Dave Grant: The “River in the Ocean”, March 2, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: March 2, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 degrees 19 minutes North Latitude & 79 degrees 55 minutes West Longitude
Windspeed: 14 knots
Wind Direction: South
Air Temperature: 25.4 deg C / 77.7 deg F
Water Temperature: 26.1 deg C / 79 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1014.7 mb
Water Depth: 242 m / 794 feet
Cloud Cover: none
Cloud Type: NA

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass,
it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Henry Miller

My evenings looking through the microscope are a short course in invertebrate zoology. Every drop of water filtered through the plankton net reveals new and mystifying creatures. Perhaps 90% of marine invertebrates, like newly hatched mollusks and crustaceans, spend part of their life in a drifting stage – meroplankton; as opposed to holoplankton – organisms that are planktonic throughout their life cycle.

MOLLUSK LARVAE

Bivalve

Bivalve

 Univalve

Univalve

The lucky individuals that escape being eaten, and are near a suitable substrate at the right moment, settle out into a sedentary life far from their place of origin. For the long distance travelers swept up in the Gulf Stream, the most fortunate waifs of the sea that survive long enough might make it all the way to Bermuda. The only hope for the remainder is to attach to a piece of flotsam or jetsam, or an unnatural and unlikely refuge like the electronic picket fence of moorings the Ron Brown is servicing east of the Bahamas.

“The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day,
Is crept into the bosom of the sea.”
Shakespeare

A league and a half* of cable, sensors and a ton of anchor chain are wrestled on deck during a day-long operation in the tropical heat. (*A mariner’s league equals three nautical miles or 3041 fathoms [18,246 feet])

It is easy to be humbled by the immensity of the sea and the scope of the mooring project while observing miles of cable and buoys stretched towards the horizon, about to be set in place with a ton of anchor chain gingerly swung off the stern for its half-hour trip to the bosom of the sea.

Thanks to the hard labor and alert eyes of our British and French (“And Irish”) colleagues retrieving and deploying the attached temperature and salinity sensors, I am regularly directed to investigate “something crawling out of the gear” or to photograph bite marks from deep sea denizens on very expensive, but sturdy equipment.

A retrieved sensor with bite marks.

A retrieved sensor with bite marks.

To my surprise, other than teeth marks, very little evidence of marine life is present on the miles of lines and devices strung deeper than about 200 meters. This may be due in part to the materials of which they are constructed and protective coatings to prevent bio-fouling, but sunlight or more precisely, the attenuation of it as one goes deeper, is probably the most important factor.

Fireworm (Drawings and images by Dave Grant - NOAA Ron Brown)

Fireworm
(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines

Handle with care! Close-up of worm spines

The first discovery I was directed to was a striking red bristle worm wiggling out of the crevice in a buoy.  It appears to be one of the reef-dwelling Amphinomids – the aptly-named fireworms that SCUBA divers in the Caribbean avoid because of their venomous spines; so I was cautious when handling it.  This proved to be the deepest-dwelling organism we found, along with some minute growths of stony and soft corals.

Five o’clock shadow” on a buoy – A year’s growth of fouling organisms – only an inch tall.

On shallower buoys and equipment, there are sparse growths of brown and blue-green algae, small numbers of goose barnacles, tiny coiled limey tubes of Serpulid worms like the Spirobis found on the floating gulfweed, some non-descript bivalves (Anomia?) covered with other fouling growth, skeleton shrimp creeping like inch-worms, and of course the ubiquitous Bryozoans. Searching through this depauperate community not as challenging as the plankton samples, but not surprising since our distance from land, reefs or upwelling areas – and especially clear water and lack of seabirds and fishes; are all indicators that this is a nutrient-deficient, less productive part of the ocean.

   

Bio-fouling – “on the half-shell.”                       Skeleton shrimp (Caprellidae)

The Ron Brown is the largest workhorse in the NOAA fleet and its labs and decks are intentionally cleared of equipment between cruises so that visiting scientists can bring aboard their own gear that is best suited to their specific project needs. NOAA’s physical oceanographers from Miami arrived with a truckload of crates holding Niskin water sampling bottles for the CTD and their chemistry equipment for DO (Dissolved Oxygen) and salinity measurements; and in a large shipping container (“Ship-tainer”) from England, the British and French (“and Irish”) scientists transported their own remote sensing gear, buoys, and (quite literally) tons of massive chain and cables to anchor their moorings. (I am surprised to learn from the “Brits” that the heavy chain is shipped all the way from England because it is increasingly hard to acquire. )

In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment

In the lab: Scores of sensors serviced and ready for deployment

This is how most science is facilitated on the Brown and it requires many months of planning and pre-positioning of materials. I am lucky and can travel light – and with little advanced preparation. I am using simple methods to obtain plankton samples and images via a small portable microscope, digital camera and plankton net which I can cram into my backpack for any trips that involve large bodies of water. The little Swift* scope has three lens (4x, 10x, 40x) with a 10x ocular, and I get great resolution at 40x, and can get decent resolution to 100x. Using tips from Dave Bulloch (Handbook for the Marine Naturalist) I am able to push that somewhat with a simple Nikon Coolpix* point-and-shoot camera – but lose some of the sharpness with digital zoom.  As you might suspect, the ship’s movement and engine vibration can be a challenge when peering through the scope, but is satisfactory for some preliminary identification. (*These are not commercial endorsements, but I can be bought if either company is willing to fund my next cruise!)

