Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 11, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 42 06.73 Longitude: 67 18.80 Wind Speed 20.9 Knots (24 miles per hour) Air Temperature 13.3° Celsius (55.9 Fahrenheit)
Science and Technology Log
Upon my first entry into the Hugh R. Sharp, the one thing that really stuck out to me was the amount of visible technology. In the dry lab alone, there are over 20 computer screens, close to as many hard drives, and Ethernet cords crossing and spanning the entire dry lab area. In the laboratory van, where much of our species counting and data collection takes place there are three more touchscreen monitors, motion compensated electronic scales (a scale that measures accurately regardless of boat movement), and electronic meter sticks. It is overwhelming at first, but as I have settled in now for four days it becomes commonplace.
On the 9th we were delayed due to some rough water, and the need to fix some of our equipment. Specifically, the ramp, which launches our underwater camera, was broken due to some strong waves. The engineers and technicians of the boat reinforced the ramp quickly on the morning of the 9th and we were headed back out to our location in Georges Bank in short order. The science crew I am a part of has the noon to midnight shift, so this gave me a chance to talk with one of the NOAA Fisheries experts Nancy McHugh about the technological advancements she has seen in recent years on the NOAA surveys.
Nancy has been with NOAA for 26 years, and has been on many survey missions. In my last blog, I gave an overview of our dredge missions, and how the data were collected during those missions. During this blog entry I would like to tell you about the technology that makes all this data easier to collect, analyze, and organize than it once was. This technology has made all the collection of data more accurate, reliable, and accountable. I have seen first-hand now how serious NOAA Fisheries is about collecting data that is accurate as possible, down to the last and smallest scallop.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the NOAA Fisheries staff used waterproof paper forms and pencil to collect the information from their surveys. Separate forms were used for each species collected. To give you an idea of how many different species are collected during a survey, our survey has collected over 50 different species of organisms, and we still have 11 days left. That means that during this survey would have had 50 different paper charts about the organisms collected. Each organism collected would be hand tallied onto a chart about the specimen’s length, weight, gender, and if a stomach content examination was performed. Each species was given a code number so that code number could be entered into a database for retrieval at a later date.
Once the data for each species was recorded on its own form, the summary of the information about each species was transferred onto a main master form. All the scallops were hand measured, and length tallies made for the scallop at each millimeter mark. Once the dredge station survey was complete, someone would hand total all of those numbers to get a total amount. The total data sets would be sent out to a prison in Kansas, which would be responsible for key punching (entering on a computer). This data would take around 3 months to get back. Once the keypunched data was sent back to NOAA Fisheries, it would then have to go through an intensive audit process before it was considered clean and ready for the stock analysts use.
Today NOAA Fisheries relies on a program called Fisheries Scientific Computer System, or FSCS for short (sounds like Fiscus). NOAA scientists and programmers created this computer program to replace the tedious method of pencil and paper data recording. My crewmember Nancy was one of the scientist involved in the creation of FSCS. The FSCS program has helped to create not only a faster more efficient data collection system, but also one that is more accurate and reliable than the old paper and pencil model. First, the FSCS system is an offshoot of the Scientific Computer System (SCS), which is able to store information about ship board sensors, ship positioning, latitude and longitude, winch data, and depth. When we are about to start a dredge station, the NOAA scientists start “an event” in the FSCS computer program. The program then begins to collect a snapshot of information from the SCS system while the dredge is fishing.
Once the process of pulling up the dredge, and collecting of species, and sorting of species has happened the efficiency of FSCS is revealed. There are three stations in the laboratory van; each station containing an “ichthystick,” a small motion compensated scale, a touch screen monitor, a bar code scanner, and a printer. Each station has science crew members working in teams of two. At station one in the laboratory van, our watch-chief begins to enter in data from the different species that are collected. The bucket the specimen is in is scanned; this bucket’s weight has been pre-programmed into a computer. By having the bucket weight already in the program’s database, that weight is automatically deducted on the digital scale when the specimen bucket is set on the scale. This tare process once was done manually, by pressing the tare button on the scale. Once the specimen buckets have been scanned and weighed, many of the specimens are measured for length. Again, the new technological advancements help with efficiency and accuracy. NOAA scientists have developed their own “ichthystick” which essentially is an electronic meter stick. These “ichthysticks” are at each of the three stations in the laboratory van.
Before a measurement is taken, a scientist selects a specimen from a list in FSCS of possible collected specimens and scans the barcoded bucket tag to ensure the correct species has been chosen. For this example, if a scientist was examining sea scallops the user simply places a sea scallop on the board up against a block that is at zero mm, and then places a magnet on the other side of the specimen. The computer will make a sound to indicate the length is acknowledged, and the data is collected in the program. Here is the cool part: the computer program knows the general ranges of the specimen’s size. That means if someone accidentally put the magnet down at 350 mm while measuring a sea scallop, the computer would automatically put up a warning message (visually and audibly) noting that the measurement is beyond the known range of expected sea scallop lengths. This cuts down on accidental measuring errors.
At station 3 where scallops are shucked and examined, all of the information which I discussed in the last blog goes into the FSCS database as it is recorded. Again, the program checks for errors. For example, if a meat weight is entered that is too light for the size of the sea scallop being examined, the computer will alert the user that the meat weight is too small for the examined sea scallop. Then the cutter can ensure that he removed all of the meat properly.
Once all this data is recorded, it is merged with the SCS data for a complete picture of the survey. The merged data can then be accessed by NOAA Fisheries scientist to analyze the data and create predictive models. Essentially the NOAA Fisheries survey crew can leave the boat with data that used to take over three months to finalize after a survey had ended.
I don’t want to jinx it, but I think I finally have my “sea legs.” The waves are pretty rough today, but I’m not really fazed by the motion. Yesterday we spent a lot of time on the computers, annotating images from the underwater camera, HabCam. During that time working, I almost forgot I was on a boat. Part of that is that the water was calmer yesterday. But today we have much more chop in the water and I still feel okay.
The 9th was a hard day for me, as I missed my son Zebadiah’s birthday. Happy Birthday Z! It’s hard to be away from my family, but as I talk to some of the NOAA Fisheries people or the crew that runs this ship I realize how short my time is away from my family. Some of the NOAA Fisheries crew is out 120 days at sea each year! The ship crew will work this mission and then head to another mission right after ours is done. There are some very hard working people that work for NOAA Fisheries, and the crews that run NOAA’s fleet of ships.
It has only been six days since I arrived at Woods Hole, but I’ve seen some amazing sites. Even though some of the crew is out so often at sea each year, I’m realizing the amazing sunsets never get old to them. It is an awesome site each night, as is the moon over the water at night.
Did You Know?
Sea Stars are one of the main predators of scallops. It’s an interesting correlation. When we have done dredge station surveys there is definitely an inverse relationship between the number of sea stars caught and the number of scallops caught. Meaning the more star fish that are in a dredge tow, the less scallops and vice versa. When using the underwater camera (HabCam) to take pictures of the ocean floor, there are sections with sea stars that litter the ocean floor. Not surprisingly, there are very little scallops in those sections. Sea stars have suction cup like structures on their arms, which help them latch onto a scallop. When that happens, the sea star then slowly attempts to pry the shell open. Some sea stars are then able to push their stomachs out of their body, and digest the externally. Another interesting ability of the sea stars is their ability to regenerate arms if they are lost.
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean Date: June 7, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 41 30.90 N
Longitude: 69 18.76 W
Air Temp 14.1° Celsius ( 57.3° Fahrenheit)
Wind speed 4.7 Knots (5.4 mph)
Science and Technology Log
Due to the poor weather delay on the 6th, June 7th was our first day out for the crew I am working with. Our ship is divided into two crews so we can work our operations around the clock. The crew I am working with works from noon to midnight, while the other crew works midnight to noon. On the 7th, were able to drop the dredge and attempt to collect scallops to assess the health, size, and population of those organisms.
We work those hours mainly using the collection process of dredging the ocean floor for scallops, but along the way, several other bottom dwelling ocean creatures are caught in the dredge.
