Martha Loizeaux: Sensational Satellites, August 29, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Martha Loizeaux
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
August 22-31, 2018
 
Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 29, 2018
 
Weather Data from the Bridge

 

  • Latitude:  39.115 N
  • Longitude:  74.442 W
  • Water Temperature: 26.4C
  • Wind Speed:  11.7 knots
  • Wind Direction: SW
  • Air Temperature: 28.2C
  • Atmospheric Pressure:  1017.03 millibars
  • Depth:  22 meters

 

Science and Technology Log
 
Today I was excited to learn more about the work of Charles Kovach, Support Scientist with Global Science and Technology, a contractor to NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR).
 
Charles’s work may sound familiar.  It is a bit similar to the work I wrote about yesterday that Audrey and Kyle are doing with the University of Rhode Island.  He wants to match what satellite pictures are seeing to what is really here in the ocean. 
 

Charles has another cool tool called a “hyperspectral profiler” or hyperpro for short.  He can put this tool into the water to measure light at the surface, light coming down through the water, and light bouncing back up from the deep.  He wants to know how the sunlight changes as it goes down into the deep and back up through the water.  The hyperpro measures thousands of different colors as they travel through the water. Seeing what colors bounce back from the water can help you understand what is IN the water.  For example, you can see some of this with your own eyes.  Blue water is usually clean and clear, green water has a lot of algae, and brown water has a lot of particles like sand or dirt.  But the hyperpro gets A LOT more detail than just our eyes. 

Martha hyperpro computer
Me assisting with the hyperpro deployment. I had to read the computer program and alert Charles regarding the depth of the instrument.
Charles hyperpro
Charles deploying the hyperpro
 
The main purpose of this is to understand what satellites are seeing.  We can get images from satellites out in space, like a picture of the ocean.  But the satellite is outside of our atmosphere so it is seeing light that has gone through a lot of air and gases as well as the ocean.  So when scientists can measure the light in the ocean at the same time that the satellite is taking a picture, they can use MATH to find a relationship between what the satellite sees and what is really happening on Earth.  In this way, Charles can calibrate (make more accurate) and validate (make sure it is right) the satellite images. 
 
This is helpful information for A LOT of people all over the world.  Scientists are pretty good at collaborating because they know how important it is to share information with everyone so we can all be more aware of what is happening in our natural world.  Charles collaborates with other countries and their satellites, as well as NOAA’s satellites. 
 
Charles also collaborates with other scientists on the ship and in NOAA’s laboratories.  This way he can compare his light data to other measurements such as chlorophyll (remember?  It’s from phytoplankton!), turbidity, and even specific species of plankton.  Then he can find relationships between things like the light and the plankton or turbidity.  He can use MATH to write an equation for this relationship (we call that an algorithm).  And you know what that means?  We can use a satellite picture to tell what kind of plankton is in the water!  We can see tiny plankton from space!  WOW.
 
Collecting and Analyzing Data
 

When Charles uses his hyperpro, the machine automatically records the light data and we can see it on a computer screen.  Then he uses special computer software to analyze the data to better understand what it means and how it relates to the satellite.  He creates line graphs to understand the colors of light that are coming down into and up out of the water.  

data processed
Charles’s data after it’s been processed or analyzed. He ends up with line graphs, satellite images, and photos as scientific evidence.
 
One thing I have noticed with all of the scientist on the ship is the importance of data collection!  I have entered some of the data and have noticed data sheets around the wet lab.  If we do not write or type every bit of data, then it can’t teach us anything.  Scientists write data into a data table of columns and rows.  This keeps it organized and easy to understand.  When they analyze the data, they will often create a graph from the data table.  This helps them to see a picture of relationships between the measurements.
data sheet
Audrey and Kyle’s data sheet
 
A Few Questions for Charles
 
Me – How did you become interested in your field of study?
Charles – I worked in Florida as a water quality manager.  It became obvious that we needed to see the bigger picture to truly understand what was happening in the water.  Satellites are the best way to try to get a picture of what is happening over a large space at the same time.
 
Me – What would you recommend to a young person exploring ocean and science career options?
Charles – Work hard in MATH!  I use math every day and would not be able to do this work without it.  It is very important!  Computer coding is also important in the work I do.
Charles computer
Charles surrounded by his work.
 
 
Personal Log
 
Wow, I cannot believe how much I am learning during this experience.  It is truly fascinating.
 
In my past blogs, I mentioned spending some down time on the fly bridge.  I wanted to share more about that part of the ship because it is a truly peaceful place and really allows you to feel that you are in the middle of the ocean!
fly bridge
The fly bridge is the uppermost deck
 
The fly bridge is the highest of the decks on the ship.  It is above the “bridge deck” (where NOAA Corps operates the ship) and just under the radar sensors.  At any given time during the day, you can find some of the science team and sometimes the NOAA Corps team up on the fly bridge.  We might be checking with the seabird observers to see what animals have been spotted, taking a nap in the sun at the picnic table, staring out at the water with binoculars, or getting cozy with a good book.  It’s a great place to soak it all in and my favorite place on the ship. 
fly bridge view
The view from the fly bridge
 
One level below the fly bridge is the bridge deck where the ship is operated.  NOAA Corps Officers are happy to answer questions and it’s also a fun and interesting place to visit.  It’s a great place to see the charts that officers use to navigate, radar screens, and other cool ship operating tools.  They even let me take control of the ship!  JUST KIDDING!  That would never happen, unless I trained to become an officer myself and was authorized to control the ship.  Maybe one day!
pretending to drive
Me driving the ship. Just kidding. But I could pose for a photo just for fun.
 
Did You Know?
 

The largest species of plankton is called a Mola mola.  It is a large fish that looks like it had its tail cut off!  It’s flat, rounded shape allows it to flow with the currents along with its food source, other plankton!  Because the Mola mola is a living thing that drifts with currents, it is plankton!  The seabird observers have seen several Mola mola on this trip.  Maybe I’ll see one tomorrow…

mola mola
A mola mola at the surface. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
 
Mystery Photo
 
Can you guess what this photo is?  Add your guess to the comments below!
Mystery photo
Do you know what this is?
 
 

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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Kelly Dilliard: Sonobuoys and Gliders, June 4, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kelly Dilliard
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

May 15 – June 5, 2015

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 4, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Pressure: 1025.1 mb
Air Temperature: 13.3 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 64%
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wind Direction: 63 degrees

Science and Technology Log:

The sounds marine mammals make are often used to study them.  Dolphins make clicks and whistles whereas humpback whales mostly sing.  North Atlantic right whales also make sounds with their signature sound being described as an up-call, a rising whoop that lasts for about a second.  Sei whales, on the other hand make a down-call, a sinking whoop.  Right whales also make a variety of other sounds including: 1) eerie moans, 2) shrill screams which often occur when gathered in groups, and 3) a gunshot sound that sounds like a very loud pop and is thought to be an aggressive call towards males.  These sounds are not easily heard, but can be observed on a sound spectrogram.  A sound spectrogram is a graph of frequency (the number of cycles in a second, given as hertz) on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis.  Right whale up-calls range in the low hertz levels of 100-300 hertz, while dolphins are much higher in pitch.  The darker the call on the spectrogram, the louder the call is. To listen to a variety of right whale calls go to the Right Whale Listening Network for examples.

Right whale up-call on a spectrogram posted on the Northeast Fisheries Protected Species Branch website. Go to link to actually hear the call of a right whale and several other whale species.

Right whale up-call on a spectrogram posted on the Northeast Fisheries Protected Species Branch website. Go to link to actually hear the call of a right whale and several other whale species.

Close up of a right whale up-call on a spectrogram. Image from the Right Whale Listening Network.

Close up of a right whale up-call on a spectrogram. Image from the Right Whale Listening Network.

Sonabuoy
Sonobuoy tube.

Whale acoustics can be recorded by a variety of methods.  On this cruise we are using two methods: sonobuoys deployed from the ship and autonomous acoustic technology (aka “gliders”).  Let’s talk about sonobuoys first.  The sonobuoys used on this cruise were first designed for the military but have found a second use in scientific research.  They are housed in an aluminum tube about a meter in length and 10 centimeters in diameter.  When the tube hits salt water it starts a chain reaction starting with deployment of the bright orange float.  The sonobouy, with hydrophones, then bobs freely in the ocean and sends radio signals to an antenna high on the ship’s mast.  The signal is then captured by a computer and a spectrogram of the sound is displayed and recorded.  The sonobuoy has about an eight hour life span and a five mile range.

Sonobouy
Close up of the electronics panel of a sonobuoy.
sonobouy
Chris Tremblay, from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Passive Acoustic Group, deploying a sonobuoy to listen for sei whales off the stern of the Gordon Gunter.
sonobouy
A defunct sonobuoy out of the aluminum case. You can see the orange float, and the round hydrophone (in the upper left corner) attached to the purple netting.
sonobouy
Chris Tremblay analyzing the signal coming from the sonobuoy that was deployed.
sonobouy
Two sei whales with orange float of the sonobuoy located to the left of the whales.

There are some limits to sonobuoys, namely the five mile (or more depending on model and antenna location) range.  Doctors Baumgartner and Fratantoni at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have developed a means of retrieving real-time detection of whale acoustics from autonomous acoustic gliders.  The particular glider used in the Great South Channel is a Slocum glider.  It looks a bit like a torpedo.  It is programmed to follow a specific track and come to the surface every two hours to send data.  The two researchers also developed a computer program that detects, classifies and reports interesting marine mammal calls otherwise the amount of data coming in would be completely overwhelming.  The Slocum glider also measures fluorescence and other oceanographic conditions, similar to the CTD.


View of the Slocum glider underwater. Photo from NE Fisheries, Protected Species Branch (Dave Fratantoni, WHOI).

How the slocum glider travels and sends data. (Autonomous Real-time Marine Mammal Detections, WHOI)

How the slocum glider travels and sends data.  (Autonomous Real-time Marine Mammal Detections, WHOI)

For more information on acoustics check out the following links:

Personal Log:

Today is the last full day on the ship and it is bittersweet.  I have had a wonderful time and will be sad to go (but also glad to get home).  I have learned so much about whales and the ocean.  I have met some absolutely wonderful people, both scientists and crew.  I am very grateful to all for incorporating me into their family.  I would love to do this again next year.

IMG_2503
NOAA Corps on this cruise. Back row: Operations Officer Ensign David Wang, Junior Officer Ensign Pete Gleichauf, Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Colin Little, Augmenting Officer Lieutenant Junior Grade P.J. Klavon. Front row: Navigation Officer Ensign Kristin Johns, Junior Officer Ensign Melissa Mathes, Commanding Officer Captain Donn Pratt.

Even though we did not see the as many of the right whales that we wanted to, we did see several species including: humpbacks, sei whales, fin whales, minke whales, and Pete saw a sperm whale.  Yesterday (June 4th) we were deploying plankton nets encircled by a few dozen feeding humpback whales.  It was a spectacular show.

humpbacks
Two humpbacks feeding. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355
humpback
Humback whale feeding. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Two humpbacks.  Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Two humpbacks. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Humpbacks.  Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Humpback feeding. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Humpback.  Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.
Humpback. Images collected under MMPA research permit #17355.

And I will end with a sunset photograph.

Sunset
Sunset off the stern.

