Roy Moffitt: Calling in the Drones, August 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 13, 2018

 

Current location/conditions: Evening August 13 – northwest of Icy Point Alaska

Air temp 34F, sea depth 45 m , surface sea water temp 42F

 

Calling in the Drones

We have not seen another ship or any other sign of civilization since we left Nome, until today when NOAA scientists coordinated an at sea meeting between the Healy and two saildrones.  Saildrones are remotely piloted sailboats that roam the seas without anyone on board.  A given route is programmed for collecting data and changes to the sailboat’s survey area can be given directly by satellite through the Internet.   After not seeing anything on the horizon for many days when the sail drone came into view it was quite eerie for me.  It was like a random floating traffic cone dropped in the Arctic.  I was amazed that it did not tip over.  The saildrone has a relatively large keel (the fin part of the boat you cannot see under water) to help it from tipping over.  The boat itself is about 7 m long (23 ft)  x 5 m tall ( 16.3 ft) x 2.5 m wide (8.2 ft) with a traveling speed of 3 to 5 knots.

Saildrone on the ocean

The saildrone is a remotely piloted sailboat that contains many scientific instruments.

We collected surface water samples near the drone that will be tested to verify the accuracy of the drones reporting instruments.

The instruments on a saildrone measure weather conditions and ocean conditions and properties.  The ocean data includes measurements for temperature, wave height, sea depth, currents, pH, salinity, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.  Underwater microphones listen for marine mammals and an echosounder can keep track of fish that pass by.   This is a wealth of information in an area of the world where there are so few ships to report back weather and sea observations to civilization.

 

Today’s Wildlife Sightings

We caught Thysanoessa inermis in the big Methot net today. I had to have Nissa Ferm, a fisheries biologist from Lynker Inc working under contract for NOAA, spell that word out for me. She wrote it down without hesitation. I found this amazing because even spell check doesn’t recognize those words.  Nissa identifies many specimens we catch by eye and then verifies identification under a microscope. In general terms, Thysanoessa inermis is a type of organism often referred to as krill and is only about a centimeter in length.

Thysanoessa inermis, a species of krill

Thysanoessa inermis, a species of krill

Thysanoessa inermis is a vital member of the bottom of the food chain and an animal that eats phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is a microscopic plant that lives in the sunlit layers of the ocean and gets energy from the sun.  As with all plants, this is done through the process of photosynthesis. In the case of phytoplankton being an underwater plant, it uses carbon dioxide dissolved in the water in its photosynthesis process. Thysanoessa inermis helps gather this energy in by eating the phytoplankton and then becomes the prey of much larger creatures in the marine food chain such as fish and whales.

 

Now and Looking Forward

Although it was short lived, we saw our first snow flurry today.  It was incredible to see snowflakes in​ August! I am looking forward to more snowflakes and continued cool weather. ​

Pam Schaffer: Sampling the Food- Assessing Krill Populations July 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Pam Schaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 2-10, 2018

Mission: ACCESS Cruise

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Pacific:  Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date July 5 2018
Time 1100
Latitude 37 30.1’N
Longitude 123 08.5’W
Present Weather/ Sky Cloudy
Visibility (nm) 12
Wind Direction (tree) Light
Wind Speed (kts)  Variable
Atmospheric Pressure (mb) 1021.3
Sea Wave Height (ft) <1
Swell Waves Direction (true) 270°
Swell Waves Height (ft) 1-2
Temperature  Sea Water (C) 13.0°
Temperature Dry bulb (C)

Air Temperature

16.7°
Temperature Wet Bulb (C ) 13.7°

 

Science and Technology Log

Krill are small crustaceans (think shrimp-like) that inhabit the world’s oceans.  They are an essential component of marine ecosystems, residing near the bottom of the food chain.  Krill are a staple in the diet of whales, squid, octopuses and fish.  Understanding the variability of krill populations is an important way of monitoring ocean health.    In order to track the krill population, scientists do two things; they use acoustics to estimate the biomass and use nets to verify the results from the acoustics.

