Patty McGinnis: Women Scientists on the Ocean Starr, May 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Point Reyes, CA
Date: Monday, May 27, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 38 09.465 ° N
Longitude: 123 01.204 ° W
Air Temperature: 10.2 Celsius
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature:  9.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: clear

Science and Technology Log

If you had asked me ahead of time to predict the percentage of males and females aboard the Ocean Starr, I would have surmised that males would make up the majority. While it is true that most of the crew is male, my scientist co-workers are primarily female.

Lyndsey

Lyndsey is dressed to go out on deck

Lyndsey Lefebvre is a fisheries biologist who works for the Groundfish Analysis Team. Her primary job is to study the age and growth of rockfish and flatfish species such as sanddabs to support fishery assessments. Lyndsey ages fish by removing their ear bones, or otoliths. Otoliths contain annual rings, much like a tree. The ear bones are prepared by breaking them in half and holding them over an open flame to darken them; the rings are tiny so a microscope is required to count the rings. Lyndsey explains that this work is important because studying the age structure of a population over time can yield insights into the population’s health. Fish populations that are heavily fished tend to be smaller and younger. Lyndsey is also concerned with reproductive biology such as when and how frequently fish spawn. She studies the blackgill rockfish, a long-lived fish that has internal fertilization. Females give birth to live young once a year, but Lyndsey is trying to determine if a female’s health or environmental conditions impact the numbers of young produced. In contrast, the Pacific sanddab releases eggs on a daily basis for up to six months of the year. Lyndsey says that although she enjoys field work, that about 90% of her work is microscope work done in the laboratory. She likes to listen to audio books or music to help pass the time. Lyndsey says that being a fisheries biologist is a great career. If you think you are interested in such a career, try volunteering doing any type of naturalist work and make as many contacts as you can.

Amber

Amber shows a squid jig

One of NOAA’s better kept secrets is the NOAA Corps. The Corps, which is run by the Department of Commerce, consists of approximately 340 commissioned officers who are involved in operating one of NOAA’s ships or piloting a NOAA plane. Amber Payne has been in the NOAA Corps since she graduated four years ago with a degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Amber first became interested in working on marine vessels through her involvement with a Search and Rescue extracurricular club while in college. She considered entering the Coast Guard, but was drawn to the NOAA Corps because it requires a science background. Amber enjoys the many opportunities the Corps has provided, including training and traveling. She recently obtained a 1600 ton Mate’s License which will enable her to work for a private company if she ever decides to leave the Corps. Amber is currently on shore duty as operations officer at the Fisheries Ecology Division which is part of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. In addition to running the Small Boats Program, Amber helps out Lyndsey in the fisheries lab. Recently Amber took a freshly-caught Humboldt squid to an elementary school where she dissected it for the students. She’s pictured above holding a contraption known as a “squid jig” that is used to catch Humboldt squid. Amber’s words of wisdom: always carry a knife and a flashlight with you when on a boat!

Jamie Lee works the day shift so I don’t see much her except at meals. She smiles delightfully as she tells me that her interest in oceanography sprang from watching “Finding Nemo” as a child.

Jamie

Jamie at work in her floating lab

Jamie is currently a graduate student at San Francisco State University; she attended Stonybrook University in New York as an undergraduate. This is Jamie’s first time on a boat and she is unfazed by its ceaseless motion. Her role on this mission is to assess chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is used as an indicator of primary productivity, which dictates how much food is available for ocean organisms. Jamie takes the water samples collected by the CTD and pours the water through a filter to extract chlorophyll from all the phytoplankton in the sample. Jamie tells me that this work must be conducted in subdued light to prevent the chlorophyll from degrading and giving an incorrect reading. The filter paper, which contains the extracted chlorophyll, is then stored in a glass tube or folded in half and put in aluminum foil until it is ready to be read by a fluorometer back at the university lab. I asked Jamie why she is interested in studying phytoplankton, rather than fish or marine mammals. She explains that phytoplankton, although tiny, are the crucial element upon which all the ocean relies.

