Lynette Swiger, July 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 22, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air temperature: 84 degrees
Water temperature: 80 degrees
Barometer: 29.95
Wind: SW at 6.5 knots
Waves: South at 3 feet
Visibility: 3 miles

A small boat on the LIBERTY STAR had to be deployed to untwist the ROV cord from the ship's propeller.
A small boat on the LIBERTY STAR had to be deployed to untwist the ROV cord from the ship’s propeller.

Science and Technology Log 

Unless something unexpected happens, this will be my last journal entry. Our last day of operations is tomorrow morning, we have only one camera trap drop, and we will be doing basically the same activities that I’ve covered in previous journals. I will finish this science and technology section of my log with some general ideas and items that I’ve found of interest and that may not be known widely known. So here goes…..

The ROV is on the mending list, but isn’t yet fully recovered. It is able to dive and use the underwater video camera but the digital still camera is not responding to commands. However, it makes us all a little happier to see the little guy up and running. *Post journal entry: The ROV’s cable again became caught on the ship’s propeller. The cable was hopelessly twisted and had to be manually removed from the prop. The ROV is finished for this cruise and we are doing only video camera array recordings. 

  • Scientific projects almost always encounter glitches, but part of the process is learning to work around the glitch or to have a backup plan in place.
  • A project is not a failure simply because its results don’t support hypotheses. In fact, most statistical tests are designed to reject the hypothesis.
  • Replication of data over time is essential to authenticity of results.
  • We have observed no tilefish on any days of diving, although their habitat is muddy bottoms and we have focused on reef areas which grouper prefer.
  • Fish are not necessarily found everywhere in the ocean. Instead, life seems to teem around outcroppings, ledges, and drop-offs that can provide hiding places. These appear haphazardly and we must search with the ROV for these places in order to find a congregation of fish.
  • We have not seen a shark or octopus on this cruise though both inhabit these waters. We saw one or two piles of shells that could signal an octopus in the area because an octopus will eat shellfish and drop the shells in a pile near its hiding place.
  • Some species, such as grouper, shy away from the camera and scuttle to their hideyholes while others, such as the short bigeye seem to pose for the camera. They are reminiscent of people in that way.
  • The ROV is a technological wonder. It can travel faster, farther, and deeper than a diver and does not need to decompress. Though expensive, loss of an ROV is much better than loss of human life.
  • Good food in abundant amounts goes a long way toward keeping people happy.
Lynn (right) poses with some fellow crewmembers
Lynn (right) poses with some fellow crewmembers

Animals Seen 
In two dives covered this morning we saw about thirty lionfish. As I mentioned in previous journaling, lionfish are now a concern in the Atlantic Ocean. In the grouper/snapper complex, with which the lionfish competes, we saw porgy, soapfish, hogfish, white grunt, triggerfish, rock hind, graysby, and scamp. Outside the economically important fish groups we saw five types of angelfish, three types of butterflyfish, cubbyu, sunshine fish, pearly razorfish, and short and regular big-eye. Two interesting finds were a chain moray eel and several sea stars. That’s not the full extent of the list, but it’s a good beginning!  

Vocabulary 
Octopus, octopi, inhabit, replicate, and authenticity.

Career Connection 
For anyone interested in a career aboard a ship, I would like to introduce Dave. He is a staff person on this particular cruise because he is filling in for someone who is absent.  He has actually served as captain of this ship in the past and now has an office job on land where one of his tasks is trying to envision new programs for the future.

Dave knew that he wanted to work aboard a ship so he attended a maritime college in Massachusetts and received a Bachelor of Science degree in marine transportation. He also sat for and passed an examination for a U.S. Coast Guard license, and he received a naval reserve commission as an officer. People with these licenses can work on all types and sizes of ships from tugboats to cargo vessels to large cruise ships. They also have the wonderful opportunity to travel around the world as part of their job. Dave has worked in the oil fields on offshore supply boats. He’s worked in the Gulf of Mexico, off the New England coast and off Canada and California. In order to maintain his sailing skills and earn extra money, he currently works on a casino ship that sails out of Port Canaveral.

There is one federal maritime college at King’s Point in New York. There are also five state maritime colleges in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and California. Degrees other than maritime transportation at maritime colleges include marine engineering, environmental protection, and oceanography. A person graduating from a maritime college doesn’t have to work on a ship. There are many options besides the water with maritime law being one possibility.

Question of the Day 
The areas we are monitoring are scheduled to become MPAs in 2008. However, we will also collect data from outside the scheduled MPAs.

