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.

Joan Raybourn, August 25, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 25, 2005

Personal Log

Today was the last day of our two-week adventure at sea. At dawn this morning, we paused for a while before entering the north end of the Cape Cod Canal. While we have been within sight of land for a day or two, it was strange to see land on both sides of us. The canal was built in the 1930s, and using it to get back to Woods Hole saves at least half a day’s sailing time. Without it, we would have to sail all the way around the “arm” of Cape Cod. We slipped into the canal and eased our way south, back into civilization. We stood on the bow of the ship and watched fish playing in the water, seabirds hovering hopefully over them. People walked their dogs on the path beside the canal, and sailboats passed silently. All was quiet. When a siren split the air, we knew we were back.

The trip through the canal took about an hour and a half, and we were in Buzzards Bay. We made our way through the islands and back around to Woods Hole, to the pier where our trip began. We cleaned the labs and packed our gear and samples to go ashore. At the pier, a gangplank was attached to the ALBATROSS IV so that we could move “all ashore that was going ashore”. We lugged boxes and crates over it to the NOAA warehouse, the EPA truck, and the NOAA van that would take the samples back to the lab in Rhode Island. It was a strange feeling to be back on land. At the beginning of the trip, my body had to adapt to the motion of the ship, and for the first two days I staggered around until I got my sea legs. Back on land, my body had to adapt again; even though my brain knew I was on solid land, the sensation of motion persisted.

And then it was over. By 2:30, everyone who was leaving was gone, and our shipboard community was dissolved. Since my flight home is not until tomorrow, I will stay one more night aboard the ALBATROSS IV. It’s a little lonely now, with everyone gone and no work to do. But I’ve been up since midnight, when my last watch began, and an early bedtime tonight will be welcome. What an adventure this has been! I will never forget my days out on the wide blue sea, with nothing to see but sky and wind and ocean. Whenever city life hems me in, I’ll be able to go back in my mind’s eye, feeling the wind and the sunshine, and watching the endless play of the sea, all the way to forever.

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Joan Raybourn, August 24, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 24, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 43°32’ N
Longitude: 69°55 W
Visibility: 8 miles
Air Temperature: 17° C
Wind direction: E (99 degrees)
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: <1’
Sea water temperature: 18.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.0 millibars
Cloud cover: 7/8 Cumulus

Question of the Day: At what degrees on the compass would you find the intermediate directions? (Use information below to help you and look for the answer at the end of today’s log.

Yesterday’s Answer: GMT stands for “Greenwich Mean Time”. GMT is the time at the Prime Meridian, which passes through Greenwich, England. People around the world can use this time as an international reference point for local time. We are on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which is four hours behind GMT. At 1:33 a.m. GMT, it was already August 24 in Greenwich, but our local time was 9:33 p.m. EDT, still August 23, so that is the date I used in the log.

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Science and Technology Log

Over the last eleven days, the ALBATROSS IV has zigzagged back and forth across southern New England waters, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine. The collection stations were chosen in advance of the trip and plotted on an electronic chart. So how does the crew drive the boat to the next station?

Ship navigation is a combination of automated and manual tasks. Based on the ship’s current position and the latitude and longitude of the next station, the navigator determines what heading to take. That is, he decides in exactly which direction to go using a compass. The ship has an electronic gyroscope as well as a manual compass similar to the ones you may have seen, only larger. It has a magnetic needle that points north, and is divided into 360 degrees. The cardinal directions are these: 0° is north, 90° is east, 180° is south, and 270° is west. The navigator enters the heading into the ship’s navigation computer, and if conditions are normal, he can set the ship on Autopilot. Then the computer will automatically adjust the ship’s direction to keep it on course.

The fact that the ship is running on Autopilot does not mean that the crew can take a break. The crew sets the ship’s speed depending on weather and sea conditions, and on how much other ship traffic there is in the area. In open water, the ALBATROSS IV cruises at about ten to twelve knots, which means we cover about 10 to 12 nautical miles per hour. The crew must constantly monitor to make sure the ship is operating safely and efficiently. They plot the ship’s course on paper, monitor weather conditions, watch for other ships and communicate with them, and adjust the ship’s course and speed. At the collection stations, they are able to put the ship at the exact latitude and longitude called for, and keep it there during water casts and sediment grabs, or moving at just the right speed for plankton tows.

Navigators keep a constant watch out for other ships, using a combination of visual and radar data. They use radar to pinpoint the ships’ locations, and often can be seen scanning the sea with binoculars. Signal lights on ships help with navigation, too. Ships have a red light on the port (left) side and a green light on the starboard (right) side. This helps navigators know which side of a ship is facing them and in which direction it is headed. Of course, radio communication makes it possible for ships’ crews to talk to each other and make sure they are passing safely.

