Cara Nelson: Little Creatures that Rule the World, September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019

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

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sheltering in Kodiak harbor again

Date: September 23, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 13:30
Latitude: 57º47.214’ N
Longitude: 152º24.150’ E
Wind: Northwest 8 knots
Air Temperature: 11ºC (51ºF)
Air Pressure: 993 millibars
Overcast, light rain

Science and Technology Log

As we near the end of our trip, I want to focus on a topic that it is the heart of the LTER study: zooplankton.  Zooplankton are probably the most underappreciated part of the ocean, always taking second stage to the conspicuous vertebrates that capture people’s attention.  I would argue however, that these animals deserve our highest recognition. These small ocean drifters many of which take part in the world’s largest animal migration each day. This migration is a vertical migration from the ocean depths, where they spend their days in the darkness avoiding predators, to the surface at night, where they feed on phytoplankton (plant plankton). Among the zooplankton, the humble copepod, the “oar-footed,” “insect of the sea,” makes up 80% of the animal mass in the water column.  These copepods act as a conduit of energy in the food chain, from primary producers all the way up to the seabirds and marine mammals.

A copepod. Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft.

Aboard the R/V Tiglax, zooplankton and copepods are collected in a variety of manners.  During the day, a CalVet plankton net is used to collect plankton in the top 100 meters of the water column.  

Russ prepares the CalVet for deployment.

On the night shift, we alternated between a Bongo net and a Multinet depending on our sampling location.  The Bongo net is lowered to 200 meters of depth (or 5 meters above the bottom depending on depth) and is towed back to the surface at a constant rate.  This allows us to capture the vertical migrators during the night.  How do we know where it is in the water column and its flow rate you may ask?  Each net is attached to the winch via a smart cable.  This cable communicates with the onboard computer and allows the scientists to monitor the tow in real time from the lab. 

bongo net
The Bongo net coming back aboard. Note the smart cable attached to the winch that communicates with the computer. Grabbing the Bongo can be tricky in high seas as we learned on this trip!

The Multinet is a much higher tech piece of equipment.  It contains five different nets each with a cod end.  It too is dropped to the same depth as the Bongo, however each net is fired open and closed from the computer at specific depths to allow for a snapshot of the community at different vertical depths.

The Multinet about to be deployed during our night shift.

Copepod research is the focus of the two chief scientists, Russ Hopcroft and Jennifer Questel aboard R/V Tiglax.  Much of the research must occur back in the laboratories of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  For example, Jenn’s research focuses on analyzing the biodiversity of copepods in the NGA at the molecular level, using DNA barcoding to identify species and assess population genetics.  A DNA barcode is analogous to a barcode you would find on merchandise like a box of cereal.  The DNA barcode can be read and this gives a species level identification of the zooplankton.  This methodology provides a better resolution of the diversity of planktonic communities because there are many cryptic species (morphologically identical) and early life stages that lack characteristics for positive identification.  Her samples collected onboard are carefully stored in ethanol and frozen for transport back to her lab.  Her winter will involve countless hours of DNA extraction, sequencing and analysis of the data.

One aspect of the LTER study that Russ is exploring is how successful certain copepod species are at finding and storing food.  Neocalanus copepods, a dominate species in our collections, are arthropods that have a life cycle similar to insects.  They have two major life forms, they start as a nauplius, or larval stage, and then metamorphisize into the copepodite form, in which they take on the more familiar arthropod appearance as they transition to adulthood.  Neocalanus then spends the spring and summer in the NGA feasting on the rich phytoplankton blooms. They accumulate fat stores, similar to our Alaska grizzlies.   In June, these lipid-rich animals will settle down into the deep dark depths of the ocean, presumably where there is less turbulence and predation.  The males die shortly after mating, but the females will overwinter in a state called diapause, similar to hibernation.  The females do not feed during this period of diapause and thus must have stock-piled enough lipids to not only survive the next six months, but also for the critical next step of egg production.  Egg production begins in December to January and after egg release, these females – like salmon – will die as the cycle begins again. 

Part of Russ’s assessment of the Neocalanus is to photograph them in the lab aboard the ship as they are collected.  The size of the lipid sac is measured relative to their body size and recorded.  If females do not store enough lipids, then the population could be dramatically altered the following season. These organisms that are live sorted on the ship will then be further studied back in the laboratory using another type of molecular analysis to look at their gene expression to understand if they are food-stressed as they come out of diapause.

Russ Hopcroft at microscope
I watch in awe as Russ is able to manipulate and photograph copepods under a microscope amid the rocking ship.
Two Neocalanus with their lipid sacs visible down the center of the body. Note the difference in the size of the lipid storage between the two.

Back in the UAF laboratory, countless hours must be spent on a microscope by technicians and students analyzing the samples collected onboard.  To give an idea of the scope of this work, it takes approximately 4 hours to process one sample.  A typical cruise generates 250 samples for morphological analysis to community description, which includes abundance, biomass, life stage, gender, size and body weight information.  There are three cruises in a season, and thus the work extends well into the spring. To save time, computers are also used to analyze a subset of the samples which are then checked by a technician.  However, at this stage, the computer output does not yet meet the accuracy of a human technician. All of these approaches serve to better understand the health of the zooplankton community in the NGA. Knowing how much zooplankton there is, who is there and how fatty they are, will tell us both the quantity and quality of food available to the fish, seabirds and marine mammals that prey upon them.  Significant changes both inter-annually and long-term of zooplankton community composition and abundance could have transformative effects through the food chain.  This research provides critical baseline data as stressors, such as a changing climate, continue to impact the NGA ecosystem.

Personal Log

After sheltering in Kodiak harbor overnight Friday, we once again were able to head back out during a break in the weather.  We departed Kodiak in blue skies and brisk winds on Saturday. 

Sunset over Marmot Island at the start of the Kodiak line on what would end up being our last night of sampling.

We made it to the start of the Kodiak line by sundown and began our night of sampling with the goal of getting through six stations.  The swells left over from the last gale were quite challenging, with safety a top priority this evening.  Waves were crashing over the top rale as we worked and the boat pitched side to side.  Walking the corridor from the stern to the bow required precise timing, lest you get soaked by a breaking wave, as poor Heidi did at least three times.