  • What can we learn by comparing the two types of areas?
  • Why would scientists study an MPA before and after closing?

Educational Link 
In talking with Andy I have learned that scientists don’t necessarily accept the results of one project but wait to see if those results will be replicated over time. This is possibly something that I need to carry into the classroom – assign the same project to several groups and then allow students to compare and contrast the results to come up with a final theory.

A picture of the LIBERTY STAR with the space shuttle rocket boosters on her starboard side
A picture of the LIBERTY STAR with the space shuttle rocket boosters on her starboard side

Personal Log 

I am sailing aboard the Liberty Star and I would like to spend some time today telling about her job. The Liberty Star has a twin sister named the Freedom Star. They dock at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, belong to NASA, and actually tow the solid rocket boosters that detach from the space shuttle after blast-off. Each solid rocket booster can be used ten times, so it saves money to rescue and reuse them rather than let them sink into the ocean. Each time there is a scheduled blast-off, the Liberty Star and her crew leave 24 hours ahead of time and wait in the Atlantic Ocean three or four miles away from the scheduled drop zone. Two minutes after blast-off the shuttle drops the two solid rocket boosters. Each booster’s descent is slowed by three main parachutes. Each one is over 150 feet in diameter, and they are released when the nose cone pops open. After the rocket boosters enter the ocean, the Liberty Star goes into action.

When it hits the water at sixty miles per hour, the rocket booster begins to fill with water. It bobs upright in the ocean with only 20 ft of its top protruding above the water and 100 ft descending below. Divers from the ship go into the ocean, seal the bottom of the booster and begin to fill it with air. As the air goes in, the water comes out and the booster slowly begins to rise from the water until it is standing far above the waves. Eventually its size causes the booster to gently topple onto its side and float in the ocean. The parachutes are reeled in on special reels, and the booster begins its journey home by being towed behind the ship. The nose cone is secured on a special platform on the deck of the ship. As the Liberty Star nears land, the booster is secured alongside the right side of the ship and brought to the dock. The Freedom Star always carried her booster on the left side of the ship, and the Liberty Star carries hers on the right.

Before blast-off, the rocket boosters are packed with solid rocket fuel in Utah, shipped to Florida in pieces, and assembled at Cape Canaveral.  The huge external fuel tank is made in Shreveport, Louisiana. To transport it to Cape Canaveral the Liberty Star again saves the day. The external fuel tank is placed on a long cart and wheeled into an equally long covered barge. It is the ocean and space equivalent of a covered wagon, and it is the Liberty Star’s job to tow this mammoth barge to Cape Canaveral. The size difference between the Liberty Star and the barge is similar to the difference between a matchbox car and the real thing, but the Liberty and her crew are up to the task. After blast-off most of the external fuel burns up on its re-entry above the Indian Ocean and does not have to be recovered. I am so excited and honored to have been chosen as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, and having the opportunity to work on this special ship with her great crew has been my extra good fortune.

Lynn

Lynette Swiger, July 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynette Swiger
Onboard NASA Ship Liberty Star
July 16 – August 23, 2008

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Date: July 21, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Winds: SW at 12 knots
Sea: SW at 2-4 ft.
Barometer: 29.90
Air Temperature: 80 degrees
Cloud Cover: 90%

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

Science and Technology Log 

It is now 8:30 am. We sailed to the targeted North Carolina sites overnight and got everything set up for the day. The ROV was launched and our day began. The water was clear and we saw several great sites, but there was a strong underwater current. About ten minutes into the dive, the monitoring screens went haywire, beepers went off, and Lance knew something had occurred underwater that injured the ROV. After raising the ROV we found that a cable had been completely severed after somehow becoming entangled with the props. The troubleshooting skills that Lance told me were essential for an ROV operator are now being put to good use as he splices the cable so that we can hopefully continue ROV dives tomorrow at the South Carolina sites. With this in mind, I will journal about our fishing day yesterday as I didn’t have space to include it in my journal last night.

Yesterday was a beautiful day. We had great ROV dives and the weather was wonderful. The temperature inside the ship is kept rather cool, so I often wear my fleece pullover. I don’t understand much about engines and other mechanical items, but I do know that without sufficient air conditioning, temperatures can quickly climb to over 100 degrees. So I have learned to appreciate the a/c. We work in the semi-darkness in order to better see the video screens, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to open the hatch, feel the caress of warm air, smell the salt breezes, and see brilliant sunshine.