A crane operator with the help of two deck workers lowers the dredge into the water. Once the dredge is in place to go into the water the crane operator releases cable until the dredge reaches the ocean floor. Depth readouts are calculated beforehand to determine how deep the dredge will need to drop. With this information the dredge cable is let out at a 3.5:1 ratio, meaning for every meter of ocean depth we are in, 3.5 meter of cable is let out. With this ratio the dredge is dropped with an angle that keeps it flat to the ocean floor. The crane operator is also reading a line tension readout in the crane booth to determine when the dredge has hit the ocean floor. We are typically in 200–350 ft of water when these dredges occur. The dredge travels behind the boat for 15 minutes, and is then pulled in.
On the dredge is a sensor called the “Star-Oddi.” This sensor detects the pitch and roll to make sure it was lying flat on the bottom of the ocean. The Star-Oddi also collects temperature and depth information as the dredge is traveling. The sensor is taken out of the dredge once it is brought up so watch-chief can see if the dredge was functioning properly throughout the tow.
Once the dredge is hauled up, it is dumped onto a large metal table that the science crew stands around. Two of the Hugh R Sharp’s vessel technicians then scoop the collected haul to an awaiting science crew.
The science crew will then divide the haul into several different collection pails. The main objective of this crew is to collect scallops. Scallops collected are organized into different sizes. Fish are also collected and organized by a NOAA scientist who can properly identify the fish. At some of the dredge stations we collect numbers of crabs, waved whelks, and sea stars as well.
Once the haul is collected and sorted, our science team takes the haul into a lab station area. In the lab, several pieces of data are collected. If we are at a station where crabs and whelks are collected, then the number of those are recorded as well. Fish taken from the dredge are sorted by species, some species are weighed and measured for length. Some of the species of fish are measured and some are counted by NOAA scientists.
Also in this lab station, all of the collected scallops are measured for their shell height. A small sample of scallops are shucked (opened) to expose the meat and gonads, which are individually weighed and recorded. Once opened we also identify if a scallop is diseased, specifically looking for shell blisters, nematodes, Orange-nodules, or gray meats.
Also at this station, the gender of the scallop is identified. You can identify the gender by the color of the gonad. Males have a white gonad, while a female’s looks red or pink. Finally at this station, commensal organisms are checked for. A common relationship we have seen during this trip is that of the scallop and red hake. The red hake is a small fish that is believed to use the scallop shell as shelter while it is young. As they get older, red hake have been identified to be in the depression around the scallop, still trying to use the scallop for shelter, even though it can no longer fit inside.
After that has happened the shells are cleaned and given an ID number. These scallop shells are bagged up, to be further examined in NOAA labs by a scientist that specializes in scallop aging.
If you’d like to know how this process works, watch the video below. The watch-chief, Nicole Charriere, of the science crew members I work with, explains the process in this short clip.
(0:00) Nichole Charriere. I’m the watch chief on the day watch, so working with Terry. I’ve been working at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center for about 6 ½ years. When we’re out here on deck, basically, we put a small sensor on the dredge that helps monitor the pitch, the roll, and kind of whether the dredge is fishing right side up or upside down. And we offload that sensor after every tow, put a new one on, and that sensor will tell us basically how that dredge is fishing, because we always want the dredge to be in contact with the bottom, fishing for the entire 15 minutes if we can.
(0:45) The dredge is deployed 15 minutes for the bottom and then it comes back up and then the catch is dumped on the table. Then depending on how far away the next station is, sometimes we take out crabs and whelks, and we account for the amount of starfish that are in each tow because those are predators of scallops. So we want to make sure that we’re kind of tracking the amount of predation that’s in the area. And you usually find if you have sometimes a lot of starfish, a lot of crabs of certain sizes, you’ll find less starfish. I mean you’ll find less scallops.
(1:22) After the entire catch is sorted, we’re bringing it to the lab. We have scallops, we have scallops “clappers,” which are dead scallops that still have the hinge attached, and that’s important for us because we can track mortality. Once the hinge kind of goes away, the shell halves separate. Can’t really tell how recently it’s died. But while that hinge is intact, you can tell it’s basically dead recently. So you kind of get a decent idea of scallop mortality in that area like that.
(1:52) Scallop, scallop clappers, we kind of count fish, we kind of measure usually commercially important ones as well. Then we take scallop meat weights, so we open up the scallop– Terry’s been doing a lot of that too– open up the scallop, we kind of blot the meat weight so it’s like a dry meat weight, and we measure, we weigh the gonad as well, and that kind of tracks the health of the scallop.
(2:21) And then the rest of us are doing lengths of the scallop, and that’s so that we get a length frequency of the scallops that are in the area. Usually we’re looking for about… if you look at the graph it’s like a bell curve, so you kind of get an average, and then you get a few smaller scallops and a few larger scallops. And that’s pretty much it. We’re taking length frequencies and we’re looking at the health of the scallops.
From the time I woke up on Tuesday till about the time I went to bed that night, sea-sickness was getting the best of me. I listened to the advice of the experienced sailors on board, and kept working through the sickness. Even though I felt sick most of the day, and I just wanted the day to end at that point. However, I was rewarded by sticking it out, and not going to my room to lay down, by one of the most incredible sites I’ve ever seen. From about 4pm til about 8pm, many humpback whales were all around our boat. We had a little down time waiting to get to the next dredge spot, so I was watching the horizon just trying to get my sea-sickness in check. As I was sitting by the side of the boat, I saw a whale towards the bow of the ship. I got out my camera and was in the right place at the right time to get a video of it. It was one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen.
Video of a humpback whale diving near R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Did You Know?
The typical bleached white sand dollars that most people are accustomed to seeing as decorations are not the actual look of living sand dollars. In one of our dredge catches, we collected thousands of sand dollars, and only a couple were bleach white in color. Sand dollars are part of the echinoderm family. They move around on the ocean floor, and bury themselves in the sand. The sand dollars use the hairs (cillia) on their body to catch plankton and move it towards their mouth. The bleached white sand dollars that most people think of when they think of a sand dollar is just their exoskeleton remains.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
Aboard the Research Vessel Sharp June 8 – June 24, 2016
2016 Mission: Atlantic Scallop/Benthic Habitat Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Northeastern U.S. Atlantic Coast Date: June 24, 2016
Last Leg of Leg III Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey 2016
Mission and Geographical Area:
The University of Delaware’s ship, R/V Sharp, is on a NOAA mission to assess the abundance and age distribution of the Atlantic Sea Scallop along the Eastern U.S. coast from Mid Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank. NOAA does this survey in accordance with Magnuson Stevens Act requirements.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 41 29.84 N
Longitude: 070 38.54 W
Clouds: partly cloudy
Visibility: 5-6 nautical miles
Wind: 3.58 knots
Wave Height: 6 in.
Water Temperature: 53 F
Air Temperature: 67 F
Sea Level Pressure: 30.0 in of Hg
Water Depth: 26 m
It has been an action packed two weeks. The men and women who dedicate themselves to the scallop survey are extremely hard working scientists. It is not an easy job. The sorting of the dredged material is fast and furious, and it needs to be in order to document everything within the catch before the next one comes in. The baskets are heavy and it takes a strong person to move them around so quickly.
In small catches every scallop is measured. In dredges with many baskets of scallops, a percentage is measured. It is a random sampling system, taking some scallops from each of the baskets to get a general random sample of the whole. Mike led an efficient team, he told us what to look for and oversaw the measuring.
He often set samples aside to show me later, when we were not as busy. A few examples were how to tell the difference between the red and silver hake or the difference between the Icelandic and Atlantic sea scallop. He showed me how the little longhorn sculpin fish, “buzz bombs” known to fisherman, vibrate when you told it in your hand.
Mike even took the time to dissect some hake and to show me the differences in gonads, what they were feeding on by opening their stomach, and the otolith within the upper skull. The otolith is a small bone in the inner ear that can be used to identify and age the fish when in a lab looking through a microscope. Mike answered my many questions and was always eager to teach me more.