Deploying the Tucker Trawl

Deploying the Tucker Trawl

Scientists use a large net mechanism called a “Tucker Trawl” to collect samples of krill and other zooplankton at various depths in the water column.  A Tucker Trawl is a set of opening and closing cone shaped nets made of fine mesh (holes that are 333 microns in diameter).  The unit we are using has three sections, each with a mouth diameter of 1 meter by 1.5 meters and a sample collector container on the bottom. Krill is collected by dropping the net in a specific location to a specified depth while the ship is slowly moving at a rate of approximately two knots per hour (2.3 mph).  An onboard crane deploys and retrieves the mechanism using a heavy cable. On this cruise we’ve sampled to depths as much as 200 meters deep.   The Tucker Trawl depth and when the nets are opened can be adjusted in order to sample several vertical positions in the water column during a single trawl.

Processing Samples

Processing Samples

Once the samples are back onboard the nets are sprayed down and the collectors are carefully emptied into storage containers for later analysis onshore.  The content analysis will count and identify the various species collected in the sample, as determining sex, size, lifecycle which vary by species.    We’ve observed two different species in our samples; Euphasia pacifica (smallest and most abundant) and Thysanoessa spinifera (larger with a spiny back).  Data collected via these Tucker Trawl sessions is used to construct models for assessing krill biomass using acoustic measuring technology.

 

Thysanoessa spinifera upclose

Thysanoessa spinifera upclose

Loads of Krill

Loads of Krill

Personal Log

Tucker Trawling is wet business but really interesting.   It’s a great learning experience working with Dr. Jaime Jahncke to deploy the nets and process the samples.  We’re doing several trawls each day throughout the cruise- one session around noon and another set around midnight.   I’ve adjusted my sleeping schedule to get a few hours of rest before we start the midnight shift and then I sleep a few hours after we finish working around 4:30 am.  I’m tired but really happy to be here.

 

Did You Know? 

                       

The name “krill” is Norwegian for “small fry of fish”.

Christine Webb: August 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/21/2017

Latitude: 49.48 N

Longitude: 128.07 W

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Weather Observations: Sunny

Science and Technology Log

Today was our first chance to use the Methot net, and it was a lot of fun! The Methot net is smaller than the net that we usually use, and it is used to catch smaller organisms. Today we were targeting euphausiids. We thought we saw a pretty good aggregation of them on the 120 kHz acoustics data, where they appear the strongest of the three frequencies we monitor. We needed to validate that data by trawling the area to find the source of the backscatter and make sure they really were what we thought they were. There are many scientists who use data on euphausiids, so this was a good opportunity to provide them with some additional data. Because we’ve been working mostly on larger organisms, I was excited for the chance to see what a Methot net would pull up.

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The Methot net coming up with its haul

It was very exciting that when the net came up, we had TONS of euphausiids! (“Tons” here is not used in a literal sense…we did not have thousands of pounds of euphausiids. That would have been crazy). Although we did not have thousands of pounds of them, we did have thousands of specimens. I’m sure thankful that we only had to take data on a subsample of thirty! I got to measure the lengths and widths of them, and using the magnifying lenses made me look very scientific.

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Measuring euphausiids

Along with euphausiids, we also found other species as well. We found tiny squids, jellies, and even a baby octopus! It was adorable. I’ve never considered that an octopus could be cute, but it was.

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Baby octopus

We also measured volumes and weights on samples of the other specimens we found, and I used graduated cylinders for the first time since college. We would put in a few milliliters of water, add our specimens, and then calculate the difference. Voila! Volume. Good thing I remembered to call the measurement at the bottom of the liquid’s meniscus… I could have messed up all the data! Just kidding… I’m sure my measurements weren’t that important. But still – good thing I paid attention in lab skills. It was definitely a successful first day with the Methot net.

Personal Log

The big buzz around the ship today was the solar eclipse! I was even getting excited at breakfast while I ate my pancakes and made them eclipse each other. We got lucky with weather – I was nervous when I heard the foghorn go off early in the morning. Fortunately, the fog lifted and we had a pretty good view. We all sported our cheesy eclipse shades, and the science team wore gray and black to dress in “eclipse theme.” Even though we couldn’t see the totality here, we got to see about 85%. We’re pretty far north, off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada. The mountains are beautiful! Seeing land is always a special treat.

