Ragupathy Kannan: Ocean Salinity to Ocean Sunfish, August 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 26, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 41.27688
Longitude: -67.03071
Water temperature: 18.4°C
Wind Speed: 14.8 knots
Wind Direction: 41°
Air temperature: 18.6°C
Atmospheric pressure: 1021 millibars
Sky: Cloudy


Science and Technology Log

We entered Canadian waters up north in the Gulf of Maine, and sure enough, the waters are cooler, the sea choppier, and the wind gustier than before.  And the organisms are beginning to show a difference too.  Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh showed me a much longer arrow worm (Chaetognatha) from the plankton samples than we had encountered before (see photo below).  And there are more krill (small planktonic crustaceans) now. 

arrow worm
We got this beautiful arrow worm in our plankton sample as we entered colder waters

So far in my blogs, I have focused on sampling of biological organisms like plankton.  But recall that in an ecosystem monitoring survey like ours, we need to measure the abiotic (non-biological) aspects too because the word Ecosystem covers a community of organisms along with their biotic and abiotic environment. 

In today’s blog, I will highlight the ways various important abiotic components are measured.  You will learn about the interdisciplinary nature of science.  (Feel free to pass this blog on to physics, chemistry, and engineering majors you know—it may open up some career paths they may not have explored!).  I will come back to biotic factors in my next blog (seabirds and marine mammals!).

CTD

The CTD is a device that measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  We lower a heavy contraption called a Rosette (named due to its shape, see photo below) into the water. It has bottles called Niskin bottles that can be activated from a computer to open at specific depths and collect water samples.  Water samples are collected from various depths.  Electrical conductivity measurements give an idea of salinity in the water, and that in turn with water temperature determines water density.  The density of water has important implications for ocean circulation and therefore global climate.  In addition, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is also measured in labs later to give an idea of acidity across the depths.  The increased CO2 in the air in recent decades has in turn increased the ocean’s acidity to the point that many shelled organisms are not able to make healthy shells anymore.  (CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid).  Addressing the issue of increasing ocean acidity and the resulting mass extinction of shell-building organisms has become a pressing subject of study.  See the photos below of CTD being deployed and the real-time data on salinity and temperature transmitted by the CTD during my voyage.

lowering the CTD
I assist lowering the CTD Rosette into the water. The gray cylinders are Niskin bottles that can be activated to open at various depths.
CTD data
This display shows the real time data from each scan the CTD sends back to the computer. The y-axis is depth in meters, with sea surface at the top. The instrument was sent down to 500 meters deep. The green lines show fluorescence, an estimate of phytoplankton production. Note that the phytoplankton are at the photic (top) zone where more light penetrates. The blue line shows water temperature in degrees Celsius and the red line shows salinity. (Photo courtesy: Harvey Walsh)

EK-80

The ship is equipped with a highly sensitive sonar device called EK-80 that was designed to detect schools of fish in the water. (See photo of it attached to the hull of our ship, below).  It works by sending sound waves into the water.  They bounce off objects and return.  The device detects these echos and generates an image.  It also reflects off the sea bottom, thus giving the depth of the water.  See below an impressive image generated by our EK-80, provided kindly to me by our amicable Electronics Technician, Stephen.

EK-80 display
A remarkable screen shot of the EK-80 display of our ship passing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel as we headed out to sea from Norfolk, Virginia. To the left is a huge mound of dirt/rock, and just to the right of the mound, is a ravine and the tunnel (has a small peak and spikes). To the right (seaward side of the tunnel) you can see dredge material falling from the surface. We observed the sand and silt on the surface as we were passing through it. (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen).

The Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)

Scientists use this instrument to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water column. An ADCP is attached to the bottom of our ship (see photo below) to take constant current measurements as we move.  How does it work? The ADCP measures water currents with sound, using a principle of sound waves called the Doppler effect.  A sound wave has a higher frequency as it approaches you than when it moves away. You hear the Doppler effect in action when a car speeds past with a building of sound that fades when the car passes. The ADCP works by transmitting “pings” of sound at a constant frequency into the water. (The pings are inaudible to humans and marine mammals.) As the sound waves travel, they bounce off particles suspended in the moving water, and reflect back to the instrument. Due to the Doppler effect, sound waves bounced back from a particle moving away from the profiler have a slightly lowered frequency when they return. Particles moving toward the instrument send back higher frequency waves. The difference in frequency between the waves the profiler sends out and the waves it receives is called the Doppler shift. The instrument uses this shift to calculate how fast the particle and the water around it are moving. (From whoi.edu)

The University of Hawaii monitors ocean currents data from ADCPs mounted in various NOAA ships to understand global current patterns and their changes. 

hull of NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
The hull (bottom surface) of the ship showing the EK-80 and ADCP systems, among other sensors. Photo taken at the ship yard. (Courtesy: Stephen G. Allen)

Hyperpro

Hyperpro is short for Hyperspectral profiler, a device that ground truths what satellites in outer space are detecting in terms of light reflectivity from the ocean.  What reflects from the water indicates what’s in the water.  Human eyes see blue waters when there isn’t much colloidal (particulate) suspensions, green when there is algae, and brown when there is dirt suspended in the water.  But a hyperpro detects a lot more light wavelengths than the human eye can.  It also compares data from satellites with what’s locally measured while actually in the water, and therefore helps scientists calibrate the satellite data for accuracy and reliability.  After all, satellites process light that has traversed through layers of atmosphere in addition to the ocean, whereas the hyperpro is actually there. 

deploying hyperpro
A Hyperpro being deployed

Career Corner

Three enterprising undergraduate volunteers.

Volunteers get free room and board in the ship in addition to invaluable, potentially career–making experience.

undergraduate volunteers
David Caron (far side), Jessica Lindsay, and Jonathan Maurer having some much-needed down time on the flying bridge

David Bianco-Caron is doing his B.A. in Marine Science from Boston University (BU).  His undergraduate research project at the Finnerty Lab in BU involves a comb-jelly (Ctenophore) native to the West Atlantic but which has become an introduced exotic in the East Atlantic.  David studies a cnidarian parasite of the comb-jelly in an attempt to outline factors that could limit the comb-jelly.  The project has implications in possible biological control. 

Jessica Lindsay finishes a B.S. in Marine Biology later this year and plans to get her Small Vessels operating license next year.  This is her 2nd year volunteering in a NOAA ship.  She received a NOAA Hollings Scholarship which provides up to $9500 for two years (https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/hollings-scholarship).  It entailed 10 weeks of summer research in a lab.  She studies how ocean acidification affects shelf clams. 

Jonathan Maurer is a University of Maine senior working on a B.S. in Climate Science.  He studies stable isotopes of oxygen in ocean waters to understand ocean circulation.  The project has implications on how oceanic upwelling has been affected by climate change.  He intends to go to graduate school to study glaciers and ocean atmosphere interactions. 

See my previous blog for information on how to become a volunteer aboard a NOAA research ship.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden.  Claire’s smiling face and friendly personality lights up the ship every day. 

XO Claire Surrey-Marsden
Our Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Claire Surrey-Marsden

Claire is a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps:

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is made up of 321 professionals trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, fisheries science, and other related disciplines. Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA. Learn more: https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps

Q. Thanks for your time, Claire. You’re the XO of this ship.  What exactly is your role?

A. The Executive Officer is basically the administrator on board.  We help with staffing, we manage all the crew, we have a million dollar budget for this ship every year that we have to manage.  Everything from food to charts to publications, all these get managed by one central budget. I’m kind of the paper work person on board.

Q. What’s your background?

A. I have a marine biology degree from Florida Tech. I’ve done marine mammal work most of my career. I joined NOAA in 2007, before that I was a biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife [FFW].

Q. I heard you have done necropsies of marine mammals?

A. I was a manatee biologist for FFW for 3 years, we also dealt with lots of whales and dolphins that washed up on shore. I’ve also done marine mammal work in my NOAA career.  Worked with Southwest Fisheries Science Center on Grey Whales and dolphins, and worked with Right Whale management with the maritime industry and the coast guard.

Q. About a 100 college students, maybe even more are following my blog now.  What’s your advice to them, for someone interested in marine biology/NOAA Corps, what should they be doing at this stage?

A. Great question. Volunteer! Find all the opportunities you can to volunteer, even if it’s unpaid.  Getting your face out there, letting people see how good a worker you are, how interested and willing you are, sometimes you will be there right when there is a job opening. Even if it seems like a menial task, just volunteer, get that experience. 

Q. NOAA accepts volunteers for ships every summer?

A. Yes, ecomonitoring and other programs takes students out for 2-3 weeks, but there are other opportunities like the local zoo.  Even stuff that isn’t related to what you’re doing. Getting that work experience is crucial.

Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job as an XO in a ship like this?

A. Living on a small boat in the middle of the ocean can be challenging for people working together harmoniously.  Just making sure everyone is happy and content and getting fulfillment for their job.

At the end of the interview, Claire handed me a stack of brochures describing the NOAA Corps and how you can become part of it. Please stop by my office (Math-Science 222) for a copy.

Personal Log

The seas have become decidedly choppier the past few days.  It’s a challenge to stay on your feet!  The decks lurch unexpectedly.  Things get tossed around if not properly anchored.  I have fallen just once (touchwood!) and was lucky to get away with just a scratch.  I’ve had to take photo backups of my precious field notes lest they get blown away.  They came close to that once already.

The ship has a mini library with a decent collection of novels and magazines plus a lounge (with the ubiquitous snacks!).  I found a copy of John Grisham’s The Whistler, and this has become my daily bed time reading book. 

The lounge and library on board
The lounge and library on board

Interesting animals seen lately

I started this blog with a photo of an exceptionally long arrow worm.  The cold waters have brought some other welcome creatures.  I created a virtual stampede yesterday in the flying bridge when I yelled Holy Mola!  Everyone made a mad dash to my side to look over the railings at a spectacular Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) floating by.  The name Mola comes from the Latin word meaning millstone, owing to its resemblance to a large flat and round rock.  I have been looking for this animal for days!  Measuring up to 6 feet long and weighing between 250 and 1000 kg, this is the heaviest bony fish in the world.  The fish we saw was calmly floating flat on the surface, lazily waving a massive fin at us as though saying good bye.  It was obviously basking.  Since it is often infested with parasites like worms, basking helps it attract birds that prey on the worms.

mola mola
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola. We saw this behemoth lying on its side basking, waving its massive dorsal fin as though greeting us. They allow birds and other fish to pick their ectoparasites as they float (from baliscuba.com)

Another animal that almost always creates a stir is the dolphin.  Schools of dolphins (of up to 3 species) never cease to amuse us.  They show up unexpectedly and swim at top speed, arcing in and out of the water, often riding our bow.  Sometimes, flocks of shearwaters circling around a spot alert us to potential dolphin congregations.  Dolphins drive fish to the surface that are then preyed upon by these birds.  My colleague Allison Black captured this wonderful photo of Common Dolphins frolicking by our ship in perfect golden evening light.

common dolphins
Common Dolphins swimming by our ship (Photo by Allison Black)

Did You Know?

Molas (Ocean Sunfish) are among the most prolific vertebrates on earth, with females producing up to 300,000,000 eggs at a time (oceansunfish.org).

Parting shot

NOAA does multiple concurrent missions, some focused on fisheries, some on oceanography, and some hydrography.  It has a ship tracker that tracks all its ships around the world.  Our ET Stephen Allen kindly shared this image of our ship’s location (marked as GU) plus the locations of two other NOAA ships. 

location on shiptracker
Our exact location (GU) on 25 August 2019, captured by NOAA’s ship tracker (Courtesy Stephen G. Allen)

Susan Dee: To the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, June 1, 2018

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Dee

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 

May 23 – June 7, 2018

Mission:  Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeastern Coast of U.S.

Date:  June 1,  2018

Weather From Bridge

Latitude: 41° 25.4′ N
Longitude: 068° 16.3′ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Wind Speed: 16 kts
Wind Direction: SE
Visibility: Hz
Air Temperature:  12.5°C
Sky:  OVC

Science and Technology Log

After completing a southern route past Long Island, New Jersey and Delaware, the Henry B. Bigelow  headed north to the Gulf of Maine (GOM).  The first sampling stations in GOM were  located on the continental shelf close to the slope. After sampling in  the  Northeast Channel of the GOM, stations will be dispersed throughout the Gulf of Maine. Phytoplankton is continuously imaged through the Imaging Flow Cyto Bot and collection is going well. Below is a recent image taken.  Can you  find Thallasonemia  or Ceratium?  

phytoplankton 3
Image of Phytoplankton taken by IFCB

At various stations instead of  towing  bongo nets  with a CTD attached,  a CTD, Rosette, is deployed with niskin bottles.  CTD contain sensors that measure Conductivity (salinity), Temperature and Depth.   The data gathered provides profiles of chemical and physical parameters of the ocean.

CTD with 12 canisters on deck
CTD on bottom of instrument with 12 Niskin bottles forming a rosette.

 

CTD Rosette entering-water.jpg
CTD, commonly known as Rosette. Note the rosette shape at top of bottles

The great feature of the rosette is its ability to collect water using Niskin bottles as hydrographic instruments.  Opened bottles are lowered into the ocean and at the desired depth a   bottle is closed and brought to the surface without mixing with other water so pure samples can be taken at different depths. Back on board, water is  taken from the Niskin bottles and  nutrient, chlorophyll and carbon dioxide tests are run on the samples.

taking water samples susan
Susan taking water samples from niskin bottles to perform chlorophyll tests at 3 different depths.

chlorophyll extraction
Chlorophyll extraction set up

Georges Bank is  in the southern part of the Gulf of Maine.  The bank separates the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a huge shoal that is 100 meters higher  than the surrounding ocean floor and is a very productive area of the continental shelf.   The mingling of the Labrador current from the north and the Gulf stream on the eastern edge plus sunlight in shallow waters, creates an ideal environment for phytoplankton and zooplankton. Once a bountiful fishery, it is presently recovering from over fishing. Federal Fishery regulations aim to ensure recovery of the area and future sustainability. The data samples collected will give a good idea of the recovery of this area.    The pink line below shows  the route taken by our ship in the southern Gulf  of Maine and  Georges Bank.

IMG_2518

When  we were near the Northeast  Channel  in the Gulf of Maine, Latitude 41° 53.2′ N and Longitude 65°47.0′ W,  I deployed a  satellite-tracked Drifter Buoy decorated with our school name May River Sharks.  The drifter buoy will send GPS and temperature data to a NOAA website and students will be able to track its path.  This area was chosen to deploy because the Labrador current   from the north meets with the Gulf Stream and hopefully the buoy will get caught up in one of the currents. It will be fun  for students to track the buoy path in the fall. Wonder where it will go???

 

Susan&Buoy
Susan decorating Buoy- May River High School Sharks

 

 

Buoy 1
Buoy READY

 

Buoy Released
Buoy Released

 

DCIM100GOPROG0021640.
Buoy splashing into water

buoy floating
Oh where, oh where, will you go?

