Angela Hung: The First Day of Summer, June 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 19-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 12, 2018

 

Weather Data from Prairie State College

Conditions at 1510

Latitude: 41.45° N

Longitude: 87.53° W

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: S 6mph

 

Science and Technology Log

How did we decide that June 21 is the first day of summer? Is this the day the pool opens? Is it the hottest day of the year? The critical date when students have de-stressed from the last school year and the next still seems far away?

In fact, the first day of summer says a lot about planet Earth’s annual journey around the sun. June 21 (sometimes June 20) is also called the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, this is the day that the North Pole is most directly pointed at the sun. From our view on the ground in Chicago Heights, the sun appears farthest north in the sky.

The seasons are a result of the Earth's tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun.

The seasons are a result of the Earth’s tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun. Image credit: NOAA National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/cle/seasons

Conversely, winter begins on a solstice as well—the shortest day of the year when the planet is leaning away from the sun. In between, Spring and Fall correspond to “equinoxes”, the days when night and day are “equal” or roughly the same lengths.

It follows that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. On June 21 while the North Pole is soaking in the sun, the South pole is in the shadows for the longest night of the year. A common misconception is that summer is when the entire Earth is close to the sun in an elliptical orbit and winter is when the planet is far away. If this was true, the Northern and Southern hemispheres would experience winter and summer at the same time. Actually, Earth’s orbit is fairly circular and the planet as a whole remains the same distance all year. Only the poles change their relative positions to the sun.

 

Introductory Personal Log

June 21 is a bittersweet day for me. As an avid gardener, the flip side of the Summer Solstice is that the days begin to get shorter and shorter until December 21. I start accounting foot by foot around the yard where “full sun” areas disappear and the infamous Chicago winter looms ahead. But this year, the Solstice brings a new excitement. Next week, Earth’s and my summer officially begins with a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. Oregon II is a research ship that surveys various types of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer in these bodies of water.

 

How would I know about the Gulf, Atlantic and the Caribbean? I’ve lived in a few places around the U.S. My early childhood was spent in northern Virginia before moving to Florida where I stayed until I left for graduate school. That took me to New Mexico (truly enchanting!) and my current position brought me here to the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. My parents still live in Florida by the Indian River on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean. My bachelor’s degree is from New College of Florida which sits on a bay in the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. I haven’t had the pleasure of living in the Caribbean, but I have visited a couple of times.

 

[Break to answer the burning questions on everyone’s minds]

Florida its has drawbacks to beaches, such as the crushing summer humidity, hurricanes, mosquitoes, giant spiders–it’s not that hard to leave.

New Mexico is amazingly beautiful, boasting the best sunsets in the country. There are more plants, less oxygen and colder winters than you think. The elevation in Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet rising to 10,000 feet in the Sandias Mountains that border the city. I learned to ski here.

I like Chicago, the native wildflowers are the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The cold, dark winter, which aren’t terribly worse than Albuquerque, is balanced by fall leaves and an invigorating appreciation for spring as everything seems to rise from the dead. Hence the keen interest in solstices and equinoxes. Finally, Northeast Illinois is strongly nostalgic. The climate, plants and animals are very similar to Virginia so I actually often feel like a kid again.

I’m a biology professor at Prairie State College. We are a community college located 30 miles south of Chicago. While my educational background is in animal behavior and ecology, my graduate research spanned genetics, cell biology and immunology. Biologists often say they prefer cells or organismal biology over the other, but it is important to study the parts and the whole of any study organism, both of which respond to the ecological context. I typically teach Organismal Biology, which surveys the diversity of life on Earth with an introduction to ecology and evolution, and Environmental Biology. This fall, Cell and Molecular Biology will be added to my regular course rotation.

Community colleges are dedicated teaching institutions. However, Prairie State College supports faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom through research. I teach full time but I sometimes have the privilege of mentoring a research student. This past spring, my mentee won First Place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Skyway Poster Competition! Community college students in the region present their original projects which are judged by scientist volunteers from Argonne National Lab.

Tylar tested different types of alternative plant growing systems such as hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce. He is committed to developing and promoting practices that reduce the environmental impact of industrial agriculture while meeting the needs of a growing world population. My experience as a Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Mexico is timely because agriculture in Illinois generates pollution that ultimately impacts the marine ecosystems of the Gulf. Additionally, his project is now a teaching tool that I can use in each of my classes along with what we learn on Oregon II.

