Jeff Peterson: Learner at Sea: Day 1, July 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard Oregon II

July 9-July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 9, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/12

Time: 16:16:53

Latitude: 28 48.11 N

Longitude: 092 47.94W

Barometric pressure: 1018.94

Relative humidity: 57

Air temperature: 32.4 C (90.3 F)

Calm seas

 

Science and Technology Log

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This is the 3rd and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey for 2018, taking place between July 9 and July 20 in the Gulf of Mexico. “Groundfish” refers to fish that live on, in, or near the bottom of the ocean.  SEAMAP stands for “Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program,” and as the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission defines it, it’s an interagency (State, Federal, and university) “program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap.php).

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What is “fishery-independent data,” you ask? The key is understanding its converse: “fishery-dependent data.” Fishery-dependent data is gathered directly from (and in that sense, depends on) commercial and recreational fisheries.  It’s furnished by “dockside monitors, at-sea observers, logbooks, electronic monitoring and reporting systems.” In other words, it’s all about what is caught for recreational or commercial purposes. By contrast, “fishery-independent data” are collected by “scientists from NOAA Fisheries science centers and partner agencies/institutes,” who seek to gather “information on fish stock abundance, biology and their ecosystem for inclusion in stock assessments.” Roughly speaking, then, the distinction is one between a particular target and that target’s larger biological context and ecological surround. Though I had an intuitive sense of this distinction, I wanted to hold myself to account and really learn what it meant. I’m a “Teacher at Sea,” yes, but I’m really a “Learner at Sea.”

I turned to a fellow member of the day watch, fisheries biologist Adam Pollack, and, after sketching the basic distinction for me, he directed me to the website for NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology, National Marine Fisheries Service, pointing me in particular to the webpage on Stock Assessment Basics, where, among other things, one can find terms like “fishery-dependent” and “fishery-independent data” neatly defined: https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/stock-assessment/stock-assessment-101). Not sure what stock assessments are? Watch theNational Marine Fisheries Service video: “The ABCs of Stock Assessments.” As I was going online to check out the definition of “fishery-independent data,” Adam told me this: “This is the world I live in.”

The purpose of the Summer Groundfish Survey is three-fold: “to monitor size and distribution of penaeid shrimp during or prior to migration of brown shrimp from bays to the open Gulf; aid in evaluating the ‘Texas Closure’ management measure of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Shrimp Fishery Management Plan; and provide information on shrimp and groundfish stocks across the Gulf of Mexico from inshore waters to 50 fm [fathoms]” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap-gomrs.php). (A quick note on the Texas Closure. In order to ­protect young brown shrimp and help ensure that the shrimp harvest is more mature and hence more commercially valuable, the Texas shrimp fishery is closed annually between May 15 and July 17.)

On the first leg (June 7 to 20) of the Survey, the Teacher at Sea aboard was Geoff Carlisle; on the second leg (June 27 to July 5, 2018), the Teacher at Sea aboard was Angela Hung. You can find the first two “chapters” of our collective TAS Summer Groundfish Survery story here: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/

At the time of writing we’re still on our way to the fish survey station; it’s a 30-hour steam out of Pascagoula. I look forward to reporting on our catches and the technology we’ll be using in a future post.

Personal Log

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NOAA Ship Oregon II at its homeport in Pascagoula, MS

 

I flew into Gulfport, MS, from San Francisco, on the afternoon of Sunday, July 8, and was met at the airport by friendly and informed Field Party Chief Christina Stepongzi. As we crossed the bridge over the Pascagoula River and NOAA Ship Oregon II came into view, Chrissy said proudly: “There’s home.” On arrival, I got a quick tour of the vessel I’ll have the privilege of calling home for the next 12 days, and Chrissy introduced me around. The folks I met that afternoon (and since) were all just great: gracious and good humored, warm and welcoming. That first jovial bunch consisted of Chief Marine Engineer Joe Howe, Chief Steward Lydell Reed, and Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Steadfast. I got settled into my stateroom, and, jet-lagged and short on sleep, I turned in early.

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Stateroom 103: That’s my gear on the top bunk

 

I woke rested Sunday morning and went out onto the dock to look around. I’d brought a sketchbook with me (intending to keep a sketch-journal as both a pastime and an aid to learning), and, since I had a couple of hours to myself before a meeting at 1230 hours, I decided to try sketching the ship. I found a comfortable spot in the shade, and got busy. I’d hoped to sketch the ship from stem to stern, realizing I wouldn’t be able to take it all in once aboard. I planned to divide the ship in half and draw the halves on facing pages in my sketchbook. Stores arrived at 1000 hours, and I watched various preparations taking place fore and aft. I also helped carry a few bags of groceries aboard.

NOAA ship Oregon II
NOAA ship Oregon II

Working briefly in pencil and mostly in ink, I committed myself to certain shapes and proportions early on, and it soon became clear that I’d have to omit the bow and stern, focusing on the middle of the ship and making the best of things. Many of the objects, devices, and structural forms I was drawing were unfamiliar, and I looked forward to having a crew member explain what I’d been drawing later on.

 

Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II
Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II

It was an absorbing and thoroughly satisfying way of introducing myself to the ship, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few more members of the crew while I sketched. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway introduced himself and very generously offered to grab me a fast-food lunch, since meals aboard weren’t being prepared yet. Arlene Beahm, the Second Cook, stopped by to say hello, as did First Assistant Engineer William Osborn. When the time came, I went aboard for the “Welcome Aboard” meeting, an orientation to the ship and shipboard courtesies by Operations Officer Ryan Belcher. Thereafter we had a little time to ourselves, so I meandered about the ship, meeting fisheries biologist Alonzo Hamilton in the galley. He kindly answered my questions about the version of the ship I’d sketched in the morning. (What were the white cylinders with domed tops amidships? Satellite antennas. What where the propeller-like forms forward of them, above the bridge? Radar.) We embarked at 1400 hours, and I up went to the flying bridge (i.e., the open deck above the bridge) to watch our passage down and out the mouth of the Pascagoula River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

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View from the flying bridge, minutes after embaraking

I got good looks at some Laughing Gulls and some Terns (that I’ll need to ID later), and watched a shrimp trawler working next to the channel behind Petit Bois and Horn Islands.

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Laughing Gull, Leucophaeus atricilla
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The shrimp trawler Evening Star

Once we were in the Gulf proper, we were joined for a while by some Bottlenose Dolphins. An hour or two later, as I sat astern watching the sun set, I caught sight of a pair of Frigatebirds, high above the ship, their stunning forked tails trailing behind them. I’d never seen one, let alone two, and I didn’t sketch them or take a photograph of them. But you know I’ll remember them.

Sunset
Sunset

Did You Know?

Magnificent Frigatebirds don’t dive after fish. They skim themfrom the surface or chase after other birds, stealing their catches. To learn more about the Magnificent Frigatebird, visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” website:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Magnificent_Frigatebird/

Joan Shea-Rogers: Teacher at Sea becomes Student at Sea, June 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Joan Shea-Rogers

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-22, 2018

 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date: July 19, 2018

Personal Log

I must begin by trying to convey how honored and excited I am to be a part of NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program.  I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with another teacher, Lee Teevan. What an adventure! More importantly, it’s an opportunity to gain knowledge about the management of the Bering Sea Fishery, the commercial fishing industry and how these forces impact both the ocean ecosystem and our lives. It is an opportunity to educate my students and community about these factors and the career opportunities that support them. It also demonstrates the fact that, life long learning opportunities come in many forms.

For the last five years I have been teaching at Lanphier High School in Springfield, Illinois. I look forward to bringing lessons into the classroom that can spark an interest in an unfamiliar aspect of scientific research and its real-life implications. Through these lessons, I also hope to expand student awareness of the related realm of job opportunities associated with this work.

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a concentration in Fishery Science. I earned my Teacher Certification in Biology and the Sciences. Following graduation, I chose a career in teaching. Through my education at the University of Wisconsin – Superior, I became interested in the Foreign Fishery Observer Program. I was a Foreign Fishery Observer on Japanese fishing ships that fished primarily for Arrowtooth Flounder in the Bering Sea. This involved sampling the catches, and determining how much of each species of fish were caught to guard against exceeding their assigned quota. I spent a month and a half aboard 3 different ships. The opportunity to work on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will allow me to learn about the Fisheries Management aspect of the Bering Sea.

I returned to school to earn my Special Education Teaching Certification and earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. As a teacher, I continued going to school and learning about many topics that supported my work. In order to increase my knowledge about Fishery Science, I took a class in which I created a teacher’s manual (An Aquatic Organisms Educational Module for the Therkildsen Field Station at the Emiquon Wetland Area on the Illinois River). This manual allows teachers to bring students to the field station, collect plankton samples and use the labs to study the results of their sampling. Students learn about the many aspects of the wetland ecosystem and even calculate estimates of the planktonic biomass of the wetland. How fun is that!

TAS Joan Shea-Rogers and a Glacier
Traveling and Learning About the World Around Me

I hope with my introduction, I peak your interest in this aspect of our world. I invite you to be a part of my experience in order to continue your life long learning journey as I continue mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Dean: Routine and Regulations, May 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard Pisces

May 12 – May 24th, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 13th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30°25.170’ N
Longitude: 80°12.699’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 8.4 knots
Wind Direction: 55°
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.9°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy
A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy

It isn’t real science if it works the first time.  Isn’t this what we try to get our students to understand as they start an original long-term project or design their first experiment?  I hope as a teacher to give my students opportunities to experience set-backs, struggles, even occasional failures and develop characteristics of resilience and persistence.  Today I got the privilege to see collaboration in action, between scientists, NOAA corps officers, engineers and deck hands to overcome problems and do science. On Saturday I observed how a team worked to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle, in the water and tracking correctly.  After a quick recovery from the tracking issue, the flash on a camera system became temperamental on the next deployment. These challenges reminded me that, in real science, additional troubleshooting is an on-going part of the adventure.  I watched firsthand how working on a team with multiple skill sets and ideas can make the difference in the success or failure of a mission’s goals.

 

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle
Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

This ROV carries on it both a high definition camera for video footage as well as a low definition camera that is used to overlay information about the site such as water depth, latitude/longitude and the time a photo is taken.  There is the capability to take still shots from one meter up that capture an area of approximately 7 square meters every 2 seconds.  For additional information on this ROV and to see what kind of video the instrument can capture visit the links provided. 
https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/features/1213_mohawk.html
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/caribbean-mapping/rov-video.html 

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.
Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.

As the video footage streamed in the fisheries ecologists worked to identify fish species, corals and sponges.  I  liked these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species.  As the ROV dropped onto the ocean floor a variety of fish from Gags to Scamps to angelfish came into view.  While two scientists identified fishes others distinguished between corals and sponges. Names were being called out like “Red Finger Gorgorian” coral, “Clathrididae” and “Tanacetipathes.”

 

 

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these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.  I was amazed by the clarity and color in the images.

 

 

 

Personal Log

My first day on Pisces began with a beautiful sunrise and a chance to take a quick picture before we left the dock.  I was also able to explore the Skybridge and spotted several pods of dolphins on our way out to the Marine Protected Areas.  Images below are captioned to explain the Welcome Aboard meeting and other events of the morning and early afternoon on my first day at sea.  Most of the morning involved learning some of the safety features of the ship including practicing for three types of emergencies- fire, abandon ship and man over-board.  Although I have a smile on my face in the picture, I realize the serious nature of practicing for the unexpected and it reminded me of our school shooting drills; that although rare and unlikely to happen, are still a necessary drill to routinely engage in and practice for, in order to expect quick responses that can make the difference in saving lives later.

The canister I am holding provides enough air for two to three minutes to escape from a situation that involves fumes from fire.  I now know where my survival suit, life jacket and my assigned life boat is located and have practiced getting into both my life jacket, survival suit and can quickly navigate to the location of my assigned life boat.  This task may seem simple, but I still find myself confused on whether to turn right or left after coming down stairs and looking at doors and walkways that all resemble each other.

 

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LT Jamie Park delivers the Welcome Aboard meeting in the Galley on Pisces
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Safety training involves finding and putting on your assigned survival suit and finding a life boat

 

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Sunrise at Mayport Naval Station, May 12th
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Pisces at Mayport Naval Station May 12th right before departure

 

Fact or Fiction?

Lionfish consume over 50 other species of fish and have spines that can sting releasing a venom into a person’s bloodstream that can cause extreme pain and even paralysis.

To find out more and the answer visit the link below
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

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Mr. Todd Walsh explains how the multibeam bathymetry works

What’s His Story?  Mr. Todd Walsh

The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?
Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician

How long have you worked for NOAA?  What path did you take to get to your current position?
10 years. Todd took classes that gave him a strong background in math and science in high school. This foundational work allowed him to continue into college in the medical field.  He later became interested in land management and dendrology which led him to take more STEM related classes at night school exposing him to a variety of engineering content and hydrology.  Later he was recruited by NOAA and accepted his first position with NOAA out of Alaska.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
He likes being able to integrate a group’s (like scientists) needs with his ability to satisfy their aims and missions.  His least favorite is being away from his family.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  Todd recommends being strong in your physical sciences and that taking your math classes are key to doing well in this sort of career.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?
Midway Island, Johnston Atolls and being up on the Arctic circle

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present?
He gets to play with fun tools.  He noted that automation has really changed the requirements and skills needed for the job.

I want to say a big thank you to Todd for answering all my questions and even playing some classic rock and roll during my mapping lessons that went till midnight.

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Sian Proctor: A Ship & Seashells! July 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 3, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:   57° 47′ 24″ N
Longitude: 152° 24′ 26″ W
Time: 1000
Sky: Broken Clouds
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 068
Wind Speed:  5 knots
Sea Wave Height:   <1 foot swell
Barometric Pressure:  1013.3 millibars
Sea Water Temperature:   9.0° C
Air Temperature:   9.8° C

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NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, Alaska

Science and Technology Log

Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels. It was commissioned in 2005 and its home port is Kodiak, Alaska. The ship was named after the Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson who was an activist for improving the fishing industry. He passed away in 1995. The purpose of Oscar Dyson is to collect data on marine life and ecosystems primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Most of the research has been focused on the management of Alaska pollock, which is the largest fishery by volume in the United States. The ship houses a crew of up to 24, which includes NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck hands, survey technicians, stewards, and electronic technicians along with up to 15 scientists. They all work together to make daily operations on the Oscar Dyson a success.

The 208 ft. long Oscar Dyson runs on 4 super charged diesel engines. The engines are designed to produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity a day. The alternating current is converted into direct current in order to power the two propulsion motors. Oscar Dyson’s engine room is fully automated and will add or remove diesel generators based on load demand. Oscar Dyson has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious my accommodations are on Oscar Dyson. I am in a 4-person room but have only 1 roommate. Her name is Alex Padilla. She is an ocean engineering graduate student from University of New Hampshire interested in  studying the acoustics of bubbles. Our room has bunk beds on both sides of the room, a desk, multiple storage lockers, a toilet & shower, and a large wall mounted TV with movies and Direct TV.

