When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love. She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day. The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”
When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist). Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.
Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA
science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise
McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.
Denise was on the day shift, so I mostly saw her during shift changes and on those rare mornings when I was still awake at 7 a.m. and came down for breakfast (okay, bacon). However, early in the trip, she took the time to explain the fish lab procedure to me, even drawing pictures and a flow chart. (Thanks!)
While the duties of the science team often overlap, Kresimir is definitely the “techie” who enjoys inventing and creating new underwater cameras and other devices. Do you remember the TV show MacGyver? MacGyver was a secret agent who was beyond resourceful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of science. Every episode, he would solve the problem at hand in a matter of minutes using a combination of ordinary objects such as duct tape, household cleanser, a Q-tip, and some matches. Kresimir reminded me of MacGyver. If something broke, he would enter the room, grab tools and items that just might work in place of the broken piece, and sure enough, within minutes, the device would be up and running again!
Taina was always in the chem lab during drop camera time, her eyes riveted on the screen. I was excited whenever the camera spotted something, but I loved that Taina seemed equally excited to see what marine species the camera would uncover each night. One of the most exciting, and clearly the biggest, was the Giant Pacific Octopus!
Science and Technology Log
The Giant Pacific Octopus (or Octopus dofleini) is often rumored to weigh more than 600 pounds, but most adult octopuses are much smaller. An adult female might weigh up to 55 pounds while an adult male can weight up to 88 pounds. According to NOAA, the plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi as some people say. Because it doesn’t have bones, a giant octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! The body of an octopus is shaped like a bag and it has 8 long arms (or tentacles) covered in suction cups.
octopus can have as many as 280 suction cups on each arm. That’s 2,240
suction cups! The Giant Pacific Octopus loves to eat crabs, but it will also
eat snails, oysters, abalone, clams, mussels, and small fish. The octopus’
mouth or jaw is shaped like a parrot’s beak. It is the only hard part of an octopus,
and it’s more-or-less
indigestible. That means that if a sperm whale eats an octopus, and the
contents of the whale’s stomach are later studied, you will see the octopus
beak even if you find no other sign that he ate an octopus.
to avoid whales and other predators, an octopus will camouflage, or change its
color and skin texture to match its surroundings! When he feels threatened, he releases
a cloud of purple-black ink to confuse his enemy.
Octopus Elementary Math Time
(Remember, an octopus has 8 arms.)
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 5 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 10 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? ______
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on 4 of
his arms, and 3 suction cups on his other 4 arms, how many does he have all
If an octopus has 4 suction cups on 7 of
his arms, but half as many on his 8th arm, how much does he all
If an octopus has 259 suction cups and
his octopus friend has 751 suction cups, how many do they have all together?
Latitude: 56º 58.03 N Longitude: 151º 26.26W Wind Speed: 17 knots Wind Direction: 120º Air Temperature: 13º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1010.5 mb Depth of water column 565 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12.9º Celsius
Science & Technology Log
Safety is of the utmost importance on a ship. There are safety trainings, fire drills, lifeboat drills, and rules about where you can go and whether you need to be wearing a life jacket and/or a hard hat. Hardhats come in many colors, but most look something like this:
That is why I had to interview Ryan Harris, the Chief Boatswain on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson about his cowboy hardhat.
from Sacramento, California and loves to wear cowboy hats. One day he saw a cowboy hardhat online, and
knew he had to order one! He first started wearing it on the NOAA Ship Hiialakai
in Hawaii and liked how it not only protected his head but kept the sun off his
face. In Alaska, he likes how it keeps
the rain off.
working for NOAA 14 years ago. I
wondered how a kid from landlocked Sacramento, who had never spent time on a
boat, ended up with a career at sea. It turns out his aunt saw an advertisement
about a free maritime internship program offered through the Sacramento School District
(at the time). Ryan was interested in seeing the world, so he looked into it. Through
the internship, he learned how to work on boats, and was introduced to
NOAA. Ryan has worked on NOAA ships with
home ports in California, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska, and has already traveled
with NOAA to at least 13 countries.
So what does the Chief Boatswain do?