Kelly Dilliard: Still Before the Cruise, May 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kelly Dilliard
(Almost-Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

May 15 – June 5, 2015

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: May 15, 2015

Personal Log

Well, as you can see we are not quite on the ship yet. Today is the day, though. We are heading from Woods Hole, MA to Newport, RI to get on the Gordon Gunter and we are to set sail at 5 pm or 17:00. On Wednesday, I traveled to Newport and the Gordon Gunter with one of the scientists, a marine mammal specialist named Suzanne Yin (she goes by Yin). She was extremely helpful in making the shuttle to Newport and the Taxi to get onto the Navy base where the Gordon Gunter is docked.

Once there we met up with many of the other scientists and helped to unload all of the scientific equipment and two small boats that will be deployed off the stern. Antennas were installed for acoustic work and the science labs were organized. I got to meet many of the scientists who will be on board and some that are not travelling. The project involves personnel from NOAA Fisheries and from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). There are full time workers, contractors, and student interns. All of them are extremely nice and welcoming.

Equipment loading
Loading equipment onto the Gordon Gunter (photo taken by Yin)
Gordon Gunter
Standing alongside the Gordon Gunter in port. (Photo taken by Yin)

After loading the ship and getting a bit organized it was determined that the ship would not make a good place to stay until Friday. One of the scientists, Chris Tremblay offered up a guest room and I headed back with them to Woods Hole. Yesterday (Thursday, May 14th) while everyone continued getting ready, I headed on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where I rented a car and drove around the island.

Martha’s Vineyard is actually composed of two islands to the south of Cape Cod. The island, similar to Cape Cod is the remnant of glaciers. The island marks the location of a terminal moraine and consists of sediment that was pushed there by glaciers and then left behind as the glaciers receded. It is an island now as sea level increased and separated this part of the moraine from other parts. The island is covered in glacial erratics, large rocks left behind by the receding glaciers. Many of these smaller rocks have been turned into rock walls all over the island.

Martha's Vineyard
Map of Martha’s Vineyard

An interesting geologic feature of the island is Gays Head Cliffs. The cliffs are also referred to as the Aquinnah Cliffs and they are located on the western most edge of the island. The Gay Head Cliffs are composed of series of white, grey, red, and black clays that are Cretaceous in age (about 75 million years old). These beds once formed the coastal plain of North America but were pushed upwards by the moving glaciers to form part of the moraine. The top of the cliffs are composed of glacial deposits, including boulders, some of which have tumbled down to the beach. A viewpoint above and a walk on the beach provided a really nice view of the cliffs.

Gay Head Cliffs
The Gay Head Cliffs, located on the western edge of the island.

I continued my tour around Martha’s Vineyard by heading east to Edgartown and the Katama Beach. I walked for a while on the beach trying to see the spit, but had to give up in the interest of time. Still, the beach was very spectacular especially since I seemed to have it all to myself. I found all sorts of seashells and dead crabs along my walk. The beach itself is bordered by vegetated sand dunes.

Katama Beach
Katama Beach, located to the south of Edgartown on the eastern side of the island. The beach is bordered by vegetated sand dunes.

From Edgartown, I headed north to Oak Bluffs to see some unique architecture including The Gingerbread Cottages, a colony of more than 300 small, unique decorated homes around a central park. This area started out as a Methodist meeting place with families setting up tents around a central park in the late 1800’s. Over the years, the tents were built on platforms and then the platforms had porches, and then they became these small, elaborate cottages. They are very cute, but I am not sure I would want to take on the task of repainting one.

Cottage
One of the Gingerbread Cottages in Oak Bluffs.

From Oak Bluffs I returned to Vineyard Haven to return my rental car and to board the ferry for Woods Hole. I had a wonderful day touring Martha’s Vineyard.

Reference: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket: The Geologic Story, by Robert N. Oldale, 2001 (revised), published by On Cape Publications.  (you can download the book from the author’s website: http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/staffpages/boldale/Default.htm)

Kelly Dilliard: Introduction, May 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kelly Dilliard
(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

May 14 – June 5, 2015

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: May 3, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from South Dakota! My name is Kelly Dilliard and I am a college professor at Wayne State College (WSC) in Wayne, NE. Wayne State College is one of three schools with the Nebraska State College System and it is located in northeast Nebraska. I actually live in Vermillion, South Dakota, due north of Wayne and commute to school every day. My husband, Mark Sweeney, is an Earth Science Professor at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. We are located about 45 minutes northwest from Sioux City, Iowa and about an hour south of South Falls, South Dakota.

Map of locations.
Map of eastern Nebraska and parts of Iowa and South Dakota showing locations of where I am coming from.
Photo of me at Malibu Beach.
Me at a cove beach near Malibu, California in July of 2014. Taking lots of photographs and videos to use in my teaching.

I teach all sorts of Earth Science courses at WSC including Introduction to Geology, Environmental Geology, Historical Geology, Rocks and Minerals, Oceanography, and Introduction to Meteorology. I try to create a hands-on experience for my students, but teaching in Nebraska has its drawbacks. We are far from some of the best geology sites and from the ocean, so instead of taking my students to the rocks or the ocean, I try to bring the rocks to my students in the form of specimens, photographs, and videos.  I believe that my students benefit from exposure to these samples and from the experiences that I bring into the classroom.  I hope this experience out at sea will help me bring more of the ocean to them.  As I teach mostly to future science teachers, I also hope this experience will open them up to taking similar opportunities to gain useful experiences to use in their own classroom.

Family at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
My husband, Mark, myself, and our puggle, Penny Lane, at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, July of 2014.

As a youngster I had an interest in two sciences… geology and oceanography. I spent time in Hawaii when I was in fourth grade and fell in love with volcanoes and humpback whales. When it came to deciding on a major in college, I decided on geology and I have been actively engaged in researching and teaching about the Earth for the past 20 years. I am originally from eastern Pennsylvania, but through my graduate and professional career have lived in various states across the United States. I have three degrees in Geology, including a PhD from Washington State University.

Me and my brother in front of sign
My brother and I in April of 1986 standing by the map of the “Save the Whales” walk we took part in.

While I have an interest in oceanography and teach an oceanography class, I have never actually taken a formal oceanography course. I applied to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea (TAS) program to gain some ocean research experience and to bring that experience back into my classroom. The Teacher at Sea program is celebrating it’s 25th Anniversary this year and is, as I am finding out, a wonderful program (link to TAS program)! I was selected to take part in a Right Whale Survey off the Northeast Coast on board the NOAA ship the Gordon Gunter (see the ship’s website for information and photographs). I never dreamed that I would also be getting exposed to a “what could have been” experience, that is, if I had decided to study oceanography and whales 20 years ago as an undergraduate.

So let me tell you a little about what I have learned so far about the North Atlantic Right Whale.  The North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is an endangered species and is protected under both the U.S Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Right whales were heavily targeted by whale hunters, being prized for their high blubber content, the fact that they float when killed, and their relative sluggishness. They were the “right” whale to hunt. Right whales are baleen whales like the humpback whale, but feed mainly by skimming through prey at or near the surface of the ocean. Right whales are recognized by their callosities, or rough skin (white in color due to whale lice!), on their heads. For more information on Right Whales check out the NOAA Fisheries article on them.

Right Whales
North Atlantic Right Whales. You can see their callosities. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

Next week I will be flying to Boston, Massachusetts and meeting up with the Gordon Gunter at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. But before then, I have to finish off the semester, participate at the WSC graduation, put in my garden (hopefully), and pack for my trip. The next time you should hear from me, I should be aboard the Gordon Gunter.

Map of home and WHOI
Map indicating where I live/work and where I will be leaving from for the Right Whale Survey.

Julia West: Putting It All Together, April 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  April 3, 2015

The Math Challenge Answers

In case you’re wondering if you got the math right, here’s the answer to the volume of water that flowed through the each bongo net (3/29 post): 282.88 cubic meters. Your answer might vary slightly if you rounded off to fewer decimal places.

The answer to the math problem of 4/1: you can see 162.86 square nautical miles from the bridge. That’s a big area!

Coming into Port

As I finish writing this blog, I am still on the Gunter, in port. We got in this morning, and spent a few hours unloading. All of the science gear had to come off the ship. The next plankton cruise will not be on the Gunter, as she is headed north in a couple of weeks, up the east coast to New England, where she will be employed on a marine mammal research cruise. The Gunter will be in almost continuous use until late summer; that’s the next time the crew will get a break.

Breaking everything down was interesting. Both cranes were employed, and we carried a lot of things as well. Here are some photos of our arrival and unloading (click on one to get a slide show):

When we went back to the NOAA lab to unload our gear, I got another tour of the lab, and the sorting work that is being done there. One of the main projects going on now is a project for NRDA (Natural Resources Damage Assessment) project. NRDA is a department of NOAA. This project started after the BP oil spill in 2010 to study the effects of the spill on aquatic organisms, using SEAMAP data. The samples they are analyzing are from 2010 and 2011.

sorting plankton
Jessica Kirkham sorting the icthyoplankton (fish) from the invertebrates
sorting plankton
Not only do they separate the plankton, but they are very good at identifying them! This is Jennifer McDonald.

I got to see some cool fish eggs and larvae from the NRDA samples, and saw some enlarged pictures from the microscope projected onto a monitor. However, I am not allowed to share them with you on this blog because of the upcoming litigation with the BP case. None of the NRDA data, photos, or anything are allowed to be shared until the court case is all over. I ventured that once it is over, there must be a lot of researchers waiting to get hold of the data, and was told that they are lining up! So if you are interested in marine science, there are definitely some research opportunities for you in the future!

Odds and Ends about the Ship

I wanted to describe a couple more interesting tidbits. I didn’t get to know the engineers, and wasn’t able to get a tour of the engine room, but I still want to thank them for getting us where we needed to go! The Gunter is a diesel electric ship. There are four generators (plus a backup) that create electricity to turn the two propellers. Usually, we are using three of them. They also generate our electricity. Not only that, but the waste heat from the generators is used to distill salt water to make fresh water. There is a brominator that is used to help purify the water, along with some chlorine I believe – neither of which I could detect in the water. There are regular tests for bromine and chlorine in the water. The salt goes out with the outflow, back into the ocean.

And where does human waste go on a ship? Surely you must be wondering! If we are at least 12 miles from shore, it is discharged into the ocean, after being treated in some way (no chemicals). Food waste is thrown overboard, if we are at least 12 miles from shore. All food waste that is thrown over is measured and recorded (by the gallon). There are rules like this for organic wastes and other types of waste, specifying how far from shore they can be released. These rules clearly state that nowhere in any ocean is plastic allowed to be dumped. The ocean has enough plastic already, thanks to us.

Our Scientists

I want to thank the wonderful science team on this trip, for patiently teaching me the ropes and putting up with my unlimited questions. It is because of their knowledge that I was able to share the science work that we are doing. Likewise, thanks to the NOAA Corps officers who welcomed me and my questions on the bridge. And Jerome and the deck crew as well.

Here’s a little bit about our scientists.

GU scientists, winter plankton
There are the scientist on our cruise. From L to R: Kim Johnson, Madalyn Meaker, Chrissy Stepongzi, Andy Millett, Pam Bond (FPC), and me! Photo by LT Marc Weekley

Madalyn is a native to Mississippi. She got a degree in marine science at the University of Southern Mississippi, and started working with plankton with the Gulf Coast Research Lab (GCRL), a facility with USM. Since December, she has worked in the plankton lab at NOAA, on the NRDA project described above. If she hadn’t just gotten off the ship after working 17 days straight, she would have been at one of the microscopes in the lab when I walked through. Madalyn lives in Gulfport, MS.

