NOAA Ship Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish located on the U.S. continental shelf and shelf-edge of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from April 19 through June 22, 2022 (we are doing the last leg of the survey). 536 sites have been selected to be sampled with Spherical/Satellite array, bandit reels, and CTD during daylight hours and mapping at night.
CTD casts will be conducted twice a day. CTD stands for conductivity (ability to pass an electrical current), temperature, and depth and it is an instrument that measures just that. The CTD is the key to understanding the physics, chemistry, and biology of the water column. The CTD will also collect water for eDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling. Organisms leave traces of their DNA in their environment (e.g. hair, skin, feces) and from that, scientists can run genetic tests to determine what species are present in a given area.
Camera operations will utilize three Spherical/Satellite camera arrays. The cameras are baited and sit on the seafloor for 30 minutes. During the soak, the cameras capture footage of the biodiversity. Scientists use the footage to complete a stock assessment analysis. That data combined with other research helps scientists estimate the abundance of fish populations.
Bandit reels (basically industrial fishing poles) are deployed after cameras are retrieved. The bandit reels are set up like longlines. The line sits vertically in the water column. When the weighed end of the line reaches the bottom, a surface float is attached to the line. Ten baited hooks are evenly spaced on the bottom 20-30 ft. of the line. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species will have otoliths (ear bones) and gonads collected for age and reproductive research.
Bathymetric mapping (basically 3D mapping of the seafloor) will be conducted in and around selected sites at night with the EM 2040 sonar. Sonar emits sound pulses and detects their return after being reflected. Science is cool. A CTD cast will be conducted to obtain speed-of-sound for proper processing of data.
I was dropped off at my hotel at around 8 PM on Tuesday and could see the ship from the road. It sinks in. (NOT THE SHIP! – This had me laughing out loud.) This is actually happening. Suddenly there’s no time for checking in; I headed straight to the wharf, luggage in tow. Completely awestruck, like a giddy school girl, I proceed to walk up and down the length of the boat numerous times taking an embarrassing number of photos. The crew is just staring at me, I’m sure getting a kick out of this crazy tourist. A lovely gentleman (also geeked about the boat) leaned in, “cool boat, huh?”… I’M GOING ON THAT BOAT THURSDAY. Good lord, Jordan, be cool. I basically screamed in his face. He was the sweetest, and a teacher himself. “I know the trip is going to be everything you wanted.” I melt. Gee thanks, Pat.
Our departure was delayed a few hours, which gave me some time settle in and awkwardly roam the ship. This thing is massive (compared to what I know). I believe it has seven levels. My attempts to open and close doors quickly became a comedy act for any spectators. I was introduced to my roommates at 6 AM. Ain’t nobody trying to chit-chat at 6 AM. I share a stateroom with Amanda Ravas, NOAA Fisheries Biologist, and Caroline Hornfeck, graduate student at the University of West Florida. Caroline is collecting water for eDNA sampling. They are around my age (or at least I’d like to think so), and have been so kind and helpful. It is their first time on Pisces as well, but each are experienced and very knowledgeable. They’ve made me feel right at home, and I feel are going to be a major part of my experience out at sea. Women in science – go team!
Operations Officer (NOAA Corps), LT Christopher Duffy, was so kind as to take me under his wing and invite me to the bridge (control room) to observe departure. This was so cool. Navigation is quite the operation. I guess now that I’ve seen it, duh, this boat is massive and the port was so busy with vessels of all sizes. Seven NOAA officers worked together to get us underway safely. Lots of standing on watch and communication involved. They were constantly shouting commands and numbers, and repeating. All confirmed communication was acknowledged with a “very well.” I found this amusing. One of my favorite lines heard while observing was, “There’s a pleasure boat on the port quarter.” “Very well.”
I will now start saying “very well” in my everyday life.
Last mention for now – I haven’t been seasick (so far)! Those that know me well know that is a major accomplishment for me. (As if I had say in the matter).
I am so happy to be here and to have the opportunity to learn from all of the crew (in every department). I am already so impressed by each of them.
Did You Know?
Well most of us do know that water and electricity make a dangerous pair; but, did you know that it’s not water itself that conducts the electricity? It’s the minerals and such dissolved in it. The saltier the water, the more electricity it conducts. Pure water is actually an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity, but you will never find pure water in nature. Whoa. I went down a rabbit hole with conductivity.
Also random, but kind of fun, the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program started in 1990, the year I was born. NOAA Ship Pisces was commissioned in 2009, the year I graduated high school.
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently
sampling in Prince William Sound
Date: September 12, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time: 0830 Latitude: 60º16.073’ N Longitude: 147º59.608’W Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30 Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF) Air Pressure: 1003 millibars Cloudy, light drizzle
Science and Technology Log
There is a tool
for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA). As we sorted, shuffled and assembled
equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other
equipment needed for the different science research being performed as
part of the LTER program.
There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal. Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use. Logistics is an important part of any research mission.
Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function. The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).
One of the most
complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the
CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the
computers in the lab for real-time data communication. A CTD, which stands for conductivity,
temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the
salinity and water temperature at different depths. The CTD is actually only a small portion of
the device shown below.
The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth. These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients. As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode. Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!
shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring
On the bottom
of the CTD, there are several important sensors. One is for nitrates and another for dissolved
oxygen. Additionally, there is a laser
that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton. Much of this data is being fed to the
computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the
end of the cruise.
A big decision
had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th. A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with
30+ knot winds and high seas. After
several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was
determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and
head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the
After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay. This station is used to test the CTD before heading out. Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches. For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly. Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.
There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders. Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day. I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.
Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment. The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay. Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions. I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way. I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.
safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship. Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the
rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax
along with a tour of the ship. We ended
on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case
of a ship evacuation.
Adjusting to a
night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges. Usually we work the first night but we had a
break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime
sampling until Thursday night. Everyone
on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock. My plan was to stay up as late as possible
and then rise early. Last night however,
between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during
our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well. Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can
wake refreshed for our first night shift.
When I awoke
this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island
passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of
collection. I was able to watch the
first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira
Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge
where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway. I will share details of these experiences in
the coming days.
For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.
Did You Know:
There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton. To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets. As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.
We entered Canadian waters up north in the Gulf of Maine, and sure enough, the waters are cooler, the sea choppier, and the wind gustier than before. And the organisms are beginning to show a difference too. Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh showed me a much longer arrow worm (Chaetognatha) from the plankton samples than we had encountered before (see photo below). And there are more krill (small planktonic crustaceans) now.
far in my blogs, I have focused on sampling of biological organisms like
plankton. But recall that in an
ecosystem monitoring survey like ours, we need to measure the abiotic
(non-biological) aspects too because the word Ecosystem covers a community of
organisms along with their biotic and abiotic environment.
today’s blog, I will highlight the ways various important abiotic components
are measured. You will learn about the
interdisciplinary nature of science.
(Feel free to pass this blog on to physics, chemistry, and engineering
majors you know—it may open up some career paths they may not have explored!). I will come back to biotic factors in my next
blog (seabirds and marine mammals!).
The CTD is a device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. We lower a heavy contraption called a Rosette (named due to its shape, see photo below) into the water. It has bottles called Niskin bottles that can be activated from a computer to open at specific depths and collect water samples. Water samples are collected from various depths. Electrical conductivity measurements give an idea of salinity in the water, and that in turn with water temperature determines water density. The density of water has important implications for ocean circulation and therefore global climate. In addition, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is also measured in labs later to give an idea of acidity across the depths. The increased CO2 in the air in recent decades has in turn increased the ocean’s acidity to the point that many shelled organisms are not able to make healthy shells anymore. (CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid). Addressing the issue of increasing ocean acidity and the resulting mass extinction of shell-building organisms has become a pressing subject of study. See the photos below of CTD being deployed and the real-time data on salinity and temperature transmitted by the CTD during my voyage.
The ship is equipped with a highly sensitive sonar device called EK-80 that was designed to detect schools of fish in the water. (See photo of it attached to the hull of our ship, below). It works by sending sound waves into the water. They bounce off objects and return. The device detects these echos and generates an image. It also reflects off the sea bottom, thus giving the depth of the water. See below an impressive image generated by our EK-80, provided kindly to me by our amicable Electronics Technician, Stephen.
The Acoustic Doppler
Current Profiler (ADCP)
use this instrument to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water
column. An ADCP is attached to the bottom of our ship (see photo below) to take
constant current measurements as we move.
How does it work? The ADCP measures water currents with sound, using a
principle of sound waves called the Doppler effect. A sound wave has a higher frequency as it
approaches you than when it moves away. You hear the Doppler effect in action
when a car speeds past with a building of sound that fades when the car passes.
The ADCP works by transmitting “pings” of sound at a constant
frequency into the water. (The pings are inaudible to humans and marine
mammals.) As the sound waves travel, they bounce off particles suspended in the
moving water, and reflect back to the instrument. Due to the Doppler effect,
sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a
slightly lowered frequency when they return. Particles moving toward the
instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency
between the waves the profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called
the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the
particle and the water around it are moving. (From whoi.edu)
The University of Hawaii monitors ocean currents data from ADCPs mounted in various NOAA ships to understand global current patterns and their changes.
Hyperpro is short for Hyperspectral profiler, a device that ground truths what satellites in outer space are detecting in terms of light reflectivity from the ocean. What reflects from the water indicates what’s in the water. Human eyes see blue waters when there isn’t much colloidal (particulate) suspensions, green when there is algae, and brown when there is dirt suspended in the water. But a hyperpro detects a lot more light wavelengths than the human eye can. It also compares data from satellites with what’s locally measured while actually in the water, and therefore helps scientists calibrate the satellite data for accuracy and reliability. After all, satellites process light that has traversed through layers of atmosphere in addition to the ocean, whereas the hyperpro is actually there.
Three enterprising undergraduate volunteers.
Volunteers get free room and board in the ship in addition to invaluable, potentially career–making experience.
David Bianco-Caron is doing his B.A. in Marine Science from Boston University (BU). His undergraduate research project at the Finnerty Lab in BU involves a comb-jelly (Ctenophore) native to the West Atlantic but which has become an introduced exotic in the East Atlantic. David studies a cnidarian parasite of the comb-jelly in an attempt to outline factors that could limit the comb-jelly. The project has implications in possible biological control.
Jessica Lindsay finishes a B.S. in Marine Biology later this
year and plans to get her Small Vessels operating license next year. This is her 2nd year volunteering
in a NOAA ship. She received a NOAA
Hollings Scholarship which provides up to $9500 for two years (https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship). It
entailed 10 weeks of summer research in a lab.
She studies how ocean acidification affects shelf clams.
Jonathan Maurer is a University of Maine senior working on a B.S. in Climate Science. He studies stable isotopes of oxygen in ocean waters to understand ocean circulation. The project has implications on how oceanic upwelling has been affected by climate change. He intends to go to graduate school to study glaciers and ocean atmosphere interactions.
See my previous blog for information on how to become a volunteer aboard a NOAA research ship.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden. Claire’s smiling face and friendly personality lights up the ship every day.
Claire is a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps:
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is made up of 321 professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. Learn more: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps
Q. Thanks for your time,
Claire. You’re the XO of this ship. What
exactly is your role?
A. The Executive Officer is
basically the administrator on board. We
help with staffing, we manage all the crew, we have a million dollar budget for
this ship every year that we have to manage.
Everything from food to charts to publications, all these get managed by
one central budget. I’m kind of the paper work person on board.
Q. What’s your background?
A. I have a marine biology
degree from Florida Tech. I’ve done marine mammal work most of my career. I joined
NOAA in 2007, before that I was a biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife
Q. I heard you have done
necropsies of marine mammals?
A. I was a manatee biologist
for FFW for 3 years, we also dealt with lots of whales and dolphins that washed
up on shore. I’ve also done marine mammal work in my NOAA career. Worked with Southwest Fisheries Science
Center on Grey Whales and dolphins, and worked with Right Whale management with
the maritime industry and the coast guard.
Q. About a 100 college students,
maybe even more are following my blog now.
What’s your advice to them, for someone interested in marine biology/NOAA
Corps, what should they be doing at this stage?
A. Great question. Volunteer!
Find all the opportunities you can to volunteer, even if it’s unpaid. Getting your face out there, letting people
see how good a worker you are, how interested and willing you are, sometimes
you will be there right when there is a job opening. Even if it seems like a
menial task, just volunteer, get that experience.
Q. NOAA accepts volunteers
for ships every summer?
A. Yes, ecomonitoring and
other programs takes students out for 2-3 weeks, but there are other
opportunities like the local zoo. Even
stuff that isn’t related to what you’re doing. Getting that work experience is
Q. What’s the most
challenging part of your job as an XO in a ship like this?
A. Living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean can be challenging for people working together harmoniously. Just making sure everyone is happy and content and getting fulfillment for their job.
At the end of the interview, Claire handed me a stack of brochures describing the NOAA Corps and how you can become part of it. Please stop by my office (Math-Science 222) for a copy.