PHYTOPLANKTON

Centric diatom - Coscinodiscus

Centric diatom – Coscinodiscus

    

Dinoflagellates –  Different Ceratium species

ZOOPLANKTON

A Plankton précis

Collecting specimens would be much more difficult without the cooperation of the Brown’s crew and visiting scientists, and their assistance is always reliable and appreciated. The least effective method of collection has been by filtering the deep, cold bottom water brought up in the Niskin bottles. As mentioned earlier, no live specimens were recovered; only fragments of diatom and Silicoflagellate skeletons surviving the slow drift to the bottom, which I have been able to identify through deep sea core images posted at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership website.

Needless to say, the most indiscriminate method of collection and the most material collected is through the large neuston net. The greatest biomass observed on the trip is the millions of tons of Sargassum weed, which covers the surface in great slacks around us that are even visible in satellite images.

Although the continuous flow of ocean water pumped into the wet lab and through my plankton net is effective and the most convenient collection method, the most surprising finds are from the saltwater intake screens that the engineer directed me to. This includes bizarre crystal-clear, inch-long, and paper-thin Phylosoma – larvae of tropical lobsters – that I initially mistook for pieces of plastic.

Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)

Inch-long Phylosoma larvae on a glass slide. (One of the tropical lobsters.)

“All the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men in the world …
…could never invent anything so curious and so ridiculous, as a lobster.”

Charles Kingsley -The Water-Babies

Plankton communities are noticeably different between the Gulf Stream, inshore, and offshore in the pelagic waters east of the Bahamas.  Near the coast, either the shallower Bahama Banks or the neritic waters over the continental shelf closer to Charleston, the plankton is larger, more familiar to me and less challenging to sort, including: copepods, mollusk larvae and diatoms. Steaming over the shelf waters at night, the ship’s wake is often phosphorescent, and dinoflagellates, including the “night-light” Noctiluca are common in those samples.

Dinoflagellate - Noctiluca

Dinoflagellate – Noctiluca

 The waters east of the Bahamas along the transect line are notable for their zooplankton, including great numbers and varieties of Foraminifera, and some striking amphipod shrimp. Compared to cooler waters I am familiar with, subtropical waters here have over a dozen species of Forams, and some astonishingly colorful shrimp that come up nightly from deeper water.

It’s not all work and no play on the Ron Brown, and there are entertaining moments like decorating foam cups with school logos to send down with the CTD to document the extreme pressure at the bottom. Brought back to class, these graphically illustrate to younger students the challenges of deep sea research.

Foam cup:  Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters

Foam cup: Before-and-after a trip to 5,000 meters

Navigating by Dead-reckoning

On calm days while we are being held on-station by the Brown’s powerful thrusters, I can measure current speeds using Sargassum clumps as Dutchman’s logs as they drift by. Long before modern navigation devices, sailors would have to use dead-reckoning techniques to estimate their progress.  One method used a float attached to a measured spool of knotted line (A log-line), trailing behind the moving vessel. The navigator counted the number of knots that passed through his hands as the line played out behind the ship to estimate the vessel’s speed (in knots). Since nothing is to be tossed off the Brown, I rely on a simpler method by following the progress of the Sargassum as it drifts by stem-to-stern while we are stationary at our sampling site. Since I know the length of the Brown at the waterline (~100-meters), I can estimate current speed by observing drifting Sargassum.

Watching sargassum, I wonder if a swimmer could keep pace with the currents in these waters. When in college
my brothers and would strive to cover a 100-meter race by swimming it in under a minute. Here is the data from east of the Bahamas. See if you can determine the current speed there and if a good swimmer could keep pace.

ESTIMATING CURRENT SPEED

Data on currents:
Average of three measurements of Sargassum drifting  the length of the Ron Brown = 245 seconds.
Length of the Ron Brown – 100-meters.

1. How many meters per second is the current east of the Bahamas?
2. As a swimmer in college – with my best time in the 100-meters freestyle of one minute – could I have kept up with the Ron Brown… or been swept away towards the Bahamas?

For more on currents, visit my site at the college:
http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/sandyhook/Student%20Page%201/TUTS-2-09-1/Index.html

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Other navigational exercises I try to include determining Latitude and Longitude. Latitude is easy as long as you can shoot the sun at midday or find the altitude of Polaris in the night sky; and sailors have done that for centuries. The ship’s navigator will get out the sextant for this, or, since the width of one’s fist is about 10-degrees of sky, I can estimate the height of both of these navigational beacons by counting the number of fists between the star and the horizon.

ESTIMATING LATITUDE

Data:
Night observation (Shooting the North Star) – Number of Fists from the Northern horizon to Polaris = 3
Day observation (Shooting the Sun) – Number of Fists from the Southern horizon to the Sun = 5.5

If the width of a fist is equal to about 10-degrees of horizon, our estimate of Latitude using Polaris is 30-degrees (3 x 10).
Not too bad an estimate on a rocking ship at night, compared to our actual location (See Data from the Bridge at the top.).

Shooting the Sun at its Zenith at 12:30 that day gives us its altitude as 55-degrees – which seems too high unless we consider the earth’s tilt (23.5-degrees). So if we deduct that (55 – 23.5) we get 31.5, which is closer to our actual position. And if we consult an Almanac, we know that the sun is still about six degrees below the Equator on its seasonal trip North; so by deducting that (31.5 – 6) we end up with an estimate of 25.5-degrees. This is an even better estimate of our Latitude.