 

Personal Log:

So far this trip the weather has been great. Seas have been calm and temperatures good. I have fallen into a nice routine each day.  My shift concludes at midnight; I go to bed till 9:00AM; work out; shower and get ready for next 12 hour shift. I eat lunch and dinner each day and a midnight snack.  The days are long but never boring. The crew aboard the Henry B Bigelow  is awesome.  Internet is sporadic but  I was able to face-time with my daughter. Technology is a big part of this whole operation. All the programs collecting temperature, salinity and phytoplankton rely on computer programs to run. Second  to the chef, the IT person is invaluable.  They are trouble shooting problems all day to make sure the collection  of data is working.   During the longer steams from station to station, I  have the opportunity to talk to crew and other scientists.  Each person is excited about science.  I have never  been involved in real  science research and I  find each day to be fascinating. There is so much time and effort put into collecting the samples.  This cruise  will collect samples from over 100 stations that will be analyzed and supply much data to give a good picture of the state of our Northeast coastline waters and fisheries.

Today was the last day of school for the year for May River High School.  Graduation is Tuesday and my thoughts will be with everyone.  Congratulations to all my students, especially the seniors.

Answers to Phytoplankton Identification:

Thallasonemia- upper left corner

Ceratium- middle top

Sam Northern: Finding My Sea Legs, June 1, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sam Northern

Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

May 28 – June 7, 2017

Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 1, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 40°58’N

Longitude: -67°03.9’W

Sky: Patchy Fog

Visibility: 2-5 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 215°SW

Wind Speed: 6 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 1-2 Feet

Swell Wave: 2-5 Feet

Barometric Pressure: 1012.5 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 11.2°C

Air Temperature: 11.2°C

Science and Technology Log

Marine Traffic May30_2
Approximate location of our first oceanography station [Source — Marine Traffic]

IMG_8622
The J-Frame is used to deploy equipment into the water.

En route to our first oceanography station just past Nantucket, Electronics Technician Tony VanCampen and my fellow day watch scientist Leann Conlon gave me an overview on how each sampling is conducted. This is where the pieces of equipment I described in my previous blog post (bongo nets and CTD) come into play.

Science is very much a team effort. I learned that a deck crew will be in charge of maneuvering the winch and the J-frame. Attached to the cable will be the bongo nets and the CTD which are carefully lowered into the ocean.

Bongo nets allow scientists to strain plankton and other samples from the water using the bongo’s mesh net. At each station the bongo will be sent down to within 5 meters of the bottom or no more than 200 meters. After the bongo has reached its maximum depth for a particular station, the net is methodically brought back to the surface—all the while collecting plankton and sometimes other small organisms like tiny shrimp. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the bongo nets to be cast out and returned on board with the samples.

IMG_8665.JPG
Here I am in my gear preparing to launch the first bongo nets.

Once the bongo nets have returned from the water to the aft (back) deck, our work begins. As a part of the Science Party, it is my job to rinse the entire sample into containers, place the plankton into jars, add formalin to jars that came from the big bongos and ethanol to jars that came from the small bongos. These substances help preserve the specimens for further analysis.

At the conclusion of the cruise, our plankton samples will be sent to the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where scientists and lab crew sort and identify the plankton samples which gives NOAA scientist an idea of the marine environment in the areas in which we collected samples.

IMG_8763.JPG
Flowmeter

Our Chief Scientist is David Richardson. Dave has been with NOAA since 2008. He keeps track of the digits on the flowmeter (resembles a small propeller) inside the bongo. The beginning and ending numbers are input into the computer which factors in the ship’s towing speed to give us the total volume of water sampled and the distance the bongo net traveled.

 

IMG_8629.JPG
CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, & Depth)

At various oceanography stations we perform a CTD cast which determines the conductivity, temperature, and depth of the ocean. The CTD is attached to the bongo nets or the CTD is mounted within a frame, which also holds several bottles for sampling seawater along with a mechanism that allows scientists on board the ship to control when individual bottles are closed. The CTD is connected to the ship by means of a conducting cable and data are sent electronically through this cable, in real-time, to the scientists on the ship. The scientists closely monitor the data, looking for temperature and particle anomalies that identify hydrothermal plumes. As the CTD is sinking to the desired depth (usually 5-10 meters from the bottom), the device measures the ocean’s density, chlorophyll presence, salinity (the amount of salt in the water), temperature, and several other variables. The CTD’s computer system is able to determine the depth of the water by measuring the atmospheric pressure as the device descends from the surface by a certain number of meters. There is a great deal scientists can learn from launching a CTD in the sea. The data tells us about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and more. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.

Map of Leg 2 Stations
The highlighted lines are stations completed in the first leg. The circle indicates the stations for my leg of the survey.

It is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who operate the ship. For instance, NOAA officers inform the scientists about the expected time of arrival for each station and scientists will often call the bridge to inquire about Gordon Gunter’s current speed and the weather conditions. Even computer programs are connected and shared between NOAA Corps crew and the scientists. There is a navigation chart on the monitor in the bridge which is also displayed in the science lab so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. The bridge must always approve the deployments and recovery of all equipment. There are closed circuit video cameras in various places around the ship that can be viewed on any of the monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. Everyone on Gordon Gunter is very much in sync.

Personal Log

First Day at Sea (Tuesday, May 30)

img_8539.jpgToday, my shift began at 12 noon. It probably was not the best idea to have awakened at 6:00 a.m., but I am not yet adjusted to my new work schedule and I did not want to miss one of Margaret’s hearty breakfasts.

We cast out from the Naval Station Newport mid-morning. It was a clearer and warmer day compared to the day before—perfect for capturing pictures of the scenic harbor. I spent much of the morning videoing, photographing, and listening to the sounds of waves as they moved around the ship. I like to spend a lot of time on the bow as well as the flying bridge (the area at the top of the ship above the bridge where the captain operates the vessel). Before lunch, I was beginning to feel a little sea sick from the gentle swaying of the ship. I could only hope that I would find my sea legs during my first watch.IMG_8549.JPG

Gordon Gunter gracefully made its way alongside Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—two islands off the coast of Cape Cod. Standing on the flying bridge and looking out at the horizon alleviated my sea sickness. At this position I was able to observe and photograph an abundance of wildlife. Seeing the sea birds in their natural habitat is a reminder that I am just a visitor on this vast ocean which so many animals call home. Watching birds fly seamlessly above the waves and rest atop the water gives me a yearning to discover all I can about this unique ecosystem and ways in which we can protect it.

Scroll around the video to see the view from the ship’s bow in all 360-degrees. 

The phrase, “to find one’s sea legs” has a meaning much deeper than freedom from seasickness. Finding your sea legs is the ability to adjust to a new situation or difficult conditions. Everything on board Gordon Gunter was new and sometimes difficult for me. Luckily, I have help from the best group of scientists and NOAA Corps crew a Teacher at Sea could ask for.

At 8:00 p.m. I was part of the leg’s first oceanography station operation. I watched closely as the bongo nets were tied tightly at the end then raised into the air by the winch and J-Frame for deployments into the sea. While the bongo nets and CTD were sinking port side, I looked out at the horizon and much to my amazement, saw two humpback whales surfacing to the water. The mist from their blows lingered even after they descended into the water’s depths.

IMG_8680
Phytoplankton

Once the bongo nets where recovered from the ocean, the crew and I worked quickly but with poise. We used a hose to spray the nets so that all the plankton would reach the bottom of the net when we dumped them into a container. I observed fellow scientist Leann pour each bongo’s sample into a jar, which she filled with water and then a small portion of formalin to preserve the samples. It began and was over so quickly that what took about an hour felt like ten minutes.

An hour later we reached our second station, and this time I was ready! Instead of mostly observing as I did during the first time, this time I was an active participant. Yes, I have a lot left to learn, but after my first day at sea and three stations under my belt, I feel like my sea legs are growing stronger.

Scroll around the 360-degree video to see the Science Party retrieve samples from bongo nets.

Becoming a Scientist (Wednesday, May 31)

I am not yet used to working until midnight. After all, the school where I teach dismisses students by 3:30 p.m. when the sun is still shining. Not to worry, I will adjust. It is actually exciting having a new schedule. I get to experience deploying the CTD and bongo nets during day light hours and a night time. The ocean is as mysterious as it is wide no matter the time of day.

You never quite know what the weather is going to be from one day to the next out at sea. Since my arrival at the ship in Newport, Rhode Island I have experiences overcast skies, sunshine, rain, and now dense fog. But that’s not all! The forecast expects a cold front will approach from the northwest Friday. Today’s fog made it difficult for the animal observers to spot many birds of whales in the area. Despite low visibility, there is still a lot to do on the ship. After our first bongo station in the early afternoon, we had a fire and abandon ship drills. Carrying out of these drills make all passengers acquainted with various procedures to be followed during emergency situations.

I thoroughly enjoy doing the work at each station. Our sampling is interesting, meaningful, and keeps my mind off being sea sick. So far, I am doing much better than expected. The excitement generated by the science team is contagious. I now long for the ship to reach each oceanography station so I can help with the research.

Marine Traffic May31.png
Approximate position of our last station on May 31 in Georges Bank.

Animals Seen

So far the animals seen have been mostly birds. I am grateful to the mammal and seabird observers, Glen Davis and Nicholas Metheny. These two are experts in their field and can ID a bird from a kilometer away with long distance viewing binoculars.

IMG_6472
Glen and Nicholas on the lookout.

 

New Terms/Phrases

[Source — Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

  • Barometer: an instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere and hence for assisting in forecasting weather and for determining altitude.
  • Altimeter: an instrument for measuring altitude; especially an aneroid barometer designed to register changes in atmospheric pressure accompanying changes in altitude.
  • Flowmeter: an instrument for measuring one or more properties (such as velocity or pressure) of a flow (as of a liquid in a pipe).
  • Salinity: consisting of or containing salt.
  • Conductivity: the quality or power of conducting or transmitting.
  • Chlorophyll Maximum: a subsurface maximum in the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean or a lake which is where you usually find an abundance of phytoplankton.
  • Ethanol: a colorless flammable easily evaporated liquid that is used to dissolve things
  • Formalin: a clear, water like solution of formaldehyde and methanol used especially as a preservative.

Did You Know?

The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet. The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench. Challenger Deep is approximately 36,200 feet deep. It is named after the HMS Challenger, whose crew first sounded the depths of the trench in 1875. [Source — NOAA Official Website].

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Trevor Hance, Gone Fishin’, June 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 24, 2015

Gone Fishin’

Lean and mean, the Leg III Scallop Survey Class of 2015
Lean and mean, the Leg III Scallop Survey Class of 2015

Unfortunately, as is the case with life at sea, the weather can change in a heartbeat and the seas apparently had enough of the spoon feeding we were enjoying.  Our last couple of days were supposed to be spent exploring some new lobster habitat, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us and our cruise was terminated a day or two earlier than anticipated.

When the weather got harsh while heading in, I asked our Captain if he would take a picture of me in the Crow’s Nest, doing my best Lt. Dan impression.  He just smiled, shook my hand; “No” was all he said.
When the weather got harsh while heading in, I asked our Captain if he would take a picture of me in the Crow’s Nest, doing my best Lt. Dan impression.  He just smiled, shook my hand; “No” was all he said.

I’m off the vessel, but, the learning is still sinking in.  Today I’ll visit a little about the importance of annotating photos and round out the discussion with some explanation of how these scallop surveys play in commercial fisheries management, and then I’ll cut you loose for the summer.

Ropes, used on hatches, which we may or may not have battened.
Ropes, used on hatches, which we may or may not have battened.

Questioning the Data

We’ve been doing science 24/7 while at sea, and even with twelve highly accomplished people in the science party, I know we only scratched the surface and these folks have mountains of work ahead of them back at their offices in Woods Hole. I also know that much of that work will involve healthy doses of pretty complex math.  I saw an episode of NOVA recently that said something like “science is the story of everything, but the language of that story is told through mathematics.”  Let kids do science; through those experiences, they’ll learn more and ask more questions than they can answer and before they realize it, have learned a ton of math – and how to solve their own problems.

Wet-lab whiteboard humor
Wet-lab whiteboard humor

Before these scientists can really dig in on the heavy math, the data we were collecting has/had to be sorted and organized appropriately. On the dredge, we did most that in the wet-lab, where we physically counted, classified, measured and weighed the species we caught. While using HabCam, we were in the dry lab and the photos and data was collected on the PCs connected to the fiber-optics cable.

What’s up Watch Chief! That’s the wet lab, which is a trailer set up between the vestibule and dredge deck
What’s up Watch Chief! That’s the wet lab, which is a trailer set up between the vestibule and dredge deck

Dredge Data

The hands-on, real-person data collection associated with the dredge is important in fisheries science for many reasons.  For example, estimated weights of things seen in the HabCam photos can only be estimated with any degree of accuracy if they are based on actual data.  Additionally, there are some things you simply cannot determine through non-invasive means, as I experienced first hand assisting Dr. Gallager in the wet lab.  While weighing and measuring the organs of his scallop sample we saw that scallop populations in warmer water had spawned, but some of those in deeper/colder water had not yet done so.  People like Drs. Gallager and Shank can use that information and combine it with data relating to currents and historical data as they develop hypothesis of where to expect scallop populations (they call them “recruitments”) to develop in the future.

A simple graph showing fish length
A simple graph showing fish length

One of my jobs was to be in charge of a tool called “Star Oddi” which consists of a small, bullet-shaped underwater data logger that collects information such as temperature, depth, salinity and tilt of the dredge (it does get flipped over from time to time) as it is towed along the sea floor.  I would trade out the data-logger between each dredge, upload the data to a PC, and tell our watch chief if I noticed anything outside of the expected ranges.

Physically counting and measuring the weight of starfish helps establish reliable estimates of predator affect on scallop population
Physically counting and measuring the weight of starfish helps establish reliable estimates of predator effect on scallop population

HabCam Data / Annotation

Between times piloting the HabCam, we would help annotate some of the photographs, identifying substrate and species seen in the individual photos. For scallops, we used the mouse to draw a line indicating the size of each scallop.

There are four scallops in the annotated photo below.  I’ve drawn a line (in green) from the scallop’s umbo to the front of their shells, or across their width if they didn’t completely fit on the screen. The shadows could also help us identify whether they were swimming or stationary on the sea floor.  Using the HabCam’s recorded distance from the ground, the computer could then determine their respective sizes with relative certainty, which will help scientists estimate their respective weights, which all plays into determinations of how many scallops there are and whether the species, as a whole, is healthy.

Data, informing decisions
Data, informing decisions

The mosaics of HabCam photos sometimes reminded me of stars in the night time sky
The mosaics of HabCam photos sometimes reminded me of stars in the night time sky

I’ll share some more photos taken while annotating in the photblog, for now, let’s put my degrees in economics and law to use…

Fisheries

Many people hear the word “fishery” and think of a plants and a “nursery,” and they are similar in that they are places where something is raised for commercial purposes, but, most fishery production occurs in what would be considered publicly accessible water, like the ocean.

In our earlier discussions, you realized that with its favorable water and currents, Georges Bank is ripe territory for marine life, and historically, Georges Bank has been considered the world’s most productive fishery.  Indeed, Georges Bank has played a key role in the culture and economy of New England for more than 400 years. An April 2012 issue of Down East magazine (note to folks who don’t have a “Mainah” for a mom:  “Down East” is a slang term typically applied to the upper east coast of Maine) noted that by the time of the Mayflower voyage, the cod fishing stations at Damariscove and Monhegan islands had been operating year-round for the better part of a decade.

But just like my trip aboard the Sharp, all good things must come to an end, and over the past century, the environment has changed, human populations grew, demand increased, and technology made fishing faster, safer, bigger and more predictable.  Fortunately, they still call it fishing…

…I mean, if you caught one every time, they’d change the name to “catchin’!”
…I mean, if you caught one every time, they’d change the name to “catchin’!”

