Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019


Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear

Conclusion

Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

Meg Stewart: Aleutian Islands, Bald Eagles, Wildflowers, and Bunkers, July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019


Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54° 59.104 N
Longitude: 166° 28.938 W
Wind: 21 knots SE
Barometer: 1006.6 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 53° F or 11.5° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

Today, we left the port at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska and headed toward Cape Newenham. The mission for the Cape Newenham project is to gather detailed ocean depth data in order to knit together a comprehensive and highly detailed surface chart of the seafloor near Cape Newenham. I will talk about that process in my next post.

view of Dutch Harbor
A view of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. The surrounding hills are volcanic, with just a thin layer of soil, and not a tree to be seen.

Dutch Harbor is a small town with a relatively deep port. The Ship Fairweather has a draft of 15.5 feet. “Draft” is the vertical length between the surface of the water and the bottom of the ship, which is called the hull. A ship’s draft determines the minimum depth of water a vessel can safely navigate and dock at a port. However, though the Fairweather has a 15.5 foot draft, the crew prefers a 20 foot depth of water at a port.

Map of Bering Sea
This overview map shows where Dutch Harbor is in relation to Alaska, the Pacific Ocean, the Aleutian Islands, the Aleutian Trench and Russia. The A-B line is shown for the cross sectional line in the next figure. Cape Newenham is out next destination.

Dutch Harbor is part of Unalaska Island, which is one of the string of Aleutian Islands. The Aleutian Islands are part of the notorious Ring of Fire that marks the edge of the Pacific tectonic plate. As the Pacific Plate moves and grinds past some plates (like along the North American Plate at the San Andreas Fault) or pulls away from other plates (like the Antarctic and Nazca plates, creating the East Pacific Ridge) or plunges beneath other plates (like the Philippine and Indian-Australian plates, where we get deep ocean depressions called the Mariana Trench and Tonga Trench, respectively), we see active volcanism (which is the “fire”) but also lots of earthquakes. The Aleutian Islands are volcanic in origin – the island chain is a volcanic arc – and are a result of oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate being subducted under the oceanic crust of the North American plate. The deep depression at this tectonic boundary – also called a subduction zone – is called the Aleutian Trench.

Aleutian Trench
Referring to the A-B line shown in the overview map above, this cross section shows the mechanics of the subduction zone at the Aleutian Trench at Unalaska Island.
Aleutian Trench tectonic map
This is a tectonic map of the Aleutian Trench area (the symbol shown as a dark black curved line indicates a subduction zone). The map shows the relative motion of the Pacific and North American plates. It is clipped from the New York State Earth Science Reference Table

Looking at a schematic drawing of the side-view, or cross section, of the Aleutian subduction zone, we can visualize what this looks like beneath the surface. The older and more dense oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate is plunging under the younger oceanic crust of the North American Plate – the more dense material sinks down or subducts – and the less dense material stays floating on top, and this process is all due to gravity. With time, as the oceanic material is drawn deeper into the subduction zone, it becomes hotter, starts to melt and then comes back up to the surface as volcanic material and a string of volcanoes forming parallel – and in this case, forming an arc – to the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.

Personal Log

Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather
Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather

I arrived at Dutch Harbor on July 6, after 14 hours and three legs of air travel. Fortunately, I made all my connections and my luggage arrived at the tiny Dutch Harbor airport. I was picked up by welcome smile for a nice person from the Ship Fairweather, got to the port and settled in to my stateroom. The “stateroom” is my sleeping quarters or room. I have it all to myself, it is very comfortable with a sink, a small bed, drawers and a closet to fit all my stuff, and there’s a TV that I haven’t yet figured out how to work.

My stateroom
My stateroom or sleeping quarters. Caution: panoramic photos make everything look larger than they really are.

Did You Know?

On my second day in Dutch Harbor, I went out with some new friends from the ship on a lovely hike on nearby Bunker Hill. I saw so many beautiful wildflowers along the trek and an enormous number of bald eagles. I had no idea that bald eagles would be so plentiful here, but they were everywhere. It was amazing! But the other interesting thing about this hike were the bunkers.  In June 1942, Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy (six months after Pearl Harbor) during World War II. At the time of the raid, Alaska was a U.S. territory, and following the bombing, the bunkers of the now-known-as Bunker Hill were built to help defend not only Alaska but the west coast of mainland U.S. And here I thought Dutch Harbor was only known for Deadliest Catch!

