Melissa Barker: Data, Samples and Research, Oh My, June 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 11.93 N

Longitude: 92 40.31 W

Air temp: 28.6 C

Water temp: 28 C

Wind direction: 180 degrees

Wind speed: 13 knots

Wave height: 1 meter

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

We had a slight lull in the sampling yesterday due to storms and lightning risk, but today has been full speed ahead with the trawling. In this blog I’ll talk more about taking data and how the data and samples are used.

We use the FSCS system, designed by NOAA, to record our data for each trawl. The program walks us through all the data need for each species. The pattern goes something like this: select species, measure length with the Limnoterra magnetic measuring board, then mass the individual, and finally try to determine the sex of the organism. Without this technology I can image that the whole sampling process would take a lot longer.

 

 

Determining sex can be tricky at times and there are some species that we cannot sex such as squid, scallops and very small fish. We cut the fish open and look for male and female gonads. If possible we also mark the maturity state of the individual.

Female gonads

Male gonads

When recording shrimp, we measure length, weight and sex for each individual up to 200. This can take a while, but working in pairs we get pretty efficient. Female shrimp have a circular breast plate, called a thelycus, under the head or just above their first set of legs. Males have a petasma, the male sex organ, between their two front legs.

Female shrimp on the left, male shrimp on the right. The knife is indicating the petasma, the male sex organ.

David (left) and Tyler work together to measure, weigh and sex the shrimp efficiently

You might be wondering what happens to all this data that we are collecting?

The data we collect is sent to SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and is made publicly available. Scientists can use this data for their research. The SEAMAP Groundfish survey happens twice per year and has been ongoing for 42 years, allowing for identification of long term trends in the data.

SEAMAP gives the shrimp data to the different state agencies who make the data available to fishermen, who will use it to determine if shrimp are of marketable size and thus worth heading out to shrimp.

Bagged lizard fish headed to the freezer

In addition to the data we are collecting, we also collect and freeze samples. Any scientists can make requests for a study species to be saved from our trawls. These requests are entered into the computer system, which prompts us to bag, label and freeze the species to be taken off the ship at the end of the cruise.

Samples stored in the freezer. There are many more in additional freezers.

For example, we save all Red Snapper and send them to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, for an age and growth study. Red Snapper is the top commercial fish in Gulf of Mexico, so this is critical data for fisherman and sustaining a healthy fish stock.

 

Several of the students who are part of the science team are collecting samples for their research.

Tagged Blue Crabs (photo credit: Helen Olmi)

Helen, who is part of the night shift, attends University of Southern Mississippi and is part of the Gulf Coast Research Lab. She is part of a team that is looking at migration patterns and reproductive behavior of female Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus). She tags female crabs and if fishermen find them they call in to report the location. Female Blue Crabs mate after their terminal molt and collect sperm in sac-like receptacles to use later to fertilize their eggs. When ready to spawn, the females move lower in the estuary into saltier waters. Blue Crabs are the most common edible crab so it is important to continue to monitor the health of the population in the Gulf.

Sharpnose Shark ready to be measured

David is an undergrad at University of Miami, who has earned a scholarship through NOAA Office of Education school scholarship program. As part of this program, he is funded to do summer research. He is working as part of larger study looking at the distribution and diet of the sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), one of the most common species of shark in the Gulf. Sharpnose sharks are generalists and the research study is looking to see if they are also potentially opportunistic eaters. He is also comparing diets from East and West Gulf sharks and may also be able to compare diets of sharks in low vs high oxygen areas. David’s data collection involves sorting through partially digested stomach remains to try to figure out what the shark ate; he gets to play detective in the lab.

Tyler holding a Croker

Tyler is a graduate student at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and works with Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). He researches whether exposure to low oxygen affects what Croaker eat. Croaker are widely abundant in the Gulf–they often make up more than half of our trawl samples–thus they make a good study species. Croaker often feed at the bottom, in the benthic zone. Tyler is trying to determine if Croaker are changing their feeding patterns in hypoxic areas by feeding higher up in the water column in the pelagic zone to find more food. He uses Croaker tissue samples to examine diet using isotopes. The general idea with isotopes is that what you eat or process will become part of you. Different prey species will have different isotope signatures and looking at Croaker tissue can determine what organisms the fish have been eating.

As you can see the data and samples from this survey support a lot of science and sustainable fisheries management. Check out some of the interesting organisms we have found in our trawls in the last few days.