Texas Standards: A Teachable Moment

In Texas, we are tied to state standards called “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills,” or “TEKS.”  One of our G5 TEKS states that by the end of the year, “The student is expected to predict the effects of changes in ecosystems caused by living organisms, including humans, such as the overpopulation of grazers or the building of highways.

Locally, my students are in the middle of a real world study of this TEKS, as a recently elected Austin city councilman has proposed a road through the middle of the Balcones Preserve behind our school, saying the road will provide a “fire break.”  As you might imagine, the idea has gotten the attention of some local interest groups and home owners in the neighborhood around the school.

For the lesson, my students were told that their role was simply to read the articles about the proposed road and combine it with existing knowledge gained in my classroom, follow the TEKS, and predict changes to the ecosystem if the road is ultimately built.

Photo from fourpointsnews.com
Photo from fourpointsnews.com

While for my students, their predictions relate to the “highway” aspect of the TEKS, “overgrazing by humans” and the idea of “a ship highway” in the seas offer some parallels to the fisheries we’ve been surveying on this cruise.

Back to the Bank

For nearly 350 of the 400 years commercial fishing has been happening off the coast of New England, regulations were negligible, and the area experienced heavy fishing by American fishers as well as vessels from other countries.  It wasn’t until 1976 that the federal government adopted the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which gave the United States the exclusive economic zone that includes Georges Bank and set up a system of industry regulation.

While the Act gave the U.S. government some power to regulate fishing in the area over the long term, the initial intent was aimed more at helping to protect American fishers more than the fish, and in the first 20 years of the Act, the fish continued to suffer.  In the 1990s, protection efforts picked up, and in 1996, President Bush amended the Act to better promote conservation by focusing on rebuilding overfished fisheries, protecting essential fish habitat, and reducing bycatch (which is the catching of fish you aren’t actually trying to catch.)

There are four or five main players in the equation, with each having a fair and logical argument of why their interests should receive priority:

  • Fishermen:  In one chair sit the fishermen and the people who work for them.
  • Companies: In another chair sit the non-fishing companies who meet market demand, buying, selling, processing, transporting, etc., seafood.
  • Consumers: In another chair sits the consumers who buy and eat seafood.
  • Environmental/non-profit groups: Standing on a truffula tree stump, speaking on behalf of the fish.
  • The last chair belongs to the government:  “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Whoa, what’s up with the blood pressure spike? Did I strike a chord?

I’ll let you work out in your mind whom you believe should get priority… (note: If you get it right, you might pass fifth grade and get your PhD in one fell swoop!)

Specifically, Scallop

Today, when it comes to management of the scallop fishery, NOAA Fisheries is the lead agency, while the New England Fishery Management Council assesses and makes policy recommendations for the Northeast, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council does so for the area down to the Mid-Atlantic region. These organizations have implemented several management tools intended to support conservation.  Some examples of regulatory tools they’ve used include:

  • Regulating the number of vessels allowed to fish for scallop and people aboard those vessels;
  • Regulating the length of a fishing season and limiting days vessels can remain at sea;
  • Regulating the amount of fish that can be caught as well as the amount of bycatch allowed
  • Closing areas to fishing; and,
  • Increasing the size of the rings on the dredge-net (note: recall, the dredge is like a big sieve; bigger holes allow smaller things to filter through)

Through these management efforts, scallop populations have rebounded significantly, with the permitted (dredge-net) ring-size, limitation of days at sea/total allowable catch, and “closed-area” management tools getting much of the credit. The rebound is certainly noteworthy considering that the Atlantic Sea Scallop fishery, which extends from the Mid-Atlantic area near Cape Hatteras, NC up to Georges Bank, is the largest and most valuable wild scallop fishery in the world, valued at nearly $580 million in 2011.

While much of the research and management is funded by the government, it is important to acknowledge the commercial fishery’s contribution through the Scallop Research Set-Aside Program.  Through that program, 1.25 million pounds of the allowed scallop harvest is set aside each year to fund scallop habitat research and surveys to better inform future policy/management decisions.

So, What’s Next?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

Scallop populations have responded well to these regulatory/management efforts, while other species, such as cod, continue to struggle mightily.

As the scallop population returns to (and maybe even starts to exceed) what have been called “sustainable numbers,” the “closed areas” management tool presents some unique questions, primarily relating to an idea called “carrying capacity.” Carrying capacity essentially asks “how many scallop can survive here before there are too many for the system to stay healthy?”  For the fishers, the water can seem bluer on the other side of the fence (or, um, something like that) and they want to see these areas re-opened, but variables have to be considered and data confirmed for conclusions to be both reliable and valid.  In other words, there is a risk of irreparable harm if an area is opened for fishing too soon or too late.

I mention carrying capacity because while I was aboard the Sharp, the New England Fisheries Management Council announced that it was going to recommend that one of the closed areas of Georges Bank, known as the Northern Edge, be reopened to fishing.  The newspapers I read showed that there has been a predictably mixed reaction to the announcement.  NOAA Fisheries will consider the recommendation by the New England Council and their decision on the recommendation is not expected to be final until some time in 2016.

Now, about that proposed road through our Preserve…

Lagniappe

In the last few weeks I’ve introduced you to a few scientists and talked about my role helping to give students an avenue to explore, question and pursue learning about things that interest them in a safe, supportive environment.  I’m going to close out the Lagniappe section of my TAS blog by introducing you to “what’s next” in scallop science through a conversation with fellow day-watch science-crew member, and Cornell PhD candidate, Katie Kaplan.

That’s Katie in the hat and sunglasses, avoiding the paparazzi
That’s Katie in the hat and sunglasses, avoiding the paparazzi

Katie is a volunteer on this cruise.  She’s using HabCam data as part of the work towards her PhD and wanted to get a first hand peek at the HabCam in action (I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly over the sea floor and pick fights with crabs and lobsters!), so, she signed up.  Katie’s work fits nicely in today’s blog for several reasons, largely because her work centers on what is happening with the scallops in one of the closed areas I discussed above.

Specifically, Katie is evaluating the impacts of marine protected areas on interactions of sea scallops and other species in benthic (i.e. – “seafloor”) ecosystems.  In particular she is evaluating the relationship between an invasive tunicate species, Didemnum vexillum and scallops and the impact of the closed areas on this relationship. The invasive tunicate has spread in Georges Bank since 2002 and threatens scallop habitat since they compete for the same space (note: with tunicate species being commonly referred to by names like sea “squirts,” “pork,” and “livers,” you might get the impression their “invasion” isn’t perceived as favorable). After a few weeks in my class it should be obvious, but studying interactions among species as they relate to fishery resources is essential to ensuring fish habitat remains viable and fisheries remain productive to meet our needs as consumers.

On a more personal note, Katie grew up just outside of New York City and headed to Grinnell College in Iowa for her undergraduate studies.  After graduation, she taught English in Ecuador and while living there and on Galapagos, decided to pursue a career that combined her interests in the ocean with her wicked good biology skills (whoa, did I just use “wicked” as an adjective?  I’ve been up north too long!). I need to add that while it’s too long a story for the blog, I seem to be having a “Cornell year,” so it is entirely appropriate that I met my new friend Katie on this cruise.

Katie became inspired to study marine science while swimming with sea lions and sea turtles in Galapagos (um, who wouldn’t, Katie!?!).  While there she studied vulnerable fish habitat on the islands — including nursery areas for sharks!  She decided to devote her life to conservation and management of marine life due to concerns of human caused destruction of the environment.  She hopes “to make a positive impact by contributing to conservation based research and helping humans learn to interact with the environment in a less destructive way.”

Kudos, my friend.  I’m so happy we were on watch together, it was so nice of you to distract the paparazzi…

Photoblog:

Nothing really to annotate in this shot, but, you can see the whole screen.
Nothing really to annotate in this shot, but, you can see the whole screen.

Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy
Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy

Waved whelk, heading to the 01.
Waved whelk, heading to the 01.

HabCam scared a flatfish.  He was slingin' gravel and puttin' a ton of dust in the air.
HabCam scared a flatfish. He was slingin’ gravel and puttin’ a ton of dust in the air.

Nature
Nature

Textures of the sea
Textures of the sea

Not at all like the blue points down here on the coast that will snip at you
Not at all like the blue points down here on the coast that will pinch you in a heartbeat

I saw this hermit crab out of his shell and heard Dumbledore’s voice in my head saying “You cannot help it;” it was only weird when I looked up and realized I was not in Kings Cross Station
I saw this hermit crab out of his shell and heard Dumbledore’s voice in my head saying “You cannot help it;” it was only weird when I looked up and realized I was not in Kings Cross Station

...I was always on the lookout for the Nisshin Maru; never saw it.
…I was always on the lookout for the Nisshin Maru; never saw it.

Students, always clean up your lab!
Students, always clean up your lab!

More nature.
More nature.

Winslow Homer would be so mad if he knew he could've painted this while hanging out with Rachel Carson at Woods Hole.
Winslow Homer would be so mad if he knew he could’ve painted this while hanging out with Rachel Carson at Woods Hole (her:  “I had my first prolonged contact with the sea at Woods Hole. I never tired of watching the swirling currents pour through the hole — that wonderful place of whirlpools and eddies and swiftly racing waters.”)

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So, that’s about it.  I loved my time aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, have made some new friends, and will always treasure the memories made as a 2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.  Thanks again, NOAA, what a grand adventure…

Airplane Playlist to Texas:  James Taylor (“Carolina”, “Angels of Fenway”), Robert Earl Keen, Jr. (I’m Comin’ Home); Alpha Rev (“Sing Loud”); Keane (“Somewhere Only We Know”); Avett Brothers (“Spanish Pipedream”); Jim & Jesse (“Paradise”); Amos Lee (“Windows Are Rolled Down”); Bobby Darin (“Beyond The Sea”)

Go outside and play.  Class dismissed.

Mr. Hance

Trevor Hance: Life, As You (Already) Know It… June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 21, 2015

Teacher at Sea?
Teacher at Sea?

Science and Technology Log

The rhythm of a ship rocking and rolling through varied wave heights while catching some zzzz’s in a small, curtain-enclosed bunk provides an opportunity to get some really amazing deep sleep.  Last night I had a dream that one of my childhood friends married Dan Marino.  It seemed completely bizarre until I remembered we saw lots of dolphins yesterday.

Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?
Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?

Seas have calmed substantially from the ride we had a couple of days ago, and for the past few days the ride has been so smooth I feel more like a “Teacher at Pond” than “Teacher at Sea.”  Unfortunately, it looks like that awful weather system my friends and family have been dealing back home in Texas is about to make its way to us here off the coast of New England (what many Texans consider “the southern edge of Santa-land”) and there’s even a chance today might be our last full day at sea.

At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!
At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!

Operations

Operationally, we’ve shifted back and forth from dredge to HabCam work and it is a decidedly different experience, and as with everything, there are pros and cons.

HabCam

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the HabCam requires two people to monitor two different stations as pilot and co-pilot, each with several monitors to help keep the system running smoothly and providing updates on things like salinity, depth and water temperature (currently 4.59 degrees Celsius – yikes!!!).

Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise:  the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel
Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise: the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel

The pilot gets to drive the HabCam with a joystick that pays-out or pulls in the tow-wire, trying to keep the HabCam “flying” about 2 meters off the sea floor.  Changes in topography, currents, and motion of the vessel all contribute to the challenge. The co-pilot primarily monitors and annotates the photographs that are continually taken and fed into one of the computers in our dry-lab.  I’ll share more about annotating in the next blog-post, but essentially, you have to review, categorize and sort photos based on the information each contains.

The winch has its own monitor
The winch has its own monitor

Driving the HabCam gives you a feeling of adventure – I find myself imagining I am driving The Nautilus and Curiosity, but, after about an hour, things get bleary, and it’s time to switch and let one of the other crew members take over.  My rule is to tap-out when I start feeling a little too much like Steve Zissou.

Dredge

Dredge work involves dropping a weighted ring bag that is lined with net-like material to the sea floor and towing it behind the vessel, where it acts as a sieve and filters out the smallest things and catches the larger things, which are sorted, weighed and measured in the wet lab on the back deck.

Close up of the dredge material
Close up of the dredge material; HabCam in the background

Dredge work is a little like the “waves-crashing-across-the-deck” stuff that you see on overly dramatized TV shows like “Deadliest Catch.”  As my students know, I like getting my hands dirty, so I tend to very much enjoy the wind, water and salty experience associated with a dredge.

Yours truly, sporting my homemade jolly roger t-shirt after a successful dredge
Yours truly, after a successful dredge, sporting my homemade Jolly Roger t-shirt

While the dredge is fun, my students and I use motion-triggered wildlife cameras to study the life and systems in the Preserve behind our school, and I fully realize the value those cameras provide — especially in helping us understand when we have too much human traffic in the Preserve. The non-invasive aspects of HabCam work provide a similar window, and a remarkable, reliable data source when you consider that the data pertaining to one particular photograph could potentially be reviewed thousands of times for various purposes.  The sheer quantity of data we collect on a HabCam run is overwhelming in real-time, and there are thousands of photos that need to be annotated (i.e. – reviewed and organized) after each cruise.

More Science

Anyway, enough of the operational stuff we are doing on this trip for now, let’s talk about some science behind this trip… I’m going to present this section as though I’m having a conversation with a student (student’s voice italicized).

Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain't no party like a dead skate party...
Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain’t no party like a dead skate party…

Mr. Hance, can’t we look at pictures instead of having class?  I mean, even your Mom commented on your blog and said this marine science seems a little thick.

We’ll look at pictures in a minute, but before we do, I need you to realize what you already know.

The National Wildlife Federation gives folks a chance to support biodiversity by developing a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” right in their own backyard.  We used NWF’s plan in our class as a guideline as we learned that the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds we study in our Preserve need four basic things for survival:  water, food, shelter and space (note:  while not clearly stated in NWF’s guidelines, “air” is built in.)

This same guide is largely true for marine life, and because we are starting small and building the story, we should probably look at some physics and geology to see some of the tools we are working with to draw a parallel.

Ugh, more water and rocks?  I want to see DOLPHINS, Mr. Hance!

Sorry, kid, but we’re doing water and rocks before more dolphins.

Keep in mind the flow of currents around Georges Bank and the important role they play in distributing water and transporting things, big and small.  Remember what happened to Nemo when he was hanging out with Crush? You’ll see why that sort of stuff loosely plays in to today’s lesson.

Let There Be Light! And Heat!
Let There Be Light! And Heat!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Georges Bank is a shallow shoal, which means the sea floor has a lot more access to sunlight than the deeper areas around it, which is important for two big reasons. First, students will recall that “light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object, at which point it….” (yada, yada, yada).  In this case, the water refracts as it hits the water (“passes through a medium”) and where the water is really shallow, the sunlight can actually reflect off of the sea floor (as was apparent in that NASA photo I posted in my last blog.)

Also important is the role the sun plays as the massive energy driver behind pretty much everything on earth.  So, just like in our edible garden back at school, the sun provides energy (heat and light), which we know are necessary for plant growth.

Okay, so we have energy, Mr. Hance, but what do fish do for homes?