Kaia

Kaia sorts krill

Kaia Colestock is a volunteer who free-lances as a wildlife biologist. Kaia has been assisting Lyndsey in the fisheries lab with counting fish eggs present in adult sanddabs. This reproductive ecology study will help to determine if the sanddab fishery is doing well. Kaia earned her undergraduate degree in fisheries wildlife from Michigan State University and her masters in ecology from Utah State. Kaia has participated in a number of wildlife studies over the years, but her favorite is when she had an opportunity to fly aerial surveys for wading birds in the Everglades with supplementary surveys via airboats.  Kaia recommends her career to anyone who likes spending their time outdoors and says that perseverance, motivation, dedication, and being a good critical thinker are important qualities for someone who works as a wildlife biologist. She recommends acquiring special skills related to math, engineering, or physics. Places that hire wildlife biologists such as Kaia include federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies, and non-profit agencies. This is Kaia’s first time on a ship and she is enjoying seeing seabirds during the day and watching how the CTD is deployed.

Brianna

Brianna preserves krill for future studies

Krill biologist Brianna Michaeud earned her undergraduate degree in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Brianna plans to pursue a master’s degree beginning this fall at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Brianna enjoys working with krill because of krill’s vital function to the ocean’s food web. Brianna enjoys being on the ocean and seeing what is caught during the trawls. She works for the Long Marine Laboratories, which is affiliated with UCSC. All the data she is collecting will be shared with NOAA scientists. Brianna’s role on this trip is to collect and preserve samples of krill that are collected in both the bongo net and the trawl net. The bongo net is actually two nets that lie parallel to each other; they are designed to remove the effects of the bridles found on regular ring nets. For organisms as small as plankton, the pressure waves produced by the bridles, or connecting cables, can push them away from the net.  The bongo net is made up of a much smaller mesh than the trawl net, so it is capable of capturing the juvenile krill that tend to escape the trawl net. The entire haul from the bongo net is kept in a jar of preservative. Once back at the lab, Brianna will go through the jar to identify the various krill species and obtain a sex ratio for each species. Brianna also preserves 200 milliliters of krill from each of the trawls for later use. Once at the lab, she will count out 100 individuals of the dominant krill species and 50 individuals from the second most dominant.  She’ll then measure each individual, identify how many are gravid (contain eggs), and obtain a sex ratio. Brianna says that marine biology is a “great career” and recommends that students interested in this career take classes in statistics, biology, and chemistry. She also recommends volunteering in laboratories, assisting with beach clean-ups, and reading about oceanography.

sophie

Sophie scans the water and air for the presence of birds

The research conducted this week extends beyond the waters; biologist Sophie Webb is onboard to document sightings of seabirds and marine mammals. Sophie is one of only three scientists who work the day shift. One glance at Sophie informs you that her site is one where she is exposed to the elements. You’ll find Sophie on the uppermost level of the ship where she sits with her binoculars and a computer recording data all day. Her job is not for the timid; the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean is cold and she has little company other than the wildlife she is documenting.  Sophie is no stranger to this type of work; she has conducted this research project seven or eight times previously and has also participated in several five month cruises in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (Hawaii,  Mexico and Central America). Currently Sophie is recording all birds seen in a 300-meter strip seen off one side of the ship. She records the species and basic behavior, such as whether the bird is flying, sitting, or feeding. The black-footed albatross is notorious for following the boat, necessitating Sophie to carefully observe so that the bird is not counted more than once. All the information Sophie collects is recorded into a computer program that is hooked into a GPS unit that updates several times a minute. Sophie shares with me that she is also an illustrator and has authored several children’s books such as Far from Shore, Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage and Looking for Seabirds. If you are interested in a career like Sophie’s, she recommends that students obtain advanced degrees in biology and volunteer as much as they can to obtain experience.

Personal Log

It has been amazing to see how quickly the night shift has formed into a team. Everyone works together when the trawl is pulled up to sort, identify, and record the information as efficiently as possible.  I find it interesting to see the variety of organisms we are obtaining in the trawls; tonight some of our catches mainly consisted mainly of shrimp and smelt.

