We’re traveling through some mild rainstorms. Nothing extreme, but we do feel a little more side to side rocking motion in the boat (which makes me feel sleepy!)
Mild rainstorms on the horizon
Latitude: 29 degrees, 56.2 minutes North
Longitude: 86 degrees, 20.6 minutes West
Air temp: 24.7 degrees Celsius
Water temp: 30.1 degrees Celsius
Wind direction: light and variable
Wind speed: light and variable
Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)
Sky: overcast with light rain
Science and Technology Log
Today I completed my first shift on the science team and we surveyed 3 complete stations. At each station, we carried out a multi-step protocol (or procedure). Here are the steps:
The Depth Contour Output graph displays data collected from one station.
Before we begin fishing, the ship conducts a transect (or cross-section) of the survey area, using multiple pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor. This tells us if it is safe (for both ship operations and for fragile coral that may exist) to trawl here. If a coral reef or other large obstacle was present, we would see significant variation in the depth of the ocean floor. This “depth contour output” graph shows the data we collected at one station. How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?
The CTD collects information about water chemistry
We also use a collection of instruments called a “CTD” to collect information about the chemistry of water itself at different depths. This information is called the water’s “profile.” For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?
Forel-Ule color scale
We also measure the water color using the Forel-Ule color scale by matching it to the samples shown in this photo. This gives scientists an indication of the amount of particulates, chlorophyll, and nutrients are in the water.
Trawl Net being lowered into water
Once we determine it is safe to trawl, the ship returns to the starting location. We will trawl along the same path that we observed. Here’s the trawl net before it is lowered into the water. It will be pulled just along the bottom of the survey area, using tickler chains to agitate the ocean floor for benthic organisms for 30 minutes, and collecting whatever crosses its path!
The catch is emptied into baskets
Once the trawl is finished, the deck crew uses a large crane to pull the trawl on board. We all help to empty the net and place everything into baskets. Most of what we catch are biological organisms, but small amounts of non-living material (like shells, dead coral, and even trash) come up as well.
The Wet Lab
We then bring the baskets into the wet lab.
Baskets are emptied into a long trough with a conveyor belt
We dump the baskets into a long metal trough that has a conveyor belt at the bottom.
The catch is sorted into baskets by species
Next we sort the catch. Each species gets its own basket and we count the number of individuals for each species.
Then, it’s time for the tough part (for me at least) – every organism has to be identified by its scientific name. That’s a lot of Latin! Fortunately, Andre and the senior scientists are very patient and happy to help those of us who are new. It’s amazing how many species these experienced scientists recognize off the top of their heads.
We also have many field guides, which are books containing photos and descriptions of species, to help us.
For each species, we record the total number of individuals and total mass
We are interested in how much of each species are present, so we record both the total number of individuals and total mass of each species.
TAS Anna Levy measures the length of a flatfish using the Limnoterra Board
We also measure the length and mass of a sample of individuals. A handy device called a Limnoterra Electronic Measuring Board makes this process easy. We place the mouth of the fish on one end of this board and then touch its tail fin with a pen-like magnetic wand. The board then automatically sends the fish’s length to the computer to be recorded. We use an electronic balance that is also connected to the computer to measure and record mass.
A computer screen displays FSCS software
All of the information is recorded in a database, using software called FSCS (pronounced “fiscus”).
Many of the specimens we collect are saved for use in further research on land. Scientists at NOAA and other research institutions can request that we “bag and tag” species that they want. Those samples are then frozen and given to the scientists when we return to shore.
Any organisms or other material that remains is returned to the sea, where it can be eaten or continue its natural cycle through the ecosystem. The conveyor belt, conveniently, travels to a chute that empties back into the ocean. Now all that’s left is to clean the lab and wait for the process to begin again at the next station!
Our goal is to complete this process 48 times, at the 48 remaining stations, while at sea. 3 down, 45 to go!
Sometimes the work is high-paced…
This work has real highs and lows for me, personally. There are dramatic, hold your breath, moments like when equipment is lifted off the deck with cranes and lowered into the water. There is the excitement of anticipating what data or species we will find. My favorite moment is when we dump the buckets and all of the different species become visible. I’m amazed at the diversity and beauty of organisms that we continue to see. It reminds me of all of the stereotypical “under the sea” images you might see in a Disney movie.
The more challenging part is the pace of the work. Sometimes there are many different things going on, so it’s easy to keep busy and focus on learning new things, so time passes quickly. Other times, though, things get repetitive. For example, once we start entering all of the data about the individual fish, one person calls out the length and mass of a fish, while the other enters it into the computer – over and over until we’ve worked through all of the fish.
… but sometimes the work even stops altogether, especially when whether interferes.
Sometimes, the work even stops altogether, especially when the weather interferes. There have been mild rainstorms coming and going continually. It is not safe to have people on deck to deploy the CTD and trawling equipment when there is lightning in the area, so there is nothing for the science team to do but wait during these times.
Because the pace of the work is constantly changing, it’s difficult to get into a groove, so I found myself getting really tired at the end of the shift. However, an important part of collecting data out in the field is being flexible and adapting to the surroundings. There is a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time so I keep reminding myself to focus on the work and do my best to contribute!
Did You Know?
When working at sea, scientists must use special balances that are able to compensate for the movement of the ship in order to get accurate measurements of mass.
To ensure that we are accurately identifying species, we save 1 individual from each species caught at a randomly selected station. We will freeze those individuals and take them back to NOAA’s lab in Pascagoula, where other scientists will confirm that we identified the species correctly!
Questions to Consider:
Review: Look at the “depth contour output” graph above: How deep is the water at this station? Is it safe to trawl here?
Research: What does “CTD” stand for?
Research: For fisheries studies, we are most interested in the amount of dissolved oxygen and the temperature at different depths. Why might this information be relevant for understanding the health of fish populations?
Reflect: Why might scientists decide to use three different pieces of equipment to collect the same data about the ocean floor? And, why might they have several different scientists independently identify the species name of the same individuals?
Current Location: Impatiently waiting to sail in Centennial, Colorado
Date: June 20
Weather Data from the “Bridge” (AKA My Sun Porch):
Here’s the weather data from the “Bridge” in Centennial. (In Station Model format, of course. How else would we practice?)
Personal Log – An Introduction
Hello! My name is Staci DeSchryver and I will be traveling this upcoming July on the Oscar Elton Sette as part of the HICEAS program!
I am an Oceanography, Meteorology, and Earth Science teacher at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, CO. This August will kick off my 14th (yikes!) year teaching. I know you might be thinking, “Why Oceanography in a landlocked state?” Well, the reason why I can and do teach Oceanography is because of Teacher At Sea. I am an alumna, so this is my second official voyage through the Teacher At Sea program. It was all of the wonderful people I met, lessons I learned, and science that I participated in on the
This is my husband, Stephen, and I, at the game that sent the Broncos to the Superbowl!