The substrate, or the sediment(s) that make-up the sea floor on Georges Bank consists of material favorable for marine habitat and shelter.  The shallowest areas of Georges Bank are made mostly of sand or shell hash (“bits and pieces”) that can be moved around by currents, often forming sand waves.  Sand waves are sort of the underwater equivalent of what we consider sand dunes on the beach.  In addition to the largely sandy areas, the northern areas of the Bank include lots of gravel left behind as glaciers retreated (i.e. – when Georges Bank was still land.)

Moving currents and the size of the sediment on the sea floor are important factors in scallop population, and they play a particularly significant role relating to larval transportation and settlement.  Revisiting our understanding of Newton’s three laws of motion, you’ll recognize that the finer sediment (i.e. – small and light) are easily moved by currents in areas of high energy (i.e. – frequent or strong currents), while larger sediment like large grains of sand, gravel and boulders get increasingly tough to push around.

Importantly, not all of Georges Bank is a “high energy” area, and the more stable areas provide a better opportunity for both flora and fauna habitat.  In perhaps simpler terms, the harder, more immobile substrates provide solid surfaces as well as “nooks and crannies” for plants to attach and grow, as well as a place for larvae (such as very young scallop) to attach or hide from predators until they are large enough to start swimming, perhaps in search of food or a better habitat.

With something to hold on to, you might even see what scientists call “biogenic” habitat, or places where the plants and animals themselves make up the shelter.

Substrate samples from one of our dredges; sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles,
Substrate samples from one of our dredges; shells, sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles, “bio-trash” and a very young crab

There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up.  Not much, but it's something to hold on to!
There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up. Not much, but it’s something to hold on to!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, rocks and one weed, huh… I wonder what’s happening at the pool…

Whoa, hold on, don’t quit — you’re half way there!

Before you mind drifts off thinking that there are coral reefs or something similar here, it is probably important that I remind you that the sea floor of Georges Bank doesn’t include a whole lot of rapid topography changes – remember, we are towing a very expensive, 3500 lb. steel framed camera at about 6 knots, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that in an area where we might smash it into a bunch of reefs or boulders.  Here, things are pretty flat and relatively smooth, sand waves and the occasional boulder being the exceptions.

Okay, our scallops now have a place to start their life, but, what about breathing and eating, and why do they need “space” to survive?  Isn’t the ocean huge?

As always, remember that we are trying to find a balance, or equilibrium in the system we are studying.

One example of a simple system can be found in the aquaponics systems we built in our classroom last year. Aquaponics is soil-less gardening, where fish live in a tank below a grow bed and the water they “pollute” through natural bodily functions (aka – “poop”) is circulated to the grow bed where the plants get the nutrients they need, filter out the waste and return good, healthy water back to the fish, full of the micronutrients the fish need to survive.  I say our system is simple because we are “simply” trying to balance ammonia, nitrates and phosphates and not the vast number of variables that exist in the oceans that cover most of our Earth’s surface.  Although the ocean is much larger on the spatial scale, the concept isn’t really that much different, the physical properties of matter are what they are, and waste needs to be processed in order for a healthy system to stay balanced.

Our simple classroom system
Our simple classroom system

Another aspect of our aquaponics system that provides a parallel to Georges Bank lies in our “current,” which for us is the pump-driven movement of water from the fish to the plants, and the natural, gravity-driven return of that water to the fish.  While the transportation of nutrients necessary to both parties is directionally the exact opposite of what happens here on Georges Bank (i.e. – the currents push the nutrients up from the depths here), the idea is the same and again, it is moving water that supports life.

But, Mr. Hance, where do those “nutrients” come from in the first place, and what are they feeding?

Remember, systems run in repetitive cycles; ideally, they are completely predictable.  In a very basic sense where plants and animals are concerned, that repetitive cycle is “life to death to life to death, etc…”  This is another one of those “here, look at what you already know” moments.

When marine life dies, that carbon-based organic material sinks towards the bottom of the ocean and continues to break down while being pushed around at depth along the oceans currents. Students will recognize a parallel in “The Audit” Legacy Project from this spring when they think about what is happening in those three compost bins in our edible garden; our turning that compost pile is pretty much what is happening to all of those important nutrients getting rolled around in the moving water out here – microscopic plants and animals are using those as building blocks for their life.

Our new compost system
Our new compost system

Oh wait, so, this is all about the relationship between decomposers, producers and consumers?  But, Mr. Hance, I thought that was just in the garden?

Yes, “nutrient rich” water is the equivalent of “good soil,” but, we have to get it to a depth appropriate for marine life to really start to flourish.  Using your knowledge of the properties of matter, you figured out how and why the currents behave the way they do here.  You now know that when those currents reach Georges Bank, they are pushed to the surface and during the warm summer months, they get trapped in this shallow(ish), warm(ish) sunlit water, providing a wonderful opportunity for the oceans’ primary producers, phytoplankton, to use those nutrients much like we see in our garden.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to see what you mean. Can you tell me a little more about plankton?

The term plankton encompasses all of the lowest members of the food chain (web), and can be further divided into “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton.”  Yes, “phyto” does indeed resemble “photo,” as in “photosynthesis”, and does indeed relate to microscopic plant-like plankton, like algae.  Zooplankton pertains to microscopic animal-like plankton, and can include copepods and krill.

Plankton are tiny and although they might try to swim against the current, they aren’t really strong enough, so they get carried along, providing valuable nutrients to bigger sea creatures they encounter.  Just like on land, there are good growing seasons and bad growing seasons for these phytoplankton, and on Georges Bank, the better times for growing coincide with the spring-summer currents.

Dude, Mr. Hance, I didn’t know I already knew that…. Mind…. Blown.

Yeah little dude, I saw the whole thing. First, you were like, whoa! And then you were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa…  Sorry, I got carried away; another Nemo flashback. While I get back in teacher-mode, why don’t you build the food web. Next stop, knowledge…

You've got some serious thrill issues, dude
You’ve got some serious thrill issues, dude

But, Mr. Hance, you are on a scallop survey.  How do they fit into the food web? You told us that you, crabs and starfish are their primary natural predators, but, what are they eating, and how?

Scallops are animals, complete with muscles (well, one big, strong one), a digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system.  They don’t really have a brain (like ours), but, they do have light-sensing eyes on their mantle, which is a ring that sits on the outer edge of their organ system housed under their protective shell.  Acting in concert, those eyes help scallops sense nearby danger, including predators like those creepy starfish.

Predators
Predators

Scallops are filter feeders who live off of plankton, and they process lots of water.  With their shells open, water moves over a filtering structure, which you can imagine as a sort of sieve made of mucus that traps food.  Hair-like cilia transport the food to the scallop’s mouth, where it is digested, processed, and the waste excreted.

DSCN0154
The text is small, but, it describes some of the anatomy of the scallop. Click to zoom.

DSCN0158

But, Mr. Hance, do they hunt? How do they find their food?

Remember, scallops, unlike most other bivalves such as oysters, are free-living, mobile animals; in other words, they can swim to dinner if necessary.  Of course, they’d prefer to just be lazy and hang out in lounge chairs while the food is brought to them (kind of like the big-bellied humans in my favorite Disney film, Wall-E), so can you guess what they look for?

Gee, Mr. Hance…. Let me guess, water that moves the food to them?

Yep, see, I told you this was stuff you already knew.

I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.
I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.

While plankton can (and do!) live everywhere in the shallow(ish) ocean, because they are helpless against the force of the current, they get trapped in downwellings, which is a unique “vertical eddy,” caused by competing currents, or “fronts.”  Think of a downwelling as sort of the opposite of a tug-o-war where instead of pulling apart, the two currents run head-on into one another.  Eventually, something’s gotta give, and gravity is there to lend a hand, pushing the water down towards the sea floor and away, where it joins another current and continues on.

Those of you who have fished offshore will recognize these spots as a “slick” on the top of the water, and there is often a lot of sea-foam (“bubbles”) associated with a downwelling because of the accumulation of protein and “trash” that gets stuck on top as the water drops off underneath it.

Those
Those “smooth as glass” spots are where currents are hitting and downwellings are occurring

This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)
This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)

Because plankton aren’t strong enough to swim against the current, they move into these downwellings in great numbers.  You can wind up with an underwater cloud of plankton in those instances, and it doesn’t take long for fish and whales to figure out that nature is setting the table for them.  Like our human friends in Wall-E, scallops pull up a chair, put on their bibs and settle at the base of these competing fronts, salivating like a Pavlovian pup as they wait on their venti-sized planko-latte (okay, I’m exaggerating; scallops live in salt water, so they don’t salivate, but because I’m not there to sing and dance to hold your attention while you read, I have to keep you interested somehow.)

If you become a marine scientist at Woods Hole, you’ll probably spend some time looking for the “magic” 60m isobaths, which is where you see scallop and other things congregate at these convergent fronts.

Before you ask, an isobaths is a depth line.  Depth lines are important when you consider appropriate marine life habitat, just like altitude would be when you ask why there aren’t more trees when you get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain.

Um, Mr. Hance, why didn’t you just tell us this is just like the garden!  I’m immediately bored.  What else ya got?

Well, in the next class, we’ll spend some time talking about (over-)fishing and fisheries management, but for now, how about I introduce you to another one of my new friends and then show you some pictures?

I don’t know, Mr. Hance, all of this talk about water makes me want to go swimming.  I’ll stick around for a few minutes, but this dude better be cool.

Lagniappe: Dr. Burton Shank

Today, I’ll introduce another important member of the science crew aboard the vessel, Dr. Burton Shank.  As I was preparing for the voyage, I received several introductory emails, and I regret that I didn’t respond to the one I received from Burton asking for more information.  He’s a box of knowledge.

That's Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.
That’s Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.

Burton is a Research Fishery Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole working in the populations dynamic group, which involves lots of statistical analysis (aka – Mental Abuse To Humans, or “MATH”).  Burton’s group looks at data to determine how many scallops or lobsters are in the area, and how well they are doing using the data collected through these field surveys.  One of my students last year did a pretty similar study last year, dissecting owl pellets and setting (humane) rat traps to determine how many Great Horned Owls our Preserve could support.  Good stuff.

Burton is an Aggie (Whoop! Gig ‘Em!), having received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M at Galveston before receiving his master’s in oceanography from the University of Puerto Rico and heading off as a travelling technical specialist on gigs in Florida, Alaska and at the Biosphere in Arizona.  For those unfamiliar, the biosphere was a project intended to help start human colonies on other planets, and after a couple of unsuccessful starts, the research portion was taken over by Columbia University and Burton was hired to do ocean climate manipulations.  Unlike most science experiments where you try to maintain balance, Burton’s job was to design ways that might “wreck” the system to determine potential climate situations that could occur in different environments.

As seems to be the case with several of the folks out here, Burton didn’t really grow up in a coastal, marine environment, and in fact, his childhood years were spent in quite the opposite environment:  Nebraska, where his dad was involved in agricultural research.  He did, however, have a small river and oxbow like near his home and spent some summers in Hawaii.

It was on during a summer visit to Hawaii at about 9 years old that Burton realized that “life in a mask and fins” was the life for him.  On return to Nebraska, home of the (then!) mighty Cornhusker football team, many of his fellow fourth grade students proclaimed that they would be the quarterback at Nebraska when they grew up.  Burton said his teacher seemed to think being the Cornhusker QB was a completely reasonable career path, but audibly scoffed when he was asked what he wanted to be and said he would be a marine biologist when he grew up.  I welcome any of you young Burton’s in my class, anytime – “12th Man” or not!

Photoblog:

RSCN0090
Sheerwater, I loved the reflection on this one

Such a nice day
Such a nice day

You'll never look at them the same, will you?
You’ll never look at them the same, will you?

Cleaning up after a dredge
Cleaning up after a dredge; shot from vestibule where wet-gear is housed.  We spent lots of time changing.

So fun to see lobsters and crabs when
So fun to see lobsters and crabs when “HabCam’ing.” They rear back and raise their claws as if to dare you to get any closer.

Good night!
Good night!

Playlist:  Matisyahu, Seu Jorge, Gotan Project, George Jones

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed.  Get outta here…

Mr. Hance

Trevor Hance: Water, Water Everywhere… Time for a Bath(ology), June 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 17, 2015

Science and Technology Log

We’re now at the half-way point of this journey and things continue to run well, although the weather has picked up a bit.  I mentioned to one of my fellow crew members that the cloud cover and cool weather reminded me of “football and gumbo” and he said, “Yeah… around here, we just call it ‘June’.” Touché, my friend.

“June,” huh…. Hey, this guy got jokes!

I am continually impressed by both the ship’s crew and the science party’s ability to identify work that needs to be done and set a course towards continued, uninterrupted success of the mission.  The depth and breadth of knowledge required to navigate (all puns intended!) extended scientific expeditions requires professional dedication matched with a healthy sense of humor, and it is truly an honor to be invited to participate in this unique opportunity for teachers. I am learning volumes each day and will forever treasure this wonderful adventure.  Thanks again, NOAA!

Remember students, don’t kiss frogs.  Gigantic lobsters?  Well…
Remember students, don’t kiss frogs. Gigantic lobsters? Well…

Science and Math

My instructional path is rooted in constructivist learning theory, and I work diligently to secure resources for my students to have authentic, project-based learning experiences where they determine budgets, necessary tools and physically build things that we use on our campus.

Most recently, my math class designed and built some raised mobile garden beds that will be used by the youngest students on our campus as well as those with unique mobility challenges.  Through these hands-on learning experiences, I expect my students to develop a solid working-level of mathematic and scientific literacy, and I’m proud of the fact that when I present a new concept, my students never ask “When am I going to have to use this in real life?”

My students doing math.  More doing, more learning...
My students doing math. More doing, more learning…

I believe fifth grade students can understand any science concept, and I am seeing additional opportunities to test that idea using what I learn out here, so thought I’d share a few examples of some of the things I’ve learned as they will be presented in my G5 classroom starting this fall.

With a basic understanding of the objective for this survey presented in the last blog, I’ll explore some of the geographic and hydrodynamic concepts associated with this part of the world in this post.  In the next blog, I’ll dive deeper into a specific study of scallops and lobsters, and in the fourth post I’ll talk more about the effects of current marine/fisheries management practices, with particular focus on those relating to closed areas (somewhat akin to the Balcones Preserve behind our campus.)

This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO
This is a Sculpin Longhorn, distantly related to BEVO

Georges Bank…water, water everywhere, time for a bath(ology)

We all know that water is central to our survival, and “playing” with water provides a strong anchoring point (am I pushing the puns too far?) for understanding systems relationships as students progress through their educational path.  For the past couple of years, I have been accepted to participate in a “Scientist in Residence” program offered through the University of Texas’ Environmental Science Institute, which pairs local teachers with a graduate level scientist for an entire school year.  In my first year, I was paired with (recently graduated) Dr. Kevin Befus, whose work focuses on hydrology.  Through my work with Kevin (note to students:  I can call him Kevin, you call him Dr. – he’s earned it!), I learned much about water and the importance of “flow,” and when you understand some of the “flow” relating the world’s most productive fishery, Georges Bank, I think you’ll agree with me.

Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet
Dolphin splashin’, getting everybody all wet

Georges Bank is an oval shaped shoal, which is essentially a submerged island that lies about 60 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and covers nearly 150 square miles.  “The Bank,” or “Georges,” as many people aboard the vessel refer to it, is only recently submerged (i.e. – within the last 100,000 years).  As recently as ten years ago scientists found mastodon tusks on the Bank, and legend holds that in the early 1900s, fishing vessels would stop on an island in Georges Bank (now submerged to about 10m) and play baseball (note:  I have yet to find a bat and ball aboard the Sharp, but hope remains!)