Chrissy also started in the same NRDA project, but is now working with the “trawl unit.” (I’ll explain that next.) During her 5 years with NOAA, she also worked for another department, the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory. Her project there also started after the BP oil spill; it involved checking samples of fish for oil contamination. They did this in a curious way: specialized “sniffers” (these are humans) with sensitive noses were hired to detect contamination in the samples! Anyway, Chrissy is from Louisiana, and has a biology degree from Louisiana State University. She’s going to be on several research cruises this year, working with Kim. Her favorite baby fish? Istiophorids (marlins), of course – “They are so cute! Look at those big eyes!”

blue marlin larvae
Istiophorid (blue marlin) larvae, A. 12.6 mm, B. 21.0 mm, C. 22.1 mm Strasburg (1970), Gehringer (1956), and Bartlett et al. (1968) in Development of Fishes of the Mid-Atlantic Bight – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Andy comes from Massachusetts, but now lives here in Ocean Springs, MS, with his wife. He has worked in the plankton unit for five years now, having started in plankton in college. (My question to everyone was, “So how long have you been in plankton?”) Andy has a BS in marine biology, and a MS in marine science. For his graduate work, he used SEAMAP data from the CUFES samples, studying community structure of invertebrates throughout the Gulf, and how they are affected by abiotic factors (such as temperature and salinity). This was interesting to me, because there is so much data available, and many options to analyze that data in new ways. Science doesn’t always mean you need to collect your own data! (See my note about the NRDA data above.) So now Andy specializes in invertebrate data analysis, using the data we collect. He is the FPC (Field Party Chief) for the spring and fall plankton research cruises this year. He and Pam take turns with that role.

Kim comes from Texas, and started with NOAA in 2001. She got a degree in marine fisheries, and through NOAA, was able to get her masters just a few years ago. NOAA offers nice opportunities for continuing education. Kim’s main focus is the juvenile fish – the size up from what we are working with here. They do summer groundfish surveys, which involve trawling. They catch things like commercial shrimp (that go down to the bottom at night), as well as snappers that hang out at the bottom. Kim will also be very busy at sea this year, and somehow even finds time for her husband and four young children!

Pam, our humble, kind, and intrepid leader, grew up in the Midwest, and has been “in plankton” for 23 years now! She started as a volunteer at GCRL, got hired, and spent 7 years working there before joining NOAA in 1999. I should clarify that GCRL, and several other facilities, are all part of SEAMAP, which is a cooperative project. Pam has been an FPC since 2001, as she puts it, “since the days of DOS and data sheets.” Can you imagine manually entering all your data into the computer data base?! She lives with two cats and her husband, also a federal employee with the USDA chemistry lab, in Wiggins, MS.

(Update on 4/3) – After I arrived too late at the airport this morning and missed my flight out, Pam felt so bad that she took me out to lunch and gave me a tour of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath along the coast. She was worried that I would say bad things about her on the blog post, but I still have nothing but good things to say, Pam, if you are reading this! You are awesome!

The Big Picture

I learned a bit about how all this goes together. We have the plankton surveys, which you know about. We have the groundfish surveys, which are done by trawling (dragging a net over the bottom). That catches the juveniles, but the adults tend to outswim the net.

Groundfish survey. Photo credit: SEFSC/NOAA
Deploying the net in the groundfish survey. Photo credit: SEFSC/NOAA
groundfish survey
A full net! Photo credit: SEFSC/NOAA
You can get some strange creatures in the ocean depths!
You can get some strange creatures in the ocean depths! Photo credit: Kim Johnson/NOAA

So then we have the longline surveys to catch the adult (pelagic) fish. In a sense, we are using the same techniques commercial fishermen do, in order to study the health of the species throughout the stages of development.

When plankton research started, it was all about learning as much as possible about individual species. Now (and if you check out the NOAA FishWatch website you will understand this better), all of the data becomes important. We know that for a successful fishery, we need a healthy and diverse ecosystem. The information about non-economically important species is crucial to understanding the entire community, as well as the information about abiotic (physical) factors such as the CTD provides. I find this focus encouraging; I feel we are learning something as we try to “manage” these incredible resources. The more we understand the big picture, the more we can take care of our precious Earth.

I could get all philosophical and talk about the importance of a broad education and a global awareness in the same light, but I’ll spare you. I’ll just say that it’s really important to put together the little pieces to form the whole puzzle. It’s not that we all need to know everything. Our data collecting scientists here have their important job, but they have informed me that they don’t know all about how the results of their work have changed fishing regulations. Others down the line have their job, and they don’t know the details of how the samples are collected. However, they all have a sense of their purpose – a sense of the whole picture – even though they don’t need to know everything. Even though the deck crew and the officers who drive the ship don’t know much about plankton, but they are aware of our general purpose, and know they have a crucial part in it. It reminds me of the janitor at NASA who, when asked “what do you do for a living?” answered “I put people on the moon.”

Would I do this again? Absolutely! I learned so much! Important things like why NOAA only allows shoes with closed toes on their ships (I would have stubbed my toes a thousand times!). I learned that flying fish and mano’wars are some of the most bizarre creatures at the surface of the ocean. I learned that I’m still not so sure about the seasickness thing. There were days that were spent in a very sleepy, off-feeling mode. I need more research on that! I learned that there’s a lot going on out on our oceans that we are unaware of, like why was that oil rig that we passed the other night on fire, and has anybody reported it? And I learned that there is so very, very much more to learn. Our world is so fascinating! Never stop wondering. Thanks for following along!

Sunset from the Gordon Gunter
Sunset from the Gordon Gunter

Julia West: This Is What Drives Us, April 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission:  Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 3/31/2015; Time 2000; clouds 25%, cumulus and cirrus; Wind 205° (SSW), 15 knots; waves 1-2 ft; swells 1-2 ft; sea temp 23°C; air temp 23°C

Science and Technology Log

You’re not going to believe what we caught in our neuston net yesterday – a giant squid! We were able to get it on board and it was 23 feet long! Here’s a picture from after we released it:

giand squid
Giant Squid!

April Fools! (sorry, couldn’t resist) The biggest squid we’ve caught are about a half inch long. Image from http://www.factzoo.com/.

Let’s talk about something just as exciting – navigation. I visit the bridge often and find it all very interesting, so I got a 30 minute crash course on navigation. We joked that with 30 minutes of training, yes, we would be crashing!

From the bridge, you can see a long way in any direction. The visible range of a human eye in good conditions is 10 miles. Because the earth is curved, we can’t see that far. There is a cool little formula to figure out how far you can see. You take the square root of your “height of eye” above sea level, and multiply that by 1.17. That gives you the nautical miles that you can see.

So the bridge is 36 feet up. “Really?” I asked Dave. He said, “Here, I’ll show you,” and took out a tape measure.

Dave measuring height
ENS Dave Wang measuring the height of the bridge above sea level.

OK, 36 feet it is, to the rail. Add a couple of feet to get to eye level. 38 feet. Square root of 38 x 1.17, and there we have it: 7.2 nautical miles. That is 8.3 statute miles (the “mile” we are used to using). That’s assuming you are looking at something right at sea level – say, a giant squid at the surface. If something is sticking up from sea level, like a boat, that changes everything. And believe me, there are tables and charts to figure all that out. Last night the bridge watch saw a ship’s light that was 26 miles away! The light on our ship is at 76 feet, so they might have been able to see us as well.

Challenge Yourself

If you can see 7.2 nautical miles in any direction, what is the total area of the field of view? It’s a really amazing number!

Back to navigation

Below are some photos of the navigation charts. They can be zoomed in or out, and the officers use the computer to chart the course. You can see us on the chart – the little green boat.

navigation chart
This is a chart zoomed in. The green boat (center) is us, and the blue line and dot is our heading.

In the chart above, you’ll see that we seem to be off course. Why? Most likely because of that other ship that is headed our direction. We talk to them over the radio to get their intentions, and reroute our course accordingly.

navigation chart 2
Notice the left side, where it says “dump site (discontinued) organochlorine waste. There are a lot of these type dump sites in the Gulf. Just part of the huge impact humans have had on our oceans.

When we get close to a station, as in the first picture above, the bridge watch team sets up a circle with a one mile radius around the location of the station. See the circle, upper center? We need to stay within that circle the whole time we are collecting our samples. With the bongos and the neuston net, the ship is moving slowly, and with the CTD the ship tries maintain a stationary position. However, wind and current can affect the position. These factors are taken into account before we start the station. The officer on the bridge plans out where to start so that we stay within the circle, and our gear that is deployed doesn’t get pushed into or under the boat. It’s really a matter of lining up vectors to figure it all out – math and physics at work. But what is physics but an extension of common sense? Here’s a close-up:

setting up for station
Here is the setup for the station. The plan is that we will be moving south, probably into the wind, during the sampling. See the north-south line?

How do those other ships appear on the chart? This is through input from the AIS (Automated Information System), through which we can know all about other ships. It broadcasts their information over VHF radio waves. We know their name, purpose, size, direction, speed, etc. Using this and the radar system, we can plan which heading to take to give the one-mile distance that is required according to ship rules.

As a backup to the computer navigation system, every half hour, our coordinates are written on the (real paper) navigation chart, by hand.

Pete charting our course
ENS Pete Gleichauf is writing our coordinates on the paper navigation chart.

There are drawers full of charts for everywhere the Gunter travels!

Melissa and the nav charts
ENS Melissa Mathes showing me where all the navigation charts are kept. Remember, these are just backups!

Below is our radar screen. There are 3 other ships on the screen right now. The radar computer tells us the other vessels’ bearing and speed, and how close they will get to us if we both maintain our course and speed.

radar screen
The other vessels in the area, and their bearing, show up on the radar.

If the radar goes down, the officers know how to plot all this on paper.

maneuvering board
On this maneuvering board, officers are trained to plot relative positions just like the radar computer does.

Below is Dave showing me the rudder controls. The rudder is set to correct course automatically. It has a weather adjustment knob on it. If the weather is rough (wind, waves, current), the knob can allow for more rudder correction to stay on course. So when do they touch the wheel? To make big adjustments when at station, or doing course changes.

rudder controls
Dave’s arm – showing me the rudder controls.

These are the propulsion control throttles – one for each propeller. They control the propeller speed (in other words, the ship’s speed).

propeller speed throttles
Here are the throttles that control the engine power, which translates to propeller speed.
bow thruster control
This controls the bow thruster, which is never used except in really tight situations, such as in port. It moves the bow either direction.

And below is the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). It prints out any nautical distress signal that is happening anywhere in the world!

GMDSS
Global Marine Distress and Safety System

And then, of course, there is a regular computer, which is usually showing the ships stats, and is connected to the network of computers throughout the ship.

checking the weather
ENS Kristin Johns checking the weather system coming our way.

In my post of March 17, I described the gyrocompass. That is what we use to determine direction, and here is a rather non-exciting picture of this very important tool.

gyrocompass
This is the gyrocompass, which uses the rotation of the Earth to determine true north.

As you can see, we have two gyrocompasses, but since knowing our heading is probably the most important thing on the ship, there are backup plans in place. With every watch (every 4 hours), the gyro compass is aligned the magnetic compass to determine our declination from true north. Also, once per trip, the “gyro error” is calculated, using this nifty device:

alidade
This is called the alidade. Using the position of the sun as it rises or sets, the gyro error can be computed and used to keep our heading perfectly accurate.

The reading off of the alidade, combined with the exact time, coordinates, and some fancy math, will determine the gyro error. (Click on a picture to see full captions and full size pictures.)