The seas have become
decidedly choppier the past few days.
It’s a challenge to stay on your feet!
The decks lurch unexpectedly.
Things get tossed around if not properly anchored. I have fallen just once (touchwood!) and was
lucky to get away with just a scratch.
I’ve had to take photo backups of my precious field notes lest they get
blown away. They came close to that once
The ship has a mini library with a decent collection of novels and magazines plus a lounge (with the ubiquitous snacks!). I found a copy of John Grisham’s The Whistler, and this has become my daily bed time reading book.
Interesting animals seen lately
I started this blog with a photo of an exceptionally long arrow worm. The cold waters have brought some other welcome creatures. I created a virtual stampede yesterday in the flying bridge when I yelled Holy Mola! Everyone made a mad dash to my side to look over the railings at a spectacular Ocean Sunfish (Molamola) floating by. The name Mola comes from the Latin word meaning millstone, owing to its resemblance to a large flat and round rock. I have been looking for this animal for days! Measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing between 250 and 1000 kg, this is the heaviest bony fish in the world. The fish we saw was calmly floating flat on the surface, lazily waving a massive fin at us as though saying good bye. It was obviously basking. Since it is often infested with parasites like worms, basking helps it attract birds that prey on the worms.
Another animal that almost always creates a stir is the dolphin. Schools of dolphins (of up to 3 species) never cease to amuse us. They show up unexpectedly and swim at top speed, arcing in and out of the water, often riding our bow. Sometimes, flocks of shearwaters circling around a spot alert us to potential dolphin congregations. Dolphins drive fish to the surface that are then preyed upon by these birds. My colleague Allison Black captured this wonderful photo of Common Dolphins frolicking by our ship in perfect golden evening light.
Did You Know?
(Ocean Sunfish) are among the most prolific vertebrates on earth, with females
producing up to 300,000,000 eggs at a time (oceansunfish.org).
NOAA does multiple concurrent missions, some focused on fisheries, some on oceanography, and some hydrography. It has a ship tracker that tracks all its ships around the world. Our ET Stephen Allen kindly shared this image of our ship’s location (marked as GU) plus the locations of two other NOAA ships.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)
Date: August 2, 2019
My time on NOAA Ship Pisces is complete. Huge thanks to the folks who made it possible. I am grateful for the grand opportunity and grateful to the many people who helped me along the way. Starting with Emily and Jennifer at NOAA Teacher at Sea. They made everything smooth and easy on my end. Special thanks for allowing me to participate in Teacher at Sea this year, considering I was originally assigned to go last year. I was unable to go last year because my Dad got diagnosed with cancer right before the trip, and I elected to stay home with him during surgery and treatment. Emily, and the NOAA scientists involved, Zeb and Nate, made this year’s trip preparation a breeze. Thank you. Additionally, my Dad is doing well (and even back on the golf course)!
In some sense I was the little brother tag along on this cruise. “Aww come on, can I play?” was basically what I was saying each day to the scientists and NOAA officers. They were happy to oblige. Thank you for being patient and supportive while I learned how to work on your team.
Zeb, Todd K, Todd W, and Brad were particularly helpful and knowledgeable and patient – thanks, guys! * Thanks, Brad, for your rocks of the day. Our minds and our chakras benefited.
Thanks to my roommate, Mike B – for being a great roommate and for helping me out with a ton of things (including excellent slow mo footage of the XBT!)
Thanks to the NOAA officers who were always happy to chat and tell me about how things work and about their careers. Thank you CO, XO, Jamie, Luke, Dan, and Jane. * Did you know that all NOAA officers have a college degree in a STEM field?
And thank you to the scientific team of all stars: Dave H for always being hilarious, Zach for being hardworking and friendly to talk with, Mike B for being so wise and having good taste in music, Kevan, for lots of good chats during meal times, and Lauren, for making Oscar the octopus and being so friendly!
Science and Technology Log
Todd W is the Senior Survey Technician. He works on Pisces full time and helped out the science team with running the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth). Todd also helped me run a few experiments, and was overall real cool with helping me find random stuff during the cruise.
In particular, Todd and I, with Mike B’s help, tricked out the CTD to investigate how colors change with depth. We arts-and-crafted a few color strips and secured them to the CTD along with some GoPros to record video. We wanted to see what happened to various colors as the CTD descended to depth (~90m). See what it looked like at the top vs. the bottom (image below). You can see clearly that indeed the red color disappeared soonest while most everything took on a blue tone. This is because red is the longest wavelength on the visible spectrum and therefore the lowest energy (~ 700 nm); it’s the most easily absorbed by the water. Conversely, blue light has a shorter wavelength (~400 nm), and this means higher frequency and higher energy. I made a video with the footage we collected – coming soon. When it comes out you can see for yourself the reds disappear and the colors shift to blue. We also secured a Styrofoam cup to the CTD in order to watch what happens as the pressure increases on the way down. *See here for my pressure video covering similar topics. The CTD only went down to around 90 meters, but that was still enough to increase the pressure from 1 atm to around 9 atm. This nine fold increase shrunk the cup around 12%. Todd tells stories of taking Styrofoam manikin heads down to 300 + meters and watching them shrink to the size of a shot glass.
In addition to CTD excitement, Todd let me conduct an XBT launch. XBT stands for Expendable Bathythermograph. * This cruise had the highest density of acronyms of any experience in my life. Geez. Here’s a link from NOAA describing XBTs. And my pictures below.
Bravo, Todd & NOAA Ship Pisces – you got me!!
We stopped by the NOAA Beaufort Lab shortly after we docked in Morehead City. Todd K was awesome and showed me around and introduced me to a series of interesting characters – it was nice to see the lab and see what everyone had been talking about. I spent a short time walking near the sea wall outside the lab. I ran into Larisa who pointed out two cute baby green sea turtles. She said that recently they’ve started coming into the inlet to feed. Related neato fact: Hawksbill sea turtles have been shown to exhibit biofluorescence.
It’s good to be back on land, and fun to trade the breezy blue ocean seascape for the hot humid green treescape of Tallahassee. I’m busy trying to process the information from the trip and figure out ways to incorporate it into my teaching and lesson plans. Surely it’ll take two forms – a little bit of distilling and planning now, and a slow seep of info from memories later. I’m hoping the trickle of revisited memories pop up at opportune times during the school year for me to take advantage. We’ll see.
I’m back to school in a few days. This is the last full blog. Coming up I’ll post some quick hit blogs with links to some videos. Stay tuned.
Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)
Area of Cruise: Pacific
Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast
Date: July 20, 2019
Weather data: Wind – variable 5 knots or less, wind wave ~1’, Swell – NW 7’@ 10sec / S 1’ @ 11sec, Patchy fog
7:39am – We are about to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading west toward the Farallon Islands. Several small fishing boats race out in a line off our port side, hulls bouncing against the waves and fishing nets flying in the wind. I am aboard R/V Fulmar in transit toward data collection point 4E, the eastern most point along ACCESS Transect 4. The TTG (“time to go,” or the time we expect to arrive at 4E) is estimated at 1h53’ (1 hour, 53 minutes), a figure that fluctuates as the boat changes course, speeds up, or slows down.
This is my second day on an ACCESS research cruise. Yesterday I got my boots wet in the data collection methods used on the back deck. The ACCESS research project collects various types of data at specific points along transects (invisible horizontal lines in the ocean). Today we will be collecting samples at 6 different points along Transect 4. With one day under my belt and a little better idea of what to expect, today I will aim to capture some of the action on the back deck of the boat throughout the day.
9:41am – Almost to Station 4E. “5 minutes to station.” This is the call across the radio from First Mate Rayon Carruthers, and also my signal to come down from the top deck and get ready for action. I put on my rain pants, rubber boots, a float jacket, and a hard hat. Once I have my gear on, I am ready to step onto the back deck just as the boat slows down for sample collection to commence. At this first station, 4E, we will collect multiple samples and data. Most of the sampling methods will be repeated multiple times through the course of the day at different locations and depths (most are described below).
10:53am – Station 4EX. We finished cleaning the hoop net after collecting a sample at a maximum depth of 33m. The hoop net is a tool used to collect a sample of small living things in deep water. This apparatus consists of an ~1m diameter metal ring that has multiple weights attached along the outside. A 3m, tapered fine mesh net with a cod end (small plastic container with mesh vents) hangs from the hoop. Attached to the net there is also a flow meter (to measure the amount of water that flowed through the net during the sample collection) and a depth sensor (to measure the depth profile of the tow). To deploy the net, we used a crane and winch to hoist the hoop out over the surface of the water and drop the net down into the water. Once the net was let out 100m using the winch, we brought it back in and pulled it back up onto the boat deck. Using a hose, we sprayed down the final 1m of the net, pushing anything clinging to the side toward the cod end. The organisms caught in the container were collected and stored for analysis back at a lab. On this haul the net caught a bunch of copepods (plankton) and ctenophores (jellyfish).
11:10am – Station 4ME. Dani Lipski just deployed the messenger, a small bronze-colored weight, sending it down the metal cable to the Niskin sampling bottle. This messenger will travel down the cable until it makes contact with a trigger, causing the two caps on the end of the Niskin bottle to close and capturing a few liters of deep water that we can then retrieve back up at the surface. Once the water arrives on the back deck, Kate Davis will fill three small vials to take back to the lab for a project that is looking at ocean acidification. The Niskin bottle is attached to the cable just above the CTD, a device that measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of the water. In this case, we sent the Niskin bottle and CTD down to a depth of 95m.
12:16pm – Station 4M. Rachel Pound just threw a small plastic bucket tied to a rope over the side of the boat. Using the rope, she hauls the bucket in toward the ship and up over the railing, and then dumps it out. This process is repeated three times, and on the third throw the water that is hauled up is collected as a sample. Some of the surface water is collected for monitoring nutrients at the ocean surface, while another sample is collected for the ocean acidification project.
1:36pm – Station 4W. Using a small hoop net attached to a rope, Rachel Pound collected a small sample of the phytoplankton near the surface. She dropped the net down 30ft off the side of the boat and then towed it back up toward the boat. She repeated this procedure 3 times and then collected the sample from the cod end. This sample will be sent to the California Department of Public Health to be used to monitor the presence of harmful algal blooms that produce domoic acid, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.
2:54pm – The final sample collection of the day is underway. Jaime Jahncke just deployed the first messenger on the Tucker trawl net. This apparatus consists of three different nets. These nets are similar to the hoop net, with fine mesh and cod ends to collect small organisms in the water. The first net was open to collect a sample while the net descended toward ocean floor. The messenger was sent down to trigger the device to close the first net and open a second net. The second net was towed at a depth between 175-225m for ~10 minutes. After the deep tow, a second messenger will be sent down the cable to close the second net and open a third net, which will collect a sample from the water as the net is hauled back to the boat. The Tucker trawl aims to collect a sample of krill that live near the edge of the continental shelf and the deep ocean.
3:46pm – After a full day of action, the boat is turning back toward shore and heading toward the Bodega Bay Marina.
5:42pm – The boat is pulling in to the marina at Bodega Bay. Once the crew secures the boat along a dock, our day will be “done.” We will eat aboard the boat this evening, and then likely hit the bunks pretty early so that we can rise bright and early again tomorrow morning, ready to do it all again along a different transect line!
Did You Know?
The word copepod means “oar-legged.” The name comes from the Greek word cope meaning oar or paddle, and pod meaning leg. Copepods are found in fresh and salt water all over the world and are an important part of aquatic food chains. They eat algae, bacteria, and other dead matter, and are food for fish, birds, and other animals. There are over 10,000 identified species of copepods on Earth, making them the most numerous animal on the planet.
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 11, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 28.29° N Longitude: 83.18° W Wave Height: 1-2 feet Wind Speed: 11 knots Wind Direction: 190 Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 29.8°C Barometric Pressure: 1013.6 mb Sky: Few clouds
As I mentioned in my introductory post, the purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the science involved is much more complex than counting and measuring fish varieties.
The research crew gathers data in three ways. The first way involves trawling for fish. The bulk of the work on-board focuses on trawling or dragging a 42-foot net along the bottom of the Gulf floor for 30 minutes. Then cranes haul the net and its catch, and the research team and other personnel weigh the catch. The shift team sorts the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then the team counts each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).
SEAMAP can be used by various government, educational, and private entities. For example, in the Gulf data is used to protect the shrimp and red snapper populations. For several years, Gulf states have been closing the shrimp fishery and putting limits on the snapper catches seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data helps determine the length of the season and size limits for each species.