Personal Log

Tonight will be the last night of the cruise. We expect to be back in Woods Hole by midday tomorrow, two days earlier than planned. We’ve been blessed with excellent weather, and have made good time cruising between stations. I was very excited last night to see fireworks in the toilet! Toilets on the ship are flushed with sea water, which often contains some bioluminescent phytoplankton. Sometimes the swirling action of the water will excite them, and we’ll see blue-green sparkles and flashes as the water washes down. (Sewage and waste water are biologically treated on board so that they are safe to release into the ocean.)

I want to thank the crew of the ship, especially the NOAA Corps officers who have welcomed me on the bridge and answered many questions about ship operations. I am particularly grateful to Capt. Jim Illg, who reviewed all of my logs, and Ensign Patrick Murphy, who answered many questions about weather and navigation.

Finally, I want to thank the scientists who willingly shared their knowledge and patiently taught me protocols for their work. Jerry Prezioso, a NOAA oceanographer, served as chief scientist on this cruise. He helped me prepare ahead of time via telephone and email, and has been endlessly helpful to this novice seafarer. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has a knack for turning any event into a positive experience. Jackie Anderson, a NOAA marine taxonomist, taught me to operate the CTD unit and helped me identify the kinds of zooplankton we captured in the bongo nets. Don Cobb, an EPA marine environmental scientist, helped me understand the kinds of research the EPA is doing to monitor the health of our oceans and estuaries. Thanks to all of them for their  work in keeping Planet Earth healthy, and for making this an experience I can take back to my classroom and use to help make science real for my students.

Today’s Answer: The intermediate directions are those that fall between the cardinal directions, so to find their degree equivalents, find the halfway point between the numbers for each cardinal direction. Northeast would be at 45°, southeast would be at 135°, southwest would be at 225°, and northwest would be at 315°.

Joan Raybourn, August 23, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 23, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44°23’ N
Longitude: 66°37’ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind direction: W (270 degrees)
Wind speed: 12.7 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Sea swell height: 1’
Sea water temperature: 11.1°C
Sea level pressure: 1014.7 millibars
Cloud cover: 1/8 Clear with a few cumulus clouds low on the horizon

Question of the Day: What does “GMT” stand for and how does it affect the date in the log information above?

Yesterday’s Answer: The clock shows 9:17 a.m. There are 24 hours around the clock face. The hour hand is pointing a little past the 9, so that is the hour. To read the minute hand, notice its position. On a twelve-hour clock, this position would indicate about 17 minutes past the hour. Since this clock counts off 24 hours instead of counting to 12 twice, the afternoon and evening hours have their own numbers. For example, 4:00 p.m. on a twelve-hour clock would be 16:00 on a twenty-four-hour clock. There is no need to indicate a.m. or p.m. since each hour has its own unique number.

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Science and Technology Log

Today I spent some time up on the bridge talking to the crew about weather. The ship collects all kinds of weather data from on-board sensors, including air temperature, air pressure, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. It also receives weather data from sources outside the ship via satellite link and email. I was especially interested in how the crew determines visibility, cloud cover, sea wave height, and sea swell height, since these represent subjective data. “Subjective” means that someone uses known data and their own experience to make a judgment. Here are some examples.

Visibility just means how far you can see into the distance. This is very hard to judge on the sea because there are no reference points – no objects to “go by” to decide how far away something is. Radar gives an accurate distance from the Albatross IV to objects such as other ships, and on a clear day, the horizon is about twelve miles away. A navigator learns to estimate visibility by combining radar information with how far away objects look in relation to the horizon. It takes a lot of practice to be able to judge visibility using only your eyes!

Cloud cover just means the amount of the sky that is covered by clouds. This is expressed in eighths. Today the cloud cover was about 1/8, meaning about one eighth of the sky had clouds and seven eighths was clear. To make the estimate, mentally divide the sky in half and ask yourself if about half of the sky is cloudy. If you see that less than half the sky has clouds, then mentally divide the sky into fourths, and then eighths. This can be tricky if the clouds are scattered around because it is hard to see a fraction that isn’t all “together”. Once again, this skill takes a lot of practice.

Sea swell height and sea wave height are both descriptors of how the ocean surface is behaving. These are important to observe because they affect the motion of the ship. Swells are large rolling humps of water that are created by the winds from storms. Navigators can tell how far away the storm is by observing the speed of, and length between, the swells. The ship might rock with long, slow swells caused by a storm hundreds of miles away, or with the shorter, faster swells of a storm that is closer. Waves, on the other hand, are caused by local wind; that is, the wind that is blowing right at your location. Waves might just be rippling the water if the wind is light, but can be large if the wind is strong. Both swell height and wave height are estimated in feet from the trough (bottom) to the crest (top) of the wave. Again, this skill takes lots of practice.