Here is the dreaded word problem:

By shooting the Sun, our best estimate of Latitude is 25.5 degrees (25 degrees/30 minutes)
The actual Latitude of the ship using GPS is 26-degrees/19 minutes.
If there are 60 minutes to a degree of Latitude – each of those minutes representing a Nautical Mile – how many Nautical Miles off course does our estimate place us on the featureless sea?

**************************

Longitude is much harder to determine if you don’t have an accurate timepiece to compare local time with universal time (The time at Greenwich, England), and an accurate ship’s chronometer wasn’t in use until the mid-1700’s.
To understand the challenge of designing a precise timepiece that reliably will function at sea, I used two crucial clock mechanisms:  a pendulum and a spring. Finding a spring was easy, since “Doc” had a scale at Sick Bay. For the pendulum I fashioned a small weight swinging on a string)

Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.

Using the scale to observe the ship’s motion.

Standing on the scale and swinging the pendulum even in calm weather quickly demonstrated three things:

First: I have developed my sea legs, and no longer notice the regular motion of the ship.
Second: Even when the sea feels calm, the scale’s spring mechanism swings back and forth under my weight; adding and deducting 20 pounds to my real weight and reflecting the ship’s rocking that I no longer notice.
Three: On rough days, even if I can hold still, the ship’s heaving, pitching and rolling alters my pendulum’s reliable swing – its movements reflecting the ship’s indicator in the lab. Experimenting helps me appreciate clock-maker John Harrison, and his massive, 65-pound No. 1 Ship’s Chronometer  he presented to the Royal Navy in 1728.

Ship movement as recorded by the computer

Ship movement as recorded by the computer

Doc: Always on duty -  Sick Bay on the Ron Brown

Doc: Always on duty – Sick Bay on the Ron Brown

Besides having very well-provisioned Sick Bays, NOAA ships have experienced and very competent medical officers.  Our “Doc” received his training at Yale, and served as a medic during the Gulf War.

Especially alert to anyone who exhibits even the mildest symptoms of sea-sickness, Christian is available 24-hours for emergencies – and in spite of the crew constantly wrestling with heavy equipment on a rocking deck, we’ve only experienced a few minor bumps and bruises. He has regular office hours every day, and is constantly on the move around the ship when not on duty there.

Besides keeping us healthy, he helps keep the ship humming by testing the drinking water supply (The Brown desalinates seawater when underway, but takes on local water while in port); surveys all departments for safety issues; and with the Captain, has the final word if-or-when a cruise is to be terminated if there is a medical emergency.

Since a storm pounding the Midwest will head out to sea and cross our path when we head north to Charleston, he is reminding everyone that remedies for sea sickness are always available at his office door, and thanks to NASA and the space program, if the motion sickness pills don’t work, he has available stronger medicine. So far we have been blessed with relatively calm weather and a resilient crew.

                          The warm  (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite iamge.

The warm (Red) Gulf Stream waters viewed from a satellite image.

 Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream - Matthew Maury’s  River in the Ocean

Contact: The edge of the Gulf Stream – Matthew Maury’s River in the Ocean

Birdwatching on the Ron Brown

For the time being I take advantage of the calm seas to scrutinize what’s under the microscope, and when on break, look for seabirds. East of the Bahamas, as anticipated after consulting ornithologist Poul Jespersen’s map of Atlantic bird sightings, I only spotted two birds over a two-week stretch at sea (storm petrels). This is very much in contrast to the dozens of species and hundreds of seabirds spotted in the rich waters of the Humboldt Current off of Chile , where I joined the Brown in 2008.
(http://ux.brookdalecc.edu/staff/Web%2012-2-04/seabirds/Brown%20terns%202/Terns%20%20fixed/SEPacific.html)

Passing through Bahamian waters was no more rewarding, but now that we are west and in the Florida Straits there are several species of gulls during the day, and at night more storm petrels startled by the ship’s lights. One windy night a large disoriented bird (Shearwater?) suddenly fluttered out of the dark and brushed my head before bumping a deck light and careening back out into the darkness. Throughout the day a cohort of terns has taken up watch on the forward mast of the Brown and noisily, they juggle for the best positions at the bow – resting until the ship flushes a school of flying fishes, and then swooping down across the water trying and snatch one in mid-air.  Like most fishermen, they are successful only about 10% of the time.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.

Caspian tern “on station” at the jack mast.

Royal tern "on station" at the jack mast.

Royal tern “on station” at the jack mast.

  

*************************************

Despite the dreary forecast from the Captain, Wes and I are enthusiastic about all we have done on the cruise and formulated a list of why NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program is so rewarding.

Top Ten Reasons:
Why be a Teacher At Sea?

