On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 35 miles east of Cape Fear, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, NC. (33º50’ N, 77º15’W)
Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)
Here’s our location from the other day, courtesy of windy.com. And here is a good Gulf Stream explanation from our friends at NOAA:
Date: July 19, 2019
Science and Technology Log
Being at sea has got me thinking; about life at sea, the lives and careers of the men and women on board, and about the marine organisms around us. Pause there for a minute. Nature’s beauty and abundance on land is readily seen, so long as you travel to the right location and you’re patient. The ocean, however, hides its multitudes beneath the waves. I’ve found myself drawn to the ocean my whole life, and here on the cruise, I am drawn to staring at and contemplating the ocean and its life – the great hidden beneath. You know the stats: the earth is covered by ~70% water, the deep ocean has been explored less than outer space, the ocean is warming and turning more acidic, etc. I’m not saying that you and I don’t already know these things. I’m only saying that you feel them differently when you are in the ocean, when you are immersed for days in the seascape.
The goal is this cruise is to survey fish. (SEFIS = Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey). The science crew repeats a similar protocol each day of the cruise. It looks something like this:
Chief scientist, Zeb Schobernd, determines the site locations using NOAA sea floor maps.
The science team (broken into day and night shifts) baits six traps with menhaden fish bait, and starts the two GoPros that are attached to the traps.
The Pisces crew then deploys the traps, 1-6, at pre-determined locations (see step 1). They do this by sliding them off the back of the ship. Traps are attached to buoys for later pick up.
Wait for around 75 minutes.
Pisces Senior Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, along with crew members, Mike and Junior, drop the CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] probe. See picture below.
*Stay tuned for a video chronicling this process.
6. After ~75 min, NOAA Corps officers drive back to retrieve the traps, in the order they were dropped. (1-6)
7. Crew members Mike and Junior, along with scientists, collect the fish in the trap and sort them by species.
8. All fish are measured for weight and length.
9. Depending on the species, some fish contribute further information, most notably, their otoliths (to determine age) and a sample of reproductive organs to determine maturity.
10. Rinse and repeat, four times each day, for the length of the cruise.
I mostly work with the excellent morning crew.
Here’s a view into yesterday’s fish count – more fish and more kinds of fish:
Here is a view off the back of the boat, called the stern, where the traps are dropped.
On Wednesday the GoPros on one of the fish traps collected footage of a friendly wandering tiger shark. Our camera technician, Mike Bollinger, using his stereo video technique, determined the size of the shark to be ~ 8.5 feet. I added the location’s CTD data to the picture. This is part of an upcoming video full of neat footage. See below.
Things continue to be exciting on board. My mission to film flying fish flying continues (local species unknown/not really sure; probably family: Exocoetidae). But not without some mild success! I managed to get some of ‘em flying off the port side near the bow. Man are they quick. And small. And the seas were rough. Yet I remain undeterred! Here’s a picture of me waiting and watching patiently, followed by a picture of an unlucky little flying fish who abandoned sea and was left stranded at ship. Poor little fella.
The seas have picked up quite a bit. Rising up to 5-6 feet. That may not seem terrifically high, but it sure does rock the ship. Good thing seas were flat at the start, allowing me to get used to life at sea.
I just saw some dolphins! Yippie! Pictures and video to come.
Though not legal, I’m dying to take a swim in these beautiful blue waters.
I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the ocean. *short of being stranded at sea, I suppose. See “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” – a true story and great book that’s may have served as inspiration for Moby Dick. I loved the book, haven’t seen the movie. Or check out the lost at sea portions of the, hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened, “Unbroken” – great book, okay movie.
We’ve caught a number of moray eels in the fish traps. They’re super squirmy and unfriendly. Turns out they also have pharyngeal mouth parts. Essentially a second mouth that shoots after their first one is opened. Check out this fascinating look into the morey eel’s jaw biomechanics.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Time 0900; mostly sunny, clouds 25% altocumulus; wind 5 knots, 120° (ESE); air 21°C, water 21°C, wave height 1-2 ft.
Science and Technology Log
We continue to zigzag westward on our wild plankton hunt. When we are closer to shore, navigation is tricky, because we are constantly dodging oil platforms, so we can never quite do the straight lines that are drawn on the chart.
One of our Oak Meadow math teachers, Jacquelyn O’Donohoe, was wondering about math applications in the work that we are doing. The list is long! But don’t let that deter you from science – no need to fear the math! In fact, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt told me that he was never good at math, but when it came to navigating a ship, it all became more visual and much more understandable. I think it’s cool to see math and physics being applied. So, just for fun, I’ll point out the many places where math is used here on the ship – it’s in just about every part of the operations.
Today’s topic is neuston. As soon as we get the bongo nets back on board, the cable gets switched over to the neuston net. This net is a huge pipe rectangle, 1 meter x 2 meters, with a large net extending to the cod end to collect the sample. The mesh of this net is 1mm, much larger than the 0.3mm mesh of the bongo nets. So we aren’t getting the tiniest things in the neuston net, but still pretty small stuff! We lower the net to the surface, using the winch, and let it drag there for ten minutes. The goal is to have the net half in the water, so we have a swept area of 0.5 x 2 meters, or 1 square meter. (See, there’s some math for you!) That’s the goal. Sometimes with big waves, none of the net is in the water, and then all of it is, but it averages out.
Then we hose the net off thoroughly to get what is stuck to the net into the cod end.
As I mentioned before, neuston is the array of living organisms that live on or just below the surface. Some of it is not plankton, as you can also catch larger fish, but mostly, the sample overlaps with the larger plankton that we catch in the bongos. There tends to be more jellyfish in the neuston net, so we sometimes wear gloves. Pam got stung by a man o’ war on the first day while cleaning out the net!
Sometimes we end up with Sargassum in our nets. Sargassum is a type of brown “macroalgae” (seaweed) that grows in large clumps and floats on the surface. Have you ever heard of the Sargasso Sea? It is a massive collection of Sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean, held in place by the North Atlantic Gyre.
Sargassum often collects in our nets. Sometimes we get gallons of Sargassum, and we have to carefully hose the organisms off of it, and throw the weeds back. We get the most interesting variety of life in the Sargassum! It supports entire communities of life that wouldn’t be there without it. If you want to know a little more about Sargassum communities, check out this website.
Here are a few examples of some of the photographable organisms we have collected in the neuston net. I’m working on getting micrographs of the really cool critters that are too small to see well with the naked eye, but they are amazing – stay tuned. All of the fish, except the flying fish, are very young; the adults will be much, much larger. (If you click on one of these, you will see a nice slide show and the full caption.)
Half-beak (Hemiramphidae). The long sword like thing is the lower lip. What could the adaptive value of that possibly be?
Trigger fish (Ballistidae)
Sargassum fish (Histrio histrio)
???? (Let’s call it “Littlush fishus”)
Flying Fish! This one was about 8″ long.
Pipefish (Syngnathidae) – in the seahorse family because of their similar long snout
This is either a filefish or a triggerfish.
Baby Portuguese Man o’ war (Physalis physalis)
Aurelia, or moon jelly. These get much larger than this little one, and are usually not seen in winter here.
By-the-wind sailor (Velella velella) – a type of jellyfish. They are so beautiful with their sails! How did they qualify for two such lovely names?
Lastly, here is a really cool neuston sample we got – whale food!
Now let’s turn to the other life form on the ship – the people. There are a total of 26 people on this cruise. Everyone is really great; it’s a community of its own. First, let me introduce the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship.
The NOAA Corps, or NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States (can you name the others?). It seems that many have never heard of the NOAA Corps, so it’s worth telling you a little bit about them. Officers are trained to take leadership positions in the operation of ships and aircraft, conducting research missions such as this one and much, much more! NOAA Corps has all the career benefits of the U.S. military, without active combat. Our officers all have a degree in some kind of science, often marine science or fisheries biology.
The crew members generally keep 4 hour watches, twice a day. I really enjoy going up to the bridge to hang out with them. It’s a whole different world up there, and they have been gracious enough to explain to me (as best as I can understand it) how they navigate the ship. Conceptually, I get it pretty well, but even if I was allowed to, I wouldn’t dare touch one of the buttons and dials they have up there!
Our XO (Executive Officer) on the Gunter is LCDR Colin Little. Colin has been with NOAA for eleven years now, and his previous assignments include Sea Duty aboard Oregon II and Oscar Elton Sette, and shore assignments in Annapolis, MD and Newport, OR. His background is in fish morphology and evolution. His wife and two sons are currently living in Chicago.
ENS Kristin Johns has been on the Gunter for almost a year. She joined NOAA after getting a biology degree at Rutgers. She is currently being trained to be the next Navigation Officer. Kristin is the safety officer, as well as the MPIC (Medical Person in Charge). Kristin is the one who suggested I use the word “thalassophilia” as the word of the day – something she clearly suffers from!
Our Operations Officer (OPS) is LT Marc Weekley. Marc is in charge of organizing the logistics, and coordinating between the scientists and the crew. He’s been with NOAA for ten years (on the Gunter for two years), and has had some interesting land-based as well as offshore posts, including a year at the South Pole Station (yes, Antarctica) doing clean air and ozone monitoring.
ENS Melissa Mathes is newest officer with NOAA, but spent 6 years in the Army Reserves in college, and then 6 years of active duty with the Navy. Melissa loves archery and motorcycles, and she has been rumored to occasionally dance while on watch.
ENS (which stands for Ensign, by the way) David Wang, originally from New York City, is our Navigation Officer (NAV). He’s been with NOAA for two years. His job, as he puts it, is “getting us where we gotta go, safely.” He is the one who charts our course, or oversees the other Junior Officers as they do it. Dave used to be a commercial fisherman, and when he’s not on duty, those are his fishing lines extending out from the back deck. He’s also an avid cyclist and ultimate Frisbee player.
ENS Peter Gleichauf has been on the Gunter since November, but finished his training over a year ago. He is also an aviator, musician, and avid outdoors person. In fact, for all of the officers, health, fitness, and active lifestyle is a priority. Pete is in charge of environmental compliance on the ship.
Term of the Day: USS Cole – you can look this one up. Next blog post I will explain what in the world it has to do with a plankton research cruise. I promise it will all make sense!
Weather: Partly cloudy. Winds 10 to 15 knots. Waves 1 to 2 feet.
Science and Technology Log:
We have been very busy with stations. The catch on Thursday included a variety of shrimp. There are many different kinds of shrimp and a lot of them can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Did you know that most shrimp have a short lifespan, maybe only two to three years?
Some of the ones we caught were the Rose Shrimp (Parapenaeus politus), Roughback Shrimp (Rimapenaeus constrictus), Brown Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris stimpson) and the Spiny Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia barkenroadi). Since the scientist use the proper names for each species, I am trying to learn those names too!
NOAA is one of the primary agencies that watches over the aquaculture or farming in the water. With surveys such as the one the NOAA Ship Oregon II is conducting they are able to calculate the amount of fish, shrimp, and other organisms that can be taken out each year. It is similar to the hunting season we have for deer at home. This protects the industry and allows for the species to grow and not be overfished.
Red snapper is a species that was being overfished for many years and because of this they were not growing to maturity. Now with limits on how many red snapper can be caught, it is making a comeback.
Another way that the scientist collect species on the NOAA Ship Oregon II is by using the Neuston nets. These large nets float half in the water and half under the water. They are designed to collect the tiny organisms that float on the top of the water or live right under the surface of the water.
When the nets are being brought back to the ship, we must rinse everything down into the bottom collection container. The material is then placed into jars and chemicals are added to preserve everything.
Later the material collected must be transferred into other chemicals and then sent back to the lab on land to be identified.
In the photo I am helping Scientist Andre Debose prepare the samples for transfer.
It takes many people doing many different jobs to keep a ship like the NOAA Ship Oregon II running smoothly.
One job is the ET or Electrical Technician. The ET is a person that helps maintain and repair the electronic components and equipment or devices that use electricity. The NOAA Ship Oregon II is very fortunate to have Brian Thomas as their ET. Brian is ready to work on anything from the radar of the ship to my laptop that I am using to write my blog.
He has been with NOAA as an independent Federal worker since 2006. Before that he was in the Navy for 20 years working with sonar, so Brian knows his way around the ship! He also worked at the shipyards before joining the crew.
He said he had training for three years to learn his present job and because so much of the ship’s equipment works with electricity, Brian is on call 24 hours a day. Normally he said ships have rotating ET’s, but he is the only one on this ship.
Brian said it is a very interesting job and the best part is when everything is going well!
NOAA has two college students doing an internship on the NOAA Ship Oregon II this season. One of them is Robin Gropp who will be a sophomore at Lewis and Clark College in the state of Oregon in the fall.
Robin is a biology major and his future goal is to be a marine scientist and maybe work with alternative energy, mainly tidal power, also called tidal energy. This is a form of hydropower that using the tides to make energy. (Kind of like how we have the wind mills that use wind near Amboy to make energy)
Robin is working for NOAA this summer to learn more about the sea turtles and study why they sometimes get stranded or caught on piers. He is also studying the sharks and rays that we might catch while on the Groundfish Survey.
The best part of being involved with a NOAA internship to Robin is the hands-on research that he is conducting.
Today the Lead Fisherman, Chris alerted me to the fact that there were bottlenose dolphin swimming behind the ship. The dolphin were following the nets in hopes of snagging a free meal. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed out to watch the dolphins!
The bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well-known members of the marine family. They can live up to 50 years and can be found in temperate and tropical waters around the world. For more information, go to this link:
The dolphins were amazing to watch as they slapped the water with their tails and followed the net right up to the ship. I have included a video and a picture, but this really does not show the true beauty it was to watch them live. I am so lucky to be out here in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Click this link to watch my video of the dolphins!