You can see that we have manual backups for everything having to do with navigation. We won’t get lost, and we’ll always know where we are!

driving the ship
Here I am, “driving” the ship! Watch out! Photo by ENS Pete Gleichauf

Back to Plankton!

These past two days, we have been in transit, so no sampling has been done. But here are a couple more cool micrographs of plankton that Pam shared with me.

invertebrate plankton
This picture shows several invertebrates, along with fish eggs. Madalyn and Andy, who are invertebrate people, got excited at this collection. The fat one, top left is a Doliolid. The U-shaped one is a Lucifer shrimp, the long one in center is an amphipod, at the bottom is a mycid, etc. There are crabs in different stages of development, and the multiple little cylinders are copepods! You can also see the baby fish inside the eggs. Photo credit Pamela Bond/NOAA
red snapper larvae
These are larval red snapper, a fall spawning fish species of economic interest. Notice the scale! You have to admit baby fish are awfully cute. Photo credit: Pamela Bond/NOAA

Interesting Fish Facts

Our main fish of interest in the winter plankton sampling are the groupers. There are two main species: gag groupers and red groupers. You can learn all about them on the NOAA FishWatch Website. Groupers grow slowly and live a long time. Interestingly, some change from female to male after about seven years – they are protogynous hermaphrodites.

red grouper
Red grouper. Image credit: NOAA

In the spring plankton research cruise, which goes out for all of May, the main species of interest is the Atlantic bluefin tuna. This species can reach 13 feet long and 2000 lbs, and females produce 10 million eggs a year!

school of bluefin tuna
School of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Photo credit: NOAA

The fall plankton research focuses on red snapper. These grow up to about 50 pounds and live a long time. You can see from the map of their habitat that it is right along the continental shelf where the sampling stations are.

red snapper
Red snapper in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Image credit: NOAA

The NOAA FishWatch website is a fantastic resource, not only to learn about the biology, but about how they are managed and the history of each fishery. I encourage you to look around. You can see that all three of these fish groups have been overfished, and because of careful management, and research such as what we are doing, the stocks are recovering – still a long way from what they were 50 years ago, but improving.

I had a good question come in: how long before the fish larvae are adults? Well, fish are interesting creatures; they are dependent on the conditions of their environment to grow. Unlike us, fish will grow throughout their life! Have you ever kept goldfish in an aquarium or goldfish bowl? They only grow an inch or two long, right? If you put them in an outdoor pond, you’ll see that they will grow much larger, about six inches! It all depends on the environment (combined with genetics).

“Adult” generally means that they are old enough to reproduce. That will vary by species, but with groupers, it is around 4 years. They spawn in the winter, and will remain larvae for much longer than other fish, because of the cooler water.

Personal Log

I’ve used up my space in this post, and didn’t even get to tell you about our scientists! I will save that for next time. For now, I want to share just a few more pictures of the ship. (Again, click on one to get a slide show.)

 

Terms to Learn

What is the difference between a nautical mile and a statute mile? How about a knot?

Do you know what I mean when I say “invertebrate?” It is an animal without a backbone. Shrimp and crabs, are invertebrates; we are vertebrates!

Julia West: Science Is About the Details, March 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 1600; clouds 35%, cumulus; wind 170 (S), 18 knots; waves 5-6 ft; sea temp 24°C; air temp 23°C

Science and Technology Log

We have completed our stations in the western Gulf! Now we are steaming back to the east to pick up some stations they had to skip in the last leg of the research cruise, because of bad weather. It’s going to be a rough couple of days back, with a strong south wind, hence the odd course we’re taking (dotted line). Here’s the updated map:

sampling stations 3/29/15
Here’s where we are as of the afternoon of 3/29 (the end of the solid red line. We’ve connected all the dots!

 

I had a question come up: How many types of plankton are there? Well, that depends what you call a “type.” This brings up a discussion on taxonomy and Latin (scientific) names. The scientists on board, especially the invertebrate scientists, often don’t even know the common name for an organism. Scientific names are a common language used everywhere in the world. A brief look into taxonomic categories will help explain. When we are talking about numbers, are we talking the number of families? Genera? Species? Sometimes all that is of interest are the family names, and we don’t need to get more detailed for the purposes of this research. Sometimes specific species are of interest; this is true for fish and invertebrates (shrimp and crabs) that we eat. Suffice it to say, there are many, many types of plankton!

Another question asks what the plankton do at night, without sunlight. Phytoplankton (algae, diatoms, dinoflagellates – think of them like the plants of the sea) are the organisms that need sunlight to grow, and they don’t migrate much. The larval fish are visual feeders. In a previous post I explained that they haven’t developed their lateral line system yet, so they need to see to eat. They will stay where they can see their food. Many zooplankton migrate vertically to feed during the night when it is safer, to avoid predators. There are other reasons for vertical migration, such as metabolic reasons, potential UV light damage, etc.

Vertical migration plays a really important role in nutrient cycling. Zooplankton come up and eat large amounts of food at night, and return to the depths during the day, where they defecate “fecal pellets.” These fecal pellets wouldn’t get to the deep ocean nearly as fast if they weren’t transported by migrating zooplankton. Thus, migration is a very important process in the transport of nutrients to the deep ocean. In fact, one of the most voracious plankton feeders are salps, and we just happened to catch one! Salps will sink 800 meters after feeding at night!

Salp
Salp caught in the neuston sample. Salps are a colony of tunicates (invertebrate chordates for you biology students – more closely related to humans than shrimp are!)

Now it’s time to go back into the dry lab and talk about what happens in there. I’ll start with the chlorophyll analysis. In the last post I described fluorescence as being an indicator of chlorophyll content. What exactly is fluorescence? It is the absorption and subsequent emission of light (usually of a different wavelength) by living or nonliving things. You may have heard the term phosphorescence, or better yet, seen the waves light up with a beautiful mysterious light at night. Fluorescence and phosphorescence are similar, but fluorescence happens simultaneously with the light absorption. If it happens after there is no light input (like at night), it’s called phosphorescence.

phosphorescence
An example of phosphorescence. We haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to! (From eco-adventureholidays.co.uk)

Well, it is not just phytoplankton that fluoresce – other things do also, so to get a more accurate assessment of the amount of phytoplankton, we measure the chlorophyll-a in our niskin bottle samples. Chlorophyll-a is the most abundant type of chlorophyll.

We put the samples in dark bottles. Light allows photosynthesis, and when phytoplankton (or plants) can photosynthesize, they can grow. We don’t want our samples to change after we collect them. For this same reason, we also process the samples in a dark room. I won’t be able to get pictures of the work in action, but here are some photos of where we do this.

chlorophyll lab
This is the room where we do the chlorophyll readings.

We filter the chlorophyll out of the samples using this vacuum filter:

chlorophyll filter
Each of these funnels filters the sea water through a very fine filter paper to capture the chlorophyll.

The filter papers are placed in test tubes with methanol, and refrigerated for 24 hours or so. Then the test tubes are put in a centrifuge to separate the chlorophyll from the filter paper.

filter paper for chlorophyll
Some of the test tubes for chlorophyll readings, and the filter paper. This box costs about $100!

The chlorophyll values are read in this fancy machine. Hopefully the values will be similar to those values obtained during the CTD scan. I’ll describe that next.

Fluorometer
This fluorometer reads chlorophyll levels.

While the nets and CTD are being deployed and recovered, one person in the team is monitoring and controlling the whole event on the computer. I got to be this person a few times, and while you are learning, it is stressful! You don’t want to forget a step. Telling the winch operator to stop the bongos or CTD just above the bottom (and not hit bottom) is challenging, as is capturing the “chlorophyll max” by stopping the CTD at just the right place in the water column.

Bongo graph
This is the graph that comes back from the SeaCAT on the bongo. We are interested in the green line, which shows depth as it goes down and comes back up.
The dry lab
Here I am trying my hand at the computers. The monitor on the left is the live video of what is happening on deck (see the neuston net?). Photo by A.L. VanCampen

 

CTD scan
This is the CTD graph after it has been completed. The left (magenta) line is the chlorophyll, and the horizontal red lines are where we have fired a bottle and collected a sample. Notice the little spike partway down. That is the chlorophyll max, and we try to capture that when bringing it back up. The colored chart shows columns of continuous data coming in.

Here’s another micrograph of larval fish. Notice the tongue fish, the big one on the right. It is a flatfish, related to flounder. See the two eyes on one side of its head? Flatfish lie on the bottom, and have no need for an eye facing the bottom. When they are juveniles, they have an eye on each side, and one of the eyes migrates to the other side, so they have two eyes on one side! Be sure to take the challenge in the caption!

Larval fish 2
There is a cutlass fish just right of center. Can you find the other one? How about the lizard fish? Hint – look back at the picture in the last post. Photo credit Pamela Bond/NOAA

Personal Log

It’s time to introduce our intrepid leader, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt, known as CO around here. CO lives (when not aboard the Gunter) in Bellingham, WA. He got his start in boats as a kid, starting early working on crab boats. He spent 9 years with the US Coast Guard, where he had a variety of assignments. In 2001, CO transferred to NOAA, while simultaneously serving in the US Navy Reserve. CO is not a commissioned NOAA officer; he went about his training in a different way, and is one of two US Merchant Marine Officers in the NOAA fleet. He worked as XO for about seven years on various ships, and last year he became CO of the Gordon Gunter.

CO is well known on the Gunter for having strong opinions, especially about food and music. He loves being captain for fish research, but will not eat fish (nor sweet potatoes for that matter). A common theme of meal conversations is music; CO plays drums and guitar and is a self-described “music snob.” We have fun talking about various bands, new and old.

CO Donn Pratt
CO Don Pratt on the bridge.

One of the most experienced and highly respected of our crew is Jerome Taylor, our Chief Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”). Jerome is the leader of the deck crew. He keeps things running smoothly. As I watch Jerome walk around in his cheerful and hardworking manner, he is always looking, always checking every little thing. Each nut and bolt, each patch of rust that needs attention – Jerome doesn’t miss a thing. He knows this ship inside and out. He is a master of safety. As he teaches the newer guys how to run the winch, his mannerism is one of mutual respect, fun and serious at the same time.

Jerome has been with NOAA for 30 years now, and on the Gunter since NOAA acquired the ship in 1998. He lives right in Pascagoula, MS. I’ve only been here less than two weeks, but I can see what a great leader he is. When I grow up, I want to be like Jerome!

Jerome Taylor
Chief Bosun Jerome Taylor, refusing to look at the camera. No, he’s not grilling steaks; he’s operating the winch!

 

Challenge Yourself!

OK, y’all (yes, I’m in the south), I have a math problem for you! Remember, in the post where I described the bongos, I showed the flowmeter, and described how the volume of water filtered can be calculated? Let’s practice. The volume of water filtered is the area of the opening x the “length” of the stream of water flowing through the bongo.

V = area x length.

Remember how to calculate the area of a circle? I’ll let you review that on your own. The diameter (not radius) of a bongo net is 60 cm. We need the area in square meters, not cm. Can you make the conversion? (Hint: convert the radius to meters before you calculate.)

Now, that flow meter is just a counter that ticks off numbers as it spins. In order to make that a usable number, we need to know how much distance each “click” is. So we have R, the rotor constant. It is .02687m.

R = .02687m

Here’s the formula:

Volume(m3) = Area(m2) x R(Fe – Fs) m

Fe = Ending flowmeter value; Fs = Starting flowmeter value

The right bongo net on one of the stations this morning had a starting flowmeter value of 031002. The ending flowmeter value was 068242.