Quote of the Day

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” Sylvia Earle

Lee Teevan: The Unexpected Happens, July 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lee Teevan

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-10, 2018

Mission: Acoustic Pollock-Trawl

Geographic Area of Cruise: eastern Bering Sea

Date: 13 July 2018

View of the Oscar Dyson on our last morning in Dutch Harbor, AK

View of the Oscar Dyson on our last morning in Dutch Harbor, AK

 

Weather Data from Norfolk, VA

Latitude: 36.8508° N

Longitude: 76.2859° W

Tide Heights: 2.76 ft & 3.35 ft

Wind Speed: 19 km/h

Wind Direction: NE

Air Temperature: 28°C, 82°F

Barometric Pressure: 1028.1 mb

Sky: Clear

Humidity: 76%

“If you’re awake at 6:00 a.m., you’ll get to see the Oculus as I prepare it to glide around in the Bering Sea!”  With this promise from Dr. Chris Bassett, I made sure I was ready at the appointed time on our last day on the ship.

Dr. Chris Bassett preparing the Oculus.

Dr. Chris Bassett preparing the Oculus.

The launching of the Oculus was not on Chris’ schedule for that day beforehand; our expedition was ending earlier than expected.  That setback, however, did not diminish the drive to pursue science.  The resilience and perseverance of the science team to readjust was apparent.  Through the mist of  disappointment, the scientists continued to do as much as possible to continue our mission of the pollock survey.

 

Science and Technology Log

Developed at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in partnership with the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and the University of Washington Seaglider Fabrication Lab, the Oculus is an ocean glider which samples abiotic factors in the ocean such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen at different depths.

Inner component of the Oculus which regulates buoyancy.

Inner component of the Oculus which regulates buoyancy.

After setting the Oculus upright, Chris connected it via the Internet to a computer operated by a scientist at the University of Washington.  This scientist is going to be sending coordinates to the Oculus and guiding it at various depths in the Bering Sea.  Chris explained that the Oculus has the ability to adjust its buoyancy quickly and is able to carry out a more reliable survey than other gliders.  Through the data remotely sent by the Oculus, scientists can gather a more accurate picture of ocean dynamics such as water column layers and ocean mixing.

Unfortunately, I was not able to observe the launch of the Oculus as I had to leave for the airport.

Personal Log

View from dock in Dutch Harbor, AK.

View from dock in Dutch Harbor, AK.

The week I spent on the ship was a whirlwind of experiences. I was just hitting my stride being completely awake for my 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. work shift and efficiently measuring the length of the pollock in each trawl.

Pollock and jellyfish in trawl.

Pollock and jellyfish in trawl.

At the end of the last trawl, I held a pollock, out of its element of water. Its dense, streamlined body shimmered with iridescence.  One eye stared, unfocused on the strange surroundings.   I too would be out of my element were it not for the 208.6 ft. boat on which I was standing.  Being on the boat was a constant reminder that my species is alien to this ocean habitat and that to explore it, we have to use technology such as the Oculus, underwater cameras, and acoustic technology as well as physical trawls.  Together, these different means of exploring combine information so that we can evaluate our interactions with the ocean and its inhabitants.

The view of the horizon from the deck of the Oscar Dyson.

The view of the horizon from the deck of the Oscar Dyson.

At times, the ocean had a disorienting effect.  When on the deck, I looked out from all directions and saw nothing but ocean capped by a dome of stratus clouds.  Under this lid of heavy clouds, the sun gave no clue to discern our direction or time of day.

Marine Careers

Karla Martinez, Junior Unlicensed Engineer, on duty on the Oscar Dyson.

Karla Martinez, Junior Unlicensed Engineer, on duty on the Oscar Dyson.

With her philosophy of focusing on the positive, Karla Martinez enjoys her time on and off duty on the Oscar Dyson.  As a Junior Engineer, Karla is responsible for ship upkeep and repairs.  On our last day of the trip, I spoke to her as she changed air filters in all of the staterooms.  Karla began working as a NOAA Junior Engineer three years ago after seven years in the U.S. Navy.  Since working for NOAA, she has traveled extensively and makes sure she visits each place the Oscar Dyson docks.  Karla is on the ship for at least 7-8 months of the year, and she makes the ship feel like home by getting to know people.

Karla Martinez, Tourist, off duty in field of flowers, Unalaska, AK.