Oscar Dyson in 2011 that led me to encourage my school to put an Oceanography course in place for seniors as a capstone course. This past year was the first year for the Oceanography and Meteorology courses, and they were very well received! I have three sections of each class next year, as well! (Shout out to all my recent senior grads reading this post! You were awesome!) We study our World’s Ocean from the top of the water column all the way to the deepest parts of the Marianas Trench, and from the tiniest atom all the way up to the largest whale. I believe it is one of the most comprehensive courses offered to our students – incorporating geology, chemistry, physics, and biology, but then again, I’m a bit biased.
Apart from being a teacher, I am a wife to my husband of 8 years, Stephen. We don’t have children, but we do have two hedgehogs, Tank and Willa, who keep us reasonably busy. Willa only has one eye, and Tank is named Tank because he’s abnormally large for a hedgie. They are the best lil’ hedgies we know. We enjoy camping, rock climbing, and hiking – the typical Coloradans, though we are both originally from Michigan. When we aren’t spending time together, I like to dance ballet, read, write, and I recently picked up a new weightlifting habit, which has led me to an entire new lifestyle of health and wellness with an occasional interjection of things like Ice Cream topped with caramel and Nachos when in the “off” season (hey, nobody’s perfect).
I will be leaving for Honolulu, Hawaii on July 4th to meet up with the fine scientists that make up the HICEAS team. What is HICEAS? Read below to find out more about HICEAS and the research we will be doing onboard!
The HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey) is a study of Cetaceans (Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises) and their habitats. Cetaceans live in the ocean, and are characterized by being carnivorous (we will get along just fine at the dinner table) and having fins (since I am a poor swimmer, I will humbly yield to what I can only assume is their instinctive expertise). This means that the study will cover all manners of these majestic creatures – from whales that are definitely easily identifiable as whales to whales that look like dolphins but are actually whales to porpoises that really look like whales but are actually dolphins and dolphins that look like dolphins that are dolphins and… are you exhausted yet? Here’s some good news – porpoises aren’t very common in Hawaiian waters, so that takes some of the stress out of identifying one of those groups, though we will still be on the lookout. Here’s where it gets tricky – it won’t be enough to just sight a whale, for example and say, “Hey! We have a whale!” The observers will be identifying the actual species of the whale (or dolphin or possible-porpoise). The observers who tackle this task are sharp and quick at what is truly a difficult and impressive skill. I’m sure this will be immediately confirmed when they spot, identify, and carry on before I say, “Wait! Where do you see it?”
There are 25 cetacean species native to Hawaiian waters, so that’s a big order to fill for the observers. And we will be out on the water until we locate every last one. Just kidding. But we will be looking to spot all of these species, and once found, we will do our best to estimate how many there are overall as a stock estimate. Ideally, these cetacean species will be classified into three categories – delphinids (dolphins and a few dolphin-like whales), deep diving whales (whales with teeth), and baleen whales (of the “swim away!” variety). Once identified in this broad sense, they will then be identified by species. However, I do have a feeling these two categorizations happen all at once.
Once the data is collected, there is an equation that is used to project stock estimates for the whole of the Pacific. More on this later, but I will just start by saying for all you math folk out there, it’s some seriously sophisticated data extrapolation. It involves maths that I have yet to master, but I have a month to figure it out, so it’s not looking too bleak for me just yet. In the meantime, I’m spending my time trying to figure out which cetaceans that look like dolphins are actually possible-porpoises, and which dolphins that look like dolphins are actually whales.
Goals and Objectives of the HICEAS
The HICEAS study operates as a part of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC), both under the NOAA umbrella. Our chief scientist is Dr. Erin Oleson, who will be the lead on this leg of the cruise. HICEAS last collected data in 2010, and is now ready for the next round of stock assessments. HICEAS is a 187-day study, of which we will be participating in approximately 30 of those days for this particular leg. Our research area is 2.5 million square kilometers, and covers the whole of the Hawaiian Archipelago and it’s Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ! The HICEAS study has three primary goals:
Estimate the number of cetaceans in Hawaii.
Examine their population structure.
Understand their habitat.
Studies like the HICEAS are pretty rare (2002, 2010, and now 2017), so the scientists are doing their best to work together to collect as much information as they possibly can during the study. From what I can gather in lead-up chats with on board scientist Kym Yano, we will be traveling along lines called “transects” in the Pacific Ocean, looking for all the popular Cetacean hangouts. When a cetacean is sighted, we move toward the lil’ guy (or gal) and all his friends to take an estimate, and if it permits, a biopsy. There is a second team of scientists working below deck listening for Cetacean gossip (whale calls) as well. Acoustic scientists will record the whale or dolphin calls for later review and confirmation of identification of species, and, of course, general awesomeness.
But that’s not all!
We will also be dropping CTD’s twice per day, which is pretty standard ocean scientific practice. Recall that the CTD will give us an idea of temperature, salinity, and pressure variations with depth, alerting us to the presence and locations of any of the “clines” – thermocline, halocline, and pycnocline. Recall that in areas near the equator, rapid changes of temperature, salinity, and density with depth are pretty common year-round, but at the middle latitudes, these form and dissipate through the course of the solar year. These density changes with depth can block nutrients from moving to the surface, which can act as a cutoff to primary production. Further, the CTD readings will help the acoustic scientists to do their work, as salinity and temperature variations will change the speed of sound in water.
There will also be a team working to sight sea birds and other marine life that doesn’t fall under the cetacean study (think sea turtles and other fun marine life). This study is enormous in scope. And I’m so excited to be a part of it!
What is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin?
It has to do with 3 identifiers: Faces, Fins, and Figures.
Bradford, A. L., Forney, K. A., Oleson, E. M., & Barlow, J. (2017). Abundance estimates of cetaceans from a line-transect survey within the U.S. Hawaiian Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Fishery Bulletin,115(2), 129-142. doi:10.7755/fb.115.2.1
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast
Date: June 25, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: June 25, 2017 Wind Speed: 22 kts
Time: 4:00 p.m. Latitude: 5026.55N
Temperature: 14.3oC Longitude: 12808.11W
Science and Technology Log
Although the scientists have not performed any fishing trawls since departing San Diego, there is a survey crew on board that has continuously been monitoring the water column for a variety of factors using acoustics and an instrument called a Conductivity/Temp/Depth (CTD) probe.
Last night I was able to observe the launch and retrieval of a small, handheld CTD probe. It looks very much like a 2 ft torpedo. The electronics and sensors built into the probe measure such factors as salinity, sound speed, depth, and water temperature. This smaller probe is launched off the tail of the boat and let out on a line of filament from a reel that appears very similar to a typical fishing reel. It does not take more than a couple of minutes for the probe to sink to a depth of about 300 meters. Data is collected from the probe at various depths on the way down. Once the probe has reached its target depth, it is simple reeled back in using a winch to retrieve it. This requires quite a bit of energy as the probe is deployed with enough line for it to end up about 3 miles behind the ship. The data from this probe is then blue-toothed to the program used by those monitoring the water column acoustically. It help the techs make corrections in their acoustical readings.