Ryan is in charge of all operations concerning the deck and also “watch standards” or lookout (such as making sure that there are not whales in the area if we are going to deploy the fishing net). He is also in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the ship, including some mundane but all-important things such as making sure there is enough toilet paper or laundry detergent onboard before the ship sails. (There is no “running to the market” while you are out at sea for weeks or months.)
everyone I have met on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, Ryan enjoys his NOAA
life, and feels that NOAA offers a wealth of opportunities. I asked Ryan how he manages the long stretches
of time with no phone service or internet. Ryan says the temporary “disconnect” allows him
to focus on work and simply enjoy his life and his time with his co-workers. I think a lot of us can learn from that.
Latitude: 57º 09.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84 m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Are you wondering what it’s really like to live and work full-time on a NOAA research vessel? I asked Andrea Stoneman, the Senior Survey Technician on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Like everyone onboard the Oscar Dyson, Andrea is always working hard, but always has a smile on her face. Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, she has been employed by NOAA as a “wage mariner” for a year. A wage mariner means she is an at-sea civilian employee of NOAA. She began college at the University of Minnesota as a business major, but an internship as a freshwater mussel researcher changed her life and made her realize her true love: BIOLOGY! She earned a degree in Environmental Science, and then attended graduate school at Delaware State University, where NOAA funded her research on ocean acidification and its impact on fish.
Are you wondering what ocean acidification means?
The amount of carbon in the ocean is rising due to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. Carbon dioxide acidifies the water, reducing its pH level. The letters pH stands for the ‘potential of Hydrogen.’ The pH scale was invented in 1909 by a biochemist names S.P. Sorenson. The scale uses numbers from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic, 14 being the least acidic (or more alkaline) and 7 as the middle (neutral) point.
For the past 300 million years, the average pH of the ocean was approximately 8.2. It is now closer to 8.1, a drop of 0.1 pH units. Remember, the numbers go “in reverse” so a drop in pH means it is MORE acidic. You may be thinking, but it’s only a drop of 0.1. That doesn’t sound like a lot. However, a drop of 0.1 represents a 25-percent increase in acidity. That’s because the pH scale is a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale. To understand a linear scale, think of a ruler. The difference between inches on a ruler stays constant. A 5-inch fish is one inch bigger than a 4-inch fish, and 2 inches bigger than a 3-inch fish. In contrast, the pH scale is a logarithmic scale in which two adjacent values increase or decrease by a factor of 10. Therefore, a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4, and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 5.
that many marine species may experience adverse effects on their health,
growth, reproduction, and life span due to ocean acidification. That means fish
could develop diseases, have fewer babies, or die younger.
You and I need calcium
to build strong bones. We get calcium through milk, cheese, green leafy
vegetables, and many other sources. Marine
species also need calcium carbonate to build their bones or shells. Ocean acidification causes carbonate ions to be less
abundant in the ocean, which makes it harder for
marine species to build strong bones and shells. This is especially bad for oysters,
clams, sea urchins, corals, and mussels, the very species that made Andrea
fall in love with science!
After graduate school, Andrea worked as a fisheries observer on commercial fishing vessels. (I met quite a few people on-board the ship who are or were observers.) To a non-fisheries person, an “observer” SOUNDS like someone who stands around watching others, but it is actually very hard work! Observers document compliance (making sure that things are being done the correct way). They take samples of the catch and collect data regarding the size of the catch and the species caught. The data goes into the same service model that NOAA data does, which is vital for ensuring sustainable fishing for the future.
her work as an observer in Alaska, Andrea met people at NOAA, took a tour of a
NOAA ship, and decided to apply for a job with NOAA. (Hmmm… When I interviewed Ensign Andonian for
an earlier blog, she also mentioned visiting a NOAA ship as the thing that made
her decide to choose a career with NOAA. That gives you an idea of just how
amazing NOAA ships are!)
So what does a Senior Survey Technician do?
She runs and maintains all of the scientific sensors on the ship (including the meteorological and oceanographic sensors). She also runs the CTD, a device which measures the conductivity, temperature, depth, salinity, and other oceanographic parameters of the water.