 

Let’s get summer started!

Jennifer Dean: Sampling the Sea Floor, May 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 12 – May 24, 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 15, 2018

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude: 32° 23.3070’ N
Longitude: 79°02.4555’ W
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 feet
Wind Speed:  10.7 knots
Wind Direction: 131.42°
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.1°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

Multibeam Bathymetry
Lieutenant Jamie Hart (seen on the bridge in the picture below) explained how sonar pings allow software to paint a picture of the ocean floor.

Communication between the bridge, the technicians and the scientists are continuous to keep the mission coordinated and progressing.

With GPS that determines the latitude and longitude, the sonar determines the last piece of information to gain a three-dimensional view.  Adjustments have to be made below deck by Mr. Todd Walsh, Hydrographic senior technician (see previous post for additional information). The echo of return waves are detected downstream and calibrated to adjust for time, salinity, depth and a host of other factors to create the images used by the scientist to choose a path for sampling.

Images like the ones above are being used to determine locations for the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and to aid in navigation during the collection of samples and observations when running transects for inventory of the fish, coral and habitat.

Robotic Arms and Taking Samples of Coral and Sponges

Screen displays in front of the ROV operator, Eric Glidden, includes information on the sea floor gathered from the multibeam sonar technology. Other screens include information coming in from a still camera, cameras that are set to view the sampling bottles and drawers, as well as high definition images of the live ocean floor feed ahead of the ROV and images from cameras directly on the robotic arm.  The blue image in the picture is Pisces, another smaller red image not visible on this photo is the location of the ROV. The ROV operator ensures that there are no collisions, even if there is a loss of power or other malfunction, the ROV floats to the surface for recovery.

Two modes of sampling with ROV attachments visible in this image; on the left a suction hose and on the right is the robotic claw, used both to maneuver the hose and to grab samples for removal from the ocean floor by twisting and rotating the claw device. Using this arm reminds me a bit of those arcade area claws where one attempts to grab that coveted stuffed animal prize to have it ultimately not clasp or drop the treasure.  Unlike these games, the ROV operator and the claw expertly grasp and deposit coral and sponges with a 5 function arm system.

For a fun engineering activity that models these robotic systems visit this activity https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/edu/collection/media/hdwe-URRobot56.pdf

After samples are recovered topside they are brought inside the wet lab for processing, barcoding, photographing and for those samples needing genetic analysis, placed in vials and test tubes filled with ethanol for longer term storage and preservation of the coral’s tissues.

John K. Reed (Biologist/Taxonomist) discusses the sampling of a recovered sponge with Felicia Drummond (LT NOAA Corps).  Dr. Reed explains to me the octagonal polyps to look for when identifying this particular type of coral.

Caribbean Spiny lobster

Caribbean Spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. One of the many biotic factors observed on this ROV dive.

Other highlights this day were observations of two sandbar sharks and a stout moray eel, spotted on May 14th dive, and May 13th respectively.

Personal Log

May 13th, day 2 on the ship, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I found myself playing corn hole off the back of a ship in the Atlantic ocean with Navy officers, deckhands, stewards, engineers and scientists at sunset. For those of you that may not have heard of such a game, it involves throwing 4 bean bags at a hole.  Landing on the board seen in the pictures without sliding off, is a point.  Getting the bean bag into the hole is 3 points.  First team to 12 wins.  I enjoyed the additional challenge of being on a swaying ship, keeping one’s balance and making the toss, all at the same time.

This was a fun and an amazing day with a fire hose dose of information coming at me.  There are so many interesting directions of study pulling for my attention.  I am curious about the formation of the ocean floor that gives the appearance of ancient Mayan formations.  The evolution of these block-like limestone formations created from water erosion and the laying down of sediment layers makes for beautiful habitat for a diversity of creatures seen during the dives.  Yet the biotic factors are equally fascinating to study with their adaptations of form, corals with polyps that have 6 tentacles, belonging to a subclass of Hexacoralia to 8 tentacles, from another subclass Octacoralia.  What advantages and disadvantages do these differences in form provide to these creatures in their marine environment?  Some of these hard corals we are observing and collecting evolved back in the Miocene.  To learn more about coral and for ideas and activities for teaching about coral evolution visit this site:  https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral04_reefs.html

Last, but not least, I was on this adventure during Mother’s Day, so I not only want to thank my own mother for helping to get my daughters to school and looking after pets and plants during my absence, but for being a constant and committed pillar of support for me growing up and now into my adult life.  I wouldn’t be living the dream without her guidance and not to mention those brutal critiques of my writing over the decades.  Thanks to my mom and all the others mom’s out there reading this blog!  Happy Belated Mother’s Day.

