Ragupathy Kannan: Back on Terra Firma, September 9, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: September 6, 2019

I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.

ocean ecosystem diagram
The various threads in the fabric of the ocean ecosystem
Northwest Atlantic Food Web
We’re all in it together! We have no choice but to coexist in harmony. (Slide courtesy Harvey Walsh)

I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.

The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.

And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.

Post script

In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.

voluntary speed restriction zone
Voluntary speed restriction zone (yellow block) around Nantucket following a sighting of Right Whales on August 30, 2019

Ragupathy Kannan: Petrels to Pilot Whales, August 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 30, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.72218
Longitude: -69.45301
Water temperature: 19.8 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 5.25 knots
Wind Direction: 87.06 degrees
Air temperature: 23.2 degrees Celsius
Atmospheric pressure: 1006.85 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We’ve had a flurry of whale sightings as we passed over the famous Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  It’s a small underwater plateau in Massachusetts Bay flanked by steep drop offs.  Nutrients from the depths rise up by upwelling along the sides, feeding phytoplankton in the shallow light-abundant waters, and this creates perfect feeding habitat for whales.

Much of my time aboard this ship has been on the flying bridge (the highest point of access for us on the ship) scanning the seas for marine vertebrates.  I have basically been an extra pair of eyes to assist my colleagues Chris Vogel and Allison Black, the seabird observers on board.  From nearly 50 feet high above the water, the flying bridge gives nearly unimpeded 360° views of the horizon all around.  I call out any vertebrate animal seen—fish, birds, reptiles, or mammals.  Chris and Allison enter all of our data in a specific format in a software program called SeaScribe. 

To calculate densities of each species, we need an estimate of how far the animal is from the ship for each sighting.  For that we use a rather low tech but effective piece of equipment.  The pencil! 

Pencil as observation tool
Pencil as observation tool

This is how it works. The observer holds the pencil (photo above) upright with arm outstretched, aligning the eyes and tip of the eraser to the horizon (see photo below), and simply reads the distance band (Beyond 300m, 300-200, 200-100, or 100-50m) in which the animal is seen.  Thanks to some fancy trigonometry, scientists found a way to estimate distance by using the height of the observer’s eyes from the water surface, the distance from the observer’s eyes to the eraser tip of the pencil when it’s held upright with arm outstretched, and the distance to the horizon from the height of observer’s eyes above water.  I’ll spare you the trigonometric details but those curious to learn more can find the paper that introduced the technique here.

Kannan and range finder
Here I am using the range finder

Seabirds are a challenge for a rain forest biologist like me.  They move fast and vanish by the time you focus the binoculars! And the fact that the deck heaves up and down unexpectedly adds to the challenge.  But slowly I got the hang of it, at least the very basics.  I’ve recorded hundreds of shearwaters, storm-petrels, boobies, gannets, jaegers, and skuas.  Whales (sea mammals) seen include Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Pilots.  I am hoping to see a Right Whale but I know that the odds are against me.  Time is running out, both for our voyage, and for them.  Unfortunately, only a few 100 are left and the ocean is huge—the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh tells me that this year so far, 8 Right Whales have died due to accidental collisions or net entanglements.  Sadly, the future looks bleak for this magnificent animal.  (More on Right Whales at the end of this blog).

Great Shearwater ebird
Great Shearwater is one of the most common seabirds we have recorded. This bird nests only in a few islands in the South Atlantic Ocean and wanders widely. Photo by Derek Rogers, from ebird.org

I note that marine vertebrate biologists are good at extrapolating what little they can see.  Much of their subjects are underwater and out of sight.  So they have become good at identifying species based on bits and pieces they see above water.  All they need often is a mere fleeting glimpse.  Sharks are told by the size, shape, and distance between the fins that stick out, sea turtles by the shape and pattern on their carapace (top shell–see photos below); whales based on their silhouette and shape of back; and Molas based simply on the fact that they lazily wave one large fin in and out of the water as they drift by.  (I thought it was the pectoral fin they waved, but it’s actually the massive dorsal fin.  I’ve noted that the pectoral is rather small and kept folded close to the body). 

leatherback sea turtle A. Black
A fleeting glimpse is all that is needed to identify a Leatherback Sea Turtle, thanks to its diagnostic longitudinal ridges (Photo by Allison Black).
shark fins
We’ve had several shark sightings such as this. The size, shape, and the relative locations of the fins indicate that this could be a whale shark (Photo by Allison Black)

Scientists can identify individual humpbacks based solely on the indentations and color patterns on their tail flukes.  In effect, each individual animal’s tail fluke is its unique fingerprint. Since the tail fluke is often seen when the animal dives from the surface, scientists have a huge photographic database of humpback tail flukes (see photo below).  And they track individuals based on this.  My ecology students should know that scientists also estimate populations based on a modification of the capture-recapture method because each time an individual’s fluke is photographed, it is in effect, “tagged”.  We do a nice lab exercise of this method by using marked lima beans masquerading as whales in my ecology lab.

humpback tail flukes
Researchers use variation on humpback whale flukes to identify and track whales (from Wildwhales.org)
Finback whale
Finback Whales are easily identified by the fin on the back (From aboutanimals.com)


Career Corner

I spoke with Allison Black, one of our seabird observers on board.

Q. Tell us something about yourself

A. I really love seabirds.  I’m fortunate to have been able to do my Master’s work on them and observe them in their natural habitat.  I have an undergrad degree in zoo and wildlife biology from Malone University in Canton, Ohio. 

Q. You’re a graduate student now in which university?

A. Central Connecticut State University

Q. What’s your research project?

A. I conducted a diet study of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls on Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, Massachusetts.

Q. You have done these NOAA seabirds surveys before?

A. Yes, this is my third.

Q. What happens next, now that you are close to finishing your Masters?

A. I’m looking for full time employment, and would like to work for a non-profit doing conservation work. But until the right opportunity arises you can find me on a ship, looking for seabirds and marine mammals!

Q. What’s your advice to anyone interested in marine science?

A. I had a major career change after I did my undergrad.  I thought I’d always be a zoo keeper, which I did for about two years until I decided that birds are really my passion, and I needed to explore the career possibilities with them.  To focus on that avenue I decided to return to graduate school.  So I would encourage undergrads to really find what drives them, what they’re really passionate about.  I know it’s hard at the undergraduate level since there are so many fields and avenues under the Biology umbrella.  And it’s OK if you haven’t figured that out for a while.  I had a real change in direction from captive wildlife to ornithology, and I’m here at sea in a very different environment.  I’m so glad I did though because following my passion has opened up some exciting avenues.  I’m lucky to be getting paid to do what I really love right now.  So grab any opportunity that comes by. It’s never too late to evaluate your career path.

Allison Black
Allison Black entering our observations in SeaScribe


Personal Log

My feelings are bitter-sweet as this wonderful 16-day voyage nears its end.  My big thanks to NOAA, the ship’s wonderful command officers and staff, our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh, and my colleagues and student volunteers aboard for making the past 2 weeks immensely absorbing.  Above all, kudos to the ship’s designers, who have clearly gone out of their way to make life aboard as easy as possible.  In addition to the unexpected luxuries covered in my previous blogs, there is even a movie lounge on board with an impressive DVD collection of over 700 movies! Yesterday I saw our student volunteers play bean bag toss on the winch deck. Yes, you can throw darts too.  The ship’s command even organized a fun sea animals-bingo game one evening, with winners getting goodies from the ship store (see below).

movie lounge
The movie lounge on board
The ship’s store
The ship’s store


The engine rooms tour

As part of our grand finale, we were given a tour of the engine rooms (which are usually off bounds for non-crew members) by our genial First Engineer, Kyle Fredricks.

engine room
A glimpse of the intricate innards of the ship. To the right is the massive shaft that ties the two rudders together.
sensors and monitors
Sensors and monitors keep tabs on engine function 24/7
1st E Kyle Fredricks
First Engineer Kyle Fredricks explains the desalination system on board. It works by reverse osmosis. All explanations are done by gestures or written notes because of noise in the background. Note ear plugs on all of us!


Did You Know?

