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 Lobster!

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Common dolphins swimming off the ship’s bow.

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Blue shark swimming beside the Gordon Gunter.

Today was an amazing day – was able to see Right Whales, Blue Sharks and Common Dolphins – with the dolphins surfing off the ship’s bow!  The Northern Right Whale is one of the most endangered species on the planet with only 300 left in the wild.  One of the reasons there are so few left is that swim on the surface and were excessively hunted and there feeding areas were within the Boston shipping lanes, so they were frequently hit by ships. Recently these shipping lanes have been moved to help protect these animals.  So I feel very privileged to have been able to see one!

Did you know? Plankton are the basis for the ocean food web.  They are plentiful, small, and free floating (they do not swim). The word plankton comes from the Greek word “planktos” which means drifting. “Plankton” from the TV show SpongeBob is actually a Copepod – a type of zooplankton.

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Copepod

Question of the day:  Why do you think it is important that the scientists study plankton?

Sue Cullumber: Flexibility – Teacher at Dock, June 9, 2013

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

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/9/2013
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 – 8:15 am
Latitude and Longitude -41º32N, 71º19W
Temperature – 18º C, 65ºF
Barometer – 1019.5 mb

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The Gordon Gunter at the Newport Naval Station.

Science and Technology Log: 

Since we have been delayed in sailing, I have had the opportunity to interview several of the crew sailing with the Gordon Gunter to learn more about working at sea and in the marine sciences. Sailing one of the NOAA vessels for scientific research requires personnel from many different disciplines including the: scientists, NOAA Corps officers, engineers, ship stewards, fishermen, deck hands, computer and electronics personnel, bird and mammal observers,  and others.  I will continue to interview personnel and add them to my future blogs.

Interviews:

Lab Technician, Cristina Bascuñán

Lab Technician, Cristina Bascuñán

1. Name: Cristina Bascuñán

What is your Position?  Lab Technician

What do you do?  I’m in charge of the Rosette CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) equipment and Sea-Bird equipment. I schedule them for the different surveys and send them out for maintenance.

Why did you decide to work with NOAA and ocean science?  As a sophomore in college I started volunteering and loved it, so I volunteered for several more surveys and then went out to sea on a NOAA cruise and loved that.  I was doing 2 trips a summer.  Around that time I got hold of an oceanography branch chief of NOAA who was in need of a lab technician and the rest is history.

How long have you worked for NOAA?  I have worked for NOAA for 16 years. I volunteered for 3 years initially and was 19 on my first trip.

What do you enjoy most?  Meeting all the different people on the various cruises

What would you like to change?  During long trips I miss the comforts of home.

If not working for NOAA, what would you do?  I would be an architect.

What outside hobbies do you have?  When out at sea, I like to knit.  At home, I’m involved in many water activities like:  kayaking, fishing and going out on our skiff (small sailboat).

Where are you from? I have lived on the Cape for 16 years.

What is your favorite marine animal?  The Lumpfish – they look like they are made out of rubber.

What is the most unusual thing you have seen or found at sea?  While out doing a MOCNESS (Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System and is a net system for plankton in the ocean), we brought up a bunch of bones and some carrots.  Our group could not figure out where this could have come from or what animal the bones were from.  We found out later, that the Steward (meal preparation person) had tossed the slop basket from dinner into the sea and that’s what we brought up!

If a student is interested in pursuing a career in marine science, what would you suggest to them?  Get experience and go out to sea on a research vessel to see if it is something you would like to do for a career.

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Operations Officer, Marc Weekley

2. Name: Marc Weekely

What is your Position? Operations Officer onboard the Gordon Gunter

What do you do? I am the liaison between the operational side of the ship and the science party, making sure that what the scientists want to accomplish gets done.

Why did you decide to go into the NOAA Corps and ocean science? I have a B.S. in environmental science. In 2004, 2005 I found out about the NOAA Corps and it was a good way to mix the operational side with the science I already had.  All NOAA Corps officers have to do watches and get the ship to where the scientists need to go, which includes ship driving and navigation, which I also liked.

How long have you worked for NOAA?  I was commissioned in 2006.