 

 

Personal Log

 As we crank through trawl after trawl of species, I have to stop and remind myself of where I am. As a land lover, it can be a little disconcerting that there is no land anywhere in sight. This fact is helping me appreciate the vastness of the ocean. It is said that we have only explored five percent of the ocean. Before I was on the Oregon II, this was hard to believe, but now I am starting to comprehend just how large the ocean really is.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Andre and the Cobia

We had some rough seas due to a storm cell a couple days ago which got the boat rocking and rolling again. The movement made it hard to sleep or move around. Luckily, we are through that area and back to our normal motion. With each trawl, I anticipate the possibility of interesting new species that might come up in our net. We caught an 18.8 kg Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) in our net yesterday, which is a fish I had never heard of, but is apparently prized as a food and game fish. Andre filleted it up and we ate it for lunch. It was so of the best fish I’ve ever tasted. Living in Colorado, I don’t eat much seafood, but I’ve decided to try what we catch out here and I’m glad I have. We’ve also had fresh caught shrimp and snapper that were delicious thanks to Valerie and Arlene, the stewards who are keeping us well fed.

I’m enjoying getting to know some of the folks who work on the ship. Many of these people have worked on the Oregon II for several years. When you live and work with each other in a confined space for 24 hours a day, you become close pretty quickly. The family feel among the crew and officers is evident.

I am getting more efficient with my measuring and weighing techniques and even remembering a few scientific names. During each twelve-hour shift, the time spent on our feet depends on the number of stations we cover. Some days we are back to back, just finishing up one sample while they are already trawling for the next. A monitor screen tells us the distance to the next station, so we can anticipate what is coming next. We are getting closer to the Mississippi delta where we are anticipating a decrease in oxygen at some of our stations.

Did You Know?

The Natural Marine Sanctuary System is a network of underwater parks that protects more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for the parks and brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to promote responsible and sustainable ocean use and protect the health of our most valuable ocean resources. Healthy oceans can provide recreation and tourism opportunities for coastal communities. (Source: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

Marine Sanctuary map copy

(Photo credit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a marine sanctuary called Flower Garden Banks which includes three different areas, East Flower Banks, West Flower Banks and Stetson Bank, which are all salt dome formations where coral reef communities have formed. You can learn more about our National Marine Sanctuary System here.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Why do you need to take the temperature and amount of salt in the water? (Bella)

Temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence measurements give us more information about the water where we are sampling. Salinity helps tell us if we are in a freshwater, estuary or fully marine environment. The salinity will decrease as we near the Mississippi river delta. Salinity and temperature affect fish physiology or body functions. Each species has normal tolerance levels that it can live within. Organisms that find themselves outside of their salinity and temperature limits might not be able to survive.

The image of the CTD data below gives you an idea of typical values for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence and how they change as depth increases.

CTD key: pink=fluorescence, green=oxygen. blue=temperature, red=salinity

Does the temperature of the ocean get colder as it gets deeper? (Allison)

Generally temperature does decrease with depth, but in our shallow sampling locations there can be less than a 2 degree C temperature change. As you can see on the CTD data above, the temperature changed 6 degrees C at this sampling location.

How deep is it where you have sample? (David, Shane, Alix)

We sample at depths of 5-60 fathoms. One fathom equals 6 feet.

 

 

Gregory Cook, The Dance, August 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 7, 2014

Science and Technology Log: Abiotic Factors in the Bering Sea

Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic is just another word for “stuff that is, or was, alive.” In a forest, that would include everything from Owl to Oak Tree, from bear to bacteria, and from fish to fungi. It includes anything alive, or, for that matter, dead. Keep in mind that “dead” is not the same as “non-living.”

Salmon and Black-Legged Kittiwake

The salmon and the black-legged kittiwake are both biotic members of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

“Non-living” describes things that are not, cannot, and never will be “alive.” These things are referred to as “abiotic.” (The prefix a- basically means the same as non-). Rocks, water, wind, sunlight and temperature are all considered abiotic factors. And while the most obvious threat to a salmon swimming up river might be the slash of a bear’s mighty claw, warm water could be even more deadly. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen for the fish to absorb through their gills. This means that a power plant or factory that releases warm water into a river could actually cause fish to suffocate and, well, drown.

Bering Panorama

A 90 degree panorama of the Bering Sea from atop the Oscar Dyson. I’d show you the other 270°, but it’s pretty much the same. The sea and sky are abiotic parts of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

Fish in the Bering Sea have the same kind of challenges. Like Goldilocks, Pollock are always looking for sea water that is just right. The Oscar Dyson has the tools for testing all sorts of Abiotic factors. This is the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor (Also known as the CTD).

CTD Deployment

Survey Technicians Allen and Bill teach me how to launch The Conductivity Temperature Depth Probe (or CTD).

The CTD sends signals up to computers in the cave to explain all sorts of abiotic conditions in the water column. It can measure how salty the water is by testing how well the water conducts electricity. It can tell you how cloudy, or turbid, the water is with a turbidity sensor. It can even tell you things like the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

To see how abiotic factors drive biotic factors, take a look at this.