Another helpful team member was Vic. Vic taught me how to run the HabCam. He has been involved in the HabCam setup since it started being used four years ago. There is a lot of work to do to set up the multiple monitors and computers with servers to store all the images collected by the HabCam. Vic overlooks it all from the initial set-up to the take down. I admire Vic’s work-ethic, he is always going 100% until the job is completed. Sometimes I just needed to get out of his way, because I knew he was on a mission, and I didn’t want to slow him down.
When we weren’t dredging, but rather using the HabCam, there was a pilot and copilot watching the monitors. The HabCam, when towed behind the ship, needs to be approximately 1.7 m off the ocean floor for good resolution of the pictures, and keeping it at that elevation can be a challenge with the sloping bottom or debris. There is also sand waves to watch out for, which are like sand bars in a river, but not exposed to the surface.
When not driving HabCam there are millions of pictures taken by the HabCam to oversee. When you view a picture of a scallop you annotate it by using a measuring bar. Fish, skates and crabs are also annotated, but not measured. It takes a person a while to adjust to the rolling seas and be able to look at monitors for a long period of time. It is actually harder than anticipated.
Han was making sure the data was collected from the correct sites. She works for the Population Dynamics branch of NOAA and was often checking the routes for the right dredges or the right time to use the HabCam. Between the chief scientist Tasha and Han, they made sure the survey covered the entire area of the study as efficiently as possible.
Dr. Scott Gallager was with us for the first week and taught me so much about his research which I mentioned in the previous blogs. Kat was with us initially, but she left after the first week. She was a bubbly, happy student who volunteered to be on the ship, just to learn more in hopes of joining the crew someday. Both vacancies were replaced by “Ango” whose real name in Tien Chen, a grad student from Maine who is working on his doctoral thesis, and Jill who works in Age and Growth, part of the Population Biology branch of NOAA. Both were fun to have around because of their interesting personalities. They were always smiling and happy, with a quick laugh and easy conversation.
The Chief Scientist, Tasha, was extremely helpful to me. Not only does she need to take care of her crew and manage all the logistics of the trip, plus make the last minute decisions, because of weather or dredges etc, but she made me feel welcome and encouraged me to chat with those she felt would be a good resource for me. On top of it all, she helped me make sure all my blogs were factual. She was very professional and dedicated to her work, as expected from a lead scientist leading a scientific survey.
I spent as much time as possible getting to know the rest of the crew as well. The Master, Captain James Warrington “Jimmy” always welcomed me on the bridge. I enjoyed sitting up there with him and his mates. He is quick witted and we passed the time with stories and many laughs. He tolerated me using his binoculars and searching for whales and dolphins. There were a few times we saw both.
He showed me how he can be leader, responsible for a ship, which is no small feat, but do so with a great sense of humor, which he credits he inherited from his grandmother. The other captains, Chris and Evan, were just as friendly. I am sure all who have been lucky enough to travel with them would agree that the RV Sharp is a good ship to on because of the friendly, helpful crew and staff.
Because this was my second experience on a survey, the first was a mammal survey, I have really come to appreciate the science behind the study. It is called a survey, but in order to do a survey correctly, it takes months of planning and preparation before anyone actually gets on a ship.
There is always the studying of previous surveys to rely on to set the parameters for the new survey. Looking for what is expected and finding, just that, or surprising results not predicted but no less valued, is all in a scientist’s daily job. I admire the work of the scientist. It is not an easy one, and maybe that is why it is so much fun. You never know exactly what will happen, and therein lies the mystery or maybe a discovery to acquire more information.
It was a challenging two weeks, but a time I’m so glad I had the opportunity to have with the members of Leg III of the 2016 Atlantic Sea Scallop Survey.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Trevor Hance Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 12 – 24, 2015
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank Date: June 21, 2015
Science and Technology Log
The rhythm of a ship rocking and rolling through varied wave heights while catching some zzzz’s in a small, curtain-enclosed bunk provides an opportunity to get some really amazing deep sleep. Last night I had a dream that one of my childhood friends married Dan Marino. It seemed completely bizarre until I remembered we saw lots of dolphins yesterday.
Seas have calmed substantially from the ride we had a couple of days ago, and for the past few days the ride has been so smooth I feel more like a “Teacher at Pond” than “Teacher at Sea.” Unfortunately, it looks like that awful weather system my friends and family have been dealing back home in Texas is about to make its way to us here off the coast of New England (what many Texans consider “the southern edge of Santa-land”) and there’s even a chance today might be our last full day at sea.
Operationally, we’ve shifted back and forth from dredge to HabCam work and it is a decidedly different experience, and as with everything, there are pros and cons.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the HabCam requires two people to monitor two different stations as pilot and co-pilot, each with several monitors to help keep the system running smoothly and providing updates on things like salinity, depth and water temperature (currently 4.59 degrees Celsius – yikes!!!).
The pilot gets to drive the HabCam with a joystick that pays-out or pulls in the tow-wire, trying to keep the HabCam “flying” about 2 meters off the sea floor. Changes in topography, currents, and motion of the vessel all contribute to the challenge. The co-pilot primarily monitors and annotates the photographs that are continually taken and fed into one of the computers in our dry-lab. I’ll share more about annotating in the next blog-post, but essentially, you have to review, categorize and sort photos based on the information each contains.
Driving the HabCam gives you a feeling of adventure – I find myself imagining I am driving The Nautilus and Curiosity, but, after about an hour, things get bleary, and it’s time to switch and let one of the other crew members take over. My rule is to tap-out when I start feeling a little too much like Steve Zissou.
Dredge work involves dropping a weighted ring bag that is lined with net-like material to the sea floor and towing it behind the vessel, where it acts as a sieve and filters out the smallest things and catches the larger things, which are sorted, weighed and measured in the wet lab on the back deck.
Dredge work is a little like the “waves-crashing-across-the-deck” stuff that you see on overly dramatized TV shows like “Deadliest Catch.” As my students know, I like getting my hands dirty, so I tend to very much enjoy the wind, water and salty experience associated with a dredge.
While the dredge is fun, my students and I use motion-triggered wildlife cameras to study the life and systems in the Preserve behind our school, and I fully realize the value those cameras provide — especially in helping us understand when we have too much human traffic in the Preserve. The non-invasive aspects of HabCam work provide a similar window, and a remarkable, reliable data source when you consider that the data pertaining to one particular photograph could potentially be reviewed thousands of times for various purposes. The sheer quantity of data we collect on a HabCam run is overwhelming in real-time, and there are thousands of photos that need to be annotated (i.e. – reviewed and organized) after each cruise.
Anyway, enough of the operational stuff we are doing on this trip for now, let’s talk about some science behind this trip… I’m going to present this section as though I’m having a conversation with a student (student’s voice italicized).
Mr. Hance, can’t we look at pictures instead of having class? I mean, even your Mom commented on your blog and said this marine science seems a little thick.
We’ll look at pictures in a minute, but before we do, I need you to realize what you already know.
The National Wildlife Federation gives folks a chance to support biodiversity by developing a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” right in their own backyard. We used NWF’s plan in our class as a guideline as we learned that the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds we study in our Preserve need four basic things for survival: water, food, shelter and space (note: while not clearly stated in NWF’s guidelines, “air” is built in.)
This same guide is largely true for marine life, and because we are starting small and building the story, we should probably look at some physics and geology to see some of the tools we are working with to draw a parallel.
Ugh, more water and rocks? I want to see DOLPHINS, Mr. Hance!
Sorry, kid, but we’re doing water and rocks before more dolphins.
Keep in mind the flow of currents around Georges Bank and the important role they play in distributing water and transporting things, big and small. Remember what happened to Nemo when he was hanging out with Crush? You’ll see why that sort of stuff loosely plays in to today’s lesson.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Georges Bank is a shallow shoal, which means the sea floor has a lot more access to sunlight than the deeper areas around it, which is important for two big reasons. First, students will recall that “light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object, at which point it….” (yada, yada, yada). In this case, the water refracts as it hits the water (“passes through a medium”) and where the water is really shallow, the sunlight can actually reflect off of the sea floor (as was apparent in that NASA photo I posted in my last blog.)
