Victoria Cavanaugh: West of Prince of Wales Island, April 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Victoria Cavanaugh
Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
April 16-27, 2018

MissionSoutheast Alaska Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska

Date: April 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 54° 40.914′ N
Longitude: 134° 05.229′ W
Sea Wave Height: 8-9feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: NNW
Visibility: 10 km
Air Temperature: 9.5oC  
Sky:  Partly Sunny in the AM, Cloudy in the PM

Science and Technology Log

Over the past two days, the crew of NOAA Ship Fairweather has been hard at work on the first major project of the season, charting the ocean floor along the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault System.  The project itself will take seven days, though with two days at sea before heading to port in Ketchikan, the survey techs have been focusing on the first sheet, D00245, roughly 900 kilometers offshore in an area known as West of Prince of Wales Island.

Chart of survey area

The Survey Starts Here: Note Sheet D00245 to the Left in Blue

Fairweather is completing the survey in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which has spent the last three years researching and mapping the seafloor along the fault.  Geologists are particularly interested in this fault as little is known about the region and the seafloor here is largely unexplored.  Geologists believe that by studying the fault line and the geology of the ocean floor, they may be able to unlock secrets about the history of our oceans as well as develop new understanding of seismic activity that can keep communities safer when future earthquakes strike.

Plot room

The Plot Room: Survey Techs aboard Fairweather Can View the Data Being Collected in Real-Time

One of the reasons the USGS turned to NOAA to complete its charting efforts is because of the tremendous ocean depths.  The survey techs are using  Fairweather multibeam echosounders for the project which will take a total of seven days to complete.  Sonar pings from the ship’s transducer hit the ocean floor and bounce back to the ship, creating 2D and 3D charts of the ocean floor.  Additionally, survey techs can learn more information about the type of surface on the ocean floor (sandy, rocky, etc.)  based on the strength of the return of the sonar pings. Despite the seafloor in the area being some 15,000 years old, it has never been explored!   Thus, for the survey techs and geologists working on this project, there is a sense of pure excitement in being able to explore and discover a new frontier and help others sea what humans have never seen before.

Depth reading

1520 Meters Down: The Number at the Top Left of the Screen Shows We’re in Water Nearly a Mile Deep!

One of the geologists remarked that he was surprised to see that despite how old the ocean floor in the area is, little appears to have changed, geologically speaking in thousands of years.  Another surprise for geologists is how the fault appears to be one large, long crack.  Many other fault areas appear to be made up of lots of small, jagged, and complicated “cracks.”  Another question to explore!

Shallower depth reading

A Much More Shallow Area: Notice the Sonar Here Shows We’re Just 247 Meters Deep

Notice the colors which help survey techs see the changing depths quickly.  The green, mostly vertical lines, show the ship’s course.  To collect data, Fairweather  runs about 6 hours in one direction, before turning around to run 6 hours in the opposite direction.  This allows survey techs to gather more data about ocean depths with each turn.  In total, survey techs collected nearly 48 hours of data.  This meant survey techs working all night long to monitor and process all of the new information collected.

Bekah and CTD

Survey Tech Bekah Gossett Prepares to Launch a CTD off the Ship’s Stern

Just like on the launches during patch tests, survey techs deploy CTD’s to measure the water’s conductivity (salinity), temperature, and pressure.  This information is key in order to understand the speed of sound in a given area of water and ensure that the sonar readings are accurate.

Survey techs ready CTD

The Survey Techs Work in Rough Seas to Ready the CTD

Personal Log

View off bow

Nothing But Blue Skies in Every Direction!

In striking contrast to the beautiful coastlines that framed the Inside Passage, the last two days have provided endless blue skies mixing with infinite blue seas.  No land in sight!

Nautical chart

Finding the Survey Area West of Prince of Wales Island on a Chart

Radar

The Ship’s Radar Shows Just One Vessel Nine Miles Due East

The open ocean is challenging (huge waves make the entire ship sway constantly and gives new meaning to earning one’s “sea legs”), but far more inspiring.  I’m grateful for the glimpse into life at sea that NOAA has provided me.  There is deep sense of trust among the crew, in their collective hard work that keeps us all safe in the middle of the ocean.  There is also a wonderful sense of adventure, at being part of discovering something new.  Just as explorers have sought after new frontiers for hundreds of years, Fairweather today is charting areas still unknown to humankind.  There is something truly invigorating about watching the sonar reflect the ocean floor in a rainbow of colors, in watching as peaks and valleys slowly are painted across the monitors in the plot room and bit by bit, another sliver of science is added to the charts.  There is something particularly refreshing and exciting about seeing whales spray and play in the waves while standing on the ship’s bridge.  I’m truly grateful to all onboard Fairweather and NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program for this remarkable opportunity, and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with students back at Devotion.

Wave heights

The View out a Port Window Shows Some of the More Extreme Wave Heights as Fairweather Rocks and Rolls

Did You Know?

Prince of Wales Island is one of the southernmost parts of Alaska.  Home to some 4,000 inhabitants, Prince of Wales Island is the 4th largest island in the US and the 97th largest island in the world.   Originally home to the indigenous Kaigani Haida people,  Spanish, British, and French explorers all passed by the island in the 1700 and 1800’s.  In the late 1800’s, miners came to the island looking for gold, copper, and other metals.  Today, most of the land is protected as the Tongass National Forest covers a great portion of the island.