In addition, she is involved in setting and retrieving the fishing nets and is an expert at processing the catch in the fish lab. Andrea ensures that the data collected onboard is sound and accurate, and “packages” the data so that it is presentable and accessible to NOAA thus becoming accessible to the public whom NOAA serves.
she recommends a NOAA life, Andrea says it’s great for college graduates who
have an interest in science and a love of the ocean. Some perks (especially for
new college graduates) include living rent-free onboard, having delicious meals
cooked for you three times a day, and getting to see the world while being
involved in interesting, and sometimes ground-breaking, scientific research. An
added perk is that working for the federal government can “erase” some of your
enjoys being the Senior Survey Technician onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson,
and has fallen in love with Alaska, which she now considers her home.
Click below to watch a 2-minute video by NOAA about ocean acidification:
While I cannot describe what it is like to live full-time on a NOAA ship, I can tell you what it’s like as a Teacher at Sea for 26 days. Like everyone onboard, I “work” a 12-hour shift. The science team works shifts starting at either 4 a.m. or 4 p.m. I was assigned the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. That means I wake up most days between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. On days that I am “good” I head down to the gym. On other days, I grab a light “breakfast” before heading to the chem lab to start my shift.
start our shift processing fish by 4:30. First I suit up in steel-toed boots, a
waterproof jacket and overalls, and elbow-high rubber gloves.
Then we process the haul, which means sorting approximately 1000 pounds of fish and jellyfish by species.
We weigh them, measure them, and dissect some to collect otoliths (ear bones) or ovaries. All of this can take 2-3 hours. Then we clean. The fish lab gets COVERED in fish slime, scales, and jellyfish goo.
There are high-powered waters sprayers hanging from the ceiling, and we blast every surface in the room with saltwater for at least 10 minutes after every haul. Imagine cleaning your kitchen with a fire engine hose! It’s definitely the most fun I have ever had cleaning!
At the end of the cruise, I will join Andrea the Survey Technician and the science team for 2-3 hours of meticulously scrubbing and spraying the fish lab so that it is clean and ready for the next group that comes aboard a few days after we leave.
the scientists onboard often want to do “pair trawls” (fishing in the same area
using the “old” AWT net and the “newer” LFS net in order to align the catch
data with the acoustics data), I am
often back in the fish lab an hour later to process another haul, and again
clean the fish lab.
After that, depending upon the time, I might have a snack, or do research and write blogs, or spend time in the chem lab with my co-workers, Matthew Phillips (the Fish Lab Lead) and volunteer biologist Nathan Battey, discussing the haul or what is coming up for the rest of the shift. At about 11 p.m., the sun sets, and sometimes it is spectacular, so I try to pop out onto the deck for a quick photo.
At midnight, we start getting ready to do the drop camera to determine which areas are trawlable. We usually do at least 4 camera drops, from approximately 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. This time of night often involves the science team consuming caffeine, ice cream, red vines, sour patch kids, or all of the above. At 4 a.m., the next shift starts, and my roommate, Jamie Giganti, comes into the chem lab. Jamie is a field coordinator for AIS. She works as an observer part of the time, but also provides support and training for new observers, and acts as a liaison between boat captains and observers.
Jamie’s arrival in the chem lab means it is my turn to go to “our” room. Although we are roommates, we are never actually in the room at the same time. The goal is that you stay out of the room for the 12 hours your roommate is off-shift, allowing them to sleep or relax. That means that every time I am on shift I need to make sure that I take everything I might need for the day.
few days onboard, I was in bed and asleep 15 minutes after my shift ended. Now
that I am accustomed to the schedule, or perhaps due to the caffeine or sugar,
I am often up until 5 or 5:30 a.m. That means I go to sleep just as the sun
stateroom has a bathroom and shower, a desk, a few shelves, lockers that act as
a closet, and bunkbeds. (I was so happy
when Jamie asked if she could have the top bunk!)
The large window has both magnificent views of Alaska and also blackout curtains that block the sun so that people on my shift can sleep.
The shower area in the bathroom has a slightly raised border, but since the boat moves while you are showering, so does the shower curtain.
other people have figured out how to get the water to stay IN the shower. I am still working on that. On the upside,
the bathroom floor gets cleaned every day! (I am told that one trick is to use
zip ties to “lengthen” the shower curtain.
a haul seems easy now, but it was overwhelming the first few days! As a
non-scientist, I was unfamiliar with fish and jellyfish species, perplexed by
the computer program used to enter data, and kept confusing which fish to
measure, which fish to weigh, and which fish to measure and weigh. I am so grateful for the patience of everyone
I never got seasick. I wore a scopolamine patch for the first part of the trip,
and then one day decided to take it off and learned that I had in fact “gotten
my sea legs.” Now I barely feel the boat moving during the day and enjoy the
light rocking at night.
writing this during my last few days onboard.