What do you enjoy most?  The variety of operations, science, and projects that are available and learning about the different scientific research. The routine is always new and fresh and you can transfer to new ones frequently. For example, in the NOAA Corps you spend 2 years in the field on a ship and 2-3 years on a land assignment. I was in Antarctic in 2009 doing atmospheric research on air quality monitoring.

What would you like to change? Some of the assignments are only once in a lifetime and cannot return to them like going back to the South Pole.

What part of your job was the most unexpected?  When I first entered everything took me by surprise because I was not aware of the scope of the Corps. The opportunities to pursue what I was training for came much sooner than I realized. I was on the bridge controlling and driving a ship much sooner than I expected.

How are people chosen for NOAA ships? For many of the officers you fill out a “wish list” of where you want to go and then assigned according to needs and timing.

If not working in the Corps, what would you do? A job on or in the water.

If a student is interested in pursuing a career with NOAA or in marine science, what would you suggest to them? The Corps is looking for individuals with science, engineering and math backgrounds.  

What outside hobbies do you have?  Scuba diving and anything outdoors. I tried rock climbing in Boulder before going to the South Pole.

Where are you from? Currently I live in Moss-point, Mississippi, but I’m originally from Texas where my parents still live.

What is your favorite marine animal? Sharks because so little has changed in them over time. Even though they are a very frightening animal, I love to be in the water with them.

What is the most unusual thing you have seen or found at sea?  Watching a 20 foot humpback whale full breech (entire body) out of the water is one of the most unusual and amazing things I have seen.

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Head Steward, Margaret Coyle

3. Chief Steward:  Margaret Coyle

What are some of the skills and experiences a person needs to become a ship’s steward? A person needs good cooking skills, organization,  to be personable, and dedicated. This is a career, I’m working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  “I live to cook and cook to live”.

What do you like most about your job? The cooking and sailing.

What  would you like to change? I hate the paperwork – “If I only had to just cook and order groceries, I would be the happiest person on the planet.”

How long have you been working for NOAA? I have been sailing since I was 20 and cooking for 25 years. I started in the coastguard as an engineer and then went back to school to be a cook. I have been with NOAA for 8 years, 2 months and 7 days.

What do you like most about working on the ocean?  The solitude and the lifestyle of just being at sea and having my own space and my galley setup.  Having a set schedule is something I like and also the rocking of the ship and the weather.

What part of your job did you least expect to do? When I came here I knew exactly what to expect.  Over the years the record keeping requirements have increased, which I did not expect.

How far in advance plan your meals? I have 8 years of menus and keep them all in my computer. I plan my menus by the people we have onboard and how many are going to be at a certain meal.  I have to plan and order 7 days in advance and I have to always order dairy and produce when we pull into a new port.

What training or experience would you suggest for high school students if they want to pursue a career as a Steward or other ocean careers?  You can go the military route and go through their school for cooking. Take Home Economics in HS and work in a restaurant – that will determine if you like it or hate it.

What advice would you give young people to eat more nutritiously? Eat dinner at a table with your family and have a conversation. Don’t sit in front of the TV or play on a computer. Don’t eat out of a bag instead choose something healthy like an apple.

If you weren’t a ship’s steward, what other career would you like to have?  This is my dream job! But if I didn’t cook, I would be a seamstress.

*What’s your favorite meal to prepare? Whatever someone wants to eat, is something I love to prepare.

*Do you ever run out of food? I once ran out of orange juice one year. We were in Mexico and I ordered 100 lbs. of oranges and squeezed 15 lbs each morning for fresh juice.

Do you have an outside hobby?  I sew clothes – My husband and I go to Renaissance fairs and I make the costumes for that. I love old movies as well and gardening.

Where are you from? Hurley, Mississippi and I’m married and have 2 children.

What is your favorite marine animal? The edible kind, salmon!

Here is one of her favorite recipes:

Sweet Potato Cheesecake 

2 cups Mashed sweet potato

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

4 eggs

2 lb cream cheese

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup melted butter

Beat cream cheese and sugar together till light. Add eggs one at a time.  Add sweet potatoes, spices and mix together.  Butter a spring-form pan and dust with graham crackers.  Pour mixture into pan. Bake at 325º till filling is set.  Chill and serve with whipping cream.

I can’t wait to try this when we head out to sea!

