Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Days 2 & 3, March 14-15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: March 14-15, 2015


Day 2:  Saturday 3/14/15 

Happy Pi Day everyone!  The second day on the ship was productive and incredible.  The weather was fantastic throughout the entire day, with hardly any wind and a sheet glass ocean.  The stillness of the water made it easy to spot wildlife, and during the day we saw multiple pods of dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of sea birds such as cormorants and brown pelicans.

view from Shimada
A beautiful day aboard the Bell M. Shimada in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
dolphins
Dolphins swimming alongside the Shimada

The beautiful weather also made for smooth conditions to launch the ROV.  The ROV took three dives today at different locations and depths each time.  Peter and his team picked the locations around the Islands, staying true to spots they had visited in previous years.  Part of their research involves looking at the same coral beds over the course of many years and recording what they observe and noting any changes that may have occurred.  They are observing how the coral, specifically the species Lophelia pertusa, reacts to changes in pH levels and temperature.  This information is important in finding indicators for how our ocean is being affected by warmer temperatures and ocean acidification.

Retrieving the Beagle ROV
Retrieving the Beagle ROV from its first dive of the day
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV
Santa Cruz Island and the ROV

So what exactly is ocean acidification?

As humans, we release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and have been doing so in large quantities since the Industrial Revolution.  Carbon dioxide is released during combustion, when we drive our cars, power our houses and factories, use electricity, burn things, cut down trees, etc. 

The ocean acts as a sponge and absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  However, as levels of COrise in the atmosphere, so do the levels of CO2 in the ocean.  This is not great news for our ocean or the organisms that make their home there.  When CO2 mixes with seawater, a chemical reaction occurs that causes the pH of the seawater to lower and become more acidic.  This process is called ocean acidification.

Even slight changes in pH levels can have large affects on marine organisms, such as fish and plankton.  Ocean acidification also reduces the amounts of calcium carbonate minerals that are needed by shell-building organisms to build their shells and skeletons.  The damage to these shell-building organisms, including many types of plankton, oysters, coral, and sea urchins, can have a negative ripple effect throughout the entire ocean food web.  An important part of the mission of this trip is to see how ocean acidification is affecting different types of deep-sea coral, such as Lophelia pertusa, that use calcium carbonate minerals to build their skeletons.

pH scale

The scientists and the MARE team conducted three ROV dives throughout the day.  The first dive brought up an outstanding Lophelia sample, and along with it a bizarre deep-sea creature called a basket star.  Basket stars are a type of invertebrate that are related to brittle stars.  Even though they feed mostly on zooplankton, they have long spindly arms that can reach to over a meter in length.   It was astonishing to be able to see this alien looking creature alive and moving!

Day 3: Sunday 3/15/15

After long hours and a late night, the MARE team was able to get the manipulator arm on the ROV up and running, after having technical difficulties with it during the first half of our trip.  This was perfect timing for the first ROV dive of the day in the waters between Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands.  The goal of this dive was to find scientist Branwen Williams a type coral known as Acanthogorgia.  This coral is incredibly beautiful; tall, fan-like and golden in color.

coral and shark egg case
An Acanthogorgia with a cat shark egg case

Bombs Away:   Branwen hoped to collect samples of this coral to take back to her lab for testing.  She and her team of students and scientists will use these samples to ascertain how old the corals are, how fast they grow and what are they eating.  Branwen explained to me that coral, similar to trees, have growth rings that can be used to determine age as well as other factors.  She mentioned that when looking at age, she looks for the pattern of the “bomb curve” within the coral rings and that provides scientists with a relative date of how old the corals are.  The “bomb curve” is a concentration of radiocarbon (14C) that is found in corals in every ocean in the world.  The concentration of radiocarbon is a direct product of the bomb testing that took place starting in the 1950’s and produced large amounts of this radiocarbon into the atmosphere.  The ocean absorbed that particular type of carbon, and in turn it was absorbed by the corals, who are suspension feeders.  Suspension feeding means that corals eat by stretching their tentacles out to catch tiny particles that are floating by.  So scientists identify the start and peak of the bomb testing in the radiocarbon stored in the coral skeleton to determine growth rates and then the ages of the corals. This was very shocking to me that corals in every ocean have this radiocarbon in their bodies, and clear evidence of how much human actions impact the entire globe.

team looks at samples
The team looks to see what samples have been collected
The Chief Boatswain prepares to operate the winch that will help lift the ROV out of the water
crewmembers
MARE and NOAA crew work together to make sure the ROV makes it back on board safe and sound

Diving Deep:  The ROV was dispatched into the water and soon sunk to around 200 meters.  As it cruised along the ocean floor the team watched as a variety of rockfish scuttled by.  The ROV has two sets of lasers that shoot out in front of it, each spaced 10 centimeters apart.  This gives the scientists an idea of the size of objects or organisms that pass in front of the camera.

