Stacey Jambura: Sargassum, Sargassum, Sargassum! July 15, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 15, 2012
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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 18:45 GMT)
Air Temperature:  28.6◦C
Water Temperature: 28.5◦C
Relative Humidity: 73%
Wind Speed: 9.28 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.65 mb
 

Science and Technology Log

The Neuston Net

Nueston Net
Neuston Net

The Neuston net is the first net to be deployed at sampling stations. This net has a wide rectangular opening that skims the surface of the water to collect surface dwelling organisms. Before the net is deployed, a cylindrical cod end is attached to the bottom of the net. The cod end has many holes that are covered by a screen. The screen allows water to flow through, but the organisms to get caught. We usually deploy the neuston net for 10 minutes, but sometimes we only deploy it for 5 minutes, depending on the amount of sargassum that is collected inside the net.

Filefish
Filefish collected from sargassum.

Sargassum is a type of seaweed that floats at the surface of the water, almost like little islands. Sargassum provides an important habitat for many marine animals in the open ocean. We frequently find small filefish, jacks, and flying fish, as well as juvenile puffer fish, crabs, and shrimp. Young sea turtles also use the sargassum as a hiding place from larger predators, though we have not found any during this trip.

Sargassum
Sargassum
(image from www.bigelow.org)
Emptying the Neuston net
Emptying the Neuston net.

When sargassum makes its way into our Neuston net, we collect all of it into large buckets. We have to rinse all of the sargassum off into large buckets to make sure that we collect all of the creatures living inside of it. We do this because we want to get the most accurate sampling of the population of living organisms in the sampling area. Depending on how much sargassum is collected in the Neuston net, the collection process can anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour!

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Rinsing a sample into a sieve.
Rinsing a sample into a sieve.

Once the sample has been rinsed into buckets, the buckets are poured into sieves. The sieves have screens that allow the water to flow through, but not the organisms we want to save. Once the buckets have been poured into the sieves, rinsed, and poured out again (to make sure nothing stuck to the inside of the bucket), we use alcohol to rinse the sieves into funnels that channel the sample into quart-sized jars. Once the entire sample has been rinsed into a jar, we fill the jar with alcohol, place a label inside the jar to record the location the sample came from, stick a similar label on the lid, and place the jar in a box back in our chem lab. The samples are analyzed later at a lab once the survey is over.

 

The Bongo Nets

Bongo Nets
Bongo nets being deployed.

Bongo nets are similar to the neuston net, but there are some differences. The bongo nets have cod ends like the neuston, but they have two cod ends because there are two separate nets, where the neuston has only one. The holes of the bongo cod ends are covered by screens that have smaller openings than the neuston cod ends so that they can collect smaller organisms. The main purpose of the bongo nets is to collect plankton samples. We cannot collect plankton easily using the neuston net because the openings in the screen on the cod end are larger.

Bongo Nets and Cod Ends
Bongo Nets and Cod Ends
Relaying Flow Meter Numbers to the Lab
Relaying Flow Meter Numbers to the Lab

Before the bongo nets are deployed, we have to report the numbers on the flow meters from the left bongo net and the right bongo net. The numbers on the flow meters are used to determine the amount of water that passed through the nets during deployment. Depending on how deep the water is determines how much water passes through the nets. After the nets are deployed, a sensor sends a message back to the lab to determine their depth. The person back in the lab monitors the depth and makes sure that the nets go as far down as possible, but do not make contact with the ocean floor. If the nets were to make contact with the ocean floor there is a good possibility that they could be damaged, which is why it’s so important to closely monitor the depth of the bongo nets. After the nets are brought back up on deck, the numbers are reported back to the lab where they subtract the first number of each flow meter (left bongo net and right bongo net) from the final number from each bongo. The difference is then divided by the length of time the net was deployed in the water.

Flow Meter Numbers
Flow Meter Numbers
Bongo Net Sample
Bongo Net Sample

Personal Log

Day 8 – July 12th

Sunset
Calm waters as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Today was a VERY slow day. We only had four sampling stations, and of those only one was a trawl station. I was able to work a bit more on my blogs today, and start working on some cool lesson plans to bring back to school with me this fall. We also managed to watch a couple movies and raid the ice cream freezer during our down time. The seas were exceptionally calm tonight, almost as smooth as glass. It was very calming and serene, almost surreal! I made sure to take several pictures before the sun had set. The waters were smooth for the rest of the night which made for easy sleeping..