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Downtown Newport, RI
Photo by Kevin Ryan

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The NOAA Vessel – Okeanos Explorer

Personal Log:

One thing that I have learned in life is that many things are not under your control and you just have to make the best of each situation and be flexible.  So even though it has taken several more days to leave port than had been planned, I have had the opportunity to explore the base, visit another NOAA vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, interview several of the staff, and work on my blogs and photography. I have really enjoyed talking with the others onboard and visiting the areas around the base and in Newport, RI.

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Stormy day on the Naval Base in Newport, RI

Also by postponing the sailing day, it looks like we missed the bad weather from hurricane Andrea. Friday it was raining constantly in port, so it most likely would have done the same at sea!

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NOAA Corps’ Flag.

Did you know?  The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Officers work on one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft in support of the atmospheric and oceanic scientific research that  is being carried out on these vessels.

Question of the Day?

What job would you like to have on a NOAA vessel and why?

Sue Cullumber: A Slight Delay and Eagerly Awaiting Departure, June, 5, 2013

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

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/5/2013
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: 1800 (6 pm)
Latitude/ Longitude: 41 degrees 32 N, 71 degrees 19 W
Temperature:  19.5 C or 67 F.

Science and Technology Log:

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Walkway to the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Kevin Ryan.

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Map of our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.

I am currently onboard the Gordon Gunter, however we have been delayed a day due to an issue with the Automatic Steering Gear.  A part was to come in today, but the wrong part was shipped (twice) so we have to remain in port for another day.  We are currently at the Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island and as soon as the part arrives, we will head up to the Gulf of Maine to start our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. During the survey we will deploy our equipment and gather data at about 120 fixed stations and 25 random ones from the Gulf of Maine down to Norfolk, Virginia. At each station a Bongo Net (phytoplankton)  and/or CTD Rosette  (salinity, temperature, and density) equipment will be deployed which I will discuss in my upcoming blogs.

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The de-commisioned Aircraft Carrier, Saratoga, at the Newport Naval Base. You can see the Gordon Gunter on the far right.

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The diesel engines on the Gordon Gunter.

The Gordon Gunter: The NOAA ship Gordon Gunter was originally built in 1989 as the U.S. Naval Ship Relentless.  When first built it was designed to be used for ocean surveillance mainly hunting submarines. In 1993 it was transferred to NOAA and became the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter in 1998.  Because it was built for hunting submarines, it is a very quiet ship.  It runs off of four diesel generators that  power all the ship’s systems, which includes the ship’s two electrical propulsion motors and bow thruster.

The Gordon Gunter is 224 feet long with five levels above the water line. It can go at a top speed of 10 knots (about 11.5 miles per hour).  This does not sound very fast, but it is a good speed for completing scientific surveys (and hopefully avoiding getting seasick). Actually most of the trawling nets (like for phytoplankton) are dispatched at 3 knots (about 3.45 miles per hour).  The ship also has V-Sat (very small aperture transmission) satellite to provide connection to the internet and phone communications.

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Gordon Gunter Mess Hall

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The “Wet Lab”

The ship seems to have all the comforts of home!  There is the bridge (ship navigation), observation deck, state rooms (sleeping quarters – with a total of 35 bunks), a gym, movie room, TV room, mess hall, store, laundry area, dry lab,and wet lab.  The “dry lab” is essentially the computer lab and this is where data from the survey will be entered into the computer. The “wet lab” is the location of where the ocean samples will be processed.

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Operations Officer, Mark Weekley, gives us a tour and discusses safety drills.

Today we took a tour of the ship and learned about some of the important safety drills that are required onboard. The three main drills are: Fire and Collision, Man Overboard and Abandon Ship.  Each one has it’s own set of alarms that we need to be aware of.  The day we depart (hopefully tomorrow) we will be doing one or more of these drills to make sure we are ready!

Besides the scientists onboard, there is a NOAA crew that pilots and runs the ship. The Gordon Gunter is involved in many scientific voyages along the Atlantic Coast from as far north as Nova Scotia to down south along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.  It’s home port is the Pascagoula Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Each of these expeditions has a different scientific crew, but the ship personnel usually remains the same.  This crew is essential to the smooth running of the ship and includes: Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Navigation Officer, Safety Officer, Junior Officer, Engineering personnel, Deck personnel, Stewards (meal preparation), and Electronics personnel.

The Bridge - ship operations and navigation.