Despite having to pull the Methot early on one station and skip it all together on another due to the rough seas, we had an amazingly efficient and successful evening.  Our team was amazing to work with and Dan captured one last photo of us as we wrapped up our shift at 6am.

night shift group photo
The night shift “A Team”: Emily, Jenn, Jen, Cara and Heidi.

The day crew worked fast and furious on the return to station one as once again, another gale was forecast.  This gale was the worst yet, dipping down to 956 millibars in pressure with the word STORM written across the forecast screen for the entire Gulf of Alaska.  Luckily we were able to make it back into Kodiak harbor by Sunday evening just as winds and waves began to build.  After riding out the storm overnight we are still waiting for the 4pm forecast to reassess our final days two days.  The crew grows weary of sitting idle as the precious window for sampling closes.  Stay tuned for a follow up blog as I return to solid ground on Wednesday! 

Did You Know?

Copepods are the most biologically diverse zooplankton and even outnumber the biodiversity of terrestrial insects!

Shelley Gordon: A Day on the Back Deck, July 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 20, 2019

Weather data: Wind – variable 5 knots or less, wind wave ~1’, Swell – NW 7’@ 10sec / S 1’ @ 11sec, Patchy fog

Science Log

7:39am – We are about to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading west toward the Farallon Islands.  Several small fishing boats race out in a line off our port side, hulls bouncing against the waves and fishing nets flying in the wind.  I am aboard R/V Fulmar in transit toward data collection point 4E, the eastern most point along ACCESS Transect 4.  The TTG (“time to go,” or the time we expect to arrive at 4E) is estimated at 1h53’ (1 hour, 53 minutes), a figure that fluctuates as the boat changes course, speeds up, or slows down.  

This is my second day on an ACCESS research cruise.  Yesterday I got my boots wet in the data collection methods used on the back deck.  The ACCESS research project collects various types of data at specific points along transects (invisible horizontal lines in the ocean). Today we will be collecting samples at 6 different points along Transect 4.  With one day under my belt and a little better idea of what to expect, today I will aim to capture some of the action on the back deck of the boat throughout the day. 

9:41am – Almost to Station 4E. “5 minutes to station.”  This is the call across the radio from First Mate Rayon Carruthers, and also my signal to come down from the top deck and get ready for action.  I put on my rain pants, rubber boots, a float jacket, and a hard hat.  Once I have my gear on, I am ready to step onto the back deck just as the boat slows down for sample collection to commence.  At this first station, 4E, we will collect multiple samples and data.  Most of the sampling methods will be repeated multiple times through the course of the day at different locations and depths (most are described below). 

deploying hoop net
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the hoop net. Photo: Rachel Pound

10:53am – Station 4EX. We finished cleaning the hoop net after collecting a sample at a maximum depth of 33m.  The hoop net is a tool used to collect a sample of small living things in deep water.  This apparatus consists of an ~1m diameter metal ring that has multiple weights attached along the outside.  A 3m, tapered fine mesh net with a cod end (small plastic container with mesh vents) hangs from the hoop.  Attached to the net there is also a flow meter (to measure the amount of water that flowed through the net during the sample collection) and a depth sensor (to measure the depth profile of the tow).  To deploy the net, we used a crane and winch to hoist the hoop out over the surface of the water and drop the net down into the water. Once the net was let out 100m using the winch, we brought it back in and pulled it back up onto the boat deck.  Using a hose, we sprayed down the final 1m of the net, pushing anything clinging to the side toward the cod end.  The organisms caught in the container were collected and stored for analysis back at a lab.  On this haul the net caught a bunch of copepods (plankton) and ctenophores (jellyfish).

Kate Davis preps samples
Kate Davis fills a small bottle with deep water collected by the Niskin bottle.

11:10am – Station 4ME. Dani Lipski just deployed the messenger, a small bronze-colored weight, sending it down the metal cable to the Niskin sampling bottle.  This messenger will travel down the cable until it makes contact with a trigger, causing the two caps on the end of the Niskin bottle to close and capturing a few liters of deep water that we can then retrieve back up at the surface.  Once the water arrives on the back deck, Kate Davis will fill three small vials to take back to the lab for a project that is looking at ocean acidification.  The Niskin bottle is attached to the cable just above the CTD, a device that measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of the water.  In this case, we sent the Niskin bottle and CTD down to a depth of 95m. 

deploying the CTD
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the CTD. Photo: Rachel Pound

12:16pm – Station 4M. Rachel Pound just threw a small plastic bucket tied to a rope over the side of the boat.  Using the rope, she hauls the bucket in toward the ship and up over the railing, and then dumps it out.  This process is repeated three times, and on the third throw the water that is hauled up is collected as a sample.  Some of the surface water is collected for monitoring nutrients at the ocean surface, while another sample is collected for the ocean acidification project.

surface water sample
Rachel Pound throws a plastic bucket over the side railing to collect a surface water sample.

1:36pm – Station 4W. Using a small hoop net attached to a rope, Rachel Pound collected a small sample of the phytoplankton near the surface.  She dropped the net down 30ft off the side of the boat and then towed it back up toward the boat.  She repeated this procedure 3 times and then collected the sample from the cod end.  This sample will be sent to the California Department of Public Health to be used to monitor the presence of harmful algal blooms that produce domoic acid, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Tucker trawl net
Shelley Gordon, Dru Devlin, Jamie Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist prepare the Tucker trawl net. Photo: Kate Davis

2:54pm – The final sample collection of the day is underway.  Jaime Jahncke just deployed the first messenger on the Tucker trawl net.  This apparatus consists of three different nets.  These nets are similar to the hoop net, with fine mesh and cod ends to collect small organisms in the water.  The first net was open to collect a sample while the net descended toward ocean floor.  The messenger was sent down to trigger the device to close the first net and open a second net.  The second net was towed at a depth between 175-225m for ~10 minutes.  After the deep tow, a second messenger will be sent down the cable to close the second net and open a third net, which will collect a sample from the water as the net is hauled back to the boat.  The Tucker trawl aims to collect a sample of krill that live near the edge of the continental shelf and the deep ocean.

3:46pm – After a full day of action, the boat is turning back toward shore and heading toward the Bodega Bay Marina. 