The team located the Acanthogorgia habitat and got to work collecting samples using the manipulator arm.  The manipulator arm reminds me of the claw game found in most arcades.  Andy remotely operated the arm, while Dirk worked simultaneously to control the ROV.  Together they were able to collect three exceptional samples, including two Acanthogorgia corals attached to hefty rocks. Each time the manipulator arm reached towards a coral, the whole crew of the Shimada held in their breath in suspense.  Would the arm be able to grasp its target?  The live footage from the ROV is now being streamed throughout the entire ship; in the lounges and staterooms too, so Andy and Dirk had a quite an audience cheering them on!

ROV watch party
Andy and Dirk work the controllers while Peter, Branwen and Leslie watch closely nearby

The samples made it back to the ship safely.  Branwen prepared the coral to take back to the Keck Science Department of the Claremont College where she and her students will conduct their research about this little known species of coral.

Thinking about the effort it takes to research deep-sea coral, involving ROVs and commissioning ships to reach their remote locations, it’s no wonder we know little about them and so much more about their shallow water relatives.

Branwen and coral
Branwen and one of the Acanthogorgia samples
Dirk and Andy coral
Dirk and Andy after a job well done
Chief Survey Tech and ROV
Our Chief Survey Tech waits patiently to assist with the next ROV dive.

Sarah Raskin: Teacher at Sea Day 1, March 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sarah Raskin

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

March 13-18, 2015


Mission: Channel Islands Deep-Sea Coral Study

Geographic Area: Channel Islands, California

Date: Friday, March 13, 2015

Shimada
One of NOAA’s research ships: the Bell M. Shimada

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, my home away from home for the next six days!  

Science Log

Today marks my first official day aboard the Shimada as part of NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program.  NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  My name is Sarah Raskin and I am an educator at Haydock Academy of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school in Oxnard, California.  For the next week, I have the opportunity to join NOAA scientists from across the United States on a deep-sea science expedition in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. I am hoping to bring back what I learn to the students at Haydock and to paint a picture of what it is like to work on real-life science out in the field.

Scientists group photo
The scientists starting from the left: Peter Etnoyer, Rick Botman, Branwen Williams, Andrew Shuler, Erin Weller, Will Sautter, Steve Holz, Leslie Wickes, Andy Lauermann, Chris Caldow, Dirk Rosen, Mike Annis, Laura Kracker.

The location for our expedition is in the waters off of the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.  The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) covers 1,470 square miles of water surrounding Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands and is home to a large amount of diverse species.  On this expedition, scientists will use an ROV (a remotely operated underwater vehicle) to examine deep-sea coral and the water chemistry around those coral beds.  One of the most surprising facts for me before beginning this journey was to learn that coral grows in cold water deep-sea habitats, having only previously associated coral with warm water environments.  

During this expedition, scientists will also look at how the corals are affected by ocean acidification.  It will be interesting to see what their findings are:  how do our actions on land affect organisms, such as coral, that live in the deep sea?

Ventura County watershed
A Ventura County watershed: from the mountains to the sea.
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island (Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary)

The scientists will collect live samples of the coral to take back to their labs for further ocean acidification testing.  Throughout this trip, scientists will also use sonar to map the ocean floor. The information gathered from the sonar will help provide direction for where to send our ROV.  The new images generated from the sonar could also be used to bring up-to-date sea floor maps of the Sanctuary, many of which have not been updated since they were created in the 1930s!  Another feature of the sonar is to map out locations and quantities of fish populations in the area.  This information is vital to sanctuaries and marine protected areas, as it contributes important information about why these areas are important to protect.

Science in the field is much different than science in a laboratory setting.  There are so many factors to take into account: weather, ocean conditions, the working conditions of the equipment and many more unforeseen circumstances.  The scientists and ship crew must each do their parts and work closely together as a team to make the research possible.  During the first day aboard the researchers have faced quite a few challenges…  Maybe because we set sail on Friday the 13th

The morning began with impromptu safety drills.  Similar to the fire drills that we have at our school, the ship also conducts regular drills.  Today we had both a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.  The abandon ship drill prepares the crew for an emergency event that would require us to leave the ship immediately.  It also involved donning a safety suit, a giant red neoprene wetsuit that is designed to keep you warm if you needed to jump into the ocean.