Another method of data collection is conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements (CTD). The process involves taking readings on the surface, the bottom of Gulf floor, and at least two other points between in order to create a CTD profile of the water sampled at each trawling locations. The data becomes important in order to assess the extent of hypoxia or “dead zones” in the Gulf (see how compounded data is used to build maps of hypoxic areas of the Gulf: https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico). Plotting and measuring characteristics of hypoxia have become a major part of fishery research especially in the Gulf, which has the second largest area of seasonal hypoxia in the world around the Mississippi Delta area. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, unfortunately. One recent research sample taken near Corpus Christi, TX indicated that hypoxia was occurring further south than in the past. This summer, during surveys two CTD devices are being used. The first is a large cylinder-shaped machine that travels the depth of the water for its readings. It provides a single snapshot. The second CTD is called a “Manta,” which is a multi-parameter water quality sonde (or probe). While it can be used for many kinds of water quality tests, NOAA is using it to test for hypoxia across a swath of sea while pulling the trawling net. This help determine the rate of oxygenation at a different depth in the water and across a wider field than the other CTD can provide.
Did You Know?
Algae is a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is often associated with the overgrowth of certain species of algae, which can lead to oxygen depletion when they die, sink to the bottom, and decompose. Two major outbreaks of algae contamination have occurred in the past three years. From 2017-2018, red algae, which is common in the Gulf, began washing ashore in Florida. “Red Tide” is the common name for these algae blooms, which are large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms, such as protozoans and unicellular algae. The upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor, often following massive storms, provides for the algae and triggers bloom events. The wave of hurricanes (including Irma and during this period caused the bloom. The second is more recent. Currently, beaches nearest the Mississippi Delta have been closed due to an abundance of green algae. This toxic algae bloom resulted from large amounts of nutrients, pesticides, fertilizers being released into the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana because of the record-high Mississippi River levels near Lake Pontchartrain. The spillway opening is being blamed for high mortality rates of dolphins, oysters and other aquatic life, as well as the algae blooms plaguing Louisiana and Mississippi waters.
Pulling away from Pascagoula yesterday, I knew we were headed into open waters for the next day and half as we traveled east down the coast to the Tampa Bay, FL area. I stood on the fore deck and watched Oregon II cruise past the shipyard, the old naval station, the refinery, navigation buoys, barrier islands, and returning vessels. The Gulf is a busy place. While the two major oceans that flank either side of the U.S. seem so dominant, the Gulf as the ninth largest body of water in the world and has just as much importance. As a basin linked to the Atlantic Ocean, the tidal ranges in the Gulf are extremely small due to the narrow connection with the ocean. This means that outside of major weather, the Gulf is relatively calm, which is not the case with our trip.
As we cruise into open waters, along the horizon we can see drilling platforms jutting out of the Gulf like skyscrapers or resorts lining the distant shore. Oil and gas extraction are huge in this region. Steaming alongside us are oil tankers coming up from the south and cargo ships with towering containers moving back and forth between Latin America and the US Coast. What’s in the Gulf (marine wildlife and natural resources) has geographic importance, but what comes across the Gulf has strategic value too.
The further we cruised away from Mississippi, the water became choppy. The storm clouds that delayed our departure the day before were now overhead. In the distances, rain connected the sky to sea. While the storm is predicted to move northwest, the hope is that we can avoid its intensification over the Gulf Stream as we move southeasterly.
I learned that water in the Gulf this July is much warmer than normal. As a result, locally produced tropical storms have formed over the Gulf. Typically, tropical storms (the prelude to a hurricane) form over the Atlantic closer to the Equator and move North. Sometimes they can form in isolated areas like the Gulf. Near us, an isolated tropical storm (named Barry) is pushing us toward research stations closer to the coast in order to avoid more turbulent and windy working conditions. While the research we are conducting is important, safety and security aboard the ship comes first.
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: 1 July 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 60’ 15” N Longitude: 145’ 30” N Wave Height: Wind Speed: 7 knots Wind Direction: 101 degrees Barometric Pressure: 1020 mb Air Temperature: 13.2° C Relative Humidity: 94% Sky: Overcast
Science and Technology Log
When I read some the material online about the NGA LTER, what struck me was a graphic that represented variability and resiliency as parts of a dynamic system. The two must coexist within an ecosystem to keep it healthy and sustainable; they must be in balance. On board, there is also balance in the studies that are being done. The Main Lab houses researchers who are looking at the physical aspects of the water column, such as sediment and plankton. The Wet Lab researchers are looking at the chemical aspects and are testing properties such as fluorescence, DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon), and DOC (dissolved organic carbon).
Today we deployed Steffi’s sediment traps, a process during which balance was key. First of all, each trap was composed of four collection tubes arranged rather like a chandelier.
These were hooked into her primary line. Her traps were also attached to two sets of floaters: one at the surface and one as an intermediary feature on her line. These allowed her traps to sit at the proper depths to collect the samples she needed. The topmost trap sat 80m below the surface, while the next three were at subsequent 25m intervals.
We also collected more samples from another run
of the CTD today. Again, the Niskin
bottles (collection tubes) were “fired” or opened at various depths, allowing
sampling through a cross section of the water at this particular data point
PWS2. Unlike our previous collection, these samples were filtered with .45
micron mesh to eliminate extraneous particles.
This is a very careful process, we needed to be very careful to
eliminate air bubbles and replace the filters regularly as the clogged
quickly. For one depth, we did collect
unfiltered samples as a comparison to the filtered ones. Many groups use the CTD to collect samples,
so there must also be careful planning of usage so that there is enough water
for each team. Collection is a
complicated dance of tubes, syringes, bottles, labels and filters all circling
around the CTD.
Later this evening, we’ll have the chance to pull up Steffi’s sediment traps and begin to prepare her samples for analysis.
Balance is key in more ways than one when
you’re living aboard a research ship. Although it’s been very calm, we
experience some rolling motion when we are transiting from one site to the
next. The stairways in the ship are
narrow, as are the steps themselves, and it’s a good thing there are sturdy
handrails! Other than physical balance,
it’s important to find personal balance.
During the day, the science work can be very intense and demanding. Time schedules shift constantly, and it is
important to be aware of when your experiments or data collection opportunities
are taking place. Down time is precious,
and people will find a quiet space to read, go to the gym (a small one), catch
up on sleep or even watch a movie in the lounge.
A couple of weeks before I left, the Polynesian Voyaging Society hosted a cultural group from Yakutat, who had shipped in one of their canoes down for a conference. We were able to take them out sailing, and the subject of balance came up in terms of the worldview that the Tlingit have. People are divided between being Eagles and Ravens, and creatures are also divided along the lines of being herbivorous and carnivorous. Rather than this being divisive within culture, it reflects the principle of balance. Both types are needed to make an ecosystem whole and functional. And so, as we progress, we are continually working on maintaining our balance in the R/V Sikuliaq ecosystem.
Animals seen today:
A few dolphins were spotted off the bow this evening, but other than that, Prince William Sound has been relatively quiet. Dan, our U.S. Fish and Wildlife person, remarked that there are more boats than birds today, which isn’t saying much as I’ve only seen three other boats.
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska
Date: 30 June 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 60.32 N Longitude: 147.48 W Wind Speed: 3.2 knots Wind Direction: 24 degrees Air Temperature: 72 °F Sky: Hazy (smoke)
Science and Technology Log
We arrived in Seward mid-day on Thursday, June 27th to find it hazy from fires burning north of us; the normally picturesque mountain ranges framing the bay were nearly obscured, and the weather forecast predicts that the haze will be with us at sea for a while as well. Most of the two days prior to departure were busy with loading, sorting, unpacking and setting up of equipment.
There are multiple experiments and different types of studies that will be taking place during the course of this cruise, and each set of researchers has a specific area for their equipment. I am on the particle flux team with Stephanie O’Daly (she specifically requested to have “the teacher” so that she’d have extra hands to help her), and have been helping her as much as I can to set up. Steffi has been very patient and is good about explaining the equipment and their function as we go through everything. Particle flux is about the types of particles found in the water and where they’re formed and where they’re going. In addition, she’ll be looking at carbon matter: what form it takes and what its origin is, because that will tell her about the movement of specific types of plankton through the water column. We spent a part of Friday setting up a very expensive camera (the UVP or Underwater Visual Profiler) that will take pictures of particles in the water down to 500 microns (1/2 a millimeter), will isolate the particles in the picture, sort the images and download them to her computer as well.
Steffi’s friend Jess was very helpful and instructive about setting up certain pieces of equipment. I found that my seamanship skills luckily were useful in splicing lines for Steffi’s tows as well as tying her equipment down to her work bench so that we won’t lose it as the ship moves.
As everyone worked to prepare their stations, the ship moved to the refueling dock to make final preparations for departure, which was about 8:30 on Saturday morning.
Day one at sea was a warm up for many teams. Per the usual, the first station’s testing went slowly as participants learned the procedures. We deployed the CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) at the second station. A CTD is a metal framework that carries various instruments and sampling bottles called Niskin bottles. In the video, you can see them arranged around the structure. The one we sent on June 28 had 24 plastic bottles that were “fired” at specific depths to capture water samples. These samples are shared by a number of teams to test for things like dissolved oxygen gas, and nutrients such as nitrate, nitrites, phosphate and silicate, and dissolved inorganic carbon.
One of my tasks today was to help her collect samples from specific bottles by attaching a tube to the bottle, using water from the sample to cleanse it and them fill it. Another team deployed a special CTD that was built completely of iron-free materials in order to run unbiased tests for iron in the water.
By late Saturday night, we will be in Prince William Sound, and will most likely spend a day there, before continuing on to Copper River. Usually LTER cruises are more focused on monitoring the state of the ecosystem, but in this case, the cruise will also focus on the processes of the Copper River plume, rates and interactions. This particular plume brings iron and fresh water into the Northern Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, where it is dispersed by weather and current. After spending some time studying the plume, the cruise will continue on to the Middleton Line to examine how both fresh water and iron are spread along the shelf and throughout the food web.
As the science team gathered yesterday, it
became evident that the team is predominantly female. According to lead scientist Seth Danielson,
this is a big change from roughly 20 years ago, and has become more of the norm
in recent times. We also have five
undergraduates with us who have never been out on a cruise, which is
unusual. They are all very excited for
the trip and to begin their own research by assisting team leaders. I’ve met most of the team and am slowly
getting all the names down.
I have to admit that I’m feeling out of my
element, much like a fish in a very different aquarium. I’m used to going to sea, yes, but on a
vessel from another time and place.
There is much that is familiar about gear, lines, weather, etc., but
there are also great differences. The
ship’s crew is a separate group from the science crew, although most are friendly
and helpful. Obviously, this is a much
larger and more high tech vessel with many more moving parts. Being on the working deck requires a hard
hat, protective boots, and flotation gear.
There are viewing decks that are less restricted.
I am excited to be at sea again, but a little
bit nervous about meeting expectations and being as helpful as I can without
getting in the way. It’s a little strange
to be primarily indoors, however, as I’m used to being out in the open! I’m
enjoying the moments where I can be on deck, although with the haze in the air,
I’m missing all the scenery!
Did you know?
Because space is limited onboard, many of the
researchers are collecting samples for others who couldn’t be here as well as
collecting for themselves and doing their own experiments.
Something to think about:
How do we get more boys interested in marine
Questions of the day (from the Main Lab):
Do whales smell the smoke outside?
Answer: Toothed whales do not have a sense of
smell, and baleen whales have a poor sense of smell at best.
Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau
Date: June 10, 2019
Latitude: 29°04.9’ N
Longitude: 079°53.2’ W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 11 knots
Wind Direction: 241
Air Temperature: 26.7° C
Barometric Pressure: 1017.9
Science and Technology Log
As part of this mapping mission we are identifying places that may be of interest for an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dive. So far a few locations have shown promise. The first is most likely an area with a dense mass of deep sea mound building coral and the other an area where the temperature dropped very quickly over a short period of time. But before I talk about these two areas of interest I would like to introduce you to some more equipment aboard.
CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. A CTD is sent down into the water column to collect information on depth, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen. Some CTDs have a sediment core on them so you can collect sediment sample. There is also a sonar on the bottom of the CTD on Okeanos Explorer that is used to detect how close the equipment is to the bottom of the ocean. You want to make sure you avoid hitting the bottom and damaging the equipment.
Yesterday we used a CTD because the XBTs launched overnight showed a water temperature change of about 4°C over a few meters change in depth. This is a HUGE change! So it required further exploration and this is why we sent a CTD down in the same area. The CTD confirmed what the XBTs were showing and also provided interesting data on the dissolved oxygen available in this much colder water. It sounds like this area may be one of the ROV sites on the next leg of the mission.
ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle. Okeanos Explorer has a dual-body system meaning there are two pieces of equipment that rely on each other when they dive. The duo is called Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. They are designed, built, and operated by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE). Together they are able to dive to depths of 6,000 meters. D2 and Seirios are connected to the ship and controlled from the Mission Control room aboard the ship. Electricity from the ship is used to power the pair. A typical dive is 8-10 hours with 2 hours of prep time before and after the dive.
Seirios lights up D2, takes pictures, provides an aerial view of D2, and contains a CTD. D2 weighs 9,000 pounds and is equipped with all types of sampling equipment, including:
Lights to illuminate the dark deep
High definition cameras that all allow for video or still frame photos
An arm with a claw to grab samples, such as rock or coral
Suction tube to bring soft specimens to the surface
Rock box to hold rock specimens
Specimen box to hold living specimens (many organisms do not handle the pressure changes well as they are brought to the surface so this box is sealed so the water temperature stays cold which helps the specimens adjust as they come to the surface)
My favorite fact about D2 is how her operators keep her from imploding at deep depths where pressure is very strong and crushes items from the surface. Mineral oil is used to fill air spaces in the tubing and electric panel systems. By removing the air and replacing it with oil, you are reducing the amount of pressure these items feel. Thus, preventing them from getting crushed.