There is such a wide variety of species living in the Gulf of Mexico. I have included some photos of just a few of the ones we have caught in the nets.
The Atlantic flying fish uses its pectoral fins to “catch” the air currents and moves it’s tail back and forth to move forward.
I am feeling much better now that we have been out to sea for seven days. Walking around on the ship can be tricky somedays, but I am getting better at it everyday!
Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey Gulf of Mexico
June 8, 2014
Science and Technology Log
The Oregon IIset sail on June 6th and will reach the first station sometime Monday, June 9th, in the evening.
While on the way there the scientists and crew are preparing the equipment and testing everything to make sure it is ready to use when we arrive. One item tested was the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) item. The white round frame protects the delicate, expensive piece of gear that you can see at the bottom of the frame. It allows the equipment to safely travel down without hitting the side of the ship nor the bottom of the ocean. Near the top you see the water sampling tubes.
These tubes are opened up and when they enter the water they are triggered to close and collect water from the depth that the science team has predetermined.
The deck crew uses a crane to help lift it over the side of the ship and then it drops down and collects water. This was a test to make sure everything was working and the CTD was dropped down and collected water in three tubes.
When it came back on deck, Kim Johnson, the Lead Scientist, took three containers of water from one tube. In the lab she used the Winkler Test, to determine the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water samples. This is called doing titrations and they will be conducted once a day or more often if something goes wrong.
Can you think of why scientists would need to test this? They are trying to determine the level of oxygen in the water to see if it is high or low. If it is low or not there at all, scientist call it a “Dead Zone” because everything needs oxygen to live.
Kim Johnson took the three samples to the lab and added chemicals to test the water. It took some time to conduct the test, but Kim explained everything to Robin Gropp (he is an intern on the ship) and to me.
The results that were done by hand were compared to the results collected by the computer and they matched! The oxygen level in the first test were good. This means the equipment will be ready to use!
In the Gulf of Mexico there is a lot of floating seaweed called Sargassum. To learn more about this, go to the attached url. In short, this seaweed is brown and floats on top of the water. It has been used as a herb in some areas. It is interesting to see the brown seaweed floating by the ship. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sargassosea.html
Do you notice how blue the water is? What makes the water look so blue? According to the NOAA Ocean Facts:
“The ocean is blue because water absorbs colors in the red part of the light spectrum. Like a filter, this leaves behind colors in the blue part of the light spectrum for us to see.
The ocean may also take on green, red, or other hues as light bounces off of floating sediments and particles in the water.
Most of the ocean, however, is completely dark. Hardly any light penetrates deeper than 200 meters (656 feet), and no light penetrates deeper than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet ).”
Pretty neat to see how light and color work together!
The water went from murky brown when we left Mississippi due to the boat activity and the rivers that drain down into the Gulf, to this blue that is hard to describe. I am trying to absorb everything that the scientist are discussing and hoping that when we start working everything will make more sense to me! There is so much to learn!
Today we had safety drills; a fire drill (yes, we practice fire drills even on the ship, you can’t call 911 at sea after all) and abandon ship drill. During the abandon ship drill everyone had to bring long pants, long-sleeve shirt, hat, life preserver and immersion suit. Here is a picture of me in my immersion suit. This suit will float and keep me warm if we need to leave the ship.
Today the ships’ divers went into the water to check the hulll of the ship and the water temperature was 82 degrees. It would have been refreshing to be in the water, but this is a working ship and safety comes first!
The food onboard the ship is delicious and I am sure I will need to walk many steps after this trip. The cooks offer two or three choices at every meal and the snack area is open 24 hours…not a good thing for me!
While on deck I saw my first flying fish today. I thought it was a bird flying close to the water, but it was not! Amazing how far they can fly over the water.
When I look out from the front of the ship, I see water, water, and more water. There are a few oil rigs in the distance and once in a while a ship passes by, but mostly beautiful blue water!
Last night I saw my first sea sunset and since I will be working the midnight to noon shift starting soon, it maybe the last sunset…but I will get to see some AWESOME sunrises!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Louise Todd Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II September 13 – 29, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 23, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: Barometric Pressure: 1009.89mb
Sea Temperature: 28˚C
Air Temperature: 28.2˚C
Wind speed: 8.29knots
Science and Technology Log:
The haul back is definitely the most exciting part of each station. Bringing the line back in gives you the chance to see what you caught! Usually there is at least something on the line but my shift has had two totally empty lines which can be pretty disappointing. An empty line is called a water haul since all you are hauling back is water!
After the line has been in the water for one hour, everyone on the shift assembles on the bow to help with the haul back. One crew member operates the large winch used to wind the main line back up so it can be reused.
The crew member operating the winch unhooks each gangion from the main line and hands it to another crew member. That crew member passes it to a member of our shift who unhooks the number from the gangion. The gangions are carefully placed back in the barrels so they are ready for the next station. When something is on the line, the person handling the gangions will say “Fish on”.
Everyone gets ready to work when we hear that call. Every fish that comes on board is measured. Usually fish are measured on their sides as that makes it easy to read the markings on the measuring board.
Each shark is examined to determine its gender.
Male sharks have claspers, modified pelvic fins that are used during reproduction. Female sharks do not have claspers.
Fin clips, small pieces of the fin, are taken from all species of sharks. The fin clips are used to examine the genetics of the sharks for confirmation of identification and population structure, both of which are important for management decisions.
Skin biopsies are taken from any dogfish sharks in order to differentiate between the species. Tags are applied to all sharks. Tags are useful in tracing the movement of sharks. When a shark, or any fish with a tag, is recaptured there is a phone number on the tag to call and report the location where the shark was recaptured.
Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.
Other sharks are large and need to be hauled out of the water using the cradle. The cradle enables the larger sharks to be processed quickly and then returned to the water. A scale on the cradle provides a weight on the shark. Today was the first time my shift caught anything big enough to need the cradle. We used the cradle today for one Sandbar and two Silky Sharks. Everyone on deck has to put a hardhat on when the cradle is used since the cradle is operated using a crane.
I continue to have such a good time on the Oregon II. My shift has had some successful stations which is always exciting. We have had less downtime in between our stations than we did the first few days so we are usually able to do more than one station in our shifts. The weather in the Gulf forced us to make a few small detours and gave us some rain yesterday but otherwise the seas have been calm and the weather has been beautiful. It is hard to believe my first week is already over. I am hopeful that we will continue our good luck with the stations this week! The rocking of the boat makes it very easy for me to sleep at night when my shift is over. I sleep very soundly! The food in the galley is delicious and there are plenty of options at each meal. I feel right at home on the Oregon II!
Did You Know?
Flying fish are active around the boat, especially when the spotlights are on during a haul back at night. Flying fish are able to “fly” using their modified pectoral fins that they spread out. This flying fish flew right onto the boat!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Sarah Boehm Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 23 – July 7, 2013
Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 10, 2013
The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)
I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.
We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.
One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.
Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.
Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.
A few more cool critters we found:
I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.
It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action. I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!
Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.
Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.
Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.
Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)
Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt. Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!
Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.
Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day. These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.
Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!
I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II. Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!
I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:
Meet Alonzo Hamilton
Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984. Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science. Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.
What is your favorite word? Data
What is your least favorite word? No or can’t. There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.
What excites you about doing science? Discovery
What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.
What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines
What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician. There are some neat jobs in that field.
What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer. There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth. What is your life history? What’s a typical day of feeding like? Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it? What determines who gets to eat first?
Meet Glenn Zapfe
Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago. Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science. He grew up in the Chicago area.
What is your favorite word? Quirky
What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia
What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.
What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics. They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.
What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine
What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.
What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.
Meet Jana Herrmann
Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer. She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that. Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013. Jana grew up in Tennessee.
What is your favorite word? Pandemonium
What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory
What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.
What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.
What is your favorite plankton? Janthina
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.
What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.
What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.
Meet Brittany Palm
Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years. Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science. Brittany grew up on Long Island.
What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”
What is your least favorite word? Editing. That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!
What excites you about doing science? Constantly learning. All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven. You have to know a little bit about all of them.
What do you dislike about doing science? Also, constantly learning! Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.
What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.
What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth. She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio. Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.
What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? The Croaker fish. Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs. She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!
Meet Andy Millett
Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise. He has worked with NOAA for 3 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science. Andy grew up in Massachusetts.
What is your favorite word? Parallel
What is your least favorite word? Silly
What excites you about doing science? When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.
What do you dislike about doing science? Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.
What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia
What sound or noise on the ship do you love? Spinning the flowmeters on the nets. It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.
What sound or noise do you hate? Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer
What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service
If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them. Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.
Challenge Yourself: Hey, Nature Exchange traders! The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way. Research one of these animals and write down a few facts. Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that. Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points. Tell them Emmi sent you!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: Friday, August 17, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature: 30.8 degrees C
Sea temperature: 29.9 degrees C
2/8ths cloud cover
10 miles of visibility
0-1 foot wave height
Wind speed 16.9 knots
Wind direction WSW
Science and Technology Log:
How to set a line:
I am pretty good at cutting the bait fish. It is all fractions – for large fish it is cut into 4 pieces, for the smaller bait fish, three pieces. Putting the bait securely on the hooks is hard, careful work. You don’t want the bait to fall off the hook as it is put in the water, and the hooks are sharp so I went slow to not stab myself.
Just like using the Scientific Method in class experiments, we have to follow a set procedure for laying out the line. This way the data gathered can be compared to previous years and from set to set. The set locations are randomly generated for sections of the Gulf. We will lay lines in each grid square. Lines are set at three different depths, shallow, medium and deep. Even the deepest sets are still on the continental shelf and not in the truly deep, central Gulf waters. The line is set and left on the ocean floor for one hour. Then it is time to Haul Back — bring the line up and see what we caught.
Every hook is recorded as it comes back on the boat. If the hook is empty or still has bait, or the most wonderful moment — if there is a fish! — everything is recorded. Each fish is recorded in great detail: species, length, weight where it was caught and other comments. Almost everything we catch is released. There are a few types of fish that are kept to take samples for scientific studies being done.
This blog is mostly pictures with captions. I feel fine even when the waves pick up and the boat starts to rock and roll, WoooHoo! But 10 minutes on the computer leaves me nauseous and green for a good long while.
My favorite thing to do is watch the flying fish skitter across the water surface. It is amazing to me how far they can “fly”.
The Oregon II
Water and fuel are vital to keeping people and the boat going. Both are carefully monitored several times a day.
Drinking water is produced by reverse osmosis, sea water comes in and is put through several filters for us to drink and shower. With 30 people on board for two weeks at a time we would need huge tanks and the weight would be enormous. So fresh water is made on board. Sea water is used to clean the decks and to flush the toilets.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: June 26, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 2805.26N
Wind Speed: 5.86 knots
Wind Direction: E/SE
Surface Water Salinity: 35.867 PPT
Air Temperature: 28.8 C
Relative Humidity: 86%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.51 mb
Water Depth: 96.5 m
Science and Technology Log
Opisthonema oglinum, Lagadon rhomboides, Chloroscombus chrysurus…..yes, I have officially started dreaming about taxonomic names of our fish. It’s day 4 and I now have a much better grasp at identifying the variety of critters we pull up in our trawls. I am always excited to be out on deck when they bring up the trawl to see what interesting critters we catch. Surprises are great!
Do you want to know where the Oregon II is headed?
If you click on the link above, you can see the path that our ship is taking to hit all of our stations for the survey. We often have station after station to hit- meaning as soon as we are done sorting and measuring, we have to bring in the next catch. Because some stations are only 3-5 miles apart, we sometimes have to do “double dips”, where we put in the trawl for 30 minutes, pull it up, and put it right back in again.
It’s been interesting to note the variety of our catches. Croakers, bumperfish, and shrimp have been in high abundance the last 2 days as we were in shallower water. Before that we had a couple of catches that had a high abundance of pinfish. When we take our subsample, we typically enter data for up to 20 of that particular species. We take length measurements on each fish, and on every fifth fish. We will also weigh and sex it (if sexing is possible).
When we were in shallower waters, we had a significant increase in the number of shrimp we brought up. Tuesday morning was the first catch that did not have well over 200 shrimp (this is because we’ve been moving into deeper waters). For the 3 commercial shrimp, white (farfantepenaeussetiferus), pink (farfantepenaeusduorarum), and brown (farfantepenaeusaztecus), we take 200 samples, as opposed to our high-quantity fish, where we will only take 20 samples. For each of the commercial shrimp we catch, we measure, weigh and sex each shrimp. I’ve gotten very good at identifying the sex of shrimp- some of the fish are much more difficult to tell. The information we get from this survey will determine the amount of shrimp that boats can take during the shrimping season in Louisiana and Mississippi. During the first leg of the groundfish survey, the data collected determined the amount of shrimp that could be caught in Texas. The groundfish survey is crucial for the shrimping industry and for ensuring that shrimp are not overfished.
Students- think of the food chain. What would happen if we overfished and took out too many shrimp? (Hint: Think of predators and prey.)
We’ve now started doing 2 different tows in addition to our trawls. Some of the stations are trawl stations, whereas others are plankton stations.
At a trawl station, we lower the trawl from the stern down to the ocean floor. The trawl net is meant for catching larger critters that live at the bottom of the ocean. There is a chain, also known as a “tickler”, which moves lightly across the ocean floor to lure fish to leave their hiding spots and swim into our net. The trawl is down for 30 minutes, after which it is brought back on deck to weigh the total catch, and then brought back into the wet lab for sorting.
Another important mission of the groundfish survey is to collect plankton samples. To do this, we use a Neuston tow and a bongo tow.