Did You Know?
Scientists make observations about not only a sponges’ appearance but also its texture and smell.  Some are very stinky giving off odors similar to that of a rotten egg and vomit while others can emit a spicy aroma!

Fact or Fiction?
Excretions from certain sponges are demonstrating pancreatic cancer fighting properties.  Additional information can be found at this link for the extra curious:
http://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/marine-sponge.php

What’s My Story?  Stacey Harter
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?  Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist

Stacey Harter

Stacey Harter, Chief Scientist and Fisheries Ecologist, posing after emergency training

How long have you worked for NOAA?  16 years

What path did you take to get to your current position?  Undergraduate at Florida State University with a degree in Biology;  As an undergraduate, she did an internship at the Panama City lab and fell in love with the research side of marine science. She got her Master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Alabama and at the end of her Master’s she took a position as a contractor for 5 years before becoming a staff member with NOAA as a federal employee.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? She enjoys going to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings and giving them information on what they have learned about the MPAs and then seeing that data being used to make management decisions.
Reading all the ROV data is quite time consuming and can become monotonous at times.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? Even though Stacey grew up in landlocked New York, her passion for marine science started early on with visits to Sea World and watching the Discovery channel as a kid. In high school she realized that she could take this interest in the marine world and make a career out of it.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  She recommends as much math and science as one can take.  She highly recommends students participate in internships.  She has witnessed many times over the years that these internship opportunities later turn into long-term employment. In addition she recommends students volunteer in research labs and try to experience as many aspects of the different parts of the career as possible.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited for work?Around 2009 she went down in a manned submersible and explored the unique deep ocean communities at 2500 feet. She was blown away by the incredible different and original biota found in this environment.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Her typical day involves identifying fish species on video footage collected during and after dives. Another task she regularly performs is using software programs like Access and Excel for data analysis. She shared that about every couple of years she communicates their research by attending both scientific meetings and delivering information to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? Definitely.  When she first started, pad and paper were used for recording dive information and species observed which was later entered after a dive into Excel.  Now everything is done digitally and directly into computer software as the dive occurs.  In addition to the approach to data collection, media storage has changed with how video footage is stored into hard drives rather than on mini-DV tapes.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? She doesn’t spend all of her time on boats doing field work. While field work is a fun, it is actually a very small portion of the job. She actually spends about 90% of her time at a desk in front of her computer analyzing data and writing reports.

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Melissa Barker: On to the Emerald Coast, July 4, 2017

Lionfish!

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 4, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29 49.65 N

Longitude: 86 59.92 W

Air temp: 29.7 C

Water temp: 31.6 C

Wind direction: 337 degrees

Wind speed: 1.88 knots

Wave height: 0.5 meters

Sky: partly cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

We are now off the coast of Western Florida. After completing many stations in East Texas and Louisiana, we headed over to the Emerald Coast. State agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, who are SEAMAP partners, have already completed stations in their states using the same trawling protocol which allowed us to push on to Florida.

The change in species has been dramatic. We are now trawling in sandy bottom areas, which have also been shallower than most of our Texas trawls with muddy bottoms. Generally, the fish here in Florida have more coloration and our catches have been smaller with fewer, but often slightly larger fish. Below is a side by side comparison of fish diversity between a Texas trawl catch and a Florida trawl catch.

The increased coloration in the fish actually helps the fish hide better in the sandy bottomed blue waters, yet at the same time allowing potential mates to find each other more easily. In the murky bottom waters of Texas, the fish tend to blend in better with duller colors. Here are some of the interesting species we found in the Emerald Coast waters.

One new fish we have caught in Florida is the lionfish (Pterois volitans ). In less than 10 years, the Lionfish has become widely established as an invasive species in the US Southeast and Caribbean coastal waters. It is native to the Indo-Pacific region, but was introduced into this area of the Gulf.

It is believed that lionfish were introduced off the Florida coast in the mid-1980’s, then expanded their way up the east coast. By 2004, NOAA scientists confirmed breeding populations off the coast of North Carolina which then worked their way into the Gulf of Mexico by 2005-2008. Lionfish are a popular aquarium fish and it is hypothesized that people released them into the Atlantic when they no longer wanted them as aquarium pets. Their large eggs masses floated up the coast via the gulf steam allowing them to spread easily. According to the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences, it is estimated that their population has reached roughly 1,000 per acre in some locations of the Gulf.