Keith

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma displays the results of a haul

shrimp and smelt

Shrimp and smelt

I also continue to be enthralled with the odd looking creatures that the trawls yield. Last night I saw an eel larva. Its body, almost impossibly thin, was gelatinous to the touch. A tiny eye and mouth were the only things that made it recognizable as an animal. When I held it up to the light its many bones became obvious. Even odder was the Phronima, a creature reported to have been the impetus behind the creature in the Alien movies. I also got to hold an octopus in my hand—I could feel the animal’s tiny suckers pulling on my skin. The octopus was returned to its home after the photo op.

eel larva

The bones are visible in this transparent eel larva

Phronima

This cool creature, Phronima, was the inspiration for the creature in the movie “Alien”

octopus

Check out this octopus

Did You Know?

That adult krill have the unique ability to actually shrink in size after a molt if food resources are scarce?

Emilisa Saunders: We Do Science Here! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14, 2013 to May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weather Data: Wind speed: 19.02 knots; Surface water temp.: 24.7 degrees C; Air temp: 25.7 degrees C: Relative humidity: 91%; Barometric pressure: 1007.4 mb.

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton jar

A nice jar of plankton from an early morning tow.

Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.

Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.

Prep station

Prep Station

Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)

Plankton in a sieve

Plankton in a sieve

Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt.  Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!

Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.

plankton

Plankton Ready to go in the Jar

Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day.  These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.

Plankton jar label

A label on the jar gives detailed information about the plankton inside

Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!

Jars of Plankton

Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore

Personal Log:

I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II.  Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!

Team Plankton

The science team, from left to right: Andy, Alonzo, Glenn, me, Jana and Brittany.  Photo by Brian Adornado

I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:

Meet Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, scientist, testing water samples in the Wet Lab.

Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984.  Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science.  Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.

What is your favorite word? Data

What is your least favorite word? No or can’t.  There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.

What excites you about doing science? Discovery

What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.

What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines

What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician.  There are some neat jobs in that field.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.  There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth.  What is your life history?  What’s a typical day of feeding like?  Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it?  What determines who gets to eat first?

********************

Meet Glenn Zapfe

Zapfe

Glenn Zapfe, scientist, contemplating the plankton samples.

Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago.  Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science.  He grew up in the Chicago area.

What is your favorite word? Quirky

What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia

What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.

What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics.  They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.

What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine

What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.

*************************

Meet Jana Herrmann

Jana Herrmann

Jana Hermann, scientist and volunteer, aboard the Oregon II

Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer.  She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that.   Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013.  Jana grew up in Tennessee.

What is your favorite word? Pandemonium

What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory

What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.

What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.

What is your favorite plankton? Janthina

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.

What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.

What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.

 ******************

Meet Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm, scientist, aboard the Oregon II

Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years.  Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Brittany grew up on Long Island.

What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”

What is your least favorite word? Editing.  That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!

What excites you about doing science?  Constantly learning.  All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven.  You have to know a little bit about all of them.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Also, constantly learning!  Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.

What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.

What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth.  She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio.  Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  The Croaker fish.  Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs.  She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!

*********************

Meet Andy Millett

Andy Millett

Andy Millett, scientist, in the Dry Lab of the Oregon II.

Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise.  He has worked with NOAA for 3 years.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Andy grew up in Massachusetts.

What is your favorite word? Parallel

What is your least favorite word? Silly

What excites you about doing science?  When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.

What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  Spinning the flowmeters on the nets.  It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.

What sound or noise do you hate?  Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them.  Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.

******************

Challenge Yourself:  Hey, Nature Exchange traders!  The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way.  Research one of these animals and write down a few facts.  Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that.  Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

Don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Animals We’ve Seen (and one plant):

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva.  See its tiny little face on the left?

Sargassum

Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.

Sea Jelly

Sea jelly

Sargassum fish

Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!

Porpita jelly

Porpita jelly

Myctophid

Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!

Flying fish

A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!

Filefish

Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish