Jennifer Dean: Departures and Deep-Sea Devotion, May 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Dean
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 12 – May 24, 2018

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

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

Date: May 22nd, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 32°54.0440 ’ N
Longitude: 78° 12.3070’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10.29 knots
Wind Direction: 196.7°
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.5°C
Sky: Scattered clouds

Science and Technology Log

Interdependence and Energy Pyramids
Every ecology unit from elementary to high school incorporates these 2 essential learnings: matter cycles and energy flows. This flux of energy through biotic factors is depicted in diagrams like the one below. This survey work involving an inventory of biotic and abiotic factors in and outside the MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), reminds me of the relationships and connections between the organisms in these pyramids and food webs. Organisms with their niches (role or position in the environment) need to be counted and understood. These marine creatures play important jobs in a complex ecosystem of our oceans. I decided to dedicate this last blog to highlighting some of these underappreciated marine organisms and their contributions to both the marine ecosystems and mankind.

energy pyramid PHOTO CREDIT: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/143-marine-food-webs

Seeing the beauty underneath the waves convinces me of my obligation to educate, protect and recruit the next generation of stewards for this fragile environment. Below are images of some of my favorite organisms photographed during the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) dives and an explanation of a fraction of their significance to a healthy marine ecosystem. I insist that my students approach their labs in class with background research that addresses why we should care about any given topic of scientific study. So here are only a handful of the many reasons we should care about these critters of the sea.

Phylum Porifera – Sponges
What are they?
Phylum Porifera, considered one of the oldest animal groups, may have existed as far back as the Pre-Cambrian period (577-542 millions years ago). This group derive their name from a Latin root meaning “pore bearer”. These animals are filter feeders that have a unique body design made up of asymmetrical bodies of specialized cells. Although multicellular sponges do not have tissues, they are comprised of two layers of cells, epithelia and collar cells, with a jelly-like substance in between. Sponges are covered with tiny pores (ostia) that bring water into canals and that empty out to larger holes (oscula).

Why we should care?
Research indicates that sponges play huge roles in filtering the water column, recycling 10 times as much organic matter than bacteria and producing nutrition for both corals and algae. Studies have traced the matter from shed dead cells (choanocytes) of a certain species of sponge that appear (after ingestion) within 2 days in the tissue of snails and other invertebrates.

If their valuable ecosystem services are not enough, remember that over 5000 different excretions from sponges have demonstrated medical uses from fighting cancers to arsenic detoxification.

Phylum Cnidaria – Anemones, jellyfish, corals, and more
What are they?
Very diverse group with over 9000 species. Unlike the sponges, with their asymmetry, anemones possess radial symmetry and the ability to sting. Cnidarians includes organisms such as the jellyfish, box jellies, hydras, moon jellies, purple jellies, Portuguese man-of-war, corals and sea anemones. Their stinging cells (nematocysts) have Greek roots, “cnidos” means stinging nettle. Some of these organisms have nematocytes (stinging cells) that eject poison infused barbed threads when touched. Organisms of this phylum generally have a central gut surrounded by tentacles, but take on one of two body forms, either a medusa (free-floating with mouth down), or a polyp (attached to a surface with mouth up). Cnidarians in the polyp stage can live in colonies made up of many similar individual organisms (called zooids). In the case of corals, these zooids are connected by an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate which form coral reefs in the tropics. Cnidarians are diverse in form and function, serving as both predators and prey within many food webs and establishing critical habitat, like coral, for innumerable species.

 

Why we should care?
They provide homes for other organisms, such as shrimp and reef fish. Sea anemone venom has been found to have biomedical importance in treating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, other autoimmune conditions, gastrointestinal disorders and even chronic pain. Toxins from sea anemone are often bioactive compounds that interfere selectively with certain ion-channels in cell membranes. This specificity makes them good potential tools for therapeutic treatments for a variety of human ailments. Their physiology, and use of a nematocyst, is being studied as a potential drug delivery method. Scientists are studying the biomechanical method that Cnidarians evolved millions of years ago to deliver poison to their prey. Recently, Cnidarians role as biological indicator species has also made them a valuable tool for use in monitoring contaminants in aquatic environments.

Phylum Echinodermata – Sea Cucumbers, Starfish, Sea Urchins
What are they?
This phylum includes the sea cucumbers, sand dollars, brittle stars, crinioids, sea stars, and sea urchins and derives its name from Greek roots meaning spiny (echino) skin (derm). 8000 species make up this radial symmetrical group. All members have an internal skeleton made up of ossicles below a layer of skin that can possess pigment cells or mucus and toxin secreting cells. A water vascular system in starfish acts like a hydraulics system using canals networked though muscles and valves to control pressure to provide movement, respiration and the ability to deliver nutrients to tissues and remove waste products. Many starfish are featured in environmental science textbooks as keystone species. A keystone species is one that if removed, the ecosystem could change significantly or collapse.

Why we should care?
Echinoderms are used for food, from making certain soups to being considered a delicacy in some southeastern Asian countries. Echinoderms skeletons are even used in farming to provide lime for soils. The ability of the species for regeneration of muscle tissue is a feat of intense interest in the biomedical world. Echinoderm musculature most closely resembles human smooth muscle tissue (such as lining arteries, veins, and intestines) than skeletal muscles. Not to be out done by Cnidarians and Porifera, sea cucumbers also release toxins that have been demonstrated to slow the growth rate of tumors. Other bioactive compounds isolated from echinoderms have demonstrated potential anti-coagulant (blood clotting) properties.

These species of the marine world possess information that could be critical for the survival of humans and for the health of marine ecosystems. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that “Today’s massive loss of species and habitat will be slowed only when the human community understands that nature is not an inferior to be exploited or an enemy to be destroyed but an ally requiring respect and replenishment. We are part of the web of life. Many strands already have broken. We must act quickly to repair what we can. Our lives and livelihood depend on it.” I do hope we act quickly and that we can be dedicated and devoted to their protection for future generations.

Phylum Arthropoda – (Marine) Crabs, Shrimp, Sea Spiders
What are they?
Greek arthron meaning ‘joint’ and pous meaning ‘foot’ representing their segmented bodies and appendages. Fossils of some of the simplest jointed animals date back to the Cambrian (545 million years ago). Arthropods have a hard exoskeleton made of chitin (nitrogen-rich polysaccharide). This body armor protects the soft body, and provides attachment sites for muscles. Their bodes are made of 2 or 3 sections, the head (cephalum), chest (thorax), and an abdomen. This phylum is incredibly diverse and has the most individuals and number of species of animals on the planet. 10% of the roughly 1 million species are found in the marine environment. Subphyla include Crustacea (crabs and shrimp), Phycnogonida (sea spiders) and Merostomata (horseshoe crabs). In this blog I am going to focus on only a small subset of this phyla seen on the dives, like the especially creepy looking sea spider and squat lobster (found in a glacial scour area at a depth of 250 meters among phosphoric rock boulders on ROV dive 2 on 5/21/2018).

Why we should care?
First, many people find some species of this phylum very tasty, such as some of my favorites – shrimp, lobster and crab, which belong to the subphylum Crustacea. Crustaceans are considered an important link in the marine food web that provides a connection between the benthic (bottom) and pelagic (open sea). Some species filter water, others break down organic matter, while others are critical in the food chains of fish such as cod, eels and herring. Research shows that chitin particles in clam, lobster and shrimp shells may have anti-inflammatory properties. In the future, shellfish waste could be turned into medical ingredients for products that could reduce suffering from conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.

For teaching about this Phyla check out the link to this
Arthropoda Lesson Plan.

Other Cool Creatures Caught On Camera:

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Personal Log

After looking through the photos of the organisms of these deep coral ecosystems I couldn’t help but want students and society at large to care about the protection of these biological communities. Not just because of the aesthetic value but for their roles in food webs, medical value and economic significance to our food industry. One major theme in environmental science is this idea of interdependence and interconnected systems. We are part of this system, but we also have a unique ability and obligation to preserve the stability and diversity of these areas.

What pictures I chose not to share on this farewell blog have another message, disturbing images and captions that could have spoken to fishing lines, trawl nets, coral rubble remnants (from shrimp trawling), red Solo cups, water bottles and plastic sheets that are scattered in even these deep reaches of the ocean floor. I like to hope these found their way to these deep locations because of ignorance not ambivalence. I hope to hear stories from my students on how they develop technologies to clean up our mess and lead their generation in establishing as a priority putting in place protections for these habitats.

A spotted dolphin A spotted dolphin

On break between dives these spotted dolphins put on a 15 minute show playing in the waves at the bow of the ship. It is easy to love these larger charismatic megafauna, performing their leaps and turns in the waves. But just like us, they are part of a complex food web and a delicate system of interdependence. I am reminded of the quote by John Muir, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” We need to limit how much we are picking out of systems and through scientific knowledge assure our children and grandchildren inherit a healthy planet where these marine environments recover to their original thriving communities of marine organisms.

My time at sea passed quickly. I am thankful for the opportunity to experience jobs of those at sea that are collecting the information that contributes to better protections for these habitats. I appreciate all the lessons and stories that crew members and scientists shared throughout the trip. This experience awakens the scientist in me and inspires action in my classroom and community. I am extremely thankful for such an amazing experience.

What can you do to protect Marine Ecosystems?

Donate and participate in organizations that work for preservation and conservation

Know and follow the fishing and other marine life regulations

Seafood watch
Ocean Biogeographic Information System
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/rules-and-regulations
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/laws-policies

Educate others – use your voice and your vote
A Census of Marine Life

To learn more: Habitat conservation for Deep-sea coral

Advice for other Teachers at Sea Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces

Print a copy of all crew members full names, titles, emails (if possible) and pictures
For the first few days take your seasickness medicine early and keep your stomach full
Read a few of the articles or scientific studies published by the scientists on the cruise
Recheck that you packed your reusable water bottle and coffee mug

Did You Know?
Certain species of sea cucumber have a type of fish, a pearlfish, that have found a happy home inside the cucumber’s bum (cloaca).
You can determine the validity to this statement by checking out this video clip:

Fact or Fiction?
Certain species of fiddler crabs use a wave of their larger claw to entice the female crabs, and if you don’t have the right wave, you don’t get the girl.
Sexual selection for structure building by courting male fiddler crabs: an experimental study of behavioral mechanisms

What’s My Story? Andrew David

Andy Andrew David, Research Fish Biologist

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

What is your specific title and job description on this mission? Research Fisheries Biologist. For this study he is the co-principal investigator.

How long have you worked for NOAA? 28 years.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? His favorite part of the job is getting to see things that most people never get to see in their life. Not many people get to see the fish and other invertebrates that live at 800 feet. His lease favorite part of the job is the government bureaucracy involved in being able to perform his job.

When did you first become interested in this career and why? In middle school, he also was inspired from watching the documentaries created by Jacques Cousteau. The discovery and adventure presented within the ocean in this series appealed to this son of a Navy diver. Growing up in central and northwest Florida, the ocean was always part of his life.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career? He recommends students take chemistry, biology and anything with math in it. He also stressed that English is important in his career or any STEM related job, so that you are able to express your science in writing.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited? He found Australia, due to its unique flora and fauna, to be very interesting as evolution has allowed the adaptation of totally different species to fill niches found in other reef habitats. There are fishes which have evolved the same body plan to take advantage of certain feeding opportunities which are completely unrelated to fishes in other parts of the world that utilize those same feeding opportunities.

Do you have a typical day? Or tasks and skills that you perform routinely in this job? Half of his job involves being the diving officer for NOAA Fisheries and this always brings up unexpected action items. As a manager for diving supervisors, he makes suggestions to avoid accidents and incidents that arrive randomly and so there is a level of uncertainty to any given day. If a diving related issue arises he may spend a portion of his day on the telephone. With the diving officer duties he deals with situational incidents that aren’t written into policy already that need oversight and decision-making. He makes suggestions and recommendations in novel situations that are diving related. From the science side his time is involved in working on paper publications and the data analysis from ROV dives such as this one.

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present? He mentioned that when he began this career he was using floppy disks and a 4 color monitor, now he has computing power that is incomparable. Internet and email did not exist when he began. The speed of data transfer and the ability to communicate information now occurs at a rapid rate. The science side with that of the ROV sophistication has improved with the ability to capture details with the high definition cameras, for example the ability to count tentacles on a polyp. These technical advances have allowed much more precise identifications and observations of the animals they study.

What is one misconception or scientific claim you hear about how the ocean and atmosphere works and/or NOAA’s mission that you wished the general public had a greater awareness of? On the broader scientific community, there are very few issues which foster a consensus of opinions. The public may think scientists all see the world from a liberal perspective, but there are many conservative scientists as well – they just don’t get as much media attention. From the fisheries perspective, he encounters the misconception that there are only 3 groups studied in fisheries; sharks, dolphins/whales, and turtles. The vast majority of fisheries work is done outside of these groups.

DJ Kast, Interview with Emily Peacock, May 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 25, 2015, Day 7 of Voyage

Interview with Emily Peacock

Emily Peacock and her ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

Emily Peacock and her ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

Emily Peacock is a Research Assistant with Dr. Heidi Sosik at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). She is using imaging flow-cytometry to document the phytoplankton community structure along the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Route.

Why is your research important?

Phytoplankton are very important to marine ecosystems and are at the bottom of the food chain.  They uptake carbon dioxide (CO2) and through the process of photosynthesis make oxygen, much like the trees of the more well-known rain forests.

Ocean Food Chains. Photo by: Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 (http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/99/95199-036-D579DC4A.jpg)

Ocean Food Chains. Photo by: Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 (http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/99/95199-036-D579DC4A.jpg)

The purpose of our research is “to understand the processes controlling the seasonal variability of phytoplankton biomass over the inner shelf off the northeast coast of the United States. Coastal ocean ecosystems are highly productive and play important roles in the regional and global cycling of carbon and other elements but, especially for the inner shelf, the combination of physical and biological processes that regulate them are not well understood.” (WHOI 2015)

What tool do you use in your work you could not live without?

I am using an ImagingFlowCytobot (IFCB) to sample from the flow-through Scientific Seawater System.

ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo: DJ Kast

ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo: DJ Kast

Inside of the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by Taylor Crockford

Inside of the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by Taylor Crockford

The green tube is what collects 5 ml into the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

The green tube is what collects 5 ml into the ImagingFlowCytobot. Photo by: DJ Kast

IFCB is an imaging flow cytometer that collects 5 ml of seawater at a time and images the phytoplankton in the sample. IFCB images anywhere from 10,000 phytoplankon/sample in coastal waters to ~200 in less productive water. Emily is creating a sort of plankton database with all these images. They look fantastic, see below for sample images!

Microzooplankton called Ciliates. Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

Microzooplankton called Ciliates. Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

Dinoflagellates Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

Dinoflagellates
Photo Credit: IFCB, from this Henry Bigelow research cruise.

The IFCB “is a system that uses a combination of video and flow cytometric technology to both capture images of organisms for identification and measure chlorophyll fluorescence associated with each image.  Images can be automatically classified with software, while the measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence make it possible to more efficiently analyze phytoplankton cells by triggering on chlorophyll-containing particles.” (WHOI ICFB 2015). 

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy looking at the phytoplankton images and identifying and looking for more unusual images that we don’t see as often. I particularly enjoy seeing plankton-plankton interactions and grazing of phytoplankton.

Grazing (all photo examples are not from this research cruise but still from an IFCB):

Small flagellates on a Thallasiosira Photo Credit: MVCO

Small flagellates on a Thallasiosira (Diatom) Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Diatom with a dino eating it from the outside (peduncle).Photo Credit: MVCO

Diatom with a dinoflagellate eating it from the outside using a peduncle (feeding appendage). Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Engulfer- Gyrodinium will engulf itself around the diatom (Paralia consumed by Gyrodinium).Photo Credit: MVCO

Engulfer- Gyrodinium will engulf the diatom Paralia Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Dinoflagellates Pallium feeder- feeding externally, the pallium wraps around the prey.Photo Credit: MVCO

Dinoflagellates pallium feeding externally, the pallium (cape-like structure, think of saran wrap on food) wraps around the prey. Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

What type of phytoplankton do you see?

I am seeing a lot of dinoflagellates in the water today (May 20th, 2015), Ceratium specifically.

Ceratium. Photo by IFCB at MVCO

Ceratium. Photo by IFCB at MVCO

The most common types of plankton I see are: diatoms, dinoflagellates, and microzooplankton like ciliates. The general size range for the phytoplankton I am looking at is 5-200 microns.

Colonial choanoflagellate. Photo Credit: MVCO

Colonial choanoflagellate. Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Where do you do most of your work?

“The Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) is a leading research and engineering facility operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The observatory is located at South Beach, Massachusetts and there is a tower in the ocean a mile off the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard where it provides real time and archived coastal oceanographic and meteorological data for researchers, students and the general public.” (MVCO 2015).

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 1.54.39 PM

MVCO Photo from: http://www.whoi.edu/mvco

Most of my work with Heidi is at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory. IFCB at MVCO has sampled phytoplankton every 20 minutes since 2006 (nearly continuously). This unique data set with high temporal resolution allows for observations not possible with monthly or weekly phytoplankton sampling.

Below is an example from the MVCO from about an hour ago at 1 PM on May 20th, 2015.

Photo Credit: MVCO

Photo Credit: IFCB at MVCO

Did you know??

IFCB at Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory has collected photos of nearby phytoplankton every 20 minutes since 2006 (9 years, almost continuously). With this time series, you can study changes in temporal and seasonal patterns in phytoplankton throughout the years.

Helpful Related links:

Current Plankton at the MVCO:  demi.whoi.edu/mvco

Valerie Bogan: The Journey Ends, June 20, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date
: Wednesday June 20, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sea temperature 28  degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius.

 Science and Technology Log:

Well we have come to the end of the cruise so now it is time to tie it all the pieces together.  The Gulf of Mexico contains a large ecosystem which is made up of both biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors.  We studied the abiotic factors using the CTD which records water chemistry data and by recording information on the water depth, water color, water temperature, and weather conditions.  We studied the living portions of the ecosystem by collecting plankton in the bongo and neuston nets.  The health of the plankton depends on the abiotic factors such as water temperature and water clarity so if the abiotic factors are affected by some human input then the plankton will be unhealthy.  The trawl net allowed us to collect some larger organisms which occupy the upper part of the food web.  Some of these organisms eat the plankton while others eat bigger creatures which are also found in the trawl net.  Despite what they eat all of these creatures depend on the health of the levels below them either because those levels are directly their food or because those levels are the food of their food.

The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem

An illustration of how the food web in the gulf works. (picture from brownmarine.com)

The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico has taken a couple of large hits in the recent past, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with the Deepwater horizon oil spill.  When an ecosystem has undergone such major events it is important to monitor the species in order to determine if there is an effect from the disasters.  Hurricane Katrina left its mark on the people of the Gulf coast but did minimal damage to the biotic parts of the ecosystem.  The effects of the deepwater horizon oil spill are still unknown due to the scope of the spill.

Today’s portion of the ship is the engine room.  I was recently taken on a tour of the engine room by William.  The ship is powered by two diesel engines which use approximately 1,000 gallons of fuel per day.  The ship obviously uses the engines to move from location to location but it also uses the energy to power generators which supply electrical energy, to air condition the ship and to make fresh water out of sea water.

The engines.

The twin diesel engines.

Generators

Generators

There are two vital positions on the Oregon II that I have not discussed, deck worker and engineer.  We could never have collected the samples that we did without the immense help of the deck workers.  They operated the winches and cranes that allowed us to deploy and bring back the nets which captured our samples.  The engineers kept the ship’s engines running, the electricity on, and the rooms cool.  Some of these men started out their careers as merchant marines.  A merchant marine is a person who works on a civilian-owned merchant vessel such as a deep-sea merchant ship, tug boat, ferry or dredge.  There are a variety of jobs on these ships so if you are interested in this line of work I’m sure you could find something to do as a career.  A few merchant marines work as captains of those civilian ships, guiding the ship and commanding the crew in order the get the job done.  More of them serve as mates, which are assistants to the captains.  These people are in training to one day become a captain of their own ship.  Just like on the Oregon II there are also engineers and deck workers in the merchant marines.  Engineers are expected to keep the machinery running while the deck workers do the heavy lifting on the deck and keep the ship in good condition by performing general maintenance.

During this cruise I have met a lot of people who have different jobs all of which are related to collecting scientific data.  The bridge is wonderfully staffed by members of the NOAA Corps.  These men and women train hard to be able to sail research ships around the world.  To find out more about a profession with the NOAA Corps go visit the Corps’ webpage.  There are a large number of scientists on board.  These scientists all specialize in the marine environment and there are many wonderful universities which offer degrees for this field of study.  Go here to get some more information on this scientific pursuit.  The engineers and deck crew keep the ship running. To learn about these professions go to The United States Merchant Marines Academy.  The stewards are instrumental in keeping the crew going on a daily basis by providing good healthy meals.  To learn more about working as a steward read about the Navy culinary school.  The ship could not continue to operate without each of these workers.  Nobody is more or less important than the next–they survive as a group and if they cannot work together the ship stops operating.

Personal Log

Well my journey has come to an end and it is bitter-sweet.  While I’m happy to be back on land, I’m sad to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people on the Oregon II.  When I was starting this adventure I thought two weeks was going to be a long time to be at sea, yet it went by so fast.  Although I’m tired, my sleep and eating schedule are all messed up, and I have some wicked bruises, I would do it again.  I had a great time and in a couple of years I have a feeling I will be once again applying for the Teacher at Sea Program.

It should be no surprise to those that know me best that I love animals which is why I volunteer at the zoo and travel to distant locations to see animals in the wild.  So my favorite part of the trip was seeing all the animals, both those that came out of the sea and those that flew to our deck.  So I’m going to end with a slide show of some amazing animals.

Pelican.

This pelican decided to stop and visit with us for a while.

angel shark

An angel shark

Moray eel

A moray eel

Bat fish

Two bat fishes of very different sizes.

Sand dollar

A sand dollar

Hitchhikers

A group of sea birds decide to hitch a ride for a while.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Twelve: Better than any alarm clock

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57deg 22.630N, Longitude: 152.02° W
Air Temperature: 13.6° C
Water temperature: 9.0° C
Wind Speed/Direction: 12kn/240°
Barometric Pressure: 1020.1
Partly cloudy (5%) and sun

Science Log:

Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Somewhere back in my family history there must have been a fishmonger, because I’ve been channeling something or someone. The entire process of watching the acoustic footprint of the ocean under the ship, deciding where to physically sample (trawl) populations, and then seeing and processing the fish that live 100 meters or more below us? Fascinating. Add to this camera drops to get snapshots of the ocean floor (more amazing footage this morning), and interesting ‘Methot’ plankton tows to sample what is available for the fish to eat and give a more accurate and complete picture? How many adjectives can I use?

Before we dive too far into the depths, let me explain/refresh what plankton are. Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the water columns of bodies of water. In fact, their name derives from the Greek for “wanderer,” and it would be helpful if you thought of them as drifters in the current…from deep in the ocean to up on the surface. They are generally broken down into plant-like-photosynthesizing plankton (phytoplankton) and animal-like plankton (zooplankton).
Phytoplankton are “photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost alloceans and bodies of water” (wikipedia). If you have taken biology or forensics with me, I have described some of them ad nauseam: diatoms? Those organisms that are in every body of water on the planet? Ah, yes. I can see it all coming back to you.

Zooplankton encompass a diverse range of macro and microscopic animals. They generally eat the phytoplankton or one another. Examples include krill, copepods, jellyfish, and amphipods.

In the great food web of life, other organisms eat the zooplankton. Among them was a pod of 50+ Humpback whales in the Barnabas Trough off of Kodiak Island. They were exciting enough that I went from being sound asleep to dressed and on the bridge in less than five minutes. Issue 12, Humpback Whales: Better than any alarm clock I have ever known delves into these organisms (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4).


Our chief survey technician, Kathy Hough, took a lot of photos the following day as we traveled from Barnabas Trough to Alitak Bay. The three photos that follow and descriptions are courtesy of Kathy.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

 

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail).  The pattern is like a human's fingerprint, unique to one animal.

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail). The pattern is like a human’s fingerprint, unique to one animal.

There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale's rostrum (blow hole) is visible.  The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke).  The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a "footprint."

There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale’s rostrum (blow hole) is visible. The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke). The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a “footprint.”

This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since.  The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack!  Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!