Lionfish are top predators which compete for food and habitat with native predators that have been overfished like snapper and grouper.

Lionfish Infographic by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)

They consume over 50 species including some that are economically and ecologically important. For example, they can consume important algae-eating parrot fish, allowing for too much vegetation build in reef areas. They have no known predators and reproduce all year long. You have to be careful when handing lionfish because they can deliver a venomous sting with their spines that can cause pain, sweating and respiratory distress. There has been a push to encourage harvesting lionfish for consumption in an attempt to reduce their population, but unfortunately there is currently no known mechanism to control or eliminate the population. (Source: NOAA National Ocean Services)

 

 

Interviews with the People of the Oregon II- PART 2

I’ve spent some time talking with people who work on the ship from the different departments trying to understand their jobs and their desire to work at sea. I have posted three interviews in my previous blog and have three more to share with you here.

 

Commanding Officer Dave Nelson

Captain Dave Nelson in the captain’s chair

Captain Nelson’s number one responsibility is safety on board. He is also responsible for the operations, such as getting the data that the scientists need. Additionally, he has a significant teaching and mentoring role for the Ensigns, new Officers. He is one of only two civilian captains in the NOAA fleet and has been training junior officers for 15 years. In 2016, the Oregon II won NOAA Ship of the Year, partially due to the culture that Captain Nelson has cultivated on the ship. Since he worked his way up from the deck, he really can appreciate the role that each individual on the boat plays and says it is critical that everyone works together for the safety and the success of the science mission of the ship.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

After high school, I fished commercially and worked as crew on oil field supply boats. I captained a shrimp boat, but knew I wanted to find a career.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Third mate, then Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and finally Commanding Officer (CO) over the course 25 years. I had all the nautical knowledge and NOAA gave me the opportunity to take the Master Captains License test. I had to go back to the books to study hard and then passed with flying colors.

 What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I enjoy training the Junior Officers and seeing them make progress. And of course, the joy of going to sea.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Set a goal and stick to it. Don’t let anyone get in your way. At 47, I had to go back to the books and study harder than I ever had for my Master Captains exam. There will be set backs and hard work will be required, but sticking with your goal is worth it in the end.

 

Science Field Party Chief Andre DeBose

Field Party Chief Andre DeBose holding a Sphoerodies pachygaster (Blunthead Puffer)

Andre has been working at the NOAA Mississippi Lab in Pascagoula as the education coordinator and a member of the trawl unit for 21 years. He has been working on the Oregon II for 19 years. When at the lab he coordinates the education interns, collects and compiles trawl data and compiles historical trawl protocols. He is also the foreign national coordinator and get them cleared for sea duty. I’ve worked closely with Andre on the boat and appreciate all his patience and willingness to share his knowledge and insight with me.

 What does it mean to be Science Field Party Chief?

I am the liaison between the lab and the ship and help mediate requests from both parties. On board, I supervise all scientific activities and personal.

 What did you do before working for NOAA?

My degree is in general biology, which I linked to aquaculture. Right out of college, I worked at the Sea Chick aquaculture plant raising large mouth and hybrid striped bass. The facility was trying to make farmed grown fish as important as farmed raised chicken.

How did you come to work for NOAA?

I was hired as a temporary scientist for a Groundfish survey for 40 days aboard NOAA Ship Chapman. After that, I worked with a Red Drum tagging crew aboard the R/V Caretta then was hired on permanently by NOAA and been working at the lab ever since.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

Being out at sea. I miss my family and my normal day to day life.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

Going to sea. Even though it is hard to be away, I love being out there and the work we do.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

The goals that you desire may become your livelihood, always make sure to make your work fun and it will never bore you.

 

Second Engineer Darnell Doe

Second Engineer Darnell Doe

Darnell has been the Second Engineer aboard the Oregon II for three years. His job is a critical one as he is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the engines and generators. We are typically running on one engine and one generator with a second of each for back up. He changes filters, checks oil sump levels and makes sure everything is running smoothly.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I worked in the Navy for 20 years as an engineer doing repair as a machinist through three wars. Then I worked doing combat support for the military sea lift command.

Why work for NOAA?