NOAA has strict policies to avoid collision with whales, especially the highly endangered Right Whale.

right whale ship strick reduciton rule
This poster is prominently displayed on board. Vessels have to comply with rules to avoid accidental strikes with Right Whales

Interesting Animals Seen Lately

South Polar Skua

Great Skua

Pomarine Jaeger

Black Tern

Manx Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Leach’s Storm-petrel

Northern Gannet

Brown Booby

Great Black-backed Gull

Humpback Whale

Pilot Whale

Ocean Sunfish

Ragupathy Kannan: Ocean Salinity to Ocean Sunfish, August 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 26, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41.27688
Longitude: -67.03071
Water temperature: 18.4°C
Wind Speed: 14.8 knots
Wind Direction: 41°
Air temperature: 18.6°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1021 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We entered Canadian waters up north in the Gulf of Maine, and sure enough, the waters are cooler, the sea choppier, and the wind gustier than before.  And the organisms are beginning to show a difference too.  Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh showed me a much longer arrow worm (Chaetognatha) from the plankton samples than we had encountered before (see photo below).  And there are more krill (small planktonic crustaceans) now. 

arrow worm
We got this beautiful arrow worm in our plankton sample as we entered colder waters

So far in my blogs, I have focused on sampling of biological organisms like plankton.  But recall that in an ecosystem monitoring survey like ours, we need to measure the abiotic (non-biological) aspects too because the word Ecosystem covers a community of organisms along with their biotic and abiotic environment. 

In today’s blog, I will highlight the ways various important abiotic components are measured.  You will learn about the interdisciplinary nature of science.  (Feel free to pass this blog on to physics, chemistry, and engineering majors you know—it may open up some career paths they may not have explored!).  I will come back to biotic factors in my next blog (seabirds and marine mammals!).

CTD

The CTD is a device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  We lower a heavy contraption called a Rosette (named due to its shape, see photo below) into the water. It has bottles called Niskin bottles that can be activated from a computer to open at specific depths and collect water samples.  Water samples are collected from various depths.  Electrical conductivity measurements give an idea of salinity in the water, and that in turn with water temperature determines water density.  The density of water has important implications for ocean circulation and therefore global climate.  In addition, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is also measured in labs later to give an idea of acidity across the depths.  The increased CO2 in the air in recent decades has in turn increased the ocean’s acidity to the point that many shelled organisms are not able to make healthy shells anymore.  (CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid).  Addressing the issue of increasing ocean acidity and the resulting mass extinction of shell-building organisms has become a pressing subject of study.  See the photos below of CTD being deployed and the real-time data on salinity and temperature transmitted by the CTD during my voyage.

lowering the CTD
I assist lowering the CTD Rosette into the water. The gray cylinders are Niskin bottles that can be activated to open at various depths.
CTD data
This display shows the real time data from each scan the CTD sends back to the computer. The y-axis is depth in meters, with sea surface at the top. The instrument was sent down to 500 meters deep. The green lines show fluorescence, an estimate of phytoplankton production. Note that the phytoplankton are at the photic (top) zone where more light penetrates. The blue line shows water temperature in degrees Celsius and the red line shows salinity. (Photo courtesy: Harvey Walsh)

EK-80

The ship is equipped with a highly sensitive sonar device called EK-80 that was designed to detect schools of fish in the water. (See photo of it attached to the hull of our ship, below).  It works by sending sound waves into the water.  They bounce off objects and return.  The device detects these echos and generates an image.  It also reflects off the sea bottom, thus giving the depth of the water.  See below an impressive image generated by our EK-80, provided kindly to me by our amicable Electronics Technician, Stephen.

EK-80 display
A remarkable screen shot of the EK-80 display of our ship passing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel as we headed out to sea from Norfolk, Virginia. To the left is a huge mound of dirt/rock, and just to the right of the mound, is a ravine and the tunnel (has a small peak and spikes). To the right (seaward side of the tunnel) you can see dredge material falling from the surface. We observed the sand and silt on the surface as we were passing through it. (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen).

The Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)

Scientists use this instrument to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water column. An ADCP is attached to the bottom of our ship (see photo below) to take constant current measurements as we move.  How does it work? The ADCP measures water currents with sound, using a principle of sound waves called the Doppler effect.  A sound wave has a higher frequency as it approaches you than when it moves away. You hear the Doppler effect in action when a car speeds past with a building of sound that fades when the car passes. The ADCP works by transmitting “pings” of sound at a constant frequency into the water. (The pings are inaudible to humans and marine mammals.) As the sound waves travel, they bounce off particles suspended in the moving water, and reflect back to the instrument. Due to the Doppler effect, sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a slightly lowered frequency when they return. Particles moving toward the instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency between the waves the profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the particle and the water around it are moving. (From whoi.edu)

The University of Hawaii monitors ocean currents data from ADCPs mounted in various NOAA ships to understand global current patterns and their changes. 

hull of NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
The hull (bottom surface) of the ship showing the EK-80 and ADCP systems, among other sensors. Photo taken at the ship yard. (Courtesy: Stephen G. Allen)

Hyperpro

Hyperpro is short for Hyperspectral profiler, a device that ground truths what satellites in outer space are detecting in terms of light reflectivity from the ocean.  What reflects from the water indicates what’s in the water.  Human eyes see blue waters when there isn’t much colloidal (particulate) suspensions, green when there is algae, and brown when there is dirt suspended in the water.  But a hyperpro detects a lot more light wavelengths than the human eye can.  It also compares data from satellites with what’s locally measured while actually in the water, and therefore helps scientists calibrate the satellite data for accuracy and reliability.  After all, satellites process light that has traversed through layers of atmosphere in addition to the ocean, whereas the hyperpro is actually there. 

deploying hyperpro
A Hyperpro being deployed

Career Corner

Three enterprising undergraduate volunteers.

Volunteers get free room and board in the ship in addition to invaluable, potentially career–making experience.

undergraduate volunteers
David Caron (far side), Jessica Lindsay, and Jonathan Maurer having some much-needed down time on the flying bridge

David Bianco-Caron is doing his B.A. in Marine Science from Boston University (BU).  His undergraduate research project at the Finnerty Lab in BU involves a comb-jelly (Ctenophore) native to the West Atlantic but which has become an introduced exotic in the East Atlantic.  David studies a cnidarian parasite of the comb-jelly in an attempt to outline factors that could limit the comb-jelly.  The project has implications in possible biological control. 

Jessica Lindsay finishes a B.S. in Marine Biology later this year and plans to get her Small Vessels operating license next year.  This is her 2nd year volunteering in a NOAA ship.  She received a NOAA Hollings Scholarship which provides up to $9500 for two years (https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship).  It entailed 10 weeks of summer research in a lab.  She studies how ocean acidification affects shelf clams. 

Jonathan Maurer is a University of Maine senior working on a B.S. in Climate Science.  He studies stable isotopes of oxygen in ocean waters to understand ocean circulation.  The project has implications on how oceanic upwelling has been affected by climate change.  He intends to go to graduate school to study glaciers and ocean atmosphere interactions. 

See my previous blog for information on how to become a volunteer aboard a NOAA research ship.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden.  Claire’s smiling face and friendly personality lights up the ship every day. 

XO Claire Surrey-Marsden
Our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden

Claire is a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps:

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is made up of 321 professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. Learn more: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps

Q. Thanks for your time, Claire. You’re the XO of this ship.  What exactly is your role?

A. The Executive Officer is basically the administrator on board.  We help with staffing, we manage all the crew, we have a million dollar budget for this ship every year that we have to manage.  Everything from food to charts to publications, all these get managed by one central budget. I’m kind of the paper work person on board.

Q. What’s your background?

A. I have a marine biology degree from Florida Tech. I’ve done marine mammal work most of my career. I joined NOAA in 2007, before that I was a biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife [FFW].

Q. I heard you have done necropsies of marine mammals?

A. I was a manatee biologist for FFW for 3 years, we also dealt with lots of whales and dolphins that washed up on shore. I’ve also done marine mammal work in my NOAA career.  Worked with Southwest Fisheries Science Center on Grey Whales and dolphins, and worked with Right Whale management with the maritime industry and the coast guard.

Q. About a 100 college students, maybe even more are following my blog now.  What’s your advice to them, for someone interested in marine biology/NOAA Corps, what should they be doing at this stage?

A. Great question. Volunteer! Find all the opportunities you can to volunteer, even if it’s unpaid.  Getting your face out there, letting people see how good a worker you are, how interested and willing you are, sometimes you will be there right when there is a job opening. Even if it seems like a menial task, just volunteer, get that experience. 

Q. NOAA accepts volunteers for ships every summer?

A. Yes, ecomonitoring and other programs takes students out for 2-3 weeks, but there are other opportunities like the local zoo.  Even stuff that isn’t related to what you’re doing. Getting that work experience is crucial.

Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job as an XO in a ship like this?

A. Living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean can be challenging for people working together harmoniously.  Just making sure everyone is happy and content and getting fulfillment for their job.