Here are some eclipse pics:

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Rockin’ our cheesy eclipse shades

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Some science team members enjoying the eclipse

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Eclipse!

The eclipse would have made the day exciting enough, but the excitement didn’t stop there! While the scientists and I were working in the wet lab, we heard that a pod of orcas was swimming within eyesight of the ship. We dropped everything and hurried to take a look. It was so amazing; we could see five or six surface at once. They must have been hunting. We only see orcas when we’re close to land because their prey doesn’t live in deeper waters. Deeper into the ocean we are more likely to see gray or humpback whales.

It’s almost time for dinner…we sure have been spoiled for food! Last night we had pork loin and steak. I’m not sure that our chef will be able to top himself, but I’m excited to find out. I have heard rumors that he is very good at cooking the fish we’ve been catching, and that really makes me wish I liked seafood. Unfortunately, I don’t. At all. Not even enough to try Larry’s fried rockfish. Luckily, he makes lots of other food that I love.

Tonight after dinner I think Hilarie, Olivia, and I are going to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Last night we watched the first movie while sitting on the flying bridge. It was a pretty cool experience to feel the spray of the sea while watching pirates battle!

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Movie time!

That’s all for now; I’ll be back with more scientific fun soon!

Did you know?

Krill (the type of euphausiid we studied) is one of the most populous species on earth. It basically fuels the entire marine ecosystem.

 

David Amidon: Science @ Sea, June 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 8, 2017

 

 

 

Science and Technology Log

The main scientific research being completed on the Reuben Lasker during this voyage is the Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey and it drives the overall research on the ship during this voyage. Rockfish are an important commercial fishery for the West Coast. Maintaining healthy populations are critical to maintaining the fish as a sustainable resource. The samples harvested by the crew play an important role in establishing fishery regulations. However, there is more happening than simply counting rockfish here on the ship.

How does it work? Let me try to explain it a bit.

 

First, the ship will transfer to a specific location at sea they call a “Station.”

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Collection stations off the California Coast that the Reuben Lasker trawls annually.

For a half hour prior to arrival, a science crew member will have been observing for Marine Mammals from the bridge area. When the station is reached, a new observer from the science crew will take over the watch outside on the deck. The fishermen on the boat crew will then unwind the net and launch it behind the boat. It must be monitored from the deck in order to ensure it is located 30 m below the surface. Once everything is set, then the ship trawls with the net at approximately 2 knots. Everything must be consistent from station to station, year to year in order to follow the standardized methods and allow the data recorded to be comparable. After the 15 minutes, then the crew pulls the net in and collects the sample from the net. This process is potentially dangerous, so safety is a priority. Science crew members can not go on the deck as they have not received the proper training.

 

 

Timelapse video of the fishermen bringing in a catch. 6/7/17 (No sound)

 

Once the sample is hauled in, the science personnel decide which method will be used to establish a representative sample. They pull out a sample that would most likely represent the whole catch in a smaller volume. Then we sort the catch by species. After completing the representative samples, they will eventually stop taking counts of the more abundant organisms, like krill. They will measure the volume of those creatures collected and extrapolate the total population collected by counting a smaller representative sample. Finally, we counted out all of the less abundant organisms, such as squid, lanternfish and, of course, rockfish. After the sample is collected and separated, Chief Scientist Sakuma collects all of the rockfish and prepares them for future investigations on shore.  

 

 

A selection of species caught off the coast of San Clemente. These include Market Squid, Anchovies, Red Crab, King-of-Salmon (the long ribbonfish), and Butterfish, among others.

NOAA has used this platform as an opportunity. Having a ship like the Reuben Lasker, and the David Starr Jordan before that, collecting the samples as it does, creates a resource for furtAher investigations. During the trawls we have catalogued many other species. Some of the species we analyzed include Sanddab, Salp, Pyrosoma, Market Squid, Pacific Hake, Octopus, Blue Lanternfish, California Headlightfish and Blacktip Squid, among others. By plotting the biodiversity and comparing the levels we recorded with the historic values from the stations, we gain information about the overall health of the ecosystem.

