Hayden Roberts: Playing Hide and Seek with Sonar, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 28.51° N
Longitude: 84.40° W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: 115
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.8°C
Barometric Pressure: 1021 mb
Sky: Clear


Science Log

In my previous blog, I mentioned the challenges of doing survey work on the eastern side of the Gulf near Florida. I also mentioned the use of a probe to scan the sea floor in advance of trawling for fish samples. That probe is called the EdgeTech 4125 Side Scan Sonar. Since it plays a major role in the scientific research we have completed, I wanted to focus on it a bit more in this blog. Using a scanner such as this for a groundfish survey in the Gulf by NOAA is not typical. This system was added as a precaution in advance of trawling due to the uneven nature of the Gulf floor off the Florida Coast, which is not as much of a problem the further west one goes in the Gulf. Scanners such as these have been useful on other NOAA and marine conservation research cruises especially working to map and assess reefs in the Gulf.

deploying side scan
Preparing to put the side scan over board.

Having seen the side scanner used at a dozen different research stations on this cruise, I wanted to learn more about capabilities of this scientific instrument. From the manufacturer’s information, I have learned that it was designed for search and recovery and shallow water surveys. The side scanner provides higher resolution imagery. While the imagining sent to our computer monitors have been mostly sand and rock, one researcher in our crew said he has seen tanks, washing machines, and other junk clearly on the monitors during other research cruises.

This means that the side scanner provides fast survey results, but the accuracy of the results becomes the challenge. While EdgeTech praises the accuracy of its own technology, we have learned that accurate readings of data on the monitor can be more taxing. Certainly, the side scanner is great for defining large items or structures on the sea floor, but in areas where the contour of the floor is more subtle, picking out distinctions on the monitor can be harder to discern. On some scans, we have found the surface of the sea floor to be generally sandy and suitable for trawling, but then on another scan with similar data results, chunks of coral and rock have impeded our trawls and damaged the net.

Side scan readout
Sample scan from monitor in the computer lab. The light areas are sandy bottom. The dark is either seaweed or other plant material or rocks. The challenge is telling the difference.


Did You Know?

In 1906, American naval architect Lewis Nixon invented the first sonar-like listening device to detect icebergs. During World War I, a need to detect submarines increased interest in sonar. French physicist Paul Langévin constructed the first sonar set to detect submarines in 1915. Today, sonar has evolved into more sophisticated forms of digital imaging multibeam technology and side scan sonar (see https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/lewis_clark01/background/seafloormapping/seafloormapping.html for more information).


Personal Log

When I first arrived aboard Oregon II, the new environment was striking. I have never spent a significant amount of time on a trawling vessel or a research ship. Looking around, I took many pictures of the various features with an eye on the architectural elements of the ship. One of the most common fixtures throughout the vessel are posted signs. Lamented signs and stickers can be found all over the ship. At first, I was amused at the volume and redundancy, but then I realized that this ship is a communal space. Throughout the year, various individuals work and dwell on this vessel. The signs serve to direct and try to create consistency in the overall operation of the ship and the experience people have aboard it. Some call the ship “home” for extended periods of time such as most of the operational crew. Others, mostly those who are part of the science party, use the vessel for weeks at a time intermittently. Before I was allowed join the science party, I was required to complete an orientation. That orientation aligns with policies of NOAA and the expectation aboard Oregon II of its crew. From the training, I primarily learned that the most important policy is safety, which interestingly is emblazoned on the front of the ship just below the bridge.

Safety First!
Safety First!

The signs seem to be reflective of past experiences on the ship. Signs are not only reminders of important policies and protocols, but also remembrances of challenges confronted during past cruises. Like the additional equipment that has been added to Oregon II since its commission in 1967, the added signs illustrate the history the vessel has endured through hundreds of excursions.

Oregon II 1967
Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Ship Oregon II (1967), which was later transferred to NOAA when the administration was formed in 1970.
Oregon II 2017
NOAA Ship Oregon II in 2017 on its 50th Anniversary.

Examples of that history is latent in the location and wording of signs. Posted across from me in the computer lab are three instructional signs: “Do not mark or alter hard hats,” “Keep clear of sightglass do not secure gear to sightglass” (a sightglass is an oil gauge), and “(Notice) scientist are to clear freezers out after every survey.”

signs collage
A collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
more signs
Another collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
even more signs
Another collage of signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II

Author and journalist Daniel Pink talks about the importance of signs in our daily lives. His most recent work has focused on the emotional intelligence associated with signs. Emotional intelligence refers to the way we handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. He is all about the way signs are crafted and displayed, but signs should also be thought of in relation to how informative and symbolic they can be within the environment we exist. While the information is usually direct, the symbolism comes from the way we interpret the overall context of the signs in relation to or role they play in that environment.

Susan Kaiser: Blue Planet Connections, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 34 min N
Longitude:  81 deg 48 min W
Wind Speed:   2.5 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 32.1 C
Air Temperature:  29 C
Relative Humidity: 71 %

Science and Technology Log

Sunrise on the last day at sea.

Sunrise on the last day at sea.

