After a long two day cruise to the southern tip of Texas, we finally started fishing. I learned quickly that everyone has a job, and when you are done with your job, you help members of your team complete their tasks. The coordinates of all of the survey locations are charted using a program called Novel Tec, and once the captain has determined that we have reached our designated location, the fun begins. To deploy the longline there are many important responsibilities that are delegated by the Chief NOAA Scientist.
#1- All scientists work together to bait 100 hooks with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
#2- High-Flyer Release – Once the long line has been attached to the high-flyer, it is released from the stern of the boat. The high-flyer consists of a buoy to keep it above water, and a flashing light, so we know the exact location of the beginning of the longline.
#3 Weight Attachment – A NOAA fisherman is responsible for attaching the weight at the appropriate distance, based on the depth of that station to ensure the gear is on the sea floor. This also keeps the high-flyer from drifting. Alongside the weight, a TDR is attached to the line, which records temperature and depth.
#4 Numbering of baited hooks – After the first weight goes out, one by one the gangions are numbered and set over the edge of the ship, but not let go. A gangion consists of a 12ft line, a baited hook, and hook number.
# 5 Hook Attachment – A NOAA fisherman will receive one gangion at a time, and attach it to the line. Another weight is attached to the line after 50 hooks have been deployed, and once all 100 hooks are deployed the final weight is attached. Then the line is cut, and the second high-flyer is attached and set free to mark the end of the survey area. This process goes fairly quickly, as the longline is continuously being fed into the water.
#6 Data Collection – Each piece of equipment that enters the water is recorded in a database on the computer. There should always be 2 high-flyers, 3 weights, and 100 gangions entered into the database.
#7 Bucket Clean-up – The buckets that were holding the baited hooks need to be scrubbed and prepared for when we haul the line back in.
Once all of the gear is in the water we wait for approximately one hour until we start to haul back each hook one by one. The anticipation is exciting to see if a shark or other fish has hooked itself.
I would say that my body has fully adjusted to living at sea. I took off my sea sickness patch and I feel great! Currently, Tropical Storm Gordon is nearing to hit Mississippi this evening. We are far enough out of the storm’s path that it will not affect our fishing track. I am having the time of my life and learning so much about the Oregon II, sharks, and many other organisms that we’ve seen or caught.
Did you know?:
NOAA Ship Oregon II creates freshwater via reverse osmosis. Sea water is pumped in and passed through a high pressure pump at 1,000psi. The pump contains a membrane (filter), which salt is too big to pass through, so it is disposed overboard. The clean freshwater is collected and can be used for showering, cooking, and drinking. In addition to creating freshwater, the engineers are also responsible for the two engines and the generators.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 24, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 40.15 N
Longitude: 68.71 W
Wind direction: NE
Wind speed: 14 knots
Water temperature: 23.8 degrees C
Air pressure: 1023 millibars
Air temperature: 24.2 degrees C
Water depth: 165 meters
Science and Technology Log
What an exciting first full day out at sea! I have been so grateful that our science team has allowed me to be completely hands-on and take responsibility for some of the science happening on the ship. In addition to checking the Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB) periodically, I am very much involved in the data collection at each of our stations.
There are specific stations along our course where scientists need to collect data. The crew announces when we are close to the station. At that time, along with another volunteer on watch, I don my foul weather gear to head out to the deck. We get pretty splashed as we are working with the equipment so the gear is a good idea. We help the crew as they lower “bongo nets” into the water using a cable and pulley system. Can you guess why they are called bongo nets? These nets have a very fine mesh that helps collect, you guessed it, PLANKTON!
We also help raise the bongo nets after several minutes dragging them through the water. We rinse all of the plankton down to the bottom of the net and then open up the end of the net to allow all of the plankton into a sieve where we will collect it. I have been surprised by the amount of jelly-like animals that have shown up in the nets!
Then it’s time to use special liquids (ethanol or formalin) and water to wash the plankton into collection jars. These chemicals will preserve the plankton so scientists can study it back in the lab!
It has been so much fun working with this equipment, asking the scientists questions about the plankton, and being a part of it all.
Harvey, our chief scientist, explained to me that many scientists can use the plankton samples for all different studies. Some of the samples can be used to study larval fish (baby fish) otoliths, the tiny ear bones that can verify the identification of larval hake using genetics. Knowing this, scientists can do research to determine where the larval fish were born! What a great example of the beginning of a scientific
Question – Where are most larval red hake fish born in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean?
Research – Scientists might research currents in the area, wind patterns, and other things that would push plankton from place to place. They also would research what other scientists have already learned about larval red hake.
Hypothesis – Most larval red hake fish are born in the Southern New England and Georges Bank regions in the northeast US shelf.
Didn’t I tell you plankton were amazing?
At some of the stations, we also lower Niskin bottles and CTD instruments into the water to collect a lot more data! More on that to come!
NOAA Corps Corner
Today I spoke with Lola Ajilore, Officer with NOAA Corps, and asked her a few questions about her important work. A pod of humpback whales off the bow stole the show! Here’s what we got in before the exciting interruption…
Me – Tell me more about your roles on the ship.
Lola – I am the Navigation Officer, Medical Officer, Environmental Officer, Ship Store Officer, and Morale Officer. As you can see, we all have multiple roles on the ship. As Navigation Officer, for example, I plot charts, track directions, and coordinate with the Operations Officer and Commanding Officer on track lines and routes that are requested by the scientists.
Me – Where do you do most of your work?
Lola – I am always with NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. The ship’s home port is in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Our missions often take place in the Gulf of Mexico but we also run these Northeast Shelf cruises for Ecosystem Monitoring every year.
Me – What kind of training is needed for your line of work?
Lola – We undergo an application process that includes several interview steps. We then train at the Coast Guard Academy. Much of our training parallels that of the Coast Guard, but we also do our own NOAA Corps training as well.
Me – What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
Lola – Radar! [Radar aids navigation by detecting things that are far away such as an island or another ship]
I cannot believe the amazing views that we have on this ship 24 hrs. a day! The water has been super calm and the sunrise, sunset, breaching whales, and pods of dolphins have taken my breath away.
Yesterday was emergency drill day! Libby, our Operations Officer, had given us directions on how to respond to emergencies prior to leaving the
dock. There are emergency drills for a fire (just like at school!), abandon ship (in the case that we had to immediately leave the ship in an emergency), and man overboard.
We practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill. The Officers on the ship sounded the alarm, using a different number and duration of blast based on the type of emergency. For a fire, we all “mustered” (got together in one place) in assigned areas. All of the science team members mustered together. For abandon ship, we all mustered near the life boats along with our life jackets and immersion suits (suits that can help you survive if you end up in the water).
The fun part of the abandon ship drill was donning our immersion suits in one minute or less! This was a great thing to practice so if there ever was a real emergency, we would know how to put on the suit. I thought I looked pretty cool in my immersion suit.
Did You Know?
Salps are barrel-shaped planktonic tunicates. Our plankton bongo nets always contain some jelly-like salps. Where I live in the Florida Keys, we see mangrove tunicates growing on mangrove roots. Here in the open ocean, salps stick together in long colonies and drift! Sometimes there are so many salps in our nets, we have to filter them out with sieves and put them back in the water.
Something to Think About
We have been finding up to 4,000 phytoplankton in 5 mL of water. A gallon of water is equal to about 3785 mL. There is about 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the Atlantic Ocean. How much plankton is in the Atlantic? You do the math.