The Neuston tow has a large, rectangular frame with a fine mesh net attached to it. At the end of the net is a large cylindrical bucket, called a codend, with a mesh screen meant for catching the organisms. In comparison to the trawl net, which has openings of 41.4mm , the Neuston’s mesh is only 0.947mm. This means the mesh is significantly finer, meant for catching some of the smaller critters and plankton that would otherwise escape the trawl net. The Neuston tow is put on the surface of the water and towed for 10 minutes. Half the tow is in the water while half is out. We end up picking up a lot of Sargassum, or, seaweed, that is found floating at the water’s surface. When we gather a lot of Sargassum, we have to sift through it and spray it to get out any of the organisms that like to hide in their protective paradise.
After we’ve completed the Neuston tow, we do the bongo tow. The bongo’s mesh is even finer than the Neuston tow’s mesh at only 0.333mm. The bongo has 2 parts- a left and a right bongo (and yes they do look a little like bongo drums- hence their name). The top part of the bongo is a large cylinder with an open bottom and top. The net is attached to this cylinder, and again at the bottom of each side is cylindrical tube called codends meant to catch the plankton. The bongo tow is meant to take a sample from the entire water column. This means that instead of riding on the surface of the water, it gets sent down to about 3 meters from the ocean floor (there is a sensor at the top that is 2m from the bottom of the net) and brought back up immediately.
For both tows, it is important to rinse the nets to get any lasting organisms we might not see with our own eyes into our sample. Once we’ve done this, we bring the tubes back into the wet lab where we continue to rinse them through a sieve so that only certain items are leftover. In the Neuston, we often find small fish (usually less than 3mm), baby shrimp, crabs and Jessica’s favorite, the Sargassum fish. Most recently a few flying fish got caught in our Neuston tow. Prior to pulling it up, I was enjoying watching them flit across the water- they were about all we could see in the water in the middle of the night. After being rinsed thoroughly through the sieve, we preserve them by placing the sample in a glass jar with either ethanol or formaldehyde solutions. They are preserved in ethanol for DNA work and in formaldehyde for long-term preservation. These samples are then saved to send to a lab in Poland, which is the sorting center for the SEAMAP samples.
Well, I think I am finally getting used to the schedule of working the night shift. I am thankful that my bunk is on the bottom floor of the ship- which means it is completely dark- so that I can sleep during the daytime. Yesterday was probably one of the least busy days we’ve had so far, and because we were in deeper waters, our trawls were much smaller. This means I had a little more time to work on my blogs, which at times can be hard to fit in. It amazes me that we have internet access on the ship, and it’s not even as slow as I expected. It goes down from time to time, especially when the waters are rough. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty calm waters, aside from the first day.
You may have heard about Hurricane Debby on the news as it prepared to hit the Gulf. On Sunday, we were heavily debating heading back to Galveston to “bunker down” and ride out the storm. However, the storm that was forming seemed to dissipate and head in a different direction, thank goodness. I was not thrilled about the possibility of heading back to port!
We had our first drills the day after we set sail. The drills- fire and abandon ship are distinguished by different types of bells, similar to using Morse code. The abandon ship drill was fun. We got to put on our survival suit, which is like a big orange Gumby suit. It not only protects you in cold water, but also makes you highly visible. I remember reading some of the former TAS blogs, and this picture was always in. Of course, I’ve got to add mine as well.
I’ve been having fun exploring different areas of the ship, even though there is only so far you can go on the ship. Yesterday, I went up to the bridge, which is the front of the ship where the captain or the NOAA Corps officers steer the ship from. You can think of it like a control center of an airplane. There are navigation charts (both computerized and paper) and radars that help guide the ship so it knows what obstacles are out there. There is a great view from the bridge that you don’t get anywhere else on the ship. It’s also fun to watch the folks down on deck when they are deploying the CTD or either of the 2 tows.
We’ve caught such an abundance of critters, I thought I’d share some of my favorite catches thus far:
A sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)- these guys hang onto sharks to catch a ride- he’s still alive so is able to hang onto my arm!
Critter Query Time!
Critter Query #1: What is a fathom (in your own words please)?
Critter Query #2: What are the differences between skates and rays?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dave Grant Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown February 15 – March 5, 2012
Mission: Western Boundary Time Series Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas Date: March 2, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
My evenings looking through the microscope are a short course in invertebrate zoology. Every drop of water filtered through the plankton net reveals new and mystifying creatures. Perhaps 90% of marine invertebrates, like newly hatched mollusks and crustaceans, spend part of their life in a drifting stage – meroplankton; as opposed to holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic throughout their life cycle.
The lucky individuals that escape being eaten, and are near a suitable substrate at the right moment, settle out into a sedentary life far from their place of origin. For the long distance travelers swept up in the Gulf Stream, the most fortunate waifs of the sea that survive long enough might make it all the way to Bermuda. The only hope for the remainder is to attach to a piece of flotsam or jetsam, or an unnatural and unlikely refuge like the electronic picket fence of moorings the Ron Brown is servicing east of the Bahamas.
“The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day, Is crept into the bosom of the sea.” Shakespeare
A league and a half* of cable, sensors and a ton of anchor chain are wrestled on deck during a day-long operation in the tropical heat. (*A mariner’s league equals three nautical miles or 3041 fathoms [18,246 feet])
It is easy to be humbled by the immensity of the sea and the scope of the mooring project while observing miles of cable and buoys stretched towards the horizon, about to be set in place with a ton of anchor chain gingerly swung off the stern for its half-hour trip to the bosom of the sea.
Thanks to the hard labor and alert eyes of our British and French (“And Irish”) colleagues retrieving and deploying the attached temperature and salinity sensors, I am regularly directed to investigate “something crawling out of the gear” or to photograph bite marks from deep sea denizens on very expensive, but sturdy equipment.
To my surprise, other than teeth marks, very little evidence of marine life is present on the miles of lines and devices strung deeper than about 200 meters. This may be due in part to the materials of which they are constructed and protective coatings to prevent bio-fouling, but sunlight or more precisely, the attenuation of it as one goes deeper, is probably the most important factor.
The first discovery I was directed to was a striking red bristle worm wiggling out of the crevice in a buoy. It appears to be one of the reef-dwelling Amphinomids – the aptly-named fireworms that SCUBA divers in the Caribbean avoid because of their venomous spines; so I was cautious when handling it. This proved to be the deepest-dwelling organism we found, along with some minute growths of stony and soft corals.
“Five o’clock shadow” on a buoy – A year’s growth of fouling organisms – only an inch tall.
On shallower buoys and equipment, there are sparse growths of brown and blue-green algae, small numbers of goose barnacles, tiny coiled limey tubes of Serpulid worms like the Spirobis found on the floating gulfweed, some non-descript bivalves (Anomia?) covered with other fouling growth, skeleton shrimp creeping like inch-worms, and of course the ubiquitous Bryozoans. Searching through this depauperate community not as challenging as the plankton samples, but not surprising since our distance from land, reefs or upwelling areas – and especially clear water and lack of seabirds and fishes; are all indicators that this is a nutrient-deficient, less productive part of the ocean.
Bio-fouling – “on the half-shell.” Skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae)
The Ron Brown is the largest workhorse in the NOAA fleet and its labs and decks are intentionally cleared of equipment between cruises so that visiting scientists can bring aboard their own gear that is best suited to their specific project needs. NOAA’s physical oceanographers from Miami arrived with a truckload of crates holding Niskin water sampling bottles for the CTD and their chemistry equipment for DO (Dissolved Oxygen) and salinity measurements; and in a large shipping container (“Ship-tainer”) from England, the British and French (“and Irish”) scientists transported their own remote sensing gear, buoys, and (quite literally) tons of massive chain and cables to anchor their moorings. (I am surprised to learn from the “Brits” that the heavy chain is shipped all the way from England because it is increasingly hard to acquire. )
This is how most science is facilitated on the Brown and it requires many months of planning and pre-positioning of materials. I am lucky and can travel light – and with little advanced preparation. I am using simple methods to obtain plankton samples and images via a small portable microscope, digital camera and plankton net which I can cram into my backpack for any trips that involve large bodies of water. The little Swift* scope has three lens (4x, 10x, 40x) with a 10x ocular, and I get great resolution at 40x, and can get decent resolution to 100x. Using tips from Dave Bulloch (Handbook for the Marine Naturalist) I am able to push that somewhat with a simple Nikon Coolpix* point-and-shoot camera – but lose some of the sharpness with digital zoom. As you might suspect, the ship’s movement and engine vibration can be a challenge when peering through the scope, but is satisfactory for some preliminary identification. (*These are not commercial endorsements, but I can be bought if either company is willing to fund my next cruise!)
Dinoflagellates – Different Ceratium species
A Plankton précis
Collecting specimens would be much more difficult without the cooperation of the Brown’s crew and visiting scientists, and their assistance is always reliable and appreciated. The least effective method of collection has been by filtering the deep, cold bottom water brought up in the Niskin bottles. As mentioned earlier, no live specimens were recovered; only fragments of diatom and Silicoflagellate skeletons surviving the slow drift to the bottom, which I have been able to identify through deep sea core images posted at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership website.
Needless to say, the most indiscriminate method of collection and the most material collected is through the large neuston net. The greatest biomass observed on the trip is the millions of tons of Sargassum weed, which covers the surface in great slacks around us that are even visible in satellite images.
Although the continuous flow of ocean water pumped into the wet lab and through my plankton net is effective and the most convenient collection method, the most surprising finds are from the saltwater intake screens that the engineer directed me to. This includes bizarre crystal-clear, inch-long, and paper-thin Phylosoma – larvae of tropical lobsters – that I initially mistook for pieces of plastic.
“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world …
…could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”
Charles Kingsley -The Water-Babies
Plankton communities are noticeably different between the Gulf Stream, inshore, and offshore in the pelagic waters east of the Bahamas. Near the coast, either the shallower Bahama Banks or the neritic waters over the continental shelf closer to Charleston, the plankton is larger, more familiar to me and less challenging to sort, including: copepods, mollusk larvae and diatoms. Steaming over the shelf waters at night, the ship’s wake is often phosphorescent, and dinoflagellates, including the “night-light” Noctiluca are common in those samples.
The waters east of the Bahamas along the transect line are notable for their zooplankton, including great numbers and varieties of Foraminifera, and some striking amphipod shrimp. Compared to cooler waters I am familiar with, subtropical waters here have over a dozen species of Forams, and some astonishingly colorful shrimp that come up nightly from deeper water.
It’s not all work and no play on the Ron Brown, and there are entertaining moments like decorating foam cups with school logos to send down with the CTD to document the extreme pressure at the bottom. Brought back to class, these graphically illustrate to younger students the challenges of deep sea research.
Navigating by Dead-reckoning
On calm days while we are being held on-station by the Brown’s powerful thrusters, I can measure current speeds using Sargassum clumps as Dutchman’s logs as they drift by. Long before modern navigation devices, sailors would have to use dead-reckoning techniques to estimate their progress. One method used a float attached to a measured spool of knotted line (A log-line), trailing behind the moving vessel. The navigator counted the number of knots that passed through his hands as the line played out behind the ship to estimate the vessel’s speed (in knots). Since nothing is to be tossed off the Brown, I rely on a simpler method by following the progress of the Sargassum as it drifts by stem-to-stern while we are stationary at our sampling site. Since I know the length of the Brown at the waterline (~100-meters), I can estimate current speed by observing drifting Sargassum.
Watching sargassum, I wonder if a swimmer could keep pace with the currents in these waters. When in college
my brothers and would strive to cover a 100-meter race by swimming it in under a minute. Here is the data from east of the Bahamas. See if you can determine the current speed there and if a good swimmer could keep pace.
ESTIMATING CURRENT SPEED
Data on currents:
Average of three measurements of Sargassum drifting the length of the Ron Brown = 245 seconds.
Length of the Ron Brown – 100-meters.
1. How many meters per second is the current east of the Bahamas?
2. As a swimmer in college – with my best time in the 100-meters freestyle of one minute – could I have kept up with the Ron Brown… or been swept away towards the Bahamas?
Other navigational exercises I try to include determining Latitude and Longitude. Latitude is easy as long as you can shoot the sun at midday or find the altitude of Polaris in the night sky; and sailors have done that for centuries. The ship’s navigator will get out the sextant for this, or, since the width of one’s fist is about 10-degrees of sky, I can estimate the height of both of these navigational beacons by counting the number of fists between the star and the horizon.
Night observation (Shooting the North Star) – Number of Fists from the Northern horizon to Polaris = 3
Day observation (Shooting the Sun) – Number of Fists from the Southern horizon to the Sun = 5.5
If the width of a fist is equal to about 10-degrees of horizon, our estimate of Latitude using Polaris is 30-degrees (3 x 10).
Not too bad an estimate on a rocking ship at night, compared to our actual location (See Data from the Bridge at the top.).
Shooting the Sun at its Zenith at 12:30 that day gives us its altitude as 55-degrees – which seems too high unless we consider the earth’s tilt (23.5-degrees). So if we deduct that (55 – 23.5) we get 31.5, which is closer to our actual position. And if we consult an Almanac, we know that the sun is still about six degrees below the Equator on its seasonal trip North; so by deducting that (31.5 – 6) we end up with an estimate of 25.5-degrees. This is an even better estimate of our Latitude.
Here is the dreaded word problem:
By shooting the Sun, our best estimate of Latitude is 25.5 degrees (25 degrees/30 minutes)
The actual Latitude of the ship using GPS is 26-degrees/19 minutes.