While we have occasionally been near land, during much of our time
onboard, the view was the incredibly beautiful Gulf of Alaska. Yesterday, when I saw land in the distance, I
was sad to learn that it was Kodiak. That
means my time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is almost over.
Weather at 1000 Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday 17 July 2019
We’re expecting rougher weather at the end of the week. The wind is forecast to stay at 15 knots all day today with patchy fog. Then tomorrow and Friday winds double to 30 knots with waves of 12 feet. Currently the wind is 11 knots and the sea state is stable. The sunsets out on the water are spectacular! People gather on the fantail to watch the evening sun melt into the horizon when it’s exceptionally colorful or dramatic, and last night did not disappoint.
Most of the time during meals I sit with the science crew. Sometimes I’ll sit with my roommate, Lindsey, who works as an augmenter. Think of augmenters as floaters – they are employed full time but will move from one ship to another based on the needs of each ship. Lindsey helped me a lot this trip from learning how to do laundry and climbing in and out of a top bunk on a rolling ship (without falling) to understanding nautical terms. She’s also pretty good at spotting whales!
A couple of my meals have been spent talking with 2nd Cook Aceton “Ace” Burke. He normally is the Chief Cook on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, but he’s augmenting on this trip to fill in for someone who is on vacation. When he’s cooking for his crew, his favorite meal to prepare is pork ribs. He cooks them low and slow for hours until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender.
He and Kathy keep the kitchen spotless, the food hot, and the mealtimes cheerful. Kathy was kind enough to share some recipes with me and I intend to take every one of them home to cook this summer! For dinner one night soon I’ll make Kalbi Ribs with Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Macadamia Nut Cookies for dessert. I’ll reserve the Creamy Chicken Rice Soup for a cold winter weekend and be sure to add chopped, roasted red peppers and wild rice to the recipe like Kathy instructed.
INTERVIEW WITH A CHEF
After working in an office environment for a few years in Los Angeles, our Chief Steward Kathy Brandts realized she didn’t fit the nine to five lifestyle. Plus, who would ever want to commute to work in LA? So she left LA and moved back to Colorado to live with her sister for a while until she found something more appealing.
That’s when cooking began to kindle in her blood. Every night she would sift through cookbooks and prepare dinner in search of a way to express gratitude to her sister for helping her get back on her feet. But it would still be a few years before she started earning a living in the kitchen.
First came the Coast Guard. At 27 years old, she was less than a year away from the cutoff. If she didn’t enter basic training before her 28th birthday, a career with the Coast Guard would no longer be an option. It appealed to her though, and a recruiter helped her work a little magic. She made the cut! While she initially wanted to work deck personnel so she could maintain the ship and qualify as law enforcement (some Coast Guard personnel, in addition to belonging to a military branch, can simultaneously take on the role of federal law enforcement officers), she was too pragmatic for that. It would have taken her three years to make it to that position whereas cooks were in high demand. If she entered as a cook, she wouldn’t have to wait at all.
So the Coast Guard is where she had her first taste of formal training as a cook. She traveled on a two year tour to places like Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean visiting port cities in Hawaii and Australia to resupply. Ironically, to be out to sea a little less often, she decided to join NOAA as a civilian federal employee after her service with the Coast Guard ended. She’s not exactly out to sea any less than she used to be, but now she gets to go on shorter trips and she can visit family and friends while NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker is in port between cruises.
Kathy is a perfect example of someone who wasn’t willing to settle for a job. She spent the first half of her life searching for a career, a calling, to energize and motivate not just herself but all the people her meals feed throughout the day. She believes that food is one of the biggest morale boosters when you’re on a ship, and it’s clear at mealtime that she’s correct. I watch each day as the officers and crew beam and chatter while they’re going through the buffet line. I hear them take time to thank her as they’re leaving to go back to work.