Mission: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station deployment (WHOTS-14)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean
Date: Monday 24 July 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude & Longitude: 21o22’N, 157o57’ W. Ship speed: 0 knots. Air temperature: 82oF. Humidity: 74%.Wind speed: 8 knots. Wind direction: East-South-East. Sky cover: Broken.
Science and Technology Log:
One of the first things you learn to do as a teacher is to plan for things to go wrong. When you put a lesson together, you try to identify potential problem areas, and then try to figure out how you could address those problems when they do arise, or try to avoid them altogether. One of the next things that you learn is that the biggest problem is invariably going to be something you never anticipated being a problem at all. Deploying a research buoy, it turns out, works essentially the same way.
WHOTS stations are massive, self-contained buoys, designed to stay at sea for up to eighteen months, collecting data the entire time. There are redundant systems on top of redundant systems. Multiple meteorological instruments, measuring exactly the same thing, sprout from the buoy’s tower like misshapen mushrooms. If one instrument fails, there is always another — to ensure that, no matter what, the data is collected. And surrounding it all, like the spines of a porcupine, is the bird wire.
Anything that floats on the ocean winds can be a perch for birds, and the WHOTS buoys are no exception. I’ve been told that after a year at sea, the buoy is absolutely disgusting. I’ve seen some of the mess New York City pigeons can create, and I’m willing to bet that what I’m imagining cannot even come close. I’ll find out for myself later this week, when we retrieve the WHOTS buoy that was deployed last year!
Ick factor aside, birds (and their waste products) pose a real danger to the instruments on the buoy’s tower. If something is pecked or perched on or — use your imagination — otherwise damaged, the instruments may record corrupted data, or no data at all. Which is why there are redundant systems, and why Monday morning was spent making the buoy look like a porcupine. But wait! There’s more! It turns out all bird wire is not created equal. All of the spikes are made of stainless steel, but the spikes can be mounted on different things. Bird wire with a stainless steel base is more effective at repelling birds (because the spikes are closer together)… but the spikes have to be welded into the base, which magnetizes the bird wire. And if this wire is placed the instruments, it can affect their internal compasses and, in turn affect the data the bird wire is intended to protect! Bird wire with a plastic base is less effective (because the spikes are further apart), but much safer for the buoy’s instruments.
Cayenne Pepper, Copper and Things Covered in Tape
The tower of the WHOTS buoy isn’t the only thing that is absolutely disgusting after spending a year at sea. Everything that spends the year below the surface of the ocean (which will be described in a post later this week) comes back absolutely disgusting, too. And it’s not as though it can all just be thrown away. Of particular importance are the instruments attached under the buoy and about every 10 meters (down to 150 meters) along the buoy’s mooring line. All of these instruments must be returned to the manufacturer for calibration (to make sure they were working properly). But there’s a catch — they must be returned clean! Which means that everything that has been growing on them while they’ve been under water must be scrubbed, scraped or peeled off. To make the job easier, the search is always on for ways to keep things from growing on the instruments in the first place. This is called antifouling.
One antifouling method is painting. There are specialized antifouling paints available, but they can be toxic. So the paint that covers the exterior of the buoy contains cayenne pepper (!), which has proven to be as effective as specialized paint, but is much safer. Another antifouling method used on many of the instruments under the buoy involves replacing some stainless steel components with specially made copper ones, as copper also naturally impedes growth. And a third method that’s very popular is simply to cover the instruments with a layer of electrical tape, which can just be peeled off — no scrubbing or scraping involved!
Throughout the day, refrigerated trucks pulled up on the dock next to the Hi’ialakai. They were not full of delicate scientific instrumentation, but something just as vitally important to the cruise — food! The same crane that had been used to hoist instruments on board was also used to carry pallets of food from the dock to the deck of the ship. Then it was passed from hand to hand (by members of the ship’s crew, the science team, the ship’s officers, and the Teacher at Sea) all the way down to the galley’s refrigerators and freezers. The ice cream was handled with particular care — no surprise there!
Did You Know?
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s acronym — WHOI — has a pronunciation! You can say it like “hooey”. Or “whoo-ey!” It means the same thing either way!
Geographic Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain, Just past Mokumanamana (Necker Island)
Date: July 20, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Science and Technology Log:
As promised in Blog Post #3, I mentioned that “Thing number four we deliberately throw overboard” would have a dedicated blog post because it was so involved. Well, grab some popcorn, because the time has arrived!
Thing number 4 we deliberately throw over the side of a ship does not get thrown overboard very often, but when it does, it causes much hubbub and hullaballoo on the ship. I had the unique opportunity to witness one of only ten ocean noise sensors that are deployed in US waters come aboard the ship and get redeployed. These sensors are found all over US waters – from Alaska to the Atlantic. One is located in the Catalina Marine Sanctuary, and still others are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are going to be sailing right past one! To see more about the Ocean Noise Sensors, visit the HICEAS website “other projects” tab, or just click here. To see where the Ocean Noise Recorders are, click here.
The Ocean Noise Sensor system is a group of 10 microphones placed in the “SOFAR” channel all over US waters. Once deployed, they collect data for two years in order to track the level of ocean noise over time. It’s no secret that our oceans are getting louder. Shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and even natural sources of noise like earthquakes all contribute to the underwater noise that our cetacean friends must chatter through. Imagine sitting at far ends of the table at a dinner party with a friend you have not caught up with in a while. While other guests chat away, you and the friend must raise your voices slightly to remain in contact. As the night progresses on, plates start clanging, glasses are clinking, servers are asking questions, and music is playing in the background. The frustration of trying to communicate over the din is tolerable, but not insurmountable. Now imagine the host turning on the Super Bowl at full volume for entertainment. Now the noise in the room is incorrigible, and you and your friend have lost all hope of even hearing a simple greeting, let alone have a conversation. In fact, you can hardly get anyone’s attention to get them to pass you the potatoes. This is similar to the noise levels in our world’s ocean. As time goes on, more noise is being added to the system. This could potentially interfere with multiple species and their communications abilities. Calling out to find a mate, forage for food, or simply find a group to associate with must now be done in the equivalent din of a ticker-tape parade, complete with bands, floats, and fire engines blaring their horns. This is what the Ocean Noise Sensor is hoping to get a handle on. By placing sensors in the ocean to passively collect ambient noise, we can answer two important questions: How have the noise levels changed over time? To what extent are these changes in noise levels impacting marine life?
Many smaller isolated studies have been done on ocean noise levels in the past, but a few years ago, scientists from Cornell partnered with NOAA and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab to streamline this study in order to get a unified, global data source of ocean noise levels. The Pacific Marine Environmental Lab built a unified sound recording system for all groups involved in the study, and undertook the deployments of the hydrophones. They also took on the task of processing the data once it is recovered. The HICEAS team is in a timely and geographical position to assist in recovery of the data box and redeploying the hydrophone. This was how we spent the day.
The recovery and re-deployment of the buoy started just before dawn, and ended just before dinner.
Our standard effort of marine mammal observation was put on hold so that we could recover and re-deploy the hydrophone. It was an exciting day for a few reasons – one, it was definitely a novel way to spend the day. There was much to do on the part of the crew, and much to watch on the part of those who didn’t have the know-how to assist. (This was the category I fell in to.)