Also important is the role the sun plays as the massive energy driver behind pretty much everything on earth. So, just like in our edible garden back at school, the sun provides energy (heat and light), which we know are necessary for plant growth.
Okay, so we have energy, Mr. Hance, but what do fish do for homes?
The substrate, or the sediment(s) that make-up the sea floor on Georges Bank consists of material favorable for marine habitat and shelter. The shallowest areas of Georges Bank are made mostly of sand or shell hash (“bits and pieces”) that can be moved around by currents, often forming sand waves. Sand waves are sort of the underwater equivalent of what we consider sanddunes on the beach. In addition to the largely sandy areas, the northern areas of the Bank include lots of gravel left behind as glaciers retreated (i.e. – when Georges Bank was still land.)
Moving currents and the size of the sediment on the sea floor are important factors in scallop population, and they play a particularly significant role relating to larval transportation and settlement. Revisiting our understanding of Newton’s three laws of motion, you’ll recognize that the finer sediment (i.e. – small and light) are easily moved by currents in areas of high energy (i.e. – frequent or strong currents), while larger sediment like large grains of sand, gravel and boulders get increasingly tough to push around.
Importantly, not all of Georges Bank is a “high energy” area, and the more stable areas provide a better opportunity for both flora and fauna habitat. In perhaps simpler terms, the harder, more immobile substrates provide solid surfaces as well as “nooks and crannies” for plants to attach and grow, as well as a place for larvae (such as very young scallop) to attach or hide from predators until they are large enough to start swimming, perhaps in search of food or a better habitat.
With something to hold on to, you might even see what scientists call “biogenic” habitat, or places where the plants and animals themselves make up the shelter.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, rocks and one weed, huh… I wonder what’s happening at the pool…
Whoa, hold on, don’t quit — you’re half way there!
Before you mind drifts off thinking that there are coral reefs or something similar here, it is probably important that I remind you that the sea floor of Georges Bank doesn’t include a whole lot of rapid topography changes – remember, we are towing a very expensive, 3500 lb. steel framed camera at about 6 knots, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that in an area where we might smash it into a bunch of reefs or boulders. Here, things are pretty flat and relatively smooth, sand waves and the occasional boulder being the exceptions.
Okay, our scallops now have a place to start their life, but, what about breathing and eating, and why do they need “space” to survive? Isn’t the ocean huge?
As always, remember that we are trying to find a balance, or equilibrium in the system we are studying.
One example of a simple system can be found in the aquaponics systems we built in our classroom last year. Aquaponics is soil-less gardening, where fish live in a tank below a grow bed and the water they “pollute” through natural bodily functions (aka – “poop”) is circulated to the grow bed where the plants get the nutrients they need, filter out the waste and return good, healthy water back to the fish, full of the micronutrients the fish need to survive. I say our system is simple because we are “simply” trying to balance ammonia, nitrates and phosphates and not the vast number of variables that exist in the oceans that cover most of our Earth’s surface. Although the ocean is much larger on the spatial scale, the concept isn’t really that much different, the physical properties of matter are what they are, and waste needs to be processed in order for a healthy system to stay balanced.
Another aspect of our aquaponics system that provides a parallel to Georges Bank lies in our “current,” which for us is the pump-driven movement of water from the fish to the plants, and the natural, gravity-driven return of that water to the fish. While the transportation of nutrients necessary to both parties is directionally the exact opposite of what happens here on Georges Bank (i.e. – the currents push the nutrients up from the depths here), the idea is the same and again, it is moving water that supports life.
But, Mr. Hance, where do those “nutrients” come from in the first place, and what are they feeding?
Remember, systems run in repetitive cycles; ideally, they are completely predictable. In a very basic sense where plants and animals are concerned, that repetitive cycle is “life to death to life to death, etc…” This is another one of those “here, look at what you already know” moments.
When marine life dies, that carbon-based organic material sinks towards the bottom of the ocean and continues to break down while being pushed around at depth along the oceans currents. Students will recognize a parallel in “The Audit” Legacy Project from this spring when they think about what is happening in those three compost bins in our edible garden; our turning that compost pile is pretty much what is happening to all of those important nutrients getting rolled around in the moving water out here – microscopic plants and animals are using those as building blocks for their life.
Oh wait, so, this is all about the relationship between decomposers, producers and consumers? But, Mr. Hance, I thought that was just in the garden?
Yes, “nutrient rich” water is the equivalent of “good soil,” but, we have to get it to a depth appropriate for marine life to really start to flourish. Using your knowledge of the properties of matter, you figured out how and why the currents behave the way they do here. You now know that when those currents reach Georges Bank, they are pushed to the surface and during the warm summer months, they get trapped in this shallow(ish), warm(ish) sunlit water, providing a wonderful opportunity for the oceans’ primary producers, phytoplankton, to use those nutrients much like we see in our garden.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to see what you mean. Can you tell me a little more about plankton?
The term plankton encompasses all of the lowest members of the food chain (web), and can be further divided into “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton.” Yes, “phyto” does indeed resemble “photo,” as in “photosynthesis”, and does indeed relate to microscopic plant-like plankton, like algae. Zooplankton pertains to microscopic animal-like plankton, and can include copepods and krill.
Plankton are tiny and although they might try to swim against the current, they aren’t really strong enough, so they get carried along, providing valuable nutrients to bigger sea creatures they encounter. Just like on land, there are good growing seasons and bad growing seasons for these phytoplankton, and on Georges Bank, the better times for growing coincide with the spring-summer currents.
Dude, Mr. Hance, I didn’t know I already knew that…. Mind…. Blown.
Yeah little dude, I saw the whole thing. First, you were like, whoa! And then you were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa… Sorry, I got carried away; another Nemo flashback. While I get back in teacher-mode, why don’t you build the food web. Next stop, knowledge…
But, Mr. Hance, you are on a scallop survey. How do they fit into the food web? You told us that you, crabs and starfish are their primary natural predators, but, what are they eating, and how?
Scallops are animals, complete with muscles (well, one big, strong one), a digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system. They don’t really have a brain (like ours), but, they do have light-sensing eyes on their mantle, which is a ring that sits on the outer edge of their organ system housed under their protective shell. Acting in concert, those eyes help scallops sense nearby danger, including predators like those creepy starfish.
Scallops are filter feeders who live off of plankton, and they process lots of water. With their shells open, water moves over a filtering structure, which you can imagine as a sort of sieve made of mucus that traps food. Hair-like cilia transport the food to the scallop’s mouth, where it is digested, processed, and the waste excreted.
But, Mr. Hance, do they hunt? How do they find their food?
Remember, scallops, unlike most other bivalves such as oysters, are free-living, mobile animals; in other words, they can swim to dinner if necessary. Of course, they’d prefer to just be lazy and hang out in lounge chairs while the food is brought to them (kind of like the big-bellied humans in my favorite Disney film, Wall-E), so can you guess what they look for?
Gee, Mr. Hance…. Let me guess, water that moves the food to them?
Yep, see, I told you this was stuff you already knew.
While plankton can (and do!) live everywhere in the shallow(ish) ocean, because they are helpless against the force of the current, they get trapped in downwellings, which is a unique “vertical eddy,” caused by competing currents, or “fronts.” Think of a downwelling as sort of the opposite of a tug-o-war where instead of pulling apart, the two currents run head-on into one another. Eventually, something’s gotta give, and gravity is there to lend a hand, pushing the water down towards the sea floor and away, where it joins another current and continues on.
Those of you who have fished offshore will recognize these spots as a “slick” on the top of the water, and there is often a lot of sea-foam (“bubbles”) associated with a downwelling because of the accumulation of protein and “trash” that gets stuck on top as the water drops off underneath it.