Just like good soil helps support plant life, good water helps support marine life, and the key to the abundant life along Georges Bank lies in the nutrient rich water that is pushed towards the surface as it approaches Georges from the north and south.  On three sides of Georges Bank, the sea floor drops dramatically.  To the north sits the Gulf of Maine, which drops to approximately 1000m deep, and to the east and south, the Atlantic Ocean quickly reaches depths of over 2500m.

NASA photo
NASA photo

Almost all water enters Georges Bank from the north via the Gulf of Maine. The Gulf of Maine is fed via natural river discharges (including those from the Damariscotta and Merrimack Rivers) and the Labrador Currents that hug the coastline south around Nova Scotia before turning west into the Gulf of Maine.  Water also enters the Gulf of Maine through The North Channel on the east side of Maine from the Gulf Stream and that very salty, warm water is important, particularly when it comes to the biology of Georges Bank (as we’ll look at more in the next blog entry.)

Much of the water exiting the Gulf of Maine enters The Great South Channel, which is something like a “river in the ocean” that runs between Cape Cod and Georges Bank.  Deep within the Channel is a “sill,” which is a type of landform barrier, similar to a fence that doesn’t reach up to the surface.  The sill rises quickly from the sea floor and extends across the Great South Channel, effectively blocking the deepest, densest water, resulting in strong, deep, cold currents that are pushed east around the outer edge of Georges Bank before returning towards the United States’ east coast in a clockwise path, resembling “from 11 until 7” on a clock’s face.  Yes students, I do mean an analog clock!

After the deep currents make their way back to southern Massachusetts, they head south on the Longshore Coastal Current, which is like a “jet” of water that sprints southbound right along the eastern United States coastline (note:  those of us from the Gulf Coast frequently hear friends wonder why the Atlantic Ocean is so cold when they visit Florida, and this is partly why!)

At this point, I’m going to take a moment and speak directly to my students:   Just as the water flows into and mixes at Georges Bank from different directions, I’m hopeful that your thoughts are starting to swirl as you recognize the connection to concepts we have studied relating to energy, weather and climate, mixtures and solutions, salinity (and conductivity/resisitivity) and density (and buoyancy) – they are all evident and part of this story! And YES — this WILL be on the test!

b3g - 4 shells
I pulled these four scallops from one of our dredges to show the unique, beautiful patterns we find while sorting

While the deep-water currents that circle around Georges Bank’s edges exist year-round, in the winter there isn’t tremendous difference in the three primary water measurements (“Conductivity, Temperature and Density,” or “CTD”) between the water in The Great South Channel versus that sitting atop Georges Bank.  As you might recognize, in normal conditions, there shouldn’t be much cause for warm or fresh water to be added to the area during the cold winter months, as our part of the world seems to slow down and a goodly amount of water freezes.  In the spring, however, the northern hemisphere warms and ice melts, adding lots of warmer-and-fresh water to the Labrador Current and river discharges I mentioned above, ultimately sending that water south towards Georges Bank.  At this point, things get really interesting…

The new, warmer water is less dense than the deeper water. The warm and cold water ultimately completely decouple and become fully stratified (i.e. – there are two distinct layers of water sitting one on top of the other.)  The stratified layers move in separate currents:  the deeper, colder, more-dense layer continues its clockwise, circular path along the outer edge of the Bank before heading south; and the top, “lighter” layer gets “trapped” in a clockwise “gyre,” which is the formal word for a swirling “racetrack” of a current that sits on the Bank. This gyre goes full-circle atop Georges Bank approximately 2.5 to 3 times per summer season.

Bigelow and Bumpus:  Going with the Flow

The stratified/gyre relationship was confirmed almost 90 years ago by Henry Bigelow (note: those familiar with NOAA will no doubt recognize his name for several reasons, including the fact that a ship in the NOAA fleet is named after him).  Essentially, Bigelow used a type of “weighted-kite-and-floating-buoy” system to observe and confirm the two layers.  Bigelow’s “floating-buoy” was tied to the “weighted-kite” (actually called a drogue) and set at various depths, with each depth tested as an independent variable.  Once set, Bigelow drogued the water, chasing after the floats-and-kites, ultimately confirming that the stratified currents did in fact exist.  When you look at our dry lab here on the Sharp, complete with dozens of computers constantly monitoring hundreds of variables, Bigelow’s paper-and-pencil study aboard a 3-masted schooner is pretty awesome, and makes me feel a little lazy!

Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine
Source:  Bigelow, HB (1927): Physical Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine

In a different study conducted later in the 1900s that perhaps might evoke romantic images of the sea, physical oceanographer Dean Bumpus performed a study similar to Bigelow’s, but in a slightly different fashion. Over the course of a few years, Bumpus put notes in over 3,000,000 test-tubes and set them adrift from Georges Bank.  The notes provided instructions on how to contact Bumpus if found, and he used the returned notes to determine things like current speed and direction.  While I’m not sure if Bumpus also used this methodology to find true love, the experiment did reinforce the idea of the currents that exist around Georges Bank!

b3i - Bumpus

Yep, it’s pretty cool to hear stories of those old-school scientists getting their names in the history books by just going with the flow.

Gulf Coast Style Kicking It Up North

One other unique hydrologic influence on Georges Bank relates to “meanderings” by the Gulf Stream.  Normally, as the Longshore Coastal Current sprints southbound along the east coast faster than a recent retiree snowbirding to Florida, a little further offshore, the Gulf Stream is heading north, bringing with it warm water.  As the water moves towards Georges Bank, the bank does its thing, acting as a berm (my BMX students might better identify with that term), and pushes that water off towards the east.  The warm water ultimately reaches England, and when mixed with the cool air there, causes the cloudy conditions and fog we frequently associate with life in the U.K.

Shark!
Shark!

The unique aspect of this relationship occurs when, from time to time, the Gulf Stream misses the turn and a “slice” of the Gulf Stream breaks away.  When this happen, the split portion spins in a counter clockwise fashion and breaks into Georges Bank, bringing with it warm water — and all the chemistry and biology that comes with it.  More on that later…

Water Summary 

So, in a nutshell, that’s the system.  The coldest water at the headwaters of rivers in Maine and that in the arctic freezes and becomes ice.  Deep water doesn’t have access to the warm sunlight, so it stays colder than the warm, less dense water at the surface that is hoping for the chance to boil over and soar up into the skies as water vapor.  Newton tells us that things like to stay still, but will stay in motion once they get started.  Things like sills and submerged islands get in the way of flowing water (yeah, more Newton here), resulting in mixtures and unique current patterns.

From a biological standpoint, the traditional currents associated with Georges Bank bring the deep, nutrient rich waters to the surface. As that water is pushed to the surface, algae and phytoplankton grow in great numbers.  Phytoplankton attracts zooplankton, fish larvae eat the zooplankton, and eventually, “circle gets a square,” the trophic pyramid is complete, and nature finds its equilibrium.

If only it was that easy, right?

Unfortunately, the frequency of warmer weather over the past century has had an impact on the ecology of Georges Bank.  Scientists have noticed more warm water from the north as ice continues to melt and increased frequency of the Gulf Stream meandering from the south. I’m told that 20 years ago, Red Hake were rare here, but I’ve noticed very few of our dredges where Red Hake weren’t at least the plurality, if not majority, of fish we caught.  As Mr. Dylan says, “the times, they are a changin’.”

Okay.  That’s it!  Congratulations students! You have passed Oceanography: Hydrodynamics Short Course 101 and it is time to move on to Oceanography:  Shellfish Biology 101, which we will cover in the next blog.

My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!
My students get scribbled maps like this from me all the time. I didn’t draw this one, but it did make me feel good about my methods!

Lagniappe:  Dr. Scott Gallager

My students and friends know that I am continually working to learn new things.  I am surrounded by experts on this cruise and I need to go ahead and admit it:  I feel sorry for these folks because they are trapped and can’t escape the questions I’ll wind up asking them about their incredibly interesting work!

As I mentioned earlier, depth of knowledge is important to success of these missions, but, breadth is equally important.  Addressing challenges and solving problems from different perspectives is essential, and it sure would be nice to have a Boy Scout out here.  Oh wait, we actually have a long time Scout Master among us, Dr. Scott Gallagher.  There, I feel better already…

Scott is a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (“WHOI”), where his work focuses on biological and physical interactions in oceanography, which can perhaps be a little better explained as “working to understand the physical properties and processes of the ocean that impact biological abundance and populations (aka – distributions).”  In other words, “where are the scallops, how many are there, and why are they there and at that number?”

From a scientific perspective, there are three primary controls to analyze when studying shellfish populations:  the total amount of larvae spawned; the transportation, or “delivery”, of the larvae through the water column to the place where they settle; and, post-settlement predatory relationships (aka – the sea stars, crabs, and humans all out to feast on these delicious creatures)… Seems like an easy-peasy career, right? (I kid. I kid.)

This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab
This is a shot of the specimen count in the wet lab

Scott cut his teeth as an undergrad at Cornell, starting off in electrical engineering, and ultimately earning degrees in both pre-med and environmental science (see, I told you he could see things from a variety of perspectives!).  In his environmental science courses, Scott studied the Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and after graduating from Alfred University/Cornell University, moved on and earned a master’s degree in Marine Biology at the University of Long Island.  Over the next several years, he worked at Woods Hole as a research assistant, first working in bivalve (shellfish) ecology, and quickly moving up through the ranks to research specialist.  After a couple of years at WHOI, the magnitude and awesome wonder of the life in our oceans presented Scott with more questions than answers, and he realized it was time to return to school and obtain his PhD so he could start answering some of the questions swimming around in his head (okay, no more puns, I promise).

In our discussion, Scott described the challenge of decoupling the biological processes of the ocean as a fascinating mystery novel that never ends, and never allows you to put the book down or stop turning the pages to see what comes next.  After only a week out here with these good folks, it is evident that passion and curiosity exists in each of them, and it is really cool to feel their continued excitement about their work.

Our live aquarium
Our live aquarium

Aboard the ship, I’ve been fortunate to spend some time working with Scott in the wet-lab, where he helps conduct a more intensive study of a sample of 5-7 scallops from each dredge, according to survey protocol: taking photos, measuring the scallop size and weight, and recording whether it is male or female.

While the survey work is the mission of this cruise, it was the development and operational support for the HabCam that really got Scott working aboard these cruises, and members of his team are aboard each of the three legs every summer to participate in the survey work and provide technical assistance for the HabCam.  I think of my time driving the HabCam of what it must be like to explore Mars with Curiosity.

In addition to his mission-specific field-work, Scott has set up an onboard live aquarium in one part of the deck, using nothing more than an air hose, fresh sea water, and a tote.  The aquarium is a temporary home for many of the unique species we’ve caught on our dredge.  Most species are only kept long enough for me to nerd-out and take some photos, and it has been very interesting to see the interaction of the animals in the confined habitat that would normally only be seen on the sea floor.

Photoblog:

The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam
The pasta-looking stuff on the top of the clam shell are wavedwelk eggs. You can see a black-and-white wavedwelk poking out of the shell just to the right of the clam

Sea urchins.  We catch many of these.  Zoom in on the one on the right.  Yeah, that’s its mouth.  Life’s at sea is tough!
Sea urchins. We catch many of these. Zoom in on the one on the right. Yeah, that’s its mouth. Life’s at sea is tough!

An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.
An ocean pout.  They crush sand dollars and eat them for breakfast.

The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve.
The smaller birds were enjoying that fish until the big dog bombed them and stole it away. Katie said it was cleptoparasitism; Fancy Nancy would approve. 

Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch
Barnacles growing atop this scallop.  I think this was one of the designs tossed around for NASA’s recent “UFO” launch

It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side
It’s remarkable watching these guys zig-and-zag through rough seas, their wings not ever touching the water, but sometimes too close to it to see light peeking through from the other side

I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”
I kept looking for a button to push and see if it would sing “Feliz Navidad”

Stars on the water
Stars on the water

Don't be a skater-hater
Don’t be a skater-hater

Dredge playlist:  Metallica, Dierks Bentley, Spoon, The National

Special thanks to Dr. Gallager for his help with this one.

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed…

Mr. Hance

Tom Savage: Whales to the Left, Whales to the Right, June 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 12, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 18 C
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: coming from north west
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1015 millibars

Personal Log

Today is my second day at sea and I can finally walk to various places on the ship in less time. I have found sleeping on the ship to be very easy as the ship rocks back and forth. I really enjoy being at sea; it is very tranquil at times and I am not rushed to go anywhere except my assigned duty locations. While on deck observing, the sights and smell of the ocean invokes memories of my former home in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After a full day of observing whales in the sunshine I was very excited to conduct some star-gazing at night. At 2200, as I opened the first hatch outside, I walked into a wall of fog and was reminded quickly that I am miles offshore on Georges Bank in June!

Science and Technology Log

Sighting whales yesterday was very slow, but today made up for it. The weather was perfect, as the sky was mostly sunny with few high cirrus clouds early. Today I was assigned to the Flying Bridge for observations all day. There are three stations and we rotate every thirty minutes. The stations are Big Eyes on port and starboard sides and a computer in the center for data entry. We use different terms for orientation on the ship. For instance, the front of the ship is called the bow. While facing the bow, the left side is called the port and the right side starboard.

DiscussingSightings
Discussing sightings on the “Fly Bridge”

My rotation began on the port side of the ship using the “Big Eyes”. After a half hour, your eyes become tired, strained and shifting to the computer to enter whale sighting helps. At the computer we enter whale sighting data called out by observers.

LookingThroughBigEyes
Looking through the “Big Eyes”. Do you see anything?

In addition to recording the identification of animals; other important attributes are called out by the observers such as bearings and direction headings. Looking through the “big eyes”, a range finder is located from center with a scale from 0 – 24, and is called the reticle. To properly calculate distance, the observer needs to adjust the “Big Eyes” to align zero with the ocean horizon. This is very difficult since the ship is always in motion. The “Big Eyes” in the image above is not correctly aligned. There is a chart we used to translate the reticle values to distance.

An early morning break was followed by an amazing hour of multiple whale sightings. Fin, humpback whales and pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphin sightings were all around the ship. One humpback whale came within twenty feet of the boat. The afternoon was less active but we tracked pilot whales later which were not seen during morning rotations.

ViewFlyBridge
View from the “Fly Bridge” looking down on the “Rolling Bridge”

 

Until next time, happy sailing!

~ Tom

 

Tom Savage, Introduction, June 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
     (Almost)  On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
        June 10 – 19, 2015

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise:  North Atlantic
Date: June 2, 2015

Personal Log

Greetings from Western NC.  My name is Tom Savage, and I am a Science teacher at the Henderson County Early College in Flat Rock, NC. I currently teach Chemistry, Earth Science, Biology and Physical Science. In a few days I will be flying to Rhode Island and boarding NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow, a research vessel. We will be traveling in the North Atlantic region, mostly in Georges Bank which is located east of Cape Cod and the Islands.  The research mission will focus on two types of whales: Sei and Beaked Whales. Our primary goals will be photo-ID and biopsy collection, acoustic recording, and prey sampling.  I am looking forward to learning about the marine life and ocean ecosystem, and I look forward to sharing this knowledge with my students.