D2 provides amazing imagery of what is happening below the surface. Like I said earlier, one of the areas of interest is mound-building coral. The mapping imagery below shows features that appear to be mound building coral and have shown to be true on previous dives in the area in 2018.
Mound-building coral (Lophelia pertusa) are a deep water coral occurring at depths of 200-1000 meters. They form large colonies and serve as habitat for many deep-water fish and other invertebrates. Unlike corals in tropical waters which are near the surface, Lophelia pertusa do not have the symbiotic relationship with algae. Therefore, they must actively feed to gain energy.
We saw whales today!!!! They went right past the ship on our port side and then went on their way. We weren’t able to see them too well, but based on their coloring, low profile in the water, and dorsal fin we think them to be pilot whales, most likely short-finned pilot whales. Pilot whales are highly social and intelligent whales.
There was also the most amazing lightening show last night. The bolts were going vertically and horizontally through the sky. I think what I will miss most about being at sea is being able to see the storms far off in the distance.
Did You Know?
You can build your own ROV, maybe with your high school science or robotics club, and enter it in competitions.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 029 23.89 N
Longitude 094 14.260 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.22mbar
Air Temperature: 69 degrees F
The isness of things is well worth studying; but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.
– William Beebe
Science and Technology Log
Today is our last day at sea and we have currently completed 53 stations!At each station we send out the CTD. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth. However, this device measures much more than that.During this mission we are looking at 4 parameters: temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and fluorescence which can be used to measure the productivity of an area based on photosynthetic organisms.
Once the CTD is deployed, it is held at the surface for three minutes.During this time, 4,320 scans are completed!However, this data, which is used to acclimate the system, is discarded from the information that is collected for this station.
Next, the CTD is slowly lowered through the water until it is about 1 meter from the bottom.In about 30 meters of water this round trip takes about 5 minutes during which the CTD conducts 241 scans every 10 seconds for a grand total of approximately 7,230 scans collected at each station.
Our CTD scans have gathered the expected data but during the summer months the CTD has found areas of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.
The gloomy weather has made the last few days of the voyage tricky. Wind and rough seas have made sleeping and working difficult. Plus, I have missed my morning visits with dolphins at the bow of the ship due to the poor weather.But seeing the dark blue water and big waves has added to the adventure of the trip.
We have had some interesting catches including one that weighed over 800 pounds and was mostly jellyfish.Some of the catches are filled with heavy mud while others a very clean. Some have lots of shells or debris.I am pleasantly surprised to see that even though I notice the occasional plastic bottle floating by, there has not been much human litter included in our catches.I am constantly amazed by the diversity in each haul.There are species that we see at just about every station and there are others that we have only seen once or twice during the whole trip.
I am thrilled to have had the experience of being a NOAA Teacher at Sea and I am excited to bring what I have learned back to the classroom to share with my students.
Bonus points for the first student in each class to send me the correct answer!
These are Calico Crabs, but this little one has something growing on it?What is it?
Did you know…
That you can tell the gender of a flat fish by holding it up to the light?
Today’s Shout Out!
Kudos to all of my students who followed along, answered the challenge questions, played species BINGO, and plotted my course!You made this adventure even more enjoyable!See you soon 🙂
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 027 39.81 N
Longitude 096 57.670 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.08mbar
Air Temperature: 61 degrees F
Those of us who love the sea wish everyone would be aware of the need to protect it. – Eugenie Clark
Science and Technology Log
After our delayed departure, we are finally off and running! The science team on Oregon II has currently completed 28 out of the 56 stations that are scheduled for the first leg of this mission. Seventy-five stations were originally planned but due to inclement weather some stations had to be postponed until the 2nd leg. The stations are pre-arranged and randomly selected by a computer system to include a distributions of stations within each shrimp statistical zone and by depth from 5-20 and 21-60 fathoms.
At each station there is an established routine that requires precise teamwork from the NOAA Corps officers, the professional mariners and the scientists. The first step when we arrive at a station, is to launch the CTD. The officers position the ship at the appropriate location. The mariners use the crane and the winch to move the CTD into the water and control the decent and return. The scientists set up the CTD and run the computer that collects and analyzes the data. Once the CTD is safely returned to the well deck, the team proceeds to the next step.
Step two is to launch the trawling net to take a sample of the biodiversity of the station. Again, this is a team effort with everyone working together to ensure success. The trawl net is launched on either the port or starboard side from the aft deck. The net is pulled behind the boat for exactly thirty minutes. When the net returns, the contents are emptied into the wooden pen or into baskets depending on the size of the haul.
The baskets are weighed and brought into the wet lab. The scientists use smaller baskets to sort the catch by species. A sample of 20 individuals of each species is examined more closely and data about length, weight, and sex is collected.
The information gathered becomes part of a database and is used to monitor the health of the populations of fish in the Gulf. It is used to help make annual decisions for fishing regulations like catch and bag limits. In addition, the data collected from the groundfish survey can drive policy changes if significant issues are identified.
I have been keeping in touch with my students via the Remind App, Twitter, and this Blog. Each class has submitted a question for me to answer. I would like to use the personal log of this blog to do that.
The thing I am most excited to bring back to Marine 2 is the story of recovery for the Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I learned that due to improved fishing methods and growth in commercial fishing of this species, their decline was severe. The groundfish survey that I am working with is one way that data about the population of Red Snapper has been collected. This data has led to the creation of an action plan to help stop the decline and improve the future for this species.
Our biggest challenge has been the weather! We left late due to Hurricane Michael and the weather over the past few days has meant that we had to miss a few stations. We are also expecting some bad weather in a couple of days that might mean we are not able to trawl.
The number one way that the NOAA Teacher at Sea program supports our environment is EDUCATION! What I learn here, I will share with my students and hopefully they will pass it on as well. If more people know about the dangers facing our ocean then I think more people will want to see changes to protect the ocean and all marine species.
We have not seen anything that is rare for the Gulf of Mexico but I have seen two fish that I have never seen before, the singlespot frogfish and the Conger Eel. So for me these were really cool sightings.
I have to admit that the most intriguing organism was not anything that came in via the trawl net. Instead it was the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin that greeted me one morning at the bow of the boat. There were a total of 7 and one was a baby about half the size of the others. As the boat moved through the water they jumped and played in the splashing water. I watched them for over a half hour and only stopped because it was time for my shift. I could watch them all day!
Do you know …
What the Oregon II looks like on the inside?
Here is a tour video that I created before we set sail.
Transcript: A Tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
(0:00) Hi, I’m Andria Keene from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. And I’d like to take you for a tour aboard Oregon II, my NOAA Teacher at Sea home for the next two weeks.
Oregon II is a 170-foot research vessel that recently celebrated 50 years of service with NOAA. The gold lettering you see here commemorates this honor.
As we cross the gangway, our first stop is the well deck, where we can find equipment including the forecrane and winch used for the CTD and bongo nets. The starboard breezeway leads us along the exterior of the main deck, towards the aft deck.
Much of our scientific trawling operations will begin here. The nets will be unloaded and the organisms will be sorted on the fantail.
(1:00) From there, the baskets will be brought into the wet lab, for deeper investigation. They will be categorized and numerous sets of data will be collected, including size, sex, and stomach contents.
Next up is the dry lab. Additional data will be collected and analyzed here. Take notice of the CTD PC.
There is also a chemistry lab where further tests will be conducted, and it’s located right next to the wet lab.
Across from the ship’s office, you will find the mess hall and galley. The galley is where the stewards prepare meals for a hungry group of 19 crew and 12 scientists. But there are only 12 seats, so eating quickly is serious business.
(2:20) Moving further inside on the main deck, we pass lots of safety equipment and several staterooms. I’m currently thrilled to be staying here, in the Field Party Chief’s stateroom, a single room with a private shower and water closet.
Leaving my room, with can travel down the stairs to the lower level. This area has lots of storage and a large freezer for scientific samples.
There are community showers and additional staterooms, as well as laundry facilities, more bathrooms, and even a small exercise room.
(3:15) If we travel up both sets of stairs, we will arrive on the upper deck. On the starboard side, we can find the scientific data room.
And here, on the port side, is the radio and chart room. Heading to the stern of the upper deck will lead us to the conference room. I’m told that this is a great place for the staff to gather and watch movies.
Traveling back down the hall toward the bow of the ship, we will pass the senior officers’ staterooms, and arrive at the pilot house, also called the bridge.
(4:04) This is the command and control center for the entire ship. Look at all the amazing technology you will find here to help keep the ship safe and ensure the goals of each mission.
Just one last stop on our tour: the house top. From here, we have excellent views of the forecastle, the aft winch, and the crane control room. Also visible are lots of safety features, as well as an amazing array of technology.
Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Challenge Question of the Day
Bonus Points for the first student in each class period to come up with the correct answer!
We have found a handful of these smooth bodied organisms which like to burrow into the sediment. What type of animal are they?
Today’s Shout Out: To my family, I miss you guys terribly and am excited to get back home and show you all my pictures! Love ya, lots!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 39.487 N
Longitude: 73.885 W
Water Temperature: 25.2◦C
Wind Speed: 13.1 knots
Wind Direction: WSW
Air Temperature: 26.1◦C
Atmospheric Pressure: 1017.28 millibars
Water depth: 30 meters
Science and Technology Log
As if catching plankton and sneaking a peak with the microscope wasn’t exciting enough (see the picture of the larval eel!), there’s a lot more data being collected on this ship. All of it helps scientists understand what’s going on in this part of the Ocean. And some of it I am able to help with, which is my favorite thing about this cruise (well, maybe that and the incredible views).
At some of our stations, we lower a big and important science tool (called a rosette) into the ocean that contains niskin bottles (bottles used for water sampling) and a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth meter (CTD). As the rosette is lowered into the depths and raised back up, the scientists can remotely operate the open niskin bottles to snap shut at specific depths. This allows each bottle to come up to the surface with a sample of water from many different depths! Meanwhile, the CTD can take measurements of conductivity (which indicates the salinity of the water), temperature, and pressure, among other things. Scientists have thought of many ways to collect A LOT of data at one time.
When the CTD comes back onto the ship, it’s time for us to use the samples for different purposes. We collect water from 3 different bottles (so 3 different depths) to test the amount of chlorophyll in the water. Do you know what the chlorophyll comes from? If you said plants, you’re right! What are some plant-like things that are drifting all over the ocean? You guessed it! Phytoplankton! So the amount of chlorophyll gives scientists evidence as to how much phytoplankton is in the water. But first, we need to extract (take out) the chlorophyll from the water. We run the water through special filters and soak the filters in a chemical that extracts the chlorophyll. Then we can put the sample through a special machine that uses light to sense the amount of chlorophyll. Wow. One thing I am learning on this trip is how important light is in understanding a water ecosystem.
Do you remember what a hypothesis is? It’s an educated guess that answers a scientific question. When scientists come up with a hypothesis, it gives them something to test in an investigation. If you were presented with the question, “At what depth is phytoplankton most abundant?”, what would be your hypothesis?
Another thing we do with the water samples is collect a bit from most of the bottles to preserve and send to the lab to test for the amount of nutrients. When you think of nutrients, you probably think of healthy vitamins for people. But nutrients for plants are actually made from broken down waste of animals. It’s important for ocean water to have a balanced amount of nutrients so that phytoplankton can be healthy. But too much nutrients can also cause algae and phytoplankton to overpopulate!
But that’s not all! The scientists also take samples from the niskin bottles to test for Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC). That sounds fancy, I know. Doing this basically helps scientists understand the pH of the water and look for evidence of ocean acidification (a result of climate change).
Can you believe how much scientists can learn from dropping a big science tool into the water?
Scientist Spotlight – Harvey Walsh
Harvey is our Chief Scientist on the mission, meaning he oversees all of the scientific work happening on the ship. He has been so kind as to answer all of my many questions, including these:
Me – If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient, what would it be and why?
Harvey – I would like a tool that allows you to easily and quickly identify fish eggs and larvae. Currently, it is a time consuming process that involves sorting through samples and identifying them in the lab. There have been and continue to be efforts to use image analysis and genetics to speed up the process. An image analysis has progressed quicker for phyto- and zooplankton, but fish and fish eggs still lag behind.
Me – When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in ocean science?
Harvey – I always thought I would end up studying freshwater fisheries in Minnesota, where I grew up, but after the first two ocean cruises I participated in, I knew the ocean was more for me and the lakes had less of an appeal.
Me – How long has EcoMon (the ecosystem monitoring program we are using) been conducted and how was the protocol (the methods we use) created?