5:42pm – The boat is pulling in to the marina at Bodega Bay.  Once the crew secures the boat along a dock, our day will be “done.”  We will eat aboard the boat this evening, and then likely hit the bunks pretty early so that we can rise bright and early again tomorrow morning, ready to do it all again along a different transect line!

Did You Know?

The word copepod means “oar-legged.” The name comes from the Greek word cope meaning oar or paddle, and pod meaning leg. Copepods are found in fresh and salt water all over the world and are an important part of aquatic food chains. They eat algae, bacteria, and other dead matter, and are food for fish, birds, and other animals. There are over 10,000 identified species of copepods on Earth, making them the most numerous animal on the planet.

Sue Cullumber: Hooray, We Are Finally on Our Way! June 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/10/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time:  21:30 (9:30 pm)
Longitude/latitude: 40.50289N, 68.76736W
Temperature  14.1ºC
Barrometer 1017.35 mb
Knots  10.2

Leaving Newport – photo by Chris Melrose.

Science and Technology Log:

After several ship issues, we were able to finally head out from Newport, RI on June 9th after 4 extra days in dock.  We have started the survey and are using two main types of equipment that we will deploy at the various stations: CTD/Bongo Nets and CTD Rosette Stations.  We were originally scheduled to visit about 160 stations, but due to the unforeseen ship issues, these may have to be scaled back.  Some of the stations will just be the Bongo and others only the Rosette, but some will include both sets of equipment.

Bongo and baby bongos being deployed during the survey.

A bongo net is a two net system that basically, looks like a bongo drum.  It is used to bring up various types of plankton while a CTD is mounted above it on the tow wire to test for temperature, conductivity and depth during the tow. The two nets may have different sizes of mesh so that it will only  filter the various types of plankton based on the size of the holes.  The small mesh is able to capture the smaller phytoplankton, but the larger zooplankton (animals) can dart out of the way and avoid being captured. The larger mesh is able to catch the zooplankton but allows the phytoplankton to go through the openings. There are regular bongo nets and also baby bongo nets that may be launched at the same time to catch different types of plankton.

Rosette CTD returning to the surface.

The Rosette CTD equipment is a series of 10 cylinders that can capture water from different depths to test for nutrient levels and dissolved inorganic carbon, which provides a measure of acidity in the ocean. These are fired remotely via an electronic trigger that is programed by a computer program where each cylinder can be fired seperately to get 10 samples from different depths.  It also has several sensors on it to measure oxygen, light and chlorophyll levels, as well as temperature and salinity (salt) from the surface to the bottom of the water column.

Copepods and Krill from one of the bongo net catches.

Our first station was about 3 1/2 hours east of Newport, RI and it was a Bongo Station.  I am on the noon to midnight shift each day.  So on our first day, during my watch, we made four Bongo stops and two CTD Rosettes. Today we completed more of the Bongos on my watch.  We are bringing up a variety of zooplankton like copepods, ctenophores, krill, and some fish larvae.  We have also seen quite a bit of phytoplankton on the surface of the water.

Wearing the survival suit – photo by Cathleen Turner.

Personal Log:

Being on a ship, I have to get used to the swaying and moving about.  It is constantly rocking, so it can be a little challenging to walk around.  I have been told that I will get used to this and it is actually great when you want to go to sleep!  Luckily I have not had any sea sickness yet and I hope that continues!  We completed several safety drills that included a fire drill and abandon ship drill where we had to put on our survival suits – now I look like a New England Lobster!

Common dolphins swimming off the ship’s bow.

Blue shark swimming beside the Gordon Gunter.

Today was an amazing day – was able to see Right Whales, Blue Sharks and Common Dolphins – with the dolphins surfing off the ship’s bow!  The Northern Right Whale is one of the most endangered species on the planet with only 300 left in the wild.  One of the reasons there are so few left is that swim on the surface and were excessively hunted and there feeding areas were within the Boston shipping lanes, so they were frequently hit by ships. Recently these shipping lanes have been moved to help protect these animals.  So I feel very privileged to have been able to see one!

Did you know? Plankton are the basis for the ocean food web.  They are plentiful, small, and free floating (they do not swim). The word plankton comes from the Greek word “planktos” which means drifting. “Plankton” from the TV show SpongeBob is actually a Copepod – a type of zooplankton.


Question of the day:  Why do you think it is important that the scientists study plankton?

Jennifer Fry: March 18, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 18, 2012

This juvenile lobster was found in the Cobb trawl net.

Pictured here is a copepod (right) and a jelly (left) found in the plankton net.
Pictured here is a copepod (right) and a jelly (left) found in the plankton net.

Scientists, like John Denton, often get hungry during late night trawls. Here he is tempted to eat his recent catch. Tafito Aitaoto, American Samoan scientist, looks on.
Scientists, like John Denton, often get hungry during late night trawls. Here he is tempted to eat his recent catch. Tafito Aitaoto, American Samoan scientist, looks on.

The cookie cutter’s mouth can be very destructive. While biting its victim, it rotates its mouth taking a “chunk” of flesh.

cookie cutter shark
While biting their victim, the cookie cutter shark then turns their mouth to take a deeper bite of flesh. This leaves a large gash making it more difficult to heal

Two cookie cutter sharks came up in the Cobb trawl net. The scientists onboard the Sette were very excited to view these rare fish.

The stewards/cooks on the Sette are Clementine Lutali, Jay Egan, and Jeffrey Falini.  They have created the most amazing fare including traditional Samoan dishes.  Clem, the Head Cook, told me that the Sunday meal  in American Samoa is very important and she was right. Families in American Samoa gather in the morning for church, and then meet with the entire extended family for a large mid-day meal, followed by a nap.  This includes everyone; grandparents all the way down to babies.  In the afternoon families might take a walk to the beach for some family time and then have an afternoon tea with home-baked bread.

Our Sunday evening meal aboard the Sette consisted of turkey gravy and dressing, roast beef and au gratin potatoes, and green papaya salad with roasted garlic and peanuts. We finished with a lovely dessert of Puligi Keke, a Samoan coconut cake served with Crème Anglaise.