Day 9 – July 13th

Trawling was the focus of today. We had 4 trawls plus a couple neuston and bongo net sampling stations, so it was quite the busy day! We saw quite a number of new species that we hadn’t seen in previous trawls so I made sure to photograph those to share with my students later. At one of our sampling stations, we collected almost 6 5-gallon buckets worth of sargassum in our neuston net. It took us quite a bit of time to rinse it all down and collect the samples into preservation jars. It took three, quart-sized jars to hold all of the sample we collected!

Day 10 – July 14th

I found out this was our last day of sampling before we make our way back to Pascagoula. We mostly had trawls today, so we got to examine lots of critters. We had lots of down time because one of our runs to a sampling station was almost four and a half hours long! I spent that time working on my blog, and taking a much needed nap to catch up on my sleep! We had a really pretty sunset right before a thunderstorm that delayed one of our trawls. We worked right up until the next team came onto their shift and took over cleaning up from our trawl.

Day 11 – July 15th

All of our sampling was completed over the night, but I was able to work on the last neuston/bongo sampling when I went onto my shift. After all of the sampling was done, it was time to start scrubbing everything down to get it back into ship shape! The wet lab, dry lab, neuston net, bongo nets, and the stern were all hosed down, power-washed, scrubbed, bleached, and Windex-ed until everything smelled clean again. It took us most of the afternoon, but when it was done, we were done! The rest of our time on the Oregon II was left for unwinding and relaxing. After a lunch of king crab legs and a Thanksgiving-like dinner, my stomach was happy and satisfied (but not until after an ice cream sandwich of course!) Movies filled the remainder of the afternoon and evening, until I was ready for bed.

Stacey Jambura: The Adventure Begins, July 8, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can also view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 8, 2012

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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 18:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 29.50 ◦C
Water Temperature: 30.70 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 66%
Wind Speed: 1.52 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.82 mb
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Science and Technology Log

Virtual Tour of the Oregon II

I know many of you may have never been on a ship before and are probably curious to know what it is like to be aboard the Oregon II. I’m going to take you on a little virtual tour, but first you will need to know some common terms that are used to refer to certain areas on the ship.

Ship Term

What It Means

Bow The front of the ship.
Stern The back of the ship.
Starboard The right side of the ship when facing the bow.
Port The left side of the ship when facing the bow.
Forward The direction towards the bow of the ship.
Aft The direction towards the stern of the ship.
Bridge The location of the command center for the ship.
Galley The kitchen.
Mess Hall The dining area.
Head The bathroom.
Stateroom Where crew members sleep.

On Deck

The Bow

At the bow of the ship is where most of the scientific collection equipment is deployed/released. The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth), the neuston net, and the bongo nets. (I will talk about each one of these in upcoming blogs.) There are several large cranes that help lift these up off the deck and swing them over the edge of the ship to be released into the water. When you are at the bow and the cranes are running, it is very important to keep yourself safe. Everyone who is at the bow when the cranes are operating is required to wear a hard hat and a PFD (personal floatation device). You never know if a cable will snap or the wind will swing the equipment towards you. There is a sensor on the PFD that is activated when large amounts of saltwater touches it, like if you were to fall overboard. Once salt water touches the sensor, the PFD will inflate and keep you afloat until you can be rescued.

Oregon II Bow
Oregon II Bow

The Stern

At the stern is where the samples from the neuston cod end and the bongo cod ends are collected and preserved in jars for scientists to examine at a lab. This is also where the large trawling net is deployed. The scientists spend most of their time at this part of the ship.

Stern of the Oregon II
Stern of the Oregon II

What Makes the Ship Sail?

Bridge

The bridge is where the officers of the Oregon II work. It is located toward the bow of the ship. The bridge has all of the navigation tools necessary to steer the ship to the next sampling station. There is also a lot of weather equipment that is monitored and recorded throughout the day. The bridge is where you’ll find the best views of the ocean because it is almost completely surrounded by windows and it’s higher than any other room on the ship.