You take it from here! What is the volume of water that went through the right bongo net this morning? If you get it right, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone next time I see you! 🙂

sunset
Sunset from the Gordon Gunter as we are heading east.

 

Julia West: Neuston! March 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 25, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 0900; mostly sunny, clouds 25% altocumulus; wind 5 knots, 120° (ESE); air 21°C, water 21°C, wave height 1-2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

We continue to zigzag westward on our wild plankton hunt. When we are closer to shore, navigation is tricky, because we are constantly dodging oil platforms, so we can never quite do the straight lines that are drawn on the chart.

Plankton stations 3/25/15
Here’s what we have covered through this morning. We’re making good time!

One of our Oak Meadow math teachers, Jacquelyn O’Donohoe, was wondering about math applications in the work that we are doing. The list is long! But don’t let that deter you from science – no need to fear the math! In fact, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt told me that he was never good at math, but when it came to navigating a ship, it all became more visual and much more understandable. I think it’s cool to see math and physics being applied. So, just for fun, I’ll point out the many places where math is used here on the ship – it’s in just about every part of the operations.

Today’s topic is neuston. As soon as we get the bongo nets back on board, the cable gets switched over to the neuston net. This net is a huge pipe rectangle, 1 meter x 2 meters, with a large net extending to the cod end to collect the sample. The mesh of this net is 1mm, much larger than the 0.3mm mesh of the bongo nets. So we aren’t getting the tiniest things in the neuston net, but still pretty small stuff! We lower the net to the surface, using the winch, and let it drag there for ten minutes. The goal is to have the net half in the water, so we have a swept area of 0.5 x 2 meters, or 1 square meter. (See, there’s some math for you!) That’s the goal. Sometimes with big waves, none of the net is in the water, and then all of it is, but it averages out.

Deploying neuston net
Here I am helping to deploy the neuston net. Photo credit: Kim Johnson
Neuston net
Neuston net in the water. Photo credit: Madalyn Meaker

Then we hose the net off thoroughly to get what is stuck to the net into the cod end.

Neuston net cleaning
Andy is hosing off the neuston net.

As I mentioned before, neuston is the array of living organisms that live on or just below the surface. Some of it is not plankton, as you can also catch larger fish, but mostly, the sample overlaps with the larger plankton that we catch in the bongos. There tends to be more jellyfish in the neuston net, so we sometimes wear gloves. Pam got stung by a man o’ war on the first day while cleaning out the net!

 

neuston sample
Pam is sorting an interesting neuston sample. See her smile – she clearly loves plankton!
Collecting neuston
Madalyn funneling the neuston into a jar with ethanol

Sometimes we end up with Sargassum in our nets. Sargassum is a type of brown “macroalgae” (seaweed) that grows in large clumps and floats on the surface. Have you ever heard of the Sargasso Sea? It is a massive collection of Sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean, held in place by the North Atlantic Gyre.

Sargassum
Sargassum taken from a sample
Sargassum
Sargassum in the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sargassum often collects in our nets. Sometimes we get gallons of Sargassum, and we have to carefully hose the organisms off of it, and throw the weeds back. We get the most interesting variety of life in the Sargassum! It supports entire communities of life that wouldn’t be there without it. If you want to know a little more about Sargassum communities, check out this website.

Here are a few examples of some of the photographable organisms we have collected in the neuston net. I’m working on getting micrographs of the really cool critters that are too small to see well with the naked eye, but they are amazing – stay tuned. All of the fish, except the flying fish, are very young; the adults will be much, much larger. (If you click on one of these, you will see a nice slide show and the full caption.)

Lastly, here is a really cool neuston sample we got – whale food!

copepods
This sample looks like it is almost entirely made up of copepods; this species is a beautiful blue color.

Personal Log

Now let’s turn to the other life form on the ship – the people. There are a total of 26 people on this cruise. Everyone is really great; it’s a community of its own. First, let me introduce the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship.

The NOAA Corps, or NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States (can you name the others?). It seems that many have never heard of the NOAA Corps, so it’s worth telling you a little bit about them. Officers are trained to take leadership positions in the operation of ships and aircraft, conducting research missions such as this one and much, much more! NOAA Corps has all the career benefits of the U.S. military, without active combat. Our officers all have a degree in some kind of science, often marine science or fisheries biology.

The crew members generally keep 4 hour watches, twice a day. I really enjoy going up to the bridge to hang out with them. It’s a whole different world up there, and they have been gracious enough to explain to me (as best as I can understand it) how they navigate the ship. Conceptually, I get it pretty well, but even if I was allowed to, I wouldn’t dare touch one of the buttons and dials they have up there!

Our XO (Executive Officer) on the Gunter is LCDR Colin Little. Colin has been with NOAA for eleven years now, and his previous assignments include Sea Duty aboard Oregon II and Oscar Elton Sette, and shore assignments in Annapolis, MD and Newport, OR. His background is in fish morphology and evolution.  His wife and two sons are currently living in Chicago.

ENS Kristin Johns has been on the Gunter for almost a year. She joined NOAA after getting a biology degree at Rutgers. She is currently being trained to be the next Navigation Officer. Kristin is the safety officer, as well as the MPIC (Medical Person in Charge). Kristin is the one who suggested I use the word “thalassophilia” as the word of the day – something she clearly suffers from!

Our Operations Officer (OPS) is LT Marc Weekley. Marc is in charge of organizing the logistics, and coordinating between the scientists and the crew. He’s been with NOAA for ten years (on the Gunter for two years), and has had some interesting land-based as well as offshore posts, including a year at the South Pole Station (yes, Antarctica) doing clean air and ozone monitoring.

ENS Melissa Mathes is newest officer with NOAA, but spent 6 years in the Army Reserves in college, and then 6 years of active duty with the Navy. Melissa loves archery and motorcycles, and she has been rumored to occasionally dance while on watch.

Melissa and Marc
ENA Melissa Mathes and LT Marc Weekley

ENS (which stands for Ensign, by the way) David Wang, originally from New York City, is our Navigation Officer (NAV). He’s been with NOAA for two years. His job, as he puts it, is “getting us where we gotta go, safely.” He is the one who charts our course, or oversees the other Junior Officers as they do it. Dave used to be a commercial fisherman, and when he’s not on duty, those are his fishing lines extending out from the back deck. He’s also an avid cyclist and ultimate Frisbee player.

ENS Peter Gleichauf has been on the Gunter since November, but finished his training over a year ago. He is also an aviator, musician, and avid outdoors person. In fact, for all of the officers, health, fitness, and active lifestyle is a priority. Pete is in charge of environmental compliance on the ship.

Dave and Pete
ENS Dave Wang and ENS Pete Gleichauf
King mackerel
Lead fisherman Jorge Barbosa and a king mackerel caught today on Dave’s line! It took 2 deck crew men to pull it in!

 

Term of the Day: USS Cole – you can look this one up. Next blog post I will explain what in the world it has to do with a plankton research cruise. I promise it will all make sense!

 

Julia West: Bongos! March 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 1700; clouds 100%, stratus; wind 325° (NNW), 9 knots; air temperature 22°C, sea temperature 25°C

Science and Technology Log

Here’s what we have covered as of Sunday evening, 3/22. I’m getting quite the tour of the Gulf! Notice we are going back and forth across the shelf break (the edge of the continental shelf), as that is our area of interest.

Stations covered 3/22
This is what we’ve covered so far. We’re doing well!

Again, thanks to all of you who are reading and asking questions. One recent question had to do with whether we are bringing specimens back. So let me explain what we do with them. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. So the “specimens” that we are bringing back are all in jars – thousands of organisms per jar! Every time we collect samples, we get at least three jars – two from the bongo nets and one (or more) from the neuston net. That’s not including the CUFES samples described earlier, which are only big enough for a tiny bottle. Here are some pictures:

Kim labeling a sample
Kim Johnson (scientist) in the wet lab, labeling a sample. Notice the cardboard boxes – they are all full of sample jars, both empty and full.
Bongo sample
This is a nice sample from one of the bongo nets. Lots of little guys in there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These samples get brought back to shore for analysis in the NOAA lab. Oddly, many of the samples get sent to Poland to be analyzed! Why Poland, you ask? Well, for a few decades we have had a cooperative agreement with the Polish sorting and identification center. They remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens and the data get sent back to US for analysis. We double check some of the IDs, and plug the data into models. (If you are a biology student, this is an example of how models get used!) The information then goes to fisheries managers to use to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which manages stocks of fish populations.

NOAA has been doing spring and fall plankton sampling for 30 years now. Winter sampling is newer; it started in 2007. SEAMAP (SouthEast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) is cooperative agreement between the Gulf states, federal (NOAA), and university programs. The samples from the states and universities get sent to Poland with our samples. The the timing of the surveys is to target specific species when they are spawning. This winter survey is targeting grouper, tilefish, and other winter spawning species. The other surveys target bluefin tuna, red drum, red snapper, and mackerels, which spawn at other times of the year. The invertebrate data is used to build an understanding of invertebrate community structure throughout the Gulf.

In science, research is cumulative. We know, from past research, what the mortality rate of some fish species is. So if we get a fish larva or fry that is a certain size, we can estimate the percentage of that size larvae that will reach adulthood, and back calculate to see how much mortality has already happened to get fish of that size. All this allows us to get a peek into the size of adult population.

The first piece of equipment that we use when we get to each station is the bongo nets. You can see how they got their name!

Bongos
The bongo nets just entering the water. They will be lowered to 200m, or near the bottom if it is shallower.

Here are the bongos ready to be deployed:

Bongos ready to deploy
These bongos are ready to go as soon as we get the OK.
Flow meter for bongos
This little whirlybird is the flow meter.
SeaCAT
The SeaCAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flow meter is inside each bongo net, near the top. We read the numbers on it before the net goes out, and after it comes back. Using this information – the rate of flow, together with the area of the opening, we can calculate the volume of water filtered. The SeaCAT is a nifty unit that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth. Since we have a much fancier unit to measure these factors, we use this primarily for depth, so we know when we are getting to 200 meters (or the bottom, whichever comes first). We go to 200 meters because that is the lowest effective light penetration. Phytoplankton need light, and zooplankton need phytoplankton! What’s more, larval fish have not yet developed their lateral line (the organ that many fish use to sense vibrations in the water around them), so they feed visually. Even if they want to eat something below the photic zone, they wouldn’t be able to “see” it yet.

I, of course, am full of questions, and knowing that I’m supposed to identify every acronym I write, I asked what SeaCAT stands for. The unit is made by a company called SBE (Sea Bird Enterprises), so is the CAT just a fun name that they came up with? Nobody knew the answer! But everyone was curious, and Tony and Steve (both electronics technicians) did some emailing and got the answer straight from SBE. CAT stands for “Conductivity And Temperature” (seems we could have figured that out). And the Sea? Could be for Seabird, Seattle, or just the plain ol’ sea!

Deploying the bongos
Here I am holding the “codends,” ready to drop them over the side. The crane does all the heavy lifting. Photo by Andy Millett

 

Once we get the nets in the water, the crane operator monitors the speed that it is lowered. Our job is to communicate the “wire angle” constantly to the bridge and the lab. Here’s how this is done:

Measuring wire angle
Measuring the wire angle (angle of the cable) with the inclinometer. Photo by Madalyn Meaker.