It is easy to see why the Earth is nicknamed the Blue Planet. Its dominant physical feature is the sea water which covers approximately 70% of the surface making it appear blue even from space.   People have depended on the oceans for centuries not just for the obvious things such as food, transportation, jobs and recreation but also for the very oxygen we breathe and the fresh water we drink to survive.  Humans need the ocean for all these things and more. We are inextricably interconnected to the ocean; our survival depends on it.

The vastness of the ocean allows us to believe that human actions won’t have a major effect on it. For example, pollution that leaks into the ocean would be diluted by the huge amount of water so that no real harm would be done to the habitat or the organisms living in the ocean. This may have been true for a time when the human population was less than the 7 billion people now living on Earth. However, the fact is human actions do influence the ocean and in ways that matter. Often these impacts are unintended or accidental but they still lead to a change in the marine ecosystem.   Sadly, many times these effects are negative such as  the Deepwater Horizon/BP MC252 oil spill In 2010, an explosion on an oil drilling rig in the Gulf  of Mexico released almost 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean immediately changing the marine habitat and harming the organisms that lived there. Scientists are still determining the long term effects of this spill and helping to restore the area. In the past other spills have occurred such as the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989 that released 11 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaskan coast.

Not all ocean impacts are large events related to the petroleum industry. Even small individual human decisions can be significant. For example, if a pet owner no longer wants to keep his exotic species pet he might release it into the wild or an environment where that organism isn’t usually found.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

Mrs. Kaiser holding a speared Lionfish. Photo by Jeff Renchen.

This is probably how the Lionfish,  scientific name Pterois volitans, has become established in the coastal waters near the Carolinas and Florida, according to Paula Whitfield, a NOAA marine scientist. It may seem like a minor problem that the Lionfish is now living in Gulf Coast ocean water. What do you predict will happen to the number of Lionfish in this area knowing that they have everything they need to flourish: food, water, space but no predators to hunt them?  They will reproduce and increase their numbers quickly. Lionfish will out number native species of fish and beat them out for those resources displacing them in their ecosystem. Lionfish will out compete native species decreasing their numbers and the diversity of organisms. While on our cruise the science team encountered groups of Lionfish living under large rocks at depths of 100 feet. They speared a specimen and brought it aboard to examine it closely. Lionfish are invading this marine habitat taking it over from the native species. Any organism that is introduced into a new ecosystem where it can rapidly increase numbers taking over native habitat is called an invasive species. One solution to this problem is to start catching Lionfish to eat! I am told they are yummy. People just need to be taught how to safely remove their poisonous fins and taste them!

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

These tiny (15-20mm) fresh water bivalves are invasive species.

Both animal and plant organisms can be invasive species squeezing out more desirable native organisms. In Nevada, we are on the alert to an invasion of  Quagga Mussels (Dreissena bugensis) that have been detected in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. These fresh water mollusks are transported on boat exteriors or in bilge water to other fresh water lakes across the United States. It is important that boaters carefully inspect and maintain their equipment to halt the progress of this invasive species to other lakes in Nevada and elsewhere.

The Blue Planet is home to us all. Our decisions and actions make a

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

Roof of the Nancy Foster Complex in Key West, Florida. Note the native plants.

difference on both a small and large scale. Each of us has a responsibility to make informed choices about these actions. Realizing our reliance on the ocean and other aspects of the environment and working within in these systems really benefits all of us. For example, when architects designed the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environment Complex in Key West, Florida they created a Green Building.  This means they made choices to  “recycle”  a neighboring building saving building materials and using it for a new purpose. Office furniture was re-purposed to fit in the new energy efficient building that is LEED Silver certified. Contributing to the ecosystem, the roof is planted with native species of grasses that provide habitat for insects and birds. The plants are watered by rain. Excess rain water is collected and stored for other uses in the building helping to conserve water. While the Dr. Nancy Foster Complex building design is indirectly related to ocean preservation it represents a human action that benefits our Blue Planet. As with the release of a hand full of Lionfish, so can many small actions together can create a big impact. Choose to be connected to our  ocean in a positive way. Through a small act you do each day we can preserve and even improve our environment and oceans. The Blue Planet is a great place to call home.  Let’s help keep it that way.

Personal Log

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

Science Team. Photo by Lt. Josh Slater.

As I finish writing this last blog from my home in Reno Nevada, I am reflecting on the many people I have met and the experiences I have had as a  NOAA Teacher at Sea. It is through NOAA’s interest in connecting scientists, mariners and educators that I was able to participate in this amazing experience but also because I took a chance and applied.  I might not have been chosen but I didn’t let that stop me from taking the risk. If I had not made the time to apply and prepared my essays and sample lessons look what I would have missed. The chief scientist, Scott Donahue, also took a chance on me and accepted me as an active participant on his research cruise. He and the science team went out of their way to make sure that I stayed safe and got an outstanding experience as an observer of their research. Everyone took  time to answer my questions and describe their research to reach a larger audience, YOU!

On the last day we sailed into port at Key West, few people aboard knew that

Ensign Richard De Triquet  (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard De Triquet (right) maneuvers the ship. Executive Officer CM Donn Pratt (left) observes.