At the end of the interview, Claire handed me a stack of brochures describing the NOAA Corps and how you can become part of it. Please stop by my office (Math-Science 222) for a copy.

Personal Log

The seas have become decidedly choppier the past few days.  It’s a challenge to stay on your feet!  The decks lurch unexpectedly.  Things get tossed around if not properly anchored.  I have fallen just once (touchwood!) and was lucky to get away with just a scratch.  I’ve had to take photo backups of my precious field notes lest they get blown away.  They came close to that once already.

The ship has a mini library with a decent collection of novels and magazines plus a lounge (with the ubiquitous snacks!).  I found a copy of John Grisham’s The Whistler, and this has become my daily bed time reading book. 

The lounge and library on board
The lounge and library on board

Interesting animals seen lately

I started this blog with a photo of an exceptionally long arrow worm.  The cold waters have brought some other welcome creatures.  I created a virtual stampede yesterday in the flying bridge when I yelled Holy Mola!  Everyone made a mad dash to my side to look over the railings at a spectacular Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) floating by.  The name Mola comes from the Latin word meaning millstone, owing to its resemblance to a large flat and round rock.  I have been looking for this animal for days!  Measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing between 250 and 1000 kg, this is the heaviest bony fish in the world.  The fish we saw was calmly floating flat on the surface, lazily waving a massive fin at us as though saying good bye.  It was obviously basking.  Since it is often infested with parasites like worms, basking helps it attract birds that prey on the worms.

mola mola
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola. We saw this behemoth lying on its side basking, waving its massive dorsal fin as though greeting us. They allow birds and other fish to pick their ectoparasites as they float (from baliscuba.com)

Another animal that almost always creates a stir is the dolphin.  Schools of dolphins (of up to 3 species) never cease to amuse us.  They show up unexpectedly and swim at top speed, arcing in and out of the water, often riding our bow.  Sometimes, flocks of shearwaters circling around a spot alert us to potential dolphin congregations.  Dolphins drive fish to the surface that are then preyed upon by these birds.  My colleague Allison Black captured this wonderful photo of Common Dolphins frolicking by our ship in perfect golden evening light.

common dolphins
Common Dolphins swimming by our ship (Photo by Allison Black)

Did You Know?

Molas (Ocean Sunfish) are among the most prolific vertebrates on earth, with females producing up to 300,000,000 eggs at a time (oceansunfish.org).

Parting shot

NOAA does multiple concurrent missions, some focused on fisheries, some on oceanography, and some hydrography.  It has a ship tracker that tracks all its ships around the world.  Our ET Stephen Allen kindly shared this image of our ship’s location (marked as GU) plus the locations of two other NOAA ships. 

location on shiptracker
Our exact location (GU) on 25 August 2019, captured by NOAA’s ship tracker (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen)

Ragupathy Kannan: Starting with Plankton, August 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 38.2494289
Longitude: -75.0853552
Water temperature: 26.3°C
Wind Speed: 4.92 knots
Wind Direction: 122 degrees
Air temperature: 27.1°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1015 millibars
Sky: Partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

In my previous blog posting, I explained the importance of plankton as base of the ecological pyramid upon which much of marine life in this ecosystem depends.  The past few days, I have witnessed and experienced in-person how scientists aboard this sophisticated research vessel collect and analyze sea water samples for plankton. 

Yesterday I spent some time with Kyle Turner, a guest researcher from the University of Rhode Island doing his M.S. in Oceanography.  He operates a highly sophisticated device called the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB).  I was fascinated to learn how it works.  It is basically a microscope and camera hooked up to the ship’s water intake system.  As the waters pass through the system, laser beams capture images of tiny particles, mostly phytoplankton (tiny photosynthetic drifters).  As particles do, they scatter the light or even fluoresce (meaning, they emit their own light).  Based on this, the computer “zooms in” on the plankton automatically and activates the camera into taking photographs of each of them!  I was amazed at the precision and quality of the images, taken continuously as it pipes in the water from below.  Kyle says this helps them monitor quality and quantity of plankton on a continual basis. 

Kyle Turner and IFCB
Kyle Turner with the Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB)
Kannan and IFCB
Here I am examining a filamentous (hair-like) phytoplankton in the IFCB monitor.
IFCB computer screen
The various kinds of phytoplankton are neatly displayed on the IFCB’s computer screen. See my previous blog for a photo of the dazzling and colorful array of plankton out there! Plankton may lack the popularity of the more charismatic sea animals like whales, but much of life in the ocean hinges on their welfare.


Career Corner

Hello, students (especially bio majors).  In this corner of my blogs, I will interview some key research personnel on the ship to highlight careers.  Please learn and be inspired from these folks.

Here is my interview with Kyle Turner.

Q. Tell us something about your graduate program.

A. My research focuses on phytoplankton using bio-optical methods. Basically, how changes in light can tell us about phytoplankton in the water.

Q. How does this IFCB device help you?

A. It gives me real time information on the different types of phytoplankton in the location where we are.  We can monitor changes in their composition, like the dominant species, etc.

Q. Why are phytoplankton so important?

A. They are like trees on land. They produce about half the oxygen in the atmosphere, so they’re super important to all life on earth. They are also the base of the marine food web.  The larger zooplankton eat them, and they in turn are eaten by fish, and so on all the way to the big whales.  They all rely on each other in this big ocean ecosystem.

Q. How are phytoplankton changing?

A. The oceans are warming, so we’re observing shifts in their composition.

Q. What brought you into marine science?

A. I grew up on the coast.  I’ve always liked the ocean. I love science.  So I combined my passions.

Q. What is your advice to my students exploring a career in marine science?

A. Looking for outside research opportunities is important.  There are so many opportunities from organizations like NASA, NSF, and NOAA.  I did two summer research internships as an undergrad.  First was with NASA when I was a junior.  I applied through their website.  That was a big stepping stone for me. A couple of years later, I did another summer project with a researcher who is now my advisor in graduate school.  That’s how I met her.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I’d love to get into satellite oceanography to observe plankton and work for NASA or NOAA.


Personal Log

I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable this ship is.  I was expecting something more Spartan.  I have my own spacious room with ample work and storage space, a comfortable bed, TV (which I don’t have time for!), and even a small fridge and my own sink. Being gently rocked to sleep by the ship is an added perk! 

My own cozy stateroom
My own cozy stateroom
Sunrise view
A room with a view—sunrise from my window

The food is awesome.  We have two expert cooks on board, Margaret and Bronley. 

lunch
My first lunch on board
mess
The ship’s mess is a nice place to eat and interact with people. There’s always food available 24/7, even outside of meal hours.


Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter played a big role in recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Barograph
This photo is displayed in the galley. Note the sharp decline in atmospheric pressure as Katrina thundered through.


Some interesting animals seen so far

  • Flying fish (they get spooked by the ship, take off and fly several yards low across the water!)
  • Cow-nosed Rays (see photo and caption below)
  • Leather-backed Sea-turtle (I’m used to seeing them on the beach in Trinidad—see my previous blog.  It was a treat to see one swimming close by.  I was even able to see the pink translucent spot on the head).
  • Bottle-nosed Dolphins
  • Seabirds (lots of them…. four lifers already—more on this later!)
school of cow-nose rays
We saw large schools of Cow-nosed Rays closer to the coast. These animals feed on bivalve mollusks like clams and oysters with their robust jaws adapted for such hard food. They are classified as Near Threatened due to their reliance on oyster beds which are themselves threatened by pollution and over exploitation.

Ragupathy Kannan: From Arkansas to the Atlantic, August 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 14 – 30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 1, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

I’ll update this when I get on board.


Greetings from land-locked Arkansas!

I am thrilled at the chance to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. In the latter half of August, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter assisting scientists on a Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Ecosystem.  I am particularly excited about surveying for marine mammals and sea turtles, although a lot of our work will involve monitoring spatial distribution of plankton.  I cannot wait to learn novel techniques and measurements that I can later incorporate into my classes at the University of Arkansas—Fort Smith. 

While aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter I will blog about my experiences.  My students will follow my blogs and hopefully learn a lot from them.  I hope to make my blog postings fun and informative at the same time.  I will cater to a broad audience, from biology majors and non-majors (college students), to even some school children who are keen on following me and exploring potential science careers.  So don’t be offended if I define basic terms or explain concepts you may have learned decades ago!    

Science and Technology log

I will be embarking on an Ecosystem Monitoring mission.  As my ecology students should know, the term ecosystem refers to a community of organisms along with their physical (or abiotic) environment.  And a community is a group of organisms living and interacting in an area.  To monitor the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf ecosystem, we will take extensive data on various components, both biotic (biological) and abiotic (physical).  Such measurements are important because they alert us of possible changes in our environment and what that could mean to our well being and that of other life forms.  In effect, we keep a finger on the pulse of our planet.

