean can be divided into five broad zones according to how far down sunlight penetrates:

  • The epipelagic, or sunlit, zone: the top layer of the ocean where enough sunlight penetrates for plants to carry on photosynthesis.
  • The mesopelagic, or twilight, zone: a dim zone where some light penetrates, but not enough for plants to grow.
  • The bathypelagic, or midnight, zone: the deep ocean layer where no light penetrates.
  • The abyssal zone: the pitch-black bottom layer of the ocean; the water here is almost freezing and its pressure is immense.
  • The hadal zone: the waters found in the ocean’s deepest trenches.

Plants are found where there is enough light for photosynthesis; however, animals are found at all depths of the oceans though their numbers are greater near the surface where food is plentiful.  So why is more chlorophyll found deeper the further you travel away from the equator?  Well my hypothesis is because all the nutrients are found in the deep cold layers of the midnight zone.  Near the equator and near coastlines upwelling occurs so the nutrients are brought up to the sunlit zone. As you go further away from the equator less and less upwelling occurs so the phytoplankton is unable to thrive in this sunlit zone. The phytoplankton will grow deep enough in the twilight zone to obtain the nutrients, yet shallow enough where photosynthesis can occur.  I also think that like land plants, too much sun can reduce the growth of the phytoplankton.

Chlorophyll fluorescence is often reduced in algae experiencing adverse conditions such as stressful temperature, nutrient deficiency, and polluting agents.  Phytoplankton photosynthetic efficiency is one of the biological signals that rapidly reacts to changes in nutrient availability as well as naturally occurring or anthropogenically introduced toxins (contaminants).  The results can be used as an indicator of system wide change or health.  I finally finished the samples around 3 p.m. Got in a work out, watched a movie and was off to bed but not before we retarded our clocks 1 hour.  We are now entering my normal time zone.  So close to American Samoa yet so far away•

Chris Harvey, June 6, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 6, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

I survived the night with ease! The only problem I had was after I woke up the first time (around 1:30 AM) and could not fully get back to sleep.  I am still struggling with this jetlag thing, although my “sea legs” are coming along well.  Knock on wood; I am already well adjusted in the inner ear, though I still get tossed around a bit when I try to walk. I can handle that though. It is the seasickness that I feared.

I ate breakfast with Amee and John, the Electronics Technician guy.  He handles all of the communications and electronics stuff on the ship.  We all traded past war stories and somehow ended up in a pseudo-philosophical discussion about science and technology and the future of our world. (I say “pseudo-philosophical” because none of us is trained in any way in philosophy!) Yeah, we are all science geeks!  But it was fun. I am learning that everyone on the ship is very kindhearted and friendly.  I guess you have to be if you are going to live in such close quarters together for so long.  I’ve begun to think of this ship in terms of reality shows (Not that I am a fan of them, but we are under a lot of the same conditions: many strangers with unique backgrounds put together in a strange situation, forced to share resources in close conditions, while attempting to complete a task or mission in a given amount of time.).  I will attempt to document the human element of this trip as much as the scientific.  After all, is observation not a key element to the scientific method?  So far we are drama-free, aside from losing Tonatiuh.  But there are still 30 days left.

On a more concrete note, we are headed towards Necker Island, to the northwest of Oahu.  Unofficial word is that we will be there by mid-afternoon.  Although I have also heard that we have another full day of transit.  When we arrive there, we will begin baiting and setting lobster traps. Our mission on the OSCAR ELTON SETTE is to trap lobster in the Hawaiian waters, take measurements of tagged lobsters, and keep track of the overall population density of lobsters in the given areas.  My colleagues are concerned that the number of lobsters in the area is remaining low despite the fact that the waters have been off limits to commercial fishermen since 1990.  They are hoping that, each time they come out here, there will be a sudden increase in the number of lobsters in the area.  Something must be keeping the population down, and through the data we collect, we will be able to contribute to determining the cause, and therefore be able to help scientists devise solutions to stabilizing the lobster population.

Until we reach Necker Island, it is smooth sailing across a gently rolling Pacific, upon my perch on the Marine Mammal Observation Deck, the highest deck set directly above the bridge and which is intended for use for scientists to search for whales, dolphins, and other such life. It is covered, with a nice breeze, and Garret, a fellow researcher, is playing his harmonica.  Life couldn’t get much better.

On that note: Bob, the Chief Scientist onboard the ship (my “boss” so to speak) has made it rather clear to me that when the time to work comes, I will be working hard alongside everyone else. “I don’t know what they told you about the Teacher at Sea program,” he told me over the phone when I first arrived in Honolulu.  “But you are not going to be just observing. You will be getting hands on and dirty.”  “Good,” I told him with a smile on my face.  “That’s why I am here.”  I imagine that when we arrive at Necker Island the pace of life will pick up rather dramatically.  Until then, I am going to work on learning the ropes and enjoy my time with good company.

We have stopped the ship so that we can take a CTD reading.  The CTD reading is a measure of Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth of a water sample between the surface and 500 meters below the surface.  I was very interested in this because 1) it is the first time we have stopped the ship since we made our run out of Honolulu and a change of scenery is great when you are on a ship; and 2) the information that comes back from a CTD is very relevant to the information that I cover in my Earth/Space Science class (Mother, you will have to find some answers to questions I will pose, since some of the data contradicted my thoughts of what it should be.)

The data we are collecting is part of a time series, meaning that we are taking the sample at a specific point that has been sampled in the past and will be sampled in the future.  Scientists can then use the data over time to make inferences about such things as an approaching El Nino or La Nina, suitable regions for supporting animal populations, and other such conclusions based on our basic oceanographic data.  In addition to temperature and depth, the CTD measures the amount of oxygen and chlorophyll in the water, as well as the ocean’s salinity. Why is this data important?  We’ll get to that in a minute.