If there are 60 minutes to a degree of Latitude – each of those minutes representing a Nautical Mile – how many Nautical Miles off course does our estimate place us on the featureless sea?
Longitude is much harder to determine if you don’t have an accurate timepiece to compare local time with universal time (The time at Greenwich, England), and an accurate ship’s chronometer wasn’t in use until the mid-1700’s.
To understand the challenge of designing a precise timepiece that reliably will function at sea, I used two crucial clock mechanisms: a pendulum and a spring. Finding a spring was easy, since “Doc” had a scale at Sick Bay. For the pendulum I fashioned a small weight swinging on a string)
Standing on the scale and swinging the pendulum even in calm weather quickly demonstrated three things:
First: I have developed my sea legs, and no longer notice the regular motion of the ship. Second: Even when the sea feels calm, the scale’s spring mechanism swings back and forth under my weight; adding and deducting 20 pounds to my real weight and reflecting the ship’s rocking that I no longer notice. Three: On rough days, even if I can hold still, the ship’s heaving, pitching and rolling alters my pendulum’s reliable swing – its movements reflecting the ship’s indicator in the lab. Experimenting helps me appreciate clock-maker John Harrison, and his massive, 65-pound No. 1 Ship’s Chronometer he presented to the Royal Navy in 1728.
Besides having very well-provisioned Sick Bays, NOAA ships have experienced and very competent medical officers. Our “Doc” received his training at Yale, and served as a medic during the Gulf War.
Especially alert to anyone who exhibits even the mildest symptoms of sea-sickness, Christian is available 24-hours for emergencies – and in spite of the crew constantly wrestling with heavy equipment on a rocking deck, we’ve only experienced a few minor bumps and bruises. He has regular office hours every day, and is constantly on the move around the ship when not on duty there.
Besides keeping us healthy, he helps keep the ship humming by testing the drinking water supply (The Brown desalinates seawater when underway, but takes on local water while in port); surveys all departments for safety issues; and with the Captain, has the final word if-or-when a cruise is to be terminated if there is a medical emergency.
Since a stormpounding the Midwest will head out to sea and cross our path when we head north to Charleston, he is reminding everyone that remedies for sea sickness are always available at his office door, and thanks to NASA and the space program, if the motion sickness pills don’t work, he has available stronger medicine. So far we have been blessed with relatively calm weather and a resilient crew.
Birdwatching on the Ron Brown
For the time being I take advantage of the calm seas to scrutinize what’s under the microscope, and when on break, look for seabirds. East of the Bahamas, as anticipated after consulting ornithologist Poul Jespersen’s map of Atlantic bird sightings, I only spotted two birds over a two-week stretch at sea (storm petrels). This is very much in contrast to the dozens of species and hundreds of seabirds spotted in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current off of Chile , where I joined the Brown in 2008.
Passing through Bahamian waters was no more rewarding, but now that we are west and in the Florida Straits there are several species of gulls during the day, and at night more storm petrels startled by the ship’s lights. One windy night a large disoriented bird (Shearwater?) suddenly fluttered out of the dark and brushed my head before bumping a deck light and careening back out into the darkness. Throughout the day a cohort of terns has taken up watch on the forward mast of the Brown and noisily, they juggle for the best positions at the bow – resting until the ship flushes a school of flying fishes, and then swooping down across the water trying and snatch one in mid-air. Like most fishermen, they are successful only about 10% of the time.
Despite the dreary forecast from the Captain, Wes and I are enthusiastic about all we have done on the cruise and formulated a list of why NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program is so rewarding.
Top Ten Reasons:
Why be a Teacher At Sea?
10. Fun and excitement exploring the oceans!
9. Meeting dedicated and diligent scientists and crew from around the world!
8. Bragging rights in the Teachers’ Room – and endless anecdotes!
7. Cool NOAA t-shirts, pins and hats from the Ship’s Store!
6. Great meals, three times a day…and FREE laundry!
5. Amazing sunsets, sunrises and star-watches!
4. Reporting on BIG science to students…and in real-time!
3. Outstanding and relevant knowledge brought back to students and colleagues!
2. First-hand experience that relates to your students’ career objectives!
1. Rewarding hours in the lab and field…remembering why you love science and sharing it with students!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dave Grant Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown February 15 – March 5, 2012
Mission: Western Boundary Time Series Geographical Area: Gulf Stream waters Date: March 1, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge Position: 26.30N Latitude – 79. 23W Longitude
Wind speed: Calm
Wind direction: Calm
Air Temperature: 76E F
Atm Pressure: 1013. mb
Water Depth: 750 meters
Cloud Cover: 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus
Our most persistent travel companions on the cruise are the flying fish and today they are the most abundant in the entire trip. Sit at the bow while we are plunging into the swells and it is impossible not to be mesmerized by what issues from the sea surface when old Triton blows his wreathed horn.
Over the eons, fishes have experimented with many different avenues of escape from predators and competition, and soaring out of the water is arguably the most dramatic and effective. There are scores of species in the family Exocoetidae, which comes from Greek roots and refers to “sleeping outside” – which was logical to ancient mariners who believed the flying fishes left the ocean to sleep on the shoreline. I check the Ron Brown’s deck each morning, hoping one has inadvertently landed on it, but without luck so far.
We flush them from both sides of the ship while underway. Like birds of a feather flocking together, some escaping groups are about a foot long with a wing span (Oversized pectoral fins to be exact) about the same spread. Juveniles in other schools look no larger than the silver dollar George Washington threw across the Delaware River(Or did he skip it for greater distance like these little fishes do off the crests of waves?).
Between the sky, sea and sunsets, I thought I had seen all the shades of blue on this cruise, up to the moment we had a perfect view of a flying fish that soared past the railing and then steered off towards the horizon. Flying fish exhibit all the colors of the near end of the spectrum as their attitude and altitude change in flight. Taking advantage of the mesoscale winds generated between swells, the fishes launch off wave crests and can soar farther than a football field; sustaining the flight time by sweeping their tail laterally in the water.
Flying fish are harvested throughout the warmer waters of the ocean by man and beast, and are an important staple to island cultures. Barbados – to our south – is called the “land of the flying fish” and on the reverse side of a dollar coin that I kept after a Caribbean trip, one finds the fish in flight. When we are closer to land, I hope to see one of their main aerial opponents flying out to meet us – frigate birds.
Impossible to photograph, for the time being, I’ll be content to admire their flights during the day, and at night, watch them dodge the attacks of mahi-mahi under the ship’s lights.
Flying fish off the bow!
Our British colleagues remembered to bring fishing poles and the mahi-mahi is the most sought after and elusive creature out here when the ship is “on-station” doing sampling. Fishes and squid routinely come to the surface and congregate under the stern lights, and occasionally a large mahi will lurk in the shadows and dart in close to us chasing prey.
Also called dolphin-fish, our fishermen have learned only that the Hawaiian name Mahi-Mahi (Many Polynesian words are repeated) means “strong” since the hooked fishes have broken their fishing lines and escaped.
Mahi is popular in restaurants and is a light, mild tasting fish. Swimming under the lights they look pale and eel-like, but when landed in a boat they exhibit a range of shades from blue and green that fades to golden – hence the Spanish name Dorado.
A Mahi rises to the surface alongside the Ron Brown
Finally the fishermen had some luck and landed a jack – but without a fish guide, that’s as far as I can go in identifying it (Although the term “tuna” is loosely applied to most things that swim by.) Fortunately, I was able to get off an email and photo to Jeff Dement of the American Littoral Society (www.littoralsociety.org).
When not fishing, Jeff runs the largest independent fish tagging program in the country; distributing tags to recreational fishermen and analyzing their thousands of returns to document where fishes migrate to and how fast they grow.
His quick analysis directs us towards the lesser amberjack (Seriola fasciata) “based upon the shape of the snout, and the eye stripe length.”
Fast swimming and hard fighting, the amberjacks are popular gamefish on the line and in the skillet. Like most fish, they are tasty fried, broiled, baked, or grilled (I like fried…my doctor demands boiled, baked or grilled)
Like barracudas and some other apex predators of the reef, amberjacks are implicated in Ciguatera poisoning in humans. They acquire contaminants from eating herbivorous reef fishes that have ingested and accumulated Ciguatoxins produced by Dinoflagellates attached to marine algae they have been grazing upon. Harmless to the fishes, the poison is a neurotoxin in humans who are exposed to a concentrated dose from a top predator like the amberjack through the process called bioaccumulation. This is the same process that concentrates Mercury spewing into the atmosphere from coal-fired power plants, into the sea, then into plankton and forage fishes, and finally tuna.
An amberjack gets a close look at people before returning to the sea.
“You strange astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste… What is’t you do? what life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your dull days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles,
In ceaseless wash? Still sought, but gapes and bites,
And drinks and stares, diversified with boggles.”
(Leigh Hunt – The Man to the Fish)
It pays to be clear.
For me, the catch of the day is a leptocephali – a larval fish as long as my index finger, that I almost overlooked in the samples.
A number of species go through this inconspicuous stage as zooplankton, and the most famous and intensely studied are the eels. American eels spend a year drifting to East Coast estuaries from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea. The European species takes a more leisurely two-year tour of the North Atlantic on the Gulf Stream.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dave Grant Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown February 15 – March 5, 2012
Mission: Western Boundary Time Series Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas Date: February 15, 2012
Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus
Crew and scientists are reporting for duty and everyone is to be onboard by sunset for a scheduled departure tomorrow morning. There are many boxes of equipment to unload and sampling devices to assemble, so everyone is busy, even during meal times.
Tall ships had miles of rope and lines for handling enormous amounts of sail.
The Brown is also carrying miles of line and cable too, but not for sailing. This is coiled neatly on reels and will be used to anchor moorings of monitoring equipment that will record water temperatures and salinities for an entire year until they are recovered on the next cruise. These moorings are anchored with ship recycled chain and old railroad wheels and their long lines of sensors rising to the surface from 5,000 meters form the electronic “picket fence” spaced between Florida and Africa across the 26.5 degree North Latitude line we are sailing.
On our last night ashore we went downtown to enjoy dinner at one of the many nice restaurants in the historic district. It was a good time to update each other on different projects and make any last minute purchases. Everyone is anxious to get started. As captains like to say:
“Ships and sailors rot at port.”
Day 3 We are leaving the dock on schedule and heading down river.
Old sailors’ superstitions say that a small bird or bee landing on the deck of a departing vessel foretells good luck on a voyage, and a tangled anchor line forecasts bad luck. Glancing around, I observe our noisy grackles preparing to depart neighboring ships at dock – so I hope they qualify as small birds. And huddled out of the wind on deck is a crane-fly – not a bee, but a harmless bug that looks like a giant mosquito. Perhaps no guarantee of good luck, but since all our lines and chain are neatly stowed, I am confident that an old “salt” – seeing how ship-shape the Brown is – would concur that we shouldn’t unnecessarily envision any bad luck on our cruise.
Sailing down river we receive a great treat and are guided to the sea by small groups of dolphins surfing underwater in our bow wave. These are Tursiops – the bottle-nosed, the most common and well-known members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Tursiops is Latin for “dolphin-like.” Their comradeship is another reassuring sign of good luck to suspicious sailors. It is a remarkable spectacle and entertainment to everyone, even the veteran crew members, who, like the ancient mariners, have reported it many times. Although they seem to be taking turns at the lead, one dolphin that keeps resurfacing has a small cross-shaped scar on the port side (Left) of the blowhole; proving that at least one member of the pod has kept pace with us for the entire time.
Ship mates. (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)
Curiously, they know to abandon us near the river mouth to join other “bow riders” that have caught the wave of a freighter that is entering the river and heading upstream. Noteworthy is the bulbous bow protruding in front of the freighter. Reminiscent of the bottle nose of a dolphin, the bulb modifies the way the water flows around the ship’s hull, reducing drag – which increases speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability – things dolphins were rewarded with through evolution. And what a show the dolphins make riding the steeper bow wave! Actually launching out of the vertical face of it like surfers.
Passing historic Ft. Sumter we receive an impromptu lecture by some of the crew on Charleston’s rich history from the days of Blackbeard the pirate, up through the Civil War. There is an interesting mix of people on board, from several countries and with extraordinary backgrounds. There is also a great assortment of vessels using the bay – freighters, tankers, tugs, patrol boats, cranes, sailboats and a huge bright cruise ship. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song for All Seas, All Ships:
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…
I note a transition here from the river to bay ecosystems reflected in the birdlife observed. Grebes and mergansers are replaced by pelicans and gulls.
The bay mouth is protected from wave action by low rip-rap jetties, and outside of them in a more oceanic environment are loons, scoters, and our first real seabirds – northern gannets. Loons spend the summer and nest on pristine northern lakes like those in New Hampshire (Reminding me of the movie On Golden Pond) but migrate out to saltwater to winter in ice-free coastal areas.
Scoters (Melanitta) are stocky, dark sea ducks that winter over hard bottoms like the harbor entrance, where they can dive down and scrape mussels and other invertebrates from the rocks and gravel.
Gannets are cousins of the pelicans but much more streamlined. They too dive for food but from much greater heights, sometimes over 100’. They also plunge below the surface like javelins to snare fishes. They are wide-ranging visitors along the East and Gulf coasts, wintering at sea, and returning to isolated cliff nesting colonies known as a “gannetry” in Maritime Canada
The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared, Merrily did we drop, Below the kirk, below the hill, Below the lighthouse top.