At dawn, an underwater acoustic command was sent to the depths to release a buoy held underwater attached to the hydrophone. While the hydrophone is only 1000m below the surface seated nice and squarely in the SOFAR channel, the entire system is anchored to the ocean floor at a depth of 4000m. Once the buoy was released, crew members stationed themselves around the ship on the Big Eyes and with binoculars to watch for the buoy to surface. It took approximately 45 minutes before the buoy was spotted just off our port side. The sighting award goes to CDR Stephanie Koes, our fearless CO. A crewmember pointed out the advancement in our technologies in the following way: “We can use GPS to find a buried hydrophone in the middle of the ocean…and then send a signal…down 4000m…to a buoy anchored to the ocean floor…cut the buoy loose remotely, and then actually have the buoy come up to the surface near enough to the ship where we can find it.” Pretty impressive if you think about it.
The buoy was tied to the line that is attached to the hydrophone, so once the buoy surfaced, “all” we had to do was send a fast rescue boat out to retrieve it, bring the buoy and line back to the ship, bring the crew safely back aboard the ship, hook the line up through a pulley overhead and back to a deck wench, pull the line through, take off the hydrophone, pull the rest of the line up, unspool the line on the wench to re-set the line, re-spool the winch, and then reverse the whole process.
Watching the crew work on this process was impressive at least, and a fully orchestrated symphony at best. There were many tyings of knots and transfers of lines, and all crew members worked like the well-seasoned deck crew that they are. Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana is no stranger to hauling in and maintaining buoys, so his deck crew were well prepared to take on this monumental task.
Much of the day went exactly according to plan. The buoy was safely retrieved, the hydrophone brought on board, the lines pulled in, re-spooled, and all sent back out again. But I am here to tell you that 4000m of line to haul in and pay back out takes. A Long. Time. We worked through a rainstorm spooling the line off the winch to reset it, through the glare of the tropical sun and the gentle and steadfast breeze of the trade winds. By dinner time, all was back in place, the buoy safely submerged deep in the ocean waters, waiting to be released again in another two years to repeat the process all over again. With any luck, the noise levels in the ocean will have improved. Many commercial vessels have committed to adopting “quiet ship” technology to assist in the reduction of noise levels. If this continues to improve, our cetacean friends just might be able to hear one another again at dinner.
So, I guess it’s pretty fair to say that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher. I could not fully escape my August to May duties onboard, despite my best efforts. This week, I found myself on the bridge, doing a science experiment with the Wardroom (These are what all of the officers onboard as a group are called). How is this even happening, you ask? (Trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I was in the middle of it, running around to different “lab groups” just like in class.) Our CO, CDR Koes, is committed to ensuring that her crew is always learning on the ship.
If her staff do not know the answer to a question, she will guide them through the process of seeking out the correct answer so that all officers learn as much as they can when it comes to being underway – steering the ship, preparing for emergencies, and working with engineers, scientists, and crew. For example, I found out that while I was off “small-boating” near Pilot Whales, the Wardroom was busy working on maneuvering the ship in practice of man overboard scenarios. She is committed to ensuring that all of her staff knows all parts of this moving city, or at a minimum know how to find the answers to any questions they may have. It’s become clear just how much the crew and the entire ship have a deep respect and admiration for CDR Koes. I knew she was going to be great when we were at training and word got out that she would be the CO of this Leg on Sette and everyone had a range of positive emotions from elated to relieved to ecstatic.
As part of this training, she gives regular “quizzes” to her staff each day – many of them in good fun with questions for scientists, crew, engineers, and I. Some questions are nautical “things” that the Wardroom should know or are nice to know (for example, knowing the locations of Material Safety Data Sheets or calculating dew point temperatures), some questions are about the scientific work done onboard, while others are questions about personal lives of onboard members.
It has been a lot of fun watching the Wardroom and Crew seek out others and ask them where they live while showing them their “whale dance” to encourage sightings. It has exponentially increased the interactions between everyone onboard in a positive and productive way.
The other teaching element that CDR Koes has implemented is a daily lesson each day from Monday to Friday just after lunch. All NOAA Officers meet on the bridge, while one officer takes the lead to teach a quick, fifteen minute lesson on any topic of their choosing. It could be to refresh scientific knowledge, general ship operations, nautical concepts, or anything else that would be considered “good to know.”
This sharing of knowledge builds trust among the Wardroom because it honors each officer’s strong suits and reminds us that we all have something to contribute while onboard.
I started attending these lunchtime sessions and volunteered to take on a lesson. So, this past Tuesday, I rounded up some supplies and did what I know best – we all participated in the Cloud in a Bottle Lesson!
The Wardroom had fun (I think?) making bottle clouds, talking about the three conditions for cloud formation, and refreshing their memories on adiabatic heating and cooling. It was a little nerve wracking for me as a teacher because two of the officers are meteorologists by trade, but I think I passed the bar. (I hope I did!)
It was fun to slide back into the role of teacher, if only for a brief while, and served as a reminder that I’m on my way back to work in a few weeks! Thanks to the Wardroom for calling on me to dust up my teacher skills for the upcoming first weeks of school!
Facebook Asks, DeSchryver Answers
I polled all of my Facebook friends, fishing (ha ha, see what I did there?) for questions about the ship, and here are some of the questions and my answers!
Q: LC asks, “What has been your most exciting moment on the ship?”
It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll tell you the times I was held at a little tear: a) Any sighting of a new species is a solid winner, especially the rare ones b) The first time I heard Sperm Whales on the acoustic detector c) The first time we took the small boat out for UAS operations….annnndddd d) The first time I was on Independent Observation and we had a sighting!
Q: JK asks, “What are your thoughts on the breakoff of Larsen C? And have there been any effects from the Alaskan quake and tsunami?”
We’re actually pretty isolated on board! Limited internet makes it hard to hear of all the current events. I had only briefly heard about Larsen C, and just that it broke, not anything else. I had no clue there was a quake and tsunami! But! I will tell a cool sort of related story. On Ford Island, right where Sette is docked, the parking lot is holding three pretty banged up boats. If you look closely, they all have Japanese markings on them. Turns out they washed up on Oahu after the Japan Tsunami. They tracked down the owners, and they came out to confirm those boats were theirs, but left them with NOAA as a donation. So? There’s tsunami debris on Oahu and I saw it.
Q: NG asks, “Any aha moments when it comes to being on the ocean? And anything to bring back to Earth Science class?”
So many aha moments, but one in particular that comes to mind is just how difficult it is to spot cetaceans and how talented the marine mammal observers are! They can quite literally spot animals from miles away! There are a lot of measures put in place to help the marine mammal observers, but at the end of the day, there are some species that are just tougher than nails to spot, or to spot and keep an eye on since their behaviors are all so different. And as far as anything to bring back to our class? Tons. I got a cool trick to make a range finder using a pencil. I think we should use it!
Q: MJB asks, “Have you had some peaceful moments to process and just take it all in?”
Yes. At night between the sonobuoy launches, I get two miles of transit time out on the back deck to just absorb the day and be thankful for the opportunities. The area of Hawai’i we are in right now is considered sacred ground, so it’s very powerful to just be here and be here.
Q: SC asks, “What souvenir are you bringing me?”
Well, we saw a glass fishing float, and we tried to catch it for you, but it got away.
Q: LC asks, “What’s the most disgusting ocean creature?”