The CTD is nothing more than a weighted contraption with sensors built into it.  It is picked up by a winch and then released at a rate of 60 meters per minute to a maximum depth of 500 meters.  For this trip, we are going to take four CTD readings.  It is a secondary mission for us, meaning the only reason we are doing it is because we happen to be in the area. As the CTD increases in depth, these are some things I would have expected to see:

1) Temperature should decrease (the deeper it goes, the further it is from sunlight)

2) Chlorophyll count should decrease (Chlorophyll is dependent upon sunlight as well. This is the same chlorophyll that is found in green plants on the solid earth, and is important because it is the most basic form of life for the aquatic food chain. Thus, the more chlorophyll, the greater the chance that an aquatic food chain could be established and supported in a given region of water.  No chlorophyll would indicate a region of water that would most likely not be able to sustain life- i.e.- without chlorophyll there would be no plankton.)

3) Salinity should increase (Saline water is more dense than fresh water, so more saline water should be found at greater depths than less saline water)

4) Oxygen should be found in greatest abundance wherever chlorophyll is in greatest abundance. (Remember from Biology 101, chlorophyll takes carbon dioxide and sunlight and converts it to oxygen)

What actually happened was this:

1) Temperature did in fact decrease with depth, though only slightly.  We were at a depth of over 4,000 meters and we only sent the CTD down 500 meters.  Imagine what would have happened if we sent it down further!

2) The chlorophyll count went from about zero to its maximum at 100 meters, and then returned back to zero by 200 meters depth. This makes sense since most of the sunlight is absorbed by 200 meters.

3) The salinity of the seawater increased at first, then decreased, and ultimately ended up about the same as at the surface.  This is the question I pose for you Terry (ask Marge for some assistance!): Why?  One of my colleagues, smartalec Amee, told me that it was because the Coriolis effect was stirring the ocean between depths of 0-500 meters.  Is this true?  (Remember, Amee is British so I must second-guess ANYTHING and EVERYTHING she says!)

4) Oxygen followed the same suit as I suspected and was at greatest concentration where the chlorophyll was at greatest concentration.

It was very interesting to conduct this investigation because the data that I use in class comes from surveys such as ours.  This was another exciting science-geek moment for me because I seem to forget quite often that I am on a NOAA research vessel conducting the research and acquiring the data that many science resources across the world become dependent upon!

On the sociology side of things, our reality show would never cut it back in the States.  It seems that we all just get along too darn well!  No matter what we seem to say or do to each other, everything seems to come out positive.  Imagine having classrooms with environments like this!  Imagine communities cooperating like we do!  Imagine entire cities or states or countries, or God-forbid, the entire world!  The words of John Lennon come to mind: “…Imagine all the people…”  I guess I am in a utopia of sorts, where life is different only for the time being.  But just imagine!

…you may say that I’m a Dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Joan Raybourn, August 24, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 24, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 43°32’ N
Longitude: 69°55 W
Visibility: 8 miles
Air Temperature: 17° C
Wind direction: E (99 degrees)
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: <1’
Sea water temperature: 18.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.0 millibars
Cloud cover: 7/8 Cumulus

Question of the Day: At what degrees on the compass would you find the intermediate directions? (Use information below to help you and look for the answer at the end of today’s log.

Yesterday’s Answer: GMT stands for “Greenwich Mean Time”. GMT is the time at the Prime Meridian, which passes through Greenwich, England. People around the world can use this time as an international reference point for local time. We are on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which is four hours behind GMT. At 1:33 a.m. GMT, it was already August 24 in Greenwich, but our local time was 9:33 p.m. EDT, still August 23, so that is the date I used in the log.

13

Science and Technology Log

Over the last eleven days, the ALBATROSS IV has zigzagged back and forth across southern New England waters, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine. The collection stations were chosen in advance of the trip and plotted on an electronic chart. So how does the crew drive the boat to the next station?

Ship navigation is a combination of automated and manual tasks. Based on the ship’s current position and the latitude and longitude of the next station, the navigator determines what heading to take. That is, he decides in exactly which direction to go using a compass. The ship has an electronic gyroscope as well as a manual compass similar to the ones you may have seen, only larger. It has a magnetic needle that points north, and is divided into 360 degrees. The cardinal directions are these: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west. The navigator enters the heading into the ship’s navigation computer, and if conditions are normal, he can set the ship on Autopilot. Then the computer will automatically adjust the ship’s direction to keep it on course.

The fact that the ship is running on Autopilot does not mean that the crew can take a break. The crew sets the ship’s speed depending on weather and sea conditions, and on how much other ship traffic there is in the area. In open water, the ALBATROSS IV cruises at about ten to twelve knots, which means we cover about 10 to 12 nautical miles per hour. The crew must constantly monitor to make sure the ship is operating safely and efficiently. They plot the ship’s course on paper, monitor weather conditions, watch for other ships and communicate with them, and adjust the ship’s course and speed. At the collection stations, they are able to put the ship at the exact latitude and longitude called for, and keep it there during water casts and sediment grabs, or moving at just the right speed for plankton tows.

Navigators keep a constant watch out for other ships, using a combination of visual and radar data. They use radar to pinpoint the ships’ locations, and often can be seen scanning the sea with binoculars. Signal lights on ships help with navigation, too. Ships have a red light on the port (left) side and a green light on the starboard (right) side. This helps navigators know which side of a ship is facing them and in which direction it is headed. Of course, radio communication makes it possible for ships’ crews to talk to each other and make sure they are passing safely.