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Just down the passageway from my stateroom is a crew lounge where we can gather and watch movies. There is a mess deck (cafeteria) that serves three meals a day and is open 24/7 for soup, salad, and snacks. Oscar Dyson has a variety of labs that I will cover in future blogs. I was fortunate to have 3 days on the ship before our departure and have become somewhat familiar with the layout of the ship.

Click here for more specification on the Oscar Dyson: NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Specification

Personal Log

I got to go on a field trip to Fossil Beach before leaving Kodiak and here is a short video about my experience.

To dive deeper into the fossils and geologic history of that region you can click this link for Allison and Marincovich Jr’s geologic survey paper: A Late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene Molluscan Fauna From Sitkinak Island, Alaska

Click this link for more information on concretions.

Did You Know?

The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and Fish and Fisheries in 1971, making up the first conservation agency for the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was started in 1970 as an agency within the department of Commerce. Today NOAA has many branches that focus on weather, climate, ocean & coasts, fisheries, satellites, marine & aviation, etc. You can learn more about the history of NOAA and the various branches by clicking this link: NOAA.gov

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing
Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Marsha Lenz: We’re Going Fishing!, June 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

 

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The Observer, the Teacher At Sea, and the Senior Survey Tech take a moment to enjoy the view.

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 25, 2017

 

Weather from the Bridge

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The Shumagin Islands are a popular fishing spot for commercial fishing. (photo credit: vacationstogo.com)

Latitude: 55 15.7 N

Longitude: 159 05.0 W

Time: 0700

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 180

Wind Speed: 17 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 2 feet

Sea Water Temperature: 9.9°C

Air Temperature: 9.2°C

Science and Technology Log

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Controlling the DropCam requires concentration.

We have been in the Shumigan Islands, which are a group of 20 islands in the Aleutians East Borough south of the mainland.  It has been beautiful.  In between doing DropCams ( I even got to take over the controls once!) and fishing, we have been able to enjoy a few moments  outside taking in some of the amazing views. And then, it’s back to fishing!

The Fish Lab team (Ethan, Abigail, Katy or Meredith,  and I) are becoming very efficient in our roles in the lab.  I am getting much quicker at identifying the sex of fish and measuring their  lengths. It is really nice to have an efficient routine dialed in.

I had mentioned before that I wanted to go into detail about how the actual “fishing” works.  First, and foremost,  I am impressed with the amount of  teamwork that is required to do this.  There are about 12 people needed at various positions to make a fishing operation happen.  There are people in the Acoustics Lab, the Bridge, on the deck, and of course, in the Fish lab itself. I am reminded again about how important clear and concise communication is. Everyone talks to each other with radios and ensures that all steps of the process has been heard.

 

 

Making the Decision to Fish

The scientists spend a  lot of time in the  Acoustics lab (or The Cave). This is where they receive the feedback from the echo sounders in the water.  The monitors show images of backscatter that give the scientists a “picture” of what is going on in the water.  When they see something that they would like to fish, they call up to the Bridge and let them know that, “We’re going fishing!”.

 

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Deploying the Net

There are  many steps involved in getting the net into the water.  A survey technician will operate the winch. There are usually two deck hands to ensure that everything is deployed properly.  They always make sure that the pocket net, which catches smaller marine life, is secure and closed.  The CamTrawl, FS70 (or “turtle”),  SBE39, and ITI must also be attached to the net.  The CamTrawl takes pictures of everything coming into the net and the “turtle” takes a sound picture of the area in and around the net opening.

 

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Haul Back

Once the science team decides that they have what they would like in the net, they announce that its time to, “Haul back!” in the radio.  At this point, the winch operators and Deck hands start bringing in the net. The contents of the pocket net are given to the scientists for identification. The scientific equipment are also removed and downloaded. The fish that are in the net are  brought over to a bin next to the Fish lab with a crane. The nets are then carefully maneuvered back onto the net reel.

 

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Getting Ready

Once Abigail, Ethan, and I see that they are “hauling back”, we start getting ready for the Fish Lab.  We get dressed, put on music, and get out the necessary equipment.  The Fish lab is definitely wet, so we want to make sure that we have proper coverage!  If there is some extra time, we will see how long we can hold a plank for.  We are up to 2 minutes!

 

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Fish on the Table

Once the fish are placed in the bin by the crane outside of the Fish lab, we can control how fast it is brought onto the belt by the door. First, we separate anything that is not pollock from the catch.  We identify and record this data. Then,  we weigh the pollock. We separate the males and females.  The males go into the “bloke” bin and the females go into “sheilas” bin.  From there, each fish is measured.  The goal is to get a total of about 250 fish lengths.  Sometimes, there are more females than males, and sometimes there are more males than females. The length of each fish is recorded with an Ichthystick. This is a fish length board designed to electronically measure and record the length of each fish.  The Ichthystick was designed by the personnel at NOAA.   After the lengths are taken, we take anywhere from 15-50 pairs of otoliths from the pollock. The otoliths are preserved and used to determine the age of the fish.  Finally, when all the fish have been lengthed and otoliths taken, we clean up.  This does take some time, as no one wants a lingering fish smell around. There are numerous sprayers around  that are used to clean every nook and cranny of the lab.  Then, we clean ourselves up and wait for the next haul!

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Personal Log

Though we have been working 12 hours shifts, we do still manage to enjoy some of the spectacular views. I am amazed over and over again at how stunning and diverse the landscape is here. Sometimes the hills are covered in lush green, and sometimes there are snow covered mountains. When we can find a moment, we will just stand out on deck and take it all in. It truly is breathtaking.

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Interview with Abigail McCarthy

Scientist

 What role do you play on this survey? 

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Abigail waits for the fish to come.

I’m the “fish lab lead” scientist, which means that I manage all the wet data collection. I make sure all the fish we catch in our different types of nets are sampled the right way, that we’re processing our catch and recording samples properly and that everyone in the fish lab is having fun! I also do a lot of support work for the chief scientist in the acoustic lab, judging our acoustic data from the fancy scientific fish-finders, analyzing those data and making sure they link up right with all the information from the wet lab. I make sure we’re putting the right scientific equipment on the net every time we fish, do the camera drops, make maps with the information we’re collecting and write code for our analysis and data collection software too.

What inspired you to pursue this as a career?

I sort of slid into this sideways. I majored in biology in college and wanted to be a doctor, then I got interested in plant biology midway through my undergraduate degree. After I graduated from college I did a couple of internship/ technician jobs at research stations where I studied rare plants, bird/ plant interactions, and a few other things. I branched out and worked on a couple of bird projects (Hawaii for rare forest birds and avian malaria, and Puerto Rico for parrots and hawks), and then I got a job working on coastal plant ecology at the Bodega Marine Lab. All my friends there were doing marine science and they were having so much fun and doing such cool projects, and I got even more curious about marine science. Then I saw an opening for a sea turtle job in Costa Rica.  I speak Spanish well, and I had field experience, so I got hired there and worked on sea turtle nesting for almost a year, followed up by another sea turtle job with the Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean. All that nesting beach work made me wonder what was happening with turtles when they weren’t on the nesting beach, where did they go and what did they do in the open ocean?? So I applied to grad schools to study that question, and one of the best sea turtle biologists in the world is at Oregon State, where I went for my masters’ degree. If you find a cool project and a graduate professor who is good at getting funding, you can get paid to go to graduate school for marine biology. In grad school I spent a lot of time at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR, where I helped teach fisheries biology classes as part of my grad work. That got me interested in fish, fisheries data, and the way that science is used to inform the decisions that are made about commercial fisheries catch. So I applied to jobs at NOAA fisheries and got this one!

How long have you been working in this field?

I’ve been working at NOAA for 10 years, started grad school in 2003.

Are fisheries something that more people need to know about? Why?

Yes! Fish are the last truly wild source of food in the world. People can hunt to feed their families, but fisheries are the last place that huge quantities of protein come from a wild source without being farmed. If we don’t pay close attention to how many fish we catch, we run the risk of really screwing that up.

Do you think what do you is important? 

I do. I think it’s important because we need to know not just what’s going on with fisheries, but also we have to do our best to understand the ocean and how the ocean is changing as there are more and more people on our planet. The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of the earth, at it’s deepest it’s more than 36,000 feet deep (you’d have to run 6.8 miles straight down from the surface at the deepest place in the ocean before you’d hit the bottom). There are whole ecosystems that we barely understand because it’s a lot harder to study things when you can’t see them or measure them directly. Think about how easy it is to look at other people,pets, trees, or buildings. It’s not hard to tell how many people there are in the classroom with you or how big the school is, but imagine trying to do that 1500 feet below the surface of the ocean! We get to figure out ways to study fish and fisheries without being able to walk right up to a fish and measure it’s length or ask it how old it is, and we use that information to understand how the fish populations change, which adds to the information we know about the ocean as a whole.

How much of the year do you spend at sea?

Between two and three months, depends on the year. Usually one or two cruises in the winter time and one or two in the summer, each about 3 weeks long.

What interests you most about the data collected on this survey?

I like to think about how it fits into the big picture; both how it compares to all the data we’ve collected in this area in the past, and how it compares to what the commercial fishermen see here. I like to make maps of the data we collect too. I think it’s a great way to visualize information. I’m also really interested in the data we’re collecting with our drop cameras- fish pictures are always cool.

What is the most challenging part of your job?  The most rewarding?

There are a lot of rewarding parts of my job! One of the most rewarding is probably presenting the results of a completed survey- one where I sailed on the research cruise, was the lead analyst, and wrote the report (with lots of help from my colleagues, of course)- to the Plan Team. The Plan Team are the people who make the decisions about how many fish the commercial fishermen are allowed to catch each year, and I always enjoy telling them about our work, because we do excellent science and I’m proud of it.

Fisheries science, especially in Alaska, tends to be pretty male dominated. While I work with lots of remarkable people of both sexes with whom I enjoy spending time and from whom I have learned a lot, I wish I had more female colleagues. I also sometimes wish there were more women in leadership roles here.

What words of advice to you have for my students if they want to pursue a career in biology or the sciences?

Don’t let anyone tell you “No”. Take the math classes, take the biology and chemistry and physics when they’re offered, and if you don’t understand something, ask for help from anyone you can find. If you’re having trouble with math problems, find a teacher or a tutor to help you see it clearly. We always need more scientists- especially girls!

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The Bluefin tuna can migrate across oceans and can dive more than 4,000 feet. (photo credit: NOAA)

Leah Johnson: Career Spotlight: NOAA Corps Officer, July 30, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

 Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 34.18282
Longitude -76.13712
Water Temperature 25.62 °C
Salinity 35.3592 ppt
Air Temperature 29.8 °C
Relative Humidity 71 %
Wind Speed 13.23 knots
Wind Direction 159.25
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Ensign Hollis Johnson, one of the Junior Officers on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about life at sea.

Ens Hollis Johnson

Ensign Hollis Johnson

Q: What is the role of a Junior Officer (JO) on this ship?

A: The primary duty of a JO is driving the ship. We are also the eyes and ears of the Commanding Officer (CO). We carry out standing orders, ensure ship safety, and also make sure the scientists are getting what they need for their survey work.

Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?

A: This is a generic fleet-wide description, and some ships are a little different. On hydrographic ships, there is more computer-based work with data collection. On fisheries ships, collateral duties are split amongst the JOs; for example, we have an environmental compliance officer, a safety officer, a movie officer, and a navigation officer.

Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?

A: I really like driving the ship. Few jobs offer this kind of an opportunity! I also like the fact that no two days are ever the same, so my job is a constant adventure. The best things about being at sea in general are the sunrises and sunsets, and the dolphins, of course.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?

A: This job requires long hours. We can easily work 12-16 hour days, and while in port we still have to work some weekends. Because of this time commitment, we have to make sacrifices. But, we get that time back with our land assignments because there is more flexibility.

Q: When do NOAA Corps officers go to sea, and for how long do they stay?

A: After a 5-month training period, JOs are sent straight to sea assignments for 2 year periods. This can be extended or shortened by 6 months depending on what you are looking for in your next assignment. I extended my assignment at sea for 5 months so I could get my upcoming land assignment in California to work with dolphins for 3 years. After the land-based assignment, NOAA officers typically return to sea as operations officers, then back to land, then sea as executive officers, and so on. That is how you move up.

Q: What exactly will you be doing when you are on your next assignment in California?

A: The title of my position will be Cetacean Photo Specialist. I will be in La Jolla, CA, doing boat and aerial surveys, lots of GIS work and spatial surveys of marine mammal populations. I will participate in the center’s marine mammal stranding network. I will also be involved with outreach and education, which includes giving tours and presentations on scientific studies happening at the lab.

Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?

A: Actually, it is easier than I thought it would be. I have always been a homebody and lived near my parents, I’m always busy here so time flies. I have internet and phone service so I still feel connected.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?

A: I attended the University of Georgia, and earned a B.S. in Biology with a focus in marine biology.

Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?

A: When I was a kid I went to Sea World and fell in love with the whales and dolphins. I always loved animal planet. I also considered being a veterinarian for a while. I tried to be realistic because it is hard to land a career as a marine biologist, but I interned at a lot of places and made connections so I could do what I wanted to do.

Q: How did you find out about careers with NOAA?

In college, I took a summer course about marine mammals and toured a NOAA lab. About a year later, in June, my uncle saw the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in port in Georgia, and I talked to someone on board about the work they were doing at sea. I immediately applied, interviewed, and was commissioned in January. It all happened very fast once I found out about it.

Q: You were one of the divers who recovered the missing trap this week. How long have you been diving?

A: I was certified to dive when I was 18. It is amazing, and something everyone should try. When I became an officer, the first thing I did was beg my command to send me to the NOAA Dive Center for training as a working diver.

Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?

A: Do a lot of volunteer work before you expect to get paid. You are investing in your future. If you want it bad enough you have to make sacrifices – but it will pay off. Make connections. If a marine biologist gives a presentation at your school, hang out after and talk with them. Ask for their email address and follow up. It’s a small world in marine research and networking is key.

Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?

A: I love thresher sharks and octopuses, but I’ll say Orcas. I’ve always found their species-wide diversity fascinating.

Personal Log:

There are so many people on this cruise who scuba dive and see amazing things below the sea surface. I have only snorkeled. I see dive certification in my future!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States. Their motto is “Science, service, stewardship”.

map and control panel on the bridge

Chart and control panel on the bridge

Leah Johnson: Career Spotlight: Survey Technician, July 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 033.707470
Longitude -076.827550
Water Temperature 25.8 °C
Salinity 37.1618 ppt
Air Temperature 29.2 °C
Relative Humidity 75 %
Wind Speed 16.08 knots
Wind Direction 25.88 degrees
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Danielle Power, the Survey Technician on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me interview her today.

survey technician working in the acoustics lab

Editing map area coordinates in the acoustics lab

Q: What is the role of a survey technician (ST) on this ship?

A: The survey technician keeps track of scientific equipment and spaces. This includes calibrating sensors and maintaining and repairing equipment. When science parties are on the ship, the ST assists with data collection and oversees CTD operation.

Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?