Challenge Question #5: Devotion 7th Graders – Can you find the depths of the Charles River, the Boston Harbor, and 900 kilometers offshore the Massachusetts coast?  What sort of aquatic life exists in each area?  What does the river/seafloor look like in these areas?  Create a comic strip or cartoon showing your findings.

Susan Brown: Let’s Go Fishing, September 4, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 43.931N
Longitude: 086 09.617W
Sea wave height: .5 meters
Wind Speed: 2
Wind Direction: 250 degrees
Visibility: good
Air Temperature: 28.3 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016 mb
Sky: partly cloudy

Science and Technology Log

Numbered tags used for each hook

Mackerel used for bait

Today was my first shift. We are using mackerel to bait the 100 hooks that will be places into the water at a specific station. Each hook is numbered so that we can collect data on which hook brought in a fish and entered into the database. There are several jobs out here from baiting the hooks, placing the buoys, flinging the baited hooks out, and recording data in the computer. My job today is the computer.

entering data on the deployment of the baited hooks

The longline is set and left to sit in the ocean for approximately one hour before we start bringing up the line to see if we have a fish on. Out of the 100 hooks we got one fish, a baby tiger shark and a larger juvenile tiger shark coming in at six feet or so. This tiger shark had several hooks in its mouth as well as a tag so when she was brought up on board, all the hooks were removed and the tag replaced with a new one.

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Removing hooks from the tiger shark’s mouth

The tag that was on the tiger shark was opened up to reveal a small scroll of paper with a unique number so that this shark can be tracked from where it was first picked up to when it ended up with us for the brief visit. Below is a short video of us bringing up the shark in the cradle! [no dialogue or narration.]

We will be setting another line tonight at our second station as we continue to motor southeast following the coast of Florida.

Beside recording data on the sharks, a CTD is deployed to collect data on conductivity, temperature and depth. We will use this data in the classroom to look for trends between the abiotic factors that may influence where we are finding certain shark species and the number of overall sharks at any given station.

The CTD that measure conductivity, temperature and depth

Personal Log

There are many different scientists on board researching different things. I am sharing a stateroom with Dani who is on the night shift. She is looking into how different sharks handle stress. I see very little of her since we are on opposite shifts so we get a quick visit at noon when there is a changing of the guards so of say. Brett and Carlos, as mentioned in an earlier post, are looking into parasites that inhabit the various animals we are bringing up. I will do a separate blog on those two and their research later this week to share what they are finding.

Donning the survival suit during abandon ship drill

Today we had a few drills to practice in case of an emergency. One was a fire drill and the other was an abandon ship drill where I had to don a large neoprene suit in less than two minutes. Here I am in that suit! It was quite cumbersome to put on.

Learning new words as I get acclimated to the ship. Here are a few for you:

The head = bathroom

Stateroom = room where I sleep

Muster = to assemble

Bow = the front of the ship

Stern = the back of the ship

Did You Know?

Military time is used on board this ship. See the photo of the clock below.

Question of the Day: Why use military time?

NOAA clock

Lisa Battig: Nome, Alaska & Launch 2808, August 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Battig

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

August 28 – September 8, 2017

 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Alaska

Date: Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Location: Port Clarence: 65o14.034N 166o43.072W

Weather on the bridge:
30+ knot winds, 42o F, 4ft seas, heavy stratocumulus clouds (9/10 coverage)

Science & Technology Log

Over the past two days I have been introduced to tremendous amounts of the science of hydrography. In this blog post I will focus on the hardware used and the process of surveying. There are two types of sonar that are being employed. The first is side scan sonar and the second is multibeam sonar.

Side Scan

Side scan array sonar housed underneath one of the small launch vessels

 

Side scan is shorter range and performs better in shallower water. Side scan is used in conjunction with multibeam, however, as side scan does not give true depth values. The function of side scan is to show features evident on the ocean floor. For this reason, multibeam is run in conjunction with side scan in order to keep an accurate record of depths.

Multibeam

Multibeam sonar housed underneath another of the small launch vessels

Multibeam shows an exact depth. Due to the fact that it is an angular spreading band from the center of the underside of the launch, at shallow depths it will only show a very narrow strip of ocean floor.


Stop and imagine…a lit flashlight shining on a wall from only a few centimeters away. What happens to the image on the wall as you pull the flashlight back? The area of coverage of the image will become larger. The concept is similar for the multibeam in shallow versus deeper water.


Using multibeam in shallow water then would create a need for more passes closer together in order to cover an area. There are instances where using this technology even in shallow water would make sense, but for a full coverage survey, this would not be the case.

CTD Image 2

A CTD; it contains sensors for conductivity, temperature and density of the water column

The third piece of hardware used for the standard small boat launch hydrographic surveys is the CTD device. The CTD will measure conductivity of the water and also give both a temperature and density profile. The CTD is deployed multiple times during a survey as a tool to calibrate the data that is coming in via the sonar. Conductivity of the water gives an estimate of the total dissolved solids in the water. This information, along with the temperature and density will give an estimate of sound speed through the water column.


Stop and try this one for better understanding… knock on a door normally with your head roughly arm’s distance from the point where you are knocking. Now repeat the process of knocking, but with your ear pressed against the door approximately an arm’s length away from the knock. What is different? You should have noticed that a more precise (and typically louder) sound reached your ear. If you pay close attention, you will also notice that the sound reaches your ear more quickly. This is roughly analogous to how changes in the water column will affect sound speed.


