In this post, I would like to walk you through my interactions and observations with the science research being conducted aboard the R/V Tommy Munro, in particular, the steps that were taken during a trawling process. The entire process involved three stages: Preparing for Sampling, Conducting the Sampling, and Analyzing the Sampling with each stage consisting of six distinct steps.
Step 1: The ship travels to designated coordinates for sampling sites as determined for the particular leg of the Survey by SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program).
Step 2: Once the ship reaches the site, a Secchi disk is attached to a cable and lowered into the water off the side of the ship to determine visibility. When the disk can no longer be seen, the depth is recorded and the disk is raised and secured on ship.
Step 3: A CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) unit is then prepared for deployment. It is a rectangular chamber with sensors designed to measure physical properties of the water below including dissolved oxygen, conductivity, transmissivity, and depth.
Step 4: The CTD unit is powered on and first is submerged just below the surface of the water and left there for three minutes for sensors to calibrate. It is then lowered to a specified depth which is 2 meters above the floor of the body of water to protect the sensors from damage.
Step 5: Once the CTD unit has reached the designated depth, it remains there only for seconds until it is raised up and secured on board the ship.
Step 6: The CTD unit is then turned off and the unit is connected through a cable to a computer in the dry lab for data upload. Once the data upload is completed, the CTD unit is flushed with deionized water using a syringe and plastic tubing and then secured on the side of the ship.
II. Conducting the Sampling
Step 1: The trawling process now begins with the trawl nets thrown off the back of the ship. The nets are connected to two planks, each weighing about 350 lbs, which not only submerges the nets but also provide an angled resistance which keeps the nets open in the form of a cone – optimal for sampling while the ship is in motion.
Step 2: Once the trawl nets have been released into the water from the ship, the ship starts up and continues on its path for 30 minutes as the nets are trapping marine life it encounters.
Step 3: After 30 minutes has transpired, a siren sounds and the ship comes to a stop. The two weighted planks are pulled upon the ship followed by the trawl nets.
Step 4: The trawl nets are raised and hoisted above buckets for all specimens to be collected. Then begins the process of separation. In the first separation, the marine life is separated from seaweed, kelp and other debris. The buckets with marine life and debris are then weighed and recorded.
Step 5: The bucket(s) with marine life are emptied upon a large table on the ship’s stern for separation according to species.
Step 6: Each species of marine life is placed in their own tray for identification, examination, and measurements inside the wet lab.
III. Analyzing the Sampling
Step 1: After all species were grouped in their trays, all trays were taken into the wet lab for analysis. Each species was positively identified, counted, and recorded.
Step 2: Once each species was identified and counted, the total number of species was weighed while in the tray (accounting for the mass of the tray) and recorded on a spreadsheet to a connected computer display system.
Step 3: For each species, the length of each specimen was recorded using a magnetic wand with a sensor that facilitated the electronic recording of the value into a spreadsheet.
Step 4: Weights of the collected species were recorded for the first sample and every fifth one that followed.
Step 5: If time permitted between samplings, the sex of selected specimens for a species was determined and recorded.
Step 6:Once the entire sampling was analyzed, selected samples of specimens were placed in a baggie and stored in a freezer for further analysis with the remaining specimens returned to a larger bucket and thrown overboard into the waters. The separation table was cleaned with a hose and buckets were piled in preparation for the next sampling.
In this installment of my exercise of the Ocean Literacy Framework, I would like to ask you
to respond to three questions about the fifth essential principle (The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.), presented in a Padlet accessed by the following link:
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – the questions serve not as an opportunity to answer yes or no, or to get answers right or wrong; rather, these questions serve as an opportunity not only to assess what you know or think about the scope of the principle but also to learn, explore, and investigate the demonstrated principle. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please indicate so in the blog and I would be glad to answer your questions and initiate a discussion.
La línea hidrográfica de newport es un estudio de investigación oceanográfica realizado por científicos del Centro de Ciencias Pesqueras del Noroeste de NOAA y de la Universidad Estatal de Oregón en las aguas costeras de Newport, Oregón .