Personal Log

Tonight will be the last night of the cruise. We expect to be back in Woods Hole by midday tomorrow, two days earlier than planned. We’ve been blessed with excellent weather, and have made good time cruising between stations. I was very excited last night to see fireworks in the toilet! Toilets on the ship are flushed with sea water, which often contains some bioluminescent phytoplankton. Sometimes the swirling action of the water will excite them, and we’ll see blue-green sparkles and flashes as the water washes down. (Sewage and waste water are biologically treated on board so that they are safe to release into the ocean.)

I want to thank the crew of the ship, especially the NOAA Corps officers who have welcomed me on the bridge and answered many questions about ship operations. I am particularly grateful to Capt. Jim Illg, who reviewed all of my logs, and Ensign Patrick Murphy, who answered many questions about weather and navigation.

Finally, I want to thank the scientists who willingly shared their knowledge and patiently taught me protocols for their work. Jerry Prezioso, a NOAA oceanographer, served as chief scientist on this cruise. He helped me prepare ahead of time via telephone and email, and has been endlessly helpful to this novice seafarer. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has a knack for turning any event into a positive experience. Jackie Anderson, a NOAA marine taxonomist, taught me to operate the CTD unit and helped me identify the kinds of zooplankton we captured in the bongo nets. Don Cobb, an EPA marine environmental scientist, helped me understand the kinds of research the EPA is doing to monitor the health of our oceans and estuaries. Thanks to all of them for their  work in keeping Planet Earth healthy, and for making this an experience I can take back to my classroom and use to help make science real for my students.

Today’s Answer: The intermediate directions are those that fall between the cardinal directions, so to find their degree equivalents, find the halfway point between the numbers for each cardinal direction. Northeast would be at 45°, southeast would be at 135°, southwest would be at 225°, and northwest would be at 315°.

Joan Raybourn, August 23, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 23, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44°23’ N
Longitude: 66°37’ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind direction: W (270 degrees)
Wind speed: 12.7 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: 1’
Sea water temperature: 11.1°C
Sea level pressure: 1014.7 millibars
Cloud cover: 1/8 Clear with a few cumulus clouds low on the horizon

Question of the Day: What does “GMT” stand for and how does it affect the date in the log information above?

Yesterday’s Answer: The clock shows 9:17 a.m. There are 24 hours around the clock face. The hour hand is pointing a little past the 9, so that is the hour. To read the minute hand, notice its position. On a twelve-hour clock, this position would indicate about 17 minutes past the hour. Since this clock counts off 24 hours instead of counting to 12 twice, the afternoon and evening hours have their own numbers. For example, 4:00 p.m. on a twelve-hour clock would be 16:00 on a twenty-four-hour clock. There is no need to indicate a.m. or p.m. since each hour has its own unique number.

12

Science and Technology Log

Today I spent some time up on the bridge talking to the crew about weather. The ship collects all kinds of weather data from on-board sensors, including air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. It also receives weather data from sources outside the ship via satellite link and email. I was especially interested in how the crew determines visibility, cloud cover, sea wave height, and sea swell height, since these represent subjective data. “Subjective” means that someone uses known data and their own experience to make a judgment. Here are some examples.

Visibility just means how far you can see into the distance. This is very hard to judge on the sea because there are no reference points – no objects to “go by” to decide how far away something is. Radar gives an accurate distance from the Albatross IV to objects such as other ships, and on a clear day, the horizon is about twelve miles away. A navigator learns to estimate visibility by combining radar information with how far away objects look in relation to the horizon. It takes a lot of practice to be able to judge visibility using only your eyes!

Cloud cover just means the amount of the sky that is covered by clouds. This is expressed in eighths. Today the cloud cover was about 1/8, meaning about one eighth of the sky had clouds and seven eighths was clear. To make the estimate, mentally divide the sky in half and ask yourself if about half of the sky is cloudy. If you see that less than half the sky has clouds, then mentally divide the sky into fourths, and then eighths. This can be tricky if the clouds are scattered around because it is hard to see a fraction that isn’t all “together”. Once again, this skill takes a lot of practice.

Sea swell height and sea wave height are both descriptors of how the ocean surface is behaving. These are important to observe because they affect the motion of the ship. Swells are large rolling humps of water that are created by the winds from storms. Navigators can tell how far away the storm is by observing the speed of, and length between, the swells. The ship might rock with long, slow swells caused by a storm hundreds of miles away, or with the shorter, faster swells of a storm that is closer. Waves, on the other hand, are caused by local wind; that is, the wind that is blowing right at your location. Waves might just be rippling the water if the wind is light, but can be large if the wind is strong. Both swell height and wave height are estimated in feet from the trough (bottom) to the crest (top) of the wave. Again, this skill takes lots of practice.

Personal Log

Yesterday we got word that a pod of about seventy right whales had been sighted in the Bay of Fundy. This represents a large fraction of this endangered species’ entire population of fewer than 300. Our route has taken us up a little way into the bay, and we have been eagerly watching for whales. We’ve seen several blows in the distance, and occasionally a glimpse of a long back breaking the water. Most of them have been fin whales, but we did see two or three right whales before it was completely dark. It’s exciting to see these giants of the ocean and we hope to see more when the sun comes up.

Joan Raybourn, August 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 22, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: What time does the 24-hour clock in picture #7 show?

Yesterday’s Answer: Sediment is composed of all the small particles of “stuff” that sink to the ocean floor. Near the coast, fresh water is flowing into the ocean from rivers and streams, and human activity creates more matter that is flushed into the ocean. Because there are more sources of sediment near the coast, it collects more quickly there than it does in the open sea.