The Bridge – ship operations and navigation.

 Personal Log:

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My stateroom on the Gordon Gunter.

I am getting to learn my way around the ship and am all moved into my stateroom. I was really surprised at how large it is!  I have a roommate – Kat, a graduate student, for the first leg of the trip and then Sarah, an intern, for our second leg.  We will make a stop in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on June 16th to drop a few people off and welcome aboard some new ones.  So far I have met several marine and bird scientists, a college volunteer, graduate student, and college intern. The science and NOAA crew are all very friendly and welcoming, but it is hard to sit here in port and am really looking forward to heading out to sea and learning all the science that I can share with my students.

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Sunset outside the Gordon Gunter – waiting to leave port.

Did you know?  NOAA has its beginnings in as far back as 1807, when the Survey of the Coast was started as the nation’s first scientific agency.

Sue Cullumber: Can’t Wait to Head Out As a NOAA Teacher at Sea! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
(Soon to be) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5– 24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 5/21/13
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

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My students on a field-trip to the desert.

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Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Personal Log:

Hi my name is Sue Cullumber and I am a science teacher at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our school provides 1:1 instruction to students with special needs in grades 5-12 and I have been teaching there for over 22 years!  In less than two weeks I will be heading out to the Atlantic coast as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to work with the scientists aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for the following reasons:

First, I feel that directly experiencing “Science” is the best way for students to learn and make them excited about learning. To be able to work directly with NOAA scientists and bring this experience back to my classroom gives my students such an amazing opportunity to actually see how science is used in the “real world”.

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR

Visit to Española Island – photo by Pete Oxford

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Students holding “Piggy” and our other baby Sulcata tortoises.

Secondly, I love to learn myself, experience new things and bring these experiences back to my students. Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to participate in several teacher fellowships.  I went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program and worked with teachers from the Galapagos and U.S. on global environmental education. From this experience we built an outdoor habitat at Howard Gray that now houses four tortoises.  Students have learned about their own fragile desert environment, animal behavior and scientific observations through access to our habitat and had the opportunity to share this with a school in the Galapagos. I worked with Earthwatch scientists on climate change in Nova Scotia and my students Skyped directly with the scientists to learn about the field research as it was happening. Last summer I went to Japan for the Japan-US Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development. My students participated in a peace project by folding 1000 origami cranes that we sent to Hiroshima High School to be placed in the Hiroshima Peace Park by their students. We also  held a Peace and Friendship Festival for the community at Howard Gray.

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Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.

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Japanese teachers learn about our King Snake, Elvis, from the students.

This year we had a group of Japanese teachers visit our school from this program and students taught them about many of the sustainable activities that we are working on at school.  Each has brought new ideas and amazing activities for my students to experience in the classroom and about the world.

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Dusk at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lastly, Arizona is a very special place with a wide variety of geographical environments from the Sonoran Desert (home of the Saguaro) to a Ponderosa Pine Forest in Flagstaff and of course the Grand Canyon!  However, we do not have an ocean and many of my students have never been to an ocean, so I can’t wait to share this amazing, vast and extremely important part of our planet with them.

So now I have the chance of a lifetime to sail aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter on an Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. We will be heading out from Newport, RI on June 5th and head up the east coast to the Gulf of Maine and then head back down to Norfolk, Virginia. Scientists have been visiting this same region since 1977 from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC to the an area up north in the Bay of Fundy (Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).  They complete six surveys a year  to see if the distributions and abundance of organisms have changed over time. I feel very honored to be part of this research in 2013!

Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

One of the activities I will be part of is launching a drifter buoy. So students are busy decorating stickers that I will be able to put on the buoy when I head out to sea.  We will be able to track ocean currents, temperature and GPS location at Howard Gray over the next year from this buoy.  Students will be studying the water currents and weather patterns and I plan to hold a contest at school to see who can determine where the buoy will be the following month from this information. While out at sea my students will be tracking the location of the Gordon Gunter through theNOAA Ship Tracker and placing my current location on a map that one of my students completed for my trip.

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Spending time with my husband, Mike, and son, Kyle.