The angle of the cable is important because it allows the nets to sweep the desired amount of water as they are pulled up. If the wire angle is too high (above 55°), the crew on the bridge slows the ship down just a bit. The perfect angle is 45°. Many other factors can mess this up, most notably current. The ship has to be facing the right direction, for example, so the current isn’t coming toward the ship (have you ever been fishing and had your line swept under the boat?). It’s tricky business, requiring constant communication between bridge, lab, and deck! Oh, and by the way, the cable is a “smart wire,” meaning it has electrical flow through it, which is how the depth gets communicated to the computers. Fascinating technology, both on the micro and macro scale!

Once we pull in the bongos, we hose them off very thoroughly, to get any of the little plankton that are stuck to the net. They are all funneled into the codend, which is a PVC cylinder. From there, we dump the sample into a sieve, and transfer it into a jar, and get read to do it again in 3 hours or so.

Bongo cod end
This is a close-up of the “cod end” of the bongo, where the plankton get funneled into.
Plankton from the bongo
This is the sample from one of the bongo nets. Can you see why it’s hard to come up with pictures of individual organisms? There are thousands in here!

Did I tell you that sampling goes on 24/7? Perhaps you figured that out when you heard the shift times. It costs a lot to run a ship; operations continue whether it’s night or day.

Personal Log

Now, to keep people happy when they are living in close quarters, far from home, and working strange shifts, what’s the most important thing of all? FOOD! The Gunter is well known among NOAA circles for having fantastic food for people of all diet types and adding ethnic flavor to her meals. The person responsible for our good and abundant food is Margaret, our Chief Steward. She has worked for NOAA for ten years, and says it’s the best job she has ever had. Her husband is now retired from the Coast Guard, so they moved around a lot. Margaret worked for the Coast Guard for four years, then went back to cooking school, and had various other jobs before signing on with NOAA. She has a few years left before she retires, and when she does, what will she do? She wants to do subsistence farming! This is right up my alley – Margaret and I have a lot to talk about! Not to mention the fact that Margaret makes her own juices, some amazing homemade hummus, AND dries her own fruit (dried cherries -yum!).

Margaret, chief steward
Margaret, assembling some spinach lasagna rolls while talking about her life.

Margaret also has a helper, Mike, who was reluctant to have his picture taken. He’s not the usual assistant steward, but sure seems highly capable! It always sounds like a lot of fun is being had in the galley.

Gunter dining room
The dining room, or “mess deck.”
condiment selection
World’s largest selection of condiments, including anchovy sauce and REAL maple syrup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch spread
Decisions….
more food
and more decisions…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for this post – I’m getting hungry. Time to eat!

Challenge Yourself

What executive branch of the U.S. government does NOAA belong to? Is it the same branch that oversees our national parks? How about our national forests?

Did You Know?

There are nearly 4000 active oil and gas platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (NOAA), and more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells (Assoc. Press, 2010)

Oil and gas platforms in the Gulf
Locations of the active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. From http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/

 

Julia West: It’s the Small Things in Life… March 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge, 0800, 3/20/15
Temperature: 25.5°C (78°F)
Wind direction: 90° (E)
Wind speed: 6 knots
Sky condition: cumulus (cu), 15% cloud cover

First:

Sunrise, Gulf of Mexico
Sunrise on our first morning at sea – a nice way to start a new adventure!

I’m really excited to see everyone commenting and asking questions, and I hope I do a good job answering them. If you don’t get your answer right away, remember that I am learning too! I will be answering lots of them in the blog posts, and others in the comments, and hopefully I’ll get to most or all of them! The internet out here is marginal at best, so when the satellite connection is good, I try to run with it. That’s why there might be gaps in our communication.

Science and Technology Log

If you haven’t guessed by now, there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each one is used several times a day, when we get to one of the sampling stations. Since the whole point of these research cruises are… well… doing research, it is fascinating to see the communication between the scientists and the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship. At the beginning of the cruise, Pam, the FPC (Field Party Chief, or chief scientist), discussed the stations we need to get to with LT Marc Weekley, the operations officer (OPS), and ENS Dave Wang, the navigations officer (NAV). Together they made a plan. Some of the decision is based on weather; for example, in the first leg of the cruise, which ended just before I got here, there was bad weather coming in, so they decided to work south, to skirt most of the weather coming from the northwest, and then work back northward. Here is a map of the entire sampling area:

winter plankton sampling stations
These are the winter plankton sampling stations. Most of the stations to the east of Pascagoula were covered in the previous leg of the research cruise. The dots are about 30 miles apart. The light solid lines show the edge of the continental shelf and the dotted line is the edge of U.S. waters. Credit: Pamela Bond/NOAA

On our leg, we are doing a little zigzagging south, and then will be zigzagging west all the way toward Texas. There is constant communication between the officers on the bridge, the scientists in the lab, and the deck crew, especially as we get toward the sampling station. There is a navigation chart on the monitor on the bridge, and a video feed of the chart to the lab and every TV monitor on the ship, so everyone knows exactly where we are and how close we are to the next station. There are also closed circuit video cameras in various places around the boat that can be viewed on the lab and bridge monitors. The scientists and crew can see everything that is going on as equipment gets deployed over the side. The bridge has to give the OK for anything to be deployed or recovered, even a plankton net.

Our plankton sampling stations
These are the stations we are sampling. The X’s are stations we have completed as of early on 3/20, and the lines that connect the dots are how we have traveled.

There’s also a camera on the bow of the boat, looking down at the water. With that camera you can sometimes see dolphins “bow surfing.” The bow of the boat pushes a wave ahead of it, something you’ve probably seen if you’ve been in any boat with a motor. Imagine a permanent, amazing surfing wave – one that you can ride for miles! If you fall off the wave, just a few tail strokes and you’re back on it. That’s life as a dolphin!

OK, now back to plankton:

Today I want to introduce CUFES, or “Continuous Underwater Fish Egg Sampler.” This unit is pumping in seawater continuously, agitating it to funnel any plankton and fish eggs into the collecting device. This device was first used on the west coast, where the fish eggs are larger. Here in the Gulf, eggs are very, very small, and not the priority, so the CUFES is used to collect whatever plankton are pulled into it. The intake is 3 meters below the surface.

CUFES
This is the CUFES. The blue thing near the top is the agitator, and it creates a foam layer that you can see below it.

The water is agitated, and then funneled into a sieve. The water is piped right back into the ocean, and the plankton collect on the sieve. Every 30 minutes (yes, they have a timer), the sieve is removed, and the sample is rinsed and transferred to a small bottle. The bottle is filled with ethanol as a preservative. This sampling method provides a continuous record of plankton, in contrast to the isolated stations that are used for the rest of the sampling, which are about 30 miles apart. In addition, the ship has another device that continuously records temperature and salinity. This unit is called the……..wait for it……. thermosalinograph! Every 30 minutes, when the CUFES sample is taken, the minimum, maximum, and average temperature and salinity for that half hour gets imported right into the CUFES “event” (the computer data sheet). Also recorded are the start and end positions of the ship, as well as the water depth. There is no shortage of data, and this is just one of the plankton sampling methods!

CUFES sieve
The water then gets funneled into this sieve, where the plankton collect.

 

Chrissy and the CUFES
Here is Chrissy in the “wet lab,” ready to stop the water flow to the sieve, so she can collect the sample.

 

Andy and CUFES
Andy is collecting the sample, picking any stragglers from the sieve with tweezers.

Personal Log

Now that I’ve been on the ship for 3 days, life is falling into a routine. The scientists work 12 hour shifts – noon to midnight, and midnight to noon. There are two scientists on each shift, and Pam works long days overseeing both shifts. Chrissy, pictured above, is one of the midnight-noon workers. I wasn’t required to stand a particular shift; I float between both shifts as well, so I can work with everyone and get to know them all. Also, this way I don’t have to ask the same questions over and over again to the same people – I can spread out my repetition and drive them all less crazy! I’m kidding, because they are all incredibly patient. One thing about scientists is that they invite questions. Science is all about questions. And you can bet I’ve asked a few that had them scratching their head a bit, but we always find the answers!

More about the ship – you can find out a lot on the Gordon Gunter’s web page. That’s where I go to find out when meal times are! The ship is 224′ long. My stateroom is on the port side of the 01 deck (the first deck with windows that you can walk around, if you’re looking at the picture), toward the forward end. Above that is the 02 deck, which has a smaller interior. The 02 deck is where the life rafts are kept. Above that is the bridge deck, smaller still, but fun to be up there at the control center of the ship’s world! And the very top is the fly bridge – a cool place to hang out and see far and wide. Below the 01 deck is the main deck (also known as 1 deck), where the galley (mess deck) and lounges are. Below that is the 2 deck, where the engine and generators are, as well as the laundry room and a gym. This is the heart of the ship.

Johns on the bridge
ENS Kristin Johns at the controls on the bridge

One last picture (next time I’ll have more pics) – we had our first fire and abandon ship drills. These are extremely important, and everyone takes them seriously. I forgot to bring my camera to the fire drill, but I’ll try to remember next time. I had to put on my “gumby” suit, which is the survival suit we all need if we have to abandon ship. It’s an incredibly thick neoprene dry suit, and I felt rather silly in it, but it’s serious business! Cute, don’t you think?

Gumby suit
I will survive!

Did You Know?

In the Gulf of Mexico, the continental shelf extends about 60-100 miles from shore. The average depth of the Gulf is 1615 meters, with a maximum of about 4000 meters.

Challenge yourself: Where is the “Sigsbee Deep?” Are we going there?

New Term for the Day

Thalassophilia – love of the sea!

Julia West: In Port in Pascagoula, MS, March 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 17, 2015

Personal Log

I made it! A smooth flight down to Mississippi (which is a new state for me – I’ve never been here). I arrived to sunshine and warm temperatures – OK, downright hot to me, but I’ll get used to it quickly I’m sure. Pamela Bond, the chief scientist on this cruise, met me at the airport and brought me out to the Gordon Gunter. I quickly learned that it is not only Pam who is super nice and welcoming, but the entire crew. I’ll be introducing them more in future posts.

The ship is not at the usual port near the NOAA lab, but at the former naval station, on an island at the mouth of the Pascagoula River. This yard has multiple uses now, as you can see from the pictures below. So not only is the Gunter here, but it has the company of a Coast Guard vessel, and both are dwarfed by a massive oil rig. On the other side of the pier (not pictured) is a USGS vessel and others. There’s a lot going on here!

Gordon Gunter
The Gordon Gunter at the dock
Gunter, CG vessel, and oil rig
The Gordon Gunter (right) and Coast Guard vessel dwarfed by the huge Sovereign Explorer (oil rig), an old rig that has been docked here for about a year, waiting for bids to take it apart for scrap .

Across the way is Pascagoula’s largest employer, and Mississippi’s largest manufacturing employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, with 11,000 employees right here in Pascagoula! I can see ships in various stages of construction.

I have learned a lot about this area in the one day here at port. Two major events have happened here in recent years – Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP oil spill (2010). Both events simply ravaged this area. Everywhere we have been in the last day – the naval station, the NOAA lab, the highway – was under several feet of water during Katrina. You’ve seen the pictures. To hear about it from the folks here is profound. The BP oil spill (also known as Deepwater Horizon oil spill), another devastating event, changed the whole NOAA season (as it did for the fishermen and just about everyone else here). All the NOAA ships on the east coast, and one from the west coast, had to cancel their season’s research and congregate down here to be involved as needed, looking for oil, looking for marine mammals, etc. Today we visited the NOAA lab, where several employees are analyzing plankton samples taken from the affected waters. This is five years later, and still very relevant and ongoing data collection! (sorry, forgot to bring my camera to the lab, but I got to check out lots of plankton under the microscope).

my room
Deluxe accommodations!