Harvey – EcoMon started in 1992 but it was modeled after a program that started in 1977. The bongo plankton sampling has not changed much since it started, but with new technology we have added the water chemistry
testing, optics, and other instruments.
To create the protocol, scientists from around the North Atlantic region got together to form the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. This council had the job of looking at plankton sampling techniques and deciding the best way to monitor plankton communities.
Me – Can you share an example of a way that people have used EcoMon data to form and test a hypothesis?
Harvey – Our data helps scientists make connections between different species in a food web, for example. After people noticed that Atlantic herring (fish) populations were getting low, they used EcoMon data to come up with a hypothesis like this:
“Increasing haddock populations lead to a lower stable state of herring because haddock feed on herring eggs.”
If people want to know more about a certain species of fish and how it survives and thrives, they need to understand the whole ecosystem, including the food web!
This cruise continues to amaze me. Sometimes we’ll have several hours between stations when I love to learn from others, bring a pair of binoculars up to the fly bridge and join the seabird observers, or catch up on a good book. Being around the water all day is calming and serene. I feel that this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Another rare opportunity came yesterday when I was able to launch my drifter buoy as part of the NOAA drifter buoy program! First, I decorated the buoy with our school’s name and a symbol for each of the classes at our school – the Sharks class, the Rays class, the Dolphin class, and the Sea Star class. Then, after gaining permission from the ship command, we dropped the buoy overboard!
The buoy has a long canvas tube that extends out like a spring after you release it. This allows the buoy to have a long tail that reaches into the water so that it can catch the ocean currents and drift. If it was just the floating buoy, it would get moved by the wind instead of the currents.
The buoy has a satellite tag that sends a signal to a satellite wherever it goes. This way, back home my students and I can track the buoy online and see where it ends up! Where do you think the buoy will go?
Everyone on board gets excited when we spot a pod of dolphins or a whale spout! I can’t wait to see what’s out there tomorrow!
Did You Know?
Great Shearwaters are sea birds that spend most of their lives out at sea and only come to land to nest. They can dive deep to catch fish but do not have to dry out their wings like some other birds. They are almost always found soaring by air currents and they prefer stormy and rough weather for stronger air patterns to lift them up.
If a plankton sample with 5,000 individual plankton contains 60% salps, 10% hake larvae, 20% arrow worms, and 10% crab megalops, how many arrow worms are in the sample?
Evening of August 19 – Edge of the Barrow Canyons in the Beaufort Sea
Air temp 32F, sea depth 185m , surface sea water temp 32F
Measuring Ocean Properties with the CTD
Scientists have a tendency to use acronyms to refer to select processes and measures. The acronym heard the most, if not constant, on this trip has been CTD. So here is my best attempt to give you a brief overview of what that “CTD” means and some of the measurements scientists are taking.
The acronym CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean water. This instrument, which takes a measurement 24 times a second, is attached to a large frame that includes big plastic bottles know as Niskin bottles. Nearly every time we stop the ship the CTD package (shown in the image above) is slowly lowered to just above the sea floor (or less depending upon the scientific interest at the site). On the way back up, the Niskin bottles are filled with seawater from different pre-determined depths. An electronic switch is triggered for each bottle at different depths so that the containers are sealed closed trapping water from that depth. Once the package is back on board the scientists measure various properties of the water, including its salinity and oxygen content which will be used to verify and calibrate the electronic sensors on the CTD.
The three main measurements of the CTD represent fundamental characteristics of seawater. Conductivity (C) determines the salinity or the amount of salt in the water. Electrical conductivity or how well an electric current can flow through the water gives an instant real time measurement of water salinity. When combined with temperature (T) and depth (D) this gives a measure of the density of the water, and even tells us something about how the water is moving.
In addition to these physical properties, other sensors attached to the CTD provide information on the underwater marine life. Phytoplankton is the base of the underwater food web and is an important indicator for the overall health of the local marine environment. Phytoplankton is too small to be seen individually without the aid of a microscope; however, scientists have found a way to test for its presence in water. Phytoplankton gets its energy, as all plants do, from the sun using the process of photosynthesis. One of the sensors on the CTD tests for chlorophyll fluorescence, a light re-emitted during the process of photosynthesis. The amount of fluorescence measured can be used to determine the amount of living phytoplankton at different depths in the ocean. Another sensor measures the levels of sunlight in the water.
The water samples from the Niskin bottles are used to determine many other properties of the water. One such property is dissolved carbon dioxide. Just like the atmosphere, the ocean has its own carbon cycle. We might hear of increased atmosphere CO2 levels associated with global warming. Some of this CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface of the ocean and some of the carbon from the ocean is also exchanged into the atmosphere. This carbon exchange rate between the air and sea helps regulate the pH of the ocean. Tracking dissolved carbon dioxide measurements over time gives scientists additional physical measurements to track the overall health of the marine environment. Scientists have been seeing increasing amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean which can decrease pH levels making the ocean more acidic. Small changes in the ocean pH can affect some marine life more than others upsetting the balance in the marine ecosystems.
The Exiting Pacific Ocean
At the moment scientists are doing even more CTD casts with a focus on ocean currents. We are at the edge of the Chukchi Sea where the Pacific-origin water exits the shelf into the deep Arctic Ocean. Much of this happens at Barrow Canyon, which acts as a drain for the water to flow northward. Scientists are still uncertain what happens to the water after it leaves the canyon, so the survey we are doing now is designed to track water as it spreads seaward into the interior Arctic.
The Pressure of the Deep Sea
Most of the CTD casts during our time on the Healy have not exceeded 300 meters. Lowering and raising the CTD from deeper depths takes a lot of precious time, and on this cruise the emphasis is on the upper part of the water column. However, on August 18, we completed a cast 1000 meters deep. In addition to collecting data, we were able to demonstrate the crushing effects of the deep ocean pressure by placing a net of styrofoam cups on the CTD to the depth of 1000 meters. Styrofoam cups contain significant amounts of air. This is why the styrofoam cup is such a good insulator for a hot drink. At 1000 meters deep, much of the air is crushed out of the cup. Since the pressure is equivalent around the cup, it is crushed in a uniform way causing the cup to shrink. Here are some images demonstrating the crushing power of the sea. *Note: The big cup with no drawing is the original size. This will be a great visual tool to bring back to the classroom.
Today’s Wildlife Sightings
A highlight today was not seeing but hearing. I was able to listen in live on Beluga whales with the help of deployed sonobuoys. The sonobuoys are floating hydrophones that transmit back what they hear with their underwater microphones. Today they picked up the Beluga whales and their short songs. I thought their calls sound like the songbirds from home and little did I know, this is why they are called the canaries of the sea!
Now and Looking forward
Tonight we saw 100s of Walruses mostly on the ice. On Monday we will have a presentation about walrus from one of the scientists on board. I look forward to sharing pictures and what I learned in the next blog.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1106
Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N
Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar
Air Temperature: 29.5° C
Sea Temperature: 30.8° C
Wind Speed: 12.98 knots
Relative Humidity: 76%
Science and Technology Log
Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.
To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.
Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.
To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.
The weather devices on top are called anemometers, and they measure true wind speed and direction relative to the ship’s speed and direction. The term comes from the Greek word ‘anemos,’ which means wind. On the right is the fishing day shape, indicating to nearby ships that the Oregon II is using fishing gear.
These satellites help to provide the television and internet on the ship.
I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.
When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html
A dissolved oxygen sensor to be mounted on the environmental profiler, which collects environmental data through the water column.
A CTD refers to several electronic instruments that measure conductivity, temperature, depth, and other properties in the water column. Scientists are interested in changes in these properties relative to depth.
Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.
On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/
Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of TheOregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?
I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.
I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.
Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.
The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.
Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.
My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.
To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:
Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because
Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.
Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.
I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.
Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.
One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.
Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.
Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.
The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 14, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 0030
Latitude: 25° 22.6’ N
Longitude: 84° 03.6’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1017.4 mb
Air Temperature: 28.8° C
Wind Speed: 9.1 knots
Science and Technology Log
For the first few days, we steamed, or traveled, to our first station. Each station is a research location where several activities will take place:
Preparing and setting out the longline gear.
Letting the line soak (fish on the bottom) for one hour while other tasks are performed.
Deploying a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Salinity) to collect samples and information about the water.
Hauling back the longline gear.
Recording data from the longline set and haulback.
Collecting measurements and samples from anything caught on the longline.
Depending on what is caught: attaching tags and releasing the animal back into the water (sharks) or collecting requested samples for further study (bony fish).
This is a very simplified summary of the various activities, and I’ll explore some of the steps in further detail in other posts.
During these operations and in between tasks, scientists and crew are very busy. As I watched and participated, the highly organized, well-coordinated flurry of activity on deck was an incredible demonstration of verbs (action words): clean, rinse, prepare, gather, tie, hook, set, haul, calibrate, operate, hoist, deploy, retrieve, cut, measure, weigh, tag, count, record, release, communicate…
Last night, I witnessed and participated in my first longline station. I baited 100 hooks with mackerel. I recorded set and haulback data on the computer as the gear was deployed (set) and hauled back in (haulback). I attached 100 numbered tags to the longline gangions (attached to the hooks). I recorded measurements and other data about SHARKS!
We caught, measured, sampled, tagged, and released four sharks last night: a silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, and tiger shark! I’ve never seen any of these species, or types, in person. Seeing the first shark burst onto the deck was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life!
Sometimes, we didn’t catch any fish, but we did bring up a small piece of coral, brittle sea stars, and a crinoid. All three are marine animals, so I was excited to see them in person.
In between stations, there was some downtime to prepare for the next one. One of my favorite moments was watching the GoPro camera footage from the CTD. A camera is attached to the device as it sinks down through the depths to the bottom and back up to the surface again. The camera allowed me to visually ‘dive along’ as it collected water samples and data about the water temperature, salinity, pressure, and other information. Even though I watch ocean documentaries frequently and am used to seeing underwater footage on a screen, this was extremely exciting because the intriguing ecosystem on the screen was just below my feet!
Perhaps it is sea lore and superstition, but so far, the journey has been peppered with fortuitous omens. One of my ocean-loving former students and her Disney-bound family just happened to be on my flight to Orlando. Yes, it’s a small world after all. Her work samples were featured in our published case study, reminding me of the importance and impact of ocean literacy education. Very early the next morning, NASA’s promising Parker Solar Probe thunderously left the Sunshine State, hurtling toward the sun. New York’s state motto: Excelsior. Later that morning, a rainbow appeared shortly before the Oregon II left Port Canaveral. Although an old weather proverb states: “rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning,” we’ve had very pleasant weather, and I chose to interpret it as a reassuring sign. Sailing on the Oregon II as a Teacher at Sea is certainly my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In fifth grade, celebrating Halloween with the clingfish (Derilissus lombardii)
Now in middle school, celebrating summer!
According to seafaring superstition, women on board, whistling, and bananas are supposed to be bad luck on a boat. On the Oregon II, folks do not seem to put much stock into these old beliefs since I’ve encountered all three aboard the ship and still feel very lucky to be here.
In another small-world coincidence, two of the volunteers on the Second Leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey recently graduated from SUNY Potsdam, my undergrad alma mater. What drew us from the North Country of New York to Southern waters? A collective love of sharks.
These small-world coincidences seemed indicate that I was on the right path. Out on the ocean, however, the watery world seems anything but small. The blue vastness and unseen depths fill me with excitement and curiosity, and I cannot wait to learn more. For the next two weeks, the Oregon II will be my floating classroom. Instead of teaching, I am here to learn.
As a fourth generation teacher, education is in my blood. One great-grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in 1894. My other great-grandmother was also a teacher and a Potsdam alumna (Class of 1892). As we traverse the Atlantic Ocean, I wonder what my academic ancestors would think of their great-granddaughter following in their footsteps…whilst studying sharks and snapper at sea. Salt water equally runs through my veins.
As we steamed, or traveled, to our first station (research location), I wondered about the unfamiliar waters and equipment around me. Before I could indulge my questions about marine life, however, I first needed to focus on the mundane: daily life at sea. In many ways, I was reminded of the first day at a new school. It was junior high all over again, minus the braces and bad bangs. At first, those long-forgotten new school worries resurfaced: What if I get lost? Where is my locker (or, in this case, my stateroom)? What if I forget my schedule? What if I have to sit by myself at lunch? To combat these thoughts, I draw upon a variety of previous travel and life experiences: studying abroad, backpacking, camping, meeting new friends, volunteering, working with a marine science colleague, and sailing on other vessels. Combined, those experiences provided me with the skills to successfully navigate this one.
I’ve spent the first few days getting acquainted with the layout, personnel, safety rules, and routines of the Oregon II. My students wondered about some of the same aspects of life at sea.
Where do I sleep on the ship?
The staterooms remind me of a floating college dorm, only much quieter. I’m sharing a small stateroom with Kristin Hannan, a scientist. We are on opposite work shifts, so one of us is sleeping while the other is working. I am assigned to the day shift (noon to midnight) while she is assigned to the night shift (midnight to noon). Inside the stateroom, we have berths (similar to bunk beds), a sink, and large metal storage cabinets that are used like a closet or dresser. Space is limited on the ship, so it must be used efficiently and sometimes creatively.