What happens to the organisms we collect? Not all of the catch is dumped overboard. Often, we are placing select organisms in bags as specimens that will be delivered to various labs up and down the coast.

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Collecting subsets for classification

This is a tremendous resource for researchers, as there is really no way for many of these groups to retrieve samples on their own. Rachel Zuercher joined the crew during this survey in part to collect samples to aid in her research for her PhD.

Along with the general species analysis, the team specifically analyzes the abundance of specific krill species. Krill forms the base of the marine ecosystems in the pelagic zone. They are a major food source for many species, from fish to whales. However, different krill species are favored by different consumers. Therefore, an extension of the Ecosystem Assessment involves determining the abundance of specific krill species. Thomas Adams has been responsible for further analyzing the krill collected. He counts out the representative sample and use microscopes to identify the species collected based on their physical characteristics.  

Additionally, at most stations a Conductivity, Temperature and Depth cast (CTD) is conducted. Basically, bottles are sent overboard and are opened at a specified depth.

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The apparatus for collecting water during CTD casts

Then they are collected and the contents are analyzed. Often these happen during the day prior to the Night Shift taking over, with final analysis taking place after the cruise is complete. This data is then connected with the catch numbers to further the analysis. Ken Baltz, an oceanographer on the ship, uses this information to determine the production of the phytoplankton based on the amounts of chlorophyll detected at depth. This is an important part of the food web and by adding in this component, it makes the picture below the surface clearer.

 

 

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NOAA Corps’ Ryan Belcher completing the CTD collection for a station.

Finally, there are two more scientific investigations running as we cruise the open seas during the daylight hours. Michael Pierce is a birdwatcher from the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research who is conducting a transect survey of Seabirds and Marine Mammals. He is based on the Flying Bridge and catalogs any birds or marine mammals that pass within 300 meters of the ship’s bow. Although difficult, this study attempts to create a standardized method for data collection of this nature. As he explained, birds are more perceptive than we are – what looks like open ocean really varies in terms of temperature, salinity and diversity below the surface. Therefore, birds tend to favor certain areas over others. These are also important components of the food web as they represent upper level predators that are not collected in the trawl net. Also, on the bottom of the ship transducers are installed that are able to gather information through the EK60 Echosounder. This sonar can accurately identify krill populations and schools of fish underwater. Again, adding the data collected from these surveys help create a much more complete understanding of the food web we are analyzing out on the open sea.

 

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Sonar data from the EK60

Personal Log

 

Sunday, June 4

The waves were very active all day. Boy am I glad I’m wearing the patch. There was so much wind and the waves were so high, there was a question if we were even going to send the net out. High wind and waves obviously add an element of concern, especially for the safety of the boat crew working the net.

I spent some of the day up on the Bridge- the section of the boat with all of the navigation equipment. The Executive Officer (XO) gave me an impromptu lesson about using the map for navigation. They have state-of-the-art navigation equipment, but they also run a backup completed by hand and using a compass and straightedge just like you would in math class. Of note – the Dungeness Crab season is wrapping up and many fishermen leave traps in the water to catch them. When the boat is passing through one of these areas, someone will act like a spotter so the boat can avoid getting tangled up. When I was looking with him, we saw some whale plumes in the distance.

We did launch the net twice Sunday night, collecting a TON of krill each time. In the first batch, we also caught some squid and other small prey species. The second trawl was very surprising. Despite cutting it down to a 5 minute trawl, we caught about the same amount of krill. We also caught more squid and a lot of young salmon who were probably feeding on the krill.  

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That is a ton of krill!

 

Monday, June 5

I am getting used to the hours now – and do not feel as guilty sleeping past 2PM considering we are up past 6 in the morning. It will make for a tricky transition back to “the real world” when I go home to NY!

During the day, spent some time just talking with the science folks and learning about the various tasks being completed. I also spent some time up on the Flying Bridge as they said they had seen some Mola, or Giant Ocean Sunfish (although I did not see them). I did have a chance to make a few videos to send to my son Aiden’s 3rd grade teacher back in NY. It did not work out as well as I had hoped, but considering we are out in the middle of the ocean, I really can’t complain about spotty wi-fi.