Boy that’s a loaded question because I guarantee if I name a creature, someone out there studies it for a living. But! I will tell you the most delicious ocean creature. That would be Ono. In sashimi form. Also, there is a bird called a Great Frigate bird – it feeds via something called Klepto-parasitism, which is exactly how it sounds. It basically finds other birds, harasses them until they give up whatever they just caught or in some cases until it pukes, and then it steals their food. So, yeah. I’d say that’s pretty gross. But everyone’s gotta eat, right?
Q: KI asks, “Have you eaten all that ginger?”
I’m about two weeks in and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten about a pound. I’m still working on it!
Q: HC asks, ”Have you seen or heard any species outside of their normal ocean territory?”
Sort of. Yesterday we saw Orca! They are tropical Orca, so they are found in this area, but they aren’t very common. The scientific team was thinking we’d maybe see one or two out of the entire seven legs of the trip, and we saw some yesterday! (I can’t say how many, and you’ll find out why in an upcoming post.) We have also seen a little bird that wasn’t really technically out of his territory, but the poor fella sure was a little far from home.
Q: JPK asks, “What kinds of data have you accumulated to use in a cross-curricular experience for math?”
We can do abundance estimates with a reasonably simplified equation. It’s pretty neat how we can take everything that we see from this study, and use those numbers to extrapolate how many of each species is estimated to be “out there.”
Q: AP asks, “What has surprised you about this trip?”
Many, many things, but I’ll mention a couple fun ones. The ship has an enormous movie collection – even of movies that aren’t out on DVD yet because they get them ahead of time! Also? The food on the ship is amazing. We’re halfway through the trip and the lettuce is still green. I have to find out the chef’s secret! And the desserts are to die for. It’s a wonder I haven’t put on twenty pounds. The crew does a lot of little things to celebrate and keep morale up, like birthday parties, and music at dinner, and shave ice once a week. Lots of people take turns barbecuing and cooking traditional foods and desserts special to them from home and they share with everyone. They are always in really high spirits and don’t let morale drop to begin with, so it’s always fun.
Q: TS asks, “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”
I’ve done lots of exciting things, but the one thing that comes to mind is launching on the small boat to go take photos of the pilot whales. Such a cool experience, and I hope we get good enough weather to do it again while we’re out here! Everything about ship life is brand new to me, so I like to help out as much as I can. Any time someone says, “Will you help with this?” I get excited, because I know I’m about to learn something new and also lend a hand.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island
Date: June 16, 2017
Wind: 3 knots from the east (272° true)
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Barometer: 997.6 hPa
Air temperature: 9 °C
Cloud: 100% cover, 1000’
Science and Technology Log
It would be easy to assume that once the small boat surveys are conducted and data from the larger sonar equipment on Fairweather is also acquired, that the hydrographers’ work is done and the data can be used to create navigational charts. As I have learned, pretty quickly, there are many parameters that affect the raw data, and many checks and balances that need to be conducted before the data can be used to create a chart. There are also a significant amount of hurdles that the crew of Fairweather deals with in order to get to their end goal of having valid, accurate data. Some of the parameters that affect the data include tides, salinity of the water, temperature of the water, and the density of the data.
Tides play a huge role in data accuracy. But how do tides work and how do they influence navigational chart making? Tides on our planet are the effect on water due to forces exerted by the moon and the sun. The mass and the distance from the Earth to these celestial bodies play significant roles in tidal forces. While the sun has a much greater mass than the moon, the moon is much closer to the Earth and it is distance that plays a more critical role. Gravity is the major force responsible for creating tides. The gravitational pull of the moon moves the water towards the moon and creates a ‘bulge’. There is a corresponding bulge on the other side of the Earth at the same time from inertia, the counterbalance to gravity. The moon travels in an elliptical orbit around the planet and the Earth travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun. As a result, the positions of the moon to the Earth and the Earth to the sun change and as a result, tide height changes. The tides also work on a lunar day, the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth, which is 24 hours and 50 minutes. So high tide is not at the same time in one area each solar day (Earth’s 24 hour day). There are three basic tidal patterns on our planet. Here is southeast Alaska, the tides generally are what is called ‘semi-diurnal’, meaning that there are two high tides a day and two low tides a day of about the same height. Other areas of the world may have ‘mixed semi-diurnal’ tides, where there are differences in height between the two high and two low tides, or ‘diurnal’ tides, meaning there is only one high and one low tide in a lunar day. The shape of shorelines, local wind and weather patterns and the distance of an area from the equator also affect the tide levels. How does this affect the hydrographers’ data? If data is being collected about water depth, obviously tide levels need to be factored in. Hydrographers factor this in when collecting the raw data, using predicted tide tables. However, later on they receive verified tide tables from NOAA and the new tables will be applied to the data.
Sound Speed Profiles:
Traveling down through the water column from the surface to the seafloor, several factors can change, sometimes significantly. These factors include temperature, pressure and salinity. These variables affect the accuracy of the sonar readings of the MBES (Multibeam Echo Sounders), so have to be factored in to account with the raw data analysis. What complicates matters further is that these factors can vary from location to location, and so one set of readings of salinity, for example, is not be valid for the whole dataset. Many fresh water streams end up in the waters off the islands of southeast Alaska. While this introduction of freshwater has effects on the community of organisms that live there, it also has impacts on the hydrographers’ data. To support accurate data collection the hydrographers conduct sound speed casts in each polygon they visit before they use the MBES. The data is downloaded on to computers on the boat and factored in to the data acquisition. The casts are also re-applied in post processing, typically on a nearest distance basis so that multiple casts in an area can be used. In the picture below, the CTD cast is the device that measures conductivity (for salinity), temperature and depth. It is suspended in the water for several minutes to calibrate and then lowered down through the water column to collect data. It is then retrieved and the data is downloaded in to the computers on board.
Hydrographers Bekah Gossett and Sam Candio getting ready to deploy the cast.
Hydrographers also need to make sure that they are collecting enough sonar data, something referred to as data density. There are minimum amounts of data that need to be collected per square meter, dependent on the depth of the sea floor in any given area. Having a minimum requirement of sonar data allows any submerged features to be identified and not missed. For example, at 0-20 meters, there need to be a minimum of five ‘pings’ per square meter. The deeper the sea floor, the more the beam will scatter and the ‘pings’ will be further apart, so the minimum of five pings occupy a greater surface area. Hydrographers need to make sure that the majority of their data meets the data density requirements.
After much of the initial raw data has been collected, and many of the polygons ‘filled in’, the hydrographers will also conduct crossline surveys. In these surveys they will drive the small boat at an angle across the tracklines of the original polygon surveys. The goal here is basically quality control. The new crossline data will be checked against the original MBES data to make sure that consistent results are be acquired. CTD casts have to be re-done for the crossline surveys and different boats may be used so that a different MBES is used, to again, assure quality control. At least 4% of the original data needs to be covered by these crossline surveys.