Because plankton aren’t strong enough to swim against the current, they move into these downwellings in great numbers. You can wind up with an underwater cloud of plankton in those instances, and it doesn’t take long for fish and whales to figure out that nature is setting the table for them. Like our human friends in Wall-E, scallops pull up a chair, put on their bibs and settle at the base of these competing fronts, salivating like a Pavlovian pup as they wait on their venti-sized planko-latte (okay, I’m exaggerating; scallops live in salt water, so they don’t salivate, but because I’m not there to sing and dance to hold your attention while you read, I have to keep you interested somehow.)
If you become a marine scientist at Woods Hole, you’ll probably spend some time looking for the “magic” 60m isobaths, which is where you see scallop and other things congregate at these convergent fronts.
Before you ask, an isobaths is a depth line. Depth lines are important when you consider appropriate marine life habitat, just like altitude would be when you ask why there aren’t more trees when you get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain.
Um, Mr. Hance, why didn’t you just tell us this is just like the garden! I’m immediately bored. What else ya got?
Well, in the next class, we’ll spend some time talking about (over-)fishing and fisheries management, but for now, how about I introduce you to another one of my new friends and then show you some pictures?
I don’t know, Mr. Hance, all of this talk about water makes me want to go swimming. I’ll stick around for a few minutes, but this dude better be cool.
Lagniappe: Dr. Burton Shank
Today, I’ll introduce another important member of the science crew aboard the vessel, Dr. Burton Shank. As I was preparing for the voyage, I received several introductory emails, and I regret that I didn’t respond to the one I received from Burton asking for more information. He’s a box of knowledge.
Burton is a Research Fishery Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole working in the populations dynamic group, which involves lots of statistical analysis (aka – Mental Abuse To Humans, or “MATH”). Burton’s group looks at data to determine how many scallops or lobsters are in the area, and how well they are doing using the data collected through these field surveys. One of my students last year did a pretty similar study last year, dissecting owl pellets and setting (humane) rat traps to determine how many Great Horned Owls our Preserve could support. Good stuff.
Burton is an Aggie (Whoop! Gig ‘Em!), having received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M at Galveston before receiving his master’s in oceanography from the University of Puerto Rico and heading off as a travelling technical specialist on gigs in Florida, Alaska and at the Biosphere in Arizona. For those unfamiliar, the biosphere was a project intended to help start human colonies on other planets, and after a couple of unsuccessful starts, the research portion was taken over by Columbia University and Burton was hired to do ocean climate manipulations. Unlike most science experiments where you try to maintain balance, Burton’s job was to design ways that might “wreck” the system to determine potential climate situations that could occur in different environments.
As seems to be the case with several of the folks out here, Burton didn’t really grow up in a coastal, marine environment, and in fact, his childhood years were spent in quite the opposite environment: Nebraska, where his dad was involved in agricultural research. He did, however, have a small river and oxbow like near his home and spent some summers in Hawaii.
It was on during a summer visit to Hawaii at about 9 years old that Burton realized that “life in a mask and fins” was the life for him. On return to Nebraska, home of the (then!) mighty Cornhusker football team, many of his fellow fourth grade students proclaimed that they would be the quarterback at Nebraska when they grew up. Burton said his teacher seemed to think being the Cornhusker QB was a completely reasonable career path, but audibly scoffed when he was asked what he wanted to be and said he would be a marine biologist when he grew up. I welcome any of you young Burton’s in my class, anytime – “12th Man” or not!
Playlist: Matisyahu, Seu Jorge, Gotan Project, George Jones
NOAA Teacher at Sea Trevor Hance Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 12 – 24, 2015
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank Date: June 14, 2015
Science and Technology Log
It’s Day 4 aboard the Beagle, and the crew has full confidence in Captain Fitz Roy… Okay, I’m not Charles Darwin, but, I am reading two very inspiring books while on this cruise. First, as this is my first scientific voyage, I am revisiting Darwin’s trip aboard the Beagle to channel some of the wonder and “magic” of that extended journey. The other book I’m reading is the sequel to my favorite book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. If you teach G4-G8, I highly recommend you get to know “Callie Vee.” The book is a wonderful bit of historical fiction that details the life of a young woman/girl in central Texas in 1899 who wrestles with her interest in science and the conventions of “proper” society.
Life Aboard Ship and the Science Behind the Voyage
Thus far aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp we have enjoyed favorable seas, good food and very welcoming company. Shifts for the science-crew last 12 hours and run 12-to-12, and there are about six people assigned to each shift (note: the captain and ship’s operational crew keep a different schedule.) I am on the day shift, so I work from noon to midnight — which I imagine would fit quite nicely with the schedule many of my students are currently keeping now that they are on their summer break! Our mission is primarily to perform a scallop survey, moving from point to point while making observations related to population densities and spatial distribution. Late in the cruise we will be doing some exploratory work in an effort to better understand the lobster populations in this area of the Atlantic Ocean. Our work centers on two primary observation methods: habitat camera (aka – “HabCam”) and dredge.
Atlantic sea scallops are a bivalve, along with clams, mussels, oysters, etc. that can get up to about 200 mm (about 8 inches) across, and most three year olds are in the 80-90 mm range. Commercially, they are targeted between 4 ½ – 5 years old. Scallops feed by filter-feeding through their mantle, which is housed inside the beautiful orange and white outer shell. Scallops move using a form of jet propulsion that makes it look like they are swimming (they “bite” at the water as they propel themselves up from the seafloor, pushing the water out of the openings near the umbo at the back of the scallop shell). The physics changes as they get bigger, so it gets more difficult to push themselves off of the sea floor, but the little ones can get up to about 10 feet off the bottom of the sea floor.
Natural predators of scallops include various species of starfish, such as Astropecten and Asterias. These starfish use distinct predatory tools. The larger starfish, the Asterias, has a hydrologic musculature that allows it to essentially pull apart the shell of the scallop, inject digestive enzymes (aka – “putting its stomach inside the scallop”) and enjoy! The Astropecten is quite different because they completely engulf the scallop and digest it internally. The two types of starfish target different-aged scallops: Astropecten eat them when they are small enough to be fully engulfed, and Asterias when the scallops are older and the shells are larger and harder, making it too difficult for digestive fluids to assist with the process. Other predators of the scallop include humans and Cancer crabs.
NOAA has been conducting these surveys for approximately 40 years. Before the mid-1990s, scallop fishing was largely unregulated, meaning that commercial and private fishers could operate anywhere at any time. In the 90’s, the government started to use various management tools to support population sustainability through efforts such as limiting the number of people allowed aboard a commercial vessel, limiting the number of days available in a season, changing the ring-size used on the dredges to catch the scallops and closing fishing areas on a rotational basis. The commercial fisheries have also set aside funds that are used to support research that will help keep the scallop populations healthy.
After the regulations went into place, scientists observed a strong, positive development in size and overall population of scallops. With strong data that covers a forty year period, policy makers are sufficiently informed to manage scallops on finer and finer spatial scales, including things like small scale, temporary closures and altering the timing for re-opening temporary closures. (note: Over the next few blogs, I will show how this science and these relationship relate to our state learning standards, but for now, let’s just set the table.)
The first day of the cruise was spent steaming out to the first observation point while getting the HabCam system running on all cylinders. The HabCam (pictured below) is a 3,400 pound, steel-framed “camera cage” that is towed behind the vessel as it moves (we’ve been traveling at about 6 knots) through a determined course in areas that have been observed using the camera for the past four years (note: dredge surveys in this area have been conducted for the entire 40ish year period). We moved towards the south for the first two days along the Great South Channel and are now heading east along the southern edge of Georges Bank.
The science crew uses three primary areas aboard the vessel: the back deck, where all dredge-related operations are conducted; the wet lab, where samples are weighed and measured; and a dry lab, which houses about 25 computers that run various programs relating to everything from weather to analyzing the positioning of the dredge underwater.
Over the first two days, I (tried to!) learn how to drive the HabCam, keeping it about 2 meters off the bottom of the seafloor. The seafloor in this area has been a relatively smooth mix of sand and shell hash, but, there are naturally occurring topographical changes that require the HabCam driver to remain constantly vigilant and adjust as appropriate.