A friend told me about a job opening on a NOAA ship. I applied and got it.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

I’m used to working on much bigger ships, so working on the Oregon II is like working on a lawn mower in comparison. I tackle problems in a routine way and solve them as they arise.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

Working on this ship is new and interesting, which I like. I’ve seen some weird stuff come out of that water and enjoy learning about the science that is happening onboard.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

If your mind is set on something, proceed on that road and keep persisting. Stick with your goal.

 

Personal Log

It’s the 4th of July and folks are getting patriotic on the Oregon II. The ship got a new flag today and we had festive lunch, which is typically the biggest meal on the ship due to the shift change. The day shift folks eat first and then start their shift, while the night shift folks end their shift, eat and head to bed.

Yesterday we saw land. It has been 10 days since I’ve seen hard ground which is a lot for this land lover. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I imagined we would be close enough to see land more often. However, it was strange to see beach hotels and condos at a distance today; we are between 3.5-8 miles off shore for a few of our stations. I’ve come to enjoy the endless sea view.

Tire pulled up in our trawl net

While trawling yesterday we caught a tire. We’ve actually found very little trash in our trawls, so the tire was a bit of a surprise. Then we caught another tire in the next trawl. Apparently, it is common for people to dump tires and other large trash items into the ocean and GPS the location. These items are used as fish aggregating devices. Vegetation will grow on them and attract small fish. Larger fish are then drawn to the area to feed. Using the GPS location, people will come back to fish this area. I guess it is helpful that we are picking up the tires.

It is hard to believe that I am almost at the end of my journey. We’ve finished our trawling and are making the trek back to Pascagoula, MS. It feels strange to be awake with no fish work to do, but I’m enjoying a little down time as it has been a busy two weeks full of fun and learning.

Did You Know?

The northwest coast of Florida from Pensacola Beach to Panama City Beach is referred to as the Emerald Coast, which is where we are now. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, the term Emerald Coast was coined in 1983 by a junior high school student who won $50 in the contest for a new area slogan.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

What is the coolest/craziest animal you found? (Alexa, Lorna, Blaine)

Lionfish (Pterois volitans)

Of all the fascinating new species I’ve seen, I think lionfish are the coolest and craziest organism of them all. I also find it interesting that a native species in one area of the world can be problematic and invasive in another part of the world.

Why do you think we only discovered/explored only 5% of the ocean? (Kale)

There are several reasons when we have explored so little of the ocean. One main reason is that ocean exploration is expensive, roughly $10,000 per day. Fish and other aquatic organisms are concentrated by the coast, so that is the area that is prioritized for exploration and where our major fisheries are located.

How many fish died for the research? (Mia, Bennett)

Most of the fish that come aboard end up dying for the purpose of science. I would estimate that in a typical trawl we have might pull in between 250 to 300 organisms. This is a pretty small amount when compared to the amount of fish removed by the commercial finishing industry and the unintended catch associated with the fishing industry. We often split the catch and end up sending half of the organisms back into the ocean fairly quickly. However, the ones we keep aboard give us important data that allow fisheries manager to assess the health of the fisheries in their states. We also keep and freeze certain species for other researchers who will use them off the boat. Ultimately the ones we don’t keep are returned to the ocean and will be eaten by larger fish and marine mammals.

Elizabeth Nyman: Tropical Storm Andrea Edition, June 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 6, 2013

Weather Data:
Wind Speed: 19.97 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 27.78 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 28.40 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1010.40 mb

Science and Technology Log

The Pisces is on its way to port, having had to suspend operations in wake of the bad weather that has since become Tropical Storm Andrea. We were supposed to go into Mayport Naval Base, right outside of Jacksonville, FL, but due to the storm we have been redirected to Port Canaveral.

Ocean

It’s been pretty rough out there! (Picture courtesy Ariane Frappier)

Despite all of this, we made the best of a bad situation. Even though we couldn’t do fishing or camera drops yesterday, we did still manage to get some data. We spent as much time as we could mapping the seafloor before we had to dodge the storm, and we took the time in the morning to do an XBT, an Expendable Bathythermograph.

You can use an XBT to get a temperature and depth reading for the water without having to actually stop the ship. A tube with a probe on it is attached to a launcher and is fired into the water. The probe has copper wire attached to it to send the data back to the ship.

So…you drop the probe, you get the readings, and at least you get some data even if you can’t stop the ship to send more delicate equipment down.