This will not be the first time that I have been out to sea.  A few years ago, I spent a week with eighteen other science teachers from across the county, scuba diving within the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This week long program was sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and NOAA.  This exceptional professional development provided an opportunity to explore, photograph and develop lesson plans with a focus on coral reefs. I also learned about how important the Gulf of Mexico is to the oil industry.  I had the opportunity to dive under an abandoned oil platform and discovered the rich, abundant animal life and how these structures improve the fish population.

Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked as a park ranger at many national parks including the Grand Canyon, Glacier and Acadia. Working at these national treasures was wonderful and very beneficial to my teaching.

Providing young adults with as many experiences and career possibilities is the hallmark of my teaching. During the year, I arrange a “Discover SCUBA” at the local YMCA. Students who have participated in this have gone on to become certified. In the fall I have offered “Discover Flying” at a local airport, sponsored by the “Young Eagles” program. Here students fly around our school and community witnessing their home from the air. A few students have gone on to study various aviation careers.

Flying
“Discover Flying”

 

I am very excited in learning about the many career opportunities that are available on NOAA research vessels. It would be very rewarding to see a few of my students become employed with the NOAA Corps or follow a career in science due to this voyage.

Regards,

~  Tom

 

 

DJ Kast, Bongo Patterns, June 1, 2015

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

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical areas of cruise: Mid Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, George’s Bank, Gulf of Maine
Date: June 1, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

Bongo Patterns!

Part of my job here on NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is to empty the plankton nets (since there are two we call them bongos). The plankton is put into a sieve and stored  in either ethanol if they came from the small nets (baby bongos) or formalin if they came from the big nets (Main bongos).

What are plankton? Plankton is a greek based word that means drifter or wanderer. This suits these organisms well since they are not able to withstand the current and are constantly adrift. Plankton are usually divided by size (pico, nano, micro, meso, macro, mega). In the plankton tows, we are primarily focused on the macro, meso and megaplankton that are usually with in the size range of 0.2- 20 mm  (meso), 2-20 cm (macro), and above 20 cm (mega) respectively.

Group Size range Examples
Megaplankton > 20 cm metazoans; e.g. jellyfish; ctenophores; salps and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Amphipoda
Macroplankton 2→20 cm metazoans; e.g. Pteropods; Chaetognaths; Euphausiacea (krill); Medusae; ctenophores; salps, doliolids and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Janthinidae (one family gastropods); Amphipoda
Mesoplankton 0.2→20 mm metazoans; e.g. copepods; Medusae; Cladocera; Ostracoda; Chaetognaths; Pteropods; Tunicata; Heteropoda
Microplankton 20→200 µm large eukaryotic protists; most phytoplankton; Protozoa Foraminifera; tintinnids; other ciliates; Rotifera; juvenile metazoansCrustacea (copepod nauplii)
Nanoplankton 2→20 µm small eukaryotic protists; Small Diatoms; Small Flagellates; Pyrrophyta; Chrysophyta; Chlorophyta; Xanthophyta
Picoplankton 0.2→2 µm small eukaryotic protists; bacteria; Chrysophyta
Femtoplankton < 0.2 µm marine viruses

(Omori, M.; Ikeda, T. (1992). Methods in Marine Zooplankton Ecology)

We will be heading to four main geographical areas. These four areas are: the Mid Atlantic Bight (MAB), the Southern New England (SNE), Gulf of Maine (GOM), and George’s Bank (GB). I’ve been told that the bongos will be significantly different at each of these sites.  I would like to honor each geographical area’s bongos with a representative photo of plankton and larval fish.  There are 30 bongos in each area, and I work on approximately 15 per site.

DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry Prezioso

Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast
Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast

Here is a video of a Bongo launch.

 

Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed. Used to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast
Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast

 

The plankton nets need to be wiped down with saltwater so that the plankton can be collected on the sieve.

 

Day 1: May 19th, 2015

My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast
My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast
Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

 

Day 2: May 20th, 2015

Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast
Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 3: May 21st, 2015

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Day 3, the plankton tows started filling with little black dots. These were thousands of little sea snails or pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

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Clogging the Sieve with Pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

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Close up shot of a Shell-less Sea Butterfly. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Glass Eel Larva. Photo by DJ Kast

 

Day 4: May 22nd, 2015

Butterfly fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast
Butter fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast

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Baby Triggerfish Fish Larvae Photo by: DJ Kast

Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast
Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast

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Megalops or Crab Larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Polychaete Worms. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Salp. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

Day 5: May 23, 2015

Unidentified organism Photo by DJ Kast.
Unidentified organism
Photo by DJ Kast.

Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast
Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast

Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast
Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast

3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast
3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Such diversity in this evenings bongos. Small fish Larva, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast
Such diversity in this evening’s bongos. Small fish Larvae, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast

Small fish Larva. Photo by DJ Kast
Small fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Below are the bongo patterns for the Southern New England area.

I have learned that there are two lifestyle choices when it comes to plankton and they are called meroplankton or holoplankton.

Plankton are comprised of two main groups, permanent or lifetime members of the plankton family, called holoplankton (which includes as diatoms, radiolarians, dinoflagellates, foraminifera, amphipods, krill, copepods, salps, etc.), and temporary or part-time members (such as most larval forms of sea urchins, sea stars, crustaceans, marine worms, some marine snails, most fish, etc.), which are called meroplankton.

Day 6: May 24th, 2015

Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast
Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast
Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast

Megalops? Photo by: DJ Kast
Megalops?
Photo by: DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast
Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Side station sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast
Sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 7: May 25th, 2015

???? Photo by DJ Kast
???? Photo by DJ Kast

Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast
Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast

Georges Bank- It is a shallow, sediment-covered plateau bigger than Massachusetts and it is filled with nutrients that get stirred up into the photic zone by the various currents. It is an extremely productive area for fisheries.

Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)
Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)

Today, I learned that plankton (phyto & zoo) have evolved in shape to maximize their surface area to try and remain close to the surface. This makes sense to me since phytoplankton are photosynthesizers and require the sun to survive. Consequently, if zooplankton are going to consume them, it would be easier to remain where your food source is located. I think this would make for a great lesson plan that involves making plankton-like creatures and seeing who can make them sink the least in some sort of competition.

Photo by DJ Kast
Photo by DJ Kast

Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast
Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast

The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast
The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast
Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 8: May 26th, 2015 Very Diverse day,  Caprellids- skeleton shrimp, Anglerfish juvenile, Phronima inside of salp! Photo by DJ Kast

Photo by: DJ Kast
Juvenile Anglerfish aka Monk Fish. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Sand Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

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A tiny krill with giant black eyes. Photo by DJ Kast

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A small jellyfish! Photo by: DJ Kast

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A phronima (the bee looking thing inside the translucent shell) that ate its way into a salp and is using the salp as protection. Photo by: DJ Kast

Video of the phronima:

Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast
Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Video of the Caprellids:

Day 9:  May 27th, 2015= Triggerfish and colorful phronima (purple & brown). Our sieves were so clogged with phytoplankton GOOP, which is evidence of a bloom. We must be in very productive waters,

Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water, Photo by: DJ Kast
Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water. Photo by: DJ Kast

Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast
Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 10: May 28th, 2015= change in color of copepods. Lots of ctenophores and sea jellies

A Sea jelly found in George's Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast
A comb jelly (ctenophore) found in George’s Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast

Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast
Sea Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast

Did you  know? Sea Jellies are also considered plankton since they cannot swim against the current.

Day 11: May 29th, 2015: Border between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine!

Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast
Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast

Callenoid Copepods. Photo by DJ Kast
Callenoid Copepods- its so RED!!! Photo by DJ Kast

Gulf of Maine! Water comes in from the North East Channel (the Labrador current), coast on one border and George’s  Bank on the other. Definitely colder water, with deep ocean basins. Supposed to see lots of phytoplankton. Tidal ranges in the Gulf of Maine are among the highest in the world ocean

Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.
Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.

Day 12: May 30th, 2015: day and night bongo (Just calanus copepods vs. LOTS of krill.)

Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast
Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast

Krill are normally found lower in the water column. The krill come up at night to feed and avoid their predators and head back down before dawn. This daily journey up and down is called the vertical migration.

Video of Krill moving:

Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast
Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast

Night Sample. Photo by DJ Kast
Night Sample (look at all those krill). Photo by DJ Kast

Day 13: May 31th, 2015: Calanoid Copepod community.  Calanoida feed on phytoplankton (only a few are predators) and are themselves the principal food of fish fry, plankton-feeding fish (such as herring, anchovies, sardines, and saury) and baleen whales.

Calanious Community. Its so RED! Photo by DJ Kast
Calanus Community. It’s so RED! Photo by DJ Kast

Day 14: June 1st, 2015:

Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast
Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast

Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast
Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast

Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast
Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast
Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast
Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 15: June 2nd, 2015: Last Day

Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast
Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations. Photo by DJ Kast.
Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations (153 total). Photo by DJ Kast.

Through rough seas and some amazingly calm days, we have all persevered as a crew and we have done a lot of science over the last 16 days. We went through 153 stations total. I have learned so much and I would like to thank Jerry, the chief scientist for taking me under his wing and training me in his Ecosystem Monitoring ways.  I would also like to thank Dena Deck and Lynn Whitley for believing in me and writing my letters of recommendation for the Teacher at Sea program. I would love to do this program again! -DJ Kast

DJ Kast, Interview with Jessica Lueders-Dumont, May 22, 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 22, 2015, Day 4 of Voyage

 

Interview with Jessica Lueders-Dumont

Who are you as a scientist?

Jessica Lueders-Dumont is a graduate student at Princeton University and has two primary components of her PhD — nitrogen biogeochemistry and historical ecology of the Gulf of Maine.

Jessica Lueders- Dumont, graduate student at Princeton cleaning a mini bongo plankton net for her sample.
Jessica Lueders- Dumont, graduate student at Princeton cleaning a mini bongo plankton net for her sample. Photo by: DJ Kast

 What research are you doing?

Her two projects are, respectively,

A) Nitrogen cycling in the North Atlantic (specifically focused on the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank but interested in gradients along the entire eastern seaboard)

B) Changes in trophic level of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank over the history of fishing in the region. The surprising way in which these two seemingly disparate projects are related is that part A effectively sets the baseline for understanding part B!

She is co-advised by Danny Sigman and Bess Ward. Danny’s research group focuses on investigating climate change through deep time, primarily by assessing changes in the global nitrogen cycle which are inextricably tied to the strength of the biological pump (i.e. biological-mediated carbon export and storage in the ocean). Bess’s lab focuses on the functional diversity of marine phytoplankton and bacteria and the contributions of these groups to various nitrogen cycling processes in the modern ocean, specifically as pertains to oxygen minimum zones (OMZs). She is also advised by a Olaf Jensen, a fisheries scientist at Rutgers University.

In both of these biogeochemistry labs,  nitrogen isotopes (referred to as d15N, the ratio of the heavy 15N nuclide to the lighter 14N nuclide in a sample compared to that of a known standard) are used to track nitrogen cycling processes. The d15N of a water mass is a result of the relative proportions of different nitrogen cycling processes — nitrogen fixation, nitrogen assimilation, the rate of supply, the extent of nutrient utilization, etc. These can either be constrained directly via 15N tracer studies or can be inferred from “natural abundance” nitrogen isotopic composition, the latter of which will be used as a tool for this project.

Nitrogen Cycle in the Ocean. Photo credit to: https://wordsinmocean.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/n-cycle.png
Nitrogen Cycle in the Ocean. Photo credit to: https://wordsinmocean.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/n-cycle.png

On this cruise she has 3 sample types — phytoplankton, zooplankton, and seawater nitrate — and two overarching questions that these samples will address: How variable is “baseline d15N” along the entire eastern seaboard, and does this isotopic signal propagate to higher trophic levels? Each sample type gives us a different “timescale” of N cycling on the U.S. continental shelf. She will be filtering phytoplankton from various depths onto filters, she will be collecting seawater for subsequent analysis in the lab, and she will be collecting zooplankton samples — all of which will be analyzed for nitrogen isotopic composition (d15N).

Biogeochemistry background: 

Biogeochemists look at everything on an integrated scale. We like to look at the box model, which looks at the surface ocean and the deep ocean and the things that exchange between the two.

The surface layer of the ocean: euphotic zone (approximately 0-150 m-but this range depends on depth and location and is essentially the sunlit layer); nutrients are scarce here.

When the top zone animals die they sink below the euphotic zone and into the aphotic zone (150 m-4000m), and the bacteria break down the organic matter into inorganic matter (nitrate (NO3), phosphate (PO4) and silicate (Si(OH)3.). In terms of climate, an important nutrient that gets cycled is carbon dioxide.We look at the nitrate, phosphate, and silicate as limiting factors for biological activity for carbon dioxide, we are essentially calculating these three nutrients to see how much carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere and “pumped” into the deep sea.  This is called the biological pump. Additionally, the particulate matter that falls to the deep sea is called Marine Snow, which is tiny organic matter from the euphotic zone that fuels the deep sea environments; it is orders of magnitude less at the bottom compared to the top.

Cycling
Visual Representation of the aphotic and euphotic zones and the nutrients that cycle through them. Photo by: Patricia Sharpley

 

Did you know that the “Deep sea is really acidic, holds a lot of CO2 and is the biggest reservoir of C02 in the world?” – From Jessica Lueders- Demont, graduate student at Princeton.

One of the most important limiting factors for phytoplankton is nitrogen, which is not readily available in many parts of the global ocean. “A limiting nutrient is a chemical necessary for plant growth, but available in quantities smaller than needed for algae and other primary producers to increase their abundance. Organisms can grow and reproduce only when they have sufficient nutrients. For algae, the carbon source is CO2and this, at least in the surface water, has a constant value and is not limiting their growth. The limiting nutrients are minerals (such as Fe+2), nitrogen, and phosphorus compounds” (Patricia Sharpley 2010).

Conversely, phosphorus is the limiting factor on land. The most common nitrogen is molecular nitrogen or N2, which has a strong bond to break and biologically it is very expensive to fix from the atmosphere. 

Biological, chemical, and physical oceanography all work together in this biogeochemistry world and are needed to have a productive ocean. For example, we need the physical oceanography to upwell them to the surface so that the life in the euphotic zone can use them.

Activities on the ship that I am assisting Jessica with:

  • Zooplankton collected using mini bongos with a 165 micron mesh and then further filtered at meshes: 1000, 500, and ends with 250 microns, this takes out all of the big plankton that she is not studying and leaves only her own in her size range which is 165-200 microns.
  • She is collecting zooplankton water samples because it puts the phytoplankton that she is focusing on into perspective.

The last of the mesh buckets that's filtering for phytoplankton. Photo by: DJ Kast
The last of the mesh buckets that’s filtering for phytoplankton. Photo by: DJ Kast

    • Aspirator pump sucks out all of the water so that the zooplankton are left on a glass fiber filter (GFFs) on the filtration rack.