Low tides are taken advantage of by the hydrographers. If the research is being conducted in an area where the low tide times correlate with the small boat survey times, then a vessel mounted LIDAR system will be used to acquire measurements of the shoreline. Accurate height readings can be extracted from this data of different rocks that could prove hazardous to navigation. Notes are made about particular hazards and photos are taken of them. Data on man-made objects are also often acquired. Below are pictures produced by the laser technology, and the object in real life. (for more on LIDAT: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lidar.html)
Polygons on the sheet
Areas to be lazered
Notes after lazering
Laser image of boat with trees behind
Each evening once the launches (the small boats) return, the data from that day has to be ‘cleaned’. This involves a hydrographer taking an initial look at the raw data and seeing if there were any places in the data acquisition that are erroneous. None of the data collected is deleted but places where the sonar did not register properly will become more apparent. This process is called night processing as it happens after the survey day. After night processing, the sheet managers will take a look at remaining areas that need to be surveyed and make a plan for the following day. By 6 a.m. the next day, the Chief Scientist will review the priorities made by the managers and let the HIC (Hydrographer In Charge) know what the plan in for their survey boat that day.
Throughout the Science and Technology log in this blog post, I keep referring to technology and computer programs.What stands out to me more and more each day is the role that technology plays in acquiring accurate data. It is an essential component of this project in so many ways, and is a constant challenge for all of the crew of Fairweather. Daily on Fairweather, at mealtimes, in the post survey meetings, or on the survey boats themselves, there is discussion about the technology. Many different programs are required to collect and verify the data and ‘hiccups’ (or headaches) with making this technology work seamlessly in this aquatic environment are a regular occurrence. I am in awe of the hydrographers’ abilities, not only in knowing how to use all the different programs, but also to problem solve significant issues that come up, seemingly on a regular basis. Staff turnover and annual updates in software and new equipment on the ship also factor significantly in to technology being constantly in the foreground. It often eats in to a large amount of an individual’s day as they figure out how to make programs work in less than forgiving circumstances. Tied to all of this is the fact that there is a colossal amount of data being collected, stored and analyzed each field season. This data needs to be ‘filed’ in ways that allow it to be found, and so the tremendous ‘filing system’ also needs to be learned and used by everyone.
Hydrographer Steve Eykelhoff and ET Sean checking the computers on the small boats
Taking a look to see if anything is loose
Word of the day: Fathom
Fathom is a nautical unit of measurement, and is the equivalent of 6 feet. It is used in measuring depth.
Fact of the day:
Prince of Wales Island, west of which this research leg is being conducted is the fourth largest island in the United States. 4,000 people live on the island, that is 2,577sq mi.
What is this?
(Previous post: a zoomed in photo of ‘otter trash’ (Clam shell)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West of Prince of Wales Island
Date: June 12, 2017
Wind 12 knots, 230° true
10 miles visibility
Barometer: 1016 hPa
90% cloud cover at 2000 feet
Location: Dall Island, AK54° 54.5’N 132°52.1W
Science and Technology Log:
The role of the Fairweather is to conduct hydrographic surveys in order to acquire data to be used in navigational charts. While the Fairweather has sonar equipment and collects lots of data in transit, much of the data collected on a daily basis is by using smaller boats, with a rotating crew of 3-4 people per boat. The Fairweather will sail to the research area and drop anchor, and for multiple days crews will use these smaller vessels to collect the raw data in an area.
Launching small boat
Small boat off to start surveying
“Sonar” was originally an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging, but it has become a word in modern terminology. The boats contain active sonar devices used by the NOAA scientists to calculate water depth, document the rocks, wrecks and kelp forests, and in general, determine hazards to boats. Ultimately their data will be converted in to navigational charts – but there is a significant amount of work and stages to be undertaken to make this a reality.
Attached to the small boats are Kongsberg Multi Beam Echo Sounders (MBES). These devices emit sound waves in to the water. The waves fan out and reflect off the bottom of the sea floor and return to the MBES. Based on the time it takes for the MBES to send and receive the sound waves, the depth of the sea floor can be calculated. As the boat moves through the water, thousands of pieces of data are collected, and collectively a picture of the sea floor can be built.
It sounds simple, right? But I am beginning to understand more about the complexities that go in to a project of this scope. It would seem simple perhaps, to drive a boat around, operate the MBES and collect data. As I have quickly come to understand, there is a lot more to it.
As mentioned before, due to the weather conditions in the geographic area of study and routine maintenance, the Fairweather has a field season, and a dry dock season. During the non-field season time, data is analyzed from the previous seasons, and priorities and plans are made for the upcoming seasons. Areas are analyzed and decisions made as to which regions the Fairweather will go to and sheets are determined. A sheet is a region within the project area. Each sheet is broken up in to polygons. On any given day, one small boat will cover 1-3 polygons, depending on the weather, the complexity of the area, and the distance of travel from the Fairweather.
Polygons within the ‘red’ sheet
There are many parameters that the scientists need to consider and reconfigure to acquire and maintain accurate data collection. A minimum density of soundings (or ‘pings’) is required to make sure that the data is sufficient. For example, in shallow waters, the data density needs to be a minimum of five soundings per one square meter. At a greater depth, the area covered by the five soundings can be 4 square meters. This is due to the fact that the waves will spread out more the further they travel.
A coxswain will drive the boat in lines, called track lines, through the polygon. As the data is collected the ‘white chart’ they are working with begins to get colored in. Purple indicates deepest water. Green and yellow mean it’s getting less deep. Red indicates shallow areas, and black needs to be avoided. In the pictures below you can begin to see the data being logged visually on the map as the boat travels.
Beginning the data acquisition
Zoomed in and more coverage
Make an analogy to mowing a lawn. There are areas of most lawns where it is easy to push the lawnmower in straight lines, more or less. The same can be said for here, to some extent. In the deeper waters, not close to shore, the boats can ‘color in’ their polygon using relatively wide swaths that allow the sonar data to overlap just slightly. Every time the boat turns to go back in the opposite direction, the MBES is paused, and then started again once the boat is in position, making a new track line. Close to the shore, referred to as near shore, there are usually more hazards. In these areas, speed is slowed. Due to the increased potential of rocks and kelp beds in an unknown area, the boats do something called half-stepping, in-effect overlapping the ‘rows’ – think about re-mowing part of that section of lawn, or mowing around tree trunks and flower beds. As a visual image comes up on the screen, the coxswain and the hydrographers can determine more where their next line will be and whether they should continue surveying that area, or if there are too many hazards.
Full coverage needs to be achieved as much as possible. At times this does not happen. This can be as the result of several factors. Kelp increases the complexity of data collection. Kelp often attaches to rocks, and there are large ‘forests’ of kelp in the areas being surveyed. As the sonar also ‘reads’ the kelp, it’s not possible to know the true location, size and depth of the rock the kelp is attached to, and in some instances, to determine if the kelp is free floating.
Steep slopes, rocks and kelp can also create ‘shadows’ for the MBES. This means that there are areas that no sounding reached. If possible the survey team will re-run a section or approach it from another angle to cover this shadow. At times, the rocky areas close to shoreline do not allow for this to be done safely. A holiday is a term used by the survey crew to describe an area where data did not register or was missed within a polygon or sheet. During data collection, a day may be dedicated for boats to return to these specific areas and see if the data can be collected. On occasion, weather conditions may have prevented the original crew from collecting the data in the first place. Equipment malfunction could have played a role, as could kelp beds or hazardous rock conditions.
Survey crews are given several tools to help them navigate the area. Previous nautical charts are also superimposed on to the electronic chart that the surveyors are using. While many of these contain data that is out of date, it gives the crew a sense of what hazards in the area there may be. Symbols representing rocks and kelp for example are shown. The Navigable Area Limit Lines (NALL) are represented by a red line that can be superimposed on the map. Any area closer to shore than the NALL is not required to be surveyed.