This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since. The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack! Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!

All hands on deck... 100+ Humpback Whales.  Darin and Staci.

All hands on deck… 100+ Humpback Whales. Darin and Staci.

Our team of scientists sample plankton using a Methot net, which is fine mesh and captures macroscopic organisms. We sample plankton for the same reason that we physically trawl for fish: we need to make certain what we are “hearing” is what is down there, with a focus on the types and sizes of the plankton. Additionally, knowledge about what and where plankton populations are will help with modeling the entire ecosystem. If you know where the food lives, its abundance and composition, by extension you have a much greater understanding of the predators, both pollock and whale.

(If you get a chance, check out this video about how whales hunt with bubble nets; fascinating!)

Personal Log

Bowditch

Bowditch

I try to spend time on the bridge every morning before breakfast. I bring up a cup of tea and watch the horizon lighten until the sun pushes its way up above the lingering clouds. This morning, I saw the green flash for the first time. The green flash is not a superhero. It is not a myth. It is not a sailor’s fish tail. It is real. Furthermore, if you still don’t believe me, the green flash is in the “bible” of maritime studies, The American Practical Navigator (Bowditch, if you are on a first name basis). I was told by Ensign David Rodziewiczthat “if it is in Bowditch, it must be true.” So there.

The green flash appears on the horizon just after the sun sets or just before it rises. For one moment on that spot the sky looks as if someone broke a green glow stick and smeared a distant florescent mark. As fast as it was there, it is gone. The name is appropriate: green flash. It occurs because light is bent slightly as it passes through the atmosphere (refraction); this bending is greatest on the horizon. Since light is made up of different colors with different wavelengths, the bending causes the colors to be seen separately. Bowditch says it is like offset color printing (nice metaphor, eh?). The red end of the spectrum is first to rise. The blue end of the spectrum is scattered the most by the atmosphere, leaving behind the momentary and memorable second of green.

Evidently, to see the green flash is considered very good luck. I already feel very lucky. I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, on a ship with interesting and intelligent people, driving around the Gulf of Alaska learning about science and occasionally checking out whales. If I can get luckier than this… well… wow.

Tomorrow is the last day of our cruise, but I have a few more cartoons up my sleeves, so keep checking back. In the meantime, thank you to the incredible staff of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my rockin’ cohort Staci, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

p.s. Whales have the worst morning breath I have ever smelled. I know it isn’t really their fault–imagine having 270-400 baleen sheets on either side of your mouth that you could get krill stuck in…

Take it to the Bridge...

Take it to the Bridge…

Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Barbara Koch, October 5, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude 40.63
Longitude -72.92
Speed 4.80 kts
Course 293.00
Wind Speed 19.13 kts
Wind Dir. 139.69 º
Surf. Water Temp. 18.76 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 31.62 PSU
Air Temperature 16.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 89.00%
Barometric Pres. 101.44 mb
Water Depth 28.52 m
Cruise Start Date 10/2/2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to collecting data about fish species in the Southern New England Atlantic Ocean, NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is also collecting information about the ocean’s climate and plankton numbers. lankton refers to microscopic plants (phytoplankton), animals (zooplankton), decomposers (bacterioplankton), and the fish eggs and larvae of larger fish (ichthyoplankton). Plankton forms the base of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton is the food source for zooplankton, which in turn is the food source for larger fish. Water salinity and termperature (climate) are directly related to the production of plankton. A change in climate can cause a decrease in the production of plankton, therefore, less food for developing fish species. Low numbers of fish at the bottom of the food web means less food for fish at the top of the food web.

Reviewing Data

Reviewing Data

Plankton samples are taken at random trawl stations during the cruise. I had the opportunity to observe and assist the Senior Survey Technician, Jim Burkitt, during one sampling. Burkitt uses a Bongo Paired Zooplankton net system, which consists of two stainless steel cylinders with instruments that measure water flow, and two cone-shaped, fine mesh nets attached. The nets are lowered into the ocean and dragged alongside the ship for a specified amount of time, and at all levels of the ocean column. Burkitt monitors the location of the nets via computer during the sampling to ensure that the nets do not touch the ocean floor, thus gathering sediment instead of plankton.

Sampling

Sampling

Retrieving the nets

Retrieving the nets

The crew retrieves the nets at the end of the sampling period and places it on the deck of the ship. Once the nets are back on deck, we rinse the plankton from the top to the narrow, tied end of the nets byspraying the nets from the top towards the bottom.

Rinsing the plankton

Rinsing the plankton

Plankton

Plankton

Finished Sample

Finished Sample

When the catch is located at the bottom of the nets, we untiethe bottom and continue rinsing the sample into metal strainers. The top strainer has a large mesh screen to trap jelly fish and other organisms trapped in the net and to allow the smaller plankton to fall through to the lower strainer, which has a very small mesh screen used to collect the plankton sample. Here is what the sample looked like.

Finally, we carry the samples into the lab where we rinse the plankton into jars, add formaldehyde as a preservative, and seal the jars. The jars will be taken to the lab in Woods Hole for further analysis.