10. Fun and excitement exploring the oceans!

9. Meeting dedicated and diligent scientists and crew from around the world!

8. Bragging rights in the Teachers’ Room – and endless anecdotes!

7. Cool NOAA t-shirts, pins and hats from the Ship’s Store!

6. Great meals, three times a day…and FREE laundry!

5. Amazing sunsets, sunrises and star-watches!

4. Reporting on BIG science to students…and in real-time!

3. Outstanding and relevant knowledge brought back to students and colleagues!

2. First-hand experience that relates to your students’ career objectives!

1. Rewarding hours in the lab and fieldremembering why you love science and sharing it with students!

Powerpoint:
Shots from the deck and under the microscope

(Drawings and images by Dave Grant – NOAA Ron Brown)

Dave Grant: Terra Nova, February 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26.30N Latitude – 71. 55W Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 C / 74 F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

After an uneventful flight from New Jersey and an eventful trip from the airport at Charleston and through security at the naval base (Taxi drivers don’t like to have their vehicles inspected…), I am setting up my bunk on the Brown. There is a skeleton crew since I have arrived early and everyone else is expected to report tomorrow. Crates of equipment are still being loaded, so it is advisable to stay off the outside decks, and after a quick orientation by every  ship’s most important crew member (the chef),  I will have the evening free to find my way around the ship and explore the dock.
First order of business: Pick up bedding from the laundry down below.
Next: PB&J sandwich (Since the galley doesn’t open until tomorrow).
Finally: Grab the camera to catch the sunset and an amazing assortment of cloud types.

South Carolina’s estuaries are noted for their fine “muff” mud and oyster banks and the tideline at the docks is covered with a dense ring of oysters. Besides filtering great quantities of water and improving its quality, oyster “reefs” provide a secure habitat for a myriad of marinelife, and food for many creatures. (As a frustrated oyster farmer in South Jersey once remarked: “There ain’t much that lives in the ocean that doesn’t like to eat oysters!”)

Oyster Chain

Oyster Chain

Comorant

Comorant

 

Grebe

Grebe

The prettiest bird around is the red-breasted merganser, another diving fish eater. Hunters nicknamed mergansers “saw-bills” since their bills have tooth-like notches for snaring fishes. The word merganser comes via Latin mergere meaning “diver” and “to plunge.” Curiously, one of my favorite students always mixes up the word and somehow it comes out as Madagascar (!).

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The most secretive and uncommon bird around the piers is the pied-billed grebe. It also dives for its dinner, but on the bottom. When frightened (or pestered by a photographer trying to get close in the fading light) it discreetly sinks straight down and disappears like a submarine. Locally, this trick earned the grebe the nickname water witch, and by Louisiana sportsmen Sac de plomb (bag-of-lead).

Grackle

Grackle

By far the noisiest birds around and the only ones onboard, are boat-tailed grackles. The iridescent, purple-black males are hard to ignore when gathering for the night on our upper rigging. A common bird of Southeastern marshes; since the 1960’s boat-tails have been expanding their range north along the Eastern seaboard beyond Delaware Bay, and now breed all along the New Jersey coast. (A normal extension of their population, or perhaps a response to warming climate? Time will tell.)

Just before dark a peregrine falcon surprised me as it glided past the ship – undeniably the most exciting sighting of the day and a great way to end it.

 “Oh end this day,
show
me the ocean.
When shall I see the sea.
May this day set me in emotion
I ought to be on my way”
(James Taylor)

Jason Moeller: June 28, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Whale Pass
Date: June 28-29, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 58.01 N
Longitude: -152.50 W
Wind: 23.95 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 9.4 degrees C
Air Temperature: 10.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 71%
Depth: 177.72 m

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

Due to the injury to the deck hand, we are done fishing. Our trip has been cut a day short and we are now headed back to Kodiak. We should arrive tomorrow morning, and I will fly back home on the 30th.

The shortest route to Kodiak was through Whale Pass, a break in Kodiak Island. The pass made for some spectacular scenery.

The entrance to Whale Pass

The entrance to Whale Pass, from the back of the Oscar Dyson

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

Steep hills rolling down into the water were a common sight in the pass.

nav point

An island with a navigational marker in whale pass.

mountain 1

There were some spectacular views of the mountains in the pass as well.

Mountains 2

Another view of the mountains.

Mountain 3

Another view of the mountains.

Mountain

And another...

mountain

Last one, I promise! We all liked the shape of this one.

waterfall

A waterfall drops away into the ocean.

The coolest part of the pass, though, is definitely the wildlife. We saw sea otters everywhere! Unfortunately, they were so fast and at a great enough distance that the following shot is the only decent one I was able to take.

otter

A sea otter at Whale Pass.

We also saw an animal that I have been hoping to see for a long time.

killer whales

Sorry about the grainy image, but it is the only one of the Orcas we were able to get.

We also saw a puffin, but it moved so quickly that there was no hope at a photo for it. Bummer. Several humpback whales were also spotted, along with numerous gulls and other seabirds.

Science and Technology Log

Today, lets talk about krill!

What are krill, you ask? They’re animals in the Phylum Arthropoda, which means they’re related to insects, spiders, crabs, lobsters, etc. They have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, are usually a couple of centimeters in length, and are reddish/orange-ish in color. They can often be found in dense schools near the surface of the water, and play an important role in the ecosystem as a source of food for lots of larger animals (like fish, whales, & penguins).

I’ve mentioned the two types of trawl gear that we use to catch fish, but if we want to catch smaller things like plankton, the mesh on those nets is way too small. Therefore, we use a third type of trawl called the Methot which has very fine mesh to corral the plankton down into a collection container at the end of the net. In addition to having a hard container at the end — as opposed to just a bag/codend that you see in the fish trawls — the Methot trawl also has a large metal frame at the beginning of the net. Check out the photos below.

The Methot trawl being taken from the water. Note the square frame.

container

The container that collects all of the plankton in the net.