Some other Samoan dishes we’ve had onboard are:

Savory dishes:

Faálifu:  boiled and cooked in coconut milk and caramelized onions

Faalifu Kalo: taro in coconut milk

Faalifu Fai: green bananas in coconut milk

Faiai Feé: Octopus with coconut milk

Faiai Pilikaki: Can of mackerel with coconut milk

Faiai Eleni: Can of tomato mackerel with coconut milk

Oka: Samoan raw fish, tomatoes, and onions marinated in fresh coconut milk

Mochiko lehi: a Hawaiian method of frying fish (lehi, a type of snapper) Mochiko can be done to chicken too.

Ulu/ breadfruit

Another wonderful way to serve breadfruit is fried with a touch of salt. Yum.

Breadfruit is a starchy staple of the American Samoan diet.

There are many kinds of ulu/ breadfruit  in American Samoa including: máafala, uluvea, puuoo, aveloloa, ulumanua. Breadfruit is used as a starch in the American Samoan diet, including:

  • potato salad substitute,
  • Uluwua: unripe ulu is baked on banana leaves in a traditional Samoan oven, served dipped in coconut milk

Method of cooking:

Much of Samoan cooking is done outside in an oven called an umu.

  • Umu: Samoan Oven.  American Samoans use a traditional outdoor oven. It starts with a roaring fire set in a brick oven.  After the firewood has died down, hot, smooth rocks are layered over the burnt wood.  Cooking continues using the hot rocks as the heat source.
  • Suaia: Fish chowder with fresh coconut milk
  • Kale Faiai: curry with coconut milk


  • Puligi keke: steamed cake with white cream sauce
  • Panikeke: deep fried donut cake
  • kake: Samoan cake
  • Suali: a banana pudding similar to tapioca
  • Paniolo: (Hawaiian cowboy bread) cornbread with pineapple and coconut milk
  • Fáausi Taro: Raw pounded taro shaped into balls like hush puppies.  Sauce: Caramelized sugar and coconut milk.

An American Samoan delicacy, Fáausi Taro is raw pounded taro shaped into balls served with caramelized coconut sauce.

Panipopo:  buns made with fresh coconut milk served with a fruit glaze.

9 cups flour, divided use
3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
You’ll need two 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch baking pans for this recipe.
Set aside 3 cups of flour. Mix 6 cups flour and yeast. Heat milk, butter, sugar and salt until warm and butter is just melting (about 120 degrees). Add this to the flour and yeast mixture. Mix for 30 seconds on low speed; then mix for 3 minutes on high speed.
With wooden spoon, add the rest of the flour; knead for 6 to 8 minutes. Place dough in a large greased bowl; flip once to grease both sides of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

While dough is rising, prepare coconut sauce:
4 cans (14 ounces) coconut cream
2 cups sugar

Mix well in bowl with whisk. Set aside.

Make a fist and punch down middle of dough to collapse dough.
Divide dough into 2 parts; let rest on lightly floured surface for 10 minutes. Roll out into a rectangle about 16 inches by 9 inches. Brush top of dough lightly with coconut sauce.

Roll dough tightly into a long roll. Cut into 9 pieces. Place in baking pan. Repeat with second half of dough. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes. Pour 3 cups of coconut cream over each pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 18 buns.

This giant salp was caught in the trawl net.
This giant salp was caught in the trawl net.

NOAA Scientists Evan Howell, Ryan Nichols, Tafito Aitaoto, Jamie Barlow all enjoy a great Samoan meal in the galley aboard the Sette

After dinner, we watched fishing off the longline pit.  As fish were caught using long lines, we were treated to an Hawaiian island delicacy by NOAA officer Justin Ellis, Hawaiian Shave Ice: fluffy ice, sweetened condensed milk, assai beans, your choice of syrup (coconut, pineapple, passion fruit), vanilla ice cream.

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The fishing ventures were successful bringing in 2 fish: a rare Sickle Pomfret and an orange fish.

I went to bed early since I would join the small boat operation in the morning.

Small shrimp (too many to count)

The crustaceans are sorted into a tray and then counted, measured volume(ml), and weighted (g).

Student Questions:

Q: Do you eat the fish you catch?

A: Yes, the stewards (cooks) on board prepare the fish that is caught everyday.  The snapper and tuna have been made into many tasty Samoan dishes.

The bite from this cookie cutter shark can be very painful.

Q: Have you seen any sharks?

A:  Yes, the most interesting shark we caught in the net was the cookie cutter shark.  Its bite is very unique.  As it bites its victim it turns its mouth taking a deeper piece of flesh, which makes the healing process slower.

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 3, December 13, 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 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 4:45pm
Air Temperature: 23.5 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15 kt
Relative Humidity: 68%

Science and Technology Log

Liz deploys a drifter
I'm deploying a drifter!

Last night, we deployed our first drifter.  There will be three deployed over the course of this cruise.  The frame of this drifter is built by the scientists at AOML (Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory).  Afterwards, they attach a satellite transmitter so they can track where the drifter goes.  This helps them measure the surface currents.

What are some other types of research being conducted onboard?  I’m glad you asked!  Two NOAA researchers, Lindsey and Rachel, are studying water chemistry and chlorophyll.  They take samples of surface water from the CTD to study CO2 and the full carbonate profile.  They also use water collected at many different depths to study the chlorophyll content.  Chlorophyll is an indicator of the amount of phytoplankton in the water.

Collecting water from the CTD
Collecting water from the CTD.

Sharein, a PhD student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is studying a specific type of plankton called copepods.

The particular copepod that she is studying is food for the larval stages of some commercially important species of fish such as bill fish (which include blue marlin, sail fish, white tuna, and yellowfin tuna) and different species of reef fish.  If a species is commercially important, it means that many people depend on this particular fish for their livelihoods.

Female Copepod
Here is one of the species of copepods that Sharein is studying.

Do you think you would be interested in working at sea?  You would be a good candidate if you:

1)      Like meeting new people and working as part of a team

2)      Are interested in the ocean, weather, and/or atmosphere

3)      Don’t mind getting your feet wet

Personal Log

When we were on our way to the Tortugas, we didn’t have cell service and the TV in the galley had no signal.  It was nice to be disconnected for a while.  Although there are still 29 computers onboard which all have the internet, so we’re hardly off the grid!

It was hard at first to adjust to the night shift, but everyone onboard was really supportive.  Working the night shift means that you work from 7pm to 7am.

Species seen last night in the Neuston net:

Flying fish

Needle fish

Different kinds of sea grasses and sargassum

Moon jellies

Sue Zupko: 12 What’s in the Water?