10

11

Science and Technology Log

Advances in computer technology have made the process of collecting plankton and water samples much easier than it was in the past. During a plankton tow or a water cast, many different people are working together from different parts of the ship, and technology makes it easier to communicate, obtain plankton and water samples from precise locations, and protect equipment from damage. The ship’s crew navigates the ship to the exact station location and maintains the location while the samples are collected, there are scientists and crew members on the aft deck handling the collection equipment, a crew member operates the winch to lift and move the equipment, and a scientist operates the computer system that collects data from the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth instrument (CTD).

The stations, or places where we will collect samples, are designated in advance of the trip and plotted on a computer map. A computer chooses the stations randomly so that we get information from all over the area with no accidental human pattern. The ship’s commanding officer and the head scientist work together to determine the course the ship will take to visit each station. Many factors must be considered, including efficiency, fuel conservation, and weather. Once the course is set, the chief scientist “connects the dots” on the computer map. Then it is easy to see where we are going next, how far away it is, and when we can expect to be there. “Are we there yet?” is a question asked not only by children on vacations, but by scientists and crew at sea!

When the ship approaches a station, the bridge crew makes an announcement so that everyone knows to get ready. “Ten minutes to bongo” means that it is time for the CTD operator to fire up the computer, for the winch operator to get set, and for the deck crew and scientists to get into their gear and make sure the equipment is ready to go. There is a video camera on the aft deck that enables everyone inside to see what is happening on the deck. This makes it easier to coordinate the collection process and to act quickly if there is an emergency.

When the ship is at the exact position of the station, the bridge radios the winch operator. He in turn lets the CTD operator know that we are ready to begin. The CTD person starts the computer program and tells the deck crew to turn the CTD on. The winch operator lifts the equipment and casts it over the side of the ship into the ocean. The “cast” might have just the CTD unit, or water bottles to collect water samples, or the bongos to collect plankton samples. The CTD goes down on every cast since it is collecting data that is important for the success of the tow as well as for further study.

During the cast, the CTD operator watches the computer display to make sure collections are made at the correct water depths. He or she talks to the winch operator over a walkie-talkie so that he knows how far to drop the line and when to pull it back up.  Plankton is collected at about 5 meters above the ocean floor. The ship’s computer tells us how deep the water is and the CTD tells us how deep the instrument itself is. By comparing these two numbers, the CTD person can make sure the equipment doesn’t drag the bottom, which would damage it and contaminate the samples. Once the CTD and the collection equipment are out of the water, the unit is turned off and the CTD operator finishes up the data collection process by entering information such as date, time, latitude, longitude, station and cast numbers. We just finished Station #75, and will be doing our 100th cast at the next station. (More than one cast is done at some stations.) Sample collections at each station can take anywhere from about 20 minutes for a relatively shallow plankton tow to about 2 hours if we are in deep water and collecting plankton, water, and sediment.

During the cast, the CTD operator can watch as the computer creates line graphs showing the data that is being recorded by the CTD unit. In picture #6 above, the line graph on the right shows the depth, while the graph on the left shows the sea temperature in red, the density of the water in yellow, salinity in blue, and fluorescence in green. Density is kind of like how “thick” the water is, salinity is how salty it is, and fluorescence is a measure of phytoplankton. Line graphs show change over time, so we can see how these values change while the CTD is in the water.

Personal Log

Some adaptations take longer than others. Since I switched watches, I have never been completely sure of what day it is, and when I get up in late morning, I’m always surprised to see lunch being served instead of breakfast. However, I have learned to use the physics of the ship’s motion to make everyday tasks easier. Carrying a heavy load up the stairs is easier if you wait for a swell to lift the ship and give you a little boost, and opening doors and drawers, standing up, and even drinking water is easier if you do it with, rather than against, the roll of the ship. As much as I staggered around for the first two days of the cruise, I wonder now if dry land will feel odd when we get there at the end of the week.

Joan Raybourn, August 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 21, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Why does sediment collect on the ocean floor more rapidly near the coast than it does further out in the ocean?

Yesterday’s Answer: The stern of the ship is at the back, and the sun rises in the east, so the ship must have been heading west.

9

Science and Technology Log

On this cruise, there are actually two separate but complementary kinds of research going on. We have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who are collecting samples of the sediment on the ocean floor, which will be analyzed both biologically and chemically. Biology is the study of living things, so the scientists will look to see what organisms are living in the top layer of the ocean floor. The chemical analysis will show what non-living substances, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, are present. Chemicals may occur naturally, or may be a result of pollution. This work gives us information about human influence on the ocean ecosystem.

To collect the ocean floor sample, scientists use a sediment grab (picture #1). The “grab” is lowered into the ocean until it hits the bottom, where the container closes and “grabs” a sample of whatever is down there. Then it is hauled back to the surface and opened to see what has been collected. There could be sand, silt, mud, rocks, and any creatures living at the bottom of the ocean. There are two chambers in the grab. From one chamber, the top 2-3 cm of sediment are scooped into a pot, mixed up, and put in jars for later chemical analysis. This thin top layer will yield information about the most recent deposits of sediment. Near the coast, that sample may represent matter that has settled to the ocean floor over a year or so. Further out, that much sediment would take several years to deposit. The contents of the other chamber are dumped into a bucket and washed through a sieve to remove the sediment and leave only the biological parts.