A: Yes. On the Nancy Foster and other ships with big dive platforms, STs do a lot of diving and deck work. There are often two STs on board, each working a half-day shift. These STs do not work so intensively with fish. Hydrographic vessel STs deal with mapping and tide station installs.

Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?

A: My favorite thing about life at sea is that there are no bugs, and I don’t have to deal with allergies! I also meet awesome people on every cruise. Every trip is a little different, so I am always learning new things.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?

A: Being at sea for a long time, all the time, is taxing.

Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?

A: Yes. This job requires living with 20 other people in a confined space all the time, and it isn’t easy. I didn’t fully realize this back in college. I don’t have easy access to things I might want or need. I also have to give up certain aspects of social life. You can’t just take a day off, you have to take an entire leg of a cruise off (up to 2 weeks), which is a lot of money to not be making and a lot of work to be missing. So I have to miss some big events for important people in my life, like weddings and holidays.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?

A: I graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I earned a B.S. in biology with a concentration in marine biology.

Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?

A: In 6th grade, I went on a family vacation to Disney world. I went to Sea World, and it ignited my love for all things ocean. I have stuck with it ever since.

Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?

A: Work hard, and get a college degree that is relevant. Make sure you know that this is a job you truly want to do. Find internships and experience life on a ship before you commit. If you enjoy it, then make the most of the career and all of the opportunities that come with it.

Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?

A: An Octopus! Cephalopods are very intelligent creatures, and I love that they can blend into environments so well that they cannot be seen. They can change not just their color, but their texture. They are so interesting! They can go into small spaces, because they can fit anywhere their beaks fit and they use parts of their environment as tools.

survey technician working in the wet lab

recording data in the wet lab

Personal Log:
I am blown away by all of the different jobs that need to be filled while out at sea. Working on a boat was something that I never even considered when I was in high school. The idea just never occurred to me, and I didn’t know anyone at the time who did anything like this. There are so many interesting career opportunities that exist, and new types of jobs will develop as needs and technology change over time.

Read all about career opportunities with NOAA here!

Did You Know?

NOAA stands for “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration”. It officially formed in 1970, but the environmental agencies that came together to form NOAA originated in the 1800s. Learn more about NOAA’s history here.

Leah Johnson: Trap Recovery, July 27, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Monday, July 27, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 034.384490
Longitude -076.576130
Water Temperature 23.75 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 30.8 °C
Relative Humidity 62 %
Wind Speed 10.15 knots
Wind Direction 88.23 degrees
Air Pressure 1014.8 mbar

 Science and Technology Log:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, flexibility is key. Things don’t always go according to plan. Originally, we were going to head northeast from Morehead City Port, but the weather did not cooperate with us. We headed south to avoid a large storm, and then moved closer inshore. This forced us to choose some different areas to sample. Most of our sample sites are situated over the continental shelf between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras. Tomorrow we hope to move to deeper waters beyond the shelf break.

Pisces cruise pathway so far. Image from Shiptracker.

Map of Pisces route so far. Image from Shiptracker.

On July 23, we lost a trap. After one of the deckhands threw the hook out to catch the buoy rope and started the winch, the rope went taut and then snapped. Occasionally this happens because the traps can shift and become wedged under or hooked onto a rocky ledge on the seafloor. We do our best to avoid this, but it happens. This is why it is important to have extra traps, cameras, and camera housings on board.

Map showing locations of the two lost traps. Image from Shiptracker.

Map showing positions of two lost traps. Water depth is shown in feet.

We planned to retrieve our trap the following day, but the storm chased us out of the area. Two days later, we lost a second trap! Unfortunately, this one was too deep to recover on a dive. The traps we deploy have zinc clasps that dissolve after ~24 hours, so fish can eventually exit the traps on the off chance that we are unable to retrieve them. Still, we don’t want to simply abandon traps on the seafloor or run short on gear, so we made plans to retrieve the first trap. We just had to remain patient and hope for calmer seas. Finally, our window of opportunity opened up today.

Zodiac dive boat

The small boat is on a davit on the 01 deck.

A small boat is located on 01 deck near the stern of NOAA ship Pisces. The deck chief oversees operations as it is lowered for the divers, the dive master, and deckhands to board. They take an inflatable buoy and rope with them, and then head out to the coordinates of the trap. The divers descended ~20 meters to the shelf where the trap was indeed wedged on a rocky ledge. First, the divers removed the two GoPro cameras that were attached to the trap. Next, they secured a rope attached to a buoy on the trap. The ship will then be able to use this buoy to retrieve the trap as typically done. The divers ascended the line and were picked up with the small boat.

dive boat returns after successfully locating the trap

The small boat returns after successfully finding the trap.

The deckhands then attached our standard buoys to the rope, and returned to the Pisces. The divers climbed up a rope ladder on the starboard side of the ship, and the small boat was hoisted up. We then hauled up the missing trap like we would any other. The trap was empty, and all of the bait was gone – not surprising after a 4-day soak!

Personal Log:

I make a point to stand near the bow of the ship and watch the sea and sky for a while every day. I usually see some flying fish, which are fun to watch. They zip out of the water, dart across the waves, and then dive back under. One of them landed on deck after a storm, so I had a chance to see one up close.

flying fish found on deck

Flying fish

The skies are beautiful, too. I have seen some impressive clouds and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The view is completely unobstructed, so I can just take it all in without distraction. I find it all very peaceful.

The skies at sea are stunning.

Did You Know?

After otoliths and tissue samples are collected from the fish we keep, the fish are filleted, frozen, and donated to local food banks.

removing tissue samples from a fish

Collecting tissues from a fish.

Leah Johnson: All About the Fish, July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Friday, July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 033.235230
Longitude -077.298950
Water Temperature 25.88 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 28.3 °C
Relative Humidity 78 %
Wind Speed 5.76 knots
Wind Direction 355.13 degrees
Air Pressure 1011.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
When the traps are reeled in, the GoPro camera attachments are unclipped and brought into the dry lab. The cameras are encased in waterproof housing that can withstand the higher pressure at the seafloor. One camera is placed on the front of the trap, and one camera is placed on the back. Each video card captures ~45 minutes of footage. The videos will be carefully scrutinized at a later date to identify the fish (since many do not enter the traps), describe the habitat, and also describe the fish behavior. While aboard the ship, the videos are downloaded and watched just to make sure that the cameras worked properly, and to gain a general idea of what was happening around the trap. Occasionally, there are some really exciting moments, like when a tiger shark decided to investigate our trap!

tiger sharkThis tiger shark appeared in the video from both trap cameras as it circled.

While the cameras are being prepped in the dry lab for the next deployment, we are busy in the wet lab with the fish caught in the traps. The first step is identification. I could not identify a single fish when the first trap landed on the deck! However, I am slowly learning the names and distinctive features of the local fish. Here are a few examples of the fish that we have hauled in so far:

Once the fish are identified, they are sorted into different bins. We record the mass of each bin and the lengths of each fish. Most of the smaller fish are returned to the ocean once the measurements are recorded. Some fish are kept for further measuring and sampling. For each of these fish, we find the mass, recheck the total length (snout to tail), and also measure the fork length (snout to fork in tail) and standard length (snout to start of tail).

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

The fish is then ready for sampling. Depending on the species of fish, we may collect a variety of other biological materials:

  • Otoliths (ear stones) are made of calcium carbonate, and are located near the brain. As the fish grows, the calcium carbonate accumulates in layers. As a result, otoliths can be used – similarly to tree rings – to determine the age of the fish. I retrieved my first set of otoliths today!
  • Muscle tissue (the part of the fish that we eat) can be used to test for the presence of mercury. Since mercury is toxic, it is important to determine its concentration in fish species that are regularly consumed.
  • Gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) can be examined to determine if a fish is of reproductive age, and whether it is just about to spawn (release eggs / sperm into the water).
  • The stomach contents indicate what the fish has eaten.

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

The soft tissues are kept in bags and preserved in a freezer in the wet lab. Sample analyses will take place in various onshore labs.

Personal Log:
It is important to remember that this ship is home to most of the people on board. They live and work together in very close quarters. There are daily routines and specific duties that individuals fill to keep Pisces running smoothly. Cooperation is key. I do my best to be useful when I can, and step aside when I cannot. Despite my inexperience at sea, everyone has been incredibly kind, patient, and helpful. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are willing to show me the ropes!

Did You Know?
The lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Its numbers are increasing in waters off the Southeastern U.S. coast. These fish have few predators, and they are consuming smaller fish and invertebrates which also sustain local snapper and grouper populations.

lionfish

This lionfish was in one of our traps yesterday.

Leah Johnson: The Sampling Begins, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:20 PM
Latitude 034.242730
Longitude -076.394350
Water Temperature 24.99 °C
Salinity 36.5532 ppt
Air Temperature 29.5 °C
Relative Humidity 80%
Wind Speed 15.45 knots
Wind Direction 229.54 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.5 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
As a fishery-independent survey, our task is to monitor the population of fish – mostly those of commercial value – at a wide variety of locations. While commercial operations provide some information based on their annual catch, a fishery-independent survey is able to conduct a broader assessment in a given area of the ocean, even though fewer fish are caught. Because there is no limitation on fish size and a wider array of locations are sampled, these surveys can be used in conjunction with reports from commercial fishing vessels to provide a better picture of changing fish populations over time.

I am on the second leg of the sampling survey in the Southeast Atlantic, and I am working the 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM shift. We will be setting traps and cameras in waters between Myrtle Beach, SC and Hatteras, NC. NOAA Ship Pisces left port at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, July 22. I stood near the bow of the ship as we headed out to sea, and watched flying fish zip through the spray. Once we left the sheltered waters near Morehead City Port, the seas became rough. High winds led to high swells, and we were unable to set any fish traps that afternoon. Because of these conditions, we changed our plans so that we could shelter behind a cape overnight. Flexibility is key!

Map of Pisces route upon departure on Tuesday, July 22.

Map of Pisces route upon departure on Tuesday, July 22. Source: Shiptracker

Today, skies were clear and the water was calm. We deployed a total of 18 traps in three areas over the course of the day. I helped to bait the chevron traps and line them up on the deck. Once the ship was over the chosen location, the traps and buoys were pushed overboard. Most of the traps today were deployed at a depth of ~25 meters. Six traps are deployed in an area, and are set at least 200 meters apart. The traps soak for 90 minutes, and then the ship circles back for the first trap. It is hauled up on the starboard (right) side, and the fish fall into a large tray placed beneath the trap opening.

The crew pulls up a trap.

The crew pulls up a trap.

We collected a variety of fish which had to be sorted, measured, and either kept for further sampling or returned to the sea based on the species. The bulk of the fish were black sea bass, but there was also a wide range of small fish (including scup, pinfish, and tomtate), red snapper, gag grouper, toadfish, and triggerfish. A small octopus came up with the second trap, which was exciting for the whole crew! One trap line snagged during retrieval, so a couple people may try to collect it on a future dive. The camera footage has been interesting too, as there are many fish that may swim near the trap but never enter. Therefore, the cameras provide additional data for the survey. Just today, a tiger shark was caught on tape!

A variety of fish in a chevron trap

A wide variety of fish are brought up in a chevron trap.

Personal Log
I have only spent one full day at sea so far, but I am enjoying every second of it. I am fascinated by all of the fish and other marine life. I spent some quality time watching dolphins jumping alongside the ship in the afternoon, and just looking out over the water. Sometimes the horizon is completely empty. Occasionally, I can see a lighthouse on a cape or another ship. Most of the time, we are surrounded by only sea and sky. The color of the water varies with weather conditions and water depth.

I have not experienced any sea sickness, and I am grateful for that. It was a little difficult getting used to the movement of the ship. I was definitely wobbling all over the place on day one. The swells were big though, so everyone was wobbling around with me. Putting food on my plate during dinner was especially challenging – and keeping it on my plate while walking to a table was more challenging still! However, my sea legs are improving, and I managed to do some yoga at sunset on the fly deck with a couple of the crew members! I didn’t fall over…. much. It was great way to wrap up the day. Keeping up with regular activities, like exercise, is really important while at sea. I am also growing used to the sensation of being rocked to sleep at night.

Did You Know?
The triggerfish earned its name because of its dorsal fin. If you press down on the first spine (a long, thin bone) at the front of the fin, it won’t budge. However, if you place your finger on a lower, shorter spine (the “trigger”), you can collapse the fin. Cool!

I love triggerfish!

I love this gray triggerfish!

Leah Johnson: Almost Time to Sail, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Leah Johnson
Soon Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: July 7, 2015

Personal Log

About Me

I am a science teacher at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, IL. My background is primarily in Earth Science, but I enjoy learning and teaching in all areas of science. Currently, I teach Principles of Biology and Chemistry to freshmen and sophomores, and two elective courses – Weather and Environment and Physical Geology – to juniors and seniors. I work with amazing people who are invested in science education and outreach, and they are very supportive of my upcoming adventure at sea!

Outside of my career in science and education, I love painting, reading, traveling, horseback riding, and biking. I am lucky to be married to someone who shares many of my interests, and we have a couple awesome huskies, too!

Why Teacher At Sea?

I have always been fascinated with the ocean. I have spent many vacation hours snorkeling in Florida, Hawaii, and the Bahamas, and exploring tide pools along the Pacific Northwest coast. When I am home in the Midwest, I can often be found with my nose in a book about deep sea fish, or watching ocean documentaries. I heard about NOAA’s Teacher At Sea Program several years ago as a graduate student, and decided to apply during my second year of teaching high school. To my surprise and delight, I was admitted to the program. I am grateful for this opportunity to learn more about ocean life, and to share this hands-on experience with my students and others who are curious about marine life, careers at sea, and what it’s like to live on a boat for two weeks!

Enjoying the California Coast

Enjoying the California Coast

Assignment: Fisheries

On Monday, July 20, I will fly to North Carolina and meet up with the crew of NOAA ship Pisces. We will embark from Morehead City on July 21 and sail along the outer banks of the Carolinas. The purpose of this cruise is to monitor fisheries in the Southeastern waters of the U.S. We will be counting and measuring nearly all of the reef fish that are caught in traps, and determining the age and gender of a select number of fish. Underwater cameras will be used in addition to traps to establish a better survey of the local fish populations. I am very excited to participate in this research, and learn from a group of dedicated and highly-experienced individuals who have established careers in ocean science and sailing.

NOAA Ship Pisces, Photo courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Ship Pisces, Photo courtesy of NOAA

Sharing the Experience

When I write my next post, I will be in the Atlantic Ocean. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you, and I will do my best to answer any questions you have. Communication is critical to science outreach, so please come along for the ride by checking out my posts and the blogs of other Teachers At Sea who have documented their fascinating ocean adventures as well. Thanks for reading!

 Did You Know?

The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest ocean on Earth, covering about 41,105,000 square miles. This area makes up nearly 20% of Earth’s surface!

Source: NOAA

Alex Miller, Heading for Home, June 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Thursday, June 11, 2015

Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth
Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth

 

To conclude the discussion of the research on board the Shimada, I would like to profile the remaining scientists: the four fishermen of the night shift, and give a general report of the results of the cruise.