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to St. Lucie, FL
Date: June 8, 2011
Time: 1900

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.3°N  79.6°W
Present weather: 3/8 Alto Cumulus
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 065°true
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Surface Wave Height: 3 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 110°
Swell Wave Height: 3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 28.4°
Barometric Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Water Depth: 363 m
Salinity: 36.28 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 27.7/24.8

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take this quiz before reading this post.

Bucket hanging by rope in water
Straining bucket

Dr. Diego Figueroa and I went fishing over the side of the ship this evening with a straining bucket to try to catch zooplankton (animals which cannot swim against the current–free floating).  We had no plankton net so we had to improvise.

Diego pouring a cup of water into a bucket from the bottom
Diego pours water into the bottom of the bucket

Diego, a zooplankton expert, got a plastic container like you’d use to store food in the fridge, and we headed to the lab with what we hoped would be a good catch.  He got a cup of salt water from the special faucet in the ship’s science lab and poured it into the bottom of the bucket.  As he poured the water, he had the plastic container at the top of the it to retrieve our catch.

Diego peering into a plastic food container with water
Diego examines our catch

We  then examined the container to see what the naked eye could find.

Wow!  Our first specimen was a shrimp.  It’s huge.  Well, huge in comparison to the other zooplankton.  We still saw it best under the microscope.  He left that in to container to pull out later and caught some copepods with an eye dropper.

White buglike creature, transluscent, with long antennae
Calanus copepod

Eureka!  There were at least six Calanus copepods.  Cope– is Greek for oar or handle and pod–  means foot or limb.  These are very common off the coast of Florida and about 80% of all the zooplankton on the planet are some type of copepod.  He explained that the Calanus has five rows of legs that flap downward (like the doggie paddle that most of of use when learning to swim) in order to move around.  The Calanus eats phytoplankton (algae), making it a primary consumer.  It has five pairs of mouth parts.  The hairy seta (the plural is called setae)  act like a sieve when it eats.  This is so interesting.  The Calanus opens its mouth parts and gathers water molecules toward its body.  Then, it pulls its mouth parts in and squeezes the water out. What’s left is a scrumptious meal of diatoms.  The grazing copepod we watched was a female.  Her tail is shaped differently than the male’s tail.

The shrimp is at least 20 times bigger than the Calanus.  Diego hasn’t studied the shrimp like he has the copepods.  That’s because the shrimp are one of the bigger zooplankton and large ones make up only about 5% of all zooplankton.  He says that there are more copepods in the world than all the insects combined.  That makes sense since the earth’s surface is  71% water.

Jellyfish with tentacles spread against a black background with white particles near
Jellyfish in snow

When the ROV was flying through the ocean, we always saw snow in the water.  I used to scuba dive a lot and I never really noticed the snow.  If it was deep, they weren’t there.  Andy David explained that we see them so well since we’re shining light on them.  These are mostly zooplankton in the water.  In addition, there is a bunch of decaying organic matter called detritus flying along.

Curled up bee looking creature

Further examination of the water yielded a Microsetella rosea, a hyperiid, and a Chaetognath (arrow worm). The Microsetella is a detritis-eating filter feeder, but it is only about 1/5 the size of the Calanus.   Well, with micro in its name, small had to figure into it somehow.  Since it’s small, it eats smaller things.

Clear ghost-like arrow-shaped creature surrounded by lines of white
Arrow worm

The arrow worm is like something from a horror movie because it attacks its prey viciously (it’s a carnivore and is a voracious predator).  I asked what all the other floating bits were in the water.  Detritus.  It’s the snow we kept seeing.

White shrimp with one claw showing viewed through microscope

Diego has a special camera which attaches to the microscope.  We would examine the zooplankton in the petri dish and then he would take off the microscope eyepiece and insert his camera.  Then, through the viewfinder, he would try to find the zooplankton resting somewhere.  Apparently, they don’t rest much, but he still got photographs.

Diego searches for our catch under the microscope while Sue looks on
Diego hunting for zooplankton

I really enjoyed this mini lab.  Diego taught me things about plankton in general and I now better understand this amazing  world of particulates in the ocean a bit better.  Jana and I had gone on deck last night to see what it was like in the pitch black.  We discovered it isn’t totally dark, though your eyes do have to adjust.  The moon kept peeking from between clouds off the starboard (right) side and lights shone from portholes below deck.  These lights reflected off the waves and were so fascinating to watch.  I’ve only had a beachside view of the ocean at night so this was a real treat.  Jana and I watched for bioluminescence in the water, a sign of some plankton.  We found little sparkles of green in the wave and hypothesized these were zooplankton.  After explaining what we had seen to Diego, he confirmed that these were zooplankton rather than phytoplankton.  Zooplankton have little sparkles in turning water while phytoplankton will cover a large area and just glow.  Too interesting.

Special thanks to Diego for sharing his knowledge with me after a long day and to Jana for helping get some pictures of this.

And the answer to the quiz above….Copepods.  They are so small you don’t notice them, but there are almost as many copepods as there are grains of sand on the beach.  It’s hard to fathom that many creatures swimming around.  Diego said that they eat the phytoplankton so fast that often there are more zooplankton than phytoplankton.

Laura Rodriguez, May 24th, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Rodriguez
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 24 – June 2, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: May 24, 2010

Pollock Survey Begins

Robert and Kerri deploy the CTD

Deploying the Bongo nets

The bongo nets are almost in

Retrieving the bongo nets, full of algae and hopefully full of Pollock Larvae

On Saturday, my watch began at 10:00 AM. Two of the scientists, Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey have watch from 4 AM until 4 PM. The other two scientists, Tiffany Vance and Steve Porter, have watch from 4 PM until 4 AM. I guess being the teacher they took pity on me and gave me half and half. Before getting to one of the stations, the scientists make sure that everything is ready. They lay out the bongo nets on the deck where they will be used. The bongo nets are two nets that from the top look like bongo drums. (See picture) There is an instrument attached to the bongo nets called a SEACAT that takes conductivity, temperature and salinity measurements during the tow. Inside the lab, buckets, bowls and tweezers are all laid out ready to be used.