The sieves used for the sediment sample are very much like the ones used for the plankton samples, but bigger and with larger mesh at the bottom (picture #4). The bigger “holes” in the mesh allow silt and sand to be washed out. Whatever is left in the sieve is put into jars and stored in coolers for later analysis. The sample contains evidence of what lives in the benthic layer, the top layer of the ocean floor. This evidence could be plankton, worm tubes, or remains of once-living animals.

At each station where a sediment grab is performed, three water samples are taken, one each from the bottom, the middle, and the surface of the ocean. One liter of each water sample is filtered (picture #6) to analyze its nutrient content. This process is somewhat similar to the chlorophyll filtering I described in yesterday’s log. The filters are saved to be analyzed in laboratories, which will look for both dissolved nutrients and particulate matter. Dissolved nutrients are like the sugar that dissolves in your cup of tea – you can’t see it, but it’s still there. Particulate matter consists of tiny bits (particles) of things such as plankton, whale feces, plants, anything that might be swirling around in the ocean.

The EPA is primarily concerned with human influences on natural environments. By collecting sediment and water data, scientists can see what substances humans are putting into the ocean, and what effects they are having on the plants and animals living there. This work meshes well with the plankton research work, since the health of the plankton is directly influenced by the health of its environment. Everything in the natural world is connected, and we humans must learn how to balance our wants and needs with the needs of all other living things. If we are not careful about how we use our Earth, we will upset the balance of nature and create negative consequences that we may not see for years. For example, if chemicals dumped into the ocean (on purpose or accidentally) kill large numbers of phytoplankton, then the entire food web will be disrupted in a kind of ripple effect, like a stone dropped into a pond. The zooplankton (who eat phytoplankton) will starve, and the animals that eat zooplankton will either starve or move to a different part of the ocean, which in turn changes that part of the ecosystem. From this very small example, maybe you can see how huge our responsibility is to keep our oceans (and other environments) clean.

Personal Log

I am so grateful to Jerry Prezioso, our NOAA chief scientist, and Don Cobb, our EPA scientist. They have included me in all of their operations from Day 1, and have been infinitely patient with my many questions. They have explained things over and over until I “got it”, from procedures for collecting samples to the science behind all their work. It has been eye-opening to be on the student side of learning. Many times I have not even had enough background knowledge to know what questions to ask, or have been almost paralyzed with fear that I might do something wrong and skew someone’s data. I know this experience will help me better understand my students who go through these same feelings of anxiety and joy when they are learning something new.

Joan Raybourn, August 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 20, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Based on the caption for photo #6 above, in which direction was the ALBATROSS IV traveling when the picture was taken?

Yesterday’s Answer: Our location at 41.39 N and 67.11 W means our goldfinch was 160 nautical miles from Woods Hole. A nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is slightly longer than an ordinary land mile.

99

Science and Technology Log

In addition to collecting zooplankton samples, we also collect water samples and measure the amount of chlorophyll they contain. Phytoplankton are too small to see, but an instrument called a flourometer can measure their presence. The flourometer shines a beam of light through the water sample and measures how much blue light (fluorescence) is present.

This process is fairly delicate and great care must be taken to get a good representative water sample, and then not to contaminate it during processing. Water samples are collected in two ways: some are collected in water bottles that are attached to the bongo cable, and others are collected from a hose that is pumping sea water into the plankton lab.  In picture #1 above, our chief scientist, Jerry Prezioso, is collecting a sample from the plankton lab hose. The sample itself is poured through a filter into the bottle to remove any large particles that may be present. Then 200 ml of the sample water is pumped through a fiberglass filter (picture #2). The filter traps chlorophyll as the water passes through. Even though the large amounts of chlorophyll in land plants gives them their bright green color, the small amounts present in phytoplankton are not visible, so you can’t see it on the filter. In picture #3, Jerry uses tweezers to remove the filter (a small white circle) and place it into a cuvette, which is a small test tube. The cuvette contains acetone, which preserves the sample. Then it is placed upside down in the cooler for 12 to 24 hours, which allows the chlorophyll on the filter to wash out into the acetone.

When the sample is ready to be measured, it is taken out of the cooler along with a “blank”, a cuvette of plain acetone with no chlorophyll present. The two cuvettes must warm up a little before they are read, because water condensation on the outside of the cuvette can result in a false reading. We use the flourometer to take three separate readings. When we do science investigations at school, we determine which factors are constant (kept the same for each trial) and which are variable (the thing you are changing in each trial). In this case, the variable is the amount of chlorophyll on the filter. In order to make sure we are measuring only chlorophyll, we also “read” two constants: a solid standard, which is contained in its own tube and used for every trial, and the blank containing only acetone. After the chlorophyll sample is read, we can compare the three sets of data to see how much chlorophyll is really there. In picture #4, I am putting a cuvette into the flourometer, which will shine a light through it and display a number value. The numbers for the solid standard, the blank, and the chlorophyll sample are all recorded on the clipboard along with data such as date, time, and where the sample was collected. Later, the data will be entered into a computer for further analysis.

Why do we want to know about chlorophyll in the ocean? Well, chlorophyll is produced by plants, in this case, phytoplankton. By measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water samples, scientists are able to determine how much phytoplankton is present. Since phytoplankton is the base of the ocean food web, it is one more piece of the ocean ecosystem puzzle.

Personal Log

Today I switched from the day watch to the night watch, but the timing was good because we had a long steam between stations and I was able to get a little extra sleep before doing a double watch. While all the scientists usually eat meals together, we work in teams to cover the watches, so I will be working with a different set of people. I am now on watch from noon to 6:00 p.m. and from midnight to 6:00 a.m. We will be working our way north for the next week, and the probability of seeing whales is increasing. That will be exciting!