What is continental shelf?  It’s the relatively shallow (generally up to about 100m or 330 feet depth) area of seabed around land.  Much of this was exposed during glacial periods when water was locked up as ice. This zone teems with life because of its shallow nature, which allows light to penetrate and photosynthesis to occur.  It is therefore vital for the fisheries industry in which many coastal human communities depend on for livelihood.

The Project Instructions document we were all sent (by the Chief Scientist, Dr. Harvey Walsh) indicates that the principal objective of the survey is to assess the “hydrographic, planktonic, and pelagic components” of the ecosystem.  Hydrography (Ancient Greek–hydor, “water” and graphō, “to write”) is a branch of the applied sciences that deals with measurements and descriptions of the physical features of water, like ocean currents and temperature.  Plankton (Greek—errant or wanderer) are organisms, both plants and animals, in the water that drift in the currents (most of them are microscopic).  Pelagic (Greek—of the sea) means oceanic, or belonging to the open seas.

I will be part of an elite multi-disciplinary team, meaning, we will have experts from various disciplines of science. We will be measuring the distribution of water currents and water properties, plankton, sea turtles, sea birds, and marine mammals.  Much of my career I have focused on ecology and behavior of vertebrates, especially birds.  The chance to learn hands-on and in-depth on aspects like water chemistry and plankton biology challenges and excites me.  It gets me out of my comfort zone and has the potential to make me a better-rounded biologist.  After all, I regularly teach the impacts of global warming and ocean acidification on coral reef organisms.  Can there be a better way to hone my teaching skills than actually do these studies hands-on, in the company of world’s leading experts, in a state-of-the-art research ship?

Since much of the survey focuses on measuring plankton distribution and abundance, it begs the question: 

Why are plankton important?

plankton
The wonderfully diverse, beautiful plankton. From planktonchronicles.org

Well, consider this.  Phytoplankton, the plant-like photosynthetic drifters, produce half of all oxygen on earth.  That’s about the same as ALL oxygen produced by land plants!  So that alone should convince you why they are vital. 

But there is more.  Their productivity (meaning, photosynthetic activity that converts sun’s energy into fuel) forms the energetic foundation of the food pyramid, and most of life in sea depends on it. 

So, you take away plankton, and much of oceanic life will collapse.  No fish, no whales, no sea turtles, no sea birds.  Ultimately it will affect all life on earth, including humans. 

The disturbing news is, plankton are in trouble.  Phytoplankton have declined 40% since the 1950s.  Since the beginning of the industrial age, they have dwindled about 1% a year.  There seems a connection between warming waters and this decline.  In the North Atlantic, the melting of Greenland ice has changed the physics and chemistry of ocean waters.  This has resulted in a decline in ocean circulation and its upwelling of nutrients that the phytoplankton depend on. 

So as you read this and take breaths of air, contemplate this: that oxygen you just took in probably came from phytoplankton.  That’s why we need to start with measuring them to monitor our planet’s health.  Our future depends on their well-being!

So I will be blogging quite a bit on these minuscule creatures—what kinds there are out there, how they appear, how to measure their abundance, and so on.  Stay tuned.

Personal Log

For nearly 40 years, I have been mainly a terrestrial ecologist.  I love taking people outdoors and making them into naturalists and field biologists.  My forays into the oceanic realm have been limited.  I once went on a sea birding cruise, which I described in this article.

birding in Trinidad
Here I am leading a birding outing in Trinidad

Earlier, in my college days, I did a number of “turtle walks” – 10 km walks along the beach in my hometown of Chennai, India, to collect Olive Ridley Seaturtle eggs and relocating them to a protected hatchery.  Since 2009, I have taught a tropical biology course in Trinidad, West Indies, where I take the class to a remote beach to observe massive Leatherback Seaturtles nest. A letter of mine on this appeared in the September 2009 issue of National Geographic (below).

National Geographic Note
National Geographic Note by Ragupathy Kannan

Kannan and sea turtle
Here I am with my tropical biology class and a nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle in Trinidad–note the translucent spot on top of head, believed to let light in and help them navigate

So, my exposure to the other 70% of the earth’s surface, the ocean, has been rather limited.  I hope that this NOAA program helps in my quest to fill that void.

My home for two weeks – NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. From http://www.omao.gov.

This is an ultramodern oceanographic research vessel whose main mission is to study marine mammals and other living resources.   “Bigeye” 25 x 150 binoculars are used by scientists to scan for marine mammals.  This includes a scale to enable distance measurement. A hydrophone array is towed to hear and record marine mammal sounds 24 hours a day. 

She was once USNS Relentless, designed to assist the US Navy in collecting underwater acoustical data in support of Cold War anti-submarine warfare operations. After the end of the Cold War, she was transferred to NOAA. In 2010, NOAA used this ship to define the subsurface plume near the BP Deepwater Horizon site. 

I am honored to be assigned to this vessel. I hope you will join me and enjoy and learn from my adventure out in the seas in this amazing ship.

Martha Loizeaux: Cool Science Tools and Drifter Buoy! August 26, 2018


Martha Loizeaux: Plankton Palooza, August 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22-31, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 22, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude: 991 N
  • Longitude: 590 W
  • Water Temperature: 22.3◦C
  • Wind Speed: 1 knots
  • Wind Direction: WSW
  • Air Temperature: 23.3◦C
  • Atmospheric Pressure: 66 millibars
  • Sky: Mostly Cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

Haven’t you always dreamed of having your own Imaging Flow Cyto Bot (IFCB)?  What an interesting scientific instrument that I am lucky enough to be taking care of while on this cruise!  Before we even left the dock, Jessica Lindsey (volunteer from the Maine Maritime Academy) and I were trained by Emily Peacock, research associate at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on how to run this amazing piece of equipment!

The IFCB is a computer, microscope, camera, and water flow controller all in one.  Emily describes it as “plumbing combined with electronics”.  It uses a water intake system from the ship to run a constant flow of water into extremely tiny hoses. As the water flows through these hoses, a laser beam of light shoots at every tiny particle that is in the water.  The tiny particles in the water, mainly phytoplankton (microscopic drifting plants), react to the sudden burst of light.  The phytoplankton scatters the light and also can react by fluorescing (reacting to one wavelength of light by giving off a different wavelength).  The computer detects this scattering and fluorescing to determine where the phytoplankton is in the water flow.  The microscope focuses in on each phytoplankton cell and the camera takes a picture!  Scientists simply get the IFCB going and at the end of the day they have hundreds of pictures of plankton!  Isn’t that incredible?!

Martha IFCB
Here I am learning how to use the IFCB! It is SO COOL!

One thing I’ve learned about this particular cruise is that it’s all about plankton!  We are collecting samples and data for scientists at the University of Rhode Island, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and NOAA’s own Narragansett Lab, just to name a few.  What are all of these scientists studying?  Plankton!  Why?  Plankton is the microscopic lifeblood of the ocean.  The word plankton comes from a Greek word, oikos, meaning “drifter.”  Plankton refers to all the living things of the ocean that are drifting with the currents.  They are present throughout the water column and consist of two types:  phytoplankton and zooplankton.  Can you guess the difference?  Phytoplankton is like a plant.  It has chlorophyll and does photosynthesis.  Zooplankton is an animal.  There are many zooplankton species that hunt, hide, and do other things that larger animals do.  Most plankton is microscopic or close to it.  Phytoplankton does at least half of all the photosynthesis in the WORLD.  So you can think that every other breath you take contains oxygen created by phytoplankton.

Both types of plankton are the base of the marine food chain. If major changes happen in the community of plankton in the sea, these changes will impact the entire food chain all the way up to the apex predators (top predators).  So, as you can see, plankton is SUPER important.  If plankton populations are healthy, it indicates that much of the rest of the ecosystem is healthy too.

Some scientists use equipment, like the IFCB, to study samples of phytoplankton.

plankton on screen
Associate Researcher Emily showing us the program that allows you to see pictures of the phytoplankton sampled.

We also are collecting zooplankton in nets (called “bongo” nets) and preserving samples for scientists to analyze in the lab.  More on that to come soon!

My students have been learning that scientists always start an experiment with a question.

Scientists on this mission are not exactly leading an experiment, but they are responsible for monitoring.  The monitoring of an ecosystem tells us WHAT is happening there.  Scientists from all over the world can then use the monitoring data that we find to research and experiment WHY things are happening the way they are.  This is where the scientific method will come in and an experiment will start with a question.