As we approach each station, the bridge informs the scientists and survey technicians. The bongo nets have already been readied and are set to be deployed (put into the ocean) from the hero platform. When the OK is given, the nets are lifted by the hydrowinch to a point where they can be maneuvered over the rail and then they are lowered into the water. The nets are lowered until they are at 100 meters or 10 meters off the bottom. As they are lowered, the pilot of the boat keeps the wire at a 45° angle by moving the boat slowly forward. Once the nets reach their maximum depth, they are slowly brought back up again.  ( I tried to upload a video showing the deployment and retrieval of the bongo, but it won’t work so I’ll show you the video when I get back.

Pollock larvae under the microscope

When the nets clear the water, they are hosed down to get any organisms into the bottle on the end of the net (called the cod end.) The cod end is then removed and the contents of one net are poured into a bucket for sorting. The contents of the other net are preserved and sent to a lab in Poland where they use instruments to get a very accurate count of the Pollock.

Annette Dougherty and Kevin Bailey in the chem Lab

Inside the chem lab, the contents of the bucket are scooped out and poured little by little into a mixing bowl. We then perform a rough count by removing the very small Pollock larvae and any other fish larvae and put them into a petri dish with cold water (the petri dish is placed on top of ice.) They are only a few mm long (averaging between 6-10mm.) Once we have gone through the entire contents, the Pollock larvae are counted, photographed and the length measured. They are then placed into a labeled vial with 95% ethanol. The other fish larvae are placed in a separate vial in 100% ethanol. They are kept in case another scientific team needs the data. The Pollock larvae will be sent to the scientists’ lab back in Seattle where they will perform further analysis on them. I’ll tell you more about that in the next blog.


Answers to your questions:

Annalise – The ship travels at 12 knots when we are going between stations.

Abandon Ship drill – You need to know how to put on your survival suit

Matt T– The ship is very safe. Drills are conducted every week. My first day on the ship, we had a fire drill and abandon ship drill. (See photo of me in my survival suit.)

Dan – The Oscar Dyson observes and records a number of environmental conditions. The bridge takes weather readings every hour and keeps them in a weather log. These include wind direction, wind speed, seawater temperature, air temperature, air pressure, cloud cover, sea swell height and direction. Conditions in the water are also constantly monitored such as temperature, conductivity, salinity, and amount of oxygen.

Olivia – The bongo tow is one way to get fish eggs. The mesh used on the bongo nets is very fine). It is able to filter out these very small larval fish and fish eggs, too.

Brittany – There is no specific number of fish that need to be caught for this experiment. Part of the experiment is to see how many larval fish there are. For our rough count, the scientists measure 20 larvae to get an estimate of their size. They will then look at the otoliths (small inner ear bones) to estimate their age.

Euphausid – Krill


Amy – Aside from the Pollock larvae in the nets, we have caught cod larvae, larval squid, fish eggs, amphipods, terapods, jellies, Euphausids or krill, copepods and the larvae of other fish. The nets are small enough that we don’t catch any large fish or other animals.

Josh W. and Jon – Joel Kellogg has the night shift, so I haven’t met him yet. Stephen Macri is not on this cruise so I can’t ask him your questions.


Questions for today

In your answers to the last blog, many of you researched the large animals that live here in the Gulf of Alaska. The most abundant organisms, however, are much smaller. Two organisms that are very important to the survival of the large animals here are copepods and Euphausids. The larval Pollock feed on the larval copepods that are called copepodites.

Find out what other animals feed on copepods and euphausids. Then, describe at least one food chain that includes copepods and one that includes krill. In your food chain start with a producer or autotroph Ex. Algae) and end with the highest level of consumer or predator (Ex. blue Whale)


Again, Please be sure to include the link to the website where you got your information.  Answer the questions in your own words writing complete sentences with as much detail as you can.

Justin Czarka, August 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 12, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Sunrise: 06:25 a.m.
Sunset: 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)
Weather: isolated showers/patchy coastal fog
Sky: partly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: North 10-15 knots (kt)
Visibility: unrestricted to less than 1 nautical mile (nm) in fog
Waves: northwest 4-6 feet
Air Temperature: 17.3 °C
Water Temperature: 16.6 °C

Science and Technology Log 

Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research.  While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.
Justin Czarka collects water samples to use in nutrient and chlorophyll research. While on the deck during “ops” (operation) all personnel must wear a life jacket and hardhat.

This log discusses the purpose behind the scientific cruise aboard the McArthur II. The cruise is titled, “Hydrographic and Plankton Survey.” The cruise is part of a larger study by many scientists to, in the words of chief scientist, Bill Peterson, “understand the effects of climate variability and climate change on biological, chemical and physical parameters that affect plankton, krill, fish, bird and mammal populations in Pacific Northwest waters.”  This specific cruise focuses on hydrology, harmful algal blooms, zooplankton, krill, fish eggs, fish larvae, and bird and mammal observations.

I will provide an overview of these aspects of the cruise. The McArthur II is set up with sensors for salinity, temperature, and fluorescence that provide a continuous monitoring of the ocean (hydrology) throughout the cruise.  In addition at various points along the transect lines (see the dots on the diagram of the cruise route on page 2), the CTD is deployed into the water column at specific depths to determine salinity (via measuring conductivity), water temperature, and depth (via pressure), and collect water samples (which we use to measure chlorophyll and nutrient levels at specific depths). The transects (predetermined latitudes that forms a line of sampling stations) have been selected because they have been consistently monitored over time, some since the late 1980s.  This provides a historical record to monitor changes in the ocean environment over time.

The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.
The dots represent planned sampling station. Due to sea conditions, these have been slightly modified.

One scientist, Morgaine McKibben from Oregon State University, is researching harmful algal blooms (HAB). HABs occur when certain algae (the small plants in the ocean that are the basis of the food web) produce toxins that concentrate in animals feeding on them.  As these toxins move up the food web through different species, they cause harmful effects in those species, including humans.  Bill Peterson (NOAA/ Northwest Fisheries Science Center) and Jay Peterson (OSU/Hatfield Marine Science Center) are studying copepod reproduction. They are collecting data on how many eggs are laid in a 24 hour period, as well as how the copepod eggs survive in hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions.  Mike Force, the bird and marine mammal observer is keeping a log of all species spotted along the cruise route, which is utilized by scientists studying the species.