Personal Log

Yesterday we got word that a pod of about seventy right whales had been sighted in the Bay of Fundy. This represents a large fraction of this endangered species’ entire population of fewer than 300. Our route has taken us up a little way into the bay, and we have been eagerly watching for whales. We’ve seen several blows in the distance, and occasionally a glimpse of a long back breaking the water. Most of them have been fin whales, but we did see two or three right whales before it was completely dark. It’s exciting to see these giants of the ocean and we hope to see more when the sun comes up.

Joan Raybourn, August 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 22, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: What time does the 24-hour clock in picture #7 show?

Yesterday’s Answer: Sediment is composed of all the small particles of “stuff” that sink to the ocean floor. Near the coast, fresh water is flowing into the ocean from rivers and streams, and human activity creates more matter that is flushed into the ocean. Because there are more sources of sediment near the coast, it collects more quickly there than it does in the open sea.

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Science and Technology Log

Advances in computer technology have made the process of collecting plankton and water samples much easier than it was in the past. During a plankton tow or a water cast, many different people are working together from different parts of the ship, and technology makes it easier to communicate, obtain plankton and water samples from precise locations, and protect equipment from damage. The ship’s crew navigates the ship to the exact station location and maintains the location while the samples are collected, there are scientists and crew members on the aft deck handling the collection equipment, a crew member operates the winch to lift and move the equipment, and a scientist operates the computer system that collects data from the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth instrument (CTD).

The stations, or places where we will collect samples, are designated in advance of the trip and plotted on a computer map. A computer chooses the stations randomly so that we get information from all over the area with no accidental human pattern. The ship’s commanding officer and the head scientist work together to determine the course the ship will take to visit each station. Many factors must be considered, including efficiency, fuel conservation, and weather. Once the course is set, the chief scientist “connects the dots” on the computer map. Then it is easy to see where we are going next, how far away it is, and when we can expect to be there. “Are we there yet?” is a question asked not only by children on vacations, but by scientists and crew at sea!

When the ship approaches a station, the bridge crew makes an announcement so that everyone knows to get ready. “Ten minutes to bongo” means that it is time for the CTD operator to fire up the computer, for the winch operator to get set, and for the deck crew and scientists to get into their gear and make sure the equipment is ready to go. There is a video camera on the aft deck that enables everyone inside to see what is happening on the deck. This makes it easier to coordinate the collection process and to act quickly if there is an emergency.

When the ship is at the exact position of the station, the bridge radios the winch operator. He in turn lets the CTD operator know that we are ready to begin. The CTD person starts the computer program and tells the deck crew to turn the CTD on. The winch operator lifts the equipment and casts it over the side of the ship into the ocean. The “cast” might have just the CTD unit, or water bottles to collect water samples, or the bongos to collect plankton samples. The CTD goes down on every cast since it is collecting data that is important for the success of the tow as well as for further study.

During the cast, the CTD operator watches the computer display to make sure collections are made at the correct water depths. He or she talks to the winch operator over a walkie-talkie so that he knows how far to drop the line and when to pull it back up.  Plankton is collected at about 5 meters above the ocean floor. The ship’s computer tells us how deep the water is and the CTD tells us how deep the instrument itself is. By comparing these two numbers, the CTD person can make sure the equipment doesn’t drag the bottom, which would damage it and contaminate the samples. Once the CTD and the collection equipment are out of the water, the unit is turned off and the CTD operator finishes up the data collection process by entering information such as date, time, latitude, longitude, station and cast numbers. We just finished Station #75, and will be doing our 100th cast at the next station. (More than one cast is done at some stations.) Sample collections at each station can take anywhere from about 20 minutes for a relatively shallow plankton tow to about 2 hours if we are in deep water and collecting plankton, water, and sediment.

During the cast, the CTD operator can watch as the computer creates line graphs showing the data that is being recorded by the CTD unit. In picture #6 above, the line graph on the right shows the depth, while the graph on the left shows the sea temperature in red, the density of the water in yellow, salinity in blue, and fluorescence in green. Density is kind of like how “thick” the water is, salinity is how salty it is, and fluorescence is a measure of phytoplankton. Line graphs show change over time, so we can see how these values change while the CTD is in the water.

Personal Log

Some adaptations take longer than others. Since I switched watches, I have never been completely sure of what day it is, and when I get up in late morning, I’m always surprised to see lunch being served instead of breakfast. However, I have learned to use the physics of the ship’s motion to make everyday tasks easier. Carrying a heavy load up the stairs is easier if you wait for a swell to lift the ship and give you a little boost, and opening doors and drawers, standing up, and even drinking water is easier if you do it with, rather than against, the roll of the ship. As much as I staggered around for the first two days of the cruise, I wonder now if dry land will feel odd when we get there at the end of the week.

Joan Raybourn, August 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 21, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Why does sediment collect on the ocean floor more rapidly near the coast than it does further out in the ocean?

Yesterday’s Answer: The stern of the ship is at the back, and the sun rises in the east, so the ship must have been heading west.