We spent “in between” time yesterday fishing while the camera trap did its documentation work underwater. This fishing is actually important because Michelle and Stacey evaluate fish samples to gain valuable knowledge. Stacey measures the length and weight of each fish and analyzes the otoliths to gain knowledge about age at maturity, growth rate, etc. Otoliths are the ear bones of fish, and they are bony structures found just on top of the brain cavity. The otoliths have growth rings similar to trees and can be used to age fish in much the same way that a forester ages trees.

Michelle needs a core tissue sample of every fish to support a different research project. Based on a stable isotope analysis, scientists can identify where in the world a fish has been. This is because each area is unique and leaves its “signature” in the tissues of a fish. It is important to know where a fish has been in order to identify source populations, or places where they breed. This allows scientists to identify areas that need to be protected.

Animals Seen 

We hear conversations about sponges that are found in the ocean, but do you know whether they are plants or animals? How they eat? A sponge is an invertebrate. This means that it is an animal without a backbone. It attaches itself to rocks and other stationary objects, so it doesn’t move from place to place. Sponges come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are supported by little spiracles made of calcium carbonate that hold them up. They feed by soaking up particles and nutrients from the surrounding water – thus the name sponge! Some sponges are now used in medical research for anti-cancer drugs. They have few predators, so they are free to “soak up” the underwater ocean beauty without much fear of joining a predator for lunch.

I was interested to learn that animals compose most of the sea life we have been viewing. Michelle explained that sunshine cannot reach our diving depths, so plants can’t receive sun energy for growth. Therefore, even though they may look like plants, the sea fans, the coral, the sea pens that look like pipe cleaners sticking up from the bottom, the sponges, etc. are all animals.

Weighing and measuring
Weighing and measuring

Vocabulary 

Sponge, predator, spiracle, calcium carbonate, particles, nutrients, breed, stable isotope analysis, supply and demand.

Career Connection 

Steve is our Fisheries Methods and Equipment Specialist. He is retired from the Navy, worked for awhile for Florida State University, and now works for NOAA. His job entails supporting the scientists with boat maintenance, diving, and shop work. That one sentence may not sound like much, but without his mechanical skills, the diving would be very difficult to maintain. He tinkered with engines and mechanics as he was growing up, and when he joined the Navy he became an engine room hand, an engine room supervisor, and began Navy diving. He admits that Lloyd Bridges in Seahunt provided his inspiration for learning to dive, but his Navy experiences provided him with many of the skills he uses today. For instance, he built the camera trap that NOAA uses for stationary videos. I asked if he has plans or blueprints for his projects, and he replied that he usually does not. Scientists give him the impetus of an idea and a vague description of what they need and he builds what he thinks will work. Sometimes his creations need revision or refinement, but that’s what keeps the job interesting.

Question of the Day 

Coral is alive. It is composed of numerous polyps that secrete a substance that creates a hard shell surrounding the organisms. Coral slowly builds on itself until a large reef is finally formed. Reef fish, grouper, and snapper are fish that live in and around coral reefs because they prefer a structural habitat with holes and crannies where they can hide. Since these are fish that taste great, people frequently “invite” them to dinner!

  • How would damage to a coral reef system affect the supply of these fish?
  • If fish supply declines, what will happen to the price of the fish at the grocery store?
  • How are the MPAs that protect coral reefs important to people?

Educational Link 

Teaching kids to work compatibly in a group is essential to success in the workplace. I see this with the science team as well as the crew members on the ship. Everyone has a job to do and every job, no matter how small, is important. Everyone understands his/her role whether it is directing, supporting, assisting, etc. One person must be a leader who directs, takes responsibility, includes everyone, and understands the entire scope of the project. Each person in a group should have a particular strength or ability that contributes to group success. Everyone is important but everyone must learn to listen to the leader when it is their turn to support, and to lead with wisdom when they are in charge.

Personal Log 

I have become used to the motion of the ship and actually find it very soothing while sleeping. It’s a sort of rocking motion similar to what a cradle probably feels like. Unless we run into stormy weather, it appears that all of those motion sickness remedies that I brought can be taken home unopened. What a relief! The ship is fascinating and is actually a self-contained hotel. Of course there’s the galley, but this ship also boasts a nice lounge with a large screen television and a varied selection of DVDs and a relaxed eating area that also has a nice flat-screen television and satellite reception. There is a laundry room, engine room, work room, and of course the bridge. This ship is actually a NASA ship which is off duty just now and thus able to take on other contracted jobs such as the one we are currently doing with NOAA. The job of the Liberty Star and her crew is a wonderful story that I hope to cover tomorrow in my science log because it deals directly with the shuttle program. I hope to report tomorrow that our little ROV’s injuries have healed and it is cleared to return to work!

Lynn