For example, through the plankton samples that we take on this monitoring mission, scientists may notice a change in the amount of larval hake (tiny baby hake fish).  They can then ask the question, “Why are larval hake populations decreasing?” which may lead them to a hypothesis such as, “larval hake populations are decreasing due to climate change”.  They can test this hypothesis by comparing the plankton data to other types of data (such as pH and water temperature) in the same areas over time.  Thus, an experiment!

So our job now is to collect the important data that can help scientists understand what’s happening and think of ways to investigate “why” and “how”.

Bottom line, I really love plankton.  And you should too.  That breath you just took?  Thank plankton.

screen shot of plankton
Pictures of glorious plankton!

 

Scientist Spotlight – John Loch – Seabird Observer

Enough about plankton!  During all of this plankton excitement, I have also spent some time on the fly bridge (the top level of the deck of the ship), asking questions to our two seabird observers, John and Chris.  Their job is to stand watch all day, looking for and identifying seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and any notable (large) animals.  Here’s a little interview with John Loch, Seabird Observer:

 

Seabird observer
John observing seabirds from the fly bridge

Me – Why is your job so important?

John – My job is to monitor seabird populations to help detect changes in numbers or distribution of species.  We estimate a 300 square meter area around the ship and record all birds seen within that area.  We enter our data into a computer, noting species, life stage, number seen, and direction of flight.  Over time, we may notice trends in numbers and distribution which is important to understand this ecosystem.

 

Me – What do you enjoy most about your job?

John – I enjoy seeing anything new or rare.

 

Me – How could scientists use your monitoring data to lead an investigation (using the scientific method)?

John – Our data has shown, for example, that some populations of birds, such as the gannet, have steadily declined over the last 20 years.  Researchers can ask “Why are gannet populations declining?” and can use oceanographic data in combination with bird observation data to come up with a hypothesis to test.

 

 

Personal Log

I was excited to get underway this afternoon!  Although many of us slept on the ship last night, we have been on the dock until 2:30 this afternoon, when we finally watched the crew release the lines and the ship cruise through the harbor and out to sea!

bow in harbor
A view of the bow as we head out to sea!!

We began our day with a scientist meeting where Harvey Walsh, our Chief Scientist, explained our route and the “stations” where we would be slowing down or stopping the ship to take our data.  He explained our 3am-3pm/3pm-3am shifts that we alternate so that whenever a station is reached, day or night, data can be collected.  I’m lucky to intersect these shifts and work “on watch” from 8am-8pm!  This means that I will support and assist scientist in their data collection during this time, and generally be present and available.

Scientist showing route
Chief Scientist Harvey explaining our route on the Northeast Shelf.

We also heard from Libby, our Operations Officer, who explained our state rooms, bathrooms, shared spaces, and general “do’s and don’ts” of the ship.

Safety briefing
Libby, our Field Operations Officer, explaining the safety procedures of Gordon Gunter

I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by our living quarters aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  I have my own state room with a shared bathroom, small closet, sink, and even a desk.  It is quite spacious!  I’m also excited about the food options on board, but more about that later!

view from room window
The view from my state room…not bad!

Tonight is our first night out at sea!  Luckily, I’m not feeling seasick, but rocking and rolling as I type this does feel pretty strange!  Everyone says we’ll get used to it and it will feel normal in no time.

I am so excited for our first morning and sunrise out at sea!  Stay tuned!

 

Did You Know?

Phytoplankton come in all different colors, just like the flowers in your garden.  Since they are so tiny, we don’t see the colors unless there is a lot of plankton all together.  They also contain more than one color in their cells, similar to leaves that change from green to brown, red, or orange.

noaa phytoplankton
Colorful phytoplankton, photo courtesy of NOAA

Question of the Day

Do you think the amount and type of plankton in an area can affect how many sharks live there?  Why?

NOAA shark
Do sharks rely on plankton? Photo courtesy of NOAA

 

 

 

 

Susan Dee: From the Bottom of the Food Chain to the Top, June 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Dee

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 

May 23 – June 7, 2018

Mission:  Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeastern Coast of U.S.

Date:  June 3, 2018

Weather From Bridge

Latitude: 43°47.1′
Longitude: 068°40.41′
Sea Wave Height: 4-6 ft
Wind Speed:  20 knots
Wind Direction:  NE
Visibility:  10
Air Temperature:  10°C
Sky:  few clouds

 

Science and Technology Log

Birds on water
Sea Birds

As the Henry B. Bigelow traverses the Gulf of Maine sampling the microorganisms at stations, another pair of scientists are observing bird and marine mammal populations. Much of my time between sampling stations, I head up to the flying bridge and join  Nicholas Metheny and John Loch, Seabird Observers, on the lookout for the seabird and marine mammals. The seabirds most commonly observed in the Gulf of Maine are the Wilson Storm Petrel and the Sooty Shearwater.  These two species account for 60% of the birds seen.  These pelagic seabirds live offshore and only return to land to breed, often on remote islands.

birders on deck
Seabird Observers on Observation Deck

 

South Polar Skua
South Polar Skua (photo by Nicolas Methany)

All the samplings taken with bongo nets are samplings of the producers and primary consumers, the small organisms in the food chain.  On the observation deck, the fish and marine mammals that rely on a healthy bottom food chain are observed.  Spotting  marine mammals adds much to the excitement of the day. The bridge will announce a sighting and if possible, one gets to the flying bridge to see the wildlife.   One of the first sightings was of humpback whales in the distance, followed by sperm whale and pilot whale sightings.

Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

Short Beaked Common Dolphin
Short beaked Common Dolphins (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

The most fascinating sightings were of Mola Mola- Ocean Sunfish.  They were spotted often and very close to the ship.

Mola Mola  - Ocean Sunfish
Mola Mola – Ocean Sunfish (Photo by Nicolas Methany)

 

Blue Shark
Blue Shark (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

Personal Log

The science crew is kept busy sampling at each station.  There is some down time steaming from station to station at 12 knots but it is enjoyable. I spend the down time talking to crew and scientists.  Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso has been an awesome mentor and photographer! I am learning so much and am so excited to bring it back into my classroom next year. The seas have been relatively calm but the forecast for the end of the cruise is not favorable for sampling due to high winds. If winds are over 30 knots, the crew has difficulty deploying the nets so sampling is suspended.  The science crew has taken samples from 114 stations.  These samples will be sent off to be analyzed at different labs.

Filled jar samples
Samples collected, boxed and ready to be shipped to analyze

work deck
Science Lab Work Deck

Deck Crew
Andrew and AJ helping deploy instruments

The deck crew and scientist party have been a pleasure to work with. I have learned so much from each of them

Science Party
Science Party Day Crew: Jerry P, Mark, and Chris T

Route map shows path of cruise
Final Day of Cruise Route map shows path of cruise

The cruise was cut short by two days due to high winds.  The last sampling station was in Cape Cod Bay. Tomorrow the ship will  head back to port through the Cape Cod Canal, ending a fantastic cruise.  I am so excited to see the data from  all these samples.  Thanks Teacher at Sea program for a great adventure!

Teacher at Sea Susan Dee
Teacher at Sea Susan Dee

Sue Cullumber: Can’t Wait to Head Out As a NOAA Teacher at Sea! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
(Soon to be) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5– 24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 5/21/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

hikein
My students on a field-trip to the desert.

endofday
Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Personal Log:

Hi my name is Sue Cullumber and I am a science teacher at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our school provides 1:1 instruction to students with special needs in grades 5-12 and I have been teaching there for over 22 years!  In less than two weeks I will be heading out to the Atlantic coast as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to work with the scientists aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for the following reasons:

First, I feel that directly experiencing “Science” is the best way for students to learn and make them excited about learning. To be able to work directly with NOAA scientists and bring this experience back to my classroom gives my students such an amazing opportunity to actually see how science is used in the “real world”.

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR
Visit to Española Island – photo by Pete Oxford

IMG_5384
Students holding “Piggy” and our other baby Sulcata tortoises.

Secondly, I love to learn myself, experience new things and bring these experiences back to my students. Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to participate in several teacher fellowships.  I went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program and worked with teachers from the Galapagos and U.S. on global environmental education. From this experience we built an outdoor habitat at Howard Gray that now houses four tortoises.  Students have learned about their own fragile desert environment, animal behavior and scientific observations through access to our habitat and had the opportunity to share this with a school in the Galapagos. I worked with Earthwatch scientists on climate change in Nova Scotia and my students Skyped directly with the scientists to learn about the field research as it was happening. Last summer I went to Japan for the Japan-US Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development. My students participated in a peace project by folding 1000 origami cranes that we sent to Hiroshima High School to be placed in the Hiroshima Peace Park by their students. We also  held a Peace and Friendship Festival for the community at Howard Gray.

cranesgroup-copy
Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.