Surveyor Jian Liu and scientist Juan Zwolinski deploy the smaller CTD probe off the stern of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
The Reuben Lasker also carries a larger version of the CTD probe with the additional capabilities such as water collection at various depths. However, this version requires the ship to be stationary. Taking measurements with the unit slows down the work of the day as each stop takes about 30 minutes from launch until retrieval. The launch of the larger CTD can be seen below.
CTD surfaces after test
CTD being landed back on deck
CTD Probe in steel protected basket
The data from the CDT probe is recorded real-time on the survey team’s computers. Below you can see how this data presents itself on their video screens.
Several variables plotted against temperature (x-axis) and depth (y-axis)
Key for CTD Data: Temperature is in red, Salinity in blue, Fluorescence in green
On the left video display you can see that there are several variables that are plotted against a depth vs. temperature. The green line tracks fluorescence (a measure of the chlorophyll concentration); the light blue line tracks dissolved oxygen; the red line represents temperature; the blue line is for salinity.
Extension question for my students reading this: What correlations or relationships do you see happening as you observe the change in variables relative to changes in depth?
Route of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
Here is the route taken by the Reuben Lasker during the past 24 hours or so. As you can see from the chart, the ship has now reached the northern-most end of Vancouver Island. This is where the CDT recordings, marine mammal watching, deployment of two sets of plankton nets (to be explained later) and fish trawling will begin along the predetermined transect lines.
Note at the base of the screen the other parameters that are continuously recorded as the ship moves from place to place.
The action on-board is increasing dramatically today. We have arrived at our outermost destination today, along the northernmost coast of Vancouver Island. The sights from the bridge are amazing…all this blue water and rugged, pine covered coastline. I am still waiting for that orca whale sighting!
The waves are up today but I’m holding my own. Yeay! Especially as the night fishing will begin in a few hours.
Unique activity of the day – I just finished a load of laundry! The ship possesses 3 small washer/dryer units so we can redo our towels and whatever else we have used up during the course of this first week. How serviceable can you get! I’ll retrieve mine as soon as dinner is over. We have set meal hours and if you miss…it’s leftovers for you! Best part of this is I am actually ready to eat a normal meal, even with the ship rocking the way it is today.
I have now been assigned deck boots and a heavy duty set of rain gear to cover up with when the fish sorting begins. I can’t wait to see what all we pull up from these nutrient rich waters!
Did You Know?
Much of the data collected by the CTD and acoustic equipment from the Reuben Lasker is entered into a large data set managed by CalCOFI (California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation). Anyone interested in utilizing and analyzing this data can access it via the organization’s website located here. There is an incredible amount of information regarding the work and research completed by this group found on this site. Check it out!
We left port Friday evening and by 10:00pm we were fishing. We move from stations to station, often in a zig zag pattern to retrieve our samples. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the stations we will visit are randomly generated for us. I will use this post to give you an idea of what we do at each station.
CTD instrument ready for deployment
As we come upon a station, we first deploy a scientific instrument called the CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth which it measures. Additionally, this instrument measures dissolved oxygen. During day light hours, we also take additional environmental data including water color, percent cloud cover and wave height. At least once per day, we take a water sample which will be titrated using the Winkler method to double check our dissolved oxygen readings. The CTD is first calibrated at the surface for three minutes, then lowered to approximately two meters above the bottom, with a maximum depth of 200 meters. Teamwork is critical here as the officers in the bridge announce that we have arrived at a station. The Science Field Party Chief (FPC), Andre, tells the fisherman the depth andwatches the data come into a computer in the dry lab near the stern. They are all in radio communication to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Trawl headed into the water
Then the fishermen prepare to deploy a 40-foot trawl within a 2.5 mile radius of the station coordinates. Again, with communication from the fisherman, bridge and the FPC, the trawl is lowered into the ocean and moves along the bottom collecting organisms for exactly 30 minutes after which the trawl is raised and the net is brought onto the boat. The organisms caught in the net are then released into baskets,which are weighed on deck to get a total mass for the catch.
Releasing the catch
Massing the total catch
Then the fun begins! The full catch is poured out into the trough or if big enough, brought in via a conveyor belt. If the catch is 24 kg or under, we will log the entire catch.
Catch poured out into the trough
If it is over 24 kg, then we will split the catch and log a representative sample. When splitting the catch, we first place all the organisms in the trough and roughly divide the catch in half. Before we send the half that we will not log back to the ocean, we must pull out commercial species, such as shrimp and snapper, and any individual species not found in the half we will log. Then we take the half of the catch that we will log and start the sorting.
Splitting the catch
We sort all organisms that are the same species into one basket, then count and take a total mass for each species group. You can see images below of a sorted catch.
For most species, we will sample up to 20 random individuals. We record length for all 20 and then take a mass and sex every fifth organism. Logging is a bit different for shrimp, we will record length, mass and sex for all organisms up to 200 individuals. We will do the same for any other commercial species.
Measuring a fish with the Limnoterra board
We use a Limnoterra measuring board with a magnetic wand which gives an accurate length by connecting to a magnetic strip on the board. This tool saves a lot of time and allow us to get accurate measurements.
In future posts, I’ll talk more about what we are finding and learning from our data.
Trying to sex a fish which can be sometimes be challenging
I am starting to find my sea legs. The seas were a bit rough as we left port after the storm. It was touch and go for the first 24-36 hours, but with the help of Meclizine (a motion sickness medication) and sea bands (wrist bands that push on a pressure point in your wrist) I am now feeling pretty good. I’m also getting used to the constant movement of the Oregon II which makes everyday activities like walking, showering and sleeping quite interesting. When I lay down in bed and close my eyes, I can feel the troughs of the waves push me down into my mattress and then I spring up at the tops of the waves. It is very relaxing and helps lull me to sleep. When showering, I frequently need to hold on so as to not fall over. As some of you know, I have a habit of moving pretty fast around school. Often in a rush to check items off my to-do list or get to my classes. On the boat, we need to move slowly due to the constant motion. You also never know when someone is going to open a door into the hallway or come around the corner. There is not much space, so you must move slowly and cautiously.
Day shift crew from left to right: David, Tyler, Field Party Chief Andre, Sarah and Melissa
I am also getting use to the fish smell in the wet lab where I spend most of time when working. I’m on the day shift, which runs from noon to midnight. I’ve tried to soak up as much information as I can over the last couple days and have really enjoyed the learning. The hardest part for me is trying to learn scientific names for the 30-40 species we find in each catch. The Latin names go in one ear and out the other. Having never worked with fish, this part pretty challenging, but luckily Andre is very patient and always willing to answer my questions. My day-shift teammates, Tyler, David and Sarah, are terrific, keep the atmosphere fun and teach me each day. It has been really interesting to see the increase and decrease of certain species from different stations.