Outside of school, I love to spend most of my free time outdoors – usually hiking or exploring our beautiful state and always with my camera!  Photography is what I often call “my full-time hobby”.  Most of my photos are of our desert environment, so I look forward to all amazing things I will see in the ocean and be able to share with my husband and son, students and friends!  One of my passions is to use my photography to provide an understanding about the natural world, so I am really looking forward to sharing this fantastic adventure with everyone through my blog and photos!

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Enjoying the view during one of my hikes in the Sonoran Desert.

Angela Greene: “I’ll have 3000 Big Macs, please.” May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 7, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air Temperature – 12.20°C or 54°F, Sea Temperature 10.16°C or 50°F, Wind Speed- 9.24 kts, Relative Humidity 94%, Barometric Pressure- 1021.05 mb.

Science and Technology Log: Whale work can be intense and exciting, or slow and frustrating. A good day at work is when the weather cooperates the same time the whales cooperate. So far no one is playing nice. Fog has been the enemy for the last two days, making flying-bridge operations nearly impossible. Unless a whale swims up to our ship and jumps in for lunch, we aren’t going to be able to see it. Our watch efforts get moved to the bridge where the ship is controlled, and while it’s a good time chatting with the NOAA Corps officers, I’d rather be sighting whales.

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Carl Sandburg

For me however, this ship is like a small university on the sea with free tuition.  Everyone here knows much more than I do about science, so days like these are spent asking questions.  I wanted to focus this blog post on a question that came from my Tecumseh Middle School eighth grade students.  They have been following my blog and following the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter using the NOAA Ship Tracker.  The ship tracker can be used to locate any ship in the NOAA fleet on its current cruise or in the last twelve months.  Current weather data from the ship can also be displayed.

Ship Tracker

The current cruise of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Screen shot courtesy of NOAA Ship Tracker

My students noticed that our ship was staying near the continental shelf, or Georges Bank, and wanted to know if it would be a better idea to look for whales in deeper ocean.  I turned to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist onboard, Dr. Mark Baumgartner (yet another superhero), for answers.  He basically told me, the whales go where the food is most abundant.

Georges Bank

Georges Bank is a shallow off shore plateau. During the ice age it was above water. Image credit- NOAA

North Atlantic Right Whales eat a zooplankton named Calanus finmarchicus or just Calanus.  This tiny crustacean is packed with lots of calories in an internal structure called a lipid sac.  In order to grow and develop a hearty lipid sac, the Calanus require lots of phytoplankton.  In order to be a yummy and nutritious treat for the Calanus, the phytoplankton need nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous, water, and sunlight.  Nutrients and water are abundant for the phytoplankton, but in order to get the needed sunlight for photosynthesis, the phytoplankton must be as close to sunlight as possible.

Calanus

Northern Right Whale food- Calanus finmarchicus The lipid sac is clearly visible. Photo credit- C.B. Miller/K. Tande NOAA

Simply put the food chain links together like this:  sunlight (source of energy), phytoplankton (producer), Calanus (primary consumer), and right whale (secondary consumer).  The topography of the ocean near Georges Bank and the weather over the North Atlantic provide two things for this simple food chain: upwelling and wind.

Upwelling is a phenomenon that occurs in ocean waters when wind and a continental structure circulate water, allowing the cold nutrient rich water on the bottom to replace water on the top.  The phytoplankton at the bottom essentially get a free ride to the top of the ocean where they are able perform photosynthesis.  The Calanus can feed on the nutrient rich phytoplankton, and the whales can feed on the Calanus.  This cycling allows the whales to feed close to the surface, where they need to be in order to breathe.  If a whale has to dive deep for food, energy is wasted on the dive.  It is more efficient to be able to get a good meal as close to the surface as possible.

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Right Whales need the caloric equivalent of 3000 Big Macs per day. I’m lovin it! Image credit- MacDonalds

According to Dr. Baumgartner, a Northern Right Whale needs to eat 1-2 billion Calanus per day.  This amount of zooplankton has the same weight as a wet Volkswagen beetle, and is the caloric equivalent of eating 3000 Big Macs per day.  So there you have it, TMS 8th graders.  The whales go where the food is…

Dr. Mark

Me with Dr. Mark Baumgartner
Photo Credit-Eric Matzen

Personal Log:  Still holding out for “The Big Day”, the day we can take the small boats out again.  If it doesn’t happen, I will be happy for the experience I had on the Gordon Gunter.  Sure would be awesome, though…