XBT

Launching probe…

Other than that, the past couple of days have been all about cleanup and dodging the storm. To a certain extent that makes the scientific posts a little quieter than usual, but it’s been a very interesting experience watching everyone work together to make sure that the scientists could get as much work done as possible without endangering the ship or its crew.

We didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do on this leg of the trip, unfortunately. But we still got a lot accomplished, and I feel like it was just as interesting to see how everyone was able to react to the weather and still get their job done.

Personal Log

Whew! I didn’t imagine when I got on the Pisces in Tampa that I’d spend the last bit of the trip dodging the first named Tropical Storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. But I definitely have a greater appreciation that, with science as in all things, sometimes life does not go quite to plan.

If all goes to schedule, I will be leaving the Pisces tonight, for our detour into Port Canaveral. We had to stop working a day early, and we’ll end up arriving a day early and into a different port. My last day has mostly been spent trying to rearrange for my travel home from a new city and with assisting the science crew in cleaning up the lab spaces.

All data collection requires a certain amount of flexibility. I knew that already – social science data is notoriously difficult to collect – but the problems that I face in my work are quite different from these. When international relations scholars have trouble with data, it’s usually because of things like difficulties in getting governments and/or people to tell the truth, etc. But sometimes, as now, it’s because conditions make it unsafe to collect the data. We can’t send people into shooting wars to count casualties, and we can’t send scientists into a hurricane to count fish.

Science is a method, not a subject, and the scientific method is one wherein we all simply do our best with what we have. Science has been so profoundly influential because of the simple power of this process, testing over and over what we think to be true, so that we can learn if we are wrong. It’s true if you study fish, if you study policy, or if you study anything in between.

There are many things we’ve discovered about our oceans, and the fish and other creatures that inhabit them. But there are still many more things to learn. I’m glad that we have scientists like the ones I met on the Pisces out looking for our fish, and glad that NOAA, in conjunction with states and other government agencies like the Coast Guard, are looking out for our oceans.

My thanks go out to the entire crew of the Pisces, and the great people at the Teacher at Sea program, for letting me be a part of the process.

Did You Know?

NOAA is predicting a highly active hurricane season for the Atlantic this year. Stay safe!

Elizabeth Nyman: Introduction, May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Assigned to NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Florida
Date: May 21, 2013

Elizabeth Nyman

Me, with a map of Reykjavik, Iceland

Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth Nyman, and I just finished my first year as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. UL Lafayette is a public university with about 16,000 students, located in a region with twin claims to fame: a center for Acadiana/Cajun culture (and food!) and the heart of the Louisiana offshore oil industry. Ocean resources are very important to southwestern Louisiana, both living and mineral. My students and their families live near or in some cases on the water; their favorite places to vacation are the beaches on Florida’s panhandle.

I have been teaching undergraduates since 2007, mostly courses on international relations and comparative politics. All professors have to have their own areas of arcane specialization, and mine is international maritime law and conflict. I do research and teach about maritime piracy, island tourism and sustainable development, and international maritime treaties like the Safety of Life at Sea, written to protect future ship passengers after the sinking of the Titanic.

I tell people I have the best career in the world, and when they hear more about what I do, most people agree. I got my Ph.D. in political science from Florida State University, in Tallahassee, FL, about two hours drive from where I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. The first week of graduate school, I was supposed to find a topic for my First Year Paper, a sort of mini-thesis designed to throw us into the world of high level research. I sat through hours of my professors talking about what they did, and doodled in the margins of my notebook. One doodle said “international conflicts over oceans?” and that became the topic of my paper.

(See, I was paying attention! Honest!)

For my dissertation, I received a grant to study an international fishery dispute between the Caribbean island states of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. It wasn’t much money, but I was a grad student and thus very, very skilled at living on nothing. And I wanted to spend as much time in the Caribbean as possible. Other students were talking about their plans for dissertation research, visiting archives in major cities or traveling to presidential libraries. And strangely enough, people who had always wondered why anyone would care about international ocean politics suddenly wished they’d chosen that as a topic.

Dover Beach, Barbados

The fact that this was two blocks away from where I stayed had nothing to do with their change of opinion, I’m sure. 🙂

But make no mistake, ocean politics are serious business. I don’t need to convince my students of that – they know the economics behind offshore drilling, as well as what happens when things go wrong. They know how much the region known for its seafood depends on shrimp and other fisheries. The resources of the ocean are big business, and sustain livelihoods across the state and across America.