On occasion, surveying will discover a Danger to Navigation (DTON). This might include a rock close to the surface in a deeper water area that is not shown on any map and which may pose imminent danger to mariners. In these instances these dangers are reported upon return to the Fairweather, and information is quickly sent to the Marine Chart Division’s Nautical Data Branch.
During the course of the day, the scientists are constantly checking the data against a series of parameters than can affect its accuracy. Some of these parameters include temperature, salinity of the water and the tide levels. More about these parameters will be discussed in later blog postings.
The first part of the day involves the stewards getting coolers of food ready for the survey crew who will be gone all day. The engineers have fixed any boat issues from the previous day and re-fueled the boats and the deck crew have them ready to re-launch. A GAR score is calculated by the coxswain and the crew, to determine the level of risk for the days launch. The GAR score examines the resources, environment, the team selection, their fitness, the weather and the mission complexity. Each factor is given a score out of 10. Added up, if the total is 23 or less, the mission is determined ‘low risk’, 24-44 is ‘use extra caution’, and greater than 45 is high risk. On the first day I went on a boat, as a first timer, the GAR score was a couple of points higher in the ‘team selection’ section as I was new.
Another fascinating aspect of this research is the equipment on the ship needed to launch these small boats. Huge winches are needed to hoist the boats in and out of the water. Deck crew, with support from the survey crew are responsible for the boat hauling multiple times a day, and the engineers are on hand to fix and monitor the equipment.
After my first day out on the small boats, the data acquisition began not only to make more sense, but also my understanding of the complex factors that make the data collection feasible began to broaden. I had naively assumed that all the work was done from the Fairweather and that the Fairweather would be constantly on the move, rather than being anchored in one location or so for a few days. As we journeyed around small islands covered in Sitka spruce, I watched constant communication between the survey crew and the coxswain on the small boats. The survey crew are constantly monitoring the chart and zooming in and out so that the coxswain can get a better and safer picture of where to take the boat. As well as watching the monitors and driving the boat, the coxswain is also looking ahead and around for hazards. There is a significant number of large floating logs ready to damage boats, and on occasion, whales that the boat needs to stay away from. It is a long day for all the crew.
Aside from learning about the data acquisition being on the small boat, one of the joys was to be closer to some of the wildlife. While I will go in to more detail in later entries, highlights included catching glimpses of humpback whales, families of sea otters, and harbor seal pups.
Fact of the day:
While animals, such as bats, have been using sonar for thousands or millions of years, it wasn’t until the sinking of the Titanic that sonar devices were invented and used for the locating of icebergs. During World War I, a French physicist, Paul Langévin, developed a tool to be able to listen for submarines. Further developments lead to sonar being able to send and receive signals. Since then, major developments in sonar technology have led to many different applications in different science fields.
Word of the day: Nadir
On small boat surveys, nadir is the term used to describe the ocean floor directly below the boat. It is the low point below the boat.
What is this?
What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).
(Answer from previous blog: part of a section of a dumbbell from the Fairweather workout room)
My first day on the longline cruise seems so long ago with three days of work under my belt. The night before my first shift, just like when school starts, I couldn’t sleep. Trying to prepare was futile. I was lost, lost in the wet lab, lost in my stateroom, lost in the mess. I needed to get some gloves on and get to work, learning the best way I know how: by doing.
At noon, I stepped out the fantail, life vest, gloves, hard hat, and sunscreen on, nervous, but ready to work. The Gulf of Mexico horizon was dotted with oil rigs, like a prairie full of farmhouses. Heat waves rose from the black deck.
Dr. Trey Driggers baits the hooks.
TAS Denise Harrington baits hooks.
Fifteen minutes before arriving at our first station, our science team, Field Party Chief Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Biologist Paul Felts, Research Biologist Kevin Rademacher, NOAA Science Writer Matt Ellis, and I began to prepare for our first station by baiting the hooks with mackerel (Scomber scombrus). I learned quickly that boots and grubby clothes are ideal for this task.
The buoy, connected to the boat by the longline, bobbed off toward the horizon.
Tim attached the first of three weights to anchor the line to the sea floor.
As the longline stretched across the sea, Kevin attached a numbered tag to the baited hook held by Paul.
Paul passed the baited, tagged hook to Tim, who attached 100 hooks, evenly spaced, to the one mile longline.
Setting the longline is rather predictable, so with Rush and Van Halen salting the air, we talked about our kids, dogs, riots in the news, and science, of course. The tags will help us track the fish we catch. After a fish is released or processed, the data is entered in the computer and shared with the scientific community. Maybe one of these tagged fish will end up in one of the many scientific papers Trey publishes on sharks each year.
The line soaked for an hour waiting for snapper, tilefish, eels, sharks, and other fish to bite. While the line soaked, Mike Conway, skilled fisherman, and I lowered the CTD, a piece of equipment that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth, into the water. Once the biologists know how salty, cold, and deep the water is, they can make better predictions about the species of fish we will find.
Denise and Mike lower the CTD.
Styrofoam cup comparison
We attached a bag holding a few Styrofoam cups to see how the weight of the water above it would affect the cup. Just imagine the adaptations creatures of the deep must have developed to respond to this pressure!
The ship circled back to hook #1 to give each hook equal time in the water. After an hour, we all walked up to the well deck, toward the bow or front of the ship. We pulled in the first highflyer and weight. We pulled in the hooks, some with bait, and some without. After 50 hooks, the middle weight came up. We still didn’t have a fish. I began to wonder if we’d catch anything at all. No data is still data, I thought. “Fish on eighty three!” I heard someone yell. I wake from my reverie, and get my gloves on.
It was a blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus), “pound for pound, the meanest shark in the water,” says Trey. He would know, he’s the shark expert. It came up fighting, but was no match for Kevin who carefully managed to get length, weight, and sex data before releasing it back into sea.
Kevin measures the shark’s length in millimeters, Paul takes records the data, and Matt takes photos.
Then Kevin weighs it in kilograms.
With one shark to process, the three scientists were able to analyze the sexual maturity of the male blacknose together. I learned that an adult male shark’s claspers are hard and rotate 180˚, allowing them to penetrate a female shark. An immature shark’s claspers are soft and do not rotate. For each male shark, we need to collect this data about its sex stage.
Later, Paul talked about moments like these, where the field biologists work side by side with research biologists from all different units in the lab. Some research biologists, he notes, never get into the field. But Kevin, Trey, and others like them have a much more well-rounded understanding of the data collected and how it is done because of the time they spend in the field.
Fortunately, the transition from inexperienced to novice was gradual. The second line was just as easy as the first, we only brought in two fish, one shark and one red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).
Dissection Photos: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
For the red snapper, we removed the otoliths, which people often call ear bones, to determine age, and gonads to determine reproductive status. I say “we” but really the scientists accomplished this difficult feat. I just learned how to process the samples they collected and record the data as they dissected the fish.
We set the longline a third time. The highflyer bobbed toward the orange sun, low on the horizon. The ship turned around, and after an hour of soaking, we went to the well deck toward the front of the ship to pull in the longline. The sky was dark, the stars spread out above us.
“One!” “Three!” “Seven!” “Nine!” The numbers of tags with fish on the line were being called out faster than we could manage. It seemed like every other hook had a shark on it. Two hours later we had collected twenty-eight Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks and had one snapper to process. Too busy working to take pictures, I have nothing to document my transition from inexperienced to novice except this data sheet. Guess who took all this data? Me!
