David Madden: Land Ho! Return Home, August 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019

Back on land, in Tallahassee, FL

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Weather report in Tallahassee
Conditions early on Friday morning, Tallahassee, FL

Date: August 2, 2019

sunset over aft deck
Sunset aboard Pisces on my last night.

Gratitude Log:

My time on NOAA Ship Pisces is complete. Huge thanks to the folks who made it possible. I am grateful for the grand opportunity and grateful to the many people who helped me along the way. Starting with Emily and Jennifer at NOAA Teacher at Sea. They made everything smooth and easy on my end. Special thanks for allowing me to participate in Teacher at Sea this year, considering I was originally assigned to go last year. I was unable to go last year because my Dad got diagnosed with cancer right before the trip, and I elected to stay home with him during surgery and treatment. Emily, and the NOAA scientists involved, Zeb and Nate, made this year’s trip preparation a breeze. Thank you. Additionally, my Dad is doing well (and even back on the golf course)!

Processing fish
Processing fish with Mike B (the elder) and Todd K. photo by Mike B (the younger)

In some sense I was the little brother tag along on this cruise. “Aww come on, can I play?” was basically what I was saying each day to the scientists and NOAA officers. They were happy to oblige. Thank you for being patient and supportive while I learned how to work on your team.

  1. Zeb, Todd K, Todd W, and Brad were particularly helpful and knowledgeable and patient – thanks, guys!  * Thanks, Brad, for your rocks of the day.  Our minds and our chakras benefited.
  2. Thanks to my roommate, Mike B – for being a great roommate and for helping me out with a ton of things (including excellent slow mo footage of the XBT!)
  3. Thanks to the NOAA officers who were always happy to chat and tell me about how things work and about their careers. Thank you CO, XO, Jamie, Luke, Dan, and Jane. * Did you know that all NOAA officers have a college degree in a STEM field?
  4. And thank you to the scientific team of all stars: Dave H for always being hilarious, Zach for being hardworking and friendly to talk with, Mike B for being so wise and having good taste in music, Kevan, for lots of good chats during meal times, and Lauren, for making Oscar the octopus and being so friendly!
Engine Room
Just hanging out in the engine room one more time with Steve. Thanks to Steve and Garet!

Science and Technology Log

Todd W is the Senior Survey Technician. He works on Pisces full time and helped out the science team with running the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth). Todd also helped me run a few experiments, and was overall real cool with helping me find random stuff during the cruise.

In particular, Todd and I, with Mike B’s help, tricked out the CTD to investigate how colors change with depth. We arts-and-crafted a few color strips and secured them to the CTD along with some GoPros to record video. We wanted to see what happened to various colors as the CTD descended to depth (~90m). See what it looked like at the top vs. the bottom (image below). You can see clearly that indeed the red color disappeared soonest while most everything took on a blue tone. This is because red is the longest wavelength on the visible spectrum and therefore the lowest energy (~ 700 nm); it’s the most easily absorbed by the water. Conversely, blue light has a shorter wavelength (~400 nm), and this means higher frequency and higher energy. I made a video with the footage we collected – coming soon. When it comes out you can see for yourself the reds disappear and the colors shift to blue. We also secured a Styrofoam cup to the CTD in order to watch what happens as the pressure increases on the way down. *See here for my pressure video covering similar topics. The CTD only went down to around 90 meters, but that was still enough to increase the pressure from 1 atm to around 9 atm. This nine fold increase shrunk the cup around 12%. Todd tells stories of taking Styrofoam manikin heads down to 300 + meters and watching them shrink to the size of a shot glass.

testing color and pressure
Science lab aboard the CTD – testing color and pressure.

In addition to CTD excitement, Todd let me conduct an XBT launch. XBT stands for Expendable Bathythermograph. * This cruise had the highest density of acronyms of any experience in my life. Geez. Here’s a link from NOAA describing XBTs.  And my pictures below.


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Bravo, Todd & NOAA Ship Pisces – you got me!!

XBT certificate
Don’t worry, my XBT bravery and expertise didn’t go unrewarded.

Neato Fact:

We stopped by the NOAA Beaufort Lab shortly after we docked in Morehead City. Todd K was awesome and showed me around and introduced me to a series of interesting characters – it was nice to see the lab and see what everyone had been talking about. I spent a short time walking near the sea wall outside the lab. I ran into Larisa who pointed out two cute baby green sea turtles. She said that recently they’ve started coming into the inlet to feed.  Related neato fact: Hawksbill sea turtles have been shown to exhibit biofluorescence.

Baby green sea turtle.
Baby green sea turtle.

Personal Log

It’s good to be back on land, and fun to trade the breezy blue ocean seascape for the hot humid green treescape of Tallahassee. I’m busy trying to process the information from the trip and figure out ways to incorporate it into my teaching and lesson plans. Surely it’ll take two forms – a little bit of distilling and planning now, and a slow seep of info from memories later. I’m hoping the trickle of revisited memories pop up at opportune times during the school year for me to take advantage. We’ll see.

I’m back to school in a few days.  This is the last full blog. Coming up I’ll post some quick hit blogs with links to some videos. Stay tuned.

Until we meet again!

Joan Le, Touchdown for TowCam, August 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joanie Le
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
August 5 – 16, 2014

Mission: Deep-Sea Coral Research
Geographic area of the cruise: Off the coast of Assateague Island, Virginia
Date: August 8, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 24° C
Wind Direction: 320° at 5 knots
Weather Conditions: Partly Cloudy
Latitude: 37° 49.460′
Longitude: 74° 03.380′

Science and Technology Log

Recording “zero winch” time (when TowCam splashes down). Photo credit Dr. Martha Nizinski.