Ensign Richard de Triquet was given the task of bringing the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster into dock.  It was his first time to manage this procedure! Commanding Officer LCDR Holly Jablonski knew he had the skill and took a risk  assigning Ensign De Triquet to maneuver the ship into port. Working as a team, the other officers on the bridge used binoculars to spot potential obstacles in the channel. They discussed the best course for the ship and provided input to Ensign De Triquet who announced the orders.  By the way, the docking was was smoothly accomplished and I got to observe the entire process including the debriefing. Congratulations Ensign De Triquet, nice work!

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience is one that I will never forget! It was a pleasure to be a part of this science research cruise and to

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

Mrs. Kaiser snorkeling Ft. Jefferson. Photo by Alejandro Acosta, PhD.

meet such a wonderful group of people. My blog would not be complete without acknowledging several individuals in the group who were especially helpful.  Danielle Morley who cheerfully provided me with an overview of the VR2 research including a power point presentation and got me involved in the data collection. Hatsue Bailey who acted as my photographer whenever needed.  Sarah Fangman who provided ground transportation. Alejandro Acosta, PhD who took me snorkeling after a tour of  Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He also was the underwater photographer of the organisms we saw that day. Thank you, everyone!

Just as people are interconnected to the ocean they are also interconnected to each other. All of the people I met on this adventure worked together toward a common purpose. Each one of them making their own contribution to reaching that goal. They did it by doing their best work and trusting that each member of the group would in turn do their part to their best ability. Effort and communication were key to their success. From what I witnessed it worked out perfectly.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the "Redwoods of the Reef." Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

These 2 sponges are over 100 years old. They are known as the “Redwoods of the Reef.” Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Summer is quickly coming to an end and with it the excitement of a new school grows. My students and I  have the opportunity to make connections, to each other, to the Blue Planet and the organisms that live here. This year, if you are faced with a challenge, be brave and take it on. Assess an opportunity and take the risk to try something unfamiliar. Extend kindness to someone outside your existing circle of friends.  Put your toe in the water and get comfortable listening, observing, thinking and asking questions. You will be amazed what you will learn and the things you will experience. Take a chance. Reflect, communicate and work together.  Scientists and NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew showed how well this works to get the job done. Let’s follow their example so that your 7th grade year in science a memorable one too.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the survival suit. Photo by Hatsue Bailey.

A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey

A crab exploring the ocean floor. Photo by Hatsue Bailey

Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Scientist Danielle Morley changing out a VR2. Photo by Sean Morton.

Susan Kaiser: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!! July 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Kaiser
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
July 25 – August 4, 2012

Mission: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Coral Reef Condition, Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping and Fisheries Acoustics Characteristics
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday, July 29, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude:  24 deg 36 min N
Longitude:  83 deg 20 min W
Wind Speed: 5.8 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.5 C
Air Temperature: 29.5 C
Relative Humidity: 67.0%

Science and Technology Log

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Marine Scientist, Danielle Morley, ready for the signal to dive and retrieve a VR2.

Science is messy! Extracting DNA, observing animals in their native habitat or dissecting are just a few examples. On board NOAA Ship Nancy Foster it may even be stinky but only for a little while. That is because the divers are retrieving the Vemco Receivers also called VR2s for short. These devices have been sitting on the ocean floor quietly collecting data on several kinds of grouper and snapper fish. Now it is time to download the VR2s recorded information and give them new batteries before placing them at a new site. So, why are they stinky? Even though the VR2s are enclosed inside another pipe, sea organisms have begun to grow on the top of the VR2. They form a crust that is stinky but can be scraped away with a knife. Any object left in the ocean will soon be colonized by sea creatures such as oysters, algae, and sponges to name a few. These organisms will grow and completely cover the area if they are undisturbed. This crust smells like old seaweed drying on an ocean beach.

VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Clean VR2 ready to download data and replace batteries.

Really, it isn’t too bad and after a while you don’t notice it so much. Besides this is the only way scientists can get the numbers out of the VR2. These numbers tell scientists which fish have been swimming by and how often. Some of the VR2s have collected over 21,000 data points but most have fewer. This information alone helps scientists understand which areas of the ocean floor each species of grouper and snapper prefer as their home or habitat. These data points can even paint a picture of how these fish use the habitat space over the period of an entire year.

Have you been wondering what the VR2s are listening for? You may be surprised to learn it is a signal called a ping from a tracking device that was surgically implanted while the fish is still underwater! The ping is unique for each individual fish. The surgeries were completed when the study began in 2008. First, the fish are caught in live traps. If the trap is in deep water (>80ft) divers descend to perform the surgery on the ocean floor. The fish’s eyes are covered and it is turned upside down. Then a small incision is made in their abdomen and the tag is inserted below the skin. Stitches that dissolve over time are used to close the incision. Once the fish has recovered a bit it is released. An external tag is also clipped into the dorsal fin so other people will know the fish is part of a scientific study. Fish caught in the upper part of the water column may be brought up to the surface slowly and kept in a holding tank while the surgery performed on the boat. Scientists have noted the fish are less stressed by being caught, handled and tagged using this method.  This is a factor for collecting enough data to gain a real understanding of these fishes behavior.

Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are able to conduct this study with support from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. They have also worked with other agencies on this research including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)  the area where the VR2s are positioned. Since 2008 they have learned a great deal to better understand how grouper and snapper use habitat. Both fish are good for eating and are found on the menu in many restaurants around the world. They are commercially harvested and fished by recreational fishermen like you and me. Fishing is a big industry in all coastal locations and especially in Florida. In fact, commercial fishing alone accounts for  between 5-8% of total income or jobs in the local economy of the Florida Keys.  Knowledge gained from this study will help FWC and FKNMS guide decisions about fishing and recreation in the FKNMS and be aware of negative impacts to these fish populations in the future. Stinky air is small sacrifice to help preserve populations of groupers and snappers.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Jeff Renchen describes the features of the ROV.

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

Mrs. Kaiser wearing the virtual reality glasses. Photo by Jeff Renchen

You can see that exploring marine habitats takes time, trained people and resources. Luckily a device has been developed to help scientists explore the ocean floor in an efficient and safe way. This little gem is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. It is a cool science tool operated with a joy-stick controller.  The ROV can dive and maneuver at the same time it sends images back to the operator who is using a computer or wearing virtual reality glasses. Yes, I said virtual reality glasses! The operator can see what the ROV can “see” in the depths of the ocean. I had the opportunity see the ROV in the lab and then ride with the ROV team as they tested the equipment and built their skills manipulating this tool in dive situations. The beauty of the ROV is that it can dive deeper than is allowed for a human diver (>130 feet) and it can stay down for a longer period of time without stopping to adjust to depth changes like a human. If a dive site has a potential risk due to its location or other factors, the ROV can be sent down instead. Scientists can make decisions based on the ROV images to make a plan for a safe live dive and save time and resources. Science is messy, sometimes, but it is cool too!

Personal Log

The weather has been simply amazing with calm crystal clear seas and very smooth sailing. Still, spending the day in the sun saps your energy. However, that feeling doesn’t last too long after a nice shower and a trip to the mess to enjoy a delicious meal prepared in the galley. There Chief Steward Lito Llena and 2nd Cook Randy Covington work their magic to cook some terrific meals including a BBQ dinner one evening on the upper deck. They have thought of everything, especially dessert! I will be paying for it later by running extra laps when I get back home but it will be worth it.

Mrs. Kaiser's stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

Mrs. Kaiser’s stateroom on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.

My stateroom is a cozy spot with everything one would need and nothing more. A sink is in the room but showers and toilets are down the hall a few doors. One item that is missing is a window. It is so very dark when the lights are off you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It is easy to over sleep! Surprisingly noise has been minimal since the rooms are very well insulated. I share this space with three female scientists but we each have a curtain to turn our bunks into a tiny private space. I enjoy climbing up in my top bunk, closing my little curtain and reading my book Seabiscuit, An American Legend before being rocked to sleep by the ship.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster officers and crew have been wonderful hosts on this cruise. All have patiently answered my questions and helped me find my way around to do what I need to do. I am curious about their life at sea and the opportunities it affords them to see new places, meet new people and engage in new experiences too. I hope to learn more about their careers as mariners before this voyage ends. The ship truly is a welcome place to call home for these two weeks.

Kate DeLussey: TowCam Anyone? July 11, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everyone works at sea. Here I am helping with the pre-deployment checklist.   (See how wet Lowell is!  He has been to the ocean floor many times.)

Location:
Latitude:  39.8493°
Longitude: -69.5506 °

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 19.30° C
Wind Speed: 20.74 knots  5  on the Beaufort  wind scale
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,020.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 21.39° C

Science and Technology Log

High winds, moderately rough seas, and difficulties with the ship’s positioning system all contributed to the delay of the first scheduled launch of TowCam on our midnight shift.  Even though the necessary decision meant a loss of precious underwater time, it is better to delay than risk losing  expensive equipment.

When the seas calmed down we were able to launch TowCam, but first we had to go through the pre-launch checklist.  I helped Lizet as she prepared TowCam.

Did you guess that Batteries power the components of TowCam?          Lizet must test the batteries  before and after each launch.

The batteries are under very high pressure when TowCam goes to the ocean floor so we have to push out the air before each trip.   I help by tightening the battery caps.  Every time I am on deck I must put safety first.  I always wear a hard hat and the life vest.

One of my jobs is to help with TowCam.

When everything has been checked and double checked, the operator gives the signal, and the deck crew of the Bigelow use the winch and tag lines to launch TowCam on its next mission.

The winch swings TowCam off the deck and lowers it into the ocean.

Look at the picture carefully.  The deck crew always wear their safety equipment too!  They hook themselves to the ship by their belts, and they wear safety vests and hardhats.  The deck crew on Bigelow also make sure everyone follows the safety rules.

As soon at TowCam is in the water, everyone wants to view the images sent by the camera, but the TowCam operator must keep an eye on the monitors.

These are six of the monitors used to control and guide TowCam.