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Toby Auth, fisheries biologist with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Center (PSMFC), oversees most of the operations of the sorting, measuring and counting of the trawls. He works as a contractor to NOAA under the guidance of Ric Brodeur. Toby holds a BA in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Minnesota and he did both his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in Fisheries Management and he specialized in studying the early life of fish–egg, larval and juvenile stages, collectively called ichthyoplankton, basically anything fish-related that is small enough to sort of float along in the water.

As a researcher, he is most interested in understanding spawning success and food chain interactions of the Pacific coast species that come up in the trawls. Typically, Toby is at sea 30 – 40 days a year, but this year, due to the anomalous warm blob, he expects to be at sea about 50 – 60 days. The anomaly has implications for all fields of marine biology and oceanography.

In the far left of the image stands Dr. Paul Chittaro, of Ocean Associates in Seattle, WA. Paul is at sea on a research cruise for the first time in 10 years, and he’s very happy to be here. He was on board collecting fish in order to examine their otoliths, which are ear bones. Otoliths grow every day, laying down rings, almost like a tree. Analyzing these rings can give information about the fishes travels, diet and ocean conditions when they were alive.

The big guy in the back is Will Fennie, who will begin his Ph.D. at Oregon State University in the fall. The entire cruise he has been eagerly awaiting some juvenile rockfish to come up in the net and finally, in the last few nights, some did. Overall, we caught much less rockfish than in previous years. This could be for any number of reasons.

You can hear interviews with Paul and Will below.

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I have to give a HUGE thank you to Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of this mission, for supporting me as a Teacher at Sea and for reading each and every blog post!

Listen to my interview with Ric to learn more about the impacts of the research done on board the Shimada for these 13 DAS and possibilities for the future.

 

Thanks to XO Sarah Duncan as well, both she and Ric had to read and edit each one!

 

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Front row from left: Yours Truly, Emily Boring, Ric Brodeur; Back row from left: Jason Phillips, H.W. Fennie, Brittney Honisch, Toby Auth, Dr. Paul Chittaro, Amanda Gladics, Samantha Zeman, Curtis Roegner, Tyler Jackson

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It would take quite some time to tell all the stories of the marine wildlife we have seen on our 13 day cruise, but I would still like to share with you some of the photos and video I and others were lucky enough to capture. Enjoy!

All photos in these two galleries are courtesy of Amanda Gladics, Oregon State University, Seabird Oceanography Lab.

 

 

Personal Log

My experiences on board the Shimada have taught me a lot about myself and my abilities. I’ve done more writing, media processing and chatting with new people in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. I have a greater understanding of how scientists work in the field and the importance of fisheries to the health of our oceans and the commercial fishing industry and I plan to apply that understanding in my classroom to increase students’ understanding of marine science and awareness of possible careers. To my students: “Get ready, dudes!”

Hopefully, you all have learned a lot about fisheries research, the process of science and the fascinating cast of characters who sailed with the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. Maybe you’re even feeling a little inspired. Now, I know I’m an inland city kid, but I’ve loved the sea since I first saw Free Willy at the age of 7 and I’m not the only one who can trace their love of the sea to a starting point.

All the scientists on board have an origin story: one salient memory that they can credit with being the moment of inspiration for pursuing a life of study and research and a career in the field of science. If you’re curious about the world, you have the potential to be a great scientist. Science is for all people, no matter what age or situation, and these ones just happen to do theirs at sea. So, I want to know: Where will you do yours?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and listening and, maybe, sea you again soon!

Alex Miller, Teacher at Sea, signing off.

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Bye!

One last huge THANK YOU to the crew and officers of the Shimada for a wonderful cruise!!!

Heidi Wigman: Fisheries Sciences, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heidi Wigman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (24°29.956’N 083°320.601’W)
Date: June 8, 2015

Weather: 83° @ surface, E-SE winds @ 10-15 knots, seas 2-3 ft, average depth 123m

Science and Technology Log:

NOAA’s mission is three-fold: science, service, and stewardship.  By utilizing fisheries, hydrographic, and oceanographic scientists in the field, NOAA’s goal is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, while also putting forth a conservation effort towards coastal and marine ecosystems. This knowledge is shared with businesses, communities, and people, to inform on how to make good choices to protect our fragile earth.

sunset on the Gulf
Sunset on the Gulf
sunrise
Sunrise on the Gulf

The specific mission, for our current voyage, on the Pisces, is to survey fisheries at pre-determined sites throughout the Western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these surveys will be brought back to the lab in Pascagoula, Miss. and analyzed. Then determinations will be made for future surveys and studies. According to Chief Scientist, Brandi Noble, “These fishery independent surveys increase our knowledge of natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. We get a better picture of what’s down there and work with outside agencies to determine how to maintain the health of the fisheries.  Data gathered will be used in future stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico.”

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Bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf

The methods used to gather data on this cruise are through the use of the camera array and the bandit reels.  The camera arrays are deployed at sites that have been mapped and sit at the bottom for a total soak time of 40 minutes.  This footage is analyzed and processed by scientists to determine what the conditions of the reef are and the species of fish present in the area and their abundance.  This gives a partial picture, but to get a complete and accurate report, fish need to be studied more closely.  The “Bandit Reels” provide a more hands-on approach and allow the scientists to get data on sex, maturity stage, and age of species.  Some of the fish are released after some initial measurements, but the commercially important species are dissected and samples are taken for further lab analysis.  Initial measurements made with anything brought aboard include total length (TL), fork length (FL), standard length, SL (from nose to caudal fin), and weight.

Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish
Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish
removing organs to determine sex and maturity
Removing organs to determine sex and maturity

A closer look at the data allows scientists to make predictions on fish populations and growth over time.  Some of the data we got on this trip were for the Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper) and for the Pagrus pagrus (red porgy).

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Lutjanus campechanus “Red Snapper”
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Pagrus pagrus “Red Porgy”

There are several ways to disaggregate the data to determine differences and similarities based on region, time, species, etc.  For our purposes, we’ll make some observations involving probability, proportion, and statistics.

Math Problem of the day: You are a scientist and have brought data back from the Gulf of Mexico to analyze in your lab.  You have three tasks: a) to get an average fish size based on weight (species specific) b)  to determine what the proportion is of the Standard Length to the Total Length of each species (hint: ratio of SL/TL; find average) c) determine the theoretical probabilities that the next Red Snapper will be  >1,100g, and that the next red Porgy will be <1,000g (hint: how many times does this happen out of the total catches?)

Coming Soon . . . Meet some of the crew behind the Pisces

Previous Answers:

Trigonometry of Navigation post: 18 m/s @ 34°SE

Bandit Reels post: about 14.6 nautical miles

The STEM of Mapping post: layback = 218m, layback w/ catenary = 207m

Underwater Acoustics: about 163 sq. meters

SCUBA Science: letter group A

Alex Miller, The Sea Around Us, The Seafloor Below Us, June 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Our ship.
Our ship.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 12.4°C
  • Water Temperature: 13.3°C
  • Sky Conditions: Overcast
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 22 kts, N
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°59’62”, 124°33’97”

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The only piece of equipment on the Shimada I haven’t told you about is the box corer. Jason Phillips has been using the box corer to collect, well, box cores. Box cores are samples of the bottom of the ocean or sea floor (also, seabed). The box core is lowered to various depths (400 m, 300 m, 200 m, 100 m and 60 m), then survey technicians, Jaclyn Mazzella or Phil White, open the jaws of the machine and scoop up a mouthful of whatever is on the bottom, including benthic (referring to bottom of the ocean) creatures.

Once surfaced, Jason subsamples the sediment, sand, mud, small pieces of rocks and debris, removing just a small part of it and storing it until our return to land. Subsampling allows scientists to measure a manageable amount and then generalize about the larger remainder; while this is limiting because it assumes uniformity throughout the box core, the alternative is looking through each piece of sediment individually, something that is time and cost prohibitive. However, he does invest the time necessary to pick out all the creatures collected by the box corer.

Back at his lab, Jason will analyze the sediment, and then he or a colleague will identify all the tiny, tiny organisms, living things, found in the core.

Below, you can see Jason processing the core. He has washed down the smaller pieces of sediment like clay and sand through the holes in the mesh sieve. The sieve traps the smaller pieces of rock and even smaller animals, allowing him to pick them out and place them into preservative for processing when he returns to shore.

Jason and Amanda pick out benthic organisms from a core sample.
Jason and Amanda pick out benthic organisms from a core sample.

Through the study of box cores, Jason hopes to learn more about the creatures that live on the bottom of the sea. He told me many scientists who are doing box cores are simply collecting the sediment for study, they are not looking to see what organisms live in it, and therefore, there is a lot we don’t know. He says, “I would not be surprised if we found a new species in these cores.”

Take a look at some of the creatures Jason has unearthed on this cruise:

Because he has been collecting this data for two years, there are some patterns emerging about sediment conditions in different areas of the seabed. This information may help inform the placement and construction of a proposed wind farm off the Oregon coast.

For at least one day of our cruise, Jason also put out hooked long-lines to try and catch albacore, a type of tuna. Unfortunately, the fish weren’t biting. While albacore are unique among most tuna in that they prefer cooler water, Jason says the late-spring waters off the Oregon coast are still a little too cold for them and since they can swim up to 100 miles a day, they can easily find some more comfortable temperatures. The albacore that have been caught on previous cruises as part of this ongoing study are being tested for radioisotopes that may have originated from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011.

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And, of course, there’s always fun to be had on the Shimada. Below you can watch a video of Jason unearthing a pupa utility-worm from one of his box cores; scientific name (Travisia pupa), affectionately known as the “stink worm.” Will decides we need a closer, um, look.

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Tyler Jackson, a Master’s student at Oregon State University has been working on fisheries genetics since he was an undergraduate. His interest in marine science began when he was a wee recreational fisherman’s son growing up on the US-Canada border in Port Huron, MI.

In collecting megalopae, a larval form of Dungeness crab, he is trying to determine how closely related the Dungeness crab of areas off the Oregon coast are. He has studied population genetics among adult Dungeness crabs along the West Coast. He hypothesizes that if adult crabs in an area are closely related, larvae settling in the nearshore would be too. However, he tells me that it is not well understood how crab larvae travel throughout the ocean, and then for some to make it back to nearshore and settle to the bottom, maybe near where they came from. Perhaps these extended families get scattered throughout the seas, perhaps not.

Tyler Jackson, Oregon State University
Tyler Jackson, Oregon State University

At the first few stations, the tows were not bringing back enough individuals to give Tyler a large enough sample size to provide a reliable assessment of whether the crabs in that part of the ocean are related or not. Unfortunately, on this cruise Tyler did not get a sample size large enough to use.

In the following video you can see that, after sieving the neuston, Tyler found two Dungeness megalopae (too small of a sample size to test) but quite a lot of red rock crab megalopae. These little creatures are fascinating and pretty adorable.

I also interviewed Tyler about his work and life at sea. You can hear our talk below.

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Two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep at all, and I was thinking about the fact that my time on the Shimada is quickly coming to a close. I was trying to find a way to get even more information from the scientists on board to you. Taped interviews seemed like the perfect solution. I began conducting them yesterday and, after finishing three, realized I’d spoken to three of the four other women of the science crew. And so, here we are having a conversation about gender equity in the sciences.

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The ladies of the science crew. From left: Samantha Zeman, Amanda Gladics, Emily Boring, Brittney Honisch, Alexandra Miller

Using data from a longitudinal study done by the National Science Foundation, in 1973, 88% of doctorate holders working at the university level in life sciences (includes marine biology) were male, just 12% were female. Hearteningly, women have become much more well represented in the life sciences; in 2010, these numbers were 58% and 42%, respectively‡. You can see this same kind of near gender balance on board the Shimada: of the twelve (counting me) members of the science crew, five are women. Women are also well-represented in this blog post.

You can see the numbers breakdown for all the science and engineering fields here.

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I interviewed the four other women of the science crew about their research and life on board the ship, as well as being a woman in the field of life science. You can hear those interviews below.

If you would like to find the parts of the conversations about gender equality in marine science, you may use the time stamps below.

Table of Contents:

  • Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, OSU Seabird Oceanography Lab (13.55)
  • Samantha Zeman, Graduate Student and Research Assistant, University of Oregon (7.00)
  • Brittney Honisch, Marine Scientist, Hatfield Marine Science Center (8.50)
  • Emily Boring, Sophomore, Yale University (I did not ask Emily as she is still an undergraduate)

‡Compare this to the numbers for the physical sciences, in 1973, 95% of doctorates employed in academia were male, compared to 5% female; in 2010, 79% male to 21% female.

Additional Reading:

“Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?” New York Times, 2013

And no less than 4 days later…

“Tim Hunt Resigns After Comments” New York Times, 2015

Twitter Campaign #distractinglysexy

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Question of the Day:

Why are there still so few women in science? What can be done to encourage girls to pursue, and stay, in STEM fields?

Janelle Harrier-Wilson: T-8 Days and Counting – It’s Almost Time to Set Sail! September 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
(Soon to Be) 
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3, 2014 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 15, 2014

Personal Log

Janelle Harrier-Wilson with husband, Neil, and golden retriever, Devon, as a puppy.
With my husband, Neil Wilson, and my dog, Devon. He was a puppy at the time and graduating from training classes.

Hello and welcome! I am so excited to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. I currently teach chemistry, engineering, and technology at Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA (outside of Atlanta). I am part of an awesome project based learning (PBL) program called CDAT (Center for Design and Technology), which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Lanier High School opened in 2010, so this is our fifth year as a school; however, this is my first year teaching here. Before transferring to Lanier High School, I taught sixth grade Earth science at Lanier Middle School for eight years. Now, I have the awesome privilege of teaching many of my students a second time. It’s really fun to see how much they have grown up and matured since they were sixth graders.

I am looking forward to sharing what I learn with my students as I think my engineering students will gain insight into shipboard careers they may have never considered, especially as it relates to engineering. I think my technology students will get a chance to see how scientists collect and organize data using technology tools.

Although I teach chemistry and this research cruise is focusing on fisheries, I know my students will gain a new understanding of our oceans. Sampling the health, age, and quantity of different fish species with the NOAA scientists help us to measure the health of the oceans. Some of the big issues with the health of our oceans concern overfishing, human pollution, and ocean acidification. Ocean acidification refers to how the oceans take some of the extra carbon dioxide from the air and dissolve it into the water. This lowers the pH of the water making it more acidic, which can affect the health of the ocean’s inhabitants.

I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea so I could learn more about our oceans in order to share this knowledge with my students. I have always been a hugely passionate about space and space exploration. I’ve had so many cool space opportunities like seeing shuttles and rocket launches, going to Space Camp, floating in microgravity, and most recently, helping our students talk to Reid Wiseman on the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Space is awesome and amazing, but we have an equally amazing frontier right here on own planet, our oceans. I want to be able to share with my students about the oceans with as much confidence and enthusiasm as I do about space, so I am extremely happy to be a Teacher at Sea so I can begin to glimpse all the science our oceans entail. I was also inspired to apply after hearing the stories from two Teacher at Sea Alumni Jennifer Goldner and Kaci Heins, who I met at Advanced Space Camp and now call dear friends.

Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA
Experimenting in microgravity with Kaci Heins photo from NASA
Janelle Harr-er-Wilson on the water in Florida as a child
Me as a child in Florida

I grew up on the west coast of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico. Just two miles from my house was a tiny commercial fishing village, Cortez. My childhood best friend lived in Cortez, so I spent many days running up and down the docks and sampling the fresh caught seafood. (Fresh smoked mullet was my absolute favorite!) This gave me a unique look at the importance of fishing to a community. I even had a chance to go out on a small boat with a commercial fisherman and a few of my friends one night and catch fish via nets. So even though space has always been my passion, I feel a connection to the ocean as well.

Teacher at Sea goodies
Teacher at Sea goodies

My cruise is on the Henry B. Bigelow, a NOAA ship outfitted for fisheries research. You can take a virtual tour of the Henry B. Bigelow including the science labs, and track the ship here.

I am part of Leg II of the Autumn Bottom Trawl. We will be taking samples of fish and other species of marine animals from the Mid-Atlantic to Southern New England to measure the abundance, health, and age of certain fish species. As part of the science team, I will work a twelve hour shift everyday – either from noon to midnight (day shift) or from midnight to noon (nigh shift). I will find out my assigned shift when I arrive to the ship.

Right now I am working on getting everything I need ready and thinking about packing. Since space on the ship is very valuable, I am trying to pack as lightly as possible. Some of the things I plan to bring with me are earplugs (I hear the engines are loud so it’s good to have these while sleeping), anti-nausea aids so I don’t get seasick, and cameras to document my trip. A couple of weeks ago, I received this cool package of items from the Teacher at Sea program. I’ll definitely be bringing the water bottle, shirt, and hat with me. The good thing is there are laundry facilities on board, so I don’t have to pack too many outfits. I also plan to bring a companion along with me. At my school, we are the Lanier Longhorns, so I will be bringing one of the plush longhorns along with me for this adventure. My question for you is which one? Toro or Tyson? You get to decide!

Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?
Who should join me at sea: Toro or Tyson?

 

At Lanier, our motto is Learn.Lead.Succeed. I cannot wait to learn new things on this trip and share them all with you! What things to you hope I will learn and share with you? Please leave your ideas in the comments. Until next time!

Kevin McMahon: Midnight Mapping! July 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 5 – July 18, 2014

 

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 13, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:            27.6 °C

Relative Humidity:         73%

Wind Speed:                  5.04 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Someone is always working on the Pisces. When Nate Bacheler and the other fishery scientists have finished their work for the day collecting fish, it is show time for the hydrographers, the scientists who map and study the ocean floor. Their job is to map the ocean floor to help Nate find the best places to find fish for the next day.  Warren, Laura, David and Matt were kind enough to let me join them and explained how they map the ocean floor while on board the Pisces.

People have learned over the years that some fish like to hang out where there is a hard bottom, not a sandy bottom. These hard bottom areas are where coral and sponges can grow and it also happens to be where we usually find the most fish.

Instead of using a camera to find these hard bottom habitats, the mapping scientists use multibeam sonar. Here is a simple explanation on how sonar works. The ship sends a sound wave to the bottom of the ocean. When the sound wave hits the bottom, the sound bounces back up to the ship.

Since scientists know how fast sound travels in water, they can figure out how far it is to the ocean floor. If the sound wave bounces back quickly, we are close to the ocean floor. If the sound wave takes longer, the ocean floor is farther away. They can use this data to make a map of what the ocean floor looks like beneath the ship.

The neat thing about the Pisces is that it does not send down one sound wave only. It sends 70 waves at once. This is called multibeam sonar.

Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar.  Can you see why scientists like to use multibeam sonar?
Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar. Can you see why hydrographers like to use multibeam sonar? Credit: NOAA

So, now you know how sonar works in simple terms.

But it gets a little more complicated. Did you know that sound speed can be affected by the water temperature, by how salty the water is (the “salinity”), by tides, and by the motion of the ship?  Computers make corrections for all of these factors to help get a better picture of the ocean floor. But, computers don’t know the physical properties of our part of the ocean (because these properties change all the time) so we need to find this information and give it to the computer.

To find the temperature of the ocean water, the mapping scientists launch an “XBT” into the water.  XBT stands for “expendable bathythermograph.”  The XBT records the changes in water temperature as it travels to the ocean floor.  It looks like a missile.  It gets put into a launcher and it has a firing pin. It sounds pretty dangerous, doesn’t it!  I was excited to be able to fire it into the water.  But, when I pulled out the firing pin, the XBT just gently slid out of the launcher, softly plopped into the ocean, and quietly collected data all the way to the ocean floor.

 

Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.
Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.

                 

Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.
Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.

 

With the new data on water temperature, the hydrographers were able to create this map of the ocean floor.

Example of an Ocean Floor Map
Example of an Ocean Floor Map

 

In the map above, blue indicates that part of the ocean floor that is the deepest. The green color indicates the part of the map that is the next deepest. The red indicates the area that is most shallow.

Nate talks to the hydrographers early in the morning and then predicts where the hard bottom habitats might be. In particular, Nate looks for areas that have a sudden change in elevation, indicating a ledge feature.  If you had Nate’s job, where would you drop the 6 traps to find the most fish?  Look at the map below to see where Nate decided to deploy the traps.

 

The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.
The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.

 

To find out more about using sound to see the ocean floor and to see an animation of how this works, click on this link:

 NOAA: Seeing the Ocean Floor

               

Personal Log

 

We have now gotten into a regular routine on the ship.   The best part of the day for me is when we are retrieving the traps. We never know what we will see. Sometimes we catch nothing. Sometimes we find some really amazing things.

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Closer view of sharksucker on my arm
Closer view of sharksucker on my arm

 

Somebody is crabby.
Somebody is crabby.

 

Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors
Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors

 

A pair of butterflyfish
A pair of butterflyfish

 

Did you know?

The ocean is largely unexplored.  Maybe someday you will discover something new about the ocean!

 

Kainoa Higgins: Preparing to Set Sail! June 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kainoa Higgins

(Almost) Aboard the R/V Ocean Starr

June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast

Date: June 15, 2014

Personal Log

Aloha from the great Pacific Northwest!  My name is Kainoa Higgins and although I was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i, I have spent the last 10 years calling Tacoma, Washington home.  I am incredibly excited to have been selected as a 2014 NOAA Teacher at Sea and can’t wait to climb aboard the R/V Ocean Starr in a matter of hours!  I will be participating in two legs of research during my two and half weeks on ship.

During the first leg, I will be assisting scientists with conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey as they examine groundfish populations off the coast of the Western Seaboard of the North America.  Though I have been attempting to get caught up to speed, I currently only understand the program at a general level.  There are many species of rockfish, all of which are commercially valuable, and keeping track of their populations and distributions is essential for conscious management.  Having spoken with my Chief Scientist for this leg, Ric Brodeur, on several occasions leading up to my departure, I understand that my job will entail any, some or all of the following: mammal/bird observational surveys and plankton analysis by day followed by sorting of trawled collections analysis of the catch in the wet lab by night.  I’ll be able to share more as the adventure unfolds.

In the second leg, I will connect with Laurie Weitkamp who will take over as chief scientist with a fresh research team and research focus.  In a recent e-mail Laurie explained that this leg will be “experimental”.  In short, we will be trying a variety of modifications to a marine mammal excluder device to see how it fishes and influences the catch.  I’m not sure, exactly, how the MMED is used, but I would be willing to take a guess at it’s purpose.  I imagine it has something to do with an attempt to maintain commercial fishing operations without the interruption of marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, seals, whales, etc.) in close proximity.  Through some sort of “deflection”, its goal would also be reduce unintentional by-catch.  Once again, I’ll know more concretely a bit further down the road.  According to Laurie, in addition to help work up the catch, I will be helping with “marine mammal watch” before and during fishing.  Since we will use a surface trawl during the day, it is possible that we could catch a marine mammal (e.g., seals and dolphins). To minimize this risk, I will help serve as a lookout  before we set and when the trawl is out, and are required to immediately stop fishing if any are spotted nearby.  I look forward to spending some time on the bow scanning the horizon for marine mammals.

Plankton
One of my favorite pics of marine diatoms (phytoplankton) from the Puget Sound. Taken with iphone camera though microscope eyepiece.

A bit more about myself and the school I represent.  I grew up loving the ocean.  Much of my life as a child was spend in or around it.  Whether snorkeling, surfing or fishing my brother and I were raised to respect and appreciate all that the ocean had to offer.  After all, my name, Kainoa, means “free as the sea”.  There is a saying in the islands, Malama ‘aina, Malama i ke kai, meaning ‘to care for the land and care for the ocean’.  After graduating from Punahou School  in Honolulu, Hawaii I headed for the great Northwest to attend the University of Puget Sound.  I participated in Athletics, Lu’au, Senior Theatre Festival and even Greek Life.  I studied Biology and spent a semester abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Even though I took Marine Biology in one of the most amazing diverse systems in the world, my favorite class had to be “The Diversity of Algae”.  It opened my eyes up to the beauty and importance of micro life for the first time.  This led to my passion for – and borderline obsession with – plankton.

After earning a Master’s in the Arts of Teaching from UPS, I began my career at the Tacoma School of the Arts teaching entry level biology.  After my second year, I was asked to join our recently founded sister school, the Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI) located in Point Defiance Park on the North Tacoma peninsula.  SAMI  is built around a particular vision: we believe that students make the most of their learning when they take ownership of their education—when students intentionally choose to take on the challenge real learning entails. We further believe that this ownership most naturally develops within a learning community, encouraged by others who share that commitment.  We theme our curriculum around the math and science and emphasis the integration of disciplines and staff collaboration all the while perpetuating the pillars on which the schools were founded: community, empathy, thinking and balance.  SAMI has allowed me to pursue my passion for marine science.  We are a two minute walk to the waterfront which makes the learning opportunities for myself as students invaluable.  Between this field resource and collaborations with the University of Washington in the High School program and the University’s School of Oceanography I am in a position to offer my students a world-class learning experience.

I think it is important that teachers are always looking for opportunities to improve their practice and better educate themselves in ways that will better prepare their students for the world ahead of them.  The Teacher at Sea opportunity is an incredible way to engage myself as a life-long learner and will help me to better engage and inspire my students.  I look forward to designing and offering lessons derived from real-time science and experiences.  I am very grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to share it with you.

See you soon,

Kainoa

 

SAMI Students
SAMI Students reflecting on a trip to Dungeness Spit, WA.
Pups
The men of the house in my absence
Sandys
A relationship founded on respect

 

Ellen O’Donnell: There’s a Lot of Food in the Ocean and One More Whale to Feed! May 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: North Atlantic Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean; Franklin Basin
Date: May 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge: Light winds, slightly overcast, ocean swells between 3 to 5 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We spent the night out at sea and today and we worked the Franklin Basin. It is about 120 miles from Cape Cod. At first we didn’t see many whales, but things started picking up by lunchtime. We launched the little gray boat shortly after to get close to the right whales we were seeing. While I didn’t go on the gray boat today, many of the whales came right up to the ship. It was another amazing day and we were quite successful.

Copepod (photo: at-sea.org)

I have seen so many different ways that the whales catch their prey. I asked the question last time, “Why do sei and right whales often appear together?” This is because they like the same food. Both whales eat copepods. Copepods are tiny crustaceans that range from microscopic to a quarter of an inch. Crustaceans are invertebrates which are related to lobster, shrimp and crabs. They eat diatoms and plankton, which are even smaller! They are the most abundant species on earth and are important in many ocean food webs.

Cool Fact from the Monterey Bay Aquarium: A single copepod may eat from 11,000 to 373,000 diatoms in 24 hours!

So sei and right whales feed on these tiny abundant organisms, which is amazing given their size. Humpbacks and fin whales also filter feed, but they eat krill (another tiny crustacean), plankton and small fish. Humpbacks can consume up to 3,000 pounds of food a day.

Sei and right whale feeding in same area (photo: Genevive Davis)

All of these whales are called baleen whales because they filter their prey out of the water as they move through it. Right whales and sei whales surface feed a lot. They are close to the surface slowly moving through the water filtering out copepods. Often they are seen feeding side by side.

Sometimes right whales do what is called echelon feeding. One whale is up front and then whales along each side create a V-shape. The whales to the side of the one in front pick up prey that didn’t make it into the forward whale’s mouth. We saw a great example of echelon feeding right from the ship. There were six right whales slowly swimming in this V-shape. Every once in a while, if one got out of formation, they would swim back toward the V and turn and get back in formation.

Right Whales Echelon Feeding

Humpback whales also use a method for catching prey. When we got close to the humpback, Slumber, the other day, we noticed large bubbles rising to the surface. This is called bubble feeding. Humpbacks create large bubbles to trap and herd fish. Often they do this in groups.

Mother and new calf (photo: Jenn Gatzke)

So while watching the different whales, and how they feed was very interesting, this was not the most exciting thing. These surveys are important because they keep track of vital information needed to develop good conservation plans. Therefore, information such as where the individual whales are, which females breed, where they breed, and how many calves are born is important.

We identified around 17 whales yesterday and found one that one had not been biopsied. This whale was then biopsied so its information can go into the database. We also saw two mothers and their calves. Right whales typically give birth to their calves after a 12 month gestation period, off the coast of Georgia or North Florida.

This year only six calves were born and one died. This number is not good as biologists hope to have the number of calves born in the double digits. So you can imagine how happy everyone was when we identified a female who hadn’t been seen since 2010 with a new calf! We were able to get a biopsy from the calf as well, which will not only give genetic information from the skin, but also information on contaminants from the mother since it is still nursing. But I’m not finished yet! The icing on the cake was that the baby whale also released some fecal matter. Yes that’s right…whale poop! This may not seem important to you, but the whale biologists were ecstatic. The collected whale poop, yes it was collected in a bucket, gives a wealth of information, such as what it has been eating and the level of contaminants in the calves body.  Adult whale poop also gives hormonal information.  All in all it was a very successful day of collecting important data on right whales.

Relaxing after a hard day’s work
NOAA Scientists Peter Duley and Allison Henry scoop whale poop into a collection bag to be later analyzed

Personal Log 

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. Obviously the ocean is a big part of our environment. NOAA vessels have differing focuses on the data they collect from the ocean.  The Delaware II is a fisheries vessel. It goes out on various research cruises, which collect data on different organisms within our oceans. As you know they perform right whale cruises, like the one I am on now, but they also perform other studies as well. Midwater trawling is done for studies on herring. Large nets are pulled along the boat at mid-water level, and the data collected gives information on the distribution and abundance of herring. Deep water trawls with nets are done to collect scallops and clams, and determine their relative abundance and distribution. Shark cruises collect sharks by sending out a line with baited hooks. The sharks collected are tagged and released. Lastly, the Delaware II performs ichthyoplanktic studies, which collect eggs and larvae from various species of fish.