Melissa and Tyler measuring fish in the wet lab
Did You Know?
The Texas shrimp fishery closed on May 15, 2017 and will re-open on a yet to be determined date in July. This is what is referred to as the “Texas Closure”. The shrimp data that we are collecting will be sent to the state to help them determine the health of the fishery and when to open it back up. According to the Coastal Fisheries Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), “The closure is designed to allow escapement of shrimp out to the gulf where they can grow to a larger, more valuable size before they are vulnerable to harvest. The goal is to provide shrimp of a size that are more valuable for the shrimping industry while ensuring sustainable stocks in the future.”
A large Brown Shrimp: Penaeus aztecus
Dawson Sixth Grade Queries
How many different species did you find? (Owen, Sylvia, Tyler, Maylei, Ben)
The number of species we find varies with each trawl, but recently we have been finding about 35-40 species per trawl. The picture below show the diversity a typical catch.
What organisms other than fish did you find? (Badri, Tyler, Alexa, Lorena, Wanda)
We find many other species besides fish. Some of the more common groups of organisms we find are squid, jelly fish, shrimp, sea stars, scallops, crabs, and vacated shells. Occasionally we catch a small shark or sting ray.
Every morning when I come to start my shift, the scientists on the previous shift are in the middle of doing “DropCam’s.” The DropCam is a camera that drops down to the ocean floor and takes pictures of what is going on down there. We have been getting some amazing pictures from the DropCam. The camera goes down about 150 meters (depending on the depth of the ocean floor). Sometimes, the ocean is very sandy and has very little (that we can see) activity going on. Other times, the video feed is full of fish and other marine life. We have seen so much diversity on the ocean floor.
Since being on the Oscar Dyson, we now have seen two octopuses on the boat (well, one was on the DropCam); one was in the juvenile stage and one in the adult stage of life. I’d like to take a moment to talk about how amazing an octopus is. First of all, let’s talk about how they can change color to match their surroundings. They use special pigment cells in their skin to change colors. They have the ability to even blend into patterned rocks and corrals. When we caught the baby octopus, we saw it change its color to white to blend into the white cup we were holding it in.
An octopus can fit through spaces as small as the size of its beak (photo credit: factsandideas.com).
They are considered to be very intelligent animals. They have been known to be able to open jars, escape from enclosures, solve mazes, and squirt water at targets. They have the ability to squeeze through things that are as small as the size of their beaks. In aquariums, they have also been known to mimic (and actually learn from) other octopuses.
Even though they can get up to be 16 feet long and weigh up to 110 pounds, they only live to be about 4 years old. That is a very short lifespan. After the females lay their eggs (they lay about 100,00 eggs), they brood over them for many months. During this time, they often do not eat. She protects her eggs for 6-7 months, and then she dies shortly after they are born.
When they are looking over their eggs they do eat, they primarily eat shrimp, fish, clams, and lobsters. They have a beak-like mouth that they can use to puncture and tear fish. They have also been known to eat sharks and birds. During the first 3 months of their lives, they eat plankton. Plankton are small and microscopic organisms that drift or float in the sea. They consist of diatoms, protozoans, small crustaceans, and the eggs and larval stages of larger animals.
After the last DropCam is retrieved, a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) is usually deployed, which collects data from various depths of the oceans. The primary function of the CTD is to measure the conductivity and temperature of the water column at various depths. Conductivity is related to the salinity, or saltiness, of the water. Studying the salinity of the water is a very critical part of studying the ocean, which is made up of salt water. The conductivity, along the temperature and depth, provide scientists with profiles of various parts of the ocean.
The CTD is attached to a larger frame called a rosette. This holds various water-sampling bottles and other sensors that measure the physical and chemical properties of the water at various depths. With this information, scientists can make inferences about changes that they may be seeing in the data and this can give them a better understanding about the oceans. The data collected daily from the CTD is analyzed by Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory at the end of the survey.
Things on the boat are definitely becoming more routine. We continue to work in 12-hour shifts (mine starting at 4 am). The days consist of getting up, having coffee and a bagel, coming down to the Chem Lab to relieve the night shift, where we take over doing DropCams. After our DropCams, we get to watch the sunrise or other spectacular views.
We then will go up for breakfast at 7. I have really been enjoying having someone else (Lenette and Kimrie) not only make meals for me every day, but also do my dishes. What a luxury! After breakfast, we’ll “go fishing” and suit up to analyze the catch. (I’ll go into details about in the next blog) and then we’ll go have lunch. After lunch, we brainstorm the plans for the afternoon and take care of small projects. Before we know it, 4 pm rolls around and the next crew starts their shift.
Chief Scientist, Darin Jones, shows me how to conduct a trawl.
I make it to dinner at 5, and then I slowly make my way back to the stateroom. If it is nice out, I will go up to the bridge to look for marine animals or walk around looking at the amazing landscape. I find myself extremely tired around 7 and get ready for bed. I am usually asleep by 8. It’s “good night” and sweet dreams for me!
Despite the occasional wind, the views are breathtaking.
Did You Know?
The oldest octopus fossil is from an animal that lived 296 million years ago — millions of years before the dinosaurs lived.
Question for my class:
What is the name of this weather instrument?
This year we learned about various tools to help measure weather. I saw this on the bridge of the ship. It measures the speed and direction of the wind. Do you remember what it is called?
answer: A ___ ___ M ___ ___ E ___ ___ R
Interview with Darin Jones
Darin analyzes backscatter from a recent transect.
What role do you play on this survey?
I am the Field Party Chief which means that I am the member of the science party that is responsible for making sure as much of our original objective gets completed as possible and I also serve as the main contact between the officers that operate the ship and the science party when important decisions or changes in the plan occur.
What inspired you to pursue this as a career?
I was a contract observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service following college and dreamed about one day working directly for them. I thought that would be an awesome career and I feel lucky to have had my dreams realized.
How long have you been working in this field?
I have been in my current position for 10 years but have been in the marine biology field for the last 25 years.
What sort of training/education did you receive?
I got my Undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and a Masters of Science in Fisheries Resources. I was also an observer aboard commercial fishing vessels for 5 years which provided invaluable sea going experience and knowledge.
Are fisheries something that more people need to know about? Why?
I think fisheries and the health of the oceans is something that people should know more about because they are vital to life on land and important indicators of the status and health of our climate and planet. The oceans are the heart of the earth and drive many other processes.
What interests you most about the data collected on this survey?
The data that we collect is directly used to sustainably manage the pollock fishery so I am proud to contribute to that. It’s neat to be able to track a fish population as it grows through the years and watch how many survive from one year to the next. We are also collecting interesting data on the percentage of certain rockfish species in different types of habitat that can be used to help determine the abundance of those species.
What is the most challenging part of your job? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part of my job is being away from my family for long periods of time. Another challenging aspect is the time management of planning and executing the survey objectives in a finite amount of time. Plans have to be constantly monitored and adjusted depending on weather, equipment malfunction, and other unexpected circumstances. The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am contributing to the scientific knowledge that is helping to sustainably manage fisheries.
What words of advice do you have for my students if they want to pursue a career is biology or the sciences?
Math skills are a very important part of biology and the sciences so learn as much as you can. Also getting experiences in fields that you are interested in is very important so volunteer with organizations that interest you and unexpected opportunities will open up.
What is your favorite marine animal?
I think my favorite marine animal is the Pacific viperfish. It is a creature from the deep and has very long teeth and looks very ferocious, however they only grow to a maximum of about a foot long, but I’ve only seen specimens that were about 2 inches long. It amazes me how creatures can survive in the dark depths and immense pressures of the deep ocean.
The Pacific viperfish can be found 200-5,000 feet below the ocean surface. (photo credit: Earthguide & Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
Do you have anything else that you would like to add or share?
Do your homework and get all the extra credit that you can, kid!
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 3, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 12 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 270°W
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 Feet
Swell Wave: 1-3 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1009.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 10.2°C
Air Temperature: 11°C
Science and Technology Log
Here I am with a canister of plankton we collected from the bongo nets.
You may have begun to notice that there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each technique is used several times a day at the sampling stations. The baby bongo nets collect the same type plankton as the large bongos. The primary difference is that the samples from the baby bongos are preserved in ethanol, rather than formalin. Chief Scientist, David Richardson explained that ethanol is being used more and more as a preservative because the solution allows scientists to test specimens’ genetics. Studying the genetics of plankton samples gives researchers a greater understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity. Genetics seeks to understand the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring, including the molecular structure and function of genes, gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism, gene distribution, and variation and change in populations.
Jars and jars of plankton samples ready to be studied.
The big bongos use formalin to preserve plankton samples. Formalin has been used by scientists for decades, mainly because the preservative makes it easier for labs to study the samples. Today’s scientists continue to use formalin because it lets them compare their most recent sampling data to that from years ago. This presents a clearer picture of how marine environments have or have not changed.
Every so often, we use smaller mesh nets for the baby bongos which can catch the smallest of zooplanktons. The specimens from these special bongo nets are sent to CMarZ which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. CMarZ are scientists and students interested in zooplankton from around the world who are working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. CMarZ samples are also preserved in ethanol. The goal of this organization is to produce a global assessment of marine zooplankton biodiversity, including accurate and complete information on species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, and genetic diversity. [Source — Census of Marine Zooplankton]. Their website is incredible! They have images galleries of living plankton and new species that have been discovered by CMarZ scientists.
Another interesting project that Chief Scientist, David Richardson shared with me is the Census of Marine Life. The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted on this scale. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists found and formally described more than 1,200 new marine species. [Source —Census of Marine Life] The census has a webpage devoted to resources for educators and the public. Contents include: videos and images galleries, maps and visualizations, a global marine life database, and links to many other resources.
Plankton samples are preserved in jars with water and formalin.
It is incredibly important that we have institutes like CMarZ, the Census of Marin Life, and the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where samples from our EcoMon Survey are sent. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. At the lab in Poland, scientists remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens are sent back to U.S. where the data is entered into models. The information is used to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. The organization provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. [Source —NOAA Fisheries]
Vertical CTD Cast
In addition to collecting plankton samples, we periodically conduct vertical CTD casts. This is a standard oceanographic sampling technique that tells scientists about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and other biological and chemical parameters.
The CTD’s Niskin bottles trap water at different depths in the ocean for a wide-range of data.
The instrument is a cluster of sensors which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure. Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal or resin housing, the material used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
Here’s how a vertical CTD cast works. First, the scientists select a location of interest (one of the stations for the leg of the survey). The ship travels to that position and stays as close to the same spot as possible depending on the weather as the CTD rosette is lowered through the water, usually to within a few meters of the bottom, then raised back to the ship. By lowering the CTD close to the bottom, then moving the ship while cycling the package up and down only through the bottom few hundred meters, a far greater density of data can be obtained. This technique was dubbed a CTD cast and has proven to be an efficient and effective method for mapping and sampling hydrothermal plumes. [Source —NOAA]
Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon helps recover the CTD.
During the vertical CTD cast, I am in charge of collecting water samples from specified Niskin bottles on the rosette. The Niskin bottles collected water at different levels: surface water, maximum depth, and the chlorophyll maximum where the greatest amount of plankton are usually found. I take the collected seawater to the lab where a mechanism filters the water, leaving only the remainder plankton. The plankton from the water contains chlorophyll which a lab back on land tests to determine the amount of chlorophyll at different water depths. This gives researchers insight about the marine environment in certain geographic locations at certain times of the year.
Meet the Science Party
Meet Chief Scientist, David Richardson!
David Richardson planning our cruise with Operations Officer, Libby Mackie.
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Chief Scientist for this 10 day cruise. A large part of the Chief Scientist’s role is to prioritize the research that will happen on a cruise within the designated time period. Adverse weather, mechanical difficulties, and many other factors can alter the original plans for a cruise requiring that decisions be made about what can be accomplished and what is a lower priority. One part of doing this effectively is to ensure that there is good communication among the different people working on the ship.
What is your educational/working background?I went to college at Cornell University with a major in Natural Resources. After that I had a number of different jobs before enrolling in Graduate School at the University of Miami. For my graduate research I focused on the spawning environment of sailfish and marlin in the Straits of Florida. I then came up to Rhode Island in 2008, and for the last 10 years have been working as a Fisheries Biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
What is the general purpose of the EcoMon Survey? The goal of the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) surveys is to collect oceanographic measurements and information on the distribution and abundance of lower trophic level species including zooplankton. The collections also include fish eggs and larvae which can be used to evaluate where and when fish are spawning. Over the years additional measurements and collections have been included on the EcoMon surveys to more fully utilize ship time. Seabirds and Marine Mammals are being identified and counted on our ship transits, phytoplankton is also being imaged during the cruise. Finally, the EcoMon cruises serve as a means to monitor ocean acidification off the northeast United States.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy pursuing scientific studies in which I can integrate field work, lab work and analytical work. As I have progressed in my career the balance of the work I do has shifted much more towards computer driven analysis and writing. These days, I really enjoy time spent in the lab or the field.