Joan Raybourn, August 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 19, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: Yesterday a goldfinch visited us, but we are far out to sea. When I took the picture above (#6), our position was 41.39 N and 67.11 W. About how far was this little guy from Woods Hole, Massachusetts?

Yesterday’s Answer: Qualitative data is the “what” that your doctor can observe but not necessarily measure. She might look in your ears, eyes, and throat, feel your internal organs through your abdomen, observe your spine, test your reflexes, have you balance on one foot with your eyes closed, and ask general questions about how you feel. Quantitative data is the “how much”; it is something that can be measured. Your doctor will probably measure how tall you are and how much you weigh, and take your temperature and your blood pressure. If she takes blood or urine samples, they will be analyzed for both qualitative and quantitative properties. We are observing and recording similar kinds of data about the ocean, so scientists can get a good picture of the health of this ecosystem.

8

Science and Technology Log

We are very fortunate on this cruise to be able to deploy a drifter buoy. The NOAA Office of Climate Observation (OCO) established the Adopt-a-Drifter program in December 2004. The program makes buoys available to teachers who are participating on cruises as Teachers at Sea. Our drifter has been adopted by my school, Greenbrier Intermediate School of Chesapeake, Virginia, and by Julie Long’s school, Farnsworth Middle School of Guilderland, New York. We named him (It’s a buoy!) Moose in honor of the fact that he was deployed in the Georges Bank area of the Gulf of Maine, which has a number of GOMOOS (Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing Systems) buoys. Moose is the fourth drifter buoy to be deployed as part of the NOAA program, and joins over 1,000 drifter buoys collecting data worldwide.

The buoy itself is a blue and white sphere about the size of a beach ball. It is attached to a drogue, a long “tail” that hangs below the buoy and ensures that it is drifting with the surface currents and not being pushed along by the wind. The buoy is equipped with a water temperature sensor, and a transmitter so that its position and temperature data can be beamed to a satellite, which relays this information to a ground station that will place it on a website. Julie and I decorated the buoy with our school names and signatures – it even has a Greenbrier Intermediate School sticker and a picture of our panther mascot. Then we deployed the buoy on August 18 by tossing it over the side of the ship while it was moving slowly. It was a little sad to see Moose drifting off without us, so small on the huge ocean, but we can follow his adventures for the next 410 days by checking the Adopt a Drifter website. You can begin tracking it here. You can find Moose by clicking on his WMO number, which is 44902. The website will give you the location of the buoy (latitude and longitude) and the date, time, and temperature of the surface water at that location.

What can scientists do with the data about surface water currents that buoys such as Moose are collecting? Of course it can be used to track major ocean currents. Knowledge of currents is useful for understanding the ocean ecosystem and for navigation. But this data will also be used to build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollution spills, and even to assist with forecasting the path of approaching hurricanes.

Personal Log

I finally feel like I am becoming useful as a scientist on this cruise, not just an interested observer. Although I have been busy helping from Day 1, I am gaining confidence about conducting some parts of the work on my own. I have learned to collect and preserve the plankton samples, process water samples for chlorophyll, and operate the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth), a computer linked instrument that measures oceanographic data. This morning I was up in time to watch a beautiful sunrise and had time to do a load of laundry during a long steam between stations. We had a raft of seabirds sitting hopefully off the stern while we were stopped for some work, and the weather is cool and sunny. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Joan Raybourn, August 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 18, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41.36 N
Longitude:  67.11 W
Wind direction: N (343 degrees)
Wind speed: 2.6 knots
Sea water temperature: 17.9°C
Sea level pressure: 1019.3 millibars
Cloud cover: 00 Clear

Question of the Day: What kind of quantitative and qualitative data does your doctor take when you go in for a checkup? (Read the science log below for explanations of these terms.)

Yesterday’s Answer: Phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by penguins, sea birds, fishes, squid, seals, and humpback and blue whales.

7

Science and Technology Log

On some of the plankton tows, we attach a set of “baby bongos”, which are a smaller version of the big bongos. Their nets are made of a much finer mesh, so they catch even smaller kinds of plankton. The samples retrieved from the baby bongos are sent to scientists who are working on genetic analysis. By examining the DNA present in the samples, they can discover new species and determine how known species are distributed in the water.

After the nets are washed down, and their contents are in the sieves, we bring the sieves inside to preserve the samples. The plankton from each net go into separate jars, two jars for each big bongo haul, and two more if we do a baby bongo haul. The plankton are carefully washed out of the sieve and into the jars with a small stream of water. Then we add formaldehyde to preserve the samples in the big bongo jars, and ethanol to preserve the genetic samples in the baby bongo jars. Each jar is labeled to show where it was collected, and stored until we get to shore. The big bongo samples each have a special purpose. One will be analyzed to see what kinds of ichthyoplankton, or tiny baby fish, are present. The second jar will be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Qualitative data tells what kind of plankton you have. Quantitative data tells how much plankton the jar contains. You can think of these as “the what (qualitative) and how much of the what (quantitative)”.

All of this data is an indicator of the health of the ocean ecosystem. It’s kind of like when you go to the doctor for a checkup. Your doctor takes your pulse and your temperature, looks in your mouth and ears, tests your reflexes, and takes other kind of data to see how healthy you are. The scientists involved in this project are giving the ocean a checkup. We are collecting data on the water itself (salinity and temperature at different depths), on the plankton that live in it, and on the weather. Over the years, patterns develop that help scientists know what is “normal” and what is not, how weather influences the ocean ecosystem, and how to predict future events.