After the net is brought back on deck, one of the fishermen or deck hands brings the container of krill into the fish lab. The first thing we do is dump the container into a sieve or a bucket and start picking out everything that isn’t krill. The two most common things that are collected (besides krill) are gelatinous animals (like jellyfish & salps) and larval fish. The fish get weighed (as one big unit, not individually) and then frozen for someone to look at later on.

fish

The larval fish that we separated from one plankton tow.

After sorting the catch, we’re left with a big pile of krill, which gets weighed. We then take a small subsample from the big pile of krill (it’s a totally random amount depending on how much we scoop out!) and then weigh the subsample. Then the fun begins, as I’m the one that does this job; I get to count every single individual krill in the subsample. Tedious work. All of the data is then entered into the computer system, and the krill and anything else that we’ve caught (besides the larval fish) are thrown back into the water.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

Tammy sorts through the pile of krill.

counting krill

How many individual krill are in this picture?

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Puffin
Humpback Whales
Killer Whale!!!
Sea Otters!!!

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Q. What has been your favorite thing about this trip so far?

A. I’ve been asked this question several times over the course of the last few weeks, but I’ve waited until the end to answer it.

Truth be told, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite thing that I’ve seen or done. There are so many candidates! Exploring the Buskin River and seeing bald eagles before we set sail was a blast! Eating fresh caught salmon for the first time was a great experience, as it just melted in my mouth. Leaving shore for the first time was a lot of fun, as there is no feeling like the salt air blowing past your face at the front of a boat. Trying to take pictures of flying birds with a digital camera was a challenge, and we all had a good time laughing at the blurred images. Getting better at photography is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel like I have improved that. The first fish lab with the sleeper shark was great! Working in the fish lab, as messy as it was, was also a lot of fun! The XBT prank that was pulled on me was one of the best executed pranks I’ve ever seen, and it was hilarious! Hanging out and reading Martin’s Game of Throne series during breaks with my fellow scientists was a lot of fun as well, as it was just like a book club. Today’s ride through Whale Pass with the otters, whales, and mountains was exactly what I dreamed Alaska would be like.

The scientists sense of humor also made it an enjoyable trip. For example, this is what happens when you play around with the net camera for too long.

Cam Trawl Dinner

See what I mean?

That being said, if I was absolutely forced to pick a favorite memory, it would probably the impromptu fishing trip at Sand Point. You know you love your job when you decide to keep going at it on your day off.

There will be one last log posted, so if you have questions please send them to me at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org!

Jason Moeller: June 25-27, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 25-27, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.58 N
Longitude: -159.16 W
Wind: 14.11
Surface Water Temperature: 7.2 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 90%
Depth: 85.61

Personal Log
Anyone who has seen the show Deadliest Catchknows how dangerous crab fishing can be. Fishing for pollock, however, also has its dangers. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way. One of our deck hands caught his hand between a cable and the roller used to pull up the trawl net and hurt himself badly.

Cable

The cable and the roller.

Fortunately, the injuries are not life threatening and he will be fine. The injuries did require a hospital visit, and so we stopped at Sand Point to treat him.

Town

This is the town of Sand Point.

airstrip

Clouds hang over the hills at Sand Point. The airstrip is in the left edge of the photo.

We stayed at Sand Point for nearly 48 hours. What did we do? We fished, of course! We used long lines and hooks, and had a great time!

lines

Bill and Alex cast fishing lines in the harbor. We tied the lines off on the boat and hauled them up from time to time to check the bait.

Alex

Alex with a flounder that he caught! He also caught several cod and a 32-lb Pacific halibut!

cod

Cod and the flounder in a bucket!

Tammy

As with every fishing trip, we also managed to catch things that we didn't mean too! Tammy (the other NOAA Teacher at Sea) especially liked the kelp!

urchin

A few visitors always hitched a ride on the kelp we caught. Here is a tiny sea urchin.

crab

This crab was another hitchhiker on the kelp.

starfish

We were bottom fishing for Halibut, and a starfish, the largest one I've ever seen, went after the bait!

A one-day fishing license in Alaska costs $20.00. We had internet, so five of us went online and bought the fishing passes. Was it worth it?

Halibut

You bet it was! This is the 25-lb halibut I caught! It was AWESOME!!!

We filleted it and had the cooks make it for dinner. With the halibut, we also cut out the fleshy “cheeks” and ate them as sushi right on the spot! It doesn’t get any fresher (or tastier!) than that!

Science and Technology Log
Today we will look at the acoustic system of the Oscar Dyson! Acoustics is the science that studies how waves (including vibrations & sound waves) move through solids, liquids, and gases. The Oscar Dyson uses its acoustic system to find the pollock that we process.

The process begins when a piece of equipment called a transducer converts an electrical pulse into a sound wave. The transducers are located on the underside of the ship (in the water). The sound travels away from the vessel at roughly 1500 feet per minute, and continues to do so until the sound wave hits another object such as a bubble, plankton, a fish, or the bottom. When the sound wave hits an object, it reflects the sound wave, sending the sound wave back to the Oscar Dyson as an echo. Equipment onboard listens to the echo.

The computers look at two critical pieces of information from the returning sound wave. First, it measures the time that it took the echo to travel back to the ship. This piece of information gives the scientists onboard the distance the sound wave traveled. Remember that sound travels at roughly 1500 feet per minute. If the sound came back in one minute, then the object that the sound wave hit is 750 feet away (the sound traveled 750 feet to the object, hit the object, and then traveled 750 feet back to the boat).

