Anna Levy, Getting Underway! July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

The weather and waves have been pretty calm as we head down the Pascagoula River out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Latitude: 30.37 degrees North

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Today’s sky!

Longitude: 88.54 degrees West

Air temp: 30.0 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: clear

 

Science and Technology Log

NOAA scientists and staff waved from the dock as we got underway this afternoon!

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NOAA scientists and staff see us off.

While we motored out of port in Pasgacoula, Mississippi, Andre DeBose, the chief scientist met with the science team to give us more details about our mission. We will be visiting the 48 remaining survey stations, all of which are in the eastern Gulf, off the west coast of Florida. The survey protocol is a little different in this area than it was in the western Gulf. Each station will take longer because, before we can begin trawling, we will use several different pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor to avoid disrupting the sensitive coral reefs which are more widely spread in this area. So, we will not cover as much distance as other legs of the survey have.

In the meantime, we have 12 hours of “steaming,” or traveling, before we reach our first sampling location. There’s not much for us on the science team to do during this time, so I’ve been trying to get to know others on my team. Besides Andre, there are three other senior scientists aboard from NOAA. The rest of the science team is composed of volunteers, most of who are graduate students (including one from Australia and another from Brazil.) Some of them are collecting samples for their own projects and I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that each of them conducts.

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The ship’s crew

Also on board are 1 Civilian Master and 4 NOAA corps officers who navigate and command the ship, 5 engineers who keep the engines and ship running smoothly, 6 experienced deckhands / fishermen who operate all of the fishing gear and equipment on deck (like the trawl we will be using), 2 stewards who cook all meals and help to make everyone on board comfortable, and 1 electronic technician to make sure scientific equipment and ship electronics are in working order.

I’m struck by the way in which all of these individuals, and their diverse skill sets, come together to make this work happen. There were so many details to consider to bring this group together – we each had travel arrangements, medical and security clearances, berthing (rooming) assignments, shift schedules, emergency roles, safety trainings, and more to consider. Each state we will be passing through had to grant permission to work in their waters and all laws restricting fishing and protecting endangered species had to be followed. When I think about what it’s like to be a scientist, I usually imagine a person spending a lot of time thinking about the science involved in project itself, but a huge part of the work of any scientist is logistics – working to bring together all of the right people and materials are in the right place at the right time!

 

Personal Log

I arrived Monday evening and spent last night on the boat. It was nice to have the time to get settled and look around before most of the rest of the crew and science team arrived today. I was told that one or two crew members were aboard, but I did not bump into them, so it felt a little strange to be there mostly alone. I took my motion sickness medicine and then passed the time reading and calling home to talk to my family. My room and bunk are small, so I was a little worried that things might feel claustrophobic, but the time was surprisingly peaceful. It reminded me of being in a tent while camping.

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The stateroom my roommate and I share.

In fact, I’m amazed at how homey the whole ship feels. There are three levels (decks) of inside living space, most of which is berthing (crew rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc.). There is even a set of full size washing and drying machines. The inside space also includes a galley (kitchen/dining area) that seats 12 and a lounge which seats about 8. The lounge is a nice area – it contains a large TV and a binder of about 800 movies (including movies currently in theatres, courtesy of the US Navy!). There is also 1 main level of outside work space, plus a flying bridge (an outdoor area above the bridge) that is the highest deck on the ship. There is exercise equipment scattered in nooks throughout the ship. It’s amazing how efficiently space is used!

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The ship’s lounge.

Everyone is free to move about the ship. The only restrictions are that non-essential persons cannot be on the bridge during busy times or weather and cannot go down to the engine room. However, even with all the freedom, there is always someone sleeping, and most of the outside areas are jam-packed with scientific and fishing equipment, and it is very easy to unintentionally disturb or get in the way of others.  We all have to be constantly aware to keep ourselves safe and be considerate of the people around us. Fortunately, everybody I’ve met is so friendly and thoughtful – there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all on the same team.

The science team and some crew on the ship work either the day shift (from noon until midnight) or the night shift (from midnight to noon). I lucked out to be on day shift, so I won’t need to alter my sleeping schedule drastically.

The tight space and 24 hour schedule does make it a

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The ship operates on military time.

bit difficult to know what to do with oneself during down time, especially since your roommate is typically sleeping while you’re awake. I’m finding that I really enjoy standing outside, along the side of the ship and looking out at the open water, or holing up in a corner of the lounge with my computer or book. Once I start my first shift, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the time just to rest. There aren’t too many opportunities for socializing as everyone is either working or sleeping most of the time, but everyone seems to laugh and joke around when they are able.

I’m feeling great (no seasickness so far!) and am looking forward to getting into a daily routine. I just ate my first meal – a delicious dinner of fish, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and peach cobbler. There is also a salad bar with each meal and snacks and ice cream available 24/7. (We will definitely not go hungry.)

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first shift and should see some fish!

 

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Did You Know?

It’s amazing how self-sufficient and self-contained Oregon II is. For example:

The freshwater used aboard for drinking, showering, etc. is drawn directly from the ocean. The saltwater is filtered with equipment using a process called reverse osmosis, where high pressure separates particles resulting in freshwater.

Several of the fishing crew and officers are also trained MPIC’s (medical person in charge). They are medically trained to respond and provide emergency care. In the event of a more serious illness or injury, they are able to contact doctors on land and implement their instructions.

All sewage on board is broken down by bacteria. Once processed through a marine sanitation device (MSD), this treated water is safer for the environment. Following the appropriate maritime regulations, it can then be released into the ocean.

 

Questions to Consider:

Reflect: Scientific fieldwork, even work on land, often requires travel and adapting to unusual circumstances. How would you handle living and working in unusual, sometimes extreme, conditions?

 

Anna Levy: Preparing to Embark! July 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Soon to be Aboard the Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 7, 2016

 

Weather Data

I’m currently at home in Broomfield, Colorado (a suburb of Denver and Boulder). It’s a typical, hot and dry summer day at 27 degrees C (81 degrees F) at 10:30am. I’m about 1,400 miles away from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where I will be joining the team on our ship, The Oregon II, in just a few days!

 

1 - Oregon II

The Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA

Latitude: 39.9919 N
Longitude: 105.266 W
Elevation: 1624 meters (5,328 feet) above sea level
Air temp: 27 C (81 F)
Water temp: N/A
Wind direction: From Northeast to Southwest
Wind speed: 7 knots (8 mph)
Wave height: N/A
Sky: Clear

 

Science and Technology Log

Once on board, I will be assisting with the third and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey.

SEAMAP stands for the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. Since this program began in 1981, scientists from NOAA and other organizations have been collecting data about the number, types, and health of fish and other marine organisms, as well as the characteristics of the water in of their ocean homes throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. This information helps us not only to understand how these ecosystems are changing over time, but also to make informed decisions about how we humans are using valuable ocean resources.

As you can imagine, the ocean is a large and complex environment, so collecting all of that information is a big task! To make it more manageable, SEAMAP is broken down into many smaller projects, each of which focuses on specific regions or aspects of the area. The Groundfish Survey focuses on monitoring fish and other organisms that live near the ocean floor. (This includes some species that we humans catch and eat, like shrimp, halibut, cod, and flounder.)

The Oregon II is equipped with a variety of scientific and fishing equipment.   Because our mission is focused on groundfish, I expect that we will be using a lot of the Oregon II’s fishing gear, especially its trawls. A trawl is a type of weighted net that can be pulled along the floor of the ocean. (Check out this video of how a bottom trawl works.)

After we bring our catch aboard, I imagine that most of my time will be spent helping to identify, describe, count, and catalogue all of the fish and other marine species that we encounter. I can’t wait to get on board, see some new species, and learn more about the methods we will use to collect all of this data in a scientifically rigorous way.

1 - MB Measure Fish

Teacher at Sea, Melissa Barker, measures a fish on a recent groundfish surveyPhoto Credit: Melissa Barker

I will be the third Teacher at Sea to work on the SEAMAP Summer Goundfish Survey this year, so I have been lucky to learn a lot from the two teachers who have already been to sea. Check out their blogs to see how the project is going so far:

  • Chris Murdock from Iowa City, Iowa was on the first leg (June 7 to 20, 2017).
  • Melissa Barker from Lafayette, Colorado was on the second leg (June 22 to July 6, 2017).

 

 

 

Personal Log

1 - PRA

The school where I teach in Broomfield, Colorado.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

I am honored to have been accepted into the Teacher at Sea program. It was my love of learning that led me to a career in teaching in the first place, so I really appreciate the opportunity immerse myself in a new scientific adventure, and I can’t wait to share the experience with my 9th grade biology students when I get home. I hope that they will be as inspired as I am by the real work that scientists do. There is so much still to learn about the world around us, especially in new frontiers like our oceans – the skills and concepts we learn in class are only the beginning!

1 - In Class

In class with two of my former students.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

Like most of my students, I have always lived in landlocked states. I’ve visited a few beaches, collected some shells, and splashed in the waves, but have very little experience with the ocean beyond that. I’ve definitely never been on a ship like the Oregon II before, so I’m curious to see what challenges await aboard. I think the most difficult part will be adjusting to the sounds, smells and motion of a fisheries ship. I’m expecting tight quarters, loud engines and fishing equipment, stinky fish, and probably some seasickness. We’ll see if that turns out to be true…

Back home in Colorado, I enjoy hiking, biking, gardening, cooking and exploring the amazing outdoors with my wonderful husband, Mike, and our hilarious two-year old daughter, Evie.

1 - Family Hike

My family out for a hike in the beautiful Colorado mountains

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Me, My husband, Mike, and our daughter, Evie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The SEAMAP program has been going on for over 35 years and makes all of the data it collects freely available to other scientists, government agencies, the fishing industry, and the general public.

The Teacher at Sea program was established in 1990 and has sent over 700 teachers to sea!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: How has all of the data collected over the years through SEAMAP been used?

Reflect: What might have happened if this data was not available?

Predict: What types of things do you think we will do while on the Oregon II to make sure that our data is collected in a “scientifically rigorous” way?

 

Carol Schnaiter: Leaving the Midwest! May 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carol Schnaiter
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 6 – June 21, 2014

In just a little over two weeks, I will be leaving the green, flat fields of the Midwest to board the NOAA ship Oregon II and sail out of Pascagoula, MS! This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a scientific research team to learn what lives below the water and to bring this back to my students. I am honored to have been selected as part of the 2014 NOAA Teacher At Sea class and look forward to this exciting adventure. While on the ship we will be doing a summer groundfish survey. I am really looking forward to finding out more about this groundfish survey. We have been learning about the food web, so my students will be interested in learning about this too!

Nab the Invader

Learning about invasive species of the Great Lakes

Presently I am finishing my thirty-fourth year of teaching, with the past fourteen years being the kindergarten through fourth grade science teacher at Amboy Central School in Amboy, IL. Amboy is a beautiful, rural town of about 2400 people in Northern Illinois and no matter what direction you leave Amboy, you will see farms and fields. I have lived in Amboy for the past thirty-four years with my husband, Jeff. We have two daughters; Amanda who is married to Jeremy and they live in MA and Jessica who will be leaving for OK in the fall, and our faithful dog, Ginger. The Midwest has been my home for my entire life and after this long, cold winter we just survived, I am looking forward to being in the Gulf for two weeks.

Working together to clean up at the Amboy Marsh!

Being the elementary science teacher is a very rewarding, dream job and I am grateful that the school board and administration continue to support this program. I am able to see every student in our school, plus having a science room full of experiments, live animals, and technology is great. There is never a dull moment in our room as we are always finding new ideas to learn about. Right now the third and fourth grade students are just finishing their units on invasive species, so I will be keeping my eyes out for anything that should not be in the Gulf! I am also a NOAA Climate Steward and I am hoping to learn how the changing climate is affecting the Gulf and to add this information to our unit in fourth grade.

Family at daughter Amanda's wedding

Family at daughter Amanda’s wedding

I enjoy traveling to visit family and friends and learning about new things-you can never know too much! I will post to this blog while at sea, so please be sure to check back after June 7th!

John Clark, To the Henry B. Bigelow – Bound and Determined, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 18, 2013

Introduction

Thank you for reading about my adventures at sea. My name is John Clark and I’m entering my 7th year teaching science at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. Our community is just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Teaching is my second career, after working in the telecommunications field, and I love getting students excited about science. I’ve even earned a few awards for being successful at it. I’m married to the love of my life, Jill, who is also a teacher. In our lives are three grown children and seven grandchildren. With great blessings, I share that they are all healthy, happy, and live close enough for us to see them regularly. At home we have replaced the kids with two cats and a dog.

My wife Jill with grandson Rion

My wife Jill with grandson Rion

Jills husband - me, John Clark

Jills husband – me, John Clark

Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan

Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan

In a few days, anticipation will be replaced by action as I board a plane headed for my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience I’ve waited for all summer to begin. I’ll be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a ship specially built for NOAA to carry out the type of fisheries research I’ll be taking part in. I’ll be working side by side with experienced scientists who not only are knowledgeable in how to do the research conducted on board but also have the skill to share their knowledge with volunteers like me who have limited background in the science behind the work. It is the experience of a lifetime that I hope will energize my students about studying science as we carry out lesson plans developed from the experience and I share with them the stories of my time at sea. I’m sure a giant boat-eating squid will be in there somewhere.

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Officially, I’m taking part in 2013 Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey conducted by the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the NOAA Fisheries Service. That’s a long fancy way of saying that the ship is going to drag a net for a short period of time near the bottom of the ocean and then collect data on the types of fish we catch as well as the environment they live in. Affectionately called a “critter cruise”, I now join a long line of Teacher at Sea alumni who have taken part in the biannual surveys of North Atlantic marine life. And there are a lot of critters to learn to identify as I’m finding out from watching the CD I was sent to be better prepared to support the research team. There are two types of Dogfish which look suspiciously like little sharks, flounders that are left eyed or right eyed depending on which side they decided to leave up, and squid distinguished by the length of a pair of fins down the side of the body. All you do is hold them upright, tentacles hanging toward the ground, and take a look. And don’t forget the large lump fish which is described as have the texture of a dog’s chew toy. Whatever the species, the role of the research volunteer is to sort them out and then collect data for the scientists to study.

Scientist sorting a catch aboard the FSF Henry B. Bigelow

Scientists sorting a catch aboard the Bigelow

What can be overlooked in the preparation is the part about how to handle fish. I do not like to touch fish so I will be facing my fears even while wearing gloves. And I really don’t like it when they flop around. I envision I’ll be the one with the hand in the wrong place when the shark twists around to see who is holding its tail or, at a minimum, squeeze too hard on the species that will poke you with a poison spine if you upset them. Other good advice I’ve learned from the CD is that there is a 100% recovery from seasickness and if the seas get rough, wedge yourself into your bunk with your life vest so you don’t roll around and fall out. My two year old granddaughter, Ireland, was watching the video with me while I studied and all she could say was “Oh my.”

Run, it's the dogfish!

Run, it’s the dogfish!

Christina Peters: Update on Our Plankton Survey, July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Weather and Location:
Time: 21:24 Greenwich Mean Time (5:24 p.m. in Rockville, MD)
Latitude:  29.1970
Longitude:  -85.9904
Speed (knots):  3.00
Water temperature:  28.10 degrees Celsius
Salinity (PSU = Practical Salinity Units): 34.07
Air temperature:  29.00 degrees Celsius
Relative Humidity:  68%
Wind Speed (knots):  17.15
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1018.96
Depth (m) = 187.2

As you can see if you have been following the Ship Tracker website, we have been making our way back towards Pascagoula.  We still have some stations to work, and won’t be reaching the dock until Friday morning, but we will continue to head in that direction.  The weather has gotten a bit windier, with much larger swells over the last couple of days.  This has made collecting the plankton even more interesting.  With the wind frequently above twenty knots, handling the equipment becomes much more dangerous.  Some procedures need to be changed a bit for the sake of safety.  Luckily, the deck crew, Tim, James, and Chuck, are on top of things.  They are pretty funny to work with, too!

Our deck crew

Our deck crew – James, Tim (chief boatswain), and Chuck

Science and Technology Log

Water Titrations to Check Cissolved Oxygen Levels

The plankton stations have continued, with the biggest changes being how much sargassum (seaweed) we have needed to rinse out and go through, and the different kinds of tiny animal life we have observed.  I mentioned in an earlier blog that the scientists must periodically do water titrations to verify that the readings taken from the CTD are correct and nothing is malfunctioning.  I had an opportunity to perform some real chemistry as Kim Johnson, the chief scientist, walked me through the water titration steps.

First we had to collect the water samples from the CTD.  Remember, we are testing the oxygen levels, so it is important to collect the water samples without allowing bubbles to form, which might add oxygen to the sample.  You would be surprised at how hard this is!  A flexible tube is attached to one of the three Niskin Bottles on the CTD tank, and before any water is put into the jars, all of the air bubbles in the tube must be squeezed out.  This is an art!  Then the water can be transferred to the jars through the tube, holding the end of the tube against the side of the beaker to avoid making bubbles.  The stoppers are then gently put into the glass jars, again to avoid the addition of oxygen to the samples.  It is important to keep the water samples from getting too hot if you are not going to do the titrations right away.  Can you think of why heat might create a problem when doing a titration?  Also, we test three samples.  Why do you think testing three beakers is important?

Now we are ready to start the mad chemist part!  The chemicals used, and their amounts, are very specific, and the directions are posted in the lab so that you can always check your memory.  First, two milliliters of manganous sulfate is added to each sample.  The stopper is replaced after adding each substance, and the jars are turned upside down and back several times to mix the solution. The second substance added is two milliliters of azide-iodide solution.  After the solution is gently mixed, the jars need to stand for ten to twenty minutes.  When you come back after twenty minutes, you will see that there is a cloudy substance in each jar.  This first part of the process causes the chemical bond between the hydrogen and the oxygen to break, and the oxygen forms new bonds with the added chemicals.

Adding chemicals

Using the pipettes to add the chemicals to the water

After initial chemicals are added

A cloudy substance forms after the manganous sulfate and azide-iodide are added and mixed.

At this point, the oxygen is fixed and we don’t need to worry about introducing more oxygen to the samples.  Next, we added two milliliters of sulfuric acid to each jar.  This must be done very carefully because sulfuric acid is very harmful.  However, once it is added, the sulfuric acid is neutralized and the solution in the sample jars is not harmful.  (Remember the acid/neutral/base tests we did in class with lemon juice, vinegar, and Alka Seltzer, using a pH scale?)

Sulfuric acid

The sulfuric acid changes the color, and after mixing, causes the cloudiness to disappear.

Now we have a yellowish liquid and I will be adding phenylarsine oxide, drop by drop. This is the titration part. When the color turns clear, we can look at how much phenylarsine oxide was needed and that will tell us how much dissolved oxygen was present in the sample. This new chemical will bond with the oxygen molecules and cause a color change. However, because the change from yellow is hard to see, I added one milliliter of a starch solution for the only purpose of turning the sample blue.  This way the color change back to clear is easier to see.

Starch is added

Notice the color change after the starch is added (the blue beaker).

The sample is poured into a wide-mouthed beaker and a magnetic stirrer is added to the beaker.  This is a small, magnetic bar that spins when it is on the metal stand.  Drops of the phenylarsine oxide are allowed to slowly drip from a burette into the sample.  A burette is a very tall, thin, glass pipe-like container that allows easy adjustment of the flow of liquid, and allows for easy reading of very small amounts.

Titration 1

The burette is allowing the phenylarsine oxide to mix with the water solution, one drop at a time.

Once the sample starts to lose its color, you know you are close. One or two more drops and you will shut the valve on the burette and read the amount that was mixed into the sample.

Titration 2

Notice the color change towards the end of the titration.

Titration complete

Once the color change is complete, the titration is finished, and the burette is read for the dissolved oxygen content.

My samples showed dissolved oxygen amounts of 6.4, 6.5, and 6.5 milligrams per liter.  The CTD showed dissolved oxygen of 6.4 mg/l.  Since our results were very close, we are confident that the CTD is working well.

Remember, levels below 2% are considered hypoxic.  6.4% is a very healthy dissolved oxygen reading. This is what we expect as we move further from developed land, but it is still reassuring to see the healthy levels.

Later I tried another titration without supervision and found consistent readings of 4.9 mg/ mg/l oxygen.  However the CTD reading was 4.35 mg/l.  I guess I need more practice! 

Buoy Rescue Mission

 Yesterday we had the opportunity to participate in a buoy rescue mission.  Another organization had deployed a wave buoy, or a wave runner, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico that had been damaged, and was no longer able to give correct readings on things like current and wave height.  We were in the area, and agreed to retrieve the buoy.  As we got closer to the GPS signal, we spotted a large orange ball with an eight foot (about) antenna sticking out of it.  Oregon II’s small motor boat was launched and we set about collecting the buoy.

As we reached it, the deck crew and the CO noticed some things about the buoy that were inconsistent with the description.

Wrong buoy

Wrong buoy!

After making a telephone call, the CO told the crew to come back to the ship.  We had come across the wrong buoy!  Off we went in search of the correct one, which we found about half a mile away.  This one looked more like a surfboard and was fairly easy to get aboard the ship, using the crane.  That mission was accomplished, but we all marveled at the odds of finding two wave buoys within half a mile of each other in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!

Weather buoy rescue

Using the crane to lift the wave runner onto the deck.

Chuck Godwin and Officer Matt , who helped rescue the wave runner

Chuck Godwin and LTJG Matthew Griffin, who helped rescue the wave runner

Both parts of the wave runner

The part of the wave runner that looks like a surfboard sits on top of the water and has solar panels. It is attached to the slatted part that acts as a glider, and uses wave energy as it rises and falls to propel the board through the water.

Personal Log

 A Week at Sea

While I am still enjoying the cruise and the work, I have had a few days of queasiness.  Taking the seasick medicine helps a lot, so I am sticking with that for a few days.  Nights have been fine, and the rocking of the ship really is like being rocked in a cradle.  I hope I’ll be able to sleep when I am in a stationary bed back home!

Being on a cruise on a small ship brings me back to my days of living in a college dormitory.  You are living in very close quarters, eating every meal together, spending large amounts of time together, and really getting to know the people who are on your watch.  I have had a great group to work with – people with a lot of knowledge, and great senses of humor!  Victoria, a college intern, has been a newbie with me.  We have learned a lot from the other scientists, Andre and Joey, on our watch, as well as from our chief scientist, Kimberley Johnson.  Tim, James, and Chuck are the deckhands on our watch, and they do most of the heavy work, like lifting the equipment and running the J frame, winches and cranes.  Sometimes we are working with the equipment for forty-five minutes at a time.  The deckhands, while very serious about safety, keep us laughing the entire time.  As I am finishing this entry, we are heading towards home.  It will be nice to be on land again, but I will also miss the many different personalities I was lucky enough to get to know. 

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico covers an area that is about 615,000 square miles.

An area named “Sigsbee Deep” is located in the southwestern part of the Gulf.  It is more than 300 miles long and more than 14,383 feet deep at its deepest point.  It is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon under the sea”.

Sigsbee Deep

The Sigsbee Deep is the darker blue area in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo credit to http://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/gulfofmexico.htm

The Gulf’s coastal wetlands cover over five million acres, which is an area equal to about one-half of the area of the U.S.  It is the home to twenty-four endangered and threatened species and critical habitats.

It is estimated that 50% of the Gulf’s inland and coastal wetlands have been lost and that up to 80% of the Gulf’s sea grasses have been lost in some areas.  The continual loss of wetlands (about a football field a year) around the Mississippi Delta, a large land area near where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, changes how hurricanes impact the coast of the Gulf.  With fewer wetlands to absorb the impact of the hurricane, the hurricanes hit the populated areas with much greater force.

For more facts about the Gulf of Mexico, visit http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20120516_okeanusexplorer.html or

www.habitat.noaa.gov/media/news/pdf/gulf-of-mexico-review_final.pdf‎

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I hope you will check back in a few days for an update!

Sarah Boehm: Shrimp Galore, June 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2013

Weather at 20:40
Air temperature: 29.8 °C (85.64° F)
Barometer: 1007 mb
Humidity: 65   %
Wind direction:  221 °
Wind speed: 8.4  knots
Water temp: 29.2° C
Latitude: 29.05° N
Longitud: 88.69 ° W

Science and Technology Log

I have been on board for a week now and have learned a lot about the fish of the Gulf of Mexico. We have collected data on over 300 different species at 129 trawl stations So what happens with all this data?

Our work out here is part of SEAMAP – South East Area Monitoring and Assessment Program – a joint venture between NOAA and the states to better understand the populations of fish and invertebrates along the coast of the Gulf and Atlantic. The information we are collecting on Oregon II is combined with the data from other ships that do surveys in closer to land. The groundfish surveys began in the 1950s and happen each summer and fall. All this data tells a story of each species – how many individuals there are, how big they are, and where they prefer to live. This information can then be used to better manage the fishing industry so that marine populations stay strong.

We gather data about every species we pull up in our nets, but we pay special attention to the ones that are fished commercially like shrimp and red snapper. There are several shrimp species out here, but one we see a lot of is the brown shrimp.

Brown Shrimp

Brown Shrimp

The brown shrimp are found from Massachusetts to the Gulf. They live for about 1 ½ years and can be up to 7 inches long. Their lives start as eggs deep in the waters of the Gulf and Atlantic. After they hatch, tiny baby shrimp float in to the shallow water of estuaries (coastal areas where fresh river water mixes with sea water). They grow larger in the protected waters of the estuaries and eventually migrate out into deeper, saltier water.  They live on the bottom of the sea, moving out farther into deeper water as they grow larger. You can learn more about brown shrimp on NOAA’s Fish Watch website.

For most species we haul in we record length on up to 20 individuals, and weight and sex for only every 5th individual. But for brown shrimp we measure the length, weight and sex of up to 200 individuals. Sometimes we pull up a lot of shrimp like the 419 brown shrimp in just one trawl last night. To tell male from female you flip the shrimp over and check the spot in between its walking legs (in front) and swimming legs (in back).  A female has a wider plate. A male has extra fuzzy bits on the inside of the front swimming legs.

Male and Female Shrimp

The shrimp on the left is a female and the one on the right is male.

Shrimp fishing is a big industry here in the Gulf. Last year 221 million pounds of shrimp were taken by fishing boats from the states along the Gulf. Commercial fishing boats use similar nets to ours, but they are larger and trawl underwater for much longer. Just like we pull up many fish in addition to shrimp, shrimping boats have a large bycatch. Part of our research is to monitor the bycatch species to help make management decisions that protect them, too. NOAA works with the fishing industry to develop nets with Bycatch Reduction Devices that allow unwanted fish to escape.

shrimp boat

A fishing boat trawling for shrimp

Let me answer a few more student questions. Jared, we don’t wear lab coats; we mostly wear old t-shirts and shorts that definitely get wet, muddy and slimy working with the fish. A lab coat would help keep me clean, but it is hot and humid in our lab and the extra layer would be uncomfortable. Sabrina, we have found some plastic and other trash in the water, but have not seen any animals tangled in it. Deliana, we do all our work from the ship, so we don’t swim underwater with the fish. When they do surveys of reef fish earlier in the year they send a video camera underwater to learn more about the fish, but the scientists still stay on board.

silver fish

Clockwise from top: Rough Scad, Silver Jenny, Dusky Anchovy, Long Spine Porgy

brown fish

Shoal Flounder on the left and Big Eye Sea Robin on the right

Julissa asked about colors of our fish. Most of our fish come in two colors – silver or brown. We catch fish that live on the bottom of the sea or swim near the bottom and these colors help them camouflage with the sand and mud. But there are some that have splashes of color.

Dwarf Goatfish

Dwarf Goatfish

Lesser Blue Crab

Lesser Blue Crab

Personal Log

Several students had questions about food on board, so let me reassure you I am eating well.

the stewards

Stewards Walter and Lydell

The two stewards on board, Walter and Lydell, are responsible for feeding 30 people on board. The food is good, plentiful and there are several options at each meal. One challenge is that people on board are working different schedules and can’t always make meal times. If you ask ahead of time, they will save you a plate of food for later. There are also snacks and sandwich fixings available all the time. To give you an idea of what I am eating, yesterday I had a freshly baked muffin and juice for breakfast, a chicken fajita and Mexican veggies for lunch, fried rice, stir fry and a salad for dinner, and then some ice cream with fruit for a late night snack.

How much food does it take to feed 30 people for 2 weeks? Walter gave me a few numbers for this trip: 80 pounds of chicken, 35 dozen eggs, 100 pounds of potatoes, 12 gallons of ice cream, and a whole lot of coffee. Jennixa wondered what would happen if we ran out of food – the answer is that we would head back to land and buy more. But I’m pretty sure Walter has enough on board. Damian asked if we eat what we catch – and yes, some of the shrimp and red snapper have gone to the galley after being measured.  They were delicious.

CDCPS science students – How are the colors of fish an adaptation to survival?

sunset

sunset

Sarah Boehm: Groundfish Survey Basics, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 25, 2013

Weather
Air temperature: 29.4 C (84.9 F)
Barometer: 1015 mb
Humidity: 71%
Wind direction: 55°
Wind speed: 7 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Latitude: 27.99°
Longitude: 92.99°

Science and Technology Log

Greetings from the Oregon II in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I am very impressed by all the questions my students have asked in comments on the first blog post. Now I guess I need to start answering some of them.

Oregon II

The Oregon II at the pier in Galveston. To answer Taina’s question, it is 170 feet long.

 

The Oregon II left the port of Galveston, Texas on Sunday afternoon. As we worked our way out to open water I enjoyed watching the pelicans, terns and frigate birds soaring and diving for fish. Occasionally a few dolphins would surface briefly, only to disappear again under the water. The shipping channels were packed with large ships, mostly oil tankers servicing the rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico in this region. The farther we got from land, the less busy our surroundings became. With only a few boats and rigs on the horizon, the full moon rose in front of us as we cruised to the southeast.  You can follow the path the ship takes on NOAA’s Ship Tracker.

P1010756

The Oregon II dwarfed by a cruise ship in the port of Galveston.

terns

Terns visiting the ship as we leave Galveston.

We didn’t reach the first sampling site until nearly midnight. The ship functions on a 24 hour working cycle with the science crew broken into two shifts: the night shift works from midnight to noon and the day shift works from noon to midnight.   I am on the day shift, along with 2 scientists from the lab at Pascagoula, Mississippi and 2 student interns.

There are many different aspects to the fisheries research taking place on board. On my first shift yesterday I concentrated on the sorting and measuring of fish, so that is where I will start in this blog.

net

A net being pulled out of the water.

The net is dragged across the ocean floor behind the ship for a half hour, and then pulled up on board, bulging with fish. The net is emptied into buckets and the total catch is weighed. If it is a small catch we keep the whole thing to work up, but if the catch is large we keep some and throw the rest back in the water. The ones we will work with are emptied into the trough in the wet lab – a multicolored heap of writhing, slimy fish just waiting to be sorted. While the rolling of the ship didn’t bother my stomach, when faced with all those smelly fish I suddenly felt rather nauseous. I had a moment of doubt that I could really handle this work 12 hours a day for two weeks. But once I dipped my hands in and concentrated on sorting out the species my stomach settled.

sorting fish

Caitlin begins the sorting process.

While this seems a simple task, many species are similar in appearance. Looking carefully at shapes of jaws or the placement of spots, we sort them out with one species per container. Last night we had 40 – 60 different species in each trawl, with fish, crabs, shrimp, jellies and more. Once everything is sorted we count the number of individuals in each species and measure their total weight. All this information goes into the computer. The next step is to measure the individuals. There are two work stations for this step, each with a measuring board, a scale and a computer. We work in partners, with one person handling the fish and the other manning the computer. The measuring board is a fancy piece of technology that is attached to the computer. You line the specimen up and simply touch a magnetic stick to the board at the end of the fish. The computer then records the length in millimeters. Next you put the fish on the scale to record its weight. Like the measuring board, the scale is attached to the computer and it records in kilograms out to the thousandths place value. Then you determine if the fish is a male or female or “unknown”. We will bag, label, and freeze a few specimens if a scientist back at the lab has requested it, and then the rest of the catch is tossed back into the sea. By the time we finish all this, the ship has probably reached the next trawl site and the process begins again.

measuring shrimp

Measuring the length of a brown shrimp.

Nick asked about the largest fish we have found. Yesterday’s weight winner was this 5 kg red snapper.

red snapper

This red snapper was the largest fish of the first day.

The weirdest fish we found was a spotted batfish. It uses those odd fins to walk on the bottom of the sea. Its brown bumpy skin camouflages with the bottom. Suspended off its head is a fishing lure to attract prey.

spotted batfish

Spotted Batfish

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Kevin wanted to know if we would see any sharks. We have caught a few small ones, and have seen a few larger ones off the stern (back) of the boat.

Personal Log

Jaelene asked if it would be cold, and the simple answer to that is no, not on the Gulf in summer. When I stepped out of the airport in Texas I was immediately hit by the hot, humid air. We have had a mild spring in Massachusetts – which is a blessing since most schools do not have air conditioning – and so the intensity of the sun, the heat and humidity combined to make me rather uncomfortable as I explored the port city of Galveston. Now that we are out on the water a constant breeze helps make things more comfortable…as does the air conditioning in the living quarters of the ship. The wet lab is not air conditioned, so all the fish work is rather hot and sticky.

Guillermo, Michelle and Doranny all asked about my room on board. It is a rather small space I share with Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. We each have a bunk and storage space. The room also has a sink and a chair. Rachel works a 4 hour shift early each morning and another 4 hour shift in the evening. This means when I finish work she is already asleep, but will be getting up for work in just a few hours. So being quiet and considerate of the other person is important. The curtain you can pull across your bunk is helpful to keep out light and provide privacy. Our room does not have a window, so it is dark all the time. This is helpful when people need to sleep at odd hours. It is also surprisingly quiet – or maybe a better way to describe it is that the constant background noise of the engines drowns out other noises. I have been sleeping great, even with the rocking and rolling of the ship. Kiara asked about falling out of bed, and that has not happened to me yet. I suppose it could if seas got really rough. I hope not to experience that.

stateroom

My stateroom. The bottom bunk is mine.

CDCPS science students – Remember you should be reading and responding to two different blog posts (two responses to the same post is not enough). Also please re-read your writing to make sure it makes sense and has correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization.

Why do you think sharks hang out around our boat?

Can you read this clock? What time is it?

ship clock

A clock on board. Can you tell the time?