Jill Bartolotta: All Aboard, Shipping Out, May 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

 

Mission:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: May 30, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 24° 47.7 ‘N
Longitude: 080° 20.2’W
Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 114
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 28.2°C
Barometric Pressure: 1013.5 mb
Sky: Few clouds

 

Science Log

Today we depart Key West. The days in port have been spent readying equipment, training mission crew, and exploring the beauty that is Key West. We say our final goodbyes to terra firma and head out to sea.

Ship sign board showing departure date
Departure time!
NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
Home for the next two weeks.

The ship we are aboard, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, is managed by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps commands and operates the ship in combination with wage mariners. Equipment on board is managed by NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research (OER) in collaboration with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration.

If you visit OER’s website, you will see in their mission that they are the “only federal organization dedicated to ocean exploration. By using unique capabilities in terms of personnel, technology, infrastructure, and exploration missions, OER is reducing unknowns in deep-ocean areas and providing high-value environmental intelligence needed by NOAA and the nation to address both current and emerging science and management needs.” The purpose of OER is to explore the ocean, collect data, and make this data publicly available for research, education, ocean management, resource management, and decision-making purposes.

One of OER’s priorities is to map the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) at depths of 200 meters or greater. This is some deep stuff. The EEZ distance from shore is dependent on a variety of factors such as proximity to territorial waters of other countries and the continental shelf. If you want to learn more about how EEZs are established visit the United Nations Oceans and the Law of the Sea Website https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/oceans-and-law-sea/. Within the EEZ a country has exclusive rights to various activities such as fishing, drilling, ocean exploration, conservation, and resource management.

Map of U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the United States. We are mapping in the Southeast Region (lime green). Photo Credit: NOAA

We are currently en route to our mapping area so we can map previously unmapped areas. The mapping that will occur on this mission will be used to help inform dive locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) mission that will take place after our mission. Mapping allows us to understand sea floor characteristics and learn more about deep sea ecosystems that can be later explored with an ROV. An ecosystem of interest for this mapping mission is deep sea coral habitat. The area where we will be mapping is thought to be the largest deep sea coral habitat in US waters and it is largely unmapped. As data is collected, it is cleaned (more on this at a later time) of noise (unwanted data points). Products such as multi-beam geospatial layers are made available to end users on land roughly 24 hours after data is collected. End users could include other researchers, educators, ocean policy and management decision-makers, and more specifically those who will be joining the ROV mission happening in two weeks.

If you want to follow Okeanos Explorer and her crew on our mission, see the live feed available through this link https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/livestreams/welcome.html.

Personal Log

We have just left port. The dolphins are jumping, the sea is the most perfect turquoise blue, and the wind blows on our sun-kissed faces. I have left port many times on my various trips, but today was magical. I think what makes this departure from port so magical is the journey that lies ahead. I am nervous and excited all at the same time. It is slowly settling in that I am able to participate in this once in a lifetime experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be aboard an ocean exploration vessel. Wow! Just Wow!

View of Key West from shore
Fondest farewell Key West.

So far everything is good. Dabbled pretty hard in the seasickness world today. I tried to get on my computer too early and it went down swell from there. However, some wind on my face, ginger soup, and bubbly water made everything better. Many people have told me it is important to embark on a task to get my mind off feeling unwell. I have taken this to heart and have been meeting all the wonderful people on the ship, learning more about them and their role on the ship. In the coming two weeks, I plan on learning about every facet that it takes to operate an exploration mission. From what makes the ship move forward to the detailed intricacies of mapping the sea floor to those who make it all possible.

I hope I will be able to share my experience with you so it feels like you are with me on the ship. Using words and pictures I will try to make you feel as if you are aboard with all of us. I will do my best to show you the blue hues we encountered today and explain what it is like to be out to sea with land many miles away. But I still encourage you all to try it for yourself. Words and images will only give you half the story. You need to feel the rest firsthand.

Blue water out of Key West
Bluest of blues. Words and images fail me here. The blue hues we saw today are the most spectacular colors I have ever seen.

Sunset is upon the horizon so I leave you for now. Stay tuned for more about our grand adventure.

Sun sets over the ocean
First sunset at sea

Did You Know?

You can use sonar to learn more about the organisms living in the water column. For example, sonar has the ability to show you the migration of zooplankton and their predators to the surface at night and back down when the sun rises. This phenomenon is called vertical diurnal migration.

Ship Words

Different terms are used to describe items, locations, or parts of the ship. As I learn new words I would like to share my new vocabulary with all of you. If there is a ship term you want to know more about let me know and I will find out!