Karla Martinez, Tourist, off duty in field of flowers, Unalaska, AK.

For young people who are interested in a career like Karla’s, she advises asking many questions and studying technology as much as possible. In high school, students should take the ASVAP test before entering the military.  Once admitted to the military, students should get trained. Karla states that students should talk to their counselors and find out all they can.

Lacee Sherman: Teacher Grudgingly Back On Land, June 29, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

 NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

 

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 29, 2018

 

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Weather Data from the Bridge of the California-based whale watching boat Islander on 7/2/18 at 08:29

Latitude: 34° 13.557 N

Longitude: 119° 20.775 W

Sea Wave Height: 2 ft

Wind Speed: 5-10 knots

Wind Direction: NW

Visibility: 15 miles (seems a little off to me, but that is what I was told)

Air Temperature: 65° F (ish)

Water Temperature: not recorded

Barometric Pressure:  not recorded

Sky:  Grey and cloudy

leaving Dutch Harbor

View from the plane leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Personal Reflection

Wow! What an incredible experience! When I was first accepted into this program I knew that it would be great and I knew that I was going to be working on research, but I feel like I ended up getting way more than I had expected. While filling out my application for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program we were given the opportunity indicate a preference for locations and types of research. I indicated that I would have been happy with any of them, but I was honestly hoping to be on a fisheries cruise, and my first choice of location was Alaska. That’s exactly what I got! I could not have picked a more perfect match for myself.

When I first received my specific cruise offer to join NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson it was pointed out to me that 23 days at sea was a LONG cruise, and I was a little bit worried about being at sea for that long when I had never even slept on a ship like that before. What I didn’t realize, was that the hardest part of this research cruise, would be leaving at the end of it. Saying goodbye to the scientists and friends that I had worked closely with for the past 3+ weeks was pretty tough.

 

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The natural beauty of Alaska, and Unalaska specifically, is breathtaking. I kept saying that I can’t believe that places like that existed in the world and people weren’t tripping over themselves to live there. This is a part of Alaska that very few ever see. I loved getting to explore Dutch Harbor and see some of the beaches and do a little hiking while in port, and seeing the different islands and volcanoes while at sea. I also was incredibly excited to see all of the wildlife, especially the foxes, eagles, and of course, whales.

 

Video of a whale swimming and then diving in the distance.

From the moment that Sarah and Matthew picked me up from the airport, I knew that I was in great company. They immediately took me in and invited me to join the rest of the science team for dinner. Bonding happened quickly and I am so happy that I got to work with and learn each day from Denise, Sarah, Mike, Nate, Darin, Scott, and Matthew every single day. I looked forward to (and now miss) morning coffee chats, and dancing in the fish lab together. I have so many positive memories with each of them, but here are a few: sitting and reviewing and discussing my blogs with Denise, taking photos of a stuffed giraffe with Sarah, go pro fishing (scaring the fish) with Mike, watching Scott identify and solve problems, listening to Darin play the guitar, fishing with Nate on the Bridge, and exploring on land with Matthew. These are just a few of the things that I will remember and cherish about these wonderful people.

I know that it happens in all workplaces eventually, but it’s weird to think that the exact same group of people on the ship will never again be in the same place at the same time because of rotations and leave, and whatnot. I feel very grateful that I was on the ship when I was because I really enjoyed getting to know as many people on the ship as possible, and to have them teach me about what they do, and why they do it.

Not only did I learn about the Scientific work of the MACE (Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering) team, I learned so much about the ship and how it functions from everyone else on the ship. Every single time that I asked someone a question or to explain how something works, I was always given the time for it to be answered in a way that was understandable, and meaningful. I learned about: charting and navigation (thanks Aras), ship controls (thanks Vanessa), The NOAA Corps (thanks CO and Sony), ship engines and winches (thanks Becca), fancy ship knots (thanks Jay), water data collected by the ship (thanks Phil)… I could go on and on.

After landing back in port in Dutch Harbor, I got off of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and turned and looked at it, and my perception of it had changed completely from the beginning of the cruise. It sounds totally cliché, but it wasn’t just a ship anymore, it was somewhere I had called home for a short time. As I looked at the outside of the ship I could identify the rooms behind each window and memories that I had in that space. It was surreal, and honestly pretty emotional for me. On the last day, once we got into port, my name tag was taken off of my stateroom door and it was replaced with the names of the new teachers heading to sea.  It was sad to realize that I really was leaving and heading home.  It’s weird to think that the ship will continue on without me being a part of it any longer.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in port in Dutch Harbor, AK

A valuable part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program was me stepping back from being a teacher, and actually being reminded of what it feel like to be a learner again. I was reminded of the frustrations of not understanding things immediately, and also the exciting feeling of finally understanding something and then being able to show and explain it. I loved learning through inquiry and asking questions to lead to newer and better questions.  These are the things that I am trying to implement more in my classroom.