TowCam operators watch eight different computer monitors to control TowCam’s movements.  With the help of mathematic modelers and previously collected data about the structure of the ocean floor, the scientists choose  locations where they think they will find corals. These locations are called “stations.”

This map from the NOAA web site shows the track of the Bigelow. The places where the lines cross over one another are some of the stations where the scientists looked for coral

The ship must make very small movements to get the camera in the correct place on station. The operator will say something like, “Lab to Bridge- move 10 m to the North please.”… Then they watch the camera and the monitors to see if TowCam moves to the correct position.   Sometimes TowCam floats right past the spot scientists want to see, and then the operators have to try to get it back into position to take the pictures.  Not every station has the corals the scientists hope to find.  But even knowing where corals are not is important information.  After several hours of picture taking, we move on the next station.

I sit next to the TowCam operator and keep the logs.

Even in calm seas controlling TowCam is a challenging process.  Remember, TowCam hovers over the ocean floor  attached to the ship by a wire.   Fully loaded it weighs over 800 pounds in the air.  Since the ship moves TowCam by pulling it, it is not easy to follow the scientists’ plan.

However, when the perfect coral images appear on the screen, no one thinks about how hard they were to find.  We all crowd around the monitors and watch in amazement.  The scientists try to figure out  types of corals in the picture, and then they wait for the next picture to see if there are even more!  We have found corals at lots of stations!

Think about a time you tried to pull something tied to the back of  a rope.  Was it easy to steer?  Did it get stuck?  

Personal Log

We have talked a bit about how scientists find and try to study corals using the underwater camera and other sensors on TowCam.  On other missions scientists  sometimes use remote control underwater vehicles ROVs.   Unlike TowCam which is dragged behind the ship, these vehicles are more versatile because they are driven and controlled remotely using a joy stick similar to the ones you use for computer games.    Sometimes scientists even go to the ocean floor and drive themselves around using submersibles.  One thing is certain,  you have to get under the water to study corals.

Scientists go to all this trouble because corals are important to our Earth’s oceans. They are very old, and they provide habitat for other animals. 

As you grow, it will be your job to find ways to study and protect corals and all other living things in the oceans. 

Who knows how corals could help us in the future!

Polyps are extended from deep-sea coral colony.
Photo from NOAA Undersea Research Program.

Kate DeLussey: Lowell Searches Beneath the Ocean, July 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from Newport, RI
Date:  Sunday, July 8, 2012


Location:
Latitude:  38.9580 °
Longitude: -72.4577 °

Liz thought we needed our school mascot on the mission. When she went to the store, she brought back Lowell the Lion.

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 24.60° C
Wind Speed: 4.5 knots
Relative Humidity:  88.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,010.30 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 24.49° C

 

Science and Technology Log

Look who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  No you silly students…not me!  TowCam is exploring the deep ocean between the twilight zone and the midnight zone, and it is not possible for people to travel in deep water without very special equipment.

Our mascot Lowell Lion accompanied TowCam as it was deployed for Tow 2.

At this location, TowCam reached a depth of over 1900 meters below the surface of the ocean.  That is more than one mile-straight down!  It was a good mission.  The camera was sending some very interesting images back to the ship.  As I was doing my job logging, I was watching these first images.  I was able to see hard bottom- the best habitat for corals.  I also saw fish and sea stars, and then I saw the corals! They looked like little fuzzies on the rocks. The scientists had the ship hold position right over of the corals so they could take lots of pictures.  The TowCam operator used controls on the ship to raise and lower TowCam to get close to the corals without touching the cliffs where the corals were living.

Students:   Can you imagine using remote controls to move the TowCam?  I bet you would be good at it.  Perhaps the video games you play will help prepare you to fly TowCam when you finish college. 

Doesn’t Lowell look proud?  He survived his first dive and brought some interesting friends back with him.

Well, when TowCam came back on the ship, Lowell was very wet, but he handled the cold, dark high pressure very well.   Thanks to Greg and Lizet, Lowell stayed on the TowCam Sled!

Once TowCam was secured on the deck. We went out to take care of TowCam.   What a big surprise to find other creatures hitchhiking on TowCam.   Lowell the Lion must have made some friends.

This sea star was hidden on TowCam

The first deep sea visitor was a spiny orange sea star.

The orange sea star was found on TowCam deployment #2.

Isn’t it beautiful?  We all rushed to see it.  Dr. Nizinski carefully examined and measured the sea star.   She used her tweezers to pick up a tiny sample the sea star leg, and she put the sample into a little bottle with a label.  She will use the sample to test the DNA to help classify the sea star.  She will find the sea star’s “family.”

It was exciting to find the sea star, but when we looked further one of the scientists saw a piece of coral tucked in a hiding place on TowCam.   Dr. Martha took care of the coral also.  The coral will become a permanent record that reminds us that this type of coral lives here.

   These corals were hidden in the batteries after Tow 2. July 8, 2012

 

Do you see how carefully the sample is documented?  Some of the things we do in school like labeling and dating our illustrations and our work prepare you to be a scientist.  

Many years from now someone can look at the coral in this picture and see that the sample was collected on the Bigelow TowCam #2, on July 8th.  The ruler in the picture helps everyone know the approximate size.