The second critical piece of information is the intensity of the echo. The intensity of the echo tells the scientists how small or how large an object is, and this gives us an idea of what the sound wave hit. Tiny echos near the surface are almost certainly plankton, but larger objects in the midwater might be a school of fish.

good fishing

An image of the computer screen that shows a great number of fish. This was taken underneath the boat as we were line fishing in Sand Point.

poor fishing

The same spot as above, but with practically no fish.

fishing

An image of the screen during a trawl. You can actually see the net--it is the two brown lines that are running from left to right towards the top of the screen.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that fish and bubbles often look similar enough under water that it can fool the acoustics team into thinking that the bubbles are actually fish. This is because many species of fish have gas pockets inside of them, and so the readout looks very similar. The gas pockets are technically called “swim bladders” and they are used to help the fish control buoyancy in the water.

swimbladder

Swim bladder of a fish.

Species Seen
Northern Fulmar
Gulls
Cod
Pacific Halibut
Flounder
Sea Urchin
Crab
Kelp

Reader Question(s) of the Day
Today’s questions come from Kevin Hils, the Director of Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Chehaw, Georgia!

Q. Where does the ship name come from?
A. Oscar Dyson was an Alaska fisheries industry leader from Kodiak, Alaska. He is best known for pioneering research and development of Alaska’s groundfish, shrimp, and crab industry. Dyson was a founding partner of All Alaskan Seafoods, which was the first company actually controlled by the fishermen who owned the vessel. He also served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management council for nine years. He is in the United Fishermen of Alaska’s hall of fame for his work. The ship was christened by his wife, Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, and launched on October 17, 2003.

Dyson

Oscar Dyson

launch

The launching of the Oscar Dyson

Q. How do you see this helping you teach at Knoxville Zoo, not an aquarium?
A. This will be a long answer. This experience will improve environmental education at the zoo in a variety of different ways.

First, this will better allow me to teach the Oceanography portion of my homeschool class that comes to the zoo every Tuesday. For example, I am in the process of creating a hands on fishing trip that will teach students about the research I have done aboard the Oscar Dyson and why that research is important. Homeschool students will not just benefit from this experience in Oceanography, but also in physics (when we look at sound and sonar) and other subjects as well from the technical aspects that I have learned during the course of the trip.

Scouts are another group that will greatly benefit from this experience as well. The Girl Scout council wishes to see a greater emphasis in the future on having the girls do science and getting real world experiences. While the girls are still going to desire the animal knowledge that the zoo can bring, they will also expect to do the science as well as learn about it. My experience aboard the Dyson will allow me to create workshops that can mimic a real world animal research experience, as I can now explain and show how research is done in the field.

The same can be said of the boy scouts.

In addition, one of the most common badges that is taught to boy scout groups that come in is the fish and wildlife merit badge. In the past, the badge has primarily focused on the wildlife aspect of this topic. However, I now have the knowledge to write and teach a fisheries portion for that merit badge, as opposed to quickly covering it and moving on. This will enrich future scouts who visit the zoo for this program.

A major focus for all scouts is the concept of Leave No Trace, where scouts are supposed to leave an area the way they found it. The fisheries research being done aboard the Dyson is focused toward that same goal in the ocean, where we are attempting to keep the pollock population as we found it, creating a sustainable fishery. The goal aboard the Dyson is similar to the goal in scouting. We need to be sustainable, we need to be environmentally friendly, and we need to leave no trace behind.

School children on field trips will greatly benefit, especially students in the adaptations section. There are some bizarre adaptations that I never knew about! For example, sleeper sharks slow, deliberate movement coupled with their fin and body shape basically make them the stealth fighter of the fish world. They can catch fish twice as fast as they are! Lumpsuckers are neat critters too! This knowledge will enhance their experience at the zoo during field trip programs.

Finally, I can pass the knowledge from this experience on to my coworkers. This will not only better the experience of my students, but it will also improve the outreach programs, the bedtime programs, the camps, and other programming done at the zoo.

Q. Are you old enough to be on a ship? You look like you’re 13???!!!!
A. SHHHHHHH!!!! You weren’t supposed to tell them my real age! They think I’m 24!

Jason Moeller: June 14-16, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 14-16, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

June 14

I think I posted my last log too soon, because as soon as I hit the send button interesting things began to happen. First, I was called up to see some Mountain Goats feeding in the wild! I was able to take a picture of them as well! (Well, kind of…)

goats

The mountain goats were so far away I had to use binoculars just to spot them. If you can spot the two tiny white dots to the right of the snow, that is them! There is also one that is on the left hand side in the middle of the photograph. You will have to take my word for it.

While this was going on, the professional members of the science team were still calibrating the sonar that we are going to use to catch the fish! I have explained the process in the captions of the following photographs.

sonar balls

Calibrating starts with these little balls. The one used to calibrate our sonar was made of Tungsten (like the black ball at the top)

Pole

The ball was suspended underneath the water on three poles, placed in a triangular shape, around the ship. This is a photo of one of the poles.

Screen.

Once the ball was placed underneath the boat, the scientist swept sound waves off of the ball and used the above screen to see where the sound waves were striking the ball and reflecting. This allowed them to adjust the sound waves to hit the ball (or out in the ocean, the fish) exactly where they wanted it. This optimizes the amount of sound coming back to the boat and paints a better picture of what is under the water.

The process took several hours, but once we finished, we headed back out to sea to start the two-day journey towards our first fishing spot!

June 15-16

The most common sight off of the boat for the past two days has been this one.