While on the ship I was able to come up with 3 new hands on activities that I will be trying out in my classes this year.  This is in addition to the one that is directly related to my research.  The new labs that I have created will help me to focus my efforts and give my students the skills that they will benefit from in the future.  I am also even more excited to go and pursue my Master’s Degree in the near future than I was before, even though I am more confused on what to go back to school for.

I love being able to participate in research in addition to teaching.  I really feel like it makes me a better teacher in so many ways.  It really reminds me what is important to try and teach my students.  In the world of Google searches and immediate information, learning a bunch of facts is not as practical as learning skills like how to test out a question, collect data, and share knowledge learned.  I am so grateful for this opportunity and I really hope that I am able to continue to find other research experiences for myself in the future.  I would love to be able to further my research experiences with MACE by visiting them in Seattle, and I would be happy to hop back on the Oscar Dyson, or another NOAA ship, at any time (hint, hint, wink,wink).  Thanks for the memories.

 

Video of TAS Lacee Sherman on the deck of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
[Transcript: Ok so right now it is 9 o’clock at night and the sun is still way up in the sky. It will not go down until like almost midnight. And that’s why they call it the midnight sun!]

 

TAS Lacee Sherman

TAS Lacee Sherman with her dog, Chloe after getting back home

Lacee Sherman: Teacher on Land and Teacher Leaving Port June 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 4, 2018

Unalaska Sign

A sign hanging in the airport when I landed in Dutch Harbor.  If this is where I started and my most recent coordinates are below, which way have I been traveling?

Weather Data from the Bridge on June 7th, 2018

Latitude: N 55° 22.897

Longitude: W 164° 20.546

Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 270 degrees

Visibility: 8 knots

Air Temperature:  7.5° C

Sky:  Grey and Cloudy

NOAA Ship, Oscar Dyson

Photo of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Science and Technology Log

On this leg of the Research Cruise in the Eastern Bering Sea I will be helping a team of NOAA scientists collect data about a fish species called Pollock.  The datum (plural of data) that are collected will help to set the limits for how much pollock the fishing boats are allowed to catch. The data also allow scientists to track the populations of the pollock to look for patterns.  For additional information on Pollock, visit the NOAA fisheries website here.

During the survey, acoustic (sound) signals will be sent into the water by transducers at different frequencies and these acoustic signals will bounce off of the objects in the ocean and bounce back to the ship where the echoes will be picked up by the transducers. The data collected from each echo is presented visually to the science team.  When we reach a spot where a lot of the acoustic signals returning to the boat indicate the presence of fish, a trawl sample will be taken at that location. A trawl survey includes putting a large net into the water and scooping up a sample of all of the living things in that location. Once the trawl haul is brought onto the boat, it is taken to the fish lab where the fish are identified and measured.  

Fish Lab

Photo of the Fish Lab on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

The area being surveyed is the Eastern Bering Sea and for this study is divided up into 28 different transects have been mapped out and are spread 20 nautical miles apart.  We will start at northern point of the first transect and travel south until we reach the bottom of it. Once we reach the bottom of the first transect we will travel 20 nautical miles west to the southern tip of the second transect.  We will then travel north along this second transect until we reach the top and then travel the 20 nautical miles west until we reach transect 3. This will continue throughout my time on the ship, and on the 2 other legs of this journey.  On this first leg of the research cruise, the aim is to survey and sample from 16.3 of the transects which will total a journey of 2627 nautical miles on the transect lines.

According to the NOAA National Ocean Service Website, “A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a statute (land measured) mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating.”

Map of Transect Lines

Map of transect lines for NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson over the 3 legs of the Eastern Bering Sea Pollock survey. Current location is shown by the yellow boat. Can you find it?  Hint:  It’s near the vertical lines on the right.  First transect is the farthest on the Eastern (right in this photo) side.