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Science and Technology Log

On this cruise, there are actually two separate but complementary kinds of research going on. We have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who are collecting samples of the sediment on the ocean floor, which will be analyzed both biologically and chemically. Biology is the study of living things, so the scientists will look to see what organisms are living in the top layer of the ocean floor. The chemical analysis will show what non-living substances, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, are present. Chemicals may occur naturally, or may be a result of pollution. This work gives us information about human influence on the ocean ecosystem.

To collect the ocean floor sample, scientists use a sediment grab (picture #1). The “grab” is lowered into the ocean until it hits the bottom, where the container closes and “grabs” a sample of whatever is down there. Then it is hauled back to the surface and opened to see what has been collected. There could be sand, silt, mud, rocks, and any creatures living at the bottom of the ocean. There are two chambers in the grab. From one chamber, the top 2-3 cm of sediment are scooped into a pot, mixed up, and put in jars for later chemical analysis. This thin top layer will yield information about the most recent deposits of sediment. Near the coast, that sample may represent matter that has settled to the ocean floor over a year or so. Further out, that much sediment would take several years to deposit. The contents of the other chamber are dumped into a bucket and washed through a sieve to remove the sediment and leave only the biological parts.

The sieves used for the sediment sample are very much like the ones used for the plankton samples, but bigger and with larger mesh at the bottom (picture #4). The bigger “holes” in the mesh allow silt and sand to be washed out. Whatever is left in the sieve is put into jars and stored in coolers for later analysis. The sample contains evidence of what lives in the benthic layer, the top layer of the ocean floor. This evidence could be plankton, worm tubes, or remains of once-living animals.

At each station where a sediment grab is performed, three water samples are taken, one each from the bottom, the middle, and the surface of the ocean. One liter of each water sample is filtered (picture #6) to analyze its nutrient content. This process is somewhat similar to the chlorophyll filtering I described in yesterday’s log. The filters are saved to be analyzed in laboratories, which will look for both dissolved nutrients and particulate matter. Dissolved nutrients are like the sugar that dissolves in your cup of tea – you can’t see it, but it’s still there. Particulate matter consists of tiny bits (particles) of things such as plankton, whale feces, plants, anything that might be swirling around in the ocean.

The EPA is primarily concerned with human influences on natural environments. By collecting sediment and water data, scientists can see what substances humans are putting into the ocean, and what effects they are having on the plants and animals living there. This work meshes well with the plankton research work, since the health of the plankton is directly influenced by the health of its environment. Everything in the natural world is connected, and we humans must learn how to balance our wants and needs with the needs of all other living things. If we are not careful about how we use our Earth, we will upset the balance of nature and create negative consequences that we may not see for years. For example, if chemicals dumped into the ocean (on purpose or accidentally) kill large numbers of phytoplankton, then the entire food web will be disrupted in a kind of ripple effect, like a stone dropped into a pond. The zooplankton (who eat phytoplankton) will starve, and the animals that eat zooplankton will either starve or move to a different part of the ocean, which in turn changes that part of the ecosystem. From this very small example, maybe you can see how huge our responsibility is to keep our oceans (and other environments) clean.

Personal Log

I am so grateful to Jerry Prezioso, our NOAA chief scientist, and Don Cobb, our EPA scientist. They have included me in all of their operations from Day 1, and have been infinitely patient with my many questions. They have explained things over and over until I “got it”, from procedures for collecting samples to the science behind all their work. It has been eye-opening to be on the student side of learning. Many times I have not even had enough background knowledge to know what questions to ask, or have been almost paralyzed with fear that I might do something wrong and skew someone’s data. I know this experience will help me better understand my students who go through these same feelings of anxiety and joy when they are learning something new.

Joan Raybourn, August 20, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 20, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 42°17’ N
Longitude: 69°38’ W
Wind direction: SE (130 degrees)
Wind speed: 10.3 knots
Air Temperature: 19°C
Sea water temperature: 21.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1016.5 millibars
Cloud cover: High, thin cirrus

Question of the Day: Based on the caption for photo #6 above, in which direction was the ALBATROSS IV traveling when the picture was taken?

Yesterday’s Answer: Our location at 41.39 N and 67.11 W means our goldfinch was 160 nautical miles from Woods Hole. A nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude and is slightly longer than an ordinary land mile.

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Science and Technology Log

In addition to collecting zooplankton samples, we also collect water samples and measure the amount of chlorophyll they contain. Phytoplankton are too small to see, but an instrument called a flourometer can measure their presence. The flourometer shines a beam of light through the water sample and measures how much blue light (fluorescence) is present.