Water

Water, water, everywhere

We are currently in Unimak Pass, which will lead us to the Bering Sea! Unimak Pass is the fastest sea route from the United States into Asia, and as a result is a common merchant route between Seattle and Japan. It is also the best way to avoid rough seas and bad weather when travelling between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, as it receives some cover from the landmass.

The Bering Sea likely needs no introduction, as it is arguably the best crab fishing waters on the planet and is well-known from the television show The Deadliest Catch. Aside from crab, the Bering Sea is teeming with life such as pollock, flounder, salmon, and halibut. As a result of this diverse and tasty biomass, the Bering Sea is an incredibly important area to the world’s fisheries.

Steaming towards our destination has kept us away from any land, but there are still things to do and to see! We did a second dry cast of the net, but this time two different pieces of equipment were tested.

The net

The first piece of equipment was a special net for taking samples. The net has three sections, called codends, which can be opened and closed individually. You can see two of the codends in this photo. On top of the green net, you should see black netting that is lined with white rope. These are the codends.

net 2

This is a better view of the codends. The codends are opened and closed using a series of six bars. When the first bar is dropped, the first codend is able to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the codend is unable to take in fish. The bar system has not worked incredibly well, and there is talk of removing one of the codends to make the net easier to use.

camera

The second piece of equipment was this camera, which was attached to the net. It allowed us to see what was coming in the net. Even though this was a dry run and we were not catching anything, I still saw a few Pollock in the camera!

Even though this was a test run and we did not catch any fish, the birds saw the net moving and came to investigate. The remaining photographs for the personal log are of the several species of birds that flew by the boat.

Bird 1

A Northern Fulmar flies alongside the Oscar Dyson

Bird 2

An albatross (by the thin wire just below the spot the water meets the horizon) flies away from the Oscar Dyson

Bird 3

Fulmar's and Gulls wheel about the Oscar Dyson, looking for fish.

Science and Technology Log

This section of the blog will be written after we start fishing for Pollock in the next day or so!

New Species

Mountain Goats

Northern Fulmar

Albatross

Gulls

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

First, I owe a belated shout out to Dr. John, Knoxville Zoo’s IT technician. He lent me the computer that I am currently using to post these logs, and I forgot to mention him in the last post. Thanks Dr. John!

The two questions of the day also come from Kaci, a future Teacher at Sea with NOAA.

1. What is it like sleeping on the boat?

A. Honestly, I am being jostled around quite a bit. Part of this is due to the way the beds are set up. The beds go from port to starboard (or right to left for the landlubbers out there) instead of fore to aft (front to back). This means that when the boat rolls, my feet will often be higher than my head, which causes all of blood to rush to my head. I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling yet.

Part of the jostling, though, is my fault. I had heard that most individuals took the bottom bunks given the option, and since I was one of the first individuals on board, I decided to be polite and give my roommate, who outranked me by some 10-15 years at sea, the bottom bunk. It turns out that the reason people pick the bottom bunk is that the top bunk moves around more since it is higher off the floor. I’ve heard stories about people being thrown from the top bunk in heavy seas as well.

The most comfortable place to sleep has turned out to be the beanbag chair in the common room. It is considered rude to go into your room if your shift ends early, as your roommate may still be sleeping. My shift ended two hours early the other night, so I sat down on the beanbag chair to catch some zs. The ship’s rocking was greatly reduced by the bean bag chair, and I slept very well for the next couple of hours.

2. Is it stressful so far?

A. The only stressful part of the trip so far has been the seasickness, which I have not yet been able to shake. The rest of it has been a lot of fun!

Jason Moeller: June 13-14, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 13-14, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

June 13th

Kodiak Dock

A view of the dock as we finally leave!

We are finally underway! The weather cleared up on the 12th, so the rest of our scientific party was finally able to make it in from Anchorage. The scientists did not arrive until later in the day, but at 9:00 in the morning, the Oscar Dyson finally left port in order to run some tests, including a practice cast of the fishing net!

island in harbor

An island in Kodiak Harbor. Kodiak is hidden by the island in this photograph.

Open Ocean

Open ocean, straight ahead!

Net spool

Casting the net was a tricky process that took about 30-45 minutes. (I did not time the process.) The casting started by unhooking the edge of the net from this giant spool. The net was wrapped tightly around this spool when not in use.

net caster

Next, the net was hooked to the mechanism that would lower the net in the water. (The mechanism is the yellow object that looks like an upside-down field goal post)

net hooked up

This is a photo of the net being hooked up to the casting mechanism

net being unwound

Once attached, the mechanism then pulled up on the net to start unwinding the net from the spool. Once the net was properly unwinding, the net was lowered into the water to begin fishing!

Once the tests were completed, we headed back towards the harbor to pick up the rest of the scientists. Once we were all on the vessel, we held a quick briefing on the ship rules. This was followed by a meeting among the scientists where shifts were handed out. I am on the 4 PM to 4 AM shift, also known as the night shift! Hopefully, I will see some northern lights during the few hours that we actually have darkness. After the meeting and a fast guided tour, I went to bed, as I was extremely seasick. Hopefully, that is a temporary issue.