Personal Log

Northern Stargazer

Northern Stargazer

Armored Searobin

Armored Searobin

Even though many of our towing days were lost to gale force winds, we did end the cruise by catching some interesting species. First, was the Northern Stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus). The Northern Stargazer is found in shallow waters along the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to New York. It has a large head, small eyes on top of its head, and a large upward turned mouth. The Northern Stargazer buries itself in the sand on the ocean floor and waits for prey to swim by. Northern Stargazers also have an electrical organ around the eyes that can give us a jolt if we touch it.

Another interesting catch was the Armored Searobin (Peristedion miniatum). This species is bright crimson and is totally covered with bony plates. It can grow to be 13-14 inches long. It is found in the warm waters along the outer edge of the continental shelf in waters from Georges Bank off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts all the way down the Atlantic to Charleston, South Carolina.

Monkfish

Monkfish

We also caught Monkfish or Goosefish (Lophius americanus). This fish is found along the eastern seaboard of the United States from Grand Bank down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Monkfish live on the bottom of the ocean in sand, mud and shell habitats, and feed on whatever prey is abundant. The meat is said to taste a lot like lobster tail, and therefore is often referred to as “poor man’s lobster.”

striped sea bass

striped sea bass

More striped sea bass

More striped sea bass

Our most exciting catch came when we hauled in 212 striped sea bass! Striped bass occur along the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River in Canada all the way down to Florida. They live near the coast, in bays and tidal rivers. Striped bass have been very important to the United States fishing industry for centuries. The largest one we caught was 103 cm long and weighed 11.26 kg!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working and learning during the second leg of the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey cruise. It was a great opportunity to see research at work in a real world setting, and I’m sure my students will benefit from everything I’ve experienced. I want to thank the scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow for allowing me to be a part of your lives for twelve days. If any of you teachers out there are interested in applying to the Teacher at Sea Program, I highly recommend it. Check out their website at http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/.

Natalie Macke, August 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Natalie Macke
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission:  BASIS Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea
Date: 8/28/2010
It’s Fish Feeding Time…
Weather Data from the Bridge :
Visibility :  <0.5 nautical miles  (Wondering what a nautical mile is??)
Wind Direction: From the W at 20 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3ft
Swell waves: WSW, 4ft
Sea temp:9.1 oC
Sea level pressure: 1013.0 mb
Air temp: 9.7 oC
Science and Technology Log:

Euphausiid Specimens (zooplankton)

We’re up to station #40 now and everyone certainly has their routine down.  One type of sampling I have yet to cover is the microscopic life; the base of the food web.  A look at the marine fisheries food web quickly reveals that in order to support the commercial fisheries as well as the vast number of marine mammals and ocean birds, there must be an abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton available in the Bering Sea.  Evidence of this food chain is demonstrated by dissecting the stomach of a salmon.  The sample (in the picture below) revealed that the salmon had recently dined on euphaussids (commonly known as krill).   Before getting into how the zooplankton samples are collected, first let me go back and touch on the base of the food web; phytoplankton.  These samples are collected from the Niskin bottles on the CTD each cast.  The samples are preserved with formalin and will be brought back to the lab for further analysis.  Now, back to the critters..

Dissecting a salmon stomach

At every sampling station on the side deck and immediately after each CTD cast, zooplankton net tows are completed.  There are three different tows being used for the BASIS survey. The first two are vertical tows where nets that are weighted are dropped to the seafloor and then brought back to the surface thus sampling a vertical water column. The pairovet, named from the fact that is was designed as a “pair of vertical egg tows” (designed to collect pelagic egg samples) has a netting mesh size of 150 microns.  The net is simply deployed with a weight on the bottom.  When it reaches the deepest part of the water column it is brought back to the surface collecting its’ sample.  Another similar net with a 168 micron mesh size is named the Juday.  Once either of these nets is brought to the deck, it is washed down and anything caught is captured in the cod end (the name for the PVC bucket at the bottom of the net).

Cod end for Bongo

Deploying the Bongo nets off the starboard side

The last type of tow that is completed for the BASIS survey uses the Bongo nets.  This tow is considered an oblique tow since the nets essentially are lowered to about 5m from the ocean bottom and towed for a certain length of time.  If you remember from the acoustics, in daylight hours the zooplankton migrate to the ocean bottom to hide from their prey.  Since our sampling is done in daylight hours, the deep sampling depth is where we expect to find the highest density of zooplankton sample.  The mesh sizes on the two nets of the Bongo are 335 and 505 microns.  This allows for sampling of zooplankton of different sizes.   The samples are collected on board and then taken back to the lab for analysis.  They are separated by species, counted and weighed.  Biomass and species composition is determined for each sample.  The majority of the zooplankton we have seen this cruise have been euphaussids and copepods of varying types.

Oh where, oh where does the Internet go??