One of the components on TowCam we have not talked about yet is the slurp.  

 

TowCam slurp

Try to find the Slurp on TowCam.              

The “slurp” is really an underwater vacuum cleaner that sucks up water, sediment, and sometimes small creatures.  When TowCam is in deep water, the scientists watch the images to decide when it is a good time to trigger the slurp.   They have to choose carefully because the slurp can be done only once on each trip to the bottom.

The scientists used the slurp on Tow #2.  The collection container looked like it just had “mud” and water.   It was emptied through a sieve to separate the “mud” and other things from water.  The scientists carefully examined what looked like regular mud but tiny organisms like bivalves, gastropods, and small brittle stars were found in the sieve.  These animals were also handled very carefully.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment slurped from the ocean bottom.

This brittle star was found with mud and sediment that was slurped from the ocean bottom.

Can you find any other living things in this picture?

 

You never know what is hiding in the mud.  I bet we could do this kind of exploring right in our school’s courtyard.  What do you think we could find if we examined our mud?

 

Kate DeLussey on the Bigelow July 12


Personal Log

I think we should talk about the ocean today.  Many of us have had some experience with the ocean.  Maybe you have been to the beach, and maybe you have even seen some of the cool creatures that can be found on the beach.  I have seen crabs, horseshoe crabs, clams, and plenty of jellyfish, but the scientists on Bigelow are working in a very different part of the ocean.

If you visit the beach, you are only swimming in a teeny tiny part of the ocean.  Maybe you are allowed in the ocean up to your knees to a depth of 20 inches (about 1/2 a meter), or maybe you are brave and are able to go in the ocean with an adult up to your waist to a depth of 30 inches (about 3/4 a meter).  Even if you have been crabbing or fishing in the Delaware Bay where the average depth is 50 feet (15.24 meters) you have been in only the most shallow part of the ocean.  TowCam has been down as far as 1.2 miles (2000 meters).  That is not even the deepest ocean!  The ocean is divided into zones according to depth and sunlight penetration.  I learned about the top three zones.

  • The sunlight zone– the upper 200 meters of the ocean are also called the euphotic zone.  Many fish, marine mammals like dolphins and whales, and sea turtles live in this band of the ocean.  At these depths there is light, plants, and food for creatures to survive.  Not much light penetrates past this zone.
  • The twilight zone– this middle zone is between 200 meters and 1000 meters and is called the disphotic zone.  Because of the lack of light, plants cannot live in this zone.  Many animals like bioluminescent creatures with twinkling lights do live in this zone.  Some examples of other creatures living in this zone includes: crabs, gastropods, octopus, urchins, and sand dollars.
  • The midnight zone– this zone is below 1000 meters and is also called the aphoticzone has no sunlight and is absolutely dark.  At these depths the water pressure is extreme, and the temperature is near freezing.  90% of the ocean is in the midnight zone.So you can see that when you are at the beach, you are never in the “Deep Ocean.”  You are still in a great place to find many amazing creatures.  Keep your eyes open!  Be curious! Make sure you do some exploring the next time you visit this important habitat.  Then write and tell me about the things you find. Try to draw and label the three zones of the ocean.  Be sure to draw the living things in the correct zone.
  • Next time:  Someone will be working on deck getting TowCam ready for deployment.  Hint:   It will not be Lowell. : )

Kate DeLussey: Underway and Under the Sea, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date:  Monday, July 7 , 2012

Location:

Here I am on the bridge of Henry B. Bigelow.  ENS. Zygas put me to work looking up changes for navigational charts.

Latitude:  39.29 °
Longitude: -72.25°

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 23.40° C
Wind Speed: 15 Kts
Relative Humidity:  90.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,011.99 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 23.66° C

Science and Technology Log

At 7:00 pm last night the Henry B. Bigelow left Pier 2 from the Newport Naval Base.  Narragansett Bay was crowded with sailboats, yachts, and even a tall ship, but once we passed under the bridge, we knew we were really on our way.  Now that we are at sea, everyone onboard will begin his or her watch.  I will be working 12 am to 12 pm along with some of the scientists.  Even though I never worked night work before, I was excited to learn about my jobs!

One of our jobs is to keep track of the “TowCam” when it is in the water.  Every ten minutes while the TowCam is deployed (sent underwater) we log the location of the ship using Latitude and Longitude. We also have to keep track of other important data like depth.  The information is logged on the computer in a spreadsheet and then the points are plotted on a map.  A single deployment can last 8 hours.  That is a lot of data logging!  These documents provide back up in case something were to happen to the data that is stored electronically.   I will have other jobs also, and to get ready for those duties, Lizet helped me get to know the TowCam better by explaining each component.

Students:  See if you can find each part Lizet showed me on the picture of the TowCam in my last blog.