Fire drill on the ship
Fire drill on the ship
Sarah in survival suit
A picture of me in the survival suit

Later in the afternoon, the team took the ROV out for its first outing of the trip.  Chris Caldow (the expedition lead) and the scientists from Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) chose a spot on the ocean floor that was sandy and flat with few physical features to snag on for its initial run.  The ROV, which is named the Beagle, is an amazing piece of machinery.  It is designed to be able to function in depths of down to 500 meters.  It is also equipped with a high definition video camera that will take footage of what is going on under the sea.  If the scientists see something of interest, the Beagle ROV has a manipulator arm to collect samples.  The arm feature is also used to deploy different types of sensors that will keep track of information, such as temperature, over a longer period of time.

MARE's Beagle ROV
MARE (Marine Applied Research and Exploration) Beagle ROV

The launch of the ROV was exciting.  Most of the crew gathered around to watch its release, and as it made it’s way down to the sea floor, it began streaming video footage to monitors inside of the laboratories on the ship.  It was pretty incredible to be able to see the bottom of the sea floor with such clarity.  So far, we have spotted multiple species of rockfish and an egg case of a skate.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

ROV footage
Watching streaming video footage from the ROV

Back to one of our challenges: the key sonar machine is currently out of order.  When things break on a ship, it can be a bit tricky to fix.  It’s definitely not as simple as running to the nearest hardware store to pick up a new piece of equipment.  When something is not working out here, it can involve scuba diving under the ship to fix something or sailing back to the mainland if there is a real issue.  So tomorrow there will be a boat coming out to meet our ship and bringing with it equipment and a trained sonar technician to hopefully solve our problems.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Update: Science in the Field

The Beagle ROV journeyed into the depth once more last night.  This time the mission was to find deep-sea coral beds, in particular one species called Lophelia pertusa, and bubble gum coral. 

Lophelia pertusa
Lophelia pertusa

The MARE team (Dirk Rosen, Andy Lauermann, Steve Holz and Rick Botman) worked with scientists Peter Etnoyer, Leslie Wickes, Andrew Shuler and Branwen Williams to locate a coral bed that they had visited previously in 2010 and 2014.  Using GPS coordinates, the MARE team was able to locate the exact site of the coral bed that Peter and his team had worked with in earlier years.  There were quite a few high-fives and cheers of excitement in the lab when the ROV made its way to the familiar patch of bright red bubble gum coral. 

Branwen and Dirk
Branwen and Dirk scout the sea floor for coral beds

The team dropped a temperature gauge at that location that will take and record a temperature reading every five minutes for the next six months.  After that, Peter and his team will return on a second expedition to retrieve the device.  The temperature gauge is tied to a rope attached to a lead weight and a flotation device covered with bright reflective tape.  Andrew explained that the reflective tape would stand out in the headlights of the ROV, making it much easier to spot when they return for it half a year later.

Andrew temperature sensor
Andrew holds up one of the temperature sensors that will be deployed with the ROV

The Beagle also retrieved its first coral sample of Lophelia pertusa, which it brought to the surface.  Picking up samples from the deep in no easy feat.  Andy and Dirk control the ROV from the deck with controls that look similar to something you would find on a video game consul.  Sitting along side them, scientists Peter, Leslie and Branwen direct them to which coral specimens look the best for their sample.  Then using either the manipulator arm or a shovel like feature on the boat, the ROV controller works quickly to scoop the organism into a basket attached to the front of the machine.

Scientists watch footage
The scientists watch live video feed from the ROV

Once the ROV safely made it back on board, the scientists worked quickly to get the coral and its little inhabitants, such as deep-sea brittle stars and crabs, into cold water tanks as fast as possible.  While the coral doesn’t seem to mind the pressure difference between the deep-sea and surface, it does not handle the temperature differential as well.

Leslie removes coral for storage in the fresh water tanks
crab on coral
A deep-sea crab that hitched a ride up to the surface on the Lophelia

The team also took water samples from the water near the coral sites, which they will test later for pH.  They are hoping to find out whether coral changes the composition of the water surrounding it.  In order to collect the water samples, Branwen Williams (a scientist and professor from Keck Science Department at Claremont College), Leslie, and Andrew retrieved water samples using a CTD-Niskin rosette.  They took water samples at the depth of the coral beds (approx. 290 meters) and then every 25 meters up from there.   Once they filled bottles with the water, it was important to immediately “fix” the water samples.  This means putting a poison, such as mercuric chloride into the water sample to kill off any living organisms, such as zooplankton or phytoplankton, that might be photosynthesizing or respiring and changing the pH levels of the water samples.  This gives the scientists a snapshot of what the water chemistry is like at a particular place and time.