What is most challenging about your job?I imagine the challenge I face is the similar to what many scientists face. There are many possible scientific studies we can do in our region that affect the scientific advise used to manage fisheries. The challenge is prioritizing and making time for those studies that are most important, while deprioritizing some personally interesting work that may be less critical.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?By the end of high school I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in science. Early in college I settled on the idea of pursuing marine science and ecology, but it was not until the end of college that I decided I wanted to focus my work on issues related to fish and fisheries.
What is your favorite marine animal? Sailfish, which I did much of my graduate work on, remains one of my favorite marine animals. I have worked on them at all life stages from capturing the early life stages smaller than an inch to tagging the adults. They are really fascinating and beautiful animals to see. However, now that I live in Rhode Island I have little opportunity to work on sailfish which tend to occupy more southern waters.
In terms of local animals, one of my favorites is sand lance which can be found very near to shore throughout New England. These small fish are a critical part of the food web, and also have a really unique behavior of burying in the sand when disturbed, or even for extended periods over the course of the year. In many respects sand lance have received far less scientific attention than they deserve in our region.
Meet CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis!
CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? CTD Specialist which means I install, maintain, and operate the CTD. The CTD is an electronic oceanographic instrument. We have two versions of the CTD on board the ship. We have larger instrument with a lot more sensors on it. It has water bottles called Niskin water samplers, and they collect water samples that we use on the ship to run tests.
How long have you been working at sea? I worked for six months at sea when I was in college for NOAA Fisheries on the Georges Bank. That was 30 years ago.
What is your educational background? I have a Marine Science degree with a concentration in Biology.
What is your favorite part about your work? I definitely love going out to sea and being on the ship with my co-workers. I also get to meet a lot of new people with what I do.
What is most challenging about your work? My instruments are electronic, and we are always near the sea which can cause corrosion and malfunctions. When things go wrong you have to troubleshoot. Sometimes it is an easy fix and sometimes you have to call the Electronic Technician for support.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite animal is when we bring up the plankton nets and we catch sea angels or sea butterflies. They are tiny, swimming sea slugs that look gummy and glow fluorescent orange.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis!
Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am on the science team. I am an avian and marine mammal observer.
What is your educational/working background? I have a bachelor’s in science. I have spent much of my 20-year career doing field work with birds and marine mammals all around the world.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes. I have put in about 8,000 hours at sea. Going out to sea is a real adventure, but you are always on duty or on call. It’s exciting, but at the same time there are responsibilities. Spending time at sea is really special work.
What is most challenging about your work? Keeping your focus at times. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle as an animal observer. You have to provide as much data to the project as you can.
Where do you do most of your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?I am going to be up on the bridge level where the crew who pilots the vessel resides or above that which is called the flying bridge. On Gordon Gunter that is 13.7 meters above sea level which is a good vantage point to see birds and marine mammals.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? My binoculars. It is always around my neck. It is an eight power magnification and it helps me identify the birds and sea life that I see from the flying bridge. I also have to record my information in the computer immediately after I see them, so the software knows the exact place and time I saw each animal.
What is your favorite bird? Albatrosses are my favorite birds. The largest albatross is called a Wandering/Snowy Albatross. The Snowy Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird and its the longest lived bird. This bird mates for life and raises one chick every 3-5 years which they care for much like people care for their own babies.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny!
Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? Primary seabird/marine mammal observer.
What is your educational background?I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Biology from the University of New England in Maine.
What has been your best working experience? That’s a tough one because I have had so many different experiences where I have learned a lot over the years. I have been doing field work for the past 11 years. Each has taught me something that has led me to the next position. The job I cherish the most is the trip I took down to Antarctica on a research cruise for six weeks. That was an amazing experience and something I would advocate for people to see for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being a bird/marine mammal observer? The excitement of never knowing what you are going to see next. Things can pop up anywhere. You get to ask the questions of, “how did this animal get here,” “why is this animal here,” and correlate that to different environmental conditions.
What is most challenging about your work? You are looking at birds from a distance and you are not always able to get a positive ID. Sometimes you’re just not seeing enough detail or it disappears out of view from your binoculars as it moves behind a wave or dives down into the water. For marine mammals all you see is the blow and that’s it. So, it is a little frustrating not being able to get an ID on everything, but you do the best you can.
What is your favorite bird? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I have a favorite order of bird. It’s the Procellariiformes which are the tube-nosed birds. This includes albatross, shearwater, storm petrels, and the fulmars.
Meet Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon!
Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a student volunteer. I help deploy the equipment and collect the samples.
Do you have much experience working at sea? This is my second 10-day trip. I did the second leg of the EcoMon Survey last year as well.
What is your educational background? I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maine where I am studying ocean currents and how water moves. I also have my master’s degree in Marine Science, and my undergraduate degree is in Physics.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science? I have always wanted to study the oceans. I think I was at least in first grade when I was telling people I wanted to be a marine scientist.
What do you enjoy most about your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My favorite thing is being at sea, working hard, and enjoying the ocean.
Where will you be doing most of your work? Most of the work is going to be working with the equipment deploying. I will be on the aft end of the ship.
What is your favorite marine animal? Humpback whale, but it is really hard to pick just one.
Meet Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz!
Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a volunteer. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Marine Science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. My graduate work is in Fisheries Research.
Where will you be doing most of your work on the ship?I will be doing the night shift. That is from midnight to noon every day. I will be doing the nutrients test which helps the scientists figure out what is in the water that might attract different creatures.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes, actually. When I was 19, I spent two weeks on a similar trip off the coast of Oregon. We were looking for Humboldt Squid. I also worked on the university’s research vessel as a crew member on one of their ocean trawl surveys.
What are your hobbies? I love being outside. I enjoy hiking and being on the water sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Humboldt Squid.
Meet Survey Tech, Maira Gomes!
Survey Tech, Maira Gomes
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My position on Gordon Gunter is a volunteer. I got this opportunity from Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) where I have recently just graduated in January 2017 with my associates in Liberal Arts. Professor McNamara (Marianne McNamara) one of my professors at SCCC, forwarded me the email that was sent from Harvey Walsh looking for volunteers to work on Gordon Gunter for the Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. They had Leg 1 which was May 16th May -May 26th and Leg 2 May 29th-June 7th. I never had been out to sea! I got super excited and signed up for both legs!
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the ship I do mostly taking care of the Bongo Nets, CTD, and CTD Rosette. With the Bongo baby and large nets I help the crew to hook them up on a cable to set out to the ocean to retrieve the data from the CTD and all kinds of plankton that get caught in the nets. Once it comes back to the boat we hose the nets down and collect all the plankton and put them in jars filled with chemicals to preserve them so we can send them back to different labs. The Rosette is my favorite! We send out the Rosette with 12 Niskin bottles empty into the water. They come back up filled with water. We use this machine to collect data for nutrients, Chlorophyll, and certain types of Carbon. We run tests in the dry lab and preserve the samples to be shipped out to other labs for more tests.