NOAA Ship Oregon II is small, every bunk is filled. I share a stateroom with the second in command, Executive Officer (XO) Lecia Salerno, and am thankful she is such a flexible roommate, making a place for me where space is hard to come by.
Last night, as I lay in my bunk above XO Salerno and her office, I felt like Garth on Wayne’s World, the thought that “I’m not worthy” entering my head. All members of the crew are talented, experienced, and hard-working, from the bridge, to the galley, to the engine room, and out on the deck where we work. I’ve made a few mistakes. I took the nasty thought and threw it overboard, like the slimy king snake eels (Ophichthus rex) we pull from the deep.
In the morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, facing the risk of being the least experienced, slowest crew member to learn, with curiosity and perseverance. First day jitters gone, I’m learning by doing.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast Date: Sunday, May 31, 2015
Air Temperature: 11.1°C
Water Temperature: 11.8°C
Wind Speed (kts) and Direction: 15, SSE
Science and Technology Log
We finally weighed anchor and set sail at 1032 Friday morning. Fog blanketed the shores of Newport as we passed below the Yaquina Bay Bridge and out into the channel created by the North and South Jetties. One of our last sights from shore was Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur’s wife, who had come to see us off. The fog was so thick that before we had even reached the end of the jetty her lime green jacket was hidden from view.
Emily and I and several of the other scientists watched our departure from the flying bridge, the highest observational deck on board the ship. It provides an almost unobstructed 360-degree view of the surroundings—making it perfect for Amanda’s surveys—but it’s also right next to the foghorn, which had to be blown every two minutes until we reached greater visibility. Needless to say, we all found somewhere else to watch the waves.
Once the ship had moved farther offshore, some of the fog cleared but the moisture in the air was still enough to cause concern for the computers so Amanda went to the bridge, an enclosed deck that houses the navigational instruments that the captain and other officers use to drive the ship. Here she began setting up her survey equipment.
Up to this point, I’d been getting a lot of great advice about handling the first few hours on board the moving ship. Some people suggested I lay down, but the go-getter in me wanted to work. Using a program that is linked to the ship’s GPS, Amanda taught me how to code the observations she was making of the seabirds and marine mammals. As she kept her eyes glued on the 90-degree quadrant made by making a quarter port (while facing the front of the ship, counter clockwise or left, for you digital folks) turn from the bow (front of the ship) (in the image at the top of this post, you can see a panoramic view of quadrant I, the port bow of the ship), she would call out codes for the species, distance from the ship and behavior of the bird she observed. If she were to spot any marine mammals–pinnipeds (pin-eh-peds) (seal and sea lions) or cetaceans (ceh-tay-shins) (dolphins and whales)–that gets entered in a separate database.
Amanda has to be prepared to work alone as she is the only ornithologist on the ship, but with a Teacher at Sea and other volunteers on board willing to learn and help out, she’s able to rely on us to share some of the work. She and I were working as quite the well-oiled machine for a solid 20 minutes before I made peace with the fact that I did not have my sea legs. To my great relief, it’s something you can sleep off.
While at sea, the most important thing to remember is to be safe, so once we had been underway for a few hours, the ship’s crew and team of scientists went through drills to practice safety protocols for two of the three significant events that could happen at sea. A 10-second blast on the horn sounded the alarm for the fire drill, and all crew and scientists mustered (gathered) in their assigned locations. Next, 7-short, and 1-long blast signaled the start of the abandon ship drill. The need to abandon ship is highly unlikely, but out at sea you need to be prepared for anything. Most importantly, you need to know how to get into your survival suit, and fast.
Emily and I decided to practice since we were both first-timers to these impressive red neoprene onesies. Since they’re designed to be large enough to fit over your shoes and warm clothes, they can be awkward to put on, especially when you get to the zipping part. And who cares how they look when the water is 8-10° Celsius, a temperature that could cause hypothermia or fatal loss of body temperature.
Saturday was spent sampling a little bit of everything. Of course I paid a visit to Amanda up on the flying bridge to hear about how the birding (and marine mammal-ing) was going. Often, I find Emily there assisting with data entry. Since Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 knots, traveling from station to station gives her time to look, but sometimes these distances are short and our time at the stations, releasing the various equipment needed for different scientists’ data collection, can be long. This is when Amanda goes off effort (not collecting data) for longer periods of time and during these times, Emily and I have taken to teaming up to check out what’s going on in the wet lab.
Home to most of the science crew, the wet lab is wet. Initially, I thought foul weather gear was meant for, well, foul weather, but between the hauling in, spraying down and rinsing of the samples caught in the nets, everyone in the wet lab is wearing theirs full-time. Also, everyone must wear hard hats and PFDs (personal flotation devices, also known as life jackets) when out on deck as the equipment is being released or hauled in. Safety first, as always!
My cabin mate, Jaclyn Mazzella, and Phil White, are the two survey technicians on the Shimada. They help release and monitor the nets and equipment that are being used on this research cruise. More on these two interesting cats later.
While in the wet lab, Emily and I witnessed the CTD being hauled in. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is a measurement of salinity, or how salty the ocean water is. The way it works is by passing an electric current through the water and measuring how fast it travels. This is connected to how salty the water is because when salt is dissolved in water, it separates into ions, these particles carry a charge and allow electric current to pass through. More conductive water will be salty, less conductive water will be less salty or fresh.
We know that temperature provides a measurement of how hot or cold something is. In this case, we’re measuring the temperature of the water. It is mostly cold off the Oregon coast, though the scientists on board have been discussing a recent unexplained area of warmer water, dubbed the “warm blob.” Biologists aim to discover if the warm blob is going to have an impact on the fisheries.
As the CTD is lowered and raised, it can take measurements of these and other factors which allow biologists to compare the diversity and number of species they collect in their nets to the data collected. One of those nets is the neuston tow, a net that skims the surface of the water. It is one of several nets that are being used to collect samples from different layers of the ocean. The scientists on board expect to find jellies and larvae of different species in this net.
I got a chance to see the neuston being released. After it was hauled in, Dr. Curtis Roegner, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, detached the cod-end–a small container at the bottom of the net that collects everything the net caught–and filtered out the contents. Inside were a bunch of beautiful blue jellies! These guys are commonly known as by-the-wind sailors thanks to their interesting sail adaptation that allows them to harness the power of the wind to aid in their dispersal (scattering) throughout the ocean. I helped Sam Zeman, a biologist with the University of Oregon, Tyler and Curtis measure the diameter–the length at the widest point–of the bodies of the jellies.
The more time I spend on the Shimada, the more determined I am to figure out how time travel works so I can go back and thank my September 2014 self for putting in the Teacher At Sea application. I’ve been on the ship for three days now and I love being able to go anywhere, day or night, and be able to observe and assist in research and data collection, but also just sit and talk with people who have all followed many different paths that led them to this ship, for these two weeks.
You might think my biggest struggles right now would be seasickness (which I’m not!) or missing my friends and family, but honestly, the hardest part is keeping the blog down to a readable length. There’s an enormous amount more happening here than I have the room to tell you but I will try and cover everything before our time is up.
Lastly, it’s true, I miss my friends and family, a lot, but there are certain creature comforts here that help ease the transition from land to sea. NOAA certainly knows how to keep morale and productivity up, with a well-stocked kitchen open 24 hours, meals prepared on site by talented cooks, and a TV lounge for socializing with a selection of over 500 movies, it’s easy to feel at home. And when finding a work-life balance is not possible, it’s necessary, all of this helps.