Backing up now, to my arrival: Pam showed me to my room – I’m surprised that I have my own room! It has a refrigerator, closet, desk, comfy chair, my very own sink, and a shared bathroom with the room next door. And it has a TV – I barely know how to use a TV!

And then Tony, the ET (electronics technician) gave me a tour of the boat. Since then, I have been wandering around, sometimes in circles, trying to figure out the layout. I can tell right away that the food is going to be amazing.

My head is already spinning with some of the details about the equipment and technology. Pam was not sure if we would be launching on time – everything has to be just perfect for a research cruise to start, and if there are any issues, we don’t go. There were two repairs that needed to be made since the ship came to port just two days ago: one had to do with the unit that makes our water, by distilling seawater (very important!), and the other had to do with a malfunctioning gyro, or gyrocompass, needed for navigation (also important!). I wanted to know more about how a gyrocompass works, so I first looked it up on Wikipedia, and then talked to Dave Wang, the NAV (navigations officer). It’s so fascinating – a compass that points true north partly by using the rotation of the Earth. The good news is that both of the repairs are done and we will be launching on time!

Water tank
This large fresh water tank was added after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

I just want to share one bit info about a simple piece of equipment on the aft deck. It’s a water tank. I asked Tony what it’s for, when we have the technology to make fresh water. Well, after the oil spill, getting fresh water was a problem, so the tank was added. It was decided that it was convenient to have after it was no longer needed, and is now used for things that need a freshwater wash.

I am wrapping up this blog post now, a day after I started it. I’ve had my safety and ship protocol briefing, and we are underway. We’ve passed the barrier islands, and the ship is starting to rock a bit. Here we go! We have another 5 hours or so to go to get to our first sampling station, so the science work will start tonight. One final photo – to get out of the tight spot we were docked in, a tugboat was necessary:

Tugboat
The tug getting ready to help us leave the dock. At first it held the stern of the ship in place while our bow thrusters pivoted the front, and then it pulled us out.

 Word of the Day (time to start learning the terminology):

Neuston – the organisms that are found on the very top of the water, in the surface film. Contrast that with plankton, which can be said to be found within the water, not always right at the surface.

Julia West: Getting Ready to Head South to the Gulf of Mexico! March 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
(Almost!) Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 11, 2015

Introduction

Hello from the frozen north! From the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York, and from almost as cold southern Vermont, I welcome you to this blog of my new adventure. My name is Julia West, and in just a few short days I will be embarking on a new journey, leaving this place where the average temperature last month was a cozy 5°F (-15°C) and joining the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will be more like 60°F (15°C).

The Gordon Gunter

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
The Gordon Gunter, length 224′, first launched in 1989 as the U.S. Naval ship Relentless, and converted to its present configuration for NOAA in 1998. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

First of all, if you’re the type who asks as many questions as I do (and I hope you are – questions are good!), you might be wondering why am I saying hello from two places, both NY and VT. Well, Oak Meadow School, “where” I teach, is in Brattleboro, VT. I live in NY, 3 hours away. And the students? They are everywhere! But of course if you are an Oak Meadow student, you already know all this. So I will say I am from both places, and I represent homeschooled students throughout the world, who will hopefully be tuning into this blog and adding comments. I invite everyone reading this to ask questions and share comments – I don’t need to know who you are, but hope you will introduce yourself.

I teach high school science, mostly biology and environmental science, and health, to homeschooled students through our distance learning program. I have been working for Oak Meadow for 22 years now. I am always looking for ways to bring our students together in our global community, and what better way to do that but to go out into the one “world ocean” that we all share. I’m passionate about science and scientific research, and very excited to share with you all that I learn. And believe me, I have much to learn. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any real field work, and the technology has changed so much that I am getting into student mode!

More About Me

Julia West - skiing Feb 2015
This is me on a backcountry ski tour last week here in the Adirondacks

 I would have to say I’m a landlubber who loves oceans. I’m more comfortable in the mountains where I can range far and wide, yet the unknown has a strong pull on me – I love new challenges. Living in a small floating space will be my first entry into a whole new world, which I hope will lead to more sailing experiences in the future. I don’t even know yet if I get seasick! I grew up with small boats on the many lakes we have here; I’ve taken plenty of ferries in various oceans, but I’ve never spent real time at sea. I love the outdoors – I am an avid cross-country skier, biker, hiker, and whitewater raft guide.

I don’t know the Gulf of Mexico; I have spent very little time in the south. We all hear about the Gulf in the news, and often not in a good way: hurricanes, BP oil spill, the dead zone…. I teach about these topics. I’m excited to get a firsthand perspective on the important research being done there. More on that soon, but first, I have to share this picture of some of the cool NOAA goodies that came in the mail last week! I have to admit – I really like the NOAA logo.

NOAA TAS goodies
The cool TAS swag that came from NOAA!

What I Know about NOAA

When most people think about NOAA, they are probably thinking about the National Weather Service forecast. NOAA is so much more! I have used the website as an incredible resource on meteorology, anything related to the oceans or atmosphere, fisheries, and climate science. As a science geek, I just have fun clicking around the NOAA website, checking it all out. It is NOAA scientists who map the ocean floor, providing safe passage for shipping. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service takes the lead in stewardship of the marine ecosystems in the U.S. And if you want the latest in climate monitoring and predictions, look to NOAA.

I also have learned a little bit about NOAA through my daughter, Joy. She was a Hollings scholar in college, which opened the door to employment with NOAA in Woods Hole, MA. Now a PhD candidate in marine biology, she still does some research on NOAA ships. Here is a picture of Joy on the R/V Auk a few years ago. The yellow creature is called a marine autonomous recording unit (MARU), otherwise known as a pop-up. It is deployed into waters of the continental shelf to record the sounds of marine mammals. These units are anchored to the bottom, and in six months, when it is time to retrieve them, an acoustic signal triggers the cable to release, and the unit “pops up” to the surface, where it is found and picked up.

Joy doing NOAA research
My daughter Joy (see any resemblance?) ready to deploy a pop-up in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off of Cape Cod. Photo credit: Denise Risch.

It was partly through Joy that I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, and I also have to credit her for reviving my interest in field science. So here I am!

What I Will Be Doing

What is a winter plankton survey anyway? I will be sharing lots of details about that in the next few weeks, as I learn. The fish resources in the Gulf (or anywhere) are important to humans, and it is through constant monitoring that we keep up on the status and health of fish populations. This data informs fishing regulations. The status of non-fishery species (those not used by humans) is equally important, as you know, because all species are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

We will be sampling fish eggs, larvae, and juveniles, as well as their zooplankton predators and prey, to determine their abundance and distribution. We will be measuring physical properties of their habitat, as well as primary productivity. That’s about as far as I will go right now, at the risk of giving you incorrect information! I’ll be sharing details about the tools and methods used in upcoming blog posts.

Meanwhile, this map below shows the sampling locations – if you need me, you can look for me in one of these spots!

SEAMAP monitoring stations
SEAMAP monitoring stations in the Gulf of Mexico. You can be sure to find us around here somewhere! Photo credit: SEFSC (NOAA website)

New? Terms

If you can’t remember what plankton is, it’s time to look it up! How about primary productivity? Feel free to share your definitions by leaving a comment.

Today’s Question (leave a reply in the comment section with your answer!)

Who was Gordon Gunter?

Lastly

I love maps, and couldn’t help adding one. First stop Pascagoula, MS NOAA lab, where the ship will be waiting. Next “stop,” Gulf of Mexico!

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

IMG_8281
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.

Marc
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.

margaret3
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!

newport-sue
Downtown Newport, RI
Photo by Kevin Ryan
okeanos
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.

stormw
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!

NOAAcorps
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:

sueonNOAA
Walkway to the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Kevin Ryan.
map
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.

saratogatoGgunther
The de-commisioned Aircraft Carrier, Saratoga, at the Newport Naval Base. You can see the Gordon Gunter on the far right.
IMG_8038
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.

IMG_8235
Gordon Gunter Mess Hall
IMG_8243
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.

IMG_8233
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:

IMG_8023
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.

sunsetNOAA
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.

Melanie Lyte: May 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 12.8 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 11.8 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit)
Wind speed: 21 knots (25 miles per hour)
Relative humidity: 100%
Barometric pressure: 1023.5

Science and Technology Log

Right whale I saw on 5/28
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Peter Duley under Permit #775-1875

We finally had a right whale sighting today! It was a juvenile and was quite close to the ship. It was exciting to see it frolicking.  

Allison Henry, chief scientist, recently told me that over 70% of the right whales they see have entanglement scars. The scars are due to entanglement in fishing lines.

Right whale with entanglement scars.
Photo Credit:; Mavynne under Permit # EGNO 1151
Right whale with entanglement scars.

Sometimes teams of scientists with special training attempt to disentangle a whale. It can be dangerous work. The video below shows a team working to remove fishing lines from a whale in 2011. The scientists first need to attach the small boat to the whale with lines so they can stay with it while it swims until it exhausts itself.  Only when the whale is tired, can the team work to cut away the entanglement.

Watch  this video of a whale disentanglement.

The other hazard is that whales tend to rest and feed near the surface of the water in the shipping lanes, and can be hit by ships.

During the day, from 7am-7pm, the scientists take turns on watch. This means we watch for whales using “big eyes” which are giant binoculars. We spend 30 minutes on left watch, 30 minutes in the center, and 30 minutes on the right watch.  At the center station we record sightings and update the environment using a computer program designed for this purpose.

The big eyes
photo credit: Barbara Beblowski
Recording data
phot credit: Peter Duley

I visited the Wheel House on the ship today. This is also called the bridge, and is the control center of the ship (similar to the cockpit of an airplane). The wheel house has many controls that the crew needs to know how to use, and it takes years of training to be able to command a ship. I spoke with Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Taylor and Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Michael Levine about the workings of the Gunter.

Wheel or helm of the ship
Wheel or helm of the ship
Auto Pilot
Auto Pilot

This is the wheel or helm of the ship. The Gunter is one of the last NOAA ships with this type of helm. The newer ships have a helm that looks more similar to that which you find in a race car. Although the helm is still used to steer the ship at times, especially when docking, the steering is left to the auto pilot  the majority of the time.

ARPA radar
ARPA radar

I know some of you were concerned about how the officers could see to steer the boat in the fog. The ship has an ARPA radar system that shows where other boats in the area are in relation to our ship. The radar also shows the course our ship is taking and alerts the crew to anything that may be in the path of the ship.

Throttles
Throttles

The throttles control the speed of the ship. The maximum speed of ship is 10 knots which is about 12 miles per hour. The ship uses diesel fuel and it takes about 1,200 gallons of fuel to run the ship for a 24 hour period. At night they will sometimes shut down one engine which makes the ship go slower, but which saves about 400 gallons or $1,600 a day. This is one reason why we anchored for 3 days during the bad weather. The weather made surveying whales impossible so it didn’t make sense to run the ship during that time. The cost of running the Gunter is $11,000/day on average. This includes everything to do with sailing including salaries, food, etc.

Personal Log

I know that some of my first graders have been asking about where I sleep and eat on the ship. Below are pictures of my stateroom and the galley of the ship. Two very important places!