There are two cameras on the HabCam and they are set to take 6 photographs per second (standard sample rate). The two cameras give a scientist the chance to view images in 3-D. This point is important when you remember that scallops swim, which means scientists can use the 3-D imagery to tell whether the scallops are in motion or stationary when photographed (as well as how far up in the water column those scallops are swimming). At 6 shots per second, there can be millions of photos taken over the course of a season (likely 8,000,000 pairs of photos over 4,000 km of track this year!), and NOAA scientists are recruiting YOU, dear Citizen Scientists, to help filter through the photographs through websites like projectfishhunter.org (set to launch this fall) or seafloorexplorer.org, which is a project started by one of the scientists on this mission, who is a researcher and professor at MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
My students will find a parallel between the HabCam and the six game cameras we have set up in our Preserve that take 3 shots in succession when triggered. We monitor those cameras weekly and depending on traffic and false hits due to wind-noise, we could have as many as 2,000-3,000 photos on a camera in a given week.
In Cajun parlance, “lagniappe” means a little something extra. In my classroom blog I include a “lagniappe” section at the end to help extend lessons, give folks a chance to plug in to what we’re studying from a different perspective, or just include a “little something” that I find interesting. Because I can’t really do additional research while aboard this vessel due to limited internet availability, I’ve decided that my Lagniappe section will be more like a “People In Your Neighborhood,” which we all remember from watching Sesame Street as kids.
One of the challenges we face as teachers is capacity building, meaning we have to work to inspire and encourage all students to pursue any areas of learning that interest them, paying particular attention to defeating stereotypes regarding barriers to entry in certain industries. Our cruise has a pretty broad group of people aboard, so I’ll use my blog to introduce you to “the people behind the science” in this section. The first “person in my neighborhood” you’ll meet is our Chief Scientist, Nicole Charriere.
Nicole’s early interests in marine studies stemmed from her experiences scuba diving and snorkeling while visiting her mother’s family in Belize. Her love for the ocean did not waiver as she grew, and she received her undergraduate degree in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island. Prior to graduation, she did an internship at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and one of her advisors invited her to crew aboard a 29-day scientific mission to the Pacific side of Panama/Costa Rica aboard a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute research vessel. During that experience, Nicole realized that sea-life was the life for her because it gave her a chance to be on the front end of data collection and analysis for a broad spectrum of scientific missions, while simultaneously working with a diverse group of people from around the world who were passionate about their work. She’s been working aboard vessels for several years, with her recent work centering primarily on scallop and shellfish surveys and other research experiences aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, as well as on commercial vessels. Her career keeps her at sea between 130-140 days per year.
As the Chief Scientist, she is in charge of the flow of scientific operations, meaning she oversees the scientific operations, helping to insure that the equipment needed to conduct the studies is available and in working order (obviously, the salt-water, constant-motion, marine environment requires you to be ready and resourceful!), makes sure that the relationship between the ship’s operational crew fits with that of the science party, and (where I’m concerned) helps to coordinate a fair transition to understanding your role as part of the working team aboard a vessel. One very interesting point I learned is that there are many opportunities for people interested in research to volunteer to be part of a research team aboard a vessel, and Nicole said she rarely remembers being on a cruise where volunteers weren’t part of the crew. I highly encourage any students who might read my blog that have an interest in marine science to explore this opportunity while an undergrad to see if sea-life really fits with your-life!
I’ll update about our dredge operations and another member of our science crew in the next blog post.
Current dry lab playlist: Tom Petty, Bruno Mars, Abba
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 12, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind 12 knots, 005*, Seas 1-3 foot swells, Visibility – unlimited!!
Science and Technology Log:
Maritime meets Science
NOAA has a unique relationship with the shipping industry. Ships are traditionally built with specific uses in mind. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is owned by the University of Delaware and was completed in 2006 as a state-of-the-art research vessel. Marine architects and engineers designed mechanical and electronic systems to launch scallop dredges, the HabCam, and the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) scanner. The ship can accommodate 9 crew members and 12 science staff members. The University leases the vessel to the NOAA scientific crew for specific missions or surveys. Each year NOAA sets up research surveys to collect data concerning many aspects of the fishing industry along with studies centered around conservation. The sea scallop survey is one such research project which has been a yearly event since 1977. It began as a bottom trawling event taking place for several legs (mission time periods) between May and July.
Sea scallops are a bivalve subgroup of mollusks. They take years to mature to a size that is sought after by fishermen. As with any species, overfishing is a major concern. Ideally, a species’ survival is dependent upon a consistent population. The Northeast Fisheries Association determines the scope and location of “open” fishing areas for all species of fish and shellfish. NOAA is called upon to collect data concerning the abundance or lack of scallops in a traditionally rich fishing locale or in a closed area. During our leg of the survey, we collected data using the HabCam as well as towing a scallop dredge. A map of the fishing locations is analyzed to determine the dredge or HabCam areas that are to be investigated.
Each dredge “catch” contained a variety of marine species with the inclusion or exclusion of scallops. At one event, we hauled in 16 baskets of baby scallops. These were an encouraging sign that the scallop population is prolific. At other times, no scallops were present but there was a bumper crop of sand dollars. This was because the area that they were collected is considered an “open” scallop fishing area. The range in size of the scallops that were brought in varied between 55 and 155 mm?
Yesterday we completed our dredging events. A glorious sunset was the backdrop for this momentous occasion. Too bad there were no scallops in the dredge. We did, however collect many scallops of different sizes throughout our watch. The fog that was present for most of our dredging days finally burned off to reveal calm seas and a blue sky. The watch team that I was a member of worked like a well-oiled machine. Each member had a specific task to complete to carefully collect scientific data from each dredge event. Science is messy work and handling different species is not for sissies.
I look forward to returning home to be with my family and friends. The life of a sailor/scientist was an incredible experience and I am excited to share all that I have learned with my students at West Genesee. Many thanks go out to the Captain and crew of the R/V Sharp and the NOAA science staff for making my journey unforgettable.
The following quote sums up my experience as part of the Teacher at Sea program.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 9, 2014
Weather data from the bridge: Wind 204* 15 knots, Seas 4-6-10-12 ft. mixed directions, Visibility – overcast
Science and Technology Log:
Today we began dredging for scallops. The ship follows a predetermined path and the dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at specific locations along the path. These locations are chosen by the Scallop Assessment Biologist at NOAA because they are an accurate representation of the scallop population in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The area that we are focused on is known as Georges Bank. It is a broad, shallow submarine plateau forming the seaward boundary of the Gulf of Maine. The average depth is between 30 and 75 meters deep. It is home to an assortment of marine life including the Atlantic Sea Scallop. Several computers are employed to record all of the data that is pertinent to each dredge event. These include: ocean depth, air temperature, salinity, barometer, air speed, wind direction, fluorometer, and wind direction. The lab is in constant communication with both the bridge and the engineer who operates the winch system. Depending upon the ocean depth at the dredge station location, a specific amount of dredging cable (called line) to which the dredge net is attached, is released in order to create the best angle for the dredging operation.
After 15 minutes the dredge is hauled up to the surface and the net is emptied out onto the sorting table. All members of the science team are poised and ready to sort the catch. Each sorter is outfitted with foul weather gear. This consists of rubberized jacket, coveralls and rubber boots. Also required is a life vest, heavy duty gloves, and a hard hat (if the winch is in use). Several baskets and buckets are arranged around the sorting table. One is reserved for scallops, one for assorted fish and skate, one for crabs and whelk, and the last is for items that are not part of the study. This is known as trash.