Well, that’s all for now, catch the next installment coming soon to a computer screen or mobile device near you!
Special thanks to Prof. Mary-Beth Decker consulting on the spelling of Vellela vellela and Brittney Honisch for teaching me a good way to remember port vs. starboard. When facing the front of the ship, port is left and both words have four letters.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jennifer Petro Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 1 — 14, 2013
Mission: Marine Protected Area Surveys Geographic area of cruise: Southern Atlantic Date: July 10, 2013
Weather Data Air temperature: 28.4°C (81.5°F)
Barometer: 1010.20 mb
Wind direction: 103°
Wind speed: 1.5 knots
Water temp: 27.5° C (81.5°F)
Latitude: 32 81.67 N
Longitude: 78 12.95 W
Science and Technology Log
The most integral piece of equipment on board is the ROV. A Super Phantom S2 to be precise. The ROV is operated by the team of Lance Horn and Glenn Taylor from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW). Dubbed by me as the “ROV Guys”, Lance and Glenn have almost 50 years of combined experience working on and operating ROVs. The Super Phantom S2 is part of UNCW’s Undersea Vehicle Program which currently consists of 2 ROVs and 1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or (AUV). In the fall they will be adding a third ROV to their fleet. The ROV set-up is quite impressive and centers around one key component….communication. The ROV is tethered to the ship by an umbilical. During each and every dive the ROV operator is in constant contact with the ROV deck. The umbilical is either payed out over the side or brought back in according to the dive depth and that needs to also be communicated to the wench operator. The ROV deck is constantly watching the direction and tautness of the umbilical so that it does not get overstretched or goes into the boat’s prop. All the time the ROV driver is in contact with the bridge. So, there is a lot of communication and it is integral in every aspect of ROV operations.
Not only are all of the people involved in ROV ops communicating but the ROV and boat are communicating
as well. The ROV uses an integrated navigation system to provide real-time tracking of the ROV and ship to the ROV operator and the Pisces bridge for navigation. Ship and ROV positions with ROV depth, heading and altimeter reading are logged for each dive and provided to the scientist in an Excel file. Geo-referenced .tif files can be used as background files to aid in ROV and support vessel navigation.
The ROV can go to a depth of approximately 305 meters (1000 ft). Our deepest dive on this cruise is 200 meters (650 ft) which is 20 atm of pressure! What does that mean? At sea level, the weight of all the air above you creates one “atmosphere” (atm) of pressure equivalent to 14.7 pounds pressing on each square inch. In the ocean, the pressure increases very rapidly with depth because water is much denser than air. For every 33 feet (10 meters) of depth, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere. So at 20 atmospheres there is a lot of pressure pushing down on all sides. It is the increase in pressure that makes it difficult to do manned deep water dives and one of the reasons why the use of ROVs is so important.
As an experiment we sent styrofoam cups that we had decorated in a bag along with the ROV down to a depth of 170 meters 550 ft. The cups shrink due to the increased pressure of the water. The deeper you go the more they will shrink.
Data collection: Data is collected during each dive by the means of video recording and still camera photos. Each camera is in a special pressure rated, water proof housing. There is special attention given to the 7 target species (5 of which we have recorded this cruise) as well as any new or interesting species that we have seen. This data is analyzed back in the lab. So far we have approximately 64 hours of video and 2400 still photos. Needless to say reviewing the data is time-consuming but a very important aspect in confirming what we see during the actual cruise.
Still photos taken with the ROVs Nikon CoolPics camera.
Driving the ROV is much like playing a video game, only you have many more screens you have to monitor. I did get an opportunity to drive it over sand! According to Lance it takes about 20 hours of training to learn to drive effectively drive the ROV. There are no simulations, all of the drive time is hands-on and in the water.
While I was in the Acoustics Lab speaking with the folks that do the multibeam mapping, I looked down at the probes that they use and a single word jumped out at me: “Sippican”. I know this word from my childhood. We used to visit my Aunt Carol and Uncle Al in Marion, Massachusetts which sits on Sippican Harbor off of Buzzards Bay. Sure enough the probes are made by Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc. located in Marion, MA. This struck me as so apropos. My Uncle Al was a marine biologist and started a research lab in Falmouth, MA. I would go to the lab with him and count flounder larvae for hours on end. He was very instrumental in developing my love for marine science and I was overjoyed to have a connection, albeit small, to a man whose work I admired very much.
Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 6th, 2013
Location Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 55.29.300 N
Longitude: 156.25.200 W
Ship speed: 10.7 kn
Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed: 14 kn
Wind direction: 210 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1008.5 mb
Science and Technology Log:
The Oscar Dyson is equipped with several labs to accommodate the researchers on board. In this blog post I will describe to you what is happening in the wet/fish lab. This is where I have experienced quite a bit of hands-on data collection.
After a trawl, the crew dumps the load of fish into a bin. Inside the lab we can raise or lower this bin to control the amount of fish coming onto a conveyor belt. Once the fish are on the belt the scientists decide how they will be separated. We separate the pollock according to age into baskets. They are categorized by size; under 20 cm (age 1), under 30 cm (age 2), and any larger than 30 cm
At this time we also pull out any other sea creatures that are not pollock. So far we have pulled up quite a few jelly fish, la lumpsucker, shrimp, squid, eulachon, and capelin. These are also weighed, measured, and in some cases frozen per request of scientists not currently on board.
After organizing the pollock into appropriate age groups, we then measure and record their weight in bulk. Scientists are using a scale attached to a touch screen computer with a program called CLAMS to record this information. The pollock are then dumped into a stainless steel bin where their sex will be determined. In order to do this the fish must be cut open to look for “boy parts, or girl parts”. After the pollock are separated into female and male bins we begin to measure their length.
The tool used to measure length is called the Ichthystick. This tool is connected to the CLAMS computer system. The fish is placed on the Ichthystick and a pointer with a magnet in it is placed at the tail end of the fish. There are three different types of length measurement that can be done: fork length, standard length, and total length. When the magnetic pointer touches the Ichthystick it senses that length and sends the information to the CLAMS computer system.
One of these bins of fish is placed aside for individual weighing, length measurements, and removal of otoliths. You may recall that I mentioned otoliths in the last blog post. These ear bones are sent to a lab and analyzed to determine the age of each of these individually measured fish. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has created a demonstration program where you can try to determine the age of different types of fish by looking at their otoliths. Click here to try it yourself! (I will add hyperlink to: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/age/interactive.htm)
One afternoon while waiting for the fishermen to bring up the trawl net, I watched a group of porpoises swimming behind the ship. Another day I was able to see whales from up on the bridge. These were pretty far out and required binoculars to see any detail. I observed many spouts, saw one breach, and some flukes as well.
There is quite a bit of downtime for me on the ship while I am waiting in between trawls. I get to read a lot and watch movies in my free time. I have had the opportunity to talk with different members of the crew and learn about their roles a bit. The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engine rooms (more about this with pictures in a future post.)
The 4th of July fireworks show on the Oscar Dyson was like no others I have ever experienced. Two of our crew, Ben & Brian, dressed in official fire gear shot expired flares off the ship into the sea. America themed music was played over the PA system. I have attached a video of our fireworks display. Happy Independence Day everyone!