Personal Log

I decided not to take a nap yesterday afternoon, and I can feel the difference this morning. It was hard to get up! Sometimes it is hard to remember what day it is because of the six-hour watch schedule. Instead of a nap yesterday, I went up on the hurricane deck with my book and just sat. I read a little, watched the other crew do a bongo haul, dozed a little, but mostly just watched the sky and the ocean. The sea stretches all the way to the horizon in every direction, the sun sparkles on the water, a few feathery clouds float in the sky. Very occasionally, a far away fishing boat or cargo ship slips by. Life is good. We are planning to deploy our drifter buoy this afternoon. More about that tomorrow.

Joan Raybourn, August 17, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 17, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: What kinds of animals depend on plankton as a major food source?

Yesterday’s Answer: Phytoplankton are producers, since they make their own food.

6

Science and Technology Log

On this cruise aboard the ALBATROSS IV we will be taking plankton samples at 90 stations off the coast of New England. The stations are randomly chosen by a computer, so some are close together and some are further apart. The idea is to get a broad picture of the ecological health of the entire region.

The actual process of plankton collection is called a plankton tow, because the nets are towed through the water while the ship is moving slowly, collecting plankton as the water moves through them. Can you guess why the collection apparatus is called a bongo? (Look at picture #2 above.) The frame looks just like a pair of bongo drums! Attached to the frame are two long nets that collect the plankton. The bongo isn’t heavy enough to sink into the water evenly on its own, so a lead ball is added to help pull it down to the bottom smoothly. (See pictures 3 & 4.) The bongo is attached to a cable, which is in turn attached to a pulley system that lowers the bongo into the water and pulls it back up again. Since we only want floating plankton, we have to be sure the bongo doesn’t scrape the bottom. We lower the bongo to about 5 meters above the bottom, and then bring it back up.

The nets bring in all kinds of zooplankton, very small but big enough to see. (Most phytoplankton are so tiny they slip right through the net!) There are lots of copepods, which are related to lobsters, and sometimes arrow worms, which are tiny predators that love to eat copepods! There are other species as well, including some jellyfish. We have to be very careful to save the entire sample so that scientists back on shore can see exactly what was living near each station. When the nets are back on board, we use a hose to wash the plankton down to the bottom of the net. Then we untie the net, dump the plankton into a sieve, and spray some more to be sure nothing is left in the net. At the end of this process, we tie the bottoms of the nets again (so they are ready for the next tow) and take the sieves with the plankton inside to the wet lab for the next step. I’ll describe the process of preserving the plankton samples in tomorrow’s log.

Several kinds of data (besides the plankton itself) are collected on each tow. For example, we take water samples to analyze for salinity and chlorophyll, and the EPA scientists are collecting samples of the ocean floor. In the days to come, I will describe them and explain how computers are used to make all of this work easier. Stay tuned!

Personal Log

I am becoming much more comfortable with the routine tasks of the trip. I can handle the bongo pretty well, and can preserve the plankton samples we get. I am learning to operate the computer end of the process and will soon be able to do that on my own. I can use the tracking system to see where we are going next and how long it will be until we get there. Do I have time to take some pictures? How about to grab a snack? I enjoy talking with the crew, and have discovered that “it’s a small world after all” – our navigator grew up in Virginia Beach and another crew member just built a house in Chesapeake. I can now walk without too much trouble, and this morning I awoke before my alarm went off because I heard the engines slow down as we approached a tow station. There is rumor of a cookout on the deck tonight, so I’d better go get in a nap before then!

Joan Raybourn, August 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 16, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day:  What is phytoplankton’s place in the food chain? (producer or consumer)

Yesterday’s Answer: Factors that could influence the depth to which sunlight penetrates the sea water include amount of cloud cover and how clear the water is. If the weather is clear, more sunlight makes it through the atmosphere to the surface of the sea. If the water is clear, the sunlight can go deeper than if the water is murky with a large mass of surface plankton, excess nutrients, pollutants, or silt.

5

Science and Technology Log

In yesterday’s log I talked about phytoplankton. The other group of plankton is zooplankton. Phytoplankton are plants, and zooplankton are animals. If you think of the sea as a bowl of soup, the zooplankton are the chunky parts. They include organisms that spend all of their lives as plankton, as well as the baby forms of other seas animals, such as crabs, lobsters, and fish. Most zooplankton eat phytoplankton, making them the second step up the ocean food chain.

While you would need a microscope to see most phytoplankton, you can see most zooplankton with an ordinary magnifying glass. Many are big enough to see with the naked eye. While phytoplankton need to stay near the surface of the sea in order to absorb the sunlight they need for photosynthesis, zooplankton can live at any depth. Zooplankton have structural adaptations that help them float easily in the ocean currents. Some have feathery hairs to that can catch the current. Others have tiny floats filled with air, and still others contain oil that helps them float. There are even behavioral adaptations that zooplankton have developed to help them survive. One kind of snail makes a raft of air bubbles and floats on that. Some even link together and float through the ocean looking like skydivers holding hands.

Many animals go through several physical changes as they go through their life cycles. For example, a butterfly begins life as an egg, hatches into a caterpillar (larval stage), makes a chrysalis, and finally emerges as a beautiful adult. Many marine animals go through similar changes, and during their larval stage they are part of the mix of plankton in the ocean. These “temporary” zooplankton are called meroplankton. These include baby crabs, lobsters, clams, snails, sea stars, and squid. Permanent plankton are called holoplankton, and include copepods, krill, sea butterflies, and jellyfish.