Jim Pontz (left) and Todd Wilson (right) getting the trawl net ready (photo: Delaware II)
Herring catch (photo: Delaware II)
Clam and Scallop Survey (photo: Delaware II)
Shark Tag and Release Survey (photo: Delaware II)

It is the deck crew that helps make this possible. Acting Chief Boatswain and Head Fisherman, Todd Wilson heads up a 5-man crew, who not only take care of all ship maintenance, with the exception of the engine, but serve as night-time lookouts, and operators of the fisheries equipment. We rely on them to get the little gray boat in and out of the water, which takes a lot of coordination, and they are always there to help you if you need it.

Launching the little gray boat

Kevin Sullivan: Baring the Bering, August 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 25-28, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  56.95N
Longitude: 162.93 W
Wind Speed:  10 Knots
Surface Water Temperature: 10.5 C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science and Technology Log

My attempt at play on words for the title: “Baring the Bering”…… somewhat fitting as what we have been doing is literally trying to uncover and expose the hidden truths and secrets that this sea has to offer.  I have become more comfortable with the scientific terminology being used on board and also have gotten into a nice flow with the overall processes going on and with the actual procedures and techniques being utilized to conduct these investigations.  In the last blog entry, I was discussing the work I was doing alongside the oceanographers. I have been continuing this work and adding additional learning outcomes each day as this team throws more and more learning opportunities my way.

For example, yesterday we were dealing with primary productivity. This study is essentially trying to determine the rate at which photosynthesis is occurring.  The amount of Phytoplankton–autotrophs (Self-feeders) obtaining their energy from sunlight–varies in different ecosystems as well as over time.  For example, for the school where I teach, Sandy Hook, NJ is a nearby coastal estuarine system.  Being an estuary and at mid-latitude, we have very high nutrient levels compliments of river runoff (in fact, excess runoff leads to algal blooms…think of it as pouring liquid Miracle-Gro into the waters and the resulting bloom that would occur.  In the end, unfortunately, it leads to eutrophication, decrease in O2 and potentially fish kills) as well as strong sun angle.  Therefore, we have large availability of productivity and biomass.  The Bering Sea also has tremendous productivity and therefore biomass as well.  Here, the relatively shallow seas of the Bering allow the Phytoplankton to transfer solar energy into chemical energy within the photic zone (area in which sun can penetrate). This coupled with the upwelling of nutrients off the shelf-break create the base of the food chain within these valuable, productive fisheries.  There is still a lot of uncertainty as to the transport and fate of this setup but it is clear that we need to learn more and concentrate our efforts into putting these pieces together.

So, the actual procedure is to again take water from the CTD’s (explained in last Blog) Niskin Bottles at various depths and then “feed” these marine plants nutrients and give them there other ingredient to conduct photosynthesis, which is sunlight (they are already in H2o).  We then take these samples and put them into a tank which is on the deck of the boat and has continuously circulating water.  We also put on Mesh Nylon bags to mimic the light concentration from the various depths they were taken from.  So for example, a sample taken at surface or near surface may be left without coverage whereas a sample taken at 50 meters may have two bags over the bottle and scatter the light entering to be representative of the light conditions the sample came from.  In the picture below, you can see this tank, the bottles under experiment (the gray bottle in lower left is one with a mesh bag for light reduction and the dark bottle in the lower right allows no light through and is the control)  and the continuous water circulating output in the lower right hand of the tank.

Primary Productivity Experiment
Primary Productivity Experiment

Now, the cool part of this, is that the nutrients that we introduced to the sample have been “laced” by stable isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen.  This way, after the sample has been filtered and the chlorophyl analyzed, we can make certain assumptions about how productive these phytoplankton are based on the isotope markers.

I cannot emphasize the importance of these producers enough.  Think of them as being the base of a pyramid (which is often used by ecologists) — if they are removed, all of the other trophic (feeding) levels cannot exist.  It takes a tremendous amount of producers to feed fewer and larger carnivores.  This has to do with a rule in Ecology/Biology refered to as the “10% rule”.  We cover this in class and will review it in more detail.  In the interim, check out this website for pre-reading information on the flow of energy in an ecosystem.

I often cite the following excerpt in class to illustrate this concept:

“Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year. The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.”

G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)

Ok, so for the next few blogs, I will start to debrief my followers on my experiences aboard the Oscar Dyson as they relate to the Fisheries end of this cruise and tie it into the Oceanographic studies I have spent the last few entries explaining.  I figured it made most sense to start at the base of the food chain and make my way up to the higher ordered species and then summarize with the interactions of all components for the Bering Sea and in turn, our global sea that represents 97% of all of Earth’s water supply.

In the interim, check out Where I am, almost real-time HERE.  From this site, you can obtain current latitude/longitude, wind speed, water temp etc.

Personal Log

As I noted in the last blog, Hurricane Irene was a real threat to the East Coast and NOAA’s “Hurricane Hunters” (see last blog entry) did an excellent job at keeping the public informed about the status of the storms strength, location, and traveling direction.  I brought it up last entry to illustrate the depth and scope of NOAA as an organization.  Now that she has come and left her mark, lets take it one step further.  Many places in the Mid-Atlantic received over 10″ of rain.  Can you name two major river basins along the East Coast that drain into the Atlantic Ocean?  If this water travels over millions of people’s yards (that have been heavily fertilized), and farming areas with livestock, think of the nutrient input into the Atlantic Basin.  Relate this to the work currently being done on the Oscar Dyson.  Remember, that off our coast of NJ, we often have to worry about an influx of too many nutrients and algal blooms…..If you want to learn more about causes/effects, then read this website about eutrophication.

During our travels yesterday, we were just offshore of very remote Cape Newenham, Alaska.  I took the following picture.  At the top of this mountain you can make out a white structure.  This was part of a system titled “White Alice Communication Systems” which was a “US Air Force telecommunication link system constructed in Alaska during the Cold War.  It also connected remote Air Force sites in Alaska such as Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W), Distant Early Warning line (DEW Line) and Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).  The system was advanced for its time, but became obsolete within 20 years following the advent of satellite communications.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Alice_Communications_System)

White Alice 08-27-11
White Alice 08-27-11
Chum Salmon 08/26/11
Chum Salmon 08/26/11

Kevin Sullivan: Bering Sea Bound, August 22, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 22-24, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  N
Longitude:  W
Wind Speed:  20-23kts Tue,Wed. seas 9′ Thu 8/25 = calm
Surface Water Temperature:  C
Air Temperature:  55F
Relative Humidity: 70%

Science and Technology Log

We are on Day II of our travels to get to our first sampling station located in the SE Bering Sea.  We will begin our fishing operations today!  We have had decent weather thus far although we did just go through Unimak Pass (see picture below of location) which is a narrow strait between the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean.  This passage offered a time of heavier seas.  I’m guessing that like any strait, the currents may become more funneled and the seas “confused” as they squeeze through this area.  It’s kind of analogous to it being more windy in between buildings of a major city vs. suburbia as the wind is funneled between skyscrapers.  I also imagine this to be a popular crossing for marine mammals as well.

Interesting to think that both marine mammals and humans use this passage to both get to the same things: a food source and a travel route.  It’s a migratory “highway” for marine mammals, and a heavily-trafficked area for humans in international trade and commercial fisheries.

Anyway, the Bering Sea is a very unique body of water. It really is the way that I imagined it.  It is as though you are looking through a kaleidoscope and the only offerings are 1000 different shades of grey.  It is rainy, foggy, and windy.  I can appreciate how this sea has been the graveyard for so many souls and fishing vessels in the past who have tried to extract the bounties it has to offer.

unimak pass
unimak pass

As of Wednesday, the 24th, we have finished 4 stations of the 30 that have been planned for Leg I of this study (Leg II is of similar duration and goals).  I was involved with helping the oceanographic crew with their tasks of collecting and evaluating various parameters of water chemistry.  To do this, an instrument called a “CTD”– an acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth — is lowered.  This instrument is the primary tool for determining these essential physical properties of sea water.  It allows the scientists to record detailed charting of these various parameters throughout the water column and helps us to understand how the ocean affects life and vice-versa.

One aspect that I found very interesting is the analyzing of chlorophyll through the water column.  All plant life on Earth contains the photosynthetic pigment called chlorophyll.  Phytoplankton (planktonic plants) occupy the photic zone of all water bodies.  Knowing that we live on a blue planet dominated by 70% coverage in water, we can thank these phytoplankton for their byproduct in photosynthesis, which is oxygen.  Kind of strange how you often symbolize the environmental movement with cutting down of the rainforests and cries that we are eliminating the trees that give us the air we breath.  This is true, but proportionately speaking, with an ocean-dominated sphere, we can thank these phytoplankton and photosynthetic bacteria for a large percentage of our oxygen.  Additionally, being at the base of the food chain and primary consumers, these extraordinary plants have carved a name for themselves in any marine investigation/study.

The procedure to measure chlorophyll involves the following:  water from the Niskin Bottles (attached to the CTD, used to “capture” water at select depths) is filtered through different filter meshes and the samples are deep-frozen at -80F.  To analyze chlorophyll content, the frozen sample filter is immersed in a 90% solution of DI (Distilled Water) and acetone which liberates the chlorophyll from the phytoplankton.  This is then sent through a fluorometer.

Filtering water from CTD for Chlorophyll Measurements
Filtering water from CTD for Chlorophyll Measurements

Fluorescence is the phenomena of some compounds to absorb specific wavelengths of light and then, emit longer wavelengths of light.  Chlorophyll absorbs blue light and emits, or fluoresces, red light and can be detected by this fluorometer.

Fluorometer; Berring Sea 08-25-11
Fluorometer; Berring Sea 08-25-11

Amazing to think that with this microscopic plant life, you can extrapolate out and potentially draw some general conclusions about the overall health of a place as large as the Bering Sea. Oceanographic work is remarkable.

CTD Berring Sea 08-24-11
CTD Berring Sea 08-24-11

 

Personal Log

The crew aboard the Oscar Dyson have been very accommodating and more than willing to educate me and take the time to physically show me how these scientific investigations work.  I am very impressed with the level of professionalism.  As a teacher, I know that most often, the best way to teach students is to present the material in a hands-on fashion…inquiry/discovery based.   This is clearly the format that I have been involved in while in the Bering Sea and I am learning a tremendous amount of information.

The food has been excellent (much better than I am used to while out at sea).  The seas have been a bit on the rough side but seem to be settling down somewhat (although, I do see a few Low Pressure Systems lined up, ready to enter the Bering Sea…..tis the season).  Veteran seamen in this area and even in the Mid-Atlantic off of NJ, know that this is the time of year when the weather starts to change). On a side note, I see that Hurricane Irene has its eyes set on the Eastern Seaboard.  I am hoping that everyone will take caution in my home state of NJ.

Lastly, it’s amazing also to think of the depth and extent of NOAA.  With oceans covering 70% of our planet and the entire planet encompassed by a small envelope of atmosphere that we breathe, it is fair to say that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a part of our everyday lives.  I am in the Bering Sea, one of the most remote and harsh places this planet has to offer and across the country, there are “Hurricane Hunters” flying into the eye of a hurricane that could potentially impact millions of people along the Mid Atlantic………..Both operated and run by NOAA!

Sunset on the Berring Sea 08-24-11
Sunset on the Bering Sea 08-24-11

Tammy Orilio, Fisheries Acoustics, June 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock SurveyGeographical
Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 28 June 2011


Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 57.11 N
Longitude:  -155.58 W
Wind Speed:  3.61 knots
Surface Water Temp:  9.0 degrees C
Water Depth:  271.10 m
Air Temp:  8.3 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 84%

Science & Technology Log
Today we will look at the acoustic system of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson! Acoustics is the science that studies how waves (including vibrations & sound waves)  move through solids, liquids, and gases.  The Oscar Dyson uses an acoustic system to find the pollock that we process.

The process begins when a piece of equipment called a transducer converts an electrical pulse into a sound wave.  The transducers are located on the underside of the ship (in the water).   The sound travels away from the vessel at roughly1500 feet per minute, and continues to do so until the sound wave hits another object such as a bubble, plankton, a fish, or the bottom. When the sound wave hits an object, it reflects the sound wave, sending the sound wave back to the Oscar Dyson as an echo. Equipment onboard listens to the echo.

good fishing
An image of the computer screen that shows a great number of fish. This was taken underneath the boat as we were line fishing in Sand Point.

The computers look at two critical pieces of information from the returning sound wave. First,  it measures the time that it took the echo to travel back to the ship. This piece of information gives the scientists onboard the distance the sound wave traveled. Remember that sound travels at roughly 1500 feet per minute. If the sound came back in one minute, then the object that the sound wave hit is 750 feet away (the sound traveled 750 feet to the object, hit the object, and then traveled 750 feet back to the boat).
The second critical piece of information is the intensity of the echo. The intensity of the echo tells the scientists how small or how large an object is, and this gives us an idea of what the sound wave hit. Tiny echos near the surface are almost certainly plankton, but larger objects in the midwater might be a school of fish.

poor fishing
The same spot as above, but with practically no fish. 

One of the things that surprised me the most was that fish and bubbles often look similar enough under water that it can fool the acoustics team into thinking that the bubbles are actually fish. This is because many species of fish have gas pockets inside of them, and so the readout looks very similar.  The gas pockets are technically called “swim bladders” and they are used to help the fish control buoyancy in the water.

Personal Log:

Well, it’s now Tuesday morning, and we are making excellent time on our way back to Kodiak.  The water has not been as rough as expected, thank goodness!  Yesterday’s forecast said we’d encounter winds up to 35 knots and seas up to 18 feet, but I have definitely not felt anything like that.  It’s not quite over yet, though, so I’m not getting my hopes up too much.

We’re scheduled to arrive in Kodiak sometime tomorrow (I don’t know the approximate time yet), or maybe even later tonight, which means I’ll have a day to kill there.  I’m looking forward to it because I didn’t get a chance to explore when I first arrived.  When I made it to Kodiak, I only had the clothes on my back, and it was raining for nearly the entire two days I was there, so I didn’t want to go outside and explore because if my clothes got wet, I had nothing else to change into!  One animal I haven’t seen on this trip is an eagle, and I hear they’re very easy to spot in Kodiak, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to look around tomorrow!

Question of the Day:

  • What is one way that bony fishes can control the amount of gas in their swim bladder?

Laura Rodriguez, June 2nd, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Laura Rodriguez
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
May 24 – June 2, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Surveys
Geographical Area: Eastern Bering Sea
Date: June 2, 2010

Why is Ocean Science Important?

Four Peak Glacier
Four Peak Glacier

My cruise is coming to an end. We are now sampling the last of the stations as we make our way back to Kodiak. On Saturday, we had a safety stand down drill. This entailed finding a spot close to shore where we could drop anchor and then have a little bit of free time. Some people fished for halibut off the boat and others went ashore to explore a little bit. I went ashore with a group that included the XO, Jeff Shoup, Ensign Amber Payne, Glen Whitney, Dennis Boggs, and two of the scientists, Tiffany Vance and Kevin Bailey.  We hiked around a part of Katmai National Park and Preserve. This is an area filled with active volcanoes and glaciers. We saw a brown bear and a fox.

Four-peaked-glacier
Four peaked glacier

We also saw a raft of sea lions close to shore that eventually came closer and told us to go away. Katmai Preserve is home to an estimated 2,000 bears. The area we visited is very remote with no roads leading to it.  Once back on board, it was back to work sampling more stations.