 

Personal Log

TAS Lacee Sherman on Oscar Dyson deck

Photo taken on the stern of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Stienessen

It was a long trip getting to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, but it has already been worth it!  I am on the Island of Unalaska, which is a part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The main port city is called Dutch Harbor, or commonly just “Dutch”.  This is such a beautiful place that I probably never would have seen otherwise. There are mountains filled with grasses, berry bushes, and wild orchids as well as snow-topped peaks and natural waterfalls.  There are bald eagles everywhere and foxes that are so fluffy they almost appear to be dogs from far away. Looking into the water you can see a few scattered otters floating on their backs and the occasional harbor seal.

 

OSI Morning photo

This photo was taken from the bow of NOAA ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.


As soon as I landed in Dutch, I was greeted by two of the scientists that I will be working with, Matthew and Sarah.  They took me to NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to drop off my luggage before we all went out to dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually had my own stateroom.  Due to the number of female scientists and us being on the same work shift, we were both able to have our own rooms.  The rooms are so much nicer than I had anticipated them to be! The mattresses are comfortable, I have a desk space, there’s a television (that I will probably never watch) and I have my own bathroom as well.  

      

After we had dinner and returned to the ship, I went on a mini hike with one of the members of the science team and we went to view this amazing natural waterfall.  You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. There is so much more that you can do when the sun is up for most of the day. At 11:30pm (the latest i’ve stayed up so far) it is still light outside.  There are so many clouds that the sky looks pretty grey, and there are a ton of clouds, often hiding the tops of the mountain peaks.

 

Lacee Sherman Dutch Harbor Waterfall

Photo of TAS Lacee Sherman in front of a waterfall in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

 

The next morning I woke up and went for a nice long walk along Captain’s Bay and sat and had coffee on the rocks and just admired the incredible view.  It is so much more beautiful here than I had imagined. Later a few of us went for a drive around the island and a few people surfed in the ocean, but I wasn’t brave enough to get in the cold water this time.

Unalaska beach

Photo taken on Unalaska

Since we will be on the ship for a while (23 days) we stopped at the grocery store to bring a few things onboard that we want to have in addition to our regular meals prepared on the ship by the stewards.  I decided that I wanted to bring some fresh fruit, not realizing that I would be paying way more than I expected for them! Everything is expensive here!

Expensive fruit

$26 dollars worth of fruit in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Did You Know?

Even though we think of Bears and Moose being found all over Alaska, they are not found on the Island of Unalaska at all!  

Animals Seen

6/4/18 – Bald Eagles, Fox, Otters

6/5/18 – Bald Eagles, 4 Foxes, Otters, Harbor seal, Jellyfish (3 different species)

6/6/18- Bald Eagles, Jellyfish (2 species), Humpback Whales!!

 

Fox in Dutch Harbor

A fox spotted on 6/5/18 in Dutch Harbor

 

Bald Eagles on Crab Pots

These are crab fishing “pots” that are used by Alaskan Fisherman to catch crab.  How many bald eagles do you see in this photo?

 

Gregory Cook, The Dance, August 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 7, 2014

Science and Technology Log: Abiotic Factors in the Bering Sea

Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic is just another word for “stuff that is, or was, alive.” In a forest, that would include everything from Owl to Oak Tree, from bear to bacteria, and from fish to fungi. It includes anything alive, or, for that matter, dead. Keep in mind that “dead” is not the same as “non-living.”

Salmon and Black-Legged Kittiwake

The salmon and the black-legged kittiwake are both biotic members of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

“Non-living” describes things that are not, cannot, and never will be “alive.” These things are referred to as “abiotic.” (The prefix a- basically means the same as non-). Rocks, water, wind, sunlight and temperature are all considered abiotic factors. And while the most obvious threat to a salmon swimming up river might be the slash of a bear’s mighty claw, warm water could be even more deadly. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen for the fish to absorb through their gills. This means that a power plant or factory that releases warm water into a river could actually cause fish to suffocate and, well, drown.

Bering Panorama

A 90 degree panorama of the Bering Sea from atop the Oscar Dyson. I’d show you the other 270°, but it’s pretty much the same. The sea and sky are abiotic parts of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

Fish in the Bering Sea have the same kind of challenges. Like Goldilocks, Pollock are always looking for sea water that is just right. The Oscar Dyson has the tools for testing all sorts of Abiotic factors. This is the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor (Also known as the CTD).

CTD Deployment

Survey Technicians Allen and Bill teach me how to launch The Conductivity Temperature Depth Probe (or CTD).