Thermocline

The graph above is depth-oriented. The further down you go on the graph, the deeper in the water column you are. The blue line represents temperature. Does the temperature stay constant? Where does it change?

I know, you may want to turn the graph above on its side… but don’t. You’ll notice that depth is on the y-axis (left). That means that the further down you are on the graph, the deeper in the sea you are. The blue line represents the water temperature at that depth. Where do you see the temperature drop?


Right… The temperature drops rapidly between about 20 and 35 meters. This part of the water column is called the Thermocline, and you’ll find it in much of the world’s oceans. It’s essentially where the temperature between surface waters (which are heated by the sun) and the deeper waters (typically dark and cold) mix together.

OK, so you’re like “great. So what? Water gets colder. Big deal… let’s throw a parade for science.”

Well, look at the graph to the right. It was made from another kind of data recorded by the CTD.

Fluoresence

Fluoresence: Another depth-oriented graph from the CTD… the green line effectively shows us the amount of phytoplankton in the water column, based on depth.

The green line represents the amount of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a marker of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like protists… the great producers of the sea! The more fluorescence, the more phytoplankton you have. Phytoplankton love to live right at the bottom of the thermocline. It gives them the best of both worlds: sunlight from above and nutrients from the bottom of the sea, which so many animals call home.

Now, if you’re a fish… especially a vegetarian fish, you just said: “Dinner? I’m listening…” But there’s an added bonus.

Look at this:

CTD Oxygen

Oxygen data from the CTD! This shows where the most dissolved oxygen is in the water column, based on depth. Notice any connections to the other graphs?

That orange line represents the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. How does that compare to the other graphs?

Yup! The phytoplankton is hanging down there at the bottom of the thermocline cranking out oxygen! What a fine place to be a fish! Dinner and plenty of fresh air to breathe! So here, the abiotic (the temperature) drives the biotic (phytoplankton) which then drives the abiotic again (oxygen). This dance between biotic and abiotic plays out throughout earth’s ecosystems.

Another major abiotic factor is the depth of the ocean floor. Deep areas, also known as abyss, or abyssal plains, have food sources that are so far below the surface that phytoplankton can’t take advantage of the ground nutrients. Bad for phytoplankton is, of course, bad for fish. Look at this:

The Cliff and the Cod

The blue cloud represents a last grouping of fish as the continental shelf drops into the deep. Dr. Mikhail examines a cod.

That sloping red line is the profile (side view of the shape of the land) of the ocean floor. Those blue dots on the slope are fish. As Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, a visiting Pollock specialist from Vladivostok, Russia, puts it, “after this… no more Pollock. It’s too deep.”

He goes on to show me how Pollock in the Bering Sea are only found on the continental shelf between the Aleutian Islands and Northeastern Russia. Young Pollock start their lives down near the Aleutians to the southeast, then migrate Northwest towards Russia, where lots of food is waiting for them.

Pollock Distribution

Alaskan Pollock avoid the deep! Purple line represents the ocean floor right before it drops off into the Aleutian Basin… a very deep place!

The purple line drawn in represents the drop-off you saw above… right before the deep zone. Pollock tend to stay in the shallow areas above it… where the eating is good!

Once again, the dance between the abiotic and the biotic create an ecosystem. Over the abyss, Phytoplankton can’t take advantage of nutrients from the deep, and fish can’t take advantage of the phytoplankton. Nonliving aspects have a MASSIVE impact on all the organisms in an ecosystem.

Next time we explore the Biotic side of things… the Sub-arctic food web!

Personal Log: The Order of the Monkey’s Fist.

Sweet William, a retired police officer turned ship’s engineer, tells the story of the order of the monkey’s fist.

William and the Monkey's Fist

Sweet William the Engineer shows off a monkey’s fist

The story goes that some island came up with a clever way to catch monkeys. They’d place a piece of fruit in a jar just barely big enough for the fruit to fit through and then leave the jar out for the monkeys. When a monkey saw it, they’d reach their hand in to grab the fruit, but couldn’t pull it out because their hands were too big now that they had the fruit in it. The monkey, so attached to the idea of an “easy” meal wouldn’t let go, making them easy pickings for the islanders. The Monkey’s Fist became a symbol for how clinging to our desires for some things can, in the end, do more harm than good. That sometimes letting go of something we want so badly is, in the end, what can grant us relief.

Another story of the origin of the monkey’s fist goes like this: A sea captain saw a sailor on the beach sharing his meal with a monkey. Without skipping a beat, the monkey went into the jungle and brought the sailor some of HIS meal… a piece of fruit.