 

  • Aspirator pump that is on the side sucks out all of the air so that the plankton get stuck on the filters at the bottom of the cups seen here. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Aspirator pump that is on the side sucks out all of the air so that the plankton get stuck on the filters at the bottom of the cups seen here. Photo by: DJ Kast
  • Bottom of the cup after all the water has been sucked through. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Bottom of the cup after all the water has been sucked through. Photo by: DJ Kast
  • Jessica removing the filter with sterilized tweezers to place into a labeled petridish. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Jessica removing the filter with sterilized tweezers to place into a labeled petri dish. Photo by: DJ Kast

    Labeled petri dish with GFF of phytoplankton on it. Photo by: DJ Kast
    Labeled petri dish with GFF of phytoplankton on it. Photo by: DJ Kast

Video of this happening:

Phytoplankton filtering:

Jessica collecting her water sample from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast
Jessica collecting her water sample from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast

Up close shot of the spigot that releases water from Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast
Up close shot of the spigot that releases water from Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by DJ Kast

DJ Kast helping Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ Kast helping Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.

DJ and Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.
DJ and Jessica collect her 4 L of seawater from the Niskin bottle in the Rosette. Photo by Jerry P.

Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and Megan Switzer next to the CTD and Rosette
Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso and Megan Switzer next to the CTD and Rosette Photo by: DJ Kast

 

May 21, 14:00 hours: Phytoplankton filtering with Jessica.

In addition to the small bottles Jessica needs, we filled 4 L bottles with water at the 6 different depths (100, 50, 30, 20, 10, 3 m) as well.

We then brought all the 4 L jugs into the chemistry lab to process them. The setup includes water draining through the tubing coming from the 4 L jugs into the filters with the GFFs in it. Each 4 L jug is filtered by 2 of these filter setups preferably at an equal rate. The deepest depth 100 m was finished the quickest because it had the least amount of phytoplankton that would block the GFF and then a second jug was collected to try and increase the concentration of phytoplankton on the GFF.

Phytoplankton filtration setup. Photo by DJ Kast
Phytoplankton filtration setup. Photo by DJ Kast

The filter and pump setup up close. Photo by DJ Kast
The filter and pump setup up close. Photo by DJ Kast

Up close shot of the GFF within the filtration unit.
Up close shot of the GFF within the filtration unit. Photo by DJ Kast

Jessica keeping an eye on her filtration system to make sure nothing is leaking and that there are no air bubbles restricting water flow
Jessica keeping an eye on her filtration system to make sure nothing is leaking and that there are no air bubbles restricting water flow. Photo by DJ Kast

Here I am helping Jessica setup the filtration unit.
Here I am helping Jessica setup the filtration unit.Photo by Jessica Lueders- Dumont

The GFF with the phytoplankton (green stuff) on it.
The GFF with the phytoplankton (green stuff) on it. Photo by: DJ Kast

There are 2 filters for each depth, and since she has 12 filtration bottles total, then she would be collecting data from 6 depths. She collects 2 filters so that she has replicates for each depth.

Here they are all laid out to show the differences in phytoplankton concentration.

The 6 depths worth of GFFs. See how the 30 m is the darkest. Thats evidence for the chlorophyll max. Photo by: DJ Kast
The 6 depths worth of GFFs. See how the 30 m is the darkest. Thats evidence for the chlorophyll max. Photo by: DJ Kast

She will fold the GFF in half in aluminum foil and store it at -80C until back in the lab at Princeton. There, the GFF’s are combusted in an elemental analyzer and the resulting gases run through a mass spectrometer looking for concentrations of N2 and CO2. The 30 m GFF was the most concentrated and that was because of a chlorophyll maximum at this depth.

Chlorophyll maximum layers are common features of vertically stratified water columns. There is a subsurface maximum or layer of chlorophyll concentration. These are found throughout oceans, lakes, and estuaries around the world at varying depths, thicknesses, intensities, composition, and time of year.

Chris Henricksen: Doing Science at Sea, May 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christopher Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 6 – May 16, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Georges Bank
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey
Date: May 11, 2014
Air Temp: 11.2°C (52.16°F)
Relative Humidity: 100%
Wind Speed: 21.9mph
Barometer: 1010.5mb

Science and Technology Log

Here’s what a typical watch aboard the Henry B. Bigelow looks like.  Upon assuming the watch, which in my case means beginning work at midnight, the science team gets a rundown of what happened during the previous watch.  When the ship nears its next station (where it will drop the net and begin trawling), the area is surveyed to ensure that it is clear of lobster traps and large rocks before readying the nets for trawling.  Think of the trawl nets in terms of really large butterfly nets, except these nets also contain a set of sensors that tell the science team and the Officer of the Deck (the officer in charge of driving the ship) information about how deep the net is, how fast it’s traveling, etc..  The ship’s deckhands lower the nets from the aft (rear) deck of the ship into the water and then closely monitor them until reaching a specified depth.  With the trawl nets in place, the ship steams at 3 knots for about twenty minutes, pulling the nets along and catching fish and other marine life.  Once the trawl is complete, the net is hauled aboard and it’s time for the scientists to get involved.

picture of trawl net
Hauling the trawl net aboard the Henry B. bigelow

checker
Chris Henricksen

Using a crane, the net is swung over a large stainless steel hopper called the checker.  A scientist working the checker, then pushes the captured organisms onto a conveyor belt, which moves them inside the ship to the wet lab.  In the wet lab, scientists and volunteers (like me) stand along a long conveyor, sorting the catch by species and, sometimes, by sex or size, into a set of buckets.  After the catch is sorted, the buckets are consolidated and placed on another conveyor belt, which moves the buckets to the Watch Chief’s station.  The Watch Chief scans a barcode on the side of each bucket, and uses a computer to assign a species to that barcode.  The barcoded buckets are each filled with a different organism then moved to any one of three cutter stations for processing. The Cutter scans the barcode of an available bucket, which tells the computer at his or her station some basic information about the organism, such as its scientific and common names, and how much the bucket weighs.  The computer also tells the Cutter what sorts of protocols need to occur on that organisms (weighing, measuring, checking stomach contents, determining sex).  As the Cutter processes the organism, the Recorder, standing at a computer screen next to the Cutter,  assists the Cutter by inputting measurement and other data into the computer system.  Often, extra instructions pop up on the screen, instructing the Cutter that a scientist has requested that we collect specimens from an organism.  Otoliths (ear bones from fish) are collected frequently, but sometimes a request is made to freeze or preserve an organism.  Some organisms even go in a live holding tank so the scientist can have a living specimen when the ship returns to port.  This entire process can take anywhere from one hour to several, depending on the amount fish and the types of processing required.

pic of sorting line
Scientists sorting organisms for survey

Personal Log

Well, yesterday (Saturday) was a rough one for yours truly.  We ran into some higher seas, and the ship’s rocking and rolling made me sick as a dog.  So much for that Navy experience helping me in this regard…  Oh, well, that’s part of life at sea.  Everyone was very kind about it. one of my watchmates even fetched some crackers for me, which helped.  Feeling much better today. Here are a few pictures representing life aboard the Henry B. Bigelow (at least as I live it):

pic of galley
The Galley

pic of menu
Dinner menu – good food!

pic of stateroom
My stateroom. I sleep in the bunk with the open curtains

pic of head
The Head (bathroom) in my stateroom

Sue Cullumber: Reflections – From the Atlantic to Arizona, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/26/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

1stgroup
Our first group for the EcoMon Survey. Kat, Kevin, Holly, Chris, Tom, Sue, Chris, and Cristina.

Personal Log: Well I’m back in my home state of Arizona.  It is really hot, the forecast is for it to be above 110º, and I miss the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.  I am happy to be back in Arizona, but I will miss all the people, the marine creatures and the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.  I will remember  this experience for the rest of my life and look forward to sharing this exciting adventure with my students, friends and family.

2ndgroup2
Our 2nd group for the EcoMon Survey. Tom, Kris, Cristina, David, Sue, Chris, Kevin and Sarah.

On the last two days onboard we finished up our EcoMon Survey and had time to add 23 more Bongo Stations.  These were completed in two areas with the first just east of Maryland and the second off the coast of North Carolina. As we headed east of North Carolina we went into the Gulf Stream and the water temperature started to increase. At these stations our samples contained more larval fish than previously. We even brought up some deep-sea fish in two of these samples. One was a species of Gonostoma and the second a Hatchet fish. Both were fairly small and black with iridescent colors and had large mouths with many teeth.

deepseafish6_22
A fish, from the species Gonostoma, that was brought up in our Bongo net.

deepseahatchet6_22
A Hatchet fish in our Bongo net sample.

Our drifter buoy, WMO # 44932,  has been showing some movement since being deployed (to track movement, put GTS buoy for data set and WMO # for platform ID).  Currently it is at latitude/ longitude:  38.73ºN, 73.61ºW.  It does appear to be moving inland, but hopefully it will catch the current and start moving further into the Atlantic.  We will be tracking it at Howard Gray over the next year.

margaretcrablegs
Margaret Coyle, our chief steward, serving Alaskan crab legs.

Last day on the Gordon Gunter, Margaret, the chief steward, prepared a special meal for all of us.  The spread included: Alaskan crab legs, roast duck with plum sauce, NY loin strip Oscar, grilled salmon, asparagus, red potatoes, Italian rolls, cream of potato and bacon soup (which I had at lunch, delicious) and cranberry cheesecake.  I choose the crab, duck, asparagus, potatoes, and cheesecake – heavenly!!!  I probably shouldn’t have had the cheesecake as well,  but it was just delicious!  Margaret always had so many great choices it was really hard to make up your mind.

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Bottlenose Dolphin at the bow of the Gordon Gunter.

Our last night on the Gordon Gunter was amazing. We had another unbelievable sunset with fantastic colors.  A friend of mine from Arizona said, “It makes our Arizona sunsets look very bland and I think they are some of the best I’ve seen.”  Then a group of Bottlenose dolphins visited the bow of the ship, so it was truly a remarkable night I will always remember.

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Our final sunset on the Gordon Gunter.

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Enjoying the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.

Question of the day? :  Why do you think the deep-sea fish have such large mouths?

Sue Cullumber: Drifting Away, June 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/21/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Time:  21.00 (9 pm)
Latitude/longitude:  3734.171ºN, 7507.538ºW
Temperature: 20.1ºC
Barrometer: 1023.73 mb
Speed: 9.6 knots

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Getting ready to launch the buoy – photo by Chris Taylor.

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Launching the buoy from the ship’s stern – photo by Chris Taylor.

Science and Technology Log: 

This week we launched a Global Drifter Buoy (GDB) from the stern of the Gordon Gunter.  So what is a GDB? Basically it is a satellite tracked surface drifter buoy.  The drifter consists of a surface buoy, about the size of a beach ball, a drogue, which acts like a sea anchor and is attached underwater to the buoy  by a 15 meter long tether.

Drifter tracking: The drifter has a transmitter that sends data to passing satellites which provides the latitude/longitude of the drifter’s location. The location is determined from 16-20 satellite fixes per day.  The surface buoy contains 4 to 5  battery packs that each have 7-9 alkaline D-cell batteries, a transmitter, a thermistor to measure sea surface temperature, and some even have other instruments  to measure barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, salinity, and/or ocean color. It also has a submergence sensor to verify the drogue’s presence. Since the drogue is centered 15 meters underwater it  is able to measure mixed layer currents in the upper ocean. The drifter has a battery life of about 400 days before ending transmission.

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Stickers from students at Howard Gray School.

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Attaching the stickers to the buoy – photo by Kris Winiarski.

Students at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona designed stickers that were used to decorate the buoy. The stickers have messages about the school, Arizona and NOAA so that if the buoy is ever retrieved this will provide information on who launched it.  In the upcoming year students at Howard Gray will be tracking the buoy from the satellite-based system  Argos that is used to collect and process the drifter data. You can follow our drifter here, by putting in the data set for the GTS buoy with a Platform ID of 44932 and select June 19, 2013 as the initial date of the deployment.

Why are drifter buoys deployed?

In 1982 the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) determined that worldwide drifter buoys (“drifters”) would be extremely important for oceanographic and climate research. Since then drifters have been placed throughout the world’s oceans to obtain information on ocean dynamics, climate variations and meteorological conditions.

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The Howard Gray School drifter on its ocean voyage.

NOAA’s Global Drifter Program (GDP) is the main part of the Global Surface Drifting Buoy Array, NOAA’s branch of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).  It has two main objectives:

1. Maintain a 5×5 worldwide degree array (every 5 degrees of the latitude/longitude of world’s oceans) of the 1250 satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys to maintain an accurate and globally set of on-site observations that include:  mixed layer currents, sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds and salinity.

2. Provide a data processing system of this data for scientific use.

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Bongo nets going out for the plankton samples.

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Plankton from the different mesh sizes. The left is from the smaller mesh and contains much more sample. Photo by Paula Rychtar.

EcoMon survey: We are continuing to take plankton samples and this week we started taking two different Bongo samples at the same station. Bongo mesh size (size of the holes in the net) was changed several years ago to a smaller mesh size of .33 mm. However, they need comparison samples for the previous nets that were used and had a mesh size of about .5 mm.  They had switched to the smaller net size because they felt that they were losing a large part of the plankton sample (basically plankton were able to escape through the larger holes). We are actually able to see this visually in the amount of samples that we obtain from the different sized mesh.

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Common Dolphins were frequent visitors to the Gordon Gunter.

Personal Log:

It’s hard to believe that my Teacher at Sea days are coming to a close. I have learned so much about life at sea, the ocean ecosystem, the importance of plankton, data collection, and the science behind it all.  I will miss the people, the ocean and beautiful sunsets and the ship, but I’m ready to get back to Arizona to share my adventure with my students, friends and family. I want to thank all the people that helped me during this trip including: the scientists and NOAA personnel, the NOAA Corps and ship personnel, the bird observers and all others on the trip.

Did you know? Drifters have even been placed in many remote locations that are infrequently visited or difficult to get to through air deployment.  They are invaluable tools in tracking and predicting the intensity of hurricanes, as well.

Question of the day?  What information would you like to see recorded by a Global Drifter Buoy and why?

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Another beautiful sunset at sea.

Sue Cullumber: Testing the Water and More, June 19, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/19/2013
Geographical area of cruise: The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude: 3853.256 N, 7356.669W
Temperature: 18.6ºC
Barometer: 1014.67 mb
Speed: 9.7 knots

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CTD reading on the computer. Blue is density, red is salinity, green is temperature and black indicates the depth.

Science and Technology Log:

Even before the plankton samples are brought onboard, scientists start recording many types of data when the equipment is launched. The bongos are fitted with an electronic CTD (conductivity, temperature and density) and as they are lowered into the ocean the temperature, density and salinity (salt content) are recorded on a computer. This helps scientists with habitat modeling and determining the causes for changes in the zooplankton communities. Each bongo net also has a flow-through meter which records how much water is moving through the net during the launch and can is used to estimate the number of plankton found in one cubic meter of water.

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Zooplankton (Z) and Icthyoplankton (I) samples.

The plankton collected from the two bongo nets are separated into two main samples that will be tested for zooplankton and icthyoplankton (fish larvae and eggs). These get stored in a glass jars with either ethanol or formalin to preserve them. The formalin samples are sent to a lab in Poland for counting and identification. Formalin is good for preserving the shape of the organism, makes for easy identification, and is not flammable, so it can be sent abroad.  However, formalin destroys the genetics (DNA) of the organisms, which is why ethanol is used with some of the samples and these are tested at the NOAA lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

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Holding one of our zooplankton samples – photo by Paula Rychtar.