 

The camera on TowCam faces down to capture images in the deep ocean

Camera– The camera is the most important part of the TowCam.  You need a very special camera that will work in cold deep water.  When the TowCam is close to the ocean floor this digital camera takes one picture every 10 seconds. The thumbnails or samples of the pictures are sent to computers on the ship by the data link. The camera operator described the thumbnails like the picture you see when you look at the back of your camera. When I look at the thumbnails I don’t usually see much in the picture.  The scientists know what they are looking for, and they can recognize hard bottom on the ocean floor and corals.  They see fish and other sea creatures too, and when they see a picture they like, they will ask the ship navigator to “hold the setting” so they can take more pictures.  Remember, the scientists are trying to find corals, or places where corals might live.  If they have a picture, they have proof that these special animals live in a certain habitat that should be protected.

Strobe light– There are two strobe lights on the TowCam.  The deep ocean does not have

Strobe light illuminates the darkness of the deep ocean

natural lighting because the sunlight does not reach down that far.  The strobe light flashes each time a picture is taken.  If the TowCam did not have these special lights, you would not be able to see any of the pictures from the camera.  These lights are tested every time the TowCam is deployed.

The CTD measures Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth

      CTD- The CTD is an instrument that has sensors to measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth in a certain water column.  It is attached to the TowCam and the information from the CTD is sent to the computers through the datalink.  This information gives the scientists a better understanding about the ocean water and the habitat for the creatures they are looking for.  Look for more components on the TowCam.  How do you think the TowCam gets its power?

 

Personal Log

I am getting adjusted to life at sea.  For the first few days, when we were still on the dock I did not have much to do.  ESN Zygas gave me a job and let me find updates for the navigational charts that are stored on the bridge.  The charts are maps of the oceans and waterways that help the NOAA Corps team steer the boat, and these charts get updated when markers like buoys are moved or when the water depths and locations change.  Up-to-date charts keep the ships safe.  I was glad to do a job that helped keep us safe.  Now that we are at sea, I have been working my watch.  The work varies.  We have hours of watching TowCam on the bottom of the sea and charting the positions of the ship. Then we have the excitement when the camera comes on-board with pictures and samples that need to be processed.

One of the best things about this experience is that I am the student just like my students at Lowell.  I am excited to learn all of the new things, but I am frustrated when I don’t understand.  Sometimes I am embarrassed when I have to ask questions.  Yesterday I was working with some of the images and I was looking for fish. All I had to do was write “yes” there is a fish in this photo.  Well, I had to ask Dave (one of the scientists) for help.  I had to ask, “Is this a fish?”  Can you imagine that?  A teacher like me not knowing a fish!  It was like finding the hidden pictures in the Highlight magazine!

So instead of being frustrated, I am open to learning new things.  I keep practicing and try not to make mistakes, but when I do make those mistakes, I just try again. By the time we go through the thousands of pictures I may not be a pro, but I will be better.  I can see that I am improving already.  I can find the red fish without zooming in -the red color probably helps!

Next time:  Wait until you see who went to the bottom of the ocean on TowCam.  You won’t believe what they brought back with them.

Until next time:)

Sue Zupko: 13 Who Ya Gonna Call? Mud Busters!

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to Biscayne Bay, FL
Date: June 9, 2011
Time: 1900

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 25.4°N  79.5°W
Present weather: overcast
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 075°true
Wind Speed:  20 kts
Surface Wave Height:  4 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 100° true
Swell Wave Height:  4 ft
Surface Water Temperature:28.5 °C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Water Depth:  308 m
Salinity: 36.5 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 28°/24.8°

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

Take this quiz before reading this post.

 

James and Jeff wait for the winch to lift the pyramind-shaped grey grab

Waiting to lift the grab

When I started my journey as a Teacher at Sea, I wondered what scientific research the ship I would be placed on would be doing.  Would it be marine mammals in Alaska or Hawaii, hydrography (bottom mapping), a fishery study, buoy placement, or something I’d never heard of.  When I was told I was placed on the Pisces and we’d be using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle), I only knew we’d be using the vehicle to go to the bottom and look at corals since it is too deep to scuba dive.  I had no real concept of what else would be going on.  I did know my students liked the idea of the ROV since I am the Robotics Club advisor at Weatherly Heights Elementary.

Pyramid shaped grey grabber hanging over the ocean

Benthic Van Veer Grab

We have three missions on the Pisces.  One is to look at the bottom through the eyes of the camera lens to see what is actually happening with the coral and its habitat.  Another purpose was to update existing maps.  The third mission was the most difficult for me to get a grasp of just because it sounds so strange.  Benthic grabbing.  Benthos means bottom in Greek.  Like the soil on land, sediment lying on the bottom of the sea is full of creatures and information needed to fully understand the health of the corals and their habitat.  You don’t see the most of the animals living in soil usually either.  In soil on land and in the sea sediment, the animals living inside are called infauna, and provide food and nutrients to the epifauna (those living above the surface).  What effect has man had on this foundation of the coral reef?  What diversity of life is there and how plentiful are they?  What size are the lithogenic (of rock origin) particles?  It all means something and needs to be studied.