IMG_6468
Japanese teachers learn about our King Snake, Elvis, from the students.

This year we had a group of Japanese teachers visit our school from this program and students taught them about many of the sustainable activities that we are working on at school.  Each has brought new ideas and amazing activities for my students to experience in the classroom and about the world.

edgeofcanyon
Dusk at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lastly, Arizona is a very special place with a wide variety of geographical environments from the Sonoran Desert (home of the Saguaro) to a Ponderosa Pine Forest in Flagstaff and of course the Grand Canyon!  However, we do not have an ocean and many of my students have never been to an ocean, so I can’t wait to share this amazing, vast and extremely important part of our planet with them.

So now I have the chance of a lifetime to sail aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter on an Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. We will be heading out from Newport, RI on June 5th and head up the east coast to the Gulf of Maine and then head back down to Norfolk, Virginia. Scientists have been visiting this same region since 1977 from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC to the an area up north in the Bay of Fundy (Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).  They complete six surveys a year  to see if the distributions and abundance of organisms have changed over time. I feel very honored to be part of this research in 2013!

Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

One of the activities I will be part of is launching a drifter buoy. So students are busy decorating stickers that I will be able to put on the buoy when I head out to sea.  We will be able to track ocean currents, temperature and GPS location at Howard Gray over the next year from this buoy.  Students will be studying the water currents and weather patterns and I plan to hold a contest at school to see who can determine where the buoy will be the following month from this information. While out at sea my students will be tracking the location of the Gordon Gunter through theNOAA Ship Tracker and placing my current location on a map that one of my students completed for my trip.

IMG_9292
Spending time with my husband, Mike, and son, Kyle.

Outside of school, I love to spend most of my free time outdoors – usually hiking or exploring our beautiful state and always with my camera!  Photography is what I often call “my full-time hobby”.  Most of my photos are of our desert environment, so I look forward to all amazing things I will see in the ocean and be able to share with my husband and son, students and friends!  One of my passions is to use my photography to provide an understanding about the natural world, so I am really looking forward to sharing this fantastic adventure with everyone through my blog and photos!

wellearnedrest3
Enjoying the view during one of my hikes in the Sonoran Desert.

Rebecca Bell, August 23, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 23, 2008

Alison, Shrinky Cup Project Director, with the cups before being sent beneath the water.
Alison, Shrinky Cup Project Director, with the cups before being sent under.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1919(GMT)
Latitude: 4219.5N Longitude: 6812.5 W
Air Temp 0C: 20.7
Sea Water Temp 0C: 19.6

Science and Technology Log 

The Shrinky Cup Caper 

A trip to sea is not complete without the classic experiment on ocean depth and pressure— Styrofoam cup shrinking. Styrofoam cups are decorated with markers, and then lowered in a bag attached to the cable during a vertical cast. In our experiments, pressure is measured in decibars (dbar). This means that 1 dbar equals about 1 meter of depth. So 100 dbars = 100 meters; 1000 dbars =1000 meters. For every 10m (33ft) of water depth, the pressure increases by about 15 pounds per square inch (psi). At depth, pressure from the overlying ocean water becomes very high, but water is only slightly compressible. At a depth of 4,000 meters, water decreases in volume only by 1.8 percent. Although the high pressure at depth has only a slight effect on the water, it has a much greater effect on easily compressible materials such as Styrofoam.

Attaching the bag of cups to cable Over they go!
Attaching the cups

Styrofoam has air in it. As the cups go down, pressure forces out the air. See the results of the experiment for yourself. The depth of the cast was 200 meters or about 600 feet. (You can now calculate the total lbs of pressure on the cups). Addendum: Alison discovered that putting one of the shrunken cups down a second time resulted in an even smaller cup. The cups were sent to 200 meters again. Below right is a photo of the result of reshrinking the cup. Apparently, time has something to do with the final size as well. Resources: NOAA Ocean Explorer Web site – Explorations; Submarine Ring of Fire. AMNH Explore the Deep Oceans Lessons.

Over they go!
Over they go!

Personal Log 

There is a noticeable difference in the amount of plankton we pull in at different depths and temperatures. I can fairly well predict what we will net based on the depth and temperature at a sample site. I’ve also noticed that the presence of sea birds means to start looking for whales and dolphins. I assume that where there is a lot of plankton (food) there are more fish and other lunch menu items for birds and dolphins. A high population of plankton means we are more likely to see more kinds of larger animals.

Animals Seen Today 

  • Salps
  • Krill
  • Amphipods
  • Copepods
  • Ctenophores
  • Chaetognaths (arrow worms)
  • Fish larvae
  • Atlantic White-sided Dolphins
  • Terns
  • Minke whales
  • Pilot whales
  • Mola mola (4)

The results of what happened to the cups at a depth of 200 meters. The white cups are the original size.
The results of what happened to the cups at a depth of 200 meters. The white cups are the original size.

Left, a cup shrunk 2 times; center 1 time; and right, the original size
Left, a cup shrunk 2 times; center 1 time; and right,
the original size

Rebecca Bell, August 22, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 22, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 4224.2 N Longitude: 6659.1 W
Sea Surface Temperature: 21.2 C
Depth: 202m

Becky proudly displays her drifter buoy before its deployment!
Becky proudly displays her drifter buoy before its deployment!

Science and Technology Log 

It’s a buoy! Today has been busy—a vertical cast, baby bongos and the big bongos. But let me tell you about the other things. First of all, Alison and I deployed my very own buoy. NOAA has an Adopt-A-Drifter (buoy) program. Jerry Prezioso, our Chief Scientist, thoughtfully signed me up for it before we sailed. We deployed it today at George’s Bank, the deepest station we will reach.

The deployment consisted of picking up the basketball-sized buoy and throwing it over the side. There is a transmitter in the black float which will allow us to track the buoy’s motion for years. NOAA uses these buoys to assemble weather reports, monitor climate changes, etc. The buoy consists of the round ball with the transmitter and a “drogue” a long “tube” of cloth that fills with water. The purpose of the tube is to make sure it is the ocean current that moves the buoy, not wind.

With a little help, Becky gets ready to throw her drifter into the ocean
With a little help, Becky gets ready to throw her drifter into the ocean

There is a diagram on the Adopt-A-Drifter site. The ball and drogue (sounds like an English pub) are attached to a metal ring which anchors the drogue and the ball. Here I am with the MSDE-decorated buoy. You can barely see the metal ring. The drogue is the green thing, folded up. You throw the whole thing overboard. The paper and tape dissolve and the drogue unfurls. It has to be kept tied up so you don’t go overboard with the drifter.  NOAA’s Office of Climate Observation sponsors the “Adopt-A- Drifter” program.  According to the Web site: “The “Adopt-A- Drifter” program (allows you to access) information about drifting buoys (drifters) that move with the ocean currents around the globe. The drifter floats in the ocean water and is powered by batteries located in the dome. The drifter data that are collected, including location with a GPS, are sent to a satellite and then to a land station where everyone can access the data.

And off it goes on its long journey
And off it goes on its long journey

Drifters are continually being deployed from ships around the world. They last for a number of years unless they collide with something like an island in the middle of the ocean or a continent. Each drifter receives aWMO ID # (World Meteorological Organization Identification Number) so the data can be archived. The purpose of the drifters is to gather the information necessary for countries to: 1) forecast and assess climate variability and change, and 2) effectively plan for and manage response to climate change.”

This map indicates where the drifty buoy was deployed: where the Labrador Current, the Gulf Stream, and the North Atlantic current converge
This map indicates where the drifty buoy was deployed: where the Labrador Current, the Gulf Stream, and the North Atlantic current converge

We will release it in George’s Basin at 4224.2 N latitude; 6659.1 W longitude. This is an interesting area because of the way currents converge near this site.  Above is a map of the area.  Below it is a diagram showing the major currents.

A map showing the area where the drifter buoy was deployed from the Delaware II
A map showing the area where the drifter buoy was deployed from the Delaware II

As you can see, the buoy was deployed where the Labrador Current, the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current encounter each other. There is a chance that the buoy will travel into the Gulf Stream or through the Northeast Channel into the North Atlantic Current. It might also just stay within the basin, caught in the large gyre within the Basin. You can get on-line and track the buoy to see what happens to it.