One of our deck hands joked about having sushi for breakfast right after we completed a very productive plankton tow. We might not like that kind of sushi, but many ocean animals love it, and depend on it as their food source. Krill (shrimp-like zooplankton) are a very popular menu item with penguins, sea birds, fishes, squid, seals, and humpbacks and blue whales. “A single blue whale may devour up to eight tons of krill a day.” (from Sea Soup: Zooplankton by Mary M. Cerullo)

Most of the plankton we are collecting on this cruise are zooplankton. We preserve them in jars, and when the cruise is over they will be sent to laboratories where other scientists will analyze the samples. We also analyze water samples for chlorophyll, though, which is made by phytoplankton and is therefore an indicator of their health. In the days to come, I will describe the procedures used for the plankton collection, as well as those used for the EPA research.

Personal Log

Life on board a research vessel is not all work and no play. During down time, people rest, read, play games, watch movies, work on needlework, or get a snack, much like life at home. When I am not on watch, I write my logs, take and organize pictures, take a shower, do laundry, send email, and sleep. The scientists are usually able to eat meals together around the time we switch watches. We gather for breakfast around 5:30 a.m., for lunch around 11:30 a.m., and for dinner around 5:30 p.m. It’s nice to have a chance to catch up with each other while one group comes to work and the other goes off to bed.

Jennifer Richards, September 7, 2001

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Richards
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
September 5 – October 6, 2001

Mission: Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes
Geographical Area: Eastern Pacific
Date: September 7, 2001

Latitude: 24° 3.063 N
Longitude: 112° 11.4 W
Temperature: 26.1°C
Seas: Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
Swell wave height: 4-6 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Cloud cover: 3/8
Water Temp: 27.7°C

Science Log: Research has not yet started. The scientific crew was notified in a ship briefing that they are not allowed to gather and record data until the ship leaves Mexican waters.

Each day during this trip I will highlight one of the research groups on the ship and introduce you to the science they are doing. Today I met with the group from the University of California at Santa Barbara- Dr. Carter Ohlmann and Dave Menzies. These guys are studying the variations in ocean radiant heating, or in simpler terms, the amount of light in the ocean at different depths.

Imagine a nice clear swimming pool. The sun’s heat energy can penetrate all the way to the bottom of the pool because the water is so clear. Whatever heat energy hits the pool will be dispersed throughout the water somewhat evenly. Makes sense, right?

Now imagine that the pool has a layer of scum and algae at the top. Face it, you just haven’t done a very good job at cleaning the pool, and your allowance just isn’t big enough to make the job worthwhile. Now, the sun’s heat energy can’t pass all the way to the bottom of the pool because the scum is blocking the light. The very top of the pool water is going to capture almost all of the sun’s heat energy, and the bottom layers of water will be darker and colder.

The ocean has lots of “stuff” in it, right? Fish, whales, coral, seaweed… All plants, whether in the ocean or on land, contain a substance called “chlorophyll.” Chlorophyll is the substance that makes plants green. If you can detect chlorophyll in the ocean, you are detecting plant material- mostly in the form of algae. If the water appears green, it has a lot of algae, if it appears mostly blue with a little green, it has a little algae. Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies have special piece of equipment, called an SPMR, that can measure the exact “color” of the ocean. The water and chlorophyll in the ocean absorb and reflect solar energy, or light, and these scientists want to know how much of the sun’s heat energy is being absorbed and reflected at various depths in the ocean. In other words, how does the sun heat the ocean?

Aren’t there satellites that can accomplish the same task as what is being done on the ship? Well, there is a NASA satellite in space called “SeaWiFS” (Sea viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor) that measures different wavelengths of light being reflected from the surface of the ocean, and it can determine how much blue and green is there. Remember, the more green that is present, the more algae that is present. But satellites are viewing the ocean from so far away, and they have to make lots of adjustments for the amount of light in the atmosphere. If it’s cloudy or foggy, it can be impossible for the satellite to see the ocean. Since Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies are right here at sea level, they can measure the amount of green and blue in the water at the surface, and at various depths in the ocean. For comparison, they also measure the light near sea level, by installing sensors on a large tower on the bow of the ship.

Why does anyone care about all this? There are lots of scientists around the world who try to model different aspects of climate. The computer models make certain assumptions about how heat circulates between the ocean and the atmosphere. Since any large body of water can have a profound affect on the land nearby, it is important that the climate models be accurate. The data being collected and analyzed by Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies will improve the accuracy of air-sea heat exchange in climate computer models.

Travel Log: You may have noticed from the sea data above that the wave height is larger today than it was yesterday. A satellite image on the bridge shows hurricane Henrietta in the area, which accounts for the swell we feel. The ship is rocking quite a bit, making it difficult to walk around too much, but I seem to have acquired my “sea legs” and the rocking isn’t making me sick. Hmmm, in a cartoon drawing, what would sea legs look like? Let me know if you have any ideas.

There’s not a lot of entertainment on the ship. If the weather is nice you can go out on deck and watch the flying fish. A lot of people have books and computers to play with when their shift ends. The only form of organized entertainment are the movies shown each night in the lounge. Just make sure you bundle up, because the lounge, and most indoor areas of the ship, are freezing! The air conditioning inside the ship keeps the temperature very low so that the millions of dollars of electronics equipment on board is safe from heat damage.

Question of the day: What is the difference between sea wave height and swell wave height?

Photo Descriptions: Today’s photos show Dr. Ohlmann and Mr. Menzies at work in the ship’s lab. The rocket-looking device they are holding is the SPMR mentioned in the Science Log above. The tower at the bow of the ship contains sensors that will measure the wavelength of light in the atmosphere at sea level. The large apparatus with the long cylinders is a CTD, which measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of water samples.

Keep in touch,
Jennifer