(Coleridge) Sullivan Island lighthouse
Latitude: 32.75794 Longitude: -79.84326
The odd triangular shaped tower of Sullivan Island lighthouse originally had installed the second brightest light in the Western Hemisphere. (Said to be so powerful that keepers needed to wear asbestos welding gear when servicing the light)
At 163 feet, its unusual flash pattern is tricky to catch on camera, but it is our last visual link to the mainland, and it will be the only land feature we will see until we are off the lighthouse at Abaco, Bahamas, after ten days at sea. A lighthouse keeper at the lens room, watching us sail away, could calculate at what distance (in miles) we will disappear over the horizon with a simple navigator’s formula:
The square root of 1.5 times your Elevation above se level. Try it out: √1.5E’ = _____ Miles
NOAA Teacher at Sea Stephen Bunker Aboard R/V Walton Smith October 20 — 24, 2011
Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico Date: 21 October 2011
Weather Data from the bridge
Time: 11:30 AM
Wind direction: Northeast
Wind velocity: 8 m/s
Air Temperature: 23° C (73° F)
Clouds: cirro cumulus
Science and Technology Log
One of the many experiments we are doing on board is to learn about a plant that grows in the ocean called Sargassum. This tan plant floats near the surface and along in the current. It grows throughout the world’s topical seas. It can grow into large mats the and can be as large as boats and ships. Sargassum provides an environment for distinctive and plants and animals that are not found other places. These ecosystem rafts harbor many different organisms.
On the third stop of the CTD cycle we drag a Neuston net along side of the boat. For 1/2 hour, night or day, the boat takes a slow turn as we drag the net along the surface as we collect samples. Almost all of the animals below are what we have found in the Neuston net.
We’ll haul in the net and remove the contents. We’ll first try to get all of the animals out. The animals usually don’t survive but every once in a while we can save them (see below for some of the animals we captured with the net).
We’ll next sort the plant life that we collect in the net. Of course we are looking for Sargassum, so we will separate out all of the sargassum.
So, how do you measure what you get? We measure it by volume much like our mom’s measure shortening for cookies. We will fill up a graduated cylinder part way with water, put the samples from the net into the cylinder and then measure how much water they displace.
For example, if we put 2500 ml of water in the graduated cylinder, then put Sargassum in the cylinder, the water level now measures 5500 ml . We then know that there are 3000 ml (5500 ml – 2500 ml = 3000 ml) of Sargassum by volume measure.
Everything we collect from the net, we measure and record.
Personal Log — Animals I’ve seen
Flying Fish— Yes, believe it or not, there are fish that fly. Last night as were preparing to lower the CTD, I noticed silvery-blue streaks in the water. One of the scientists with me explained that they are Flying Fish (Exocoetidae) and the lights of our vessel attracts them and many other types of fish to the surface at night. As soon as she explained this, one of them shot out of the water and glided about a meter and ducked back into the water. Read more about Flying Fish here.
Rock Fish — Each time we drag the Moch Net for the Sargassum survey, we can expect interesting things. Last night we captured a type of Rock Fish.
Spotted Eel — We also found an eel that has white spots. I tried my best to see if I could more specifically identify it. We have saved it in an aquarium on board the R/V Walton Smith.
Mystery Fish — This fish has many of us stumped. It has a long nose but when the fish opens its mouth, you can see that the pointy part is connected to its lower jaw. Put your investigative skills to use and help me identify the fish. Post a comment if you think you know what it is. For an enlarged view, click here.
Moon Jellies — Many people call them Jelly Fish but actually they don’t belong to the fish family at all. They don’t even have a backbone. When we carefully picked these animals up, with gloves on of course, it feels like picking up Jello with your hands; it just slips through your fingers. You can find more about Moon Jellies, Aurelia aurita, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can also find general information about Jellyfish at National Geographic Kids.
Sharptail eel — It’s about half a meter in length and squirms all over. The scientist studying the Sargassum, has saved it in an aquarium so we can observe it. Its scientific name is Myrichthys breviceps.
Honey Bee — Believe it or not a honey bee joined us. There was no land in view and a honey bee landed on me. The wind must have blown the bee to sea and it was probably very happy to find a place to land that was not wet.
Porpoise — We also call these dolphins. Sometimes a pod of porpoises will get curious and investigate our boat. They will circle us, swim along side and even ride our bow wave.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Caitlin Fine Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith August 2 – 7, 2011
Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico Date: August 6, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 31.6°C
Water Temperature: 32.6°C
Wind Direction: Southwest
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Clouds: partially cloudy (cumulous and cirrus clouds)
Relative Humidity: 62%
Science and Technology Log
Many of you have written comments asking about the marine biology (animals and plants) that I have seen while on this cruise. Thank you for your posts – I love your questions! In today’s log, I will talk about the biology component of the research and about the animals that we have been finding and documenting.
We have another graduate student aboard, Lorin, who is collecting samples of sargassum (a type of seaweed).
There are two types of sargassum. One of those types usually floats at the top of the water and the other has root-like structures that help it attach to the bottom of the ocean.
We are using a net, called a Neuston net, to collect samples of sargassum that float. The Neuston net is towed alongside the ship at the surface at specific stations. This means that the ship drives in large circles for 30 minutes which can make for a rocky/dizzy ride – some of the chairs in the dry lab have wheels and they roll around the floor during the tow!
Lorin and other researchers are interested in studying sargassum because it provides a rich habitat for zooplankton, small fish, crabs, worms, baby sea turtles, and marine birds. It is also a feeding ground for larger fish that many of you may have eaten, such as billfish, tuna, and mahi mahi.
The net not only collects sargassum, but also small fish, small crabs, jellyfish, other types of seaweed, and small plankton.
Plankton can be divided into two main categories: zooplankton and phytoplankton. As I said in my last post, phytoplankton are mostly very small plants or single-celled organisms that photosynthesize (they make their own food) and are the base of the food chain. Zooplankton are one level up on the food chain from phytoplankton and most of them eat phytoplankton. Zooplankton include larva (babies) of starfish, lobster, crabs, and fish.
We also use a Plankton net to collect samples of plankton. This has a smaller mesh, so it collects organisms that are so small they would fall through the Neuston net. Scientists are interested in studying the zooplankton that we catch in the Plankton net to understand what larger organisms might one day grow-up and live in the habitats we are surveying. They study the phytoplankton from the Plankton net to see what types of phytoplankton are present in the water and in what quantities.
Today we collected so many diatoms (which are a type of phytoplankton) in the Neuston net that we could not lift it out of the water! This tells us that there are a lot of nutrients in the water (a diatom bloom) – maybe even harmful levels. I am bringing some samples of the diatoms and zooplankton home with me so we can look at them under the microscopes at school!
The marine biologists on this cruise are mainly interested in looking at phytoplankton and zooplankton, but we also have seen some larger animals. I have seen many flying fish skim across the surface of the water as the boat moves along. I have also seen seagulls, dolphins, sea turtles, cormorants (skinny black seabirds with long necks), and lots of small fish.
Working as an oceanographer definitely demands flexibility. I have already mentioned that we chased the Mississippi River water during our second day. After collecting samples, we had to find blue water (open ocean water) to have a control to compare our samples against. We traveled south through the night until we were about 15 miles away from Cuba before finding blue water. All of this travel was in the opposite direction from our initial cruise plan, so we have had to extend our cruise by one day in order to visit all of the stations that we need to visit inside the Gulf of Mexico. This has meant waking-up the night shift so we can all change their airplane tickets and looking at maps to edit our cruise plan!
Many of you are writing comments about sharks – I have not seen any sharks and I will probably not see any. The chief scientist, Nelson, has worked on the ocean for about 33 years and he has sailed for more than 1,500 hours and he has only seen 3 sharks. They mostly live in the open ocean, not on the continental shelf where we are doing our survey. If there were a shark nearby, our ship is so big and loud that it would be scared away.
Today I saw a group of about 4 dolphins off the side of the ship. They were pretty far away, so I could not take pictures. Their dorsal fins all seemed to exit the water at the same time – it was very beautiful. A member of the crew spotted a sea turtle off the bow (front) of the ship and I saw several different types of sea birds, especially seagulls.
Yesterday afternoon we passed through the Gulf of Mexico near the Everglades and there were storm clouds covering the coastline. The crew says that it rains a lot in this part of the Florida coast and that Florida receives more thunderstorms than any other state. It is strange to me because I always think of Florida as “the sunshine state.”
The color of the ocean has changed quite a lot during the cruise. The water is clear and light blue near Miami, clear and dark blue farther away from the coast in the Atlantic Ocean, cloudy and yellow-green in coastal Gulf of Mexico, and cloudy and turquoise in the Florida Bay. Scientists say that the cloudiness in coastal Gulf of Mexico is caused by chlorophyll and the cloudiness in the Florida Bay is caused by sediment.
It has been hot and sunny every day, but the wet lab (where we process the water samples and marine samples), the dry lab (where we work on our computers), the galley and the staterooms are nice and cool thanks to air conditioning! I can tell that I am getting used to being at sea because now when we are moving, I feel as though we are stopped. And when we do stop to take measurements, it feels strange.
Did you know?
NOAA does not own the R/V Walton Smith. It is University of Miami ship that costs NOAA from $12,000 to $15,000 a day to use!
Organisms seen today…
– Many sea birds (especially seagulls)
– 2 cormorants (an elegant black sea bird)
– 10-12 dolphins
– 1 sea turtle
– Lots of small fish
– Lots of zooplankton and phytoplankton (especially diatoms)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Caitlin Fine Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith August 2 – 6, 2011
Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico Date: August 4, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge Time: 10:32pm
Air Temperature: 30°C
Water Temperature: 30.8°C
Wind Direction: Southeast
Wind Speed: 7.7knots
Seawave Height: calm
Barometer: 1012 nb
Relative Humidity: 65%
Science and Technology Log
As I said yesterday, the oceanographic work on the boat basically falls into three categories: physical, chemical and biological. Today I will talk a bit more about the chemistry component of the work on the R/V Walton Smith. The information that the scientists are gathering from the ocean water is related to everything that we learn in science at Key – water, weather, ecosystems, habitats, the age of the water on Earth, erosion, pollution, etc.
First of all, we are using a CTD (a special oceanographic instrument) to measure salinity, temperature, light, chlorophyll, and depth of the water. The instrument on this boat is very large (it weights about 1,000 lbs!) so we use a hydraulic system to raise it, place it in the water, and lower it down into the water.
The CTD is surrounded by special niskin bottles that we can close at different depths in the water in order to get a pure sample of water from different specific depths. Nelson usually closes several bottles at the bottom of the ocean and at the surface and sometimes he closes others in the middle of the ocean if he is interested in getting specific information. For each layer, he closes at least 2 bottles in case one of them does not work properly. The Capitan lowers the CTD from a control booth on 01deck (the top deck of the boat), and two people wearing a hard hat and a life vest have to help guide the CTD into and out of the water. Safety first!
Once the CTD is back on the boat, the chemistry team (on the day shift, Lindsey and I are the chemistry team!) fills plastic bottles with water from each depth and takes them to the wet lab for processing. Throughout the entire process, it is very important to keep good records of the longitude and latitude, station #, depth of each sample, time, etc, and most importantly, which sample corresponds to which depth and station.
We are taking samples for 6 different types of analyses on this cruise: nutrient analysis, chlorophyll analysis, carbon analysis, microbiology analysis, water mass tracers analysis and CDOM analysis.
The nutrient analysis is to understand how much of each nutrient is in the water. This tells us about the availability of nutrients for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton need water, CO2, light and nutrients in order to live. The more nutrients there are in the water, the more phytoplankton can live in the water. This is important, because as I wrote yesterday – phytoplankton are the base of the food chain – they turn the sun’s energy into food.
That said, too many nutrients can cause a sudden rise in phytoplankton. If this occurs, two things can happen: one is called a harmful algal bloom. Too much phytoplankton (algae) can release toxins into the water, harming fish and shellfish, and sometimes humans who are swimming when this occurs. Another consequence is that this large amount of plankton die and fall to the seafloor where bacteria decompose the dead phytoplankton. Bacteria need oxygen to survive so they use up all of the available oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen causes the fish and other animals to either die or move to a different area. The zone then becomes a “dead zone” that cannot support life. There is a very large dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. So we want to find a good balance of nutrients – not too many and not too few.
The chlorophyll analysis serves a similar purpose. In the wet lab, we filter the phytoplankton onto a filter.
Each phytoplankton has chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll. Do you remember from 4th grade science that plants use chlorophyll in order to undergo photosynthesis to make their own food? If scientists know the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, they can estimate the amount of phytoplankton in the ocean.
Carbon can be found in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) or in the cells of organisms. Do you remember from 2nd and 4th grade science that plants use CO2 in order to grow? Phytoplankton also need CO2 in order to grow. The carbon dioxide analysis is useful because it tells us the amount of CO2 in the ocean so we can understand if there is enough CO2 to support phytoplankton, algae and other plant life. The carbon analysis can tell us about the carbon cycle – the circulation of CO2 between the ocean and the air and this has an impact on climate change.
The microbiology analysis looks for DNA (the building-blocks of all living organisms – kind of like a recipe or a blueprint). All living things are created with different patterns or codes of DNA. This analysis tells us whose DNA is present in the ocean water – which specific types of fish, bacteria, zooplankton, etc.
The water mass tracers analysis (on this boat we are testing N15 – an isotope of Nitrogen, and also Tritium – a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen) helps scientists understand where the water here came from. These analyses will help us verify if the Mississippi River water is running through the Florida Coast right now. From a global viewpoint, this type of test is important because it helps us understand about the circulation of ocean water around the world. If the ocean water drastically changes its current “conveyor belt” circulation patterns, there could be real impact on the global climate. (Remember from 2nd and 3rd grade that the water cycle and oceans control the climate of Earth.) For example, Europe could become a lot colder and parts of the United States could become much hotter.