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

Whatever the true origin of the Order is, the message is the same. Generosity beats selfishness at sea. It’s often better to let go of your own interests, sometimes, and think of someone else’s. Onboard the Oscar Dyson, when we see someone committing an act of kindness, we put their name in a box. Every now and then they pull a name from the box, and that person wins something at the ship store… a hat or a t-shirt or what have you. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that NOAA sailors… scientists, corps, and crew… have each other’s backs. They look out for each other in a place where all they really have IS each other.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°53.9 N longitude = 093º 51.1 W
Present Weather: 5/8 cloudy (cumulonimbus/cumulus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2°C, wet bulb = 26.3°C

Science and Technology Log

Video from the camera array

Video from the camera array

Echo Sounder

Echo Sounder

The technology on this ship is amazing! The picture on the left is video of what the camera array filmed yesterday. The fish just swim around and sometimes they even come right up to the camera like they are “kissing” it. Then they back away and swim off. It’s beautiful to watch. The picture on the right is the EK60 Echo Sounder. The red line that you see shows the bottom of the seafloor. The blue above the red line is the water itself and the white specks that you see are fish. The most recent reading is located on the right side of the screen. The echo sounder sends a “ping” to the computer and that “ping” is a fish. Sometimes we can see definite shark outlines in the images below our ship. If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the echo sounder photo, you will see a large white speck along the red line. This indicates a large fish (possibly a shark) trolling the bottom of the ocean. When we came upon the dead sperm whale, the Electronics Technician (ET) came to the lab and told us there were a lot of “large fish,” most likely Mahi Mahi or even sharks, swimming under the ship.

Techonology on the Pisces

Techonology on the Pisces

The Pisces would not be able to operate without the engineers who make sure that everything onboard is functioning properly, including the 4 massive diesel generators that power the ship, the freshwater generators that convert seawater into fresh drinking water, and the hydraulics that power the cranes to lift the cameras in and out of the water. Chief Engineer Garet Urban leads the team of engineers, oilers, and electrical experts who take care of all the mechanical issues on board the ship.

First Engineer, Brent Jones, took us on a tour of the very impressive engine room on the lower deck of the Pisces. He showed us the incinerator which burns all the trash, oil filters, and other waste at a temperature of 1200°C (2192°F). Paper, plastic, and aluminum is brought back to shore and recycled. Before entering the engine room, we were told to put in earplugs because the sound can damage your eardrums. In addition to not being able to hear a thing inside the engine room, the heat is incredible! The engineers need to be careful to stay hydrated while working in these conditions.

Engine Room

Engine Room

Generators in the Engine Room

Generators in the Engine Room

The Pisces is powered by 4 diesel fuel generators which generate electricity that drives two large electric motors. The photo above on the right shows one of the generators in yellow. The engineers are constantly monitoring the mechanics of the ship to make sure everyone on board has a safe and productive voyage while conducting scientific research on board.

Personal Log

Every week the ship is required to conduct emergency drills. Yesterday after dinner, the alarm sounded 6 short bursts and an announcement came on saying, “This is a drill…abandon ship, proceed to your muster stations…this is a drill.” We had to go to our rooms and grab our PFD’s (personal flotation devices), survival suits, a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat. We then proceeded to the 0-1 deck where two officers were in charge of making sure that everyone on their list was present and accounted for. After attendance was taken the drill was over; however Melinda and I wanted to try on the survival suits because no matter who you are, you can’t help but look and feel silly in what the crew refers to as a “Gumby suit” – for obvious reasons. Two of the officers joined us in this cumbersome and entertaining task.

Emergency Drill

Emergency Drill

Melinda Storey and I in our Gumby Suits

Melinda Storey and I in our Gumby Suits

Getting into my gumby suit

Getting into my gumby suit

Never has the routine of an emergency drill seemed more significant than the next morning, shortly after arriving in the lab, when the general alarm sounded and an announcement came on saying, “This is NOT a drill…smoke has been detected near the bow thrusters on the lower deck…repeat, this is NOT a drill.” It took a second for me to register that this was a real emergency and we all quickly moved to the conference room – the muster station for the scientific party. On the way into the room, I smelled something burning and heard in my head the ominous words of one of the scientists during a previous fire drill, “One of the worst things that can happen at sea is a fire.” Now I was nervous. The Chief Scientist called the bridge to let them know that we were all accounted for and asked if we could move because we smelled smoke. We moved to the main deck and waited…not very long actually. Within a matter of minutes an announcement signaled that the fire was secure and we were free to carry on with our business.

The bow thrusters had overheated and fortunately, someone was working near them when the smoking started. Because the ship conducts fire drills on a regular basis, including the simulation of putting out specific types of fires, everyone knew where to go and the crew had the smoking under control very quickly. It was reassuring to know that the crew is so prepared to handle emergencies at sea. I will never again complain about the routine task of emergency drills, especially at school. Preparation and planning is the key to keeping everyone safe.