Do you know anyone else on the ship?
No, but I’m meeting lots of new people. They have been welcoming, offering interesting information and helpful reminders and pointers. Those first-day-of-school jitters are fading quickly. I didn’t get lost, but I got a bit turned around at first, trying to figure out which deck I needed for the galley (like the ship’s cafeteria), where we eat our meals. And I only had to eat lunch by myself once. On the first day at sea, I made a PB & J sandwich. Eating that, I felt like a kid again (only without my lunchbox), but it was nice to be at a point in my life where I’m confident enough to be all by myself and feel a bit out of place. That’s how you learn and grow. Everything is new to me right now, but with time, it’ll start to make sense. Pretty soon, the equipment and unfamiliar routines will start to feel more familiar. Hopefully, the sharks will like me.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 200 orcas (scientific name: Orcinus orca, also known as killer whales).
As an introduction to biographies in grades 4 and up, I recommend Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman. Ruth and her stuffed shark explore a maritime history museum, learning about the important roles women have held at sea. Inspired by female sea captains, explorers, and naturalists, Ruth imagines herself in the photographs and paintings, part of an actual exhibit in the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. For more information about the intrepid women featured in the book, brief biographical information is provided at the end. Ruth would no doubt be impressed with the seafaring women (and men) aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 12, 2018
Weather data from the Bridge
Wind speed 8 knots
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Barometer: 1010.5 mB
Temp: 8.5 C 47 F
Dry bulb 8 Wet bulb 6.5
Cloud Height: 5,000 ft
Type: Alto Stratus
Sea Height 2 feet
Science and Technology
Why is NOAA taking on this challenging task of mapping the ocean floor? As mentioned in an earlier blog, the ocean temperatures worldwide are warming and thus the ice in the polar regions are melting. As the ice melts, it provides mariners with an option to sail north of Canada, avoiding the Panama Canal. The following sequence of maps illustrates a historical perspective of receding ice sheet off the coast of Alaska since August 1857. The red reference point on the map indicates the Point Hope region of Alaska we are mapping.
The light grey indicates 0-30% Open Water – Very Open Drift. The medium grey indicates 30 – 90 % Open drift – Close Pack. The black indicates 90 – 100% very close compact.
Ships that sail this region today rely on their own ships sonar for navigating around nautical hazards and this may not be as reliable especially if the ships sonar is not properly working (it’s also problematic because it only tells you how deep it is at the ship’s current location – a sonar won’t tell you if an uncharted hazard is just in front of the ship). Prior to mapping the ocean floor in any coastal region, it requires a year of planning in identifying the exact corridors to be mapped. Hydrographers plot areas to be mapped using reference polygons overlaid on existing nautical charts. Nautical charts present a wealth of existing information such as ocean depth, measured in fathoms(one fathom is equal to six feet) and other known navigation hazards.
As mariners sail closer to the shorelines, the depth of the ocean becomes increasingly important. Because of this uncertainty in the depth, the Fairweather herself cannot safely navigate safely (or survey) close to shore. In order to capture this data, small boats called “launches” are used. There are a total of four launch boats that are housed on the boat deck of the Fairweather. Each boat can collect data for up to twelve hours with a crew of 2-5. Depending on the complexity of the area, each daily assignment will be adjusted to reasonably reflect what can be accomplished in one day by a single launch. Weather is a huge factor in the team’s ability to safely collect data. Prior to deployment, a mission and safety briefing is presented on the stern of the ship by the Operations Officer. During this time, each boat coxswain generates and reports back to the operations officer their GAR score (safety rating) based on weather, crew skills and mission complexity (GAR stands for Green-Amber-Red … green means low risk, so go ahead, amber means medium risk, proceed with caution; red means high risk, stop what you’re doing). In addition, a mission briefing is discussed outlining the exact area in which data will be collected and identified goals.
The sonar equipment that transmits from the launch boats is called EM2040 multi beam sonar. A multi beam sonar is a device that transmits sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean. It is bolted to the hull that runs parallel to the boat, yet emits sound perpendicular to the orientation of the sonar. In the beginning of the season, hydrographers perform a patch test where they measure the offsets from the sonar to the boat’s GPS antenna, as well as calculating any angular misalignments in pitch, roll or yaw. These measurements are then entered in to software that automatically corrects for these offsets.
The first measurement to collect is the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth. From this information, the scientists can determine the depths in which the density of the water changes. This data is used to calculate and correct for the change in speed of sound in a given water column and thus provide clean data. The boats travel in pre-defined set lines within a defined polygon showing the identified corridor to be collected. Just like mowing a lawn, the boat will travel back and forth traveling along these lines. The pilot of the boat called the Coxswain, uses a computer aided mapping in which they can see these set lines in real time while the boat moves. This is an extremely valuable piece of information while driving the boat especially when the seas are rough.
The coxswain will navigate the boat to the position where data collection will begin inside a defined polygon. Since the multibeam echosounder transmits sound waves to travel through a deep column of water, the area covered by the beam is wide and takes longer to collect. In such stretches of water, the boat is crawling forward to get the desired amount of pings from the bottom needed to produce quality hydrographic data. The reverse is true when the boat is traveling in shallow water. The beam is very narrow, and the boat is able to move at a relatively fast pace. The boat is constantly rolling and pitching as it travels along the area.
As the boat is moving and collecting data, the hydrographer checks the course and quality of the data in real time. The depth and soundings comes back in different colors indicating depth. There is at least four different software programs all talking to one another at the same time. If at any point one component stops working, the boat is stopped and the problem is corrected. The technology driving this collection effort is truly state of the art and it all has to operate correctly, not an easy feat. Every day is different and provides different challenges making this line of work interesting. Troubleshooting problems and the ability to work as a team is crucial for mission success!
I have found the work on the Fairweather to be extremely interesting. The crew onboard has been exceptional in offering their insights and knowledge regarding everything from ship operations to their responsibilities. Today’s blog marks my first week aboard and everyday something new and different is occurring. I look forward in developing new lesson plans and activities for my elementary outreach program. Prior to arriving, I was expecting the weather to be mostly overcast and rainy most of the time. However, this has not been the case. Clear blue skies has prevailed most days; in fact I have seen more sun while on the Fairweather than back home in Hendersonville in the entire month of July! For my earth science students, can you make a hypothesis as to why clear skies has prevailed here? Hint, what are the five lifting mechanisms that generate instability in the atmosphere and which one(s) are dominant in this region of Alaska?
Question of the day. Can you calculate the relative humidity based on the dry and wet bulb readings above? Data table below…… Answer in the next blog
While our main mission aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II is to survey and study sharks and red snapper, it is also very important to understand the environmental conditions and physical properties of the sea water in which these animals live. The CTD instrument is used to help understand many different properties within the water itself. The acronym CTD stands for Conductivity (salinity), Temperature, and Depth. Sensors also measure dissolved oxygen content and fluorescence (presence of cholorphyll).
Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity and it is directly related to salinity, or the salt that is within ocean water. When salinity measurements are combined with temperature readings, seawater density can be determined. This is crucial information since seawater density is a driving force for major ocean currents. The physical properties and the depth of the water is recorded continuously both on the way down to the ocean floor, and on the way back up to the surface. There is a light, and a video camera attached to the CTD to provide a look at the bottom type, as that is where the long line is deployed, and gives us a good look at the environment where our catch is made. These data can explain why certain animals gather in areas with certain bottom types or physical parameters. This can be particularly important in areas such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This is an area of low oxygen water caused by algal blooms related to runoff of chemical fertilizers from the Mississippi River drainage.
Ready to deploy the CTD
Calibrating the CTD
The CTD instrument itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of of steel tubing to protect it while deployed and from bumping against the ship or sea floor. Attached water sampling bottles can be individually triggered at various depths to collect water samples allowing scientists to analyze water at specific depths at a particular place and time. The entire structure is slowly lowered by a hydraulic winch, and is capable of making vertical profiles to depths over 500 meters. An interior computer display in the ship’s Dry Science Lab profiles the current location of the CTD and shows when the winch should stop. We have found this to be a tricky job, during large wave swells, as the boat rocks quite a bit and changes the depth by a meter or more. The operator must be very careful that the CTD doesn’t hit the ocean floor too hard which can damage the equipment.
The data collected while deployed at each station is instantly uploaded to NOAA servers for immediate use by researchers and scientists. The current data is also available the general public as well, on the NOAA website. Once safely back aboard the Oregon II, the CTD video camera is taken off and uploaded to the computer, The CTD must be washed off and the lines flushed for one minute with fresh water, as the salt water from the ocean can damage and corrode the very sensitive equipment inside. The instrument is also calibrated regularly to ensure it is working correctly throughout all legs of the long line survey.
I am having such a great time during my Teacher at Sea experience. In the 9 days aboard ship so far, we have traveled the entire coasts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Never in my life did I think I would get an opportunity to do something like this as I’ve dreamed about it for decades, and now my dreams have come true. I’m learning so much about fishing procedures, the biology of sharks, navigational charting, and the science of collecting data for further study while back on land at the lab. I can’t wait to get home and spread the word about NOAA’s mission and how they are helping make the world a better place, and are advocating for the conservation of these beautiful animals!
Animals Seen: Sharpnose shark, Tiger Shark, Grouper, Red Drum fish, Moray Eel, Blue Line Tile fish
Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation
Weather Data from the Okeanos Explorer Bridge
Air Temperature: 28.16°C
Wind Speed: 17.34 knots
Conditions: partly sunny
Depth: 5060.32 meters
Science and Technology Log
Understanding the physical properties of seawater such as temperature, salinity, and depth are important parameters for studying ocean processes. Fortunately, A CTD is an acronym for an electronic instrument that is used on research vessels to measure three important factors: conductivity, temperature, and depth. These data points are key exploration components used aboard the Okeanos Explorer.
Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity and it is directly related to salinity. When salinity measurements are combined with temperature readings, seawater density can be determined. This is crucial information since seawater density is a driving force for major ocean currents.
The CTD itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of plastic bottles. These water sampling bottles can be individually triggered at various depths to collect water samples allowing scientists to analyze water at specific depths at a particular place and time. The entire structure is connected to a rosette that is lowered by a hydrographic winch crane, and this rosette is capable of making vertical profiles to depths up to 6,800 meters.
Features in the deep ocean such as hydrothermal vents and underwater volcanoes are associated with changes in chemical properties of seawater, so CTDs are used to measure chemical and physical properties associated with these structures. For instance, changes in water temperature may indicate the presence of hydrothermal vents or volcanoes. Since these features are located in deep waters, a CTD will be raised and lowered throughout the water column as the ship moves over the survey area. Although a CTD cast has not been completed on our expedition, these procedures require effective communication between scientists in the lab and the hydrographic crane operator. Scientists in the lab can monitor the CTD measurements in real time in the lab, and communicate depth for water capture in the rosette bottles to the crane operator. Once back on board, scientists can retrieve the water samples from the bottles and take them into the lab for further analysis.
We have continued to map the survey area, load XBTs, and take sunphotometer readings throughout the course of the week. Since they are few and far between, everyone looks forward to turns. The entire turning process requires effective communication with the bridge and survey team and can take approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
Aside from waiting for turns, we have been playing daily trivia or bingo as well as card games including cribbage! Since the cribbage tournament is underway, we have been practicing, playing, and watching other games. There have been some serious upsets and victories so the finals are going to be interesting for sure.
We learned that we are heading back to Norfolk for dry dock towards the end of July so we will need to stop surveying soon to transit back to Virginia. It is crazy to think that we only have a couple more days at sea!
Did You Know?
Some CTD instruments are so fast that they measure the conductivity, temperature, and depth 24 times each second! This provides a very detailed description of the water being tested.
Geographic Area of Cruise: North Pacific: Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Weather Data from the Bridge
July 7 2018
37° 58.3’ N
123° 06.4’ W
Present Weather/ Sky
Wind Direction (true)
Wind Speed (kts)
Atmospheric Pressure (mb)
Sea Wave Height (ft)
Swell Waves Direction (true)
Swell Waves Height (ft)
Temperature Sea Water (C)
Temperature Dry Bulb (C)
Temp Wet Bulb (C )
Science and Technology Log
Marine life is not evenly distributed throughout the World’s oceans. Some areas contain abundant and diverse life forms and support complex food webs whereas other areas are considered a desert. This variation is due to environmental factors like temperature, salinity, nutrients, amount of light, underlying currents, oxygen levels and pH. Some of these variables, such as temperature, oxygen levels, and pH, are experiencing more variability as a result of climate change. In order to understand the health of marine environments, scientists explore the chemical and physical properties of seawater using a set of electronic instruments on a device called a CTD. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth and is the standard set of instruments used to measure variables in the water column.