The last type of analysis we prepared for was the CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) analysis. This is important because like the water mass tracers, it tells us where this water came from. For example, did the water come from the Caribbean Sea, or did it come from freshwater rivers?
I am coming to understand that the main mission of this NOAA bimonthly survey cruise on the R/V Walton Smith is to monitor the waters of the Florida Coast and Florida Bay for changes in water chemistry. The Florida Bay has been receiving less fresh water runoff from the Everglades because many new housing developments have been built and fresh water is being sent along pipes to peoples’ houses. Because of this, the salinity of the Bay is getting higher and sea grass, fish, and other organisms are dying or leaving because they cannot live in such salty water. The Bay is very important for the marine ecosystem here because it provides a safe place for small fish and sea turtles to have babies and grow-up before heading out to the open ocean.
This cruise has provided me great opportunities to see real science in action. It really reinforces everything I tell my students about being a scientist: teamwork, flexibility, patience, listening and critical thinking skills are all very important. It is also important to always keep your lab space clean and organized. It is important to keep accurate records of everything that you do on the correct data sheet. It can be easy to get excited about a fish or algae discovery and forget to keep a record of it, but that is not practicing good science.
It is also important to stay safe – every time we are outside on the deck with the safety lines down, we must wear a life vest and if we are working with something that is overhead, we must wear a helmet.
I have been interviewing the scientists and crew aboard the ship and I cannot wait to return to Arlington and begin to edit the video clips. I really want to help my students understand the variety of science/engineering and technology jobs and skills that are related to marine science, oceanography, and ships. I have also been capturing videos of the ship and scientists in action so students can take a virtual fieldtrip on the R/V Walton Smith. I have been taking so many photos and videos, that the scientists and crew almost run away from me when they see me pick up my cameras!
The food continues to be wonderful, the sunsets spectacular, and my fellow shipmates entertaining. Tomorrow I hope to see dolphins swimming alongside the ship at sunrise! I will keep you posted!!
Did you know?
The scientists and crew are working 12-hour shifts. I am lucky to have the “day shift” which is from 8am to 8pm. But some unlucky people are working the “night shift” from 8pm to 8am. They wake-up just as the sun is setting and go to sleep right when it rises again.
Animals seen today…
– Many jellyfish
– Two small crabs
– Lots of plankton
– Flying fish flying across the ocean at sunset
– A very small larval sportfish (some sort of bluerunner or jack fish)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Caitlin Fine Onboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith August 2 – 6, 2011
Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico Date: August 3, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 29.5°C
Water Temperature: 31.59°C
Wind Direction: North
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Seawave Height: calm
Clouds: Partially cloudy (cumulos and cirrus)
Relative Humidity: 72%
Science and Technology Log
The oceanographic work on the boat can be divided into three categories: physical, chemical, and biological. In this log, I will explain a little bit about the part of the research related to the physics of light. Upcoming 5th graders – pay attention! We will be learning a lot about light in January/February and it all relates to this research project.
Brian and Maria are two PhD students who are working with the physical components. They are using several optical instruments: the SPECTRIX, the GER 1500, the Profiling Reflectance Radiometer (PRR), and the Profiling Ultraviolet Radiometer (PUV).
The SPECTRIX is a type of spectroradiometer that measures the light coming out of the water in order to understand what is in the water. For example, we can measure the amount of green light that is reflected and red and blue light that is absorbed in order to get an idea about the amount of chlorophyll in the water. This is important because chlorophyll is the biggest part of phytoplankton and phytoplankton are tiny plant-like algae that form the base of the food chain on Earth.
The PRR and the PUV measure light at different depths to also understand what is in the water and at what depth you will find each thing in the water. The light becomes less bright the further down you go in the water. Most of light is between 0-200 meters of depth. The light that hits the water also becomes less bright based upon what is in the water. For example, you might find that chlorophyll live at 10 meters below the surface. It is important to understand at what depth each thing is in the water because that tells you where the life is within the ocean. Most of the ocean is pitch-black because it is so deep that light cannot penetrate it. Anything that lives below the light level has to be able to either swim up to get food, or survive on “extras” that fall below to them.
These few days have been very fun and action-packed! I arrived on the ship on Sunday afternoon and helped Nelson and the crew get organized and set-up the stations for the cruise. Several other people had also arrived early – two graduate students who are studying the optics of the water as part of their PhD program, one college student and one observer from the Dominican Republic who are like me – trying to learn about what NOAA does and how scientists conduct experiments related to oceanography.
On Monday morning, we gathered for a team meeting to discuss the mission of the cruise, introduce ourselves, and get an updated report on the status of the Mississippi River water. It turns out that the water is going in a bit of a different direction than previously projected, so we will be changing the cruise path of the ship in order to try to intersect it and collect water samples.
Monday we all learned how to use the CTD (a machine that we use to collect samples of water from different depths of the ocean) and other stations at the first several stops. It was a bit confusing at the beginning because there is so much to learn and so many things to keep in mind in order to stay safe! We then ate lunch (delicious!) and had a long 4-hour ride to the next section of stops. When we arrived, it was low tide (only 2 ft. of water in some places) so we could not do the sampling that we wanted to do. We continued on to the next section of stops (another 3 hour ride away!), watched a safety presentation and ate another delicious meal. By this time, it was time for the night shift to start working and for the day shift to go to bed. Since I am in the day shift, I was able to sleep while the night shift worked all night long.
Today I woke up, took a shower in the very small shower and ate breakfast just as we arrived at another section of stops. I immediately started working with the CTD and on the water chemistry sampling. We drove through some sea grass and the optics team was excited to take optical measurements of the sea grass because it has a very similar optical profile to oil. The satellites from space see either oil or sea grass and report it as being the same thing. So scientists are working to better differentiate between the two so that we can tell sea grass from oil on the satellite images. The images that Maria and Brian took today are maybe some of the first images to be recorded! Everyone on the ship is very excited!
Several hours later, we came to a part of the open ocean within the Florida Current near Key West where we believe water from the Mississippi River has reached. Nelson and the scientific team believe this because the salinity (the amount of dissolved salt) of the surface water is much lower than it normally is at this time of year in these waters. Normally the salinity is about 36-36.5 PSUs in the first 20 meters and today we found it at 35.7 PSUs in the first 20 meters. This may not seem like a big difference, but it is.
The water from the Mississippi River is fresh water and the water in the Florida Keys is salt water. There is always a bit of fresh water mixing with the salt water, but usually it is not enough to really cause a change in the salinity. This time, there is enough fresh water entering the ocean to really change the salinity. This change can have an impact on the animals and other organisms that live in the Florida Keys.
Additionally, the water from the Mississippi River contains a lot of nutrients – for example, fertilizers that run off from farms and lawns into gutters and streams and rivers – and those nutrients also impact the sea life and the water in the area. Nelson says that this type of activity (fresh water from the Mississippi River entering the Florida Current) occurs so infrequently (only about ever 6 years), scientists are interested in documenting it so they can be prepared for any changes in the marine biology of the area.
For all of these reasons and more, we took a lot of extra samples at this station. And it took almost 2 hours to process them!
In the evening, we stopped outside of Key West and the director of this program for NOAA, Michelle Wood, took a small boat into the harbor because she cannot be with us for the entire cruise.
She asked me if I’d like to go along with the small boat to see Key West, since I have never been there before, and of course I agreed! I got some great pictures of the R/V Walton Smith from the water and we saw a great sunset on the way back to the ship after dropping her off with Jimmy Buffet blasting from the tourist boats on their own sunset cruises.
We will be in the Mississippi River plume for most of tonight. Everyone is very excited and things are pretty crazy with the CTD sampling because we are doing extra special tests while we are in the Mississippi River plume. We might not get much sleep tonight. I will explain in my next blog all about the chemistry sampling that we are doing with the CTD instrument and why it is so important.
Did you know?
On a ship, they call the kitchen the “galley,” the bathroom is the “head,” and the bedrooms are called “staterooms.”
One interesting thing about the ship is that it does not have regular toilets. The ship has a special marine toilet system that functions with a vacuum and very thin pipes. If one of the vacuums on one of the toilets is not closed, none of the toilets work!
Animals seen today…
Zooplankton that live in the sargassum (a type of seaweed that usually floats on the water) –baby crab, baby shrimp, and other zooplankton. The sargassum is a great habitat for baby crab, baby shrimp, and baby sea turtles.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba Aboard R/V Savannah July 18 — 29, 2011
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean Date: July 21, 2011
Science and Technology Log
There is an old sailor’s proverb: “Red Sky at night, it will be bright” or “sailors take flight“ or something like that. I just know that I live by this saying and it has caused many a captain to throw away their weather charts. There was a beautiful red sunset last night and I stood at the bow or stern (I am down to two boat locations now) in complete admiration. However, when I started my shift in the morning there was a front moving in with rain clouds and lightning. I must admit I have been pretty calm most of the trip and this has not been due to the Dramamine. Seeing these clouds caused my imagination to get the better part of me, which of course would be the part that includes my brain. I had images of “The Great Wave” by Hokausai racing in my head. This outlook was ridiculous because there weren’t even white caps on the waves. The storm never hit us and the day turned out to be excellent.
Another reason last night was special was because I was able to view some dolphins at a very close distance. First Mate, Michael Richter, made it quite clear that no one was supposed to walk around the boat alone at night, especially the dark upper deck , and especially on the railings. So after daylight, we are limited to the lighted lower deck. As I was reviewing my constellations, the light seemed to attract these flying fishes. I do not know if this is true, because correlation isn’t always causation, but it looked true. As I was staring at the flying fishes, a large splash startled everyone. It was a spotted dolphin and a calf jumping for the flying fishes. The dolphins jumped around for about twenty minutes until we took off to our next destination. It was kind of like our own little Sea World, except natural. It was a perfect way to end the night.
Morning was the time to not only see, but capture, new creatures. My last blog described the deployment of traps, but now I will write about the retrieval of traps. Science Watch Chief, David Berrane termed this “action time.” The two flotation buoys we drop are significant because, after “soaking” a trap for 90 minutes, the boat returns to these devices and a crew member has to throw a grappling hook at a line between the buoys. We then quickly pull the buoys in next to the boat. The buoys are lifted up, the line is connected to a “hauler,” and a trap is pulled on board. This may sound simple but it is actually a five person task. The task is very intense and focused because people may trip over the buoys or ropes, or the trap’s line can snap due to weight or current. Hopefully the trap will be filled with fish and the cameras will record useful data from depths ranging from 25 to 83 meters. As soon as the trap is brought on board, the fish are collected and the cameras are disconnected.
The video survey of the reef is just as important as capturing fish, as cameras can assess the population of species that do not go in traps. Zeb Schobernd, the video watch commander, and I do salute him, downloads all the data on board for further viewing during the off season. Imagine all the viewing that has to be done? For instance fifteen videos were taken in one day of our ten day cruise, and there are four or five missions a year. To avoid reef video insanity, the data is viewed in thirty second intervals which is still a great deal of work.
Fish brought on board are immediately classified to species, and then measured individually. Measurement data are called “length frequency,” and hundreds of fish could be measured from one trap. According to a random tally sheet, certain fish are kept to collect “age and growth” data. Again, this could be hundreds of fish. In the ship’s “wet lab,” fish are then dissected. Most fish have a pair of “otolith” bones (i.e., ear stones) in their head. Otoliths are collected at sea, but sent to a lab where they will be examined under a microscope. When otoliths are cut by a delicate saw, visible rings tell the age of a fish, similar to how the rings visible on a tree stump can tell the age of a tree. Fish are further dissected to check the condition of their reproductive systems.
In the next blog I will I write about the “CTD” device.
The first creature I saw when I boarded the Pisces was the Laughing Gull. Almost everyone who answered this survey said Sea Gull would be the first creature I would see. Good job! The gulls were flying all over the harbor. Ironically, this is the picture I chose to use in my first entry to this blog. Later that day I saw Dolphins, Mullet, a Brown Pelican, Sargassum, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Flying Fish, and Moon Jellies. Still waiting on a whale and the Lophelia. We have only been out a short time.
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: August 15, 2010
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 26.96 degrees North Longitude: 83.18 degrees West Clouds: scattered clouds Winds: 6.13 kts. Air Temperature: 33.5 C or Barometric Pressure: 1014.93
Science and Technology:
Today was another fantastic day of seeing biology at its best. I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a sharpnose shark. It is a small shark (about 2′ long) and rather docile, so it has been a good shark for me to practice on learning how to handle sharks. The Chief Scientist works with many other scientists who are researching the reproduction of a variety of sharks in the Gulf. Although this species of shark is not the one that he is researching (he is researching the blacknose shark), shark colleagues throughout the Gulf work together in order to obtain as much data as possible, and therefore collect data for one another. Scientists look at the reproductive stages by observing and performing tests on the reproductive organs. The shark dissected was a female in advanced puberty, but was in the process of collecting developing eggs. The samples taken on this shark were the follicles, where the eggs are stored, a piece of tissue and a blood sample. They will be taken to the NOAA lab in Pascagoula for examination.
One recent finding on the blacknose shark study is that it was thought to reproduce annually. The Shark Scientist has recently found samples of blacknose sharks that show some reproduce biennially and some annually. This came about by looking at the physical features and chemical makeup of the sharks. The Chief Scientist stated that they will need to go back and review all of the data they have collected on these sharks over the many seasons they have been conducting the bottom longline survey. The reason why this is so important is that the federal regulation of the catch is based in part on this data. The outcome could be that the shark population is being depleted at a faster rate than was expected or the population is larger than anticipated, which means the catch regulations could be changed to reflect that. The shark biologist and the shark endocrinologist ( researching the hormonal makeup of sharks) were both sure that their data was accurate and valid, yet their results contradicted one another. As you would hope, these scientists are open-minded enough to review their findings again and will try to solve this unexpected puzzle.