Personal Log 

Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.
Tiny squid collected in a vertical net and viewed under microscope on Crescent City transect line at 41 deg 54 min North.

Who said you never find the end of the rainbow? All you have to do is go out to sea (or become a leprechaun!). We have been going through patches of fog today, putting the foghorn into action.  When it clears out above, yet is foggy to the horizon, you get these white rainbows which arc down right to the ship. We have become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Who knew it was the McArthur II! If you follow the entire rainbow, you will notice that it makes a complete 360° circle, half on top the ocean and half in the atmosphere near the horizon.

I enjoyed using the dissecting microscope today.

The water collected from the vertical net is stored in a cooler on the deck to be used in experiments.  I was able to collect a sample of the water, which contained a diverse group of organisms, from tiny squids to copepods to euphausiids.  These tiny organisms from the size of a pinhead to a centimeter long are critical to the diets of large fish populations, such as salmon.  Under magnification, one can see so much spectacular detail.  I have learned how essential it is to have an identification guide in order to identify the names of each copepod and euphausiid.  On the other hand the scientists tend to specialize and become very adept at identifying the different species.

Animals Seen Today 

Arrow worms (long clear, with bristles)
Shrimp Copepods
Tiny rockfish (indigo colored eyes)
Fish larvae

Rebecca Bell, August 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 16, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time:   1807 (GMT)
Latitude:  36.05.40 N Longitude: 75.24.30 W
Air Temp 0C: 25.3 0C
Sea Water Temp:  26.7 0C

On left: small barrel-shaped copepods; Center: white, arrow worms; Top right: amphipods
On left: small barrel-shaped copepods; Center: white, arrow worms; Top right: amphipods

Science and Technology Log 

The most common zooplankton we have seen so far are salps, amphipods, arrow worms and copepods. Pteropods (sea butterfly) have been in a number of samples but are not numerous. Salps look like clear, jelly-like marbles. We’ve encountered these animals in warm, shallow water. They are holoplanktonic relatives of sea squirts (Urochordata). Salps are filter feeders, using cilia to move suspended particles from the water. They feed by pumping water through a sieve to remove bacteria and nanoplankton, and are thus, a very important link in the food chain. Some species of salps form huge chains by budding. They show both sexual and asexual life stages. For more about salps and photos see this website.

Amphipods are also extremely common crustaceans. There is no carapace (shell-like covering), but their bodies are flattened side-to-side, much like a shrimp.  Their bodies are segmented with 6 segments in the head, 8 in the thorax and 6 in the abdomen.1 They have a brood pouch on their thoracic limbs. They have a variety of limbs used for feeding, crawling or jumping. One group lives off a host, feeding on salp tissues. Some types live in tubes; others use their back legs to anchor themselves while they sway to and fro in the water column. Some species swim rapidly while others stay near the bottom of the ocean. Many will move vertically in the water column, moving near the surface during the day, and sinking again at night. The species we are catching has large compound eyes that can be seen by the naked eye. For more about amphipods, visit this website. 

Becky examines the catch using a hand lens.
Becky examines the catch using a hand lens.

Copepods are very common crustaceans, with more than 200 species and 10,000 families. 2 We have found more of these than any other organism. Copepods are omnivorous. Some groups graze on microplankton; other groups of copepods prey on larger plankton, including other copepods. They are an important link in the food chain as well, moving carbon from a microscopic level to a larger trophic (feeding) level. They are eaten by jellyfish, fish, comb jellies and arrow worms. Copepods have “antennae” that have special sensors that detect water movement around them. They are able to move toward prey by contracting a muscle that runs in a circle around their bodies. For more about copepods, visit this website.

Arrow worms (Chaetognatha) are common along coasts, but we did not catch any out away from shore. Arrow worms are classified in their own group, distinct from Annelids (earthworms), round worms and flatworms, which are all separate groups of worms. They are predators, often waiting to ambush their prey. When their cilia detect prey, usually copepods, the arrow worm contracts 2 muscles that run dorsally and ventrally (top to bottom) to strike. Their mouths have spines that grab the prey and smaller “teeth” produce a venom that subdues the prey. The prey is swallowed whole. Arrow worms, in turn, are eaten by jellyfish, copepods and fish.

Sea Butterflies were not common, but they are very interesting. Sea butterflies (pteropods) are holoplanktonic mollusks, related to snails. Basically, they are shell-less snails. Their foot is modified into winglike structures (ptero= winged) that they flap as they swim through the water. Their bodies are tube-shaped and clear. The bodies and wings of the species we have seen are an orange-pink color. They are predators and are preyed upon by fish, sea birds and whales.


Information for these paragraphs were modified and combined from the following sources: 1 Newell, G.E. and Newell, R.C.; Marine Plankton: A Practical Guide; 5th edition; 1977; Hutchinson & Co; London.2 Johnson, William S. and Allen, Dennis M.; Zooplankton of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts: A Guide to Their Identification and Ecology; 2005; Johns Hopkins University Press.

Personal Log 

This morning we saw dark clouds in the distance. You could see rain falling from the clouds. Nearby we could see the tail of a water spout disappearing into the clouds.  We sampled our southern-most station and are now heading north along the coast just south of Chesapeake Bay. The samples we are pulling now have a lot of diatoms.

Rebecca Bell, August 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 15, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude:  3846.7 Longitude: 7302.1
Temp 25.4 C

Bongo net
Bongo net

Science and Technology Log 

In the last post, I explained WHY we are collecting zooplankton. This post will illustrate HOW the samples are taken.

The samples are collected using a device called a bongo net (Yes, like the musical instrument).  You can see the metal rings and the nets hang from the metal rings. One net is marked with red and the other green. This allows you to tell the two nets apart. The samples from the red side will be used for the ichthyoplankton study. The samples from the green side will be used for the zooplankton study.

The white device is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). You attach it to the bongo net frame and turn it on. The CTD takes measurements on the way into the water and on the way out of the water. When the bridge clears you, the computer operator (inside) tells the hydraulics operator to start letting out the line and at what speed to let it out and bring it in. You calculate the amount of time in and out using a chart that is based on changing depth. You have to calculate it so you get at least a 5-minute tow.