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)
Stateroom (sleeping quarters)
Galley on the Gordon Gunter
Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Melanie Lyte: May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature 15.5 degrees celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature 12.01 degrees celsius (54 degrees fahrenheit)
Wind speed 10 knots (12 miles per hour)
Relative humidity 85%
Barometric pressure 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

We are on the fifth day of our cruise and the weather is being very uncooperative! It has been foggy everyday which makes sighting whales very difficult. Before we started the cruise (it sounds strange to call it a cruise. It seems more like a mission),  an aerial survey team did a fly over and spotted some right whales in the area we’ve been combing, but we have been unable to find them. Now we have set anchor off Provincetown, Cape Cod to sit out some bad weather that has moved in. We will stay here in this protected area until Sunday. This morning the wind was blowing at 54 knots or 60 miles per hour. Did you know that a knot is about 1.2 miles per hour? We set anchor last night and the wind was so strong it dragged the  ship and anchor 300 yards!

While this is disappointing for me and for all aboard, I am amazed at the positive attitude and optimism shown by the scientists here. They take it all in stride, and are used to things not turning out as they had planned. I guess that’s the nature of field work. They are all extremely dedicated and passionate about their research.

The Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: NOAA

You can track the course of the Gordon Gunter by going to the NOAA ship tracker website: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html . The ship is always in pursuit of whales so the track will sometimes look like a zigzag with lines crossing back and forth over each other. You can keep checking back to see our progress once we set sail again.

Although I have not seen many marine mammals, I have seen some sea birds that are new to me. The first is the gannet. The gannet is known for its diving ability. It can plunge into the ocean head first and go down 30 ft. It is a sea-bird so it never rests on land other than when it goes to its breeding colony.

Northern gannet photo
Northern gannet
Photo credit: Marie C. Martin

Next, I saw a greater shearwater. This bird is also a sea-bird which means it doesn’t go to land unless it is breeding. They congregate on Nightingale Island to breed. Nightingale Island is located between the tips of Africa and South America. They have a very long flight during breeding season!

Great shearwater
Great shearwater
Photo credit: birdfroum.net

I also saw a Northern Fulmar. They are also sea birds and they nest in Scotland. These birds look much like sea gulls.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
Photo credit: Andreas Trepte

Personal Log

Today is day 5 of our cruise. While it is disappointing that the weather has not cooperated, it is such a learning experience to be on a ship like this one. I am learning so much everyday about what it’s like to be a scientist in the field. Besides being patient and optimistic, scientists need to be careful and precise in recording their field work. It is a good lesson for me and for you (my first graders) to always work carefully, and give close attention to detail in your work because that is what being a scientist is all about. Start practicing doing your best and most careful work now so you will be ready to be scientists when you grow up.

At this point I can see Provincetown from the ship, but for 2 days there was no land in sight. I really got a sense of just how big the ocean is. When we’re not sailing there is not much to do on the ship. I am fortunate that there are many new people to befriend, books to read and listen to, and delicious food at every meal. I also enjoy all your comments so keep them coming!

Did You Know?

Did you know that some of the scientists on this cruise have dedicated their entire working lives to surveying and cataloging right whales? They migrate with the whales down south in the winter, and come back up north in the spring.

Did you know that the sea depth is measured in fathoms? 1 fathom equals 6 feet

Question of the day:

Here is a line from a famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”

What do think that means? Why can’t they drink the water? Hint: The poem is written about sailors who are shipwrecked in a big storm out at sea

New  Vocabulary: Draw a ship and label all the parts below
Bow- front of the ship
Stern- rear of the ship
Starboard- right side of the ship
Port- left side of the ship
Aft- toward the back of the ship
Forward- toward the front of the ship

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

hikein
My students on a field-trip to the desert.
endofday
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
IMG_5384
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.

cranesgroup-copy
Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.
IMG_6468
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.

edgeofcanyon
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.

IMG_9292
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!

wellearnedrest3
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.

big mac
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…

Melanie Lyte: On the Brink of an Adventure at Sea! May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 14, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, from Castleton, New York. My name is Melanie Lyte and I am a first grade teacher at Bell Top Elementary School . I am very fortunate to teach in a school of dedicated staff where creativity and innovation is fostered, and embraced. My principal, Jim McHugh, was the one who urged me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, and I am grateful to him for his support and encouragement. Although Bell Top is a public school, many of the yearly activities our students are involved in are unique, especially in a public school setting. With funds from a NSTA administered Toyota Tapestry Grant we built a Learning Barn on our school grounds. The barn, built uniquely using both Dutch and English architectural styles so students can compare the two ways, houses an evaporator for a school wide maple sugaring project, as well as cider press for making apple cider in the fall.  We also have amazing parental support at our school, a very active PTO, and of course the best kids in the world walk through our doors each day!

Bell Top Elementary School,Troy, NY
Bell Top Elementary School, Troy NY

I originally applied to be a teacher at sea because I love science and adventure, and I love to bring my experiences outside the classroom back to enrich my students. In the last few years I have camped in the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia, hiked and kayaked in Alaska,  visited the rain forests of Brazil, and traveled to China. I believe we must expose our children to the the broader world, and the natural world around them in order to foster a curiosity about far away places, and  love and appreciation for our earth. We need to feed every student’s innate sense of wonder and excitement for the world around them.

My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.
My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.

I think the opportunity to work with real scientists doing research will be a life changing event for me, and I am even more enthused because the mission of this voyage, conducting a right whale survey in the North Atlantic, is perfect for my first graders! What child doesn’t get excited about whales?!?! I am also very fortunate to teach with my partner in first grade, Sarah Lussier. She and I truly have a the best teaching partnership imaginable, and we, and our students, are enriched by it.  To prepare our students for my upcoming voyage, we have been learning all we can about right whales, and whales in general. We painted a  right whale and whale calf on the parking lot at school (that was an adventure in itself – think 42 first graders  with paint brushes and black concrete paint). The students also researched right whales, created diagrams of the whale, and developed informational posters of what they learned. I think the consensus of the students is that right whales are “really cool, but a little lazy, and kind of ugly.” (as one of my first graders so  eloquently put it). They are fascinated by the callosities on the whales and are saddened that the whales sit on top of the water so often and are in danger of being hit by boats. While I’m at sea the students in both our classrooms will be working on many other whale related activities, as well as following my blog.

Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.
Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.
Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School
Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School
Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.
Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.
Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.
Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.
Right whale (1980) Massachusetts Secretary of ...
The right whale became the official state marine mammal of Massachusetts in 1980. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/NOAA

So in less than two weeks my adventure at sea will begin! I will be joining head scientist Allison Henry and the crew of the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Gordon Gunter out of Boston MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right whale survey, but I have been told we will see other whales as well such as humpback, sei, and minke. I can’t wait to explore the ocean with scientists, and learn all I can about the creatures who live there. I hope you will join me on my adventure by reading my blogs while I’m at sea.

Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

Angela Greene: “Entangled with Superheroes” May 2, 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 2, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Average Air Temperature- 7°C or 44.6°F, Winds out of the north, Sky Conditions-clear

Science and Technology Log:

Lowering CTD
Deploying CTD cast. “All in a days work.”

Time seems to be flying by on the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter as one day quickly runs into the next.  I am learning so many new things, and doing brand new tasks that I am not sure where to begin telling my story.  Every time something awesome happens I want to write it down, but something even more awesome happens.  It’s such a busy work environment for the crew and the scientists!

I am on the ship with a scientist whose job is to “disentangle” whales. Of course I had a million questions such as, “Disentangle whales from what?” The first night on board, we were treated to a “science talk” from David Morin of the Large Whale Disentanglement Program, Protected Resources Division of NOAA.

Large whales can swim into and get entangled by gear of commercial fishermen. Apparently they swim into the gear, panic while attempting to get free, and make the entanglement worse. The gear can be in the form of long ropes, buoys, and even lobster pots.

Trident gillnet
Disentanglement team trying to remove a gill net from a large whale. Photo credit Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies under fisheries permit number 932-1489.
Cutting tools
Tools used for disentanglement. Photo credit Provincetowne Center for Coastal Studies.

Sometimes the whales can free themselves either fully or partially, but all too often they have to learn to cope with all the gear wrapped around fins, flippers, or flukes. The entanglement can become so tight and restrictive that it actually embeds into the flesh of the animal, creating deep gashes, and scars.

When an entangled whale is spotted and reported, a disentanglement team springs into action.  A large boat takes them to the reported location and a small rubber boat gets them as close to the whale as possible.  With cameras mounted on head-gear, the disentanglement team must first assess the type of gear and configuration of the entanglement.  Obviously every case is different, with a wide range of fishing gear, and different species and sizes of whales.  Right then the small boat a plan is launched and put into motion to attempt to free the whale from its bindings using a variety of sophisticated cutting tools mounted to large poles.

Yellowfin lift
Disentanglement is a dangerous job. Photo Credit Florida Fish and Wildlife under fisheries permit # 932-1489.

Dave has been in situations where the whale has become frightened and slapped a fluke down on the small rubber boat.  One swift move from a whale could be the end of a crew attempting disentanglement.    This doesn’t stop Dave from telling the details of his work with passion and admiration for the opportunity to work with whales.  I’ll stick with teaching!

Big Eyes
Me and “Big Eyes” Photo Credit Mark Baumgartner

My job during the right whale survey has, so far, been very addicting!  We run ninety minute “watch shifts” on the flying bridge searching for any signs of life, particularly whales.  The flying bridge, the highest point on the ship, gives you the best vantage point when looking out into the ocean for marine life.

Blow
A “Blow”

There are three stations that I rotate through every thirty minutes while “on watch”. Station one is a set of “Big Eyes”, or really large binoculars. The view of the ocean using the “Big Eyes” is specific and fantastic! During that thirty-minute segment of my watch duty, I scan my side of the ocean, which is bisected by the bow of the ship. I look for any signs of life such as a splash, a “blow”, a dorsal fin, a fluke, or even “suspicious water patterns”. If I think I have spotted marine life such as a dolphin, seal, or a whale I shout out “SIGHTING” to the data recorder. I have to tell the data recorder very specific data about my animal sighting, which is added to a computer program.

The middle station on the fly bridge of watch duty is the data recorder. This is the scariest job for me because sometimes multiple sightings have to be recorded at once. The third position of watch duty is thirty additional minutes on a second set of “Big Eyes”.

Data Collection
Me as “Data Collector” Photo Credit Allison Henry

My very first official sighting was a Mother Sei whale and her calf. Her dorsal was long and sickle shaped as she arched through the glassy water. Then her baby arched right after she did. It was amazing! The process of being on watch is smooth, simple, calm, and easy. I’ve adjusted well to it and look forward to scanning the water. However all this peacefulness changes dramatically when the sighting is a Right Whale… I sighted one today…

Fluke
“Could it be a fluke?”

Personal Log: Many people know that my hobby is “collecting scientists”! I have a rather eclectic sampling of amazing people that I have acquired through the years. Each one of them has an amazing supernatural ability that sets them apart from the normal human. Each of them is a superhero. Watching the scientists on this field experience solidifies my hypothesis. My chief scientist, Allison Henry has the superpower of being able to identify a right whale by glancing at the animal or a photograph the same way I could look at a yearbook and identify a student in my class. This is not a normal skill possessed by regular humans. Scientist, Dave, untangles whales, much like I untangle the Christmas lights each year. Normal people don’t untangle large mammals in the ocean. Aside from possessing supernatural abilities, the new scientists in my collection exude a passion toward their chosen career paths. While these superpowers set them apart, I think that passion is what connects them to us. Maybe my job as an educator is to recognize the passion in each student and encourage him or her to find the superhero within.