After arriving at our first dive location yesterday at 16:00, we successfully completed our first dive. In the water for almost 8 hours, we collected 2,946 high resolution pictures and lots of data.

Deployment is a team effort, and everyone is on high alert. With steel toe shoes, hard hats, and life vests in place, the crew carefully raises TowCam off the deck by a winch wire and gently into the water below. Though I’m getting used to it, the bobbing of the ship while it holds position for deployment is noticeable. Keeping an eye on the horizon goes a long way to settle the stomach.

Because shorter wavelengths can’t reach our eyes through the moving water, you can see the yellow net on TowCam appear to turn green as it submerges.

As TowCam descends into the water, it is hard not to be impressed by the depth beneath us. For almost half an hour, the winch pays out cable at a rate of 35 meters per minute. Fuzzy images of the water column begin to arrive, and adds to the abyssal sensation of the water below.

Dr. Lizet Christiansen monitors the location of TowCam as images stream back to the lab

Finally, TowCam sends visual of the bottom, and logging of observations begins. At first, only a few images of soft sediment appear–one after the other, 10 seconds apart. And then, a red crab. Then a fish. I felt not unlike an astronomer receiving those first black and white images from Mars’s Curiosity. It was that exciting. We note the time, location, features of the seafloor, and tentative ids of the organisms we see. Later, we’ll match these up with the high-res images inside TowCam.

Chief Scientist Dr. Martha Nizinski monitors low resolution images as they stream from TowCam.

After about 8 hours, TowCam returns the way it arrived–slowly back up the water column. It’ll stay on deck just long enough to charge batteries and download the precious images while we make our way to the next dive location. Then, back to the drink it goes.

"Burping" TowCam's batteries.
“Burping” TowCam’s batteries to remove excess air. Photo credit Matt Poti.

An Unlucky Passenger

The TowCam is a pretty amazing instrument, but we didn’t know how alluring it might appear to the fish that come and go. Unfortunately for this little guy, he never did manage to leave until it was too late. Evolved to withstand life under pressure, this unlucky swimmer lost his innards while TowCam returned home.

Personal Log

The Moon rises over the water at the beginning of my shift at midnight.
The Moon rises over the water at the beginning of my shift at midnight.

The first watch was pretty exciting. It was strange to wake up at 11 PM and get ready for work, but the commute was sweet! Instead of my usual hour-long metro ride (okay, I usually just drive) I simply walked downstairs and greeted the folks that had just spent the previous 12 hours logging and monitoring the submerged TowCam. They were in surprisingly good spirits.

I also must say that not much can top the wonderfully eerie feeling of moving steadily along through the ocean in a moonlit night. The light from the deck makes the water a velvety blue, and if you’re lucky you can see dolphins slipping quietly by as the Sun begins to peek up over the horizon.

Sue Zupko: 9 Under the Sea

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Study deep water coral off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 3, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 29.1°N 80.1°W
Wind Speed: Light and variable
Wind Direction: 112 true
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Surface Water Temperature: 28.6°
Air Temperature:28.2°
Barometric Pressure:1015.3
Water Depth: 82 m
Salinity: 36.5
Wet/Dry Bulb: 28.2/24.5

Red fish called Big Eye hovering over a rough sand bottome with a small fish below it.
Big Eye

Before reading further, vote on the survey above.

I was reminded on this voyage that colors change at depth in the ocean.  If you were swimming at 60 feet, you wouldn’t see reds.  Jana said she cut her leg while diving a few years ago at 60 feet.  She watched the blood coming from the cut and it was black to her eye.  Knowing it was probably wise to come to the surface with a cut like that in the open ocean, she started ascending (coming up).  At 30 feet she stopped to look at her cut.  The blood was green.  Is Jana a Vulcan?  As she rose to the surface, she continued to watch her blood flow from the cut.  At the surface, finally, the blood was red.

Light is interesting.  The white light we see has all the colors coming from it.  When you think of the rainbow, red has the longest wavelength, and the lowest energy.  When your friend is wearing a red shirt, you are actually seeing the red wavelengths reflecting (bouncing) back to hit your eye.  So, your mind sees red.  It doesn’t mean you’re angry (Get it? That’s a joke).  However, in water, particles, such as detritus and plankton,and the water itself, get in the way and block or absorb the wavelengths.  Since red has low energy, it gets interfered with quickly.   The shorter, higher-energy blue wavelengths can reach down farther.  Now, think back to our Big Eye example.  He’s red.  However, at depth he looks black and is camouflaged against the background of dark rocks and shadows.

Try this at home.  Take a red or blue transparent bottle.  I have a red water bottle that I can see through.  Put a blue object behind it such as an internet cable or a shirt.  What color does the object appear to be now?  I’ll bet a really dark purple or a black.  You might try a blue transparency over a red picture.  One of my students, Kaci, was creating a PowerPoint slide show.  His background was patriotic with red, white, and blue stripes.  He wanted to pick a contrasting color to continue the patriotic theme of red, white, or blue.  As a solution, he chose a transparent rectangle as a background to dark blue letters.  The colors turned out a bit strange in the background and he had to fiddle with his transparency a bit.  That is similar to the fish color being distorted by the water when there is little light at depth.

When the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) shines its light on the fish, we see the real color of the Big Eye. There is very little distance for the water and particles in the water to distort the red color.  The LED (Light Emitting Diode) headlights on the ROV have a powerful beam so we can see the real color of the fish.

To read more on how color works in water, click here.

Pink hogfish swimming away from the camera.

A red coral with a little scorpion fish next to it on the left
Soft coral called a gorgonian