June 14

I woke up to discover that the ship has anchored in a protected cove for the day in order to calibrate the acoustic devices on board that are used for fishing. This is a time consuming but necessary process as we will need the baseline data that the scientists receive by calibrating the device. However, that means that there is not much to do except for eating, sleeping, watching movies (we have over 1,000 aboard) and enjoying the beautiful scenery. As we are in a quiet cove with no waves, I am not currently sick and decided to enjoy the scenery.

cove 1

The next four images are from the back of the ship. If printed, you can go from left to right and get a panoramic view.

cove 2

cove 3

cove 4

Jellyfish

I know the image is bad, but can you see the white blob in the middle of the water? That is a jellyfish!

mountain

Here is a photograph from the side of the boat of a snow-capped mountain. Even though it is summer here, there is still quite a bit of snow.

waterfall

This is another image off the side of the boat. A waterfall falls off into the ocean.

waterfall 2

A closer shot of the waterfall. This place is just gorgeous!

Science and Technology

The Science and technology segment of the blog will be written at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey, which should begin in the next day or so.

Species Seen

Jellyfish!

Arctic Tern

Gulls

Reader Question(s) of the Day

I received a few questions from Kaci, who will be a TAS here in September!

1. What is the temperature here?

A. The temperature has been in the mid to upper 40s, so much cooler then back home in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we were getting 90 degree days! It’s actually been pleasant, and I have not been cold so far on this trip.

2. What did you bring?

A. The temperature affected what I brought in terms of clothing. I started with a weeks worth of shorts and t-shirts, which I stuffed in my check in bag, and then two days worth of clothes in my backpack just in case my checked bag didn’t get it. Our other TAS, Tammy, got stuck here with only the clothes on her back, so a backup set of clothes was necessary. In addition, I have several pairs of jeans, 2-3 sweatshirts, a heavy coat, and under armor to round out the clothing. The under armor and heavy coat have been great, it’s why I haven’t been cold. I also packed  all of my toiletries (though I forgot shampoo and had to buy it here.

In terms of electronics, I have my iPod, computer, and my wife’s camera with me. (A special shout out to Olivia is in order here, thanks for letting me use the camera! I am being VERY careful with it!). I have a lot of batteries for the camera, which I have needed since I’ve already gone through a pair!

Just for fun, I brought my hockey goalie glove and ball to use in working out. We have weight rooms aboard the ship, which I will definitely need since the food is fantastic!

I hope that answers those questions, and I will answer more in the next post!

Jason Moeller: June 12, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 12th, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back explorers!

fog over Kodiak

Fog over Kodiak

Once again, I woke up this morning to a thick, heavy fog and drizzling rain that enveloped Kodiak like a wet, soggy blanket. While Tammy, who will be the other Teacher at Sea with me, was able to make it into Kodiak, the majority of our science party is still stuck in Anchorage, trying to get aboard a flight. Even though Tammy was able to make it in, her suitcase and clothes did not follow suit, and she was forced to make a Wal-mart run. The result of the weather has been a delay on the cruise, and we hope to set sail for equipment trials tomorrow.

As usual, I had a great day regardless of the rain. I started by helping our steward (cook) stock up on supplies for the ship’s galley. For 40 people on a 19 day cruise, we have $25,000 worth of food stashed away on board. It takes quite a bit of money to stock up a ship!

A river to the ocean

This is a photo of the river I explored weaving its way to the ocean.

After helping shop for the fresh produce, I had the rest of the day off, so I turned to my favorite Kodiak past time, and decided to embark on another bear photo hunt. In addition to bears, I was also on the lookout for salmon (I do not count eating salmon as seeing it) and bald eagles, both of which should be common. Today’s location was the same river that I explored on my first day, but I was much further south. My starting point was where the river met the ocean, and then I walked inland. I will let the photos and captions talk from this point on.

The Beach

I turned left to explore the beach first. It is a black sand beach, the first I have ever seen.

The Beach pic 2

This photo is of the same beach, and better shows the fog cover we had today.

Waterfall 1

While walking down the beach, I noticed a freshwater stream coming out of the woods and winding down to the ocean. I ducked under a pine tree at the edge of the beach and saw this waterfall.

Waterfall 2

Another photo of the waterfall.

Waterfall 3

The same waterfall, falling away towards the ocean.

Bald Eagle

After I left the waterfall, I continued to walk down the beach, and just happened to look up at the right moment to capture this bald eagle, high above the trees. They are so common here that the eagles are jokingly called roaches of the north.

2 eagles

I saw a total of 8 bald eagles, including this pair in the trees. The fog makes them a bit difficult to pick out.

River 1

After exploring the beach, I headed upstream to look for salmon and bears. This is what the river looked like by the ocean.

path

The path by the river was difficult, if it was there at all. Most of the time, I just trudged my way through it. There was not a dry spot on me by the time I finished the hike. It was worth it though.

Marsh

For the first half mile, the river was in a marshland, which the photo shows accurately. However, the marshland quickly gave way to pine forests, which can be seen in the next image.

River in the woods

The river running through the woods.

woods

A photo of the woods running alongside of the river.

Lichen

In the end, I didn't see any bears or salmon in the river, and the vegetation became too thick to go on without a trail. As I was leaving, however, to head back to the ocean and catch my ride home, I ran across this piece of white lichen which contrasted with the darkened woods surrounding it. For me, the photo was worth the trip.

Science and Technology Log

The Science and Technology log will begin at the start of the Walleye Pollock survey.

Species Seen

Bald Eagles!!!

Arctic Tern

Gulls

Magpie

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Reader questions of the day will start at the beginning of the Walleye Pollock survey! At the moment, I have not received any questions yet, so please send them in! I can take questions at jmoeller@knoxville-zoo.org.