Once we started the night shift, we really had a good night. We completed work at 5 stations – which takes a lot of time. We saw a LOT of biodiversity last night – easily doubling if not tripling  our juvenile rockfish count. We also saw a huge variety of other juvenile fish and invertebrates over the course of the night. We finally wrapped up at 6:30 AM, what a night!

Tuesday, June 6th

We found out today that we will need to dock the ship prematurely. There is a mechanical issue that needs attention. We are en route straight through to San Diego, so no fishing tonight. However, our timing will not allow us to reach port during the day, so we will get a chance to sample the southernmost stations Wednesday night. Thus is life at sea. The science crew is staying on schedule as we, hopefully, will be back on the water this weekend.

Wednesday, June 7th

After a day travelling to San Diego, we stopped at the stations near San Clemente to collect samples. Being much farther south than before, we saw some new species – red crabs, sardines and A LOT of anchovies. Closer to shore, these counts dropped significantly and krill showed up in numbers not seen in the deeper trawl. Again, I am amazed by the differences we see in only a short distance.

 

More from our anchovy haul- the bucket contains the entire catch from our second trawl, the tray shows how we analyzed a subset. Also on the tray you find Red Crab, Salps, Mexican Lanternfish and Krill.

 

David Amidon: The Night Shift, June 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 4, 2017

 

Science and Technology Log

All of the work for the Juvenile Rockfish Survey is completed at night – we probably will not even get going  most nights until after 9 PM. Wonder why so late? Any guesses?

This is a night time operation because we are focused on collecting prey species – we are not catching full grown rockfish, only juveniles which are less than a years old (YOY = Young of the Year). As Keith Sakuma, the Chief Scientist for the Reuben Lasker, explained – this survey gathers information about the juvenile rockfish so that NOAA can pass information onto the states in order to establish a sustainable fishery. This could lead to changes in fishing regulations based on the abundance of the juvenile stocks, which would be adults down the road. They trawl at night for two main reasons- during the day time, the rockfish would simply see the net and swim away. Also, many of the other creatures being catalogued are prey species that hide in the depths during the day to avoid predators, rising to the surface as the night moves on.

The night shift includes the science personnel and the crew of the boat. The boat crew not only operates the ship, but the fisherman also send out the trawl net and bring it back in. While the boat crew rotates on a specified schedule, the night-time science group keeps going until the work is done. However, these two groups are very much in sync and really work well together.  This blog entry will be my introduction into the procedures and initial results of our work from the first couple nights. I will provide much more detail in later posts.

The science personnel for this leg of the voyage includes myself and Chief Scientist Sakuma as well as Cherisa and Ryan, who are members of the NOAA Corps; Thomas, an undergrad student from Humboldt State; Rachel, a PhD student at UC-Santa Cruz; and Maya, a Hollings undergraduate scholar from UNC-Wilmington.

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The Night Crew at work separating species during the shrimp haul. Photo by Keith Sakuma.

The Juvenile Rockfish Survey, boiled to its simplest terms, consists of a midwater trawling net behind the ship, meaning it does not float and it never touches the bottom. Anything caught will be sorted and analyzed by the science crew. In reality, it is a bit more complicated.

First of all, net operations take place at specified stations that the ship revisits periodically and have been used for some time. The stations for a night run on the same latitude line, running west away from the coast.

Before sending the net out, we need to run a Marine Mammal Watch from the bridge for 30 minutes. If a marine mammal, such as a sea lion, dolphin or whale, is spotted, then they make efforts to avoid getting them tangled in their nets, or alter their behavior in any way. Sometimes the trawl for that station has to be abandoned due to wildlife activity, although we have not seen any marine mammals during our investigation so far.

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Getting ready for my shift on the Marine Mammal Watch

Once the ship arrives at a station, the boat crew sends out the net. After it reaches the depth of 30m, they trawl for a 15 minute interval. A science crew member is also sent outside on deck to continue the marine mammal watch for the duration of the trawl. Finally, after the time is up, they bring in the net and empty its contents into buckets, which are then transferred to the science crew.