A well-cooked, scratch meal has the power to change someone’s day. Not only does Kathy take pride in her work as a professional, I also get a touch of “den mother tending to her cubs” when I see her interact with everyone on the ship. She says she provides healthy, flavorful meals because she loves food and wouldn’t want to serve anything she wouldn’t eat herself. In turn, this seems to make everyone feel cared for and comforted. When you’re packed like sardines in a confined area for a month at a time, I can’t think of any better morale booster than that.
I think it’s hard sometimes for students to visualize all the steps it takes to get to where they want to end up. As with all people, teenagers don’t always know where they want to end up, so connecting the dots becomes even less clear. Take Kathy as an example. She started her adult life in an office and ended up in a tiny kitchen out in the middle of the ocean. I doubt that at sixteen years old, sitting in some high school classroom, she ever would have imagined she’d end up there.
So our job as teachers is not to push students in one direction or the other. Part of our job, I believe, is to help students get out of their own way and imagine themselves in settings they won’t hear about in their counselor’s office. One way to do this is to invite people from our communities to come in and share how their profession connects to our curriculum. I can think of plenty of people to invite – the local candy maker, a trash collector, a professor researching octopods, a farmer, a cyber security professional or white hat, a prison guard, military personnel, an airline pilot, or a bosun (even though I probably won’t find any of those in my local community since I don’t live near the water). Reading about the profession is one thing. Talking to someone who lives it everyday is another.
One lesson I’m taking from my day spent in the kitchen is the value of scenario based activities. If student teams are posed with a problem, given a text set to help them form their own conclusions and plan for the solution, and then asked to present their solution to the class for feedback, that is a much more enriching lesson plan than direct instruction. In November my students will be tasked with preparing a budget and presenting a plan to feed 30 people for a three week cruise. I like the idea of the cruise because they can’t just run out to the store if they forget a few things – the plan has to be flawless. This one activity, though it would take a week to execute properly, would have my students making inferences and drawing conclusions from text, communicating with one another using academic language and jargon specific to the scenario, solving a real-world problem, and critically evaluating an assortment of potential solutions.
We can prepare students for “the career” regardless of what that ends up being. Every career requires critical thinking skills, problem solving, patience, a growth mindset, and the ability to communicate with others. And all these skills are essential to the classroom regardless of grade level or discipline.
Latitude: 55º 4.07N Longitude: 156º 42 W Wind Speed: 3.2knots Wind Direction: 96º Air Temperature: 10.3º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1025.7. mb Surface Water temperature: 11.05º Celsius Depth of water column: 1,057.6 meters
If you love science and exploring, consider a career in the NOAA Corps!
The NOAA Corps is one of our nation’s seven uniformed services (along with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps). NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA and the NOAA Corps can trace their lineage to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the “Survey of the Coast.” The survey work was done by Army and Naval officers along with civilian men and women. The Coast Survey was actually the first federal agency to hire female professionals! Their duties included charting our nation’s waterways and creating topographic maps of our shorelines, which made our marine highways among the best charted in the world.
Today, the NOAA Corps is an elite group of men and women trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science. NOAA is comprised of the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, National Ocean Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.
NOAA Officer Spotlight
I had the opportunity to speak with Ensign (ENS) Lexee Andonian (although by the time this is published Ms. Andonian will have been selected for LTJG (Lieutenant junior grade)! ENS Andonian has been a member of NOAA Corps for almost 2 years, and loves her job, but it was not something she originally considered as a career (or even knew about). She first learned about NOAA while working at a rock climbing gym. A patron mentioned it to her, and offered to show her around a NOAA ship. She went home and googled NOAA. With her interest piqued, she decided to accept the patron’s offer, and went to Newport, Oregon to tour the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (which is actually the sister ship of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. A sister ship means they were based off the same blueprint and can serve similar projects.)
ENS Andonian applied for the NOAA Corps, but was waitlisted. NOAA is highly selective and accepts a very limited number of applicants (approximately 15-25 twice a year.) Undeterred, she applied for the next NOAA class, and was once again waitlisted, but this time she was accepted off the waitlist. After 5 months of training at the Coast Guard Academy, she was ready to begin her assignment onboard a NOAA ship, where additional hands-on training occurs non-stop. Each NOAA Corps member wears a multitude of “hats” while onboard. ENS Andonian is currently the Acting Operations Officer, the Navigation Officer, the Environmental Compliance Officer, and the Dive Officer. ENS Andonian loves that her job allows her to see unique places that many people never get to explore since they are not accessible by plane or car. Asked what she misses the most from home, she said, “Bettee Anne” (her dog).