What is your educational/working background? I just finished my associates in Liberal Arts at SCCC in January. In the Fall 2017 I will be attending University of New Haven as a junior working towards my bachelor degree in their Marine Affairs Program.
Have you had much experience at sea? Nope, zero experience out at sea! Which was one of the reasons why I was kind of nervous after I realized I signed up for both legs of the trip. I am glad I did. I am gaining so much experience on this trip!
What do you enjoy most about your work? It would be the experience I am gaining and the amazing views of the ocean!
What is most challenging about your job? The most challenging part of working on the ship would be the one-hour gap between some of the stations we encounter on our watch. It is not enough time to take a nap but enough time to get some reading in. It can be kind of hard to stay awake.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Tool I could not live without working on the ship would probably be the chart that has all our stations located.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career? Ha! This is a great question! So it all started, as I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. Once I was in fifth grade my teacher inspired me to be a teacher like herself, a Special Education teacher. I felt strongly with wanting to pursue a career in that field. It was not until my second year in college when I had to take a Lab course to fulfill my requirements for the lab credits, that I took a Marine Biology Lab. Once I was influenced and aware of this side of the world more in depth, I had a change of heart. Not only that but my professor, Professor Lynch (Pamala Lynch) also influenced me on changing my major to Marine Biology. I knew from the start I always wanted to be involved with animals but never knew exactly how, but once I took her class I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. With that being said, my goal is to be able to work with sharks someday and help to protect them and teach everyone the real truth behind their way of life and prove you cannot always believe what you see on TV.
What are your hobbies? I really love to line dance! I line dance about at least three times a week! I absolutely love it! I have made so many friends and learned so many really cool dances! I have been doing it about two years and through the experience of getting out of my shell I gain a whole new family from the country scene back at home! I also, love catching UFC fights on TV with my friends!
What is your favorite marine animal? I have multiple favorite marine animals. My top two picks would be sharks and sea turtles!
The Work Continues (Thursday, June 1)
After lunch the fog began to dissipate, letting in rays of sunshine. I could see the horizon once again! You do not realize the benefits of visibility until it is gone. Yet, even with the ability to see all of my surroundings, my eyes were met with same object in every direction—water! Despite the fact that the ocean consists of wave swells, ripples, and beautiful hues of blue, I longed to see something new. Finally, I spotted something on the horizon. In the distance, I could faintly make out the silhouette of two fishing boats. I was relieved to set eyes on these vessels. It might not seem like anything special to most people but when you are more than 100 miles from land, it is a relief to know that you are not alone.
Work during my shift is a distraction from the isolation I sometimes feel out at sea. When it is time for a bongo or CTD station, my mind becomes preoccupied with the process. My brain blocks all worries during those 30 minutes. Nonetheless, as quickly as a station begins, it ends even faster. Then we are left waiting for the next station which sometimes is only 20 minutes and other times is more than two hours away. The waiting is not so bad. In between stations I am able to speak with crew members and the science team on a variety of issues: research, ship operations, and life back on land. Every person on board Gordon Gunter is an expert at what they do. They take their work very seriously, and do it exceptionally well. Still, we like a good laugh every now and then.
TGIF! (Friday, June 2)
Members of the Science Party stay busy collecting samples from the bongo nets.
At home, Friday means it is practically the weekend! The weekend is when I get to spend time with family, run errands, go shopping, or just hang around the house. For those who work at sea like NOAA Corps and NOAA scientists, the weekend is just like any other day. The crew works diligently day and night, during holidays, and yes, on the weekends. I can tell from first-hand experience that all personnel on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter are dedicated and high-spirited people. Even when the weather is clear and sunny like it was today, they continue their duties work without wavering. NOAA crew are much like the waves of the sea. The waves in the Northeast Atlantic are relentless. They don’t quit—no matter the conditions. Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion [Source —NOAA]. NOAA crew also have an energy passing through them. Whether it be the science, life at sea, adventure, love for their trade, or obligations back home, personnel aboard Gordon Gunter do not stop.
Today, we left Georges Bank and entered the Gulf of Maine where we will stay for the remainder of the cruise. The seabird and marine mammal observers had a productive day spotting a variety of wildlife. There have been sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Ocean Sunfish, and Right Whales to name a few. Even though I did not get photographs of all that was seen, I am optimistic about observing new and exciting marine wildlife in the days to come.
Cod (Gadus morhua)
Flounder (Paralichthys dentatus)
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)
Comb Jellies (Ctenophora)
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)
Pilot Whale (Globicephala)
Plankton: the passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water
Phytoplankton: planktonic plant life
Zooplankton: plankton composed of animals
Larval Fish: part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton. Larval fish are themselves eaten by larger animals
Crustacean: any of a large group of mostly water animals (as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps) with a body made of segments, a tough outer shell, two pairs of antennae, and limbs that are jointed
Biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
Genetics: the scientific study of how genes control the characteristics of plants and animals
Did You Know?
Phytoplankton samples from the bongo nets.
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton use sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71% of the Earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic organisms also cycle most of the Earth’s carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. [Source — National Geographic].
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 1, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Patchy Fog
Visibility: 2-5 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 215°SW
Wind Speed: 6 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 Feet
Swell Wave: 2-5 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1012.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 11.2°C
Air Temperature: 11.2°C
Science and Technology Log
Approximate location of our first oceanography station [Source — Marine Traffic]
The J-Frame is used to deploy equipment into the water.
En route to our first oceanography station just past Nantucket, Electronics Technician Tony VanCampen and my fellow day watch scientist Leann Conlon gave me an overview on how each sampling is conducted. This is where the pieces of equipment I described in my previous blog post (bongo nets and CTD) come into play.
Science is very much a team effort. I learned that a deck crew will be in charge of maneuvering the winch and the J-frame. Attached to the cable will be the bongo nets and the CTD which are carefully lowered into the ocean.
Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton and other samples from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. At each station the bongo will be sent down to within 5 meters of the bottom or no more than 200 meters. After the bongo has reached its maximum depth for a particular station, the net is methodically brought back to the surface—all the while collecting plankton and sometimes other small organisms like tiny shrimp. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the bongo nets to be cast out and returned on board with the samples.
Here I am in my gear preparing to launch the first bongo nets.
Once the bongo nets have returned from the water to the aft (back) deck, our work begins. As a part of the Science Party, it is my job to rinse the entire sample into containers, place the plankton into jars, add formalin to jars that came from the big bongos and ethanol to jars that came from the small bongos. These substances help preserve the specimens for further analysis.
At the conclusion of the cruise, our plankton samples will be sent to the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where scientists and lab crew sort and identify the plankton samples which gives NOAA scientist an idea of the marine environment in the areas in which we collected samples.