Port: Left side of ship

Starboard: Right side of ship

Bow: Front of ship

Stern: Back of ship

Mess Deck: Where we eat

Head: Restroom

Scuttlebutt: Water fountain (and gossip)

Bulkhead: Walls

Overhead: Ceilings

Deck: Floor

Rack: Bed

Aft: Towards the back of the ship

Forward: Towards the front of the ship

Animals Seen Today

One dolphin

Hundreds of flying fish

Dozens of various seabirds

Kathleen Harrison: Fish Stick, Anyone? July 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed:  34 knots, True Wind Direction:  284.43
Sea Temperature:  10.02° C, Air Temperature:  11.34° C
Air Pressure:  1014.97 mb
Latitude:  56.12° N, Longitude:  152.51° W
Sunny, Clear, Windy, 10 foot swells
Ship speed:  10 knots, Ship heading:  60°

Science and Technology Log

The Walleye Pollock is an important economic species for the state of Alaska.  It is the fish used in fish sticks, fish patties, and other processed fish products.  Every year, 1 million tons of Pollock  are processed in Alaska, making it the largest fishery in the United States by volume.  The gear used to catch Pollock is a mid-water trawl, which does not harm the ocean floor, and hauls are mostly Pollock, so there is very little bycatch.

table full of pollock

A sample of pollock that the Oscar Dyson caught for scientific study. A "drop" in a very large "ocean" of pollock industry.

Although Pollock fishermen would like to make as much money as they can, they have to follow fishing regulations, called quotas, that are set each year by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).  The quotas tell the fishermen how many tons of pollock they can catch and sell, as well as the fish size, location, and season.  The NOAA scientists on board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson have an important role to play in helping the NPFMC determine what the quotas are, based on the biomass they calculate.

The quotas are set in order to prevent overfishing.  Pollock reproduce and grow quickly, which makes them a little easier to manage.  When fishing is uncontrolled, the number of fish becomes too low, and the population can’t sustain itself.  Imagine being the lone human in the United States, and you are trying to find another human, located in Europe, only you don’t know if he is there, and all you have is your voice for communication, and your feet for traveling.  This is what happens when fish numbers are very low– it is hard for them to find each other.

There are many situations where uncontrolled fishing has cost the fishermen their livelihood. For example, in the early 1900s, the Peruvian Anchovy was big business in the Southeast Pacific Ocean.  Over 100 canneries were built, and hundreds of people  were employed.

anchovy catch graph

This graph shows how the Peruvian Anchovy catch rose to record heights in 1970, then collapsed in 1972. This could have been prevented by effective fishery management.

Scientists warned the fishermen in the 1960s that if they didn’t slow down, the anchovies would soon be gone.  The industry was slow to catch on, and the anchovy industry crashed in 1972.  The canneries closed, and many people lost their jobs.  This was an important lesson to commercial fishermen everywhere.

The Walleye Pollock (Theragra chalchogramm) is a handsome fish, about 2 feet long, and greyish – brown.  Most fishermen consider him the “dog” food of fish, since he pales in comparison to the mighty (and tasty) salmon.  Nonetheless, Pollock are plentiful, easy to catch, and thousands of children the world over love their fish sticks.

Besides calculating biomass, there are 2 other studies going on with the Pollock and other fish in the catch.  Scientists back at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) in Seattle are interested in how old the fish are, and this can be determined by examining the otoliths.

2 pollock otoliths

Here are 2 otoliths from a pollock. The one on the left shows the convex surface, the other shows the concave surface.

These are 2 bones in the head of a fish that help with hearing, as well as balance.  Fish otoliths are enlarged each year with a new layer of calcium carbonate and gelatinous matrix, called annuli, and counting the annuli tells the scientists the age of the fish.  Not only that, with sophisticated chemical techniques, migration pathways can be determined.  Amazing, right?  The otoliths are removed from the fish, and placed in a vial with preservative.  The scientists in Seattle eagerly await the return of the Oscar Dyson, so that they can examine the new set of otoliths.  By keeping track of the age of the fish, the scientists can see if the population has a healthy distribution of different ages, and are reproducing at a sustainable rate.

Another ongoing study concerning the Pollock, and any other species of fish that are caught during the Pollock Survey, deals with what the fish eat.

stomach being put into a bag for later study

A pollock stomach is put into a fabric bag, which will be placed in preservative. Scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center will study the contents to determine what the fish had for lunch.

Stomachs are removed from a random group of fish, and placed into fabric bags with an ID tag.  These are placed into preservative, and taken to Seattle.  There, scientists will examine the stomach contents, and determine what the fish had for lunch.

Personal Log  

I learned about fishing boundaries, or territorial seas, today.  In the United States, there is a 12-mile boundary from the shore marked on nautical charts.  Inside this boundary, the state determines what the rules about fishing are.  How many of each species can be kept, what months of the year fishing can occur, and what size fish has to be thrown back.   Foreign ships are allowed innocent passage through the territorial seas, but they are not allowed to fish or look for resources.  Outside of that is the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) which is 200 miles off shore.  The EEZ exists world-wide, with the understanding among all international ships, that permits are required for traveling or fishing through an EEZ that does not belong to the ship’s native country.

Everyone was tired at the end of the day, just walking across the deck requires a lot more energy when there are 10-foot swells.  Check out this video for the rolling and pitching of the ship today.