At the Helm
At the Helm
Bridge
Bridge

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Chart Room

This room is where all of the maps are stored. While there are more technologically advanced methods used for navigation on the ship located in the bridge, it is important to have physical maps on hand to refer to, especially if the instruments stop working for any reason.

Chart Room
Chart Room

Engine Room

Before we untied our ship from the dock I received a full tour of the engine room. This is where the heart of the ship is. Everything in the engine room powers the ship. Our water is even purified down here using reverse osmosis (passing water through a membrane to filter the water). Because of this machine, we can filter salt water into fresh water to use on the ship.

Reverse Osmosis
Reverse Osmosis Machine

It was great to venture down to the engine room  before we set sail because I was told that it can get up to 110 degrees when the engines are running! It is a large space, but it feels small because of the large equipment. There are two of everything, which is especially important if something needs repair. Below is a picture of the two engines. The other is a picture of one of the generators.

Engine
Engine
Generator
Generator

Living on a Ship
Stateroom

My stateroom is compact, but its main purpose is for sleeping so size isn’t really an issue. There is a bunk bed, a sink with a mirror, latching drawers for clothes, and a hide-away desk. There is also a compact tv that is attached to the bottom of the top bunk and folds up when it is not in use. I only use the room to sleep and get ready for my shift because my bunkmate works the opposite watch shift as mine (midnight to noon), and I want to be the least disruptive as possible. After 12 hours shifts, sleep is really needed and helps reenergize you in time for the next watch.

Stateroom Bunks
Stateroom Bunks
Stateroom
Stateroom

The Head

The head is the same as a bathroom. On the Oregon II there are private and communal heads. The private heads are for the officers and are typically connected to their staterooms. The communal heads are open for any crew member to use. There are also communal showers for the crew to use. All of the toilets use salt water that is pumped onboard. The reason fresh water is not used is because it is a precious source on the ship and is not readily available from the ship’s surroundings. The sinks, showers, drinking fountains, and ice machines all use fresh water. Fresh water on the ship should never be wasted. Water for the sinks is timed so that there will never be a faucet that is accidentally left on. Showers are to be kept to a maximum of 10 minutes, though it is encouraged that they be even shorter.

Heads
Heads
Shower
Shower

Galley and Mess Hall

This is one of my favorite places. The galley is where our ship’s cooks prepare all of the wonderful food for the crew. The mess hall is where we all eat during meal times. During meal times it can be quite crowded in the mess hall as there are only 12 available seats and over 30 crew members onboard who are ready to eat. There is an “eat it and beat it” policy to help ensure that everyone who comes down to eat will be able to find a spot. Despite this, it is still a great way to converse with the crew and talk about events from the day before giving up your set to another hungry crew member.

Galley
Galley
Mess Hall
Mess Hall

Crew Lounge

This is the place where crew members who have some down time can gather and socialize, though down time can be rare. There is satellite tv, a couple of computers, and hundreds of movies to choose from. Some available movies haven’t even been released onto DVD for the common household yet, but they are available to the military. They do this because not everyone has access to current movies when they are away from home for extended periods of time. All of the DVDs are encrypted and can ONLY work on the machines aboard the ship. I was excited to find a copy of The Hunger Games and I plan on trying to watch it before my trip is over.

Lounge 1
Lounge 1
Lounge 2
Lounge 2

Labs on the Oregon II

The Wet Lab

The Wet Lab is where all of the samples from the groundfish trawls are sorted, counted, measured, weighed, and sexed (gender identified). Buckets filled with animals from the nets are dumped onto a large conveyor belt and spread out to make sorting the different species out into individual baskets easier. Everything in the wet lab can get wet except the sensors connected to the machines. We need to be cautious around the sensors when we are cleaning up after a sampling so as not to get water in them.

Wet Lab
Wet Lab

The Dry Lab

The Dry Lab is where all of the computers are located that record all of the data from the samplings. As the name of this lab states, everything in it is dry. Water should never come into contact with the equipment in here because it can seriously damage it. In between samplings, this is typically where the scientists gather to wait for arrival at the next sampling station.

Dry Lab
Dry Lab

The Chem Lab

This is where all of the plankton samples are stored. It is also where water samples taken from the CTD are tested for dissolved oxygen (DO). The CTD does have its own DO sensor, but it is always best to test something more than once to ensure you are collecting accurate data.