The CTD is the bread and butter of oceanography research. It is primarily used to profile and assess salinity and temperature differences at varying depths in a water column. But the device can also carry instruments used to calculate turbidity, fluorescence (a way to measure the amount of phytoplankton in the water), oxygen levels, and pH. Conductivity is a way of determining the salinity of water. It measures how easily an electric current passes through a liquid. Electric currents pass much more easily through seawater than fresh water. A small electrical current is passed between two electrodes and the resulting measurement is interpreted to measure the amount of salt and other inorganic compounds in a water sample. Dissolved salt increases the density of water, and the density of water also increases as temperature decreases. Deeper water is colder and denser. Density is also affected by water pressure. Since water pressure increases with increasing depth, the density of seawater also increases as depth increases.
Optical sensors are used to measure the amount of turbidity, fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen at various depths in the water column. Dissolved oxygen levels fluctuate with temperature, salinity and pressure changes and is a key indicator of water quality. Dissolved oxygen is essential for the survival of fish and other marine organisms. Oxygen gets into the water as gas exchange with the atmosphere and as a by-product of plant photosynthesis (algae, kelp etc.).
Typically, CTD instruments are attached to a large circular metal frame called a Rosette, which contains water-sampling bottles that are remotely opened and closed at different depths to collect water samples for later analysis. Using the information and samples collected, scientists can make inferences about the occurrence of certain chemical properties to better understand the distribution and abundance of life in particular areas of the ocean.
On our mission, scientists deploy the CTD to a depth of 500 meters at most stations. On the shelf break, the researchers deployed the CTD to 1200 meters (more than 3/4 of a mile below the surface) to collect samples. The pressure is so great at this depth that a 1 foot by 1 foot square of Styrofoam is crushed to a quarter of its size(3″x 3″).
Around 01:30 last night we lost our Tucker Trawl net as it was being re-positioned. The winds had picked up to around 20 knots and the sea height was around 5-8 feet according to the bridge log. The sea state complicated the retrieval and as best we can conclude the wind and seas pushed the net bridle into a prop blade which swiftly and effortlessly cut the 1/3” thick metal wire cable and separated the net from its tether. Mishaps at sea are part and parcel of working in a harsh and variable environments. Even the very best and most experienced captain and crew encounter unforeseen issues from time to time. Dr. Jaime Jahncke quickly stepped into action and made contact with onshore colleagues to arrange for another net for the next research cruise. In the meantime, we plan to use the hoop net to collect krill samples, weather permitting.
Did You Know?
According to NOAA scientists, only about 5% of the Earth’s oceans have been explored.
“The solution to pollution is dilution” was a common refrain during the midcentury as large scale factories became more common. This mindset applied to both air and water as both seemed limitless. Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, a relatively small body of water, it’s easy to see how this logic prevailed. Even the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh surface water in the world, accepted incalculable amounts of pollution and sewage from coastal factories, steel and wood mills, and of course major cities.
The rise of the modern technological age that took humans to the moon gave us the first glimpse of the fallacy of the “solution”. “Earthrise” is the first photo of the entire Earth taken from space, showing us how thin our protective atmosphere really is and how delicately the Blue Planet floats in the vastness of space. This is the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
To truly guide the development of national policies including those that protect air and water quality, federal agencies such as NOAA are responsible for collecting data about our atmosphere and oceans, now knowing that these ecological compartments cannot endlessly dilute the pollution we generate. What seemed to be an obvious solution has today ballooned into a number of serious problems, from acid rain and blinding smog in cities to burning rivers, mass fish die offs that wash up on Lake Michigan beaches and dying coral reefs in the oceans.
A major pollutant in the Gulf is sourced from industrial agriculture practices from as far away as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest farm belt. Fertilizer and pesticides enter local rivers that find their way to the Mississippi River which carries contaminants into the Gulf of Mexico.
We have reached the Gulf’s “Dead Zone”, yielding a few tiny catches. Station W1601 may have given the smallest catch ever—a clump of seaweed and a whole shrimp.
Hypoxia literally means “low oxygen”. When fertilizers used to grow corn and soy enter bodies of water, they likewise feed the growth of algae, which are not technically plants but they are the aquatic equivalent. But plants make oxygen, how can this lead to low oxygen? Algae and land plants only produce oxygen during the day. At night, they consume oxygen gas through respiration. They do this during the day as well, but overall produce more oxygen in the light through photosynthesis. For hundreds of millions of years, that’s been fine, but the recent addition of fertilizers and the warm Gulf waters cause an explosion of the kind of microscopic algae that are suspended in the water column and turn water bright green, or red in the case of “red tides”. These explosions are called algal blooms.
Algal blooms can cloud up water, making life hard for other photosynthetic organisms such as coral symbionts and larger seaweeds. At night, animals can suffocate without oxygen. During red tides, some algae release toxins that harm other life. When these organisms die and sink, bacteria go to work and decompose their bodies. The population of bacteria explodes, consuming the remaining oxygen at the sea floor. Animals that wander into the hypoxic zone also suffocate and die, feeding more decomposer bacteria that can survive with little to no oxygen. Thus, hypoxic areas are also called “dead zones”. The hypoxic zone is just above the sea floor, as little as a half a meter above, and oxygen levels can drop precipitously within a meter of the bottom.
NOAA scientists including those conducting the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish survey on Oregon II track the location, size and movement of the Gulf hypoxic zone using the conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe, or CTD. The CTD is sent into the water before every trawl to take a variety of measurements. Besides conductivity (a measure of ions), temperature and oxygen, the CTD also checks the salinity, clarity and amount of photosynthetic pigments in the water, which gives an idea of plankton populations. Ours uses two different sensors for conductivity, salinity, temperature and oxygen, double-checking each other. A pump pulls water through the various sensors and the measurements are sent directly to a computer in the dry lab to record these data.
The CTD is lowered to just under the surface of the water to make sure the pump is working and to flush the system. Then it is lowered to within a meter of the bottom. The CTD also has an altimeter to measure the distance from the bottom, while the ship also uses sonar to determine the water depth at each station. Water is measured continuously as the CTD is lowered and raised, creating a graph that profiles the water column. Crewmen are on deck controlling the winches according to the directions from a scientist over the radio who is monitoring the water depth and measurements in the dry lab.
The CTD also has bottles that can store water samples so oxygen can be tested a third time in the lab onboard. When we only get a few fish where the CTD recorded normal oxygen, the CTD is launched again to verify oxygen levels using all three methods. In the CTD output, oxygen is coded in green as a line on the graph and in the data tables. Most stations read in the 5-6 range, the cutoff for hypoxia is 2. We are reading less than 1 in the Dead Zone.
With storms in the path and not-so-plenty of fish in the sea, today is a slow day.
Looking out over the water, I can’t help but think how intrepid, even audacious, early mariners must have been. I know we are within a couple miles of the coast but there’s no sign of land anywhere in any direction. Even with the reassurance that satellites, radar, radios, AND trained NOAA Corps officers steering in the bridge are all keeping track of us, I still swallow a moment of panic. What kind of person decides to sail out in search of new continents when it only takes a couple hours to lose track of where you came from? And yet, the Polynesians set out thousands years ago in canoes from mainland Asia, the Aborigine ancestors managed to find Australia, and of course, Europeans sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, whether they knew it or not. It was all possible through careful observations of the winds, waves, ocean currents, stars and other indications of direction, but I still have to think that that’s a pretty bold move when you don’t know if land lies ahead.
At least we’re not alone out here. These are some other animals that we’ll leave for the mammal survey and birders to count.
Dolphins appear around large catches for some pickings from the net.
Frigate birds, male in the upper left appear black, female below with a white breast.
Frigate bird inhabit tropical waters and are relatively uncommon in the U.S.
Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis
Gulls never left the side of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Did You Know?
The CTD also shows the layers of ocean water. Looking at the graph again for the red (salinity) and blue (temperature) lines, we can see where they cross at about 15 meters. This shows where colder, saltier water starts compared to the warm surface water that is diluted by fresh water and mixed by wind.
Sometimes the pursuit of scientific knowledge requires very precise scientific instruments, and sometimes it just requires a bucket, funnel, and a coffee filter. During the CTD casts, a special bottle collects water samples from a specific depth. The CTD can hold multiple water sample bottles, so a few days ago I was able to choose the location for an extra water sample to be taken. The required water sample was taken near the ocean floor, and I requested one at about 15 meters below the surface.
On the EK60 we had noticed a lot of “munge” in the water near the surface and we wanted to know exactly what was in the water that was reflecting an acoustic signal back up to the transducers since it did not appear to be fish. The upper part of the water column that had the munge was expected to have more small and microscopic organisms than the sample taken at a lower depth because of what had been seen on the EK60.
The CTD water bottles have flaps on the ends that can be triggered at specific depths. When the two CTD bottles were brought back on the ship, they were opened to pour out the water samples. Once the required 1 liter sample from the bottle taken near the ocean floor was put aside for another scientific study, the rest of the water was put into large white buckets to be sampled and inspected as we saw fit. We had one large bucket filled with water from near the bottom which we labeled “deep” and the water from only 15 meters down, which we labeled “shallow”.
We used coffee filters placed in funnels to strain out any microscopic organisms from the water. We had one set up for the “shallow” water sample, and another for the “deep” water sample. When there was a tiny bit of water left in the filter, we used a pipette to suck up the slurry of microscopic organisms and a bit of water and place them in a glass dish. From there, we took a few drops from each dish and put them under a dissecting microscope.
Using the dissecting microscope we were able to identify a few things that we were seeing, and even take photos of them through a special part of the microscope where a camera could be attached. We did not individually identify everything that we saw, but we did notice that there were diatoms, rotifers, crab larvae, and some type of egg. There was a noticeable difference though between the quantity of organisms in the shallow and deep samples. As predicted, the shallow water sample had many more microscopic organisms than the deep water sample.
Diatoms, eggs and larvae under the microscope
Diatoms, eggs and larvae under the microscope
Diatoms, eggs and larvae under the microscope
Yesterday we did two trawls and one Methot sample. I understand so much more now about exactly how all of the instruments work and how to operate some of them. I finally feel like I was getting the hang of everything and able to be more helpful. Each trawl takes about 3 hours plus processing time, so the days pass much quicker when we are fishing often.
In our second trawl of the day we ended up catching a really neat kind of snailfish that isn’t very common. It’s always exciting to get something other than pollock in the nets, and it was really neat this time since no one else had ever seen one before either! After spending a lot of time taking photos, looking at identifying features and using books and the internet to help, we finally were able to identify it as an Okhotsk Snailfish.
Okhotsk Snailfish belly
Okhotsk Snailfish head
Okhotsk Snailfish suction
Okhotsk Snailfish side view of face
Okhotsk Snailfish Body
Okhotsk Snailfish head
Okhotsk Snailfish belly
Okhotsk Snailfish Body
Okhotsk Snailfish suction
Okhotsk Snailfish side view of face
Today we are steaming back to Dutch Harbor, AK and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about leaving life on the ship behind. I will miss being a part of research and working with the MACE team. I love being able to do research, and work closely with scientists and learn more about something that I really enjoy. I will also definitely miss seeing the ocean every day. I think it will probably be strange to walk on land now. Since the ground won’t be moving anymore, hopefully that means that I can stop walking into walls!
All operations stopped on the ship last night so that we can have enough time to make it back to land before 09:00 on June 28, 2018. Today I will be packing up my things, cleaning up my room for the next person, and then helping to clean and scrub the fish lab. Tomorrow I will return to life as a land dweller, although hopefully not forever.
Did You Know?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The Bering Sea has more than 300 species of fish, including 50 deep-sea species, of which 25 are caught commercially. The most important among them are salmon, herring, cod, flounder, halibut, and pollock.”
Mission: Rockfish recruitment and ecosystem assessment survey
Geographic Range: California Coast
Date: June 10, 2018
Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 36° 39.980′ N
Longitude: 122° 33.640′ W
Wind: 30.87 Knots from the SE
Air Temperature: 12° C
Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells
As you may have gathered from my previous blogs, I spent my time working with the night scientists. However, there was a lot happening during the daylight hours that I would like to highlight. There was a separate team assigned to the day shift. Some of their tasks included analyzing water samples, fishing, and surveying marine mammals and seabirds.
Catching fish during the day allowed them to see what prey were available to diurnal predators, and they could also compare their daytime catch to the evening catches. They used a different net called a MIK Net, which is a smaller net used for catching smaller and younger fish.
The day shift is also the best time for spotting seabirds and marine mammals. Some of the bird species spotted included brown pelican, common murre, terns, black-footed albatross, shearwaters, and at least 1 brown booby. The marine mammals we spotted included humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, common dolphins, and sea lions.
I had an opportunity to speak with Whitney Friedman, a postdoctoral researcher with NOAA, and she explained to me some of the goals of their marine mammal survey. Many may recall that there was a time when whale populations, especially humpback whales, were in significant decline. Today, humpback whales are considered a success story because of rebounded populations. The concern now is monitoring the success of their food sources. Humpback whales feed on krill and fish like anchovies. However, it is possible that when these sources are less available or as competition increases, they may feed on something else. The question is, what is that something else? During this survey, one goal was to collect whale scat for analysis. Studies have found that some seabirds feed on juvenile salmon incidentally when their preferred local prey is limited, and they move inshore to feed on anchovy. Is it possible that whales might do the same? What else might they be foraging on? Unfortunately, we did not have much luck catching whale scat this time around, but they will try again in the future, and hopefully will find the answers they are looking for.