This is when our work began. While we are on the lookout for rockfish, we actually found very few of these. A majority of our catch consisted of pyrosomes and krill. The science crew employed a number of measures to estimate the numbers of these creatures, as counting them one-by-one would have taken a long, long time to do. We did volume approximations and analysis of representative samples for these creatures. When we found fish or other species of note, we would pull the individuals out, classify them and record their lengths. Samples were frozen for use by researchers working at other locations on the West Coast.

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Measuring the mantle of a Market Squid. Photo by Rachel Zuercher.

Some examples of the species we collected:

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Juvenile Rockfish collected off the “Lost Coast”

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Sample of other species collected and catalogued, including: Medusa Fish, Gonatus Squid, Thetys and California Headlight Fish

We worked solid through four stations on the first night, wrapping up just before 6 AM. We will be at it again, if weather permits, every night of the voyage.

Personal Log

Thursday, June 1st

This was a very long day. I left my house in Syracuse, NY at 6 AM, flying out of the airport around 8 AM. After a quick transfer in Chicago, I flew in a Boeing 737 all the way to San Francisco. I then made it to Eureka, California around 4 PM (West Coast time) for an overnight stay. Fortunately, I met up a few of the science personnel for dinner who were also headed to the Reuben Lasker in the morning. Eureka was beautiful, surrounded by oceans and redwoods.

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Sunset in Eureka, CA

Friday, June 2nd

In the morning, we caught a transfer boat at the public marina out to the Reuben Lasker, anchored a few miles away off the coast. Once the passage was done, we settled in and met some of the crew. I even shared a coffee with the CO- or Commanding Officer. Everyone onboard has been so open and welcoming – you can tell they enjoy their work.

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Transfer boat that to us to the Reuben Lasker

After dinner, we finally got down to sciencing. (That’s my word – I’m sticking to it.) I was impressed by how different the catch was from each station, even though they are only a few miles apart. You can try to start telling a story right there. That’s kind of the point to this whole survey. To try to tell a story about the overall health of the pelagic ecosystem based on representative samples. Piece by piece, year by year, data points can turn into meaning when connections are made. I think it is science in the purest form -gathering data for the sake of having information. By having a long-term data base of information about all of the other creatures collected, not just the rockfish, we can decipher meaning by analyzing population trends and collating them with other phenomena, such as weather, fishing or pollution. 

Saturday, June 3rd

I am getting adjusted to the day/night pattern of the Night Shift. I got to sleep around 6:30 AM and woke up close to 2 PM. I was able to grab a quick cereal from the Galley and then started in on some work. Dinner was served at 5 PM – filet mignon with crab legs? The cooks, or stewards, Kathy & Patrick do an amazing job. They also save meals for people running the late schedule. For the next week and change, lunch is served around midnight and breakfast will be close to 6 AM, before we head to sleep.

Today, the wind picked up and the waves kicked up with it. We cruised around the “Lost Coast” and ran two stations at night. We were scheduled for more, but the waves got larger the further the ship is off the coast. Today’s word is shrimp – we hauled in more shrimp than you could count. We also found a number of rockfish in one of the stations, although there were very few found in our second trawl.

Did You Know?

… that there are over 85 species of krill?

http://www.krillfacts.org/1-krill-facts-center.html

Dana Chu: May 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dana Chu
On Board NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 13 – 22, 2016

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) is a working partnership between Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science to survey the oceanographic conditions that influence and drive the availability of prey species (i.e., krill) to predators (i.e., marine mammals and sea birds).

Geographic area of cruise: Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Clear skies, light winds at 0600 increased to 18 knots at 0900, 6-8 feet swells

Science and Technology Log

Ahoy from the Bell Shimada! Today, I will explain three of the tools that are deployed from the side deck to obtain samples of the water and the ocean’s prey species.

First off we have the Harmful Algal Bloom Net, also known as the HAB Net, which is basically a 10-inch opening with a 39-inch fine mesh netting attached to a closed end canister. The HAB net is deployed manually by hand to the depth of 30 feet three consecutive times to obtain a water sample. The top fourth of the water collected is decanted and the remaining water (approximately 80ml) is transferred to a bottle which is then sealed and labeled with the location (latitude, longitude), date, time, vertical or horizontal position, and any particular comments. The samples will eventually be mailed off to California Department of Health Services lab for analysis for harmful toxins from algae that can affect shellfish consumers.