Science and Technology Log
Today I was introduced to a few new species in the fish lab. Until now, most of the jellyfish have been Chrysaora melanasta, which are beautiful and can be quite large, but today I saw 2 egg yolk jellyfish, aptly named as they look like egg yolks.
I also saw a lumpsucker, which is the cutest fish I have ever seen. Lumpsuckers look like little balls of grey goo. He (or she) seemed to look right at me and kept opening and closing its mouth as if trying to say something. Lumpsuckers have a suction cup on their bottom which allows then to adhere to rocks or other surfaces.
As a teacher, I create experiences for my students that will take them out of their comfort zone so that they can realize just how much they are truly capable of. On the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, it is my turn to step outside my own comfort zone. If you would have told me a few months ago that I would feel comfortable being elbow-deep in live fish and jellyfish, or dissecting fish to see whether they are male or female, or slicing into a fish’s head to collect otoliths (ear bones), I would not have believed you, but that is how I spend every day onboard the Oscar Dyson, and after 2 weeks, it feels like something I have done all my life. It is an experience I highly recommend to everyone!
Scientist Spotlight: Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., NOAA NMFS, SWFSC, Fisheries Ecology Division (FED). Dr. Cordoleani is a member of the fish sorting team on this survey.
Interests: Rock climbing, surfing, reading, studying Japanese
Education: Dr. Cordoleani’s doctoral degree is in Marine Biology and Ecology from Aix-Marseille University in France. There she researched interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton. During her postdoc at the University of California, Davis, in the lab of Louis Botsford, she studied the impact of marine protected areas on rockfish along the CA coast.
Current Research: Dr. Cordoleani leads a research program at UC Davis on preservation of Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, of the Central California Valley Spring Run, which is a threatened species. She explains that these Chinook Salmon are genetically different from salmon of other runs such as the Late Fall, Fall, and Winter runs that take place in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, the Delta, the San Francisco Bay, and all of its tributaries.
The primary objective of Dr. Cordoleani’s research is to develop a life cycle model of the entire Spring Run from the spot where the young salmon are reared in the river to their journey through the Golden Gate to the sea where they spend a couple of years before returning back to their home river to spawn, thus completing the life cycle. She aims to uncover environmental factors that are impacting the survival at each stage of the life cycle.
Project 1: Dr. Cordoleani’s team placed acoustic tags in the stomachs of young fish to trace their journey from the river to the ocean. She has found that water temperature, water velocity, and flow are the major factors impacting whether or not juvenile fish are able to make it from their place of birth to the Golden Gate. She has observed that drought negatively impacts survival and that the fish fare better in wetter years. Her data helps federal agencies, such as NOAA, with fish stock assessments and informs them for making science policy decisions on fishing and setting fishing quotas.
Project 2: Since water flow and velocity affect the survival of young salmon called fry, Dr. Cordoleani is very interested in water usage in the Central California Valley and gaining a better understanding how freshwater habitats are managed and how this affects wild salmon. A major obstacle these fish encounter are dams, which blocks the natural flow of rivers. Spring run salmon have an additional challenge of low water levels and low stream flow in the Spring. During the Spring months, there is less water available in floodplain habitats due to the heavy consumption of water by the agriculture industry during this time.
To study the effects of water flow and velocity on salmon fry, Dr. Cordoleani made mesh fish cages and placed the cages in either shallow floodplain habitats or the main river. She placed ten fry (measuring 40 mm in length) in each cage and allowed them to grow for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, she again measured the fish and found that the floodplain shallow water habitat promoted fish growth.
Rice farmers use floodplain habitats for their crop and Dr. Cordoleani is working on partnering with this industry to explore how they can work together to manage land to benefit native salmon runs. She is excited that the rice farmers, as well as duck clubs, are interested to learn how their land can be used to help wild salmon populations thrive and how they can be a part of the solution to some of the obstacles wild salmon face.