This process is fairly delicate and great care must be taken to get a good representative water sample, and then not to contaminate it during processing. Water samples are collected in two ways: some are collected in water bottles that are attached to the bongo cable, and others are collected from a hose that is pumping sea water into the plankton lab.  In picture #1 above, our chief scientist, Jerry Prezioso, is collecting a sample from the plankton lab hose. The sample itself is poured through a filter into the bottle to remove any large particles that may be present. Then 200 ml of the sample water is pumped through a fiberglass filter (picture #2). The filter traps chlorophyll as the water passes through. Even though the large amounts of chlorophyll in land plants gives them their bright green color, the small amounts present in phytoplankton are not visible, so you can’t see it on the filter. In picture #3, Jerry uses tweezers to remove the filter (a small white circle) and place it into a cuvette, which is a small test tube. The cuvette contains acetone, which preserves the sample. Then it is placed upside down in the cooler for 12 to 24 hours, which allows the chlorophyll on the filter to wash out into the acetone.

When the sample is ready to be measured, it is taken out of the cooler along with a “blank”, a cuvette of plain acetone with no chlorophyll present. The two cuvettes must warm up a little before they are read, because water condensation on the outside of the cuvette can result in a false reading. We use the flourometer to take three separate readings. When we do science investigations at school, we determine which factors are constant (kept the same for each trial) and which are variable (the thing you are changing in each trial). In this case, the variable is the amount of chlorophyll on the filter. In order to make sure we are measuring only chlorophyll, we also “read” two constants: a solid standard, which is contained in its own tube and used for every trial, and the blank containing only acetone. After the chlorophyll sample is read, we can compare the three sets of data to see how much chlorophyll is really there. In picture #4, I am putting a cuvette into the flourometer, which will shine a light through it and display a number value. The numbers for the solid standard, the blank, and the chlorophyll sample are all recorded on the clipboard along with data such as date, time, and where the sample was collected. Later, the data will be entered into a computer for further analysis.

Why do we want to know about chlorophyll in the ocean? Well, chlorophyll is produced by plants, in this case, phytoplankton. By measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water samples, scientists are able to determine how much phytoplankton is present. Since phytoplankton is the base of the ocean food web, it is one more piece of the ocean ecosystem puzzle.

Personal Log

Today I switched from the day watch to the night watch, but the timing was good because we had a long steam between stations and I was able to get a little extra sleep before doing a double watch. While all the scientists usually eat meals together, we work in teams to cover the watches, so I will be working with a different set of people. I am now on watch from noon to 6:00 p.m. and from midnight to 6:00 a.m. We will be working our way north for the next week, and the probability of seeing whales is increasing. That will be exciting!

Joan Raybourn, August 19, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 19, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: Yesterday a goldfinch visited us, but we are far out to sea. When I took the picture above (#6), our position was 41.39 N and 67.11 W. About how far was this little guy from Woods Hole, Massachusetts?

Yesterday’s Answer: Qualitative data is the “what” that your doctor can observe but not necessarily measure. She might look in your ears, eyes, and throat, feel your internal organs through your abdomen, observe your spine, test your reflexes, have you balance on one foot with your eyes closed, and ask general questions about how you feel. Quantitative data is the “how much”; it is something that can be measured. Your doctor will probably measure how tall you are and how much you weigh, and take your temperature and your blood pressure. If she takes blood or urine samples, they will be analyzed for both qualitative and quantitative properties. We are observing and recording similar kinds of data about the ocean, so scientists can get a good picture of the health of this ecosystem.

8

Science and Technology Log

We are very fortunate on this cruise to be able to deploy a drifter buoy. The NOAA Office of Climate Observation (OCO) established the Adopt-a-Drifter program in December 2004. The program makes buoys available to teachers who are participating on cruises as Teachers at Sea. Our drifter has been adopted by my school, Greenbrier Intermediate School of Chesapeake, Virginia, and by Julie Long’s school, Farnsworth Middle School of Guilderland, New York. We named him (It’s a buoy!) Moose in honor of the fact that he was deployed in the Georges Bank area of the Gulf of Maine, which has a number of GOMOOS (Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing Systems) buoys. Moose is the fourth drifter buoy to be deployed as part of the NOAA program, and joins over 1,000 drifter buoys collecting data worldwide.

The buoy itself is a blue and white sphere about the size of a beach ball. It is attached to a drogue, a long “tail” that hangs below the buoy and ensures that it is drifting with the surface currents and not being pushed along by the wind. The buoy is equipped with a water temperature sensor, and a transmitter so that its position and temperature data can be beamed to a satellite, which relays this information to a ground station that will place it on a website. Julie and I decorated the buoy with our school names and signatures – it even has a Greenbrier Intermediate School sticker and a picture of our panther mascot. Then we deployed the buoy on August 18 by tossing it over the side of the ship while it was moving slowly. It was a little sad to see Moose drifting off without us, so small on the huge ocean, but we can follow his adventures for the next 410 days by checking the Adopt a Drifter website. You can begin tracking it here. You can find Moose by clicking on his WMO number, which is 44902. The website will give you the location of the buoy (latitude and longitude) and the date, time, and temperature of the surface water at that location.

What can scientists do with the data about surface water currents that buoys such as Moose are collecting? Of course it can be used to track major ocean currents. Knowledge of currents is useful for understanding the ocean ecosystem and for navigation. But this data will also be used to build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollution spills, and even to assist with forecasting the path of approaching hurricanes.

Personal Log

I finally feel like I am becoming useful as a scientist on this cruise, not just an interested observer. Although I have been busy helping from Day 1, I am gaining confidence about conducting some parts of the work on my own. I have learned to collect and preserve the plankton samples, process water samples for chlorophyll, and operate the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth), a computer linked instrument that measures oceanographic data. This morning I was up in time to watch a beautiful sunrise and had time to do a load of laundry during a long steam between stations. We had a raft of seabirds sitting hopefully off the stern while we were stopped for some work, and the weather is cool and sunny. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Joan Raybourn, August 17, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 17, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day: What kinds of animals depend on plankton as a major food source?

Yesterday’s Answer: Phytoplankton are producers, since they make their own food.

6

Science and Technology Log

On this cruise aboard the ALBATROSS IV we will be taking plankton samples at 90 stations off the coast of New England. The stations are randomly chosen by a computer, so some are close together and some are further apart. The idea is to get a broad picture of the ecological health of the entire region.

The actual process of plankton collection is called a plankton tow, because the nets are towed through the water while the ship is moving slowly, collecting plankton as the water moves through them. Can you guess why the collection apparatus is called a bongo? (Look at picture #2 above.) The frame looks just like a pair of bongo drums! Attached to the frame are two long nets that collect the plankton. The bongo isn’t heavy enough to sink into the water evenly on its own, so a lead ball is added to help pull it down to the bottom smoothly. (See pictures 3 & 4.) The bongo is attached to a cable, which is in turn attached to a pulley system that lowers the bongo into the water and pulls it back up again. Since we only want floating plankton, we have to be sure the bongo doesn’t scrape the bottom. We lower the bongo to about 5 meters above the bottom, and then bring it back up.

The nets bring in all kinds of zooplankton, very small but big enough to see. (Most phytoplankton are so tiny they slip right through the net!) There are lots of copepods, which are related to lobsters, and sometimes arrow worms, which are tiny predators that love to eat copepods! There are other species as well, including some jellyfish. We have to be very careful to save the entire sample so that scientists back on shore can see exactly what was living near each station. When the nets are back on board, we use a hose to wash the plankton down to the bottom of the net. Then we untie the net, dump the plankton into a sieve, and spray some more to be sure nothing is left in the net. At the end of this process, we tie the bottoms of the nets again (so they are ready for the next tow) and take the sieves with the plankton inside to the wet lab for the next step. I’ll describe the process of preserving the plankton samples in tomorrow’s log.

Several kinds of data (besides the plankton itself) are collected on each tow. For example, we take water samples to analyze for salinity and chlorophyll, and the EPA scientists are collecting samples of the ocean floor. In the days to come, I will describe them and explain how computers are used to make all of this work easier. Stay tuned!

Personal Log

I am becoming much more comfortable with the routine tasks of the trip. I can handle the bongo pretty well, and can preserve the plankton samples we get. I am learning to operate the computer end of the process and will soon be able to do that on my own. I can use the tracking system to see where we are going next and how long it will be until we get there. Do I have time to take some pictures? How about to grab a snack? I enjoy talking with the crew, and have discovered that “it’s a small world after all” – our navigator grew up in Virginia Beach and another crew member just built a house in Chesapeake. I can now walk without too much trouble, and this morning I awoke before my alarm went off because I heard the engines slow down as we approached a tow station. There is rumor of a cookout on the deck tonight, so I’d better go get in a nap before then!

Joan Raybourn, August 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 16, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40’ 17” N
Longitude:  70’ 08” W
Wind direction: NNE (29 degrees)
Wind speed: 19.6 knots
Air temperature: 19° C
Sea water temperature: 22.8°C
Sea level pressure: 1018.1 millibars
Cloud cover: cloudy

Question of the Day:  What is phytoplankton’s place in the food chain? (producer or consumer)

Yesterday’s Answer: Factors that could influence the depth to which sunlight penetrates the sea water include amount of cloud cover and how clear the water is. If the weather is clear, more sunlight makes it through the atmosphere to the surface of the sea. If the water is clear, the sunlight can go deeper than if the water is murky with a large mass of surface plankton, excess nutrients, pollutants, or silt.

5

Science and Technology Log

In yesterday’s log I talked about phytoplankton. The other group of plankton is zooplankton. Phytoplankton are plants, and zooplankton are animals. If you think of the sea as a bowl of soup, the zooplankton are the chunky parts. They include organisms that spend all of their lives as plankton, as well as the baby forms of other seas animals, such as crabs, lobsters, and fish. Most zooplankton eat phytoplankton, making them the second step up the ocean food chain.

While you would need a microscope to see most phytoplankton, you can see most zooplankton with an ordinary magnifying glass. Many are big enough to see with the naked eye. While phytoplankton need to stay near the surface of the sea in order to absorb the sunlight they need for photosynthesis, zooplankton can live at any depth. Zooplankton have structural adaptations that help them float easily in the ocean currents. Some have feathery hairs to that can catch the current. Others have tiny floats filled with air, and still others contain oil that helps them float. There are even behavioral adaptations that zooplankton have developed to help them survive. One kind of snail makes a raft of air bubbles and floats on that. Some even link together and float through the ocean looking like skydivers holding hands.

Many animals go through several physical changes as they go through their life cycles. For example, a butterfly begins life as an egg, hatches into a caterpillar (larval stage), makes a chrysalis, and finally emerges as a beautiful adult. Many marine animals go through similar changes, and during their larval stage they are part of the mix of plankton in the ocean. These “temporary” zooplankton are called meroplankton. These include baby crabs, lobsters, clams, snails, sea stars, and squid. Permanent plankton are called holoplankton, and include copepods, krill, sea butterflies, and jellyfish.

One of our deck hands joked about having sushi for breakfast right after we completed a very productive plankton tow. We might not like that kind of sushi, but many ocean animals love it, and depend on it as their food source. Krill (shrimp-like zooplankton) are a very popular menu item with penguins, sea birds, fishes, squid, seals, and humpbacks and blue whales. “A single blue whale may devour up to eight tons of krill a day.” (from Sea Soup: Zooplankton by Mary M. Cerullo)

Most of the plankton we are collecting on this cruise are zooplankton. We preserve them in jars, and when the cruise is over they will be sent to laboratories where other scientists will analyze the samples. We also analyze water samples for chlorophyll, though, which is made by phytoplankton and is therefore an indicator of their health. In the days to come, I will describe the procedures used for the plankton collection, as well as those used for the EPA research.

Personal Log

Life on board a research vessel is not all work and no play. During down time, people rest, read, play games, watch movies, work on needlework, or get a snack, much like life at home. When I am not on watch, I write my logs, take and organize pictures, take a shower, do laundry, send email, and sleep. The scientists are usually able to eat meals together around the time we switch watches. We gather for breakfast around 5:30 a.m., for lunch around 11:30 a.m., and for dinner around 5:30 p.m. It’s nice to have a chance to catch up with each other while one group comes to work and the other goes off to bed.

Joan Raybourn, August 15, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 15, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40° 01’ N
Longitude: 71° 37’ W
Wind direction: SSW (207)
Wind speed: 14 knots
Air temperature: 24° C
Sea water temperature: 24.8° C
Sea level pressure: 1015 millibars
Cloud cover: Hazy

Question of the Day: There is some variation in the depth to which sunlight penetrates. What factors could account for this?

Yesterday’s Answer: Because phytoplankton use photosynthesis to make their own food, they live near the surface of the ocean where they can absorb sunlight. Enough sunlight for photosynthesis penetrates to about 10 meters below the surface.

4

Science and Technology Log

“Phytoplankton are incredibly small. Each one is a single cell or a chain of identical cells. One teaspoon of seawater can hold a million phytoplankton.” (from Sea Soup: Phytoplankton by Mary M. Cerullo) They are so small that pictures of them must be taken through a microscope that magnifies them hundreds times. There are thousands of different kinds of phytoplankton, and new species are being discovered all the time. In fact, some kinds of phytoplankton were thought to be dust specks on microscope slides, until researchers built microscopes that are more powerful and discovered that those specks were really living organisms. Even though phytoplankton are plants, they don’t look like plants on land. They don’t have roots, stems, or leaves. “Instead they resemble spiky balls, tiny harpoons, links on a bracelet, spaceships, and many other shapes that defy description.” (Cerullo)

Why should we care about something that most of us will never see? First, phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web, and all other living organisms in the ocean depend on them. Many ocean animals (including zooplankton) eat them, and are in turn eaten by larger animals. Without phytoplankton, the ocean food web would collapse. A special kind of phytoplankton called zooxanthellae helps to build coral reefs, one of the largest structures on earth. Corals are animals, but they need the help of the zooxanthellae to survive. The zooxanthellae live with the corals, providing food and oxygen, helping the corals take in minerals, and giving the corals their beautiful colors. Many people are worried about global warming, often called the greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is mostly due to the release of excess carbon dioxide into the air, which traps heat in the upper atmosphere. Every year, phytoplankton use nearly half of the carbon dioxide, slowing down global warming. Phytoplankton also help replace the ozone layer, which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. The remains of ancient phytoplankton provide us with oil and natural gas to use for energy. When they died, their remains sank to the bottom of the ocean, were covered with layers of mud, and over millions of years changed into oil deposits. “Products made from phytoplankton also filter swimming pools, distill fruit juice, wine, and beer, put the polish in toothpaste, and keep dynamite from exploding too soon. But perhaps most important, phytoplankton help us to breathe. About half of the world’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton. That means every other breath you take is thanks to phytoplankton.” (Cerullo)

As you can see, keeping the ocean environment healthy for phytoplankton is very important. Whenever you enjoy your warm house on a cold day, enjoy pictures of corals, eat fish, brush your teeth, or just breathe, you have phytoplankton to thank!

Personal Log

Now that we have been at sea for almost two days, I am adjusting to the watch schedule, which is different from normal life on land. My watches are from 6:00 a.m. to noon and from 6 p.m. to midnight. I try to get four or five ours of sleep between midnight and 6:00 a.m., and a shorter nap in the afternoon. Sometimes there is time to rest even on watch, while we are traveling to the next station. It’s a good time to catch up on reading, or wander around and ask questions about ship operations. About halfway through the cruise, Julie and I will swap watch schedules so that we can each experience what happens at other times of the day. Meals are excellent; usually better than I eat at home, since someone else is doing the cooking! The weather continues to be warm and muggy, but this morning is a little cooler. The crew is keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Irene, which does not look like a threat to our mission. Best of all, I have not been seasick, and probably won’t be unless we hit some rough seas. Today we discovered a stowaway in the wet lab. As the fume hood was being repaired, a bat flew out and perched on the ceiling (See picture #6). Definitely not a shipboard critter! Our chief scientist, Jerry, caught it in a paper cup and released it. We were close enough to land that the little guy should make it safely to a more hospitable habitat. Until tomorrow.

Joan Raybourn, August 14, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joan Raybourn
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 14 – 25, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Productivity Survey
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 14, 2005

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40° 01’ N
Longitude: 71° 37’ W
Wind direction: SSW (207)
Wind speed: 14 knots
Air temperature: 24° C
Sea water temperature: 24.8° C
Sea level pressure: 1015 millibars
Cloud cover: Hazy

Question of the Day: Phytoplankton are plants and use photosynthesis to make their own food. Where in the ocean would you expect to see phytoplankton living?

3

Science and Technology Log

The main function of this cruise is to collect plankton samples, which will be analyzed to determine the health of the ecosystem. The word plankton comes from the Greek “planktos”, meaning to drift. These tiny creatures of the sea have very little swimming ability of their own, but drift with the currents of the ocean. Plankton fall into two groups: phytoplankton, which are plants and require sunlight for photosynthesis; and zooplankton, which are animals. Phytoplankton are the base of the ocean food web and are the food source for zooplankton. Some kinds of zooplankton are plankton for their entire lives, drifting at the mercy of ocean currents. Other kinds of zooplankton are in the larval stage of their life cycles and will grow and change into free swimmers or bottom dwellers. Most plankton are microscopic, but some are much larger, such as jellyfish. I will expand on these topics in the days to come.

In addition to the plankton research, we have two scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with us. They are collecting samples from the bottom of the ocean, as well as water samples at each of their sampling locations. The first sample collected this morning was mostly sand, and it will be analyzed for both chemical and biological properties. The chemical analysis will show what kind and how much of any pollutants are present. The biological analysis will show how many and what kind of organisms are living on the ocean floor. Both sets of information give important clues to the health of the ocean ecosystem, and about human impact on it.

These two sets of data, from the plankton collection and the ocean floor collection, will give scientists a good picture of how healthy this part of the ocean ecosystem is. Healthy plankton is critical to the health of all other ocean species, since it is the base of the food web. Humans can have an impact on that through pollution of the water, whether intentional or not. This research will help us understand how we can keep our oceans healthy.

Personal Log

I arrived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Friday evening and spent the night in town. At the motel, I met the other teacher, Julie, who will be sailing on this cruise. She teaches eighth grade science in Albany, New York. On Saturday morning we made our way to the dock and boarded our home for the next two weeks, the NOAA ship Albatross IV. Jerry, our chief scientist, showed us around the boat and introduced us to the crew and other scientists. We moved into our room, retrieved linens from a closet and made up our bunks. At 2:00 p.m., we set sail for the southern portion of our cruise. It was foggy as we left the harbor so visibility was poor. We participated in an abandon ship drill, struggling into our “Gumby” suits and learning how to work all the parts that will keep us safe if we have to abandon the ship. In a real emergency, I will have to be much faster! The weather, while humid, is much cooler than back home in Virginia Beach. Julie and I are on opposite watch schedules, so we will see each other only briefly during the cruise. The crew and scientists are all very friendly and helpful, which is good because I have so much to learn!