Next we have the hoop net, which is pretty much similar in design to the HAB net, except for a larger opening diameter of 3 feet (think hula hoop) and a net length of nine feet. The net tapers off into a closed container with open slits on the sides to allow for water drainage. The purpose of the hoop net to collect organisms that are found at the various depth levels of the deployment. The hoop net is attached to a cable held by the winch. The hoop net is lowered at a specific angle which when calculated with the speed of the vessel equates to a certain depth. The survey crew reports the wire angle sighting throughout the deployment.

Every time the hoop net is brought back up there is a sense of anticipation at what we will find once the canister is open. Coloring is a good indicator. Purple usually indicates a high concentration of doliolids, while a darker color may indicate a significant amount of krill. Phytoplankton usually have a brownish coloring. Many of the hoop net collections from today and yesterday include doliolids and colonial salps, neither are very nutrient dense. Yesterday we also found pyrosomes, which are transparent organisms that resemble a sea cucumber with little bumps and soft thorns along their body. The smallest pyrosome we came upon was two and a half inches with the largest over six inches long. A few small fish of less than one inch in length also showed up sporadically in these collections as well.

The Scientific team is looking for the presence of krill in the samples obtained. The Euphausia pacifica is one of the many species of krill found in these waters. Many tiny krill were found in the various hoop net deployments. On the last hoop net deployment for today and yesterday, larger sized krill of approximately 1 inch) were found. This is good news because krill is the dominant food source for marine mammals such as whales. Ideally it would be even better if the larger krill appeared more frequently in the hoop net samples.

Finally, we have the Tucker Trawl, which is the largest and most complex of the three nets discussed in today’s post. The Tucker Trawl consists of three separate nets, one for sampling at each depth: the top, middle, and bottom of the water column. Like the hoop net, the tucker trawl nets also have a canister with open slits along the side covered with mesh to allow water to drain. All three nets are mounted on the same frame attached to a wire cable held by the winch. As the Tucker Trawl is towed only one net is open at a time for a specific length of time. The net is closed by dropping a weight down along the tow. Once the weight reaches the net opening, it triggers the net to shut and sends a vibration signal up the cable line back to the surface which can be felt by the scientist holding the cable. The net is then towed at the next depth for ten minutes. Once the last net tow has been completed, the Tucker Trawl is brought back up to surface. Similar to the hoop net, the survey tech reads the wire angle throughout the deployment to determine the angle the cable needs to be at in order for the net to reach a certain depth. This is where all the Geometry comes in handy!

As mentioned already, with three nets, the Tucker Trawl yields three separate collections of the nutrients found within the top, middle and bottom of the water column. Once the nets are retrieved, each collection container is poured into a different bucket or tub, and then into a sieve before making it into a collection bottle. If there is a large quantity collected, a subsample is used to fill up a maximum of two bottles before the remainder is discarded back into the ocean. Once the samples are processed, an outside label is attached to the bottle and an interior label is dropped inside the bottle, formalin is added to preserve the sample organisms collected so that they can be analyzed later back in the lab.

Personal Log

It is so good to finally get my sea legs! I am glad I can be of use and actively participate. Cooperative teamwork is essential to getting everything to flow smoothly and on time. The Bell Shimada’s deck crew and NOAA team work hand in hand with the scientists to deploy and retrieve the various instruments and devices.

In the past two days I am getting a lot of hands on experience with deploying the HAB net to assisting with processing samples from the HOOP Net and Tucker Trawl. It’s always exciting to see what we might have collected. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week may bring. I wonder what interesting finds we will get with the midnight Tucker Trawl samples.

Lesson Learned: Neatness and accuracy are imperative when labeling samples! Pre-planning and preparing labels ahead of time helps streamline the process once the samples are in hand.

Word of the Day:        Thermocline – This is the depth range where the temperature of the water drops steeply. The region above the thermocline has nutrient depleted waters and while the region below has nutrient rich waters.

 

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar

Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD

Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle

Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net

Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl

Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill

A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state

The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.