The CTD sends signals up to computers in the cave to explain all sorts of abiotic conditions in the water column. It can measure how salty the water is by testing how well the water conducts electricity. It can tell you how cloudy, or turbid, the water is with a turbidity sensor. It can even tell you things like the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

To see how abiotic factors drive biotic factors, take a look at this.

Thermocline

The graph above is depth-oriented. The further down you go on the graph, the deeper in the water column you are. The blue line represents temperature. Does the temperature stay constant? Where does it change?

I know, you may want to turn the graph above on its side… but don’t. You’ll notice that depth is on the y-axis (left). That means that the further down you are on the graph, the deeper in the sea you are. The blue line represents the water temperature at that depth. Where do you see the temperature drop?


Right… The temperature drops rapidly between about 20 and 35 meters. This part of the water column is called the Thermocline, and you’ll find it in much of the world’s oceans. It’s essentially where the temperature between surface waters (which are heated by the sun) and the deeper waters (typically dark and cold) mix together.

OK, so you’re like “great. So what? Water gets colder. Big deal… let’s throw a parade for science.”

Well, look at the graph to the right. It was made from another kind of data recorded by the CTD.

Fluoresence

Fluoresence: Another depth-oriented graph from the CTD… the green line effectively shows us the amount of phytoplankton in the water column, based on depth.

The green line represents the amount of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a marker of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like protists… the great producers of the sea! The more fluorescence, the more phytoplankton you have. Phytoplankton love to live right at the bottom of the thermocline. It gives them the best of both worlds: sunlight from above and nutrients from the bottom of the sea, which so many animals call home.

Now, if you’re a fish… especially a vegetarian fish, you just said: “Dinner? I’m listening…” But there’s an added bonus.

Look at this:

CTD Oxygen

Oxygen data from the CTD! This shows where the most dissolved oxygen is in the water column, based on depth. Notice any connections to the other graphs?

That orange line represents the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. How does that compare to the other graphs?

Yup! The phytoplankton is hanging down there at the bottom of the thermocline cranking out oxygen! What a fine place to be a fish! Dinner and plenty of fresh air to breathe! So here, the abiotic (the temperature) drives the biotic (phytoplankton) which then drives the abiotic again (oxygen). This dance between biotic and abiotic plays out throughout earth’s ecosystems.

Another major abiotic factor is the depth of the ocean floor. Deep areas, also known as abyss, or abyssal plains, have food sources that are so far below the surface that phytoplankton can’t take advantage of the ground nutrients. Bad for phytoplankton is, of course, bad for fish. Look at this:

The Cliff and the Cod

The blue cloud represents a last grouping of fish as the continental shelf drops into the deep. Dr. Mikhail examines a cod.

That sloping red line is the profile (side view of the shape of the land) of the ocean floor. Those blue dots on the slope are fish. As Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, a visiting Pollock specialist from Vladivostok, Russia, puts it, “after this… no more Pollock. It’s too deep.”

He goes on to show me how Pollock in the Bering Sea are only found on the continental shelf between the Aleutian Islands and Northeastern Russia. Young Pollock start their lives down near the Aleutians to the southeast, then migrate Northwest towards Russia, where lots of food is waiting for them.

Pollock Distribution

Alaskan Pollock avoid the deep! Purple line represents the ocean floor right before it drops off into the Aleutian Basin… a very deep place!

The purple line drawn in represents the drop-off you saw above… right before the deep zone. Pollock tend to stay in the shallow areas above it… where the eating is good!

Once again, the dance between the abiotic and the biotic create an ecosystem. Over the abyss, Phytoplankton can’t take advantage of nutrients from the deep, and fish can’t take advantage of the phytoplankton. Nonliving aspects have a MASSIVE impact on all the organisms in an ecosystem.

Next time we explore the Biotic side of things… the Sub-arctic food web!

Personal Log: The Order of the Monkey’s Fist.

Sweet William, a retired police officer turned ship’s engineer, tells the story of the order of the monkey’s fist.

William and the Monkey's Fist

Sweet William the Engineer shows off a monkey’s fist

The story goes that some island came up with a clever way to catch monkeys. They’d place a piece of fruit in a jar just barely big enough for the fruit to fit through and then leave the jar out for the monkeys. When a monkey saw it, they’d reach their hand in to grab the fruit, but couldn’t pull it out because their hands were too big now that they had the fruit in it. The monkey, so attached to the idea of an “easy” meal wouldn’t let go, making them easy pickings for the islanders. The Monkey’s Fist became a symbol for how clinging to our desires for some things can, in the end, do more harm than good. That sometimes letting go of something we want so badly is, in the end, what can grant us relief.