As previously mentioned, we also did water quality tests and took water samples using the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) Rosette. This instrument has multiple functions. As the initials suggest, it detects conductivity (the measure of how well a solution conducts electricity) and temperature at any given depth. Salinity (the amount of dissolved salts and other minerals) and conductivity are directly related. By knowing the salinity and temperature, one can determine the density. Density is one of the key factors that drives the ocean currents. Many species depend on the ocean currents to bring in nutrients and food. It all comes full circle.
When we lowered the CTD we could also take water samples at any given depth. This allowed scientist to test for various parameters. For example, we filtered various water samples to determine the amount of chlorophyll at certain depths. This can help scientists estimate the growth rates of algae, which in the open ocean are called phytoplankton. One of the scientists collected water to analyze for environmental DNA (eDNA). This is DNA that might be left in the air, soil, or water from feces, mucus, or even shed skin of an organism. In her case, she was trying to find a way to analyze the water samples for sea turtle DNA.
I’ve heard of eDNA, but I have never actually understood how they collected and analyzed samples for this information. My understanding is that it can be used to detect at least the presence of an extant species. However, when collecting these samples, it is likely to find more than one species. Scientists can use previously determined DNA libraries to compare to the DNA found in their samples.
We started trawling again on the evening of June 7th. By then we settled ourselves into the protection of the Monterey Bay due to the weather getting bad. While we still had some off-shore stations, we tried our best to stay close to the bay because of the wind and swells. We had some interesting and challenging trawls in this area: lots of jellyfish. Some of the trawls were so full we had to actually drop the catch and abort the trawl. If not, we risked tearing the net. We tried to mitigate the overwhelming presence of jellies by reducing our trawls to 5 minutes instead of 15 minutes, and we still had similar results. One night, we had to cancel the final trawl to sew up the net. I’ve been told that sewing a fish net is an art form. Our deck hands and lead fisherman knew exactly what to do.
Let me tell you my experience with jellyfish during the survey. As you may recall, someone must be on watch for marine mammals on the bridge. This is the ship’s control room that sits on the 5th level above water.
From here you can see the surface of the water quite well, which makes it a great spot for the marine mammal watch. It was also great for watching hundreds of moon jellies and sea nettles float right by. It was one of the coolest things to watch. It was somewhat peaceful, especially hanging your head out of the window, the cool air blowing against your face, and the occasional mist of sea spray as the ship’s hull crashes against some of the larger swells. However, that same peaceful state disappears the moment you realize, “I’m gonna have to lift, count, and sort all those jellies!” I wasn’t too concerned about being stung; we had gloves for the sea nettles and the moon jellies were no real threat. However, the sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscenscens) smelled AWFUL, and the moon jellies (Aurelia spp.) are quite large and heavy. I’m honestly not sure how much they weighed; we did measure up to 20 per haul, some of them measuring over 400 mm. Even if they weighed about 5 pounds, lifting 50-60 of them consecutively until the count is complete is enough to get the muscles burning and the heart rate elevated. It was a workout to say the least. I was literally elbows deep in jellyfish. I also wore my hair in a ponytail most of the time. Anyone that knows me knows well enough that my hair is long, and definitely spent some time dipping into the gelatinous goop. I smelled so bad! HAHAHAHA! Nonetheless, it was still one of the most intriguing experiences I’ve had. Even though the jelly hauls proved to be hard work, I enjoyed it.
In those last few days, I felt like I became integrated into the team of scientists, and I felt comfortable with living out at sea. I had a few moments of nausea, but never really got sea sick. I still couldn’t walk straight when the ship rocked, but even the experts wobbled when the ship hit the big swells. Then, that was it for me. By the time I got the hang of it all, it was time to leave. I wish there were more hours in the day, so I could have experienced more of the day time activities, but I still got to see more than I thought I would, and for that I am grateful.
Did you know…
NOAA offers many career options. As a scientist, here are some things one might study:
track and forecast severe storms like hurricanes and tornadoes; monitor global weather and climatic patterns
Research coastal ecosystems to determine their health, to monitor fish populations, and to create policies that promote sustainable fisheries
Charting coastal regions and gathering navigational data to protect the ship from entering unsafe waters
NOAA Corps allows one to serve as a uniformed officer, commanding a ship or piloting aircraft. On NOAA Ships, they need engineers, technicians, IT specialists, deck hands, fishermen, and even cooks (The Reuben Lasker had two of the best, Kathy (Chief Steward) and Susan (second cook)). There are many opportunities available through NOAA, and there is a longer list of amazing experiences one can have working for this organization. If you want to explore in more detail, visit http://www.careers.noaa.gov/index.html
Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude and Longitude: 57°43.2’ N, 133 °35.7’ W, Sky Condition: Overcast , Visibility: 10+ nautical miles, Wind Speed: 2 knots, Sea Level Pressure: 1024.34 millibars, Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C, Air Temperature: Dry bulb: 11.78°C, Wet bulb: 10.78°C
Science and Technology Log
I was part of the crew launched on RA-3 where I learned to turn towards a man overboard in order to ensure that the stern of the ship turns away from them. Communicating via the radio was another highlight where I was certain to follow the proper protocol.
Next, we moved onto deploying the C.T.D., conductivity, temperature and depth device to determine the sound profile of the water. The winch is a pulley system off the back of the launches that casts the C.T.D. and functions similar to a crab pot winch with an addition of a pressure bar to alleviate the weight of the thirty pound C.T.D.
After passing an iceberg with a seal, we began collecting soil samples with a device called a grab sampler. This was connected to the winch and went down about three hundred and thirty feet to collect a bottom sample. The first sample consisted of small shells of mostly barnacles, along with some medium grained sand and large silt submerged in solution. The second sample was pristine clay with a slight green color created from the physical erosion of the surrounding rocks of the mountains. Soil sample data is collected and included in the data report because it can affect the sound speed of water. It can also provide useful information about the types of organisms that could live in this ecosystem, along with the types of resources available in this area.
Next, we connected with RA-6 and had a crew transfer so that I could learn how hydrographic surveying actually works. Newly certified H.I.C., hydrographer in charge, Audrey Jerauld was kind enough to share her knowledge of conducting surveying within Tracy’s Arm. Since Rainier surveyed most of the channel, RA-6 was simply collecting near shore data using the multi-beam sonar. The I.M.U., inertial measuring unit, (not to be confused with the Hawaiian imu which is an underground cooking pit) accurately records the pitch, roll, heave and yaw of the boat. This allows GPS receivers to function even when a satellite is not available. I learned that this is important since when surveying next to a steep cliff,when the satellite cannot reach the small launch, this provides an alternate, accurate means of placement. It determines a D.R., or dead reckoning based on the I.M.U. accelerators and creates a plot of where it thinks the launch is.
The sun was shining yesterday afternoon and I loved soaking up the Vitamin D offered by the sun’s rays while practicing yoga on the flying bridge. When Junior Officer Ian Robbins invited me to go kayaking, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to explore Holkham Bay on a kayak with more maneuverability. I descended into the kayak via a rope ladder off the ship and paddled about three miles through a kelp forest to the nearby Sandy Island. Here, there were endless barnacles, urchins, starfish and kelp to explore near the shore in this inter tidal ecosystem. After pulling the kayaks up to shore and exploring land, I had the realization that with each step I was crushing more living organisms than I cared to consider. The rocks and shells soon turned to rye grass and marshland with some larger rocks.
We eventually pulled the kayaks to the other side of the island and kayaked our way next to a blue iceberg. Seeing concentric circles and the intricate pattern of the frozen water crystals was a spectacular sight. Kayaking around such a beautiful natural phenomenon that has been in existence much before I have, was again, a humbling experience.
Paddling back to the ship with Sumdum glacier to the right and passing through a narrow channel that lead to the beautiful golden glow of the sun about to set proved to be a perfect ending to an exciting day. Feeling amazed at the sight in every direction made me once again feel extreme gratitude for this exceptional opportunity to be around such vast beauty.
Did You Know?
Mooring line, or the rope used to tie a ship to the dock, is often made of spectra. This synthetic polymer, spectra, doesn’t stretch and is extremely strong, so much so that it can bend metal if enough tension is put on it. It is three times stronger than polyester.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Seattle, Washington to Southeast, Alaska
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 48.15° N, Longitude: 122 ° South 58.0’ West, Visibility: 8 nautical miles, Wind: 24 knots, Temperature: 14.2° C
Science and Technology Log
I was fortunate enough to sit in on a survey orientation for new survey technicians and junior officers with Lieutenant Steven Loy. He was on Rainier as the Field Operations Officer, F.O.O., in the past and is currently here as an augmenter filling the role of Senior Watch Officer since he has navigated through the Inside Passage several times. In his two hour orientation, he shared a wealth of knowledge and discussed how multibeam sonar and ultrasounds are two opposite ends to the ultrasonic pulse spectrum.
Multibeam sonar sends out sound and measures the time it takes to return to calculate the depth of the ocean floor. The accuracy of the depth data generated from the multibeam sonar relies on the sound speed profile of the water. The combined effects of temperature, salinity and pressure generate a sound speed profile. Because of the inherent importance of this profile, there are several different ways to measure it. The sound velocity profiler measures this right at the interface of the multibeam sonar. C.T.D.s., or conductivity temperature and depth machines, measure water profile while the ship is stopped. M.V.P.s, or moving vessel profilers, take the water profile as the vessel is moving. Lastly, XBTs are expendable bathythermographs that measure temperature while the ship is in motion.
Sound is affected by different variables as it is energy that travels through a medium as a wave. Lieutenant Loy shared an informative website, The Discovery of Sound in the Sea, where I was able to enhance my understanding. Sound can travel through a liquid, such as water, a gas like air, or a solid like the sea floor. On average, sound travels about 1500 meters per second in sea water. However, the rate changes at different times of day, various locations, changing seasons and varying depths of the water. By looking at sound speed at one particular place in the ocean, you can determine how the different variables affect this sound. Usually, as depth increases, temperature decreases, while salinity and pressure increase.
A multi-beam sensor has a metal plate receiver and a transmitter perpendicular to one another. This array geometry enhances sound. The sound velocity profiler is next to the receiver and measures right at the interface. To determine the speed of sound right where the beam is generated, sonar is used to measure speed sound across a known distance. This information is then utilized in the overall determination of the depth of the ocean floor. Once this cast is taken, the Seafloor Information System (SIS), can adjust sonar measurements accordingly.
Another way to measure the sound profile of water includes a C.T. D. This device measures the conductivity, temperature and depth of the water. Conductivity measures the electrical current of the water. The more dissolved salt, or ions in solution, the greater the conductivity and salinity of the water. The depth of the water is directly related to the pressure of the water. Salinity, temperature and pressure affect the sound speed profile of water. This machine has a high data rate that goes up and down the water column. The titanium C.T.D. operates at a high pressure and costs about forty thousand dollars. This accurate technology can only be utilized when the boat is stopped and is used on the smaller survey launches.
A third method of measuring sound profile is the M.V.P., moving vessel profiler, which takes the data when the ship is moving. These are calibrated before a survey begins and are an efficient way to collect data. An expansive crane lowers the metal torpedo with the sensor off the fantail, the overhanging back part of the ship, into the water to collect the data. The fish is programmed to stop twenty meters above the ocean floor, at which point it returns to its docked position. On ship Rainier, the deck department deploys the fish with a cable wire and the plot room with the survey technicians controls the sensor.
Another way to collect the sound profile of water with a moving vessel is to use an expendable probe. As temperature decreases, the sound speed decreases. Since temperature is the most important factor affecting the speed of sound, an X.B.T., Expendable Bathythermograph, or expendable probe created by the military. With bathy relating to depth and thermo meaning heat, this measures the temperature of the water at a cost of about one hundred dollars. These probes descend at a known rate, so, depth is a function of time.
We left port yesterday at 16:30, which has been a highlight of my NOAA Teacher at Sea Experience thus far. Before leaving port, all hands were assigned a different assignment to help with the launch. I watched the crew bring in the gangway that connects the ship to the port then disassemble it. The crew with hard hats and orange work vests took down poles and neatly tied up different sections by knotting ropes. We slowly progressed out of the port after a cargo ship passed us.
Once the ship picked up speed and the ocean breeze was in my hair, I felt a new kind of freedom. With the Seattle skyline behind us and the beautiful green peninsulas in front of us, I was content to be moving forward. Everyone seemed to feel relieved once we were underway. I felt gratitude as I enjoyed watching the sunset from the flying bridge, the area of the ship above the bridge at the front of the ship.
After sunset, I returned to my berth, or sleeping quarters, located in the bow of the ship on the C-deck. I heard the constant white noise of the propellers that got much louder when the pitch, or angle, of them changed. This sound of seawater combined with the rocking motion of the ship lulled me to sleep on our first night at sea.