More from the Web site:

“The Adopt-A- Drifter program provides an opportunity for teachers to infuse ocean observing system data into their curriculum. An educational sticker from each school is adhered to the drifter before deployment and teachers and their students access sea surface temperature and/or sea surface pressure data from the drifter online. Students plot the coordinates of the drifter on a tracking chart as it moves freely across the ocean and make connections between the data accessed on line and other maps showing ocean currents and winds. Drifter data are used to track major ocean currents and eddies globally, ground truth data from satellites, build models of climate and weather patterns and predict the movement of pollutants if dumped or accidentally spilled into the sea. It is important for teachers and students to understand how the data are measured, how often data are downloaded, and what data are available for schools and the general public to access.”

Source: Modified from Follow the world’s ocean currents with NOAA’s Adopt a Drifter Program 

Stanitski, D.M.; Hammond, J. OCEANS, 2005. Proceedings of MTS/IEEE

Personal Log 

As we move further north, our nets started pulling in krill. I hoped that whales were not far behind. I was not disappointed. Yesterday we encountered dolphins on three separate occasions. One group came very near the ship and I have some good video of them “porpoising” through the waves. We also spotted a whale spout, but I could not see the whale. Later in the day, during our safety drill, I was looking out to sea just as a pilot whale leaped straight into the air. We were able to see that there were a number of these whales feeding in that area. Towards afternoon, we saw a group of Minke whales. In late afternoon, another spout was spotted and we saw a huge tail disappear under the water- probably a humpback whale.

For More Information 

NOAA’s Adopt-A- Drifter Program

NOAA Lesson plans: Ocean Currents

Climate Observation System

Ocean Explorer related lesson: Islands in the Stream- How geologic feature(s) in the structure of the ocean floor may cause an eddy to form in the current above it

NOAA National Environmental, Satellite, Data and Information Service Lesson on the dynamics of the ocean using satellite data; Investigating the Gulf Stream 

NASA Lesson: Global Winds

Climate and Weather Animations Educypedia

NOAA Office of Climate Observation

NOAA Buoy and Drifter Oceanography 

Rebecca Bell, August 19, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 19, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 4000.7 N Longitude: 6931.5
Sea Surface Temperature: 21.2 C
Depth: 114m

The Delaware’slatest cruise track has taken it from Woods Hole, MA, south past the Outerbanks of North Carolina, and then north again toward Georges Bank
The Delaware’s latest cruise track has taken it from Woods Hole, MA, south past the Outerbanks of North Carolina, and then north again toward Georges Bank

Science and Technology Log 

We are heading east out to sea, right now at 4005 N latitude, 6942 W longitude. (Pull out those atlases). We will begin a turn north towards Georges Bank. Georges Bank is a large elevated area of the sea floor which separates the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean and is situated between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Georges Bank is (was) one of the most productive North Atlantic fisheries (Grand Banks being the most productive). “Legend has it that the first European sailors found cod so abundant that they could be scooped out of the water in baskets. Until the last decades of this century these banks were one of the world’s richest fishing grounds… (Source: AMNH web site below).

This map shows the location of Georges Bank and the underwater topography.
This map shows the location of Georges Bank and the underwater topography.

Northeastern fishery landings are valued at approximately $800 million dockside, of which a large proportion is produced on Georges Bank. Recently, scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have undertaken an effort to document direct interactions between physical environmental factors and the abundance and distribution of fishery species. (Source: USGS below). This means that the water chemistry, temperature and other factors affect how many fish there are, how many kinds of fish there are, and where they are. The article from USGS explains that the sea floor sediments that form Georges Bank came from the time when glaciers scoured the area. Since that time, sea level has risen, covering the glacial sediments, and tides and currents are eroding the bottom. When this erosion happens, small sediment particles are winnowed out by tides and currents leaving larger gravel-sized sediments on the floor. This kind of surface is good for scallop larvae and other small animals so they can settle on the bottom and not get buried by sand. Thus, the type of sediment on the ocean floor helps determine what kinds of animals can live there.

This map shows the continental U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
This map shows the continental U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

Interestingly enough, politics and international relations have affected our trip to Georges Bank. We have been waiting for clearance through the U.S. State Department working with the Canadian government, to get permission to go into Canadian waters. As Wikipedia explains below, part of Georges Bank is “owned” by the U.S. and part is “owned” by Canada. Our route is to take us through the eastern part of Georges Bank, the part owned by Canada. Unfortunately, due to the speed of processing the request, we just this morning found out we got clearance to go there. If the request had been denied, we would have had to sail around the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to avoid Canadian waters. Fortunately, we are now good to go.

From Wikipedia: 

“During the 1960s and 1970s, oil exploration companies determined that the seafloor beneath Georges Bank possesses untold petroleum reserves. However, both Canada and the United States agreed to a moratorium on exploration and production activities in lieu of conservation of its waters for the fisheries.

The decision by Canada and the United States to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles (370 km) in the late 1970s led to overlapping EEZ claims on Georges Bank and resulted in quickly deteriorating relations between fishermen from both countries who claimed the fishery resources for each respective nation. In recognition of the controversy, both nations agreed in 1979 to refer the question of maritime boundary delimitation to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in The Netherlands. Following five years of hearings and consultation, the IJC delivered its decision in 1984, which split the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Maine between both nations out to the 200 NM limit, giving the bulk of Georges Bank to the United States. Canada’s portion of the Gulf of Maine now includes the easternmost portion of Georges Bank.”

American Museum of Natural History http://www.amnh.org/sciencebulletins/biobulletin/biobulletin/story1208.html (easy to medium to read)

USGS http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/georges-bank/ (more difficult to read) The map above is also from the USGS website.

Personal Log 

It’s been a very quiet day today. We had several station samples this morning. At the first one, around 6:30 a.m. one of the crew members spotted two whales. They were too far away to see what kind they were. I, unfortunately, was inside the ship at that time and missed it. However, we are heading north so maybe we will have a chance to see some.

Rebecca Bell, August 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 16, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time:   1807 (GMT)
Latitude:  36.05.40 N Longitude: 75.24.30 W
Air Temp 0C: 25.3 0C
Sea Water Temp:  26.7 0C

On left: small barrel-shaped copepods; Center: white, arrow worms; Top right: amphipods
On left: small barrel-shaped copepods; Center: white, arrow worms; Top right: amphipods

Science and Technology Log 

The most common zooplankton we have seen so far are salps, amphipods, arrow worms and copepods. Pteropods (sea butterfly) have been in a number of samples but are not numerous. Salps look like clear, jelly-like marbles. We’ve encountered these animals in warm, shallow water. They are holoplanktonic relatives of sea squirts (Urochordata). Salps are filter feeders, using cilia to move suspended particles from the water. They feed by pumping water through a sieve to remove bacteria and nanoplankton, and are thus, a very important link in the food chain. Some species of salps form huge chains by budding. They show both sexual and asexual life stages. For more about salps and photos see this website.

Amphipods are also extremely common crustaceans. There is no carapace (shell-like covering), but their bodies are flattened side-to-side, much like a shrimp.  Their bodies are segmented with 6 segments in the head, 8 in the thorax and 6 in the abdomen.1 They have a brood pouch on their thoracic limbs. They have a variety of limbs used for feeding, crawling or jumping. One group lives off a host, feeding on salp tissues. Some types live in tubes; others use their back legs to anchor themselves while they sway to and fro in the water column. Some species swim rapidly while others stay near the bottom of the ocean. Many will move vertically in the water column, moving near the surface during the day, and sinking again at night. The species we are catching has large compound eyes that can be seen by the naked eye. For more about amphipods, visit this website. 

Becky examines the catch using a hand lens.
Becky examines the catch using a hand lens.

Copepods are very common crustaceans, with more than 200 species and 10,000 families. 2 We have found more of these than any other organism. Copepods are omnivorous. Some groups graze on microplankton; other groups of copepods prey on larger plankton, including other copepods. They are an important link in the food chain as well, moving carbon from a microscopic level to a larger trophic (feeding) level. They are eaten by jellyfish, fish, comb jellies and arrow worms. Copepods have “antennae” that have special sensors that detect water movement around them. They are able to move toward prey by contracting a muscle that runs in a circle around their bodies. For more about copepods, visit this website.

Arrow worms (Chaetognatha) are common along coasts, but we did not catch any out away from shore. Arrow worms are classified in their own group, distinct from Annelids (earthworms), round worms and flatworms, which are all separate groups of worms. They are predators, often waiting to ambush their prey. When their cilia detect prey, usually copepods, the arrow worm contracts 2 muscles that run dorsally and ventrally (top to bottom) to strike. Their mouths have spines that grab the prey and smaller “teeth” produce a venom that subdues the prey. The prey is swallowed whole. Arrow worms, in turn, are eaten by jellyfish, copepods and fish.