So as August winds down and the school year gears up, my connection to the Internet is becoming more and more important.  Since my Oceanography class is with the Virtual High School, I have to essentially set up my virtual classroom in these upcoming days.  I’ll assume my esteemed colleagues will assist me in unpacking lab equipment back at home at my physical classroom. (Even though I know.. all my orders will mysteriously wind up in other labs, I’m assured they’ll be safely placed away.)

So I tracked down Vince Welton, our Electronic’s Technician for some help understanding why sometimes I can surf, and why sometimes I can’t….

Simple…

Our Internet connection is via the geostationary satellite GE 23 at 172 degrees East. This satellite transmits over most of the Pacific Ocean (see a coverage map).  Since this satellite is positioned on the equator, that means our receiver must look essentially due south for a signal.  When our ship is northbound, the mast and stack of the Oscar Dyson simply gets in the way.  Therefore… no Internet on northbound travels.

The Oscar Dyson also has access to two Iridium satellites for communication as well as the GE 23.   These are the SAT-B which can transmit both data and voice communications and the VSAT which only allows voice transmission.  The ship can access this set of orbiting satellites when the GE 23 is unavailable due to course of travel or weather conditions.

  Personal Log
Jeanette videotaping

Jeanette videotaping

Yesterday, I got permission to stay on the trawl deck during one of our station trawls.  It was fun to be outside down with the net.  Jeanette helped do some taping which I hope to(during a few Internet-less days ahead) compile to a video for my classes.  Of course as fate would have it, our catch for the day (shown below) was not one for the record books or even worth remembering at all..  I guess that’s what the editing process is for hmmm…

Today’s catch

In the Oceanography lab, we have started our primary productivity experiments and chlorophyll analysis so learning these new procedures has been interesting and given me lots of ideas for some research topics for Edelberg’s class.  All in all, I am enjoying watching, learning and doing science here in eastern Bering Sea.  One week left..

Justin Czarka, August 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 15-20 knots (kt), gust to 25 kt
Visibility: unrestricted to 1-3 nautical miles in mist
Waves: northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: 18°C high, 12°C low
Water Temperature: 17.5°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made it out to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast; the farthest out we will go. The depth of the ocean is 2867 meters (9,406 feet).  It is pretty interesting to imagine that we are on the summit of a nearly 10,000-foot mountain right now!  Last night the CTD was deployed 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).  Even at this depth, the pressure is immense (see photo, page one). When taking the CTD down to this depth, certain sensors are removed from the rosette (the white frame to which the CTD instruments are attached) to prevent them from being damaged.

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II.  These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II. These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

The crew aboard the McArthur II is such an informative group. Many possess a strong insight into NOAA’s research mission.  Today I spoke with Kevin Lackey, Deck Utility man.  He spoke to me about the cruises he has been on with NOAA, particularly about the effects of bioaccumulation that have been studied.  Bioaccumulation is when an organism intakes a substance, oftentimes from a food source, that deposits in the organism at increasing levels over time.  While sometimes an intentional response from an organism, with regards to toxins, this bioaccumulation can lead to detrimental effects.  For example, an organism (animal or plant) A on the food web experiences bioaccumulation of a toxin over time.  Imagine organism B targeting organism A as a food source. Organism B will accumulate concentrated levels of the toxin. Then, when organism B becomes a food source for organism C, the effects of the toxins are further magnified.  This has serious effects on the ocean ecosystem, and consequently on the human population, who rely on the ocean as a food source.

While aboard the McArthur II, Morgaine McKibben, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU), shared with me her research into harmful algal blooms (HABs), which potentially lead to bioaccumulation.  Certain algae (small plants) accumulate toxins that can be harmful, especially during a “bloom.” She is collecting water samples from the CTD, as well as deploying a HAB net, which skims the ocean surface while the ship is moving to collect algae samples.  She is utilizing the data in order to create a model to solve the problem of what underlying conditions cause the algae blooms to become toxic, since they are not always as such.

Personal Log 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

The weather has cleared up allowing grand ocean vistas—a 360° panorama of various blues depending on depth, nutrients, clouds overhead, and so forth.  At first glance, it just looks blue.  But as you gaze out, you see variance. A little green here, some whitecaps over there. As the ship moves on, the colors change. Wildlife appears, whether it is a flock of birds, kelp floating by, or an escort of pacific white-sided dolphins. I wondered if the ocean would become monotonous over the course of the eleven days at sea.  Yet the opposite has happened. I have become more fascinated with this blue water.

It was interesting today to notice how we went back in time.  Two nights ago the sun had set at 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)  But because we went so far out to sea, last night the sunset had changed to 20:33 (8:33 p.m.).  While this happens on land as well, it never occurred to me in such striking details until out to see.

Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge (highest deck on the ship) 

  • Rhinoceros Auklet – closely related to puffins
  • Whale (breaching)
  • Common Murres
  • Western Gull
  • Hybrid Gull – We are at a location off the coast of Oregon where different species interbreed
  • Leech’s Storm Petrel – Mike Force, the cruise’s bird and marine mammal observer, found the bird aboard the ship by in an overflow tank.  It will be rereleased.

Did You Know? 

NOAA has a web page with information especially for students?