There is a great deal of data that is collected during these types of surveys. Some data is recorded with pencil/paper, other data, such as that collected with a piece of equipment called a CTD (for “conductivity”, “temperature”, and “depth”), is recorded with computers. The actual measurements of sharks are written with pencil/paper, but once each station is done, the information is entered into one of the computers that are in the dry lab. There are six computers in the dry lab, 2 of which are laptop computers called Toughbooks. The Toughbooks are used when the hi-flyers, weights and numbered tags are put out on the fishing line and when they are hauled in. They are recording the position and time each twelve foot line is being dropped into the water.
The CTD is an extremely expensive and sensitive piece of equipment that is placed in the water immediately after the crew and scientists have finished setting the longline. The CTD sits below the surface for 3 minutes and is then lowered nearly to the ocean floor. The crew needs to be careful not to let it touch bottom because it can damage the sensors causing the unit to fail. All of the data from this equipment is analyzed by the Chief Scientist when he returns to the lab. There are also computers in many offices on the ship. As of this writing, I have not had the opportunity to explore what their functions are. That is for another day.
It is incredibly hot here today and I have not adapted very well this week. For a person who is always cold and who rarely sweats, it is quite a surprise to have sweat dripping from everywhere. I even had sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes! That is not fun. Although I do not generally drink Gatorade, I am drinking a lot of it on this trip! I really am not complaining, just making a statement. I am really having such a great time on board this ship. It truly is a once in a life time experience.
In the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to interview the five scientists (which includes the shark scientist) that I work with, and the captain of the ship. Their backgrounds are very different, but they all agreed that their love for the ocean has always been there. The also all stated that while in high school, there were not marine biology classes. It was not until they were at the college level that there were course offerings in their area of interest. The shark scientist has a PhD., but the other crew members do not. They are planning to work on their master’s degree in the future. All of the crew have set goals for themselves and I am sure they will achieve them. Each one gave advice to my fifth graders and that is do what you love. I really enjoyed spending time with all of them and have a lot to share with my students and teachers when we are back in school.
“Answer to the Question of the Day:
The answer is yes. There is this wonderful little fish that swims very fast under water, but will fly or skip like a rock over the water. It is a great adaptation that helps it to survive because the dolphins just love to feast on them. Often times where there are flying fish, there are dolphins. The other evening a flying fish flew out of the water and bounced off one of the crew members who was walking to the bow. One of the volunteers, who happens to be from UNE, caught it. That was so amazing in itself and getting to see it upfront was even better. Another example of the wonders of the ocean.
“Question of the Day”
How do captains and crew members communicate with ships that are far away?
“Animals Seen Today” a pale spotted eel that has very sharp teeth and bites.
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Karen Matsumoto Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette April 19 – May 4, 2010
NOAA Ship: Oscar Elton Sette Mission: Transit/Acoustic Cetacean Survey Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean; transit from Guam to Oahu, Hawaii, including Wake Is. Date: Friday, April 27, 2010
Science and Technology Log
In addition to the deployment of the acoustic sonobouys and monitoring of the towed hydrophone array, we also do “XBT” drops three times a day, at sunrise, noon, and sunset. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) has been used by oceanographers for many years to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean. The XBTs deployed by the Sette research team measures temperature to a depth of 1000 meters.
The XBT is a probe which is dropped from a moving ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water. Two thin copper wires transmit the temperature data to the ship where it is recorded for later analysis. The probe is designed to fall at a known rate, so that the depth of the probe can be inferred from the time since it was launched. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. It is amazing to think that over 1000 meters of thin copper wire is packed into that small tube! When I first launched an XBT, I was expecting to shoot it off like a rifle, but it actually just falls out of the unit by gravity. I was relieved that I didn’t experience “kick-back” from the probe unit when I pulled the lynch pin!
Bellow: Temperature and depth information is sent to the computer from the probe attached to the XBT unit by thin copper wires. The wires are cut when the unit reaches a depth of 1,000 meters, and the unit falls to the ocean floor. The researchers on the Sette use XBTs to obtain information on the temperature structure of the ocean, as seen on the computer screen at bellow.
We are continuing to conduct visual observations on the “Flying Bridge.” I had a chance to take a shift on the “Big Eyes” which are 25 x 150 magnification binoculars. The person at each of the Big Eye stations does a slow 90 degree sweep toward the bow and then back again, searching the ocean from horizon to ship to spot whales. I have a renewed appreciation for the skill it takes to use binoculars, especially one that weighs over 40 pounds! I had to use stacked rubber mats to be able to reach the Big Eyes at its lowest height setting, and even then it was a struggle to keep them steady every time we hit a wave! I think the Big Eyes were designed by the same people that made the huge Norwegian survival suits!
The more I learn about sperm whales, the more I want to see one! I heard sperm whale clicks this morning, which was super exciting. John Henderson, a member of our science team sent me a cool website that shows an MRI of a juvenile sperm whale. I’ve included it below. Sperm whales are still on my wish list for whale sightings on this trip!
QuickTime™ and a decompressorare needed to see this picture.
Question of the Day: How do sperm whales make their vocalizations? Sperm whale clicks are produced when air is passed between chambers in the animals’ nasal passages, making a sound that is reflected off the front of the skull and focused through the oil-filled nose. It has been suggested that powerful echolocation clicks made by sperm whales may stun their prey. Recent studies have shown that these sounds are among the loudest sounds made under water by animals (they can travel up to six miles despite being fairly high frequency).
Sperm whale clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are diving and foraging. These sounds may be echolocation (“sonar”) sounds used to find their prey, calls to coordinate movement between individuals, or both. Clicks are heard most frequently when the animals are in groups, while individual sperm whales are generally silent when alone. Most of the sounds that sperm whales make are clicks ranging from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz
New Term/Phrase/Word of the Day: Expendable Bathythermograph or the XBT was developed in the 1960s by former The Sippican Corporation, today Lockheed Martin Sippican. Over 5 million XBT’s have been manufactured since its invention. The XBT is used by the Navy and oceanographic scientists to provide an ocean temperature versus depth profile. Some XBTs can be launched from aircraft or submarines, and have been used for anti-submarine warfare. How many XBTs do you think are on the bottom of the ocean?
Something to Think About:
“Thar she blows!” was the cry of the whaler!
Whale researchers can identify many whales by their “blows,” when the whale comes to the surface to breathe. Observers look for the direction and shape of the blow. For example, sperm whale blows are almost always directed at a low angle to the left, as their single nostril is located on the left side.
Grey whales, on the other hand, have two blowholes on the top of their head, and have very low heart-shaped or V-shaped blows, with the spray falling inwards. What do you think are you seeing when you see whale blows?
Animals Seen Today:
• Flying fish
Did you know?
Cetaceans evolved from land mammals in the even-toed ungulates group. The hippopotamus is most likely their closest living relative!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces November 7 – 19, 2009
Mission: Ecosystem Survey Geographic Region: Southeast U.S. Date: November 15, 2009
If you have been using the ship tracker you would be able to follow that last night we cruised around the bottom tip of Florida out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean. The waters were a bit rough with wind gusts up to 40 knots. It was a rocky night. Not to mention a very sleepless night with the greenish way I was feeling :)! Needless to say I haven’t had much to eat today except for some dry Captain Crunch cereal. The head chef on the mess deck suggested it would be a good stomach filler. We will see and I will let you know!
Once I got my sea legs back I was anxious to see what everyone else was doing. The crew as well as the scientists were very busy; therefore, I stayed pretty much out of their way for a while. The crew was trying to get us an arrival in Jacksonville, FL and the tech crew was busy trying to get us online since the internet signal went down. Talking to the captain he says that with a new boat there are always kinks that have to be ironed out …that’s why we call these sea trials.
The mammal scientists were working on their equipment trying to get their equipment calibrated correctly. They explained to me that PISCES is equiped with many sensors (transducers) and these sensors are connected to different pieces of equipment to help pickup the ocean ecosystem. For instance, the mammal scientists are using the echo sensors on the computers (see below) that operates seven echo sound frequencies. Then the scientists can use this realtime data for analysis of targets, concentrations, the layers of ocean, etc. This provides a broad scope of marine acoustic survey from plankton to large schools of fish.
While I was on deck watching the waves I noticed a bunch of birds that flew into the water but never came up. I watched a while longer and again, but this time these creatures came up from the water and flew across it into a huge dive back into the ocean. These were not birds…..these were ‘flying fish’! They are C.melanurus common to the Atlantic. They are silly little fish always flying from a predator under water.
We are still enjoying the equator today!!! (0° latitude, 140° west longitude)
The FOO (Field Operations Officer)’s quote of the day:
“Just as much as we see in others we have in ourselves.” – William Hazlitt
Weather Log: Here are our observations at 1400 today: Latitude: 0°00.49’S (into the Southern Hemisphere!) Longitude: 139°52.4’W Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm) Wind direction: 090° Wind speed: 15 kts Sea wave height: 3-4′ Swell wave height: 5-7′ Sea water temperature: 26.9°C Sea level pressure: 1008.5 mb Cloud cover: 4/8, Cumulus
A new tropical storm, Genevieve, is on her way to hurricane status! She is currently at 14°N, 115°W and is moving toward 280° at 6 kts. She has sustained winds at 60 kts with gusts to 75 kts.
Science and Technology Log:
After the equatorial buoy was retrieved late last night, most of the crew worked very late to pull in the 4500 meters of cable. Then, they needed to prepare the new buoy to be deployed this morning. Everyone is looking rather tired today. The CO and Chief Scientist joined us for a few moments at the start of our morning broadcast to participate in the buoy dedication ceremony. I first introduced the show and then we all signed our names on a large NOAA sticker, added a Shippensburg University Spirit sticker, and then attached them to the central cylinder on the buoy where all of the instrument electronics are stored. These stickers will be there for the next year until the buoy is retrieved again. Pretty neat, I think.
Our broadcasts took all morning to complete and overall went well. We continue to learn what works and what doesn’t with regard to the technology. It’s best to interview just a few people and when writing on the dry erase board, use black marker, not blue. As they say, practice makes perfect.
I realized tonight how much I love interviewing scientists, especially people who do things related to, but very different than, what I do. I am always fascinated with other scientists’ research because their methodologies are often so different from my own. They make me think, which definitely expands my mind.
Well, I was up late last night preparing for double broadcasts today. I spend so much time in front of the computer in the main lounge that I arrived yesterday to find a sign saying, “Casa Diane”. I figured it was Lobo or Don who always comment that I spend too much time in “my office”. Kirby came by to say that the fish were jumping outside and invited me to join everyone on the deck. WOW! I have never seen so many fish in my life! There were hundreds of HUGE fish jumping out of the water, flying over the surface (flying fish), zipping up, down, over, and lurching at smaller fish that I could hardly believe my eyes. The sea was boiling! The fish were different from the starboard to the port side of the ship, tuna and sharks on port and rainbow runners on starboard. I caught my first real fish last night – a yellowfin tuna that probably weighed just under 10 lbs. Larry helped get me started and then coached me as I reeled it in…what fun!!! Everyone was cheering for all of us because all that you had to do was place your hook in the water and something latched on. Even if you had a bite, a shark often came by and snatched your prize. I’ll bet that I saw at least 50 sharks, hundreds of zipping tuna (which are gorgeous, by the way), a whole school of rainbow runners, and tons of flying fish. All in all, we caught at least 25 fish last night (a few around 40 lbs) and immediately cleaned and prepared them to be eaten every which way. A few people awoke early and caught another 20. I love sushimi the most, but we’ve also been eating fish fried, broiled, in salad form, etc. It reminds me of Forrest Gump – shrimp gumbo, shrimp salad, shrimp…! We did have to freeze some of the fish because there’s no way that we could eat everything in the next few days. The fish that were caught all had full stomachs comprised of many very small fish that looked like sardines. To top off the whole experience there was a bright moon above the horizon illuminating the bubbling water. Even the crew who have been on board for many years were impressed with last night’s scene. I am truly amazed by the sea! It brings something new every day. See my photo log for a few pictures of last night’s fiesta! Oh, and I forgot to say that two flying fish actually flew onto the ship overnight and were found this morning. I highlighted the larger one in my broadcasts today – simply amazing.
Our location and the weather observations at 1500 today were: Latitude: 15°37.4’N Longitude: 145°25.0’W Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm) Wind direction: 030 (direction from which the wind is blowing) Wind speed: 18 kts Sea wave height: 4-5′ Swell wave height: 5-7′ Sea water temperature: 26.0°C Sea level pressure: 1011.9 mb Dry bulb temperature: 25.8°C Wet bulb temperature: 24.2°C Cloud cover: 7/8, Cumulus
“A man is ethical only when life is sacred to him…and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.” – Albert Schweitzer
WELCOME to a new time zone! We are now 9 hours off Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the current time in Greenwich, England along the 0° meridian. We just crossed into this new time zone overnight as we cruised southeast toward 8°N latitude, 125°W longitude. At 8°N, 125°W we’ll find the first buoy that needs to be replaced, which is typical after floating in the water for one year (see the web site http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao for a map and description of the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) buoy array). During our travels southward along the 125°W longitude line, a few of the moorings (buoys) will simply need to be repaired instead of replaced. The sensors that will be replaced may have been vandalized by fishermen, damaged due to severe weather, or the sensors may need to be recalibrated. In any case, we’ll either replace sensors or fix them at each buoy.