When everyone has completed their preliminary sorting, it is time to count and sort each species that was collected. Trash is also accounted for. Each basket that is returned to the ocean is counted and data is recorded. The sorting and trash data is entered into the computer system inside the wet lab (also known as the van). At the three stations inside the van, a measuring tray is utilized to quickly measure and record the length of certain fish, scallops and skate. The first large scallop from each dredge event is photographed as a representation of that event. All large scallops are then weighed and shucked and the scallop is sexed (recorded as a male or female). The sex organ is weighed as well as the meat. The shells of the large scallops are cleaned, labeled, and placed into a muslin bag in order to be further analyzed at a NOAA laboratory back on shore. At the conclusion of the dredge event and sorting process, the lab is cleaned and prepped for the next event.
During our first watch, our team completed seven dredge events. Each event can take more than an hour from start to finish. Our catches included a variety of marine species: scallops, sand dollars, ocean pout, windowpane flounder, yellowtail flounder, four spot flounder, and gulfstream flounder, silver and red hake, quahogs, barn-door and winter skate, haddock, sand lance, cancer and hermit crab, sea mouse, sea sponge, fawn cusk eel, wave whelk, and monkfish (goosefish).
As an inexperienced sailor and scientist, the NOAA staff all worked hard to train me to complete many of the tasks required during our watch. Scientific method and protocol was followed to a “T”. It was an awesome and intense responsibility to fly the HabCam, annotate images recorded by the HabCam, monitor environmental data, set up the dredging event on the computer system, and record the sample data. Throughout the scheduled watch we witnessed whales spouting and breaching, and porpoise antics. During our down time we enjoyed the company of each other as well as the delicious meals prepared by Chef Paul.
Life at sea can be challenging. The weather is checked often in order to adjust the dredging route. High waves can make a dredge event difficult. They can also be a safety issue out on deck. For this reason, each person is required to wear a life vest and boots. Anyone on deck during a dredge drop or haul back is also required to wear a hard hat.
After a long, hard day, sleep is usually the best thing that you can do for yourself. The cabin area is quiet at all times because everyone is on a different shift. I am in a 4-person cabin but my roommates are all on the opposite shift. The rocking of the ship, and background engine noise makes it easy to fall asleep for long periods of time.
Did you know?
Scallops can be male or female. The simplest way to determine the sex is to open the scallop shell and examine the gonad. Female scallops have a pink gonad and males are cream-colored.
Answer to last poll:
The R/V Hugh R. Sharp has at least 88 computer monitors on board. An equal number are part of the navigational and monitoring systems as well as the scientific research components.
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 41 13.20 N
Longitude: 066 35.21 W
Relative Wind Speed: 2.3 Knots
Air Temperature: 18.72 degrees C
Surface Seawater Temperature: 15 degrees C
Science and Technology Log
The HabCam-ing and dredging continue here in the North Atlantic in calm seas and clear skies!
I learned a new part of the data collection process with the dredge. Each time the dredge goes out, a sensor that tracks the pitch and roll (side to side and up and down movement) of the dredge on the ocean floor needs to be installed on the dredge. When the trawl is complete, the sensor is removed and the data is uploaded to the computer. It is automatically plotted on a line graph that visually tells the story of the dredge’s movement on the ocean floor. This data is eventually combined with all the other data gathered at each dredge station. Installing and removing the sensor has been my job for the last couple of shifts. To do this, I have to climb up on the sorting table when the dredge is first brought to the surface, remove a metal pin and plastic holder that keeps the sensor in place, remove the old sensor and add a new sensor, then reinstall the holder and pin. This all happens before they dump the dredge. On a funny note, on my way to the sorting table to add the sensor to the dredge earlier today, I managed to trip on a hose that was on deck and turn it on, watering myself and the lab technician that was on the deck with me and entertaining everyone else watching, I’m sure! Luckily, we were all wearing our foul weather gear, so no one was soaked!!
It’s interesting to experience all the different pieces that make a successful dredge tow. Before coming to sea, I guess I just assumed that you lowered a big net to the ocean floor and hoped to catch something. I had no concept of how methodical and detailed each deployment of the dredge really is, from the locations, to the timing, to the number of people involved, to the detailed data collection. The process is still being refined, even on this third leg of the sea scallop survey. One of the scientists on my watch is an engineer who helped design and build the latest version of HabCam. When a part that holds the sensor in the dredge was not working correctly, he was asked to use his engineering skills to create a better way to hold the sensor, so he made the needed modifications right on the ship.
While sorting the haul from dredging stations, I sometimes run across ocean critters that I’ve never seen before. I usually set these to the side to snap a picture after we finish sorting and to ask a scientist, usually Karen or Sean, to identify it for me. It turns out that the strange hairy, oval-shaped creature I keep running across is a type of worm called a sea mouse. In my pictures it looks like a grassy ball of mud, but it’s much more interesting in person, I promise! I consulted a field guide in the dry lab to learn a little more about it. Its scientific name is Aphrodita hastate and it is usually about 6 inches by 3 inches and can be green, gold, or brown. There are 15 gills hidden under the bristly fur. They like muddy areas and often live in the very deep parts of the ocean, so they are only seen when brought up with a dredge or after being tossed ashore in a storm. I haven’t seen any of them in the HabCam images, so I’m wondering if they tend to burrow in the mud, if their camouflage skills are really impressive, or if we just haven’t flown over any. The HabCam moves so quickly (remember, it takes 6 pictures per second) that it’s impossible to see everything in enough time to figure out what it is.
Another item that keeps coming up in the dredge looks like a clump of pasta shells and cheese and it crumbles easily. My initial guess was that it is some type of sponge, but I was wrong. It turns out these are moon snail egg cases. Once I’m back ashore, I think I’ll have to find out more about these.
We’ve seen lots of sea stars, scallops, sand dollars, crabs, clams, hermit crabs, flounder, several species of fish called hake, and skates (relative of the stingray) in the dredge hauls. We’ve also seen most of these on the ocean floor with the HabCam. One of the scientists found a whale vertebrae (part of the backbone) while sorting. It’s at least a foot and a half wide and 8 inches high! Can you imagine the size of the whale when it was alive? Each haul usually has a monkfish or two in it. I’ve heard that these fish are pretty tasty, but they sure look mean! I was warned early on to keep my hands away from their mouths unless I want to get bitten!
Today is supposed to be a day of mainly flying the HabCam, so I’m hoping to be able to interview a few people on the ship about their jobs for use back at school when I’m not flying the HabCam or co-piloting.
I ate my first real meal in the galley tonight and it was pretty tasty! The steward, Paul, has worked on this ship for eight years and seems to have cooking a sea down to a science. He has to work and sleep some unusual hours to keep everyone aboard well-fed, but he does it with a smile on his face. Between the meals, snacks, and limited space to exercise, I imagine that keeping fit while at sea for long periods of time can be a challenge. There is a stationary bike next to the washer and dryer, but other than that you have to be creative with getting your exercise. I saw one crew member on the deck this morning with a yoga mat doing crunches and using a storage container to do tricep dips. He said that it’s a challenge, but that you can find ways to keep in shape at sea if it’s a priority for you.
I actually slept better the first few days at sea when I was seasick than I do now that I’m feeling better, thanks to the anti-nausea medication, I expect. I’ve found that earplugs are essential for catching sleep aboard the ship when I’m not medicated! There is one washer and dryer aboard the ship and I’ve had a bit of trouble finding a time when it’s not in use, so I decided to do my laundry at 5 am a day or so ago when I was having trouble sleeping. I figured I may as well use insomnia to my advantage and it was so nice to use a towel that is finally completely dry for the first time in a week!
There are 22 people aboard this ship; 12 scientists and 10 crew members. Four of the scientists and two of the crew are women. Because of watch schedules, most of the time I see only two other women while I’m awake. All that to say, the ship is a pretty male-dominated arena, with lots of ESPN, toilet seats left up, and guy humor. I feel very welcome aboard the ship, but I find that I spend most of my down time doing my own thing, like working on this blog or just enjoying the view, since I’m not much of a movie or sports watcher. With fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean and beautiful weather, this doesn’t bother me a bit! In fact, I find that I see the most animals swimming in the ocean during these down times. Today it was a huge group of jellyfish swimming next to the ship!
I’m still enjoying my time at sea and am looking forward to learning even more in my last few days.