Los investigadores han recopilado métricas oceanográficas físicas, químicas y biológicas a lo largo de Newport Line cada dos semanas durante más de 20 años. Este conjunto de datos de más de veinte años nos ayuda a comprender las conexiones entre los cambios en el clima oceánico y la estructura y función del ecosistema en la corriente de California1,2,3.
Los datos de Newport Line se destilan en indicadores de ecosistemas oceánicos , que se utilizan para caracterizar el hábitat y la supervivencia de los salmónidos juveniles, y que también se han mostrado prometedores para otras poblaciones como el bacalao negro, el róbalo y la sardina4. Estos datos también brindan información crítica del ecosistema sobre problemas emergentes, como las olas de calor marinas3, la acidificación de los océanos, la hipoxia6 y la proliferación de algas nocivas7.
Barómetro de la acidificación e hipoxia de los océanos en un clima cambiante
Los modelos climáticos globales sugieren que los cambios futuros en el afloramiento costero conducirán a una mayor incidencia de hipoxia y exacerbarán aún más los efectos de la acidificación de los océanos. La serie temporal de Newport Line proporciona una línea base de parámetros biogeoquímicos, como el estado de saturación de aragonito, un indicador de condiciones ácidas (Fig. 4). Los investigadores pueden comparar esta línea de base con posibles cambios futuros en la abundancia de organismos (p. ej., pterópodos, copépodos y krill) sensibles a la acidificación del océano y la hipoxia.
Una red vertical es una red de anillos con un ancho de malla pequeño y una forma de embudo largo. Al final, la red se cierra con un cilindro (copo) que recoge el plancton. Se despliega verticalmente en el agua desde un buque de investigación. Se utiliza principalmente para investigar la estratificación vertical/diagonal del plancton. Esto permite determinar la abundancia y distribución del mesozooplancton.
Una red bongó consta de dos redes de plancton montadas una al lado de la otra. Estas redes de plancton son redes de anillos con un ancho de malla pequeño y una forma de embudo largo. Ambas redes están encerradas por un copo que se utiliza para recolectar plancton. Un barco de investigación tira horizontalmente de la red bongo a través de la columna de agua. Usando una red bongo, un científico puede trabajar con dos anchos de malla diferentes simultáneamente.
La red de arrastre de media agua Isaacs-Kidd recolecta especímenes biológicos batipelágicos más grandes que los capturados por las redes de plancton estándar. La red de arrastre consiste en una red específicamente diseñada unida a una amplia paleta de buceo rígida en forma de V. La veleta mantiene abierta la boca de la red y ejerce una fuerza de presión, manteniendo la red de arrastre en profundidad durante períodos prolongados a velocidades de remolque de hasta 5 nudos. La abertura de entrada no está obstruida por el cable de remolque.
¡ATAQUE DE TIBURÓN!
Así es, nuestro uCTD fue atacado por un tiburón.
En un día brillante y soleado, el equipo científico decidió lanzar el CTD en curso, ¡pero las cosas no salieron según lo planeado! Al recuperar el uCTD de regreso al barco, vimos una gran aleta dorsal zigzagueando cerca del uCTD, hasta que notamos que el uCTD ya no estaba conectado a la línea, por lo que no tuvimos más remedio que cancelar el uCTD. Deberías haber visto todas nuestras caras; no podíamos creer lo que vimos. Creemos que podría haber sido un:
CTD significa conductividad (salinidad), temperatura y (Depth) profundidad y permite a los investigadores recopilar perfiles de temperatura y salinidad de la parte superior del océano a velocidades en curso, a profundidades de hasta 500 m. Los exploradores oceánicos a menudo usan mediciones CTD para detectar evidencia de volcanes, respiraderos hidrotermales y otras características de aguas profundas que causan cambios en las propiedades físicas y químicas del agua de mar.
One way scientists assess the health of our ocean’s ecosystems is to take samples of zooplankton and ichthyoplankton (fish eggs and larvae), both on the surface of the water and at depth. Observations of these plankton can inform us greatly about productivity at the bottom of the food chain, spawning location and stock size of adults, dispersal of larval fish and crabs to and away from nursery areas, and transport of ocean currents.
The Newport Hydrographic (Newport Line) is an oceanographic research survey conducted by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University scientists in the coastal waters off Newport, Oregon.
Researchers have collected physical, chemical, and biological oceanographic metrics along the Newport Line every two weeks for over 20 years. This twenty-plus year dataset helps us to understand the connections between changes in ocean-climate and ecosystem structure and function in the California Current.
Data from the Newport Line are distilled into ocean ecosystem indicators, used to characterize the habitat and survival of juvenile salmonids, and which have also shown promise for other stocks such as sablefish, rockfish, and sardine. These data also provide critical ecosystem information on emerging issues such as marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, hypoxia, and harmful algal blooms.
Barometer of ocean acidification and hypoxia in a changing climate
Global climate models suggest future changes in coastal upwelling will lead to increased incidence of hypoxia and further exacerbate the effects of ocean acidification. The Newport Line time-series provides a baseline of biogeochemical parameters, such as Aragonite saturation state—an indicator of acidic conditions. Researchers can compare this baseline against possible future changes in the abundance of organisms (e.g., pteropods, copepods and krill) sensitive to ocean acidification and hypoxia.
A vertical net is a ring net with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. At the end, the net is closed off with a cylinder (cod-end) that collects the plankton. It is deployed vertically in the water from a research vessel. It is mostly used to investigate the vertical/diagonal stratification of plankton. This allows the abundance and distribution of mesozooplankton to be determined.
A bongo net consists of two plankton nets mounted next to each other. These plankton nets are ring nets with a small mesh width and a long funnel shape. Both nets are enclosed by a cod-end that is used for collecting plankton. The bongo net is pulled horizontally through the water column by a research vessel. Using a bongo net, a scientist can work with two different mesh widths simultaneously.
Isaacs-Kidd midwater trawl collects bathypelagic biological specimens larger than those taken by standard plankton nets. The trawl consists of the specifically designed net attached to a wide, V-shaped, rigid diving vane. The vane keeps the mouth of the net open and exerts a depressing force, maintaining the trawl at depth for extended periods at towing speeds up to 5 knots. The inlet opening is unobstructed by the towing cable.
What we got?
That’s right, our underway CTD was attacked by a shark.
On a bright and sunny day, the science team decided to launch the underway CTD, but things didn’t go as planned! Retrieving the uCTD back to the ship we saw a big dorsal fin zigzagging close to the uCTD, until we noticed that the uCTD was no longer attached to the line, therefore we had no choice that to cancel the uCTD. You should have seen all of our faces; we couldn’t believe what we saw. We think it could have been a:
CTD stands for conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth and it enables researchers to collect temperature and salinity profiles of the upper ocean at underway speeds, to depths of up to 500 m. Ocean explorers often use CTD measurements to detect evidence of volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, and other deep-sea features that cause changes to the physical and chemical properties of seawater.
As explained in a previous blog, hydrographic survey uses sound energy. NOAA hydrographers use various tools to measure the speed of sound from the time it is sent out to the time it is received as an echo. Sound waves traveling through water of different density cause refraction (or bending) of the energy wave. The density of water is affected by the salinity, temperature, and depth of the water. Scientists need to measure these parameters (things) and then use this knowledge to correct the data depending upon the properties of the water the sound is traveling through. (If you have been following this blog, nothing so far is new.)
Today’s question is how is the temperature and salinity of a column of water measured? Hydrographers use different types of tools to measure the temperature, salinity, and water depth. As a group, these tools are called “sound velocity profilers”. A conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor (CTD) can measure these three things in a column of water and then it calculates the speed of sound in water using a formula called the Chen-Millero equation. (I do not claim at all to understand this equation!)
To make matters more interesting, there are two (I’m sure there are more than two, however, to simplify things, we will assume that there are only two) types of CTDs. One type is sent overboard when the ship is not moving. The other type can be used when the ship is moving. Using a CTD while the ship is moving is a great thing, because to get good data, CTD data must be taken frequently (every 1-4 hours) and this big ship is difficult to stop!