When the samples are returned from Poland, the icthyoplankton samples are used by scientists to determine changes in the abundance of the different fish species. Whereas, the zooplankton samples are often used in studies on climate change. Scientists have found from current and historic research (over a span of about 40 years) that there are changes in the distribution of different species and increases in temperature of the ocean water.

At the Rosette stations we take nutrient samples from the different water depths. They are testing for nitrates, phosphates and silicates. Nutrient samples are an important indicator of zooplankton productivity. These nutrients get used up quickly near the surface by phytoplankton during the process of photosynthesis (remember phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain and are producers). As the nutrients pass through the food chain (zooplankton eating phytoplankton and then on up the chain) they are returned to the deeper areas by the oxidation of the sinking organic matter. Therefore, as you go deeper into the ocean these nutrients tend to build up.  The Rosettes also have a CTD attached to record conductivity, temperature and density at the different depths.

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Scientist, Chris Taylor, completing the dissolved inorganic carbon test.

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The dissolved inorganic carbon test uses chemicals to stop any further biological processes and suspend the CO2 in “time”.

Another test that is conducted on the Rosettes is for the amount of dissolved inorganic carbon. This test is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide that the ocean uptakes from outside sources (such as cars, factories or other man-made sources). Scientists want to know how atmospheric carbon is affecting ocean chemistry  and marine ecosystems and changing the PH (acids and bases) of the ocean water. One thing they are interested in is how this may be affecting the formation of calcium in marine organisms such as clams, oysters, and coral.

New word: oxidation – the chemical combination of a substance with oxygen.

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Cape Cod canal.

Personal Log:

This week we headed back south and went through the Cape Cod canal outside of Plymouth, Massachusetts. I had to get up a little earlier to see it, but it was well worth it.  The area is beautiful and there were many small boats and people enjoying the great weather.

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Small boat bringing in a new group to the Gordon Gunter.

We also did a small boat transfer to bring five new people onboard, while three others left at the same time. It was hard to say goodbye, but it will be nice to get to know all the new faces.

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Common Dolphins swimming next to the Gordon Gunter.

So now that we are heading south the weather is warming up. I have been told that we may start seeing Loggerhead turtles as the waters warm up – that would be so cool.  We had a visit by another group of Common Dolphins the other day. They were swimming along the side of the ship and then went up to the bow. They are just so fun to watch and photograph.

We have been seeing a lot of balloons (mylar and rubber) on the ocean surface. These are released into the air by people, often on cruise ships, and then land on the surface. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales and sea birds often mistake these for jelly fish and eat them.  They can choke on the balloons or get tangled in the string, frequently leading to death. Today, we actually saw more balloons than sea birds!!! A good rule is to never release balloons into the air no matter where you live!

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A mylar balloon seen in the water by our ship.

Did you know?  A humpback whale will eat about 5000 pounds of krill in a day. While a blue whale eats about 8000 pounds of krill daily.

Question of the day?  If 1000 krill = 2 pounds, then together how many krill does a humpback and blue whale consume on a daily basis.

Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus
Blue Whale, Balaenoptera Musculus

Sue Cullumber: Navigating for Plankton – It’s a Team Effort! June 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date:  6/15/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude/longitude:  4234.645N, 6946.914W
Temperature: 15.4ºC, 60ºF
Barometer: 1011.48 mb
Speed: 9.4 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton is everywhere throughout the ocean, so how are the stations chosen and mapped?

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Looking over the map of our strata – photo by Cristina Bascuñán

Scientists first decide on a specific region or strata that they want to sample.  Then within this strata a specific number of stations is determined for sampling.  NOAA has developed a computer program that then randomly selects stations in the strata.  After these stations are generated, scientists play “connect the dots” to find the best route to get to all the stations. Once the route is generated adjustments are made based on time, weather and the team’s needs. These are plotted on a map and sent to the ship to see if further adjustments will need to be made.

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Map of our area of strata. We are currently following the red line. Many of the original stations to the east were dropped from the survey.

When the ship receives the map from the science party, they plot all the stations and make a track line to determine the shortest navigable route that they can take. Frequently the map that is originally provided has to be adjusted due to weather, navigation issues (if there is a shoal, or low area, the route may have to be changed), or ship problems. Once they come up with a plan, this has to be re-evaluated on a daily basis. For example during our survey we left four days later than planned, so many of the stations had to be taken out. Furthermore a large storm was coming in, so the route was changed again to avoid this weather. The Operation’s Officer onboard (Marc Weekley on the Gordon Gunter) speaks with the science party on a daily basis to keep the plan up to date and maintain a safe route throughout the survey.

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The Gyro Compass on the Gordon Gunter.

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The Sperry Marine – shows the location of vessels near the Gordon Gunter.

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Commanding Officer, Jeff Taylor, at the bridge with Ops Officer, Marc Weekley at the watch.

Ship Technology: The Gordon Gunter and all other NOAA vessels use many types of equipment to navigate the ship.  They have an electronic Gyro Compass which is constantly spinning to point to True North (not magnetic north).  This is accurate to a 10th of a degree and allows for other navigation systems on the ship to know with great accuracy what direction the ship is pointing. It also is used to steer the ship in auto pilot. When needed they can switch to manual control and hand steer the ship. They also have a magnetic compass onboard, if all electronics were to go out on the ship.  Also on the bridge are two radars, which provides position of all boats in the area and is used for collision avoidance. Underway, the Captain requires the ship to stay at least 1 nautical mile from other vessels unless he gives commands otherwise.

Once a station is reached the ship has to position itself so it will not go over the wire that is attached to the survey equipment.  Taking into consideration all of  the elements, which includes the wind speed, current weather conditions and the speed of the current, they usually try to position the boat so that the wind is on its port side.  In this way the wind is on the same side as the gear and it will not hit the propellors or the hull. The ship’s sonars determine the depth of the ocean floor and the scientists use this information to lower their equipment to a distance just above this depth.

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Cathleen Turner and Kevin Ryan take water samples from the Rosette.

Vocabulary:

Bow – front of the ship

Stern – back of the ship

Port – left of bow

Starboard – right of bow

Personal Log: 

Brrr… it’s cold!  To avoid the big storm we headed north to the Bay of Fundy that is located between Maine and Nova Scotia.  Seas were fairly calm, but was it cold at 9º C (48ºF), but with the wind chill it was probably closer to 5.5ºC (42ºF)!  We are now heading south so it is starting to warm up, but luckily it won’t be as hot as Arizona!

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Loggerhead turtle being tracked by a Blue Shark – photo by Tom Johnson

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Shearwater trying to take off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to take photos of animals in the ocean is very difficult.  You have to be in the right place, at the right time, and be ready. Today we saw several sightings of whales, but they were in the distance and only lasted a second.  During this trip, there was also a sighting of a shark attacking a Loggerhead turtle, but by the time I got to the bridge we had passed it by.  Lately we have seen a great variety of sea birds including:  shearwaters, puffins, sea gulls, and about twenty fiver other types. Even though it can be a little frustrating at times, it is still very calming to look out over the ocean and the sunsets are always amazing!

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Sailing into a beautiful sunset

I can’t believe that there is only one week left for the survey.  Time has gone so fast and I have learned so much.  Tomorrow we are doing a boat exchange and some people are leaving while others will come onboard.  I will miss those people that are leaving the ship, but look forward to meeting new people that will join our team.

Did you know?  The ratio of different salts (ions) in the ocean water are the about same in all of the world’s oceans.

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One of the pufffins we saw up by Maine.

Sue Cullumber: Plankton, Food for the Sea! June 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/13/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Time:  8:25 am
Latitude/ Longitude:  4200.0122N, 6758.0338W
Temperature:  12.4ºC
Barometer:  1007.26mb
Speed:  9.1 knots

Science and Technology Log:

Why study plankton?  Plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. Remember they are free floating organisms that drift with the currents. That means that they provide food for many other animals and those animals are then eaten by larger animals and so on.  Therefore, plankton are important in the fact that if something happens to them, then the whole food chain is affected.

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Scientist, Chris Taylor, and Fisherman, Cliff Ferguson, bring the Bongo net back onto the ship.

So researchers are interested in learning all about the different types of plankton, their distribution and abundance in the ocean.  They want to answer questions such as: Have these factors changed over time?  Are we finding different kinds of plankton in different locations?  Has the amount of plankton changed?  How do the changes in the abundance and species of plankton affect higher trophic (feeding) levels?

Types of Plankton:

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Phytoplankton on the surface of the water.

Phytoplankton – The plants of the sea. They carry out photosynthesis, so they are found in the water column where light is able to reach. This can vary depending on how clear the water is.  If water is very clear, they can be found at deeper levels because the light can penetrate farther.  These are the primary producers of the ocean, providing food for the first order consumers – mainly some types of zooplankton.

Amphipods, the two larger organims, and Copepods, the pink organisms– some of the many types of zooplankton we are finding.

Zooplankton – Animal-like plankton.  These vary immensely by size, type, and location. They are classified by their taxonomy, size, and how long they stay planktonic (some only are planktonic in a larval stage where others are for their entire life) .  These plankton are consumers with some eating the phytoplankton and others eating other zooplankton. These are extremely important as larger consumers eat them and then even larger organisms eat these.

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Fish larvae in among some copepods.

Icthyoplankton – Fish larvae or eggs. These float and drift in the water and, therefore, are considered planktonic.  Since these are only planktonic for part of their life, they are called meroplankton.  Organisms that are planktonic their entire life are called holoplankton.

Vocabulary:

Plankton – free floating organisms that drift with the current.

Trophic level – position an organism occupies in the food chain.

Taxonomy – how scientists classify organisms.

Holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic their entire lives.

Meroplankton – organisms that are planktonic for only part of their lives.

I interviewed our lead scientist onboard the Gordon Gunter who studies plankton:

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Lead Scientist – Chris Melrose

Name: Chris Melrose

What is your Position? Research Oceanographer

What do you do?  Principal investigator on  the Northeast Fisheries’ Ship of Opportunity project.  We collect data from merchant vessels that are crossing areas that we are interested in. I also work on the Ecosystem Monitoring Surveys where my main area of interest is primary production and phytoplankton. They are the base of the food web and tell you a lot about the functioning of a marine ecosystem.  Much of my work was in coastal regions where there were concerns about eutrophication, the enhanced primary production due to inputs of nutrients from pollution.

Why is your work so important?  We are studying the planet we all live on and we are in a period of environmental change. Long term monitoring programs, like this one, allow us to compare data from the present with the past to see how things have changed and also helps us to make predictions about what will happen in the future.

Why did you decide to become a marine scientist and work with NOAA and ocean science?  I grew up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard and always had an interest in the ocean. It was a hobby, but now it’s a career.

What do you enjoy most? I like science and being able to be out in the field – it is more of an adventure than just being in a lab.

What part of your job is most unexpected? When you are out in the ocean, there are always surprises – nature, weather or difficulties with ships, so you always have to be ready to adapt.

How long have you worked for NOAA and as a marine scientist?  From 1998 to 2004 I was with NOAA as a graduate student, from 2004 to 2010 as a contract employee and in 2011 I became a full-time employee.

What is your favorite type of plankton?  Diatoms because they have so many different shapes and geometric designs.

What is your favorite marine animal? Octopus as they are clever and it is amazing how they can change their color and shape.

If a student is interested in pursuing a career in marine science, what would you suggest to them?  Science and math are very important and you would need to attend graduate school.

What type of education do you need? At least a master’s degree to become a research scientist.

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Spraying down the Bongo nets – photo by Chris Melrose.

Personal Log:  

I am now getting use to my shift, noon to midnight.  At each station we put out the Bongo nets or Rosettes (more often the Bongos) and then we have to wash them down and strain out the plankton in a sieve to be saved later for the research. It gets a little harder and colder towards the end of the shift, but it has been very interesting seeing all the variety of plankton we are finding and how it changes from station to station.

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Waves were a little higher during a very foggy day on the Gordon Gunter.

Yesterday was very foggy and a little more rocky.  It was very hard to see anything, but still beautiful to look at the ocean around us.  Today it is clearer, but still somewhat rocky.  Sightings have been few, but we were able to catch some whales in the distance by seeing them “blow” – spirt out water through their blow holes.  A Storm is on the forecast and we have had to change our route. We will not be going as far east as planned and will head north to avoid the main barrage of the storm.

The ocean is such an amazing place, with all its life and vastness. It makes you realize just how small you are and how big the world really is!

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Sunset off the stern of the Gordon Gunter.

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Euphausid- commonly known as krill

Did you know? Many types of whales feed exclusively on euphausid (or krill), a shrimp like zooplankton.

Question of the Day: What is your favorite type of plankton?

Sue Cullumber: Hooray, We Are Finally on Our Way! June 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/10/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time:  21:30 (9:30 pm)
Longitude/latitude: 40.50289N, 68.76736W
Temperature  14.1ºC
Barrometer 1017.35 mb
Knots  10.2

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Leaving Newport – photo by Chris Melrose.

Science and Technology Log:

After several ship issues, we were able to finally head out from Newport, RI on June 9th after 4 extra days in dock.  We have started the survey and are using two main types of equipment that we will deploy at the various stations: CTD/Bongo Nets and CTD Rosette Stations.  We were originally scheduled to visit about 160 stations, but due to the unforeseen ship issues, these may have to be scaled back.  Some of the stations will just be the Bongo and others only the Rosette, but some will include both sets of equipment.

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Bongo and baby bongos being deployed during the survey.

A bongo net is a two net system that basically, looks like a bongo drum.  It is used to bring up various types of plankton while a CTD is mounted above it on the tow wire to test for temperature, conductivity and depth during the tow. The two nets may have different sizes of mesh so that it will only  filter the various types of plankton based on the size of the holes.  The small mesh is able to capture the smaller phytoplankton, but the larger zooplankton (animals) can dart out of the way and avoid being captured. The larger mesh is able to catch the zooplankton but allows the phytoplankton to go through the openings. There are regular bongo nets and also baby bongo nets that may be launched at the same time to catch different types of plankton.

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Rosette CTD returning to the surface.

The Rosette CTD equipment is a series of 10 cylinders that can capture water from different depths to test for nutrient levels and dissolved inorganic carbon, which provides a measure of acidity in the ocean. These are fired remotely via an electronic trigger that is programed by a computer program where each cylinder can be fired seperately to get 10 samples from different depths.  It also has several sensors on it to measure oxygen, light and chlorophyll levels, as well as temperature and salinity (salt) from the surface to the bottom of the water column.

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Copepods and Krill from one of the bongo net catches.

Our first station was about 3 1/2 hours east of Newport, RI and it was a Bongo Station.  I am on the noon to midnight shift each day.  So on our first day, during my watch, we made four Bongo stops and two CTD Rosettes. Today we completed more of the Bongos on my watch.  We are bringing up a variety of zooplankton like copepods, ctenophores, krill, and some fish larvae.  We have also seen quite a bit of phytoplankton on the surface of the water.

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Wearing the survival suit – photo by Cathleen Turner.

Personal Log:

Being on a ship, I have to get used to the swaying and moving about.  It is constantly rocking, so it can be a little challenging to walk around.  I have been told that I will get used to this and it is actually great when you want to go to sleep!  Luckily I have not had any sea sickness yet and I hope that continues!  We completed several safety drills that included a fire drill and abandon ship drill where we had to put on our survival suits – now I look like a New England