Chris Imhof, November 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 19, 2009

Science Log

After 3 days and many hours in front of computer screens and monitors I almost forgot I was on a boat. Tonight is my last night on the Pisces, and although at times it has been rough, I have started to get used to the rocking of the ship and know every crew member by name. I ran about the ship when I have had a second, to take in things knowing I will have chance tomorrow . I will miss looking across the open sea and having opportunities to catch a glimpse of a shark fin near the side of the ship and a huge sea turtle making its way across the waves. I will miss talking to the crew and the scientists, and working with Jeannine Foucault the other Teacher at Sea. I’ll probably write another log tomorrow to sum up the experience, but its hard

to rally up for a science log when you are tired and many of have to pack to disembark at Jacksonville tomorrow morning. As for the Pisces and her crew, they will make their way back to Pascagoula for the Holidays.

Chris Imhof, November 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 18, 2009

Science Log

NOAA’s mission is to “protect, restore and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources.” The way NOAA does this is through science – a voyage like this may seem like moving from point to point and placing a really cool piece of technology in the water to see what’s on the bottom – but these are all tools that are being used to be able to carry out the tenets of protect, restore and manage.

We have visited half our sites now and have surveyed different environments in and out of Marine Protected Areas. Different environments, yet with commonalities – all the sites are near exposed “hard-bottom” or exposed limestone on the shelf bottom. There may be miles of sand waves and algae – but theses exposed, complex and bio-encrusted features are “oasis’s” for all sorts of ocean life – especially fish. As the ROV maneuvers across the sandy waves, it is usually the glint of a school of fish or reflection of a fish eye that provides a beacon to a feature. If these features are “oasis” habitats then they should be protected. Granted, these limestone blocks can do more damage to fishing line and gear, evident in the amount of line found in the high relief areas – but in the case of some of the North Florida MPA, we encountered the fragile deep water Occulina Coral which is vulnerable especially when nets are being dragged across these areas.

Another commonality noticed is the growing presence of the beautiful Lion Fish (Pterois volitans) – this native of Pacific waters was released intentionally or unintentionally in the early 1990’s around Florida and have since spread to areas above North Carolina and south to the Caribbean, especially along reefs and rocky outcrops. They join an infamous ranks of other invasive species including the European Green Crab, Asian Eel and Zebra Mussel. The Lion-Fish, besides having an array of venomous spines. has a keen strategy of “corralling” prey with their fins and eating them in one gulp. This will impact the small fish and crustaceans in these habitats as well as the added competition with indigenous or native predators such as snappers and grouper fish – which are currently commercially fished. This is where “manage” comes in – here is a “new” invasive species in that is growing in population and spreading geographically, impacting the habitat by out-competing, in some cases, the established predators – how can it be managed.

Especially when the Lion-fish has few natural enemies. The Lion Fish is a tricky one – as an invasive species, missions like this one help to understand the long-term impact the Lion-Fish is having on these habitats. Using technology like multi-beam mapping and ROV technology can provide data for scientists and in turn give councils, commissions and government the knowledge to manage these areas through smart-solution-based policy.

References:

coastalscience.noaa.gov/documents/factsheet_lionfish.pdf

http://www.magazine.noaa.gov/stories/mag135.htm

Chris Imhof, November 17, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 17, 2009

Science Log

We sailed last night to our first “station” – The North Florida Marine Protected Area – and by 7:00 am this morning the ROV pilots Lance Brown and Glenn Taylor were going through the “pre-flight” checklist on the ROV; Lance working the controls in the lab, Glenn outside taking care of the deployment and extraction of the vehicle on the starboard weather deck. Soon they were meeting with the Lead NOAA scientist Andy David to talk through the operations of the deployment and extraction and more specifically the methodology of what they were trying to accomplish at this site.

The North Florida MPA area has been protected since 2004 – meaning no sailing or fishing occurs in this area. Some of the area has been mapped by multi-beam sonar – so what scientist then do with ROV technology is “Ground-Truthing” in which after examining the multi-beam maps – choose features to explore and check visually how they compare with their maps. Since the ROV sends real time video feed to the lab, the scientist watch and note the features, the animals that are present or not present in the habitat. They also perform a down shot every 2 minutes, or stop the ROV – point the camera down and take a picture – later in the lab they quantify the habitat by gridding the photograph and counting the number of species. Todays North Florida site tested sites inside the Marine Protected Area as well as sites/features outside the MPA for comparison as well as to help make future decisions of extending possible areas into the protective zone or even species.