Our Chief Scientist is David Richardson. Dave has been with NOAA since 2008. He keeps track of the digits on the flowmeter (resembles a small propeller) inside the bongo. The beginning and ending numbers are input into the computer which factors in the ship’s towing speed to give us the total volume of water sampled and the distance the bongo net traveled.
CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth)
At various oceanography stations we perform a CTD cast which determines the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean. The CTD is attached to the bongo nets or the CTD is mounted within a frame, which also holds several bottles for sampling seawater along with a mechanism that allows scientists on board the ship to control when individual bottles are closed. The CTD is connected to the ship by means of a conducting cable and data are sent electronically through this cable, in real-time, to the scientists on the ship. The scientists closely monitor the data, looking for temperature and particle anomalies that identify hydrothermal plumes. As the CTD is sinking to the desired depth (usually 5-10 meters from the bottom), the device measures the ocean’s density, chlorophyll presence, salinity (the amount of salt in the water), temperature, and several other variables. The CTD’s computer system is able to determine the depth of the water by measuring the atmospheric pressure as the device descends from the surface by a certain number of meters. There is a great deal scientists can learn from launching a CTD in the sea. The data tells us about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and more. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
The highlighted lines are stations completed in the first leg. The circle indicates the stations for my leg of the survey.
It is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who operate the ship. For instance, NOAA officers inform the scientists about the expected time of arrival for each station and scientists will often call the bridge to inquire about Gordon Gunter’s current speed and the weather conditions. Even computer programs are connected and shared between NOAA Corps crew and the scientists. There is a navigation chart on the monitor in the bridge which is also displayed in the science lab so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. The bridge must always approve the deployments and recovery of all equipment. There are closed circuit video cameras in various places around the ship that can be viewed on any of the monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. Everyone on Gordon Gunter is very much in sync.
First Day at Sea (Tuesday, May 30)
Today, my shift began at 12 noon. It probably was not the best idea to have awakened at 6:00 a.m., but I am not yet adjusted to my new work schedule and I did not want to miss one of Margaret’s hearty breakfasts.
We cast out from the Naval Station Newport mid-morning. It was a clearer and warmer day compared to the day before—perfect for capturing pictures of the scenic harbor. I spent much of the morning videoing, photographing, and listening to the sounds of waves as they moved around the ship. I like to spend a lot of time on the bow as well as the flying bridge (the area at the top of the ship above the bridge where the captain operates the vessel). Before lunch, I was beginning to feel a little sea sick from the gentle swaying of the ship. I could only hope that I would find my sea legs during my first watch.
Gordon Gunter gracefully made its way alongside Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—two islands off the coast of Cape Cod. Standing on the flying bridge and looking out at the horizon alleviated my sea sickness. At this position I was able to observe and photograph an abundance of wildlife. Seeing the sea birds in their natural habitat is a reminder that I am just a visitor on this vast ocean which so many animals call home. Watching birds fly seamlessly above the waves and rest atop the water gives me a yearning to discover all I can about this unique ecosystem and ways in which we can protect it.
Scroll around the video to see the view from the ship’s bow in all 360-degrees.
The phrase, “to find one’s sea legs” has a meaning much deeper than freedom from seasickness. Finding your sea legs is the ability to adjust to a new situation or difficult conditions. Everything on board Gordon Gunter was new and sometimes difficult for me. Luckily, I have help from the best group of scientists and NOAA Corps crew a Teacher at Sea could ask for.
At 8:00 p.m. I was part of the leg’s first oceanography station operation. I watched closely as the bongo nets were tied tightly at the end then raised into the air by the winch and J-Frame for deployments into the sea. While the bongo nets and CTD were sinking port side, I looked out at the horizon and much to my amazement, saw two humpback whales surfacing to the water. The mist from their blows lingered even after they descended into the water’s depths.
Once the bongo nets where recovered from the ocean, the crew and I worked quickly but with poise. We used a hose to spray the nets so that all the plankton would reach the bottom of the net when we dumped them into a container. I observed fellow scientist Leann pour each bongo’s sample into a jar, which she filled with water and then a small portion of formalin to preserve the samples. It began and was over so quickly that what took about an hour felt like ten minutes.
An hour later we reached our second station, and this time I was ready! Instead of mostly observing as I did during the first time, this time I was an active participant. Yes, I have a lot left to learn, but after my first day at sea and three stations under my belt, I feel like my sea legs are growing stronger.
Scroll around the 360-degree video to see the Science Party retrieve samples from bongo nets.
Becoming a Scientist (Wednesday, May 31)
I am not yet used to working until midnight. After all, the school where I teach dismisses students by 3:30 p.m. when the sun is still shining. Not to worry, I will adjust. It is actually exciting having a new schedule. I get to experience deploying the CTD and bongo nets during day light hours and a night time. The ocean is as mysterious as it is wide no matter the time of day.
You never quite know what the weather is going to be from one day to the next out at sea. Since my arrival at the ship in Newport, Rhode Island I have experiences overcast skies, sunshine, rain, and now dense fog. But that’s not all! The forecast expects a cold front will approach from the northwest Friday. Today’s fog made it difficult for the animal observers to spot many birds of whales in the area. Despite low visibility, there is still a lot to do on the ship. After our first bongo station in the early afternoon, we had a fire and abandon ship drills. Carrying out of these drills make all passengers acquainted with various procedures to be followed during emergency situations.
I thoroughly enjoy doing the work at each station. Our sampling is interesting, meaningful, and keeps my mind off being sea sick. So far, I am doing much better than expected. The excitement generated by the science team is contagious. I now long for the ship to reach each oceanography station so I can help with the research.
Approximate position of our last station on May 31 in Georges Bank.
So far the animals seen have been mostly birds. I am grateful to the mammal and seabird observers, Glen Davis and Nicholas Metheny. These two are experts in their field and can ID a bird from a kilometer away with long distance viewing binoculars.
Glen and Nicholas on the lookout.
[Source — Merriam-Webster Dictionary]
Barometer: an instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere and hence for assisting in forecasting weather and for determining altitude.
Altimeter: an instrument for measuring altitude; especially an aneroid barometer designed to register changes in atmospheric pressure accompanying changes in altitude.
Flowmeter: an instrument for measuring one or more properties (such as velocity or pressure) of a flow (as of a liquid in a pipe).
Salinity: consisting of or containing salt.
Conductivity: the quality or power of conducting or transmitting.
Chlorophyll Maximum: a subsurface maximum in the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean or a lake which is where you usually find an abundance of phytoplankton.
Ethanol: a colorless flammable easily evaporated liquid that is used to dissolve things
Formalin: a clear, water like solution of formaldehyde and methanol used especially as a preservative.
Did You Know?
The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet. The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench. Challenger Deep is approximately 36,200 feet deep. It is named after the HMS Challenger, whose crew first sounded the depths of the trench in 1875. [Source — NOAA Official Website].