Now the bongo nets are raised on the A-frame. You can see the CTD above the bongos (right picture) and there is a lead weight beneath and between the nets. Next, the A-frame moves the nets over the side of the ship and they are lowered into the water. You cruise for at least 5 minutes. The idea is to get within 5 meters of the bottom, then start bringing the nets back in. The computer operator keeps track of where the bottom is. The idea is to stop the line going out in time so the nets don’t hit the bottom and pull up a bunch of sand. Then you just have to wait for the tow, and eventually for the nets to come back up.

The bongos are removed from the A-frame and brought into the wet lab. You use the hose to wash the plankton down to the bottom of the net. The bottom of the net is put into the sieve. When the net is hosed down to the sieve end, you untie the bottom of the net and let the plankton wash into the sieves. The mesh captures zooplankton, but lets smaller phytoplankton through. Finally you rinse the plankton from the sieves into a jar with 5% formalin for preservation. A label is put into the jar as well as on top of the jar, stating station number, date and time.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Becky Bell, assists in deploying the bongo nets.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Becky Bell, assists in deploying the bongo nets.

Personal Log 

We had a fire drill and an “abandon ship” safety drill. In the picture to the right, I am wearing a survival suit, lovingly known as a “Gumby suit”. If you abandon ship, you have to run to the deck and put on this suit. It is one piece, with inflatable neck rest, whistle and flashing pocket light so you can be spotted. You have to lay the suit out on deck, and sit down in it. Feet go in first, then you stand up and pull the rest over your head, find the arms etc. Look at the look on my face. Not too sure about this! The front flap closes to show only your eyes–on me a little higher. You should try zipping the front zipper with thick rubber gloves that are too big for you. It reminds me of the astronauts trying to fix the space station. I have a new appreciation for how difficult it is too, like, HOLD anything. The best news yet–we get to practice next week again.

Deploying the Bongo net
Deploying the Bongo net

The A-frame
The A-frame

The nets begin to emerge from the water.
The nets begin to emerge from the water.

Becky waits for the nets to come back up after the tow
Waiting for the nets to come back up after the tow

Becky rinsing down the net
Becky rinsing down the net

Then she puts the plankton into a jar for preservation
Then she puts the plankton into a jar for

Becky dons her survival suit during a safety drill.
Becky dons her survival suit during a safety drill.


Rebecca Bell, August 14, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 14, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time:   134628 (GMT)
Latitude:  40.33.06N Longitude: 72.47.36W
Air Temp 0C: 22.1
Sea Water Temp:  22.3 0C

NOAA Ship Delaware II
NOAA Ship Delaware II

Science and Technology Log 

We sailed from Woods Hole, MA on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 on the first of three legs as part of the Ecosystem Monitoring Program. There are two main objectives of the cruise. The first is to see how well the fish population is doing by sampling and counting fish larvae. The number of fish is important to the fisheries industry- those folks who bring cod and other fish to your table. The second objective is to monitor the zooplankton population. Fish feed on the zooplankton, so a healthy zooplankton population may mean a healthier fish population. We also are monitoring the physical properties of the water; in this case, salinity and temperature. These influence where fish larvae and zooplankton can survive and where and how far they can be dispersed.

There are 125-130 sites randomly selected for sampling. At each site, a pair of bongo nets are dropped and the two samples are collected side-by-side, for a total of 250-260 samples. One sample is designated for the ichthyoplankton (fish larvae) study, and the other for the study of zooplankton composition, abundance and distribution. Near-surface along-track chlorophyll-a fluorescence, which indicates abundance of phytoplankton (i.e. food for the zooplankton), water temperature and salinity are constantly measured with the vessel’s flow-through sampling system. We will also be collecting a separate set of samples as we approach the Chesapeake Bay. These will be used to study aging of fish larvae.

Zooplankton include both unicellular and multicellular organisms. Many can easily be seen with the naked eye. Zooplankton can be classified in a number of ways. One way is to classify them by life history. Holoplankton are those that are planktonic during their entire life cycle (lifers). Meroplankton refers to those plankton in a developmental stage, like eggs and larvae (shorttimers). These larvae will grow into larger organisms such as jellyfish, mollusks, fish, starfish and sea urchins, crustaceans, copepods and amphipods.

The term “plankton” comes from a Greek word for “wanderer” or “drifter”.1 This may imply that these organisms are passively moved about by currents. However, many can power around on their own, using several different methods such as cilia, muscle contraction, or appendages on the head, thorax or abdomen. They also move vertically in the water column, up toward sunlight during daylight hours and downward at night. Krill (whale food), on the other hand, do the opposite- travel downward during the day and up at night.

The first two samples contained a vast number of salps. A salp is holoplanktonic and is related to sea squirts (urochordates). They are filter feeders, catching bacteria and extremely small plankton in mucous-covered “nets” that act as sieves. Salps are an important part of the ocean food chain.

Samples 3-5 show a greater variety of organisms- comb jellies (ctenophores), arrow worms (Chaetognatha) fish larvae and amphipods. Samples 6-8 are dominated by copepods. There are salps, too, but not nearly as many (about 1/3 fewer) as we saw in the first 2 samples.

So I am looking at these results and wondering: Are there patterns to the distribution of these assemblages? Are salps found in warm water or cooler water?  Does temperature matter at all? Do they like deeper water?  Higher or lower salinity? Combinations of any of these? Are they found where another organism is found?

Personal Log 

We began our first work shift today, er, last night, um, this morning at 3 a.m. I work the 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. That means to bed around 7pm., rise and shine at 2:30 a.m. Well, rise, anyway. Not much shining till later.

As I sat on the deck in darkness, waiting to reach our first sample site, I spotted the light from another ship on the horizon. I watched as the light traveled up a wave, then down a wave then up, up, up, up, still up. I could not believe how high it was going, knowing we were doing the same thing. It’s a good thing it doesn’t feel like that. We are now heading south, back towards the Chesapeake Bay. It is getting hotter and muggier, just like home.

We saw dolphins today. A large leatherback turtle was spotted from the bridge. The 3pm- 3am. shift reported seeing flying fish.

Animals Seen Today 

  • Salps
  • Amphipods
  • Copepods
  • Ctenophores
  • Chaetognaths (arrow worms)
  • Fish larvae
  • Sea butterfly
  • Dolphins
  • Gulls (4 species)

1 Source: Online Etymology

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.


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.


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.



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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.