After the scientists met, the Pisces crew and captain Jeremy Adams met on the weather deck to talk through the operation – sync their communications and what if scenarios. In all, there were 3 ROV dives which went extremely smooth, mainly due to the organization and communication of everyone involved.

The highlights of the dive were the spectacular features of the exposed limestone near the drop offs and the amazing habitats – for all my preparation the diversity of fish was overwhelming – I could identify a few featured fish like the Lionfish, barracudas and Moray Eels – I was unprepared to see a real sea turtle hanging out by some rocks or a Goliath Grouper which came out of nowhere. I learned many new fish which I hope to be able to call out from the monitor tomorrow like the Reef Butterfly, Squirrel Fish, Amberjack, Scamp, Soldier fish, Purple and Yellow Tail Reef Fish. I was helpful in identifying some of the Occulina deep coral species, the sponges (which you couldn’t miss) as well as pick out old fish line, a bottle and and an old anchor jammed into the rocks near the edge.

I’ll let the pictures and video slices tell most of the story. We are cruising all night again to our most northern site Edisto – off South Carolina and then work back from there.

Jeannine Foucault, November 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 16, 2009

Survival suit for safety

Survival suit for safety

Science Log

Today we were ported in Jacksonville, FL. It was load up and set up day for the additional scientists and the ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle).

The ROV is similar to a traveling robot that will be lowered down onto the ocean floor and will be remotely operated from the ship while recording ocean life at each MPA (Marine Protected Area) that we visit. Since PISCES is a brand new ship she wasn’t equipped for all the hardware and software needed for the ROV; therefore, all the engineers, deckhands, scientists, and crew were involved in a speedy setup. The scientists also loaded a fish trap just in case we need extra data in addition to the ROV.

We set off to our first MPA in North Florida to do our first ROV trial testing in the morning to get some live data. I am so anxious to see how the ROV works and what sort of data we will receive. I know I will sleep well tonight because I was working right along side everyone. Remember all those measurements I have you take and then convert them from English to metric units? That’s what I had to do today. We had to measure how far the equipment was in respect to the size of the ship, etc. You want to know how you will use what you learn in ‘real life’? Well, here it is!

I did see a dolphin today, but too quick for a pic! SRRY 🙂

Also, I was able to watch the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis.

Chris Imhof, November 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 16, 2009

NOAA Ship Pisces in port

NOAA Ship Pisces in port

Science Log

We arrived late last night back in Jacksonville, Florida docking at the Atlantic Marine Docks – taking on 8 scientists who will leading the ROV operations – over the next few days. The next morning was a flurry of activity as the science crew began to unload their equipment and the crew of the Pisces operated the cranes and prepared the the sides of the ship and the winches for deployment of the ROV.

While Jeannine stayed aboard to help running cables and rigging the GPS equipment needed for pinpointing the position of the ROV relative to the ship – I chose to join the scouting party inland; myself, Lieutenant Dunsford, Engineer Tony Assouad and Lead Scientist Andy David made contact with local at the village of “Walmart” and acquired much needed supplies.

AtlantisGear was stowed and the equipment set up, the science party met for their safety briefing, followed by a larger conversation of what we will be accomplishing over the next couple of days. We plan to take the “Deep Ocean ROV” to at 3 sites – testing in and outside the MPA or “Marine Protected Area” about sites a day. We will be running mostly day time operations and transitioning to next station at night as well as doing some multibeam mapping – using the same type of technology I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. When the Pisces arrives in an area it will begin to “mow the lawn” – doing transects back and forth to create a map of the ocean floor below so the scientists can better choose targets or areas to avoid during the daytime ROV operation. For the most part we are assisting the scientists with the launching and retrieval of the ROV as well as monitoring what the ROV sees from a TV in the Dry Lab on the Pisces.

ROV equipment

ROV equipment

Like a lot of science the ROV will be recording a ton of data which will be more carefully evaluated over the next few months after the voyage. Many of the places we document in and out of the MPA will be explored again to see changes – so in a way this study sets a baseline for future missions. I am excited to see how they launch the ROV, which will give me some ideas for when my Innovation Technology Seminar launches their little rovers in a few weeks. The operator/pilot of the rover will be inside the dry lab talking through a headset to another rover scientist outside monitoring the 900 feet of cable – talking to a deck crew member operating a winch. We are hoping not only for calm waters on the surface for deployment-but quiet currents below so ROV has the opportunity to explore, rather than ride the current.