Sea Butterflies were not common, but they are very interesting. Sea butterflies (pteropods) are holoplanktonic mollusks, related to snails. Basically, they are shell-less snails. Their foot is modified into winglike structures (ptero= winged) that they flap as they swim through the water. Their bodies are tube-shaped and clear. The bodies and wings of the species we have seen are an orange-pink color. They are predators and are preyed upon by fish, sea birds and whales.

References: 

Information for these paragraphs were modified and combined from the following sources: 1 Newell, G.E. and Newell, R.C.; Marine Plankton: A Practical Guide; 5th edition; 1977; Hutchinson & Co; London.2 Johnson, William S. and Allen, Dennis M.; Zooplankton of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts: A Guide to Their Identification and Ecology; 2005; Johns Hopkins University Press.

Personal Log 

This morning we saw dark clouds in the distance. You could see rain falling from the clouds. Nearby we could see the tail of a water spout disappearing into the clouds.  We sampled our southern-most station and are now heading north along the coast just south of Chesapeake Bay. The samples we are pulling now have a lot of diatoms.

Rebecca Bell, August 15, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 15, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude:  3846.7 Longitude: 7302.1
Temp 25.4 C

Bongo net
Bongo net

Science and Technology Log 

In the last post, I explained WHY we are collecting zooplankton. This post will illustrate HOW the samples are taken.

The samples are collected using a device called a bongo net (Yes, like the musical instrument).  You can see the metal rings and the nets hang from the metal rings. One net is marked with red and the other green. This allows you to tell the two nets apart. The samples from the red side will be used for the ichthyoplankton study. The samples from the green side will be used for the zooplankton study.

The white device is the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). You attach it to the bongo net frame and turn it on. The CTD takes measurements on the way into the water and on the way out of the water. When the bridge clears you, the computer operator (inside) tells the hydraulics operator to start letting out the line and at what speed to let it out and bring it in. You calculate the amount of time in and out using a chart that is based on changing depth. You have to calculate it so you get at least a 5-minute tow.

The CTD
The CTD

Now the bongo nets are raised on the A-frame. You can see the CTD above the bongos (right picture) and there is a lead weight beneath and between the nets. Next, the A-frame moves the nets over the side of the ship and they are lowered into the water. You cruise for at least 5 minutes. The idea is to get within 5 meters of the bottom, then start bringing the nets back in. The computer operator keeps track of where the bottom is. The idea is to stop the line going out in time so the nets don’t hit the bottom and pull up a bunch of sand. Then you just have to wait for the tow, and eventually for the nets to come back up.

The bongos are removed from the A-frame and brought into the wet lab. You use the hose to wash the plankton down to the bottom of the net. The bottom of the net is put into the sieve. When the net is hosed down to the sieve end, you untie the bottom of the net and let the plankton wash into the sieves. The mesh captures zooplankton, but lets smaller phytoplankton through. Finally you rinse the plankton from the sieves into a jar with 5% formalin for preservation. A label is put into the jar as well as on top of the jar, stating station number, date and time.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Becky Bell, assists in deploying the bongo nets.
NOAA Teacher at Sea, Becky Bell, assists in deploying the bongo nets.

Personal Log 

We had a fire drill and an “abandon ship” safety drill. In the picture to the right, I am wearing a survival suit, lovingly known as a “Gumby suit”. If you abandon ship, you have to run to the deck and put on this suit. It is one piece, with inflatable neck rest, whistle and flashing pocket light so you can be spotted. You have to lay the suit out on deck, and sit down in it. Feet go in first, then you stand up and pull the rest over your head, find the arms etc. Look at the look on my face. Not too sure about this! The front flap closes to show only your eyes–on me a little higher. You should try zipping the front zipper with thick rubber gloves that are too big for you. It reminds me of the astronauts trying to fix the space station. I have a new appreciation for how difficult it is too, like, HOLD anything. The best news yet–we get to practice next week again.

Deploying the Bongo net
Deploying the Bongo net

The A-frame
The A-frame

The nets begin to emerge from the water.
The nets begin to emerge from the water.

Becky waits for the nets to come back up after the tow
Waiting for the nets to come back up after the tow

Becky rinsing down the net
Becky rinsing down the net

Then she puts the plankton into a jar for preservation
Then she puts the plankton into a jar for
preservation

Becky dons her survival suit during a safety drill.
Becky dons her survival suit during a safety drill.

 

Rebecca Bell, August 14, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 14, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time:   134628 (GMT)
Latitude:  40.33.06N Longitude: 72.47.36W
Air Temp 0C: 22.1
Sea Water Temp:  22.3 0C

NOAA Ship Delaware II
NOAA Ship Delaware II

Science and Technology Log 

We sailed from Woods Hole, MA on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 on the first of three legs as part of the Ecosystem Monitoring Program. There are two main objectives of the cruise. The first is to see how well the fish population is doing by sampling and counting fish larvae. The number of fish is important to the fisheries industry- those folks who bring cod and other fish to your table. The second objective is to monitor the zooplankton population. Fish feed on the zooplankton, so a healthy zooplankton population may mean a healthier fish population. We also are monitoring the physical properties of the water; in this case, salinity and temperature. These influence where fish larvae and zooplankton can survive and where and how far they can be dispersed.

There are 125-130 sites randomly selected for sampling. At each site, a pair of bongo nets are dropped and the two samples are collected side-by-side, for a total of 250-260 samples. One sample is designated for the ichthyoplankton (fish larvae) study, and the other for the study of zooplankton composition, abundance and distribution. Near-surface along-track chlorophyll-a fluorescence, which indicates abundance of phytoplankton (i.e. food for the zooplankton), water temperature and salinity are constantly measured with the vessel’s flow-through sampling system. We will also be collecting a separate set of samples as we approach the Chesapeake Bay. These will be used to study aging of fish larvae.

Zooplankton include both unicellular and multicellular organisms. Many can easily be seen with the naked eye. Zooplankton can be classified in a number of ways. One way is to classify them by life history. Holoplankton are those that are planktonic during their entire life cycle (lifers). Meroplankton refers to those plankton in a developmental stage, like eggs and larvae (shorttimers). These larvae will grow into larger organisms such as jellyfish, mollusks, fish, starfish and sea urchins, crustaceans, copepods and amphipods.

The term “plankton” comes from a Greek word for “wanderer” or “drifter”.1 This may imply that these organisms are passively moved about by currents. However, many can power around on their own, using several different methods such as cilia, muscle contraction, or appendages on the head, thorax or abdomen. They also move vertically in the water column, up toward sunlight during daylight hours and downward at night. Krill (whale food), on the other hand, do the opposite- travel downward during the day and up at night.

The first two samples contained a vast number of salps. A salp is holoplanktonic and is related to sea squirts (urochordates). They are filter feeders, catching bacteria and extremely small plankton in mucous-covered “nets” that act as sieves. Salps are an important part of the ocean food chain.

Samples 3-5 show a greater variety of organisms- comb jellies (ctenophores), arrow worms (Chaetognatha) fish larvae and amphipods. Samples 6-8 are dominated by copepods. There are salps, too, but not nearly as many (about 1/3 fewer) as we saw in the first 2 samples.

So I am looking at these results and wondering: Are there patterns to the distribution of these assemblages? Are salps found in warm water or cooler water?  Does temperature matter at all? Do they like deeper water?  Higher or lower salinity? Combinations of any of these? Are they found where another organism is found?

Personal Log 

We began our first work shift today, er, last night, um, this morning at 3 a.m. I work the 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. That means to bed around 7pm., rise and shine at 2:30 a.m. Well, rise, anyway. Not much shining till later.

As I sat on the deck in darkness, waiting to reach our first sample site, I spotted the light from another ship on the horizon. I watched as the light traveled up a wave, then down a wave then up, up, up, up, still up. I could not believe how high it was going, knowing we were doing the same thing. It’s a good thing it doesn’t feel like that. We are now heading south, back towards the Chesapeake Bay. It is getting hotter and muggier, just like home.

We saw dolphins today. A large leatherback turtle was spotted from the bridge. The 3pm- 3am. shift reported seeing flying fish.

Animals Seen Today 

  • Salps
  • Amphipods
  • Copepods
  • Ctenophores
  • Chaetognaths (arrow worms)
  • Fish larvae
  • Sea butterfly
  • Dolphins
  • Gulls (4 species)

1 Source: Online Etymology Dictionarywww.etymologyonline.com.