I just walked (well, swayed) out on the buoy deck and discovered that the ship’s first replacement buoy is being constructed. This buoy will replace the one currently floating at our first stop. It’s amazing how the whole project comes together with many scientists working in harmony. See today’s photo log for pictures of the newest buoy at various stages of completion.
Dr. Paul Freitag, our Chief Scientist, provided some more information about the instruments on the buoys. First, the buoys are anchored to the ocean floor, which is still hard for me to believe. All of the buoys have sensors to measure temperature/relative humidity and an anemometer to measure wind speed along with wind direction. Some of the buoys have sensors measuring precipitation and solar radiation, but not all are equipped to with this expensive instrumentation. The buoy itself (the orange and white donut part) is composed of a foam core surrounded by fiberglass. Below this there is a rigid stainless steel bridle connected to a wire rope which is used for the first 500 meters of the mooring. On these 500 meters of wire rope there are nine subsurface temperature sensors (thermistors) followed by two pressure sensors accompanying two more thermistors. The pressure readings correspond well with measurements of ocean depth. Water temperatures are measured below the surface at 1 meter (m), 20 m, 40 m, 60 m, 80 m, 100 m, 120 m, 140 m, 180 m, 300 m, and 500 m. Below 500 m, eight-strand plaited nylon line is used down to the anchor, with some sites requiring nearly 3 miles of line (see the diagram at http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/images/atlas.gif). The amazing thing is that the subsurface temperature sensors transmit and receive data from the buoy with an inductive coupling technique, which means that they’re not wired directly to the main line, yet data are transmitted along the cable. The sensors simply clamp onto the wire rope that serves as one of the inductive elements. This makes it much easier to assemble and deploy the extremely long cable. One aspect of meteorology that I find fascinating is the instrumentation, so I spend much of my time looking at the wiring and instrument manufacturers and asking the scientists many questions about what and why and how…they haven’t seemed to mind so far.
Here is some more information about the people and activities on the ship. There are 31 people on board (seven of us are women) with bunk space available for only two more. There are 5 officers, 1 cadet, 10 scientists, and the remaining crew members who focus on making the ship and science work efficiently. We all greatly appreciate their help. Everyone eats breakfast from 7:00-8:00 AM (0700-0800), lunch from 11:00-12:00 (1100-1200), and dinner from 4:30-5:30 PM (1630-1730). There is a small store selling candy and snacks, soda, shirts and hats on the ship that is open each night from 1930-2000 hours. We can email from any computer on board (I’ve counted at least 14 computers) and all of our email messages are sent and received in a bundle two times a day around 0900 and 1600. There is a laundry room with three washers/dryers on the second deck forward on the starboard side of the ship. There are two lounges with library materials including books, magazines and board games. Movies are shown every night on two channels in the lounges at both 1730 and repeated at 2000. So, you can see that it’s easy to keep busy on the ship. Two extra treats on this cruise include guitar/music playing sessions for all those who brought their musical instruments on board, and French lessons every other night. Je m’appelle Diane. J
After seeing more flying fish today, I decided to do some research to find out exactly what these fish are all about. I learned that they’re often referred to as “bluebirds of the sea” and that they spread their pectoral fins, glide for a few seconds, and then splash back into the sea. When they swim, their long fins are folded against their body. Flight speeds of up to 35 miles per hour have been monitored and flights as long as 13 seconds covering up to 450 feet have been timed. Photography has proven that they are gliders and not true flyers (all information obtained in “Fishes of the Pacific Coast” by Gar Goodson, Stanford University Press, 1988). I’ll keep my eye on these beauties and attempt to take a photo so you can share this delight!
The first person to answer my question of the day posed in my August 17th log was Tom Taddeo (my incredibly smart uncle from Mechanicsburg, PA – thanks for responding!) who gave the correct answer regarding the definition of pitch, roll, and yaw of a ship. Yes, pitch is when the ship tips in a fore-and-aft direction (from front to back), roll means the ship tips from side to side due to the sea or swell, and yaw means that the ship swings involuntarily from side to side when advancing forward. I’d love to hear from more of you so I can acknowledge more people in my logs.
The afternoon was spent testing the computer and camera equipment that will enable us to connect with all of you via upcoming live webcasts. Fortunately, everything seems to be working very well! We even managed to get a wireless microphone to work. We’ll be testing again tomorrow and hope to have a general broadcast ready to go by the end of the week. Please contact Jennifer Hammond at email@example.com if you’d like to receive the live broadcast. We’ll be interviewing scientists and talking about life at sea!
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner again tonight and I’m nearly ready for bed. It was great to hear from Dana Tomlinson (our last Teacher at Sea!), Nancy from ASU, and as always, my husband, family members, and friends. I invite more of you to email with questions that you might have about the Ka’imimoana or what it’s like to live on a ship.
Until tomorrow when I discuss CTD’s (what are they, you ask?!? – more tomorrow!)…bon soir.
Question of the day: What is the difference between sea wave height and swell wave height?
More tomorrow… Diane
P.S. I just walked outside and rain was falling on the buoy deck under bright pink clouds – beautiful!
Day 7: Saturday, August 17, 2002 Time: 0700 military time (based on a 24-hour time schedule)
Latitude: 21°14.715’North (N) Cruising just south of the Big Island of Hawaii visible this morning from the port (left) side of the ship when facing forward Longitude: 157°57.378’West
Weather Observations taken from the bow of the ship with Shippensburg University’s hand-held Kestrel 3000 instrument:
Air Temperature: 27°C (80.6°F) Average Wind Speed: 6.3 knots (7.3 mph) Cloud Cover: 8/10 with mostly altocumulus (middle level, puffy) and cirrocumulus (high level, puffy) clouds Precipitation in previous 24 hours: 0 cm (0 inches) Relative Humidity: 89% Dew Point Temperature: 24.8°C (76.6°F) Relatively calm seas; beautiful sunrise; Porpoises spotted on the port (left) side of the ship
Quote written on the Plan of the Day (POD) posted outside the Main Mess (meal) area: “All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.” – Benedict Spinoza
After a restful night’s sleep on my upper bunk, I awoke ready for a new day! It struck me as I was lulling into a peaceful sleep that my mattress felt just like a waterbed. I thought that I was rolling around on a bowl of jello, a neat feeling which made me relax. I am fortunate that I haven’t experienced any seasickness yet. A few others haven’t been so lucky. Michelle, our fearless Medical Officer on board, has distributed medication for seasickness to those needing it. It is recommended that you breathe in fresh air and watch the horizon for a while if ever you feel queasy.
After touring the outer decks of the ship watching the sun rise above the morning clouds on the horizon, I stopped to speak with crew member Roger Stone who said that every day is slightly different because the sky is always changing. He recalled seeing a white rainbow at night under a full moon. I had never heard of this so I’m intrigued about what would cause such a remarkable feature.
Breakfast was interesting because I spoke with Rachel, a Cadet, and Steve, our Field Operations Officer (FOO) who received a degree in Meteorology at the University of Nebraska. We discussed Steve’s research and he said that I could come up to the bridge to take weather observations anytime. Yahoo! For some reason beyond me, weather obs are not everyone’s favorite activity of the day. Rachel taught me the difference between a pitching and rolling boat. She said that a pitching boat rocks front to back (up and down), while a rolling boat rocks side to side. She is currently taking a course requiring that she write a complete report of all of her activities while on board. I hope to learn many things from her, including celestial navigation — how to find your way using the stars. Can’t wait!
I learned from Steve that the reason it was a bit rocky in the ship last night was due to our travels through currents emerging from between the Hawaiian Islands. The currents disturbed the forward motion of the boat. Unknown to me, currents are named for the direction toward which they flow, unlike winds, which are named for the direction from which they blow. So, if ocean currents and winds are moving in the same direction, they have opposite directional names – very interesting!
I spent part of the day organizing my thoughts regarding my upcoming lesson plans. There are so many exciting ideas generated each day by the scientists as we talk. I will definitely interview the scientists on the ship about their current research as well as use the opportunity to describe the many mechanical and electronic sensors on board to everyone watching the webcasts. Please let me know what you would like to know more about and I’ll try to include it in a future webcast.
John pointed out flying fish on the port side of the boat today. They are quite small and it is believed that they fly to flee from whatever is gaining on them. They don’t have great ability to determine direction and they stay in the air for just a few seconds before splashing into the water again.
Our location and the weather observations at 1300 today were: Latitude: 18°37.8’N Longitude: 155°23.7’W Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm) which is about the greatest distance you can see due to the curvature of the earth Wind direction: 060 (on a 0-360° scale) which means ENE Wind speed: 19 kts Sea wave height: 5-7′ Swell wave height: 6-8′ Sea Water Temperature: 26.6°C Sea level pressure: 1015.0 mb Dry bulb temperature: 26.2°C Wet bulb temperature: 23.5°C
Sarah and Rachel gave me a tour of the ship’s bridge this afternoon. They discussed every aspect of their job and it was fascinating! They have radar on the ship to detect nearby ships and severe weather. On the front panel of the bridge there is an automatic pilot system for the ship. There are also throttles for the main engines, which allow us to travel at approximately 10-12 kts under ideal conditions. The bow thruster controls movement of the front of the ship from left to right. They described radio communication procedures with other ships, explained who has right of way when two ships are merging, and provided details about the nautical charts used during each journey. I made the mistake of calling nautical charts “maps” and was politely corrected. I will place this new term in my memory bank for future reference. I also was privy to a chart showing our upcoming transit line with waypoints approximately every 200 miles. The ship remains in a straight path until a certain point where a slight change of direction is made, otherwise, the bearing would constantly change as the ship’s path slowly curved.
After a workout and excellent meal of chicken stirfry, cauliflower, rice and pecan pie prepared by Helen and Doretha, I met with John who informed me that there would be a deployment of a test buoy tomorrow around 0900 and that he would like to videotape me on the buoy before it’s sent out to sea to explain the instrumentation on the mast. Earlier today I met with Dave and Paul, our Chief Scientists on board, and they explained the entire array of sensors and the purpose behind the buoy. It will be deployed and removed during this trip with data collected every few seconds and stored in a datalogger on the mast. During the return voyage of the KA to Honolulu in late September the buoy will be removed from the water and the data analyzed immediately following the trip. A compass comparison test and a buoy motion monitor test will be conducted. A specially engineered tube containing 3 different compasses and an accelerometer will enable the pitch, roll, and yaw of the buoy to be determined. As of yet, I believe that these movements on the buoy are unknown.
Today’s question: What is the pitch, roll, and yaw of a ship? Be the first to answer and I’ll acknowledge your response in my next log. I’ll write again tomorrow after a peaceful night under the millions of visible stars above.
Latitude: 15 N Longitude: 111 W Seas: N/NW 2-5 ft. Visibility: Unrestricted Weather: Partly Cloudy Sea Surface Temp: 72-76F Winds: NE 5-10 Air Temp: 78-65F
Hello again from the sunny Pacific! Today was another wonderful day in paradise. We were actually visited by some boobies doing some aerial maneuvers around the ship. We also saw numerous flying fish who I don’t think were visiting, but trying to get out of our way! It was my first sighting of flying fish. I always figured that they’d soar out of the water and fall back in, but, as often happens, boy was I wrong. These fish (very slender and smaller than I thought -looked like maybe 8-10 inches long) burst out of the water and then literally fly. They use their pectoral fins as wings and some easily flew for 50 yards. Amazing.
Since we are still in transit to the first buoy (arriving Wed 3/7), I spent today on camera in tests to get our technology all set for the live web feeds we will be doing for schools around the country (and in a few other countries, too). If you are a teacher who would like to set up a live webfeed for your classroom, please email me, and I’ll connect you with the people who will make it happen.
The scientists continue to prep for work they’ll be undertaking any day now. Since I don’t have anything very scientific to discuss today, I think I’ll take this opportunity to give you information on something I’ve been getting LOTS of questions about … the food!
JoseFelipe from San Diego was one of the first to ask! The mess (it’s actually very neat, but that’s what they call the cafeteria) is open to feed us three times a day: from 0700-0800, 1100-1200 and from 1630-1730. They are strict about the times. Clementine and Sandra are the cooks and they do a terrific job feeding the 30 of us on board a great deal of variety. For breakfast every day, they’ve had a choice of hot or cold cereals, waffles, pancakes, and some sort of egg dish. For lunch, there is always a salad bar, and usually sandwiches and a soup, and then a couple of main dishes. For dinner, you usually have at least 3 dishes to choose from. Dessert at lunch is usually ice cream or fruit, and for dinner it’s usually something VERY fattening. Tonight, it was the richest chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten. During any other hours of the day, the mess is open for the snacks they have available: bread, peanut butter, all of the drinks, salad, crackers, etc. So far, my favorites have been the Chinese soup, the chicken curry and the Caesar salad (at three different meals and all made from scratch). We are a lucky crew. Thanks, ladies!!
Question of the Day:
When looking at a forecast, what does SST stand for?
Hint: you can find it in my daily log.
Answer of the Day:
Vanessa P. from San Diego was the first to ask me what the #2 and #3 most frequently asked questions of me were before I left on my voyage. Here are those questions and answers:
#2 Are there any other women on board with you? Answer: Yes, there are a total of 8 women on board and 22 men.
#3 How did you get chosen for this? Answer: I’m not really sure. My best guess is that the folks who decide these things at NOAA liked the fact that I wrote well when I filled out my application, they liked that I have done a lot of things in outdoor education, and perhaps they liked the fact that I used to be a flight attendant so they knew that I can travel and take care of myself. I really don’t know, but I’m sure glad they did!