A few porpoises rolled along side the ship enough to enjoy, but too quick to get a good picture. Only the gray pelicans on the dock would stand still to pose. Before we pulled out of Jacksonville we climbed to the top of the Flying Deck to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch in the distance. Even though we didn’t do much today it was still a pretty great day. 🙂

Jeannine Foucault, November 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 15, 2009

Crew in safety gear

Crew in safety gear

Science Log

If you have been using the ship tracker you would be able to follow that last night we cruised around the bottom tip of Florida out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean. The waters were a bit rough with wind gusts up to 40 knots. It was a rocky night. Not to mention a very sleepless night with the greenish way I was feeling :)! Needless to say I haven’t had much to eat today except for some dry Captain Crunch cereal. The head chef on the mess deck suggested it would be a good stomach filler. We will see and I will let you know!

Once I got my sea legs back I was anxious to see what everyone else was doing. The crew as well as the scientists were very busy; therefore, I stayed pretty much out of their way for a while. The crew was trying to get us an arrival in Jacksonville, FL and the tech crew was busy trying to get us online since the internet signal went down. Talking to the captain he says that with a new boat there are always kinks that have to be ironed out …that’s why we call these sea trials.

Lab equipment aboard the ship

Lab equipment aboard the ship

The mammal scientists were working on their equipment trying to get their equipment calibrated correctly. They explained to me that PISCES is equiped with many sensors (transducers) and these sensors are connected to different pieces of equipment to help pickup the ocean ecosystem. For instance, the mammal scientists are using the echo sensors on the computers (see below) that operates seven echo sound frequencies. Then the scientists can use this realtime data for analysis of targets, concentrations, the layers of ocean, etc. This provides a broad scope of marine acoustic survey from plankton to large schools of fish.

While I was on deck watching the waves I noticed a bunch of birds that flew into the water but never came up. I watched a while longer and again, but this time these creatures came up from the water and flew across it into a huge dive back into the ocean. These were not birds…..these were ‘flying fish’! They are C.melanurus common to the Atlantic. They are silly little fish always flying from a predator under water.

Chris Imhof, November 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Imhof
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Coral Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 15, 2009

Science Log

Rough winds and big choppy waves coming around the Keys and into the Gulf Stream last night kept many awake and few of us with a taste of sea sickness. We make port in Jacksonville tonight and take on the ROV and more scientists. While making the first leg of this voyage it has been good to get to meet most of the crew and learn what they do and where they work on the Pisces; these include NOAA engineers, electrical and computer technicians, deck crew, stewards, and the NOAA Core officers. Since this is a maiden voyage, many of these people have worked on other NOAA ships – bringing their expertise and skills to get the Pisces up and working smoothly. Many of this crew will stay with the Pisces – operating the ship for NOAA scientists who come aboard to run experiments or do research in the months to come.

When I boarded the Pisces last Wednesday, the mammal scientists Tony Martinez and Lance Garrison were already on board testing equipment for an expedition this coming January – for detecting concentrations of sperm whale prey – from small fish to squid – acoustically and visually. Two pieces of technology they use are the EK60 Echosounder and ME70 Splitbeam:

1) The EK60 Simrad Echo-Sounder: This piece of technology uses a devices called a transducers that are located on the bottom of the Pisces to detect organisms. The Echo-Sounder operates on 4 frequencies – split beams of 200 and 120 khz (kilohertz) for shallow water detection – giving good data on zooplankton and small schools of fish, and the 18 and 38 khz frequencies which can detect fish, mammals and squid much deeper. The transducers issue a ping at each frequency every .5 seconds which bounce back creating a picture or vertical scatter. The scatter shown is a reflective signature – which the scientist use to identify what is below.

2) The ME70:  The ME70 is brand new technology that uses a single high frequency – but based on amplitude reverberates from 80 transducers in a fan or swath -like shining a spot light down the water column. This gives another kind of visual image of what is below – especially the characteristics of the concentrations of zooplankton and nekton or schools of fish.

Tools and technology like this help scientists conduct surveys of marine species in deep and shallow waters, they can improve the way we estimate fish stocks – and the more it is used and tested can be a passive way to identify species in their habitats through their acoustic signatures.

An interesting aspect of this technology is the growing study of “swarm behavior” – understanding why schools of fish glide in precise synchronous movement. This field of study is becoming more important as we learn that self-organizing coordinated systems like schools of fish are extremely resilient and efficient. Mammal studies conducted by Tony and Lance aboard the Pisces may have larger implications in the future when looking at the behavior of crowds, or traffic on a highway, or how people move in a work place.