Another story of the origin of the monkey’s fist goes like this: A sea captain saw a sailor on the beach sharing his meal with a monkey. Without skipping a beat, the monkey went into the jungle and brought the sailor some of HIS meal… a piece of fruit.

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

Whatever the true origin of the Order is, the message is the same. Generosity beats selfishness at sea. It’s often better to let go of your own interests, sometimes, and think of someone else’s. Onboard the Oscar Dyson, when we see someone committing an act of kindness, we put their name in a box. Every now and then they pull a name from the box, and that person wins something at the ship store… a hat or a t-shirt or what have you. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that NOAA sailors… scientists, corps, and crew… have each other’s backs. They look out for each other in a place where all they really have IS each other.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Kacey Shaffer: Preparing for an Adventure, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 16, 2014

Hello from beautiful Southern Ohio! My name is Kacey Shaffer and it is an honor to be an NOAA Teacher at Sea for the 2014 Field Season. I am thrilled to be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with you. In a few days I’ll be flying across North America to spend nineteen days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Our mission will be to assess the abundance and distribution of Walleye Pollock along the Bering Sea shelf.

Next month I’ll begin my eighth year as an Intervention Specialist at Logan Elm High School in Circleville, Ohio. I teach Biology and Physical Science resource room classes and also co-teach in a Biology 101 class and Physical Science 101 class. Three summers ago I was able to participate in Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy, held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That experience enabled me to bring a wealth of information and activities back to my students and colleagues. Because I had such a wonderful experience at Space Academy, I knew I would soon be seeking out other opportunities to perform hands-on work and gain knowledge not available in my geographic area. I was very excited when I found the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and applied immediately. When the congratulatory email arrived I acted like a little girl on Christmas morning, jumping up and down and squealing!

For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle.

In 2011, I attended Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy. For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle. (Photo credit: Lynn of Team Unity)

Not only do I love adventure that is related to my teaching career, I love adventure in general! Two summers ago I had the privilege of joining one of Logan Elm’s Spanish teachers and four of her recent Spanish 4 graduates on a nine day tour of Spain. We were immersed in culture and history in several cities from Madrid to Barcelona. It was a wonderful experience and I really hope to travel abroad again. Last month the same Spanish teacher escorted four more recent graduates to Puerto Rico for a five day stay. Thankfully she felt I had behaved well enough in Spain to be invited on this trip! Our trip to Puerto Rico was very different from our travel in Spain. We were able to go ziplining in La Marquesa, hiking in El Yunque (which happens to be the U.S. National Park Service’s only tropical rain forest), and kayaking in Laguna Grande near Fajardo. The most amazing experience was kayaking at night in Laguna Grande. Why would you kayak at night? Because that is the home of a bioluminescent bay! You can learn more about this ocean phenomena here. I am very thankful to be able to travel as much as I do!

Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right.

Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right. (Photo credit: Luiz, our tour guide)

If I were driving to the Oscar Dyson, it would be about a 5,000 mile trip one way! I’m really glad the journey will be via airplane. I’ll be meeting the ship in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Does that name sound familiar? Dutch Harbor is the home base of the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch.” It is a very small town on one of the many islands that are collectively called the Aleutian Islands. From Dutch Harbor we will sail into the Bering Sea and begin our work. From the information I’ve read, we’ll spend our days gathering information about Walleye Pollock. Through my preparations I’ve gathered this is important because Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world. Why would Walleye Pollock be important to me or my students? This fish is often used in imitation crab or fried fish fillets. We could be eating this species the next time we have fish sticks for supper! For greater detail on Alaskan Walleye Pollock check out the NOAA’s FishWatch page here.

pollock

This is a basket of pollock from a previous survey. (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!

See you in Dutch Harbor, Oscar Dyson! (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)

 

The next time I write to you I’ll be aboard the mighty Oscar Dyson. In the mean time I’ll continue to gather warm clothes and search for a box of seasickness medicine. As I’m packing I may need some advice. If you were leaving home for three weeks, what is the one item you wouldn’t leave without? Remember, I’ll be at sea. My cell phone will be rendered useless and my access to the internet will be limited.