Chem Lab
Chem Lab
Personal Log
Day 1 – July 5th
I arrived in Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi late in the afternoon of July 5th. The chief scientist, Brittany Palm, met me at the airport and drove me over to the Port of Pascagoula where the Oregon II was docked. We met up with two college volunteers, Kayla and Andrew, and got a quick tour of the ship  (the air conditioning was out!) before we headed over to a wonderful local barbecue restaurant. We returned after dark and were welcomed with a fixed AC! I unpacked my belongs into my latched drawers and made up my bunk bed up so that everything would be in place when I was ready to hit the sack. It took a couple of nights for me to get use to the sounds of the ship, but now I hardly notice them.
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Day 2 – July 6th

Oregon II and IWhen I woke up the next morning, I decided to venture out into downtown Pascagoula which was only a 5 minute walk away from the ship. It is a quaint area with little shops and restaurants. I met up with the two volunteers and we picked a business that had the best of both worlds, a restaurant and a shop, to have a wonderful breakfast. We had to be back on the ship by 12:30 for a welcome meeting, but we took some time to snap a few pictures of our floating home for the next 12 days. We were underway shortly after 2 pm (1400 hours in military time). It was fun to watch our ship depart from the dock and enjoy the light breeze. It wasn’t long until we had another meeting, this time with the deck crew. We learned about the safety rules of working on deck and discussed its importance. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and getting my sea legs. The gentle rocking does require you to step carefully, especially when you have to step through the water tight doors!

Day 3 – July 7th
Our first day out at sea was slow to start. We didn’t reach our first sampling station until early in the morning on the 7th, even though we left the Oregon II’s port in Pascagoula mid-afternoon on the 6th. I was sound asleep when we arrived because my shift runs noon to midnight every day, so my first sampling experience didn’t happen until almost 24 hours after we set sail. This was nice because it gave me time to explore the ship and meet some of the crew.
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Right after lunch I got to jump right in and help finish bagging, labeling, and cleaning up the wet lab for the team that was just finishing up their shift. After we had finished it was time to conduct my first plankton sampling.  We went out on deck at the bow of the ship to prepare the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device for deployment/release. After the CTD was released and brought back on deck, we deployed the neuston net to collect species samples from that same station. (I’ll explain the importance of this type of net in a later blog.) Once the collection time was complete, the neuston net was brought back on deck where we detached the cod end and placed it into a large bucket. Cod ends are plastic cylindrical attachments with screened holes to let water run through but keep living things inside during collection. The neuston cod end’s screens have 0.947mm sized openings.  We then deployed the bongo nets to collect samples of even smaller species like plankton. (I will describe the purpose of the bongo nets in a later blog.) When the nets were brought back on deck, we detached the cod ends from the two bongo nets and placed those into buckets as well. The screens on the cod ends for the bongo net are even smaller than the neuston’s at only 0.333mm. When all of the nets were rinsed to make sure nothing was still stuck to the inside of the nets, we brought the buckets back to the stern of the ship to further rinse the samples and place them into jars for further examination by scientists.

Day 4 – July 8th
Blowfish
Holding a blowfish collected from a trawling
Today was a lot of fun because I completed my first groundfish trawl. The net for this trawl is located at the stern of the ship. When the net was brought back up on deck, it was emptied into a large box. There was quite the commotion when the fish were emptied out of the net. Not only were the fish flopping around like crazy and splattering water everywhere, their scales flew everywhere and it looked like shiny confetti! Anyone who was in a 6 foot radius was bound to be covered in scales. By the end of the day I thought I was part mermaid with the amount of scales that had stuck to me!
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There were so many fish in one of our trawls that we had to use large shovels to place the fish into more manageable sized baskets. The baskets were brought inside the wet lab to be sorted, weighed, measured, and labeled.
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The coolest animals I saw today were sea urchins, a sharpnose shark, and a blowfish. It was also fun to observe the different crab species, so long as I kept my fingers away from their claws!
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Question of the Day
There is only one right answer to this question. ? You’ll be able to find it at one of the links I placed in my blog. Can you find the answer?
Good Luck!