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic; Georges Bank Date: Sunday, July 1, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 40 48.43 N
Longitude: 068 04.06W
Relative Wind Speed: 8.9 Knots
Air Temperature: 17.61 degrees C
Surface Seawater Temperature: 16 degrees C
Science and Technology Log
My last shifts have been a mix of HabCam work and dredging. Remember, dredging is when we drag a heavy-duty net along the ocean floor for fifteen minutes, then bring it up and record what ocean critterswe catch. Dredging involves a lot more physical work and is much dirtier than flying the HabCam, so time goes much faster when we are dredging and it’s exciting to see what we will catch. However, it is also kind of sad to see all the animals we bring up in the dredge, because most of them are dead or will soon be dead. You can watch a video about sea scallop dredging here and here.
There are three two-week legs to this sea scallop survey. I am on the last leg. Before the first leg began, a computer program, with the assistance of a few people, decided which spots in the sea scallop habitat we should dredge and fly the HabCam. These points were all plotted on a computerized map and the chief scientist connects the dots and decides the best route for the ship to take to make it to all the designated stations in the available time.
Here’s how our typical dredging process works:
About 10 minutes before we reach a dredge station, the Captain radios the lab from the Bridge (fancy name for the place at the top of the ship where the Captain and his crew work their magic) to let us know we are approaching our station. At this point, I get on a computer in the dry lab to start a program that keeps track of our dredge position, length of tow, etc. I enter data about the weather and check the depth of our dredge station. When the engineer and Captain are ready, they radio the lab and ask for our depth and how much wire they need to send out to lower the dredge to the ocean floor. I get the wire length from a chart hanging in the dry lab that is based on the depth of the ocean at the dredge site and use the radio to tell the engineer, who lets out that amount of wire until the dredge is on the ocean floor. When the dredge hits the ocean floor, I use the computer program to start timing for 15 minutes and notify them when it is time to bring the dredge back up.
The lab technicians and engineer raise and dump the dredge on a giant metal table, then secure it for the scientists to come in and begin sorting the haul. Meanwhile, the scientists get dressed in foul weather gear to prepare for the messy job ahead. That means I’m wearing yellow rubber overalls, black steel-toed rubber boots, blue rubber gloves, and a lovely orange lifejacket for each dredge. Sometimes I add a yellow rubber jacket to the mix, too. Science is not a beauty contest and I’m grateful for the protection! Each scientist grabs two orange baskets, one large white bucket, and one small white bucket and heads to the table. The lab technicians shovel the catch toward each scientist as we sort. Scallops go in one orange basket, fish go in the white bucket, crabs go in the small white bucket (sometimes), and everything else goes into the other orange basket. This is considered “trash” and is thrown back overboard, but the watch chief keeps track of how many baskets of “trash” are thrown overboard during each haul and enters it into a computer database along with other data. After sorting the haul, much of the data collection takes place in lab called a “van”.
The fish are sorted by species, counted, weighed, sometimes measured, and entered into a special computer system that tracks data from the hauls. Sometimes we also collect and count crabs and sea stars. The baskets of sea scallops are counted and weighed, and then individual scallops are measured on a special magnetic measuring board. You lay the scallop on the measuring board, touch the magnet to the board at the end of the scallop, and the length is automatically entered into the database. Some hauls have lots of sea scallops and some don’t have very many. We had a couple hauls that were almost completely sand dollars and one that was almost completely sea stars. I learned that sea stars can be quite slimy when they are stressed. I had no idea!
Sometimes my watch chief, Sean, will select a subsample of five sea scallops for us to scrub clean with a wire brush.
Next, we weigh and measure all five sea scallops before cutting them open to determine the gender. We remove the gonad (the reproductive organ) and weigh it, then do the same with the “meat” (the muscle that allows the scallop to open and close its shell and the part people like to eat). All of this information is recorded and each scallop is given a number. We write the number on each shell half and bag and tag the shells. The shells and data will be given to a scientist on shore that has requested them for additional research. The scallop shells can be aged by counting the rings, just like counting the rings on a tree.
Meanwhile, other people are hosing off the deck, table, buckets, and baskets used. The dredge ends by shucking the scallops and saving the meat for meals later. A successful dredge requires cooperation and communication between scientists, lab technicians, the Captain, and the crew. It requires careful attention to detail to make sure the data collected is accurate. It also requires strategic planning before the voyage even begins. It’s an exciting process to be a part of and it is interesting to think about the different types of information that can be collected about the ocean from the HabCam versus the dredge.
Living on a ship is kind of like living in a college dorm again: shared room with bunkbeds, communal shower and bathroom down the hall, and meals prepared for you. I can’t speak to the food prepared by the steward (cook) Paul, as I haven’t been able to eat much of it yet (I’m finally starting to get a handle on the seasickness, but I’m not ready for tuna steaks and lima beans just yet), but I do appreciate that the galley (mess hall) is open all the time for people to rummage through the cabinets for crackers, cereal, and other snacks. There’s even an entire freezer full of ice cream sandwiches, bars, etc. If my husband had known about the ice cream, he probably would have packed himself in my duffel bag for this adventure at sea!
Taking a shower at sea is really not much different than taking a shower at the gym or in a college dorm… in the middle of a small earthquake. Actually, it’s really not too bad once you get used to the rock of the ship. On the floor where the scientists’ berths (rooms) are, there are also two heads (bathrooms) and two showers. The ship converts ocean water into water that we can use on the ship for showering, washing hands, etc. through a process called reverse osmosis. Sea water is forced through a series of filters so small that not even the salt in the water can fit through. I was afraid that I might be taking cold showers, but there is a water heater on board, too! We are supposed to take “Navy showers”, which means you get wet, press a button on the shower head to stop the water while you scrub, then press the button to turn the water back on to rinse. I’ll admit that I find myself forgetting about this sometimes, but I’m getting much better!
Today there was about an hour and a half of “steam” time while we headed to our next dredge location and had nothing official to do. Some of the people on my watch watched a movie in the galley, but I decided to head to one of the upper decks and enjoy the gorgeous views of ocean in every direction. I was awarded by a pod of about 15 common dolphins jumping out of the water next to the ship!
I’m starting to get a feel for the process of science at sea and am looking forward to the new adventures that tomorrow might bring!
Question of the Day
Which way do you think is the best way to learn about the sea scallop population and ocean life in general: dredging or HabCam? Why do you think so?
You can share your thoughts, questions, and comments in the comments section below.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Janet Nelson Huewe Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 13 – 25, 2012
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographic Area: North Atlantic Monday, June 25, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 41 24.21 North
Longitude: 069 54.98 West
Wind Speed: 13.7 kt
Air Temperature: 17 C
We are steaming for home. Woods Hole, MA that is. In the past ten days we have conducted 71 scallop dredge tows and processed 15, 979 scallops. We also took over 4 million images with the HabCam in 691 nautical miles of this leg. We have been a little busy.
This morning (0600 hrs.) we mustered in the dry lab and began our assignments, ranging from swabbing the decks to vacuuming our state rooms. Tonight I will be in Boston and then on my way back to Minnesota. I am ready to go home, but I know I will think back fondly on a few things. The rocking of the boat when I’m going to sleep. Meals prepared for me. The sound of waves and water. The hum of the engines. Seeing what comes up in the scallop dredge. Being on deck and on the bridge. A hap chance at seeing whales or dolphins. New friends and fun banter. Even though this journey began with an unpleasant introduction, it is ending with fond feelings.
Being on this boat has been interesting for several reasons. I have learned new things about ocean life that I can take back to my classroom as well as a few souvenirs. I can honestly say I have never seen more scallops in my life, not to mention sand dollars and sea stars! I am looking forward to sharing this experience with my family, students, and friends. As I write this last blog, I am thinking of what a privilege it has been to be a member of this team of researchers. I am honored to learn from them. To my team: Jon, Nicole, Mike, Jess, Alexis, Ted, Nick (TG), and TR, thank you!! This experience would not have been the same without you! I will remember you fondly for many, many days to come.