Sue Zupko: 6 Flying to 300 Meters

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Study deep water coral, Lophelia Pertusa, in the Gulf Stream
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States in Gulf Stream from off Mayport, FL to south of St. Lucie Inlet, FL
Date: June 3, 2011
Time: 15:33 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Wind Speed: 2.59 knots
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Surface Water Temperature: 28.25°C
Air Temperature:28.9°C
Relative Humidity: 61%
Barometric Pressure:1018.20mb
Water Depth: 280.94 m
Salinity: 36.33 PSU

Hello from the Pisces “flight” deck.  I am sitting next to the pilots of the ROV.  John Butler is currently flying the ROV at a depth of 243 meters.  We are drifting with the ship as it makes its way to our survey site.  The ROV has been in the water since around 9:00 this morning EDT and we have finished our lunch and are waiting to get to our drop site.  Why is the ROV flying along at 243 meters when our survey site is at 300 meters?  When the ROV first launched, the current was 3.5 knots above and below the surface.  The ship’s crew on the bridge calculated how long it would take for us to arrive at the dive site given the currents.  Once we started flying the ROV at depth, we found the counterweight acted as an anchor and the current slowed down above and below the surface.  Accordingly, the ROV slowed down and it’s taking a lot longer to get to our dive site than originally calculated.

Jelly with tentacles spread out floating in the water column.
Jellyfish found on the way to the sea floor

What are we seeing on the video feed from the ROV?  Lots of marine snow–detritus, zooplankton, and other small particles, plus a few interesting creatures– jellies,  salps, several squid,  arrow worms, and some hydrozoa.  It really is surreal watching the video of our journey to the bottom of the sea.

Two men with helmets holding the ROV over the side of the boat, helped by a winch.
Crew Members holding the ROV, helped by a winch

What are we expecting to find? Lophelia pertusaLophelia is a ture hard, or stony, coral from the phylum Cnidaria, class Anthozoa (meaning it is a polyp), class Anthozoa (starts as a larva swimming around and then becomes attached to something, or sessile).  We want to find out how many there are, their health, their size, and what is living amongst them.  Lophelia are white when they are alive, unlike shallow water corals that most people are familiar with which have colors from the algae which live with them.  If the Lophelia is not white, it’s either sick or dead.

Sue Zupko: 4 Winning Answer #1

The first creature I saw when I boarded the Pisces was the Laughing Gull.  Almost everyone who answered this survey said Sea Gull would be the first creature I would see.  Good job!  The gulls were flying all over the harbor.  Ironically, this is the picture I chose to use in my first entry to this blog.  Later that day I saw Dolphins, Mullet, a Brown Pelican, Sargassum, a Loggerhead Sea TurtleFlying Fish, and Moon Jellies.  Still waiting on a whale and the Lophelia.  We have only been out a short time.

Gull silhouette landing on a ship stair in the evening
Gull landing at dusk

New survey.  What do you think these are?

pink and yellow rods lying side by side
What is this #2?

1 Introduction to My Voyage on the Pisces

Laughing Gull flying over ocean as viewed from our ferry
Laughing Gull

I have a rare opportunity and a responsibility to teach others about our world.  Having been selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will be sailing aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Pisces as a scientist.  Andy David, the chief scientist on our expedition, who works for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, has assigned and will be assigning me duties.  Already I’ve participated in editing press materials, setting up a blog, pre-cruise meetings, and finding groups to Skype with from the ship.  On board ship some of my duties will include photographing and videotaping our activities.  Yeah!  My students will have lots of material from which to create projects.  I will be able to teach them about public access to information and my role in that from my blogging responsibilities.  Having raised service dogs, I am already familiar with many aspects of public access, but it has usually been wheelchair access to buildings.  Internet access for the blind hadn’t occurred to me.  Learning, always learning.

I teach grades 3-5 in a pull-out program for the gifted and talented.  Last week my 3rd grade students got to Skype with Andy David and asked him questions about the purpose of our cruise, what we would find there, how we would solve problems, how the ship is powered, and so much more.   The students seem very interested in sharks, dolphins, whales, and turtles.   Those species aren’t exactly what we are focusing on in our study of the deep water coral, Lophelia.   Andy said that we would probably see all those marine creatures. That hadn’t occurred to me; they weren’t on my radar since these species haven’t been mentioned in other blogs or information pages from this study.  They will be serendipitous meetings, and, although I didn’t think it possible,  my excitement level has increased.  I found a great web site about Lophelia.  Check it out.  It has easy reading, maps, pictures, and games.

Keep checking back for more on this exciting adventure.  I will post my blog entries as often as bandwidth will allow after we depart on May 31, 2011 to help you better understand about our mission and what we found.  We will return  June 11, 2011.  Until then, I will talk about things I plan to take and why.

Continue reading “1 Introduction to My Voyage on the Pisces”