Project 3: Fish otoliths provide a treasure trove of information to reconstruct the life history of fish. The CA Department of Fish and Game has for many years been collecting otoliths from salmon carcasses after spawning events throughout various locations in the Central CA Valley. They gave Dr. Cordoleani access to their 450 stored otoliths for her research on the salmon life cycle. She will analyze the otoliths using laser ablation mass spectrometry and stable isotope analysis (using the Strontium 64 or 65 ratio) to determine in which river the adult fish were reared, where they were present at each stage of their life cycle, and how long they spent there. She will also be able to determine if the fish were wild or farmed-raised because hatchery feeding produces a different strontium signal, she explains.
With data from the otolith project, Dr. Cordoleani will compare different cohorts of fish and assess how fast the fish grew in each type of habitat in order to understand which habitats are most ideal for salmon survival. Importantly, she will be able to determine whether and how their growth was affected by different environmental factors and seasons over the years. Dr. Cordoleani uses USGS databases and other agency websites to obtain water data records for her research.
Mission: Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2019
Interview with Scientist Melanie Damour
Melanie Damour is the Co-Principal Investigator and Co-Chief Scientist on the expedition. She is responsible for directing all archaeological aspects of the investigation. We talked about her path to her career, and her advice for young people who might want to pursue ocean science.
When I asked her what sea creature she would choose to be, she immediately answered “A mermaid. Mermaids have the agility of fish, but they are smart.” Melanie may not be a mermaid, but she is agile as a fish and smart.
Melanie knew from early childhood what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her father was a fire and rescue diver, and Melanie sometimes got to see him at work. She was fascinated by scuba diving. With her father’s support, she learned to scuba dive when she was only eight years old. The second event that shaped her career was a visit to the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. This historic sailing ship is open to the public and played an important role in the war for independence from Britain. When Melanie visited this ship, she was awed by the ship and its history, and decided that somehow she was going to marry her two favorite things – diving and maritime history – for her career.
She got her scuba diving certification when she was 14 years old, and studied history in high school. She went to Florida State University to study anthropology. She took classes in archaeology, cultural and physical anthropology, and linguistics, all the disciplines within Anthropology. She was offered a teaching assistantship which allowed her to get into a graduate program and study submerged paleoindian sites in Florida. The offer was too good to refuse, so she began her graduate work at Florida State right away. Now she works for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) as a marine archaeologist.
Melanie reflected on what makes a good scientist. Her first response was that good scientists are always asking questions; being curious is what leads to new understandings. It’s also important to be open-minded. Scientists can’t expect things to turn out a certain way as this would blind them to what is actually happening. A scientist has to be persistent in the face of problems and always be looking for different ways and better ways to attack a problem. The ability to work well in a team is key. Each member of a good team contributes to the end goal. Taking into account different perspectives leads to a more accurate and complete picture.
Melanie has worked on projects in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific. Her personal research interests led her to Guatemala, where she worked in Lake Petén Itzá on a submerged Mayan port site. She went to Panama to map a Spanish merchant ship that sank off the coast in 1681. This is her favorite shipwreck so far. It is well preserved by the river sediments that poured into the Gulf there. The ship contains hundreds of wooden boxes full of supplies that Spain had sent to the colonies. The boxes contain nails and scissors, and some yet to be opened my contain books that are still preserved. After this expedition, Melanie is heading to Mexico to dive with her husband on a site that may turn out to be her new favorite. They will be looking for the wreck of one of the ships belonging to Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer. In 1519, Cortés sank his own ships to prevent his crew from leaving and returning to Cuba. This set the course for the conquest of the Aztecs. Last summer, Melanie and her husband found an anchor and wood that dated to the early 1500s. The wood was determined to be from Spain. This puts the anchor in the right time frame to be one of Cortés’ sunken ships.
Melanie pointed out that it isn’t easy to get a job as a marine archaeologist because it is a small field and there are not many permanent jobs. But she also encourages anyone who wants to pursue this as a career to be persistent and not give up. “It’s not always a straight line from A to B,” she says; in fact, you may discover that when your plan isn’t working out, you actually prefer the new track your life takes – that Plan B option that you may not have known existed when you began your career.
“The greatest threat to our oceans today is humans,” Melanie said. “Our lack of consideration for the consequences of our actions is the greatest threat we face.”
Marine archaeology is one of many subdisciplines in ocean sciences, and the future of our oceans depends on many scientists working together to reverse the trajectory of degradation we are on.