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has both types of CTD sensors. They rely heavily on the type that can be used when the ship is moving. In fact, it is so important that we call it our MVP. This does not stand for Most Valuable Player – although it is extremely important! A moving vessel profiler (MVP) can be used to measure the water column when the ship is moving at regular survey speeds (8-10 knots). It kind of looks like a torpedo. The MVP system can be set up to drop to a given depth determined by the hydrographers in charge of the project – not to shallow & not too deep . . . just right.
It can be controlled remotely with a computer without needing someone to be on deck. Deploying the MVP is called a “cast”. The benefit of deploying a sound speed profiler like the MVP while the ship is moving is significant. It is a real time-saver! Surveyors do not need to stop the ship at regular intervals – this makes their time at sea much more efficient.
Yesterday, I got the opportunity to deploy the MVP. From the acquisition desk in the plot room, one first needs to get permission from the bridge (the “upstairs office” filled with people driving and navigating the ship), to take a “cast”. The conversation over the intercom goes something like this:
Laura: “Bridge, this is Survey.”
Bridge: “Go ahead Survey.”
Laura: “May I please take an MVP cast?”
Bridge: (If the area is clear of small boats and obstructions, they will respond,) “Go ahead Survey.”
Laura: (Once permission is granted, all you need to do is to push the “start” button. A lot of cable attached to the MVP automatically pays out and it drops to a set depth, a few meters above the bottom. Once this started to happen, I informed the Bridge by saying,) “Fish is away.”
Laura: (After reaching the designated depth, the cable drum turns quickly in reverse and hauls the MVP back up to near the surface. I finished by saying,) “Cast complete”.
I was a bit nervous talking to the bridge, but I think I did okay.
Meet the Crew
Sydney Catoire is a Lieutenant in the NOAA Corps. (More about the NOAA Corps in a future blog post.) She is an Operations Officer in Training (OPS IT). Sydney comes from a Navy family and grew up on Virginia Beach, VA. Ms. Catoire studied marine biology and mathematics at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Wanting to combine aspects of the Navy as well as work as a scientist led her to apply to the NOAA Corps. She received her Master of Science in Geospatial Information Sciences (GIS) while working for the Office of Coast Survey.
Why is your work important? The safety of navigation is our primary goal as hydrographers. We use the data to update nautical charts to make it safe to sail. The bathymetric products provided are open source (free for anyone to download and use) and are used for ocean and lake bed mapping. For example, the data can be used for tsunami storm surge modeling, coastal erosion, and habitat mapping. All this data is super critical and is used by a wide variety of scientific organizations and research institutions.
How will your job change once you become an Operations Officer (OPS)? She will still be involved with the day-to-day workings of the hydrographic survey, however, once she becomes an OPS, she will take a leadership role in the survey, assigning sheets (areas to survey), and mentoring sheet managers who develop the line plans (the path that the ship travels to complete the survey). In other words, she will decide on the most efficient methods to “mow the lawn.” She will also help to train junior officers, organize the processing of the data, and work directly with the Office of Coast Survey Hydrographic Division.
What is the thing about your job you like the most? She likes being on the bridge, navigating and driving the ship, as well as looking out the window for marine life – which lately has been very limited since we are sailing on the Great Lakes.
Tell us a few things about yourself outside of being an OPS IT. Sydney and her sister have a dog named, Max. She likes to scuba dive, hike, and hang out with her family and nephews when she is on shore.
Good Luck, Sydney as you strive to become an Operations Officer! For not originally knowing about thiscareer path you sure have excelled and are an example for others with similar interests.
All the people on TJ have been very nice and hospitable. They freely answer my questions and are fun to hang out with during meals. There are three people, however, who are super important to the smooth sailing of TJ. They are the stewards, Ace & Brent and the Chief Steward, Miss Parker. I never imagined that the food would be so varied and tasty! A well-fed crew = a happy crew!
For the little Dawgs . . .
Q: Where is Dewey today? Hint: it is the back of the ship.
A: Dewey is sitting on the stern of the ship. The propellers are under the stern.
Well, that’s all for today. Spending time aboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson has been a terrific learning experience. I am so thankful for the opportunity!
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 pleasan