My time on board the Oscar Dyson has shown me both the beauty of the ocean and the need for people to understand and care for it. We are inextricably connected to the ocean. Whether we live near or far from the ocean, we depend on the ocean for fresh water (think water cycle) oxygen (the majority of oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by the phytoplankton in the ocean), food, medicines, and mineral and energy resources. Many people depend on the ocean for jobs and recreation. Our oceans, however, are fragile ecosystems that are affected by the activities of humans. Dumping wastes into the ocean, overfishing, drilling for oil and development along coastal areas all have consequences for the living things that call the ocean home. I have learned about areas where overfishing has depleted species of fish that may never come back. There is an area in the Gulf of Mexico that is called the dead zone because of fertilizers from farms dumped into the Gulf from the Mississippi River. Right now, there is the Deep Horizons oil leak that has already spilled 20 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and is leaking over 500,000 gallons of oil a day. We have a history of taking the ocean for granted and believing that it is so big that it can absorb unlimited amounts of pollution. We are finding out how wrong we are. Taking care of the ocean is everyone’s responsibility. In order to take care of the ocean, it is crucial that we understand the interrelationships between what we do here on land and what happens in the sea. This is why research such as what the scientists are doing on the Oscar Dyson is so important.

Me and the four peaks
Me and the four peaks

Answers to your questions:

Dan 1. – Radar is different from sonar. Radar uses radio waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation (light) to detect objects. Radar stands for radio detection and ranging. Sonar uses sound waves to detect objects.  Sonar stands for sound navigation and ranging.

Dan 2. –  The weather is not nearly cold enough to need the de-icers. I was, however, standing by one the other day and felt the warmth, so they are on.

Olivia – My classification on this cruise is officially “Teacher at Sea.” I am, however, included with the scientists.

Kylei – I have been very lucky with the weather. We have not had any bad weather. One day, the ocean had some pretty good swells and we were rocking and rolling a bit, but no real storm. It has actually been unusually sunny and mild here.

Sea Lions
Sea Lions

Your question to answer: Research one of the activities below that affects life in the ocean:

  1. Overfishing ( factory fishing ships)
  2. Whaling
  3. Offshore oil Drilling
  4. Ocean pollution
  5. Coastal development

Find out:

  1. Why are people concerned about this activity?
  2. What are people doing to protect the ocean from the negative aspects of this activity?
  3. What can you do to help protect the ocean and the life within it?

Dave Grant, November 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
November 6 – December 3, 2008

MissionVOCALS, an international field experiment designed to better understand the physical and chemical processes of oceanic climate systems
Geographical area of cruise: Southeast Pacific
Date: November 16, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sunrise: 10:16 UTC Sunset: 23:16 UTC
Wind: AM Slight; PM Slight
Seas: 4’
Precipitation: 0.0
Pressure: 1015

Science and Technology Log 

Flotsam and Jetsam “Never bring anything onto a boat that you can’t afford to lose.” (Nancy Church – Cape Cod Museum of Natural History)

Except for the anchor, there are very few items that go overboard intentionally on a ship. A hat blown off your head by the wind becomes flotsam, but something deliberately discarded is jetsamARGO  is the international program that deploys and monitors a global network of autonomous floats that monitor ocean conditions (“Taking the pulse of the oceans.”). The buoys are deployed from a variety of vessels and one of the main advantages is that a vessel does not have to slow down or stop to launch them. Because of this, a vessel dedicated to research is not required, and commercial and even cruise ships have participated in this world-ocean study.

Drifter currents
Drifter currents

Drifters have been distributed since 1999 and continuously monitor temperature, salinity and currents. They will provide a global network spread out on a 3º by 3º ocean grid (180-miles by 180miles). Data transmitted automatically to satellites is broadcast to the Global Drifter Program and available continuously to researchers.

Stickers on the drifter buoy
Stickers on the drifter buoy

Teachers and students also are involved through the Adopt-a-Drifter Program and we deployed drifters marked with decals from two schools partnered through it: Universite Nancy (France) and Grandview Elementary School – Grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Drifters actively transmit data for over a year, but like anything in the sea, can become the home for bio-fouling organisms that can interfere with their operation. We deployed several of them. The simplest are blue-andwhite basket ball-sized floats with a drogue (a large sock-like bag) that acts as a sea anchor or drift sock so that the movement of the drifter is by current, not wind. Once in the water, the packing materials dissolve, the drogue sinks to about 15 meters, and the currents, satellites, scientists and students do the rest. All researchers have to do to explore the oceans is log-on to the drifter website with a computer.  

“After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds… Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves… (After the Sea-Ship – Walt Whitman)

Dave holding the drifter buoy
Dave holding the drifter buoy

Other larger drifters are shipped in sturdy but degradable cardboard cartons. These too are launched off the stern and the shipping boxes rapidly fall apart after the water dissolves the glue. They are rather mysterious since we did not actually see what they look like, but I’ve seen others in the repair shop at WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution). They are tube-shaped and designed to automatically sink to as deep as 1000-meters, and then rise periodically to broadcast their data. What a wonderful journey they will have to share with the world when they start reporting their data in dark and stormy seas and on sunny days. Falling away astern of us, floating high and looking coffin-like, I was reminded of Queequeg’s casket and some of the most memorable lines from Moby Dick:  “These are times of dreamy solitude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin; one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it…”

Drifter array
Drifter array

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 9.23.30 PM

Personal Log 

Drifter in the water on its way!
Drifter in the water on its way!

We have had a great string of days. I have settled into an interesting work routine with  helpful and interesting scientists and crew. Weather balloons and sondes are released every four hours and the readouts from their fights are very informative. Along with the evening lectures, the week has been like a short semester on meteorology. Hourly water sampling has gone well too, and we are learning more about these peculiar eddies of warm and cold water each day.

My roommate (RW) is very nice and accommodating, and since we work different hours and find the best way to relax is with headphones and a book, the room does not seem crowded at all. There are a few items I am glad I brought, and I suggest they be added to the TAS list: coveralls, ski cap, knee pads and eye drops. The coveralls are great for cool mornings on deck and to quickly pull on for the weekly “abandon ship” drills, since you are required to report to your muster station in long pants and sleeves, and with a hat. My light-weight volleyball knee-pads are good if I have to kneel on the metal deck for a while to take pictures. And eye drops are a relief since we do get wind almost every day, and some very bright days since we are headed into the Austral Summer, and the sun’s position is moving south every day.

Crew holding the Argos drifter
Crew holding the Argos drifter

I have been checking my Almanac, and perhaps as early as tomorrow, our course will cross paths with the sun’s southern movement, and it will be directly overhead at Noon. This can only occur at locations in the “Tropics” (Between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) and I have heard sailors refer to it as a “Lahaina Noon.” This term comes from the old sailing days when whalers made port stops at Lahaina on Maui. When it occurs there, fence posts, and for that matter, people, do not cast a shadow. Hopefully the clouds will clear around midday and we will be able to see the phenomenon.

“Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves Where life and it ventures are laid, The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves May see us in sunshine and shade.” (Sun and Shadow by Oliver Wendell Holmes – 1857) 

Dave Grant, November 13, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
November 6 – December 3, 2008

MissionVOCALS, an international field experiment designed to better understand the physical and chemical processes of oceanic climate systems
Geographical area of cruise: Southeast Pacific
Date: November 13, 2008

Gooseneck barnacles and Grapsid crab
Gooseneck barnacles and Grapsid crab

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind: AM Calm; PM 5kts
Seas: 5’
Precipitation: 0.0
Pressure: 1016

Science and Technology Log 

Big whirls have little whirls That feed on their velocity, And little whirls have lesser whirls And so on to viscosity. (L.F. Richardson)

This little imitation of Jonathon Swift’s ditty helps illustrate the parallels between the atmosphere and ocean. Just as in the atmosphere, but much slower because of the increased density, turbulence in the water is expressed by meandering currents, and vortices. Good examples of this are observable when an oar is dipped into the water to push a boat, or a spoon is drawn across a bowl of soup. One of the mysteries of the SEP (South East Pacific) region is the presence of large oceanic vortices (Eddies), the mechanisms that generate them, and the length of time they persist as identifiable entities slowly spinning in the surrounding waters.

Dave holding the UTCD
Dave holding the UTCD

In a number of coastal areas fishermen and oceanographers have discovered that some important fish species can be found associated with these so-called mesoscale water structures, like upwelling areas, meandering currents and eddies. Such links are fairly well known and heavily exploited in the vicinity of the boundary currents off eastern North America (Gulf Stream), California (California Current) and Japan (Kuroshio Current); for tuna, swordfish, sardines and anchovies. The coast of Peru and Chile is swept by the northward flowing Humboldt (Peru-Chile) Current and the area is famous for the upwelling that brings deep,  cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface (and every 5-7 years when it doesn’t, El Nino conditions). Exposed to sunlight, phytoplankton utilize the nutrients to form the base of the world’s largest industrial fishery for fish meal and oil. The area also supports a large commercial tuna fishery.

UCTD Data
UCTD Data

Poorly understood is the role of eddies that spin off the major current; vortices averaging about 50-Km (30-miles) wide (i.e. mesoscale). These may be either cold or warm water eddies that may last offshore for months, and move as discrete masses to the west. In general these vortices have more energy that the surrounding waters, circulate faster; and are important because they transport heat, masses of water and nutrients to less productive regions towards the mid-ocean. The eddies also transport marine life and the mechanisms for this are also poorly understood, however the outcome is not. Moored buoys out here collect and support masses of fouling organisms like goose-neck barnacles that must be cleaned off periodically, along with other routine maintenance of the batteries and recording instruments. Servicing these buoys is also part of the mission of the Ron Brown.

Chasing “Eddy”

CTD Data
CTD Data

Tracking these “cyclones in the sea” requires interpreting daily satellite images that measure water temperature and by data collected by the UCTD (Underway Conductivity Temperature Depth) probe. This is a torpedo-shaped device cast off the stern of the Brown while we are underway. It rapidly sinks to several hundred meters. Then, like a big, expensive ($15,000.) fishing lure, it is retrieved with an electric motor that winds back over 600 meters of line. The whole process takes about 20-minutes (including the 2minute plunge of the UCTD).

The information acquired is phenomenal, and if collected any other way, would involve stopping the ship and repeatedly lowering Niskin or Nansen bottles; and adding weeks or months to a cruise schedule. Once back onboard the ship, the data is downloaded and plotted to give us a continuous picture of the upper layers of the ocean along our sailing route. All of this hourly data allows the tracing of water currents. The procedure is not without trials and tribulations. Lines can tangle or break, and there is always the possibility that the probe will bump into something – or something will bump into it down in the deep, dark ocean. However, any data retrieved is invaluable to our studies, and each cast produces a wealth of information.

Teeth marks on a UCTD
Teeth marks on a UCTD

Personal Log 

Today’s weather is fabulous. Most mornings are heavily overcast, but we are still close enough to the coast to enjoy breaks in the clouds. So, everyone is taking their breaks in folding chairs on the foredeck at “Steel Beach” since we are never certain when we’ll again have a sunny moment, or how long it will last.

After lunch there was a bit of excitement; we saw other mariners. In the old days of sailing, ships passing each other at sea would often stop to exchange greetings, information and mail. This practice was known as gamming. We sighted our first ship of the cruise; a cargo carrier heading north and piled high with shipping containers. It was too far off for gamming or even waving (The scientists who are sampling air want to keep their instruments free of exhaust from any nearby sources)  so it would have been out of the question anyway. The bridge gave it a wide berth; so wide that even with binoculars I could not be certain of the ship’s flag, name or registry, other than oversize lettering on containers that spelled JUDPER. Presumably it was carrying agricultural goods from southern Chile or manufactured goods and minerals from the central part of the country. Chile is a major exporter of copper; and the smelters, factories and vehicles in this upscale corner of South America (And the sulfur and particulate matter they spew into the sky) are a interesting land signatures for the atmospheric scientists and their delicate instruments. So the only gamming today is in the narrow passageways throughout the Brown. There is no wasted space on a ship, so in many areas there is “barely enough room to swing a cat.” (The cat being the cat-o-nine-tails once used to flog sailors. “The cat is out of the bag” when someone is to be punished.*)

Group watching a ship on the horizon
Group watching a ship on the horizon

I am still not certain what the proper ship’s etiquette is in passageways and stairways, but I am quick to relinquish the right-of-way to anyone who is carrying something, looks like they are in a hurry or on a mission, or in uniform (obviously) or kitchen staff in particular. Because the ship is always rocking, I’ve found that I tend to lean against the right wall while moving about. By lightly supporting myself leaning with a hand, elbow or shoulder (depending on the how significant the ship is rolling, pitching or yawing) I slide along the wall, and probably look like a clumsy puppy scampering down the hall, but it works…except for a few bruises here and there. Often I come face-to-face with the same shipmates repetitively during the day. (How many times a day can you say “Hello” to someone?) Everyone is polite and considerate, especially when moving about the ship, and in spite of repeatedly passing the same people many times every day. So generally, since everyone is busy for most of their shift, when meeting in the hallways, you resort to awkward routines like: muttered Hey, Hi, Yo or What’s-up; tipping your hat or a dumb half-salute; or a nod…or if from New England, what is known as the reverse nod.

*Flogging: There was a science to this horrible practice, not only with the number of lashes imposed, but what they were administered with: a colt (a single whip) or a cat (They varied in size from “king size” to “boy’s cats”).

Although the U.S. admirals reported that “it would be utterly impossible to have an efficient Navy without this form of punishment” Congress abolished flogging on July 17, 1862. And the last official British Navy flogging was in 1882 – although the captain’s authority remained on the books until 1949. (To politely paraphrase Winston Churchill, the British Navy was bound together by…*#@#&!, rum and the lash.)

One Final Note 

We discovered stowaways onboard…two cattle egrets. Egrets are wading birds that feed in shallow ponds and marshy areas; and the cattle egret regularly feed along roadsides and upland fields where cattle or tractors stir up insects. Even when threatened, they tend to fly only short distances, so it is odd to see them so far from land. However, in the 1950’s a small flock of these African birds crossed the South Atlantic to Brazil and establish a breeding colony. I remember spotting them for the first time on the Mexican border near Yuma in the 1970’s and today they have managed to thrive and spread all the way across the warmer half of North America.

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal, 
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading  
As far as the eye can reach, 
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing, 
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations… 
(Song for All Seas, All Ships – Walt Whitman)

Stowaways – cattle egrets
Stowaways – cattle egrets

Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey, August 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 15 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 24, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles
Wind direction 90o
Wind speed:  12-13 kts
Sea wave height 2’
Swell wave height 3-4’
Seawater temperature 20.4C
Sea Level Pressure: 1018 mb
Cloud cover: 4/8

Science and Technology Log 

We’re finally on the famous George’s Bank. It’s been a busy day – we had 7 stations on our watch, including 2 EPA stations.  It’s a lovely day, a little chilly, with a brisk wind.