The final piece of equipment used regularly for surveys is a HorCon (horizontal control) station. This is a land-based station that will help to define accurate position in the water. It allows for greater precision with global positioning data. The signals of satellites responsible for global position are affected daily by changing atmospheric conditions. Moreover, the precise positions of the satellites themselves are actually not well known in advance. This may result in a GPS location moving a few centimeters in one direction or another. While this is not going to heavily impact your ability to find a Starbucks in a strip mall, it can have a definite impact on the accuracy of charts for navigation. The HorCon station always remains in the same place on land, and can therefore be used to calibrate the measurements being read in the survey waters nearby and that information can be used along with corrected satellite positions since it is coming after the fact.

Port Clarence chart

A nautical chart of the Port Clarence and Grantley Harbor area where we were surveying

Today we worked in Port Clarence, Alaska, both outside and inside of Grantley Harbor. Most of the depths being surveyed are in the 4-6 meter range. The particular area being surveyed had been previously surveyed in the 1950s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, likely using a single beam sonar system. The current survey is intended to note changes that have occurred since that prior survey and to accurately update all of the charts. The area of western Alaska is expected to increase in boat traffic over the coming years due to the opening of the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic via the Arctic. This route is significantly shorter for most shipping traffic than the route through the Panama Canal. Because of this expected increase in traffic, there is a need to identify areas for sheltering during heavy seas. Port Clarence is a natural inlet that offers some protection and holds potential for this purpose.

The process of surveying:
Two launches were deployed. I was on launch 2808, the second described here. The first was equipped with only multibeam sonar and the second had both multibeam and side scan. The plans for the two launches were different. The launch with only multibeam was working in an area of Grantley Harbor and covering an area that had previously been mapped to insure that the values were acceptably accurate. This focus existed primarily because of extra time available up in this area. The launch running the side scan was completing some unfinished work in Port Clarence and then did further work inside of Grantley Harbor. These areas, or “sheets” are described below. As a side note, small boat deployment is a fascinating and involved activity that I will discuss in a later blog.

Survey areas are broken up into sections known as “sheets” – each sheet has a manager. This person will be from either the NOAA Corps or a civilian member of the scientific survey team. The sheet manager will be responsible for setting up the plan for survey and doing all of the final checks after data has been gathered, cleaned and examined to determine if there are areas that should be rechecked or run again before it is completed and undergoes final processing.

A sheet manager will need to consider several questions prior to setting up the initial parameters for the survey. What is the depth being surveyed? What type of bottom is it? What type of coverage is needed? All of these factors will come into play when determining how the lines will be run – how long, how far apart, which sonar type, etc.
Once the plan is determined, it will be the job of the Operations Officer, LT Damian Manda, to parse out the duties and create a daily work plan to cover all of the areas. Each day, multiple launches will be sent out to gather data as described above. As the fieldwork finishes for the day, data will be transferred to a drive and then brought into the ship’s mapping room where night processers will begin the lengthy work of checking and cleaning the data so that it can all be ready for the final processing step prior to being sent to the client.

HMarshburn at computer

Senior surveyor Hannah Marshburn at the computer terminal in launch 2808

How good are those data?
There are several checks built into the data collection process. First, the survey team members on the launches are watching in real time. With three screens to work from, they are able to see what the sonars are seeing and can also set certain limits for the data that will alarm when something appears to be contrary to what’s expected. Night processors look for anomalies in the data like sudden inexplicable drops in depth in an otherwise flat surface or an extremely “noisy” area with little good data. Any area with a former survey will also be compared to the previous values with large differences signaling possible issues. Many trained eyes look at the data before it is accepted for charting and there will commonly be at least one return to an area to check and recheck prior to completion. One area in the current survey has continued to show odd results, so trained NOAA divers will dive the area to find out what is really going on.

Personal Log

So far this has been an amazing experience. I fully enjoy being among the crew of the Fairweather and living on the ship. It’s hard to say what my favorite part has been so far because I have honestly enjoyed all of it! Since we didn’t get underway until Monday, I had the opportunity on Sunday to roam around Nome with a couple of the other folks that are just here for two weeks, LT Joe Phillips and LCDR Ryan Toliver. I learned a lot more about both the NOAA Corps and the Public Health Service of which they are respectively a part. (These are two of the seven uniformed services – can you name the other five?) NOAA Corps officers are in command on all of the active NOAA commissioned ships and aircraft and you will learn a lot more about them in future posts. The PHS is an organization made up primarily of medical professionals. These folks serve in various medical and medical research positions around the nation. There are many who will work for the National Institutes of Health in research, or the Bureau of Prisons or commissioned vessels like Fairweather as practitioners. Unlike NOAA Corps, PHS is not on a billet cycle where every two to three years you will be moved to a new position in a different office or location. Similar to all of the other uniformed services, though, promotion through the ranks is both encouraged and desired.

Traditional Boat - Nome

As we walked all around Nome, this was one of the sights – the frame of a traditional fishing boat.

We also saw the marker for the end of the Iditarod race. I was able to see the historic beginning in Seward, Alaska back in 2010, so seeing the end in Nome was an unexpected treat. Nome also has Cold War-era missile early warning system arrays at the top of a mountain nearby. We had a chance to hike around them and see some of the interesting geologic features of the area. There’s so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll stop here and save shipboard life for my next post.

Did You Know…

… that the Iditarod has its historic beginnings with the Public Health Service? There were many children in interior and western Alaska dying of diphtheria in the early 1920s. When it reached epidemic proportions, the only doctor in Nome reached out to the PHS in the lower 48 to ask for help. Vials of serum were found and sent north to Seward, but then because of heavy ice and storming, dog sled teams were used to get the vials to the interior towns and to Nome. The original race along the Iditarod Trail was run as a memorial to the “Serum Run” and eventually evolved into the highly competitive race it is today.

Amanda Dice: Ending Week 1 at Line 8, August 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

map cropped

Oscar Dyson moves across the Shelikof Straight to collect the Line 8 samples

Geographic area of cruise: Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: August 26, 2017

Weather Data: 13.2 C, cloudy with light rain

Latitude 57 36.6 N, Longitude 155 .008 N

 

 

Science and Technology Log

As part of this survey, the scientists onboard collect data from what is known as “Line 8”. This is a line of seven sampling stations, positioned only a few miles apart, near the southern opening of Shelikof Straight between Kodiak Island and the Alaskan Peninsula. Water samples are taken at different depths at each sampling station to measure several different properties of the water. This study is focused on profiling water temperature and salinity, and measuring the quantities of nutrients and phytoplankton in the water.

IMG_0988

The CTD rosette is lowered into the water using a winch – as seen from above.

To collect this data, a conductivity and temperature at depth (CTD) instrument is lowered into the water. This instrument can take water samples at different depths, by using its eleven canisters, or Niskin bottles. The water collected in the Niskin bottles will be used to determine the nutrient quantities at each station. The rosette of Niskin bottles also has sensors on it that measure phytoplankton quantities, depth, temperature, and how conductive the water is. Scientists can use the readings from conductivity and temperature meters to determine the salinity of the water.

Each Niskin bottle has a stopper at the top and the bottom. The CTD goes into the water with both ends of each Niskin bottle in the open position. The CTD is then lowered to a determined depth, depending on how deep the water is at each station. There is a depth meter on the CTD that relays its position to computers on board the ship. The survey team communicates its position to the deck crew who operate the winch to raise and lower it.

IMG_1164

Niskin bottles are lowered into the water with the stoppers at both ends open.

When the CTD is raised to the first sampling depth, the survey crew clicks a button on a monitor, which closes the stoppers on both ends of Niskin bottle #1, capturing a water sample inside. The CTD is then raised to the next sampling depth where Niskin bottle #2 is closed. This process continues until all the samples have been collected. A computer on board records the depth, conductivity and temperature of the water as the CTD changes position. A line appears across the graph of this data to show where each sample was taken. After the Niskin bottles on the CTD are filled, it is brought back onto the deck of the ship.

IMG_1173

They let me take control of closing the Niskin bottles at the sampling depths!

CTD screen cropped

I used this screen to read the data coming back from the CTD and to hit the bottle to close each Niskin bottle. The purple horizontal lines on the graph on the right indicate where each one was closed.

Water is collected through a valve near the bottom of each Niskin bottle. A sample of water from each depth is placed in a labeled jar. This study is interested in measuring the quantity of nutrients in the water samples. To do this it is important to have samples without phytoplankton in them. Special syringes with filters are used to screen out any phytoplankton in the samples.

Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 8.28.56 PM

Syringes with special filters to screen out phytoplankton are used to collect water samples from the Niskin bottles.

The “Line 8” stations have been sampled for nutrient, plankton, and physical water properties for many years. The data from the samples we collected will be added to the larger data set maintained by the Ecosystems and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (Eco-FOCI), Seattle, Washington. This NOAA Program has data on how the marine ecosystem in this area has changed over the last few decades. When data spans a long time frame, like this study does, scientists can identify trends that might be related to the seasons and to inter-annual variation in ocean conditions. The samples continue to be collected because proper nutrient levels are important to maintaining healthy phytoplankton populations, which are the basis of most marine food webs.

 

IMG_1171

Collecting water samples from a Niskin bottle.

Personal Log

As we travel from one station to the next, I have some time to talk with other members of the science team and the crew. I have really enjoyed learning about places all over the world by listening to people’s stories. Most people aboard this ship travel many times a year for their work or have lived in remote places to conduct their scientific studies. Their stories inspire me to keep exploring the planet and to always search for new things to learn!

Did you know?

Niskin bottles must be lowered into the water with both ends open to avoid getting an air bubble trapped inside of them. Pressure increases as depth under water increases. Niskin bottles are often lowered down below 150 meters, where the pressure can be intense. If an air bubble were to get trapped inside, the pressure at these depths would cause air bubble to expand so much that it might damage the Niskin bottle!

Anna Levy: Fish Rules, July 17, 2017


NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 17, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Warm weather and blue skies are making it easy to spend a lot of time out on deck, looking for wildlife! In addition to the lazy seagulls who keep hitching a ride on the ship’s trawling gear, we continue to spot dolphins, flying fish, and even a shark feeding frenzy!

IMG_1191

Lazy sea gulls hitch a ride on our trawling gear

Latitude: 28 24.13 N
Longitude: 83 57.32 W
Air temp: 27.7 C
Water temp: 31.3 C
Wind direction: light and variable
Wind speed: light and variable
Wave height: 0.3 meter
Sky: 50% cloud cover, no rain

 

Science and Technology Log

The organisms in each catch provide a snap shot of the marine life in one location in one moment in time. It’s interesting to see what we catch, but there are not many scientific conclusions that we can draw based on what we see in just 10 days. However, this survey has been completed twice per year (once in the summer and once in the fall) for over 35 years. It is looking at trends, or changes and patterns over time, that allows scientists to draw conclusions about the health and ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the major practical applications of this research is to prevent overfishing, the removal of too many individuals from a population causing that population to become unstable. Continued overfishing can lead to the extinction of a species because it leaves too few mature individuals to reproduce and replace those that are removed.

Cod Graph

Graph Created by Boston Globe

One famous example of overfishing and its consequences occurred in the late 1980’s off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Cod was a major food source and commercial industry in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrodor. However, unregulated overfishing depleted the cod population and, between 1988 and 1992 the cod population crashed, losing more than 99% of its biomass – they were essentially gone. This destroyed the industry, putting over 40,000 people out of work. In 1992, the government finally imposed a complete ban on cod fishing in hopes that the cod population could still recover. The fishing ban is still in place today, though just last year, Canadian scientists released a report stating that there are some signs of hope!

When NOAA scientists notice overfishing occurring in US waters, they can recommend that protective regulations, or rules, are put in place to limit or even stop fishing in an area until the species has had a chance to recover.

Here are a few examples of the types of regulations that have been created in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the data from the Groundfish Survey.

Texas Shrimping Closure

To prevent overfishing of shrimp in the western Gulf of Mexico, NOAA and the Texas Department of Wildlife collaborated to implement an annual closure of state and federal waters off the coast of Texas to shrimping. This is called the “Texas Closure.”

The Texas closure runs each year from about May 15 to July 15, though the exact dates vary depending on the health of the shrimp population that year. This break allows the shrimp time to mature to an age at which they can reproduce, and to migrate out to deeper waters, which is where females spawn. It also allows the shrimp to grow to a size that is more commercially valuable.

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A shrimp we caught off the coast of Florida.

We saw quite a few shrimp in our recent catches. Because this species is being more intensively monitored, we collected more detailed data about the individuals we caught, including the length, mass, and sex of a sample of least 200 individual shrimp (instead of a the smaller sample size of 20 that we used for most other species.)

In addition to sending out an annual notice to fisherman of the dates of the Texas Closure, NOAA also makes all of the shrimp survey data available. This can help fishermen to target the best fishing locations and work efficiently. For example, this is a plot showing the amount of brown shrimp found at various locations, created using this year’s survey data.

Shrimp Map

Plot Created By NOAA

Red Snapper Regulation

Another species that is currently under regulation is the red snapper, which has been a popular seafood in the US since the 1840s. As fishing technology improved and recreational fishing expanded in the 1950’s, the number of red snapper captured each year increased dramatically. The shrimp industry was also expanding rapidly at this time, and juvenile red snapper were often accidentally caught and killed in shrimp trawls. As a result of these three pressures, the red snapper population began to decline dramatically.

Red Snapper SP

Graph created by NOAA

By 1990, the spawning potential, or the number of eggs produced by the population each year, was only 2% of what it would have been naturally, without any fishing. This was far below the target spawning potential level of 26% that is necessary to sustain the species.

 

Several types of regulations were implemented to protect the snapper. These included:

  • Limiting the number of commercial and recreational fishing licenses issued each year
  • Restricting the size and number of fish that a fisherman could collect on a fishing trip
  • Reducing the amount of time each year that fishermen could fish for red snapper
  • Regulating the type of fishing gear that could be used
  • Requiring commercial shrimp fishermen to install devices on their trawls to reduce the by-catch of juvenile red snapper
  • Requiring fishermen to avoid areas where red snapper spawn

Survey results in the last 5 years show that these regulations are working and that the red snapper population is growing. This is good news. However, the red snapper is not out of the woods yet. It is important to understand that, as a species with a long life span (they can live over 50 years!), it will take time for the population to regain

Red Snapper Productivity

Graphic created by NOAA

its normal age structure. Currently, the majority of red snapper found in the Gulf are less than 10 years old. These fish are still juveniles capable of producing only a fraction of the offspring a fully mature individual would produce. It is important to continue to closely monitor and regulate the fishing of snapper until both the number and age of individuals has been restored to a sustainable level.

We were fortunate to catch members of three different species of red snapper during my leg of the survey. I did notice that most of them were relatively small – less than 10 inches – which is consistent with the concern that the population is still disproportionately young.

As with the shrimp, we collected more detailed information about these individuals. We also removed the stomachs of a sample of snappers. As I discussed in my last blog (“What Tummies Tell Us”), scientists back on land will examine the contents of their stomachs as part of a diet study to better understand what snapper are eating. Because the invasive lionfish has a competitive relationship with red snapper, meaning that it eats many of the same foods that red snapper eat, fisheries biologists are concerned that red snapper may be forced to settle for alternative and/or reduced food sources and that this could also slow their recovery.

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A typical red snapper from our catch. Note that each mark on the ruler is one centimeter.

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Red snapper from one catch.

 

Hypoxia Watch

CTD

Getting ready to deploy the CTD sensors.

In addition to collecting data about the fish and other organisms we find, remember that we also use a group of instruments called a CTD to collect information about the quality of the water at each survey station. (For more about CTDs, please see my previous blog “First Day of Fishing.”)

One of the measurements the CTD takes is the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the water. This is important because, just like you and me, fish need to take in oxygen to survive. (The difference is that you and I use our lungs to remove oxygen from the air, whereas fish use gills to remove oxygen from the water!) When dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water drop below 2 mg/L, a condition called hypoxia, most marine organisms cannot survive.

When waters become hypoxic, organisms that are able to migrate (like some fishes) will leave the area. Organisms that cannot migrate (like corals or crabs) will die from lack of oxygen. This creates large areas of ocean, called dead zones, that are devoid of typical marine life. Often anaerobic microorganisms, some of which are toxic to humans, will then grow out of control in these areas. Not only is this stressful for the marine populations, it hampers regular fishing activities, and can even pose a threat to human health.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to the largest hypoxic zone in US waters. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste from farming activities throughoAnnual Hypoxic Zone Graphut the Midwest United States all collect in the Mississippi River, which drains into the Gulf. Though nitrogen is a nutrient that organisms need in order to grow and be healthy, excess nitrogen causes an imbalance in the normal nitrogen cycle, and stimulates high levels of algae plant growth called an algal bloom. Once the algae use up the excess nitrogen, they begin to die. This causes the population of decomposers like fungi and bacteria to spike. Like most animals, these decomposers consume oxygen. Because there are more decomposers than usual, they begin to use up oxygen faster than it can be replenished.

This hypoxic zone is largest in the summer, when farming activities are at their peak. In the winter, there is less farming, and therefore less nitrogen. As the hypoxic water continues to mix with normal ocean water, the levels of oxygen begin to return to normal. (When there are tropical storms or hurricanes in the Gulf, this mixing effect is more significant, helping to reduce the impact of the hypoxia. This is often the primary cause of low-hypoxia years like 2000.) Unfortunately, the average size of the annual dead zone remains at nearly 15,000 square kilometers, three times the goal of 5,000 square kilometers.

The data collected from this year’s Groundfish Survey was used to create this map of hypoxic areas. How might this map be different if tropical storm Cindy had not occurred this summer?

This Years Hypoxic Zone

A plot of dissolved oxygen levels created from this year’s survey data.

The data we collect on the Groundfish survey is combined with data gathered during other NOAA missions and by other organizations, like NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and USGS (the United States Geologic Survey). By collaborating and sharing data, scientists are able to develop a more complete and detailed understanding of hypoxia levels.

In response to the levels of hypoxia seen in the data, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required Midwestern states to develop and implement plans that will allow them to make greater progress in reducing the nutrient pollution that flows into the Mississippi. Specifically, the EPA wants states to do things like:

  • Identify areas of land that have the largest impact on pollution in the Mississippi
  • Set caps on how much nitrogen and other nutrients can be used in these areas
  • Develop new agricultural practices and technologies that will reduce the amount of these pollutants that are used or that will flow into the water
  • Ensure that the permitting process that states use to grant permission to use potential pollutants is effective at limiting pollutants to reasonable levels
  • Develop a plan for monitoring how much nutrient pollution is being released into waters

These EPA regulations were only recently implemented, so it is still unclear what, if any, impact they will have on the hypoxic zone in the Gulf. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the data from the Groundfish survey in coming years to help answer that question!

In the mean time, though, things still seem to be moving in the wrong direction. In fact, NOAA just announced that this summer’s dead zone is the largest ever recorded.

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Photo credit: Goddard SVS, NASA

Personal Log

Getting a PhD in your chosen field of science is an awesome accomplishment and is necessary if your goal is to design and carry out your own research projects. However, I’ve noticed that the PhD is often presented to students as the only path into a career in science. I think this is unfortunate, since this often discourages students who know they do not want to pursue a graduate degree from entering the field.

I’ve noticed that most of the scientists I’ve met while on board the Oregon II and in the NOAA lab at Pascagoula do not hold PhDs, but are still deeply involved in field work, lab work, and data analysis every day.

I asked Andre DeBose, a senior NOAA fishery biologist and the Field Party Chief for this mission, if he feels a PhD is necessary for those interested in fishery biology. Andre agreed that a graduate degree is not necessary, but he cautioned that it is a very competitive field and that education is one way to set yourself apart – “if you have the opportunity to get an advanced degree, take the opportunity.”

However, he continued, “the MOST important thing you can do is take the opportunity to do internships, volunteering, and fellowships. Those open a lot of doors for you in the world of biology.” Andre himself holds a bachelors degree in biology, but it was his years of experience working in aquaculture and as a contractor with NOAA that were most helpful in paving the way to the permanent position he holds today. “When I graduated from college, I took a low-paying job in aquaculture, just to start learning everything I could about fish. When contract [or short-term] positions became available at the NOAA lab, I applied and tried to make myself as useful as possible. It took time and I had to be really persistent – I would literally call the lab all the time and asked if they had anything they needed help with – but when a full time position finally became available, everyone knew who I was and knew that I had the right skills for the job.”

Now, Andre tries to help others navigate the tricky career path into marine biology. In addition to his responsibilities as a biologist, he is also the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the NOAA lab, which allows him to mentors all of interns (and Teachers at Sea like me!) and to talk with students at schools in the community.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in marine biology, it’s never to early to start looking for some of those volunteer opportunities! There are lots of scientists out there like Andre who are excited to share their knowledge and experience.

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The Day-Shift Science Team as we head back in to port.  From left to right:  TAS Anna Levy, NOAA Summer Intern Jessica Pantone, NOAA Biologist & Field Party Chief Andre DeBose, NOAA Fellow Dedi Vernetti Duarte, NOAA Volunteer Elijah Ramsey.

Did You Know?

In the Gulf of Mexico, each state has the authority to regulate the waters that are within about 9 miles of the coast. (This includes making rules about fishing.) Beyond that, the federal government, with the help of federal agencies like NOAA, make the rules!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research:  This article discussed the political side of the Snapper situation. Research other news articles about this issue to ensure that you have a balanced perspective.

Reflect: To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by science? To what extent do you believe this issue should be governed by politics?

Take action: Propose some specific ways that fisherman, scientists, and policy-makers could work together to address issues like the overfishing of red snapper fairly and effectively.

Review: Examine the graph showing the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf each summer. There are unusually small zones in 1988 and 2000. How do you explain this?

Research: Two other reoccurring hypoxic zones in the US are found in Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. What is the cause of each of these zones?

 

 

 

 

Samantha Adams: Day 6 – Testing… 1 – 2 – 3, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Samantha Adams

Aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai

July 25 – August 3, 2017

Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude & Longitude: 22o 45’N, 157o 56’W. Ship speed: 1.3 knots. Air temperature: 27.8oC. Sea temperature: 27.0oC. Humidity: 72%.Wind speed: 14 knots. Wind direction: 107 degrees. Sky cover: Few.

Science and Technology Log:

The most difficult part of Thursday’s buoy deployment was making sure the anchor was dropped on target. Throughout the day, shifting winds and currents kept pushing the ship away from the anchor’s target location. There was constant communication between the ship’s crew and the science team, correcting for this, but while everyone thought we were close when the anchor was dropped, nobody knew for sure until the anchor’s actual location had been surveyed.

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Triangulation of the WHOTS-14 buoy’s anchor location. Look at how close the ‘Anchor at Depth’ location is to the ‘Target’ location — only 177.7 meters apart! Also notice that all three circles intersect at one point, meaning that the triangulated location of the anchor is quite accurate.

To survey the anchor site, the ship “pinged” (sent a signal to) the acoustic releases on the buoy’s mooring line from three separate locations around the area where the anchor was dropped. This determines the distance from the ship to the anchor — or, more accurately, the distance from the ship to the acoustic releases. When all three distances are plotted (see the map above), the exact location of the buoy’s anchor can be determined. Success! The buoy’s anchor is 177.7 meters away from the target location — closer to the intended target than any other WHOTS deployment has gotten.


After deployment on Thursday, and all day Friday, the Hi’ialakai stayed “on station” about a quarter of a nautical mile downwind of the WHOTS-14 buoy, in order to verify that the instruments on the buoy were making accurate measurements. Because both meteorological and oceanographic measurements are being made, the buoy’s data must be verified by two different methods.

Weather data from the buoy (air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, etc.) is verified using measurements from the Hi’ialakai’s own weather station and a separate set of instruments from NOAA’s Environmental Sciences Research Laboratory. This process is relatively simple, only requiring a few quick mouse clicks (to download the data), a flashdrive (to transfer the data), and a “please” and “thank you”.

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July 28, 2017, 5:58PM HAST. Preparing the rosette for a CDT cast. Notice that the grey sampling bottles are open. If you look closely, you can see clear plastic “wire” running from the top of the sampling bottles to the center of the rosette. The wires are fastened on hooks which, when triggered by the computer in the lab, flip up, releasing the wire and closing the sampling bottle.

Salinity, temperature and depth measurements (from the MicroCats on the mooring line), on the other hand, are much more difficult to verify. In order to get the necessary “in situ” oceanographic data (from measurements made close to the buoy), the water must be sampled directly. This is done buy doing something called a CTD cast — in this case, a specific type called a yo-yo. 

The contraption in the picture to the left is called a rosette. It consists of a PCV pipe frame, several grey sampling bottles around the outside of the frame, and multiple sets of instruments in the center (one primary and one backup) for each measurement being made.

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July 28, 2017, 6:21PM HAST. On station at WHOTS-14, about halfway through a CDT cast (which typically take an hour). The cable that raises and lowers the rosette is running through the pulley in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The buoy is just visible in the distance, under the yellow arm.

The rosette is hooked to a stainless steel cable, hoisted over the side of the ship, and lowered into the water. Cable is cast (run out) until the rosette reaches a certain depth — which can be anything, really, depending on what measurements need to be made. For most of the verification measurements, this depth has been 250 meters. Then, the rosette is hauled up to the surface. And lowered back down. And raised up to the surface. And lowered back down. It’s easy to see why it’s called a yo-yo! (CDT casts that go deeper — thousands of meters instead of hundreds — only go down and up once.)

For the verification process, the rosette is raised and lowered five times, with the instruments continuously measuring temperature, salinity and depth. On the final trip back to the surface, the sampling bottles are closed remotely, one at a time, at specific depths, by a computer in the ship’s lab. (The sampling depths are determined during the cast, by identifying points of interest in the data. Typically, water is sampled at the lowest point of the cast and five meters below the surface, as well as where the salinity and oxygen content of the water is at its lowest.) Then, the rosette is hauled back on board, and water from the sampling bottles is emptied into smaller glass bottles, to be taken back to shore and more closely analyzed.

On this research cruise, the yo-yos are being done by scientists and student researchers from the University of Hawaii, who routinely work at the ALOHA site (where the WHOTS buoys are anchored). The yoyos are done at regular intervals throughout the day, with the first cast beginning at about 6AM HAST and the final one wrapping up at about midnight.

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July 29, 2017, 9:43AM HAST. On station at WHOTS-13. One CDT cast has already been completed; another is scheduled to begin in about 15 minutes.

After the final yo-yo was complete at the WHOTS-14 buoy early Saturday morning, the Hi’ialakai traveled to the WHOTS-13 buoy. Today and tomorrow (Sunday), more in situ meteorological and oceanographic verification measurements will be made at the WHOTS-13 site. All of this — the meteorological measurements, the yo-yos, the days rocking back and forth on the ocean swell — must happen in order to make sure that the data being recorded is consistent from one buoy to the next. If this is the case, then it’s a good bet that any trends or changes in the data are real — caused by the environmental conditions — rather than differences in the instruments themselves.

Personal Log:

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The Hi’ialakai’s dry lab. Everyone is wearing either a sweatshirt or a jacket… are we sure this is Hawaii?

Most of the science team’s time is divided between the Hi’ialakai’s deck and the labs (there are two; one wet, and one dry).  The wet lab contains stainless steel sinks, countertops, and an industrial freezer; on research cruises that focus on marine biology, samples can be stored there. Since the only samples being collected on this cruise are water, which don’t need to be frozen, the freezer was turned off before we left port, and turned into additional storage space.  The dry lab (shown in the picture above) is essentially open office space, in use nearly 24 hours a day. The labs, like most living areas on the ship, are quite well air conditioned. It may be hot and humid outside, but inside, hoodies and hot coffee are both at a premium!

Did You Know?

The acronym “CTD” stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. But the MicroCats on the buoy mooring lines and the CTD casts are supposed to measure salinity, temperature and depth… so where does conductivity come in? It turns out that the salinity of the water can’t be measured directly — but conductivity of the water can.

When salt is dissolved into water, it breaks into ions, which have positive and negative charges. In order to determine salinity, an instrument measuring conductivity will pass a small electrical current between two electrodes (conductors), and the voltage on either side of the electrodes is measured. Ions facilitate the flow of the electrical current through the water. Therefore conductivity, with the temperature of the water taken into account, can be used to determine the salinity.

Jenny Hartigan: Tucker Trawl: Collecting Sea Life! July 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 21 – July 28, 2017

 

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey


Geographic Area:
North-central California

 

Date: July 24

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 37.8591° N,

Longitude: 122.4853° W

Time: 0700

Sky: overcast, foggy

Visibility:   less than 1 nautical mile

Wind Direction: NW

Wind speed: 10-20 knots

Sea wave height: 2-4 feet

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 8 seconds

Air Temperature: 52 degrees F

Wind Chill: 34 degrees F

Rainfall: 0mm

 

 

Scientific Log:

On Sunday we encountered heavy fog as soon as we headed out to sea, so the captain sounded the foghorn every 2 minutes. The scientists Jaime, Ryan and Kirsten deployed the Tucker Trawl. It consists of a large net with 3 codends. A codend looks like a small cup that attaches to the end of the net. Each codend collects sea life at a different depth. The Tucker Trawl is always deployed at the edge of the continental shelf. The shelf is about 200 meters below sea level. The goal is to take organism samples from the pelagic (non-coastal or open) ocean. 400 meters of cable are deployed along with the net, so you can see that it goes deep in the ocean!

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The scientists deploying the Tucker Trawl.

Using the Tucker Trawl requires a whole team of people. 3 scientists deploy the net, and the captain operates the winch and A Frame so the net doesn’t hit the deck during the process. The NOAA Corpsman drives the boat so as to maintain alignment and speed. One scientist keeps an eve on the angle of the cable, and communicates with the driver to maintain the proper angle by adjusting speed. After recovering the net, all three samples must be rinsed into a bottle. Too much water pressure can mangle the specimens, so we use a gentle rinse. The bottle is then labeled and treated with fixative to preserve the samples. Then it is stored to later be sent to a lab for identification. I have learned that taking these samples requires a lot of communication, to maintain fidelity to a testable process, utilize equipment wisely, and to ensure safety of all personnel.

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A view from above as the Tucker Trawl goes out to sea.

 

Each offshore transect has one Tucker Trawl site. After that we move to another site and take Hoop net, CTD, Niskin, water, phytoplankton samples. I will explain these later. Sampling all of these sites provides data for the scientists to investigate the entire ecosystem. They collect plankton (producers) from shallow and deep water, observe marine mammals and birds (predators) on the surface, and sample the environmental conditions such as ocean temperature, salinity, nutrients, and ocean acidification indicators. These studies inform decisions for managing a sustainable environment for both sea life and humans.

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Two scientists collecting sea life from the Tucker Trawl.

 

Personal

I want to tell you about the galley. This is the kitchen where we store and prepare our food. We have an oven, stove, microwave, sink and two refrigerators, but everything is compact due to limited space. All of the cabinets and the fridge have latches on them to keep food from flying around when the seas are rough. I have to remind myself to latch the fridge each time I open it. I don’t want to be the person who created a giant smoothie in the kitchen!

 

We eat our meals at the table, which then converts to a bed for sleeping. Every little bit of space is used efficiently here.

 

Did you know?

An albatross is part of the tube-nose family of birds. One of its features is having a tube nose above the nares. Nares are the openings to the nostrils. The birds also have openings at the end of the tubes. This adaptation gives it a keen sense of smell. We saw black-footed albatross, which nests in the Hawaiian Islands, and flies long distances across the ocean to find food in the productive waters of Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. So this albatross has been traveling at sea for a long distance!

 

Animals Seen Today

We spotted a CA sea lion cavorting in the wake of the ship. It looked like it was having so much fun as it leaped and twisted above the waves.

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!