Thing is, fish don’t stay in one place, and today’s American fishing vessels compete with others around the world to catch fish as they dart in and out of national waters. Fish that are unfortunately running out, according to the FAO– about 30% of the world’s marine fish are being overfished, meaning that more are being caught than are being born to replace them. Another 57% are being caught at capacity, or about as many are caught as are born to replace them.

Fish, fish, everywhere...for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Fish, fish, everywhere…for now. (Picture courtesy of National Geographic)

Now, I’m no biologist, and one of the things that has always been a mystery to me is how we know what we know about fish populations. We know that close to 90% of the world’s fish are being caught at or above capacity – but how do we know what “capacity” is? How do we know if a population is in decline?

I applied for the Teacher at Sea program because I wanted to be able to answer questions like this. My students are intelligent and curious, and I usually get asked about the science behind the policies at least once a semester. I talk to them about NOAA and the work they do, but I wanted the opportunity to experience it for myself. It’s one thing to read about research, and another thing to understand it by taking part in it. I am excited that I get the chance to have this experience, and will be able to better bridge the gap between understanding the science and understanding the policies.

I am fortunate enough to be assigned to the Pisces, a ship involved in fisheries research off the coast of my home state of Florida. The Atlantic and the Gulf are my waters, in a sense, where I have lived and worked for almost my entire life, and these are our fish. They belong to all of us, those who live on the coast and those who only come for a visit. I can’t wait to learn more about them, to finally fill in the scientific gaps in my knowledge.

Pisces, here I come!

NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)

NOAA Ship Pisces (picture courtesy of NOAA)

Deb Novak: Introduction, August 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Soon to be Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of Survey: The East Coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 8, 2012

Introduction

Hi! My name is Deb Novak and I am so excited about being a NOAA Teacher at Sea! NOAA is the acronym for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA studies the ocean, the atmosphere and the fish in the ocean. They are generous enough to invite a few lucky  teachers to come along each year and learn about the science that happens on NOAA vessels. Feel free to read other Teacher at Sea blogs to learn more!

Ms. Deb Novak with Dinos

As the Science Coordinator for Manzano Day School for the last five years, I have loved teaching science to pre-kindergarten through 5th grade students and working with teachers to develop science curriculum. Now, I’m excited about my new position, being named the new Chief of Education for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. I will be sharing this blog with lots of people throughout the state of New Mexico, but the focus of this blog is all the wonderful students at Manzano Day School!  I’m hoping some of our graduates will also log in to share this adventure with me!  Since my new job is only a few short blocks away from Manzano, I will be sharing more of my experience in person when I get back to Albuquerque.

The Oregon II copyright NOAA

This is the ship I’ll be on the Oregon II. It was born the same year I was: 1967. You can find out more about the Oregon II by clicking on the picture. You can also view the path the Oregon II will be traveling during my visit. Once I am on the ship I will send out a blog photo tour of what the inside of the ship looks like. I know that I will be traveling with about 30 people who do lots of different amazing jobs. I will be sharing their stories via this blog as well. There will also be blog posts about the science of the Shark Longline Survey. WhooHooo, sharks! I was given this mission because Ms. Louise Junick’s Kindergarten class put in a special request and so I included sharks in my application. I’ve always been interested in sharks and can’t wait to learn about shark research on the Oregon II.

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium

I had a cool opportunity to learn more about sharks this summer. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. They have the only whale sharks in an aquarium anywhere in the world.  And it got even better – I got to snorkel in the tank with the whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they have a really tiny mouth and eat little bitty critters called plankton. The Georgia Aquarium makes sure to keep the people safe from the animals in the tank, but even more important we had to learn how to keep the animals safe from us!  Some of the money I paid to swim with the whale sharks goes to a shark study that the aquarium is conducting. That is when I learned that whale sharks spend some time in the Gulf of Mexico! It would be great to see such an amazing and huge fish in the wild! With further research I found an article about whale sharks and the Gulf Oil Spill.  The map shows that I would be extremely lucky if I see one since I will be on the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico from where they tend to spend their time.

Each day I get more and more excited about my opportunity to be a Teacher at Sea. I know that I will want to share lots and lots of exciting information with everyone reading this blog. I also know that I will be able to send  2 or 3 blogs per week, so I hope you will check in and see where I am and what I am up to working with the scientists on the Oregon II. Wish me a Bon Voyage! (Happy Travels !)

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area

The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish

Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps

Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up

Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap

Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps

Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.