I asked Jerry earlier in the cruise why George’s Bank has historically been such a productive area for fisheries. He explained that, first of all, it’s shallow so fish can spawn there and sunlight can penetrate the water column, providing energy for phytoplankton.  Steve said he’s seen a picture from the 1900’s of guys playing baseball on the shoals in the middle of the Bank.  Secondly, there’s a gyre-like water movement, probably resulting from the Labrador Current meeting the Gulf Stream, so it’s rich in nutrients and the fish that hatch there tend to be kept there by the current.  I’ve also heard about the “Hague Line” that was established by the International Court in the Hague to divide George’s Bank between Canada and the U.S.  Steve talked about how fisherman fish right along it. It’s great to get the perspectives of someone like Jerry whose views are those of a scientist well versed in fish and fisheries and Steve who has a wealth of knowledge from fishing this area.

I had a nice visit on the bridge this morning with Acting CO Kurt Zegowitz and Ensign Chad Meckley. Chad told me that the ALBATROSS IV doesn’t have a rudder – it’s steered by something called a Kort Nozzle which is essentially a large metal open-ended cylinder around the propeller.  When it is turned, it directs the outwash which makes the ship turn. Jerry suggested that it may be better for fishing boats because the nets sometimes get caught on a rudder.  However, this ship is not as maneuverable as it would be with a rudder.

I also got some more information on life in the NOAA Corps.  It seems like a pretty attractive job for a young person. Kurt spent his first sea duty in Hawaii and had a wonderful experience. Chad is thinking about what kind of billet he hopes to be assigned to for his shore duty, which will come after the ALBATROSS IV is decommissioned.  Kurt showed me a list of NOAA Corps billets – both at sea and on land and a list of the individuals in the Corps and where they are currently stationed.  I was pleased to see how many women are in the Corps.

Personal Log – Alexa Carey

I’ve become good friends with my new watch-mates; we have a lot of fun together.  From after-shift meetings at 3 a.m. to ‘Cake Breaks,’ Alicea, Wes, Tracy and I have really come together as a team.  I’ve never been too fond of group projects, most of the time because it leads to one person doing all of the work.  However, our shift has selected specific job roles that we trade off to ease the constant work load and maximize efficiency.

I’ve been talking to a wide variety of people through email, from my science teacher to friends from ISEF to family abroad.  I’m hoping to have a new puppy waiting at home when I get there. We used to have a Keeshond (Dutch Barge dog) named Dutch.  I’m hoping for a Tervuren or Husky, but it’s ultimately up to my parents because he/she will stay with them when I head over to school.  I encourage anyone I know who has a dog to watch the Dog Whisperer w/ Cesar Milan (Animal planet).

I’ve only been up since 11 a.m. (we go to bed after 3 a.m.) so not much has occurred today. Both shifts will be getting hit with stations rapidly today.  We might have close to 8 stations in just a single shift.  Still no whale sightings, but we’re not giving up hope. Last night, a sea of fish rode next to us on the boat. These fish (juveniles about 8 inches long), would jump about 3 feet out and across the water.  It was pretty neat. I’m going to get lunch and start piling on my gear.

Personal Log – Karen Meyers 

I can’t believe how comfortable I feel aboard ship now.  At first I was at loose ends about how to fill the free time, especially since it comes in chunks of unpredictable length.  But now, between writing logs, writing emails, working on the photo contest, making up a Power Point on my experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, talking to people on board, and trying to spend some time on the bridge or the hurricane deck watching for whales, the day just zips by.

Lisa Kercher, June 24, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 24, 2006

Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.
Ron Walker, our experienced driver, maneuvers our boat through the turns.

Science and Technology Log

The crew is working hard to finish sheet B, which is full of completed polygons, with a few remaining to be worked on. Launch 1018 went to work on three of those areas today. Captain Ron drove us to our destination and ENS Wendy Lewis started the computer system. Two of the areas we were assigned were low water areas that can only be navigated by an experienced cox’n. Good thing Ron was heading up our boat. He is as experienced as they come. To start our work we had to lower our transducer, which enables us to send out sonar beams that bounce off the ocean floor. Those beams bounce back to show the shape of the ocean floor.  We deployed our CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device three different times to get accurate readings on the conditions of the ocean that might affect our data collection. Surprisingly, we completed our assignment early and got to head in for lunch.

Humpback whales breach near the ship
Humpback whales breach near the ship

Personal Log 

Today was whale day! Captain Ron promised me whales and he delivered even before we heading out this morning.  As we stood on the fantail of the ship for the morning meeting, Ron pointed out a humpback breeching off in the distance!  Then as we cruised at 8 knots surveying our area, a large humpback put on a great show for us!  He surfaced again and again, showing off his immense tail fins. What a large splash he made!  I was able to watch him for nearly thirty minutes and captured some great video of the spectacular scene.  I had yet to see the grand prize of Alaskan marine life: the Orca, but whale day wasn’t over yet. As we idled off the northwest corner of Andronica Island completing our data for the day, a small pod of orcas came to play between our boat and the coast. I could see the white patch on their side and their characteristic dorsal fin. I was so thrilled!  Again, I had an amazing day out in the Alaskan seas. Am I really going to have to leave here?!?

Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island
Big splash from a humpback off Andronica Island

Lisa Kercher, June 23, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

 My title for the day was “Gadget Girl.”    I assisted the survey team by finding the bearing and horizontal distance  to the feature in question.
My title for the day was “Gadget Girl.” I assisted the survey team by finding the bearing and horizontal distance to the feature in question.

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 23, 2006

Science and Technology Log

This trip is just so amazing! It blows my mind that I keep having more and more exciting days and great adventures! What if work really was like this?!?! These people have great jobs! Boats left at 6:30 this morning, but we were back just in time for lunch. ENS Jon French, survey technicians Stephanie Mills and Grant Froelich, and I boarded the Ambar 2302, which is a small open craft and headed to a location called The Haystacks and Whaleback: two interesting islands.  We were doing shoreline survey, which is basically going in to verify or disprove what an airplane has already surveyed from above. This is called LIDAR (laser imaging detection and range). There are areas marked that might have a feature such as a rock that we have to check out and basically make sure it is there! I got to be gadget girl and when we found something, we had to log it by tracking it on a DGPS (differential global positioning system) satellite system, taking a picture, determining the bearing and finding the horizontal distance with a laser. The DGPS system is much more accurate than a standard GPS system.  As the other survey techs manned the computer and DGPS system I had to quickly do the other three things.  I had all three gadgets hanging from my neck and had to use them to give the techs the precise readings. Talk about nervous!

 Jon and Stephanie work on the data from the cabin of the Ambar boat.
Jon and Stephanie work on the data from the cabin of the Ambar boat.

Personal Log 

Stellar Sea Lions sun and play on Whaleback.
Stellar Sea Lions sun and play on Whaleback.

I saw two bald eagles on the top of one of the Haystacks and two more on Whaleback. They were so pretty.  I captured some short video of them flying.  Video on the boat is a little tricky though as I learned today…too much up and down motion! Then I saw a cute little seal quickly scurry for the water as we scared him from his spot on the rocks and also a sea otter and one big behemoth sea lion! He barked and smiled at us as we passed.  Then on Whaleback, which was a sea lions heaven, just a small short island that looked like the top of a whale’s back surfacing out of the water (hence the name), I saw about 40 more sea lions! They were noisy and smelly, but so cool. I watched them move like they were doing the worm. And they fought with each other and barked and splashed in the water. We watched them for 30 minutes as we were finishing our work, taking a break and snacking, before we headed back.  On the way back, like I said, the waves were fierce.

One behemoth sea lion smiles at us as we  drive by!
One behemoth sea lion smiles at us as we drive by!

After getting lifted off the boat and getting nailed back down and slamming my back and tailbone! I decided to ride the rest out in the cabin. As I made my way back there Grant, my tour guide of spotting whales, pointed out some HUMPBACKS! Yippee. We idled and watched them surface and resurface. They were very, very far away, but looked so huge, so I can’t image what they would have looked like close up! They jumped so high and straight out of the water and splashed so hard back down. There might have been three or four! Soooooo awesome!  So that was my day.  Again, so amazing! I loved it! I then took a long hot shower when we returned, followed by a yummy lunch and a long nap! This stuff is tiring! Working over the summer and teachers just don’t go together!

Question of the Day 

The tides determined our window for collecting shoreline data today.  We were given the time window of 5:30 to 10:30 am. This is the time during the day when there is a negative tide. This makes it much easier for boats to see features in the water that would not normally be exposed during a high tide situation. The west coast experiences semidiurnal tides. This is different from the tides on the east coast, which are called diurnal.  Can you describe the differences between the two types of tides?

Bald eagles
Bald eagles

Lisa Kercher, June 21, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Grant shows me the ropes of driving the boat
Grant shows me the ropes of driving the boat

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 21, 2006

Science and Technology Log

Launch 1018 set out just after 8:00 am this morning. I was teamed with FOO (Field Operations Officer) Jennifer Dowling, SST (Senior Survey Technician) Grant Froelich, and ENS Wendy Lewis.  We began our day by doing something called a PATCH TEST. This test is done to determine the allowable error of the data that is collected when moving the boat back and forth over a target such a rock just below the water’s surface. The test includes a pitch test, a roll test and a heading test. Each test collects information about the boat as it makes its way through the water.

I work hard to pull in the CTD which was resting about 150 feet below on the ocean floor.
I work hard to pull in the CTD which was resting about 150 feet below on the ocean floor.

As we passed over the large rock that we were observing under the water, a clear picture of it popped up on the screen in front of us. It was neat to see an underwater picture of a feature that was collected using echo sounding. The MBES (multi beam echo sounder) transducer is able to send out hundreds of signals and receive them back to create an accurate picture of things below the water’s surface.  It is quite amazing.

Midway through the day we returned to the FAIRWEATHER to a picnic lunch on the fantail. This was a fun way to send time bonding with the team I was working with that day. We then set out again for more hydrography work on the SW point of Cape Devine. I was able to do a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) cast all by myself.  I had carefully watched others deploy the CTD throughout the week and I had assisted on several aspects of the cast, but I was excited to be able to put what I had learned into practice. The CTD has to be turned on for three minutes to warm up, and then it must sit in the water for two minutes just below the surface to properly calibrate.  After that it is time to lower it to the bottom of the ocean floor to gather data, followed by quickly pulling it back to the boat. It is definitely fun, but hard work at the same time. The CTD device is by no means light! So today I drove the boat!  Ok, really I just sat in the driver’s seat while SST Grant Froelich taught me how he operates the vessel.  We weren’t even moving!

A beautiful day in Alaska
A beautiful day in Alaska

Personal Log 

Today is World Hydrography Day and what an amazing day for it! This is by far my best day here so far! They just keep getting better and better! Absolutely beautiful weather in Alaska today! Clear skies, sun, and warm temperatures made my outlook on the day wonderful! I saw my first whale today! It was amazing. There were two off the bow of our boat during the launch. I only saw a small part of their bodies and their puffs of water from their blowholes, but it was my first sighting and what I had been waiting for!  I also captured some amazingly beautiful pictures of two very large bald eagles resting on the navigation light on Andronica Island. Then to top it all off, when we returned from our launch and settled down to eat dinner, someone reported whales directly off the stern of the FAIRWEATHER playing in the Korovin Bay. I snapped some pictures as I watched them surface again and again.  I am in awe of the exquisite wildlife that is all around me here in Alaska!

Two whales play in the Korovin Bay, just off the stern of the FAIRWEATHER.  What a treat!
Two whales play in the Korovin Bay, just off the stern of the ship. What a treat! 

Question of the Day 

The bald eagles in Alaska are abundant. Unfortunately this wasn’t always the case. The population of bald eagles decreased in the past. Fortunately now the numbers of bald eagles are on the rise again. What chemical has been linked to the decrease in the bald eagle population? What was done about the use of this chemical in order to attempt to raise the numbers of bald eagles again?

Two bald eagles sit on the top of the navigational light on Andronica Island.  A beautiful scene as we took a break from our work!
Two bald eagles sit on the top of the navigational light on Andronica Island. A beautiful scene as we took a break from our work!

Lisa Kercher, June 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisa Kercher
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 11 – 24, 2006

Emily pulls in the CTD.
Emily pulls in the CTD.

Mission: Hydrographic and Fish Habitat Survey
Geographic Area: Alaska
Date: June 19, 2006

Science and Technology Log

The morning began at 7:00 with a delicious breakfast to fuel me up for what lie ahead. I was on the POD (plan of the day) to go out on a small launch boat.  How exciting! My only hesitation was knowing that I would be out on a small boat for 8 hours and I might just have to pee!  Regardless of my worriers, shortly after the 8:00 safety briefing, Launch 1010 was put in the water and myself, ENS Jonathan French, and boatmen Emily Evans and Ron Walker boarded with our gear for the day! We headed south of Andronica Island, where the FAIRWEATHER had been anchored for the night, and began our hydrography work. Each launch is equipped with the same technology that the FARIWEATHER has, making it easy to collect more data at one time.  As we located the polygon where we were assigned to work, we dropped the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) device into the water.

Jon and Emily watch the computers to monitor our work
Jon and Emily watch the computers to monitor our work

Jon and Emily quickly processed the data and then we began making passes through the polygon collecting data from the bottom of the ocean using the MBES (multi beam echo sounder) that is located on the underside of the boat. This equipment provides a picture of what the ocean floor looks like and locates any features such as rocks and rough terrain by bouncing beams of sound to the bottom of the ocean floor and then receiving them back. The speed at which the beams return and the length at which they travel is combined with the data that is collected from the CTD to get an accurate representation of the surface of the ocean bottom. I was able to run the equipment for a short time as Jon looked over my shoulder. It was  not too difficult! I was excited to learn later that night, after our work was processed that we collected very clean data that they survey team was very happy with! Good work team!

 I work the computer system, logging data as we cruise through our polygon
I work the computer system, logging data as we cruise through our polygon

Personal Log 

I could not believe how absolutely gorgeous it was in Alaska today! The skies were clear, the wind was calm and the temperature was warmer than it has been since arriving here! I even got to sunbathe on the launch for a short while as we cruised back to the FAIRWEATHER at the end of our workday. I got to see lots of wildlife on the launch and on Andronica Island.  While surveying today and yesterday we had to travel at precise speeds to acquire the most accurate data. While on Launch 1010 today we surveyed at 8 knots, completed our roll test at 7 knots, and yesterday while surveying on the FAIRWEATHER we cruised at 10 knots. Convert each of these speeds to miles per hour to get a better idea of how fast were we moving through the water in each instance.

Stellar Sea Lions sun on a small island southwest of Andronica Island.
Stellar Sea Lions sun on a small island southwest of Andronica Island.
A black oystercatcher comes close to our campfire on Andronica Island.  We were invading his habitat.
A black oystercatcher comes close to our campfire on Andronica Island. We were invading his habitat.
The remains of a sea urchin were washed up on the beach of Andronica Island.
The remains of a sea urchin were washed up on the beach of Andronica Island.

Lupine, a beautiful purple flower, grew wild all over the banks of Andronica Island.
Lupine, a beautiful purple flower, grew wild all over the banks of Andronica Island.