Sand on bottom of ocean

Sandy bottom for grab

According to Dr. Jeff Hyland, NOAA NCCOS (National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences), “People may wonder why scientists want to study the seemingly ‘barren’ sand (or muddy sand) layer that covers vast stretches of the ocean floor.  One good reason is because this important habitat is not barren at all!  The unconsolidated (loose) bottom that occupies the majority of the sea floor can be teaming with life.  The types of animals found can include polycheate worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.  Some are large enough to see with the naked eye, but many are so small that you would need to use a microscope to see them. “

Three men in safety gear standing behind the pyramid shaped grey grab

James, Steve, and Jeff harvest their grab

The crew of scientists using the Van Veen grab equipment include: Dr. Jeff Hyland, James Daugomah, and Steve Roth (Grab Guys) of NOAA’s NCCOS Laboratory in Charleston, SC.  Ocean floor mapping is done prior to an ROV dive to help pinpoint the choicest spots for investigation.  After the ROV records the video from its dive, the “Grab Guys” go to work.  The science team confers and selects the best spots for study.  The beginning spot is relayed to the bridge, which then “makes it so” by taking the ship to those coordinates.

So, now what?  Every group on deck must wear hard hats and PFDs (life jackets—Personal Floatation Devices) since the winch will be used and they will be working near the side rail of the ship.   The fishermen (deck hands), scientists (both observers and the Grab Guys), and anyone who happens to be nearby must wear this equipment.  Safety first.

The fishermen and Grab Guys prepare for the sampling by dragging the 300 pound Van Veen grab close to the side.  It sits on a specially constructed table made of 2×4 wood and is painted grey.

Sink with water and plug plus two buckets on the left

Benthic cleaning equipment

Nearby, Steve sets up a smaller table with a sink in it, plus several buckets, a large spoon, and two rectangular plastic tubs nearby.  I really wondered what that was all about.

The winch hook is attached to the Van Veer grab and everyone stands ready.  When the bridge radios to the fishermen that the ship is over the drop site, they spring into action.  The winch operator waits for the signal from the lead fisherman that all is ready and is told by hand signals to raise it up.  As the winch lifts up the grab, those working the equipment help steady it over the deck and release it when it’s over the side.  The grab is lowered to the bottom as the winch operator monitors the amount of cable deployed.  The idea is that when the grab hits the bottom the release bar will pop and close the “grab jaws”.  If the grab isn’t going fast enough or lands on an angle it won’t close.  Plus, it might not go deep enough into the sediment to get a good sample.

Men standing in protective gear looking upward at the winch pulley

Watching the pulley for movement

It takes longer than you would think for that grab to hit bottom.  Remember, patience is a virtue.  The equipment drops 80 meters per minute.  Yesterday we were dropping to 320 meters.  All eyes are targeted on the winch’s pulley.  When the grab hits the bottom, it causes the pulley on the winch cable to swing, meaning that the grab has made contact.  Everyone crosses their fingers that the grab not only closed, but also got a large enough sample for an accurate test.  The winch driver begins to retrieve the gear.  It’s just like doing a science fair project.  You must repeat your experiment and have the right amount of sample so your repeated experiments  are as similar as possible when you repeat your procedure.  They must make three grabs which bring up the correct amount of sediment.  Often trial and error comes into play.  The current not only made things difficult for the ROV operations, it made the grab go down at an angle so it wouldn’t close (grab or fire) a few times.  They had to keep dropping until it worked correctly.  At one point the bottom was 370 meters and we had let out 425 meters of cable.  That meant that the wind and the current were really strong and pulling the grab out at an angle.

Pulley wheel hanging from an orange support

The winch pulley moved

Sieve bucket being swirled around in sink

Cleaning the mud off

Once the grab gets a sample, they scoop out sediment with a spoon and put it in a blue bin.  This is carried over to a sieve bucket and is half submerged and swished around in the sink to get the mud off.  This is repeated until all the sediment particles are clean.

Jeff in white helmet and orange PFD write information on a clipboard

Jeff records important information

The samples are scooped out of the sieve bucket and placed in containers which will be processed back at the laboratory.  In general, they are looking for sediment size (grain size), infauna (living organisms from the sediment), and chemicals from man.  The containers have been labeled with what tests need to be run.  Jeff is recording the numbers on the containers and whether that sediment should be tested for metals, toxicology, total carbon, organics, and sediment size.

Steve in PFD holding container with sediment and pink color

Steve holding organics sample

A special insert is placed in the grab to measure an exact amount of sediment to determine the amount of  the infauna.  This sample is cleaned and put in a large container with formalin mixed with rose bengal.  The rose bengal had been premixed by Dr. Hyland the first day so that when added to the sediment it will turn the living organisms a pink color, making them easier to find.

After the sediment samples are put in the smaller bottles, the top is screwed on, sealed with electrical tape to make sure it doesn’t open, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. All these benthic samples will be sent to Barry Vittor, a company specializing in sediment analysis.

I have a new appreciation for the sediment in the ocean.  I’ve learned that sediment on the north side of a coral mound in the Gulf Stream usually has less nutrients since the current flows from south to north.  The coral and other plankton-consuming animals eat a lot of the food flowing in the current over the mound so the water on the north side contains less food and can support less infauna.  I hope my students enjoy learning about the benthos as much as I have.  Perhaps with the data we collected, scientists will be able to help determine what we need to do to preserve the corals of the reefs.